Monday, June 30, 2008

Where Did We Come From?

My daughter (she's 5) today asked me if I believed in God, and when I said I didn't know she said that there must be a God, otherwise where did we come from? I said that I came from my Mom, just as she did. "But where did the first person come from?" That's a pretty good question. I explained that some people do think God did make us just as we are. But others think it's a little bit different..

I told her that she's a little bit different from her Mom, and her Mom is a little different from Grandma. And Grandma is a little different from Great Grandma, and so on. If you went back, back, back to the long ago grandma she might look a little bit like an animal. And if you went further back than that, it might look a little like a fish. And if you went way back it might look sort of like a tiny little life that was so small we couldn't even see. She thought that was very interesting, and I asked her if she'd like to see a video that showed this, and she said yes. So I showed her this video below. She watched it all very intently, as did I. I had been looking for a video that showed the entire process of change for humans from the very beginning, and this did it. Have a look.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I'm In the Wrong Business

I was struck by an image of Joyce Meyer's family compound recently shown over at DC by Harry McCall. Here it is.

I think it's useful to actually see images of the lifestyle of some of these Christians. This gives us some perspective when we hear their impassioned pleas for money. So I thought I'd browse around and see what I could come up with.

Apparently televangelists are big fans of the private jet. Copeland's is representative, though I could post others. This one cost only $20 million, so he bought a couple. One for himself, another for the wife. I'd seen somewhere that he'd recently bought a third, but I'm not certain on that.

With that many private jets I guess you'd need your own private air strip. Here's an image of the Copeland residence from Google Maps.

Benny Hinn is of course well known for his extravagent lifestyle. This is perhaps partly to do the fact that mainstream media has exposed him a little. He stays in 5000 sq ft hotel rooms while on travel at a cost of over $10K per night. Just staggering. I couldn't find a good image of his home, so this is a screen shot from the youtube clip linked to above. It's worth $10 million. It's a 7 bedroom, 8 bathroom estate on the Pacific coast with 7000 sq ft of living space.

The founders of the Trinity Broadcasting Network are Paul and Jan Crouch. They get by in the Harbor Ridge Mansion. Below is the leaflet from the realtor.

Then there's Creflo Dollar, who is not ashamed to flaunt his lavish lifestlye. Images of his estate are below.

Oh, but that's just crazy Pentecostals. Informed apologists would never fall for such things, right? Guess again. I continue to get impassioned mailings from Hanegraaff imploring me to send cash. "We need $250K pronto to maintain ourselves in the black." Well, maybe if CRI wasn't buying Hank a $60,000 Lexus, or if they weren't paying him $250K or his wife an additional approximately $100K, or maybe if he scaled back a bit and didn't live in a private gated golfing community things might be in better shape.
But why scale back. The faithful keep writing checks. It's hard to turn that money down.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Forget About My Bad Arguments

Mark Shea is a Roman Catholic apologist that is sometimes fun to read. I interacted with him sometimes as a Protestant and wrote a critical review of his book at amazon (11/9/99). He has a bit of an acerbic style not unlike that of J.P. Holding. It's probably irritating to those he directs it to, but interesting for an outsider to read.

Anyway, he recently wrote an article about how some apologist types are maybe a little weird and misguided. The focus unfortunately is more about an apologist looking to bludgeon his opponent whereas the focus would preferably be elsewhere. And it's unhealthy to focus on apologetics to the exclusion of so many other wonderful things that should be experienced in life, like smelling the flowers or commenting on H.P. Lovecraft.

Sounds fine. But I do take exception to one thing. He mentions a letter he got from a Roman Catholic reader that was bothered by numerous blunders made by Roman Catholic apologists in defense of the faith that were being exposed by a Protestant. He mentioned one that Shea himself had been guilty of regarding Jerome.

Shea's response did graciously concede the error, but he continued by saying that the letter writer has a wrong headed approach. He needs to recognize that apologists are not protected with the charism of infallibility as the church is. Only the Church has that. The faith is not toppled by the fact that he made a mistake as an apologist. Don't look to the apologist. Look to the infallible Church.

But wait a second. How do I know there is an infallible church? To my mind the only valid reason is that the evidence suggests that there is. And who is it that helps explain to me that the evidence points towards the infallible church? Isn't it the Roman Catholic apologist? I'm not to be bothered when I see repeated critical mistakes from such people?

Imagine I'm a lawyer defending a client in a murder trial. A murder occurs in Detroit and in defense I say that my client was in Los Angeles at the time. But the prosecution presents credit card receipts proving that my client was in Detroit. What would you expect the jury to think? The fact that my client was in Detroit is not proof that he's a murderer. But when I, as the advocate of my client, repeatedly make use of bad arguments in defense of my client the jury is naturally going to conclude that since I don't have good replies to the claims of the prosecution my client is probably guilty. Why? Because this is how rational people evaluate claims.

"Don't look to my bad arguments," Shea would say. "Look to the innocence of my client." But your client's innocence is the very thing you need to show. I cannot assume your conclusion.

One mistake by an apologist is not proof that the apologist's overall position is wrong. Advocates on all sides make mistakes. But Shea seems to be saying that it is never rational to doubt a conclusion when numerous well known advocates of that conclusion make critical mistakes. I think such occurrences would very rationally lead to doubt.

Interestingly as my review at amazon indicates, Shea was initially pushed out of Protestantism because his fellow church goers were unable to give him valid reasons for accepting the particular Protestant canon of Scripture. So for him (if I remember right) rather than consulting well known advocates of the Protestant position, he began to make his move toward Roman Catholicism due to the poor defenses of ignorant lay Protestants. Yet now he seems to have a problem with a Roman Catholic that is troubled by bad arguments from well informed apologists. His criticisms seem to apply to himself as a Protestant much more than they apply to his Roman Catholic questioner today.

Monday, June 23, 2008


The following statements are based on actual conversations I've had. I indicate who I am speaking with in bold.

Liberal-All politicians can do is lie. They just tell people what they want to hear. I'm voting for Obama because he'll end the war.

Catholic Apologist-Scripture is very confusing as the multiplicity of Protestant denominations proves. That's why we need a Pope and Magisterium to infallibly interpret it for us. Thankfully Jesus provided for us an infallible Pope and Magisterium to do just that. How do I know this? Mt 16:18 clearly teaches this point.

Protestant Apologist-Roman Catholics are crazy. The bible is clear. Jesus had siblings. They must have hardened hearts. That's why they don't accept the plain teaching of Scripture. And Jesus never taught that he would return a second time within a generation.

Typical Conservative-WWI (20 million dead) WWII (72 million dead) the Korean War (2 million dead) Vietnam (4 million dead) the Gulf War (maybe 100,000 dead), and Operation Iraqi Freedom (maybe 100,000 dead so far) were all just wars. Islam is a violent religion, and the thought of weapons in the hands of such people is frightening.

Neocon-The government that governs least governs best. Best to get government out of the way and let people work out their own problems than to bring in the heavy hand of government and use force. Meanwhile, let's go overseas and use our government to force our type of living on foreign countries.

Everybody-The government always lies to get us into war. FDR probably knew before hand about Pearl Harbor. Lyndon Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin. Anybody that says 9/11 was a conspiracy is a nut job. (Note, I do not think 9/11 was an inside job, but I do think it odd that people are considered lunatics for suspecting that it was).

Liberal Atheist-(With regards to free speech and war)-The Constitution is clear. I can publish any cartoon of Mohamed I want. And Bush shouldn't go to war without a declaration. That's what the founders intended. Why does Bush think he can ignore the Constitution? (With regards to abortion)-The Constitution is a living document. You want to make us stick with this antiquated text? A right to an abortion is in the 4th amendment if you allow some evolution.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Kicking Old Ladies in the Face for Jesus

Apparently this is the latest Christian revival location, like the Brownsville revival or the Toronto blessing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My First Rebuttal

William Lane Craig has a standard opening statement used when he debates the resurrection of Jesus that he varies slightly from opponent to opponent. Just for fun I thought I’d write out how I’d reply. I used his debates with Robert Price and Bart Ehrman as a basis for this post.

Dr. Craig argues that there are 4 facts agreed upon by the majority of NT scholars that must be explained by any adequate historical hypothesis. He further argues that the best explanation of these facts is his claim of resurrection.

Dr. Craig appeals to evidence and the consensus of scholarship to establish these facts. Evidential appeals are valid, but the appeal to consensus is not. Christian apologist Gary Habermas has examined every piece of scholarly information he could find on this subject written in English, French, and German from 1975 onwards. He reports that 75% of these scholars do believe that the tomb was found empty. But he further reports that over half of these scholars likewise believe that the resurrection did in fact occur. It is not surprising that believing Christians are more likely to become NT scholars. Churches encourage and financially support promising believers that are interested in going to a seminary. I know because I did the same as a Christian. I supported one such person that today is a professor at a Christian university. If you are an atheist and you want to study the Bible you shouldn’t expect similar support. The fact that scholars, most of whom are believing Christians, assent to such statements as the ones Dr. Craig has made, simply doesn’t make any difference to me. Nor would it matter to me if the majority of atheist scholars rejected these statements. The evidence is what matters.

I don’t think the evidence presented is enough to establish any of the 4 facts that Dr. Craig mentioned. I will take them in turn.

The first fact is that after the crucifixion Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimeathea. We know this because Mt, Mk, Lk, Jn, and Paul all say it. It’s part of Mark’s source material, which is dated within 7 years of the crucifixion. Paul quotes a creed that likewise is rooted to material that dates within a few years of the crucifixion. It’s contained in the sources for Mt, Lk, and Jn as well as extra-biblical gospels like the Gospel of Peter. Additionally, Joseph of Arimathea, as a member of the Jewish court that convicted Jesus, is an unlikely invention given early Christian hostility to Jews.

But the issue is not the number of sources. The issue is the quality of those sources. The sources Dr. Craig cites also assert that Jesus cast out of demons to cure illness, that he turned water into wine, that many corpses resurrected simultaneously, that Jesus could teleport, disappear, and float up to the sky. Some sources (Mt, Lk) borrow from others (Mk) and when they do so they often improve on the previous story, which suggests we’re not dealing with unbiased reporting, but attempts to one up one another. We don’t really know for sure that Mark had source material, or that the other gospel authors did. Some scholars speculate that there was, but there may not have been. Perhaps Matthew and Luke didn’t have sources beyond Q and Mark, so they just made things up. We don’t really know, so we can’t just assume they did and call them independent sources, much less quality independent sources.

Dr. Craig says that some of this material is dated very close to the crucifixion event itself. But if the crucifixion happened we don’t really know when. Was it in 100 BC as per Epiphanius, before 5 BC as per Jospehus record of when James died combined with Epiphanius claim of James’ age (96), was it at 21 CE as per the Acts of Pilate, 26-27 CE as per Tertullian, under Claudius at the age of 50 as per Ireanaeus, who reports that he got this information directly from those that knew the disciples? Even Mt and Lk can’t agree on when Jesus was born, so do we really know when he died? These claims are made by those that simply grant all kinds of claims contained in the NT about when Jesus was killed. These are claims I cannot grant, especially in light of the fact that these texts are not the best quality as I mentioned above.

Is Joseph of Arimathea an unlikely invention due to Christian hostility toward Jews? I don’t see why. If I wrote a novel that was historical fiction about the Nazis and I included a character that was a Nazi but turned out to be sympathetic to my position, I don’t know why that would need to be considered unusual or would suggest that my fictive tale was in fact historical since I don’t like Nazis.

Dr. Craig’s second supposed fact is the discovery of the empty tomb. He says that many sources mention it. But I already pointed out that he hasn’t argued that these sources are reliable. He needs to explain why we shouldn’t conclude what we normally conclude about supposed historical books that claim supernatural events or that appear to modify a story to improve on it. He further says that since women are reported as the first to discover the tomb, this makes the claim likely true because that would be otherwise embarrassing. Since women’s testimony was regarded as less reliable than that of a man, then if you were inventing the story you’d sooner report men as the first to discover the tomb. He points out that the earliest Jewish polemics against the tomb presuppose that it is empty (you stole the body). Further it is simple and lacks legendary embellishment.

The argument that women discovered the tomb presupposes that Mark intends to write a persuasive narrative. If in fact he is writing what he knows to be fiction and if he doesn’t mind if his readers take his gospel to be fictive, then there is no problem. C.S. Lewis in writing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, reports that two children were the first to discover that Aslan was raised. Children are not the most reliable witnesses. But Lewis is not concerned because he is writing fiction. There are a number of good reasons for thinking that Mark is likewise writing fiction.

Regarding the earliest Jewish response, this is nothing but tit for tat polemics. Suppose a young Jew runs home and tells his father a few decades after the events “Hey, I just heard this story about a guy named Jesus that rose from the dead and his tomb was empty.” The father might quickly rebuff the claim with “Oh, they probably just stole the body.” Did the father run out and check on the tomb decades after the events? Did he even know where the tomb was? Unlikely. He’s just offering a plausible alternative explanation to an outlandish assertion that he has heard.

The fact that a story lacks legendary embellishment is not a proof that it is historical. There’s nothing implausible about Huck Finn running away from home by floating down the river with a slave, but this doesn’t make it true.

The third supposed fact is that people had post mortem appearances of Jesus. The evidence is Paul’s claims in I Cor 15 and the claims of the Gospels. Again, the gospels need to be shown to be reliable before we can trust the reporting and I’ve shown that they are not. As to Paul’s claims, appearances to groups of people are not all that unusual. My Pentecostal family is familiar with these type of events as are the reports of visions of Mary at Lourdes and Fatima. In addition these sections of I Cor 15 show evidence of being a later interpolation. Paul’s claim that the gospel he received from the head apostles blatantly contradicts his claim in Gal 1 that no human agency gave him the gospel, but in fact he got it by revelation. The “passing on of traditions” phrase is anachronistic. Paul is a pioneer missionary of a brand new religion. The thought that he’s passing on traditions and creedal formula suggest we are at a later stage of development, as do the lists of the apostles which appear to be an attempt to bring together rival factions of Christianity, another Catholicizing tendency. The text may have been original, but it’s not certain. We have no manuscripts that are early enough to settle the question.

The fourth supposed fact is that the disciples came to believe that Jesus was raised. But Dr. Craig did not claim that these disciples believed that Jesus rose in the exact same sense that he does. Did they believe Jesus was physically raised, and that he rose with the same body he died with as Dr. Craig believes? We don’t know that. We know that the earliest Christians held a variety of views about what the resurrected body was like. Some were docetists, claiming that Christ was never physically present but only had the appearance of flesh. Some Gnostics likewise thought Christ had never come in the flesh. A skeptic has no difficulty explaining that some people, such as the apostles, really believed that Christ rose in some sense.

Dr Craig says Jewish beliefs preclude anyone from believing that a particular resurrection could occur prior to the general resurrection. But the NT records that Herod believed Jesus was the resurrected John the Baptist, and likewise many of those that followed Jesus believed the same thing.

Finally Dr Craig asserts that the best explanation of these facts is a miraculous resurrection. He’s wrong about the four facts and he’s wrong to say that a miracle is the best explanation. Even if the 4 facts were true, and even if it were recorded by eyewitnesses (which it wasn’t) and even if it were written within a couple of years of the events rather than several decades and even if it were written in a scientific era rather than a superstitious one, it still should not be accepted. This is because we all know from experience that miraculous claims are extraordinarily unlikely. So to establish them we likewise need an extraordinary amount of evidence.

But Dr. Craig will say that he agrees. He’ll say that of course it’s unlikely that Christ was raised NATURALLY. But there’s nothing unlikely about God raising Christ supernaturally. But that’s not true. If I told you that I arrived here tonight via intergalactic spaceship, you’d dismiss my claim. Does my claim become more probable if I add that God was involved? With or without God we have no experience of such a thing, so we regard it as extremely unlikely.

The Snicker Fallacy

Has anyone else ever noticed this odd habit William Lane Craig has during his debates to express what you might describe as muted laughter or a snicker? Is this an intentional effort to make his opponents look absurd? The last 3 debates I've listened to from Craig I took a moment to note when I thought I was sensing this muted laughter, or even outright laughter, directed towards his opponents and I created an audio file with those sections which you can download here. In some cases it is subtle, but I think it's there. These are the debates with Crossan, Ehrman, and Price.

Craig also often uses quotes from scholars expressing what are often bare assertions that Craig's opponents' arguments are absurd. It's unfortunate that much of what Craig offers really is more of an attack directed at his opponent rather than arguments against his opponents' views. Craig of course also makes real arguments, but why the need for the fallacious stuff that really doesn't add much, and probably makes his opponents feel like they are under attack.

But then it's probably an effective technique if the goal is to help build the confidence of Christians that may be feeling like their belief system is a little tenuous.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Jason Engwer and his Ridiculous Opponents

I see Jason Engwer is still at it over at Triablogue. Some poor guy by the name of Lyosha07 is the target recently. Boy, reading those comments takes me back. His insults today are almost identical to the insults he'd routinely direct towards me, John Loftus, Matthew Green, and many others. In one post that contained many insults towards me he explained that he really didn't see these as a fallacy because for him "ad hominem" is defined differently. I never quite grasped that.

Just for fun I thought I'd click on his name below his post to bring up some of his most recent entries. I decided to comb through some exchanges he's had with others recently just to get a flavor for the tone. About 20 posts came up, some of which involved him disputing with people that he disagreed with. It didn't take long to extract these interesting statements. I just did keyword searches for words such as "ridiculous," "absurd," "ignorant," and such like.

It's interesting that Engwer is often critical of his opponents for leaving the discussion. I wonder why these "ignorant, illiterate, irrational, absurd, careless, dishonest" skeptics don't stick around and spend more time with Jason?

Thread 1

You don't seem to be giving your arguments much thought before you post them.

Thread 2

As bad as Lyosha07's latest post is, it's at least more substantive than most of what he writes, though that isn't saying much.

What is the criticism of "talking snakes and plants" supposed to prove, then? The Biblical illiteracy and irrationality of the skeptic?

Thread 3

You've been corrected on this point more than once. You're either careless or dishonest.

You left the discussion after I responded to your "interactions".

The concept that I would need to cite a creed in order to define my terms is ridiculous.

The idea that the means of attaining justification is a "minor" issue is ridiculous.

Your claim that I only gave you "mere phrases", without any information defining those phrases, is absurd.

Thread 4

Historical Number Cruncher is a poor communicator. It's often difficult to determine what he's trying to say. I suspect that he hasn't done much research and hasn't given these issues much thought.

Thread 5

The idea that Jesus would commend a tax collector who had no faith is ridiculous, whereas the concept that the tax collector wouldn't have been baptized in a Jewish temple isn't.

You don't know much about Evangelical theology, do you?

Your response above is another illustration of why I refer to "Roman Catholic desperation".

Again, you don't seem to know much about Evangelical theology.

You've ignored much of what I said, and your assumption that the tax collector had already been justified earlier isn't suggested by the text or context.

Once again, you've shown your ignorance of Evangelical theology.

But it is absurd to read the concept into Luke 18 when nothing suggests it.

As I said before, the idea that Jesus was commending a tax collector who had no faith is ridiculous (Hebrews 11:6).

But it would be ridiculous to argue that all of these passages are exceptions to a rule.

Thread 6

Readers ought to note that Jaguk needs to have these things explained to him. What does that suggest about his level of discernment and how much effort he's given to thinking through his arguments?

The concept that God would raise people from the dead, but leave them with no clothing or deteriorated clothing, is ridiculous.

To act as if we should ignore what we know about ancient Jewish views of resuscitations and resurrections, what ancient Jews thought of public nudity, etc. from the larger context in which Matthew was writing, but instead must isolate Matthew 27 from that context, is an absurd method of interpretation that would lead to many ridiculous conclusions in other areas of human communication if you were to apply your reasoning consistently. But you aren't consistent.

I would say that your concept that God sends these people into first-century Israel in the nude is what's ridiculous.

Thread 7

Jimmy keeps repeating bad arguments that have already been refuted:

The idea that Josephus can't be trusted to tell us about the canon of the Judaism he witnessed and that others he consulted had witnessed, because he wasn't a Christian, is absurd.

If you're so ignorant of the subject as to be unfamiliar with Josephus' comments against the Apocrypha (much as you didn't know that Jerome and Rufinus included Esther in the canon), then shouldn't you first familiarize yourself with that sort of information? Why are you posting on these issues you know so little about?

You don't seem to have much familiarity with the issues involved.

Thread 8

When so many other Jewish sources also reject the Apocryphal books, along with many Christian sources, the suggestion that Josephus was something like a first-century equivalent of Mormonism is ridiculous.

The idea that Josephus can't be trusted to tell us about the canon of the Judaism he witnessed and that others he consulted had witnessed, because he wasn't a Christian, is absurd.

For you to act as though I hadn't mentioned these things before is absurd.

And your claim that "The fact we can both cite sources shows there wasn't [a canon]" is ridiculous.

That's not the issue, and the fact that you keep trying to make it the issue, even after being corrected so many times, doesn't reflect well on you.

And your claim that Josephus doesn't exclude the Apocrypha is absurd. It's reminiscent of your ridiculous claim that Jerome and Rufinus excluded Esther, even though both men include Esther. Do you consult these sources before you make claims about them?

Are you suggesting that the evidence doesn't favor either conclusion? If so, that's a ridiculous position to take.

Asking for a list from somebody like Aquila or Josephus, as if only a list would be relevant to this discussion, is ridiculous, and you've been corrected on this issue repeatedly.

For you to ignore those comments made by Josephus, then tell us what impression you get from the phrase "exact succession", is ridiculous.

For you to now act as though you've been asking for documentation on these issues, but wasn't given any, is ridiculous.

Again, how could you make such a ridiculous comment if you had read the passage in Josephus?