Christian Belief Through the Lens of Cognitive Science: Part 3 of 6

I Know Because I Know

On a warm afternoon in June, two men have appointments with a psychiatrist. The first has been dragged to the office by his wife, much to his irritation. He is a biologist who suffers from schizophrenia, and the wife insists that his meds are not working. “No,” says the biologist, “I’m actually fine. It’s just that because of what I’m working on right now the CIA has been bugging my calls and reading my email.” Despite his wife’s skepticism and his understanding of his own illness, he insists calmly that he is sure, and he lines up evidence to support his claim. The other man has come on his own because he is feeling exhausted and desperate. He shows the psychiatrist his hands, which are raw to the point of bleeding. No matter how many times he washes them (up to a hundred in a day) or what he uses (soap, alcohol, bleach or scouring pads) he never feels confident that they are clean.

In both of these cases, after brain biochemistry is rebalanced, the patient’s sense of certainty falls back in line with the evidence. The first man becomes less sure about the CIA thing and gradually loses interest in the idea. The second man begins feeling confident that his hands are clean after a normal round of soap and water, and the cracks begin healing.

How do we know what is real? How do we know what we know? We don’t, entirely. Research on psychiatric disorders and brain injuries shows that humans have a feeling or sense of knowing that can get activated by reason and evidence but can get activated in other ways as well. Conversely, when certain brain malfunctions occur, it may be impossible to experience a sense of knowing no matter how much evidence piles up. V. S. Ramachandran describes a brain injured patient who sees his mother and says, “This looks like my mother in every way, but she is an imposter.” The connection between his visual cortex and his limbic system has been severed, and even though he sees his mother perfectly well, he has no sense of rightness or knowing so he offers the only explanation he can find (Capgras Delusion).

Neurologist Robert Burton explains it this way: “Despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of knowing what we know arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of reason.” (On Being Certain, xi) This “knowing what we know” mechanism is good enough for getting around in the world, but not perfect. For the most part, it lets us explain, predict, and influence people or objects or events, and we use that knowledge to advantage. But as the above scenarios show, our ability to tell what is real also can get thrown off.

Burton says that the “feeling of knowing” (rightness, correctness, certainty, conviction) should be thought of as one of our primary emotions, like anger, pleasure, or fear. Like these other feelings, it can be triggered by a seizure or a drug or direct electrical stimulation of the brain. Research after the Korean War (e.g. R Lifton) suggested that the feeling of knowing or not knowing also can be produced by what are called brainwashing techniques: repetition, sleep deprivation, and social/emotional manipulation. Once triggered for any reason, the feeling that something is right or real can be incredibly powerful--so powerful that when it goes head to head with logic or evidence the feeling wins. Our brains make up reasons to justify our feeling of knowing, rather than following logic to its logical conclusion.

For many reasons, religious beliefs are usually undergirded by a strong “feeling of knowing.” Set aside for the moment the question of whether those beliefs tap underlying realities. Conversion experiences can be intense, hypnotic, and transformative. Worship practices, music and religious architecture have been optimized over time to evoke right brain sensations of transcendence and euphoria. Social insularity protects a community consensus. Repetition of ideas reinforces a sense of conviction or certainty. Religious systems like Christianity that emphasize right belief have built in safeguards against contrary evidence, doubt, and the assertions of other religions. Many a freethinker has sparred a smart, educated fundamentalist into a corner only to have the believer utter some form of “I just know.”

Does this mean that rational argumentation about religion is useless? The answer may be disappointing. Religious belief is not bound to regular standards of evidence and logic. It is not about logic and it is not obliged to follow logic. Arguments with believers start from a false premise—that the believer is bound by the rules of debate rather than being bound by the belief itself. The freethinker assumes that the believer is free to concede; but this is rarely true. At best the bits of logic or evidence put forth in an argument go into the hopper with a whole host of other factors. And yet each of us who is a former believer (we number in the millions) reached some point in our lives when we simply couldn’t sustain our old certainties. Our sense of knowing either eroded over time or abruptly disappeared. So sometimes those hoppers do fill up.

Given what I’ve said about knowing, how can anybody claim to know anything?
We can’t, with certainty. Those of us who are not religious could do with a little more humility on this point. We all see “through a glass darkly” and there is a realm in which all any of us can do is to make our own best guesses about what is real and important. This doesn’t imply that all ideas are created equal, or that our traditional understanding of “knowledge” is useless. As I said before, our sense of knowing allows us to navigate this world pretty well—to detect regularities, anticipate events and make things happen. In the concrete domain of everyday life, acting on what we think we know works pretty well for us. Nonetheless, it is a healthy mistrust for our sense of knowing that has allowed scientists to detect, predict, and produce desired outcomes with ever greater precision.

The scientific method has been called “institutionalized doubt” because it forces us to question our assumptions. Scientists stake their hopes not on a specific set of answers but on a specific way of asking questions. Core to this process is “falsification” – narrowing down what might be true by ruling out what can’t be true. And to date, that approach has had enormous pay-offs. It is what has made the difference between the nature of human life in the Middle Ages and the 21st Century. But knowledge in science is provisional; at any given point in time, the sum of scientific knowledge is really just a progress report.

When we overstate our ability to know, we play into the fundamentalist fallacy that certainty is possible. Burton calls this “the all-knowing rational mind myth.” As scientists learn more about how our brains work, certitude is coming to be seen as a vice rather than a virtue. Certainty is a confession of ignorance about our ability to be passionately mistaken. Humans will always argue passionately about things that we do not know and cannot know, but with a little more self-knowledge and humility we may get to the point that those arguments are less often lethal.

Essentials: Robert A. Burton, On Being Certain
V. S. Ramachandran (TED talk), A Journey to the Center of Your Mind

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21 comments:

PhilosophyFan said...

Very interesting. I always loved talking about V. S. Ramachandran in philosophy of mind.

I often wonder why people on both sides of the debate can get so...certain and in not in just matters of theology/atheology. For instance, a guy I once knew getting his MA in mathematics once told me he KNEW the solution to the Monty Hall problem [in opposition to the now accepted] just like he knew his Christian beliefs. Sigh.

Then Cialdini, in social psychology, discusses such things at length in his Influence: Science and Practice. He uses his ideas to explore how that one cult could go on believing in the cult after a failed prophesy for world destruction (they concluded that their faith saved the world instead....interestingly not a defense I've ever heard in Christianity).

eheffa said...

Thank you for this lucid series Valerie.


How can we know what is true & what is false?

I like your hopper analogy. I suspect that for many of us who have left the faith, it takes many separate encounters with the different good arguments against Christianity to eventually tip the balance in favor of a complete reconsideration of one's faith.


For me, it was touring Spain a few years ago & repeatedly encountering the fruit of the Holy Mother Church's complete dominance for so many centuries (The Dark Ages & the Spanish Inquisition for example) that prompted the reevaluation & eventual abandonment of my faith. When viewing the iconography & multiple imaginary saints etc. I was prompted to consider how I could know the "truth" when these believers were clearly deluded about all these magical entities...

Smug Protestant Answer:
The Biblical accounts were my guide to truth - but how reliable is the Bible as a means to knowing the truth?

Once that question was considered with a truly open mind, the Pandora's Box was opened & all those questions stored in my "hoppers" started to demand a little more consideration.

In the end, it became clear that my Biblically grounded faith was not rational or sensible & could not withstand careful scrutiny. Although one cannot know many things for sure, it was eventually quite clear to me that the Christian faith was rooted in pious fabrication and wishful thinking, just like all those other religions. This was not the answer I wanted; but as with any proper hypothesis testing, the data may lead you to conclusions you did not hope for.

When I was a Christian I was bound to insist on a certain number of truisms or else risk eternal rejection. I had to be right.

I might be wrong in all of this, (Due to lack of evidence, I now no longer believe in any gods); but for the first time in my life, it will be OK to be wrong. If the data or evidence can correct my misunderstandings then I can be free to follow the evidence. How liberating is that?

Thank goodness there are better ways of knowing than simply taking something on faith.

-evan

eheffa said...

Lest my comments appear as a complete self-absorbed digression, I should clarify them a little bit.

Going to Spain, prompted me to look at the religious expression with disbelief & skepticism. I "knew" that the Christianity manifested in Spain was ultimately full of pious fabrication. I was able to feel a little smug "knowing" that I could apply the same skepticism to my own faith & keep it intact; or so I thought. It eventually dawned on me though, that I was not being honest with myself & that I was not employing the same skepticism I used on others' faith to my own.

Once I took up the challenge to examine my own faith with the same skeptical tools I routinely used on other faiths, it didn't take long to see that my own was no different.

In the end, knowing the truth was clearly better than conforming to some sort of safe dogma. It eventually became quite clear to me that Christianity is not interested in the truth & it had to go. Even so, delusions are not easily dismissed and I am still forced to reevaluate the evidence for my new position on a regular basis. (I have many friends & family I love, who are committed believers.) I see no good reason to return to the fold however.

In the end though, it's all about the "knowing".

-evan

PhilosophyFan said...

That was my story until I found better reasons for theism, and found that most of what I considered knock down arguments against Christianity weren't clearly so (again, I still need to read Loftus' book).

Toby said...

I see this issue a little differently. I understand the need for humility, though I often lack in that quality. However, as an agnostic unbeliever, I have been unable to find any replicatable supernatural event. As such, I place a high degree of confidence in my uncertainty of there being anything supernatural. While I have some doubt, it is very minor and I am mostly sure. I understand that there are millions of stories claiming the supernatural, but anecdotal evidence is proof of nothing to me. Unless I experience it and can be certain of my own experience, I'm going to be skeptical of what I have not experienced when it comes to supernatural claims. While a believer may be confident in his or her certainty, I am confident in my uncertainty. Can I know I'm right and that my certainty is not a part of a malfunctioning brain? No, but like the schizophrenic man, my reality is real to me and that's what matters to me. I remain open to logic and reason and weight the arguments the only way I know how.

The other difference that I have observed with the believers I know is that most are unwilling to reason out the arguments. Half I my family won't even let me present my case for why I left our family's religion. On the other hand, I am more that willing to listen to an evidence they are willing to present.

PhilosophyFan said...

Even then, you could not prove it was God of the Bible. Anyhow, I do not think the identification of supernatural events is necessary to prove theism, nor do I know if it would ever be possible (I do not have a PhD specializing in the philosphy of science and mathematics, or in statistics, biology, and biochemistry.)

edson said...

Valerie, you are using too much energy and intellectual recources to analyze the pyshology of religion. The fact of the matter, using simplest words, is that religion provide a sense of ultimate hope and inner peace to wandering souls of sheep without a good shepherd. This type of peace and hope will never be provided outside the realm of religion, until sciences manage to come with some sort of magic to let us know how and why are we here and what will be our ultimate fate, with certainty, after we are dead.

This is the main reason ancient people like Jesus never fade with history. In fact Christianity is a well packaged belief system with almost everything to offer: A brief but concise and skilled presentation informing us how we are here on earth (creation accounts), a central figure in Jesus Christ perfectly equiped with wisdom, love and hope of life after we are dead (New Testament accounts) and some captivating ancient stories and sayings which produces unending effect of entertainment and wisdom of great value in literature, culture and politics.

In summary, there is no culture comparable to the Judeao-Christian one. There is no book of great spiritual value as the bible. There is no one like Jesus. This is what makes Christianity unique. You may argue otherwise, just for the sake of arguing, but until you come out with something a bit superior to what religion, especially Christianity, is, I can rest assured that these sort of religion are going to stay until doom. Apparently, science is too slow to come up with some solutions of providing this sense of hope. It is only concerned with selfishness of materialism and bettering own lives through eating, drinking and medicine. Moses and Jesus were not fools when they observed that humans will not live by bread only. This is the most single setback of science, which could also be said as the greatest importance of Christianity.

Tyro said...

Great ideas, thank you!

I've read a couple books by Ramachandran and Sachs but I never connected the dots to religion. Making that connection alone fired all sorts of lights in my head. Thanks again!

eheffa said...

edson wrote:

The fact of the matter, using simplest words, is that religion provide a sense of ultimate hope and inner peace to wandering souls of sheep without a good shepherd. This type of peace and hope will never be provided outside the realm of religion, until sciences manage to come with some sort of magic to let us know how and why are we here and what will be our ultimate fate, with certainty, after we are dead.

You are arguing that the utility of religious comfort, however falsely grounded or delusional, is a valid justification for continuing to hold to these assertions. The peace of delusional beliefs is often transitory & not particularly robust under pressure anyway. Science does not provide "magic" but understanding & reliable information. It does not leap to unfounded conclusions. At least it shouldn't & when it does, further analysis & data will correct for these errant or spurious assertions. People may want 'magical' answers to the great questions of life and when they do, religious sages & prophets with their unfalsifiable revelations are all too willing to rise to the occasion. But are these revelations of any value if they are not verifiable? Why would God value personal credulity or the willingness to accept unfounded assertions of someone claiming to have heard from God and call it "righteousness". What you call 'faith' is merely willingness to believe the unbelievable. This serves the purposes of those in the faith-based industries of the Church & its affiliates very well but what evidence can they show for the assertion that they speak for the Sky-god?

This 'certainty' as you put it is also an illusion. I am a physician & work part of my time in Hospice & palliative care. When I was still a Christian, it used to trouble me to see how many Christians would still find the death & dying process to be so frightening and arduous, despite their proclamations of faith in their ultimate fate. Christians simply don't seem to die any more gracefully than those unbelievers in the room next door. Some of them are in fact haunted by the fear that they will be found wanting by their god & may end up in Hell. I am relating nothing more than my own anecdotal experience (this is not a scientific observation) but I have not seen a marked benefit to those declaring themselves to 'saved' & 'going on to glory'. There are some recent papers suggesting some of this same effect but I do not think this question has been answered yet. (See:JAMA. 2009 Mar 18;301(11):1140-7.
Religious coping and use of intensive life-prolonging care near death in patients with advanced cancer.)

End Part 1

eheffa said...

edson wrote:

This is the main reason ancient people like Jesus never fade with history. In fact Christianity is a well packaged belief system with almost everything to offer: A brief but concise and skilled presentation informing us how we are here on earth (creation accounts), a central figure in Jesus Christ perfectly equiped with wisdom, love and hope of life after we are dead (New Testament accounts) and some captivating ancient stories and sayings which produces unending effect of entertainment and wisdom of great value in literature, culture and politics.

The Jesus of the Gospels may be nothing more than a literary creation & may not have been a real person at all. We may never know the truth of this question but many of Christianity's more easily falsifiable assertions have been falsified quite thoroughly. The Creation account(s) in Genesis do not bear scrutiny. The young earth creationist assertions are directly & thoroughly contradicted by the scientific facts. A more allegorical old -earth view of the Genesis accounts still leave the Biblical version dead in the water with no residual veracity. Those captivating stories of the OT: Abraham and his camels, Moses & the Exodus, Joshua & his conquests, David & Solomon & their glorious kingdoms with all those riches & ambitious construction projects are all largely refuted by the archaeological record. The value of these stories is quite debatable when you consider how they foster genocide and turf wars to this day on the grounds that one people group can argue that "God gave us this land" against the otherwise legitimate claims of another people group. Jesus may have been incoherent & wrong about a lot of things but he was correct in claiming that he would bring a sword...

Those captivating stories may have some kernels of truth to them but they appear to be little more than largely embellished legends posing as historical accounts & providing ammunition for all kinds of atrocities. The God of the OT is in fact depicted as a genocidal tyrant. Tell me exactly how the Jesus of the NT contradicts or changes this in any meaningful way? He still demands blood sacrifice(-himself). He threatens eternal punishment for temporal sins. He utters ambiguous platitudes which have inspired centuries of sectarian violence. He is humorless & exacting. He is incapable of explaining himself to those around him. How would a supposedly omniscient loving god be so sloppy & incoherent with these questions when he knows that his ambiguity would result in countless mothers weeping for their dead children. On the other hand, this supposed savior of the world left us no written record or physical evidence of his sojourn here. Instead he left it to later generations to collate this story & 'package it' as you put it. An apt term for what appears to be a fabricated biography & history which was still poorly apprehended well into the second century CE.

It may be an attractive story to you - 'The greatest story ever told'; but is it true? If not, it should be called out for what it is; a false delusion. We can be polite in our descriptions but unwavering in our conviction that we will not embrace unsupportable falsehoods however attractive they may appear to some wishful thinkers.

End part 2

eheffa said...

edson wrote:

In summary, there is no culture comparable to the Judeao-Christian one. There is no book of great spiritual value as the bible. There is no one like Jesus. This is what makes Christianity unique. You may argue otherwise, just for the sake of arguing, but until you come out with something a bit superior to what religion, especially Christianity, is, I can rest assured that these sort of religion are going to stay until doom. Apparently, science is too slow to come up with some solutions of providing this sense of hope. It is only concerned with selfishness of materialism and bettering own lives through eating, drinking and medicine. Moses and Jesus were not fools when they observed that humans will not live by bread only. This is the most single setback of science, which could also be said as the greatest importance of Christianity.

Truth is immeasurably superior to religion if religion is false. Unlike religious prophets & like-minded folks who in the absence of real information make it up, science has the distinct advantage of looking for evidence & testing its hypotheses. Christianity gave us the Dark Ages. Science has given us some real understanding of our physical world & what we are as people. Science has given us some measure of testable truth & fact. We may fail to use our understandings properly & we currently threaten our very existence as a species but Christianity appears to bring nothing to the table aside from a few delusional platitudes & a few fuzzy promises of a better life after you die.

Your exalted sense of the value of Christianity & the affection of its adherents for their delusions says nothing to its veracity or real value.

There is actually an attractive personal liberty and relief in discarding these beliefs but that in itself is no reason to discard Christianity. It's all about whether it is true or false. If it is false, it has no business claiming our respect or allegiance.

-evan

edson said...

eheffa, your response is a typical attitude of atheists; negative and pessmistic world view and denying or doubting every christian and biblical claim. You never come with something better, just doubt.

These religions did not start out of nowhere. Yes they may be false or true but that is not the point. The point is they exist. You should have done better if you had offered me an alternative to religion. You say an alternative is Scientific Knowledge about facts. I do not object that. But I'm still suprised that religion is still growing stronger despite massive scientific developments. See, the inference is that science touches the material world and humans are much bigger than that.

You spoke of personal liberty being much superior to religious rituals. You forget that prior to Jesus, rituals were rampant almost in every civiization and one of Jesus mission was to set humans free so that we'll be free indeed. My opinion is, if you think you are free, you are not any freer than any of us christians here.

Part 2 to follow....!

edson said...

eheffa, you also spoke of Christianity providing us dark ages, bringing as sword as predicted by Jesus and being delusional. Lol, what a loaded question!

Aha, where should I begin basically? Okay, this is also another negative thought process atheists think about Christianity. Of all 2,000 year history, you only pick these dark ages. You never speak of the first 500 years when Christians were still a persecuted minority but humble like sheep led to slaughter. You never touched the fact that the earliest learning institutions in Europe began as Seminaries preparing the Church clergy but today they are one of the finest secular institutions of the World. You never touch some atheistic leaders and states who led massive genocides such as Hitler and Stalin. You never speak of current governments with majority atheists, China, North Korea, Cuba and others with worst record of human rights and sanctity of human life.

The Dark ages were a product of mixing the Church and government affairs which probably would result into greed and envy, didn't Jesus spoke of separating the two, that his Kingdom is not worldly and to give unto God what is God's and unto Ceaser what is his?

As for Christianity being delusional, that is unsubstantiated statement. Christianity is based on the bible and Jesus. You need to show me first that all the radical claims that the bible say such as the resurrection of Christ did not take place historically in order that I take your claim seriously. To ask me that, I am the one who make that radical claim so I should give the proof, is asinine to say, as it is one of those avoidance tactics atheists use when confronted seriously.

eheffa said...

edson,

you say this:
These religions did not start out of nowhere. Yes they may be false or true but that is not the point. The point is they exist.

I am quite happy to acknowledge the existence of these religions. I was a totally committed believer once too.

"Truth" is the point. Doubt & skepticism is a necessary position when you walk a midway full of snake oil salesmen. In the same way, contradictory religious claims pose a real problem for those willing to accept the faith of their fathers with credulity. Faith in this way is not a virtue.

How can we sift through all the competing assertions & evaluate what is actually true vs those assertions grounded in wishful thinking & ancient spurious prophetic utterances? Can you think of any verified truth claims that were initially based in some sort of God-breathed prophecy or revelation? I can't.

Revelation as presented to one blessed person & handed on to others third-hand has a remarkably poor record of veracity. If you accept the idea that revelation is a valid way to know something is true, then how do you go about evaluating which ones are true vs false? Why believe the pseudonymous writer of 1TImothy pretending to be the Apostle Paul but reject Joseph Smith or the Writer of the book of Enoch?

The truth, even when it's little more than a glimmer, is quite liberating. (Kind of like that line attributed to Jesus about "Knowing the truth & the truth making you free"). Accepting unwarranted, unsupported, unfalsifiable assertions as truth just because they fulfill some sort of organized religious dogma is not a reliable way to "know" anything.

You seem to advocate for religious belief because so many people rely on it for comfort. I think that comforting delusions, especially when recognized as such by their purveyors, are ultimately a form of bondage.

You may not like the truth. We may not know many things for sure. The truth may not be what you hoped for, but wouldn't you rather know a little bit of truth than live a lie?

-evan

eheffa said...

edson said: Of all 2,000 year history, you only pick these dark ages. You never speak of the first 500 years when Christians were still a persecuted minority but humble like sheep led to slaughter. You never touched the fact that the earliest learning institutions in Europe began as Seminaries preparing the Church clergy but today they are one of the finest secular institutions of the World. You never touch some atheistic leaders and states who led massive genocides such as Hitler and Stalin. You never speak of current governments with majority atheists, China, North Korea, Cuba and others with worst record of human rights and sanctity of human life.

The Dark ages were a product of mixing the Church and government affairs which probably would result into greed and envy, didn't Jesus spoke of separating the two, that his Kingdom is not worldly and to give unto God what is God's and unto Ceaser what is his?


Christianity held sway over the Roman empire from Constantine though to its ultimate fall at the hands of Christian barbarians from the North & its own rotten degeneracy. The subsequent millennium belonged to the Church to do as it pleased. God in charge through his Holy Church - it should have been a form of Utopia but in actual fact, God did not reveal anything useful to these people. Disease, oppression, ignorance and darkness reigned supreme. Paradoxically, this was the one time in history when God could have shepherded his people into the light without a lot of competing dogmas to distract them. Only with the advent of skeptical questioning & investigation during the enlightenment do we see the first real flickers of understanding lighting up the world. If it hadn't been for the Islamic libraries in Spain in North Africa, most of the Ancient Greek world & the writings of Plato would have been lost to us.

Your first 500 years of Christian persecution is another probable myth not borne out by the data we have. Apart from a dubious reference to Nero & Christians in Tacitus' Annals dated 95 -115 CE, (not referenced by anyone until 1100 CE BTW ) & Pliny the Younger's letter to his Emperor in approx 100CE we have no good data that indicates that Christians following a Gospel Jesus even existed let alone underwent systematic persecution in the first century CE. (Note the Emperor's response as a voice of reason & tolerance.) There were sporadic pogroms against persons/ groups not bowing to the gods of the empire under some Emperors in the Second Century CE (this would have included some Christians ) but the worst campaigns specifically addressed against Christians were probably just around the turn of the third to fourth Century CE. Once Constantine came to power though, the persecution turned towards killing off the adherents of heretical Christian sects not conforming to the official orthodoxy. Much of the early Church's martyrology is probably a Eusebian fiction (mid 4th century CE) and cannot be relied upon as there is little corroborative documentation. ( He is may also be the author of the Testimonium Flavium interpolation in Josephus Antiquities 18).

Constantine & Hitler were both Catholics in fine favor with the Holy Mother Church so please spare us that old canard about how atheists make the best despots. It appears that humans of any sort of creed or ideology or capable of unimaginable evil.

Part 1

evan

eheffa said...

Part 2 for edson

edson: Christianity is based on the bible and Jesus. You need to show me first that all the radical claims that the bible say such as the resurrection of Christ did not take place historically in order that I take your claim seriously. To ask me that, I am the one who make that radical claim so I should give the proof, is asinine to say, as it is one of those avoidance tactics atheists use when confronted seriously. .

The Jesus of Christianity is based on the Bible & no other extant sources of information (unless you wish to use the Gnostic Gospels as a corroborative source...) So, to derive a coherent understanding of Jesus requires a careful analysis of that rather contradictory & inconsistent collection of writings deemed inspired & canonical by the 4th century Church under the tyrant Constantine.

As for evaluating the Bible as a source of reliable information & truth... I'm sure that you will appreciate that this is a huge topic in its own right. Suffice it to say that the OT does not stand up to careful archaeological or scientific investigation. As for the NT, there does not appear to be any good evidence to support the reliability of the Canonical Gospels as biography when gMark was clearly written as a collection of Septuagint extracts blended into a Midrashic allegory by some anonymous author writing in the waning years of the first century. The other later Gospel writers appear to have copied whole passages of Mark with their own editorial modifications / corrections added. All of these are anonymously written, long after their subject supposedly lived - (perhaps as late as the early to mid second century CE). Paul appears to have no knowledge of the Gospel Jesus, while many of the letters attributed to him appear to be written by others passing themselves off as the original Paul. (The Pastorals) The Gospels are not biography or history. They are more like evangelistic tracts. There is no corroborative evidence for their veracity. The resurrection debate is like arguing for the historical evidence for the color of Paul Bunyan's Ox or whether Arthur pulled that sword out of the stone. Until you can verify that the Gospel stories have some grounding in history, the supernatural historical claims are untestable.

I do have evidence for these assertions but it is a complex topic. To lay out all of my evidence for these assertions would require a lengthy treatise that I doubt you would be interested in reading.

If you are interested in exploring the veracity of the Bible & whether it can be relied upon. I can suggest a bibliography for you.

It is not asinine to demand evidence when it is you making the positive claim. It is not an avoidance tactic but the voice of reason. If evidence is not needed to make an unlikely assertion acceptable, then I can nod & give my assent to every proselytizing Mormon, JW, Hare Krishna, & Pentecostal I meet at my door. How do I distinguish between your supernatural claims & those made by your opposing ideologues. How do you decide that your interpretation of this magical book called "The Bible" is God's version of the truth?

In the end we are all skeptical of some claims. I am suggesting that the skepticism you use to fend off the claims of your opponents, is not being applied the same way to your own position. Perhaps if you were to apply the skepticism you use to fend off those horrible atheists & those oh-so-deluded Mormons & were to apply those tools to your own beliefs, you might find your own faith will not stand up to such careful scrutiny.

I hope you understand that many of us who have turned from the Christian faith have done so reluctantly; but it is better to be an honest seeker of truth than to conform to some contrived orthodoxy or fabricated dogma - however comforting it might be.

-evan

edson said...

eheffa, thank you for your response.

You are too negative about Christianity. You call every bible claim that you dont agree with a myth, Constatine, a tyrant, medieval christians, barbarians. You deny the existance of Jesus, the Apostles and Paul. You may not realize that but this attitude is totaly unhealthy.

As for the existance of myriad of religions and you are confused which one is truth, that should not be a probelm to you. You are an intelligent guy and you are capable of discerning truth and falsehood. You did this and you rejected christianity, I did that and I accepted Christianity, at the end of the day faith is a personal matter.

No matter how much you berate christianity, there is one virtue that is in it. That no one is going to force you by sword to join in and no one is going to kill you when you leave out.

Gandolf said...

edson said..."That no one is going to force you by sword to join in and no one is going to kill you when you leave out."

Just dont be caught doing abortions though, they might decide ta blow ya up instead :)

edson said...

Gandolf,
There are so many pro-lifers out there, some even non christians. Some even atheists. There is no big deal about that!

eheffa said...

edson,

I do not wish to sound aggressive or dismissive. A few years ago, I would have been happy to write much of what you do today, but I have been reading some history & this can open one's eyes.

Read Gibbon or a more modern historian for a picture of Constantine. He was by all accounts, a murdering megalomaniac who murdered members of his own family & indeed brought the sword to anyone not willing to acquiesce to the Christian demands. Eusebius, his propaganda minister, is our main source for the sanctioned history of the early church. As the victors write the history, accepting Eusebius' version of what happened would be like reading Goebbels' version of how Poland needed conquering & accept the assertion that they deserved it.

Anyways, what we assume can often be wrong. The history of the Church is truly appalling to anyone with a conscience. When in the position of power to demand your allegiance, the Church has not hesitated to use the sword to effect it. The modern emasculated church has the all the trappings of a lamb but it is not hyperbole to point out the wolf-like legacy just beneath the surface. It is unbelievable to me (& part of what prompted my more critical investigation of the claims of Christianity) that this agency with its murderous, intolerant history would have been a loving God's instrument of choice in a fallen world.

I am not denying the existence of the multiple authors of the Pauline letters but there is little to no evidence for the superman Jesus or his supposedly charismatic apostles. They had a remarkable ability to be invisible to the first century historians on the scene.

Anyways. We can agree to disagree. An atheist has the advantage of being allowed to be wrong. If a Christian screws it up, he will have hell to pay. ;-)

If God exists, I very much doubt that he would punish anyone for seeking the truth honestly. If he insists that the pursuit of truth is out of bounds for us, then this is a god who deserves to be spurned by anyone with a conscience.

Good luck in your truth-seeking.


-evan

Lee Randolph said...

Valerie,
I'm very, very happy that you are doing a series like this. I've tried to incorporate some of this into my articles over the past couple of years, but its not my field of expertise.

Thanks!