From faith to reason, my journey

The conversion of Bart Willruth

In the summer of 1979, I was a theology student at the top of my game. I was standing next to several of my professors, some recognized as the worldwide authorities in their fields. I had already completed a B.A. degree with a double major, history and theology, with a minor in Koine Greek. Now I was the fair-haired golden boy of the theological seminary at Andrews University. It was graduation. I was speaking with these professors I had looked up to for so many years, who were now starting to treat me as a bit of a colleague. I was basking in the glow of graduation from the Master of Divinity program at the theological seminary and had graduated first in a class of 300, Summa cum Laude. I had just been invited to enter the Doctor of Theology program at the University. What made that unusual was that no student had ever before been allowed to enter that program prior to serving several years as a pastor and receiving ordination. I was being fast-tracked to become a seminary professor myself. I had just been interviewed by the executive editor of the Southern Publishing Association and asked to write a commentaty on the Apocalypse for educated laymen and college students. Two of my professors had already given me multiple opportunities to guest lecture in their M.Div. classes on the subject of apocalyptic literature and New Testament eschatology. I was a committed Christian who was realizing a dream years in the making.

While I had been brought up in the Armenian Protestant tradition, I had steadily been embracing Calvinist theology, albeit without the hard predestinarianism associated with it. The death and resurrection of Jesus as my saviour, forensic justification, the Protestant credo; Grace alone, Faith alone, and scripture as sole authority, were my life blood. I stood firmly in the gospel and let the gospel stand in judgment of all things; creeds, church institutions, and worldview. I was as committed as one could be and certain of my salvation by the grace of God through his son Jesus Christ. I was a believer, an Evangelical Christian.

As I entered into my doctoral program, specializing in apocalyptic literature, I took on the position of associate editor of "Evangelica" magazine, published numerous articles, and begain accepting invitations to give seminars at churches in several states. I excelled in my studies, maintaining a straight 4.0 G.P.A. throughout.

But there was a serpent in the garden. I had studied deeply in Christian apologetics (defending the faith) using clear logic and argumentation to bolster the reasons for articles of faith. I was convinced that reason and faith could work hand in hand, that reason strengthened faith, and faith could take us where reason could not. One day I picked up a book on economics by Ayn Rand, "Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal." I found the arguments for free markets and capitalism to be enlightening and compelling from the practical standpoint. But the more challenging part of the book was the moral defence for capitalism. I had always believed, in keeping with the teachings of Jesus, that there was no positive morality involved in the pursuit of commercial interests, wealth, or any of the material benefits of the secular world other than to renounce them and give to the poor. Suddenly I was confronted with a tightly argued presentation of the morality and the necessity of using one's mind for survival and well being, for being properly concerned with life, this life on earth, and the irrationality of self sacrifice and altruism. Her interplay of the practical and the moral were a blatant challenge to my Christian worldview wherein this life was to be used to serve the purposes of God in sacrifice to Him and others, with the reward coming in the next life. Jesus, as he is presented in the gospels, deliberately drives a wedge between the moral and the practical. A three page section of Rand's book called "the Meaning of Money" presented a conversation of two protagonists debating the question of the truth of Jesus' position that money is the root of all evil. As the conversation grew sharper, the debate corrected to Jesus' position that the Love of money is the root of all evil. The capitalist protagonist began to show that there is no higher value to man than life. Without it, no other values exist. That that which supports this life is the moral and that which is destructive of life is the immoral. That this life is the only one we have (any other is just a hope). That we survive through the use of our mind and reason. That we use our minds to judge the best course of action, to reep the rewards of our thought and action, and to live as we see fit without coercion. That reason is our only guide and means of knowledge. That self sacrifice by any organism, from the lowliest worm to the most intelligent human, is the road to self destruction and death. That money is the visible means of identifying the value we offer to others in exchange for the value they offer to us. It is the tangible symbol of the best within us and is the support for life, our highest value. That the value we put on money is the value we put on our own life itself. That to disdain money is to disdain life. That to love life is to love money which supports it. I was stunned, not that I agreed with the position at that time, but that morality could be so logically argued and tightly reasoned from an ontological perspective (arising out of that which is, existence) rather than being a kind of knowledge only available from revelation. Reason from existence vs. acceptance by authority. She summed up Judeo-Christian morality in this way, To the degree that we are fitted properly for this life, we are unfit for the next. The result of the Christian morality is that to the degree we are fitted properly for the life to come, we are unfit for survival in this life. The vision before my mind was the ultimate symbol of Christian righteousness, Christ on the cross, death in this life in sacrifice for others, self immolation, with new life in glory. Death and humiliation as the paradigm for our proper behavior vs. a morality of making the best out of the life we have, to live for our own purposes, to love this life. The differences are obviously stark, and the sources for the two moralities just as opposite, reason vs. authority. The explosion of Christian morality through reason was shocking. I had never questioned it before. I had thought that Christian morality was the obvious, the given. That those who rejected it did so for sinful reasons, not for moral reasons. Could it be that the morality of Jesus' was irrational?

And then came the computer virus that began working its way through my mind, corrupting every connection, thought, and memory. Rand pointed out that all systems of thought begin with premises. But then she issued the challenge, "CHECK YOUR PREMISES." Nothing, no other concept, no other challenge, has so profoundly influenced my life. I had observed Rand systematically debunking the sermon on the mount, the moral teachings of Jesus, and the Christian life of piety, through reason and logic, the same methods I had used in Christian apologetics to support my faith and that of millions of others throughout the last 2,000 years. How could this be? How can two systems both use the same logical methods to arrive at such opposite conclusions? The answer was in their respective starting points. These questions didn't percolate quickly through my mind, but they did work as a background program over the next two years.

Finally, with a troubled mind and a fear of doubting, which is placed into every Christian early on, I took the challenge. I decided to check my premises. It is such a simple thing to do, and it is a continuing source of embarassment to me that I had managed to achieve the doctoral level in my theological studies without ever asking the basic questions and demanding satisfactory answers. I asked myself, "What are the premises upon which Christianity is based?" I started from the philosophy of religion perspective and found Karl Barth to be the most lucid expositor of the theistic premises. He posited two presuppositions (premises) on which the whole of theological speculation is based:

1. There is a God
2. He has revealed Himself.

Yes, I agreed that those are the starting points upon which all logical arguments for God and His will are based. Number one deals with metaphysics, the issue of existence. To acknowledge this premise is to accept as a fact that God exists. Number two deals with epistemology, the means of knowledge and verification. Together, these presuppositions state that God exists and He has made Himself known to man. The problem as I pondered was that these premises were presuppositions, not objective facts. That is, they were propositions that we suppose to be true in advance as a starting point. But are these propositions really facts? Are they proper starting points? Or are they themselves conclusions? On what basis? Theologians and philosophers have long pondered these issues, and other than the more ignorant fundamentalist country preachers, most have acknowledged that there is nothing within the natural world enabling us to indicate the existence of the supernatural. Or to put it another way, God's existence must be taken as a given, not the result of a line of reasoning or argumentation. We must first believe that He is. The act that existence exists, that there is a universe rather than nothing, does not require the existence of God. Without evidence, and indeed no evidence is possible, the brutal fact is that the first premise that God exists, is an arbitrary proposition; arbitrary meaning that it has no cause or evidence. That "God exists" must be accepted solely on the basis of sheer faith, unseen, and unknowable. When it is acknowledged that the first premise is arbitrary, it necessarily follows that the second premise, that God has revealed Himself, is also arbitrary since it is derivative upon acceptance if the first premise that God exists. Even so, the question becomes "Revealed how?" The Christian will always answer this with a two-fold response. God first revealed himself through "inspired" men throughout the ages and finally through his son who was the pre-existent God becoming a man, living about two thousand years ago ina poor backwater of the Roman Empire. This revelation to "inspired men" is problematic. Why was such vital information released piecemeal in a geographically limited area to one group and not available to every person equally? And how can we know that anything was actually revealed to any of these individuals? We cannot check out their stories and claims. In fact, in many cases the original writers are unknown. How do we know if they conveyed their revelations accurately? And how do we know that the copying of texts through millenia has been scrupulously accurate? If errors could have crept in, how do we know what they are, what was original, and what was altered? How do we know which claimants to revelation were truthful and which were fakers? Numerous individuals have claimed to have received communication from a god. We know more about Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Ellen White, and the Rev. Moon than we know about many of the authors of the writings which make up the Bible. Which prophet do we accept and which do we reject? By what criteria? If we choose Paul and use his thoughts as a standard, then we reject Muhammad. But if we choose Muhammad and use his thoughts as a standard, then we reject Paul. Why would the great Revealer make us arbitrarily choose which guy to trust in order to come to salvific knowledge? When we choose, and choose we must if we accept the premise that God has revealed Himself, we are ultimately directing faith not to a god, but to the man or woman claiming to be the recipient of the revelation. Why must we exercise faith in fallible men to understand God and his will? Do we know if any inspired man was actually mentally ill or delusional? Do we know if he had a good memory and faithfully wrote down every detail which was revealed to him accurately? We do know that problems occurred in the transmission of the texts, that corruptions entered the texts through omissions by copyists, additions to add authority to someone's pet beliefs, through changes intended to clarify based upon current understanding, through outright fraud and forgery, through simple copying errors, and by the church of the fourth century as it tried to clarify and define orthodoxy. The fundamentalist will answer that from start to finish, God's revelation was controlled and preserved at every level by his will, that is by a long series of miracles safeguarding his word. But this is an argument of faith, not fact; it is unknowable, circular reasoning.

"All of this is a problem" I thought to myself, "and a huge and fundamental problem at that." If all theological thought begins with two premises which must be accepted by faith alone, then is there no objectivity involved? This gets to the crucial questions,\

1. What do I know? and
2. How do I know it?

We are right back to the issues of metaphysics and epistemology.; I had long believed that reason and faith were fellow travelers. Reason could be used to get us part of the way and to bolster faith with evidence, and that faith could fill in the gaps of information unavailable to reason. But if the starting point must be accepted by faith, it is then like a child's game of "let's pretend." Let's pretend that there is a God and that he has revealed Himself, and then logically and with reason extrapolate those premises. We end up with systems called Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but the pyramid of belief which was so carefully built up with so much painstaking care and reasoning all stands on a completely arbitrary and very uncertain foundation. At this point, the marriage of reason and faith is on the rocks. If faith is the starting point and posits "facts" not in evidence, no reasonong beyond that point, no matter how erudite, can claim anything more than that it is a house of cards, smoke, and mirrors. No knowledge can be furthered by extrapolating arbitrary "facts."

As I grappled with these issues, I was devastated. Could my whole worldview, all my study, all my hopes be false? I couldn't accept it. I began to loook for another way to objectify my beliefs. I turned to the second claim of God's revelation, that of the incarnation of Jesus. The Judeo-Christian tradition (and its stepchild, Islam) is unique in world religions in that it claims that God has entered history. In the case of Christianity, He entered history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth who was born a Jew in the first century, was the promised Messiah of the Jews, taught with the authority of God, worked numerous miracles which certified his claims, was crucified, dead, and buried. That on the third day through a mighty miracle, God raised him from the dead. The risen Jesus was then seen by hundreds of witnesses over a period of weeks, and was then raised up to heaven before a group of witnesses. This claim is not a faith issue (using "faith" as an epistemological method). Rather, it is a historical claim, subject to the same methods of examination to which other events of history are subject. That he was dead and then alive again is the historical claim. That the event has implications for believers is a faith issue and is not subject to historical investigation. It is the claim of the actual events on the Judean dirt that must be examined as history.

I seized on this issue as the solution to my questions. It would objectify the basic claims of Christian belief even if the philosophical side was wanting. I threw myself into the question with high energy. While this is not the venue for explaining the details, I put together a research project to marshall all the evidence possible to bolster the arguments for the objective historical claims. I read every apologetic book I could find on the resurrection. I read some historical-critical scholarly texts. And I did intense research on my own. I came out at the far end of that study with the realization that the claim of the death and resurrection of Jesus as a historical event was indefensible. The only way to hold on to that belief would be to blindly accept the internally contradictory and irrational claims of the mostly anonymous writers of the New Testament.

I was faced with two options; retreat into faith, blind faith, to believe in the absence of evidence or in spite of evidence to the contrary. Or I could use the mind I have to apprehend the universe and existence as it is, not as I wish it were. FAITH or REASON. There is no middle ground. Either-or. I chose reason, but not without pain. It was an exceedingly difficult thing to shed the beliefs of a lifetime which had permeated every part of my being and my outlook. At every point I had to stop and ask myself if I were reacting automatically to my old perspectives or was I thinking and acting in accordance with reason.

I deliberately and proudly expunged faith from my being and took up the banner of reason. When asked what I believe in now, I invariably respond "I don't believe in anything." What I mean is that I know. I apply reason to every part of my life. That perspective is helpful in protection against all con men, religious or commercial. For the last 25 years I have been an Objectivist with reason and logic as my only means of knowing and acting. I have rejected Christianity and other forms of theism. I consider faith to be a short circuit of the mind and hugely detrimental to achieving the full potential of human possibility. Faith is the lazy man's attempt at gaining knowledge, free from the rigors and risks of thinking.

In the interim years, I have remained a careful student of philosophy, theology, and history. I have worked diligently to deconstruct the claims of Christianity, for my own benefit and that of others crippled by this scourge. I study the formative period of Christian origins to ascertain what actually took place and how Christianity evolved into that which we recognize today. I believe theism is the most destructive force in the world today. It cripples the human mind and its potential. It causes the sacrifice of the interests of this life for the delusion of a hoped for afterlife. It allows separation and vilification. Its fundamentalist side can has frequently led to coercion and voilence. It is intolerant. Its liberal side has led to the collectivist/altruist governance of communism, progressivism, and the social welfare state. In a post-enlightenment world, it has no place. Christianity belongs to the primitive, superstitious, and credulous past.

Bart Willruth

65 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Great to have you here Bart. Your mature reasons for rejecting Christianity are very similar to mine. Great minds think alike on this I suppose.

Brother D said...

Greetings gentlemen, since you guys love reason and science and stuff, perhaps you can explain how a dead man was raised a couple weeks ago in south florida, there were multiple doctors, nurses etc in the area preparing this guys corpse for the morgue, a prayer was said, the man revived. Reason it all out for me please, cheers~D
http://www1.wsvn.com/features/articles/specialreport/MI75423

Harry McCall said...

Great essay Bart! Glad to have you on board.

When you noted that: “To the degree that we are fitted properly for this life, we are unfit for the next. The result of the Christian morality is that to the degree we are fitted properly for the life to come, we are unfit for survival in this life.” You hit the nail on the head!

While preachers have such radio programs as “Truth Talk Live”, “Truth for life”, “Truth for living” and so on; fact is, “Truth” is only what they subjectively define as truth under the banner of religious dogma.

I did not leave Christianity, I was asked to leave. I was moral, ethical, humble and a Sunday school teacher, but was told to either teach what church doctrine said was truth or leave. So I left.

I have never been happier!

cranker said...

brother d,

He wasn,t dead to start with.

Damien said...

Brother D,

I wonder where you fetched that amazing story! First, I'd point out that it is repeated here and it says it happened almost a year before July, 2007. Not exactly a "couple weeks ago" like you think. That sounds like something that would be passed on in a chain letter.

Now, I did some quick searching for some of the events described in there, and I only found that story on two news sites, the one you posted, and the one I posted, a Christian news service.

Other than that, you can take a look at some of those claims. I'm no medical doctor, but they sound fishy to me. For instance, this miracle-working doctor says the man was "black with death." I find that odd, because when you die, pallor mortis sets in, which makes your skin pale. Unless he revived this guy I'm completely unimpressed by this claim.

Also, this shaman, I mean doctor, claims that miracles are performed all the time in his private practice! Strange that nobody seems to notice, care, or publish nearly anything about these real deal miracles happening. Maybe they don't find them as spectacular as he does.

There's really no evidence given in anything I've been able to read on this that can be substantiated. I think that speaks for itself, really.

Although, one thing I'm pleased with is this man who almost died says that in his afterlife, he watched himself at his funeral, where nobody attended, and was later thrown into a trashbag. The prayer doctor says the trashbag was hell. What a relief! And I thought I'd spend eternity in the lake of fire. Turns out it's just a Hefty bag next to empty beer cans and half a tuna sandwich. Not so bad.

I hope I've helped you see that it's not so constructive to believe every chain letter in your inbox. Although, if you do, I'll let you know that I happened to discover a few weeks ago that I have a bathtub full of Miracle Healing Spring Water that can be yours for only $17.00 an ounce.

ZAROVE said...

I hope you don't mind my musings. I am mrely reflectign here, so I'm not giving you an argument presented as such, but my ideas that came ot me as reading this article.


It amazes me that rand can say "CHECK YOUR PREMISES" and that this woudl have such an impact in your thinking, and yet you still do not really question them. You merely change them.

For instance, You use many old arguments, and seem not to concern ourself with the old answerrs. Beleif in God is by Faith, not reason, and Rand is ever so logical in her PResentation.

Well, in point of fact, Rands defence of Enlightened Self Interest is itself suspect, and can be argued agaisnt, but I will save this for another time.


However, it seems to me that you operate on a Numbr of Premises that I don't, at leats in Regards to Christianity. THe firts being Gods existance.

Although I beelive in Gods existance, and you don't, your reason for rejectig it started with questions that seem to assume somethign I do not assume.

You ask, for example, why God revealed himself in a Peicemeal fashion only to a small group of people in a small Geographic area.

I have heard htis ocomplaint before, to which I woudl respind that he didn't.

All cultures have within them the eleif in an overarching Supreme being, and this seems to indicate that they all share a common trait in beleivign in a central figure at the centre of creation and cosmic order.

That is harldy a Geographiclaly Isolated phoenomenon.

Now, you may argue that thy have their own religions but do not worhsip the Christian God. This may well be what you had thoguth as a Christian as well. It is ot, however, my starting point, and I simply accept that God has been revealed globally. I also sdo no think his Revelaiton wa sina Peicemeal fashion, but constant thoughout Recorded Human History.

Paul the Apostle even used the Altar fo the Unknown God as a Refernece tot he Gentiles, sayign he woudl teahc them of this God they knew not about. Paul didn't say all their beelifs where wrong, nor do I. He merely tried to intriduce Christian teachings to them.

I do not think that Judeo-Christian CUlture is th eonly Cultural framework by which God operates. I think that all Cultures have known of God. He merely Selected the Jews and ISrael as his CHosen people to shape the understandign fo his laws and ways, and direclty interacted with them. Others knw of God too, to varyign extents.

I do not have to beleive their understandign was always perfect or correct, but do thin they describe the same things.

I woudl also note that peopel today continually expernce God. Rather or not you'd aruge that this is mere emotionalism doens't argue agaist hte Tentitive reality that they at leats htink they have direct expeirnce with God.

On that note, you mention the Revelation of the Scriptures, and ask how we can know of them and if they ar ein error, or if the authros where truely recieivng Revelaviton from God.

Well, in soem cases htis is Irrelevant. Does the Book of Eccleseastes even claim to be a Revelation? It seemzs mro elike the refelctiosn of a wise man, ponderng life, not somehtign God told him to write and dictated ot him.

In the same fashion, the Psalms are songs written to God, not by him.

Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings, not Prophetic injunctions.

Even the Historical CHronicles read like soemone recording the History of their people, not revelation.

If we take them as at leats htis, we do not have to worry about rather or nto we can prove they are revealed form God, but rather or not they can teach us anything at all about life and the human OCndition, besow upon us insoiration, and present us with wisdom hat will help us in our decisions.

And, on that note, the Bible can be easily defended as an anthology of texts which succuently outlines the Human condition, form every concievable angle.

THus if Rand is right and practicalism is the key to success, althoguh this doens't mean she is right on all things else, then we can defend the Bible on Practical grounds as well.

As for those segments which re purported to be Revelation, the Prophets, they can speak for themselves, and can be discussed at a later time. But in a blog I dislike makign logn posst that will be unread and forgotten in a weeks time.

The other Critissm you managed to brign up is that of Morality. You said that Rand presented a Logical, rational moral code bse don Capitolism and self interest, and this confrontation lead you to consider alternatives to Christian beeivfs. I have already noted that I have my own Critisim of Rand, but that won't be gne into in this post.

Suffice to say, You said that you had never seen Morality Logiclaly defended as somethign Emergent in the natural world, and thoguth it was knoweldge only aquired via Revelation.

However, I do not assume this either. As with Rand, I try to cite practcal reasosn for Morality. But then, so did he Early Fathers of the Church, who beleived that Morality was emergent from Natural Law.

Certainly they all beelived God as te ifnal auhtor of Morlaity, but it was far from Arbitrary in the midns of those who presente dus the earliest understanding of Scripture and Christian teaching. To them, God had created a Natural world, and this world operated on certain Natural principles.

Thus, to them, moralty was emergent from Gods designed nature, and thus shoudl have practical natural reasons behidn it.

This is hy when Augustine wrote he often told of Practical ends, and why Aquinas wrote the Theologica Suma base don Aristotilian Logic.

If you accept this principle, that Morality is Emergent form Natural Law, and stems form how we are designed and what woudl be beneificial for the life we live, then you find that there shoudl be logical reaosns for the Morlaity presented that wpudl be true regardless of the hisotry of Religous movements. You'd also expect those Moral principles to be discovered elsewhere , even if not revealed. THis is also true, and worldwide, Morality seems to be consistant.

I grant you, not every society has exaclty the sam emroality, but the basic moral concepts are Universlaly held by the majority. Those who do not hold to somehtign that is generlaly acceped can also be questioned as to alterior reasosn for overridding a natural law. After all, if Sin can exist, and sin is nothign but a violation of Natural Law, societies can exist to explain away the sin. Thus one can argue it.

Of ocurse, I won't be in detail hre, btu will if asked present more.

Still, I begin witht the Prmeises that God exists because I have known God, and so have others, in varisu cultures worldwide. I then note that Gods been consistant in his dealigns with Humanity. I note also the practical reaons for following the morality as presented by the Ancients in variosu texts, both Sacrd and Philoosophical, and recognise the vlaue of the written word in understandign thos eprinciples.

Given this, my conclusions arn't as absolutist as yours seem to have been.

But I digress.

Finally you ask why this Revelation woudl be given in a backwater of the ROman Emoire to the Poor. But, why shoudl this really seem strange? They say Hindsight is 20/20, and obviosuly Christianity succeeded in becoming a world religion, so God clealry knew what he was doing.

I know you don' beelive in God and htink that this was chance, but if soemoen does, do you reallythink that rguign that God woudln't have chosen such an area is logical given the global success of CHristianity?

Of coruse, this is a COnversion story. (Called egregariosuly a "Deconversion" even though such a term make sno sence.)

And of course you will see me as attackign you. This is not my intention, I merley share dmy htoguths. Still, I woudl ask you to reconsider some things.

Or, rather, to COnsider others, and ot CHeck your Premises.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Bart,
welcome home.

zilch said...

Great story, Bart. Welcome to the, er, fold. I must admit this is the first time I've heard of someone losing their faith after reading Ayn Rand! Undeniably a brilliant woman. After reading Atlas Shrugged I was half-prepared to worship her, but then again I was sixteen...

Zarove- you say:

I do not think that Judeo-Christian CUlture is th eonly Cultural framework by which God operates. I think that all Cultures have known of God.

Now that's a relief to me! I don't have to stone my uppity teenage kids, or worry about getting stoned myself! I've been touched by His Noodly Appendage, and accepted the truth of Pastafarianism!

Eguevara7 said...

Hope you are feeling find sir. What is your stand in regards to how we came to be, did u turn to the theory of evolution, or just an athiest who does not know yet?

And in this whole universe, you should have taken the idea of someone with the same mind capacity as all of us and who is just a tiny spec in the whole universe vs the whole universe? I hope you understand my question.

To me it would be like ants in the forrest, some belive there huge humans somewhere far away fron the fores, others just dealing with what the see and touch.

Thank you sir.

Eguevara7 said...

this ants deal only with the premises to witch they are bound to live and die.

But theres something inside all humans, no matter where they are, they all have inside the need to seek for somone higher, thats scientifically prooven right?

We can't reject that fact, if you do, then your rejecting fact, you need to expalin that.

Steven Bently said...

The only problem with the bible god is:

He can create the entire universe including over 125 billion galaxies in just six days, but he can't save souls own his own, he has to incorperate his only begotten son (after some 4000 years of contemplation) to die and help him save souls, although god had other sons, also it took the same god 40 days and nights to write the ten commandments and he destroyed the earth with a flood to rid the world of it's sin by electing Noah the drunkard and only after a short time later we have Sodom and Gamorrah the wicked city of all time.

This being the all powerful bible god with human frailties.

Pvblivs said...

Eguevara7:

     "But theres something inside all humans, no matter where they are, they all have inside the need to seek for somone higher, thats scientifically proven right?"
     Not to my knowledge. Now, people do seem to have an aversion to three litte words, "I don't know." The god stories seem to be an attempt to give an answer to the question, "How did we come to be here?" For people who did not want to be shown wrong, they had the advantage of not being testable in any way.
     I am reminded of an old price list.

Answers: 5¢
Answers requiring thought: 10¢
Correct answers: 25¢
Dumb looks: FREE

     Of course, inflation has driven those prices up.

JPS said...

Interesting story. One correction: "Armenian" should be "Arminian".

lee said...

Thanks Bart,
It was very similar to my experience. The most dangerous question for any believer is, "why do I believe what I believe." Once you start down that road you will never be satisfied to just, "drink the kool-aid."
Thanks again.

bart willruth said...

Zarove,

You commented on so many points that I cannot respond to all. But I will respond to one of them. You stated that you are amazed that I would listen to Rand when she said "Check your premises," and then not really question them but only change them.

I'm not entirely sure what you were trying to say here, but I'll take a shot at responding.

Firstly, I didn't check my premises because Rand said to do so. I understand that Christians are accustomed to responding to authority, that is, they are conditioned to hear the "word of God" as mediated through some human claiming to speak on his behalf. That is not what I did, nor would I suggest that anyone else look to an authority to tell us how to think and act. Rather, the statement that she made, "Check your premises" woke me out of a long stupor and motivated me to actually examine the reasons for my faith. I found them wanting and rejected them, though somehow you managed to read my story and did not get a sense of my struggle in questioning and rejecting the premises on which my whole world view depended.

I have used that same maxim "Check your premises" in every other area of my life. I highly recommend the exercise. You might be surprised at the underlying premises behind many of the mundane beliefs you hold.

Yes, I changed my premises as follows:

1. The primacy of existence. Existence exists.
2. The evidence of the senses. Consciousness is conscious (of something).
3. Identity. Every existant exists as something. This is the law of causality.
4. The necessity to use reason to examine the evidence for every primary claim and logical extrapolation for every derivative claim to knowledge.

The fact that we are fallible makes the exercise of reasoning and verification a necessity. It is of course easier to ignore this fact and simply accept "truth" on the basis of authority, but of course that is where faith comes in to short circuit the thinking process and to overstep the verification process by reaching a conclusion directly. One ounce of verification is worth 100 pounds of vacuous faith.


Bart

ZAROVE said...

Zarove,

You commented on so many points that I cannot respond to all. But I will respond to one of them. You stated that you are amazed that I would listen to Rand when she said "Check your premises," and then not really question them but only change them.


Very well.


I'm not entirely sure what you were trying to say here, but I'll take a shot at responding.

Only that you seemed not to check your current premises, or even the Christian ones. In fact, you seem rather narorw in what optiosn are available to begin with.


I'd perhaps have chosen to respond to a different poitn of my resentaiton, if I where you, than this, as this becomes clearer as I progressed.

My meaning was evident by the posts end.


Firstly, I didn't check my premises because Rand said to do so. I understand that Christians are accustomed to responding to authority, that is, they are conditioned to hear the "word of God" as mediated through some human claiming to speak on his behalf.


I do so love how CHristians are Caracaturised. Yes thats it, we just respond ot authoirty. We blidnly follow our pastors and Bible.

Sorry, mate, but this little insult doens't ring true for me. I have no Human Authority. As i noted to John Loftus when I queasitoned what CHurhc he really belonged to, the Churches of Chrust have no Human authority form which the wor dof God is mediated.

No ordaiend clergy.

So who is it I am repsondign to that speaks on Gods behalf for me?

That said, I also think quiet well on my own, and come up with independant solution. It is agaisnt my personal nature to blidnly belive nayhting, and I am not conditioned to simply obey auhtority figures.

DO not preusme that Christians only respond to authority and blidnly follow, such a PRemise is false, and shows precielcy what I mean.




That is not what I did, nor would I suggest that anyone else look to an authority to tell us how to think and act.


Nor did I say you did. Nevertheless, it was Rands suggested course of action that lead you to where you are today.

As much as you'd liek to rpresent yourself as a Freethinker by virtue of yor Atheism and me as someone hwo is conditioned ot blodnly repsond to AUthority liek a Pavlovian Dog, a condition you escaped form, the truth remaisn that both of us acutlaly have to acceot some authority. Even the laguage we speak isnt inborn, and we do get our informaion from soemwhere.

Still, neithe rof us are required to blindy accept things, I merley refered to hw you sai dhtis was your inspiraiton to your preasnt course, which it is.



Rather, the statement that she made, "Check your premises" woke me out of a long stupor and motivated me to actually examine the reasons for my faith.

WHICH still doens't address what I have stated.

You didn't CHeck your premises, you simply chnaged them.

Just as now you operat eon the false proemise that Christians ar eocnditioned to use the "Word of God" as mediated throguh a Human authority, and are htus conditioend ot repsoind to said authority.

You had no real bais for htis claim in regards to me, and smply asusmed it as my menaing as if I said you blindly followed Rand.

Your still not checkign your premises to mak sure they are accurate.



I found them wanting and rejected them, though somehow you managed to read my story and did not get a sense of my struggle in questioning and rejecting the premises on which my whole world view depended.


Of course I ddn't. I can't think for myself and only follow Authority, reemember?

Aculaly, I simply responded to the thoughts you presented. Rather or not this was an emotional struggle is beside the point of my presentation. I merley challenged the assertiosn you had made previosuly.

Emotional STruggles can be spoken of, but we are also dealign with matters of truth and discovery, whch cnanot be limited to what you personally felt, can they?




I have used that same maxim "Check your premises" in every other area of my life. I highly recommend the exercise. You might be surprised at the underlying premises behind many of the mundane beliefs you hold.




Your still assumign that I am condiitoend ot repsond to a Human mediated authority and thus blidnly follow the WOrd of God, arne't you?

And, your stil lnot chekcign that premise, but acceptign it as unconditional truth.


Your also makign a numebr of assumptions about me, which arne't valid, and not addressing the main problems I had wiht your thoguht porccess.


Your chal;enge fails with me, thugh, as unike you I did this form the start. I don't think Faith and Reaosn go hand in hand as muchas I think Faith must be emergent from Reason. As a result, Ive always checked my Premises before I begin, and have alwyas left oipen possible optiosn when I don't knwo for usre.

As I said, I don't have a Human auhtority I respond to, and don't blindly follow along.

I omited th elist you presented as its beside the point.


The fact that we are fallible makes the exercise of reasoning and verification a necessity.

I agree.

But I challenge you on the grounds of daid reasoning.

I am challenging your premises and hwo you arrived at them.

Thus I am checkign your premises.



It is of course easier to ignore this fact and simply accept "truth" on the basis of authority,

Which you only assume I do. You have no evicence f this do you?

but of course that is where faith comes in to short circuit the thinking process and to overstep the verification process by reaching a conclusion directly.

Not really. I'd certianly challenge you on this point.

Faith doens't direclty reach its conclusions, and as I said, my faith is build upon reason and evidence, not in spie f it, and I don't look for evidence after a conclusion as been drawn.

One ounce of verification is worth 100 pounds of vacuous faith.

But what if your faiht is base dupon the Verificsiton you fecieved? And wudln't Verificaiton only strengthen your faith?


Remembere, Faith is not "Beleif withotu evidence". Its simply a SYnonym for COnfidence. COnfidence can be misguided, but can also be very easilybase dupon reaosn and verification.

Spontaneous Order said...

"Faith is the lazy man's attempt at gaining knowledge, free from the rigors and risks of thinking."

How marvelously precise.

Thank you Bart for this biography. I will interested to hear more about your findings about attempting to verify the NT and to study the first centuries' churches.

I too left my Church after reading Rand. Though her writings were not the sole cause.

Live well

bart willruth said...

Zarove

My apologies if I have wrongly assumed that you are a Bible believing Christian. As you said, you do not defer to any human mediator as an authority. This stance would obviously free you from any obligation to shape your beliefs from the Bible since all of it was penned by men. If, on the other hand, you do accept the authority of the writers of the Bible, you are thereby using authority as the means of gaining knowledge. I wonder, if you do not accept apostolic authority and that of the prophets, what do you actually "know" of Christian belief? Are you a prophet receiving the corpus of Christian belief directly from God? If not, and if you reject the authority of the Bible writers to transmit the truth to you, then you must retreat into silence vis a vis Christianity.

Just a word on faith, a very contentious word. Faith is one of those words which has many shades of meaning in English. Yes, it can mean confidence as you say. An example would be the statement, "I have faith in the strength of the Euro." It can mean loyalty such as the statement, "The soldiers remained faithful to their cause to the point of death." I can mean staying strong in the face of temptation such as the statement, "I have remained faithful to my wife." There are many shades of meaning to the word faith. I am not using it in any of the above senses when speaking of faith in philosophical terms.

I am using faith in a very specific sense, as an epistemological method. How we apprehend facts? How do we get information? How do we verify fact claims? For instance, when we are told that Pontius Pilate was the prefect of Jerusalem in the first century, faith is not an issue and does not need to be invoked. There is plenty of EVIDENCE to support that proposition. Reason can come to this conclusiion and verify its accuracy. One would not need to exercise faith when dealing with this fact. However, when we are told that Pilate's wife had a dream in which she was shown supernaturally that Jesus was innocent, there is no evidence possible to verify the claim. Reason can argue the probabilities of the claim, but if it is to be accepted as a fact, one must exercise faith. Faith in this sense, an epistemological method, is immune from the rigors of verification or falsification. It is simply the method one uses to accept into his "knowledge" hierarchy a claim for which there is no evidence.

Paul actually had it quite right when he stated, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen." To say that faith is the substance of a hope is to say that the object of a hope is given reality by belief. It is the reification of a zero by belief! The second clause, "Faith...is the evidence of things unseen," is very telling. Paul is using faith as an epistemological method indicating that in the absense of objective evidence, faith itself substitutes for evidence. Belief IS evidence. I think Paul's definition and use of faith is pretty good. To him, faith replaces evidence and reality, the object of which is a hope in the ether.

Regarding my premises, both before and after; I'm sorry, but you aren't discussing this coherantly. I checked my premises, found them to be arbitrary, and discarded them. I replaced them with the premises of reason which are axiomatic. That is, even if you reject them, you must implicitly use them in the act of attempting to refute them. Feel free to challenge my premises, but try to do so without using them.

bart willruth said...

to Spontaneous Order

Thanks for the kind words. Just a clarification. I did not leave the faith solely because of Rand either. Her insights were a catalyst. I worked my own way out, all the while trying to debunk my own arguments which I eventually found to be compelling.

ZAROVE said...

Zarove

My apologies if I have wrongly assumed that you are a Bible believing Christian.




I didn't say this either. THe choices aren't between beign a Bible Beleiving Christian and thus beleiving a Human Mediated authority and the Bibel blindly withut reaoasn ro an Atheist like you, you know.





As you said, you do not defer to any human mediator as an authority. This stance would obviously free you from any obligation to shape your beliefs from the Bible since all of it was penned by men.

Your beign ridiculous now. By this standard I could eaisly be said to reject anythign acucmulated over time.Physics books where written by men. So where Psycology books. Evoluitonary theory is talked of by men.



When I say that I am not conditioned to simply follow authority, I mean that I can think and reason independantly.



You claimed that Christians are conditioned to respond to authority, and thus think Ahtietss just follow authirity as well. Instead, Ahtiests liek ourself htink for themselves.



This is what I refuted.



The fact that everyone sues some source derived from soemone else was also explicitly stated, wa s it not?



Gthe bototm line, though, is that I don't accept blinly what Im told or what I read, and do weigh th evidence. I also hve no pastpr to lead me to begin with, beign form a Non-Heirarichal CHurch.



Thats what I said. Misrepresentaiton will not render you more accurate.



If, on the other hand, you do accept the authority of the writers of the Bible, you are thereby using authority as the means of gaining knowledge.



But not blindly. I also use WEinstein as an Authority on Relativity, but I don't follow him just because he said so. Evidencde can be eaisly prsented, and I did htink on my own to arrive at my own conclusions.

Even Rand derived her conclusioons form other peopels work, and what she had learne dby reading oher peopels ideas.



And, so did you.



But the question is how well I assessed what I was told to see if it was valid, and the same is said of you.



I wonder, if you do not accept apostolic authority and that of the prophets, what do you actually "know" of Christian belief? Are you a prophet receiving the corpus of Christian belief directly from God? If not, and if you reject the authority of the Bible writers to transmit the truth to you, then you must retreat into silence vis a vis Christianity.



I'd love to answer this, but you've gone off and made a number of false asusmptiosn about me and what I've said that the above isn't relates to.



THus proving my original post you critisised. You do not question your premises, you merley change them.


Just a word on faith, a very contentious word. Faith is one of those words which has many shades of meaning in English. Yes, it can mean confidence as you say. An example would be the statement, "I have faith in the strength of the Euro." It can mean loyalty such as the statement, "The soldiers remained faithful to their cause to the point of death." I can mean staying strong in the face of temptation such as the statement, "I have remained faithful to my wife." There are many shades of meaning to the word faith. I am not using it in any of the above senses when speaking of faith in philosophical terms.



No, yor not. Thats the problem.



Accordign to you, Faith short circuits reason, and overrides out ability ot think clealry.



The problem is, you define all useage of the word Faith in conversaitons of this nature to mean "BEleif withotu evidence", which is not the sole and exclusive definition used either by Biblical authors or by later Christian writers, renderign your critisism fo Faith moot.




I am using faith in a very specific sense, as an epistemological method.




And, your divorcing it form what Christians acutlaly mena by it, in their own writings, to invaldiate their belif as somehign Antithetical to reason.



How we apprehend facts? How do we get information? How do we verify fact claims? For instance, when we are told that Pontius Pilate was the prefect of Jerusalem in the first century, faith is not an issue and does not need to be invoked.

Ironiclaly, the fact that Pontius Pilat was Governor was doubted until the mid 20th Century. Many of the Knolegabel SKpetics liek you owudl have cited the non-existance of Pontius Pilate as evidence that the Gospels where unreliabe. Such a promenant man as the Governor of a Provence woul surely be known to Hisotry, and yt no records existed for him, outside the Gospels.



Naturlaly, th Gospels are always wrong unless verified by anoter osurce, so Pilate wss a Myhtical creation, Fabricated to fit the sotry.



Until further evidence was found.



Now, before you transmute this into a proof for Ahtiesm by saying the beelifs changed, remmeber, the poitn is that my Faith that Pilate was Governor of Judea does now rest upon evidenc eoutside the bible.



And Faith is always invoked, because its simply confidence in the claim made.



There is plenty of EVIDENCE to support that proposition.



Which went undiscovered for centuris leading tot h conclusion that Pilae didnt exist, a standard Ahteistic Argument form decades past.



Reason can come to this conclusiion and verify its accuracy.

But once you beleive the conclusion, onc it has been accpted as fact, you then have Faiht in it.



And this definiion fo faith, Confidence, is the definition used by CHristian wirters the majorty of the time they use the word Faith.





One would not need to exercise faith when dealing with this fact.



Yes one would. Faiht is confidence. As soon as I accept it, Ihave faiht in it.



Simple.



However, when we are told that Pilate's wife had a dream in which she was shown supernaturally that Jesus was innocent, there is no evidence possible to verify the claim. Reason can argue the probabilities of the claim, but if it is to be accepted as a fact, one must exercise faith. Faith in this sense, an epistemological method, is immune from the rigors of verification or falsification. It is simply the method one uses to accept into his "knowledge" hierarchy a claim for which there is no evidence.





In other words, You dilibratrly narrow the definiton fo Faith to "Beleif withotu evidence" and project htis definitin onto all Christan use o the word, even if the authors temselves did not intend this definition.



Is that reliable? Is that reaosnable? IS that Logical?





Paul actually had it quite right when he stated, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen."


Actually thats form te Annonymous letter tot he Hebrews.



That xaid, that is not "The Biblical definition fo Faith' and certianly not what Paul meant by it in other places, such as Romans 1:5.



By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:



In this context he means "Set of beleifs, rituals and pracitces that compose a beleif system. a Religion."



1:12, the same applies.



That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.





Paul th APostle did nto undrstand Faith as always meanign "Beleif withotu evidence" and tryign to force Hebres to vindicate this and stretchign the talk past its meanign to cencompas the enturety of the Scripture in every instance the word is sued is just absurd.

Rather than understand the subject,y uo simply try to mitigae it by false means.



To say that faith is the substance of a hope is to say that the object of a hope is given reality by belief. It is the reification of a zero by belief! The second clause, "Faith...is the evidence of things unseen," is very telling. Paul is using faith as an epistemological method indicating that in the absense of objective evidence, faith itself substitutes for evidence. Belief IS evidence. I think Paul's definition and use of faith is pretty good. To him, faith replaces evidence and reality, the object of which is a hope in the ether.



But fdeos the Letter to the Hebrews single claim that Fiah is "The evidence of thigns hoped for," automaitcllay mean that every instance of the word Faith in the Scripture automaticlaly mans "BEleif withotu evidence"?



Are you seriosuly goign to try to argue that?



Do I have to show you othe rinstances in which Faith cannot possibely be "Beleif withotu evidnece" or the Onthological methodology you propose?



Must I then explain to you why the word is Versitile in Scirpture?



Is it logical to asusme it must mean what you say it oes every time, even when the authors you critisise didnt mean it thus?


Regarding my premises, both before and after; I'm sorry, but you aren't discussing this coherantly.




I am. However, the above reflectiosn mrley exist to show that alternatives exist to your claims. You certainly didn't investigate beyind a Bianary "Christain VS Ahtiest" set in which only one assigned value was given to eother side.



I've been coherant, what I've not been is in line wih your assessment.



You still hven't addrssed anything of my central reflection on your post, by way of argumentation agaisnt your claism of what Christaisn beelive.





I checked my premises, found them to be arbitrary, and discarded them.

And after you discarded htem you picked another Arbitrary beelif system that you now argue form but have no logical reaosn to beelive in.



I replaced them with the premises of reason which are axiomatic.

No you didn't. You rpelaced them with the PRmeises of a newfound Ahtiestic worldview, whch seems to align with Rand, if Im not mistaken.



Thats hardly "Replaced by raosn". You simply absorbed a new pattern.



If Im wrong, then perhaps you can address my critisisms of yor statements of what Cristians beelive, and answrs to your queastions?



Such as the Limited Geogrpahic area complaint?



Or woudl you rather just insult me and act as if those answers do not eist?



That is, even if you reject them, you must implicitly use them in the act of attempting to refute them. Feel free to challenge my premises, but try to do so without using them.



I did accept your premises, you ismply ignoed my points.



IE, I used your rejection fo Christianity base don a series of queastions. However, I answered those queasitosn and hsowed tha perhaps you where mistaken in your intepretaiton of Christianity.



THis was never discusse dby you, hwoever.

Evan said...

Bart,

You may have known some of my family when you were at Andrews.

Good to read about your story. I have to say that when I was an undergraduate in Angwin, I chose to major initially in Religion, but after my course in Jesus and the Gospels I chose Biology and have never regretted it.

Understanding biology seems a surer route to deconversion than just about anything I have seen, but truth is truth.

Very interesting story you describe and one that I find personally compelling all the more so because I have never found Ayn Rand appealing in any way.

Thanks for telling your story.

Lady through the Looking Glass said...

Hi, first time here, and I'm wondering if this site could be one of the answers to what I'm experiencing. But first, a confession: I feel that I'm way out of my league here among all these intellectuals. In fact, I feel like a child in comparison. However, I hope you'll bear with me, because I think I'm having a faith crisis. Oh, second confession: After browsing your site, I feel terrified!

Anyway, recently, I've found myself becoming gradually disillusioned with Christianity in general, and with my denomination, in particular. Consequently, I realised that I needed to re-examine my faith and beliefs. However, I'm not quite sure how to go about doing so. What I do know is that I'm questioning my faith/beliefs so that I can believe truth.

There were some points in your various arguments that I could readily agree with, such as the different factors, e.g. geography, family, etc., that have shaped a person's belief system. Growing up, I never questioned or thought out things for myself, and was not taught or encouraged to do so. I just soaked everything up like a sponge, whether it dealt with religion or an academic subject or some information on the TV. Now, I'm compelled to discover truth for myself. I want to become a thinker. I need to find out if everything I've ever believed was a lie, or if I can stake my life on it.

Earlier, I mentioned that I felt terrified. Perhaps it's because I've never challenged my faith before, or had it challenged. I also feel a bit scared because I don't know where this new journey will lead, but I sense that it's something I need to do, albeit alone. No one I know will understand, for as you may have guessed, most of them are Christians.

My question to you is, apart from, or along with, the DC challenge you suggested, how can I go about this re-examination of my faith/beliefs in a structured, intelligent way? Where should I start? Honestly, I feel slightly clueless and quite overwhelmed, because I'm unfamiliar with much of the information and theological arguments and terms, etc., on this site. Your suggestions and advice would be greatly appreciated.

P.S. Also, any advice on how to deal with an inexplicable urge to burst into tears, as well as to get rid of a flurry of butterflies in my stomach would be most welcome.

Darren said...

I really enjoyed that Bart. I was struck by what Rand wrote about capitalism and morality. I never thought of it in the way she does.

Evan said...

Lady,

I appreciate your heartfelt post. I am not quite sure what to say to you, but I think that if you are looking for why some of the people here have lost their faith in Christianity, John's post with the 10 books you should read is a great place to start.

Lots of people believe what they are taught and don't go beyond it.

That is true regardless of the field of study that you might describe; however my experience is that people who wish to know the very most about Christianity often lose their faith. They keep trying to get to some ultimate truth that is reliable within doctrine, but the more knowledge they get, the more skeptical they get about the possibility of such truth.

In my case, the final stage was questioning deeply about the truth of what I believed and being told that I was a negative influence, shunned, "prayed for", and then basically left to my own devices. I feel that any church is human, all too human.

The clincher comes when you compare all the fundamentalisms that exist on earth. The beliefs that animate the fundamentalisms couldn't be more disparate, yet the conclusions that they reach all seem to be the same:

1. Men should dominate all major decisions.

2. Women's sexuality is dangerous and should be strictly controlled.

3. Entertainment and pleasure for pleasure's sake are devilish.

4. Homosexuality is an abomination and all homosexuals should be shunned.

5. All decisions should be submitted to religious authority before action is taken -- specifically the political and the religious are identical in scope and level of control.

It seems odd that Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Christian fundamentalists disagree so much yet agree on all these points.

That's what did it for me, but it's not like I ever stopped caring about my family (Christian), my neighbors (Christian) or my country (Christian) and therefore I feel the need to engage with the dominant belief structure and especially the drive within it to fundamentalism.

Sam Harris has pointed out that fundamentalists get cover for what they do from moderate religionists because once you accept that faith is a legitimate grounds for action, you open the door to fundamentalism. This to me is the final push towards acknowledging that what I suspected to be true (there is no God) should be specifically affirmed as true, regardless of what people around me expect me to say.

Everyone is different, and I suppose I've run on a bit here but I wanted to acknowledge what you have to say. Additionally, I can assure you that for some people from some backgrounds there is a deep emotional attachment to religion, not to mention dire and specific personal and family implications to open avowal of disbelief. I'd encourage you to be rational throughout and think things through entirely for yourself.

bart willruth said...

Dear Lady/looking glass

I appreciate your letter. The emotional reactions to questioning one's worldview can indeed be very intense.

Let me offer a phrase to you that helped me throughout my journey.

TRUTH HAS NOTHING TO FEAR FROM EXAMINATION.

If something is true, not only will it bear up well under questioning, it will be strengthened. If, however, examination exposes weakness in that supposed to be true, nothing is lost. Truth is not overturned. What is overturned is falsity.

There is no shame in the realization that one has been in error. However, to attempt to maintain that error in the face of fact and logic is irrational.

In your quest, I will offer you some suggestions.

1. Remember, emotions are not tools of cognition. How you feel about something has nothing to do with objective truth.

2. Remember this maxim from Carl Sagan. "All claims require evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." The claims of Christianity are indeed extraordinary. The evidence for those claims is mostly limited to sheer assertion or claims of eyewitness testimony or worse, third hand hearsay claims that somebody else saw something. Even in a court of law, this kind of testimony is considered weak and unreliable. When such "evidence" is used to contradict causality or the laws of nature, it is simply inadequate to support such extraordinary claims.
3. Read some of the books John is recommending. Order his new book. Some of the books dealing with religious criticism are a bit technical, and I would suggest starting with those that are easier for the non-professional to understand.
4. Take to heart the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear." Keep in mind that as a lifelong Christian, it is almost in your genes to stop yourself from doubting, for doubt is considered to be the first step toward unpardomable sin.

Courage, Bart

Lady through the Looking Glass said...

@ Evan: Thanks so much for your response. Much appreciated.

For starters, I've been looking at the other side of the equation (from the skeptics) by reading some articles. I've never done that before. I've been so strongly biased towards Christianity that other perspectives never mattered much to me. The DC challenge seems to be the best place to get me going, as you rightly confirmed.

I think the reason for my fear is that I'm terrified of losing my faith, because it's all I've ever known, and I think I'd feel so lost without it. All of this morning I was going over what I've read so far, from here and other sources. Deep down, my issue isn't with the existence of God. I don't want to be an atheist or an agnostic, and cannot envision myself as such (please don't be offended; I have nothing now against atheists or agnostics). However, my growing issue is with Christianity, the evils it has either spawned, or supported throughout history, and the widening disparity between what its followers preach and practise.

The articles I've been reading have proven quite enlightening. I have my work cut out for me in weighing the claims of both sides, but I will courageously plow through it all. Thanks again!

@ Bart: 'TRUTH HAS NOTHING TO FEAR FROM EXAMINATION.' "If something is true, not only will it bear up well under questioning, it will be strengthened. If, however, examination exposes weakness in that supposed to be true, nothing is lost. Truth is not overturned. What is overturned is falsity."

Both statements strengthened my heart, as I saw the truth in them. It was like a light bulb flashed ON in my head. Thanks also for Carl Sagan's maxim: "All claims require evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

I know I'll have more questions from time to time as I start this new journey, so I'll be back. Thanks for your patience and understanding. It still feels a bit scary, but I'm pressing on ahead anyway. Many thanks!

Brother D said...

Right, because living people usally are turning black/dark purple laying on a table lifeless, no pulse, with multiple highly trained physicians preparing their body for the morgue, but christians are in denial...thanks for the LOL

Fred said...

Bart. I'm trying to understand. You state that "The risen Jesus was then seen by hundreds of witnesses over a period of weeks, and was then raised up to heaven before a group of witnesses."

Yet you claim there is no evidence to support this (I guess other than the witnesses).

However, we also believe in the occurrence of other ancient/historic events, and the only evidence we have is the writings of witnesses.

For example, it doesn't reqire faith to believe in the crusades, the inquisition, or the black plague, etc. because we know these events occurred based on the writings of witnesses.

So I guess what I'm asking is: Does something exist (or occur)as truth only when we experience it with our own senses? Or can we acknowledge the existence of things without necessarily experiencing them with our senses.

bart willruth said...

Fred,

You misunderstood me if you think that I in any way recognize the reality of the so-called witnesses. When I was speaking of the followers of Jesus witnessing the resurrection and then a later appearance to 500, I was simply stating the orthodox belief claims.

I don't for a minute accept that claim. To begin with, we have no, NO, eyewitness testimony. Rather, we have hearsay (3rd party) testimony from writers who's identity is unknown to us. It is anonymous hearsay. Furthermore, since the Gospels of Luke and Matthew are derivative of the Markan tale, they are even further removed and cannot even make the claim of being second handers. Our sole source for any claim to hearsay testimony is Mark, whoever he was.

Hearsay testimony from a single anonymous source hardly constitutes the extraordinary evidence we would require to substantiate such an outrageous claim as a resurrection from the dead.

We wouldn't even accept this kind of testimony to accept as a fact that Mel Gibson had entered rehab again. Certainly we wouldn't accept it for a claim that the laws of causality were violated.

Fred said...

Hi Bart.

While I agree that the gospel of Mark is third party evidence to the resurrection, it still meets the criteria as a definition for a certain level of evidence.

The premise that extraordinary evidence is required for extraordinary claims is not reasonable. In fact, just ordinary evidence can often show the truth of an extraordinary claim. A claim can be just as true with simple, non-ordinary evidence.

So I guess I need to know: How do you define extraordinary evidence? I just want our definitions of things to be on the same page so we can discuss. Thanks.

Jim Holman said...

I thought Mr. Willruth's essay was very interesting. I think his experience is quite common, and I have read many other similar stories.

I think one problem for conservative Protestant Christianity is that the belief system is so tightly wound that once you start to pull on one thread, the entire garment unravels.

And it really doesn't matter what that thread is. In Willruth's case the thread was an ethical argument based on reason rather than revelation. For some the thread is the disturbing doctrine of eternal damnation. For others the thread is the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

Another problem is that in conservative Protestant Christianity doubt is experienced as a terrible and shocking thing. Thus, when a believer experiences his or her first serious doubt, it often causes a major crisis of faith leading to a loss of faith.

I wonder what would have happened had Mr. Willruth been a member of a group that was not so "tightly wrapped." For example, there are many Catholic scholars who are completely aware of various problems in the Bible including problems of historicity, and they don't seem to be too bothered. They are quite aware of various theories of morality. They are completely comfortable with the idea that doubt accompanies faith.

I'm not suggesting that any of that somehow constitutes a defense of Christianity. But Mr. Willruth has written a very personal essay and I have to wonder had he been faced with the same challenges but affiliated with a different group if his outcome might have been very different.

By the way, I also was with a fundamentalist group for some years, and had a similar experience. So been there, done that, got the tshirt. And I've also asked myself what would have happened had I been with a different group.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Bart~ As I read this post I was initially saying ok, now I can look into a decision making process of how one would come to reject jesus and become and anti-christ promoter. When I got about 1/4 through your presentation I ran into this:

"I had always believed, in keeping with the teachings of Jesus, that there was no positive morality involved in the pursuit of commercial interests, wealth, or any of the material benefits of the secular world other than to renounce them and give to the poor."

Whether that was something that you just believed or something you had been taught I couldn't tell, but either way it was a wrong premise from the beginning. Jesus didn't downgrade money, he only taught it's proper use as not an object of worship but as a means whereby we live and ultimately serve the economy of God and HIS people. Money is not evil or wrong. The worship and lust for it is. To me that was an elementary concept that should not have caught you by surprise in some anti-christ promoters seminar. That was a little unfathomable for me to take, that a theologian would not be able to decipher the difference and already know such a basic truth.

Secondly, you said this: "And I did intense research on my own. I came out at the far end of that study with the realization that the claim of the death and resurrection of Jesus as a historical event was indefensible. The only way to hold on to that belief would be to blindly accept the internally contradictory and irrational claims of the mostly anonymous writers of the New Testament."

Now I would almost believe this but this is highly subjective and offers no objective evidence...I guess what I'm trying to say is...What is the GREATEST evidence that you found AGAINST the resurrection?...The SINGULAR greatest. You already did the Mark/gospel thing so I hope you have more than that...Please give that to me because I am interessted to know the singular most devestating proof against it. You said it was historically indefensible. Please provide the objective truths not presuppositions or biases.

Zarove~ I believe that you uncovered Bart's deceit wonderfully. He suggests that Christians are less capable of choosing a path or researching anything outside of a church directive this is highly derrogatory and I guess makes him the new KING of the world. (under the direction of Rand I suppose)

Also, the faulty premise of faith was smoked out. The early church had faith premised on fact. Those facts shaped their faith. To assert that Biblical faith is in any way devoid of reason or factual basis is certainly beneath any Christian and is offensive that you would even try to sell junk like that in conjunction with a "supposed" intellectual bias.

I know what I believe and why, and the only helpful infomration I've seen so far is that TRUTH HAS NOTHING TO FEAR FROM EXAMINATION...100% correct. That's why Jesus stands to agnostic Thomas and asks him to touch and examine HIM. Thomas wasn't silly enough to be an atheist, but was smart enough to as for evidence and JESUS GLADLY PROVIDED it.

Ooh, by the way Steven, Jesus was a Lamb slain BEFORE the foundation of the world doublle implication meaning at the alter of the worlds creation and also in advance...little knowledge for ya, but a good Bible difficulty observation.

Thanks, I'll be looking for that answere about the resurrection.

Evan said...

Harvey -- other than stories, what current evidence do you have of God acting in the world right now?

I am talking about evidence like the apostles had: raising of the dead (an epidemic in 1st century Palestine), people being struck dead for being cheapskates, people being cured of diseases by someone talking, people walking on water, food appearing magically.

I'm curious.

Now either you think there is evidence, or you don't.

If you don't, isn't it odd that God felt comfortable doing that stuff in the 1st century but he doesn't now? The 1st century is absolutely contemporaneous with now on a geological or cosmic timescale and if you believe the earth is at least a billion years old, which it demonstrably is, you really have to contort yourself to think that there was a magic window of 1-2 centuries where you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a miracle, but now they are hen's teeth.

If you do think there is good evidence of miracles happening now I have 2 responses:

1. Please alert the media and the James Randi foundation.

2. What makes the miracles you are describing more compelling than the relatively well documented (compared to the Biblical narrative) miracles being performed in India by Sathya Sai Baba? Intelligent scientifically literate people in India believe Sai Baba is performing miracles, have you investigated this? Since you believe the evidence of supernatural acts is so critical to your faith, why is Sai Baba's evidence weak to you (I am assuming you are not a Hindu or a follower of Sai Baba)?

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Evan,
I like your style. I hope you stick around.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Evan~

First Where is YOUR evidence that HE- GOD DOES NOT EXIST. Your anti-Christ world view would require you to know that BEFORE making the statement but you know as well as I do that you can’t make the statement BECAUSE you have NO EVIDENCE only hyperbole and conjecture. So you get at me with that.

So that I do not waste my time or yours further, I will need to know what type of evidence you accept? Axiological evidences, ontological evidences, teleological evidences, cosmological evidences, personal testimony, 3rd party eyewitness testimony, historically verifiable evidences, or what? What evidence or is there evidence that you would consider as validation for God’s existence in the world today? This will let me know if you intend to deal reasonably or foolishly as an anti-Christ advocate.

I mean, people come back from the grave including the historically verifiable Jesus (who anti-Christ advocates such as yourself SWORE UP AND DOWN FOR YEARS DIDN’T exist until you finally acquiested to the overwhelming proofs of his historicity) and Lazarus but yet anti-Christ advocates such as you and others don’t believe it. So what will meet your need? If you are reasonable, I’ll get a specific answer.

Secondly, so far as miracles, your assertions were long anticipated, and should be answered COMMONLY in any well balanced and Biblically literate church. Have you sought one lately? There are many. The Bible says this,

“For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 1 Cor. 1:22-25

It’s no wonder to me that you think I’m foolish for preaching Christ, I was prepared for that. This scripture intimates that signs and talk (philosophies or wisdom of the world) are not the only repositories or indicators for the power of God. In fact when done to the exclusion of God are not a good indicator of ANYTHING.

More???

“They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not.” John 6:30-36

Miracles in the world are not new. To deny that is inconsistent with humanity and unreasonable. Jannes and Jambres (Ex. 7:11-12, 2 Tim. 3:7) were able to REDUPLICATE miracles of God in Pharaoh’s court but they could NOT stop any of the works of God, control death or remove the curse from the people. Only God was able to do that …So any sign or miracle on it’s own isn’t sufficient…Only miracles done according to God , his word and for HIS glory can validate God.

Now, on the other hand, anti-Christ advocates such as yourself, will be affected by this persons signs and wonders and other deceits (if any) and equate it with the power of God or a “higher power of self reality”. But the real litmus test is what the miracles produce and what they are designed to do. Are lives saved, changed, dedicated to God and the pursuit of higher things or are the people unaffected, taught to live more carnally and pursue further self-serving motives? Y’u-know, all the things that Bart says that Rand taught him that were good in life…

Nevertheless, get back at me with what I ask for when you can. I’ll address it.

bart willruth said...

Dear Fred,

Since you agree that the Gospel of Mark is at best second hand hearsay testimony, we can move forward to the rest of your response.

I will mention in passing that it is certainly debatable that Mark did not even intend to have his story taken literally, as events in history. The narrative may have been simple epic/allegory or as Bishop Spong suggests, a replacement liturgical reading for the Torah.

You state that, "While the Gospel of Mark is third party evidence to the resurrection, it still meets the criteria as a definition for a certain level of evidence." Ok, lets examine it on your terms.

What is that certain level of evidence? We have an unknown author writing sometime after 70 CE, perhaps decades, addressing an unknown audience with an unknown agenda. So far this isn't looking good. But moving on, let's assume our anonymous author was reporting something he believed actually happened. He doesn't tell his recipients where he got his information. He simply narrates a story that tells what others saw and said. This is, as you agree, hearsay. Here are some of the problems with this kind of "evidence."

1. We don't know the identity of the claimant, making any possibility of determining his mental state, agenda, character, imagination, or sources impossible. Could he have been a nutcase? Could he have been a liar? Could he just be subject to flights of imagination and exaggeration? Could he have patched together a narrative based on information coming from a friend of a friend of a friend? Could the whole story just be a pious allegory for devotional purposes, made up out of whole cloth? If you are honest, you must acknowledge the possibility that the answer to any of these questions is yes.

2. According to Clement of Rome, the Gospel of Mark existed in three versions at his time. How do we determine which version was the accurate one? Since the others are no longer extant, must we rely on a miracle that the version we have was the good one?

3. The Gospel of Mark has no resurrection appearances which makes its usefulness as "evidence" for the resurrection a bit dubious. The Gospel originally ended with verse 8. That which follows, like the resurrection appearances of Matthew and Luke, are later embellishments, none of which agree by the way.

4. The story of Jesus as a Galilean Jew carrying out a ministry, dying, and rising in Judea is in tension with the pre-70 CE Christian writings which seem to be unaware of those events.

In light of the above, and so much more could be added, I agree with you that the Gospel of Mark is a certain kind of evidence. That is, useless.

It is not an exaggeration to state that a conviction for jaywalking couldn't be obtained with this kind of evidence. Imagine this, "Your honor, as I appear before the court, I will not reveal my identity. However, I will solemnly swear that I heard from my Aunt Mabel that her yard man saw John Smith crossing Main street against the light. And by the way, this event took place decades ago when Mr. Smith was much younger."

Keep in mind that ALL other resurrection stories derive from Mark, as you agree. That means that we have a single source of hearsay testimony for an event which violates everything in our experience. It violates the laws of causality. It cannot be checked for accuracy. And according to Christianity, belief in this "event" is necessary and incumbant upon all.

You take issue with the statement that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You have to admit, the claim is quite extraordinary. But, ok, for argument's sake, let's ask for ordinary evidence. The Gospel of Mark doesn't provide that either. Hearsay, rumor, and the credulity of others to believe such does not constitute evidence, period.

Bart Willruth

bart willruth said...

Hi Dist supervisor

I will refer you to my comment this morning to Fred regarding some of the problems with resurrection claims.

However, I must explain to you that it is not incumbant upon the skeptic to offer proof to debunk an incredible claim. The burden of proof is upon the claimant. The claims for a miraculous resurrection of Jesus and the argumentation used by believers is so weak and so far from proof that there is simply no reason to buy into it.

Regarding the position of Jesus regarding money; you have engaged in the exercise of harmonization to get to your position that Jesus was neutral toward money and the wealthy. Harmonization is the exercise of systematic theology to erase, or at least blur contradictory concepts. In the case of money, harmonization is used to weaken the harsh attitude of Jesus towards money. One motive might be that few believers today would wish to renounce their wealth, give all to the poor, and take up a life of poverty like a monk emulating the example of Jesus. The fact of the matter is, the teachings of Jesus as presented in the gospels is completely impractical and would lead anyone who tried to follow those teachings literally to die in a gutter.

Try reading some of the Jesus sayings by themselves without attempting to rationalize that they don't really mean what they clearly say.

Bart Willruth

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Hello Bart~

Thanks for getting back. In your opinion, is it wrong for me to interpret what Jesus said in specific instances to specific people regarding wealth WITHOUT reading it in the broader context of scripture?

I mean one can take any one point in scripture and go almost anywhere with it.

Improper contextualization of the text I believe is part of the problem with anti-Christ advocay and is futher essential for the atheist to make thir assertions.

I believe that scriptures admonish that we should "rightly divide" or properly contextualize the scriptures in order to establish proper meaning. NOT PRESUPPOSE, (which I agree with you is the wrong approach) but simply receive the entire message...otherwise we would have a whole host of problems in actually receiving and implementing the message of the bible and for that matter ANY and MOST other literary works written throughout history whether religious or nonreligious.

Your admonisions in this point, lacks in the proper contextualizations of Jesus' statements. Jesus certainly would NOT have paid taxes, kept a treasury, collected an offering, or showed up for a national census IF he disavowed money...he would have simply told his followers to avoid Ceasar at all costs, and borrowed everything he and the disciples needed from others.

So I reject the notion that Jesus was somehow more of a mastacist(sp) when it pertained to issues of this world and wealth. He said that HE came to give us abundant life. You know as well as I that the "abundant life' was in no way limited to an eternal matters exclusively. the abundant life was and is inclusive of the life we live in this present world.

Now HE (Jesus) put perspective on money...he spoke of LOVE (Worship) of it...he looked through the rich young rulers heart to see that he valed his posessions MORE than he valued God and righteousness etc.

Once again, so far as the interpretive, we cannot lift a specific instance or isolated saying from scripture, than say that the the whole of biblical doctrine rests upon it.

All interpretives must flow with much more reason and rationality than you are using to derive at your summation.

Now, this is either a deliberate misguidence or it is an honest misinterpretation. I find it hard to believe with your credential (which I respect by the way) that this is a misinterpretation. However, because of the anti-Christ nature of atheism I can easily see it as a misguidence.

Thank you.

openlyatheist said...

Great posting Bill. Glad you're aboard.

You know, I was just thinking that information such as you've provided on the facts of the Gospels really should go in an FAQ for the Christian "on the way out" such as "Lady" above. Something that encapsulates the bare-bones facts that Christians never hear in Sunday school.

I am constantly amazed at how far afield Christian apologetists stray from these simple, damning truths.

bart willruth said...

Dear Dist supervisor,

The different manner in which we approach the writings contained in the Bible will make this discussion almost impossible without a much more detailed background than is possible in this short response.

You approach the Bible as a unity, all sourced from the same divine revealer. Hence, all the documents in the Bible can ultimately be placed in a single context, presupposed to be presenting a unified message. This is the task of systematic theology, which as I mentioned, attempts to harmonize disparate texts dealing with the same subject. This task is more art than science. The manner in which one harmonizes the texts is as much a matter of the conclusion the interpreter wishes to reach more than anything else. The plethora of Christian denominations is an example of the attempts to interpret and systematize. The Bible, when viewed as this kind of unity, is like a piano. The artist can play the tune he wishes.

I recognize that no such book as the Bible was ever written. Rather, individual documents were circulated in the early church, edited, combined, abridged, embelleshed and sometimes lost or purposefully destroyed. The church of the fourth century made an "official" selection, assigning authority to some, rejecting others, and destroying those considered dangerous. The documents selected were written by many individuals, some known, some not. Some were forged in the name of another. Each had its own thrust. Many blatantly contradict each other, even though Christian copyists attempted to dull some of the rough edges. It should not be surprising that many different views on a subject can be found in the collection we call the Bible.

Regarding the sayings attributed to Jesus vis a vis money, most of the sayings come from the cynic-like layer of the Q1 sayings source put into the mouth of Jesus by the anonymous authors of Luke and Matthew. The Q1 layer is countersocial and against the things which support the life of the system of society at large.

In passing, I note that you continually use the term Antichrist in reference to me. Since the epistles of John make apparent that even at that early time there were those even among the Christians who were denying that Christ had actually been a man on earth, and the author refers that perspective as antichrist, I will not argue the point with you.

Bart Willruth

bart willruth said...

brother d

Dead man raised from the dead? Wow! This fellow was certainly the son of God. Apparently God has more than one son. Which one do we worship?

JD Walters said...

Bart,

Are you the Bart Willruth who was a student at Andrews University which is the flagship of the Seventh Day Adventists?

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Dr. Willruth~

So far as Mark and the gospel is concerned, John was his Latin name and Mark “John, whose surname was Mark,” in Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37, becomes “John” alone in Acts 13:5, 13, “Mark” in Acts 15:39, and from there, there is no change. Col. 4:10; Phm. 24; 2 Tim. 4:11.

So far as when the Gospel was written, the most direct testimony is that of Irenæus, who says it was after the death of the apostles Peter and Paul. We may conclude, therefore, that this Gospel was not written before A.D. 63. Again we may as certainly conclude that it was not written after the destruction of Jerusalem or A.D. 70, for it is not likely that he would have omitted to record so remarkable a fulfillment of our Jesus’s predictions. Hence A.D. 63–70 becomes is the limit.

Bart you know that dates AFTER A.D. 70 are extremist views and are generally NOT accepted by scholars as dates of authentication for writing of the Gospel. The basis for that is proof and reasonableness that YOU CLAIM led you away from Christ. However AS WE CAN NOW SEE, it’s fantasy that leads you to unscholarly conclusions such as that…

Further, since Clement, Eusebius, Jerome, Epiphanius, all agree that Mark’s gospel was written in Rome it would be a further stretch of intelligence to believe that the gospel would have had opportunity to proliferate after A.D. 70 based on Roman sentiment toward Jews and Jewish literature in general. Once again the argument you make is HIGHLY unreasonable and ONLY based on a limitless number of possibilities not probabilities. Anything is possible…Only certain things are probable.

The early church and textual critics who knew these individuals stated that the texts were preserved and authentically written by the author whose name was John Mark... Papias, and early church father said this, “He, the presbyter (John), said, Mark, being the interpreter of Peter, wrote exactly whatever he remembered; but he did not write in order the things which were spoken or done by Christ. For he was neither a hearer nor a follower of the Lord, but, as I said, afterward followed Peter, who made his discourses to suit what was required, without the view of giving a connected digest of the discourses of our Lord. Mark, therefore, made no mistakes when he wrote down circumstances as he recollected them; for he was very careful of one thing, to omit nothing of what he heard, and to say nothing false in what he related.” And “… this testimony is confirmed by other witnesses…”

You also know that this~ 1) The text was written in Greek and was generally accepted to be written to Romans living in Rome. 2) The Text contains almost no incident or teaching which is not contained in one of the other two synoptists, 3) The text is by far the most vivid and dramatic in its narratives, 4) The text’s pictorial character indicates not only that they were derived from an eye and ear witness, but also from one who possessed the observation and the graphic artistic power of a natural orator, such as Peter emphatically was, 5) Mark’s design of the Gospel was to present Jesus to us as the incarnate and wonder-working Son of God, living and acting among men; and portray him in the fullness of his living energy. Therefor you know that mark's presentation would be unique to Mark.

Your statements about other gospels (Matthew and Luke) pulling from Mark, are summed up as follows:

Matthew and Luke never agree in arrangement of material when compared against Mark

Only 1/3rd of Luke could be composed of material from Mark (meaning that texts are similar)

Only ½ of Matthew could be composed of material from Mark (meaning that texts are similar)

~Why wouldn't we expect the texts to be similar from people talking about and recording the same or similar events???~

31 verses in Mark are unique to that gospel itself and have no parallel in Matthew or Luke.

The “Q” document, (which is a theoretical) since no copy of it is known to exist. Could represent a document preserving the sayings of Jesus. This compilation could account for the more than 200 verses in Matthew and Luke which offer no parrell in Mark.

Once again, the church father, Papias, writing about A.D. 130, records, “Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each interpreted them as best he could.” Once again, the text is variant not conflicting in any way with Mark.

When the Gospel of Mark and “Q” are accounted for, there yet remains more than one-fifth of Matthew and one-third of Luke for which there is no parallel in other gospels. INCLUDING MARK.

Finally the points and object lessons of the Gospels are totally different:

For Mark, Jesus is the Suffering Servant who reveals His divine Sonship on the cross.

Matthew’s major concern is to present Jesus as a teacher who is greater than Moses and continually present with the disciples.

For Luke, Jesus is the keystone in the history of salvation, beginning with Israel, fulfilled in Jesus, and com-municated by the church.

The fourth gospel writer penetrates the mystery of the incarnation (Jesus as God in human form; John 1:14), who brings life to the world through trust in Him.

To say that these gospel and accounts were borrowed or worked from Mark is incredulous. To say that it possible, certainly exists…ANYTHING is possible. But to say it’s probable is a horse of a different color and based on the evidence HIGHLY UNPLAUSABLE.

By the way,. Critics question the reliability of Mark after mark 16:8. The resurrection account occurs BEFORE this point even in Mark. the scripture says in verse 6 "HE IS RISEN" ...This debunks any material claims that the gospel accounts are in dissaray concerning the resurrection. ALL Gospels including John agree…

Where is ANY evidence to the contrary based on SOLID scholarship? There is speculative scholarship that would disagree, but no plausible evidence to DEBUG the resurrection account as recorded throughout scripture.

Where is the EVIDENCE that could take a committed Christian and cause him to become an ANTI-CHRIST ADVOCATE? Since you agree that my statements are correct about you being and anti-Christ advocate.

Dr. Willruth, I just do not objectively and reasonably see it. Nor can I follow your unreasonable conclusions in stating this particular case.

The TRUTH has stood the TEST of sound examination. Thank you for yet adding another level of confidence to my faith in Christ.

Jim Holman said...

District Supt. Harvey asks: "Why wouldn't we expect the texts to be similar from people talking about and recording the same or similar events???"

It's not that the language is similar, but that there are obvious literary interrelationships. Take for example the parenthetical comment "let the reader understand," found in both Mark 13 and Matthew 24. While witnesses describing common event might use similar language to describe the event, they're not going to record the same parenthetical comment.

If Jesus spoke in Aramaic, how it is that in many cases his words are translated exactly the same way into Greek in different gospels? Or, if Jesus spoke in Greek, how is it that his activities were often recorded in the gospels in identical Greek? Entire books have been written on this, so I won't belabor the point.

In other words, it's not just that there is "similar" language, but a large number of cases that simply could not be coincidences.

That said, having literary interrelationships between the gospels is not an argument against the veracity of the gospels, though it certainly would be an argument against biblical inerrancy.

As far as the church fathers and the gospels, we really don't know what they knew or when they knew it. Papias talks about Matthew's Hebrew "oracles of the Lord," but there is no evidence that a Hebrew version of Matthew ever existed, or that the passage even refers to the gospel of Matthew.

Evan said...

First Where is YOUR evidence that HE- GOD DOES NOT EXIST. Your anti-Christ world view would require you to know that BEFORE making the statement but you know as well as I do that you can’t make the statement BECAUSE you have NO EVIDENCE only hyperbole and conjecture. So you get at me with that.

I will answer this question as soon as you prove to me that Shiva, Quetzalcoatl, Zeus, Poseidon, Thor, and Sol Invictus don't exist.

Until you prove to me that those gods don't exist, I have no reason to believe your God is any different than them. Since you don't accept the existence of any of those gods, the onus is on you to provide positive evidence of your God's existence.

What evidence or is there evidence that you would consider as validation for God’s existence in the world today?

By God of course you are referring to Yahweh I assume, and his son out of wedlock, Jesus.

There are lots of things that could strongly suggest the existence of Yahweh and company.

If imaging of the earth's core spelled out in Latin "Iesus Dominus Est" it would be pretty compelling evidence.

If dead people came back to life every 100 years on Easter, describing heaven in detail (specifically how the human digestive and urinary tracts worked there) and then clearly predicting specific events that then came true within 10 years, it would be very compelling evidence.

If fossil humans were found in the same layers as fossil trilobites, it would be extremely compelling evidence for supernatural activity, and it would be even moreso if when we scanned them with electron microscopes it said "I made this. Yahweh".

If we gazed at the residue of the big bang and saw a galaxy that spelled out in Greek "Constantine will establish Constantinople as a Christian Rome" I think you'd see lots of atheists rethinking their positions.

So there are some evidences that I would accept. How about you? What evidence could convince you Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Wind didn't exist?

Secondly, so far as miracles, your assertions were long anticipated, and should be answered COMMONLY in any well balanced and Biblically literate church.

You must not have gone to one since you don't seem to be able to answer my question. So here it is again, what makes a given miracle proof of the religion that it is claimed to have been accomplished through? Specifically what characteristics of the miracle itself and not the performer of the miracle or the results of the miracle?

. But the real litmus test is what the miracles produce and what they are designed to do. Are lives saved, changed, dedicated to God and the pursuit of higher things or are the people unaffected, taught to live more carnally and pursue further self-serving motives?

Nice logical airtight construction you have here.

All miracles that bring someone to Yahweh are good. All miracles that bring someone to someone other than Yahweh are bad.

By what logical structure do you derive this dichotomy?

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Evan~ You're so laughable, you don't deserve further commentary. Your answer showed how unreasonable and ridiculous your thought process is...So Like I said you showed your foolishness and lack of even basic understanding in every area that we're discussing here.

NOW BACK TO PEOPLE WHO AT LEAST SEEM REASONABLE AND OFFER SOMETHING PERTAING TO THE TOPIC.

Bill~ I believe that you seriously oversimplify more than a few things. 1) the handling of the word and its compilation. You said this...

"recognize that no such book as the Bible was ever written. Rather, individual documents were circulated in the early church, edited, combined, abridged, embelleshed and sometimes lost or purposefully destroyed. The church of the fourth century made an "official" selection, assigning authority to some, rejecting others, and destroying those considered dangerous. The documents selected were written by many individuals, some known, some not."

You know that's not entirely true and that WASN'T CLOSE to the process or selection of canonical writings. I would expect a Muslim to say that especially about the NT but you are way out there with those "Jesus seminar" anti-Christ deviants...Nevertheless, you know that the Jews took much better care of their texts and you also know that the prophets spoke independently but WITHOUT contradiction. Even apparent contradictions are settled within contextual parameters. Further, the WHOLE of scripture must be taken into account to get the WHOLE story...So these are basic things that you know, but yet you choose to live beneath your pedigree and offer misleading statements such as those.

2)You should also be aware that within Christianity we are all unified on essential truths. Peripherals there is much debate, but in essentials unity.

Now you really wanna talk about differences let's get all you anti-Christ advocates together and let you dcome up with a singular strategy on how you'll overthrow the world...THAT'LL NEVER HAPPEN and you'll get the groups that you currently have now, Humanists, secularists, atheists, freethinkers, agnostics anti-christics etc... Your following is much smaller and already you have more divisions than you can shake a stick at...so in comparison, Christianity has done quite well to maintain an ESSENTIAL message from denomination to denomination and diverse population to diverse population for 2000 years.

Jim~ Since you sound reasonable, isn't it reasonable to believe that the science of translation would offer the same or similar methods of translation and results within the same time period? I mean if a word was the same wouldn't it be translated the same every place during that time? When the science grew and the linguistic better developed, wouldn't we at that point see changes?

To the point NO linguistic barriers that have been encountered change the biblical message or essential truths of Christianity. In fact, with the Dead Sea Scrolls were discover, the biblical text as was in existence was confirmed in style, substance, message etc with minimal variation and NO contradiction from what was in use at the time.

Translations are simple to overcome and the equivalency used in the bible was a literal one so there was no effort to relay a meaning. So it's reasonable to understand that some phrases and words were translated the same...People often said the same thing, just like we do today. Did you say "hello" or "what's up?" to somebody today. I did too. Why should our language change if we both said it in English? AND if both of our phrases were translated into Spanish or French why would the translations be different just because 2 different people said it? That whole argument is not essential to the message. It doesn’t change it at all.

Now if the messages were different in the bible, or the accounts conflicting, I'd have a problem, but since that doesn't occur, it's easy to understand.

Thanks. I'm out!

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

I almost forgot...the only way you can understand what I said,

"Now if the messages were different in the bible, or the accounts conflicting, I'd have a problem, but since that doesn't occur, it's easy to understand."

You would have to understand THE PARTIAL TRUTH that Bill said when he said this,

" Rather, individual documents were circulated in the early church..."

That part of his statement was true. When we go from individual documents to one, they were consistent not forceably so, but on their own. Now that's the record and history.

I'm out 4-real this time.

Evan said...

Evan~ You're so laughable, you don't deserve further commentary. Your answer showed how unreasonable and ridiculous your thought process is...So Like I said you showed your foolishness and lack of even basic understanding in every area that we're discussing here.

Woohoo.

Argumentum ad homimen and argumentum ad Igiveupum in one!

bart willruth said...

District supervisor

You date the gospel of Mark in the 60's CE. There are several pointers within Mark which can be used to suggest a date. Most scholars point to the apocalypse in Mark which obviously refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Based on this, Mark is normally dated at some point after this event in 70 CE. Conservative Christians attempt to date the book earlier, not because of any internal evidence, but because they desperately need to have the book composed as closely as possible to the time-setting of Jesus so as to give more weight to the claim that the testimony was immediately received from the eyewitnesses. That is an attempt to date from a prior faith conclusion.

I would like to suggest another perspective. In the opening chapters of Mark, Jesus is depicted as specificallly teaching in the synagogues of Capernaum and Tiberias, then throughout all the synagogues of Galilee. His opponents were scribes and Pharisees.

This immediately causes a problem. Prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, there were NO synagogues in Galilee. Prior to 70 CE, the Pharisees were a minor party and didn't gain real importance until well thereafter. Why Pharisees would have even been in largely Gentile Galilee at that time would also be a mystery.

Allow me to offer a bit of historical perspective. Following the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, a crisis developed within the various forms of Judaism over the question, "How can Judaism continue without the temple?" This was a crisis of identity. The issue took many decades to settle. One group, the Pharisees set up a think tank in Jamnia within a few years after 70 CE. Several years later, finding the Diaspora synagogue system to be a useful model, they relocated to the region of Galilee, well away from the ruins of Jerusalem and the Roman legions garrisoned there. Their two main centers, coincidentally, were Capernaum and Tiberias. It was at these locations that the Pharisees developed that which we know as Rabbinical Judaism. The synagogues there could have been established by sometime in the 80's CE, though a somewhat later date is possible. These scribes and Pharisees developed the concept that scrupulous adherance to the Torah and the oral tradition would fulfill the real intent of the now defunct temple system. They sought to "build a fence" around the law. Ultimately, the result of the intense disputes coalesced into the Talmud.

During the early time of the disputations, Judaism was largely undefined. Various factions could be heard and could openly argue their points. The militant Messianic party, the Therapeutae, the Christ cult, the Pharisees, refugees from Qumran, and the remnants of the Sadducee party could all engage in the struggle to define Judaism. As the years passed, the rabbinical-Pharisaical perspective gained dominance. At this point, the "heterodox" or non-Pharisaical parties were being ejected from the synagogues. The curse against the "Minim" or the heretics was issued at this time. Most scholars believe the Minim curse was primarily aimed at some form of Christian antagonists still present in the synagogues at that time.

That a primary theme in Mark is the antagonism of the Pharisees toward Jesus and his followers and their ejection from the synagogues, especially those of Capernaum and Tiberias, gives us a strong indication that Gospel of Mark was addressed to a community actually dealing with this situation. That is, Mark's audience were the ones actually being mistreated by the Pharisees and being ejected from the synagogues. While they were most likely themselves not in Galilee, but were a part of the diaspora synagogue community, the setting was put by Mark at ground zero, the Rabbinical schools of Galilee which were defining Judaism and defining them out.

The Gospel of Mark is thus anachronistic. It is putting current events into a setting in the past. It even contains its own version of a curse; this one on the Pharisees for their intransigence and failure to see things the way Mark's community saw them. The Pharisees and their followers are blamed in Mark for the destruction of the temple.

When did this happen? It is possible that it could have occurred in the late 80's CE, but a later date is more likely. There is no reason why Mark could not be dated after the turn of the century, the gospels of Matthew and Luke being formed sometime thereafter with the addition of the Q sayings.

It must be remembered that the likelihood that the events were as actually described in Mark rather than being anachronistic are not credible. Because:

1. The small party of Pharisees were not particularly important before 70 CE, but became central characters thereafter.

2. The region of Galilee prior to 70 CE was largely gentile.

3. Pharisees would have had no reason to be in Galilee prior to 70 CE and I am not aware of any contemporary sightings of them there.

4. There were no synagogues in Galilee prior to 70 CE. The synagogue system was developed for diaspora Jews living too far from the temple to take part in its cult. Areas close to the temple did not have need for synagogues, hence there were none.

5. The setting and plot of Mark only make sense when dated during the period when the Gallilean synagogues and rabbinical schools were in place.

Jim Holman said...

District Supt. Harvey writes: "To the point NO linguistic barriers that have been encountered change the biblical message or essential truths of Christianity."

The issue here is whether the synoptic gospels were independent accounts written by separate eyewitnesses, or whether there exist literary relationships showing that they are compilations of various sources that were edited together. Let me give a you concrete example.

Consider the story of the feeding of the 5,000 found in Mt14, Mk6, and Lk9. In Mark Jesus tells the disciples to go into a "desert place" ("eremos topos" -- a desert or wilderness). Matthew also says that Jesus went to a desert place (eremos topos). He uses the exact phrase found in Mark, but uses it as a description of where they went, not as a quotation from Jesus. Luke has the disciples coming to Jesus asking him to send the crowds away because there is nothing to eat, and they are in a desert place (eremos topos).

But there is a problem. The setting in Luke's gospel is not an "eremos topos" -- a wilderness, but the city of Bethsaida. ("And he took them and withdrew apart to a city called Beth-saida.") Josephus notes that Philip, son of Herod, was buried there, and Philip designated Bethsaida as a "city," which means that it had to have had a significant population. Also, from archeological findings we know that Bethsaida was a walled city with an aqueduct and large public buildings. After Jerusalem and Capernaum it is the third most frequently mentioned city in the gospels, and the gospel of John says that three of the disciples were from there.

So the problem is that Luke uses Mark's phrase -- eremos topos -- but it doesn't make any sense in that context. In Luke's gospel they aren't in the wilderness. Luke is not an eyewitness, but is taking existing material from several sources and editing it together, but sometimes it doesn't "fit."

This is just one example. Again, entire books have been written on the topic, and there are also many web resources available for anyone who is interested in understanding the literary interrelationships of the gospels.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Dr. Willruth~

I would expect as much misinformation and liberal OUTSIDE the majority opinion as you yield from you liberal perspective.

Obviously you haven' heard of the discovery by Carsten Peter Thiede and Matthew d'Ancona.

In summary, it goes a little like this:

The Matthew fragments redated by Thiede are at Magdalen College (Oxford). They are called The Magdalen Papyrus (listed as Greek 17 and p64). There are three fragments written on both sides, together representing 24 lines from Matthew 26:7-33. Two of the three fragments are a little larger than 4 x 1 cm.; the other is smaller, 1.6 x 1.6 cm. Another two fragments, located in Spain, are called the Barcelona Papyrus (P. Barc. inv. 1/p67) and contain portions of Matthew 3:9, 15; 5:20-22, 25-28.

The Magdalen Papyrus surfaced in the modern world in 1901, when Charles B. Huleatt purchased it from an antiquities dealer in Luxor, Egypt. Nothing is known of the fragment’s preservation before that time. Huleatt donated the fragments to Magdalen College, where they were given a cursory examination by Magdalen scholar Arthur Hunt, who tentatively dated them to the fourth century. In 1953, Colin Roberts redated the Magdalen Papyrus to the later second century and established their connection to the Barcelona fragments.

More than 40 years later Thiede reexamined the fragments, using state-of–the-art electronic scanners with close analysis of the paper, ink, letter formation, line length, and other factors to redate the fragments to around A.D. 60. Thiede’s tests and skill appear to be well within responsible papyrology.

Finally, A layperson’s paraphrase of one common criticism is that the papyrus must not be from the first century because there weren’t any codexes (book-leafs) in first-century Jewish/Christian literature but only scrolls, even though the papyrus has all of the physical characteristics of a first-century document. As Thiede rightly points out, the argument against first-century codexes is an argument from silence — of the small percentage of recovered early manuscript portions, no indisputable first-century codex portion has been identified. If, however, the Magdalen/Barcelona codex is first century, then we do have an example of a first-century codex. Moreover, if critical assumptions are reconsidered, and cutting-edge papyrology tests are applied to other previously dated fragments, we may well find other early examples of codexes.

PROOF. DEBUNKED! The synagogue and other issues rest upon this. As you can see I provided proff that you may witness for yourself.

Your research has led you to a anti-christ and position and one that is further void of reason. Please rethink your view and deceive others no further.

Thanks.

bart willruth said...

Dist Supervisor

First, I do not object to you calling me antichrist, but please don't call me a liberal.

Now on to substance. I am not a specialist in textual criticism or paleography, although I did sleep in a Holiday Inn Express once. I assume that you also do not possess expertise in this area.

I am familiar with Thiede's claims on the Matthean fragment in question. His conclusion made a big splash in the popular press when it first hit. However, his suggestions of a first century date, let alone a date in the 60's has not withstood peer review. Even Thiede himself has not tried to maintain that date, now preferring a date in the last third of the first century, certainly after the war. By my calculations, the last third of the first century would include the year 99. Furthermore, the consensus of scholarly opinion remains 200 CE plus or minus 50 years. Paleographers have indicated that his claims for parallels with first century styles are not so close.

One must be aware that popular venues are not the best place to get specialized information. Sensationalism sells. If the claims of a date in the 60's were really sustainable, it would have revolutionized Biblical studies, which hasn't occurred.

I can refer you to some of these studies if you wish, but you should be aware that even Thiede has backed off his initial claims.

I don't feel so disproved. Meanwhile, can you offer any evidence for pre 70 CE synagogues in Gallilee?

Bart Willruth, Dr. of Antichristianity

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Dr. Willruth ~

I only call you Liberal because you are reciting the same ridiculous UNPROVEN mess that Robert Funk stated in his book ‘Honest to Jesus’ which was a HONEST LIBERAL LIE. He like you offer no serious evidence for your assertions and NEED a late Mark date to work for your other systematic interpretive flaws.

Both he and you lend yourselves to conjecture, theory and unfounded scriptural subjectivism. Please don’t get me wrong. You do all that I expect of an Anti-Christ advocate but with that said, I don’t mean to offend your person. Hopefully you’ll buy me a good steak dinner one day …I’ll settle for Lobster. (Thank God for the NT)

Jim- Let me put you on hold for a minute. I’ll get back atchya and address that little linguistic confusion. I still think it’s highly overcomplicated and the passage you sited is easily straightened out.

Bill, you state this emphatically, “ There were no synagogues in Galilee prior to 70 CE.”

Now, I notice that you left yourself some wiggle room and actually infer another statement too. You talk of history as in findings of archaeology to suggest that even if it is in the Bible it’s not true. In other words you won’t just go by the written text that there were both synagogues and Pharisees in Galilee. I’ll address both since you like to do this slight of hand.

You also know that the origin of the Jewish “synagogue” is probably to be assigned to the time of the Babylonian exile. Having no temple, the Jews assembled on the Sabbath to hear the Law read, and the practice continued in various buildings after the return. (Ps. 74:8) Further it is sound Jewish tradition that if there were more than 10 Jews in an area that there was at least ONE local synagogue and in many cases IN GALLILEE there were often more than one in each city or local. This is BEFORE 70 AD. Further you also know that it’s common knowledge among scholars that there were synagogues PRIOR TO 70 AD throughout all Palestine. These are all historical, material facts that you misrepresent in your statements.

According to Mt. 4:14 Galilee had a high gentile population. This is what you suggest and the bible agrees with your assertion. Anti-Christ advocates such as yourself have no problem with the Bible when it agrees with your dogmas. But like the anti-Christ advocate that you are you omit the rest of the record which is as follows:

Jesus announced his public ministry in Galilee in a SYNAGOGUE.

Luke 4:14-16 ~ “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.”

Just in case you missed it, Verse 20 of the same chapter restates that that this was in a synagogue.

Further:

Mt. 4:23 ~ “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.”

Mk. 1:21-22 ~ “And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribe”

Obviously Galilee had MORE than one synagogue. The synagogue in Capernium was also frequented by Jesus.

You said there were NONE in Galilee before 70 AD.

Let me bring in your other misleading.

Mt. 9 (also Mk 2:21)we see Jesus in Nazareth (IN GALILEE) he calls Matthew to discipleship, eats with publicans and sinners and then is criticized by the PHARISEES…(More than One) you said that there wouldn’t be any Pharisees in Galilee remember?

Bill- "Pharisees would have had no reason to be in Galilee prior to 70 CE and I am not aware of any contemporary sightings of them there."

Who’s record should we believe? The record recorded through history and the bible who's historical record has been confirmed over and over throught history or an Anti-Christ advocate named Bill?

Let me continue:

Mt. 9:35 ~ “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.”

Once again…THIS IS IN Galilee.

Mt. 1:39 ~ “And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devil”

Once again…THIS IS IN Galilee after the call of Simon to discipleship.

Lk. 4:44 ~ “and he preached in the synagogues of Galilee.”

Mk. 3:1 ~ “And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand.”

Don’t forget this also after that same incident “And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.”
Once again. It can be established that both Pharisees were in Galilee and also that synagogues were in Galilee.

This is your loophole- Bill-" Meanwhile, can you offer any evidence for pre 70 CE synagogues in Gallilee?"

I guess the record of Jewish tradition, oral tradidition and historical biblical narratives aren't good enough for you. What do you want archaeology? You would be more than silly to presuppose that there is no archaeological evidence in support of this…You know better Doctor. This post is too long and I got one more point to make but you KNOW better.

On to your next false assumptions regarding the Gospel of Mark. Once again you claim the lie of Robert Funk is valid and say that Mark was written after AD 70.

This whole question is best answered by Paul the Apostle since both his conversion (37 AD) and Final Epistle 2 Timothy (68 AD) occurred and existed before 70 AD.

Look at what is observed about the FACTUAL record:

Paul himself checked out his gospel and Christology to make sure it was in harmony with the rest of the early church (Gal. 1–2). (The Gospel of Mark even if it was orally, WAS INCLUDED in this narrative check) The various hymns and creeds embedded in Pauline and other texts show that the early Jewish Christian community had a high Christology at a very early date.

in order to believe a late date you would have to believe that Paul wrot his letters and then the gospels were written in response...There is no evidence to support ANY such position only theory, conjecture and other false assumptions that you and other LIBERALS and Jesus Seminarians use.

Other info you need:

Royce Gruenler argued over a decade ago (New Approaches to Jesus and the Gospels, Baker, 1982), the sayings that survive the criterion of dissimilarity allow us to trace a high Christology back to the historical Jesus Himself.

G. N. Stanton has shown that the earliest Christian preaching recorded in Acts 1-12 is chronologically early, historically accurate, and concerned with basing the proclamation of Jesus on historical, chronological, and biographical facts (Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching, Cambridge, 1974).

Upon further examination of scripture we find that Paul, no less than 20 times, in his letters base a moral or religious exhortation on some biographical fact about the historical Jesus that he assumes his readers already know. Thus, the early church did have significant biographical interest in Jesus, and given what we know about Jewish oral tradition and oral transmission generally, we are justified in believing that their portrait of Jesus is not something that evolved over time.

J. A. T. Robinson held to a late dating of the Gospels until some of his conservative students challenged him to reconsider their dating with an open mind (see his Redating the New Testament, Westminster, 1976). To his amazement, he discovered that the late dating was based largely on one scholar quoting another in one large circle. His own study of the issue led him to date all the Gospels (INCLUDING THE GOSPEL OF MARK) prior to A.D. 70.

Any such late date is ONLY speculative and based on theory, conjecture and subjectivism and not solid analysis. The record is clear. The gospels were comprised BEFORE 70 AD and used to build the Christian faith and DID NOT change to accommodate current beliefs but were static and preserved. This is the BEST scholarly information. The Junk you offer is just that… JUNK!

As I said previously, please cease from misleading. If you differ at least use a truthful basis. I can respect an HONEST disagreement, this is highly misleading, but what more can we expect for the Anti-Christ Advocates of the world.

Thanks again. Good Day.

bart willruth said...

Dear Dist Super

You have allied me with the Jesus Seminar and thus referred to me as a lberal.

I am not on the same page as the seminar and Funk. These were by and large Christian scholars who recognized the enormous challenges with much of the narrative of the gospels. They were looking at some core of truth which could be mined from sources (the gospels) which are clearly theological treatises rather than historical narratives. So, you may be correct in designating the seminar to have a liberal bias rather than a conservative one ie inerrancy.

My disagreement with the Jesus Seminar isn't so much with their methods as with their premise, that is, that Jesus of Nazareth was an historical person. They never addressed that question. Rather, they assumed a priori that however flawed the gospels were as historical sources, there must have been an historical Jesus about whom something may be known. I do not start with that premise, thus I am not a Christian, liberal or otherwise.

You have made my point for me in several ways. You have illustrated what it is to allow faith to color reason. Again, I am using faith in a specific epistemological sense; belief in the absence of evidence or in spite of evidence to the contrary.

I suggested that one of the means to date the Gospel of Mark is by its setting, especially that of the synagogues in Gallilee and the protagonists, the Pharisees. Notably, the absence of synagogues in Gallilee prior to the war of 70 CE and the different status of Pharisees prior to 70 CE vs. thereafter.

I further elucidated the theory that Mark's gospel was written to a community who themselves were being thrown out of synagogues by the followrs of the Pharisee/rabbis who founded the synagogues in Tiberias and Capernaum in the decades after the war. Somewhere in the empire, Mark's readers were going into synagogues with their beliefs which were not in harmony with proto rabbinical Judaism and were being tossed out or worse. "Mark" put their situation into a pervious time and made Jesus and the disciples the proxies for them in tension with the Pharisees. That is, the setting and the characters of Mark were anachronistic.

You proceeded to quote many verses in the gospels indicating that Jesus and his disciples were engaged in disputes with Pharisees in Gallilean synagogues. I will stipulate to that reading. I made that point myself.

The probem is that while synagogues were in existence throughout the empire at great distances from the temple, they were not close by, being unnecessary.

You made the point that according to Jewish tradition, the presence of 10 or more Jewish males, allowed the formation of a synagogue. First, don't confuse rabbinical Judaism as we know it to be the same as Judaism prior to 70 CE. It did not exist until after the war. Also, just because a synagogue may have been formed does not mean that it was. Josephus (a Pharisee) wrote voluminously about the situation in Gallilee during the war, listing all sorts of details, but never mentioning the existence of a synagogue. Philo, a Jewish historian of the first century also fails to mention any.

When looking for historical evidence, one coud always with for more, but some of the things the historian would look for when examining a historical claim are:

1. Archaeological evidence. This sort of "hard" evidence is always the strongest. No archaeological evidence for the existence of synagogues in Gallilee prior to the war has ever been found. There are ruins of large and important synagogues in Tiberias and Capernaum, but they date from the second century.

2. Contemporaty attestation. The mention of the existence of a synagogue in Gallilee by someone living there in that time period would be useful evidence. In this instance, no such attestation exists in the writings of the Roman occupiers, Jewish historians, or anyone else who passed through the area. The author of Mark's gospel had never been to Galilee, evidenced by his geographical errors in the narrative.

Pharisees in Mark's gospel always have the status of importance and authority. Such was not the case for the pre-war Pharisee party. The power party were the Sadducees, collaborators with the Romans, the holders of the high priesthood. They were fundamentally at odds with the Pharisees theologically. The Sadducees adhered only to the Torah for theological authority. The Pharisees were a more liberal party which gave equal weight to the oral tradition of Pesian origin. These two didn't get along and were not likely to form alliances. The Pharisees were a small party and not very influential. This all changed after the war. The Sadducee party was wiped out along with the temple. The Pharisees took advantage of the ensuing power vacuum and became highly influential within Judaism, AFTER THE WAR. To make them the main protagonists of the gospel of Mark would make sense if it were written well after the war, once the important Gallilean synagogues were founded and the Pharisees began two centuries of theological disputation in the formation of normative rabbinical Judaism. But neither the characters or the setting make sense for the period circa 30 CE.

You have failed to deal with the historical issues and have fallen back on faith that Mark's gospel is accurately relating history. That is at least insisting that there facts in the absence, and a case can be made that you are insisting on the veracity of facts in spite of evidence to the contrary.

In any event, you are inciting me to write about this subject in much more detail. Perhaps I will begin a series of new posts dealing with these issues.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Dr. Willruth~

I'm sorry that I mistakenly wrote "Bill" for some reason in the last post. Anyway, I really do appreciate the dialogue and your opinions on this matter. Now, a rose is a rose by any other name.

Although you have differing opinions from Funk your baseline assertions are 101 (On point with his)in many of your arguments.

The reader should know, as you stated in all of your summaries to date, that YOU DO NOT BELIEVE THAT JESUS WAS A REAL PERSON. You don't believe that anyone described in the Bible as Jesus EVER existed.

I cap because that is an important point for this discussion and any for which you set forth information regarding the bible and biblical history. You believe this in spite of overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary, but that's another issue.

So far as history is concerned you feel that the lack of information from secondary sources and a supposed lack of archaeological evidence of pre-first century synagogues offer a proof of your THEORY.

I admit that it would make your THEORY hold water if both of those things were the case. In order for your theory to be valid you would NEED both those things to be factual as opposed to speculative.

Setting the historicity of Jesus as a real person aside for a minute, let's look at the other arguments.

First, if the historians agreed with you that there were NO synagogues or Pharisees in Galilee prior to 70AD, your point would be valid. The historians, however are only SILENT on the issue. They NEVER SAY (and this is from your testimony) there WERE NO synogues in Galilee. They NEVER SAY there were NO Pharisees Galilee.

Silence DOES NOT equate to PROOF of non existance, as many anti-Christ advocates assert. It means that historians merely did not address the issue. On a practical point, many men are silent when it comes to certain family issues such as shopping etc. for example. Does that mean we don't exist? (Although some of you may say yes...That's aside from the point)

If the historians agreed that the biblical narritave were incorrect by setting forth contraty historical information other than that is found in scipture, then your THEORY is elevated to a much more sound level. However, a contrary assertion from a crdible source(s) (that is essential to making your THEORY a fact) DOES NOT EXIST.

The bible sets forth a historical narritave that has been generally accepted both by Christian and secular historians alike to be valid in many if not most instances. What you espouse goes against even secular interpretives of history and distinguishable historical narratives found within scripture.

Secondly, approach to Mark as you do is highly inaccurate and questionable at best. You said,

"I further elucidated the theory that Mark's gospel was written to a community who themselves were being thrown out of synagogues by the followrs of the Pharisee/rabbis who founded the synagogues in Tiberias and Capernaum in the decades after the war"

Although this may be true after 70AD, and even to an extent before 70AD because many Jews were converting to Christianity, neither of those scenarios address or overturn the fact that Marks Gospel was written PRIOR to 70AD.

As I said this is evidenced by Paul's writings, the journeys and Historical and Spiritual teachings that Paul sets forth as confirmed by Paul's own 16 year experience STARTING in 37 AD. These things RECONFIRM what Mark asserts in the Gospel account and not the other way around as you suggest.

Any geographical inaccuracies as you note are only apparent problems and can easily be resolved. Please name some for me to address.

In fact as early as the book of Acts we see the Apostles going into the synagogues at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14),(modern Turkey)OUTSIDE Galilee. Iconium (Acts. 14:1)just west of Pisidin Antioch also OUTSIDE Galilee, Thessalonica (Acts 17:1)etc... I could go on but you get the point.
each of these synagogues were JEWISH synagogues. Pharisees, Scribes and such the like would have to have been present in order to preserve the practice as they were given commission to do.

All of this occured PRIOR to 70AD. Your argument DOES NOT fit with the historical facts as they are known.

Finally, if synagogues were OUTSIDE of Galilee, run by Jews etc. Wouldn't it be unreasonable to assume that THEY DID NOT exist in their own homeland? The length that you go to in denying this and the biblical narrative is absurd.

Finally, as I stated earlier, based on summart of all objective evidence and historical evidence including historical Biblical narratives that ARE NOT IN DISPUTE along with the time frames, your THEORY can rationally and reasonably be rejected.

You argument hinges on a lack of archaeological evidence which some areas CANNOT be excavated and a lack of third party sources which DO NOT set forth any information or notion that is CONTRARY to the biblical and scriptural narrative.

Thank you once again.

Spontaneous Order said...

I am really enjoying the discussion on this board. Look forward to more of your writings Mr. Willruth.

John W. Loftus said...

Bart said...In any event, you are inciting me to write about this subject in much more detail. Perhaps I will begin a series of new posts dealing with these issues.

LOL That's what motivates me too. Christians don't understand that by challenging us it makes us better at defending what we think can be defended. Sweet. I like it.

Dist. said...Silence DOES NOT equate to PROOF of non existance, as many anti-Christ advocates assert. It means that historians merely did not address the issue.

Just to inject something here. In some cases the silences are telling. Whether these silences are telling depends on the whole case presented.

I find this argument interesting. Thanks. You both know some things I haven't studied very well.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

John and Spontaneous~

I agree with both you guys, this is a good subject and one that deserves attention at least in my book.

Also John, what you said about sharpening the argument...That's the ONLY reason I'm here, because this also sharpens both my study, interpretive, and ministry for what I believe.

I personally feel that these are the types of questions, scenarios, and theories that should be common pace within Bible studies. As questions are posed and pressed, (for me) it only creates a deeper faith.

Also Doc. and others, I do appreciate your courtesy as I pose an opposing view. So thanks.

Spontaneous Order said...

So Dist Supt what is your answer on the argument of silence? What should we assume, when there is no notice of something and that lack of notice seems highly unlikely? I am asking in the sense that you asked about Galilean ministries and synagogues. My sense is that you are dating Mark earlier than the consensus I read by Biblical historians, though I am not well read.

I always think it is pretty close to 1/2 a lie when apologists say well no one in the first century said the resurrection didn't happen. When in reality there is almost no mention of Christ, his resurrection, or Christianity outside of the Bible or Christian institutions. This is suppose to have been a man who did the impossible to such an extent that most of the world dates time from His birth.

One wonders if there had been no Paul and no Constantine, would we be discussing Christianity as a flash cult that flamed out within its first century and how wonderful it is that we found this other wonderful true religion.

And let's not even touch the polemic starting in Matt 25:62, which is so clearly a fabrication of what the writer could not have had the access to know. (somehow the disciples who spent up to 3 years with Jesus were huddling at home with no grave watch while the Pharisees remembered he said he would come back to life defies credibility)

The set up seems to give the perfect circumstances for someone to stash a body. With three groups each of whom don't trust the other two - Christians, Jewish religious leadership, and Roman rulers. I can imagine motivations for all three sides, but with two enemies where to place blame.

I know there is a thesis that Jesus never existed, I don't know much about it. If I doubt the resurrection does the life really matter? (rhetorical)

Live well,

Barry

bart willruth said...

Dear Spontaneous order, Barry

Thanks for the comments. Allow me to respond to one of your statements. You said regarding the possibility that Jesus may not have existed as an historical person,

"If I doubt the resurrection, does the life really matter?"

Paul may not have understood this concept. I am going to suggest an exercise to you. Try, and this is not easy, to remove your gospel spectacles. That is, try to set aside everything we know or think we know from the gospel narratives about Jesus. None of these existed at the time of Paul. Attempt to read Paul's "authentic" epistles without assuming the "knowledge" you have gleaned from the gospel stories. The Christ Jesus you will see in Paul's writings is fundamentally different than the Jesus of the gospels. He is a cosmic figure. His activities take place in the mythical realm as did the gods of the Greco-Roman-Egyptian mystery religions. Paul does not place the activities of Jesus in any historical period not in any geographical location on earth. The enemies who killed him are not Jews or Romans, but the demons of the cosmos. Paul certainly believed in the death and resurrection, but those activities may not have been those of a literal man living in Gallilee in the early first century.

Imagine yourself as a new convert in the church of Corinth. You might want to know everything there was to know about this amazing man who had lived so recently. Yet Paul offers nothing about those things. One could very well get the impression that Paul wasn't even aware of such a person recently living, working miracles,
preaching, dying, and rising in Palestine. Where is Mary? Where is Joseph? Where is the great teacher of morality? Where is the healer?

Dying and rising saviour gods were part of the air in Asia Minor, the locale of Paul's ministry. But no one believed them to have done any of their activities on earth. Could Paul's saviour figure have been in this category?

It will not be hepful to go to the book of Acts in that the Paul presented there bears little resemblance to the Paul of the epistles. Acts is a second century work written in part to rehabilitate Paul from the use of his theology by gnostic elements. Critical scholars see very little reliable history in Acts. Neither should one go to the pseudo-Paul forged epistles such as 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Thess, and others which also bear the stamp of second century authorship.

I hope you wil give this exercise a try and read Paul with fresh eyes, on his own terms, and without reading the gospel "facts" into his meanings.

Bart

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Dr. Willruth,

I’m sorry for the delay in responding but SOULS must be ministered to as well. I’m sure you understand. (LOL)

Anyway, back to our conversation. There were a few points that I wanted to address here and I thought it best to take them one at a time.

As previously stated, The bible is historical and (I believe) accurate in it’s outlining of historical facts. There is no reason to overlook its value as a historical reference, however you do. You have made your position known that you do this because you feel that the whole narrative was misplaced and created to confirm beliefs rather than to create beliefs of the Christian Church.

Both history and my disagreements are stark and in sharp contrast to your assertions.

1st, you cite 2 historians that merely DID NOT MENTION or ADDRESS the issue of Pharisee being in Galilee before 70AD. As I said, their failure to address the subject SHOULD not establish doctrine that there were no Pharisees or synagogues present pre 70AD Galilee (as you state) or that the Pharisees in general were not an important or aspiring part of the religious community in Galilee.

There is no authority or undergirding to your argument either historically or empirically. In fact quite the contrary is true. The account of Jesephus is as follows:

"Accordingly, they resolved to send men of distinction as to their families [to Galilee], and of distinction as to their learning also. Two of these were of the populace, Jonathan and Ananias, by sect Pharisees; while the third, Jozar, was of the stock of the priests, and a Pharisee also; and Simon, the last of them, was of the youngest of the high priests."
- Josephus, Vita 39

Galilee seems to have been a proving ground for Pharisees seeking to serve in greater and more significant positions in Judea and ultimately Jerusalem. The effort was to lay a strong patter of service in Galilee then rise in significance and importance among fellows.

Josephus further records:

(Of the Galilaeans) “were ever fond of innovations, and by nature disposed to changes, and delighted in seditions” Josephus (Life 17)

This observation directly addresses the nature of which the Pharisees would address and dialogue with Jesus, and his disciples (as scripture records) as they went into the synagogues and preached the Gospel of the Kingdom. The Pharisees in seeking greater importance took it upon themselves to get as much attention as possible to establish themselves as religious stalwarts and protectors of the faith just as scriptures indicate.

Josephus Flavius was a Jew who grew up in Jerusalem at the beginning of the Common Era. He was well educated, knowing both Jewish texts and (arguably) the Greek language. During the Great Revolt from 66-73 CE, Josephus served as a general of the Galilee.

Who better would have known the events during that era? Even if Josephus embellished, (for his work is not said to have been inspired) for alternate purposes, wouldn’t it be more plausible that he would have named a much greater number of estimated 12,000 Pharisees available for the task? I.e., what would be his restraint in putting together a real story that exudes much more power and influence for his group?

Even his modest accounts disprove your assertions that "THERE WERE NO PHARISEES IN GALILEE PRIOR TO 70AD"

Obviously HISTORY says there were.

Another source of record of pharisaic influence was found by in an account by Mahon Smith (CrossTalk - 30 Nov 1998). He says this of Hillel:

"Hillel's last disciple Yochanan b. Zakkai claimed to have spent years in Galilee before returning to Jerusalem long before the Jewish war, only after which did he become a 'leader.' The Galilean hasid, Haninah b. Dosa, whose legendary exploits bear a remarkable resemblance to the type of miracle stories told about Jesu, was his reputed disciple (1st generation of tannaim).
"In the second generation of tannaim (70-90 CE), Yose ha Gelili was a Galilean whose opinions on sacrifice and other temple rituals were respected enough to be cited often against such prominent Judean rabbis as Aqiva, Tarfon and El'azar b. Azariah in halakah from Javneh. So clearly there were some Pharisees in Galilee even during the period when the leadership of the party was based in Judea."

This speaks to the fact that there were not only Pharisees in Galilee PRE 70 AD, but there were Pharisee of influence in the region.

As stated previously there is NO CREDIBLE EVIDENCE to the contrary. Placing the argument against Pharisaic presence on its ear.

2nd you say that the non discovery of archaeological evidence in support of synagogues in the region of Galilee in particular, are another evidence that synagogues did not exist and therefore leads to the invalidation of the Biblical narratives of Mark and the gospels in general. And that any such inference was inserted in the record and created to fit the prevailing beliefs of early Christians.

Once again, information to the contrary is true and prevailing against your assertions.

Pharisees would have by virtue established and overseen the establishment of synagogues in the regions where they were committed. Since Judea was a far enough journey, from Galilee, it would be reasonable to assume that the Pharisees saw their belief important enough to establish systems by which they could fulfill the commands of the Lord within the community. I have already proven that the Biblical record proclaims that there were established synagogues beyond Galilee PRE 70AD. It is unreasonable to assume that there were no synagogues for thos same pharisees to meet IN Galilee during the same time frame.

You note that the synagogue found at Capernium was second Century. However, you failed to note that archaeology confirms that in the region it is common that many structures were built ON TOP of their counterparts from prior centuries. In other words, the synagogue that Jesus preached at in Capernium is most likely DIRECTLY BENEATH the structure that we currently view.

In order to make your whole assertion go to the height of the DECEPTION that it is, you must also create a third theory that the earliest extant manuscripts MUST be dated and transcribed AFTER the war in 70AD and that Mark was and is the first Gospel written. You also incorrectly site that Paul in his epistles did not reiterate significant portions of the Gospel account and therefore, his narratives were created to fit belief before the gospel actually existed.

To this final point, I simply say that nowhere in scripture or otherwise is Paul’s preeminence suggested or inferred. Secondly Paul recognized the authority of the other Apostles after his conversion in approximately 37 AD. Paul’s epistles were not given to recite the Gospel account. His purpose in writing was for the instruction of the church in what they HAD ALREADY RECEIVED. Therefore to place the burden upon Paul to repeat the Gospel narrative in every book is beyond reason.

Paul’s Apostleship was confirmed by the Apostles (Gal. 1:18, Acts 9:26) These events were approximately 40AD. The Gospel was ALREADY being preached throughout the region by that time and IF there was a Q source, (assuming the 2 source hypothesis) it was already established and in use.

As per the Gospel narratives themselves, it would be more likely that the initial Gospel would have been that of Matthew and or Luke since both Peter and Matthew were eyewitness to the events of the life of Jesus. Again, it is unreasonable to assume that either of them would have received details from Mark who was not and apostle.

Remember what I said regarding Papias earlier:

“Matthew made an arrangement of the oracles in the Hebrew language, and each translated them as he was able...”

This is corroborated by the testimony of Irenaeus, who says that Matthew published a gospel among the Hebrews while Peter and Paul were in Rome, and perhaps also by the existence of a Hebrew version of Matthew attested in the 14th century (see George Howard, The Gospel of Matthew According to a Primitive Hebrew Text).

To put a finer point on this:

In 'Jesus and the Eyewitnesses' (24f), Richard Bauckham shows that Papias "deliberately uses the terminology of historiographic practice," and that his language matches that of other classical historians who explained how they did their own research. In other words Papias's account has more reliability and credibility that most critics give it credit for.

Finally, the Bible has generally been accepted in most scholarly circles as being historical in origin as I’ve stated previously. Your struggle to present evidence to the contrary falls far short and is against overwhelming evidence against your position. Your assertions are in the minority on these particular issues.

The only 3 other sources that have ever been used to site information during this time has been .

1. Brief references by the sages in rabbinic literature
2. Obscure texts found at Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls)
3. Some brief mentions by Greek and Roman writers

You offer no objective basis for your argument.

The historical record does not confirm your conjecture

Your assertions although intriguing, are not rooted in any objective or sound evidence and if carried out only serve to create greater non-biblical historical problems especially in light of current solid historical evidences.

Sorry to take up so much bandwidth here. I do appreciate the discussion. I'll get back with Jim on the linguistic thing if that's ok?

Thanks again.

bart willruth said...

Dear Dist Mgr.

Several responses to your comments.

Richard Bauckham whom you quote accepts Markan priority as do the vast majority of NT scholars. Comparisons between Mark's narrative and the close use of it by Matthew and Luke show overwhelming depenence. Furthermore, the pattern found in ancient copying is that the copyist frequently adds information but seldom deletes it. Luke and Matthew both follow this pattern embellishing and exaggerating Mark's briefer narrative.

The book of Acts is not considered by most scholars to be either early or accurate historically. The journeys of Paul, for instance, cannot be reconciled by comparing Paul's recollections with that of Acts. Virtually all critical scholars date Acts in the second century, perhaps as late as 150 CE. It was most likely written as a reaction to Marcion.

Score a point for you! I will retract my assertion that there were no Pharisees in Gallilee prior to 70 CE. That was an exeggerated statement based on their small number, lack of importance at the time, and the fact that they centered themselves in Jerusalem. You have pointed out an error in my thinking, and I appreciate it. I would, however, continue to maintain that their centrality in the gospel narratives as Jesus' main protagonists is characteristic of a time from the mid-80's onward, not before. My error was in stating that there were probably no Pharisees in the area circa 30 CE.

I will not give you the point on the synagogues which was my main point. I will agree that it cannot be proven that there were no synagogues in Gallilee prior to the war, but there is certainly no attestation that there were any. This period and locale are perhaps the best known in the ancient world. We have a lot of detail from the period. We would expect some mention of the presence of at least one synagogue, especially given the asserted proliferation of them in the gospels.

You mention that the remains of the synagogue at Capernium is indeed from the second century. However, you suggest that another prior synagogue is hiding beneath. Could be, but to suggest it is to grasp at a straw. There may be buried treasure under my house, but I won't spend much time searching. There is no evidence to suggest that there was an older synagogue there. Aside from that, the gospels mention many synagogues in the region on the time of Jesus. None have been found. Given the extensive archaeological work done there in the last century, this seems a bit strange doesn't it. Everything from palaces to wells to dunghills to houses and stables have been found in abundance...but no synagogues. Your suggestion that the second century synagogue at Capernium is built atop an older ruin is frequently suggested by fundamentalist students of archaeology, but without cause. Nothing suggests it except the necessity to verify the gospel accounts. It is a faith issue, not an archaeological one. Archaeology deals in very real and dusty facts, and there are none to appeal to here.

My thesis remains, that Mark's gospel is anachronistic and reflects the time, place, and circumstances of the time of his writing, not that of 30 CE.

Paul's problem vis a vis gospel details is not a minor issue. I will not address it here, because I am going to offer some posts in the near future dealing with the Pauline problem.

Quoting Papias is not such a good idea. We have none of his writings. We only have second hand information from Eusebius writing in the 4th century relating some of the things Papias had said. Eusebius himself thought Papias to be a bit of a nut and did not put much stock in him.

One correction in your understanding of Josephus; You quote him in regards to the love of innovation characterizing Gallileans. This "innovation" was not in the real of ideas, but of rebellion. Pre 70 CE Gallilee was a hotbed of revolution and militancy. "Innovation" was the term Josephus used for insurgency.

I thank you for your comments and look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

Bart

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Thanks Bart and I'll be looking for additional posts from you on these sort of issues.

HB

Anonymous said...

I was very impressed by the cogency of the arguments produced by Dr Willruth. As a biologist myself I think, perhaps, that he has under-emphasised the biological foundations of our behaviour.

We have evolved to be a species of social animals, and for society to survive we all of us are confronted with conflicts between personal selishness and altruism towards others. Biologists distinguish between the phenotype, the body of an animal, and the genotype, the hereditary material that provides the biological potential of the individual and the contribution that the individual makes to future generations by producing offspring; and evolutionary fitness is shaped through the interaction of the phenotype with the environment in which it lives.

Evolution is not a teleological process. All that happens is that certain individuals have more offspring than others and the properties of the individuals that cause them to do so depend on their genes. The genes shape the body; the body transmits the genes.

Behaviour that is genetically encoded may contribute to its overall transmission if in some circumstances an individual sacrifices itself for others. This evolutionary insight has been understood by biologists for about 50 years, and the technical term for the kind of fitness that is propagated is inclusive fitness.

It comes as a surprise to many, especially to fundamentalist christians, that evolution can provide an entirely naturalistic account for the aspects of human behaviour that philosophers and theologians regard as moral behaviour.

What the modern theory of evolution explains is that it is natural, under some circumstances, for a mother to sacrifice her own life to save her children, that it is natural for individuals to cooperate and live socially together sacrificing personal selfishness in the short-term for the longterm benefits of social living.

The most important fact about animal, and for that matter, human life is that every individual is different, and this applies to social behaviour as much as it applies to height, weight, hair-colour, every other aspect of the living body. A corollary of this is that some people will be more selfish than others, others will be less selfish than others. The fact that most of us balance our selfishness and altruism is evidence of the evolutionary balancing act that maximises the fitness of the population of social people. For example, an individual predisposed to be selfish will not waste his life on having children but devote his resources to his own comfort. Such a person will have zero fitness, and his genes will be transmitted to the next generation only by his kin. A woman who conceives many children is likely to lack the resources to provide sufficiently for all of them, the offspring as a consequence may be malnourished, prone to disease, and likely to die young, reducing the woman's fitness. Fitness is maximised by a balancing of phenotypic self-preservation, and genotypic profligacy, and on average in western societies this is what we observe. Aristotle equated the mean with good. Evolution, without any teleological intention, propagates the mean. You could therefore argue that we have evolved, and are continuing to evolve to be good, at least in an Aristotelian sense.

The evolutionary account also undercuts a primary argument in support of theism, that the universality of moral behaviours such as parental love, self-sacrifice, can be explained only with reference to a universal divine revelation. Mothers love their children because the genes of those who didn't were not transmitted to future generations.

There is a temptation for theists to argue that this kind of account of human behaviour devalues love, friendship, heroism. It does nothing of the sort. The feelings of the altruistic person are unaltered by the knowledge that they are shaped as a result of being refined by millions of years of evolution. A mother's love for children feels just the same as it would have felt if it were inexplicable.

When people act altruistically, charitably, with love, and explain their motives, they say things like 'Something made me act in that way'. For people capable of introspection they must be aware of alternative courses of action that might be more selfish, more beneficial in the short-term, but they make the difficult choice and risk their own comfort and safety for the benefit of others. Without an evolutionary account they have to account for whatever it was, the something that made them behave as they did. A plausible account to a pre-scientific person is to personify the something, and attribute self-sacrificing behaviour to satisfying the moral demands from an external command. Hence theism in all of its forms.

The history of human life has nothing to do with the Fall, and everything to do with the rise of humanity.

johno

rangermofo said...

Here is the fact that trumps all your "great minds" and "logic"
There is a God, his name is Jesus and you will all face him. Good luck using your own logic against your creator!