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How Richard Dawkins Helps Prove Biblical Inspiration

Richard Dawkins

American Atheists responded to the Pennsylvania state legislature’s designation of 2012 as “Year of the Bible” with mocking billboards, and a press release insisting that “the House of Representatives should not be celebrating a barbaric and Bronze Age book.” It’s a common argument against the Bible, that it can’t be trusted because it’s a book from the Bronze Age. Over on Twitter, Richard Dawkins extended this argument to attack both the Bible and the Qu’ran.

Factually, the argument is wide of the mark. Despite its name, the Bible isn’t a book, but a collection of books, the majority of which were written several centuries after the Bronze Age. (The New Testament is closer in age to the foundation of the University of Paris in the High Middle Ages than it is to the close of the Bronze Age in c. 1200 B.C.). Historical inaccuracies aside, Dawkins' argument relies upon a sort of genetic fallacy, the assumption that certain beliefs can be proven false simply because they’re old. But this assumption doesn’t withstand scrutiny. We don’t reason, for example, that murder must be okay simply because people have always thought it was wrong.

Furthermore, this Bronze Age argument is circular. It assumes that the Bible is wrong because it was written by ignorant people. But this assumes, in turn, that the human authors of Scripture were limited to the knowledge otherwise attainable at that time and place, the very question in dispute in debating the authenticity of the Bible. In other words, the strength of this argument relies upon a prior assumption that the Bible is wrong – for example, in its claim to divine inspiration – and concluding from this that the Bible is wrong.

Curiously, in characterizing the Scriptural authors as ignorant and uneducated, American Atheists finds an unlikely ally: Saint Luke, the author of the Book of Acts. In Acts 4:13, he says that when the Jewish Temple authorities “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Luke doesn’t sugarcoat the truth. Peter and John, who together authored seven of the 27 books of the New Testament, were uneducated commoners. But rather than a cause for arrogant dismissal, this should lead us, as it did the Temple authorities, to a state of wonder. If the human authors of Scripture were “Bronze Aged” ignoramuses, how do we account for the credibility of the Apostles’ testimony?

Recall that the Bible isn’t, as American Atheists suggests, a single book. Instead, it’s a collection of centuries worth of religious texts, including centuries worth of Messianic prophecies. This means that, unlike the Qu’ran or the Book of Mormon, the prophecies and the accounts of the fulfillment of these prophecies aren’t coming from the same sources. This makes it all the more remarkable that the life of Jesus Christ so neatly fits the time and place foretold by the Jewish prophets.

For example, the Book of Daniel foretold that “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed” during the fourth kingdom after the then-reigning Babylonians, a timeline corresponding with the Roman Empire. The Book of Micah specifies that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem, and be of the tribe of Judah. The Books of Malachi and Haggai prophesied that the Second Temple of Jerusalem (destroyed in 70 A.D.) would be greater than the First Temple because the Lord Himself would enter it. And Psalm 22 depicted the Messiah as being executed by having his hands and feet pierced, a description eerily reminiscent of Crucifixion, despite having been written several centuries prior to its invention.

Christ meets all of these criteria: no small feat, given that none of these factors involved events within the Apostles’ control. He rose to prominence from a very particular part of the world, within a very particular time frame. A generation after His death, the Second Temple, so central to the Malachi and Haggai prophecies, was permanently destroyed. Nevertheless, these prophecies might serve as a baseline, of sorts. Anyone claiming to be the Messiah would need, at the very least, to meet these criteria. But the Apostolic message is profound, in that it goes beyond claiming that Christ fulfilled these explicit prophecies.

Instead, they view Him as so much more, as the key to revealing the deepest meanings of Scripture as a whole: “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Countless passages which, on face, don’t even appear prophetic are revealed to have a Christological dimension. To take a single example, consider John 19:32-34, “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”

In verse 36, John explains that this “fulfilled” the Scripture saying that not one of his bones would be broken. But that doesn’t come from an obvious Messianic prophecy; it comes from the instructions for preparing the Passover Lamb. And the water that streams out alongside the blood isn’t just a sign that Christ’s body has ceased metabolism. It’s a fulfillment of the Temple prophecies in Ezekiel. The last several chapters of the Book of Ezekiel describe a miraculous Temple from the side of which will flow life-giving waters. In John 2:21, John explains that this Temple is Jesus’ Body, and Christ applies the life-giving waters prophecy specifically in John 7:38.

This, in turn, points to the Sacramental theology latent in this passage: the life-giving waters flowing from the side of Christ signify Baptism, just as the blood signifies the Eucharist. These two Mysteries together form the Church, revealing yet another sets of Scriptures which are fulfilled: “As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross” (CCC 766). In a single event, we see the meanings of several parts of Scripture, from the story of Adam and Eve to the Passover ordinances to the Temple prophecies, revealed in a radical new light as prophetic of the Messiah. Unlike the explicit Messianic prophecies, these weren’t predictions that the Apostles “had” to show as fulfilled in order to present Jesus as the Christ. And yet the Gospels are filled with events like this one, each one chock full of meaning and Scriptural significance.

Now perhaps this could be the work of a literary genius, who found a way to take the whole Jewish religious tradition, set it in the context of a single (real or fictional) human life, and combine the various prophecies and literary elements like so many instruments in an orchestra. But of course, the New Testament is no more the work of a single author than is the Old Testament, and we know from Roman sources like Pliny and Tatian that there were already Christians followers in the 50s and 60s A.D., before most of the New Testament (including the Gospels) was written. So the skeptic is left positing, not a single genius, but a cabal of geniuses, conspiring to craft a false Messianic narrative for reasons not immediately apparent. (This is precisely the direction skeptical Biblical scholarship has gone, creating ever-more complex theories about the textual origins of the Bible,)

But even if you’re willing to accept that sort of theory, it’s squarely contradicted by the charge of Bronze Age barbarism. You can’t simultaneously write off the Scriptural authors as halfwits and as too clever by half. The Bible can be primitive nonsense, or it could be an elaborate fraud, but it can’t very well be both. If Richard Dawkins, the American Atheists, and St. Luke are right that many of the writers of the New Testament were simple, uneducated folk, then it’s hard to explain away the literary genius of the New Testament as anything less than Divine inspiration.
 
 
(Image credit: The Guardian)

Joe Heschmeyer

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Until May 2012, Joe Heschmeyer was an attorney in Washington, D.C., specializing in litigation. These days, he is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and can use all the prayers he can get. Follow Joe through his blog, Shameless Popery or contact him at joseph.heschmeyer@gmail.com.

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  • I suspect Dawkins is talking about the biology, cosmology and morality of those books, not their value as literature. That's based on other works of his I've read, the twitter post is ambiguous in this regard.

    • ClayJames

      I would love to hear more about the biology and cosmology of the bible, because after all, that seems to be its primary purpose. This would be the equivalent of criticizing the Quran for its lack of fashion sense.

      And for someone who believes mothers have a moral responsability to abort fetuses with down syndrom, I don´t know if Dawkins is the best judge of morality or how the morality of the Bible reflects the morality of God.

      • Again, seems to be another twitter failure. He has clarified his position here: https://richarddawkins.net/2014/08/abortion-down-syndrome-an-apology-for-letting-slip-the-dogs-of-twitterwar/

        • ClayJames

          “Obviously the choice would be yours. For what it’s worth, my own choice would be to abort the Down fetus and, assuming you want a baby at all, try again. Given a free choice of having an early abortion or deliberately bringing a Down child into the world, I think the moral and sensible choice would be to abort. And, indeed, that is what the great majority of women, in America and especially in Europe, actually do. I personally would go further and say that, if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare. I agree that that personal opinion is contentious and needs to be argued
          further, possibly to be withdrawn. In any case, you would probably be condemning yourself as a mother (or yourselves as a couple) to a lifetime of caring for an adult with the needs of a child. Your child would probably have a short life expectancy but, if she did outlive you, you would have the worry of who would care for her after you are gone. No wonder most people choose abortion when offered the choice. Having said that, the choice would be entirely yours and I would never dream of trying to impose my views on you or anyone else.”

          Did you actually read the clarification? How is this clarification not a confirmation of exactly what I attributed to him?

          • I don't think your summation was technically inaccurate, just that given his more thoughtful and nuanced explanation, it's not as harsh as your summary makes it sound, at least to me. He's giving his opinion, not a moral decree. So thanks for posting that text.

          • ClayJames

            I think it was a very accurate representation of what he actually believes. He agrees, that based on his view of morality, mothers have a moral responsability to abort a fetus with Downs, since not doing it might be immoral.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        I agree that Dawkins is far from a perfect judge of morality. But I do not see how his moral failings nullify the Bible's moral failings.

        • ClayJames

          It should certainly lead us to question his moral judgements when he has made some ridiculous moral claims in the past.

          I am not implying that there is no argument here to be made regarding the morality of god, but it is probably not going to be made by Dawkins.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Then perhaps the same should be said of the Bible? The same books that permit taking war prisoners as slaves, stoning of adulterers and gays, etc. should be exempt from putting forth any moral arguments?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Dawkins says it can sometimes be good to kill Down's Syndrome babies. God says that it's always good to kill Amalekite babies. Who has the moral high ground, really?

          • ClayJames

            Samuel says that God says they should kill Amelakite babies just like the writers of Leviticus say that we should stone adulteres.

            There is no doubt about what Dawkins says.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Do you think Samuel was wrong?

          • ClayJames

            Yes

          • Terik123

            Adultery equals idolatry or Atheism as far as the ancients were concerned. Are we any better with wars, abortions ( seen as a medical choice) economic slavery by corporations, etc.?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Yes. Much.

          • neil_pogi

            since God owns us, he has the right to create and kill. he has the right to drown you (flood of Noah),and burn you to death (hell).

            if you are the owner of the famous eiffel tower, and you decide to torn it down, you have the rights to do it, no matter if the millions of people around the world want it to stay!

          • VicqRuiz

            I commend you for the clarity of your position, Neil.

            Since you do not have to waste a lot of time trying to rationalize God's "goodness" with his demonstrated history, I am sure it frees up your thinking time for more productive uses.

            I mean this quite seriously, without an atom of snark.

          • Mike

            if God exists and he created the universe and the universe will eventually collapse in on itself and kill everything in it does this mean to you that God can't be all Good?

          • VicqRuiz

            It could mean that "good" when applied to God simply does not mean the same thing as "good" when we apply it to how humans treat one another. We don't have the words to distinguish the two different concepts.

          • Mike

            I think i agree that there are 2 senses of the word and they are not incompatible.

          • Terik123

            That might be true if materialism is all that there is...there is much more than what we see and measure by what science we have.

          • neil_pogi

            if ever you own the most beautiful painting in the world and you decide it to be destroyed, and people are 'attacking' you, what would you say to them?

            just like God, if He owns the universe, He has the right or the prerogative to destroy it, or not. you are just a creature!

            why not just dispute my comment?

          • VicqRuiz

            One or both of us is misunderstanding, because I'm thinking that I agree with you.

            If I were to become a believer in the God of the Bible, I would be drawn to conclude that he may take whatever he gives, up to and including human lives, and that we have no grounds upon which to challenge that taking. (See the book of Job for the clearest statement of this)

            He may take the life of the serial murderer, or the innocent infant: via human action, or via natural event; painlessly, or with prolonged agony.

            It does seem to me that Catholic thinkers in particular have a problem with getting their minds around this. They seem prone to evasion and rationalization. Many Protestant apologists on the other hand (see the W. L. Craig link I posted elsewhere on this thread) are able to confront this "inconvenient truth" head-on and learn to live with it.

          • neil_pogi

            it is also clear to you that the bible has explained in details why God allowed evil to enter into this universe, and atheists didn't believe it. and yet you believe the terror and torture that mankind has received from the 'wrath of God' as being so cruel and 'inhumane'? if that's what God wants, then who are you, or who am I to question that? anyway, according to your evolutionists, 'life is just a scum-bag full of interacting chemicals', without purpose, no good or evil? then why are you crying justice?

            if i have a loved ones who just died with so much torture (cancer pains), then who am I to question Him? my life, his life is just a 'borrowed' life! God is either the destroyer or life-giver!

          • VicqRuiz

            Boy howdy Neil, I can't imagine how worked up you would be if I actually disagreed with you.

            I completely agree that according to the Bible, God can do anything he wants to us, including torturing us just like a kid who pulls wings off flies or fries ants with a magnifying glass.

            As far as I can tell, you believe this too. So why are you arguing??

          • neil_pogi

            are you cherry-picking? you just choose to believe the 'evil' side of God (ex: living things are sentenced to die) and refuse to believe the 'good' side of God? (ex: God still sustains every living things to live)

            i'm just telling you that God has the right to destroy (ex: burn you to death in hell, drown you to flood), and God has the right to sustain life!

          • Jane Woods

            God says that it's always good to kill Amalekite babies.

            Are you familiar with this answer to the objection that you are presenting? Please notice that this answer is from about the 3rd century.

            http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/video/violence-in-the-bible/287/

          • ClayJames

            That was a great video, thank you for posting.

          • VicqRuiz

            Jane:

            Here's a good counterargument to Barron, from another very well respected Christian apologist and philosopher.

            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/slaughter-of-the-canaanites

            If you don't have time to read it all, this is a good "money quote" -

            God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel. The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God.

            Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

            I find Craig's position to be more honest and direct than that of Barron's or the church fathers whom Barron quotes.

          • ClayJames

            The problem with Craig and many evangelicals is that they make the same mistakes that some atheists here are making. They believe that words that are attributed to God in the Bible are necessary descriptions of the true God.

            You make it sound like Barron´s response is a diplomatic way to get around the problem and Craig is biting the bullet and accepting it. Far from it, Barron is looking at the text within its cultural background taking into account the writer and its audience and coming to a conclusion about what his intentions were, what his relationship with God was and what his words can teach us. Craig on the other hand, is accepting god killing the Canaanites as a description of what God really did and rationalizing from there.

            However, there is the key and a point that Baron made briliantly. Jesus did not approach these passages like Craig does. When pushed about what scripture said about stoning adulterers, Jesus´ response was not to try to rationalize by first assuming that those are truly God´s wishes. He does the opposite and completely goes against what the text says in favor of his own view of God. He does not expand on this, but if pressed, I would like to think that his explanation of these passages would be closer to Baron´s than Craig´s. Therefore, like Barron says, it is in the person of Jesus Christ that the Scripture should be interpreted.

          • VicqRuiz

            You make it sound like Barron´s response is a diplomatic way to get around the problem

            Essentially, yes. But I don't want to give the impression that Barron is acting out of insincerity.

            Rather, he is starting with an unstated premise - "The true God in which I believe would not command the murder of innocents" - and trying to work out in his own mind how this can be consistent with the description of God in the OT.

            What Craig is doing I think is starting with a different premise - "Any Biblical passage in which God's words are specifically quoted should be assumed true unless conclusively shown otherwise" - and working that out in his mind, in his way. (As I am sure you know, Craig is not a believer in the literal accuracy of the bible as to biology and physics).

            Edit: I would like to retract my comment in the previous post that Barron's position is less "honest". On reflection, I think his motives are sincere. But I still don't agree with him.

            Let me ask you a slightly different question on the same topic. The book of Deuteronomy contains many laws on food, economics, rituals of worship, etc. in chapters 14-19. It then segues into laws of war in chapter 20. Do you think that the former were valid expressions of the "true God's" will, but when we move to ch. 20 we are reading the opinions of the human author of Deuteronomy?

          • ClayJames

            I agree with you with regards to the difference in mentality that Baron and Craig have toward these issues. The question here is to try to figure out who has the better interpretation. You didn´t comment on what I considered to be the most important consideration here, Jesus´actions, words and testimony. Without the figure of Jesus, one could easily pick Craig´s interpration over Barron´s. Jesus completely changes the ball game.

            About your question regarding Deuteronomy, I don´t know enough about the book to answer that question. Like I said, I lean more toward Barron´s way of interpreting than Craig´s. However, I will say that many religious rituals can be an important part of someone´s religiousity and relationship with God, without them having to be strict decrees from God.

          • VicqRuiz

            Without the figure of Jesus, one could easily pick Craig´s interpration over Barron´s. Jesus completely changes the ball game.

            What Jesus said some 700-900 years after the OT books were written is an interesting gloss upon them, but it can't possibly alter the reality or unreality of what God commanded the Israelites to do in that previous era.

          • ClayJames

            It doesn't alter it, it clarifies and strengthens it. For Catholics, the ultimate example of the reality of God is seen in the figure of Jesus Christ. This would only be a problem for Biblical literalists who take things attributed to God in the OT as real reflection about God instead of taking into account the culture, motive, audience and literary style that these works are written in. To say that God really commanded the Isrealites to murder every single one of their enemies is to take this ignorant approach.

          • David Nickol

            To say that God really commanded the Isrealites to murder every single one of their enemies is to take this ignorant approach.

            Ignorant approach? I have discussed the issue of the "ban" in the Old Testament in numerous forums over many years, and there have always been faithful and intelligent Catholics who have argued that God indeed did order the ban (the killing of all men, women, children, and animals) in a number of instances. It is not difficult to find cases. For example, there is a blog entry titled Did God Command Genocide? by Monsignor Charles Pope on the web site of the Archdiocese of Washington by Monsignor Charles Pope in which he concludes

            In the end, it would all we can say about these passages is that they exist and put a kind of a tall fence around them. I personally think God did in fact order the Ban for the reason stated in the objection to Number 1 above. Of all the approaches above I suppose the argument from authority carries most weight with me. But the command was only for a brief time in a very particular circumstance for a very particular reason. Sometimes the best we can do with Scripture is to accept the history it records.

            Objection Number 1 ("God said no such thing") reads, in part,

            The problem with such an approach is that it opens up a door that many want to walk through. Namely, whenever there is something we are troubled by or don’t like we just say, “God never said that.” The list of things God never said could grow quite long if this door is opened. Further, if God never said this to Saul how do we explain God later rejecting Saul for disobeying God. How can we disobey something God never said? Too many problems seem to issue from this approach IMHO.

            Father John Echert takes up the question on the EWTN web site and says the following:

            Some modern commentators will argue that the ban was a primitive behavior in uncivilized times which Israel used as well and that Yahweh did not command such behavior; rather, it was merely attributed to Him. But as attractive as this might appear as a solution to our struggle with the concept of a “mean” God, I am not inclined to accept it. For one thing, it raises some real issues about the reliability of the Word of God. It seems to me that God is powerful and provident enough to insure that he would not be falsely maligned in His own Scripture with such behavior, if indeed it was purely human behavior and if such behavior is intrinsically evil.

            Are you really saying that those who believe God did indeed command slaughter in the Old Testament are ignorant?

          • ClayJames

            Are you really saying that those who believe God did indeed command slaughter in the Old Testament are ignorant?

            If that person is a Catholic, or even a Christian, then yes, I do think it is an ignorant interpretation of those passages based on an requirement from Scripture that ¨God is powerful and provident enough to insure that he would not be
            falsely maligned in His own Scripture with such behavior, if indeed it
            was purely human behavior and if such behavior is intrinsically evil¨.

            I would love to know what Father John Echert would respond to the criticisms brought against the Church. Surely God is ¨powerful and provident enough to insure that he would not be
            falsely maligned in His own [Church] with such behavior, if indeed it
            was purely human behavior and if such behavior is intrinsically evil¨.

            The Church, just like Scripture, is heavily influenced by man and an important reflection of our relationship with God taking into account the environment, purpose and audience to whom it preaches. For us Catholics, and many other Christians, the Scripture is best interpreted in the person of Jesus Christ. I see no good reason to accept Father Echert requirement of Scripture.

          • Terik123

            Amen. When the Psalm says: happy those who seize and smash their (enemies) children against a rock....this is the cry of a man whose children were murdered by pagans.

          • ClayJames

            Absolutely. I would be very weary to take my morality from an author that believes that you should stone adulterers. It doesn´t mean he is wrong, but it does probably mean that other moral claims are going to be skewed. It is a lot more likely that this person in the Bible is writing about how he views God than God actually telling us how he views himself.

            However, it makes no sense to say that we should not take our morality from the Gospel of John because of what the author of Leviticus wrote.

            The irony behind this type of thinking that stoning adulterers is the actual desire of god, something that New Atheists like Dawkins like to run with, is that clearly Jesus did not believe it. But somehow, this is just an example of God being morally depraved instead of an example of an author´s relationship with their god.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I agree that the Gospel of John and Leviticus are two entirely different books. But stoning is commanded in Exodus, as are the Ten Commandments. So are the Ten Commandments out? Or do we just say the author slipped up at the parts we don't like?

          • ClayJames

            If we were reading Exodus in a vacuum, we would have to question moral imperatives considering there are some moral claims that we believe are wrong.

            In this case, we can look at the person of Jesus Christ who was pretty clear about both moral claims.

          • Terik123

            What? The Ten Commandments require stoning?

          • Terik123

            You mean like the US holding prisoners in Cuban prison using waterboarding etc.?

      • Max Driffill

        The fact is the bible does get a lot about cosmology, and biology, math and physics absolutely and utterly wrong. This is shoddy work for the author of the universe, working through human authors or directly dictating to them. The fact is the bible gets so many questions wrong that it is a wonder anyone puts as much stock in it as they do. We don't need to posit a divine author inspiring the bible, its content doesn't even hint at that. The more parsimonious explanation for the bible, and the one that fits the known facts is that it just a work of men across several generations with abundance of ignorance (prisoners of their time sure, but ignorance nonetheless) a suite of cognitive and philosophical biases.

        Also implying that Dawkins is immoral without demonstrating that he is immoral is not a very rigorous way to move forward. And your idea that the morality depicted in the bible reflects well on its starring deity indicates you have not really thought too deeply about that question. Because the bible, front to back, is atrocious on moral questions.
        Simply atrocious.

        It demeans women, and proscription their permanent status was second class citizens, and lumps them in with chattel. It endorses slavery, complete with rules about how one may beat their slaves (if the slave dies within a couple of days of the beating, perhaps a bit of censure is in order, but more than that, ah well, it is your property) is pro death penalty, says nothing of substance against child abuse, and contrary to Catholic morality is unconcerned with unborn children. Its central heroes of the old testament are dishonest and go on divinely mandated rampages of genocide and lebensraum. So, if Dawkins isn't living up to biblical morality, then I say, he is probably doing alright.

        • ClayJames

          Only the most extreme and literalist reading of Biblical would require its interpretation to also include biological and physical truths that you are requiring. The ignorance of those people regarding physics and biology say absolutely nothing about the religious truths of the text because educating people about physics and biology was in no way the purpouse of writing these books.

          Regarding Dawkins, I believe his view is immoral and many people would agree with me. If you share the same views as Dawkins regarding morality, then by all means accept what he said about Downs.

          It demeans women, and proscription their permanent status was second
          class citizens, and lumps them in with chattel. It endorses slavery,
          complete with rules about how one may beat their slaves (if the slave
          dies within a couple of days of the beating, perhaps a bit of censure is
          in order, but more than that, ah well, it is your property) is pro
          death penalty, says nothing of substance against child abuse, and
          contrary to Catholic morality is unconcerned with unborn children. Its
          central heroes of the old testament are dishonest and go on divinely
          mandated rampages of genocide and lebensraum. So, if Dawkins isn't
          living up to biblical morality, then I say, he is probably doing
          alright.

          So let me guess, because these things are in the Bible, then therefore, we can believe that they reflect the will of God and we can therefore, denounce God as immoral.

          • Max Driffill

            ClayJames,

            Those things are part of the religious truths, divinely, allegedly, inspired. So yes, if this god existed and his will is thought to be reflected in the words and actions of the bible's divinely inspired heroes and writers, we can infer a great many unpleasant things about the being that inspired them. As a believer I am sure you would like to just hand wave away all that unpleasantness. Such handwaving is not allowed. The problem for serious believers is that there hasn't been any sound criteria proposed that would leave believers with a reliable way to sift through the biblical text able to categorize, "religious truth" vs "product of era." The approaches seem to look exactly like what they are, "cherry-picking."

            If the authors get so very many things wrong, what evidence is there that we should we trust that the writers got the "religious truths" correct? That seems a bit dodgy, and certainly violates the principle of parsimony.

          • ClayJames

            Max, you have a very close minded view of biblical inspiration probably influenced by the writing of ignorant ¨thinkers¨ like Dawkins that have absolutely no understanding of religious texts. To say that because the Bible is inspired that therefore, what is attributed to God is really a description of God´s intentions not only flies in the face of the background of these texts but it also goes against the teachings of Jesus during his time. To say that we must either take all books that were written accross many different centuries by many different authors in many different literary forms as either all true or all false is a ridiculous claim. Like I said in another response, if you were to write a song inspired by your mother, no one would think that your mother wrote that song but that song could still hold many important truths about your mother. But you want to interpret the inspiration of the Bible as the literal Word of God when it is best interpreted taking a holistic approach to the many works it contains and taking into account the culture, authors and literary forms of the text.

            There are ways to sift through biblical texts and it has nothing with chosing what one likes over what one doesn´t like.

          • Max Driffill

            I will have to reject you assessment of my ignorance. I've certainly read and thought very seriously about these matters. In any event, there is just no reason to assume divine inspiration on the part of the biblical writers. And if you grant for Christianity, you cannot rule out divine inspiration for other sects, and groups.

          • ClayJames

            I stand by what I said. I don´t know what you have read and I certainly do not know your thought process, but many of the claims you are making are very ignorant. Especially the claim that there is no sound criteria for interpreting these works. Brandon did a much better job than I did pointing out your ignorance in his two responses to you and I look forward to reading your responses to him.

          • "The problem for serious believers is that there hasn't been any sound criteria proposed that would leave believers with a reliable way to sift through the biblical text able to categorize, "religious truth" vs "product of era.""

            Once again, this displays a remarkable ignorance of biblical scholarship. Scores of books have been written on this precise question. It's clear you're not aware of any of them.

            It would even be fine if you were familiar with such sources but then offered reasonable disagreement. Instead, you audaciously suggested that such criteria hasn't even been proposed. Remarkable.

          • Being a Christian (non-denominational Protestant), I would like to survey this scholarship. Do you have any suggestions on how I might go about doing this? While I'm more on the orthodox side myself (I certainly think Jesus literally died, was literally resurrected to a 'greater-than' body instead of a 'less-than' body—see N.T. Wright on ghosts and the ANE), I'm happy to survey a range of liberal to progressive to conservative positions.

            It also seems like it would be good if there were an online resource which could constantly grow and be linked to, like TalkOrigins was/is when it comes to evolution.

          • David Nickol

            I wouldn't have said what Max Driffil said the way he said it, but of course (and I hope Brandon would agree) there is no universally agreed-upon checklist of criteria such that one might take a biblical text, go through the checklist, and classify the texts as eternal truths, historically conditioned truths, myth or allegory, legend with some historical truth behind it, and so on. Biblical scholars of different stripes will come to different conclusions on a great many things. And of course what may have been accepted as historical truth at one time may be re-evaluated and considered legend or myth at another.

            The problem might very well be considered the opposite of how Max Driffil stated it. There is so much biblical scholarship and interpretation that there are too many proposed criteria for making determinations about biblical texts. That, in effect, would make Max Driffil correct, in that he did not say there were no criteria, but no reliable criteria. It is not uncommon at all reading biblical scholarship to find that there have been multiple explanations offered by different scholars for a particular biblical passage. There are, for example, numerous different "explanations" as to why the Synoptics apparently differ with John on the dating of the Last Supper. Some side with the Synoptics, some side with John, and there are also theories that claim to reconcile the accounts and say they are not in conflict.

          • Oh, I'm in full agreement that there is no master algorithm here, any more than there is one to decide "Which scientific hypothesis is best?" (The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy, 31) Wisdom is not an algorithmic thing.

            I am also in full agreement that there has been an explosion in interpretive options, leading one to think that there are "no reliable criteria". But in what domain are there "no reliable criteria"? Is it just biblical studies, or is it across literature and perhaps even, all human sciences? In my view, there has been a great divorce between theorizing and practice in these domains, which allows theory to explode in variety. I suggest that the true problem is that we do not want to face the truth about ourselves. Mary Douglas and Steven Ney argue this in a way:

                There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like begin told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

            Loosen one's ontology of the human being and the possibilities explode. Let's just not pretend that the problem is located in anything unique to the Bible or religious texts. At best, it is concentrated there because these things profess to investigate the ontology of the human being as one of their principle foci.

          • ClayJames

            There are disagreements in the Bible itself so it should not come as a surprise that one of the most studied and read books in the history of humanity has had different interpretation by different readers over the last 2,000 years.

            Secondly, disagreements do not say anything about the actual truth value of a work. If this were the case, all famous works of literature would be discarded along with the correct interpretation meant by the author. The fact that there are people that think that Genesis is a literal description of the creation of the universe, says nothing about the more probable explanation that it is not.

            You are also setting up a false dichotomy in saying that the Bible is either truth or myth. There is no reason to think that, since most myths are used to communicate a set of truths.

            But most importantly, even though you reject the exact words that Max uses, you espouse the same ignorant mentality that he, the new atheists and fundamentalist, do toward the Bible. If the Bible is truly inspired by God, it should be understood by all, with no level of ambiguity, no consideration for the knowledge, faults and ignorance of its authors and no deliberation about the audience that these people were writing to.

            There is no reason to think that if God truly exists, then one of the most important collection of works about him should be written at a 3rd grade reading level.

          • David Nickol

            You are also setting up a false dichotomy in saying that the Bible is either truth or myth.

            Then why did I write the following:

            and classify the texts as eternal truths, historically conditioned truths, myth or allegory, legend with some historical truth behind it, and so on

            There are a whole range of possibilities for a given passage, and I named just a few, but I certainly did not limit it to "myth or truth." And of course I spoke of individual passages, not the Bible as a whole.

            If the Bible is truly inspired by God, it should be understood by all, with no level of ambiguity, no consideration for the knowledge, faults and ignorance of its authors and no deliberation about the audience that these people were writing to.

            You attribute this belief to me?

          • ClayJames

            You attribute this belief to me?

            It seems that you are implying this. Why else would it be a problem for the Bible to have vast amounts of scholarship that have lead to different interpretations? And how does it follow based on this that there is no reliable criteria?

          • Max Driffill

            I am aware of them. They are all examples of special pleading.

          • Lazarus

            Maybe once one lets go of internet twaddle like "the principle of parsimony " and starts opening to faith in the right way one would be able to see what millions of believers have seen in the Bible these last centuries. You are holding us to the Ken Ham approach to Bible reading, which is a bit unfair on a dedicated Catholic site.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Those things are part of the religious truths,

            Not necessarily. Augustine wrote (in Contra Faustum manichaeum):

            "In the Gospel we do not read that the Lord said: ‘I send you the Holy Spirit so that He might teach you all about the course of the sun and the moon.’ The Lord wanted to make Christians, not astronomers. You learn at school all the useful things you need to know about nature.”

            More recently, Fr. Georges Lemaitre, whom Fred Hoyle called in mockery "the Big Bang man"

            "The writers of the Bible were illuminated more or less -- some more than others -- on the question of salvation. On other questions they were as wise or as ignorant as their generation. Hence it is utterly unimportant that errors of historic or scientific fact should be found in the Bible, especially if errors relate to events that were not directly observed by those who wrote about them.

            The idea that because they were right in their doctrine of immortality and salvation they must also be right on all other subjects is simply the fallacy of people who have an incomplete understanding of why the Bible was given to us at all."

            the bible's divinely inspired heroes and writers

            Remember what "inspired" means in this context. It does not mean "transcribed" as Holy Qur'an is said to be.

            Such handwaving is not allowed.

            That's what you fundamentalists always say.

            there hasn't been any sound criteria proposed that would leave believers with a reliable way to sift through the biblical text able to categorize, "religious truth" vs "product of era."

            Augustine wrote a textbook for this very purpose a millennium and a half ago, yet fundamentalists always overlook it. See http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1202.htm for details. See also the teaching magisterium of the Orthodox and Catholic churches, the writings of the Fathers of the Church, the Doctors of the Church, and all sorts of other stuff that fundamentalists have rejected.

          • George

            Do you ever fail to mention that mean old atheist Fred Hoyle whenever the big bang comes up?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Fairly often, I'm afraid; though I do like to give credit where it is due. It happened at one of the Solvay Conferences, IIRC. Lemaitre had just entered the auditorium and Hoyle nudged the man sitting next to him and said, "Look, here's the 'big bang' man." Later, again IIRC, Hoyle and Lemaitre went of a road trip together. They became friends, though Hoyle never gave up his resistance to the Big Bang.

          • George

            where did I ask for a recap of the story?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Sorry. Do you always search for things to gripe about, no matter how innocuous? I realize now that your initial question was not meant as a question, but as snark. Feel perfectly free to reject any information over and above that which you have explicitly wanted.

        • Peter

          The cosmology message of the Bible is that God created the world (i.e.universe) and that it is ordered. This means that the universe has not been around forever but had a beginning, borne out by the big bang, and that it has universal and unchanging laws, borne out by scientific discovery.

          • Max Driffill

            Peter,
            Many religions have creation myths. So what?

            Furthermore,
            We don't know that the "universe" had a beginning.Though if did, and the Big Bang represents that beginning it has no bearing on Christian theology according to current evidence. The biblical account is certainly a terrible representation of the origin of the universe, and the later evolution of life.

            Nothing in scientific discovery has yet born out the "truth" of christian theology.

          • Peter

            The biblical message derived from the literal account is that the world had a beginning as opposed to being eternal. That is indeed borne out by the big bang. The big bang is the beginning of the space-time of our universe, having occurred 13.8 billion years ago.

            Lemaître was cautious when Pope Pius XII declared the big bang as the moment of creation, but of course Lemaître didn't know about the CMBR

          • Max Driffill

            Doesn't a lot hinge on what we eventually come to know about the universe? The big bang won't be the beginning of the Universe if it turns out we live in a multiverse, but only an iteration, or expansion of said multiverse. A god wouldn't be necessary in such a expansion would it?

            But assume this is the only universe, that still doesn't necessitate a god. Saying so is just assertion. You might think it needs a creator being but you have no evidence that it needs one. The universe is certainly odd and deeply counter-intuitive.

          • Peter

            I certainly agree that our knowledge of the universe is limited and therefore we cannot know the truth about the universe.

            All we can go on is what it appears to be, and the universe appears more and more to be designed to produce the building blocks of life. It is beginning to look like one vast cosmic factory for the production of the ingredients of life, where energy is turned intro matter and matter is made increasingly complex.

            In that respect, the universe appears to have a definite function, a purpose which would necessitate a purpose-giver who designs the universe to do exactly what it does. I would call such a purpose-giver/designer God.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Many religions have creation myths. So what?

            Probably not. There always seems to be something -- the giant Ymir, Chaos, et al. -- from which the world is fashioned that is prior to the fashioning. This is not creation, but transformation. None of these so-called creation myths are consonant with what we know now.

            Beside, creation has to do with the existence of the World, not its beginning in time.

            What has "scientific discovery" got to do with theology, Christian or otherwise? Theology is silent on phlogiston, caloric, and other scientific discoveries.

        • "The fact is the bible does get a lot about cosmology, and biology, math and physics absolutely and utterly wrong."

          The Bible simply isn't concerned with these topics. If you read the Bible through those lenses, you'll have little to no understanding of what the text intends. It's like trying to read a math book through the lens of agriculture because it uses apples and oranges in its examples. You're missing the point.

          "This is shoddy work for the author of the universe, working through human authors or directly dictating to them."

          This reveals that you have little to no understanding about how Catholics view the Bible, despite many articles here explaining it. What you're lamenting is more indicative of a Fundamentalist Protestant or Muslim view. Do you see the difference?

          "The fact is the bible gets so many questions wrong that it is a wonder anyone puts as much stock in it as they do."

          What questions that the Bible attempts to answer does it get wrong? You've provided no specifics; just a bald assertion.

          "The more parsimonious explanation for the bible, and the one that fits the known facts is that it just a work of men across several generations with abundance of ignorance (prisoners of their time sure, but ignorance nonetheless) a suite of cognitive and philosophical biases."

          I don't find much to disagree with here. Who is claiming the Biblical authors are omniscience? Surely nobody here. Thus it's no surprise their ignorant about many subjects.

          And who is claiming they are utterly unbiased? Even more, can you name one historian, scientist, or scholar who was free of cognitive and philosophical biases? I'm genuinely curious.

          Finally, and most ironically, wouldn't this description apply to you, too? Don't you, like the rest of us, suffer from an "abundance of ignorance" and different biases? If that doesn't disqualify you from speaking truth, why would it disqualify the Biblical authors?

          • George

            "The Bible simply isn't concerned with these topics."

            let's be honest, if it did get those topics factually correct, theists would be using that, saying the bible contains scientific truth.

            if the bible had actually described in detail what the stars in the sky were, what would you say about that? would you not care?

          • Some theists would, no doubt. Not all, though. See, for example Roy A. Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality. He argues that what religion most profoundly impacts is one's conception of ultimate reality. Science does not deal with 'ultimate reality'; instead it deals with successive approximations which are not guaranteed to be trending toward a true description in a way that lets one take the current status of scientific theories and project to what is ultimately true. In the words of scientist-turned-philosopher Bernard d'Espagnat:

                In truth, however, with regard to the knowledge of ultimate reality, one would be misguided to blindly trust the pure scientific method and to uncritically raise its results to the status of properties of Being. While physics is almost unerring in its equations, which scarcely meet with anything but successive improvements, making them suitable for the description of an ever-increasing diversity of phenomena, it must be granted that in its history, it has successively given rise to world views that have contradicted one another and that, therefore, can hardly be anything else than mere models. To be sure, such a criticism should not be taken as final, considering that science has arisen only in relatively recent times and that it has developed considerably during the past few decades. Nevertheless, it would be somewhat preposterous to unequivocally assert that any such model is a faithful description of what is. (In Search of Reality, 3)

            It does not make sense for the Bible's authority to be predicated upon science; it would quickly become obsolete, like a science textbook from 1800. Indeed, if there is anything the Bible does, it asks you to penetrate below the appearances, to what really is. Or, to who really is.

            It sounds like it might be good for you to read a book on scientism, like Tom Sorell's Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science. Something to consider, for example, is the prediction that the thing we most needed to feed the entire world was more science and technology. Now, we have the ability to feed ten billion people, and yet on a planet of seven billion, hundreds of millions regularly starve. Perhaps the scientistic prediction was flat-wrong. Perhaps there is another dimension to human existence, one which does not really change with changing technology and science. Perhaps the Bible gets at this dimension.

          • ben

            It does not matter a fig what the stars are made of. If they are hydrogen, so what? How does that "fact" help anyone to relate to other people.
            Can you stop a guy from robbing a bank by explaining that E = mc**2? When a man looks at his son, does he think "wow, F=ma!"? Show me in any so-called science book where it explains how to relate to your neighbor (with the appropriate equations offered as proof).
            There is no such thing as scientific truth; there's only the current theories and opinions which could pass by the wayside with the next discovery. Your so-called "scientific truths" are worthless with respect to interpersonal relationships; man to God and man to man. Are you really reading the Bible and trying to cross-reference it to a physics book?????

          • George

            If, hypothetically, the bible had said what stars were actually made of and what they were, before anyone could use science to discover that, you wouldn't try to impress non-believers with that?

            would you shrug that off and say you believe because you have faith, you won't ever bother using scientific accuracy as a mark in favor of your belief?

            what I'm asking all of you is: do you get to have things both ways?

          • Michael Murray

            There is no such thing as scientific truth; there's only the current theories and opinions which could pass by the wayside with the next discovery

            Mostly the new theories just improve the old ones and extend their range of applicability. Did you notice the stars falling out of the sky when Einstein "disproved" Newton on gravity ?

          • ben

            When Einstein became famous because of that star experiment during the solar eclipse, he began to cheat on his wife, then finally divorced her (with out whom there might not have been a theory of anything) for a younger babe. So your morality is relative to your current feelings and has no baseline or standard. What does gravity have to do with human relationships? Explain it to criminals and I'm sure they will throw down their weapons and go home reformed and humble. So much for the age of science: bloody, violent, chaotic and ever darkening.

          • Michael Murray

            Which is relevant to my comment how ?

        • Lazarus

          I agree that it is quite out of order to call Dawkins immoral.

    • neil_pogi

      the Bible was not written as biology and cosmology books. its only concern is to inform mankind that there is a God, a Creator of the universe.

      • Max Driffill

        It doesn't do this very well.

    • Terik123

      To expect ancients to have the same scientific background and knowledge is the expectation of an uneducated person.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    The same I suppose could be argued for the Quran. Some desert merchant claims a book is written by God himself, and eventually over a billion people believe him. Many say that the text is beautiful, full of wisdom and power surpassing what it would seem someone with Mohammed's background could produce. Unless Mohammed was a spiritual genius, of similar caliber to Jesus and Moses and Siddhartha.

    Where did the Apostles receive their inspiration? I think it was from the imaginative genius of Jesus, whose ideas they parroted with some success. The New Testament was clearly a work of genius, to inspire such great art and music and other writings. The New Testament is not nearly as morally disgusting as the Old Testament, but critically fails by proclaiming the truth of the Old Testament.

    Was the Bible inspired? Yes, as much at least as the Iliad. Is the source for the Bible divine? No more than the source for the Iliad. If some God is responsible for every single verse in the Bible, it it a wicked and puerile God indeed.

    • ClayJames

      If some God is responsible for every single verse in the Bible, it it a wicked and puerile God indeed.

      It depends what you mean by responsible. You would have to believe that God moved the hand of these writers as they were writing it and that what he attributed to himself as he was writing it was the literal truth. No one who should be taken seriously believes this.

      If on the other hand if I am inspired to write a poem about my wife, no one would ever think that my wife wrote the poem but that does not mean that the poem cannot be a great source (or the best source) of truth about my wife.

      I think you have built up somewhat of a false dichotomy.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        It sounds like we could agree about inspiration. I would believe that God inspired the writers of the Bible, an angel inspired Mohammed, and a goddess inspired Homer when she sang of the anger of Achilles.

        I think you have built up somewhat of a false dichotomy.

        What would that dichotomy be?

        • ClayJames

          That the Bible´s inspiration is either equivalent to the Iliad or literally written by God´s hand.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I don't think the Bible strictly has to be one or the other. I think it's very likely the same sort of inspiration that Homer received, and nothing more. That's the way it reads to me.

          • ClayJames

            You would have to deny that the central part of the Bible is written about the son of God since this is not a central part of Homer´s Iliad.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            But the central character in the New Testament was the son of God. I would not deny that.

            The Iliad was written about the great grandson of Zeus, Achilles, and a great great grandson of Zeus, Agamemnon. These were the two central characters in that story.

          • ClayJames

            Right, but Homer is not writing a description of contemporary events that he was either witness to or the description of other witnesses. The Iliad would more closely resemble the book of Genesis than the Gospels.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Sure. I'm only comparing these stories in terms of the inspiration, not the genre. I think they're both filled with some history and a bunch of made up stories. The ratios are different. The Iliad is more legend and less history, and the Gospels are more history and less legend.

          • Max Driffill

            Its not clear that the New Testament was written by witnesses of any kind either. The gospel writers wrote many decades later, and Paul wasn't a witness to any of the events of Jesus' life either.

          • ClayJames

            Like I said, it was either written by witnesses or based on the description of other witnesses by their contemporaries. There are some clues pointing to the first one and we can be fairly sure of the second one.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The gospel writers wrote many decades later

            But within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses. Jesus was reputedly 30 years old when he was executed. We can suppose the bulk of his followers were likewise in their twenties or thirties, with some perhaps older. Peter was executed around AD 60, and his younger secretary, Mark, organized his notes on Peter's sermons shortly after. This was in accord with traditional Greek historiography, which distrusted the written word (which could not be cross-examined) vis a vis eyewitness testimony (the "living word", which could). Most bioi were only written when the eyewitnesses had begun dying off. We see this pretty uniformly in Greek and Roman bioi such as the teachings of Plotinus.

            Paul wasn't a witness to any of the events of Jesus' life

            That's why he did not write a bios of Jesus. Instead he wrote pastoral letters to the parishes he founded. He learned of the life and teachings of Jesus from long discussions with Peter, James, and John, with whom he spent time in Jerusalem.

            Now that I think on't, James MacPherson was not a witness to any of the events of the US Civil War, either; yet he wrote Battle Cry of Freedom.

          • Max Driffill

            I'm not very convinced that Paul did have long discussions with Peter, James, or John, but if he did, this doesn't constitute very good evidence for the truth of the New Testament.

            We have no evidence that any of the gospel writers did in fact speak to any actual eye witnesses. It is actually slightly unlikely that many eye witnesses (not exactly the most reliable of evidence anyway) were available to the writers of the canonical gospels given the average life expectancies of the region and era.

            The earliest dates for Mark lie between 66-70 AD. That is at least 30+ years after the events. The average life expectancy in the first century of the Roman empire at that time was 28. How likely is it that many of Jesus' inner circle lived to see 66-70 AD? Not very. If you were wealthy and lived well you might see a much longer life? Is that likely to be true of key witnesses to the alleged events? No.

            The problem gets worse with each Gospel coming later and later following Mark.

            But lets suppose there were some witnesses to the alleged events, how dependable are their memories of the events, their accounts likely to be? Again, I wouldn't trust those accounts very much given the work time and culture might have worked on them. The simple fact is eye witnesses are notoriously unreliable, and our memories are not concrete records of past events. A great deal of work has been done on the ease with which false memories can be implanted in good and honest people.

            What we need, in addition to eye witness accounts is a lot more corroboration from other sources than we have. There just aren't many independent sources that support the gospels. That doesn't mean that Jesus didn't exist but it does mean, I think, that we can't say much that is concrete about him, or his teachings.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I'm not very convinced that Paul did have long discussions with Peter, James, or John,

            Other than his own testimony, and that of Luke in Acts. This is better confirmation than we get for a lot of ancient things, like Tiberius and his "little fishes."

            but if he did, this doesn't constitute very good evidence for the truth of the New Testament.

            It provides pretty good evidence for the trials and tribulations of Paul, the controversies in the parishes he founded, and so on. He does not testify to the gospels, Acts, or other books because they haven't been written yet.

            We have no evidence that any of the gospel writers did in fact speak to any actual eye witnesses.

            Well, except for what Papias of Syrian Hierapolis wrote regarding Mark:

            Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took special care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.

            Papias was writing around AD 100, which in ancient history terms is practically hot off the presses. He writes that he had spoken personally to those who had heard Andrew, John, Peter, and others and directly to two surviving disciples, Aristion and John the Presbyter.

            Internally, we notice that Mark uses the standard Greek method of citing sources; viz., the naming of incidental characters in the text, such as Bartimaeus or Jairus. Simon of Cyrene is mentioned as "the father of Alexander and Rufus," a curious thing. In Greek historiographical practice, this meant that Alexander and Rufus were known to the community in Rome at the time, though Simon was not. For a comparable text, see Porphyry's life of Plotinus. In his intro,

            Luke describes the usual Greek practice:

            Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.

            The Greek term translated as "eyewitness" had a different connotation than in Anglo-Saxon law. It is more like "first-hand participant's account" than it is like "accidental bystander's account."

            The average life expectancy in the first century of the Roman empire at that time was 28. How likely is it that many of Jesus' inner circle lived to see 66-70 AD? Not very.

            This is why amateurs should not try to do statistics at home. First, you cannot draw inferences about individuals based on group averages. The average human being has one testicle.

            In particular, we don't actually know the average life expectancy from two thousand years ago, but we do know that it would have been heavily influenced by infant mortality. Anyone who survived infancy was likely to live as long as most moderns, at least until most recent times. Thus, eyewitnesses (who need not have been "inner circle", but only with him "from the beginning") would easily have survived into old age. And the practice was to assemble the notes and write things up when the eyewitnesses began to die off.

            how dependable are their memories of the events, their accounts likely to be? Again, I wouldn't trust those accounts very much given the work time and culture might have worked on them. The simple fact is eye witnesses are notoriously unreliable, and our memories are not concrete records of past events.

            Which is the difference between a "first-hand participant's account" (αὐτόπτης) and an "accidental bystander's account." For details of when rehearsed accounts are reliable, see Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition as History, which is illustrated with many accounts from modern times and from African oral histories. No one supposes that the gospels were written by total strangers who just happened to be passing through when the events went down.

            What we need, in addition to eye witness accounts is a lot more corroboration from other sources than we have. There just aren't many independent sources that support the gospels.

            Of course, much the same can be said about any ancient information. In fact, the life of Jesus is better attested than those of most lower class subjects of first century Rome, and better even than many more prominent people.

          • ben

            Who are the people who lived with Achilles and knew him personally? Where are they buried?
            It amazes and disappoints me that you continue to dismiss the eye witness testimony of actual persons as mere stories (lies actually, since they are presented as true accounts of actual events).

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I take the facts surrounding Jesus's death and the events afterwords very seriously, much more seriously than I suspect many non-Catholics would. I'm willing to go with McGrew & McGrew's assessment, that the resurrection is 10^44 times more likely after the evidence than before. The evidence is overwhelming! It's just that the improbability of a resurrection is so much more overwhelming! How I work out the probabilities can be found here: https://boltzmannbraindotorg.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/probability-of-the-resurrection/

          • Rob Abney

            I wonder how it would affect your calculations and your understanding of the Bible if instead of considering that this is about the Son of God that you approach it from the Catholic understanding that the Son of God is God.

            That's how the story came into existence, by those witnesses who finally understood that the Trinity exists.

          • David Nickol

            That's how the story came into existence, by those witnesses who finally understood that the Trinity exists.

            I am wondering in what sense you are using the word witnesses. One of my favorite references, Dictionary of the Bible by John L. McKenzie, S.J., says:

            The trinity of God is defined by the Church as the belief that in God there are three persons who subsist in one nature. The belief as so defined was reached only in the 4th and 5th centuries AD and hence is not explicitly and formally a biblical belief. The trinity of persons within the unity of nature is defined in terms of "person" and "nature" which are Gk philosophical terms; actually the terms do not appear in the Bible. The trinitarian definitions arose as the result of long controversies in which these terms and others such as "essence" and "substance" were erroneously applied to God by some theologians. The ultimate affirmation of trinity of persons and unity of nature was declared by the Church to be the only correct way in which these terms could be used.

            If you are using the term witnesses to apply to those who followed Jesus in his lifetime, or who were converted by the Apostles in the very early Church, then I think you are attributing to them a belief that only came much later, and which they could not possibly have understood.

          • Rob Abney

            Maybe I should've referred to it as a belief rather than an understanding.

            Matthew 28:19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,

            (Notes): In the name of the Father…holy Spirit: this is perhaps the clearest expression in the New Testament of trinitarian belief. It may have been the baptismal formula of Matthew’s church, but primarily it designates the effect of baptism, the union of the one baptized with the Father, Son, and holy Spirit.

          • David Nickol

            Of course, when we read "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," we immediately think of the trinity. But what did it mean to Matthew? I don't know, and have often thought of researching the topic. But I can tell you that Matthew did not think there were three persons in one God. It took literally centuries to work out that conclusion.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            If I thought beforehand that Jesus by nature had the power to come back from the dead, I would conclude that Jesus probably came back from the dead. But I don't think this beforehand, so I don't reach that conclusion. How can I determine the probability that a person has the power to return to life before they die? How can this be determined for an historical figure?

          • Rob Abney

            It can be determined from an historical figure easier if you include all the data. The only data you are considering is the resurrection, but you're omitting the fact that not only did he say he would rise from the dead but that he said he was God and he would rise from the dead. You are repeating history by not knowing history, there were many misunderstandings in the early church about who Jesus was but those were resolved so that we could continue to unpack the supernatural aspects that are hard to understand. You are resurrecting old heresies like Arianism.
            Are you at St. Andrew's? He believed that Jesus was his Lord and God from their first meeting, prior to any great miracles.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            People may say some guy named Joe came back from the dead. There might be some testimony. Maybe a couple hundred people say they saw him but now he's disappeared. I don't believe it. But wait! They say Joe claimed to be sent here by aliens that can rebuild physical bodies! Does that really make it more plausible?

          • Rob Abney

            That's my point, it is more plausible because He said he was going to do it and then he did it.
            I'm curious as to how that would affect your extensive calculation, it has to increase the probability to some degree.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I don't see how it would have a significant effect. Someone says "I'm going to win the lottery this time." doesn't really affect the odds that they will. I don't see how it counts very much at all as evidence toward a physical resurrection.

          • Rob Abney

            Am I wrong in assuming that you did that whole page of intricate calculations? If you did it seems like there should be some probability factor that you could assign to the foretelling of the event.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            The calculations are not that intricate really. But yes, I did carry them out. It's simply a rough estimate of the probability of a thermalized body returning to its pre-death state, which I set as the prior probability for a physical resurrection. McGrew & McGrew made some even rougher estimates of how much of an effect the evidence should have. I multiply the two numbers together and still get a very small number.

            To calculate the significance of predicting something as evidence for the thing happening, I'd need some general measure. What would it be? If I guess that I'm going to sprout wings tomorrow, does that make it more likely that I will in fact sprout wings? How much more likely? I don't understand how Jesus's prediction that he'd come back from death qualifies as evidence that he'd come back from death. If it does, I don't see how I would be able to incorporate that evidence into either my calculation or McGrew & McGrew's calculation.

          • Mike

            how can you model the probability of something that only happened once supposedly?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I can do so using Bayes' Theorem. The trouble is in setting the priors, but I have a principle by which I set my priors. So far I haven't found any real intuitive problems (where intuition would tell me that the probability of something is high, but my system tells me the probability is low).

            At the end of the day, I have to get some sort of handle on the probability that a story is true, in order to determine whether I believe it or not. I think Jesus may have returned from the dead in some sort of spiritual or metaphorical sense, but not physically, for the reasons stated in the blog post.

          • Mike

            well if he didn't rise physically from the dead the religion is null and void imho. trying to save it via the liberal protestant path is a waste of time imho.

          • Lazarus

            I've often wondered about that returning in a "spiritual sense" (let's not try to define that to death). Would it be all that far removed from Catholic doctrine if we accept for the sake of argument that Jesus was resurrected in some spiritual sense? If by that we accept his return as some form of spirit, does that in itself not already establish a meaningful life after death? Does that in itself not defeat materialism?

            This type of spiritual arising is sometimes contrasted to a physical, bodily resurrection. I'm not sure that, to me at least, that makes all that much difference. Should it meaningfully change my Catholicism if instead of current doctrine I rather accept that after death I will live on in a spiritual sense? Isn't that most believers' idea of "life in heaven" in any event?

          • Mike

            i think that the problem with that is what is meant by spiritual and what it means for our view of our physical bodies here. Are they 'temples of the holy spirit' are they really us or are they just something that 'gets in the way' and we can do what we please with it as it isn't 'really' what we're about.

            i think that that is called gnosticism but i am not entirely sure.

          • Rob Abney

            I wouldn't expect such a response from someone called Lazarus!
            But, I used to think similarly. However, the soul is already immaterial so a spiritual resurrection is nothing special. But Catholic dogma is that Jesus had a bodily resurrection and he makes it possible for us to have a bodily resurrection too one day.

          • Lazarus

            I so carefully phrased my musings to reflect that I am aware of doctrine, but that I do not personally see the alternative as a problem. Obviously not carefully enough. My bad.

          • Rob Abney

            Lazurus, personally that very issue is what made the biggest difference in all my understanding of theology.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I like the commentary, and also like how it goes with the name Lazarus.

          • ben

            Probability is fundamentally just a calculation trying to predict the future occurrence of an event based on known past history. McGrew's calculation is non-sense because there were no previous such events.
            You have to remember that when Mary Magdalene told the Apostles that she had seen Jesus, they told her that she was talking non-sense.
            When Jesus appeared in the locked room, they thought He was a ghost (until they were invited to touch Him..until He ate with them...)

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Then when he eats with me and a bunch of others, hangs around for a while, that would be easily sufficient to overcome the small prior probabilities discussed in the blog post.

            If Jesus is alive, give me his address, or phone number, and we can get in touch. That'd be sufficient evidence to move the probabilities, and make it rational for me to believe. Presently, however, belief in something I think is so improbable would be entirely irrational.

          • Michael Murray

            Can you find a kosher restaurant in St Andrews though ?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            There are a couple in Dundee. If I took him there, he might give up on the human race.

          • Michael Murray

            Asking this question started me wondering how orthodox Jesus would have appeared relative to modern orthodox Jews ? At least when he started out. I tried to google but I get lost in pages of discussion about Christianity and Judaism.

    • Mike

      "not nearly as morally disgusting as the Old Testament"

      what's weird is how many jews have been moral exemplars in history and how many of them seem to have risen above this morally disgusting book and become leaders of academia or politics or business and finance...gee weird.

      Sarcasm ON as some folks don't seem to pick up on it!

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        The secret is not to take it to seriously.

        • Mike

          i had a feeling you would say that ;)

        • ClayJames

          The secret is to read it considering who the author was, what his intentions were, the cultural and sociopolitical climate it was written in, the religiosity of these people and the audience that it was written for.

          To say that the secret is to not take it seriously is intellectual laziness.

      • David Nickol

        And they managed it all while being persecuted by Christians!

        • Mike

          now do you see how powerful the OT is!

      • ben

        What makes your opinion the standard of morality? Who are you, God?

        You God-hating anti-theists stubbornly refuse to see that the Bible presents the actual moral condition of the human race because of the sin of Adam and Eve. It shows clearly what you can expect when God's law is broken or ignored. Men without God are morally disgusting; morally bankrupt and without an iota of hope for anything better.

        Oh wait! PV=nRT! That'll fix everything, earth is now heaven on earth.

        • Michael Murray

          Mike's become an anti-theist ? Amazing. Welcome aboard Mike !

          • Mike

            ha ha you wish ;)

        • Mike

          tone it down a bit dude i am on your side.

    • I am curious; how "morally disgusting" do you find Rwandan Genocide § United States to be? With the Holocaust but fifty years earlier, we had a reputable source who said there was going to be another Holocaust; as a result we rushed to prevent stood by and watched another mass atrocity. Oh, and if you want to bring in Battle of Mogadishu, I would be happy to compare the loss of life there, as well as the 'political fallout', to the loss of life in Rwanda.

      • David Nickol

        I am not sure I understand the sense of your question. I don't see how the United States fits in. In the Old Testament, we have God himself perpetrating or commanding acts (for example, the slaughter of men, women, children, and animals; or the infliction of plagues on all of Egypt as the result of God's own hardening of Pharaoh's heart so he does not give in to the demands of Moses).

        I would not classify the Old Testament as "morally disgusting." But I don't understand what your question is intended to elicit from Paul Brandon Rimmer.

        And of course, not every action of the United States has been morally defensible. Not by a long shot!

        • I'm trying to investigate this deep-seated belief that we Westerners are terrifically more moral than them OT barbarians. It is only from such a stance of moral superiority that certain statements can be made. It strikes me that actual moral superiority predicts that we would prevent certain things if we had enough power and knowledge; that we manifestly fail to do this questions one of the three: sufficient power, sufficient knowledge, sufficient goodness.

          Suppose, for example, that we aren't nearly as morally superior as we think we are. That would seem to force a radical reinterpretation of OT texts by many, especially New Atheists. One might go as far as to say that given the crappy human material he had, YHWH might not be that far from optimality—maybe he even hit optimality. Now, one can always say that YHWH designed humans badly, but this is a claim which needs justification, not bare assertion. I think the attempt to justify it would be fraught with difficulty, principally the undercutting kind.

          It is becoming increasingly apparent to me that many of the problems in this world are caused by a simple little belief: "I am better than they." I like to play the skeptic: "Is that true?"

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I wouldn't look to US politicians to rewrite the Bible, although in the past at least one tried. I think they'd come up with a morally superior document in the end; at least one succeeded in this regard. I would worry, though, about the literary value of the result.

        The Jefferson Bible is a good case of keeping both some literary value and improving the morals and sensibility of the New Testament text, by simply removing the offending sections with some scissors.

        • I'm confused; I wasn't looking for anyone to rewrite the Bible. Actually, my suspicion is that intellectuals and scientists tried to rewrite human nature around the beginning of the 1900s (Steven Pinker hints at this in a TED talk on The Blank Slate; keyword tabula rasa), but all they did was sink themselves into deep delusion, from which we have yet to escape. But we continue to act as if we're morally superior. I don't know how much evidence will have to accrue for us to question that claim.

          The idea that deleting unpalatable pages from the Bible will improve humanity seems to me to be on par with the idea that deleting unpalatable pages of history will improve humanity. One could say that the Jewish Holocaust was deleted when it came to considerations about what to do with the accelerating Rwandan Genocide. We know the results of that.

          • Lazarus

            I find also that no-one mentions that the Jefferson bible seems to have been popular with hardly anyone except Jefferson. And Hitch.

          • Hmmm, I wasn't aware of that. I'm not surprised, although I know many people pretend away the parts of reality they don't like. For example, there are some on a state credential commissioning committee I know who are under the impression that students don't frequently use expletives in a downtown, mixed race, lower-middle class public middle school. They have a pretty little view of reality, and based on that, judge harshly a teacher who was caught uttering an expletive once. So I suspect the attitude of "I can snip pieces I don't like and permanently ignore them" is more common than would be guessed by the number of people who liked the Jefferson Bible.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I am interested that you compare the Amalekite genocide to the holocaust. Is it God or Samuel who takes up the role of Hitler? Perhaps it is best if we don't forget and don't use the text as a moral example.

            People today are morally better off overall than people hundreds of years ago. Hopefully people hundreds of years from now will surpass us. There's still a lot of room for improvement. Technology by which we can kill each other more efficiently also improves. Hopefully our moral improvement will be at a greater rate than our technological improvements, so that we do not destroy ourselves. I am hopeful that we will not do so.

          • I am interested that you compare the Amalekite genocide to the holocaust. Is it God or Samuel who takes up the role of Hitler?

            There are many disanalogies which I could go into on this matter. Feel free to request that I do so. I wasn't actually attempting this comparison; I was attempting to understand what you meant by the term "morally disgusting".

            My point in bringing up Rwandan Genocide § United States was to challenge the very idea that "People today are morally better off overall than people hundreds of years ago." Here's the rub: I claim that how morally well-off you are must depend on context. Someone with more power to prevent evil at less cost is more culpable for preventing a given evil. Likewise, someone with less need to commit evil (e.g. the US screwing with governments all around the world, including propping up Saddam Hussein) is more culpable for committing that evil.

            There are several very interesting TV shows which have come out as of late, which reduce humans back to a state of constant economic fragility; one example is Revolution. There, we see imagination of what would happen if today's "moral specimens" were to be placed in a context that's a bit closer to the ANE. Food is scarce, technology has regressed greatly, and there are bigger power disparities. What you see as a result is pretty grim. It seems to deeply question the thesis that we are morally superior beings.

            Note that it is always possible to define "more moral" in a way that your argument succeeds. However, I will want to investigate the properties of that comparison. What does it predict? What was predicted by it in the past and did those predictions pan out or were they falsified? I'm only interested in definitions of "more moral" which are useful; merely academic definitions are of little interest. Such definitions are probably more likely to delude us into a state of false security than lead to increased truth-seeking and human wellbeing.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Slavery is not allowed in many countries compared to the past. The fraction of the world population that is enslaved is smaller than in the past. This is a practical moral improvement for someone who might have otherwise been a slave. Rights for blacks and women in the western world have been improved compared to one hundred years ago. This is a practical improvement for blacks and women in the western world. There is still much that can still be improved.

          • Slavery is not allowed in many countries compared to the past.

            Slavery involves the use of the powerless to serve the needs of the powerful. A critical aspect to it is a huge disparity of living standards, access to opportunity, etc. Suppose that to replace slavery, the disparity is kept, but the living standards for everyone are improved a bit. Or even, suppose that the living standards of the rich increase at a faster rate than the powerless. Is this a "morally superior" situation to slavery? To get an idea of what disparity we might be headed towards, note that we're on the way to provide incredible life extension to the powerful. It won't be given to everyone.

            The fraction of the world population that is enslaved is smaller than in the past.

            Let's work with this "per capita" metric. Suppose in the future, there are one quadrillion populated planets. To maintain order, the most evil planet (judged by whatever metric) is obliterated from existence, along with its inhabitants. Compared on a per capita basis to today, it is orders of magnitude less violent than our world, today. (One can consult Steven Pinker's use of the per capita metric with violence.) Would you say that such a future is actually a moral improvement on our own?

            Rights for blacks and women in the western world have been improved compared to one hundred years ago.

            How much decline in social mobility† is required to offset this improvement? Note that the traditional human pattern of there being few "haves" with much power over the "have-nots" does not require any fixed method of discrimination. Sexism is a way to accomplish this, but not required. The same goes for racism. Instead, we could just switch to net worth. That doesn't have to discriminate based on skin color or gender.

            † See, for example, Robert D. Putnam's Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

          • David Nickol

            The "big question" is whether or not God himself ordered genocide. The Bible says he did. This is not a question of whether the ancient Israelites were less moral than, say, contemporary Americans. It is whether God himself authorized the killing of innocent people, including children.

          • I think it is more complicated. For example, I think current attitudes toward the permissibility of abortion are in great conflict with attitudes about the permissibility of God doing what the Bible describes him as doing. There is also the question of whether the nations targeted by Israel for extermination had plenty of knowledge and reason and opportunity to run away, before an unstoppable force (according to the narrative, they had utterly defeated the strongest nation known to exist). If one examines the words used in the conquest narratives, one finds a higher frequency of "drive out" verbs than "exterminate" verbs.

            The matter is much more complex than the above, but I state it to give you a taste. I'll say one more thing. The best way for God to act varies drastically depending on whether he is engaged in a process of teaching humans to be adults and act as adults, or whether he is happy to forever coddle them as children.

          • Mike

            Well if any body imho can morally take the life of another person directly on purpose it is God...if anybody, and maybe not even he can do that morally but i can't really see a clear reason why He wouldn't be able to do that. Afterall we are all going to do in the event of a cosmic accident of some sort but that he should order it, i am not sure why that would seem wrong.

            But i am sincerely interested why you think if you do that God ordering death to ppl would be immoral in itself.

          • David Nickol

            But i am sincerely interested why you think if you do that God ordering death to ppl would be immoral in itself.

            It seems clear to me that it is not "immoral" of God to cause someone to die. God cannot murder anyone.

            However, it also seems to me that it would be unthinkable for God to command human beings to kill other innocent human beings, because it is intrinsically evil for a human being to kill another innocent human being. I do not see how it can be argued that God can command a person—or delegate a person—to commit an intrinsically evil act. If God can command (or give permission to) murder, then he can command any intrinsic evil. If God may give permission to people to commit intrinsically evil acts, how can anything be forbidden? Anyone could do anything as long as he or she was convinced it was God who wanted it done.

          • David Nickol

            There's a practical problem, too. If you were an Israelite soldier, how would you know that the orders your commanding officer gave you (to kill women and children) were from God?

          • Mike

            you're right about the distinction and thanks for pointing it out as i was conflating God 'ending' life with God commanding a person to kill another person which is a different issue.

            i also agree that for God to command intrinsic evil is 'outside' her nature and she can't will it, not directly at least but i am not sure. This obv. creates problems for those passages so 1 way out is to interpret them metaphorically. but if one thinks they weren't meant to be taken that way the problem persists.

            but in the summa there's this: , Augustine says (Qq. 83,3): "No wise man is the cause of another man becoming worse. Now God surpasses all men in wisdom. Much less therefore is God the cause of man becoming worse; and when He is said to be the cause of a thing, He is said to will it." Therefore it is not by God's will that man becomes worse. Now it is clear that every evil makes a thing worse. Therefore God wills not evil things.

            and this from thomas:

            Now God wills no good more than He wills His own goodness; yet He wills one good more than another. Hence He in no way wills the evil of sin, which is the privation of right order towards the divine good. The evil of natural defect, or of punishment, He does will, by willing the good to which such evils are attached. Thus in willing justice He wills punishment; and in willing the preservation of the natural order, He wills some things to be naturally corrupted.

            so it would seem that there's an out that God can command death to preserve the good.

            What do you think? w/o getting into how you know for certain what God wants you to actually do.

          • ben

            You don't get it. God is not just Creator, God is Lord. God is the source of physical and moral laws. God is judge. Our lives are not our own. As Lord, God has the inherent right to pass judgment on our actions and decide what the consequences are. Your sense of morality is, itself, a product of the natural law which is written by God into your being/psyche.

          • David Nickol

            God is the source of physical and moral laws.

            Does that mean that God can decide to make feeding the hungry a sin and rape a meritorious deed? I certainly don't think so. Consequently he can't command human beings to murder each other, because murder is murder whether you decide to do it yourself or whether you think God commands you to do it.

            You don't get it.

            Don't be condescending.

        • ben

          The Jefferson bible is what you get when humans set themselves up as the standard for acceptable behavior.

          The Jefferson bible is what you get when humans set themselves up as the standard for determining what is true.
          Throw out that which requires you to change the way you live so you don't have to feel guilty.

          Throw out that which you don't understand and you are no longer challenged to learn (and change your behavior accordingly)

  • ClayJames

    It will never cease to amaze me how groups like American Atheists are so terrible at trying to fulfill their primary goal which is ¨to defend the separation of religion from government¨.

    In order to sell a product (or an idea), you must first know your market. If you study the market, you would realize that if as little as 20% of theists support the separation of church and state, then it outnumbers the 100% of atheists that also share this support (the real number is higher than 20%). Therefore, the last thing you want to do is to alienate the majority of your potention market. Additionally, the theist market has a much higher potential for growth since we can assume the atheist market is capped. Also, it is a lot easier for someone to accept and support an idea that fits with their framework, than to completly try to change their most fundamental beliefs in order to hold this simply idea.

    I think a fundamental hate of religion clouds a lot of their judgement.

    • neil_pogi

      aren't atheists aware that atheism is also a religion?

      if they can prove that God doesn't exists, then prove it, all they do is anti-theism.

      if they can prove that all their 'beliefs' are true, then prove them by experiments, tests and observations..

      http://vridar.org/2015/09/14/new-atheism-versus-old-atheism-and-what-is-a-cult/

      • Michael

        Nowhere in that article is it stated that atheism is a religion.

  • GCBill

    That Dawkins pic summed up my reaction to the title of this piece. :p

    But anyway, it's not clear to me that Jesus does fit all the criteria for the Jewish Messiah. I tend to side with the scholars who interpret the census story as retrofitting a real person (likely born in Nazareth as his title would suggest) so that his life would fall in accordance with prophecy. I take this angle because any sensible census wouldn't force every person to return to their place of birth (why is that info more useful than knowing where they live now, anyway?). The alternative explanations for this weird story (bizarre economics in the case of the Christian, or an unnecessarily complicated lie in the case of the mythicist) strike me as significantly less plausible.

    • "But anyway, it's not clear to me that Jesus does fit all the criteria for the Jewish Messiah. I tend to side with the scholars who interpret the census story as retrofitting a real person (likely born in Nazareth as his title would suggest) so that his life would fall in accordance with prophecy. I take this angle because any sensible census wouldn't force every person to return to their place of birth."

      It seems--at least by this comment--that your strongest objection to Jesus fulfilling Messianic prophecies is because you find it hard to believe the census account in St. Luke's Gospel, and in particular you doubt that an ancient census would require citizens to return to their homeland.

      The following is a record of a census taken in the year 104 A.D. which contains similar wording to that found in the Gospel:

      "Gaius Vibius Maximus, the Prefect of Egypt, declares: The census by household having begun, it is essential that all those who are away from their nomes be summoned to return to their own hearths so that they may perform the customary business of registration and apply themselves to the cultivation which concerns them." (Ref: http://bvogt.us/1KOENhl)

      Another census was uncovered from 48 A.D. which also records a return of the people to their native land for the census. It reads as follows:

      "I Thermoutharion along with Apollonius, my guardian, pledge an oath to Tiberius Claudius Caesar that the preceding document gives an accurate account of those returning, who live in my household, and that there is no one else living with me, neither a foreigner, nor an Alexandrian, nor a freedman, nor a Roman citizen, nor an Egyptian. If I am telling the truth, may it be well with me, but if falsely, the reverse. In the ninth year of the reign of Tiberius Claudius Augustus Germanicus Emperor."

      These two census reports were discovered only fairly recently, and it's interesting to note that both accounts required a person to return to their homeland to be registered. Thus, at the very least, St. Luke's account is plausible, and barring some serious reason to doubt it, it doesn't stand as a serious challenge to Jesus fulfilling Messianic expectations.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Both of those examples, as you have quoted, sound like they are asking people to return to their current homes (in the event that they are traveling), not to the the homes of their ancestors as in the Gospel of Luke.

        EDIT: See GCBill's reply. His response is more detailed than mine :-)

        • Max Driffill

          Exactly. Brandon's use of those examples is massively disingenuous.

        • See Joe's reply above which explains how Bethlehem was plausibly not just David's ancestral home, but his family home.

        • Luke doesn't say registrants must return "to the homes of their ancestors." You've twisted the biblical account to make it look incompatible with what Joe and I have said earlier.

          Luke says, "And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David."

          Joe has already explained how these two bits of information are completely consistent with the two other census examples shared above.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            ...and see my reply to Joe. It says Joseph went to Bethlehem not because he lived there but " because he belonged to the house and line of David." If Joseph lives in Bethlehem he has no reason to be looking for an inn. I don't think that I'm twisting the biblical account here.

      • GCBill

        This is very interesting, but on close inspection I don't think it supplies information consistent with the Biblical narrative.

        Regarding your link, the footnotes say that a "nome" refers to an administrative district. Those who are away from home are to return to their districts and be counted. I don't think that's the same thing as requesting people to return to their places of birth. It seems more plausible to interpret it to mean one's current place of residence. In which case it's asking those who are traveling (for business or other reasons) to be counted in their home area to avoid confusion. That's a far cry from sending people to a place they currently don't live for...I don't know what purpose.

        Of course, I could be wrong. But that's what I gather from reading this fragment alone in light of what I already know of Roman census procedures.

        EDIT: Since I replied through Disqus notifications, I did not see that OverlappingMagisteria had already said what I was thinking. His response is more succinct than mine.

      • David Nickol

        It seems--at least by this comment--that your strongest objection to Jesus fulfilling Messianic prophecies . . . .

        The reason for not believing that Jesus fulfilled Messianic prophecies is that there were none. I suppose it can be argued that there are themes in the Old Testament that were picked up and employed in Jewish Messianism, but Jewish Messianism developed almost entirely after the Old Testament was completed, consequently it is anachronistic to "find" Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament.

        There is no prophecy in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be pierced with a lance or that his bones would not be broken. The Gospel of John is highly theological and is the only Gospel to claim that the side of Jesus was pierced. In John's account, we are seeing his theology, not the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.

        • "The reason for not believing that Jesus fulfilled Messianic prophecies is that there were none. I suppose it can be argued that there are themes in the Old Testament that were picked up and employed in Jewish Messianism, but Jewish Messianism developed almost entirely after the Old Testament was completed, consequently it is anachronistic to "find" Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament."

          You replied to this comment string, but who are you arguing with, David? Seems like a straw man. Neither GCBill nor I said anything about the Old Testament. We simply referred to "Messianic prophecies", wherever they originated, whether from the OT or elsewhere. There's overwhelming historical evidence (read N.T. Wright) that such prophecies existed at the time of Jesus. Thus you need serious evidence to claim "there were none".

          "There is no prophecy in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be pierced with a lance or that his bones would not be broken."

          Again, who here has claimed this? You're arguing against a straw man.

          • David Nickol

            You replied to this comment string, but who are you arguing with, David?

            I thought we were all discussing Joe Heschmeyer's post, which clearly asserts that there there are passages in the Old Testament that "predict" Jesus himself and incidents in his life. He says, for example,

            Recall that the Bible isn’t, as American Atheists suggests, a single book. Instead, it’s a collection of centuries worth of religious texts, including centuries worth of Messianic prophecies. This means that, unlike the Qu’ran or the Book of Mormon, the prophecies and the accounts of the fulfillment of these prophecies aren’t coming from the same sources. This makes it all the more remarkable that the life of Jesus Christ so neatly fits the time and place foretold by the Jewish prophets.

            Correct me if I am wrong (or perhaps correct Joe Heschmeyer if he is wrong) but certainly he means the Old Testament is filled with "prophecies" of Jesus which are pointed out as "fulfilled" in the New Testament.

            There's overwhelming historical evidence (read N.T. Wright) that such prophecies existed at the time of Jesus. Thus you need serious evidence to claim "there were none".

            I don't see how it is possible to count Messianic hopes or expectations in the intertestamental period as "prophecies." And of course one of the great ironies of Christianity is that Jesus is claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, but the Jews did not recognize him because their expectations about a Messiah were so totally off the mark. In actuality, the reason so few Jews accepted Jesus as the Jewish Messiah is that he did not fit the description of the Jewish Messiah. The followers of Jesus considered Jesus to be the Messiah and totally revised the Jewish concept of the Messiah to fit Jesus.

            It must be remembered that the Gospels are not historical or journalistic accounts but statements of faith in Jesus, and they all contain their own theologies and Christologies. The Gospel authors did not stumble across Old Testament "prophecies" (or predictions) of Jesus as the Messiah and marvel at how such prophecies could have been miraculously written to give proof of Jesus. They used whatever Old Testament writings they could find with themes that they found applicable to Jesus in order to create a new conception of Messiahship that could be applied to Jesus.

            I certainly disagree with Dawkins dismissal of the Bible as old, primitive, and something to be discarded. Does he make the same argument about Aristotle, Plato, Sophocles, Euripides, and so on? Should we ignore the Greek philosophers and playwrights because they are over two centuries old? (For all I know, Dawkins actually might make such arguments.) But of course it is ludicrous to look at the Bible as if it were written by crude, ignorant primitives. The works of the Old Testament are rich enough so that the New Testament authors could build their case on them (partially) without the Old Testament authors having made predictions about Jesus.

      • Joseph Heschmeyer

        This is a great discussion. A detail that might be of relevance: there are two stages of a Jewish wedding. "According to Torah law, marriage is a two-step process. The first stage is called kiddushin, loosely translated as "betrothal," and the second step is known as nisu'in,"

        These days, the two stages are often done in the same ceremony, but back before you have things like bachelor pads, the bridegroom had a year to prepare a house for his new wife. And Luke 2:5 seems to say that the Census takes places between Joseph and Mary's kiddushin and nisu'in, (which checks out with Matthew 1:18).

        When Luke says that Joseph is of the house and lineage of David, he's not saying that because his great-great-great-grandfather lived there, he's counted as of the house of Bethlehem. Luke's saying that this is his family's home. So Joseph is from Bethlehem but is building a house for his newlywed wife in Nazareth. That house isn't finished being built yet, and they still don't officially live there. So that's why, apparently, he had to return to Bethlehem. Legally and from a Jewish perspective, that was still his home.

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          How is Bethlehem his home? Luke has him looking to stay in an inn and settling for a barn. Is Joseph homeless, with no place to stay in either Bethlehem or Nazareth?

          This seems like a pretty ad-hoc explanation. The text of Luke gives the reason for the travel to Beltheham: its because of Joseph's lineage, "because he was of the house and family of David." There is no mention of his legal place of residence.

          • "This seems like a pretty ad-hoc explanation. The text of Luke gives the reason for the travel to Beltheham [sic]: its because of Joseph's lineage, "because he was of the house and family of David." There is no mention of his legal place of residence."

            Luke 2:3 - "And everyone went to their own town to register."

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            What does "own town" mean? Does it mean current place of residence? Or does it mean, as Luke 2:4 clarifies, your lineage?

          • "What does "own town" mean? Does it mean current place of residence? Or does it mean, as Luke 2:4 clarifies, your lineage?"

            Joe answered this above but I'll paste it here:

            "You're reading Luke 2:4 as clarifying an ambiguity in v 3 (what's meant by "his own city"). Another, better way to read it would be as explaining why Joseph is from Bethlehem, since that fact would be important for Jewish readers. There's no contradiction between saying that Joseph is of Bethlehem and that his family is of a tribe that's been in Bethlehem for centuries."

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Perhaps its not a strict contradiction.. but it does not seem like a very straightforward reading of the text either.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          OverlappingMagisteria,

          I think you're misreading Luke 2:4 in an implausible way. St. Luke is saying that Joseph's family has been in Bethlehem for centuries (and in the process, nodding towards the fact that Jesus fulfills the Davidic Messianic prophecies). He's not saying that Joseph's family used to live there but that they all moved away. Four reasons:

          1) That's not how the census worked, or how any census works. Nor could a census work that way. What if your ancestors came from several different places?

          2) Luke's readers weren't stupid or ignorant enough to think that's how censuses worked. Remember, they were alive for this census, and Luke 2:2 alludes to the census as if it is an event they would recall.

          3) Luke 2:3 says that "And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city," not "each to his ancestral homeland," etc.

          4) You're reading Luke 2:4 as clarifying an ambiguity in v 3 (what's meant by "his own city"). Another, better way to read it would be as explaining why Joseph is from Bethlehem, since that fact would be important for Jewish readers. There's no contradiction between saying that Joseph is of Bethlehem and that his family is of a tribe that's been in Bethlehem for centuries.

          Given this, there are plenty of reasons Joseph could be from Bethlehem and still need to find a place to stay for the night when travelling back home with his pregnant wife. One: given the commotion from the census, his own house could be full (anyone who has ever had to put relatives up in a hotel knows how this works). Two: his wife was about to give birth (Luke 2:6 seems to suggest this).

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Sorry.. it still seems very ad-hoc. Sure... you can read Luke 2:4 as some sideways way of saying that Joseph lives in Bethlehem... but then why not just say "they returned because Joseph lives in Bethlehem along with his ancestor, David." You got to read something into the text that is not there.

            Also, you are bringing in a bunch of logistical problems with your speculations on why they're looking for an inn:
            If Joseph lives in Bethlehem, who are all these people suddenly crowding his home? Supposedly everyone goes back to their own home, not having a party at Joseph's place. And they decided that giving birth in a manger was a better option than in their own home? And if everyone, in the commotion of the census, is going back to their homes, wouldn't there be room in the inns? Unless you say that the inn is where everyone lives...

            EDITED TO ADD: You're painting a picture where everyone's houses and all the inns are filled with people. This sounds like there's a lot of people in Bethlehem who don't actually live in Bethlehem. Which is what you are trying to argue against...

            I think it makes a lot more sense to go with what most scholars say: that Luke needed to get Jesus, who was known to be from Nazareth, to be born in the City of David. He came up with this story... and Matthew came up with his other story.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Enrollment was by tribes. (Even in the City of Rome, the citizens would gather in their tribal assemblies for Important Stuff.) The enrollee had to prove his membership in the tribe, typically by a genealogy; but this genealogy had to be vetted by the tribal elders, who would possess records and memorized genealogies. You would have to go to where the elders were.

        • Joseph Heschmeyer

          OverlappingMagisteria,

          If the Roman government is having everyone return home for a census, it would certainly make sense for the inns to be filled with travellers heading back home. And we don't need to assume that Joseph and Mary had arrived at their final destination before she went into labor.

          We could easily imagine something similar being written today: "for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, everyone was returning home to celebrate with their families. Jim and Judy were headed back to Stillwater, because they're part of the Miller clan that's been there for decades. En route, Judy began to go into labor, and they ended up needing to give birth in a hotel conference room, since all of the rooms were full."

          An ancient version of THAT strikes me as a lot more plausible than the alternative that you're proposing. Because your theory would mean that Jesus of Nazareth existed, but didn't fulfill the Messianic prophecies. St. Luke realized this, and so he decided to make up a story to make Jesus look like the Messiah, instead.

          Rather than some simple lie that could easily go undetected, Luke decides to claim that "a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled," and that this decree required going back to your ancestral hometown. That is, Luke decides to make up a lie that every single one of his readers would know was false.

          Mark Shea has a clever analogy for this theory:

          "Comedian Steve Martin used to do a routine in which he said, “Remember a couple of years back when the earth (wry pause)… exploded? Remember how they built that giant space ark and loaded all of humanity into it, but the government decided not to tell the stupid people what was going on so that they wouldn’t panic…..” The light of understanding would then break across his face as he surveyed the audience and he would quickly backtrack saying, “Oooooooh! Uh….. Never mind!” [....]

          "[A]ccording to Mr. [John Dominic] Crossan, Luke tells the equivalent of Martin’s space ark story: “Remember, a few decades back whenthe entire world was enrolled by the Emperor of all Civilization?” He invites, not just somebody to refute it, but everybody in the Roman Empire. That is an awfully strange thing to do if the enrollment never happened and an awfully odd way to establish the bona fides of your main character if you are trying to sell this story as historical and not as happening once upon a time."

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            You're reading a lot into the text that's not there: an emergency birth, Joseph's home in Bethlehem...

            Also we're not talking "a couple years back" like the Steve Martin joke. We're talking 70+ years back, more than a generation.

            And yes... I would not be surprised if Luke invented a story based on his belief that Jesus was the messiah. Matthew does so when he changes the Palm Sunday story to include both a horse and a colt based on his misreading of Zechariah. The gospel authors are more concerned with theology than history.

      • Doug Shaver

        Does Luke say that Bethlehem was Joseph's home, or Nazareth?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      any sensible census wouldn't force every person to return to their place of birth

      You can't suppose that the Romans hired temp workers to go door to door! Their customary practice was to subcontract the work to the client peoples. This meant the tribal elders would have to vouch for the membership within their tribes, and the elders were not about to hoof it around to wherever their tribesmen may have gone and cart all the scrolls and tribal lore with them. No, much easier to have everyone in the tribe go to where the elders were and proof their memberships.

      • David Nickol

        Exactly how important is it that Luke's account be historically true on the matter of a census? The NAB has the following footnote to Luke 2:1-2:

        [2:1–2] Although universal registrations of Roman citizens are attested in 28 B.C., 8 B.C., and A.D. 14 and enrollments in individual provinces of those who are not Roman citizens are also attested, such a universal census of the Roman world under Caesar Augustus is unknown outside the New Testament. Moreover, there are notorious historical problems connected with Luke’s dating the census when Quirinius was governor of Syria, and the various attempts to resolve the difficulties have proved unsuccessful. P. Sulpicius Quirinius became legate of the province of Syria in A.D. 6–7 when Judea was annexed to the province of Syria. At that time, a provincial census of Judea was taken up. If Quirinius had been legate of Syria previously, it would have to have been before 10 B.C. because the various legates of Syria from 10 B.C. to 4 B.C. (the death of Herod) are known, and such a dating for an earlier census under Quirinius would create additional problems for dating the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Lk 3:1, 23). A previous legateship after 4 B.C. (and before A.D. 6) would not fit with the dating of Jesus’ birth in the days of Herod (Lk 1:5; Mt 2:1). Luke may simply be combining Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem with his vague recollection of a census under Quirinius (see also Acts 5:37) to underline the significance of this birth for the whole Roman world: through this child born in Bethlehem peace and salvation come to the empire.

      • GCBill

        You can't suppose that the Romans hired temp workers to go door to door! Their customary practice was to subcontract the work to the client peoples.

        No need to go door-to-door when you can just require people to present themselves to the local magistrate.

        No, much easier to have everyone in the tribe go to where the elders were and proof their memberships.

        This sounds harder for the purpose of assessing property taxes, which is the main reason the Romans are going through all this trouble.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          present themselves to the local magistrate

          How would the local magistrate validate enrollees' memberships in sundry tribes? Remember, the modern centralized scientific State did not exist at the time, and these enrollments were conducted by the various tribal clients in those regions not directly ruled by Rome.

          • GCBill

            I found an excellent discussion of Roman central and provincial census procedures in Space, Geography and Politics in the Early Roman Empire (Claude Nicolet 1991). Here I quote what I judge to be the most relevant portion (p. 135):

            "It is known by the end of the Republic, Rome had given certain provinces a coherent censorial organization. There is definite proof of this for Sicily, under the lex Republica in 132 B.C., and for Bithynia under the lex Pompeia in 63 B.C.

            The fiscal system was highly varied in detail but had a base that was relatively constant. In order to function, this system implied at least on a local or provincial level a knowledge of the number of taxpayers and of their possessions, mainly land, with (and especially without) buildings. In older provinces they had to maintain and update the existing lists, while in new provinces, if necessary, they had to draw them up.
            . . .
            Deeds to the building had to be provided, specifying its location, and followed by a list of its inhabitants, their age, their relationship to the taxpayer, their qualifications, and possibly the taxpayer's other properties. These individual declarations were filed with various offices whose business it was to know about them. What is interesting to us is that they are filed in topographical order: by village, and, in the cities, by districts."

            There's little mention of tribal membership playing an important role within provincial censuses ca. the birth of Jesus, though it did factor heavily into the procedure in earlier times when the Empire was smaller. During the reign of Augustus, taxation moves further from the earlier community model toward a more direct model. Since taxes are levied against individual assets, censors are interested in genealogy only insofar as it relates to land and property ownership (i.e., determining who owes them the money). Furthermore, as mentioned in the above quote, at least some local censorial organizations are necessary for this newer model to work smoothly.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            At the time, Judea was a client kingdom ruled by Herod, not a Roman province; so how the Romans handled their own provinces is not at issue.

    • Doug Shaver

      any sensible census wouldn't force every person to return to their place of birth

      It's worse than that. Luke doesn't say that everyone had to go to their birthplace. He says they had to go to wherever some famous ancestor was from. According to the story, Joseph didn't have to go to Bethlehem because he was born there, but because he was a descendant of David, and David was born there.

  • David Nickol

    This makes it all the more remarkable that the life of Jesus Christ so neatly fits the time and place foretold by the Jewish prophets.

    From Dictionary of the Bible by John L. McKenzie, S.J.:

    It is a common misconception of OT prophecy that it means prediction . . . . This misconception cannot be based upon the NT conception nor on the formula "that it might be fulfilled." Often, there is obviously no prediction (e.g., Mt 2:15); there is reference to an OT character or event which illustrates the reality of the process of salvation, the reality which is "fulfilled" in Jesus Christ. He and the Church are the new Israel and their experience appears in the experience of the old Israel, much as the OT ancestor shows in his life and character the life and character of his descendants. Many of these predictions are intended to illustrate the place of the redemptive suffering in the process of salvation; the Jews were not receptive to the idea of a Messiah who saved through suffering and death, and it was necessary to show that the scandal of the cross appears in the Messianism of the OT; cf. Servant of the Lord. In these passages the NT writers take a specialized and apologetic view of the OT which is not intended to be a general exhaustive interpretation. "Fulfillment" is more than fulfillment of a prediction; it is the fulfillment of a hope, a destiny, a plan, a reality.

  • GuineaPigDan .

    Using the Bible (oops I mean books of the Bible) I can find prophecies that prove a rooster was actually the messiah. http://www.judaismsanswer.com/A%20Chassidic%20Rabbi%20Makes%20a%20Startling%20Discovery.htm

    • Alexandra

      Hi GuineaPig,

      Catholics believe that Jesus is the Messiah or the "Christ".

      From the Catechism:
      436 The word "Christ" comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, which means "anointed". It became the name proper to Jesus only because he accomplished perfectly the divine mission that "Christ" signifies. In effect, in Israel those consecrated to God for a mission that he gave were anointed in his name. This was the case for kings, for priests and, in rare instances, for prophets. This had to be the case all the more so for the Messiah whom God would send to inaugurate his kingdom definitively. It was necessary that the Messiah be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord at once as king and priest, and also as prophet. Jesus fulfilled the messianic hope of Israel in his threefold office of priest, prophet and king.

      An example from the Bible:

      Mark 8:29

      And he [Jesus] asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah.”

  • Peter

    It is not the Bible but the literal interpretation of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, which is grist to the neo-atheist mill. Dawkins has made his name by writing books about evolution which debunk new earth creationism and the like.
    His error, and that of neo-atheism in general, is in drawing two mistaken conclusions from this:

    One, that the Bible can only be read literally and is consequently just plain wrong.
    Two, that any religious beliefs that stem wholly or in part from it are also just plain wrong.

    In this respect, neo-atheism is guilty of one massive confidence trick by basing it's entire world view upon the refutation of a minority Christian literalism which is easily disproved by science On the strength of that easy refutation, neo-atheism gives itself the authority to proclaim, and negatively so, on religious beliefs which have little or no bearing on a literal interpretation of the Old Testament. That is the fraud.

    • ClayJames

      Dawkins and Fundamentalists hold one belief in common that affects how they view the entire religous endevour:

      If God exists, religious texts are a literal description of his will.

      The only difference is that they disagree about the If statement.

      • Peter

        That's right. Such creationists and atheists both have an understanding of God to be the God of the Old Testament. The former consider him to be just and the latter evil. How many times has Dawkins banged on about the evil God of the Old Testament?

        Atheists criticise theists for creating straw men, but Dawkins has created the greatest straw man of all by denouncing a God that few believe in.

        • George

          What do you think the OT reveals to you about the God you believe in?

          • Peter

            The true nature of God described in the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament.

          • George

            so logically, is the true nature not revealed in the OT?

            if so, is it any Jewish person's fault for expecting a messiah who is not like jesus?

          • Peter

            You asked me what I believed as a Catholic.

  • I'm sorry, what is this kingdom of heaven prophesied in Daniel, that will never be destroyed?

    Do you really think that Jesus is what the author of Micah is talking about? I understood that the OT expected a military leader from Bethlehem who free the Jewish people. Instead we got a religious radical from Nazareth who was killed by the occupiers quite easily.

    Saying the next temple will be better is hardly a prophesy.

    • neil_pogi

      the kingdom that Daniel prophesied is the Kingdom of Heaven itself.

      • Really? So why is Joe mentioning Rome? Did the kingdom of heaven not exist in the time Daniel was written?

        • neil_pogi

          Daniel was shown in vision that the Kingdom of heaven as real.

          when Shadrach Meshach and Abednego were thrown into flames, a fourth person 'joined' with them, and was described as 'like a Son of Man'. the term 'Son of Man' always refer to Jesus.

          • So why is Joe mentioning Rome?

          • neil_pogi

            is Joe more 'auhoritative' than the Biblical writers?

    • Mike

      but that precisely why Christianity is so incredible...bc its based on a no body low class general laborer! that's its genius.

  • VicqRuiz

    On Catholicism, is it considered heretical to believe that the Bible is literally true in all its aspects (including young earth creationism, the slaughter of the Amalekites, and all the rest), or is this an acceptable position for a Catholic to maintain?

    • Mike

      it is heretical...i think.

    • Michael

      There exists no Catholic dogma that is contrary to the belief "that the Bible is literally true in all its aspects", therefore such a belief is not heretical.

      • ClayJames

        Except for the fact that if the Bible it true in all its aspects, then it completely goes against many of Jesus' teachings.

        Therefore, I would say that such interpretation of the Bible would be against Catholic teaching.

        • Michael

          There are a great many writings by saints and church fathers which appear to assume the historicity of the entire Biblical narrative. There is no recent church doctrine or dogma that has condemned this.

          Complete Biblical literalism may not be recommended or encouraged by the post-conciliar institutional church, but neither is it forbidden.

          • VicqRuiz

            So far the vote is 2-1 that Biblical literalism is against Catholic teaching.

            Polls have not yet closed....

          • Michael

            The burden of proof is on ClayJames and/or Mike to produce the text of a church doctrine or dogma that forbids Biblical literalism. In fact, nowhere in Catholic teaching is Biblical literalism forbidden.

          • Mike

            yeah but fideism is heretical...not the same thing but you are right a literal interpretation it is not outright heretical.

            the church leave ppl free to interpret themselves but provides 'guidance'.

          • David Nickol

            I would say that the Catholic Church does not teach biblical literalism. For example, there are many things in the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) that a biblical literalist or fundamentalist would take exception to. However, as long as Catholics do not deny any dogmas or doctrines of the Church, or publicly contradict something like Dei Verbum, I don't think "the Church" (parish priest, local bishop, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, pope) would have any problem with such a person.

            So I don't come down on one side or another. The Catholic Church does not teach biblical literalism, but it seems to me one can be a good and faithful Catholic and a biblical literalist at the same time. Certainly there is no question of heresy at all.

    • ben

      young earth creationism

      is not biblical, the Bible is not a geology book. It is concerned with the relationships between God and man; man and man. Why do the God-haters keep trying to make it a physical science book?

      that the Bible is literally true in all its aspects

      The Bible contains poetry, allegories, parables (and historical fact) . How can a poem or allegory be "literally" true?

  • Psalm 22 is no more a prophecy about Jesus than it is of a guess who song. Finding someone putting a bit of existing text in their own writing does not prove it is prophesy.

    Psalm 22 doesn't speak of the messiah, it speaks of someone who considers themself a worm and clearly not god. The psalm is in the voice of someone who is talking to god, it doesn't make sense if it is Jesus talking.

    • neil_pogi

      so the worm was the speaker of psalm 22?

      therefore you believe also that the snake spoke with adam and eve?

      and the talking donkey?

      seriously, you are a 'chery-picker'

      • No, I don't believe any of those things. I am not cherry picking. I am pointing out the inconsistency in the very Psalm Joe advanced as a prophecy written in Jesus' voice.

        The inconsistency is that if it is indeed Jesus asking himself "why have you forsaken me" then Jesus would also be referring to himself as a worm.

        Because Catholics do not believe Jesus would think of himself as a worm, it is inconsistent to interpret this Psalm as being a premonition of what Jesus would say or think during the Passion.

        • neil_pogi

          Psalm is like a hymn, maybe poetic in nature. but prophetic.

          the author of the Psalm is using here some simile or figures of speech.

  • Dawkins nor the American Atheists billboards prove the Bible was inspired. The "prophesies" noted here do not describe the passion story to me at all. Describing them as written by geniuses or coincidences is laughable.

    The main issue here is that the Jews did not envision the messiah to be what Jesus was. Not even close. They envisioned a warrior king from Bethlehem who would defeat the occupiers. Not a poor carpenter from Galilee who would raise a stink at the temple and be summarily executed. Virtually everything in the New Testament is not contemplated or prophesied in the old. The flexibility in interpretation needed to make these verse fit as some kind of prophesy demonstrates enormous bias.

    Here are some things that could easily have been prophesied in the Old Testament about Jesus that were not. That he would be disruptive and reformative in the temple. That he would not be understood during his life. That he would be from galilee. That he would be baptized. That he would live with and favour the poor. That he would be tempted by the devil. That his own people would turn against him and have him killed. That he would be betrayed by a disciple. That he would be tried. That he would resurrect. That his name would be Jesus (not Emanuel). That his side would be pierced. That he would be god himself. That he would be given a crown of thorns. That he would found a new religion.

    • neil_pogi

      Jesus references:
      But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4: 4, NKJV, c.f. Luke 4:4)
      old testament source:
      "So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD." (Deuteronomy 8:3

      Jesus said to him, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'" (Matthew 4:7; cf. Luke 4:12)
      "You shall not tempt the LORD your God as you tempted Him in Massah" (Deuteronomy 6:16).

      "Then Jesus said to him, 'Away with you, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'" (Matthew 4:10, cf. Luke 4:8)
      "You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name" (Deuteronomy 6:13).

      And He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,'but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'" (Matthew 21:13, cf. Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46)
      Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations. (Isaiah 56:7)

      "Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it," says the LORD. (Jeremiah 7:11)

      Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?'" (Matthew 21:42, cf. Mark 12:10, 11, Luke 20:17)
      The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. (Psalm 118:22, 23)

      "But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." (Matthew 22:31-32, cf. Mark 12:26, 27, Luke 20:37-38)
      Moreover He said, "I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. (Exodus 3:6)

      "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" (Matthew 27:46, cf. Mark 15:34)
      My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? (Psalm 22:1)

      "But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, 'They hated Me without a cause.'" (John 15:25)
      Let them not rejoice over me who are wrongfully my enemies; nor let them wink with the eye who hate me without a cause. (Psalm 35:19, cf. Psalm 69:4)

      "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (Matthew 15:7-9, cf. Mark 7:6, 7)

      Therefore the LORD said: "Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men…" (Isaiah 29:13)

      For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. john 19: 36
      He keeps all his bones: not one of them is broken. Psalm 34:20

      "For this is he of whom it is written: 'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.'" (Matthew 11:10; cf. Luke 7:27)

      "BEHOLD, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming," Says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

      For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.(Isaiah 9:6-7)

      John 1:1-3, John 10:30, Romans 1:1-4, Colossians 2:9, Luke 1:31-33

      genesis 1;1 says, in the beginning, God created......' and God said, 'let there be light'

      compare John 1;1-5

      for additional readings: http://jewishroots.net/library/messianic/jesus_reference_to_old_test_scriptures.html

      • Bible bible bible. Bible bible. Bible!

        • neil_pogi

          well you said that the Jesus' accounts have no direct references from the OT, so i posted some references here for you to read, and you just say, 'Bible, bible, bible....'??
          you didn't make any disputes about it?

      • David Nickol

        Your long message only demonstrates that the followers of Jesus were familiar with much of what we now call the Old Testament and choose to interpret him and his life by referencing it. Since Jesus and the Apostles were Jews, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about the "Jewish roots" of early Christianity. The real question is why a movement that started entirely within Judaism so quickly and dramatically not only divorced itself from Judaism but came the principal persecutor of the Jews.

        • neil_pogi

          jews are expecting a 'savior' to free them from the romans. and it happened that jesus entered into the scene. some even say that 'he is a prophet' and some say that 'he is the One sent by God to redeem them from the romans'..

          'and it came to pass' when Jesus was crucified, and was raised from the dead, most jews begin to wonder if he really is a savior to 'save them from the romans', but instead, a different 'movement' arouse. since the women, then the apostles, then the jews witnessed him 'raised' from the dead, their 'view' have changed. they declared that Jesus really is the Messiah.

          that's why the movement gained dramatic result. therefore the birth of christianity

    • ben

      The Jews of that time were thinking in strictly materialist terms just as the God-hater/anti_theists do now. They (and you) could not see or understand that there is a spiritual component to the world which is far more real than the passing world of matter.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Remember a few years back when Harold Camping put a bunch of billboards up around the USA saying that Judgement day was to be on May 21st?

        People laughed when this claim failed to materialize, but what Harold Camping clarified afterward was that it was a spiritual judgement day! The scoffers were thinking in strictly materialist terms and failed to understand that the spiritual component to May 21st's judgement day is far more real!

        • neil_pogi

          those were the works of fanaticism.
          and not entirely of the whole chritianism.

          why atheists love to mock and ridicule the whole christianity when only a Harold Camping has made a mistake in his 'prophecy' about judgment day? that's his interpretation, and doesn't represent the majority view of christians and nowhere the whole christianity buys it.

      • Doug Shaver

        there is a spiritual component to the world which is far more real than the passing world of matter.

        Why should I believe that? (Aside from your say-so, I mean.)

  • David Nickol

    Peter and John, who together authored seven of the 27 books of the New Testament, were uneducated commoners.

    It is unlikely that the Apostles Peter and John wrote any of the books in the New Testament.

    • neil_pogi

      then how did you know?