Friday, January 06, 2006

The meaning of life for an agnostic/atheist

This post is a response to a comment made by an anonymous visitor to my blog. The comment can be viewed under my post regarding the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. I will respond to the following remark made by the visitor:

“. . . but as I contemplate these things I think about the universal question: ‘what is going to happen to me when I die?’ So...through the Atheism view you can rot in the ground like a log or Christianity believes you spend an eternity either in heaven or hell”

Anonymous raises a good point here. What hope does the atheistic view hold for life after death? How can an atheist find hope and meaning without an afterlife?

I’ve always battled to conceptually grasp things that I cannot see or directly experience. Heaven and hell were concepts that I never really got to fully understand. Where is heaven and hell? Are they actual physical places somewhere? If so, why haven’t we been able to find any evidence of their existence? There is no way that I, or anyone, can test the validity of the Bible’s claim that such places exist, so I doubt that they exist at all.

And what about the soul? Over the last century we have also been able to discover more about how the brain works. Antonio Damasio, in his book, Looking for Spinoza, provides a good case that all human emotions, feelings and memories – aspects that have been attributed to the soul – have their origin within the brain, and are affected negatively when the brain is damaged. Michael Persinger, among others, has shown that specific spiritual states – that are commonly attributed to supernatural or religious experiences – can be experienced when certain parts of the brain are stimulated by electrodes. If the soul is separate from the body, why is it affected by the brain? I've slowly come to the belief that what we call the soul is not only a product of the brain, but it is also dependent on it. If there is no brain, there is no soul. If the brain dies, the soul dies.


I know this sounds gloomy, and it took me quite a while to accept it. I always thought that if I adopted this belief I would commit suicide, go and kill people, or fall into depression. But this has not happened. Instead, it has humbled me as an individual: I now realise how totally insignificant I am in this ancient and incredibly large universe. But at the same time I'm extremely special: out of 250 million sperm cells I was the one that was awarded this brief period of consciousness. Life has suddenly become more valuable, every day more special. In all its complexity the universe is suddenly more wondrous. I take less for granted. If there is no afterlife, this is the only life that I will ever have. I find meaning within this life.

36 comments:

My Boring Best said...

Hey,

I just happened upon your blog from the "Atheism Online" listing. My blog is listed just under yours.

Anyway, I really like what you have to say. Having grown up in a very religious family, I can identify with much of what you discuss here.

Keep up the great writing and stop by my blog if you get a chance.

http://www.myboringbest.blogspot.com

Jim

Tin Soldier said...

Hi there Kev, nice blog you have. I only want to invite your attention to one problem from your deduction of heaven and hell.

You said, "Where is heaven and hell? Are they actual physical places somewhere? If so, why haven’t we been able to find any evidence of their existence?"

I have never been to Pontianak, nor have I seen pictures of it. Where is Pontianak? Does it really exist? If so why haven't I been able to find any evidence of its existence?

There are good, sensible reasons why we can't see heaven or hell. I'll offer two. (1) The very natures of heaven and hell, if they do exist, do not permit one who doesn't dwell in either to see it.

It is practically senseless to conclude that heaven and hell don't exist just because we can't see them just yet. Putting it in your terms, the first real evidence we'll gain of them is when we ourselves pass into either. It is premature for a living, talking human being to repudiate the existence of such places when they are not yet in the position to conclude. At least wait till you die.

(2) Heaven and hell, or Pontianak for that matter, cannot be found by those who look for it in the wrong maps.

You said that there is no way you or anyone can test the validity of the Bible’s claim that such places as heaven and hell exist. By testing I hope you mean it in the same way that an archeologist or a historian test the validity of a historical record. But that doesn't sound like what you were talking about. What you want is real evidence much like a boring literalist who refuses to match Romeo and Juliet with Shakespeare's authorship, not unless he sees Shakespeare pen the play himself. Just because you haven't met Shakespeare in person doesn't mean you can't infer his existence by reading or watching his plays. In this case we take it on authority that there was such a poet who once existed.

The same could be inferred with the Bible. It is for the very reason that we can't see heaven and hell that the Bible is offered us. But in this case you are holding an unrealistic standard when trying to test the Bible's authority that heaven and hell exist. It's not that the Bible cannot bear to be tested under fire. It's just that no amount of evidence would suffice for such a ludicrous inquisition on anything at all.

It's a good try, keep trying!

Kevin Parry said...

This is wonderful response, Tin soldier. Thank you! This is really challanged my thinking, and I will post a response in the next couple of days. Thank you for taking the time to post the comment.

Kevin

*adelaine said...

Hi, I found your blog through Tin Soldier's link it caught my attention as im err.. agnostic most of the time.. atheist sometimes and pretty much still trying to come to my own peace about which is true God for me.

In a more atheist day, I do think that religion is just something human needs, it feeds our human need to have hope and something to live for.. or we will all be barbaric and suicidal.. it gives us a sense of accomplishment to know that we have been nice for our whole life and there's some big reward to look forward to... *sigh*

it takes a faith to trust and love the unseen..and only at the end of our journey would we really know if we return to dust and nothing more.. or to a power who created us..

Tin Soldier said...

I think you (Adelaine) are hasty in drawing your conclusion on atheism. What I understand you to be saying is that, in part, you believe religion is nothing more than a person's emotional crutch, it's only real for the person believing it because that individual can't seem to cope otherwise. Some atheists like to use this argument against those who hold a view contrary to their own, ie. those who believe in a transcendent supernatural being.

I think this argument is more of a distraction from the issue at hand rather than a case against any sort of theism. Now think for a moment. Does it really follow that just because a person is aware of his/her need for religion, then his/her religion can't be real? Simply saying that doesn't prove one's case for atheism because it doesn't follow that a belief is false merely by virtue that it is needed. A thing that is real could be needed just as much as a thing that is a figment of one's imagination. The human need, as you put it, doesn't prove or disprove the contents of theistic religions, ie. the existence of a transcendent god/gods.

Being hungry indeed does not prove that we have bread. But as C.S. Lewis put it, "A man's physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man's hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist."

Lewis went on to make a case for supernatural transcendence, or rather for Christianity thus: "In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called 'falling in love' occurred in a sexless world." Atheism is false because our inherent desires for order within this life and a transcendent hope beyond this life are sharply opposed to an atheistic philosophy. The logical outworkings of atheism are nihilism and a sort of chaotic bleakness, not order and hope.

Perry said...

Kevin

Rather than have reasonable and rational people feel the need to defend atheism, it seems to me that the burden of proof lies with the claimant – the Xtians. Those who choose not to believe in their tales and claims are simply unbelievers and unconvinced. We are the jury. The religionists are the prosecutors who need to prove their claims.

The appellations of agnostic or atheist are convenient titles, no more. We also do not believe in the religious claims of Islam. We aren’t ‘picking’ on Xtianity. We just don’t accept the assorted superstitions that has become known as religions.

There are a range of what-might-be-called 'challenges' that can be proposed. None should be particularly hair-raising for religious fundamentalists, no matter what belief they follow. Here's two. Do suggest others.

1) What was (i.e. how would you describe) the relationship between the JC of the bible and the church of that era (and its hierarchy)? Rocky? Antagonistic? Hostile?

On the presumption that it occurs, what makes modern Xtians think it will be any different, "next time around?" The second coming, I mean. Besides, don’t the followers of William Branham believe him to be the Christ of the second coming? Putting new wine in old bottles didn't get encouraged, back then. Perhaps it’ll be the same, next time, too?

Despite assertions of humility, Xtians are so arrogant. There's also something else - perhaps greed? Of the selfish kind. There are two things that typify saviour-type religionists, generally. One is that they are forgiven, no matter how dastardly the sin that was committed. Just where Xtians fit 'god is not mocked; as one sows so shall one reap' into "I can sin and get away with it because I'm forgiven because some 'whipping boy' took the rap for me," I don't know. It defies straight reading as well as logic.

My view of it is simple: forgiven and forgotten are two different things. A mother forgives a child it's 'sin' of putting a hand up on the stove; even extends comfort and solace. But the pain of the burn lingers on. The child does not forget. How else would a kid learn?

2) The other thing is that s/he, the religionist, will - somehow - live forever. Few seem to have reflected on that in any depth. What form will the ever-lasting Xtian have? If it's ashes to ashes, etc., then their current form isn't going to be their future 'heavenly' form. And, when asked about the hypothetical case of the bride and the seven brothers, JC was clear about the about the lack of gender (and I presume, lack of 'extra-terrestrial' form).

So what will they be? What form will they assume? How will they know their relatives? Their friends? Etc? I don't have an answer, but I suspect most of the fundies haven't even asked the question.

The nexus of all religion is non-thinking. Someone else does that. The fundies of any credo just chant and parrot contextually-strained one-liners to others of the same mental weakness or proclivity. Besides, there’s more than enough errors in the bible for those who don’t accept the maxim – if in doubt, faith it out. I.e.

Jhn 5:31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.

Jhn 8:14 Though I bear record of myself, [yet] my record is true:

Just 3 chapters apart. What was the author/translator non-thinking? Are we to take 'record' and 'witness' as antonyms? Hardly.

There’s no mention of the creation/birth of the female partner for Cain. Gen 4:17 And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.

How many people were in the city? Where did they come from? That's right - Nod! When did that get created? The standard fundy answer is, "if it was necessary for us to know that, god would've told us and the bible would have it written therein." Ad hoc hypothesis at its best.

Genesis is rich in the ludicrous. Read the Garden of Eden bit with your new mindset. Therein is recorded a physical presence of Yahweh on earth. One that talked, made a footfall (sound) as it walked, could see, and could hear. And preferred the cool of the days for its strolls, no less! How human. How anthropomorphic. Do we have that right, fundy fellah?

Don’t overlook the need for his nibs to butcher some hapless animals and stitch together some skin clothing for the hapless pair. Tape measure, needles and thread, anyone?

However, I don't see the bible or other "holy scripture" as devoid of merit. They often contain some distilled wisdom of the past, made contemporary and re-arranged for a 'new' era. Here's a proposition to consider:

Open the bible at the division between the old & new testaments. On the left, you have eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth; give back as good as you get and a little extra, too, if what you got was bad.

One the right you have forgive and forget, do to others what you would have them do to you, love unconditionally, despite adversity, bless enemies, turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, etc., etc. "Greater love hath no man . . . ."

In my view that's the sum of the book: an 'evolutionary' advancement of the human condition. The waxing of compassionate feelings and benign thoughts - nobler human attributes. Correspondingly, the waning of lesser human, more animalistic behaviours such as strike back, without pity or mercy. A move from the focus on 'lower' things, literally, (digestion, elimination, procreation - below the belt), to the higher things, literally, of the heart and mind, of reason, conscience, conviction and intellect.

BTW - how do you understand the grieving the holy spirit piece? What do you understand it to mean? Enjoy the journey with your eyes & mind now wide open.

Kevin Parry said...

These are some of the thoughts I had while reading Tin Soldier’s comments.

What are my reasons for not believing that heaven and hell exist? Well, lets take the analogy of Pontianak further. Lets say a whole bunch of people tell you that you should invest in a retirement home in Pontianak. It’s a beautiful place, they say, and a great investment. Naturally, you would like to find out more about it, to ensure that your money won’t be wasted. There is one catch, however – you can only go to Pontianak when you retire, not before. This basically means you can’t go there yourself in person to evaluate the place.

Instead, you try finding out about Pontianak through other sources but frustratingly you can’t find it on any map, and there are no photographs or references in telephone directories or on the Internet. However, after a while you do find one reference, an ancient directory that provides a brief description, but no information on Pontianak’s location. In fact, on further inspection, it is not even clear if this directory is fictional or not.

Then you find out that none of your friends, who are urging you to invest your money, have actually been to Pontianak themselves. The only source that they are quoting is that single, ancient directory. Later, you also find out that no one who has ever retired to Pontianak has ever returned. Those who have gone there have never been heard of again.

Would I want to invest with such a great deal of uncertainty? Not at all. Common sense would suggest that I withhold judgment - and my money - until further information is forthcoming. If it is reasonable to apply this kind of thinking to Pontianak, why not to heaven and hell?

Note that I don’t actually have to go to Pontianak to actually believe it exists. To believe, I would need various bits of complimentary evidence of its existence from various different sources. I’m not asking for absolute proof, but rather for some level of certainty gained through some sort of verification.

Moreover, the fact that I can’t find evidence doesn’t mean that Pontianak, or heaven and hell, does not exist. I’m fully aware that I could be wrong. In the meantime, I will withhold belief, partly in the sense that I won’t invest my money - or, in the case of heaven and hell, spend money, energy and time following the Christian doctrine.

Is it reasonable to suggest that we trust authority in this case? I’m not so sure. There are many different sources of authority telling us about the afterlife. The Hindus claim that we will be re-incarnated. The Catholics teach that some of us might go to purgatory for a time before we enter heaven. I once was a Christian who gave up my faith; despite this, the Calvinists believe that I will still go to heaven, but Methodists claim that I will spend eternity separated from God. There are many maps, but they seem to be in conflict with each other. Which one can I trust? How do I know which one shows the correct road to Pontianak?

Tin Soldier wrote:
Heaven and hell, or Pontianak for that matter, cannot be found by those who look for it in the wrong maps.

This is a very valid point, and something that I’ve been struggling with recently myself. It is highly possible that the very nature of the method that I use to determine some certainty of truth is biased towards one kind of truth only (i.e., towards the natural realm?). If this is the case, am I limiting my human experience to one small, narrow worldview, to one map only? I will think about this point some more.

Thank you Tin Soldier, for your comments. I hope to see more of them on my blog in the future.

Kevin

Tin Soldier said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tin Soldier said...

Hi there again Kev!

Sometimes I think I'm not the right person to discuss religious matters with, simply for the lack of extensive knowledge on such topics. But I do want to rejoin by first highlighting a point you make that I agree with. Then I'll offer a few points of contrast where I believe you have mistaken in the process of abandoning your faith in the Christian belief.

You wrote:
Would I want to invest with such a great deal of uncertainty? Not at all. Common sense would suggest that I withhold judgment - and my money - until further information is forthcoming. If it is reasonable to apply this kind of thinking to Pontianak, why not to heaven and hell?

I agree with you totally that it is premature (and foolish, too) to invest any form of trust in something when we aren't even convinced of its credibility. Your attitude in truth-seeking/planning for retirement is laudable. Sad to say a lot of Christians today have abandoned such practices in their worship by replacing common sense with sentimentalism.

Now my points of contrast:

You wrote:
Note that I don't actually have to go to Pontianak to actually believe it exists. To believe, I would need various bits of complimentary evidence of its existence from various different sources. I'm not asking for absolute proof, but rather for some level of certainty gained through some sort of verification.

Excellent point. When it comes to investing in a retirement home where I'll spend my lifelong savings on, I won't bank my money on merely my friends' or my property agent's recommendations. Each might have their own and not my best interest in mind. Since the rest of my life is at stake here, I want to do my own research too rather than signing above the dotted line based on a few casual conversations or even well-meaning advice. The same goes for investing in my afterlife.

Let's come back to the retirement plan in Pontianak. I don't trust my friends or my local agents. So I visit the libraries and make some inquiries through people who study evidences of Pontianak. You see since I can't afford to fly to Pontianak to check out the facts for myself, I have to make do with these methods. I believe like me, you would appreciate the evidence presented through this kind of investigation.

Upon further investigation you would find that the "single volume" of "ancient, antiquated directory" known as the Holy Bible is in fact an anthology of 66 books written over 1,500 years and 40 generations, by more than 40 authors from every walk of life (Moses a political leader, Peter a fisherman, Daniel a prime minister, Luke a doctor, Solomon a king, Matthew a tax collector, etc.), covering literary types from history and law to prophesy and poetry. What's interesting to note is that though the Bible is formed in this manner, all the authors spoke with harmony and continuity from Genesis to Revelation on one theme: "God’s redemption of man." Therefore the Bible, unlike the Quran, is hardly coming from a single source. When 40 authors' writings compliment one another (the most obvious example being the four Gospel records), and a single consistency mistake has yet to be identified by either biblical or secular scholars, I find a question being forced on me: Can 40 people from different times, places and classes of society conspire to fabricate a flawless hoax that brings no obvious or immediate advantage to themselves? I find that remotely likely.

In Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Josh McDowell talks about the manuscript evidence of the New Testament thus:

"There are now more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Add over 10,000 Latin Vulgate and at least 9,300 other early versions and we have more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence.

No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation. In comparison, the Iliad by Homer is second with only 643 manuscripts that still survive. The first complete preserved text of Homer dates from the thirteenth century."
(For a breakdown of the number of surviving manuscripts and sources to consult, see Evidence That Demands a Verdict, p. 40.)

There are a lot more evidence to be presented on the reliability of the Bible and anyone who still rejects the Bible's credibility after acknowledging these facts are either in denial or simply do not want to recognize the Bible as what it is -- it has nothing to do with the lack of evidence. The one thing we cannot say with confidence is that the Bible is unreliable in its preservation and historical accuracy.

Now my second and final point:

You wrote:
Is it reasonable to suggest that we trust authority in this case? I’m not so sure. There are many different sources of authority telling us about the afterlife... [examples omitted]... There are many maps, but they seem to be in conflict with each other. Which one can I trust? How do I know which one shows the correct road to Pontianak?

I agree with you that there are many different sources of authority addressing the afterlife. I would also agree that they all seem to be conflicting each other's claims to truth. And I commend you for having recognized this, because a lot of people would just draw the hasty conclusion that religions are just different paths that lead to the same destination -- even when their fundamental teachings are worlds apart. However by having observed just that, what fair conclusion can we make? Does it follow that just because there are a lot of options available, none of them is true? I don't think that's a fair judgment. But this we can say: Since we have more than one religion to choose from, not all of them can be true at the same time simply by virtue of each of their teachings. I won't illustrate this because I'm confident that you've already got my point by now. But one interesting digression: Throughout history Christians have always been singled out as the whipping boy for religious intolerance. What people don't realize is that for all other major religions of the world to be able to claim that their religion is true, they too have to have a claim on exclusivity, hence be guilty of the same charge.

But I don't think that paints the clearest picture of the nature of religions. Remember that truth by definition is exclusive. It is impossible for anyone, theists and atheists alike, to practice religious pluralism while staying true to his or her own belief (by religious pluralism I mean acknowledging all religions as true, not to be taken as the respect for people practicing religions different from my own).

So how do we know which is true and which is not? I believe by carefully examining each we can come to a much better conclusion. I often hear a lot from folks who find it adequate to just parrot clichés about religions, especially Christianity. I'm glad to meet an atheist who is not afraid to think deeper.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Perry

Thank you for your comments. I’m not entirely sure if you were directing your questions to me or to Tin Soldier. If the questions were directed at me, I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer them (as I’m not a Christian, after all).

There is one thing that I would like to focus on in your comment:

Perry wrote:
Rather than have reasonable and rational people feel the need to defend atheism, it seems to me that the burden of proof lies with the claimant – the Xtians

I agree fully with you on this point. The burden of proof does fall on theists, as they are making the claim that the supernatural exists. Dan Barker, in his book Loosing Faith in Faith, explains this concept with an analogy: if a scientist made the claim that she/he had built an anti-gravity machine, and then refused to show anyone any evidence of its existence, would it be the responsibility of all doubting scientists to prove that the machine does not exist? Of course not. The burden of proof is on the scientist who is making the anti-gravity claim. The same applies to the theist who makes the claim that God exists.

However, what about the strong atheist who claims ‘there is no God’, or ‘the supernatural does not exist’. Is this not a claim? Wouldn’t the burden of proof be on the strong atheist in this case? I would like to know your thoughts on this, Perry.

I see myself as a weak atheist: I don’t make the claim that God does not exist, I’m simply unconvinced.

Kevin

Perry said...

Kevin

We are fellow-travellers in the experience of life. My comments were largely observations on what had gone before, not ‘directed’ at anyone in particular. Anyone may offer a counter-comment or opinion for the same consideration by any reader.

You’ve answered your own question. “There is no anti-gravity machine,” is simply an alternative way of saying, “Show me your anti-gravity machine.” Likewise, “there is no god” is a very shortened way of saying: “In the absence of proof and empirical evidence, I declare your claims to be without provable foundation and that (therefore) there is no god, as you have asserted.” The name of the deity is irrelevant. The burden of proof is and ever-remains with the primary claimant.

You aver that you are a weak atheist because you’re simply unconvinced. So, I ask you: what would it take to convince you that a god did/did not exist? And how would one differentiate between this, that or the other god of this, that or the other religion?

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Tin Soldier

Thank you again for your interesting comments. Your posts have challenged my thinking, and that is always a good thing!

Tin Soldier wrote:
Upon further investigation you would find that the "single volume" of "ancient, antiquated directory" known as the Holy Bible is in fact an anthology of 66 books written over 1,500 years and 40 generations, by more than 40 authors from every walk of life . . . the authors spoke with harmony and continuity from Genesis to Revelation on one theme

I don’t know much about church history, so I could be wrong here, but didn’t the New Testament cannon go through many changes before it was officially codified in the 4th century? Until the 4th century many books were accepted as divinely inspired, and then were later rejected. At the Synod of Laodicea in 363 AD, the first synod to decide on the official contents of the New Testament, Revelation was not included into the cannon - it was only included later. Even now the Catholic Bible has an additional 7 books from the Apocrypha (such as Tobias, Judith, Wisdom and others). If the bible was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit, don’t you think early Christians would have had a single, final list of canonical books from the very beginning? See Richard Carrier’s article on the internet for a fascinating discussion on the history of the New Testament cannon.

You are right, it is highly improbable that 40 different authors, from different time periods and different cultures, conspired to write in harmony. Is it possible, though, that a group of bishops, meeting in one room at the same time, conspired to include certain books in the bible that agreed with their theology, and excluded those that did not? Could this be the reason for the harmony that we see in the bible?

Tin Soldier wrote (quoting McDowell):
”There are now more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Add over 10,000 Latin Vulgate and at least 9,300 other early versions and we have more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence.”

This is true, but it can be argued that the amount of copies of a certain manuscript is not a measure of the accuracy or truthfulness of the original manuscript. When I was a teenager, I kept a very detailed diary of daily events that happened at school and at home. I recorded the events of every single day for a full 6 years [I sometimes have this unhealthy obsession with wanting to record and classify all sorts of things, from empty soda cans to old newspapers :-)]. There is only one copy of my diary, so according to McDowell’s argument my diary can’t be that accurate or truthful at all. If the original manuscripts of the bible contained errors, these would ended up in all copies, irrespective of the number of copies available.

Tin Soldier wrote:
However by having observed just that, what fair conclusion can we make? Does it follow that just because there are a lot of options available, none of them is true? I don't think that's a fair judgment.

I agree with you – this is a very good point. Just because contradictions exist between different explanations doesn’t mean that all explanations are false. I guess the question would be this: how can one decide which option is true? There are hundreds of different faiths, many extinct and some still in existence. There is not enough time and energy for one person to scrutinize and study them all.

Thank you again for your comments.

Kevin

Perry said...

Quote:
"The one thing we cannot say with confidence is that the Bible is unreliable in its preservation and historical accuracy."

That is flargrant assertion and an appeal to history. The bible is most unreliable on many such aspects. The contemporary presence of Tyre on today's geography atlases is a simple one. The creative bible-thumper workarounds for this are as numerous as holes in a colander.

Dale said...

Hi, all ..

Just wanted to weigh in on a couple of things .. this is all in love, by the way, and in the spirit of discourse .. but upfront, I am a Christian and I believe in the Word of the Bible and of Jesus Christ.

First of all, in response to the "diary of my school attendance" comment, McDowell isn't saying that your diary isn't truthful because it's only one book, he's saying that if we have your diary saying you went to school on such and such a date, and then we found a roll call of all six of your teachers saying you were absent, which should we believe?

Secular and Christian writing support the life and story of Jesus. (Josephus is a good example. Also, Luke cites several verifable historical places, people and customs in Acts.)

My question to the group is this: If there is no God, and this life is the only conciousness we have, and there is no afterlife (therefore we must make the best of our lives as we live them here on earth), then how do you explain the Moral Law (sometimes called the Moral Arguement)? All cultures, races, and peoples, regardless of historical or geographical location have had a Moral sense written on their hearts. To be blunt, it's never OK to rape babies, regardless of religion, race, location or historical era.

How do you explain that?

Pigmies in New Ginuea have a Moral law. The Saxons had a Moral law. Americans have a Moral law. (I'm speaking broadly here, set aside for a second prayer in schools and "Under God" in the Pledge.)

In other words, people know right from wrong across all boundries. (Once again, think broadly -- I'm not debating whether chopping off a man's hand for stealing in ancient Arabia is moral or not. I'm talking about the fact that people can TELL right from wrong, that the magistrates in ancient Arabia had the choice to discern right from wrong.)

If there is no God, then where did the Moral Law come from? Why does the Moral Law contradict every aspect of Naturalism/Darwinism? (Love overcoming hate vs. survival of the fittest.)

If there is no God, then is it OK to rape babies?

Tin Soldier said...

HI PERRY!

You wrote:
Quote:
"The one thing we cannot say with confidence is that the Bible is unreliable in its preservation and historical accuracy."

That is flargrant assertion and an appeal to history. The bible is most unreliable on many such aspects. The contemporary presence of Tyre on today's geography atlases is a simple one. The creative bible-thumper workarounds for this are as numerous as holes in a colander.


I would like to think that you have made any counter-arguments against those which you quoted me making much earlier. But I can't find any.

So what if the statements I made appeal to history? Everyone else (yourself included) is doing the same thing. For how else could anyone argue for or against the very subject at all? You said earlier that your opinions were largely observational on what had gone before (which in itself is a sort of appeal to history), but please be fair when participating in this kind of discussions. Your statements weren't backed up by any counter-evidence by which anyone could tell your comments apart from mere religion-bashing. The least you could do is present a decent argument quoting your sources like everyone else is doing, rather than just stating "opinions" as such.




HI DALE! I'm glad you've joined this exciting discussion. AND HELLO AGAIN KEV!

I agree with Dale's argument for the manuscript evidence of the Bible, though I think a better illustration is called for. On the other hand I think Kev's counter-argument in response to Dale's argument for manuscript evidence is a little bit all over the map...

Dale wrote:
[I]n response to the "diary of my school attendance" comment, McDowell isn't saying that your diary isn't truthful because it's only one book, he's saying that if we have your diary saying you went to school on such and such a date, and then we found a roll call of all six of your teachers saying you were absent, which should we believe?

To which Kev replied:
This is a good test. Let's apply it to the Bible. I had a look at this apologetic site which references all extra-biblical references to Jesus...

That was where Kev got a little ahead of himself. The issue being discussed is, specifically, whether or not a huge enough volume of manuscripts/copies is reliable method to piece together the original contents in the absence of the autographs. Kev seemed to have sidestepped the issue when he tried to shift focus by applying the test to extra-biblical references of Jesus. Unless we focus on the real issue our discussion isn’t going to be in the least tidy, not to mention fruitful. As long as we acknowledge this and put the line of arguments on autographs and manuscripts in perspective, we can move on to discussing the separate issue on extra-biblical references to Jesus with another set of relevant evidence. To be really honest I can't see how Kev could maintain coherence in his arguments by applying one method to a totally irrelevant test.

However I suspect Kev’s mistake might have partly been caused by the "school attendance diary" illustration. A better illustration could be this: Say your grand aunt baked the best pineapple pies in town, and her whole life she wrote her recipe down on a piece of paper and a piece of paper only. One day she died. And for certain reasons she had burned the original piece of pineapple pie recipe to ashes and your whole family thinks your grand aunt's heritage is forever lost. Then a neighbor came to your house and claimed to have in her possession a copy of your grand aunt's pineapple pie recipe. Before anyone could speculate anything another neighbor came knocking and revealed another copy... then another... then another... then another...

Now here's the challenge: How do we know which are the authentic copies and which are not? Well if we only have two handfuls of supposed copies/manuscripts our chances of reviving your grand aunt's legacy is next to never. But then a close-miracle happened: After some years your family has done the really hard work and identified 32,000 authentic copies of grand aunt's pineapple pie recipe by comparing one copy to another. With the original/autograph lost and that amount of copies/manuscripts now in possession – even when considering the minor discrepancies among all the authentic copies – we can now accurately reconstruct grand aunt's recipe almost to the absolute exactitude.

I think the above illustration paints a clearer picture of how the New Testament manuscripts were acquired. This is the standard procedure applied to all major documents of antiquity, including those by Homer and Shakespeare, and the amount of all these manuscripts combined don't even stack up against the volume of manuscripts for the New Testament. This is nothing new for those who are familiar with the study of textual criticism. And I'm not arguing that the Bible is the Word of God simply by sheer volume of its available manuscripts. But anyone seeking truth will certainly consider a book that has come through such exhaustive scrutiny with flying colors.

And this is what I think, Kev, about your response to Dale's comments on the moral argument.

You wrote:
If there was a single Law Giver, wouldn’t we expect the moral laws of all human cultures to be same? If we look at different cultures, we see that many don’t feel the same moral law that Christians feel. Some cultures have no problem with polygamy, for example.

One really couldn’t get any further from the truth than the above observation. The way I see it, Dale is appealing to the essential similarity rather than the superficial difference in morality across cultures or societies. As C.S. Lewis puts it in chapter 2 of Mere Christianity, "I have met people who exaggerate the differences [between people's ideas of morality], because they have not distinguished between differences of morality and differences of belief about facts. For example, one man said to me, 'Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?' But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbors or drive them mad or bring bad weather – surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did? There is no difference of moral principle here: the difference is simply about matter of fact. It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there. You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house" (emphasis added). And the same argument stands strong against both your examples of female priests and divorce as a sin.

So I think Dale has a more accurate observation of morality across cultures; that the difference in morality that people talk about is really only differences in facts and not in essential moral principles.

I'll address your interesting response on biblical canons in my next post (hopefully a much shorter one!!). Keep it up, Kev!

Perry said...

OK, tin solider, look back objectively at what I last posted.

You alleged that ". . . the Bible is reliable in its historical accuracy." (paraphrased for brevity, implied)

I gave you an example to counter, viz: Tyre.

Get out your bible / concordance and look it up. (Ez 26: 21)

The bible says Tyre won’t be around in the future.

Then get out an atlas and look it up.
(Lebanon, eastern end of the Mediterranean.

The atlas shows (says) it’s there. Still.
(Do you need to physically go there, to accept that?)

Fair conclusion: the bible is unreliable in its historical accuracy.

You said that you would like to think that I had made counter-arguments. I did. But you said that you couldn’t find any. How hard did you try? Does the above suffice?

And remember, please be fair when participating in this kind of discussion. My statement was sufficiently self-explanatory that you had the information to verify what I claimed. I.e. historical, verifiable counter-evidence (to your assertion) by which anyone could tell my comments apart from mere religion-bashing. The least you could have done was check it out and present a decent rebuttal using readily available reference resources, rather than just claiming my statement was "opinion." You didn’t.

Your call.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi all

For some reason, some of my comments that I posted last week (and some posted by others) have disappeared. They were visible for a while, because Tin Soldier responded to one of them.

I have copied my original response to Dale below. I originally posted this on the 04/02/05. You can see Tin Soldier’s response to this post above. It seems that Blogger was hiccupping again.

----------------------

Hi Dale

Thank you for your comments. I appreciate the feedback. I must say from the outset that I’m not a theologian or a biblical scholar, so I am open to correction on anything that I say regarding theology and the Bible. In fact, I’m open to correction on any topic that I cover on this blog. So to everyone reading this: check everything I say, and please let me know if I’m in error with regards to facts that I present. That been said, I just wanted to comment on some of the points in Dale’s post.

Dale wrote:
Secular and Christian writing support the life and story of Jesus. (Josephus is a good example.

As far as I know, there are two references to Jesus in the works of Josephus. The most famous is a paragraph known as the Testimonium Flavianum, which is found in Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, chapter 3. This was published in 93 AD. In this paragraph, Josephus refers to Jesus as the Christ. He also records some facts of Jesus’ life: that he was condemned to the cross by Pilate, and that he appeared to his followers on the third day after his crucifixion. The second reference also appears in Antiquities, in Book 20, chapter 19, where Josephus mentions James, ‘the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ’.

Suffice it to say that there has been much debate over the validity of these two references, and there much doubt to their authenticity. It has been argued that Josephus, known as a staunch Jew, would never have referred to Jesus as ‘the Christ’. Moreover, the Testimonium Flavianum was never quoted by any of the early church fathers. Origen (185-254), for example, frequently quoted Josephus. Strangely, he did not mention the Testimonium Flavianum at all, which would have been effective ammunition against the Jews he was arguing against. The first Christian reference of the Testimonium Flavianum only occurs in the 4th century AD. Thus there is some weight to the argument that these references were not written by Josephus, but were forged – or at least embellished – by Christian writers.

Be that as it may, even if these two references are genuine and they refer to the Jesus of the gospels, they still can’t count as strong evidence, simply because they were written 60 years after Jesus was crucified.

Dale wrote:
Also, Luke cites several verifable historical places, people and customs in Acts.)

Does this mean that everything that Luke records is accurate and truthful? I don’t know if this argument is valid. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, recorded his revelations and life story in The Pearl of Great Price. Within this book there are many historical facts that can be verified to be true. For example, it can be verified that Joseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805; that the Mormon church was organised in 1830; that there is a place called Sharon in Windsor County, Vermount; etc; etc. However, Smith also claims, in this book, that he was visited by God and Jesus, and that the angel Moroni gave him golden plates on which the Book of Mormon was written. The Pearl of Great Price contains many historical claims that can be verified. Does this mean that we should believe everything contained in the book? No, we shouldn’t. Every claim has to be judged on its own merits.

Likewise with Luke: he did record historical facts that can be verified, but he also recorded miracle events that haven’t been verified. So I believe that there might be some truths to his story, but I doubt the miracle claims.

Dale wrote:
First of all, in response to the "diary of my school attendance" comment, McDowell isn't saying that your diary isn't truthful because it's only one book, he's saying that if we have your diary saying you went to school on such and such a date, and then we found a roll call of all six of your teachers saying you were absent, which should we believe?

This is a good test. Let’s apply it to the Bible. I had a look at this apologetic site which references all extra-biblical references to Jesus (see http://www.carm.org/bible/extrabiblical_accounts.htm). As you can see, there are no extra-biblical references to Jesus during his own lifetime. I find this quite strange. Jesus was supposed to be a miracle man who attracted crowds of people. He healed the sick and eventually rose from the dead. According to Matthew, when Jesus died, saints rose from the grave and walked the streets of Jerusalem, where they were seen by many (Matthew 27:45-53). These are very strange and unusual events, so one would expect the writers and scribes of the day to record them. It so happens that we have the works of as many as 42 writers who lived around the time of Jesus. John E Remsburg, in The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His Existence lists the names of these writers. They include Philo Judaeus (who lived in and around Jerusalem), Arrian, Plutarch, Apollonius, Hermogones, Appian, Damis, Aulus Gellius, Appion of Alexandria, Petronius, Juvenal, Quintilian, Silius Italicus, to name a few. Strangely, not one of these contemporary writers mentioned Jesus at all.

Not only are contemporary writers silent on Jesus, but some of the events described in the gospels, events that would have affected the lives of many, are not mentioned either. A famous example is the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod (Matthew 2:16-18). As far as I know, there are presently no extra-biblical references of this event from that time. For example, Josephus meticulously chronicled Herod’s evil deeds, but the slaughter of the innocents is not even mentioned. How could the innocent murder of hundreds of children not be noticed by any of the extra-biblical writers of that time? Matthew is the only writer who records it (the other gospels don’t).

To summarise: one way in which we can get an idea of the truthfulness of a manuscript is to find corroboratory evidence from other sources. If I had written in my diary that I had been to school on a certain day, but the roll call registers of a number of teachers contradicted this, then we can be doubtful of my claim. The Bible contains many incredible claims regarding Jesus that would have been witnessed by hundreds of witnesses, but strangely the roll-call registers of extra-biblical writers living at the time of Jesus are silent. So I am doubtful that the story of Jesus happened as the Bible claims.

Dale wrote:
If there is no God, then where did the Moral Law come from?

This is something that I’m still working through: where do morals come from? Could it be that the source of the moral law is not from one single Law Giver, but from society? If there was a single Law Giver, wouldn’t we expect the moral laws of all human cultures to be same? If we look at different cultures, we see that many don’t feel the same moral law that Christians feel. Some cultures have no problem with polygamy, for example. And even in Western culture Christians have changed their own moral law over time. For example, in the past, women were not allowed to be leaders in the church. This has changed. And divorce is not as ‘evil’ as it used to be. One can argue that morals come from society because morals seem to change over time according to society’s needs. I know this argument is not that air tight, but as I said above, I’m still reading up on the whole argument regarding morality.

Thank you again for your comments, Dale. You encouraged me to think about all of this. I just want to apologise for the length of this post – I get carried away sometimes when I hook onto a subject that is as fascinating as this.

Kevin

Tin Soldier said...

Hello again, Perry!

I have indeed been hasty in claiming that the Bible is error-free in its historical inerrancy without getting my facts straight. Thank you for pointing that out for me! And I sincerely apologize for such a serious blunder and for making a fool out of myself.

I stand corrected, and myself reprove.

However I remain unapologetic in claiming that, historically inerrant or not, the Bible is reliable in its preservation as I have illustrated in my previous comment. I would very much like to be proven wrong on this.

Kevin Parry said...

Perry wrote:
So, I ask you: what would it take to convince you that a god did/did not exist? And how would one differentiate between this, that or the other god of this, that or the other religion

This is a very interesting question. I do know what it would take for me to be convinced of God’s existence. But to be convinced of God’s non-existence?

Isn’t this is the same as asking what would convince me that the Loch Ness monster doesn’t exist? If a team of engineers drained the entire loch of water and looked in every nook and cranny – and found nothing – then I would be totally convinced that the monster doesn’t exist. However, in the case of God we have to flush out the entire universe, so to speak, which is impossible. Until such time we know every nook and cranny of the universe (or until good, solid evidence comes our way), I will simply be unconvinced that God (or any type of god) exists.


Kevin

Perry said...

Tin Soldier alleged: “What's interesting to note is that though the Bible is formed in this manner, all the authors spoke with harmony and continuity from Genesis to Revelation.”

Nonsense. Self deception and wishful thinking.

Just like Tyre, that claim is assertion, plain and simple, which is contrary to the objective reading of the texts. The NT books are replete with errors and gross distortions of OT extracts in an effort to lay claim to ‘prophecy.’ Just look up “Judas” and you’ll find that one book from the whole confabulation says he returned the 30 pieces of silver and threw them on the temple floor. Another book (inharmoniously) says Judas bought a field with his 30 silver pieces.

One book says JC’s “Roman” robe was purple. Another (inharmoniously) says it was scarlet. What time was Jesus crucified? One book says the 3rd hour. Another book (inharmoniously) says after 6th hour? That’s only scratching the surface. It just goes on and on and on. Only those who have abdicated reason and common sense can have phaith in such fables.

Even in their attempts to provide continuity and harmony, the assorted Councils of Laodicea, Constantinople and Nicea, etc., still couldn’t collude the whole thing in any plausible way for those who retain some objectivity.

Tin Soldier said...

Greetings, Perry!

You provided 4 specific objections to the Bible as follows: Tyre, the hour of Jesus' crucifixion, the color of Jesus' robe, and Judas.

Due to the length of my response to each I'll only dedicate this post to answering your objection regarding Tyre. For the sake of flow I would not respond to any further rejoinders until I have addressed all 4 of your objections mentioned above.

1. THE PROBLEM OF TYRE

You wrote:
I gave you an example to counter, viz: Tyre.

Get out your bible / concordance and look it up. (Ez 26: 21)

The bible says Tyre won't be around in the future.

Then get out an atlas and look it up.
(Lebanon, eastern end of the Mediterranean.

The atlas shows (says) it's there. Still.
(Do you need to physically go there, to accept that?)

Fair conclusion: the bible is unreliable in its historical accuracy.


Unfortunately, as demonstrated above, your alleged "objective reading" of the texts amounts to nothing more than a slightly egocentric approach to biblical exegesis in this case. It's way too easy to cherry-pick one verse from the Bible and then beat it out of context.

Some believe that Ezekiel's prophecies regarding Tyre in Ezekiel 26-28 never fully came to pass; and if they did, it didn't last because Tyre was rebuilt. The contention here is that the Tyre that was described by the LORD through Ezekiel was never rebuilt. Tyre never regained it's former affluence, independence, strength, trade, influence, or glory that it had prior to Nebuchadnezzar's and Alexander's attacks; consequently, it was never rebuilt, as such. After all, Ezekiel chapters 26-28 describe Tyre not just as any old city but the LORD spent a lot of time describing the city's prosperity and proud character (esp. 27 and 28). So given that this is a more exegetical analysis of Ezekiel's Tyre prophesy (vs. your one-verse inference to the contrary), did Tyre ever regain or rebuild that which Ezekiel described? Let's see:

Tyre's Trading Partners
(Ezekiel 27:12-25)

NAME (LOCATION) [MERCHANDISE]

1. Tarshish (Spain?) [Silver, iron, tin, lead]
2. Greece (Modern Greece) [Slaves, bronze implements]
3. Tubal (Eastern Turkey) [Slaves, bronze implements]
4. Meshech (Central Turkey) [Slaves, bronze implements]
5. Beth Togarmah (Eastern Turkey) [Work horses, war horses, mules]
6. Rhodes (Modern Rhodes) [Ivory tusks, ebony]
7. Aram/Edom (Syria/Jordan) [Turquoise, purple fabric, embroidered work, fine linen, coral, rubies]
8. Judah (Palestine) [Wheat, olive oil, balm, confections, honey]
9. Israel (Palestine) [Wheat, olive oil, balm, confections, honey]
10. Damascus (Syria) [Wine, wool]
11. Danites (Aden?) [Wrought iron, cassia, calamus]
12. Greeks from Uzal (Yemen/south-eastern Turkey) [Wrought iron, cassia, calamus]
13. Dedan (Arabia) [Saddle blankets]
14. Arabia (Arabia) [Lambs, rams, goats]
15. Kedar (Arabia) [Lambs, rams, goats]
16. Sheba (Southern Arabia) [Spices, precious stones, gold]
17. Raamah (Southern Arabia) [Spices, precious stones, gold]
18-23. Haran, Canneh, Eden, Sheba, Asshur, Kilmad (Mesopotamia) [Blue fabric, embroidered work, multicolored rugs]
[Taken from: Charles H. Dyer, "Ezekiel", The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., (Victor Books, 1987), pg. 1281]


Only Tyre, currently queen of the coast and once the defier of Shalmaneser and Nebuchadnezzar, dared shut it's gates in the face of an invader. Was not its past experience enough to give its people a feeling of invincibility vis-a-vis a hitherto unknown foe from Macedon?... At last it succumbed... Proudly the conqueror marched into the city with his soldiers in full armour... Thus ended Tyre's historical role as an island fortress.
[Phillip Hitti, Lebanon in History, (London: MacMillan and Co. LTD, 1957), pgs. 160-162]


There has been much question whether the island city was ultimately captured by Nebuchadnezzar or not; but even writers who take the negative view admit that it must have submitted and owned the suzerainty of its assailant. The date of the submission was B.C. 585. Thus Tyre, in B.C. 585, 'fell from her high estate.' Ezekiel's prophecies were fulfilled. Ithobal III, the 'prince of Tyrus' of those prophecies, whose 'head had been lifted up,' and who had said in his heart, 'I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the waters,' who deemed himself 'wiser than Daniel,' and thought that no secret was hid from him, was 'brought down to the pit,' 'cast to the ground,' 'brought to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that beheld him.' Tyre herself was 'broken in the midst of the seas.' A blight fell upon her.
[George Rawlinson, History of Phoenicia, (London: Longmans, Green, and CO., 1889), pgs. 473-474]


Tyre, though no more than eighteen years had elapsed since its desolation by Alexander, had, like the fabled phoenix, risen again from its ruins, and through the recuperative energy of commerce had attained almost to its previous wealth and prosperity.
[George Rawlinson, History of Phoenicia, (London: Longmans, Green, and CO., 1889), pg. 531]


The profits of Tyre's trade in the west seem to have been enormous. It is recorded that even the anchors of the ships returning from Spain were made of silver. The Tyrian merchants are represented as "princes of the sea" upon their thrones, with robes and broidered garments. Her merchants were princes, her traffickers were the honorable of the earth. The most important of the ancient documents regarding the commerce of Tyre is the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Ezekiel... such was the world-wide commerce of Tyre in the days of her glory....A blow was struck, more serious to the commerce of Tyre than any of the fearful sieges through which she passed, when Alexandria was founded and trade diverted to it. Later she suffered still further when Rome made herself the center of the world's affairs. However, Tyre continued to flourish as a commercial center... The present petty trade of Tyre, dim shadow of a mighty past, is described on page 132....
[Wallace B. Fleming, History of Tyre, (New York: AMS Press, Inc., 1966), pgs. 138, 141-142]


The commerce of the modern town is very small;... The rich trade of the orient via Damascus no longer comes by caravan to Tyre... The marine trade routes have shifted so that they can never again be controlled from Tyre. She carries on a small trade with Egypt and Beirut in tobacco, charcoal and wood from the neighboring territory, and in wheat, straw and millstones from the Hauran. A sorry shadow of the days when Tyre was the mart of the nation and the mistress of the seas.
[Wallace B. Fleming, History of Tyre, (New York: AMS Press, Inc., 1966), pgs. 131-132]


Other factors contribute to our lack of knowledge about the Phoenicians. For example, most of the early archaeological explorers of the Levant were preoccupied with Jerusalem and other biblical sites. Their ships might land at Tripoli or Beirut, but they usually made a quick trip down the coast to get to their real goal. Some visited Tyre on their way, but it was usually just to gloat on that city's pitiful state. In 1841, for example, Edward Robinson recalled the prophet Ezekiel's curses of Tyre when he wrote, "I continued my walk... musing upon the pomp and glory, the pride and fall, of ancient Tyre... [which] has indeed become 'like the top of a rock, a place to spread nets upon!'... and the hovels which now nestle upon a portion of her site, present no contradiction of [Ezekiel's] dread decree: 'Thou shalt be built no more!' "
[Patricia M. Bikai, "The Phoenicians: Rich and Glorious Traders of the Levant", Archeology, March/April 1990, pg. 23]


With the taking of Tyre by the Macedonians, the history of Phoenicia came to an end. The boldest and finest creation of the Semite seafarers, the city in the sea, the man-made island, was joined to the land by a dam for evermore and thus robbed of its uniqueness. It blossomed once again under the Romans, and today boasts mighty ruins from Imperial times, but these columns and triumphal arches reflect nothing of that older glory, of which Ezekiel once sang: 'Thou has been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering... and gold; the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.' Alexander had silenced these instruments forever.
[Gerhard Herm, The Phoenicians: The Purple Empire of the Ancient World, (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1975), pg. 230]


The fall of Tyre to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 573 bore out the prophecy of Ezekiel; and the glory of Phoenicia was at an end.
["The Phoenicians: Seafarers and Craftsman", Reader's Digest Atlas of the Bible, (Pleasantville, New York: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1987), pg. 116]

(Thanks to Frank DeCenso for the above sources.)

Therefore, in light of these evidence and in examining the prophecies of Ezekiel against Tyre (Ezekiel 26-28), it is much more sensible to conclude that it's highly probable that Ezekiel was accurate in describing the utter destruction of Tyre as an influential, affluent, proud city. It is difficult to believe that the actual location of the city could be "found no more" when it formerly occupied completely the island with walls built to the water’s edge.

Tin Soldier said...

2. THE HOUR OF CRUCIFIXION

You wrote:
What time was Jesus crucified? One book says the 3rd hour. Another book (inharmoniously) says after 6th hour?

I'm quoting below a response from Paul Scott Pruett from Nashville:

Mark states that Jesus was crucified at the "third" hour on Good Friday, and John indicates that the trial of Jesus was still going on at the "sixth" hour, indicating that the time of His crucifixion was later still. There are a several responses to this, but the most probable is as follows.

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) used a different method to number the hours of the day than John. Matthew, Mark, and Luke used the traditional Hebrew system, in which the hours of the day were numbered from sunrise (approximately 6:00 AM), which places the crucifixion at about 9:00 AM, or the third hour by this system. John, did not employ the Hebrew system, he used the Roman civil day. The Roman system defined a day from midnight to midnight, as we do today. Pliny the Elder (in Natural History 2.77) and Macrobius (Saturnalia 1.3) provide historical confirmation of this fact. Therefore, using the Roman system, which was used by John, the trial of Jesus ended around the sixth hour (6:00 AM), which was the first hour of the Hebrew system used by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Between this time and the time of crucifixion, Jesus was flogged, mocked, and beaten by the Roman soldiers in the Praetorium (Mark 15:16-20). The crucifixion itself occurred at the third hour in the Hebrew system, which is the ninth in the Roman system, or 9:00 AM to us.

Why did John use a different numbering system? The Gospel of John was written after the other three (as late as 90 AD) while he resided in Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia. John, by this time, was probably most comfortable with the Roman system. John used the Roman system in John 21:19: "On the evening of that first day of the week." This was Sunday evening, which in the Hebrew system was actually the second day, because each day began at sunset.


Pruett went further:

Now, while I am not suggesting the need to surrender inerrancy, as an interesting thought experiment let's assume for the moment that the Gospels do contain irreconcilable discrepancies. What conclusions might be drawn from this?

Many skeptics seem to argue as though the existence of contradictions invalidates the Scriptures as a whole. But this conclusion doesn't follow; at best, all this would do is defeat our common understanding of Biblical inerrancy. Isolated errors would not automatically turn the essential claims of Christianity into mythology.

At minimum, we can view the Gospels as a case of 4 independent testimonies, much like we do with witnesses at the scene of a crime. Accounts may vary in detail, but the general events are easily discerned if the testimonies are genuine. For example, the precise time, colors of clothing, or exact sequence of events may vary, but the crucial details may be gleaned, such as that it was Tuesday, the location was the library, Mr. White was the aggressor, and a knife was used. It is in the foundational details that variation is lethal to the credibility of a witness. Now, if witness B says the murder was on Monday, that Mr. Green was the aggressor, and the weapon was a pipe, then we know that somebody, or possibly all parties, are not giving credible testimony.

Even if it could (emphasis added) be proved that there were irreconcilable contradictions in Scripture, we still have to account for the vast consistencies. It should be noted that none of the passages in question happen to relate to anything such as claims that Jesus was just a man, or did not do miracles, or did not rise from the dead, or exhibited questionable moral character – nothing that affects any of the fundamental doctrines of classical Christianity. It is presumptuous to simply dismiss the uniform portrait of Jesus and his earthly ministry that is painted by the four distinct brushes of the Gospels.

Many of those who attack Scripture also advocate the idea that it is just mythology or deception authored by the early church, and that these founding fathers made a practice of enhancing, expanding, or adapting the manuscripts as needed. But if this were the case then we'd expect all these "issues" to be long since worked out of the text. Surely those so intimate with the Scriptures would not perpetually overlook such "obvious" discrepancies. The existence of these "issues" surely tells us something about the early church's unwillingness to meddle with these texts.

We should also not be so naïve as to imagine that the lack of inconsistencies would be taken as proof for the events in the Gospels. In fact, it would surely be looked on as evidence of complicity. As it turns out, discrepancies (or at least notable differences) disaffirm collusion; it is what one would expect to find in independent testimonies. In the criminal justice system, witness testimonies that parallel too closely are held in suspicion, while radical divergence is a sign of fraud. There must be an appropriate balance between independence and collaboration. Could it be that God's sovereign hand is found even in a permissive use of diversity?


Your call.

Tin Soldier said...

3. THE COLOR OF THE ROBE

Your wrote:
One book says JC’s “Roman” robe was purple. Another (inharmoniously) says it was scarlet.

There are many explanations to this, and admittedly some more ludicrous than others. I for one wouldn't for a minute worry about this relatively incidental "contradiction". I would only begin to seriously question the credibility of the accounts if, say, one book explicitly claims that Roman soldiers put a robe on Jesus while another book claims equally explicitly that Greek housewives put a robe on Jesus instead. The lack of further elaborations in any of the gospel accounts on this piece of detail should clearly indicate the focus of the gospels being the Person wearing the robe, not the robe that's being put on the Person.

Even if it was a valid contradiction (an assumption which insofar as we know is empirically unverifiable either way), the fact still doesn't in the least affect the doctrines upon which Christianity is founded.

Tin Soldier said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tin Soldier said...

4. JUDAS ISCARIOT

Your wrote:
Just look up “Judas” and you’ll find that one book from the whole confabulation says he returned the 30 pieces of silver and threw them on the temple floor. Another book (inharmoniously) says Judas bought a field with his 30 silver pieces.

Again, bad interpretation of the Bible based on verses taken out of context. Here's the best response that I have come across so far:


The description of Judas’ death is not the only problem skeptics have with Acts 1:18. Since Matthew 27:5-6 says the chief priests used the betrayal money that Judas threw on the temple floor to purchase the potter’s field, critics contend that a contradiction exists because Acts 1:18 indicates that Judas purchased the field with the blood money. Obviously, Judas could not have purchased the field because he gave the 30 pieces of silver back to the priests before hanging himself. Thus, to say that Judas bought the potter’s field is incorrect…right? Wrong!

I suppose if common sense and unbiased reasoning were omitted from this discussion, then one might conclude that these differences represent a legitimate contradiction. If one believes it is wrong to say a father bought a car for his son, when in actuality the son purchased the car with $5,000 his father gave him, then I suppose that Acts 1:18 and Matthew 27:5-6 are contradictory. If one believes that it is wrong to say an employer purchased a meal for his staff, when it really was one of the employees who handed the money to the waiter, then the events recorded in Acts 1:18 could be considered fictitious. But what reasonable person would reach such conclusions as these?

Acts 1:18 simply informs us that Judas furnished the means of purchasing the field. One is not forced to conclude that Judas personally bought the potter’s field. As in modern-day writings and speeches, it is very common for the Scriptures to represent a man as doing a thing when, in fact, he merely supplies the means for doing it. For example, Joseph spoke of his brothers as selling him into Egypt (Genesis 45:4-5; cf. Acts 7:9), when actually they sold him to the Ishmaelites (who then sold him into Egypt). John mentions that “the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples)” (John 4:1-3). And when the Bible says, “Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him” (John 19:1), most people understand that he simply ordered Jesus to be scourged, not that he actually did the scourging himself. The same principle is recognized in law in the well-known Latin maxim, “Qui facit per alium, facit per se” (“he who acts through another is deemed in law to do it himself”).

Whether one says that Judas “purchased a field with the wages of iniquity” (Acts 1:18), or that the chief priests “bought with them the potter’s field” (Matthew 27:7), he has stated the same truth, only in different ways.
[Eric Lyons, M.Min., "Who Bought the Potter's Field?", (Apologetics Press)]



All 4 of your objections almost sounded convincing until one considers all the major facts surrounding the biblical texts in question. Certain passages in the Bible (such as those that you have pointed out) at first glance can appear to be contradictory, but further investigation will show this is not the case. One thing for which I appeal with regard to possible contradictions is fairness. We should not minimize or exaggerate the problem, and we must always begin by giving the author the benefit of the doubt. This is the rule in other literature, and I ask that it also be the rule here.

I wish you would seriously consider all the facts presented above based on sound reason and common sense. When it comes to objections to the Bible, people love simplistic conclusions such as those drawn haphazardly and carelessly.

You and I are certainly no experts. But when common people really exercise their common sense, they can reach a much more reasonable conclusion than those that you have suggested. Have you the courage to consider all the evidence available with fairness, and the stomach to follow where the truth leads?

Perry said...

Tyred Workarounds

From the biblical context, Ezekiel predicted Tyre would be desolated, and never rebuilt. Why must people try to distort the plain words? Viz. “you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever" (Eze 27.36, cf. 28.19, 26.21, 26.17) These are not words describing a city that would be rebuilt. Or be a shadow of its former self. This describes a city that would be annihilated “forever”, and be “no more.”

The sources you quote are among the manifold that seek to muddy the words with how-it-could-be scenarios as they try to create a solution to an obviously failed prophecy.

Just read the words that are recorded. Don't try to second guess what the implications might be. Just grasp what the words say. Including the wider context.

I am against you, O Tyre! I will hurl many nations against you, as the sea hurls its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down its towers. I will scrape its soil from it and make it a bare rock. It shall become, in the midst of the sea, a place for spreading nets.

I will bring against Tyre from the north King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, king of kings, together with horses, chariots, cavalry, and a great and powerful army.

At the noise of cavalry, wheels, and chariots your very walls shall shake, when he enters your gates like those entering a breached city. With the hoofs of his horses he shall trample all your streets.

I will make you a bare rock; you shall be a place for spreading nets. You shall never again be rebuilt, for I Yahweh have spoken, says the Lord GOD. (abridged)

Get that?
*** Never again be rebuilt.
*** Bare rock for drying fishing nets.
*** Walls breached by Neddy: he failed. He never got inside.

That’s what the words say. Don’t try and put other words into Ezzies mouth.

Perry said...

Read the Text

"Act 1:18 Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity;

THIS MAN PURCHASED A FIELD.

Not this man returned the silver to the temple floor so that the cleaners could pick it up and purchase a field with it.

Once the silver was rejected onto the temple floor, Judas no longer had the wherewithal to purchase a field with his "reward of iniquity."

Again, just read the words. Don't try and put words into the author's mouth.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Tin Soldier and Perry

I’ve been following your discussion with fascination, and I want to just write some of the thoughts I had while reading your debate.

First off, I must admit that I’ve never liked the skeptic’s arguments regarding contradictions and mistakes in the bible. I think these arguments are kind of weak in the sense that they can only be used against Christians who believe that the Bible is a 100% perfect, word-for-word, dictation of God. Inerrancy is a difficult doctrine to defend. However, not all Christians abide to this doctrine. My wife, for example, is a liberal Christian, and despite her strong faith she fully admits that there are mistakes and discrepancies in the Bible. But these don’t matter to her. Although it is not perfect, she believes that the overall, general message of the Bible is what counts for her faith. Therefore, my arguments on Biblical contradictions and mistakes are totally ineffective in her case.

Second, I would have liked to see more responses from Perry regarding Tin Soldier’s answers. Perry’s response was basically: “you are grabbing at straws and providing could-have-been answers that are vacuous”. I believe that this can only be true in the case when apologists do not provide supporting evidence for their answers. Some contradictions in the Bible are easier to defend than others. The virgin birth prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 and the two contradicting genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke are two where I presently think the skeptics have the upper hand. However, I think that Tin Soldier provided good argument for the ‘hour of crucifixion’ problem (I’m still reading up on the others). I would have liked to see Perry arguing against each specific answer that Tin Soldier provided, instead of using the “could-have-been” blanket response.

Just a few of my thoughts.

By the way, Tin Soldier, I’m drafting a response to your post on my argument regarding the documentary evidence for the Bible. I should post it during the course of this week.

Kevin

Perry said...

Kevin

Did you actually mean:

"I would have liked to see Perry arguing against each specific answer that Tin Soldier provided, instead of using the “could-have-been” blanket response."

I didn't use those scenarios, Tin Soldier did. I worked from two factual perspectives: the words in the bible and the general knowledge information presently available about Tyre.

Tin Soldier speculated:
"it is much more sensible to conclude that it's highly probable that Ezekiel was accurate in describing the utter destruction of Tyre as an influential, affluent, proud city."

TS speaks of probabilities and suggests I am not being sensible. I don't have to be. I just read the text and compare it with contemporary facts.

Ezzie spoke of certainties. And that didn't include influence, affluence or pride. Those words are absent from the text in that sense. Ezzie said:

That Tyre would be desolated, and never rebuilt.
That Tyre shall be no more forever. (I agree that's the city, not a geographical location).
These are not words describing a city that would be a shadow of its former self. This describes a city that would be obliterated, would be “no more.”

I will make you a bare rock; you shall be a place for spreading nets. You shall never again be rebuilt.

Once there are buildings on the rock, then it is no longer bare. Nor suitable for drying fishing nets.

Even Neddy failed to breach the walls, as forecast.

Tyre is presently the fourth largest city of Lebanon. It exists. There really is nothing more to add.

Kevin Parry said...

Tin Soldier wrote:
Kev seemed to have sidestepped the issue when he tried to shift focus by applying the test to extra-biblical references of Jesus.

I want to thank Tin Soldier for pointing this out. I was arguing that even if we come to the conclusion that the many different texts do provide enough certainty of the content of the original documents, it still does not prove what the original documents said is actually what happened. To determine this, we need to examine extra-biblical accounts. This is why I brought up the issue. But I agree that I jumped the gun a bit and we should spend more time on the manuscript evidence before moving to extra-biblical references.

Tin Soldier wrote:
After some years your family has done the really hard work and identified 32,000 authentic copies of grand aunt's pineapple pie recipe by comparing one copy to another.

This is an excellent analogy, and to be honest I don’t, as of yet, have an adequate response. This is due to my unfamiliarity of the field of biblical and textual criticism. However, I would like to say that even if we obtain a high degree of certainty, by making comparisons of the different copies, there might still be some ambiguities that we will have to work through. If 500 copies say that grand aunt used three teaspoons of salt, another 350 say that she used ten teaspoons of salt, and another 150 say that she didn’t use salt at all, which should be choose? You might find that your sister chooses the first option, you brother the second, and aunt Lucy the third. All have their reasons, but they don’t agree on one standard recipe at the end of the day.

Similar problems are also evident in the Bible. For example, many early manuscripts don’t have Mark 16:9-20 (some scholars suggest that this was later added), and there are examples where some translations of the Bible have omitted certain verses. For example, the following verses, which appear in the King James, are omitted from my copy of the NIV (they do, however, appear as footnotes): Mat 17:21, Mark 11:26, John 5:4, Luke 17:36, Acts 8:37. Each biblical expert will provide reasons to why they have omitted some verses but have kept others. My point is this: is the evolution of biblical text throughout history divinely controlled, or is it a result of constant human tampering? Some might argue that a divinely inspired work would have no errors, no need of footnotes, and all manuscripts should be exactly the same. On this assumption they reach the conclusion that the Bible is not divinely inspired. Is this a reasonable argument? I’m interested to know readers’ thoughts regarding this.

Thank you again for your comments, Tin Soldier. Unfortunately, I’ve got nothing to add regarding the moral argument. This is something that I’m still researching, and I don’t think I know enough yet to make a useful contribution to the discussion

Kevin

Perry said...

TS said:
"However, I would like to say that even if we obtain a high degree of certainty, by making comparisons of the different copies, there might still be some ambiguities that we will have to work through. If 500 copies say that grand aunt used three teaspoons of salt, another 350 say that she used ten teaspoons of salt, and another 150 say that she didn’t use salt at all, which should be choose?"

The dilemma with this is that we aren’t dealing with a recipe book. We’re dealing with a book that self-asserts it’s own infallibility. It also asserts that it is inspired by an omniscient deity in whom there can be no error.

Therefore the book must be error- and contradiction-free. If it’s proven not to be, then we’re obliged to consider other alternatives to its inspired status. Viz. it is the work of fallible men.

Perry said...

FYI: Have a look at Isaiah 23 15-18 for another perspective on Tyre.

Anonymous said...

Stick Your electrodes & Dont waste My TIME!!! If eternal death is the inevitable consequence of life... then Your opinions can rot in the grave too. who cares, all is lost & nothing matters. But if theres a chance that life continues & we are accountable for our behavior, maybe I'll think about it. Otherwise THERE ARE NO RULES!!! (look a hallowes eve joke, How funny is that?)

billcompugeek said...

Hi Kevin:

I see that you mention CARM.org as an apolegetics site, but it is not a defense of Christianity, but a defense of Matt Slick making money off of Calvinism. Matt Slick also runs the website Calvinist Corner, so he can't claim to support Christianity, but only Calvinism.

There are still vulnerable people who think that John Calvin, the murderous pope of Geneva, was actually a reformer and writer of good doctrine.

However, those of us in the Swedenborgian church know where good doctrine is, it is in the Universal Theology of the New Jerusalem by Emanuel Swedenborg. Something that a Calvinist cannot speak of.

Tin Soldier said...

You're onto something huge, Anonymous!

Dare I refer you to this article about eternal death?

Read and weigh for yourself the arguments presented: http://www.jesus-wept.net/dyingtolive.htm

Many blessings,

TS

Anonymous said...

Oh my god! ... Sorry I had to say that.
I am an atheist, but I could be very easily convinced of anything.
An all mighty God can persuade me (or most scientists) with very little effort.
Try me!