Looking for smart theists for reasonable discussion/debate

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Re: Looking for smart theists for reasonable discussion/deba

Postby tonyenglish7 » Sat Jan 01, 2011 3:07 pm


Therefore, I conclude that the "authentic" Pauline letters provide us with substantial evidence that Jesus was an historical figure who was able to convince a small cult following that he was God incarnate and was able to perform miracles such as rising from the dead.

Well stated and true!

Now, the question is, what is the best explanation for the events these men believed in? If you reject miracles a priori, than all kinds of absurd crazy theories come to life. But if you include with all the other possible explanations, the possibility that God could have done miracles and that God was working in some manner. Than the most plausible, least ad hoc, most powerful explanation in scope of all the facts, is these miracles did indeed happen and Jesus really did rise from the dead.

The existence of God is the question first, and I think there is adequate evidence through the moral, cosmological, Leibnizian, ontological and teleological arguments that God does indeed exist. So the inclusion of the possibility that God did act is not irrational, magical nor silly.
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 2 Peter 1:16
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Re: Looking for smart theists for reasonable discussion/deba

Postby Pseudonym » Sat Jan 01, 2011 8:20 pm

CuriousAthiest wrote:This is just not true, but I'm sure the majority does, I don’t need to paste a large list of historians with multiple different views of scepticism on Jesus’ existence, it is irrelevant.

I stand by my statement that there are "essentially no" historians of the Ancient Near East who seriously doubt that Jesus existed. I mean this in the same way that there are essentially no biologists who seriously doubt evolution. And I agree that producing a list would be irrelevant in the same way that producing a list of biologists who doubt evolution would also be irrelevant, and for exactly the same reason.

Jesus is as well established as any similarly-placed historical figure can be. He was not a monarch, writer or other figure who can reasonably be expected to leave behind their own accounts, and at the time wasn't influential on anyone but his own followers. The evidence that exists is pretty much exactly what one would expect.

I know we don't want to get off-topic, and I promise not to say anything more in this thread on this topic unless there is some serious misunderstanding that I think needs clearing up. For this thread of discussion, it's probably irrelevant, but as a general point, this stuff matters, because it's a symptom of how fringe pseudo-academia is creeping into the culture of the trendier forms of atheism. IMO, this needs to be addressed before it gets out of hand.

Hypothesis testing in history works in a similar way to how it works in any other academic discipline, including science. To compare two hypotheses, you work out what evidence you might reasonably expect to see should either hypothesis be true, and then compare that with what you do see.

The Bible, and the gospels in particular, is probably the most analysed set of texts in all of history. Scholars have reconstructed a lot of its history (in a probabilistic sense, of course) in a surprising amount of detail, based on manuscript evidence, textual criticism, linguistic evidence, anthropological evidence and so on. A lot of people here might be quite surprised about what the kind of detail that exists for the standard theory of history of the transmission of the text.

It's very easy to claim "oh, it was just cobbled together from existing myths", or "oh, it was all just made up", but it's hard to explain the mountain of evidence. Damn hard, in fact. It's one thing to notice that there are some similarities between Jesus' story and other myths. It's quite something else to come up with a theory of the history of the text of the gospels (both canonical and non-canonical) that fits all the known facts. Those who propose that Jesus is pure myth have not produced such a theory. Until they actually produce some evidence, they will remain on the fringes of academia, just like cdesign proponentsists and holocaust deniers.

What disturbs me about all this is that we're all supposed to be holding the high moral ground of rationalism here. Why are some atheists (and I'm not accusing you of this, but you have to admit that it happens) so willing to latch onto the lunatic fringe of some position? What's so special about religion that it's immune to the normal rules of academic inquiry?

CuriousAthiest wrote:The point is not that Jesus certainly did not exist, the point is that we can’t know for sure especially at this time of scientific ignorance/superstition/elaborate whistle blowing, and his alleged divinity is certainly suspect no matter what the historical evidence.

One of the things that Brian Dunning points out in his Skeptoid podcast is that when it comes to any supposedly paranormal phenomenon, the facts are almost always more interesting that both the believer's position and the pseudo-skeptic's position. It's easy to say "aliens are abducting people", but it's just as easy to say "it's all made up". What's hard is examining the evidence, looking at historical reports which are very similar (e.g. incubus/succubus attacks, faerie abductions etc), looking at medical conditions which have similar symptoms (e.g. sleep apnoea, temporal lobe epilepsy etc) and so on.

Jesus' divinity is no exception. We have quite a bit of historical evidence when it comes to how belief in Jesus' divinity developed over time, from a few decades after Jesus' execution to the historical creeds of the fourth century. The belief was in a constant state of motion over that time, and there was a considerable amount of variation, especially in the pre-Constantine era.

Incidentally, you may have noticed that I tend to concentrate on what people believed rather than what actually was the case. This is deliberate, because while I personally find it fascinating, what actually happened doesn't really help me that much. The stories of Jesus reported in the gospels are not random factoids taken from a life cobbled together into a semi-coherent narrative. Which stories were included or excluded were chosen, sometimes deliberately and sometimes unconsciously, to make theological points.

As an amateur history nut, it's interesting to look at the evidence and try to work out what was actually the case. As a Christian, it's the theological points which are important to me, here, today, and a random historical factoid is fairly useless.

CuriousAthiest wrote:He may have done some of the things he was said to do, who knows, although I’m suspect of all mythological stories written by illiterate superstitious ancient men.

In that case, you may not know know enough about the nature of mythology. Which is a shame, because mythology is a wonderful thing.

Mythology is many things, and it took Joseph Campbell many volumes to work through it, and even then, the topic is far from exhausted. For the purpose of this discussion, mythology is a kind of philosophical thought experiment. It's one of the many tools that humanity has used to work out what it means to be human. And we're still doing it! There are people around today who self-identify as adhering to the Jedi religion, all thanks to the creative use of myth.

CuriousAthiest wrote:Is there any good evidence at all that this Jesus walked on water, magically poofed bread out of thin air, NO!!! So the Jesus that tony is arguing for is separate from the possible man named Jesus who may or may not have been the base of some elaborate magical tale.

I understand why you are trying to separate the notions of "Jesus", but smarter people than both of us (at least, smarter than me!) have thought very hard about this and decided that it's not so simple.

We've discussed this topic at length previously. For example, I previously quoted Wittgenstein's take on it.

CuriousAthiest wrote:How about Scientology, one of the fastest growing cults in the world? It has done in 30 years what most haven’t in hundreds.

Erm... no. Scientology is almost 60 years old, and it's quite small as these things go. Precise numbers are hard to come by, because they're almost always artificially inflated by Scientologists. It seems big because it is quite wealthy as new religious movements go; it deliberately courts high-profile wealthy people, especially those in Hollywood.

CuriousAthiest wrote:Is their any difference between Xenu and the galactic confederacy, Elohim and the galactic orgies, or the god of Abraham and his angels?

Yes, there is. It's the difference between fiction and mythology, and the difference is crucial.

CuriousAthiest wrote:Hercules, Zeus, Vishnu, Amun….(2000 some odd more).Oh my!

You should look up Omnism or the Interfaith movement some time.
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