• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

No Naysayers at NASA: Responding to Bob Seidensticker

NASA

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post from Fr. Dwight Longenecker is in response to atheist Bob Seidensticker's post yesterday titled 10 Reasons to Just Say Nay to the Naysayer Hypothesis.


 
Atheist Bob Seidensticker has a quip at the bottom of yesterday's blog post which reads, “If a million people say a foolish thing it is still a foolish thing.” I couldn’t agree more, and we should remember this as we read the rest of his post. His basic argument is this:
 

“Apologists tell us that the gospels were written at a time when many disciples—the eyewitnesses—were still alive. If they heard an inaccurate story, they’d say, “I was there, and that’s not the way it happened!” They’d shut it down. An incorrect version of the story would not have survived.”

 
Bob then goes on to give ten reasons why there were no such naysayers. I’m not going to respond to the reasons one by one. Instead I’ll deal with the basic false assumptions, rooted in some very elementary ignorance of the facts of New Testament scholarship, historical scholarship, and what actually happened. Of course, if false, these assumptions make his conclusions irrelevant.

In his second point, Bob asserts this:
 

“We imagine a handful of naysayers who know that the Jesus story is only a legend, but that was in the year 30. Now the first gospel is written and it’s roughly forty years later—how many are still alive? Conditions were harsh at that time, and people died young. Many from our little band of naysayers have died or been imprisoned by this point.”

 
It sounds kind of plausible, but this isn’t how it happened. The gospels didn’t suddenly appear in written form after 70 AD in order to be dissected by naysayers. The gospels emerged from the preaching of the apostles which had been going on since the day of Pentecost fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The gospels aren’t some kind of four part historical biography of Jesus written by some smart guy forty years after the event. They are unique documents which emerged from the experience of the apostles and the early Church. Therefore we don’t ask if there were any naysayers around to disprove the gospels from 70 AD onward. We ask whether there were any naysayers around when the gospel was hot and fresh when the apostles were preaching—first in Jerusalem and then around the Empire.

Furthermore, Bob doesn’t understand the true dating of the gospels. He repeats the tired old idea that they must date from after 70 AD. The only reason for this dating is the modernist scholar's assumption that Jesus could not have prophesied the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, which happened in 70 AD. Why? Simply because prophecies of the future are impossible. Why? Because they say so.

In fact, we have another historically verified date which enables us to date the gospels. It is the deaths of Peter and Paul in 65 AD under the persecution of Nero. Their deaths are not recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, which is surprising since the Acts of the Apostles is all about their ministry. Their martyr’s deaths would surely have been recorded if they had taken place.

The Acts of the Apostles is acknowledged by most scholars as a reliable historical record. Furthermore, it is the second volume by the same author—the first volume being the gospel according to Luke. If the Acts of the Apostles dates from before 65 AD, then the Gospel of Luke must be earlier than that. In addition, most scholars argue that Luke was influenced by Mark’s gospel. This means that the earliest gospels were probably written between 50 AD and 65 AD (some scholars place them even earlier.)

All of Bob’s other arguments about the reasons why there were no naysayers after 70 AD are irrelevant for two reasons: firstly the gospels did not just arrive in the bookstores in 70 AD. Secondly, and most importantly, Bob misunderstands the whole naysayer argument. He spends a long time telling us why there were no naysayers, but that’s not the question in the first place.

To pick up on his first point:
 

"Apologists tell us that the gospels were written at a time when many disciples—the eyewitnesses—were still alive."

 
No we don't. We say the gospel stories were told in the apostolic preaching at a time when many eyewitnesses were still alive. Furthermore, we’re saying that there were naysayers, but that their arguments didn’t hold up. Let’s look at the facts: when the gospel was hot and fresh in Jerusalem in the days after the Resurrection there were plenty of people there who knew Jesus, knew what had happened, and were ready to dispute with the disciples. In fact, in the Gospels we discover naysayers. The Jewish leaders said the disciples stole Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:11-15). Other naysayers heartily denied that Jesus was the Son of God. They said Jesus' miracles were produced by the devil. (Notice, though, that they didn't dispute that he did miracles...) In fact the naysayers were so vehement in their naysaying that they persecuted the Christians. Saul—later St. Paul—was one of their number. There were indeed plenty of naysayers in Jerusalem at the time when many witnesses to the events were present.

Our point is not that there were no naysayers but that there were plenty and that they still couldn’t disprove what the apostles were saying. In those early days in Jerusalem, then in Antioch, then in the communities dispersed first by the Jewish persecution, and then by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, there were plenty of Jews who knew what had happened.

However many didn’t believe the Pharisees’ take on it. They believed the apostles. That’s why the Christian church grew as it did—because the apostolic witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was convincing and life changing.

In the end, an argument trying to explain why there were no naysayers to the gospel is like a conspiracy theorist trying to explain why there are no lunar landing deniers working at NASA. You may come up with ten astounding reasons why there are no lunar landing deniers at NASA, but it might just be because there was a lunar landing and the people at NASA—along with most other people—accept the simple facts of what really happened.
 
 
(Image credit: National Geographic)

Fr. Dwight Longenecker

Written by

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England. He was brought up in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and then in 1995, he and his family were received into the Catholic Church. For the next ten years he worked as a freelance writer, contributing to more than fifty magazines, papers and journals in Britain, Ireland and the USA. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. Fr. Dwight is the author of many books including The Quest for the Creed (Crossroads, 2012); More Christianity: Finding the Fullness of the Faith (Ignatius, 2010); and Catholicism Pure and Simple (Stauffer Books, 2012). Connect with his website DwightLongenecker.com, or his Patheos blog, Standing On My Heard.

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

  • Bob then goes on to give ten reasons why there were no such naysayers.

    It's not a promising start when the rebuttal doesn't even address the real claims of the article it's rebutting. Bob gave ten reasons why naysaying couldn't have been effective even if true. If potential naysayers would have made no difference, then they're not evidence. To rebut those ten reasons, you need to give reasons why naysaying would have been effective.

    • Noah, it wasn't a straw man. Bob's entire article was based on two faulty premises: that the accounts recorded in the Gospels were first propagated after 70 AD, and that Christians argue that there were no naysayers. Both are false, and therefore so are the conclusions Bob drew from those premises. Fr. Dwight rightly understood that it was much simpler and quicker to refute Bob's premises than respond to his conclusions point-by-point.

      • The problem is that neither of those two faulty premises are present in Bob's article.

        • The first premise is evident, though unspoken, and is necessary to several of Bob's arguments--especially his second point (Bob assumes the apostles must have died before the Gospels were written since they were composed "roughly forty years [after 30 AD].")

          Bob explicitly states the second faulty premise, that Christians believe there were *no* naysayers, in point ten.

          The problem with the original article is that Bob's whole aim was to show that naysayers likely existed but we just don't have records about them. The Catholic, however, agrees that naysayers existed, but that their arguments were poor and filled with holes.

          • severalspeciesof

            Brandon says: "The problem with the original article is that Bob's whole aim was to show that naysayers likely existed but we just don't have records about them."

            If so (and I generally agree), then Longenecker's statement: "He spends a long time telling us why there were no naysayers, but that’s not the question in the first place.", is being disingenous...

          • Brandon:

            Bob's entire article was based on two faulty premises: that the accounts recorded in the Gospels were first propagated after 70 AD…

            I don’t say that.

            … and that Christians argue that there were no naysayers.

            You’re right, and I was confusing there. I meant that Christians argue that there were no effective naysayers.

            I’m exploring the apologist claim that naysayers would’ve shut down Christianity. I’m saying: supposing there were naysayers, it’s ridiculous to imagine that Christianity would have been squashed.

            Bob assumes the apostles must have died before the Gospels were written since they were composed "roughly forty years [after 30 AD].")

            No, I don’t. I said, “Many from our little band of naysayers have died or been imprisoned by this point.”

            Bob's whole aim was to show that naysayers likely existed but we just don't have records about them.

            No, my aim was to assume naysayers and imagine what would happen. Would Christianity inevitably be squashed? Hardly.

          • rationalobservations?

            Those who merely answer straw men of their own invention are always caught out.

            Well done, Bob and please keep up this good work!

      • Bob Seidensticker wasn't presenting his own faulty premises. He was criticizing a familiar argument. It took me only a couple of minutes of googling to come up wita href="http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/nine-ways-to-know-that-the-gospel-of-christ-is-true"> this version of it:

        Cynical opponents of Christianity abounded where claims were made that many eyewitnesses were available to consult concerning the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. "After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:6). Such claims would be exposed as immediate falsehood if they could. But we know of no exposure. Eyewitnesses of the risen Lord abounded when the crucial claims were being made.

        The argument, in a nutshell, is that if early Christian claims, particularly ones put into writing in the Gospels, would have been refuted if they were not true. And since they weren't refuted, they are true! If there were any "naysayers" in the first century, they would have "exposed" Christian claims as false, and consequently, Christian claims must be true. It is an extremely lame argument, and if it were true of Christianity, why would it not be true of every movement that has sprung in the course of human history?

        • David, I'm afraid you've followed Bob by mistaking how Catholics view the "naysayer" situation. We don't say "Christian claims...in the Gospels would have been refuted if they were not true. And since they weren't refuted, they are true!"

          Instead we say, "People *did* attempt to refute Christian claims, and they were unsuccessful because their refutations were filled with holes and contradictory evidence (namely, living people who had met the risen Jesus.) This absence of legitimate naysaying doesn't automatically prove the Gospel claims *true*, but it does present extremely strong evidence in their favor (just as the lack of NASA moon-landing deniers doesn't *prove* we landed on the moon, but it does suggest the likelihood that we really did.)

          • This absence of legitimate naysaying doesn't automatically prove the Gospel claims *true*, but it does present extremely strong evidence in their favor

            OK, I'm sorry to put it bluntly, but clearly you don't have a firm grasp of evidential reasoning. Let me spell it out.

            Hypothetical 1: The miraculous Gospel stories are true.
            Hypothetical 2: The miraculous Gospel stories aren't true.

            Given H1, there will be deniers (not "naysayers" in the relevant sense), and their arguments will almost surely be unsuccessful.

            Given H2, there will be naysayers (i.e. people who say they were eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry and so can authoritatively say a miracle story didn't happen and prevent it from being included later in the Gospels), but, for the reasons Bob gave in his article, their arguments will still almost surely be unsuccessful.

            If N is the probability that a miracle story gets naysayed, then the ratio P(N|H1):P(N|H2) is very nearly unity. The strength of a piece of evidence is how far away from unity the likelihood ratio for it is under two theories. Therefore, the absence of legitimate naysaying is extremely weak evidence -- practically indistinguishable from zero evidence. If you measured the evidential strength, it would round to 0dB.

          • Hi, NoahLuck--I think we Christians are finding it hard to accept the initial claim that Bob S. makes prior to his ten points--that indeed Christians find it compelling to assert that a lack of "naysayers" helps prove Christianity.
            I for one find it a bit incredulous to think that there are many Christians out there making this claim, because anyone familiar with Christianity's history understands that it is remarkable for having unfolded precisely in a climate in which so *many* naysayers existed at all levels. And in a sense, even the New Testament is a record of abundant interaction of "naysayers" with the eyewitnesses.
            So at one level I totally agree with Bob S' conclusion not to rely on such an argument, but at another level I agree with Fr.'s clear claims that it's not exactly an argument most Christians will make.

          • Hi Jim,
            I mostly agree with you. I never encountered this argument more than a couple times when I was a Catholic. It was a favorite among the evangelicals that I was around before converting, though.

          • Jim:

            anyone familiar with Christianity's history understands that it is remarkable for having unfolded precisely in a climate in which so *many* naysayers existed at all levels.

            And could Christianity have survived the naysayer onslaught if it weren’t true? Many Christians say no. And that’s the argument that I’m rebutting.

            If you say that this argument isn’t one you’ve seen much of, OK. All I can say is that in the apologetic circles I hang out in, it’s popular. (Christianity is a big tent, and I’m sure I’m only seeing a smart part of the whole)

          • Noah, first there's no need to "bluntly" denounce my intellectual capacities. I don't question your intelligence just because we disagree, so I ask you to afford me the same respect. In the future, just proceed with your arguments.

            You say, "Therefore, the absence of legitimate naysaying is extremely weak evidence -- practically indistinguishable from zero evidence."

            I disagree. In the cases of outlandish claims like a man rising from the dead, or a man landing on the moon, you'd expect a quick and constant stream of naysaying. Both are seemingly improbable events (the first way more than the second.) So when people testify to those events and we *don't* experience much naysaying, and no substantial alternative theories, that should be a strong sign that the events really happened.

            Now as I said above, this lack of naysaying is not *conclusive* evidence, but it's nevertheless sigfniciant, at least to me. It's certainly not "indistinguishable from zero" in my mind.

          • I respect you, but I don't respect naked disagreement on blind faith or claims that you have "strong evidence" that you don't back up objectively. I don't care about the subjective feelings in your mind that you're taking as evidence, or your subjective feelings about how strong you wish the evidence was. I care about objective truth. If you think the argument is strong evidence, then weigh the evidence under the alternate theories, and maybe even do the calculations. I did. You ignored it, skipping straight to the "therefore".

          • Noah, I appreciate the clarifications and have no problem admitting I'm no expert in "evidential reasoning." But in response to your probability calculations I have two questions:

            - How do you propose to know the relative probabilities P(N|H1) and P(N|H1)? In other words, how do you quantify those probabilities?

            Also, how do you know they are roughly equal? (I assume they must be equal for you to reach a unity ratio, but if I'm wrong please correct me.)

            - As you admit, your prediction that P(N|H1) is small depends on the arguments Bob makes in his article, namely that if Jesus *didn't* rise from the dead, the naysayers "will still almost surely be unsuccessful."

            I'm not sure I agree and I'm curious how you would know this with any sort of certainty. From my own everyday experience, it seems the more unlikely and unreal an event is, the more successful its naysayers.

            If Jesus *didn't* rise from the dead, I would expect the naysayers to be significantly more effective than if he *did* rise from the dead.

            Thanks again for the great comments!

            PS. I just visited your blog and you have some really great stuff there. Keep it up!

          • How do you propose to know the relative probabilities P(N|H1) and P(N|H1)? In other words, how do you quantify those probabilities?

            Given H1, there would be nothing to base naysaying on, so anyone who denied the story would have to make something up, and whatever they made up would be, as you wrote, filled with holes and contradicted by the evidence. It would be unlikely to convince many. On that account I gave a qualitative probability: the deniers' efforts would "almost surely" be unsuccessful in preventing the spread of miracle stories. A quantitative educated guess could be 98%, but this calculation is simple enough that quantification is neither necessary nor helpful.

            Given H2, there would have been some naysayers who spoke truly, but Bob's first eight reasons cast much doubt that they could be successful. Just look how well naysaying stopped the miracle stories of Islam or Mormonism, or any of the urban legends debunked by Snopes. On account of those reasons, I gave a qualitative probability: the naysayers' efforts would "almost surely" be unsuccessful in preventing the spread of miracle stories. A quantitative educated guess could be 95%.

            The likelihood ratio is qualitatively that both are "almost surely", or quantitatively something like 98%/95%=1.03. Less than 2 is very weak by itself. Strong evidence is usually considered >50.

            From my own everyday experience, it seems the more unlikely and unreal an event is, the more successful its naysayers.

            Well, that's partly true. Claims that leave behind lots of durable physical evidence, like the moon landing, are somewhat easy to defend against the rumor mill. But even NASA's mountains of physical evidence doesn't stop the spread of lunar-hoax believers. I can't think of any Gospel miracles that, if true, would have left clear evidence years down the line.

            These stories got widely spread among the Muslim world: http://sunnahonline.com/library/history-of-islam/281-miracles-of-the-prophet-muhammad-the Do you think the fact that they didn't get successfully naysayed is much evidence in their favor?

            Can you think of any urban legends that were so obviously wrong that they later disappeared?

          • Brandon Vogt

            Noah, thanks for this excellent and thoughtful reply. Today was the first I ever heard of the field of "evidential reasoning" (though I had studied Bayes' theorem in college) so it's been very enlightening.

            I totally agree with your first paragraph. I think your assignment of 98% to P(N|H1) is very plausible.

            But my problem lies with the second paragraph and P(N|H2). I would place the probability of success for *those* naysayers much higher than you have it. Perhaps it's due to my own desntiy but I just don't see how 1) you can even quantify that probability but 2) if it was possible, how "a quantitative educated guess" would bring you to 95%. Even if we both agreed that Bob's first eight reasons were strong, how do we arrive at that number, or any near it? (I suppose this a question more about general evidential reasoning than this specific case.)

          • I'm not sure if this is the right place for a general discussion of ways of estimating percentages. I'll just briefly mention the main three methods.

            First, sometimes you can count or estimate or intuit the number of total possibilities and the number or proportion that would count as "success" in your math. Example: counting the sides of a coin or pair of dice and then estimating how likely heads or snake-eyes are to come up.

            Second, sometimes you can use natural frequencies to see what percent of the time a thing happens. Example: counting the number of broken widgets out of the total number of widgets that come out of your factory's assembly line.

            Third, and most generally, you can always use the betting odds that someone willingly gives to calculate their level of confidence, which gives a meaningful percent chance even for events that can't be meaningfully analyzed the other ways. Before you go about giving betting odds, it's a good idea to make sure you are well-calibrated, so that, for example, over all those times you give 95:5 odds (95% chance), you're right about 95% of the time. One tool for developing good calibration is a game this guy made: http://acritch.com/credence-game/ . As you improve, you'll develop an intuitive sense that, for example, "This is what 70% confidence feels like".

            As for what I used in the specific example, it was a mix of #2 and #3. Bob's reasons give me an intuitive sense of (very roughly) 95% confidence. Then there are historical examples that various religious and legendary miracle stories and urban legends, even when there are known debunkings, nevertheless keep getting told and retold, and those cases are a good sanity-check that suggest the assignment of a high ("almost surely" ~= 95%) chance is reasonable. I made it lower than H1's 98% chance because it seems necessary that it's got to be somewhat lower. You are, of course, entirely free to develop your own sense of how big a bet you'd make whenever you feel that confident. You'd need convincing reasons that naysayers could overcome the
            difficulties Bob proposed and the historical success rate of debunkers. Then if the H2 chance were low enough, like 3%, you'd have a much larger Bayes factor, like 98%/3%~=33, which would signify moderately strong evidence.

          • Noah, thanks for the reply. I'm familiar with how to quantify probability in the cases of coins, dice, and physical processes (I studied engineering, mathematics, and physics in college, after all.) I just don't understand how one could offer an accurate prediction of the probability of something so unpredictable as whether naysayers to a non-historical event would be successful.

            The key sentence in your comment is here: "Bob's reasons give me an intuitive sense of (very roughly) 95% confidence."

            My own intuitive sense simply places that number much lower. There have been thousands of conspiratorial theories throughout history that have been exposed as hoaxes, quickly and effectively by naysayers.

          • My own intuitive sense simply places that number much lower.

            How much did it change in response to Bob's reasons? If it didn't change much, what are the counter-reasons that justify that? How well calibrated are you in the confidence range you are assigning?

            There have been thousands of conspiratorial theories throughout history that have been exposed as hoaxes, quickly and effectively by naysayers.

            Can you provide some examples? Preferably, if possible, some from each broad category that I gave contrary examples for, such as religious miracle stories (like those of Islam and Mormonism), urban legends (like Snopes addresses), science-y conspiracy theories (like the "lunar landing hoax"), etc.

          • Noah:

            Claims that leave behind lots of durable physical evidence, like the moon landing, are somewhat easy to defend against the rumor mill.

            And you can bet that the Soviets (who had plenty of technology to track the progress of each Apollo flight) would’ve delighted in publicly bursting America’s bubble if they'd had the evidence.

            Just like candidate Hillary Clinton would’ve delighted in showing that Obama was ineligible to run for office if that evidence existed.

          • ...denounce my intellectual capacities.

            Evidential reasoning is not an innate capacity. It's a specific skillset that must be learned in order to have a firm grasp of, just like math or hermeneutics. If I tell a colleague that he doesn't have a firm grasp on the biomechanics that he's working with, that's not an insult. It's a warning that his efforts will be counterproductive until he acquires a clear concept of what he's working with.

            Here's a popular way to start: http://yudkowsky.net/rational/bayes

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Noah:

            You might want to revise your math (Or perhaps explain better what you are trying to say). Let me show you:

            If, like you say N = "the probability that a miracle happened but it was naysayed " (In other words something that was true was denied) and H2= The hypothetical event that "the miraculous Gospel stories aren't true." (In other words something is false)

            Then P(N|H2) must be read as

            The probability that "a miracle happened but it was naysayed", given that the event of "the miraculous Gospel stories aren't true."

            If the miraculous Gospel stories are not true then the probability that a miracle happened but it was naysayed is zero so the P(N|H1):P(N|H2) will be zero and not unity.

            I think you need to revise your Hypotheticals.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Andrew G.

            N was the event of a miracle story being naysayed.

          • Hi Dcn Santiago,
            The post uses "miracle story" rather than "miracle", since it covers both cases. :)

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Noah, Andrew,
            I edited for clarity but my point still stands. In fact it becomes more clear.
            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            Deacon Harbey Santiago

          • Hi Dcn Santiago,
            I didn't say it had to be a true story.

          • NoahLuck, don't forget to factor in that a potential naysayer may not care enough to do so. In the early days of the Jesus cults, they had no political power, and as a result did not have any significant impact on the lives of those who did not believe. What is the probability that such a one would bother?

        • Randy Gritter

          It does not prove the resurrection but it does prove something. That people claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. If nobody made such a claim then what St Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians would not have been revered as the word of God but would have just been a confusing bit of gibberish. You can still say they were lying or confused or whatever but if you say no such claim was made then 1 Corinthians hard to explain.

    • Rick DeLano

      "what reasons are there to think the naysayers would have been effective in shutting down false stories about Jesus?"

      >> Ummmmmm...how about producing the body :-)

      • Thanks, Rick. :) That's addressing the real issue.

        Personally, I think that the story about the resurrection was developed as part of the oral history, not something that was with Christianity from day 1. Producing a body could only debunk Christianity if it was done in a timeframe short enough that the body could be conclusively identified. How long that is depends very much on the exact conditions of the tomb. Decay can happen very fast or very slow. Some corpses, kept in optimal conditions, maintain recognizable features for decades! But the Gospel story about Lazarus suggests that, under conditions then prevalent in Judea, serious decomposition was underway by four days. So unless the resurrection story was widespread within the week, it's implausible that producing a body would actually have been effective.

        I'll grant that your point is indeed evidence. It's just weak evidence by itself. It needs bolstering.

        • Rick DeLano

          Thanks, Noah!

          "Personally, I think that the story about the resurrection was developed as part of the oral history, not something that was with Christianity from day 1."

          >> OK. Personally I think that is highly dubious, so we start with a nice and clearly defined point of contention :-)

          "Producing a body could only debunk Christianity if it was done in a timeframe short enough that the body could be conclusively identified."

          >> Fine. Bodies are usually most easily produced right after they die. Say, three days after. Especially in order to quell some outlandish rumor that the body is no longer dead.

          So why didn't they produce it?

          "How long that is depends very much on the exact conditions of the tomb. Decay can happen very fast or very slow. Some corpses, kept in optimal conditions, maintain recognizable features for decades!"

          >> Three days would do nicely in this case.

          "But the Gospel story about Lazarus suggests that, under conditions then prevalent in Judea, serious decomposition was underway by four days. So unless the resurrection story was widespread within the week, it's implausible that producing a body would actually have been effective."

          >> Pardon me, but this strikes me as quite improbable. Christ died. On this all are agreed.

          Christ was entombed in a sepulcher provided by the very well-known Joseph of Arimathea.

          The rumors of His Resurrection had spread like wildfire within 3 days among the disciples, and was publicly proclaimed within 50 days, since the public preaching of the Resurrection began at Pentecost.

          All the Sanhedrin or Romans needed to do to shut this whole Catholic Church-thingy down in a hurry, was to produce the body.

          Yet they didn't.

          "I'll grant that your point is indeed evidence. It's just weak evidence by itself. It needs bolstering."

          >> Weak is a relative term, I suppose. I consider it to be very strong, since, after all, were I in the position of a noble disciple of reason and logic, faced with the sudden outbreak of an illogical cult asserting a bodily resurrection, I should certainly have made it my first order of business to ascertain the whereabouts of the body.

          • Thanks for the response!

            Pardon me, but this strikes me as quite improbable. Christ died. On this all are agreed.

            I wasn't clear on what you were referring to. Which part did you consider improbable? That Sanhedrin or Romans couldn't have tried to discredit the resurrection story until they heard about it via the rumor mill? That they wouldn't have done so until it was a big enough deal to cause a social disturbance? That it is likely to take more than four days total after Jesus' death for a rumor to spread to the point of becoming a public disturbance about Jesus having resurrected on the third day? That the Lazarus story where the people expect the entombed Lazarus to be putrid after four days suggest that was the normally expected decay rate? That an unidentifiably decomposed body wouldn't have been convincing proof?

            Weak is a relative term, I suppose. I consider it to be very strong ...

            Hypothetical 1: Jesus resurrected on the third day.
            Hypothetical 2: Jesus stayed dead. The resurrection story eventually sprung from the rumor mill.

            Given H1, there was no body to produce. By the time the authorities heard about the resurrection and felt political need to quash the story, more than three days, probably much longer, had passed since Jesus' death, so the authorities could bring forward a hoax body, but it wouldn't be convincing because it would have to be too decayed to recognize to be a realistic hoax.

            Given H2, by the time the authorities heard about the rumors and felt political need to quash them, more than three days, probably much longer, had passed since Jesus' death, so the only body that could be produced wouldn't be convincing because it was too decayed to be recognized. The situation most favorable to producing a body would be if the rumor started before Jesus died (contrary to the Gospels) and if the local government official were hyper-competent about investigating ASAP.

            If B is the event of a body being produced, the likelihood ratio P(B|H1):P(B|H2) is very nearly unity, except in the case of a super-early date for the resurrection rumor and hyper-competent government officials. Averaging over the cases, the odds ratio is slightly larger than 1:1 but certainly less than 2:1. That's very weak. "Strong" evidence is typically considered to be an odds ratio of 50:1 or better.

          • Rick DeLano

            "Which part did you consider improbable?"

            >> That the problem of decomposition would be in any way relevant, since the location of the body's burial was known, and the rumors were widely disseminated within 3 days, and preached publicly to thousands within 50 days.

            "That Sanhedrin or Romans couldn't have tried to discredit the resurrection story until they heard about it via the rumor mill?"

            >> The "rumor mill" was running rampant within three days. After 50 days, it was no longer a "rumor", but the source of public proclamation on the streets of Jerusalem, heard by thousands.

            "That they wouldn't have done so until it was a big enough deal to cause a social disturbance?"

            >> That was fifty days later. And they knew where the body had been interred. Simple matter. Produce it. They didn't.

            Why?

            "That it is likely to take more than four days total after Jesus' death for a rumor to spread to the point of becoming a public disturbance about Jesus having resurrected on the third day?"

            >> Three days would have been more than enough for the rumors to reach the Sanhedrin, who, after all, just put Jesus to death and were actively searching for his followers.

            Public disturbances of sufficient degree to alert the Romans would have occurred no longer than 50 days later, on Pentecost.

            Again- why no body?

            "That the Lazarus story where the people expect the entombed Lazarus to be putrid after four days suggest that was the normally expected decay rate? That an unidentifiably decomposed body wouldn't have been convincing proof?"

            >> Again. The body was interred in a known location. The Sanhedrin and the Romans both knew the location. It is necessary merely to open the tomb and notice that the body is inside.

            This was not done.

            Why?

          • Hi Rick,

            That the problem of decomposition would be in any way relevant

            It's relevant because a decomposed body is unidentifiable and an unidentifiable body doesn't disprove a resurrection rumor.

            For the subsequent parts, it sounds like you're assuming the Gospels are true and using what they say as evidence that the Gospels are true, which is circular:

            The "rumor mill" was running rampant within three days.

            How do you know the timescale? Recall that the rumor mill is part of H2, not H1, and the post-resurrection narrative is by hypothesis not true in H2. It seems awfully fast for a resurrection rumor to be invented and running ramping among grieving followers within three days.

            That was fifty days later. And they knew where the body had been interred. Simple matter. Produce it. They didn't.

            Wait, what? After fifty days, the body would have been largely disintegrated. It wouldn't have proven anything. But moreover, how do you know the timescale? Recall that producing-a-body is part of H2, not H1, and the post-resurrection narrative is by hypothesis not true in H2, so the timescale in the narrative wouldn't be real.

            The body was interred in a known location. The Sanhedrin and the Romans both knew the location. It is necessary merely to open the tomb and notice that the body is inside.

            The story about the body being interred in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb is part of H1, in which the gospel story is accurate. The "produce a body" objection only takes place in H2, in which the gospel story is not accurate. You can't just assume without evidence that, if H2 was true, the Sanhedrin and Romans would also know the body's location.

          • Rick DeLano

            The resurrection occurred three days after the interment of the body.

            It is reasonable to assume that such an extraordinary event engendered......well.

            Wildly spreading rumors :-)

            Since the historical fact of the extremely rapid expansion of the Church constitutes an independent means by which to assess whether something extraordinary was driving that expansion....we see that the simplest explanation is that the resurrection occurred, just as reported.

            The naysayer has no reasonable explanation, it seems to me, why the whole thing wasn't nipped in the bud by the production of the body.

            Since the naysayer objection rules out the best alternative answer- the body was stolen (the naysayer doesn't believe resurrection was part of the initial gospel, hence why steal it?), we are left with the quite logical conclusion:

            The Church grew because of an extraordinary reported event- that the disciples had witnessed the Resurrected Christ.

          • The naysayer has no reasonable explanation, it seems to me, why the whole thing wasn't nipped in the bud by the production of the body.

            I've given you an explanation repeatedly now. Why is it unreasonable?

          • Andrew G.

            What rapid expansion is that? How fast (in actual numbers) do you think the church grew?

          • Paul Lopez Tito

            How many Christians do you think are there today? Hundreds?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Of course, I wonder what event happened that caused a rapid growth in Christianity. It happed in the 4th century.

          • Rick DeLano,

            First, you have to ask when "the extremely rapid expansion" of the Church took place, and also where. It is my understanding that the Church did not expand rapidly in the location and among the people who would have potentially been eyewitnesses of the events of Jesus's ministry. The Jews, to whom Jesus devoted himself almost exclusively during his earthly ministry, did not convert in large numbers after the death of Jesus. I have seen estimates as low as 1000 Jewish-Christian converts by the end of the first century. It was, in fact, the conversion of Gentiles that accounted for the rapid expansion of early Christianity. Jewish-Christians soon became a minority and then for all practical purposes became extinct. Take a look at the missionary journeys of St. Paul. Good figures are difficult to come by, but I have ready that by the year 50, Gentile converts to Christianity outnumbered Jewish-Christians. Paul himself never met the earthly Jesus, and if Paul told his Gentile converts of the events in the Gospels, we have no record of it (although of course he did preach the resurrection). Paul's converts were not in a position to be "naysayers," because like Paul himself, they were not eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus. In fact, it is unlikely that any of those for whom the Gospels were written had any firsthand knowledge of the earthly ministry of Jesus. They were not in the area we call Israel today. They did not hear Jesus preach. They did not witness the crucifixion or, if it occurred, the resurrection.

          • Rick:

            And they knew where the body had been interred. Simple matter. Produce it. They didn't.

            It’s a story, written down decades later. There was no body to produce (miracle or not) in 70CE.

            (I hope this isn't redundant given what Noah has said.)

          • Rick:

            All the Sanhedrin or Romans needed to do to shut this whole Catholic Church-thingy down in a hurry, was to produce the body.

            It's just a story. We know that this story was circulating decades after the events. Your challenge is to show that it's history and that the story of the aftermath actually happened days after the events.

  • The gospels emerged from the preaching of the apostles which had been going on since the day of Pentecost forty days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    ...
    They are unique documents which emerged from the experience of the apostles and the early Church.
    ...
    Let’s look at the facts: when the gospel was hot and fresh in Jerusalem in the days after the Resurrection there were plenty of people there who knew Jesus, knew what had happened, and were ready to dispute with the disciples.

    That's a nice just-so story. I'd love to see the facts that supposedly show this is what happened. Do you have any to share?

  • He repeats the tired old idea that they must date from after 70 AD. The only reason for this dating is the modernist scholar's assumption that Jesus could not have prophesied the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, which happened in 70 AD.
    ...
    The Acts of the Apostles is acknowledged by most scholars as a reliable historical record.
    ...
    In addition, most scholars argue that Luke was influenced by Mark’s gospel.
    ...
    (some scholars place them even earlier.)

    Scholarly consensus: trustworthy when it agrees with me, tired and old when it doesn't.

    • Fair point--the "appeal to scholars" can cut both ways...

    • Randy Gritter

      Consensus of what scholars? There are actually quite a few scholars at conservative protestant institutions that would agree with Fr Longnecker. When people say consensus they exclude those. They just mean the ivy league along with Cambridge and Oxford.They represent one school of thought. It is not the only scholarly school of thought.

      • Randy Gritter,

        But this is a Catholic site, is it not? Why appeal to conservative Protestant Biblical scholarship?

        Are there any standard reference works on the Bible that you think it is safe for Catholics to rely on? Any Catholic Biblical scholars?

        • Luke Arredondo

          Hey David,

          There is one group, the Pontifical Biblical Comission, which has taken up a number of questions of relevance to this discussion.

          You can see the list of their writings here: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/pcb_doc_index.htm

          I wasn't able, however, to locate the writings about the date of the composition of the Gospels in English on the internet. But I'll keep looking. I have them in English translation from a book by Dean Bechard called The Scripture Documents.

          I don't have the time to re-read all of the documents which address the Gospels, but I just glanced over one on Matthew and the PBC affirmed that Catholics should not feel compelled to agree with scholarship arguing that Matthew either was not the author of the Gospel, or that he wrote after the destruction of the Temple.

          All the documents of the PBC have a strange style to them, wherein they pose a very complicated question, and then simply respond affirmative or negative. But it's worth checking out.

          Peace,

          Luke

          • A couple of things to note about the PBC mentioned above. In its early history, for at least a short while, it possessed authority as part of the Pope's magisterium. Not so during the time when it produced the document examining the "historicity" of the Gospels, just fyi. But that document on the historicity of the Gospels (I think from 1964), is really good. But the PBC never mandated (or proposed) any solid dates for Gospel origins, to my knowledge...

          • Luke Arredondo

            Hey Jim,

            You're absolutely correct, there was magisterial authority attached to it in its early days, but not at the time of the 1964 date. And the documents don't mandate a particular account of the date of the Gospels. What they do, though, is guide Catholics and in assuring them that there is a distinction not always made in the dominant approach to biblical scholarship between its methodology and some of its philosophical assumptions (such as the rejection of miracles, for instance). Regarding the dating of the Gospels they simply remark that nobody is required to believe that they were written after 70 ad and that the opinion to the contrary is still a valid one.

            It's similar to what is said about the word "day" in the Genesis accounts: nobody HAS to believe that it means 24 hours. But it also leaves open that possibility.

        • Luke Arredondo

          Hey David, I found the relevant texts from the Pontifical Biblical Commission in English. Here they are all in one page:http://www.veritasbible.com/resources/articles/Decisions_of_the_Biblical_Commission

          Peace,

          Luke

  • Fr. Longnecker says:

    He repeats the tired old idea that they must date from after 70 AD. The only reason for this dating is the modernist scholar's assumption that Jesus could not have prophesied the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, which happened in 70 AD. Why? Simply because prophecies of the future are impossible. Why? Because they say so.

    I am wondering if Fr. Longnecker means to say that the New American Bible, published by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, promulgates "tired old" scholarship. Strange Notions is basically a Catholic site. Is it really the position of contributors that the New American Bible and the USCCB is misleading Catholics? Is there another Catholic Bible (with commentary) that is more authoritative or contradicts the New American Bible? Here, from the introductions to the four Gospels, are the passages on the dates and places of composition.

    [MARK] Traditionally, the gospel is said to have been written shortly before A.D. 70 in Rome, at a time of impending persecution and when destruction loomed over Jerusalem. Its audience seems to have been Gentile, unfamiliar with Jewish customs (hence Mark 7:3-4, 11). The book aimed to equip such Christians to stand faithful in the face of persecution (Mark 13:9-13), while going on with the proclamation of the gospel begun in Galilee (Mark 13:10; 14:9). Modern research often proposes as the author an unknown Hellenistic Jewish Christian, possibly in Syria, and perhaps shortly after the year 70.

    [MATTHEW] Since Mark was written shortly before or shortly after A.D. 70 (see Introduction to Mark), Matthew was composed certainly after that date, which marks the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans at the time of the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70), and probably at least a decade later since Matthew's use of Mark presupposes a wide diffusion of that gospel. The post-A.D. 70 date is confirmed within the text by Matthew 22:7, which refers to the destruction of Jerusalem.

    [LUKE] Because of its dependence on the Gospel of Mark and because details in Luke's Gospel (Luke 13:35a; 19:43-44; 21:20; 23:28-31) imply that the author was acquainted with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, the Gospel of Luke is dated by most scholars after that date; many propose A.D. 80-90 as the time of composition.

    [JOHN] The final editing of the gospel and arrangement in its present form probably dates from between A.D. 90 and 100. Traditionally, Ephesus has been favored as the place of composition, though many support a location in Syria, perhaps the city of Antioch, while some have suggested other places, including Alexandria.

    • I, for one, am willing to acknowledge the NAB commentary as "tired old" scholarship. There is no monolithic demand from Catholics that they adhere to what the authors of these commentaries claim. Many Catholics prefer adhering to the claims of the Church Fathers regarding the origin and dating of the Gospels, since many of the Church Fathers are closer in history than we are to the traditions handed down about these things.

      • David, I'm with Jim. The NAB translation--and specifically its extra-biblical commentary--is an example of the "modern biblical scholarship" Fr. Dwight was critiquing. Catholics are not bound to accept, and many do not, the dating found in the NAB's introductory essays.

        • Brandon,

          Are there any reference works that Catholics may reasonably rely on when it comes to Biblical scholarship?

          I would point out that Fr. Longenecker said modernist, not modern. The former has connotations that the latter does not have. Are contributors here attempting to turn the clock back to before Divino Afflante Spiritu?

          • David, great questions! I'd recommend the Ignatius Study New Testament for accessible, authentically Catholic commentary. I'd also recommend the Catholic scholars who blog and podcast at The Sacred Page (http://www.thesacredpage.com/).

            Reagrding your second question, we're not attempting to turn back the clock on Divino Afflante Spiritu. I'm not sure why you think that, so perhaps you can explain. Nowhere in that document does it suggest when the Gospels were written.

          • Brandon,

            Here's my concern. In recommending the Ignatius Study Bible New Testament as having "authentically Catholic commentary," do you mean to imply that the New American Bible—which can be found on the web sites of both the USCCB and the Vatican—does not have "authentically Catholic commentary"? Does the charge that the Biblical scholars responsible for the NAB are "modernist" imply they are heretical? Does it imply something regrettable about the Catholic Church that the USCCB and the Vatican promulgate "tired old" Biblical scholarship? Or that (I am reasonably sure) if one takes an introductory course in the New Testament in any of the larger, highly ranked Catholic Colleges, one is much more likely to be educated in "modern" Biblical scholarship than in "conservative" Biblical scholarship? Are Catholic colleges leading students astray?

            Does the view of "authentic" Catholicism on Strange Notions have room for those who consider the approach to Biblical scholarship in the New American Bible solid and worthwhile, although not perhaps in accord with their own beliefs, or will sources like The New American Bible, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, the works of Raymond Brown, John P. Meier, the Anchor Bible volumes, and other works of "mainstream" scholarship simply be dismissed as "modernist" or "liberal" and not to be taken seriously?

          • Rick DeLano

            Certainly can't speak for Strange Notions, but as for me, the NAB footnotes contain at least one direct, formal heresy of which I am personally aware, and one was enough for me.

            I will use the NAB, but I wouldn't allow it to lie around my house.

            Some poor innocent might get hold of it.

          • David, thanks for the great follow-up questions. You ask, "Do you mean to imply that the New American Bible—which can be found on the web sites of both the USCCB and the Vatican—does not have "authentically Catholic commentary"?

            Yes, I do mean to imply that--and strongly so--alongside many other Catholics.

            You then ask, "Are Catholic colleges leading [New Testament] students astray?"

            Again, I would answer "Yes" in many circumstance, though some schools more than others and a few not at all. This is a well-attested problem that I've personally experienced.

            Finally, you ask, "Does the view of "authentic" Catholicism on Strange Notions have room for those who consider the approach to Biblical scholarship in the New American Bible solid and worthwhile, although not perhaps in accord with their own beliefs?"

            Of course there's room for all people interested in discussing issues relevant to Catholics and atheists. We'll never discourage or delete a comment just because it quotes the NAB Bible.

            However, the NAB footnotes are not necessarily representative of Catholic thought. And they are not a form of official Church teaching. Therefore appealing to them is not authoritative. That's the point I was trying to make earlier. One cannot quote something from the extra-Biblical commentary in the NAB and claim, "See! This is what the Catholic Church teaches!"

          • Brandon,

            Do you think the USCCB and the Vatican have an obligation to remove the text and notes from the New American Bible from their web sites? Should it have received a Nihil Obstat and an Imprimatur? Do you agree with Rick DeLano that the footnotes contain "at least one direct, formal heresy"? Can you explain why the USCCB and the Vatican would promote such a work? And why the Vatican and the USCCB would allow Catholic universities to miseducate students?

          • David, we're opening a much bigger can of worms here than I'd like, or then the article demands. In the interest of not veering too far off topic here, I'll answer your five questions and let the topic rest:

            1. Yes, I believe the USCCB and Vatican should remove the extra-Biblical NAB commentary from their websites. The actual biblical translation of the NAB is not heretical--though I and others still have issues with it--but some of the commentary is seriously problematic.

            2. From what I understand, the NAB's Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur only apply to the biblical text, not the comments.

            3. I'm not sure I'd call classify the problematic notes as "formal heresy" but I do think some contradict Church teaching. (For example, the note on Matthew 16:21-23.) Many of these footnotes have been cleaned up since the original 1970's version but some remain.

            4. I can't explain it. I'm sure the USCCB and Vatican had good intentions when they inaugurated the NAB project but the result was less than stellar.

            5. Both the Vatican and the USCCB have issued guidelines for authentically Catholic colleges. The documents, of course, mandate that nothing contrary to Church teaching should be taught in classes. Because of this some schools have been forced to abandon their identity as "Catholic" for failing to meet these standards, and no doubt other schools should follow suit.

            However, it should be said that merely noting the findings of modern biblical scholarship and the historical-critical method is not contrary to Church teaching. I believe students *should* be exposed to all sorts of different scholarly theories. But teaching those biblical theories as fact, even when they contradict explicit Church teaching, is where trouble arises.

      • Jim:

        I, for one, am willing to acknowledge the NAB commentary as "tired old" scholarship. There is no monolithic demand from Catholics that they adhere to what the authors of these commentaries claim.

        Fair enough. But then Fr. Dwight’s sweeping claims about dates seem a little premature. If David can cite this Catholic source, Dwight should’ve at least acknowledged that it’s a bit more complicated than he suggested and that you don’t have to be a bonehead to suggest a later dating.

  • No naysayers at NASA just another way of sayin' that pigs at the trough spout the party line, if they want to keep at the swill. Longnecker wear the collar, same like the farmer's ear notch.

    Where's all the stuff in the Gospels sayin' marriage is between one man and one woman for the nurturing of children only and no divorce, life is sacred from wigglin' sperm to natural death, whatever that may mean, women can't be priests and no birth control. Didn't come close to saying that. Didn't mention priests at all. Why do we have priests? They aren't working out that well.

    Not sayin' it's wrong. Might be a good choice if you're so inclined but everybody not so inclined. So it's a choice. Some do, some don't. A choose, like pro choice. Ain't no Heaven or Hell thing. Jesus never said that. Official marriage of a monogamous, heterosexual nature is a Roman thing. Maybe that why it the Roman Catholic Church. People of the old book were pretty loose about pelvic thrusts and Jesus wasn't concerned with them at all.

    Old Petey's bite got nothin' to do with his bark.

  • Mark Hunter

    In parallel to this account of Jesus a believer must therefore agree that the account of the conquest of Gaul as recorded by Julius Ceasar (Commentarii de Bello Gallico), only a few decades earlier than when the gospels were written, must be true as no naysayers have arisen to dispute his claim to the defeat of Gaul and his role in it.

    • Mark, again you've misunderstood Fr. Longenecker's point. What he and Catholics are *not* arguing is, "There are no naysayers to the Resurrection so it *must* be true!" That would be a fallacious argument from silence.

      Instead what we're saying is that, "There *were* naysayers whose objections proved to be empty, and thus the lack of substantial naysaying is evidence--strong, but not conclusive--in favor of the event actually occurring."

      See the difference?

      • Andrew G.

        Instead what we're saying is that, "There *were* naysayers whose objections proved to be empty,

        Who?

        When?

        And "proved to be empty" by whose standards?

        • Andrew, I'm not sure if you read Fr. Longenecker's article because he explicitly answers your first two questions:

          "In fact, in the Gospels we discover naysayers. The Jewish leaders said the disciples stole Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:11-15). Other naysayers heartily denied that Jesus was the Son of God. They said Jesus' miracles were produced by the devil. (Notice, though, that they didn't dispute that he did miracles...) In fact the naysayers were so vehement in their naysaying that they persecuted the Christians. Saul—later St. Paul—was one of their number. There were indeed plenty of naysayers in Jerusalem at the time when many witnesses to the events were present."

          • AshleyWB

            Citing the Gospels to validate the Gospels. Urgh.

          • Andrew G.

            It's this kind of pathologically uncritical approach to the Bible, and the gospels specifically, that makes it quite clear that either you have no actual interest in reaching atheists or you simply don't understand the obstacles in your way.

            The account in Matthew suggests the possibility that at the time that Matthew was written the "disciples stole the body" objection was being raised; but note that it's also possible that Matthew was simply anticipating this objection. Accordingly Matthew tampers with his source text to introduce guards and poisons the well against the objection by grounding it in bribery. (Note that this highlights both the fact that Matthew is not an eyewitness account, since it reports events that took place in secret without explanation, and the fact that it is written well after the event, hence "... to this day".)

            Likewise, the gospel accounts of miracles would hardly include people denying that those miracles even occurred.

            Paul's motives in "persecuting" early Christians seem clear; he was a Pharisaic Jew and they were apparently making claims contrary to Jewish law. But he was not in Jerusalem and does not claim to have been present for any claimed miracle other than his own conversion; there is no reason to believe that he objected to Christianity on any factual basis.

            Other denials come late; Celsus in the late second century dismisses Jesus as a sorcerer rather than claiming he didn't exist or performed no miracles; this is unsurprising since skepticism about supernatural events was largely unknown at the time. With no possibility of access to evidence due to the time gap, it would make no rhetorical sense to try and argue on that basis.

            So, the number of potential witnesses to Jesus' miracles (and thus potential naysayers) attested outside the gospels is zero. To use the gospel accounts (and in this context I include Acts, since it is universally recognized as being volume 2 of Luke) as evidence for their own veracity is to double-count the probabilities.

      • Mark Hunter

        There were just internal naysayers to the New Testament books, not external ones from independent sources.

        It's like me say that when I argue this point on my web site Christians object but I refute everyone of their objections and they eventually have to agree with me.

  • disqus_XPJdo1ODTT

    Good article Father, but next time try to be a little less confrontational in your tone. Remember that this website needs to be a forum for friendly and charitable discourse and i didnt get that feel from your article.

  • I don't consider NASA a reasonable comparison in this issue. If we want to verify the historicity of the moon landing we can look to the positive evidence, which is vast because NASA kept records of all the test steps and development engineering along the way. We are not looking at n-order copies of copies of documents from two thousand years ago of religious legend (note: religious legends are typically dismissed out of hand if they are from somebody else's religion).

    Lack of negative evidence, is a double negative that does not qualify as positive evidence. We don't have any records of people going around in early Ireland testifying that those reporting encounters with leprechauns were telling falsehoods. That is not positive evidence for leprechauns.

    Historians and Biblical scholars have spent their careers piecing together what they could of events in the first couple of centuries to see what positive evidence could be found in support of the stories told in scripture. That work continues, and we never know what artifact from early time is going to be dug up tomorrow. However, what we do know is that it is common human practice to start and grow religious stories independent of factual basis, or quickly departing from factual basis. Thus, non-believers have to be given positive evidence. A call from believes to show negative evidence falls on deaf ears, because the burden is upon he or she who asserts the reality of extraordinary events.

    Got evidence?

    • Q.Quinne, I'm curious what evidence you'd find acceptable. There is more textual evidence for the Bible than any work in ancient antiquity--and it's not even close. Though it's true we have no extant original copies of the Greek New Testament, we have thousands of copies stemming from many different areas of the world. Scholars have shown that these thousands of copies differentiate by less than a couple percentage points, and that the differences are mostly copying errors, grammatical substitutions, or inconsequential word changes.

      In other words, if we're going to discredit any historical document on a textual basis then the New Testament is the *last* one we would go after.

      (Beyond that, there's also the evidence of non-biblical, early-century attestations to Jesus' miracles, death, and Resurrection.)

      • Q.Quinne, I'm curious what evidence you'd find acceptable.

        I will go into more detail below, but just to get started I would ask you what evidence you would find acceptable to believe that Joseph Smith did receive golden tablets (written in reformed Egyptian) from the Angel Moroni? The LDS church has very good textual coverage on these events that are not so long ago, all in a single language, English, and in not so many copies.

        ... There is more textual evidence for the Bible than any work in ancient antiquity--and it's not even close. Though it's true we have no extant original copies of the Greek New Testament, we have thousands of copies stemming from many different areas of the world. Scholars have shown that these thousands of copies differentiate by less than a couple percentage points, and that the differences are mostly copying errors, grammatical substitutions, or inconsequential word changes.

        This lecture by Prof. Bart Ehrman covers that subject very well. Yes, the hundreds of thousands of discrepancies among all the hand copied manuscripts we have are almost entirely inconsequential except for the few that aren't and do impact meaning. Some point to the lack of divine protection from error, but I don't count that as positive evidence. I am going to assume that you will have many articles on this for us to discuss as time goes on.

        In other words, if we're going to discredit any historical document on a textual basis then the New Testament is the *last* one we would go after.

        I would not say "discredit" but rather, learn the limitations of credibility. For example, when I was a child in Catholic school I was taught that the Gospels were written the day after Pentecost by the Apostles who had just been given the full theological picture by direct divine revelation that explained all the riddles that Jesus had put to them during the prior three years. I am not going to totally swing the other way and believe that the whole thing, Jesus and all, was made up in the second century and back-filled to make it look real, but we can be reasonably confident that the Gospels were not directly written by the Apostles in their native language, and also were not written until decades after the events described. They don't represent what we, today, think of as eyewitness reports. Again, I expect we will have many threads about this in the future.

        (Beyond that, there's also the evidence of non-biblical, early-century attestations to Jesus' miracles, death, and Resurrection.)

        Please, bring it.

        • Q, you'll find several non-biblical, early-century attestations to Jesus' miracles, death, and Resurrection here:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus#Non-Christian_sources

          • Thanks Brandon, but I must say, that shows "not much." Baptism and death, perhaps, but not miracles or resurrection. Again, I am looking forward to threads on the historicity subject. I am very interested in how Christianity formed from the several first century cults that were vying for members while working out a theology. Not everyone is interested, but I see it as very important in separating what is simply unsupported from what is known to be wrong.

          • physicistdave

            Brandon,

            The Wikipedia article has been hacked. (This has, by the way, happened even in my own field of elementary-particle physics: the Wikipedia is unreliable on any subject where someone might benefit by hacking it – in the case of the physics article, it was a crack-pot who was pushing his own weird theory, contrary to Wikipedia rules, of course, but he succeeded nonetheless.)

            For example, the article says:
            >Josephus scholar Louis H. Feldman has stated that "few have doubted the genuineness" of Josephus' reference to Jesus in Antiquities 20, 9, 1.

            That is bizarre nonsense: anyone who reads the Testimonium Flavianum can see that it was written by someone who believed in Christianity, which Josephus certainly did not. There has been speculation that the TF may be an elaboration by a Christian copyist of a more sober original by Josephus. Maybe – however, the text reads naturally if you just excise the whole TF. So, no one knows if Josephus said anything there at all about Jesus. Any conclusion as to what, if anything, Josephus wrote there is just a blind guess, and hence of no evidential value.

            Similarly, the article declares:
            >Scholars generally consider Tacitus's reference to the execution of Jesus by Pontius Pilate to be both authentic, and of historical value as an independent Roman source about early Christianity that is in unison with other historical records...

            Again, nonsense: there is no evidence that Tacitus got his evidence from any source except what Christians themselves were saying, so this merely shows that there were Christians in Tacitus’ time who were telling stories about Jesus, a fact no one disputes at all.

            Beware the Wikipedia – therein be lies!

            Dave Miller in Sacramento

            .

          • articulett

            But why would a real god be so vague, prone to misinterpretation, inspire a book filled with inconsistencies, be so unclear as to provoke holy wars, allow the passage "thou shall not suffer a witch to live" etc. when he didn't have to? Why should a god need his followers to make excuses for him if he actually had a goal to get people to believe in him and believe things about him? Does this seem godly to you? Would you be vague if you had an important message to spreadd to people? If you were omnipotent and could stop suffering or miscommunication done in your name, wouldn't you?

            This is what I don't understand about religion-- your god is supposed to omnipotent... but he functions pretty much like a non-existent god... he just seems to waste his omnipotence or not use it for anything really grand... why wouldn't he just make people that pleased him in the first place, for example (like Jesus)-- why the imperfect ones that he would feel the need to punish? It makes no sense. Why pick a random time in the history of man and waste time telling your beloved creations things about keeping the sabbath day holy and not coveting their neighbor's ass when you could tell them useful things like-- "wash your hands-- there's these invisible things called bacteria that cause disease"-- and "quit killing women for not producing sons; the male determines the sex of the offspring!" Oh yeah, and "There's no such thing as witches!"

          • cowalker

            Nobody seems to answer your questions, articulett, although you ask such good ones. I clicked back to this article when I saw on the home page that you had commented, just to see the replies. Again, none.

            Your questions are related to my pet peeve--that the Christian God is compared to a loving parent. Yeah, sure, except would we consider a parent who stayed hidden from his offspring and left only cryptic, contradictory texts around as guidance to be a good, loving parent? One who made various threats of retribution for "bad" behavior in the texts, while allowing the children to develop various competing cults with differing definitions of "bad," never stepping in to clarify the matter for everyone simultaneously? And of course all the children have wildly different standards of living, with most being malnourished and dying young. Yeah, God wouldn't win Parent of the Year in any locality I know of.

          • articulett

            Exactly! If I left a steak out where my dog could reach, and my dog guiltily ate it-- I'd blame myself... not the dog. And I think someone who tortured the dog for all of its life for doing so would be monstrous-- and yet theists blithely make excuses for a god who is said to do much worse.

            The only way I was able to keep faith as a child was to try not to think about these things... I was afraid if I thought about them, I might lose faith, and then I might be subject to ETERNAL torment from a "loving" god. It was a relief for me to find out that there was no evidence for souls and so anyone who claimed to know anything about afterlives or any immaterial beings-- was making it up... even if they really believed it was true. They were claiming to know things they couldn't really know anything about-- because if something could be known- scientists would be testing it and finding out more. What could be more imporant than to learn everything we could about souls/afterlives if they were real?

            My Catholic indoctrination caused me much angst-- I would never inflict it upon my own child. I understand that one of the reasons my parents inflicted on me was because they were afraid bad things would happen if they didn't. Who wants to take a chance on your kid's eternity?

            On the flip side, I feel guilty messing with peoples' faith if it makes them happy or gives their life meaning or helps keep them off drugs, so I tend to avoid the topic unless it comes up at a skeptic site or atheist opinion is invited, like here. I do want to make the road easier for people more like me however-- to be a candle in the darkness to quote Sagan. I don't want any part in propping up this idea that faith is a virtue or that religion is a noble lie because I don't think it is. I want to be a force moving humanity away from it's superstitious past.

          • Susan

            >Exactly! If I left a steak out where my dog could reach, and my dog guiltily ate it-- I'd blame myself... not the dog.

            I've certainly met people who blame the dog, but that is just a sign that they aren't interested In the facts or in theirs or their dog's limitations. You're right. That's the Yahweh story in a nutshell.

            If we're dealing with people who really think that Adam and Eve were real people and Yahweh is good and wise, we're dealing with people who think blaming the dog makes sense, never mind the overwhelming evidence against Adam and Eve ever existing.

            >They were claiming to know things they couldn't really know anything about-- because if something could be known- scientists would be testing it and finding out more. What could be more imporant than to learn everything we could about souls/afterlives if they were real?
            Yes. Science would be all over it. But all the evidence leads away from Yahweh. If we ask for evidence, they say their claims are beyond evidence. They never say why. Just that they are.

          • cowalker

            We seem to have had similar experiences with religion which left us with many of the same questions. Which are never going to be answered here!

      • Brandon:

        There is more textual evidence for the Bible than any work in ancient antiquity

        And yet it still doesn’t support the incredible claims made by the gospels. Decades of oral history? And then centuries of silence during a period of upheaval before our first complete copies? We are looking at the gospel events through a backwards telescope.

        if we're going to discredit any historical document on a textual basis then the New Testament is the *last* one we would go after.

        Why? The stories of Julius Caesar or Alexander don’t contain supernatural stories!

        Whoops—I misspoke. They do contain supernatural stories, but historians scrub those out. And that same skeptical eye demands that the NT claims cross a high bar of evidence. Which it doesn’t.

        • articulett

          Even more to the point-- they don't contain stories that you are told you are "saved" for believing or "damned" for doubting. Any story where people are manipulated to believe via such memes has got to be taken with many more grains of salt so-to-speak than a story which has no such manipulations built in.

          Those indoctrinated with such memes have a vested interest in maintaining belief over finding out what is more likely to be true. I think Catholics can see this with Muslims... but they don't seem to see this with their own brand of faith-- they think THEY believe their supernatural beliefs for BETTER reasons than Muslims believe theirs.

  • Meta-N

    Lets assume we could find some naysayers. Would that really change anything? For example consider the Miracle of Fatima. There where tens of thousands at this event. An event with documented naysayers. There could even be a few surviving naysayers alive today. Does that mean the event didn't happen? Should we trust eyewitness accounts or physical evidence?

    • Mark Hunter

      Even if there were thousands of nay-sayers, many believers would still believe. Look at the Shroud of Turin. Reputable, double blind evidence has dated it to the middle ages and still people believe it's the burial cloth of Jesus and no amount of evidence will ever change their belief.

      • Mark, as I'm sure you know, there is a lot of controversy surrounding that earlier dating. Specifically, the tested piece of cloth was taken from the edge and is considered by many to be a medieval touch-up job. More recent dating experiments have placed the cloth in the appropriate century. See this recent, yet admittedly controversial, batch of testing by Giulio Fanti, professor of mechanical and thermal measurement at the University of Padua.

        http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/science-shines-new-light-on-shroud-of-turins-age/

        Beyond the dating controversy, however, the actual image remains completely unexplained. If the cloth were merely a medieval fabrication, why has nobody been able to replicate the image?

        Finally, regarding your last claim that "no amount of evidence will ever change their belief," I wonder how you know this. It seems impossible to make a predictive statement like that about the future.

        • Meta-N

          Brandon, What can you share with us regarding Fatima? Your knowledge is impressive to say the least. I'm looking forward to your reply.

          • Brandon Vogt

            Meta-N, regarding your earlier comment, you're right that the Church has not definitively ruled on whether the Shroud of Turin is authentic.

            Regarding Fatima, I'm no expert, but I do believe the Marian apparitions occurred and that 70,000 people, including thousands of non-believers, were telling the truth when they claimed to see the sun dance in the sky. I suggest Fr. Andrew Apostoli's excellent book, Fatima for Today (Ignatius, 2012) for an accessible yet comprehensive overview.

          • physicistdave

            These statements are not going to improve your chances of convincing any atheists to convert!

          • Mark Hunter

            Physicistdave - Rather they are going to make people not want to have anything to do with such beliefs.

          • When people hold on to one form of nonsense, it makes it easier to get other people to question the rest.

          • Q, consider this a final warning. Deeming other people's beliefs "nonsense" does nothing to promote fruitful dialogue. It's simply meant to insult. You're better than that. I've edited the comment above.

          • Brandon, please re-read my comment carefully. I specifically avoided attributing "nonsense" to any one or group. It was worded as an observation about everyone and not an insult to anyone specific.

          • Q, whatever your intent, it seemed clear in context who it was directed at. And even if it was generally attributed, it's still unnecessary. Let's agree to dialogue rather than insult.

          • I'm sorry you took it that way, please let me rephrase in terms of the OP. If it were found that NASA promulgates some stories that turn out to be nonsense, then we would expect people to question the rest.

          • physicistdave

            Q,

            Recently our friend Ted Seeber posted these two replies directed at me personally on another thread (the Einstein thread) here on Brandon's site:

            >The only reason to be an atheist is because you want to be a bad person.

            and

            > you keep spreading lies rather than even attempting to learn the truth.

            I just checked to see if Brandon had deleted them. Nope.

            Note that Ted did not just attack my beliefs: he accused me of "spreading lies" and being a "bad person."

            I.e., not just attacking my beliefs but attacking me.

            This sort of thing has happened repeatedly on this board.

            Now, personally, I would let both Ted's nasty personal attacks stand as well as attacks denouncing mere beliefs (not human beings) as "nonsense."

            But the fact that Brandon deletes the mote used by his opponents and allows the beam used by his allies to remain speaks volumes about his approach.

            Dave

          • Hi Dave, and thanks for your comment. Some difficulty is inherent in this dialog. The site is asking two groups to talk to each other who are mistrustful from prior history going back to The Enlightenment. There are going to be places and individuals where the rubbing together will produce sparks. I expect to get the occasional stone cast my way, and will do my best not to respond in kind.

            Moderation is not easy on a site like this were each side is going test the limits from time to time. If Brandon gets the line drawn right down the middle, I will be very impressed, and tell him so. However, I expect the line to give more latitude for the Catholic side, and am prepared to tolerate that while tolerable. There will be subjects where the facts are not going to be well received because of emotional hot buttons, and thus the latitude on our side of the line may not be wide enough to go there. Not being able to discuss all topics may be the price for being able to discuss some topics, at all.

            I care more about the truth than what names I am called. Some will come here having been told untruths about non-believers and based on that make uncharitable remarks. It may take time, but I feel that filling in the truth where it is missing will turn that around in most honest people. The dishonest ones, who are set on being abusive, have to be let go, but I try to give, even them, a chance.

            This is an experiment, and we are the test subjects. At least it is not like Pakistan, where Internet atheists are risking their lives to speak freely.

            Thanks again, for your support.

          • physicistdave

            Brandon,

            You cannot talk honestly about human belief systems without using the word "nonsense" or some synonym thereof. Astrology is nonsense, phrenology is nonsense, Aryan "race science' was nonsense, and so on.

            For better or for worse, most atheists' judgment of religion is going to use some term synonymous with "nonsense."

            I know you are not trying to be unfair, but let me emphasize again a point that I think you honestly are completely missing:

            Most atheists do not think that Christianity is a somewhat plausible doctrine that just does not have quite enough evidence in its favor. Most atheists do not view Christianity as an intrinsically attractive doctrine that they unfortunately have trouble accepting because of a few annoying "roadblocks" (to use your term from above).

            I won't repeat the terms that seem to be red flags to you, but those terms accurately describe most atheists' honest view of Christianity. Ban those terms and you will merely guarantee that you cannot have honest discussions with atheists about their view of Christianity.

            Dave

          • articulett

            Is belief in witches nonsense? Belief in voo-doo? Belief in fairies?

            Certainly some supernatural beliefs are nonsense to you-- some are clearly wrong, silly, and/or dangerous. Does it bother you that someone might feel the same way towards your supernatural beliefs that you feel towards other supernatural beliefs? Does your faith depend upon people not letting you know that they find your faith nonsensical.

            Why does it bother theists so much when others don't find their beliefs respect worthy? If you are really "in" on "the secrets of the universe", why would it matter if others thought it was nonsense? Are you afraid that they might be right?

            My guess is that on some level all believers in the supernatural must know that they COULD be as wrong as believers in myths past... and it makes them uncomfortable to even think about this possibility because it erodes faith.

            I think that any honest discussion with atheists has got to lead you to understand that we consider your supernatural beliefs to be as wrong as you consider those "other" wrong faiths-- and often for the same sorts of reasons. We don't think faith is a virtue that needs to be protected. I know that in your head it's your religion or atheism... but in my head it's either naturalism or some of the infinite potential varieties of supernatural unfalsifiable beliefs. And if it is the latter-- we humans have no method for distinguishing true unfalsiable claims from false ones-- we can't tell your 3-in-1 god from mythological gods or fairies or demons or immaterial ducks. I don't see any evidence whatsoever that there are gods who want ME to believe in THEM.

          • David Egan

            Based on the first couple weeks of posts and comments, I'd wager that no atheist will ever be converted and more than a couple christians have some new doubts.

          • Well, David, it has provided a good place for non-believers to hang out and meet each other. *waves*

          • articulett

            *blows kisses*

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            ...grin...

            So far, I have seen here no arguments here for Christianity which I have not already encountered in my 40+ years of debate with Christians and in reading the books of apologetics proffered to me.

            But I have seen a couple of excellent arguments for atheism and agnosticism which had never before occurred to me.......

          • articulett

            I feel uncomfortable if the goal is to convert others. I'd need real evidence that consiousness could exist outside the brain (scientific type evidence) before I'd believe anything supernatural was more than wishful thinking-- I don't' think I'm convertable.

            And I don't think I'd necessarily be interested in messing with peoples faith if it means so much to them... whether it's belief in Santa or a religion or some other fanciful belief.

            I am interested, though, it having theists consider whether they'd want to know if souls weren't real. I think it's an important question for them to consider since science definitely seems to be heading in that direction. If souls aren't real-- does belief in god matter? Would you stil be trying to nurture faith if you didn't get purported heavenly rewards out of the deal?

            I'm also interested in theists telling me why I should take their supernatural beliefs more seriously than they take the supernatural belies of others. Why should the Shroud of Turin mean more to me than The Book of Mormon means to you? Why shouldn't I just consider it part of somebody else's myth/superstition?

          • I am interested in truth, but can only present the facts and evidence, and can't help people get past the kind of mental water tight compartments that allow so many to have faith in what another part of their brains know ain't so. As with the consciousness question, I like to ask religious people which of your ancestors was the earliest to experience a "life after death"? Remember, that means that all his or her ancestors did not, and when he or she died it was mighty lonely, in the afterlife, for a while. Was it 3000 years ago? 10k? 100k? A million years ago? Have they been watching down upon us for ten million years? If not, then for how long?

            The problem of the first human ancestor to have an "afterlife" is a tough philosophical problem, because we know our ancestors are an unbroken line going back to microorganisms billions of years ago, and that each offspring in that chain was almost biologically identical to its parent or parents. And yet, for us to have the special whatever it is that provides an "afterlife," that other animals don't have, it had to start somewhere along the line.

            So, not only is a "disembodied mind" without evidence, there is no reasonable way one could get started re our ancestors, or the capability passed on in some sequence of DNA. The straight forward answer seems to me to be that the concept of "life after death" has no referent in the real world.

          • I don't simply choose beliefs which I believe are most likely to convince atheists to convert. I choose beliefs that, to me, best explain the available evidence. In the case of the Shroud and the Fatima miracle, I think the evidence overwhelmingly supports the authenticity of both.

          • physicistdave

            Brandon wrote to me:
            >I choose beliefs that, to me, best explain the available evidence. In the case of the Shroud and the Fatima miracle, I think the evidence overwhelmingly supports the authenticity of both.

            Well... with all due respect, I am pretty sure that is not true.

            We have explained in detail how it is known with certainty that the sun did not careen around the sky at Fatima. The obvious conclusion is that some of the people (no one interviewed all 70,000) were delusional: perhaps through vision problems from looking at the sun, perhaps as a result of some natural weather phenomena, almost certainly from a "will to believe."

            You could, after all, admit this and still be a perfectly faithful Catholic.

            That you will not admit the truth even in such an obvious case leaves you indicted, I fear, as someone more interested in fighting for the ":faith" than in honest pursuit of the truth.

            The sad thing is that it is self-defeating: you are making all of your beliefs look silly by insisting on nonsense such as the Fatima Miracle.

            I'm not trying to be mean: I am simply talking about the results of the strategy you are following.

            Dave

          • Dave, your analysis of my beliefs is inherently contradictory. You rightly point out that, "You could, after all, admit this and still be a perfectly faithful Catholic."

            That's true. And I'll freely admit that if it were proved the Fatima visions were merely delusional, or that the Shroud was fabricated, that would not shake my faith in Catholicism for the simple fact that I don't believe the Catholic Church holds the fullness of truth *because* of these things. They're not central to why I believe in God or Catholicism.

            Yet that very fact should be evidence that I *don't* just believe in these two events because I'm "more interested in fighting for the "faith" than in honest pursuit of the truth."

            By believing in either I'm not "fighting for the faith" since neither is *part* of the deposit of faith.

            Finally, you claim "We have explained in detail how it is known with certainty that the sun did not careen around the sky at Fatima. The obvious conclusion is that some of the people (no one interviewed all 70,000) were deluded: perhaps through vision problems from looking at the sun, perhaps as a result of some natural weather phenomena, almost certainly from a "will to believe."

            I'm not sure how you can prove "with certainty" that a miraculous event didn't occur. You could certainly provide strong natural explanations for what really happened, but natural science cannot definitively disprove miraculous claims.

            That said, each of your other theories are extremely implausible and are little more than shots in the dark. To deny the widely-attested miracle you must assume either:

            - Tens of thousands of people, including many non-believers, simultaneously were deluded

            - Some mysterious weather phenomenon is responsible even though there is absolutely zero evidence to support this suggestion. (And beyond that, what type of weather phenomenon causes people to believe the sun dances around the sky?)

            - Or that people merely "willed" to believe they saw the dancing sun. This one seems almost impossible since, among the thousands of witnesses, there were hundreds of non-believers and skeptics who claimed to see the miracle. They would definitely not "will" to see the miracle since they didn't believe in miracles.

          • physicistdave

            Brandon wrote to me:
            >Dave, your analysis of my beliefs is inherently contradictory.

            Not at all: I merely suggested that your own behavior probably does not serve your own ends: that does not make my analysis contradictory in the slightest. Pointing out that people often engage in self-defeating behavior is not contradictory: we all know it is often true.

            You also wrote:
            >That said, each of your other theories are extremely implausible and are little more than shots in the dark.

            Not at all.

            Look: the great 2012 end-of-the-world did not happen. I do not need a "theory" to explain why. It just obviously did not happen.

            Similarly, we know for certain that the sun did not really shoot around the sky back on a day in 1917. I do not need a "theory" of any sort to explain why some deluded people thought this had happened. All I need to know is that it did not happen, but they thought it happened, therefore, by definition, they were deluded.

            I can guess why they were deluded -- staring at the sun or whatever. But my guesses are irrelevant -- the sun just did not jump around, so they were deluded in thinking it did.

            I really am surprised you are so intent on arguing this. I really am trying to be helpful in trying to get you to see how that looks to anyone who is not already stuck in your position. You do not have to agree with me (or anyone else!), but you really seem unable to see how this appears to people who do not already hold your belief.

            I am more interested (and concerned) with why you think and behave in this way than with Fatima in and of itself.

            Dave

          • articulett

            Yes Brandon... the insistance that your religion's "miracles" are more real and more true than those "other" religions miracles (Mohummed flying on a horse, magical gold plates, talking in tongues, reincarnation stories, etc.) just sounds... arrogant. -- in the same way those others might sound to you if they were as confident that their "miracles" were "proof" that their magical "beliefs" were "higher truths". Why should we take them more seriously than you take this guy:

            http://reluctant-messenger.com/reincarnation-proof.htm

            Remember-- just because you don't understand how lightening is made, doesn't mean it's evidence that Zeus exists.

          • articulett

            And Mormons overwhelmingly believe that the golden plates were real.. they'll comment as to how no 14 year old boy could write such a thing (even though Joseph Smith wasn't 14 when he "wrote" the book of Mormon... but I guess the Angel Moroni supposedly visited him when he was 14.)

            Do you think anything that you thought was good evidence against those magical plates would be convincing to them? Do their arguments make you into a believer. When people have a vested interest in believing magic (or fear supernatural punishment for non-belief) then what looks like nothing impressive to the outsider becomes "proof" to them. Tom Cruise's success is proof to him that Scientology works-- and thus is true. You can't prove him wrong. You can't explain is amazing success. He's more successful than you. To Scientologists this is much more impressive evidence than purported stories of miracles and linen artwork of a seemingly deformed sleeping man.

            If artists created a good enough replica of the shroud- would you be convinced? Or would you make excuses still? You do realize that magicians in Vegas perform much more impressive "miracles" than Jesus was said to perform. Surely they'd seem to be much more powerful gods than the ones your bible writers stumbled upon. Even you with your modern technology and information would be far more impressive than a guy who believed in witches and demons and didn't seem to have a clue about dinosaurs, DNA, germs, other planets, air travel, or cell phones. Even the internet is more godly and amazing then a god whose best "miracle" is indistinguishible from a medieval forgery or magicians trick.

            Suppose a child is missing. You don't know where the child is... but if you really wanted to find that child, I don't think you'd be looking into far fetched supernatural explanations. You wouldn't be satisfied with the claim that "Jesus called them home" nor with the suggestion that aliens had eaten them nor that demons had absconded with them. These would be answers for people looking to support belief in such things perhaps-- but they are not real answers and would never suffice for those who were interested in what is true. A parent of a missing chld would never settle for such "answers"-- they want to know where the child's physical body is-- and if the child is alive. When the truth matters, then then claims involving entities that cannot even be substantiated to exist are discarded.

        • articulett

          That's not a burial shroud--- go paint your face and put a towel over it to see what real cloth over a face looks like-- or google images for face imprints (make up etc.) on exploded air bags. The image would be distored over what it was wrapped around. Moreover, it was paint and the dating most definitely shows that it was a forgery from a time before we could do carbon dating. Now Catholics would have been trumpeting at the top of their lungs if the dates matched the approximate time of Jesus' death-- more so if it was blood on it and not paint... because blood has DNA... and we could finally see what Jesus' magical Y chromosome looked like. We could have his DNA and see who was most closely related to him that was alive today...

          Don't be like the Mormons.... the Mormons are always making excuses as to why the evidence in DNA, archeology, etc. doesn't match up with the story of the Americas told in the book of Mormon. Their excuses only sound good to those trying to keep the faith...

          Real gods shouldn't need people to lie, manipulate, nor make excuses on their behalf.

          • Brandon Vogt

            articulett, your comment is so full of errors I hardly know where to begin. But I'll quickly respond to the most basic one: scientists on both sides of the Shroud controversy agree that the image was certainly not painted since there is no evidence of pigment. Yet you confidently claim "it was paint." Can you please provide evidence for this assertion?

          • severalspeciesof

            "scientists on both sides of the Shroud controversy agree that the image
            was certainly not painted since there is no evidence of pigment"

            Tell that to Walter McCrone...

          • severalspeciesof
          • Brandon: If there's much to comment on in articulett's comment, I wish you would. Her points sound quite strong to me. In particular, it's trivial to imagine the wraparound image that would've been picked up by a cloth hugging the face--quite different from the very narrow face in the Shroud. Also, look at how the hands are held and try to do that yourself--human bodies don't work that way.

          • Bob, those are merely subjective opinions with which I disagree. I don't think the hand placement is problematic.

            Moreso, what exactly are you proposing? That the image was painted? If so, please provide evidence.

          • Brandon: I'm mostly objecting to your argument that there is nothing scientific said against the Shroud (I'm paraphrasing and may not have gotten that quite right).

            Read what the experts have said. The hand placement is problematic.

            I have no more evidence that the Shroud was a fabrication than any good source you could find (and perhaps have already read). Let's get clear the burden of proof, however. If you want to say that the Shroud has an image magically zapped onto a linen cloth as someone was raised from the dead, the burden is yours.

          • Bob, I'm fairly well-read on the Shroud and I'm not aware of any scientific objections that haven't been adequately addressed (adequately, anyways, in my mind.)

            Let me ask you this question though: if the Shroud is an obvious medieval fabrication, as you and others seem to believe, how come nobody in the twenty-first century--including expert skeptics who have examined it for years--has been able to reproduce anything remotely similar? The surest way for a skeptic to disprove the Shroud would be to create a copy. Why do you think this has yet to happen?

          • Brandon: I've heard that a copy has been made (though I'm sure this would dissuade a Shroudie not at all).

            Have you read Joe Nickell's work? I've found one link, though I haven't read it. Wikipedia says that he argues that tempera paint would do the job.

            http://books.google.com/books?id=Ce9DH3f9oa0C&pg=PA187&lpg=PA187&dq=scandals+and+follies+of+the+holy+shroud&source=bl&ots=tY0M1Ru5tY&sig=slhRjI9GtEfjknO3xgQz2AKbUA0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=eHieUZfKMMObiQLx_oGQBw&ved=0CDoQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=scandals%20and%20follies%20of%20the%20holy%20shroud&f=false

          • Bob, several people have *attempted* to produce copies but none have come even close to the Shroud's remarkable image.

            I'm familiar with Nickell. I have several issues with his (many) hypotheses, but the one question I'd pose to him is the same I posed to you: if the Shroud image could be duplicated with tempera paint, why hasn't he or anyone else done it?

            The article below, published a couple weeks ago in the National Catholic Register, references Nickell's work and criticisms:

            http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/science-shines-new-light-on-shroud-of-turins-age/

          • Brandon: I haven't studied the various issues enough to have much of an opinion.

            The most damning evidence against the shroud may be that our oldest (and therefore best) information about the Shroud is from a Christian source that makes clear that it is a forgery. I've written more here.

          • articulett

            What would you accept as evidence. If nothing would actually suffice,then why bother asking people to provide it?

          • articulett

            McCrone analyzed
            the shroud and found traces of chemicals that were used in "two common
            artist's pigments of the 14th century, red ochre and vermilion, with a
            collagen (gelatin) tempera binder" (McCrone
            1998). He makes his complete case that the shroud is a medieval
            painting in Judgment Day
            for the Shroud of Turin (March 1999). For his work, McCrone was awarded the American
            Chemical Society's Award in
            Analytical Chemistry in 2000.

            http://skepdic.com/shroud.html

            And you can dabble your own face with paint and wrap a towel around it to see the distortions one would actually see if a face was wrapped in cloth. The nose would be all stretched out, for one-- even that is easy to test.

            It's convincing evidence to people looking for a reason to believe-- people who will believe until or unless a scientists "proves" that it can't be-- but it's not real evidence for people interested in what is actually true. Those who want to believe in particular beliefs set a really high bar when it comes to convincing them that they might be wrong-- in fact, I think nothing would convince you of such... but they set such a low bar to accept something like this as a real miracle from a purportedly omnipotent being. It's a very crappy miracle if the one performing it is supposed to be omnipotent. You'd never accept such a low bar when it came to another religion. But Jesus face on tortillas become "evidence" when it confirms the stuff you imagine yourself saved for believing.

            Why do you imagine it was never mentioned until so many years after it was purported to exist? I think that if there was real scientific evidence that it could be a real burial shroud of a guy from the first century in Israel-- theists would be crowing a lot louder and paying scientists to find out more.

            I think that paint is a far far more likely explanation than a savior's blood... or alien artwork... or a trick of demons. Plus the image has long hair-- and if Jesus had long hair than why does Paul go on and on about how it's unnatural for men to have long hair?

            And face it, if the cloth could be dated to the first century, everyone would be claiming that this was PROOF-- but it doesn't... "The results of radiocarbon measurements at Arizona, Oxford and Zurich yield
            a calibrated calendar age range with at least 95% confidence for the linen of the Shroud of Turin of AD 1260 - 1390 (rounded down/up to nearest 10yr). These results therefore provide conclusive evidence that the linen of the Shroud of Turin is mediaeval."

            http://www.shroud.com/nature.htm" (published in Nature, a highly respected peer reviewed journal.) That's what REAL evidence looks like.

            --so believers have to make excuses and explain why it looks mideival when it's really not... because no amount of evidence will shake your faith... in the same way that no amount of evidence will convince Mormons that their magical gold plates never existed. I suppose gods or demons or really advanced aliens could be manipulating the data to trick humans so that all their science gives them wrong information, but it's much more parsimonious to conclude that this is yet another fake relic... because fake relics were big business back in the days when you needed one to start a church (and gain the wealth that comes from doing so.)

            Is there really any evidence that would convince you that it was NOT the burial shroud of Jesus? If not, then why send me off in search of facts? I don't think you really want facts if they don't support your faith.

          • Thanks articulett, nicely done.

          • Susan

            Ditto.

        • Mark Hunter

          Would there have been the same controversy if the shroud had have been dated to the first century or would Sidonologists have accepted the dating as authentic?

          As to no amount of evidence, could you proffer any evidence that would cause you not to believe in the Shroud, let alone Jesus?

      • Meta-N

        Fatima is an actual miracle accepted by the church.

        I could be wrong, I don't think the Shroud is a recognized miracle.

        • Mark Hunter

          Fatima is a devotion (Not a discipline doctrine or dogma), as is the Shroud. Catholics are not required to believe either of them.

      • Mark: Indeed, the oldest evidence about the Shroud is a letter making clear that it's a forgery! Here our best evidence is naysayer evidence, and it did nothing to stop the belief.

        I've written more about it here.

    • physicistdave

      The supposed "miracle at Fatima" involved the sun careening around the sky.

      Except that the sun seen in Fatima was the same sun seen in the rest of Western Europe, and it did not careen around the sky in the rest of Europe.

      Which is obvious anyway: if the sun had gone shooting around the cosmos, the whole solar system would have been disrupted.

      Although tens of thousands were reportedly present at Fatima, obviously no one actually interviewed all of those tens of thousands of people: the extant reports are therefore from a highly selected group. And, reportedly, some present saw nothing at all.

      Fatima is a sterling case of how falsehoods can spread about a supposed event even in modern times.

      Show me someone who believes in the "miracle of Fatima" and I will show you one very, very gullible person.

      Dave Miller in Sacramento

      • Rick DeLano

        Here's one, from an eyewitness reporter from the secular, anti-clerical 'O Seculo', which had previously written satirical items about the upcoming event, and despatched the author, who got a whole lot more than he bargained for:

        "...one could see the immense multitude turn towards the sun, which appeared free from clouds and at its zenith. It looked like a plaque of dull silver and it was possible to look at it without the least discomfort. It might have been an eclipse which was taking place. But at that moment a great shout went up and one could hear the spectators nearest at hand shouting: "A miracle! A miracle!" Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was Biblical as they stood bareheaded, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws - the sun "danced" according to the typical expression of the people. ...

        "People then began to ask each other what they had seen. The great majority admitted to having seen the trembling and dancing of the sun; others affirmed that they saw the face of the Blessed Virgin; others, again, swore that the sun whirled on itself like a giant Catherine wheel and that it lowered itself to the earth as if to burn it with its rays. Some said they saw it change colours successively. ..."

        • physicistdave

          Except, Rick, we know for certain that the sun did not actually shoot around the cosmos as I explained above. So, what you have actually shown is how widely, easily, and rapidly false claims based on religion can spread.

          Thanks.

          • Rick DeLano

            Except, "physicist"dave, nowhere is it reported that "the sun actually shot around the cosmos".

            What is reported, is reported.

            Since you cannot refute it, you choose to refute something else.

            This is called "straw man argumentation".

            Don't they teach physicists about such foundational illogic any more?

          • articulett

            Millions of children report Christmas presents under their tree each year-- proof of Santa!

            Lightening happens-- proof of Thor!

            Thousands of peopleclaim to have seen chupacabras-- proof that chupacabras are real!

            You don't know where missing children are-- proof that aliens are eating them!

            11 people claim to have seen the golden plates-- proof that Mormonism is true!

          • physicistdave

            No.

          • Deker71

            Except, we also know that the spectators at Fatima couldn't see the vision of the Virgin Mary either, only the three children could.

          • Brandon Vogt

            Physicistdave, how do you know that for certain?

          • physicistdave

            Brandon wrote to me:
            >Physicistdave, how do you know that for certain

            Well..... aren't you certain of that, Brandon, for the reasons I gave above?

            With all due respect, this seems to me a frivolous question.

            We could of course have a couple million-word discussion on the foundations of epistemology, how we know we are not "brains in a vat, " etc.

            But that would be a waste of time: I doubt that anyone is an atheist (or a Christian) because of deep thoughts about epistemology.

            All sane people apply certain epistemic criteria most of the time: if a nice Jewish girl down the street got pregnant, but told you it was not what you think -- it's a Virgin Birth, I am pretty certain you would not believe her unless she had stunningly convincing, overwhelming evidence.

            You Christians make an exception for ancient supposed "miracles" with little or no evidence; Hindus do the same for Hindu miracles, etc.

            We see that here in the discussion of Fatima, where some people are, bizarrely, trying to defend the fake "miracle" at Fatima. None of these people would defend a fraud or delusion like this that had no religious context.

            There is no serious, deep epistemological issue between atheists and Christians, unless you count the fact that Christians apply radically different standards to their own religious beliefs than to non-religious beliefs.

            Dave

          • Dave, I think Brandon was asking the more direct question of physics. Perhaps he is not familiar with orbital mechanics.

        • Ben

          Could you link to the source of this quotation?

          The reporter says "the sun 'danced' according to the typical expression of the people" - the way this is phrased suggests to me the reporter is just describing what people claim they saw, not saying s/he saw the sun move personally.

          "People then began to ask each other what they had seen. The great majority admitted to having seen the trembling and dancing of the sun; others affirmed that they saw the face of the Blessed Virgin; others, again, swore that the sun whirled on itself like a giant Catherine wheel and that it lowered itself to the earth as if to burn it with its rays. Some said they saw it change colours successively. ..."

          This sounds like a classic case of collective delusion. The crowd is made up of highly motivated believers. Some phenomenon (probably psychological) makes some of them believe the sun moved, then the pressure to attest a miracle makes them compete to embroider the story. If the majority admitted to seeing the sun move, some of them didn't see it at all? Only "some" people noticed the sun *change colour*?

      • If you try too hard to look at something close to the Sun you can get spasms of your eye muscles that, because of persistence of vision, will seem to you to be movements of the Sun itself. So, yes, you can see the Sun dance while it is doing nothing unusual.

        • Brandon Vogt

          Q. so do you think 70,000 people from all walks of life simultaneously had eye spasms they they mistook for divine action?

          • Probably not. But we do know from physical evidence that there was no actual "Sun movement" and in a crowd of people looking at the Sun, some number will see what seems like movement of the Sun. Is seems plausible to me that would be enough for some people expecting a "miracle" to think they had seen one, and to spread a rumor to that effect that gets reported as a mass witnessing. Are there 70,000 independent testaments of the witnesses?

          • physicistdave

            Brandon, no one interviewed all 70,000 people. Reports are that some people there saw nothing. There was no modern statistically significant polling done. Different people claimed to see different solar behavior. We do not know if it was six percent or sixty percent who claimed to see something weird about the sun.

            This, by the way, is probably how Christianity got started: consider Paul's claim that Jesus appeared to 500 all at once. Who interviewed each one of the 500? Were there signed affidavits that Paul saw from each one of the 500?

            No, there was probably a decent-sized group of people gathered, some of whom claimed to have had some experience of the risen Lord. What fraction of them made this claim, how certain they were, whether they were just going along with the crowd, we will never know, and, Paul himself did not know.

            Look into the Joseph Smith fraud: there were signed affidavits there! It is only because it happened recently in a society with good communications that we actually can look behind the claims in the affidavits and figure out what really happened (see Persuitte's Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon a wonderful resource for understanding the reality behind religious behavior).

            Dave

          • Dave:

            consider Paul's claim that Jesus appeared to 500 all at once. Who interviewed each one of the 500? Were there signed affidavits that Paul saw from each one of the 500?

            And what do we make of the fact that this startling evidence was ignored by each of the gospels? (Perhaps that it didn't actually happen?)

  • Michael Murray

    The problem with these kinds of articles and the whole apologist approach which I guess means this whole website is that it seems to assume that you can chip away at atheist non belief. An historical document here, a few paragraphs there and eventually we will all concede and head back to mass. That's just not the case. Whatever the evidence about the historicity of Jesus the argument for me has never gone: 1. Jesus was real, 2. the gospels can't all be false 3. therefore Jesus did miracles 4. therefore Jesus divinity was real. The argument for me has always had two pieces

    (1) The problem of evil. Not just human evil but the evil and suffering intrinsic to the natural world, or as theists call it "God's Creation". Not just the existence of evil but the sheer quantity of it.

    (2) The profound and deep contradiction between any idea of supernatural and what science tells about reality.

    It's far more plausible to me that the supernatural claims about Jesus made by his immediate and subsequent followers are just another example of the kind of mythology that humans like to weave around religious leaders.

    • Brandon Vogt

      Michael, thanks for the this very fascinating comment. I especially appreciate you sharing the particular roadblocks *you* have to faith in God, which are quite different then what I would have guessed.

      Your first point, the problem of evil, is very serious and deserves careful attention. I won't address it here but know that we're planning several posts on it.

      I'm confused by your second point, however. Here's why: science is, by definition, only concerned with the natural world. So then how can there be any contradiction between science and the supernatural? Science simply has nothing to say about whether there is something outside of nature and, if there is, what that supernatural reality is like.

      I highly suggest Alvin Plantiga's new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. His thesis is that the conflict is not between science and religion but between science and naturalism.

      • Michael Murray

        Your first point, the problem of evil, is very serious and deserves careful attention. I won't address it here but know that we're planning several posts on it.

        It does have a very simple and straightforward resolution.

        I'm confused by your second point, however. Here's
        why: science is, by definition, only concerned with the natural world. So then how can there be any contradiction between science and the supernatural?

        I agree but I come to a different conclusion. There is no supernatural. For me there is a natural world and all the evidence I have seen suggests materialism and reductionism apply. Then there is "world" of ideas and things inside my and others heads. Culture if you like. That's it. Anything that interacts with the natural world for me is natural. There is no outside. So if you walk on water or raise the dead --- it's part of the natural world. But I don't think these kinds of events occur. Ghosts, esp, telepathy the harder you look for evidence the more it disappears.

        The only let out clause I see is either you deny reductionism or you allow "miracles" where occasionally the consistency of the behaviour of things in the universe doesn't hold. But we know so much about the physical world at some many levels and we have never seen this kind of anomalous behaviour.

        I highly suggest Alvin Plantiga's new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. His thesis is that the conflict is not between science and religion but between science and naturalism.

        Thanks but it would be a long way down the list of things I've got to read. I have only briefly looked at Plantinga in the past but it seems to me he is arguing that atheists can't really disprove god using complicated logical systems. So as I think physicistdave pointed out before theology seems to have moved from "god exists because of ..." to "you can't show that god doesn't exist ..". That's progress I think but not in the direction you want. I know he is popular with some people but he doesn't impress me.

        • Brandon Vogt

          Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Michael. Regarding your second point, you may very well have valid reasons to deny the supernatural. But my point was that, contrary to your original comment, those reasons cannot include the natural sciences. They simply cannot confirm or deny the possibility of supernatural realities. Thus if your only measuring stick is the natural sciences, at the very worst you would have remain open to the possibility of the supernatural.

          You then say, "So if you walk on water or raise the dead --- it's part of the natural world." But that's re-defining "natural world" to include supernatural realities. I think we'd both agree that resurrection is unnatural--nowhere in nature do we find this sort of act. It defies the known laws of physics and biology. Therefore if it occurs it must transcend the laws of nature. In other words, it must be supernatural.

          Finally, regarding Plantiga, I'm not sure if what you described is accurate since I've only read a couple of his books. But regardless of how you view the man, I still encourage you to check out that one book, especially since it directly addresses your biggest roadblock to faith.

          • Michael Murray

            You then say, "So if you walk on water or raise the dead --- it's part of the natural world." But that's re-defining "natural world" to include supernatural realities.

            Not it's not. There is one reality we see around us. That's the natural world. If a miracle occurs it would just say to me that the natural world is not as regular as we thought. If a miracle occurs somebody sees it so it could be studied in principle but would obviously be a pain to reproduce in practice. The conclusion would be that strange things with no cause can apparently occur in our world. Or strange things can occur which can't be explained by reducing something to it's constituent parts.

            In case it's not clear by reality's regularity I mean what people like to call "the laws of nature" but I don't like the connotation that nature follows laws. Laws are just what we observe nature doing. If nature decides to do something else which contradicts those so-called "laws" that's a pain but we have to live with it.

            In some sense particle decay is a bit like this. We can't say why a particle decays at a certain time or place. We can only say so many will approximately decay in a certain amount of time. This is how reality works -- we have to live with it.

          • Andrew G.

            This is a pretty clear example of the problem I mentioned above, with ending up with either a vacuous definition of "supernatural" or descending into special pleading.

            The vacuous definition: anything that affects the natural world is natural and can be studied by science; anything that doesn't affect the natural world can't meaningfully be said to exist; therefore nothing supernatural exists.

            The special pleading definition: science can only study natural things (because I said so); X is supernatural (because I said so); therefore X can't be studied by science.

            (I reject both of the above in favour of the definition I gave in another comment.)

            But it's worth breaking down the "science can't study X" claim a bit. The obvious first question is, why not? Obviously I can form hypotheses about anything; and given any event E I can investigate P(E|H) and P(E|~H); there's no way anyone can physically prevent me from doing this.

            So there are two ways to frame the "can't study X" claim. One is to state that it is impossible to study X if P(E|H)=P(E|~H) for all hypotheses H which involve X. This is itself an empirical claim that can be refuted (and often is). In effect, this is like the guy who declared that science could never determine the chemical composition of the distant stars (something which we of course now do routinely).

            The other is to say "yes, you can form and test your hypotheses, but you're not doing Science". This is an attempt to argue from dictionary definitions and therefore fails, but the interesting question is why make the argument at all; suppose I redefine the process of testing supernatural hypotheses as "Fnurgling" but still go about it exactly as I would if I called it "Science", what has changed?

            The answer of course is very simple: "Science" has, often rightly, gained a substantial weight of authority on account of its success and its technological yields. So "science can't study X" means no more and no less than "I object to the authoritative weight of the term 'Science' being applied to conclusions about X, regardless of how rationally and scientifically they were obtained".

      • Susan

        science is, by definition, only concerned with the natural world. So then how can there be any contradiction between science and the supernatural?
        I have heard the word "supernatural" countless times in these discussions. This is a word that I have tried to get my head around but I have never heard it supported in any substantial way.
        Without a clear definition of "natural" combined with a clear definition of the limits of "nature" under that definition, it just seems like so much hand waving and special pleading. It doesn't seem to have any meaning except that it's "not nature".
        I am willing to be enlightened. It's an honest and open-minded question. Keep in mind though, as all of the arguments I've seen here use it liberally, it needs to be well accounted for and more vague terminology will not help.
        Can someone please explain what they mean when they use the word? I can't see how there's much progress to be made until someone does. This counts for "immaterial" and "transcendent" as well. They fall under the same umbrella.

        • Michael Murray

          [Put's on pointy Spock ears:]

          It's nature Jim, I mean Susan, but not as we understand it.

        • Andrew G.

          I find the best working definition for "supernatural" is this one, due to Carrier: something is supernatural if it has ontologically basic mental properties. That is, mental properties, or mental causes or effects, that are not reducible to or mediated by non-mental ones.

          This definition appears to be almost perfectly co-extensive with those things that people informally label as "supernatural", and it has the advantage of not being circular and of allowing us to talk about evidence for and against supernatural things.

          Note that this definition does not allow us to say that supernatural things are outside the scope of science.

          Examples of how this definition works:

          - theistic miracles are supernatural because god is taken to be an ontologically basic mind, and because they represent a physical effect produced with only mental, not physical, causes

          - but one can suggest a non-supernatural account of miracles by proposing that the universe is a simulation and that "miracles" are where the programmer overrides the normal logic and changes the state directly; under these conditions, theo-psychology becomes an important and possible scientific field

          - accounts of ghosts, telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, veridical OOBEs, prophecy, etc. etc. are all generally "supernatural" but are easily subject to scientific examination

          Philosophical attacks on naturalism generally focus on minds; for example by claiming that some mental property (a popular one is "intention", in the philosophical sense of "about-ness") is not attributable to physical minds. (Usually, this argument is a naked fallacy of distribution: neurons don't have "about-ness", therefore no collection of neurons can give rise to "about-ness" (fallacy), therefore minds must have some cause besides physical brains.)

          Now, I can't speak for the definition that anyone else in the discussion is using. But I reject all attempts to define anything as being inaccessible to science; and it seems to me that trying to define the supernatural that way leads either to a vacuous definition or to special pleading.

          • Susan

            Thank you Andrew. That's very helpful.
            That's the best response I've ever received to that question.
            I'd also like to hear from the people who use the term frequently. What do they mean when they use it?

          • Andrew G.

            For a more detailed account with lots of links see: http://lesswrong.com/lw/tv/excluding_the_supernatural/

      • physicistdave

        Brandon wrote:
        > Here's why: science is, by definition, only concerned with the natural
        world.

        No.

        Speaking as a scientist, Barandon, I will have to say that no scientist ever taught that to me!

        It is an arbitrary statement that some religious people try to use to protect their beliefs from the corrosive acid of modern science.

        And, it does not seem to be working too well.

        (Yes, I know about poor Steve Gould's attempts to push for "Non-OIverlapping Magisteria" in his final days. Steve like fighting for lost causes.)

        And, again speaking as a scientist, I have to say that the publisher should be embarrassed at publishing Plantinga's book.

      • physicistdave

        Brandon wrote:
        >Your first point, the problem of evil, is very serious and deserves careful attention.

        Brandon, I am not sure you understand how deep the problem is: the problem is that, from the perspective of most non-Christians, the more they learn about Christianity, the more evil Christianity itself seems to be.

        A simple example I have presented to countless Christians:

        In Exodus 32, Moses, following God's command, orders the murder of three thousand of the children of Israel for choosing a different religious path (the so-called "Golden Calf" incident).

        Now, whether or not the incident is historical, in such a case did Moses do the right thing? Will you condemn that action?

        So far, only one Christian has been willing to condemn that mass murder.

        I have, on the other hand, received more justifications than I can count as to why it was just swell: The heretics had turned against God. It was a long time ago. God wouldn't order me to kill anyone. How dare atheists talk about morality!

        Etc.

        What we see is Christians being very proud of themselves because they think they have, verbally, managed to wiggle out of another close call. Just as happens when you guys somehow try to argue that maybe the NT miracles were not absolutely impossible, or something happened at Fatima that can somehow be labeled a "miracle," or whatever.

        What honest people see is not brave Christians once again managing narrowly to escape destruction of their faith. What we see is people playing verbal games frantically trying to avoid the truth.

        Anyone who cannot condemn the murder of the three thousand is morally corrupt, just as anyone who will not condemn the murder of three thousand on 9/11 is morally corrupt.

        You can spin, and debate and split logical hairs and utilize two thousand years worth of apologetic tricks, and it changes nothing.

        The same point can be made about traditional teachings on non-believers going to Hell (repeated by numerous posters here), on salvation solely through Christ, etc.

        The verbal gyrations are mildly amusing, but in the end irrelevant.

        If you cannot denounce the murder of the three thousand, clearly and without equivocation or reservation, you are morally corrupt.

        Dave Miller in Sacramento

      • Brandon:

        (Your photo doesn’t come through in some of your comments …)

        Science simply has nothing to say about whether there is something outside of nature and, if there is, what that supernatural reality is like.

        If our natural world and God’s supernatural world never touch, that’s a deist view of reality. God exists, but he doesn’t interact with our world—at least not anymore. But if you want to imagine that the supernatural does interact with our world, that’s a scientific claim that is, in principle, investigatable by science.

        • Bob, thanks for the comment. I'm not sure why my photo doesn't come through on some comments--strange glitch in Disqus, I guess.

          By suggesting I believe in a Deist god, you've simply concocted a straw man (a violation of our Commenting Rules). I never said what you propose. I never said God doesn't interact with the world, and I never said the supernatural world and the natural world don't touch.

          What I *did* say was that science, and specifically the scientific method, which I take to mean "a disciplined means to study the natural world", cannot, by definition, make any judgment about the existence of supernatural realities.

          Perhaps an example will help. Suppose my entire known world consisted of a three-dimensional cube. Any and all science in my cube-world could only concern realities within my cube.

          Now imagine that someone *outside* the cube stuck his finger into the cube. By using the natural methods of my cube-world, I would only be able to detect that part of the finger that has crossed into my cube. However, I cannot determine whether the finger stub *inside* my cube has a natural (inside-the-cube) or supernatural (outside-the-cube) origin. My cubic (natural) scientific methods simply cannot make such a judgment; it's beyond their purview.

          • Brandon:

            I never said God doesn't interact with the world, and I never said the supernatural world and the natural world don't touch.

            Great, then we’re on the same page. When God interacts with the world, science can be used to analyze (or comment on) that interaction.

            Now imagine that someone *outside* the cube stuck his finger into the cube. By using the natural methods of my cube-world, I would only be able to detect that part of the finger that has crossed into my cube.

            Precisely. And you’d say, “Whoa—I used to think that supernatural fingers were nonsense. But I need to go back and rethink that.”

            However, I cannot determine whether the finger stub *inside* my cube has a natural (inside-the-cube) or supernatural (outside-the-cube) origin.

            If God wants to mimic natural things, sure, he can remain hidden. But he apparently isn’t shy when it comes to raining fire down on cities, destroying the world through floods, and so on.

            You seem to want to have it both ways--God both participates in significant ways in our world and yet is completely undetectable. These ways can't be both significant and undetectable at the same time.

          • Michael Murray

            However, I cannot determine whether the finger stub *inside* my cube has a natural (inside-the-cube) or supernatural (outside-the-cube) origin.

            Argument from personal incredulity.

          • Brandon Vogt

            Michael, I think you've misunderstand. I'm not saying the finger stub *would* necessarily have supernatural origins from my cubal perspective, only that the scientific tools within my cube can say nothing about the question. Just as I cannot make any sort of empirical determination within my cube, so our own natural sciences can not adjudicate the existence of God.

          • Andrew G.

            and specifically the scientific method, which I take to mean "a disciplined means to study the natural world", cannot, by definition, make any judgment about the existence of supernatural realities.

            If by "the natural world" you mean "the particles and forces of nature and anything which interacts with them", then the only "supernatural" things not accessible to science would be those which have no interaction with the natural world. Maybe a deist god would fall into that category, but theistic religion is predicated on the existence of such interaction.

            If by "the natural world" you mean "the things Brandon Vogt defines as natural, not including the things Brandon Vogt defines as supernatural", then this is rather obvious special pleading. Substitute any handy Pope or other authoritarian source for the definition if you prefer.

            A better definition would be "a disciplined means of empirical study of Reality". There is no justification for trying to put up "no Science beyond this point" signs; if there's a real obstacle preventing scientific investigation of something then this will be discovered by science, while if there is not, then there was no reason to put up the sign in the first place.

          • Brandon Vogt

            Andrew, thanks for the interesting discussion. If you define science as "a disciplined means of empirical study of Reality" (Why the capital "R"? Is Reality a person?) then I'm still confused how science can adjudicate the existence of immaterial realities. How can empirical tools detect or verify non-empirical entitites?

            You then make a fairly audacious claim: "If there's a real obstacle preventing scientific investigation of something then this will be discovered by science." Of course this claim is self-refuting since the claim itself cannot be proved by an "empirical study of Reality." Please tell me how you empirically verified that all real obstacles to scientific discovery will (eventually) be discovered by science.

            The most you can say is "Empirical science has produced many discoveries of the natural world, but there may be more it can't measure. All we know is what it *can* measure, and it does so well for those areas."

          • Andrew G.

            What is a non-empirical reality? "Empiricism" is a methodology not a property of entities.

            I don't need to verify in advance that all possible obstacles will be discovered (and if I did, what would stop you from claiming that I missed some?). Instead, turn the question around - how could you possible know, other than by scientific investigation, whether you had reached such an obstacle? We have no more reliable methods of studying the real (rather than abstract) world, because if we did, those methods would themselves be incorporated into science.

            Suppose a philosopher says "it is impossible to ever empirically answer question X". Then a scientist comes along, and says, "in experiment A, the answer to question X makes a theoretical difference to the result, and we've verified experimentally that the answer is 'yes'". Now who would you believe, and why?

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            I cannot determine whether the finger stub *inside* my cube has a natural (inside-the-cube) or supernatural (outside-the-cube) origin.

            In the big green and blue cube which we can both experience by getting up from our keyboards, events are happening all the time.

            When you see an event, Brandon, how do you classify its origin as being natural versus supernatural??

          • Vicq, perhaps I should have been more clear. We can know through non-scientific means, primarily reason and philosophy. I'm not arguing we *can't* know whether something has supernatural origins, simply that the natural sciences cannot draw that conclusion.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Brandon, I think I understood you quite clearly. I'll ask again.

            If you encounter an event detectible by your senses (or using your senses augmented by technology), you as a Christian must be able to classify that event as

            (a) an event which is the consequence of naturalistic processes, or

            (b) an event which is the consequence of divine intervention and which violates naturalistic processes.

            How do you do that?? I'm not asking whether scientists can draw any conclusions, I'm asking how Brandon Vogt tells the difference.

      • physicistdave

        Brandon wrote:
        > I especially appreciate you sharing the particular roadblocks *you*
        have to faith in God, which are quite different then what I would have
        guessed.

        Ah, Brandon, I guess we will never get across to you that we have no "roadblock" that prevents us from believing in the Christian God.

        That would be like saying that you have a "roadblock" that prevents you from engaging in cannibalism!

        We know the Christian God is a myth. We know the myths about the Christian God that say he is a monster who does horrible things to human beings.

        Kinda like cannibalism. Except worse.

        We are not near to becoming Christians except for a couple of "roadblocks" that are standing in our way.

        Anymore than you are on the verge of becoming a cannibal.

        Dave

    • Michael: I'd add to your list the Problem of Divine Hiddenness: we're to believe that God knows that if we don't understand the gospel story, we go to hell ... and yet he can't make himself known to us. That faith is celebrated within religion is strong evidence that its foundational beliefs are false.

      • Hitch used to like to remind people of all those in history who, based on place in time or geography, never did have, nor could never have had, a chance to hear the "good news."

      • Christian Stillings

        Except that Catholic doctrine allows that some people who are ignorant of the Gospel may still be saved by Christ's grace. I may be misunderstanding what you've said here, but it sounds like you're objecting to a Fundamentalist Protestant doctrine ("ya can't go ta heaven if ya don't read da Bible!" (my apologies for poking fun at some Southern Baptist types)) and not something that Catholics believe. Your Problem of Divine Hiddenness, as I see it formulated here, is not a good objection to the Catholic faith.

        That faith is celebrated within religion is strong evidence that its foundational beliefs are false.

        How does a celebration of faith offer evidence either way regarding the validity of the foundational beliefs? I agree that one shouldn't throw one's hands up and say "I dunno, so I guess I'll believe this." However, the relative veracity which a creed can or cannot be demonstrated to have doesn't affect the truth value of the creed per se. In theory, a thing *could* be true and yet undemonstrable. It certainly wouldn't suit Popper's criteria, but this is a matter of general truth claims, not a matter of what claims should be considered "scientific."

        • Christian:

          Except that Catholic doctrine allows that some people who are ignorant of the Gospel may still be saved by Christ's grace.

          Not to be too selfish about it, but that doesn’t help me. I’m aware of the gospel, but I’ve got zilch for compelling evidence for the Big Man. Apparently I deserve hell as a result.

          Ouch--sucks to be me, eh?

          How does a celebration of faith offer evidence either way regarding the validity of the foundational beliefs?

          There’s no faith behind physics, for example. The idea is ridiculous. The evidence is presented, and students of physics follow it where it leads. Religion, as I’m sure you’ll agree, isn’t like physics.

          the relative veracity which a creed can or cannot be demonstrated to have doesn't affect the truth value of the creed per se.

          If you and I wanted to cobble together a religion and have people actually believe it, our religion would have faith as a celebrated trait of the believer. We couldn’t just use evidence since there’s nothing substantial.

          In theory, a thing *could* be true and yet undemonstrable.

          True, but so what? Christianity (and all the other religions, while we’re at it) don’t have the evidence to support the claims. Why believe them?

          There are billions of claims that “could be true and yet undemonstrable.” Surely you’re not suggesting that we believe any of them.

          • "There’s no faith behind physics, for example."

            >> Clearly you have spent very little time around physicists. The faith required to seriously propose:

            "Once every so often......not very often mind you....but once in a very great while something just sort of....pops...out of nothing and keeps on going..."

            is *infinitely* beyond anything ever proposed as necessary for salvation by the Catholic Church.

            "The idea is ridiculous."

            >> Yes, it is.

          • Rick:

            is *infinitely* beyond anything ever proposed as necessary for salvation by the Catholic Church.

            You’re talking about quantum physics? Completely insane, I’ll agree. Well supported by evidence, of course, but insane nonetheless.

            Now, back to the subject. Physics means following the evidence. By contrast, believing in a God with the evidence provided by Christianity is infinitely beyond anything ever demanded within physics.

          • Quantum physics has never observed anything popping out of nothing.

            To claim the contrary is barking madness; the alternative case is that of a knowledgeable physicist who advances the claim as a cynical con to sell books.

            I am afraid the evidence is very simple.

            We exist.

            The cosmos exists.

            Since there is no scientific observation whatever that establishes it to have just...sort of "popped" out of nothing, just sort of "brought itself into existence"- since these assertions are not scientific in any way at all........

            We see again that the atheist world view dishonestly trades upon the admittedly woeful Catholic ignorance of the true state of physics (a massive crisis, where the conflict between quantum theory and General Relativity constitutes the single greatest mismatch in the history of science), so as to bludgeon the weak-minded into submission to the utterly absurd, ridiculous and knowable falsehood:

            "Something....every once in a while....comes from nothing."

            This is false, and the atheist world view is completely falsified in this simple fact.

            Completely.

          • Michael Murray

            Quantum physics has never observed anything popping out of nothing.

            Possibly because it has never observed nothing.

          • Susan

            Yes. I would like to see that myself. :-)

          • That's certain, Michael.

            Nothing, you see, does not exist.

            If nothing existed, we would not.

            Therefore something does not come from nothing.

            Ever.

            This is a conclusive falsification of the atheist worldview.

            In its entirety, soup to nuts.

          • Michael Murray

            There is no atheist worldview. An atheist is somebody who holds no beliefs in gods.

            I know I shouldn't ask but tell me what you think the atheist worldview is.

          • I know I shouldn't ask but tell me what you think the atheist worldview is.

            The "atheist worldview" is very much like the "homosexual lifestyle." It exists only in the minds of people who are opposed to it.

          • Quite to the contrary, David.

            The atheist world view certainly exists.

            It consists in the proposition that there is no God.

            This is conclusively falsified, above.

            The homosexual lifestyle likewise certainly exists.

            It consists in the adoption of homosexual practices.

            Simple.

          • It consists in the proposition that there is no God.

            I don't think holding the position that there is no God constitutes a "worldview," nor do I think holding the position that God exists constitutes a "worldview."

          • But in fact both of them necessarily constitute a worldview.

            They are the foundational axioms upon which two diametrically opposed world views are constructed.

            Which, by the way, is the entire reason for the existence of this site.

          • It looks like late night is the ticket.

            I will look to see if the Memoryhole has swallowed up my posts in the morning.

          • They are the foundational axioms upon which two diametrically opposed world views are constructed.

            Let us assume for the sake of argument that everything the Catholic Church teaches is true. Then further suppose that there are two men (or women), one of whom believes in God but lives a selfish, greedy, uncharitable, and misanthropic life. The other does not believe in God but is generous, kind, and more concerned about the welfare of others than of himself. I would approve of the "worldview" of the second over the first any day of the week.

          • If we assume that what the Catholic Church teaches is true, then the first person is going to Hell, absent final repentance.

            So is the second.

            Whether you find this appealing or not, would of course be irrelevant....

            We have agreed to assume that everything the Catholic Church teaches is true, and what the Catholic Church teaches is that we do not possess eternal life from within our own nature.

            It must be added to us from outside.

            It is true that person number one and person number two would experience quite a different eternity from one another.

            But neither of them would experience the Presence of God in eternity.

          • I don't pretend to speak for Catholicism, but here I will say with great assurance that you are giving your own opinion of Catholic doctrine, and that opinion is false. I am not going to argue the saying "outside the Church there is no salvation," but if I am understanding the way you interpret the principle, you are taking the position Father Feeney was excommunicated for. Don't try to pass it off as something the Catholic Church teaches. It isn't.

          • David:

            You assume a great many things above, for which there is no evidence.

            That there is no salvation outside the Church is de Fide definite; it is a solemnly defined, irreformable dogma of the Catholic Church.

            To deny this dogma is to deny the Faith.

            Father Feeney was never excommunicated for upholding this dogma.

            Father Feeney was excommunicated for disobedience to his Jesuit superiors.

            He was reconciled, before death, by the recitation of the Athanasian Creed, the first two sentences of which read:

            Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

          • Feeneyism is as clearly false and un-Catholic as you claim atheism to be. It has no place on an authentically Catholic site.

          • Please define "Feeneyism".

            To the extent that you define "Feeneyism" as "that system of belief which proposes that there is no salvation outside the catholic Church", then "Feeneyism" is simply a superfluous invention, which is found to reduce to an identical meaning with "Catholic".

            If you define "Feeneyism" as that group within the catholic Church which rejects the teaching of the Council of Trent, Session VI, Chapter IV, on the necessity of baptism or the desire for it.......

            Well.

            Certainly not all followers of Father Feeney deny this de fide teaching of the Church.

          • Please define "Feeneyism".

            Feeneyism is the error of Father Feeney and those like him who invented their own interpretation of "Outside the Church there is no salvation" and claim the Church's interpretation is incorrect. Specifically, those who subscribe to Feeneyism deny the doctrines of Baptism of Blood and Baptism of Desire, insisting that only those formally inducted into the Church by being baptized physically with water can be saved.

            Feeneyites deny the truth of the following paragraphs from the Catechism:

            847 This affirmation ["Outside the Church there is no salvation"] is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

            Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.

            1258 The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.

            1259 For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.

          • I notice, first off, that you have cited the Catechism, which contains the very statement which you falsely allege to constitute "Feeneyism":

            "Outside the Church there is no salvation"

            846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

            Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336

            So, you have established my point through your own citation:

            There is no salvation outside the catholic Church.

            This irreformable dogma is taught again in the very catechism you cite.

          • This irreformable dogma is taught again in the very catechism you cite.

            It is not the statement "Outside the Church there is no salvation" that is at issue. It is the two interpretations—the Church's, on the one hand, and Feeney's and (I presume) yours, on the other.

            From previous conversations, it is my understanding (and please correct me if I am wrong) that you deny paragraphs 847, 1248, and 1249, which I quoted above, and which you ignored in your response. Do you affirm Baptism of Blood and Baptism of Desire as a means to salvation? Do you affirm the following as a true statement?

            847 This affirmation ["Outside the Church there is no salvation"] is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

            Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.

          • I do not reject the statement.

            You correctly state that there is a good deal of controversy over the actual meaning of the statement, in relation to other, dogmatic definitions, of much higher authority.

            But the statement is susceptible of an orthodox interpretation; that is, if there were to exist such a person, God would not withhold from him or her the objective means of justification, which is baptism, or the desire for it.

          • Memoryhole Test

          • Sample1

            Michael,

            Everyone in America is categorized instantly by radio hosts as belonging, politically/morally, to the Right or to the Left.

            The so-called atheist worldview (manufactured to take advantage of our innate "us vs. them" biases) is pumped into the ears of millions everyday and I'll tell you Michael, it's not a pretty picture.

            Mike

          • severalspeciesof

            Shhh Michael, Rick might come across the super duper elusive book of atheism and use it against us. Even so, as long as he doesn't quote from the third chapter, verses 2-14, we should be OK...

          • Michael Murray

            Well as long as he hasn't got the 11th tier Scroll of Mastery we should be OK. But if he's got that it will bring down the Wrath of Atheist Revelation on us all.

            Hey this supernatural stuff is kind of fun ! Maybe I should have done theology and written fantasy novels.

          • Susan

            There's an eleventh scroll?

            You told me there were only seven at the meeting last week.

            What's up?

          • Michael Murray

            Being presently incarnated as a women you are not strong enough to present yourself to the vibrations of any scroll beyond the seventh. But rest assured I and my brothers have your interests ever most in our minds and there is a place of service for you and your sisters in the Church of Atheism (TM).

            PS: Can you do the flowers for the next meeting and bring a plate ?

          • Susan

            Well, OK. But be honest.

            Does this robe make me look fat?

          • Michael Murray

            No it's fine. Don't forget those flowers.

          • severalspeciesof

            I think you've mis-interpreted the 11th tier Scroll... read it in its original Norwegian and you'll see what I mean...

          • Michael Murray

            Splitter. Devil incarnate. Do not tempt with the Norwegian heresies! You must burn in the fire for the good of your eternal non-soul.

            Would tomorrow about 4 be OK ? I'll have to buy some firelighters on the way over.

          • Coulda started a religion like L. Ron Hubbard, and now you would be rich.

          • And dead.

          • The atheist worldview proposes that God does not exist.

            This is conclusively falsified above.

          • Michael Murray

            NO, no, no, no, ....., no. An atheist is a person who holds no beliefs in gods. There is no atheist world view. It is a figment of your, very overactive, imagination.

          • I am intrigued that you deny that the atheist proposes that God does not exist, and then affirm:

            "An atheist is a person who holds no beliefs in gods"

            This would seem to be a distinction without a difference.

            But it is knowably true that God certainly exists.

            The proof is that we do.

          • Phil Rimmer

            It is a distinction that is indeed...er...distinct. An atheist could never propose that god(s) do not exist. An atheist may, if minded, counter-propose that god(s) do not exist following an initial (implied or immediate) proposal that they may or they do.

            This is, indeed, quite distinct from lacking a belief in god(s). Atheists are snuffed out of existence without the pro-posal.

          • Thanks, Phil.

            I would respond that the atheist cannot account for the existence of the cosmos in the absence of a Something which is ontologically and/or temporally prior to the cosmos.

            The Catholic can account for the cosmos, by recourse to the necessary existence of God (that is, a Something ontologically/temporally prior to the cosmos).

            Therefore, the Catholic can account for the existence of the cosmos, while the atheist cannot.

          • Any chance you are related to Paul Rimmer, the young astrophysicist working with the Origins project being run by Professor Krauss?

          • Phil Rimmer

            No. At least, not knowingly. :)

          • Thx- he is a very good guy.

            Can't stand me.

          • Phil Rimmer

            "I would respond that the atheist cannot account for the existence of the cosmos"

            Not in the eleven word job spec.

            Now physicists have that remit. I'd talk to them if I were you.

          • Quite to the contrary, Phil.

            The physicists are not competent to address the question.

            They lack the tools with which to do so.

            This is a question of metaphysics- that is, does something come from nothing?

            The answer is:

            No.

            Something does not come from nothing.

            Any physicist who proposes the contrary is engaging in metaphysics, not physics, and it is bad metaphysics :-)

          • Phil Rimmer

            Puts on physicist hat.

            My eternal skyhook is smaller and infinitely simpler than your eternal rococo skyhook.

            Over the years its got simpler and smaller. I've got time.

          • So you eternal skyhook involves, I assume:

            1. The universe (if you prefer, our Hubble bubble) exists
            2. There was a time when the universe (if you prefer, when our Hubble bubble) did not exist
            3. Something (your skyhook) brought the universe (if you prefer, our Hubble bubble) from non-existence into existence.

            What about this eternal skyhook of yours. Phil?

            How is it eternal, and how is it simpler than God?

          • Phil Rimmer

            Doesn't matter. Er....A blob of vacuum/quantum foam.

            How is it eternal?

            How could it not be?

          • If your blob of foam is eternal, it still cannot have brought itself into existence.

            If it is not eternal, then it has a prior temporal, as well as a prior ontological, cause.

            Your skyhook seems like it might need an additional boost to get into orbit.

          • Phil Rimmer

            "it still cannot have brought itself into existence."

            It is eternal, why would it need to?

          • Phil Rimmer

            So I grant my more complicated than YHWH, little blob of vacuum both a retrospective and a future eternity. It cannot additionally come into existence without compromising the bidirectional eternity conferred.

            Both eternity and non-caused existence have equal status in lacking an inductive anchor. Choose your pick.

          • For the same reason an eternally existent footprint on an eternally existent beach would still require the foot.

            The foot is *ontologically* prior, not merely temporally prior.

          • severalspeciesof

            Eternal supercedes ontological in Phil's case...

          • Phil Rimmer

            You have failed to understand the difference between eternally enduring (permanently existing into the future) and eternal (occupying all time). My blob of vacuum is the latter. As such it logically cannot have come into existence.

            Disqus seems to have eaten my pre-emptive post covering this. Clearly not eternally enduring. :(

            It is you imposed the ontological requirement with "footprint". Entirely unwarranted at this stage. I asked you to notice the inductive failure of either path, acausality and eternality. I asked you to choose which you trusted most.

            Arguments of this type are somewhat out on a limb because of this lack of inductive support. But a blob of what we used to call nothing is the thing of anything we could conceive we could most reasonably expect to exist eternally. But the inductive failures for me are as nothing as they are for you. If I am out on a limb you are Wile E. Coyote off the cliff and over the canyon, boulder overhead, poised.

            You have the additional failures of no examples of immaterial minds (not one scintilla of evidence), certainly not immaterial minds creating stuff, or minds being created without there being preceding minds involved in their creation, or minds enduring, and for later on, minds being simple. Nothing. Nada.

            By comparison an enduring blob of vacuum seems quite Ockhamish.

            Acme sold you duff stuff, Rick.

          • You have failed to understand the difference between eternally enduring (permanently existing into the future) and eternal (occupying all time).

            >> To the contrary. You have failed to understand that a contingent entity occupying all time is still incapable of bringing itself into existence.

            This, of course, doesn't even begin to address the grievous physics problems inherent in the proposition "a blob of vacuum occupies all time".

            But one thing at a time :-)

            "My blob of vacuum is the latter. As such it logically cannot have come into existence. It exists."

            >> Oh, this does not follow at all. For example, many of the geniuses who are in the habit of advancing similar, breezy assertions, will simultaneously asserts that:

            1. Space and time are related to matter and energy ("Relativity"). Therefore, it is stupid to ask about a time before the Big Bang, since....duh.......time doesn;t exist before the Big Bang!

            2. Of course, there are Big Bangs happening all the time, just popping out of the quantum foam from time to time eternally.....

            It is sadly the case that these geniuses, including Lawrence Krauss and Michio Kaku, are not at all averse to advancing both of these mutually-contradictory assertions at one and the same time.

            Is it because they hope we are too stupid to notice the fatal self-contradiction, or is it because they honestly don't recognize the fatal self-contradiction?

            I have always wanted to find out.

            Let's see if you can help.

            "Disqus seems to have eaten my pre-emptive post covering this. Clearly not eternally enduring. :("

            >> I am afraid it might not have been Discus. There are Memoryholers here, who Memoryhole whatever it is that strikes them as Memeoryhole material; and the objective criteria, if any, are secondary to the whims of the Memoryholer at any given moment.

            I hope you were eaten by Discus.

            I am, alas, very often Memoryholed.

            "It is you imposed the ontological requirement with "footprint". Entirely unwarranted at this stage."

            >> To the contrary. Given: A configuration which is asserted to occupy all of time. Say, an eternal footprint on an eternal beach. Or an eternal blob of vacuum spitting out universes from time to time.

            In both cases, we see that ontologically prior entities must exist.

            The footprint requires a foot.

            The blob a vacuum requires a cause.

            The mere fact that both are defined as temporally eternal, does nothing whatever to mitigate this.

            "In my delinquent post I asked you to notice the inductive failure of either path, acausality and eternality. I asked you to choose which you trusted most."

            >> I would have to assess the post, so feel free to post it.

            "Arguments of this type are somewhat out on a limb because of this lack of inductive support."

            >> Not in the slightest. It requires not a smidgeon of inductive support to demonstrate that something does not come from nothing. This is not an inductive conclusion. It is a deductive conclusion.

            It is bulletproof, since, the contrary claim, if adopted, renders the possibility of theological,metaphysical, philosophical or scientific knowledge incoherent in the first place.

            The law of non-contradiction is the fundamental ground of being, so to speak, for any possible rational discussion.

            To depart from this ground, is to render further rational discussion impossible.

            >> Fallacy of equivocation. Your blob is not "what ewr used to call nothing". No rational person calls a blob nothing. It is a blob, hence it is not nothing.

            This is the rock upon which the atheist worldview is doomed to shipwreck over and over again.

            "But a blob of what we used to call nothing is the thing of anything we could conceive we could most reasonably expect to exist eternally."

            >> Wow. This is an immortal sentence, and deserves to be pulled apart strand by strand.

            "But a blob of what we used to call nothing is the thing

            >> Fatal self-contradiction, fallacy of equivocation. Nothing is not a thing. Ever.

            "of anything we could conceive we could most reasonably expect to exist eternally."

            >> I am afraid I must decline top agree that a blob of nothing that is really something is in any way at all the thing which we could most reasonably expect to exist eternally.

            In fact, the notion as advanced by you here is drastically incoherent.

            "But the inductive failures for me are as nothing as they are for you. If I am out on a limb you are Wile E. Coyote off the cliff and over the canyon, boulder overhead, poised."

            >> Well, in my attempt to consider which cartoon character best exemplifies you in this argument, I had a nasty moment where I thought I should confess myself unable to decide between Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd.

            But that is really not fair to you.

            You are smarter than Elmer, and less stuttering than Daffy.

            I propose instead that you are a perfect Wizard of Oz- a fellow fully committed to a venture that has gone drastically wrong, but who has managed to bluster his way into a position where, just so long as no one pulls the curtains, he can enjoy the perks of the Great and Powerful.

            You have the additional failures of no examples of immaterial minds (not one scintilla of evidence),

            >> To the contrary. Your counterproposal of a "material mind" is a logical absurdity, refuted in the simple observation that I shall, with one hundred per cent certainty, type three periods at the end of this sentence, in frank violation of all quantum indeterminacy which you insist constitutes the ground of being...

            "certainly not immaterial minds creating stuff, or minds being created without there being preceding minds involved in their creation, or minds enduring, and for later on, minds being simple. Nothing. Nada.

            By comparison an enduring blob of vacuum seems quite Ockhamish."

            >> To the contrary. That mind which is *me*- not reducible to any of your particles, to any of the operations of your imaginary blob of eternal foam- proceeds from a Mind which is capable of bringing into existence both my mind, and your blob of foam, without the slightest logical difficulty.

            "Acme sold you duff stuff, Rick."

            >> Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Phil is doing the best he can.

          • Phil Rimmer

            The beauty of science is that it learns. When two theories appear to be in conflict as in your pair 1) and 2) above science works to resolve them. The conjecture of clock starting at time zero may well have to be modified in some way or simply abandoned. (There are lots of fascinating possibilities, and one and two are not formally tied.) Scientists tend not to panic at times like this, but rub their hands with glee...We're going to learn something.

            Abandoning science as you just have done with your launch into the unknowable is a pity at this stage given the site's intention of finding a substrate where atheist (mostly naturalists) and the religious can share ideas.

            Deductive logic is on firm ground with the crisp clean premises that it uses in mathematics but with the fantasy constructs of religion, immaterial minds, eternal minds, simple minds that may yet have complex thoughts, immaterial minds that may yet have feelings, or material traction, its prior suppositions, the premises, and their risky need to be simultaneously true, are breathtakingly un-rooted in what we know to be demonstrable truths about minds. Science can throw you a rope secured at the end at least.... (BTW I'd love to move on to this topic. Our understanding of minds has just had a big bang of its own.)

            It is pretty clear that science can run the story with ever finer detailed observations of how a blob of vacuum can become minds. My skyhook is still much smaller and simpler than yours.

            I'm proud to be the Wizard of Oz. James Franco was my kind of guy. Science beats magic every time. How could it not?

          • Susan

            Great post, Phil.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Most kind, Susan.

            I had hoped we might progress a little further on solid ground, so to speak, before taking flight. The entirely speculative premises beloved of theologians are always more complex under analysis than intended. This "simple" mind of a god we eventually discover has many attributes smuggled in, hidden by the less than comprehensive formal specification and our non-rigorous and naturally associative minds.

          • Phil Rimmer

            This took a little to find. Quine posted this a month ago. I'm sure you've seen it, but in case others haven't, it is a lovely gathering of the sorts of work and theorising that cosmologists are doing to get that last little bit of skyhook to resolve itself into the nothing it probably is...

            http://www.youtube.com/v/baZUCc5m8sE&hl=en_US&fs=1&

          • It is truly disgraceful that my reply to Phil has been Memoryholed, Brandon.

          • Phil Rimmer

            To whomever. I fully support Rick in his complaint here. I wish his comment(s) returned.

            I do not understand Disqus, so apologies if it is idiocy on my part, but pertinent parts of my commentary appear to have disappeared also.

          • Phil, use this link, page down until to get there, and see if they come back.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Thanks, Q. Magic, well at least for my stuff.

          • Seems to be a bug in the site code re the implementation of the anchor fields. I noticed it early on. I don't know how to fix it, but dropping the field seems to get around it.

          • Score another one for the Rimmers.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Its a rotten way to win though... :(

            Memory holing aside, I hate this disqus software. I loose and find stuff in ways that genuinely discourage discussion.

          • Phil:

            As I told you before, you share a last name with a really good guy who can't stand me.

            I would very much appreciate the opportunity to debate you in an intellectually honest forum.

            If you find such, let me know:

            catholicdad@gmail.com

          • Sheesh- I tried to like your comment and every time I did it registered another negative.

            Phil- you have integrity, I would love to debate you sometime.

          • This is a question of metaphysics- that is, does something come from nothing?

            Even if we accept the proposition that something cannot come from nothing, there is no proof that the universe came from nothing. One might argue that it came from "nothing" in the physicists' sense of the concept (the vacuum) but that is not the "nothing" you appear to be talking about (though you never define "come from" and "nothing").

            Even Thomas Aquinas did not require that the world had not existed from all eternity, although he nevertheless maintained that an infinitely old world depended on God for its existence.

          • We are in complete agreement here, David.

            There is no logical necessity for the universe to have a temporal beginning in time (although physics *is* competent to provide relevant evidence to this question, and it appears quite well-evidenced that it *does* ion fact have such a beginning in time).

            You are also correct that St. Thomas was perspicacious enough to notice that, even if the universe had no temporal beginning, it still cannot have brought itself into existence.

            The question of infinity "per accidens" and infinity "per se" is one of the more interesting aspects of Thomas' thought with respect to this.

          • Phil, I think getting that distinction across to the general public is the one single thing we could do to bring greater understanding to the debate. To do so, we have to keep saying it again and again. We have to overcome the traditional academic tradition of saying it only once, and then sitting back fait accompli.

          • Well, Q, I think it is important to acknowledge that the atheist is not the agnostic.

            The two terms signify different positions.

            The atheist proposes that God does not exist.

            The agnostic proposes that the evidence is inconclusive either way.

            The Catholic proposes that the necessary existence of God can be known with certainty, by the light of human reason alone, entirely apart from Faith.

            I propose that the Catholic answer is the true one.

            How about you?

          • Phil Rimmer

            Well that's for sure given that Rick chose below to ignore the definition and repeated the illogical assertion or at least the careful use of language.

            Repetition it is.

          • Sample1

            Do you have an app for that?

            Mike

          • Phil Rimmer

            You know, I think I do.

          • The video maker, QualiaSoup, has a very good presentation on proof and belief that goes well here.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Ah, yes. That was first rate. Definitely worth 10 mins of anybody's time.

          • Ah, yes. That was first rate. Definitely worth 10 mins of anybody's time.

            There are articles, and blog posts and videos all over the web that we can use to keep driving home the same message from different starting points. We should use the tools at hand, and look to the variation in approaches to keep fresh, what is at bottom repetition to those who 'got it' the first time.

          • Susan

            Great video. It should help cut through a lot of the fog in this catholic/atheist dialogue.

          • It should help cut through a lot of the fog in this catholic/atheist dialogue.

            So would his video on Critical Thinking.

          • Susan

            It would indeed.

            I'm interested in criticisms from the catholic members here.
            I do hope some of them will watch these videos and respond.

            It would be a good place to start a discussion.

          • Susan

            Maybe repetition is the only way.

            To say that I don't believe that god(s) exist seems simple enough. Why would that be interpreted as me insisting that god(s) don't exist?

            Is this where Rick is getting tripped up?

          • Phil Rimmer

            Is this where Rick is getting tripped up?

            Getting tripped up is a little more passive than I think is the case. As Q describes it, the purchase is gone with the formal atheist position.

            For me certainly I feel the further formulation- I lack a belief in gods is more descriptive again of the passivity and absence of feeling or interest I have in gods. All, every last ounce of my concern is about the proposers of gods and their (to me) now disruptive ways, not their meaningless propositions. No will power or conscious interest is directed towards this state of lacking belief.

            Maybe its a love me, love my god sort of thing. How could you not find this as fascinating as I do, at least as an idea?

          • There have to be ways that work better to get the light to go on (or penny drop, depending on your favorite metaphor). The YouTube channels like NonStampCollector have been working this over for years. In the process the theist side realized that if they could get the word "atheist" to mean believing a negative, then anyone using it would be saddled with the burden of proving a negative. If you paint your opponent into that corner, you can wave the "can't prove a negative" flag at him or her and then walk away claiming some kind of win.

            Bertrand Russell countered this with his famous teapot orbiting in space, and Richard Dawkins came at it by introducing a scale of certainty, upon which he only put himself as a 6.9 on a scale of 7. He often comments that not being able to prove that there are no faeries at the bottom of your garden does not seem to worry those who just don't believe in them.

          • Susan

            >In the process the theist side realized that if they could get the word "atheist" to mean believing a negative, then anyone using it would be saddled with the burden of proving a negative.

            I'm always disappointed when theists use that strategy. Its flaws have been dealt with so many times that it's a little shocking to see it pop up again and again.

          • Michael Murray

            But it is knowably true that your god does not exist.
            The proof is that suffering does.

          • severalspeciesof

            An agnostic holds no belief in gods (if one doesn't know that something exists, then they don't have a belief in that something), yet you made a distinction between agnostics and atheists in another post using the 'God does not exist' vs 'no belief' distinction, please square that with what you are saying above...

          • If "something cannot come from nothing" is a bedrock logical principle (like "there cannot be a square circle"), then how can it be said that God created everything from nothing?

          • Think about it, David.

            The answer is that God is not nothing.

            God exists.

            This is the simplest, and most comprehensive refutation of the foundational assumption of the atheist world view imaginable.

            It is conclusive.

          • articulett

            How is god different from nothing exactly?

          • Nothing does not exist.

            If nothing exists, we do not.

            But we exist.

            Therefore nothing does not exist.

            Since the universe cannot have brought itself into existence (that is, it cannot have existed prior to its own existence, either ontologically or temporally)..........

            God necessarily exists, as the Creator of the universe.

          • Think about it, David.

            The answer is that God is not nothing.

            I have been thinking about it, and it seems to me that God, even if he or she exists, is not "something" as opposed to "nothing." It would not make sense (to me) to say that God created the universe from nothing if nothing did not exist. If nothing did not exist, because God is something and God has always existed, then God did not create the universe from nothing; he created it from himself.

            But God is not a "thing." I think that nothing and something can refer only to the material universe. I think that as these terms are used, if God had not created the universe, nothing would exist. God is not a thing (whether God exists or not).

          • Thanks for the reply, David.

            Let's look at it carefully.

            "I have been thinking about it, and it seems to me that God, even if he or she exists, is not "something" as opposed to "nothing."

            >> But this cannot be right, since existence is not identical to non-existence. The quality of existing is distinct from the quality of not existing. The word "thing", therefore, signifies the quality of existing.

            "Nothing" does not exist.

            "God" is not nothing.

            Therefore God is Something.

            "It would not make sense (to me) to say that God created the universe from nothing if nothing did not exist."

            >> But you must ignore the word "created" in order to draw this conclusion. "Created" describes an action, which is always found to be attributed to a Creator.

            The *universe* is *created* from nothing, by an act of Creation, that is, by the creative act of God.

            God is ontologically prior to the universe.

            If the universe has a beginning, then God is also temporally prior to the universe.

            "If nothing did not exist, because God is something and God has always existed, then God did not create the universe from nothing; he created it from himself."

            >> He Himself created it. "It" did not exist, but He did. He created "it" from nothing, but He is not nothing.

            In other words, God created the universe from nothing.

            Just as the Church has dogmatically defined the case.

            "But God is not a "thing." I think that nothing and somethingcan refer only to the material universe."

            >> But this is illogical- fallacy of equivocation, to be precise.
            Since the universe can not have created itself from nothing, and since the universe exists, it is completely certain that the Universe was created by a Something which is ontologically and/or temporally prior to the universe.

            "I think that as these terms are used, if God had not created the universe, nothing would exist."

            >> But this is self-refuting. You write down "God". You write down "universe". You insist that it somehow logically follows that if the universe does not east, neither does God.

            But this does not follow in any way at all.

            "God is not a thing (whether God exists or not)."

            >> If God exists, He is a thing; that is, He is not nothing.
            If God does not exist, then neither does the universe, or us.

            But we exist.

            So does the universe.

            Therefore, the Something that is God most certainly exists.

          • Michael Murray

            It's the Julie Andrews (aka Sister Maria) principle:

            "Nothing comes from nothing"
            "Nothing ever could"

          • Rick:

            Quantum physics has never observed anything popping out of nothing.

            I’m lost. What are we talking about?

            Yes, I agree that quantum particles can come out of vacuum energy, not nothing.

            I am afraid the evidence is very simple.

            Thanks for breaking it to me gently.

            Since there is no scientific observation whatever that establishes it to have just...sort of "popped" out of nothing

            Sounds good. Science doesn’t know what caused the Big Bang (mal-formed question that that is).

            We see again that the atheist world view dishonestly trades …

            Well, yeah—we’re atheists. What else can we do but be dishonest, right down to our worldview?

            "Something....every once in a while....comes from nothing."

            You’d better tell me what this is supposed to mean, who said it, why this person is an authority that I should listen to, and so on. I assumed you would clarify, but my bad for assuming, I suppose.

            This is false, and the atheist world view is completely falisified in this simple fact.

            Something can’t come from nothing? You know that this is true? That’s a bold claim about a very fundamental statement of reality.

            What gives you such confidence? Just cuz?

          • "Something can’t come from nothing? You know that this is true? That’s a bold claim about a very fundamental statement of reality.

            What gives you such confidence? Just cuz?"

            >> It is really very simple, Bob.

            Nothing does not exist.

            There is no such thing as "nothing".

            "Nothing" is the absence of the quality of existing.

            I told you above, already:

            "I am afraid the evidence is very simple.

            We exist.

            The cosmos exists."

            This means that something cannot come from nothing.

            It must come, always, from something.

            For if nothing existed, then we would not.

            Capiche?

          • Now my visits here must be short and sweet.

            My posts will disappear shortly.

            But please know, Bob, that you have built your house on a foundation of.....

            Nothing.

            And nothing does not exist.

            The atheist world view is predicated on an axiom of madness.

            A reasonably intelligent seven year old can understand this completely.

          • Rick:

            But please know, Bob, that you have built your house on a foundation of.....
            Nothing.

            I have built my house on a foundation of reason.

            The atheist world view is predicated on an axiom of madness.

            Just cuz you said so? It must be cool to have it all figured out.

            I follow the evidence where it leads—what’s mad about that?

            A reasonably intelligent seven year old can understand this completely.

            Ah, but you forget—I’m not a 7yo but an atheist. We’re stupid. Or something.

          • Not stupid, Bob.

            Simply poorly acquainted with the proper foundation for scientific knowledge.

            That is, poorly acquainted with the Catholic metaphysics which made the scientific method possible in the first place.

          • Rick: Oh, yeah--I forgot the many new revelations about nature that the church gave us.

            Oops--my bad. I was thinking of science.

          • Michael Murray

            indeed I've just upgraded my mac with the latest soul-based RAM it's so much faster than the old silicon stuff. Being immaterial it doesn't slow down the electrons.

          • Well, Bob, let me fill in a few gaps in your knowledge of science in that case.

            The scientific method itself appears *as a method*, as a systematic approach to knowledge, in one particular culture at one particular time.

            There were many bits and pieces here and there, long before this triumphant synthesis was achieved.

            But the *method*, the scientific method of systematic acquisition of knowledge by means of:

            1. Observation of anomalous phenomenon
            2. Generation of hypothesis to explain both observed anomalies, and also all consistent observations.
            3. Experimental test of hypothesis, *with the intention of falsifying it*

            This arises in the world of Catholic Christendom.

            It is predicated upon the metaphysical teaching of the Catholic faith that the universe is knowable, precisely *because* it is the product of an Intelligent Design; that design includes the remarkable proposition that our thinking apparatus is capable of discovering the actual principles whereby the Designer (I prefer, with Socrates, the "Composer") has composed the universe.

            This is the beginning of modern science.

            Kepler expresses this beautifully, when he defines science as "thinking God's thoughts after Him".

            Now Kepler made some very remarkable and important scientific discoveries- in fact without Kepler we have no theory of gravity.

            I submit that he knows better than you do the proper relationship between scientific discovery and belief in God.

          • Rick:

            let me fill in a few gaps in your knowledge of science in that case.

            Thanks for bailing me out, bro.

            This arises in the world of Catholic Christendom.

            Catholicism is actually science? I didn’t know that.

            It is predicated upon the metaphysical teaching of the Catholic faith that the universe is knowable, precisely *because* it is the product of an Intelligent Design

            This is theology. Where’s the evidence? Why should I accept this remarkable claim?

            I submit that [Kepler] knows better than you do the proper relationship between scientific discovery and belief in God.

            Chat with Kepler if that’s your desire. But here you’re stuck with me.

          • Bob, I am very happy to chat with you, but not because I am particularly interested in persuading you.

            You, like most committed atheists, are not for turning.

            I am very happy to examine our relative arguments, since these threads will persist, and might be of interest to some third party at some point.

            But even if this were not to be the case, your arguments have been shown to involve dramatic logical difficulties, and this is a direct result of your gracious willingness to post them here.

          • Rick:

            But even if this were not to be the case, your arguments have been shown to involve dramatic logical difficulties, and this is a direct result of your gracious willingness to post them here.

            Ouch! Talk about being hoist by your own petard!

            But perhaps you would extend your own gracious willingness to summarize these “dramatic logical difficulties.” Your simply stating that they exist does nothing to convince me that they do.

          • They have been stated, above and below, on this thread.

            The total killer for your position consists in the demonstration that something cannot come from nothing.

            I am very satisfied that the atheist has no answer to this; certainly none has been forthcoming on this thread.

            It is, by the way, a true knockdown of the foundational axiom of the entire atheist position.

          • Rick:

            They have been stated, above and below, on this thread.

            What I hear you saying is that you’ve got nothing. But perhaps I misunderstand. If you have actual arguments that the atheist position is false, please show us.

            The total killer for your position consists in the demonstration that something cannot come from nothing.

            (1) I never said that it did.

            (2) What demonstration? I await this demonstration with eager anticipation.

            It is, by the way, a true knockdown of the foundational axiom of the entire atheist position.

            Ooh—trash talking! I applaud your boldness, but atheists typically prefer to deal with evidence, not smack.

          • If it is true that atheists prefer to deal with evidence, then

            1. You are not an atheist, or
            2. You have chosen not to do what you say atheists prefer to do.

            :-)

            If something cannot come from nothing, then the universe had to come from Something prior to it, ontologically and/or temporally.

            Now I promise to do you the courtesy of continuing to remind you that you have not dealt with this evidence, as a token of my appreciation for your participation here, so that this simple fact can be demonstrated again and again, as long as is necessary, until you actually engage the evidence.

          • Rick:

            If something cannot come from nothing, then the universe had to come from Something prior to it, ontologically and/or temporally.

            ?? You claim that something can’t come from nothing, and I ask for proof. This is your proof?

            I promise to do you the courtesy of continuing to remind you that you have not dealt with this evidence

            You have made a claim. You have given no evidence.

          • We have been through all this, Bob.

            You yourself deny alleging that something can come from nothing.

            You do so here:

            "(1) I never said that it did."

            You then ask for the demonstration that it cannot, which has been provided many times.

            Here it is, in its original form, several dozen posts back:

            "I am afraid the evidence is very simple.

            We exist.

            The cosmos exists."

            Since you affirm that you do not claim that something comes from nothing, and since I affirm that something *cannot* come from nothing, since something cannot precede its own existence, either ontologically or temporally......

            We remain at the very difficult point which you seem unwilling to acknowledge and engage, but which you really must acknowledge and engage, if you wish to insist that atheism is a logically viable premise.

            1. The cosmos exists.
            2.It cannot have brought itself into existence.
            3. Therefore, Something ontologically and/or temporally prior to the cosmos, brought the cosmos into existence.

            This is a true knockdown of the entire atheist position, and I continue to extend you the courtesy of pointing this out.

          • Rick:

            1. The cosmos exists.
            2.It cannot have brought itself into existence.
            3. Therefore, Something ontologically and/or temporally prior to the cosmos, brought the cosmos into existence.
            This si a true knockdown of the entire atheist position, and I continue to extend you the courtesy of pointing this out.

            Your courtesy underwhelms me.

            I didn’t realize that this tissue of an argument was all you had. No, it’s not a knockdown argument of anything.

            Yes, it’s common sense. No, that doesn’t make it true. For example, “Everything has a cause” is common sense, but it’s not true. Quantum physics shows us that common sense is a poor guide when it comes to quantum events, which the Big Bang presumably was. Your “argument” is laughably childish.

          • Excuse me, Bob, but you have yet to engage the argument.

            Notice, the argument you engage is

            "Everything has a cause"

            But that is not the argument I have presented you with, and which you have repeatedly failed to engage.

            Now it just so happens that the statement:

            "Everything has a cause"

            is demonstrably true, and I will be happy to demonstrate this, in due course, by the reliable reductio ad absurdum.

            But first, I must extend you the courtesy of declining to be diverted by your various hips and hops around the subject.

            IOn the interest of assisting you in dealing with the actual argument presented on the thread, I promise to continually re-present it to you, in hopes that you will, at some point, address *it*, and not some other one.

            Here it is, again:

            1. The cosmos exists.
            2.It cannot have brought itself into existence.
            3. Therefore, Something ontologically and/or temporally prior to the cosmos, brought the cosmos into existence.

            This is a true knockdown of the entire atheist position, and I continue to extend you the courtesy of pointing this out.

          • Rick:

            But that is not the argument I have presented you with, and which you have repeatedly failed to engage.

            Yeah, there’s a lot of that going around.

            Tell you what: you present a thoughtful argument that proves that something cannot come from nothing, and I’ll respond to it.

            Here it is, again:
            1. The cosmos exists.
            2.It cannot have brought itself into existence.
            3. Therefore, Something ontologically and/or temporally prior to the cosmos, brought the cosmos into existence.

            I must extend you the courtesy of declining to be diverted by your various hips and hops around the subject. You said, “Something cannot come from nothing.”

            Prove it.

          • This has been done, Bob, remember?

            No thing can precede its own existence, either temporally, or ontologically.

            The contrary position involves a fatal logical contradiction; that is, a violation of the law of non-contradiction, which states that a thing cannot both be, and not be, at the same time, and in the same respect.

            Now.

            Either you agree with this law of non-contradiction, in which case you have agreed that something cannot both be, and not be, at the same time; that is, you agree that something cannot bring itself into existence; that is, you agree that something cannot come from nothing....

            Or else you propose that a thing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect, which is barking madness.

            Which is it?

          • Rick:

            How does this prove that something can’t come from nothing?

            I’m getting bored with this conversation …

          • cowalker

            How can you demonstrate that something cannot come from nothing if you cannot create an experimental condition of "nothing?" That is why it is unlikely that scientists will ever be able to provide evidence on the hypothesis that something cannot come from nothing. Or that something CAN come from nothing. Or for that matter that there ever was nothing.

            I am certainly comfortable saying that there might have been something outside the universe we inhabit that originated it. But it's a mystery to me how anyone can confidently assign any characteristics to this something, that might or might not have originated our universe.To attribute human traits to it, such as saying that it desires freely offered love from its created beings, like a human taking comfort from his dog's devotion, leaves me thinking that God was definitely created by man.

          • But it's a mystery to me how anyone can confidently assign any characteristics to this something, that might or might not have originated our universe.

            It may be a mystery, but there is a long list of deities with a big bag of attributes, not to believe in. A presentation of why it seems strange for people to pick one, and be atheists about all the rest, is nicely presented in this short video.

          • Susan

            >Now my visits here must be short and sweet.

            That's a shame.

            > you have built your house on a foundation of.....

            >Nothing.

            >And nothing does not exist.

            >The atheist world view is predicated on an axiom of madness.

            Well, you sure told us.

          • "That's a shame."

            >> Not for your team.

          • Rick:

            It is really very simple, Bob.

            Again, I appreciate your taking it slow with me.

            This means that something cannot come from nothing.

            Who says that it does?

          • I am very glad to see that you have now answered your own question:

            Rick: Something cannot come from nothing. Ever.

            Bob 1: ""Something can’t come from nothing? You know that this is true? That’s a bold claim about a very fundamental statement of reality."

            Bob 2:"Who says that it does?"

            I am glad that we have this straightened out.

          • If you don't want to discuss this, you could just say so.

          • Michael Murray

            Bob 1 and Bob 2 --- does that mean you are entangled ? Rick certainly seems to be.

          • Michael Murray

            woeful Catholic ignorance of the true state of physics (a massive crisis, where the conflict between quantum theory and General Relativity constitutes the single greatest mismatch in the history of science),

            I agree it's woeful. If only Catholics understood what physicists do understand. If only they understood that the standard model is really confirmed since the LHC results and that this rules out any magic in the mind or soul in the body. If only they understood that the gap between quantum mechanics and general relativity isn't a gap that is going to help them. Luckily we have people like Sean Carroll who explain it to them.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

            If only Catholics would watch and listen with an open mind.

          • If only Catholics understood what physicists do understand.

            I think it is very important to note that Rick DeLano does not speak for Catholics. I would go so far as to say that even the people listed as "main contributors" to Strange Notions do not speak for Catholics.

          • Michael Murray

            Good point. I was just trying to make a play on Rick's "woeful Catholic ignorance".

          • Susan

            Thanks David. I doubt that any of us thought that Rick spoke for catholics but it is important to point that out, just in case.

            I was more likely to assume that people listed as "main contributors" did speak for the catholics at this site, but that was an assumption on my part and I'm glad you made me think about it.

          • Rick DeLano has never claimed to speak for anyone but himself.

            But Rick DeLano speaks for every Catholic when he says that the atheist world view is false, and it is knowably false on grounds of reason alone.

            This is because something does not come from nothing, ever.

            It comes from something.

            Always.

            A moment's thinking it through will disclose that this is exactly what the Catholic Church means when She says that the existence of God can be known by human reason, with certainty, entirely apart from faith.

          • Michael:

            Let us assume that the approximately 4 sigma resonance detected at the LHC is in fact the Higgs boson.

            Your problem just got massively worse, rather than better.

            You see, if this is Higgs, then the electroweak force is a component of the structure of space (what used to be called the ether, and is now variously termed the quantum vacuum, or quintessence, or zero point energy, or the energy of empty space that isn't zero, etc).

            This means that the ridiculous, 50 or so order of magnitude discrepancy between the observed cosmological constant (which is itself a falsehood, an artifact of the metaphysical assumption known as the Copernican/cosmological principle), and the energy of "empty space" is now real.

            It cannot be fudged, since Higgs definitely interacts with baryonic matter.

            The simple truth is that standard model physics cannot account for cosmological observations.

            Either the standard model is incomplete, or LCDM is wrong, or both.

            "Both" is the safest bet imaginable.

            But none of this gets the atheist off the hook.

            We exist.

            Nothing does not exist.

            Something cannot come from nothing.

            This falsifies the atheist world view soup to nuts, but is completely consistent with all scientific observations.

          • Michael Murray

            The standard model is fine for what it claims to model. Physics is as yet incomplete. The standard model covers anything that can happen in our brain. There is no way souls can exist and interact with our brain.

            What do you mean by this last bit

            But none of this gets the atheist off the hook.

            We exist.

            Nothing does not exist.

            Something cannot come from nothing.

            This falsifies the atheist world view soup to nuts, but is completely consistent with all scientific observations.

          • "The standard model is fine for what it claims to model."

            >> No, the standard model is drastically inadequate for what it claims to model; that is, it is drastically inadequate to model reality.

            The fifty order of magnitude-!- gap between the standard model's predictions and cosmological observations is completely adequate to establish this.

            "Physics is as yet incomplete."

            >> Drastically so.

            "The standard model covers anything that can happen in our brain."

            >> The standard model does not begin to approximate what happens in our brain, since the standard model has no equation for consciousness.

            "There is no way souls can exist and interact with our brain."

            >> A fascinating assertion. It seems to be missing a few steps in the logical development from assertion to conclusion.

            I invite you to address this.

            If Higgs, then no soul?

            How does that follow, exactly?

          • Michael Murray

            The standard model claims to model the electromagnetic, strong and weak forces. It does this accurately. It does not claim to model gravity or all of reality.

            If Higgs, then no soul?

            How does that follow, exactly?

            I've post the link to Sean Carrolls video before

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

            You should really watch that and hear it from him.

          • "You should really watch that and hear it from him."

            >> I have read an argument similar to this from Sean, I prefer to deal with printed sources.

            But I am far more interested in how you have come to the conclusion:

            "If Higgs, then no soul",. on the basis of Sean's argument.

            "But I'll try to summarise. First the Higgs discoveries show the standard model is is correct."

            >> The discoveries show that there is an approximately four sigma resonance in an area that might be consistent with Higgs, although the ATLAS observations involve divergent measurements that apparently lie outside the error bars.

            This caveat aside, if you want to claim Higgs, that's fine, for purposes of this exchange.

            "Second everything that influences the brain is understood by the standard model."

            >> Nope. "Everything that influences the brain" must include an accounting for the fact that I know with one hundred per cent certainty that I shall type a period at the end of this sentence- no, I have decided instead to type and exclamation point!

            There is nothing whatever in the standard model that can account either for my initial decision, or my decision to change it.

            You have no answer for this, because you have no answer for consciousness, no answer for intentionality.

            Your equations are drastically inadequate to handle either, and yet these things are certainly "things that influence the brain".

            "Dark energy, dark matter, gravity etc these things are not going to have in impact in studying the brain."

            >> Says who? Sean Carroll? Sean Carroll cannot employ Dirac's equation to explain why it is that I shall first type four periods....and then a smiley face- no, a frown :-(

            These things are entirely intentional, in real time, by *me*; that is, a thinking consciousness whose choices Sean cannot model, nor predict, nor explain, with Dirac's equation, or the Higgs boson, or anything else.

            "Third it follows that we know everything that can affect our brains there are no gaps for a soul."

            >> Instead, the gap is so deep, wide, and yawning that it really constitutes a chasm.

            Sean writes down Dirac's equation and insists that this entirely determines everything that my brain can do or be.

            Bunk.

            Dirac's equation cannot model, nor predict, whether I shall type a period, a comma, or a question mark at the end of the sentence directly following this one.

            But I can predict that with one hundred per cent certainty.

          • severalspeciesof

            Rick,

            You really, really, really need to share your information with someone who could use your education. Give it a shot, will you? http://krauss.faculty.asu.edu/connect/

          • I am afraid that Professor Krauss' "Universe From Nothing" has not fared well, even among the more knowledgeable atheists.

            It was an unfortunate choice of title, from an epistemological point of view, although I hear it sold like hotcakes.

            Alas, the self-refuting title is not likely to present much of a difficulty to atheists, who labor under the profound delusion that something comes from nothing.

            It doesn't.

            Ever.

          • articulett

            Rather it came from a 3-in-1 god... who was made of nothing-- and poofed everything from this nothingness-- right?

          • Not quite right, art.

            The error is in the word "made", above.

            God is not made.

            God Is.

          • Articulett, I take it that you are a very straight forward person. When you go to explain non-belief (assuming you do try) to your religious friends and neighbors, how do you get that started and what approach do you use?

          • articulett

            I usually avoid theistic conversations in real life, because a theist has a vested interest in maintaining belief and this often means looking for reasons to dislike the atheist. Many have been told that Satan will try to rid the of their faith or some such craziness, and I don't really want to be seen as an evil temptress. I'd like to assume everyone is rational until they say something that leads me to believe otherwise, but most people have been infected with the faith meme. Irritational people online can't get affect my livlihood, fortunately.

            However theists, have an annoying habit of assuming everyone believes as they do, and I don't like my silence to be seen as assent or support of "faith" nor wackadoodle beliefs. My sister once started a sentence with: "Of course everyone is born in original sin..." This implies that I agree when I don't. So sometimes I will say something vague like, "I don't think of faith as a virtue", or "I wish there was scientific evidence for souls"-- but if they pry, I will say that think that beliefs about faith should be private. My brother bought into the idea that Hitler was an atheist (he was Catholic) and that atheists have killed more people than religionists which is a popular straw man with theists, so I corrected him. I also noted that all evil regime leaders have been non-Scientologists-- and that he was a non-scientologists. They've also been men-- which he is as well. Theists seem to latch on to the same sorts of memes to confirm their faith, and I am guessing these are the best that they have or we wouldn't hear them over and over.

            Theists also have a straw man view of what atheists think as evidenced in spades by Rick. I will point out that I don't have to know the origins of the universe to reject magical explanations-- just as I don't need to know how lightening is made to reject the Zeus explanation. Every "woo" thinks "Science can't explain it-- therefore my 'woo' is true!" I engage them online as entertainment for myself and to build up my critical thinking skills-- plus it allows me to say things that I can't say to people I have to work with. I learn a lot by watching others engage them as well. To me, all supernatural and pseudoscientific beliefs fall into the same sort of category, and I'm interested in the fallacious reasoning used to support them-- mostly so that I don't fool myself the way I have in the past.

            I was pretty undercover when my son was young; my family probably thought I was non-religious, but still a believer. But now that my son is grown, they all know I'm an atheist, as is my son. I feel lucky that he escaped the indoctrination that was inflicted on me. My neices and nephews were not so fortunate.

            What do you do?

          • What do you do?

            Thanks, very much, for your reply. I wrote a bit about that on my blog and I started a discussion thread at the Richard Dawkins site exactly to cover that. You can read about it, here.

            My interest in how to talk about it got serious because I started going on walks with a Christian missionary neighbor of mine, several times a week, and continuing for years. I put some of that up on line, but have quite a bit written, waiting for me to sit down and edit it into a book. Basically, you have to meet people as human beings with an equal respect for their rights to their opinions, no matter how low your respect for the content of those opinions.

            I start out letting people know that I am "not a person of faith." That will not mean as much among Catholics as it does for Evangelicals, where I am speaking their lingo. If you start off with "atheist" you don't know what that is going to bring to someone's mind, as you can readily see from reading the threads here. Often, I get replies like, "But you have faith in Evolution" at which time I reply, "I don't need faith in Evolution, I can check it."

            Continued accusations of "faith" or "belief" are met with "I have reasonable expectation based on prior evidence." This is one of the strongest lines I have found. It often takes a religious person a bit to realize that those outside of faith tradition do not necessarily consider themselves at a loss. I like to point out that there are plenty of news stories about real events that are too strange for publishers to print, if they were in fiction, and by the same token there are things to explore and investigate about the natural world that are far beyond the abilities of the human imagination, that constructs religion.

            I have noticed that you are also fond of holding up absurdities in other religions, to the eyes of any given religion. It is always amazing to see how quickly people will spot the fallacies in some-body-else's religion, even as blind as they may be to what is going on in their own Church. I find it helps to talk to them about what their own clergy knows, but is not disclosed from the pulpit. That usually has to do with what they know but don't tell about the origin and history of their 'holy' texts. The ultimate is to get someone to ask his or her minister or priest if what is preached is personally believed. I find that some percentage of clergy are operating under the policy that, while doing their job, they don't have to admit that they don't personally believe unless someone specifically asks (don't tell if not asked).

            A great deal of the above can be done through the Socratic method of asking questions. They are usually the same questions that little children ask, but having studied some critical thinking, I cannot be deflected or told to un-ask, the way children are usually silenced. There is a tight-rope to walk, doing this, as you have to proceed in a strict quest for truth, even though someone will try to discount you as just being a pest.

            Thanks again, and I hope you and others will continue to tell me about your experiences re this subject.

            -Q

          • Susan

            >Continued accusations of "faith" or "belief" are met with "I have reasonable expectations based on prior evidence." This is one of the strongest lines I have found.

            It is a very strong line and establishes a standard I hope most of us could agree on in every context I can think of.

            >I have noticed that you are also fond of holding up absurdities in other religions, to the eyes of any given religion. It is always amazing to see how quickly people will spot the fallacies in some-body-else's religion, even as blind as they may be to what is going on in their own Church. I find it helps to talk to them about what their own clergy knows, but is not disclosed from the pulpit.

            Interesting that most of that is not disclosed to most of the flock. For those who make it to the end of the maze, against the current, there are apologetics waiting in triage.

            Articulett asks all the questions at once sometimes (I don't blame you.) Fair enough on a site that presented 20 (repeatedly refuted, ill-defined and unevidenced "proofs" for this particular deity) but she was accused of going off-topic and behaving like an Iraqi insurgent firing an AK-47 around a corner.

            I guess it's hard to answer all those questions at once but it's no excuse to answer none of them.

            The first three (and they're all good ones) include what QQ mentioned, the absurdities of other religions. Why are other religions absurd and not Catholicism?

            Also, my favourite. This is all I ever want to know and I have still never been given a satisfactory response in all these years

            What is the difference between an immaterial being and an imaginary being?

            This is also a crucially important point:

            If your child went missing, would you be satisfied with immaterial answers?

            (Sorry articulett. Paraphrasing. But so far, none of the catholics here have responded to perfectly reasonable, obvious questions.)

          • Thank you, Susan.

          • severalspeciesof

            " Every "woo" thinks "Science can't explain it-- therefore my 'woo' is true!" "

            That explains a lot...

          • severalspeciesof

            Then you evidently don't buy into god's creation ex nihilo... hmmmm... interesting if you don't...

          • God forbid that I should ever deny a dogma of the Faith.

            You may safely proceed on the assumption that I would never do so.

            The word "creation", above, is the remedy to the problem.

            "Creation" is a signification of an action; that action will always be found to be attributable to a Creator.

            God *creates* ex nihilo.

            But God is not nihilo.

          • severalspeciesof

            You still need to deal with 'ex nihilo' which you cannot jettison so that you can save the 'creation' part (which can only make sense if there is 'something' to create from)...

          • severalspeciesof

            Plus I find it interesting that I didn't bring up his works, only that you should give him your information so that he could use the education...

          • Christian Stillings

            Eh, we Mackerel-Snappers aren't in the regular practice of declaring anyone certainly-condemned. Your culpability is greater because of your knowledge, but there's always hope, even if you never become convinced.

            There’s no faith behind physics, for example. The idea is ridiculous. The evidence is presented, and students of physics follow it where it leads. Religion, as I’m sure you’ll agree, isn’t like physics.

            I agree that belief in physics is unlike religious belief. My specific argument is that relative agnosticism about the veracity of a claim doesn't have any bearing on the actual truth or falsity of the claim.

            If you and I wanted to cobble together a religion and have people actually believe it, our religion would have faith as a celebrated trait of the believer. We couldn’t just use evidence since there’s nothing substantial.

            That would be a plausible course of action. Again, I'm specifically arguing that a lack of evidence for or against a claim doesn't have any bearing on the actual truth or falsity of a claim.

            True, but so what? Christianity (and all the other religions, while we’re at it) don’t have the evidence to support the claims. Why believe them?

            Why I've chosen, and choose, to be Catholic isn't something I intend to get into presently. No, I don't suggest that we arbitrarily believe just anything.

            As I've observed in several conversations with you, you tend to address matters which I haven't tried to address. I'm specifically arguing against your claim that

            That faith is celebrated within religion is strong evidence that its foundational beliefs are false.

            No more, no less. I'm arguing that, while celebration of faith may arise from a lack of evidence for a belief, this lack of evidence doesn't inherently provide "strong evidence that its foundational beliefs are false". I'm arguing that, except in cases where absence of evidence is evidence of absence (and that would be established separately and individually for each case), the lack of evidence has no bearing on the actual veracity of the claim. I think that your claim that "celebration of faith demonstrates falsity of beliefs" is, in fact, false. If you disagree, I'm interested to hear why.

          • Christian:

            Your culpability is greater because of your knowledge, but there's always hope, even if you never become convinced.

            Wait—you’re saying that Christianity is ambiguous on this point? You believe and trust Jesus to justify your entry into heaven and you go to heaven. Otherwise, it’s the Other Place®--y’know with the gnashing of teeth and all that.

            But you disagree?

            Again, I'm specifically arguing that a lack of evidence for or against a claim doesn't have any bearing on the actual truth or falsity of a claim.

            But of course it does have a bearing on whether we should waste our time believing a claim or not.

            Yes, I realize that all the evidence available to us (which may not be all the evidence) may argue for X, but Y might actually be the truth. Nevertheless, what knucklehead, given this situation, would believe Y?

            (Of course, I can quickly answer my own question: someone might believe Y if they wanted Y to be true, was raised in an environment that believed Y, placed little value in evidence, compartmentalized so that evidence was valued here but not there, and so on.)

            No, I don't suggest that we arbitrarily believe just anything.

            For most of us, belief is out of our control. Show me compelling evidence that leprechauns exist, and I won’t have any choice—I must believe. On the other hand, my situation right now is quite the opposite—I admit that leprechauns might exist, but I have no compelling evidence so I must not believe. Again—I have no choice.

            you tend to address matters which I haven't tried to address.

            Could well be. If I see an interesting tangent, I might go for it. If that doesn’t work for you, I understand.

            I'm specifically arguing against your claim that “That faith is celebrated within religion is strong evidence that its foundational beliefs are false.”

            OK, let’s talk about that.

            I'm arguing that, while celebration of faith may arise from a lack of evidence for a belief, this lack of evidence doesn't inherently provide "strong evidence that its foundational beliefs are false".

            Let’s take a step back to see where we agree. I assume we agree that many, many religions besides your own have faith. And I think you’ve agreed that a religion built on a legend or otherwise not real would almost certainly put a high value in faith (“Yes, I realize that there is no clear evidence for our supernatural claims. But faith is a virtue. You must believe, brother!”).

            Now, quiz time. We’re given a belief but not told what it is. It might be something scientific like “matter is made of atoms.” It might be something pseudo-science-y like homeopathy or crystal balls. It might be something supernatural. But we’re told that faith, not evidence, is the primary grounding of this belief.

            Is this belief worth believing or not?

            the lack of evidence has no bearing on the actual veracity of the claim.

            You mean from an ontological standpoint? If you’re simply saying that our evidence is incomplete and might point in the wrong direction, I agree of course. But why is this interesting? The evidence is fundamentally important in what we (fallible) humans should do when presented with a candidate belief. I can’t imagine how you could think otherwise.

          • Christian Stillings

            Wait—you’re saying that Christianity is ambiguous on this point? You believe and trust Jesus to justify your entry into heaven and you go to
            heaven.

            Catholic doctrine holds that whoever is saved can only be saved through God's grace and Christ's sacrifice, but (unlike some forms of Protestantism) allows that those who are outside of the visible Church (or outside a Christian tradition) may nonetheless be saved through Christ. The Church doesn't declare any deceased soul to be absolutely damned, so there may always be some sliver of hope. Even for you, Bob. :-)

            But of course [the evidence] does have a bearing on whether we should waste our time believing a claim or not.

            I agree entirely. I've been trying this whole time to focus on what, specifically, is actually affected by a relative lack of evidence. Whether or not a belief is in fact true or false is not affected by the quantity of relevant evidence for or against it. I agree that whether or not a belief should be believed is affected by the quantity of relevant evidence for or against it.

            However, your initial statement,

            That faith is celebrated within religion is strong evidence that its foundational beliefs are false.

            sounded like "a celebration of "faith" in a belief (wherein "faith" derives from a lack of evidence) is evidence that the belief is false. I think that statement is false. If you had said "a celebration of faith (lacking evidence) indicates that a belief should not be believed," I would have been more inclined to agree.

            I think you failed to distinguish between the factual nature of a belief (true or false) and whether or not it should be believed (which may be less clear). I think that a lack of evidence may indicate that something should not be believed, but not that it is (more likely) false. Cases where "absence of evidence equals evidence of absence" are exceptions to this principle, but this criteria must be demonstrated individually for any given case before it can be used as an argument in that case.

            Could well be. If I see an interesting tangent, I might go for it. If that doesn’t work for you, I understand.

            Fair enough. I enjoy tangents, so they could "work for me" in a sense. However, I find it more productive to clearly settle specific questions before moving onto tangentially-related questions. Following tangents either leads to novella-length responses (which can become excessively time-consuming and exhausting) or causes interesting questions to be left not-completely-settled.

            You'll remember that in our recent conversation on "Are the Gospels a myth?", I very specifically zeroed in on the questions of "was the Gospel of Luke intended as a historical record?" and then "what were the nature of Paul's beliefs?" to the exclusion of some other interesting questions. I'm interested in the other questions, but I prefer to definitively settle (as well as possible) the one at hand. The benefit of this kind of civil forum is that we have the ability to chase things down to that level of conclusion, and I prefer to do so before moving on.

            For most of us, belief is out of our control... I have no compelling evidence so I must not believe... I have no choice.

            I've been messing around in my own head recently about the nature of belief, and it's really interesting. You seem to argue that one cannot will oneself into a belief despite sufficient evidence or refuse to believe something for which sufficient evidence has been provided. In other words, making a Kierkegaardian "leap of faith" to a belief isn't the same as actually believing it. It's also interesting to consider the choice and intentionality inherent to any "leap of faith" and how they would or wouldn't work in different metaphysical frameworks... but that's for another time. I don't think I've said much in this paragraph, haha.

            You mean from an ontological standpoint? If you’re simply saying that our evidence is incomplete and might point in the wrong direction, I agree of course.

            I mostly agree with this. However, in the original question, we weren't hypothesizing "incomplete evidence pointing in the wrong direction;" rather, we were hypothesizing incomplete (or entirely absent) evidence not pointing in any particular direction, and the "choice to have faith" in light of no evidential input. I think that our originally-hypothesized absence-of-evidence points nowhere, rather than "in the wrong direction".

            In all this, I'm not arguing that anyone should make a practice of believing without evidence. I'm simply correcting your erroneous-sounding statement about the relationship between evidence and the actual veracity of a belief. Counter to your statement which I originally quoted, whether or not a belief is in fact true or false is
            not affected by the quantity of relevant evidence for or against it. Further, in the absence of significant evidence either way (as I think was originally hypothesized), we shouldn't make any value judgments as to the actual truth or falsehood of the belief. You seemed to do so ("celebration of faith = probably false"), and I've been trying to correct that this whole time. :-P

          • Christian:

            The Church doesn't declare any deceased soul to be absolutely damned, so there may always be some sliver of hope.

            How do you tell who’s going where?

            I've been trying this whole time to focus on what, specifically, is actually affected by a relative lack of evidence.

            Is this a trick question? What is affected by a relative lack of evidence is every truth claim built on such a relative lack of evidence.

            For example, there is some evidence for leprechauns (we have fairy stories told about them, for example), but that’s insufficient reason to believe.

            Whether or not a belief is in fact true or false is not affected by the quantity of relevant evidence for or against it. I agree that whether or not a belief should be believed is affected by the quantity of relevant evidence for or against it.

            Why even raise the former issue? It’s nothing more than mental masturbation. We have the facts in front of us, nothing more. It may not be much, but it’s all we’ve got.

            If you had said "a celebration of faith (lacking evidence) indicates that a belief should not be believed," I would have been more inclined to agree.

            Sure, this casting is fine. I think my previous statement is easily defensible, but let’s drop it.

            I think that a lack of evidence may indicate that something should not be believed, but not that it is (more likely) false.

            Many belief systems are both (1) false and (2) celebrate faith in their claims. There is a correlation. Finding a new belief system that celebrates faith (#2) suggests that the belief is false (#1).

            Example: someone speaking English with a Russian accent is correlated with that person having Russian as their first language. If you hear someone speaking English with a Russian accent, that’s a valid clue (though no proof) that their first language is Russian.

            I've been messing around in my own head recently about the nature of belief, and it's really interesting. You seem to argue that one cannot will oneself into a belief despite sufficient evidence or refuse to believe something for which sufficient evidence has been provided.

            If you disagree, I think we must define “belief” differently.

            In other words, making a Kierkegaardian "leap of faith" to a belief isn't the same as actually believing it.

            It also shows the shallowness of Pascal’s wager. (I hear God is pretty smart. “Believing” to save your butt from Satan’s rotisserie probably won’t fool the Big Man.)

          • Christian Stillings

            How do you tell who’s going where?

            In the Catholic system, we can know that someone is in heaven is they're canonized. Otherwise, we make the best guesses we can based on the available evidence. Apart from the canonized, we can't have absolute knowledge either way. I'd say you're a *mostly* hopeless case, but we can't speak with damning certainty. :-P

            Is this a trick question? What is affected by a relative lack of evidence is every truth claim built on such a relative lack of evidence.

            I did go on to clarify what I'd been trying to get at, so I don't think it's a trick question at all. I agree that the relative lack of evidence for any claim relates to the believability of the claim. However, your initial claim said that the relative lack of evidence for a claim relates to the veracity of the claim, not the believability of the claim.

            You seemed to say "the lack of sufficient evidence for Christianity (in my assessment) does demonstrate that the beliefs are probably false." My issue was this: you were posing something as an argument against Christianity which shouldn't be regarded as such. Except in cases where absence of evidence = evidence of absence, a lack of evidence shouldn't be allowed to count as an argument against (or for) the veracity of a claim. A lack of sufficient evidence for a claim (in one's estimation) may be reason to refrain from belief in it, but it's too far to say that it's actually a demonstration against the claim.

            Why even raise the former issue? It’s nothing more than mental masturbation. We have the facts in front of us, nothing more. It may not be much, but it’s all we’ve got.

            Come now, do you really think I'd masturbate? It'd give me a terrible case of Catholic guilt. :-P I raise the former issue because I think you were trying to use an invalid argument against the credibility of Christianity. By parsing between (potential) veracity and believability, I think I've demonstrated that your specific argument fails.

            I think this is the crux of the argument I think you've been implying so far, but I don't think it holds up well:

            Many belief systems are both (1) false and (2) celebrate faith in their claims. There is a correlation. Finding a new belief system that celebrates faith (#2) suggests that the belief is false (#1).

            For the sake of accuracy, I think you should be more epistemically modest with this kind of statement. I don't know what specific belief systems you're thinking of, but with some exceptions (thinking of Mormonism's interesting historical claims), most faith-celebrating belief systems have at least the capacity to be true. If you can't demonstrate these belief systems to be false, your first premise fails. You'd be much better-justified in your claim if you said "many belief systems both (1) can't be supported with good evidence and (2) celebrate faith in their claims." It may take the punch out of your argument, but that's not MY fault. I'm just trying to keep you honest. :-P

          • ... most faith-celebrating belief systems have at least the capacity to be true.

            But only while excluding each other. There have been thousands of religions made up by humans with mutually conflicting dogma. Even if any one had "the capacity to be true" it still means that thousands must be wrong. Yes, your religion might be true, but because of all these "must be wrongs" you have to start at a low probability due to bad priors.

          • Christian Stillings

            Okay, I see your point. We don't presently have a conceivable system wherein most of these (yet-hypothetical) belief systems could be true. Therefore, most (yet-hypothetical) belief systems can't be true, although in most cases each has the capacity to be true, perhaps in tandem with others.

            I have some more thoughts about this, but I'll mull it over some more before posting any of them. Thanks for the food for thought!

          • Thanks for the food for thought!

            You are welcome.

            -Q

          • Susan

            >In the Catholic system, we can know that someone is in heaven is they're canonized

            What do you mean by "know"?

          • To Christian,

            What do you mean by "know"?

            And, what evidence would you present to differentiate that over "pretend"? (Note, please start with evidence of "heaven" as well as "going to" or "being in.")

          • Christian Stillings

            In other words, how would someone "know" that the Catholic belief system is true? There are a number of plausible ways, though I won't go into my own reasons presently. The easiest way for someone to hypothetically get up into the Castle would be a Divine Revelation which is absolutely convincing to them, even if it doesn't do much for others. (Thinking here of John C. Wright.) Either way, the point I'm driving at here isn't how to justifiably reach the Castle, it's how stable the architecture of the Castle is.

          • Christian Stillings

            Also, I'm pretty darn confident in my best argument for the existence of souls. I won't go into it presently, but if successful, it certainly gets us out of atheism, even if it doesn't necessarily select Catholicism over any other particular soul-believing tradition.

          • Also, I'm pretty darn confident in my best argument for the existence of souls.

            After you are dead, will you have the memories of your life? If so, where are they stored, and does it matter if you died of Alzheimer's?

          • Christian Stillings

            Maybe, dunno, and maybe. If we can get to immaterialism, the details are secondary, and I don't intend to address tangential questions presently, as fascinating as they are. I'm simply saying that immaterialism, which I think is a strong proposition, would cover a significant amount of the distance you were referencing.

          • If we can get to immaterialism, the details are secondary, ...

            But why would I care about a "soul" if it isn't me. I know the heat from my body is going to "go somewhere" (mostly into the air in the room, I expect) when I die, but I don't really care what happens to that "immaterial" part of me. How are you going to show that there is some part I would care about? I will indulge in a bit of scripture for you [Ecclesiastes 9:5]:

            For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

          • Susan

            >I'm simply saying that immaterialism, which I think is a strong proposition, would cover a significant amount of the distance you were referencing.

            Stop teasing us. Define your language and make your case.

            You have my full attention.

          • I won't go into it presently, but if successful, it certainly gets us out of atheism, ...

            You do realize that there have been religions with ghosts of your ancestors, but no deities, such as Confucianism and some kinds of Buddhism?

          • Christian Stillings

            The nature of the ghosts would be a factor in play. Do the ghosts exercise power in the natural realm? If so, we're to immaterialism, which is significant. Plus, if our ancestors have unceasing spirits, shouldn't we expect the same for ourselves? I agree that it doesn't get us out of certain definitions of "atheism" per se, but it does get us out of a naturalistic/materialistic metaphysical framework and into knowledge that there's something "on the other side".

          • Susan

            > and into knowledge that there's something "on the other side".

            And if you sail far enough, you will fall over the edge of the earth into the mouth of a giant sea monster.

            Can someone please tell me what they mean by immaterial without just saying, "not material" which is supposed to imply "so much better than material" without explaining it at all?

            What is matter? What are its limits? How would you know when you've sailed past them?

          • Susan

            >Also, I'm pretty darn confident in my best argument for the existence of souls. I won't go into it presently,

            No time like the present. Please ignore my last couple of comments.

            I'm really more interested in your best argument for the existence of souls.

          • Christian Stillings

            It's not so much a positive argument for souls as it's pointing out how much one must actually "bite the bullet" by believing in metaphysical materialism/naturalism. I intend to submit a post for this site exploring it in greater detail sometime over the summer. Briefly:

            1. Materialism stipulates that only physical matter "exists".
            2. Materialism stipulates that all conscious experience is the byproduct of material functions in the brain.
            3. All brain functions are the result of material functions upon which no external agency is exerted.
            4. If people (defined here as conscious experiences) have no ability to impact that which causes the entire conscious experience, it is impossible to assess what veracity their conscious experiences do or don't have the material reality. There's no way to demonstrate that the conscious experiences generated by the material processes relate reliably to the material reality which is affecting the material functions of the brain.

            In short, one cannot simultaneously believe that their conscious experience actually map to a reality AND believe in metaphysical materialism/naturalism. To "bite the bullet" of materialism requires the abandonment of rationality altogether.

            It's very brief, it's not very well worked-out, and I'm sure I'll need to do bundles of clarification on 4. However, that's as good a version as I'm going to hash out at this hour, haha.

          • Susan

            >4. If people (defined here as conscious experiences) have no ability to impact that which causes the entire conscious experience, it is impossible to assess what veracity their conscious experiences do or don't have the material reality. There's no way to demonstrate that the conscious experiences generated by the material processes relate reliably to the material reality which is affecting the material functions of the brain.

            In short, one cannot simultaneously believe that their conscious experience actually map to a reality AND believe in metaphysical materialism/naturalism. To "bite the bullet" of materialism requires the abandonment of rationality altogether.

            It's very brief, it's not very well worked-out, and I'm sure I'll need to do bundles of clarification on 4.

            Yeah. You lost me on 4.

          • 4. If people (defined here as conscious experiences) have no ability to impact that which causes the entire conscious experience, ...

            Take some LSD (or go for electro shock) and then tell me if you still believe this.

            There's no way to demonstrate that the conscious experiences generated by the material processes relate reliably to the material reality ...

            That's because they don't, exactly. We can prove that with optical illusions and many other psycho-physical tests. Those processes have done a good enough job to pass Natural Selection, and we are now at the point of looking behind the curtain to see how they work.

          • Christian Stillings

            Take some LSD (or go for electro shock) and then tell me if you still believe this.

            To "take LSD" sounds like an intentional action which requires the ability to affect factors in the natural world by... thought? Effort? Neither can actually exist in a materialistic/naturalistic metaphysical framework. I'm not arguing that there's not a substantial connection between brain chemistry and conscious experience- I think that there is. However, if conscious experience is nothing but brain chemistry, the intentionality behind "taking LSD" can't exist. Matter gon' do what matter gon' do, and we (our conscious experiences) are necessarily just along for the ride.

            Those processes have done a good enough job to pass Natural Selection, and we are now at the point of looking behind the curtain to see how they work.

            If the faculties are inherently faulty, though, can they be relied upon to conduct true results via testing? How certain can we be that our "looking behind the curtain" is actually revealing true things? If the conscious experience lies to us, wouldn't that be true of the conscious experiences of those conducting the tests as well? Basically, if the conscious experience lies to us, I'm not sure that there's any way in which that could be reliably ascertained via conscious experience.

          • If the faculties are inherently faulty, though, can they be relied upon to conduct true results via testing?

            That is why we developed the Scientific Method. Its primary function is to keep us from fooling ourselves.

          • Christian Stillings

            This presupposes that our faculties are able to know true things some of the time (in order for the Scientific Method to be efficacious at all) but not all the time. How able are we to really sort between the two, though?

            I apologize if this isn't very cogent; I'll try to offer some clearer thoughts on the matter soon. I think my thinker's exhausted for the night. :-P

          • I apologize if this isn't very cogent; ...

            Okay, I'll wait until it is.

          • Michael Murray

            Yes I don't understand 4 either. Also 3 needs some clarification as well. I think I know what you mean but there are lots of sensory inputs to the brain and I'm not sure they aren't an important aspect of consciousness. It's certainly one of the differences between brains and current attempts to build artificial intelligences. The latter lack the elaborate nervous system connecting them to the world.

            Have you read Daniel Dennetts "Consciousness Explained" or looked at other material on consciousness ? No offence intended but some really smart people have worked on this area and it's a reasonable supposition that if there was an argument implying souls from consciousness someone else would have thought of it.

          • Susan

            Also 3 needs some clarification as well.

            I agree.

            > No offence intended but some really smart people have worked on this area and it's a reasonable supposition that if there was an argument implying souls from consciousness someone else would have thought of it.
            It's hard if you can't just develop "ifs" but are forced to deal with evidence.

          • Christian Stillings

            I've heard pretty mixed review on "Consciousness Explained", but I haven't yet had the chance to read it personally.

            If the consciousness is nothing more than brain chemistry and brain chemistry is nothing more than matter in motion, aren't all "sensory inputs" also simply material in nature?

            I'm not sure whether or not anyone else has tried any variation of my argument, but if it's a good argument (which I'm still trying to figure out myself), that's not a particularly relevant factor.

            My simple point is that one cannot hold a rational belief in a metaphysics which doesn't allow certitude that conscious experiences rationally connect to an external reality. The beginning point of all philosophy is "we can have reliable beliefs about a reality". I think the materialist metaphysical hypothesis prevents one from being able to go even that far.

          • Susan

            >If consciousness is brain chemistry and brain chemistry is matter in motion, aren't all "sensory inputs" also material in nature

            I just had to retype that for my own sake with the editorial terms removed.

            >My simple point is that one cannot hold a rational belief in a metaphysics which doesn't allow certitude that conscious experiences rationally connect to an external reality

            How is this a problem if consciousness is brain chemistry?

            Honestly, I'm trying to learn here.

          • Christian Stillings

            My argument is this, and I apologize if the late hour is rendering me less intelligent: if the conscious experience can't be trusted, we have no way to know any true things. In a hypothetical materialistic metaphysical setup, there's no way to know to any extent whether or not the conscious experience can be trusted to relate to true things. If one trusts the conscious experience to relate to true things, one cannot simultaneously believe that they have rational, relating-to-reality thoughts and believe in a materialistic metaphysical framework.

            Specifically in response to your last question, there's no way to be certain that a conscious experience generated solely by material processes will accurately comprehend the nature of the aforementioned material processes. If we want to believe that we're able to accurately comprehend the nature of physical/material processes in reality, we have to abandon the materialist metaphysical framework.

            I hope this helps- if it's not any clearer, let me know and I'll try to write more soon, maybe tomorrow. I don't think I'll be getting any more cogent tonight, though. :-P

          • Susan

            It's not clearer Christian. I've heard similar arguments and they don't seem to add up but I'm still trying to understand the subject myself.

            The hour is late and if you're tired, it's not a good time to press.

            I'll ask more tomorrow. Or maybe when your head is clearer, you'll address my question in a way that leaves you feeling satisfied that you have given it your best effort.

            It's an important topic.

            Thanks.

            Get some sleep. :-)

          • Michael Murray

            Thie beginning point of philosophising about the brain and or mind should be understanding what we currently know about the brain and or mind.

            Dennett is a philosopher.

          • Christian Stillings

            This assumes we know accurate information about the brain and/or mind. I'm trying to argue that we couldn't be certain of that information at all in a materialistic metaphysical framework.

          • Michael Murray

            How do you get out of bed in the morning ?

          • Christian Stillings

            By the graces obtained through frequent praying of the rosary. :-)

            The actual answer is "very slowly, and usually later than I ought to."

          • Michael Murray

            My bladder is my alarm clock.

          • Christian Stillings

            That sounds like a manageable way to live, haha.

          • Christian Stillings

            Out of curiosity, though, why did you ask how I get out of bed in the morning?

            Edit: this conversation is going to be very weird for anyone reading it down the road, haha.

          • Michael Murray

            It seemed like you were stuck on concern about whether we could know there was a reality. In which case I'm not sure how any of us can do anything.

          • Michael Murray

            I'm not sure whether or not anyone else has tried any variation of my argument, but if it's a good argument (which I'm still trying to figure out myself), that's not a particularly relevant factor.

            If other really smart people have thought the idea through that's always a good place to start. If only because it gives you a quicker way to move forward in your thinking and saves you wasting time on ideas that are wrong.

          • Christian Stillings

            Sure. I haven't had time to look into much philosophy of mind thus far, so it's mostly an idea I've been kicking around in my own head. I wasn't planning to have to volunteer it this evening, but the conversation ended up spinning in that direction.

          • Also, Christian, I will recommend to you A Short Introduction to Consciousness by Susan Blackmore, who will give you a quick map of the work that has been done in the subject.

            Best wishes,

          • Christian Stillings

            Thanks for the heads-up! I'm just starting on summer break, so perhaps I'll be able to get to it soon.

          • Michael Murray

            Plus other good articles on her website

            http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk

            Oops another A2A dialogue.

          • Oops another A2A dialogue.

            No, I think that was of general info to all, and even if it was A2A, so what?

          • Michael Murray

            They seemed to surprise Christian.

          • Christian, just remember that if you are going to come up with an argument of the form, "People do X, but there is no explanation of how a biological system could do X, therefore Y" you have only a "gap argument" and have not established Y is true, based on what is unknown about X.

          • Christian Stillings

            I'm aware of the "God-of-the-Gaps issue", but I appreciate your reminder. :-)

            I think the crucial point is that there's a difference between "things which could be accounted for naturally but don't have a good explanation presently" and "things which *in principle* could not be accounted for naturally". I think Intelligent Design advocates who argue for things like "irreducible complexity" are running with the first: there *could* be a convincing natural explanation for the most basic building blocks of life, but (to the best of my knowledge) we don't have one presently. I'm running with the second. I'll explain more some time that's not tonight.

          • Michael Murray

            Ditto. I would also like to hear this. Don't assume that because I am an atheist I have some emotional opposition to discovering that "I" don't disappear when I die. In fact the attractiveness of immortality is one of the reasons I view arguments for it with suspicion. The things you want to believe are the things its easiest to trick yourself into believing. Ask any recently betrayed husband or wife.

          • Michael Murray

            If we can show that consciousness has some special role to play in the universe that would be revolutionary. I think it would put a hole reductionism but I don't think it's got to anything to do with immaterialism. Consciousness would just become another material. I see no necessary connection with theism.

          • Consciousness would just become another material.

            And when in the history of Evolution did the gene code generate this "material" and how?

          • Christian Stillings

            I'm also interested in this. Atheists asking other atheists questions at Strange Notions! Huzzah! :-)

          • Michael Murray

            It's a Strange Notion!

          • I'm also interested in this. Atheists asking other atheists questions at Strange Notions! Huzzah! :-)

            Yes, I see that as a good thing. We can lean from each other.

          • Michael Murray

            Yep that's a very good reason for rejecting the idea. If I had to argue it I would postulate some varying degree of consciousness attached to any kind of calculating thing. Then I think I'm going to have to admit my thermostat on the wally as conscious !

            More generally I don't think science has to completely collapse though if reductionism is wrong and in certain situations large collections of things behave in certain predictable ways which aren't reducible to the behaviour of the constituent parts. Although I can see the "heap" paradox being a problem. If N things suddenly behave in news ways why don't N-1 things ?

          • Christian Stillings

            We see through the eyes of faith. :-)

            More seriously, if we stipulate (for the sake of discussion) that the Catholic faith is true, magisterial proclamations about canonization are Divinely preserved from error and can therefore be trusted absolutely. In other words, we can "know" that what they say is true.

            The stipulation is obviously contestable, but once one is (hypothetically) in the closed system of Catholic theology, it works perfectly well.

          • More seriously, if we stipulate (for the sake of discussion) that the Catholic faith is true, magisterial proclamations about canonization are Divinely preserved from error and can therefore be trusted absolutely.

            This is what is known, in philosophical logic, as a "Castle in the Sky," a free-floating complex of propositions that would be true, if true, but cannot be established by "grounding" in demonstrable fact. It is very hard to build these and keep them free of internal contradiction. One need only start pulling at the lose thread ends.

          • Christian Stillings

            Catholicism is damn good at avoiding internal contradictions, if you'll pardon my language. Where Protestant sects split (and split, and split) over doctrinal differences, Catholics get their necessary doctrines clearly defined and know what, exactly, they're free to disagree about with other faithful Catholics. The barrier, as you suggest, is getting up to the "Castle in the Sky" at all.

          • It helps a lot to have the Founder rise from the dead, predict the destruction of the Temple within the lifetime of the generation hearing the prediction, having the Temple destroyed within the lifetime of that generation, and predict that the Church He founded will prove maddeningly impervious to the very worst the world can throw at it........which for two thousand years it has been.

          • Christian Stillings

            Rick: for the sake of this conversation, we'll assume skepticism from the folks opposite us at the table on all points save for the last, so I'm not sure how much your quoted Gospel content is going to particularly help out in this scenario. However, I do agree that a consistent 2000 year legacy is pretty impressive by any account.

          • articulett

            It's not consistent.... that's why there are so many sects. And Hinduism has lasted much longer.

          • Christian Stillings

            By "it", did you mean Catholicism specifically or Christianity generally? I agree, and said outright, that Protestantism is inconsistent and full of sects. Catholics (the faithful ones, at least) know upon what they must agree and upon what they are free to disagree. Unless one counts any miniscule degree of disagreement on any issue as evidence of "sectarian splitting" (which would be silly), the faithful Catholics of the world are surprisingly united.

          • Susan

            >know upon what they must agree and upon what they are free to disagree.

            Can you explain in straight language what they must agree up on and what they are free to disagree with?

            And why?

          • Christian Stillings

            They must agree on those things which the Church clearly teaches as dogmatic truth. The strength of certain statements from, say, encyclicals is up for lively dispute among theologians and canon lawyers, but there's certainly a body of teachings (ie, the nature of the Eucharist) upon which the Church's line is quite clear. Catholics, if the word is to mean anything, must agree with Church teaching and with one another on the nature of the Eucharist.

            However, there are matters upon which perfectly faithful Catholics can disagree and remain in good standing as faithful. For example, Just War Theory provides criteria for determining the morality of an armed conflict, but two Catholics can licitly disagree about whether or not a particular conflict meets the criteria.

            I hope this helps! Please let me know if I'm still being unclear. :-)

          • BenS

            It sounds like you're defining the issue away. Whenever there's a split or a disagreement, you can then say they're not Catholics and thus hold the claim that faithful Catholics are united (because if they're not united, they're not faithful Catholics).

            Lifted from the wikipedia page about religious views on birth control:

            "According to the American Enterprise Institute, 78% of Catholics say they believe the Church should allow Catholics to use birth control, though other polls reflect different numbers."

            So, according that survey at least, Catholics are surprisingly united... but against the teachings of the Church on this issue. Is this a 'miniscule degree of disagreement' or an indication that Catholics aren't quite as united as thought?

          • Michael Murray

            And there are all the various varieties of traditionalist catholics

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

            Peoples Liberation Front for Judea, Judean People's Front, etc

          • BenS

            Wow, there's loads!

            Doesn't matter, though. They're not Scotsmen.

          • Michael Murray

            They're not Scotsmen.

            Funny you should say that .... Check out

            http://www.catholictruthscotland.com

            They are SSPX. You will come back here for a breathe of sanity.

          • BenS

            It repeatedly baffles me how people can get so worked up arguing about the best way to worship a thing that can't even be shown to exist. But then, I don't understand how people can get so rabid about their football team either so maybe it's just me.

          • Michael Murray
          • Christian Stillings

            Ah, but you missed the caveat I put in my own post! :-)

            Catholics (the faithful ones, at least) know...

            I know, this just begs the question of what "faithful" means anyways. (And who am I to say what "faithful" means? How arrogant of me. We'd have a more constructive conversation if everyone got to make up their own definition. (Apologies for the counter-relativist snark.)) If we take for granted the existence of the Church as an entity (which I think is obvious) and that the Church promulgates teachings through things like encyclicals and catechisms and so on, we have Official Catholic Teaching.

            To be "faithfully" Catholic, by the definition I'm working from, is to believe that the Church is what it says it is. That is, it's the divinely-preserved institution God has given us as a means to our redemption, salvation, and right relationship with God and with one another. If someone doesn't believe that, I define him or her as a Protestant, no matter how often he or she attends Mass (or more likely doesn't).

            The majority of people who the American Enterprise Institute polled were Protestant heretics, despite their common attachment to "Catholic" as an identity factor. My point was that "faithful Catholics", who accept in full the teaching of the Church, know what Church teaching binds them to agreement on (ie, the divinity of Christ) and on what they're licitly able to disagree (ie, whether or not a particular circumstance justifies the use of capital punishment).

            One might say that they "major on the majors and minor on the minors", but unlike Protestants, they all agree on what's major and what's minor. So long as they all agree on the majors (that which the Church requires fealty to), they're free to disagree on the minors and all still remain "faithfully Catholic".

          • BenS

            Ah, but you missed the caveat I put in my own post! :-)

            I really didn't and I referenced it a couple of times. In fact, my opening paragraph stated that I think you're using that to define the problem away - which you then proceed to do.

            So, even if someone claims they're a Catholic, believes they're a Catholic, if they disagree with the Church on something you eject them from your concept of Catholicism so you can retain your claim that Catholics are united.

            (Of course, for the purposes of making the numbers seem bigger for political ends, these non-Catholics will be counted as Catholics when it suits. Presumably, the Church will also take any donations they happen to kick up.)

            My point was that "faithful Catholics", who accept in full the teaching of the Church,

            This is why you're defining the problem away. You say that Catholics are surprisingly united and then justify this by claiming anyone who isn't united to your views isn't a Catholic. This is no more tenable than me claiming that all atheists know the secret handshake and when an atheist steps forward who doesn't know the secret handshake I then claim he isn't an atheist regardless of how much he disagrees. You see?

            Anyway, I don't know many Catholics but of the ones I do know, all of them have admitted to using contraceptives when the subject has come up (which seems to be a very often when someone says they're a Catholic but only have one child).

            Are they, or are they not Catholics?

          • Christian Stillings

            I define Catholicism as "assent and obedience to the binding, defined teachings of the Catholic Church". So yes, I do define it in a way that necessitates unity. I don't think that's really in question. The better question would be "what criteria must one meet in order to be Catholic?". If we have different criteria, of course we'll disagree about unity or disunity within "Catholicism" or "the Catholic faith" or whatever other term one may elect for.

            For my own part, I think it's silly to try to work with definitions of "Catholic" where the actual relationship between personal belief and Church teaching is inessential or (in some cases) essentially non-existent. If one can remove a page from the Catechism and still be "Catholic", why not thirty? Why not all of them? How many pages can be removed before the belief stops ceases to be "Catholicism"?

            (Of course, for the purposes of making the numbers seem bigger for political ends, these non-Catholics will be counted as Catholics when it suits. Presumably, the Church will also take any donations they happen to kick up.)

            I could be wrong, but I don't think the Church regularly does its own polling for specific Catholic populations in different locations. A demographic-collecting pollster probably doesn't probe any further than "what, if any, is your religious affiliation?". If the respondent says "Catholic", the pollster takes it down, and the results are tallied at the end. I don't know of polling methods wherein the pollster assesses the respondent's relative doctrinal fitness. Even if the respondent literally couldn't be more of a liberal Episcopalian and hasn't actually attended Mass in years, the poll still counts them as Catholic.

            If I were a Catholic official, I would officially run with the poll numbers. Sure, I could be opportunistic, but I could also just be giving the benefit of the doubt. If someone says they're Catholic, why should I doubt their fidelity to Church teaching with no further evidence?

            If a "pro-choice Catholic" puts money in the offering plate, he or she should full well know that some of it will probably go to anti-abortion advocacy efforts. If he or she wants his or her tithe money to go toward pro-abortion advocacy, he or she should be Episcopalian instead. (Sorry, I apparently still have issues with my heritage.) The Church is responsible for using its funds in the service of its missions in the world. If "dissenting Catholics" want to fund those missions, I don't see how it's inconsistent for the Church to accept their money and use it.

            You say that Catholics are surprisingly united and then justify this by claiming anyone who isn't united to your views isn't a Catholic. This is no more tenable than me claiming that all atheists know the secret handshake and when an atheist steps forward who doesn't know the secret handshake I then claim he isn't an atheist regardless of how much he disagrees.

            I think it really comes down to how we should actually define the terms "Catholic" and "atheist". In considering the definition of "Catholic," it's really a matter of whether or not the term "Catholic" should actually relate to the Catholic Church or the Catholic faith. My own views are irrelevant to the question of how the term should be defined. I think that defining "Catholic" without relationship to the Church or its teachings would be silly. I think that defining "atheist" according to a secret handshake and not a no-God(s)-belief would be equally silly. Unless you have a better definition of "Catholic" which you think should be preferred to mine, I don't understand what the point is of your objection.

            Are they, or are they not Catholics?

            They're in need of better pastoral care or excommunication. They *could* strive to live according to Church teaching and somehow be unaware of parts of it, in which case their culpability for disobedience is much lower. If they're aware of their disobedience to Church teaching and don't turn from it, I certainly wouldn't call them "faithful Catholics", who were the group for whom I claimed unity in the first place.

          • Michael Murray

            You face the age old dilemma of the Catholic Church. Do you want a small group of devoted believers and political impotence or do you want a broad congregation who don't even really understand the theology but with consequent political power? The Church has tended to opt for the latter in my opinion.

          • BenS

            So yes, I do define it in a way that necessitates unity.

            Then it's rather disingenuous to say that Catholics are 'surprisingly united' when you've just admitted that you exclude anyone who isn't united. See what I'm saying?

            I could be wrong, but I don't think the Church regularly does its own polling for specific Catholic populations in different locations.

            But it does publish annual statistics showing, amongst other things, the growth they claim for the Church. If they're not doing any fitness testing for the people they claim sway over then you've got the situation I outlined in my previous post. It's fine to say these people are Catholic when you want to show growth, take their money or demonstrate X% of the populace is Catholic for reasons that suit the church... but these people are dropped like hot potatoes when it comes to proving that all Catholics believe the same thing.

            Unless you have a better definition of "Catholic" which you think should be preferred to mine, I don't understand what the point is of your objection.

            My objection is that your comment:

            "Unless one counts any miniscule degree of disagreement on any issue as evidence of "sectarian splitting" (which would be silly), the faithful Catholics of the world are surprisingly united."

            Is a tautology when you define Catholicism as "assent and obedience to the binding, defined teachings of the Catholic Church".

            Anyone who dissents is, by definition, not a true Scotslic.

            This rather raises the question then of how many real Catholics there actually are. Precious few, I would imagine. If you cut out all the ones who use contraception, have had a divorce, have had sex outside marriage, believe abortion can be acceptable etc etc you'll be left with nowhere near the 1.2 billion the Church claims. Given that it's almost a certainty that those who dissent with one or more of the Church's teachings vastly outnumber those who adhere to every single rule I would like to see you campaign for their excommunication. This would amuse me greatly.

          • Michael Murray

            There are many European countries where the RCC gets is money by a tax on people who are baptised Catholics. No sign of them applying a fitness test to them.

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

            This amazed me when I first read it. Australians hate taxation so much I think if they bought it in here the pews would empty.

          • BenS

            That's more than I thought. I vaguely recalled Germany had one but you could opt out... but it's surprising how many countries have it and you can't opt out. I'm annoyed enough that religions usually get tax exempt status but to actually have to give them money.... well, I might just have to get some magical tomes and a visit from an angel my own self.

          • Max Driffill

            Um, most of Jesus' predictions were quite wrong (you will remember he also predicted that the "Son of Man" would return ushering in the new kingdom within the lifetime of his generation.
            There is also absolutely no evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. Or even that any of the fantastic events claimed in the Gospels occurred.
            Its hard to have sects of Catholicism break off because of the centralized leadership and financial control the of the Church. If Catholic Churches were responsible for themselves and their own maintenance, and not given such strict oversight it seems likely that there would be many more Catholic sects. I imagine if the Women Religious could bolt they would. But even with such centralized control, there has been Schism.

          • Susan

            What do you mean?

          • Christian Stillings

            Could you please be more specific with your question? I'm not sure how to answer presently, haha. What specific part of my answer were you thinking of?

          • Susan

            What if fairness of discussion relies on flying from a place without meaning to a meaningful state? What of it? What is my direction? How do we parse that?

          • Christian Stillings

            I'm not sure of what you mean by "from a place without meaning to a meaningful state". I think it's quite possible to discuss hypothetical systems and discuss whether or not there are contradictions within any particular system. The veracity of the system isn't relevant to our ability to assess it and look for contradictions. If you find any part of Catholic teaching which seems to necessarily contradict another part, I'm interested to hear about it.

          • Susan

            Sorry Christian. Just a thought I was having. There's a point in there but it needs editing.

            By "What do you mean?" I meant why would you want to get to a castle in the sky at all? You must mean it metaphorically.

            So, what do you mean by "castle in the sky"?

          • Christian Stillings

            I was using the term "Castle in the Sky" in response to Q. Quine, who used it to refer to a hypothesis whose relationship to reality hasn't yet been established.

          • ... who used it to refer to a hypothesis whose relationship to reality hasn't yet been established.

            He got that.

          • Christian Stillings

            Susan's a he? Oh no, it's Mrs. Doubtfire!

          • Susan's a he? Oh no, it's Mrs. Doubtfire!

            No, I was telling Susan that you got it. Perhaps you did not get that.

          • Susan

            >No, I was telling Susan that you got it.

            I got that too. :-)

          • Christian Stillings

            Wait. Q., to whom were you referring when you said "he got that"?

          • Michael Murray

            Ah hang on. I thought Protestants split off from Catholics. If you are going to define a split as only a small split then yes there have only been small splits. In which can all I can say is SSPX.

          • Christian Stillings

            Haha, maybe we'll have to qualify "Catholics" as "those who have always believed in, do believe in, and will evermore believe in the existence of the Papacy (plus all the other stuff)" I'm not well-versed in counter-sedevacantist apologetics, but I think the burden is on them in the first place to demonstrate that "heresy" actually, y'know, happened at Vatican II.

          • Michael Murray

            You should hang out for awhile at

            http://www.catholictruthscotland.com

            They will like you even less than they liked us I think. That's where I learnt about SSPX. For awhile I was confused with SSPS the statistics computational package.

          • severalspeciesof

            "More seriously, if we stipulate (for the sake of discussion) that
            the Catholic faith is true, magisterial proclamations about
            canonization are Divinely preserved from error and can therefore be
            trusted absolutely."

            That is one HUGE 'if'. Consider replacing 'Catholic' with any other faith and you'll see why...

          • Christian Stillings

            I'm not discussing the nature of the "if", so I'm not sure that your comment is relevant. We're discussing the soundness of the system, not its relation to reality per se, so the nature of the "if" isn't really germane at present.

          • Susan

            My goodness Christian.

            You don't have a problem with that?

          • Christian Stillings

            I personally find the "if" to be very important, but it's not what's being discussed at present. I'm interested in sorting through present issues of internal consistency as well as possible before moving onto the "if" issue, and I don't think I'll get to it this evening. :-P

          • severalspeciesof

            True, but we all know where the system is being directed toward, that of 'real life'. Otherwise we're just yapping words for the sake of yapping words... a true castle in the sky as Quine puts it...

          • Christian Stillings

            But "yapping for the sake of it" can be a valid endeavor in the examination of an abstract system, which is what the discussion was about. I don't mean to sound snappish, but please don't try to take my argument further than I've tried to take it, and please allow me to address issues one at a time. Yes, if Catholicism is internally consistent, it has the capacity to be true. That's another conversation which I'm very interested in. But "Catholicism is true" is not what I'm arguing now. I don't think we're ever going to get anywhere worthwhile if we rush past questions before we've settled their answers as well as possible.

            My questions still stand: does anyone claim to present any inconsistency in Catholic theology? If so, what is it?

          • Michael Murray

            Yes it's standard Catholic sophistry. It's like the advertisement on the top RHS of this site "IF CATHOLICISM IS TRUE THEN WHAT". I keep thinking of some guy walking up to an attractive women in a bar and saying "Lets say, for the sake of discussion, you find me really attractive. Then what ... " I wonder what follows ?

          • Susan

            Women go crazy for that.

          • Christian Stillings

            I don't see how the charge of sophistry is relevant. We're discussing the internal consistency of the system, which doesn't relate to the "if" factor. If I said "please assume that Catholicism is true and proceed onward with your life," I agree that it would be an issue. But I haven't asked anyone to do that, so I don't see what the issue is.

          • Michael Murray

            OK I'll retract the accusation that you are doing it. Apologies. But I'll persist in my belief that it's a wearingly common approach.

          • severalspeciesof

            I think he means 'guess with certainty'?

          • Christian:

            I don't think it's a trick question at all

            Yes, that was my point.

            You seemed to say "the lack of sufficient evidence for Christianity (in my assessment) does demonstrate that the beliefs are probably false."

            No, I’m saying that the existence of faith within Christianity (which we’ve seen to correlate with religions that are false) is an indicator that Christianity is false as well.

            a lack of evidence shouldn't be allowed to count as an argument against (or for) the veracity of a claim.

            I’m just talking about the existence of faith.

            I don't know what specific belief systems you're thinking of, but with some exceptions (thinking of Mormonism's interesting historical claims), most faith-celebrating belief systems have at least the capacity to be true.

            Why make this hard?

            Mormonism demands faith. Is its claims true? I assume you don’t think so. If we’re on the same page, let’s continue and look for both faith and accuracy (by your estimation) in other religions of the world—Sikhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, and all their sects. The Roman pantheon, Greek pantheon, Teutonic pantheon, Norse pantheon. And so on through all the religions. Do we see faith + falsehood connected? If so, then you know what I’m talking about.

            If you can't demonstrate these belief systems to be false, your first premise fails.

            ?? I’m not trying to demonstrate that they’re false; I’m asking if you think they’re false!

          • Christian Stillings

            I would put Mormonism and Catholicism on different pages, though. Am I biased? Sure, probably. But at least the historical claims behind the Catholic faith could plausibly be true, which is another matter in Mormonism. Catholic claims don't involve, for example, the existence of animals in locations where we can pretty well know that they didn't exist at the time. To the best of my knowledge, all the animals mentioned in the Gospel accounts did actually exist in Judea at the time.

            ?? I’m not trying to demonstrate that they’re false; I’m asking if you think they’re false!

            Sure, I think they're false, but as we've been establishing, my personal thoughts don't necessarily map to the actual reality. Neither of our beliefs in the falsehoods of these systems actually impacts whether or not they're true. Therefore, the first premise is still not-yet-justified.

          • Christian:

            at least the historical claims behind the Catholic faith could plausibly be true, which is another matter in Mormonism.

            I agree, but I don’t think that’s a mark in favor of your position. Mormonism makes testable claims. Some have been tested and found to be wrong. Catholicism doesn’t make testable claims.

            Well, it does to some extent—it claims that a man rose from the dead and we all know that that’s nonsense—but that’s not my point. My point is that the Catholic claims are largely untestable.

            Untestable (Catholicism) is no worse than tested and found wrong (Mormonism).

            as we've been establishing, my personal thoughts don't necessarily map to the actual reality.

            Yes, and that’s not what I’m talking about, so don't bring it up again. I’m not sure if I’m not explaining this well, or if you aren’t reading closely, or if you’re playing games here, but I’m getting a little tired of repeating myself.

            I’m not talking about actuality, I’m talking about what you think. That’s pretty easy for you to access, right? If you examine a thousand religions, all of which you conclude are false and most or all of which use faith to some extent, then what do you make of a new candidate religion about which you know only that faith is celebrated?

          • Christian Stillings

            Untestable (Catholicism) is no worse than tested and found wrong (Mormonism).

            I disagree. Catholicism, unlike Mormonism, retains the ability to be true. Even if all the "evidence" for it goes nowhere, it still *could* be true. Even if a piece of "evidence" for Mormonism was found, we'd still disregard it because it's been effectively falsified.

            If you examine a thousand religions, all of which you conclude are false and most or all of which use faith to some extent, then what do you make of a new candidate religion about which you know only that
            faith is celebrated?

            I don't think much of it, but I allow for the possibility that it's true. My only argument is that your point (1) isn't very strong if it's not demonstrated that many of them are false. Such a demonstration would, I think, need to go beyond what I personally think of them and access a more rigorous means of disproof. If that's not available, so be it.

          • Christian:

            Catholicism, unlike Mormonism, retains the ability to be true.

            I’m trying to invent a crazy supernatural claim. Help me evaluate my candidates.

            1. “Magical pixies live on a planet around Alpha Centauri.”

            2. “Magical pixies live on the moon.”

            The problem with 2 is that, since pixies supposedly interact with people on earth, they probably breathe oxygen. Yes, there could be underground pixie cities on the moon, but now we’re getting silly. The lack of oxygen on the moon is evidence against pixies on the moon.

            I’m going with 1 because that’s unfalsifiable.

            Have I made my claim more believable because it’s out of reach of your ability to falsify it?

            Even if all the "evidence" for it goes nowhere, it still *could* be true.

            Now that’s a powerful selling point! Sign me up for that religion.

            Not.

            Even if a piece of "evidence" for Mormonism was found, we'd still disregard it because it's been effectively falsified.

            Let’s not count Mormonism out quite yet. I’m sure you agree with me that if you raised your points about falsified Book of Mormon claims to a Mormon, you wouldn’t cause him to reject his religion. Mormons have had a long, long time to whip up rationalizations.

            I don't think much of it, but I allow for the possibility that it's true.

            Once again we agree, and once again you disregard the challenge I raise. You obviously don’t want to talk about it.

          • Counter to your statement which I originally quoted, whether or not a belief is in fact true or false is not affected by the quantity of relevant evidence for or against it.

            Yes, but our beliefs about the truth of a proposition, are. I will give you an example. Here is a presentation by the historian, Richard Carrier, in which he specifically addresses the question of how the quality of evidence impacts our beliefs. He presents this in the context of his theory of the mythical beginnings of Christianity, which I am willing to listen to, but am not on-board with at this time.

  • articulett

    But there are still Jews. Why are there still Jews if these were the people who witnessed all this miraculous stuff goiing on? Were they unimpressed? Did they somehow not know of it? Or was the bigger legendy stuff added to the story many years after they supposedly occurred?

  • Ben

    Absolutely amazing that Longenecker is saying the fact that the naysayers REPORTED IN THE GOSPELS don't have convincing arguments against Jesus's powers proves that nobody at the time had any convincing arguments.

    I also love how he says it's unfair to assume that Jesus didn't have the power of prophecy in assessing the dating of the Gospels in order to assess how credible we find the claims of Jesus's miraculous powers.

    Like I said, the psychiatrists in Scientology recruiting films don't have convincing arguments against Hubbard's miracle cures, so by Longenecker's argument, there can't have been any effective critics of Dianetics in Hubbard's lifetime.

    Only somebody who is already convinced that the Gospels are uniquely believable documents would find any of this at all worthwhile.

    If the Gospels went through such intensive criticism while they were being passed around orally for 20 or 30 or 40 years, then why did nobody correct the many inconsistencies between them? Is it possible that, like all humans ever, the early Christians tended to ignore or rationalise away criticisms that didn't fit the worldview they were heavily invested in?

    Also, even 20 years of verbal repetition is surely enough for plenty of embroidery and exaggeration. Look at what the 9/11 Truthers have come up with after only 10 years. They don't seem to be that bothered by what the naysayers think. And this is in the face of actual video evidence.

  • Hey, everyone:

    I've responded to Dwight's response here:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2013/05/response-to-attack-on-my-naysayer-argument

    I haven't read or participated in the comments on this post but plan to do so shortly.

  • primenumbers

    Um, you go against scholarship here when you suggest: "The only reason for this dating is the modernist scholar's assumption that Jesus could not have prophesied the destruction of the Jerusalem temple" - yet you attempt to use scholarship when it suits your argument here: "The Acts of the Apostles is acknowledged by most scholars as a reliable historical record." - which is it? Is scholarship accepted or rejected?

    Fact is, we really don't know when the Gospels were written. What we have are arguments that attempt to narrow down the possible dates somewhat. When arguing historicity, you cannot just assume historicity for Acts as you do. When arguing for historicity you cannot argue prophecy, because that pre-supposes the truth of your religious claims that you're basing on a historical argument.

    "Furthermore, we’re saying that there were naysayers, but that their arguments didn’t hold up" - naysayers arguments wouldn't be listened to by believers any more than any rational argument today would be listened to by a believer. I don't know if you try to discus religious topics with believers much, but presenting facts and evidence just doesn't work very well. Try talking to a different believer than your own religion - a Mormon for example and see how far you get explaining how Joseph Smith was a fraudster and con-man, and that those gold tablets were made up.

    What you need to address is the psychology of belief, and how cognitive biases work. Go read "Mistakes were made (but not by me)" which explains these cognitive biases quite thoroughly and with some very good examples, and then you should understand why naysayer would be ignored even if what they were saying were objectively verifiable fact, and that the existence of naysayers would probably strengthen early Christian belief rather than diminish it.

  • rationalobservations?

    You write under the apparent assumption that some evidence exists that supports the legends of Jesus that first appeared in the 4th century, Dwight?

    Christians are often baffled how atheists could deny the existence of their (originally Canaanite) god, "Jehovah/Yahweh" and their (Roman) god-man/"messiah" "Yeshu/Jesus", but they shouldn’t be. Christians deny thousands of the same gods that atheists deny. Atheists just deny one more ridiculously unconvincing god and one more mythical god-man (among many hundreds of thousands of very similar undetectable and imaginary gods, goddesses and god-men) than Christians.

    Many join those christians who fail to justify their enthrallment to their specific brand of religion by pointing out that the non-existence of any of the gods cannot be proved.

    If inability to prove the non-existence of deities is enough for you to believe in them., you personally, Dwight - must be very busy worshiping Amun-Ra, Apollo/Zeus, Quetzalcoatl, Pratibhanapratisamvit, Buddhist goddess of context analysis.and Acat, Mayan god of tattoo artists. and Tsa’qamae, north american god of salmon migration - and many thousands of other undetectable hypothetical entities among which "Yahweh" and "Jesus" remain merely mythical and of which no one ever provides proof or reason of (or for) existence and therefore non-existence may be assumed by default.

    All the evidence indicates that the christian religion was cobbled together in the 4th century from mainly "pagan" components and exclusively "pagan" feast days and festivals.

    The oldest bibles (Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus) appeared after the Roman religion they called "christianity" was cobbled together from mostly pagan components and exclusively pagan feast days and festivals in the 4th century CE. The content of both those human written books is significantly different to the content of later human written editions of the diverse and different, internally contradictory bibles that followed.
    There are many thousands of gods, goddesses and god-men / "messiahs" and no evidence of (or reason for) the existence of any of them.
    The burden of proof and the onus of convincing the rest of us of the validity of the "proof" is always upon the religionists and the rest of the rapidly declining membership of fraudulent religions.

    There is no evidence of Jesus, or any of the centuries later written legends of Jesus; that originates from within the 1st century.
    No text.
    No artifact.
    No inscription.
    No cross used as a symbol of a messianic cult.
    No archaeological inscription.
    Not even a trace of a 1st century "City of Nazareth" in any map or text or beneath the modern Jesus theme park town of "Nazareth" that was founded in the 4th century.

    The world's oldest (4th century founded) politico-corporate institution of the Roman religion they called "christianity" agrees:

    "Our documentary sources of knowledge about the origins of Christianity and its earliest development are chiefly the New Testament Scriptures, the authenticity of which we must, to a great extent, take for granted."
    (Catholic Encyclopedia, Farley ed., vol. iii, p. 712)

    So now tell me (and the growing legion of the happy, peaceful and humanitarian godless) about "Jesus" through authenticated historical evidence and without any reference to the confused and internally contradictory mythology within any of the many diverse and different versions of human authored bibles written centuries after the time in which their tales are backdated and set.