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Maria

Harold, you have to realize that it is completely useless to even try to discuss this with you if you are just going to dismiss any argument with that god can change everything by magic. Someone, I don't remember who, expressed it as it would be like trying to nail jelly to a wall to have such a discussion.

If we say 2 + 2 = 4, you will say that a god can make it 5, and then see that as a good reason to believe in such a human construct of the mind. Why is the obvious, that your god does not exist, the only alternative that you refuse to consider? What is so scary about reality? You have to try to see that just because the human mind can think such concepts up, it doesn't mean that it is actually true.

Harold Ennulat

“Why is the obvious, that your god does not exist, the only alternative that you refuse to consider?” Sorry, but I don’t understand this. I think I am considering it. In fact I very much agree that a God who hasn’t performed miracles doesn’t exist. Isn’t that the God you are talking about and insist he has to be? If so, then it’s quite understandable why nothing makes sense. Christianity requires the belief in the resurrection of Jesus. It requires the belief in a God that performs Miracles? Why is this so difficult a concept?
I would submit that you need to consider a God who can perform miracles.
However if you won’t consider a God who can perform miracles I accept your choice.

Maria

I do now consider a god who can perform miracles... OK, I rejected it based on that there are no evidence for such a thing. OK, this is a completely boring an childish game, but all right, we'll keep going a while longer. So.. let's see.. Now I am considering an invisible troll dancing in my living room. OK, now I rejected that because of lack of evidence. OK, now I consider the possibility that it's our Scandinavian gods that are the true ones. We will all go to Hel when we die, unless we are warriors who dies in war, then we'll go to Valhalla... OK, rejected that because of lack of evidence. Hmm... fairies! It is fairies who makes my dinner for me every day... Oh.. no wait, there's actually some evidence that it's me who does it. OK, rejecting that too. Hmmm... what now. Ahh yeah, of course!! There's another fictional character that does roughly the same things as the Christian god. Star Trek's Q. He has actually exactly as much going for him when it comes to claims of being real, and he's kind of cooler too! Maybe I shouldn't be so fast in rejecting him...

Maria

Christianity requires the belief in the resurrection of Jesus. It requires the belief in a God that performs Miracles?

If it required some actual critical thinking skills, you wouldn't be in this mess.

Greta Christina

Harold: I'm going to break this down into two discussions -- the question of the Bible's factual errors of history and science, and the question of its internal contradictions. Those are related but ultimately very different questions, and I don't want to confuse them.

First: The Bible is shot full of factual errors about history and science. It makes many, many claims that the overwhelming body of evidence simply does not support -- not just trivial errors, but major ones. It gives the age of the earth as about 6,000 years, when in fact it's four and a half billion years. It gets basic, major facts of taxonomy wrong (for instance, saying that bats are birds). It gets basic, major facts of history wrong (for instance, there is no evidence that the Flood ever happened). It gets basic, major facts wrong about the order of events in the universe (for instance, saying that plants were created before the Sun). Etc. Etc. Etc.

And that's just a handful of major errors from just one book in the Old Testament -- the book of Genesis. Now to major errors in the New Testament: There is no evidence from any contemporary historian that Herod's slaughter of the innocents ever happened. There is no evidence from any contemporary historian that there was a major earthquake or three hours of unexplained darkness over the entire earth at around the time of Jesus's death. Mental and physical illness are not caused by demonic possession. And maybe most importantly: Jesus predicted that the Judgement Day would come within the lifetime of people listening to him -- a prediction that clearly has not come to pass. Etc. Etc. Etc.

The question is not, "Could an omnipotent God have (for instance) created plants before the sun?" By definition, an omnipotent God could have done that. The question is, "Is there any evidence at all that this is what happened?" There is not. The overwhelming evidence is to the contrary. About every single one of these questions.

If the Bible were any other book, nobody would take it seriously as a reliable source of information about anything. Nobody would take it seriously as anything other than as an interesting document of what a certain culture believed thousands of years ago.

Your response to all this is Exhibit A in what atheists call "moving the goalposts." You yourself said, just three days ago, "What would convince me that God does not exist or is not very knowable would be if the Bible could be shown to be unreliable in a major way." We have shown you that the Bible in unreliable in many, many major ways. Your response to this is to say, "Oh, well, that was the best data available at the time, and it depends on how you interpret it." You have totally backed down on your promise.

If your belief in God is based even partly on the Bible, you need to now start thinking about whether that belief is valid. At the very least, you need to admit that your belief in God is not based on evidence -- it's an assumption you make without evidence, into which you're twisting all the evidence to make it fit.

(Stuff about contradictions in the next comment.)

Greta Christina

Or not. Ingrid just got home and we're off to the gym, so the comment on internal contradictions in the Bible is going to have to wait.

Eclectic

Internal contradictions in the bible are truly plentiful. The easiest one for me to point out is Genesis 1 vs. 2. Which came first: plants or man? Genesis 1 clearly says that plants (1:11) came before man (1:27). Genesis 2 clearly says that the world was barren of plants (2:5) when man was created (2:7) and the plants were created later (2:8).

Another reason to regard the bible as unreliable is that we don't even know what the text *is*. For the old testament, there are two major sources: the Masoretic text, passed down through generations of jewish copyists, is in the original language, but has many copying errors. The Septuagint, a greek translation, was copied far less, but suffered the major distortion of translation.

And while they are obviously the same story, many details differ, or are out of order, and there are paragraphs that are present in one that are absent in the other.

All of a sudden, we are forced to use some extrinsic standard to judge the bible, to choose among the varying texts all claiming to be "the" bible.

(Of course, if we consider it simply a popular collection of fairy tales, like Grimm's or the Robin Hood stories, the variety of tellings is far less problematic.)

I wish I could recall now the name of the famous bible scholar who, a few hundred years ago, listed some tens of thousands of contradictions.

Harold Ennulat

Greta: Let me start at the top of your list with the first item: To the age of the earth you assume that the physical laws were always as they are now and that God did not perform any act of creation. You also have ignored my question about apparent age if you had the power to create the earth in one day?

More later...

Harold Ennulat

I think you got me in a corner on showing the Bible is unreliable…. The way you put it I can see your reasoning is good…. "If the science is in error then how can we know that we it says about God is also not in error"? I think is the question… I wasn’t satisfied with the answer I was coming up with….

However, I’d still like your answer on my previous post....

Maria

To the age of the earth you assume that the physical laws were always as they are now and that God did not perform any act of creation. You also have ignored my question about apparent age if you had the power to create the earth in one day?

She DID answer that! There is no reason to believe this, or to assume this when there is absolutely no evidence for such a creature being able to do such things. It's a construct of the mind. Your 'what-if'-questions are meaningless and we can play that game all day long and it will get us nowhere!

Harold Ennulat

Greta, do you agree with Maria that you answered this and your answer is as Maria indicates?

Maria: It's not clear to me what you mean. I think you are saying that you won't believe in a God who performs Miracles? Is that right?

Maria

I would believe in a god who performs miracles if there was any evidence for such a thing. There isn't.

The question is, do you believe in all the thousand upon thousand upon thousand of fantastical concepts that humans have thought up? Do you believe in them all? If not, how do you rationalize before yourself why you believe in this one? There are exactly as much evidence for the god you are talking about as there is of Santa Claus (a human concept who is also defined as a fictional character who performs miracles and bends the law of nature at will). Do you believe in Santa Claus too?

Indigo

Harold, the problem is this: no matter what we come up with to say "But everything we know contradicts that," you'll just say, "Ah, but God is capable of circumventing everything we know, so you're *still* wrong." Do you see why atheists find this rather frustrating?

Harold Ennulat

The evidence for miracles is in the Bible which is why we are discussing this. The evidence is also in nature by the very fact that we exist.

I must admit I don't really understand your line of deliberately silly questions. Somehow there is a connection between that and a God that performs miracles?

Maria

This is circular reasoning. The evidence can only be in the bible if it's true that god inspired it, and the only source we have of that god inspired it, is in the bible. The evidence is most certainly not in nature. All of these arguments for gods existance have already been dealt with, and have been found lacking. Ebon Musings have a good page on it:

http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/unmovedmover.html

You really don't see the connection?

How can I explain it any clearer? Both Santa Claus and god are inventions of human imagination. They exist only as concepts and have several similar definitions. How did god create the universe in six days - he perfomed a miracle. How does Santa deliver presents to millions of children all over the world in such a small sleigh and during only one night - he performs a miracle. Both have millions of people believing in them, both have zero evidence for their actual existance. Yet you choose to believe in one, and (probably, but who knows) not in the other. Why?

Why is it a silly question to want to know why you believe in the Christian god of the bible? He has no more going for him than any other god, or mythical creature.

Greta Christina

Harold:

I think you got me in a corner on showing the Bible is unreliable... The way you put it I can see your reasoning is good...

Before I move on, I want to thank you for saying that. A lot of people I debate with won't acknowledge when they're mistaken. I appreciate you doing so.

"If the science is in error then how can we know that we it says about God is also not in error"? I think is the question

Yes. That is exactly my point. (Only adding "history" to "science," as the Bible gets lots of historical facts wrong as well.) If you're going to say, "I believe in God because I believe in the Bible as a reliable source of evidence," then once the Bible has been shown to be unreliable, you have to either find better evidence of God, or let go of belief in him.

Replying to this:

To the age of the earth you assume that the physical laws were always as they are now and that God did not perform any act of creation. You also have ignored my question about apparent age if you had the power to create the earth in one day?

I'm not quite sure what your point is here, so I'll address what seems to be your point. (If I get it wrong, my apologies.)

If you're going to say, "An omnipotent God could have changed the physical laws, he could have created the universe in one day but made it seems as if it came into its current state of being over the course of 14 billion years, he could have created plants before he created the sun and then concealed the evidence of that"... that's what we call an unfalsifiable hypothesis. By its very nature, there is no way to prove it right or wrong. And therefore, it's a useless hypothesis, with no power to explain or predict, and we should reject it purely because it's unfalsifiable.

To make it clear why an unfalsifiable God hypothesis is useless: There are thousands of different God hypothesis that different people believe. If all of them are unfalsifiable, if all of them can explain any possible event no matter what... how are we to decide which one is right?

So the question isn't, "Can we imagine a hypothetical omnipotent God who created the Universe as described in the Bible, and then changed the physical evidence and laws of nature to conceal how he did this?" The answer to that question is "Yes -- but so what? We can imagine all sorts of hypothetical things that can't be disproven." The important question is, "Do we have any evidence or reason to think this happened?" And the answer to that question is a resounding, "No. We don't."

As for our very existence being a miracle... it's really not. The theory of evolution explains it quite nicely. And unlike the God hypothesis, the theory of evolution is supported by a massive body of evidence from virtually every branch of science. (It's also falsifiable -- any number of possible pieces of data could have proved it wrong. So far, none has.)

Greta Christina

Now, as promised: my reply to the question of inconsistencies in the Bible.

I'm not talking here about the Bible saying "X" in one place and "the opposite of X" in another. There are plenty of examples of this, and I think they fall into the same category as "scientific and historical inaccuracies" -- reasons why the Bible is not a reliable source of information.

But Harold, I don't think that's what you're talking about when you talk about inconsistencies. You seem to be talking about inconsistencies in God's behavior as described in the Bible: places where he does one thing in one chapter and something very different in another, or where his moral compass seems to spin wildly from one chapter or book to the next.

And your response to that seems to be, "God is God. He can do whatever he wants. Whatever he does is okay, simply because he's God."

Here is my problem with that. (This isn't about whether the Bible is factually reliable, btw: it's about whether the Bible is morally reliable, a very different question from the one we've been debating -- which is why I'm replying to it in a separate comment.)

Here's my problem. To say that whatever God does is good, no matter what it is, renders the whole idea of good and evil meaningless.

And to say that whatever God does is good, simply because he's powerful and brought us into being, is like saying that power and goodness are the same thing.

Let me make an analogy. Parents bring their children into the world. Does that give them the moral right to treat them any way they want? Does that give them the right to beat them, to starve them, to torture them, to deliberately make them sick, to emotionally abuse them, even to kill them? Does the fact that they're more powerful than their children, and that they're responsible for their children existing, mean that anything they do to their children is by definition okay?

And if not -- then why would that be true for God?

If you believe that an omnipotent God exists, then you have to believe that he does terrible things to his children. I'm not talking about evil caused by humans. I'm talking about drought; famine; painful, drawn-out illness; tsunamis and earthquakes and other natural disasters; birth defects; pediatric cancer; mental illness... I could go on and on.

If any of us did any one of those things, it'd be seen as unspeakably evil. To say that it's not evil just because it's God who's doing it renders the whole idea of good and evil meaningless. It says that what it means for God to be good, and what it means for people to be good, are completely different concepts -- not even relevant to each other.

If God causes horrible suffering for the duration of people's lives when he has the power and know-how not to, and yet is nevertheless somehow good, then what it means for God to be "good" is so far removed from what it means for us to be "good" that it becomes an irrelevant abstraction.

And I, for one, don't think the concepts of good and evil are, or should be, irrelevant abstractions. I would much rather see good and evil as human concepts about how to alleviate suffering and get along with each other, wired into us by millions of years of evolution as social animals, than to think of them as one set of rules God hands down to us and another he applies to himself -- simply because he's powerful enough to do whatever he wants.

More on this in my piece The Problem of Suffering.

Finally, I feel like it's important to say this:

I realize that I'm asking a lot. I get that it's hard to question your religious beliefs, and to look objectively at whether they're really supportable or plausible. And the more you've based your life on your religious beliefs, the harder this is to do. (I remember when I was letting go of my own beliefs -- it was very hard for a while.)

So I want to say this now, in case you ever get to a place where you're seriously questioning your faith but are afraid to let it go:

Atheism is okay.

Atheists are good people, ethical people, happy people. Atheists have great joy and meaning and purpose in our lives. There are things you have to let go of when you let go of religion -- but there are wonderful compensations, great new sources of joy and purpose and meaning and just flat-out fun. I, for one, would not go back for anything.

And if you do get to a place where you're seriously considering letting go of your faith, there is a large and fast-growing atheist community to provide support. (That wasn't nearly as true when I was letting go of my religious beliefs, and it made it harder, since I had to go through a lot of stuff alone. It's much better now -- and it's getting better every day.)

A lot of believers can't imagine a happy, meaningful, responsible life without religion. I want to tell you that it's more than just imaginable -- it's entirely possible. People do it every day.

Eclectic

Harold, I can't find your previous comment about the age of the world, so this is my general response to "couldn't God have just made the universe so it looks old?"

Yes, a truly omnipotent being could have done such a thing. But this takes us straight into Last Thursdayism, when the world could have been created at any time at all, including last Thursday. My memories of my life before that time were created along with the rest of the universe.

The question is, is the illusion of age so perfect that it cannot be penetrated? If there is a difference between an apparently-old universe and an actually-old one, let's look for that difference and see which is correct. If there is no difference, then it does not matter which I believe.

I choose to believe that the Universe is actually-old only because of Occam's razor, but I do not have any actual quarrel with people who believe it's apparently-old (but a perfect illusion), because we both expect the universe to behave exactly the same and we will both have exactly the same experiences throughout our lives. They just expend a little more breath saying "as if" where I say "is".

It all comes down to the "religion is a hypothesis" thing: does your religion claim there is an observable difference between the universe it hypothesizes and a universe where no god exists? If there is no difference, the religion is meaningless. If there is a difference, then show me!

Bruce Gorton

It is a hypothetical game, because without having seen evidence that would convince us, we can't really say what would.

But, on a hypothetical level:

What would convince me?

If the following happened:

If archeologists found, in English, a paper written by Jesus of Nazereth (dated to the era in which he was active by several different reliable testing methods in order to eliminate fraud) in which he accurately explains the exact workings of an internal combustion engine.

It is not be perfect proof, but it would show that either someone managed to invent a time machine or that Jesus was in possession of knowledge in advance of his time.

Harold Ennulat

Some initial comments for now.

1. I think we need to step back from our discussion about the reliability of the science recorded in the Bible. The reason for this is because we need to review what evidence actually is.
I propose the Bible would be the evidence. (It may be all wrong, it may be all right, it may have some things right and some things wrong, but it is still evidence). If we agree, then what we need to do then (it seems to me) is to examine this evidence and draw conclusions. Since we are talking about the existence of God (or non-existence of God) we are ultimately trying to decide the weight of the evidence and judge based on the balance of the weight of the evidence on one side or the other.
While I am willing to concede that the science in Genesis is not supported even by direct observations... Actually, all I can really say is that there is a conflict in the 2 views and that the astronauts have shown us that the "stars in the firmament" are clearly farther out then the ancients thought. If you believe it is iron clad that is OK too. In reality we each have our own scales anyway to do this weighing and ultimately many of us are weighing this all the time... Either way this argument goes in favor of Atheism in both cases.
It occurs to me however that there is so much more evidence that needs to be considered yet in the Bible.
Let me give a bit of a testimony here. This discussion has forced me to consider how I came to faith in God in the first place some 30 years ago now. It was not in reading Genesis. Rather it was being introduced to Jesus as recorded in the New Testament portion of the Bible and then studying this with a group of Christian students while I was in college.
I don't propose going through every passage of the Bible. I'd like to keep dealing with things at a summary level as we have. However I would like to switch the conversation over to the New Testament with the focus on the Gospels and Letters of Paul, James and Peter. Not because it is easier (I think it will be however) but because this is central to the Christian faith as this is where we learn about Jesus. People still thought the world was flat then, but at least we don't have to deal with a text that was written so much after the fact.

2. Another reason I want to get away from the Old Testament in the Bible is because there are so many more issues that need to be addressed there. It is more likely that we'll get tied up in a lot of important but less critical topics. Jesus is central. Even if the Old Testament could be completely discredited based on science or even history, If Jesus says it contains valuable lessons about God in history it would be hard to not use the Old Testament for matters of “faith and practice” anyway.

3. I had never heard the concept of "falsifiable" till I read about it on your blog. I need to study this a bit more before I can really comment on this. I'm not understanding yet why something would need to be falsifiable to be a candidate for being something that is the truth?

Harold Ennulat

Greta from your Dec 12th comment: “Now to major errors in the New Testament: There is no evidence from any contemporary historian that Herod's slaughter of the innocents ever happened. There is no evidence from any contemporary historian that there was a major earthquake or three hours of unexplained darkness over the entire earth at around the time of Jesus's death. Mental and physical illness are not caused by demonic possession. And maybe most importantly: Jesus predicted that the Judgement Day would come within the lifetime of people listening to him -- a prediction that clearly has not come to pass. Etc. Etc. Etc.”

Initial comment: Argument by omission doesn’t prove something did or did not occur. If it is recorded in the Bible and it is not confirmed elsewhere, this does not mean it did not happen. It only means there is no corroboration.
What is the basis for sayng that being demon possessed could not cause physical and mental symptoms? I don’t believe it is saying that all physical illnesses are because of demon possession, is it? If so what is the basis for this claim?
This leaves the observation that “Jesus predicted that the Judgement Day would come within the lifetime of people listening to him”. That’s a good one. Happens to be another one I don’t have the answer for. Let me see what I find. In the mean time I could concede this.

However is this the only major error in the New Testament? What do you think are the major errors in the New Testament? Perhaps we can look at those.

Eclectic

Bruce, there's actually a lot more. Hell, anything written in any modern language reliably dated 2000 years ago would necessitate some serious re-thinking.

As would fossil rabbits in the precambrian, a map of the far side of the moon buried in a cave somewhere, a description of DNA and the the 3-base-pair structure of the genetic code, or any of a million other anachronisms.

It wouldn't be conclusive, but I'd be quite interested in any religion that advised its followers to vaccinate themselves with cowpox. Or maybe how to use pennicilium to treat infections. There's a nice simple useful thing that an omnipotent god could share with earthly followers to show favor.

To convince me of, say, the correctness of Reformed Northern Baptist Missouri synod reformation of 1915 (as opposed to Reformed Northern Baptist Missouri synod reformation of 1879) requires a lot more speculation.

I expect that any such actual evidence of divinity would prove all contemporary christian sects wrong.

Greta Christina

All right, Harold. If you want to focus on the New Testament, we'll focus on the New Testament.

If it is recorded in the Bible and it is not confirmed elsewhere, this does not mean it did not happen. It only means there is no corroboration.

I'm sorry, but no. If these events had happened, they would have been massively important. We're not talking about minor events: we're talking about (to use just these three examples) three hours of darkness all over the world, a major earthquake followed by walking corpses, and the systematic slaughter in an entire city of all male children under the age of two.

There were plenty of contemporary historians during the time Jesus supposedly lived, documenting the major events of the day (and many minor events as well). If events as earth-shaking as these had actually happened, some or all of those historians would have written them down. The fact that there is no contemporary corroboration completely undercuts the claim that they really happened.

What is the basis for sayng that being demon possessed could not cause physical and mental symptoms?

And again, we come to unfalsifiable claims. So let me explain a little more about that idea in general, before I talk about how it applies to this topic in particular.

In order for a hypothesis to be useful -- in order for it to explain past events and predict future ones -- it has to be possible to prove it wrong. (Example: The theory of gravity could be proven wrong if you dropped a hammer and it just hung there in midair.) If any possible event that anyone could imagine can be fit into a hypothesis, then that hypothesis isn't useful. It doesn't tell us anything about the world. There's no way to test it and see if it's right or wrong. And there's no way to distinguish it from the thousands of other hypotheses we can think of that also aren't falsifiable. I could sit here all day and make up unfalsifiable hypotheses. (There might be a three inch tall pink pony behind my sofa, which teleports to Guam the minute I look back there. Can you prove it isn't true?) If there's no way to test them, how do we know if any of them are right or wrong? There are thousands of different religions making different claims: if none of them are testable, how can we decide which one is right?

Here's more about falsifiability, in case it still isn't clear.

So let's come back to demonic possession. Is it hypothetically possible that illness (mental and physical) is sometimes caused by invisible demons? Like I said yesterday about the hypothesis of an omnipotent God: The answer to that question is "Yes -- but so what? We can imagine all sorts of hypothetical things that can't be disproven."

But do we have any evidence at all that this is so? We do not. What we have is a massive, overwhelming body of evidence showing that mental and physical illness are caused by physical cause and effect: germs, viruses, chemical imbalances, birth defects, poor nutrition, trauma, etc. No serious medical researcher thinks that illness is caused by demonic possession. That hypothesis was discarded ages ago as entirely unfounded. We can be as certain of this as we are of anything. So when Jesus says in the Gospels that he's curing illness by casting out demons, he was mistaken.

And this isn't a trivial, passing idea. The healing of the sick by casting out demons is one of the most common themes in the New Testament.

As for Jesus' inaccurate prediction that Judgement Day would come within the lifetime of people listening to him (which you do concede might be a real error): That is a HUGE mistake, regarding one of the most important parts of this theology. Even if there were no other mistakes in the New Testament, I would think this mistake by itself would be enough to give someone doubts as to whether the New Testament is reliable and accurate.

There are other historical and scientific errors in the New Testament other than the ones we've discussed here. I don't have time to get into them all in detail. Here are some other examples. There's actually serious doubt about whether the historical Jesus even existed -- more on that here. Even if you accept that the historical Jesus did exist, it's clear that the New Testament is not an accurate description of his life and the events surrounding it.

Which leads me back to my point:

If the science and history of the New Testament are demonstrably in error, then we have no reason to treat it as a reliable source about anything -- including God. If you're going to say, "I believe in God because I believe in the New Testament as a reliable source of evidence," then once the New Testament has been shown to be unreliable, you have to either find better evidence of God -- or let go of belief in him.

Eclectic

Harold: Ah, Falsifiability! Yes, it's a bit paradoxical at first, but it really does make marvelous sense.

To be true, a statement has a say something. That is, it has to go out on a limb a little bit and make a prediction which has a chance of being false.

It's possible to make statements which have essentially no chance of being false. "After the storm, the weather will improve" is a classic "Well, duh!" statement. As is almost anything written in any horoscope column. "You will go o n a long journey". Well, gee, as long as I, sometime in my life, go on journeys of different lengths, then some of them are longer than others. Does this mean that I'm going to get a job offer in Asia or that I'm going to have to drive to a second grocery store because the closer one is out of my favorite soda?

Such statements are only true in the most trivial, useless sense.

If you have a hypothesis about the world, the more specific its predictions, the more useful it is. As long as I'm on the surface of the earth, things dropped will fall down at 9.8 m/s². This is very useful. With corrections for air resistance, altitude, and latitude (Helmert's equation), I get an even more precise figure.

This is a very specific prediction. If you can find a place on the earth where things fall at 9.7 or 9.9 m/s², then something is badly wrong.

Physicists are seriously worried about the Flyby anomaly observed in some spacecraft: flying by the earth at about 10 km/s, their velocities end up a few mm/s (less than one part per million) different from predicted.

This is because they have a very specific theory of gravity, and it doesn't have room for an error that large.

This very specificity makes it an incredibly useful theory. It enable all kinds of things from moon rockets to reconstructing gushots from ballistics to figuring out how to bank high-speed curves so nothing goes flying off.

On the other side of the spectrum are predictions so wishy-washy that they don't disallow anything at all. Which means that they don't actually predict anything at all.

Such statements cannot be judged either true or false (because they cannot be judged at all). Such statements are "not even wrong"; they are useless.

Greta Christina

Thanks, Eclectic. That's a much better and more thorough explanation of falsifiability than mine.

Harold Ennulat

Greta: I thought that "Argument by omission doesn’t prove something did or did not occur" was a well accepted logical axiom.

Also your argument about doubting the existence of Jesus just demonstrates that there is not a great body of written history as you seem to think when talking about earth quakes and the like. Besides each king writes their own history, Jerusalem was nothing to Rome to have cared to write. I don't pretend to be an expert however. What is the writing from this period that we might refer to... that is, just to get a sense for the body of knowledge available to back up your claim.
Even then however it wouldn't be conclusive. No authority would want to record a history that provides evidence that another deity might exist that could trump their own. My understanding is that the "history is written by the victor" was certainly true of the Roman government. The only other source I can think of, might have been the Jewish religious establishment, but they had no motivation to record such a thing either. Acts also makes this clear... err makes this claim....
If you want to claim that these things never happened, we’ll need more evidence to support this claim. I have now given 3 arguments, one from what I think is accepted logic, 1 from an understanding of how history gets recorded, and a question about the body of knowledge that is actually available on the history of this period.

Greta Christina
I thought that "Argument by omission doesn’t prove something did or did not occur" was a well accepted logical axiom.

Harold: It doesn't prove it with absolute 100% certainty. But in a practical sense, when you would ordinarily have every reason to expect something to be there and it's not, you have to account for the fact that it's not.

Let's use the analogy Ebonmuse uses in his piece Choking on the Camel. Let's suppose there were lots of writings about a figure named George Washington, who was supposedly the father of our country, the first President, etc. -- writings that told specific stories about acts of Washington and other events that took place in his life. But when you looked more closely, you realized that all of these writings were written decades after his death, by people with a vested interest in convincing you that these events took place. When you look at contemporary writings from the time he supposedly lived, there's not a single mention of Washington's existence, much less of the events described in the stories about him. And the writings about Washington written after the fact are contradictory, inconsistent, and get lots of basic known facts wrong.

Does that absolutely prove that Washington didn't exist, and that the stories about him aren't true? No. But what's the most plausible conclusion? The most plausible conclusion is that Washington was a myth: that he either didn't exist, or that he did exist but that the stories told about him weren't true.

Bringing it back to the New Testament: We would absolutely have every reason to expect the events described in the New Testament to be recorded by contemporary historians. Your analysis doesn't hold up -- the events we're talking about don't disprove the religions of the time, and there was no reason for contemporary historians to omit them. If King Herod really had slaughtered all male children in Bethlehem under age two, it wouldn't have had any effect on their religion: "Herod killed a lot of kids this year" doesn't prove "Therefore the Roman religion is wrong, and some boy who was born this year is going to be the new Jewish Messiah." (And contemporary historians did record similar atrocities by other political leaders.) Ditto with the earthquake and the three hours of darkness. Without the New Testament saying that these events were caused by Jesus' death, why would anyone think "I can't write this down, it proves my religion wrong"? Why would anyone think of it as anything other than a weird natural phenomenon, worth documenting?

And then you get the internal inconsistencies in the New Testament story. I don't mean moral inconsistencies in God's or Jesus' behavior. I mean places where the New Testament says one thing in one place and something completely different someplace else. See more about those here. Those also cast doubt on the reliability of this text as a historical document.

And you haven't yet addressed the mistakes Jesus himself made as quoted in the Gospels: mistakes about medicine, about science, about history, about his own prophecy of when he'd return. (Mistakes not just limited to demonic possession.) Even if you assume that Jesus existed and the Gospels more or less accurately describe his words... his words aren't exactly reliable, either.

The only way to see the Bible -- New and Old Testaments -- as a useful and accurate source of information is to start with the assumption that it is a useful and accurate source of information, and shoehorn the facts to fit that assumption. (And then to use circular, unfalsifiable reasoning to defend this assumption.) If you step back from that assumption, if you look at the Bible simply as a text, written decades after the events it supposedly describes, and written by people with a strong vested interest in persuading readers that the events happened... the most logical conclusion is that it's not a reliable source. It can't be proven with 100% certainty that the events didn't happen -- but that's really not the most plausible explanation.

And again, if you're going to say, "I believe in God because I believe in the New Testament as a reliable source of evidence," then once the New Testament has been shown to be unreliable, you have to either find better evidence of God -- or let go of belief in him.

Oh, btw: Do you get it now about falsifiability and why it's so important? Did Eclectic and I make that idea clear?

Harold Ennulat

Is Ebommuse where you are getting all this?
I've now read his questioning of any historical Jesus at all. It's well done and will send me into a rabbit hole for a while. I never heard the argument for denying a historical Jesus this detailed before. I'm not sure if I can trace this belief, but I must go there next.

This could take a while.

I certainly understand that it is perfectly reasonable that you are atheist given the information you have at your disposal.

On falsification: This sounds like a scientific method thing... that is it needs to be repeatable. If so then it could not apply to history since it only happens once...

One final question I must ask you to consider. Were you an atheist first because you could not accept the authority of God over your life or did the evidence lead you to atheism?

It just seems like there is a lot of smoke and mirrors on both sides that is making this tedious.

Indigo

"Were you an atheist first because you could not accept the authority of God over your life"
Are you a Christian because you don't want to accept that life is meaningless in the face of oblivion by the Elder Gods, or is it because you want to skip the cycle of karma and go straight to enlightenment?

Maria

"Were you an atheist first because you could not accept the authority of God over your life"

That is not always the case, Harold. I was never a believer in the first place for example. The kind of belief in a Christian god that you show here is uncommon here where I live (and I live in a historically Christian country, it's not because there is another religion which is common here). Almost all people around me lived secular lifestyles when I grew up, and almost all people around me do so now. I knew ONE person in school who was an active Christian.

I read the bible a lot as a kid. I saw it as a collection of fairy tales just like the thousand and one night and H.C. Andersen and Grimm's fairy tales, and that's what you will see it like if no one plants the thought in your head that it's suppose to be holy in some weird way. God was a fairy tale character just like the genie in the bottle, and just like the genies, god was prone to sadism and could work magic. Already as a five year old I understood that none of them was suppose to be believed in as being real and existing and be able to affect your life in any way, and certainly not be worthy of any sort of worship.

Religion mostly only looks sensible if you are brought up within it. If you never have been and look at it all from the outside, it looks exactly - as I've mentioned several times before - as if you would believe in any fictional or mythological character.

When I hear "...accept the authority of God over your life..." I know where you're coming from since I am not unaware of religion, religious people, and religion's role in history and today, but it still sound as logic as if you had said "...accept the authority of Donald Duck over your life..."

No, fictional characters never had that influence over my life, and why should they? To me that would be absurd.

Bruce Gorton

"One final question I must ask you to consider. Were you an atheist first because you could not accept the authority of God over your life or did the evidence lead you to atheism?"

I was a Catholic before becoming an atheist. My parents are atheists too, but my grandmother is a staunch Catholic and so I was baptised and sort of raised to it.

In South Africa at the time atheism was linked to communism, we had school prayer and Bible classes, as well as religion being tied to our sense of nationhood.

Then Apartheid ended, and suddenly it turned out the communists were kind of the good guys - and a lot of South Africans became uneasy with religion mixing with our politics.

Anyway, what led me to my atheism was this: First I started picking holes in the theology - the arguments for God that we learn as children became less and less satisfactory.

So the first thing that led me to my atheism was neither evidence nor a rejection of authority, but plain, simple, reasoning.

I started asking questions like "Where did God come from then?" and realising the basic dishonesty of Pascal's wager. The arguments filled my head and I read the Bible.

I had already gone through a phase of being deeply interested in evolution, you know, dinosaurs, those kids' magazines on wildlife, a bit on geology that spurred a rock collection etc...

I was never a great student, but as I read Genesis I contrasted it with what the science I devoured told me.

I had also gone through a phase of really being into mythology, and I began comparing the claims and trying to figure out why one set of claims should be accepted why another should be rejected.

I couldn't resort to "Well everyone else believes the Bible" because everyone else once believed the mythology - in fact some of the greatest minds of all time believed the mythology.

I looked into just what science is - and began to realise that crucial difference between fact and belief.

So evidence was the second step towards being the atheist I am now. When I took it I became an atheist proper, but of the "faitheist" type.

From there I began to really look at the behaviour of religions, and I began questioning the nature of authority.

I began to notice the abuses of human rights, the dangers of anti-secularism in politics.

And I began to question the nature of my morality - slowly arriving at a home-made democratic principle of morality.

I don't mean democratic in the sense of the majority decides what is right or wrong, but more in this:

In a feudal system of morality, morality is judged by the top. Your duty is to your king, your country, your God. To be powerful, is to have those who you have power over duty-bound to you.

In a democratic system of morality, morality is judged by the bottom. Your duty is to the poor, the oppressed and the weak.
To be powerful, is to be dutybound to those you have power over.

Thus it is that we act with particular disgust when a man steals his worker's pension fund, or parents beat their children.

And this is why ultimately, after all of that evidence led me to my atheism, it was then that I understood that even if God existed I would reject his authority.

I am no longer the soft form of atheist, I no longer wish I had faith, I am what they would term a "new atheist", just like many before me have been going all the way back through history.

I am no philospher, or great thinker of my time, I can't claim this as some great insight, but it is what I strive to live my life by. You may find a different way, it is your world to live in just as it is mine.

Harold Ennulat

Some observations:
1. Comparing the lack of evidence for a historical figure from 200 years ago with one 2000 years ago doesn't seem like a reasonable comparison.
2. The arguments for no extra Biblical evidence for the baby killing, etc. have extra weight if you already believe that the the Gospel writers were making up the entire story of a historical Jesus. Consequently the argument would have less weight if there was a historical Jesus.
3. It seems like we need to look at the dating of the Gospels compared to the death of Jesus. From what I can figure Luke was written before about 65 CE. Jesus death was around 30 CE (going by memory).

Harold Ennulat

"Herod killed a lot of kids this year" would certainly beg the question "Why?"
Also I found this snippet on King Herod at http://www.livius.org/he-hg/herodians/herod_the_great02.html "The story about the slaughter of infants of Bethlehem in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is not known from other sources, but it would have been totally in character for the later Herod to commit such a terrible act."

Harold Ennulat

If there is agreement on the dating, then the time between the death of Jesus and writing of Luke would by 35 years at the most.

Harold Ennulat

Sorry for the incomplete thoughts...

The reason the dating is important is because that is the time that the myth and legend of Jesus could have been developed. The idea being that it is easier to understand how a myth could have developed the more removed from the actual event the myth was generated.

So now the question is, "is it reasonable that a Jesus myth would be recorded about a historical Jesus so soon after he was reported to have died if in reality there was no historical Jesus"?

Harold Ennulat

On Falsifiability: From the link Greta supplied (what’s the secret to adding real links) at
http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/Falsifiability
It is now quite clear that this is talking about the ability to test a scientific hypothesis when it says "falsifiability of theories is ... the prime test for whether a proposition or theory can be described as scientific.

It seems history and science is being combined in ways that aren’t really possible. It is not possible to repeat the experiment that Julius Caesar lived. He only lived once...
While science plays a role, handling evidence is more like judging a case in a court of law then deciding something using the scientific method.

Or am I not understanding this properly...

Harold Ennulat

Greta: From your Dec 14th 7:04pm comment “We would absolutely have every reason to expect the events described in the New Testament to be recorded by contemporary historians.”
Here is what I found on any contempory writings that have survived from the entire first century. (Reference: http://www.tektonics.org/jesusexist/jexfound.html).

"...we have very little information from first-century sources to begin with. Not much has survived the test of time from A.D. 1 to today. Blaiklock has cataloged the non-Christian writings of the Roman Empire (other than those of Philo) which have survived from the first century and do not mention Jesus. These items are:
• An amateurish history of Rome by Vellius Paterculus, a retired army officer of Tiberius. It was published in 30 A.D., just when Jesus was getting started in His ministry.
• An inscription that mentions Pilate.
• Fables written by Phaedrus, a Macedonian freedman, in the 40s A.D.
• From the 50s and 60s A.D., Blaiklock tells us: "Bookends set a foot apart on this desk where I write would enclose the works from these significant years." Included are philosophical works and letters by Seneca; a poem by his nephew Lucan; a book on agriculture by Columella, a retired soldier; fragments of the novel Satyricon by Gaius Petronius; a few lines from a Roman satirist, Persius; Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis; fragments of a commentary on Cicero by Asconius Pedianus, and finally, a history of Alexander the Great by Quinus Curtius.
Of all these writers, only Seneca may have conceivably had reason to refer to Jesus. But considering his personal troubles with Nero, it is doubtful that he would have had the interest or the time to do any work on the subject.
• From the 70s and 80s A.D., we have some poems and epigrams by Martial, and works by Tacitus (a minor work on oratory) and Josephus (Against Apion, Wars of the Jews). None of these would have offered occasion to mention Jesus.
• From the 90s, we have a poetic work by Statius; twelve books by Quintillian on oratory; Tacitus' biography of his father-in-law Agricola, and his work on Germany. [Blaik.MM, 13-16]"

If this is true then “We would absolutely have no reason to expect the events described in the New Testament to be recorded by contemporary historians.”

Greta Christina

Harold:

Comparing the lack of evidence for a historical figure from 200 years ago with one 2000 years ago doesn't seem like a reasonable comparison.

All right. Let's use a comparison that's close in history to the events we're talking about. This will also give me a chance to make a point about corroboration -- and why it's so important in understanding history.

Let's say there are four or five contemporary historians who wrote about Augustus Caesar. (There are more than that, really, but I'm deliberately making this example harder on myself.) Let's say that all these contemporary historians agree that Augustus Caesar had one child, his daughter Julia. Now let's say there's one text saying that in addition to Julia, Augustus also had a son -- Fred.

But the Fred text isn't contemporary -- it was written decades after Augustus died. And the Fred text also makes a lot of other claims that aren't corroborated by any other source (ones that you would expect to be, since the claims are extraordinary): it says that when Fred was born, Augustus ordered all girl children in the Empire to be kidnapped and moved to Rome so Fred could have his pick of wives when he grew up; and it says that when Fred died, every tree around the world instantly turned bright pink for three hours. And the Fred text frequently contradicts itself about a number of claims: for instance, in one place it says Fred was born in Rome, and in another it says he was born in Athens. And finally, the Fred text was written by people who believed that Fred was the son of Augustus Caesar and the goddess Venus, and that we should all worship him -- it was written with the specific purpose of persuading others to believe in Fred's divinity.

Would you then say, "Argument by omission doesn’t prove something did or did not occur"? Would you then say, "The fact that the Fred text isn't corroborated by any other source doesn't prove that Fred didn't exist"? Would you think that the claim of Fred's existence, and the stories the Fred text tells about his life, are plausible -- simply because no contemporary historian mentions Fred one way or the other?

Or would you say, "This Fred text clearly isn't very reliable, and without better corroborating evidence, I'm not going to assume anything it says is correct"?

That's what the Bible is. Old and New Testaments. From any perspective other than assuming in advance that the Bible is reliable and twisting all the evidence to fit that assumption, the Bible is an unreliable source: internally contradictory, scientifically inaccurate, historically uncorroborated at best and historically inaccurate at worst.

FYI, the principle of falsifiability does apply to historical claims. It was originally developed for science -- but it applies to any truth claim. Example: If you claim that Caesar Augustus only had one child, that claim could be falsified by reliable documents showing that he had more than one. Historical claims aren't experiments that can be replicated -- but they can and should be falsifiable. There are and should be ways to prove them wrong.

But I also want to say: I didn't just bring up falsifiability to respond to the New Testament's claims about history. ("The slaughter of the innocents might have happened -- you can't prove that it didn't!") I brought it up in response to the New Testament's claims about science. ("Mental and physical illness might sometimes be caused by invisible demons -- you can't prove that they aren't!") And I brought it up in response to the entire foundation of Christian theology and other religious belief. ("By definition, an omnipotent God could do anything, and anything you see could be caused by him -- you can't prove that he didn't!")

Like I've said, I can tell you the kinds of evidence that would persuade me God exists. That makes my atheism -- my conclusion that God almost certainly doesn't exist -- falsifiable. When I asked you, "What would persuade you that your belief in God was mistaken?" you answered very straightforwardly, "What would convince me that God does not exist or is not very knowable would be if the Bible could be shown to be unreliable in a major way." But when we showed you that the Bible was unreliable, you changed that to, "You have to show me that the New Testament is unreliable." And now that we've shown you that the New Testament is unreliable, you seem to be changing that again, to, "You have to prove beyond even the faintest shadow of a doubt, not only that the events described in the New Testament did not happen, but that they could not have happened."

That's what atheists call "moving the goalposts." And it's really not playing fair. It's part of what we mean by unfalsifiability: if you say "(X) would falsify my claim," and then (X) is shown to be true, and you then say, "Well, never mind, let me change, that, (Y) is what really would falsify my claim" -- then you're making your claim unfalsifiable in any practical sense.

Greta Christina
If this is true then “We would absolutely have no reason to expect the events described in the New Testament to be recorded by contemporary historians."

Why on earth not?

If the events described in the New Testament actually took place, many of them would have been monumental. A massive earthquake in the area? Three hours of unexplained darkness? A king ordering the slaughter of every male child in a particular city under the age of two? What makes you think none of the writers you list would have recorded any of these events?

Not to mention the life and acts of Jesus himself. Plenty of other messianic figures of that time and place had their lives and acts recorded, by Josephus among others. If Jesus had had anything like the massive following described in the New Testament, he would have been among the most widely followed of the lot. It seems very likely that his life and work would have been recorded -- probably not in a very complimentary manner, but it would have been recorded.

As Ebonmuse wrote in his Choking on the Camel piece: "Events such as these create historians. To assume that not a single person who witnessed these monumental events would have felt compelled to write them down, or that no one bothered to preserve those records if they had, violates all standards of credulity." You keep just saying, over and over, "There's no reason to think any contemporary writers would have written this stuff down." But you're overlooking how earth-shaking these events would have been if they had taken place.

Do you have an answer to this?

It's not my only argument: the mistakes made in Jesus' own words as recorded in the N.T., the scientific and historical mistakes he made, and the massive error he made in predicting the date of his return and Judgment Day, are also compelling evidence of the N.T.'s unreliability. As are its own internal inconsistencies: not just about moral teachings, but about basic factual claims. There are lots of reasons to think of the N.T. as unreliable -- the lack of historical corroboration is only one.

But it is an important one. And you still haven't answered this basic question: Why would events as monumental as these not have been recorded by anyone writing at the time?

Greta Christina

Finally (for tonight, anyway) I want to answer this:

Were you an atheist first because you could not accept the authority of God over your life or did the evidence lead you to atheism?

Harold, I'm going to assume you weren't aware of this: you seem to be debating in good faith, and you've been doing so in a very civil manner. But just so you know, this is one of the most insulting things you can say to an atheist. It's one of the most common pieces of bigotry aimed against us: "You became an atheist because you don't want to follow God's rules -- you want to lead a self-indulgent life with no morals."

The answer to your question is No. An emphatic No. I did not become an atheist because I could not accept the authority of God. For one thing, the God I believed in was not authoritative, and didn't have rules. And I am a very ethical person, who thinks carefully and agonizes hard over difficult moral choices. Which is true of almost every atheist I know.

I became an atheist because the evidence was increasingly being borne in on me that my religious beliefs were not consistent with the facts, and that I mostly believed them out of wishful thinking.

No, I did not become an atheist because it was easier in any way. Letting go of my religion was very painful. I had to let go of a lot of things I was very attached to: including, most obviously, the idea that I and everyone I loved would in some way live forever. I'm very glad now that I'm an atheist -- for one thing, I don't have that constant uneasy feeling that I'm lying to myself -- but it was not easy getting here, and it often still isn't easy.

And I'm one of the lucky ones -- my family are non-believers, I live in a city that's (relatively) tolerant of non-belief. Many atheists become alienated from their social support network when they become atheists, and have to find new support -- or else they stay in the closet. This is not a step that people take lightly. And it is not a step that people take just so they can avoid having to follow God's rules.

Harold Ennulat

Greta: "Why on earth not?"

Did you read the reference? Do you not believe that there are only a handful of contemporary writers with only one pseudo historian whose writings survived?! If so please say so. Don't just ignore it.
It seems incredible that you are ignoring this factual evidence I present and continue to insist these things should be recorded in records accessible today.

Now you are not being straight with me and perhaps not yourself either.

Greta Christina
Do you not believe that there are only a handful of contemporary writers with only one pseudo historian whose writings survived?

No. Of course I believe that. That's not my point. My point is: Given the monumental nature of these events described in the New Testament, it seems incredible that not a single one of these handful of contemporary writers would not have mentioned even one of them. The earthquake? The three hours of darkness? The slaughter of the innocents? These would have been massively important events. And many of these contemporary writers whose writings have survived were writing about events very similar to these: natural disasters, natural wonders, political and military actions of kings. The idea that not one of these contemporary writers would have documented even a single one of these events stretches credibility. It's hypothetically possible -- but it doesn't seem in the least but plausible.

Harold Ennulat

Look carefully at the list. Look at the dating of the sources. Then look at what you are saying.

Tell me if you see even one reference to a document that has survived from around AD 34 when Jesus was crucified or around AD 1 when he was born?

Harold Ennulat

Greta you wrote, "just so you know, this is one of the most insulting things you can say to an atheist."

Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. I did not intend it to be insulting. I really want to know. A close relative of mine won't believe in God mainly because she does want anyone else controlling her life. She told me so quite plainly. I'm learning there are types of Atheists. You are not like my sister. Thanks for the background.

My Apologies.

Harold Ennulat

Greta you wrote, "just so you know, this is one of the most insulting things you can say to an atheist."

Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt. I did not intend it to be insulting. I really want to know. A close relative of mine won't believe in God mainly because she does not want anyone else controlling her life. She told me so quite plainly. I'm learning there are types of Atheists. You are not like my relative. Thanks for the background.

My Apologies.

Greta Christina
Tell me if you see even one reference to a document that has survived from around AD 34 when Jesus was crucified or around AD 1 when he was born?

I will quote again from Ebonmuse's Choking on the Camel:

"It is not as if there were no capable historians at the time. There was, for example, Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher who lived from about 20 BCE to 50 CE. His own beliefs were influenced by Platonic elements that were in some ways similar to Christianity, and his writings show interest in other offshoot sects such as the Essenes and the Therapeutae; he wrote about Pontius Pilate and he was, by some accounts, living in or near Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' death and, presumably, the attendant miracles. Yet none of his works contain any mention of Jesus or Christianity.

"Other writers of the time show the same pattern. Justus of Tiberius, a native of Galilee who wrote a history around 80 CE covering the time Jesus supposedly lived, does not mention him. The Roman writer Seneca the Younger, who was born around 3 BCE and lived into the 60s CE, wrote extensively about ethics but says nothing about Jesus or his teachings. The historian Pliny the Elder, born around 20 CE, took a special interest in writing about science and natural phenomena, but his thirty-seven-volume Natural History says nothing about an earthquake or a strange darkness around the supposed time of Jesus' death, although he would have been alive at the time it happened. In fact, not a single contemporary record exists of the darkness, and there was a widespread failure to note the earthquake, much less the appearance of the resurrected saints."

I really don't see your point here. Are you saying there are no records of that time and place at all? That nobody who lived at that time made a written record of events that happened in that time and place? That's just simply not true.

In any case, I'm sort of getting tired of this particular argument. It seems very clear to me that "there's no external corroboration of these events, events which would have been monumental and would have attracted the attention of just about every writer of the day" is a persuasive argument for the New Testament being unreliable -- not 100% convincing, but persuasive. But you don't seem to find it convincing, and I doubt that anything I can say further will persuade you.

And in any case, while I think this is a good argument for the N.T.'s unreliability, it's far from the only one. I think it's interesting that you're focusing on it to the exclusion of every other argument. What about the inconsistencies within the N.T., places where it makes a factual claim and then makes a contradictory one elsewhere? What about the inconsistencies in its teachings -- places where it tell us to do one thing, and then a few pages later tells us to do the complete opposite? What about the mistakes in Jesus' words -- major mistakes about science and history? What about the HUGE fact that Jesus predicted that he'd return and bring about Judgment Day within the lifetime of some people listening to him? "Predicted" is actually the wrong word -- Jesus presumably has the power to come back whenever he wants. Why did he get this wrong? Was he lying? Did he change his mind?

There are plenty of reasons to see the New Testament as an unreliable source of information. The fact that not one of the monumental events it describes are corroborated by a single outside source is only one of those reasons.

And again, if you're going to say, "I believe in God because I believe in the New Testament as a reliable source of evidence," then once the New Testament has been shown to be unreliable, you have to either find better evidence of God -- or let go of belief in him.

Bruce Gorton

Greta Christina | December 15, 2009 at 10:19 PM

Another two elements which are totally false - the census and the tradition of clemency.

The census story doesn't make logical sense - why would the Romans even care where Jospeh's pre-Roman ancestors came from?

And there are no copies of it. If you ground an entire province's economy to halt in order to get this information (Which is what the Biblical account would have entailed) then there should be some record of it somewhere.

The second one was probably one of the most evil things in the Bible for all the misery it has caused.

The tradition of clemency was made up - we know this because we actually know what Rome's laws were (They after all, form part of the basis of our current laws) - in order to smear the Jews as "Killers of Christ."

Rome letting Jesus go because the crowd wanted it - would be like America letting Osama Bin Laden go because he is popular with the Arabs. Israel was a rebellious province, and Rome, though barbaric by our standards, was not stupid.

Harold Ennulat

Greta you wrote "I really don't see your point here. Are you saying there are no records of that time and place at all? That nobody who lived at that time made a written record of events that happened in that time and place? That's just simply not true."

The answer to you question is Yes.
Since you provided a number of sources that could have mentioned Jesus when I did not see any (from my source), I have more work to do to check this out.

As for being tired of dealing with this one issue. I'm with you. I wish this were easier. This is a lot of work... on this point I see you have put the ball back in my court...

As for not dealing with your other points. I would like to. I picked this topic because it was next on the list of topics. It's a lot easier to ask a lot of questions... it's a little harder to answer, especially when I don't know myself...
To counter, I don’t belief you addressed all my questions either yet….

Harold Ennulat

Greta, you wrote, "And again, if you're going to say, "I believe in God because I believe in the New Testament as a reliable source of evidence," then once the New Testament has been shown to be unreliable, you have to either find better evidence of God -- or let go of belief in him."

For an atheis you are quite the evangelist! ...ask for a decision with every message...

I would like to keep our discussion mainly on the evidence and the reason or logic applied in evaluating it. We need to recognize that the conversion if any comes will likely not be immediate…. either mine… or yours... or anybody elses….

I was very concerned when I read Edons "Camel" article. I hope to get opportunity to respond to this a bit later.

In the mean time, here is a web site that addresses “Why did contemporary writers not mention Jesus?” http://www.tektonics.org/qt/remslist.html

Greta Christina
To counter, I don’t belief you addressed all my questions either yet...

Fair enough. I realize that the "blog comment discussion thread" isn't the most well-organized form of discourse in the world (to put it mildly!), and important points can be missed. What questions of yours have I not yet addressed that you want me to?

We need to recognize that the conversion if any comes will likely not be immediate

That's certainly true. I don't expect immediate conversion, and I wouldn't want it. I don't want you or anyone else to change your mind just on my say-so. I want you to look at the evidence, talk with advocates on both sides, and decide for yourself which hypothesis is more plausible. I'm not asking for a decision right away; I'm just pointing out a true "if/then statement": if your evidence for belief in God is the Bible, then once the Bible has been shown to be unreliable, the logical consequence eventually has to be either finding better evidence or giving up the belief. But I don't expect that to happen overnight. And it shouldn't.

I'll look at that tektonics website and see what I think of it. And I'm glad you're taking Ebon's "Camel" article so seriously. While you're considering that, I'd also like to suggest that you look at Bruce Gorton's examples of factual inaccuracies in the New Testament (a few comments above this), as I think they may be even stronger than the ones I gave.

And I have to say that I'm impressed with your willingness to take this seriously. Usually when I debate with believers, they quickly move from "Here's my evidence" to "Here's why it's unreasonable and mean of you to expect me to show evidence, I'm just going to keep believing what I believe no matter what." Thanks very much for not doing that.

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