Christian Perception

I read a post by Frank Boy Walton at his kindergarten blog, the one he so maturely named “Atheism Sucks”, and I wondered how he came to perceive something read by both of us in such a diametrically different way than I did. Read on for specifics.

Frank posted a link to a debate between Drs. William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman entitled Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus? He also posted a link to the audio, which I didn’t listen to, as I found the written transcript quite sufficient (it’s recorded from the audience; don’t waste your time). It is actually a very good debate, quite informative, as I learned a little bit more than I previously knew. As you might expect, at the conclusion, I felt Bart Ehrman had won the debate. Frank, on his post (sorry, I refuse to link to him but you can search the post dated January 31 if you are a glutton for punishment) said:

In my opinion, Dr. William Lane Craig bested Dr. Bart D. Ehrman in this debate.

He doesn’t say why, but if you are familiar with his blog(s), it easy to figure out. Of course, we both come to the debate with a certain amount of predisposition. Frank is a rabid Christian. I doubt he would disagree with my assessment of how strongly he feels about his belief in Christianity, though he’d probably take exception to my use of the term “rabid”. I’ll stick by it. I am very up front about my atheism, though as I’ve said before, that doesn’t put me on the opposite side of Frank or any other theist of the same ilk. I read a debate like that with skepticism, not to confirm my atheism, but to test my predisposition. Frank does the opposite (though again, he’d probably like you to believe he doesn’t).

William Lane Craig is a highly respected theologian. He taught John Loftus, who now is responsible for much of the blog Debunking Christianity, and who wrote the book Why I Became an Atheist, the predecessor volume of the book I reviewed here. Loftus does not hide his high regard for Dr. Craig personally, though not for his theology. If anyone would have proof of the historical evidence for the Resurrection, I thought Craig should.

Bart Ehrman is also a highly respected academic. Though he is not a theologian, he started out as one, but his studies convinced him that the existence of god was problematic. It’s safe to say he leans toward atheism now. At best, he’s skeptical of the claims of scripture, which he has studied in the original languages, and is considered a leading expert on them. He wrote Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why.

The issue in the debate is one that is central to Christianity. Is there historical evidence that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead, after being put to death and buried? I feel it’s central, because without it, you really have no basis for believing that Jesus was god. Without a supernatural intervention in the laws of nature, i.e. the finality of death, Jesus was just another man, like everyone else (assuming he even existed in the first place). It is a question that has always interested me, and I have always been eager to hear both sides of the issue.

I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff. I grew up believing it was fact, so when someone offers to debate the evidence for what seems to me to be a very counter-intuitive notion – that someone could be raised from the dead – I jump on it. If there actually is evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, or for that matter anyone, then it could have a major impact on my lack of belief. So a debate between one of the leading lights of Christianity and an acknowledged scholar of antiquities, seems to me to be just the ticket.

Both debaters have comparable credentials, and even attended the same Christian college, so I felt they were a good match for a debate on the subject. I eagerly downloaded the .pdf file of the debate and read it closely, looking for the promised historical evidence from at least one of the debaters and a solid attempt of refutation from the other. As you might expect, I was disappointed with the former and unsurprised by the latter. As the proponent of the affirmative on the question, Craig had the burden of providing the evidence that was the topic for the debate. Here is what he said it boiled down to:

There are four historical facts which must be explained by any adequate historical hypothesis:
o Jesus’ burial
o the discovery of his empty tomb
o his post-mortem appearances
o the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.

This is his evidence! He simply states them as facts. He provides nothing to support their claimed existence, other than the opinions of “scholars” that they are, in fact, undisputed. I don’t want to get into a long deconstruction of his argument, as you can read the entire debate and come to you own conclusion, but let me give one example, if only to convince myself that I’m not missing something. The first fact he states as:

Fact #1: After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.

His source for this fact?

We have four biographies of Jesus, by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which have been collected into the New Testament, along with various letters of the apostle Paul.

Notice his use of the term “biographies”? The Bible? Well, not just the Bible.

Moreover, Paul also cites an extremely early source for Jesus’ burial which most scholars date to within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion. Independent testimony to Jesus’ burial by Joseph is also found in the sources behind Matthew and Luke and the Gospel of John, not to mention the extra-biblical Gospel of Peter. Thus, we have the remarkable number of at least five independent sources for Jesus’ burial, some of which are extraordinarily early. (emphasis added by me)

Umm, what early source? He doesn’t say. Perhaps he means the Q document. It’s hard to tell. He goes on to argue that it doesn’t make much sense for a Jewish Sanhedrist (a group that apparently condemned Jesus) to go out of his way to bury Jesus. His conclusion on fact # 1 is:

…most New Testament critics concur that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. According to the late John A. T. Robinson of Cambridge University, the burial of Jesus in the tomb is “one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus.”

That’s it. That’s evidence for fact #1. What does Bart Ehrman have to say about it?

First, he explains what historians mean by doing history.

Historians try to establish to the best of their ability what probably happened in the past…Some things are absolutely certain, some are probable, some are possible, some are “maybe,” some are “probably not.”…the best kind of evidence, of course, consists of contemporary accounts; people who were close to the time of the events themselves. Ultimately, if you don’t have a source that goes back to the time period itself, then you don’t have a reliable source…

Are the Gospels good historical evidence? No, says Ehrman.

These are not historically reliable accounts. The authors were not eye witnesses; they’re Greek-speaking Christians living 35 to 65 years after the events they narrate. The accounts that they narrate are based on oral traditions that have been in circulation for decades. Year after year Christians trying to convert others told them stories to convince them that Jesus was raised from the dead. These writers are telling stories, then, that Christians have been telling all these years. Many stories were invented, and most of the stories were changed. For that reason, these accounts are not as useful as we would like them to be for historical purposes. They’re not contemporary, they’re not disinterested, and they’re not consistent.

But what does he say about Craig’s proof for his first fact? He points out that the use of scholars is not proof of anything. The scholars Craig quotes from are

believers in the New Testament, that is, they’re theologically committed to the text, so of course they agree on these points.

He then notes that the majority of non theological scholars, historians, actually do not agree with his conclusion.

…for the reality is that the majority of critical scholars studying the historical Jesus today disagree with his conclusion that a historian can show that the body of Jesus emerged physically from the tomb. Bill might find that surprising, but that would be because of the context he works in – a conservative, evangelical seminary. In that environment, what he’s propounding is what everyone believes. And it’s striking that even some of his own key authorities don’t agree. He quotes a number of scholars, whom I consider to be friends and acquaintances, and I can tell you, they don’t agree with his views. Does that make him wrong? No, it simply means that his impressive recounting of scholarly opinion is slanted, lopsided, and fails to tell the real story, which is that he represents a minority opinion.

Ehrman’s basic rebuttal, however is that even if you assume the truth of Craig’s facts, history is not able to assess them, because by definition, they are miracles, and history has no way of proving or disproving a miracle, so by definition, there can be no historical evidence for the Resurrection.

Historians can’t presuppose belief in God. Historians can only work with what we’ve got here among us. People who are historians can be of any theological persuasion. They can be Buddhists, they can be Hindus, they can be Muslims, they can be Christians, they can be Jews, they can be agnostics, they can be atheists, and the theory behind the canons in historical research is that people of every persuasion can look at the evidence and draw the same conclusions. But Bill’s hypothesis requires a person to believe in God. I don’t object to that as a way of thinking. I object to that as a way of historical thinking, because it’s not history, it’s theology.

What I can’t get my head around is that even when the concept of “historical evidence” was explained to Dr. Craig, he still argued as if it had never been spoken. He kept badgering Ehrman to address his four facts, then at the end, implied that Ehrman never disputed them, therefore they were established, yet Ehrman spent considerable time explaining why they were not. What was so hard for an outside reader to understand about that? Craig made a theological statement (which always presumes the existence of the supernatural) while Ehrman showed that history (like science) cannot have anything to say about theological explanations.

OK. That was a long winded way of getting to my point about perception. As long as it was, hopefully you didn’t need to read the whole debate to get my point, which was that the Christian (Frank) thought that Craig won the debate, while the skeptic (me) thought he didn’t. I suspect that 99 times out of a hundred, if I had an atheist and a Christian read that same debate, I’d get the same result. Why such divergence in viewpoints when the debate was about the historical evidence for the resurrection, and no evidence was shown? None whatsoever, unless…UNLESS… you consider the bible as evidence, without independent corroboration of its contents. Which is exactly what Craig did. Why are Christians patently unable to understand that their bible is not evidence of anything, all by itself? Why the perception disconnect? Why do I read a debate like this and feel that one side has won the debate, hands down, while a Christian can read the same debate and come to the opposite conclusion? There are a few possible explanations:

  1. One of the two sides, Christian or Atheist, is deluding themselves, because only one side could have won the debate, and the other had to lose.
  2. The members of the two sides have different brain chemistry that causes them to see a winning and losing argument differently.
  3. One of the two sides has been so indoctrinated into believing in a certain mindset and world view, so that their brain is trained to reject anything that conflicts with this prior indoctrination. This indoctrination is so strong as to actually overpower otherwise healthy and vibrant intellects.

There may be other explanations, but if I was to pick one, I’d pick 4.) all of the above. I can come to no other conclusion. The differing perceptions of theist and atheists has to be a subconscious form of self-delusion, brought on by early indoctrination. While there is always a confirmation bias working in all our brains, it’s particularly virulent in the Christian’s. Whether there is a chemical or neurological explanation that meshes with it seems possible, but I’ll leave that to scientists to confirm. I understand Sam Harris is preparing his doctorate dissertation in this field.

But on another level, there must be more. The above would suggest a subconscious, and therefore involuntary, mechanism. I still feel that at some level there is a voluntary aspect to the difference in perceptions. How else to explain the fact that many former Christians deconvert and shed their delusions, shed their indoctrination, dampen their brain chemistry, and become free thinking skeptics? Christians have the ability to make a choice, (they emphasize free will in their theology) and somehow they make the choice that makes sense to them, but not to us.

So one of the things that one must accept, given the paucity of historical evidence, is uncertainty. This, however, is a concept that Christians seem afraid of. The very idea of saying”I don’t know” scares them. They only feel comfortable when they can declare with absolute certainty that their god exists, and moreover, that he loves them, is watching them, and will take care of them for eternity. Anything less than that frightens the hell out of them, hence their resolute determination to perceive things that don’t exist. So they stick their fingers in their ears, and sing “la-la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you”, when confronted with the reality of uncertainty. Using their free will, they willfully choose ignorance, because ignorance is bliss. Reality and truth are scary.

Playing devils advocate, Frank would say that it is me who was indoctrinated, who is deluded. However, the evidence for that just isn’t there. I was indoctrinated, and at an early age, into Catholicism, a form of Christianity, one of the earliest forms, in fact. I no longer am. I read, questioned, and pondered the facts, and came to different conclusions, not as a child, or even as a young adult, but in my late 40s. I believed what William Craig believes, that the Resurrection actually happened. I had no proof, I simply accepted it, because my elders, relying only on the Bible, told me it was true. I graduated from college with a degree in history. I was taught what to accept as historical evidence, and what not to accept. No historian worth his degree would ever accept the Bible as historical evidence.

Looking at William Craig’s evidence with an historical eye confirms to me that what he concluded came first, from which he worked backward searching for rationalizations for that conclusion. That’s pathetic coming from an supposed academic, but that is essentially the nature of apologetics.

Frank’s perception that Craig bested Ehrman, however, is more a function of his own unwillingness to confront reality and to be comfortable with his delusion, than it is a statement of the sufficiency of the evidence.

50 thoughts on “Christian Perception

  1. I share your puzzlement at the fundamentalist Christian mentality. It is like a self-induced mental illness, a willful delusion that has its own built-in reality blocker.

    Unfortunately “Bible believer” delusionary thinking is having negative effects on society and education as a whole. Perhaps what is needed is a vast squad of Reason Evangelists — sharing the good news of clear and rational thinking.

  2. hokku:
    The ability to reason, at least at the high level you both assume, does not seem to be an evolutionarily acquired feature shared by all humans.

    SI:
    I like the baby blue. Does it match your eyes? Or your hair?

  3. Another excellent post. To the best of my knowledge. Ehrman considers himself an agnostic rather than an atheist.

    You said, “What I can’t get my head around is that even when the concept of “historical evidence” was explained to Dr. Craig, he still argued as if it had never been spoken.” This is the problem atheists confront all over the Internet. It’s probably why so many blogsopheric “discussions” end in frustration, if not outright hostility. It’s impossible to reason together when the people holding a dialog cannot agree on such basic items as definitions of key terms and the forms of evidence that will be accepted by all participants.

    As you noted, many Christians, except for the more liberal ones, regard the Bible as sufficient proof of its own claims. They don’t see this as a circular argument either. 😦 Liberal Christians put more stock in historical and scientific evidence, which is why they dismiss literal interpretations of most of scripture and replace them with metaphorical meanings. Harking back to my earlier point, it’s frustrating for Christians when nonbelievers say, “It doesn’t matter to me what the Bible says because I don’t accept that as evidence.” And it’s frustrating for nonbelievers when believers say, “I don’t care what science says, it contradicts the Bible and the Bible is the final authority on everything.” Neither side will make any headway in that discussion.

    I think you are also correct to point out that many Christians can’t stand the idea of uncertainty. I’d go so far as to say that the idea paralyzes them. They’d rather be certain about things they can neither prove nor disprove than uncertain about things that only have a 99.9% chance of being true. They find great comfort in that delusion.

  4. Ex

    I like the baby blue. Does it match your eyes? Or your hair?

    Don’t make fun of the change. I did that for Ric, because he’s getting so old and..well…grumpy, and keeps insisting I change it.

    And to answer your question: my eyes.

  5. Chappy

    Ehrman considers himself an agnostic rather than an atheist.

    Yes, he says as much in his last book. But did you see the next one coming out in a few weeks?

    God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer.

    “In God’s Problem, Ehrman discusses his personal anguish upon discovering the Bible’s contradictory explanations for suffering and invites all people of faith—or no faith—to confront their deepest questions about how God engages the world and each of us.”

  6. Spanish, in what I assume is a quotation picked up from a press release said: “Ehrman discusses his personal anguish upon discovering the Bible’s contradictory explanations for suffering and invites all people of faith—or no faith—to confront their deepest questions about how God engages the world and each of us.””

    I find the “invitation” to nonbelievers to “confront their deepest questions about how God engages the world…” odd. Since I don’t believe that any god engages the world at all, I don’t have any such questions, let alone deep ones. Do you?

  7. Yes, I think you got that press release interpretation correct. I doubt they’re Ehrman’s words.

    And I see it as more of a call for believers to look closely at how the bible handles the question of suffering and evil, (presumably in a very contradictory and inadequate way) with the non-believers to provide support from the sidelines. Or to simply reaffirm their take on the matter.

    I certainly have no need to engage with god.

  8. The very idea of saying”I don’t know” scares them.

    There is so much cognitive dissonance in religion I wonder how theists maintain their sanity. It seems to me that if they really believe faith saves them, then to say “I don’t know” is the only logical position. But if asked to explain this obvious contradiction, the soft shoe dancing becomes exquisite.

    Jim

  9. I agree, the new layout is nice, logical and easy on the eyes.

    Back to the post. Dr. Craig is an odd one, seeming to drop his standards of academic rigour in order to backup his theological claims. I guess that’s a big thing to learn about religious folk: many of them are not stupid; they suffer from compartmentalization and severe predisposition. I wonder why some, like Ehrman, Loftus, and yourself, eventually break free from this while others, confronted with the same logic and evidence, don’t.

  10. First off, if Craig merely hopped up on the podium, dropped his pants and proceeded to shit on the audience Frankie would still applaud his “triumph”.

    The more I look at the “experts” like Craig, the more I see the same ignorant ramblings as you’ll find anywhere online. They completely ignore what others say if they can’t address it or worse, use some sneaky trick like a logical fallacy or terminology slight of hand. It’s indicative of a weak and flawed position.

    Of course there’s a disconnect. They see the bible, personal testimonies, hell they see the shape of a banana as evidence. It’s insane. Still, it’s important to keep challenging that nonsense. Yes, the Franks of the world may never see the light so to speak, but some will.

    Great break down of the debate, SI.

    This new design is easier on the eyes, but I’m not sure the red text works. It’s too strong in comparison. I’m assuming you have no control over the size of the title header? I think it would work better with less height. It’s taking away from the, uh, flaming hole.

  11. Spanish Inquisitive,

    I didn’t say why because I let the readers judge for themselves if Dr. Craig won the debate or not. Anyway, had you actually read my blog you’d know I’m brutally honest when it comes to who won the debate. There have been many times where I called the Christian out for performing horrifically.

    Hugs and kisses,

    Frank Walton

  12. SI:

    Friend, this post is bloody brilliant. I’m not sure what else to say other than that I sometimes feel that apologetics are there just to comfort those who already believe more than to convince anyone else.

    Back when I believed I always invited atheists to try to imagine the world through the Catholic perspective with the hope that they could at least understand why I thought and believed as I did, even if no one would be convinced.

    I think the disconnect for many believers may come from their unwillingness to step outside of their beliefs and realize how unpersuasive it is to argue from the authority of a text that the other side does not see as authoritative. At least they could meaningfully engage in arguments about its authoritativeness, but I think that’s likely just too threatening, especially for a fundamentalist.

  13. What, does he google himself all the time or something? I mentioned him once and he appeared on my blog, too.

    Poor SI. All this blogging to do and not a thing to wear. Well I say this one is nice, and doesn’t make your butt look big.
    Maybe dial down the neon yellow a smidge in the header, or nudge it a little orange to be more in line with the flaming hole.

  14. I’ll let Ric know that it’s safe to come back, SI.

    You said: if I was to pick one, I’d pick 4.) all of the above.

    More or less what I was thinking as reading the first 3, but I would add that while they can all play a part, one is probably a stronger factor than the others. I’ll let you ponder which of those I believe it is.

  15. Spanqi, you’ve come back into the light! I’m so happy for me! Thank you, thank you! It’s nice to know that my badgering and nagging has affected the world in some small way!

    Good post, too. I suspect that the fanatic commitment to resurrection and such comes from the simplest of sources. Fear. I accept that when I die, everything is over. There’s nothing more, there’s nothing there. And frankly (no punishness intended) it scares me. I want to live forever if for no other reason that I want to see how the whole human mess turns out. But it ain’t gonna happen. Over is over. Dead is really dead. I don’t wanna go.

    But I will, and I’ll at least go knowing I didn’t try to kid myself about it with childish delusions and didn’t spend my life in fantasy about a supernatural sparrow watcher. The only way I’d embrace god is if she were a gorgeous young woman who liked to hump like a bunny and promised not to morph into a freaky bearded old man burning bushes and slaughtering thousands. And then I’d lie about believing, because humping is a better choice for soothing the existential angst than delusion.

    And if I had to pray it’d be a simple prayer, a graceful prayer in clear English, and it would go like this: Dear god, just once before I die, before I go into that good night, at least once I’d like to get laid again, dammit. Thank you.

  16. The thing about evangelical believers (fundamental, born-again, radical, whatever you want to call them) is that they exist in a very closed community where the only ideas allowed are the ideas that are held by the group. They can shut out the dissonance because it doesn’t exist in their lives. And when a conflicting view comes around they shut it out without really evaluating it. If it doesn’t match up with the Bible or some other agreed-upon doctrine, it’s just plain wrong. There isn’t any other thought.

    That’s part of the reason why I like to continue to be exposed to other points of view, even views that I think are bullshit. I want to keep questioning. I don’t ever want to be insulated again.

  17. Fascinating. I need to read it three more times (at least) to get the nuances. The dissociative break between evidence and faith would, in any other context, be grounds for very heavy anti-psychotic medications and intensive psychotherapy. In a theistic environment, its normal. In the rest of the world, its refered to as DID. Frightening and enlightening.

  18. I still find it astonishing how an apologist like Craig – who has more than enough education to know better – can unashamedly quote the Bible in support of itself and expect us to be persuaded. If an atheist accepted the Bible as historical fact, you wouldn’t need to argue from inferences about what its recounting of the empty tomb story means. Why not just quote the verses that say Jesus was the son of God and end it at that?

  19. Thus, we have the remarkable number of at least five independent sources for Jesus’ burial, some of which are extraordinarily early.

    I can’t believe he considers the gospels to be independent sources! That’s got to be begging the question. I mean, aside from all the other questions he’s begging.

  20. Bart Ehrman did another very good book, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. In it, he points out (in great detail) the cross-contamination and ex-post facto editing of the various scriptures. Now, when I was studying history in college, we learned to be very careful when dealing with heavily edited historcal documents. Whether the documents were fiction, news reports or comtemporary accounts (only on of those three (in my mind) covers the New Testament of the Bible), heavy editing at a later date was always a cause for concern and, on some occasions, led me to either discounting the account and leaving it out, or devoting a large part of a paper to dealing with the alterations. If I had tried to use it as evidence (with no qualifications), my grade would have suffered.

    I took an enjoyable course in ancient history and wrote a paper about sex and power in Athenian Greece. One of my secondary sources was a book but a German archaeologist written in the 1870s. Some of the quotes were perfect. The paper came back with a big ‘F’ on it. I asked the professor why? “You cribbed your notes.”

    “Where?”

    He pointed to the quote from the afformentioned book. Then he pulled out a copy of the book and, on the page I said it was on, it wasn’t. Three pages away was an altered form of the quote. The publication information, date, place, publisher, was identical.

    Luckily, I had the book in my dorm room. I said, “I’ll be back in five minutes.”

    I came back with my copy. Again, the publication information was identical. The pagination was different. The quote had been rewritten. He changed the grade then and there to an ‘A’ and no professor or doctor at that school ever doubted one of my odd sources again.

    And this compared two versions published by the same company, the same year. The Bible has been translated, mistranslated, interpreted, reinterpreted, altered, realtered, expunged, and added to so many times as to make it (almost) useless as even a secondary source, much less a primary.

    Ain’t dissociation wonderful?

  21. Craig reveals his attitude towards facts and evidence in a YouTube video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-fDyPU3wlQ

    The way that I know Christianity is true is first and foremost on the basis the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart. This gives me a self authenticating means of knowing Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence. And therefore, if in some historically contingent circumstances, the evidence that I have available to me should turn against Christianity. I don’t think that that controverts the witness of the Holy Spirit. In such a situation, and I should regard that simply as a result of the contingent circumstances that I am in, and that if I were to pursue this with due diligence and with time I would discover that in fact that the evidence—if I could get the correct picture—would support exactly what the witness of the Holy Spirit tells me.

    I think Craig is probably smart enough to realize the fallacies inherent in his arguments. However, I think he keeps on making his bad arguments anyway because the only alternative is to admit the possibility that there really is not some evidence out there somewhere that supports his position. The witness of the Holy Spirit in his heart won’t allow him to do that.

  22. Vinny,
    Thanks for finding and posting the Craig quote. I knew I’d heard it before but couldn’t remember where. Craig spends hours and hours presenting allegedly rational arguments for his position, then finished by saying this sort of stuff. If it all comes down to the holy spirit anyway, then why bother with the tangled logic? It’s an apologetic version of a shell game.

  23. And if I had to pray it’d be a simple prayer, a graceful prayer in clear English, and it would go like this: Dear god, just once before I die, before I go into that good night, at least once I’d like to get laid again, dammit.

    Ric: I think you may have just hit on the reason that religious fervor (at least from the people I have known) tneds to hit its peak in males either between the the ages of 13 and 20, or those over 50.

    SI: I am currently reading the .pdf document. Fascinating. I especially like one of the quotes by Craig in which he demolishes his own position in one paragraph:

    Secondly, notice that the historian doesn’t have direct access to any of the objects of his study. As Dr. Ehrman says, the past is gone. It’s no longer there. All we have is the residue of the past and the historian infers the existence of entities and events in the past on the basis of evidence. And that’s exactly the move that I am making with respect to the resurrection of Jesus.

    Damn. “The historian invers . . . on the basis of evidence.” And this is AFTER Ehrman shows effectively that the evidence of the New Testament is not contemporary, is biased and is based upon oral legends with the normal mutability of oral traditions.

    I am constantly amazed (though I shouldn’t be, by now) at the mental disconnect between reality and theology. Intelligent people are able to ‘turn off’ the part of the brain that deals with cause and effect, evidence, and critical thinking whenever the word ‘god’ is used.

    My wife and I were talking last night. She, as a child, attended a UCC congregation up in Massachussetts. Her pastor had a PhD from Harvard Divinity School. He was brilliant. He was widely read. And yet he bases his whole life, all of his learning, his philosophy of life, on that single problematic volume of religious philosophy (and, oddly (and I agree with her here), the parts of the New Testament which actually talk about mercy, helping the poor, non-violence, forgiveness, are the parts ignored by churches in favour of the supernatural.

    Thanks for the post. Thanks for the link to the ‘argument.’ I’m not even sure it qualifies as an argument, as only one side spoke to the history and the hisotry of the evidence.

  24. Ric is totally right about the fear factor driving Craig. I’ve read some of his other essays and it all boils down to exactly that: If there is no god, then life has no external meaning and I will cease to exist. (Therefore, God exists.)

    Excellent post. What seems weird to me is that the debate starts in the middle of the actual controversy, which is: did an historical Jesus exist at all? In light of some recent scholarship, it seems highly dubious that there even was such a person to begin with.

    “What, does he google himself all the time or something? I mentioned him once and he appeared on my blog, too. “
    Speak of the Devil and he appears…

  25. PS, like the new look – much easier to read – but you need a coordinating background and link color. Coordinating to the header, that is, not a body part.

  26. Another quick comment. Sacred Slut is correct. Dr. Craig does seem to be arguing through fear: the fear of a god’s non-existence. I would add another fear: fear of his own ‘evidence’.

    I posted a comment over at PhillyChief’s site under his post “Theist Trick: Atheism is Faith.” In it, I talked about a debating club that almost got off the ground. One of the debating ‘tricks’ our teacher taught us was:

    1. Define your opponents position before he can. If I (as a hypothetical debater) can frame the other sides position in such a way as to make it untenable, my victory in the debate is assured. We see this in politics (progressive and liberal politician’s stances are defined by right-wing talking points repeated through the press (okay, I’m being a little broad here, but I hope you know what I mean)). Atheists often find themselves defending against definitions foisted upon them by theists (atheism is a religion, atheism requires faith (I fell into that last one for twenty years)).

    Dr. Craig’s opening statement is less about his argument than about Dr. Ehrman’s argument. I guess if you know that your evidence is historically substandard, mis-stating your opponent’s argument my seem like a good way to score points.

    Okay. Back to reading.

  27. hokku

    Perhaps what is needed is a vast squad of Reason Evangelists

    Mental illness is a very good explanation, which I doubt any Reason Evangelist would be able to help. What we need is to have the affliction added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV). We need to get the MENTAL out of fundaMENTALism.

    Chappy

    It’s impossible to reason together when the people holding a dialog cannot agree on such basic items as definitions of key terms and the forms of evidence that will be accepted by all participants.

    Yes. And failing this, we are in the Twilight Zone, talking to each other in different dimensions, with different understandings of reality. I say “Would you like a tomato?” and they respond, “Sure, a nice juicy peach would just hit the spot.”

    Jim

    …the soft shoe dancing becomes exquisite.

    It that the rat-a-tat-tat on the back of my brain that a feel in a debate with a Christian? Does Tylenol help?

    King Aardvark

    I never really read much by Craig prior to this debate, but had high hopes that he would have some challenging information. But he’s really nothing better than your average church corner preacher. I was really disappointed in him.

    Philly

    Thanks for you help on the latest design. I promise to keep it up for at least a week.

    Frank Walton

    I do read your blog. I stopped commenting, however, when you refused to post my last comment. I’m not going to waste my time writing long discursive refutations of what you or others call logic, only to be dismissed as a troll, and have the comment dumped into the digital ether. There is no intellectual honesty in that.

    As for your opinion of the debate, you said Craig bested Ehrman. That’s your opinion. Fine. Have at it. But when Craig failed to prove his case, or for that matter offer even any reasonable evidence for the historicity of the Resurrection, why didn’t you call him on that? Or were you flummoxed by the convoluted mathematical refutation of Ehrman’s argument? (Now there was an argument that said nothing while trying to appear to be something.)

    Lifey

    Back when I believed I always invited atheists to try to imagine the world through the Catholic perspective with the hope that they could at least understand why I thought and believed as I did, even if no one would be convinced.

    I still try to do this – think like a Catholic. Put myself in their mental shoes. Having been there, it’s not hard to call it up. But it’s just so hard to accept it anymore. It’s just a bunch of blatherskite.

    Ric

    I’m so glad you are happy. I’ll try to keep you that way. Don’t need the elder statesmen of the movement feeling out of joint. Look what it did to Anthony Flew! Next thing we know, you’ll be writing the next installment of the Left Behind series.

    Evo

    I would add that while they can all play a part, one is probably a stronger factor than the others. I’ll let you ponder which of those I believe it is.

    Clearly, indoctrination is the most powerful influence on the Christian brain. When your concept of god predates your concept of anything else, it’s going to be hard to shake it. GIGO.

    OG

    The thing about evangelical believers (fundamental, born-again, radical, whatever you want to call them) is that they exist in a very closed community where the only ideas allowed are the ideas that are held by the group.

    Yep. That’s part of the memetic characteristics of theism. It closes ranks and protects itself from competing ideas. One could argue that Frank’s blog(s) serve just that purpose. He’s really just a tool in the unthinking perpetuation of the meme.

    Ebon

    Why not just quote the verses that say Jesus was the son of God and end it at that?

    That’s too easy and logical (SI says with a touch of sarcasm). What kind of debate would that be? It would be a concession that there was no historical evidence for what he claims. End of debate.

    Lynet

    I can’t believe he considers the gospels to be independent sources! That’s got to be begging the question. I mean, aside from all the other questions he’s begging.

    That’s why I added the emphasis to that quote. I mean, 5 whole sources! Wow! That’s overwhelming. And four of them plagiarized the first.

    (((Billy)))

    I’ll bet my copy of Harry Potter is different than yours.

    Vinny

    Thanks for that. It confirms what I said about Craig arriving at his conclusion without regard to any evidence, then searching for the evidence to back him up.

    Nice blog too.

  28. Slut

    What seems weird to me is that the debate starts in the middle of the actual controversy, which is: did an historical Jesus exist at all?

    Yes. I found that incongruous. Don’t we have to first prove that he even existed, before we prove that he rose from the dead? I guess they set the debate up on the assumption that he did, but in my mind, that’s already conceding too much.

    but you need a coordinating background and link color. Coordinating to the header, that is, not a body part.

    Unfortunately, WordPress themes are locked in once selected. The only control I have on appearance is the banner, and the content of the posts and right hand column. The appearance is otherwise pre-defined, unless I pay something, and learn CSS.

    (((((Billy)))))

    Good catch. You’re right. He started right off defining Ehrman’s argument before he made it. I thought Ehrman did a good job refusing to be sucked into that, though.

    You like it dark? Like the Bat Cave?

  29. The text in the header is more greenish now, but is muted. I had a friend in art class in HS who was red/green colorblind. When he mixed paints he used to ask me, “is this purple?”. Sometimes he’d have it, and sometimes I’d have to tell him no, he just made orange. Obviously his preferred medium was pen and ink. 😉

  30. I missed something. Where did I mention Harry Potter? I’m reading the .pdf file of the ‘debate’ and Mattingly’s “The Armada” right now. Though, you are correct. I have read the whole series at least six times.

    Yes. I like it dark. When I’m at a forest fire, I volunteer for night shift (actually, dark has nothing to do with it; if you work night shift, you sometimes get to sleep in a hotel). As for the new look, I guess I just have to get used to it. Its not as pretty a my blog, though.

  31. I just changed the graphic a little, adding the title to the underlying flame .jpg, but you are describing me with red/green color blindness. Purples and browns are what I see when someone shows me certain shades of blues and greens.

    The above looks good to me, but I have no idea how garish it looks to others. All comments are welcome. You won’t hurt my feelings. 8)

    Sorry, (((Billly))). I was referring to you story about having different printings of the same book. At least, that’s what I thought you were saying. 😉

  32. Now I get it what I said ;). Yeah, it was two printings of the same book, both first editions, but, as my professor and I went through, we found out his (or mine, we could never figure out) was an almost complete rewrite. It was weird, but it was also a gooc lesson.

    And I like the new text. Maybe a little more red? And change the background for the text area back to black.

  33. Frank Walton: Does pointing out logical fallacies and point-scoring debate tricks count as being an ass? Just curious.

  34. Sorry, Frank. The comment you deleted was at least a 500 word response to a previous comment, with no ad hominems or anything else objectionable, other than that it contradicted one of your fawning sycophants. As long as you’re the subjective and sole arbiter of the term “ass”, I won’t be leaving comments. If I have something to say, I’ll say it here. You’re welcome to respond, and I guarantee, you won’t be deleted.

  35. So let’s get this straight, IF you stop pointing out the flaws in Craig’s arguments and giving your impression of the debate and the apparent disconnect from reality of christian thinking, THEN you’ll be allowed to grace his blog? Wow, that’s quite a deal, huh?

  36. The Chaplain hit the nail on the head in the comments near the top of the thread.

    In his latest book, “Discovering God”, Rodney Stark makes the same criticism of atheists, that just because something is in the Bible and not verified anywhere else does not make it automatically not true.

    One of the things that I have come to realize in experiences in the atheist blogosphere tangling with theists is that their literal reading of the Bible endures because the way the Bible is written leaves them with enough of what I call “wiggle room”, that is they are able to find ways to make the facts fit the Bible. Another major factor in the Bible’s ability to maintain its grip on believers is the fact that many of its stories are grounded in historical places and times.

    In a way, the Biblical literalists are not that unlike people who believe in evolution. Since parts of the Bible are verifiable in the historical record, for them, it is not a major leap to therefore conclude that the miraculous parts are true as well. We in the rationalist camp certainly have got our work cut out for us.

  37. Pingback: Christian Times » Blog Archive » Christian Perception

  38. Good post and a good addition to the Carnival of the Godless. I wondered as I read the initial argument whether or not Craig is familiar with Hector Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies. Avalos searches the historical record for an establishment of fact regarding the Bible and concludes that what Biblical Archaeologists find is a form of post-Modern apologetic “proof” based on what they want to find. The Bible as “fact” is extremely tenuous as there are so many versions used to translate into modern English that we have more solid evidence of the reign of King Arthur than we do Jesus.

    The presumption of fact “proves” the Bible, and those who believe the Bible as fact do so because they know that God is factual, and that the weakness of the historical evidence for Jesus will be cleared up in Heaven. We all just need to play along. We’ll get it when we are either feasting in heav’n or roasting in hell.

  39. Pingback: Carnival of the Godless | Tangled Up in Blue Guy

  40. tuibguy said: I wondered as I read the initial argument whether or not Craig is familiar with Hector Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies.

    They’ve debated. More information can be found here and here

  41. the chaplain
    18 February 2008 at 6:46 pm
    tuibguy said: I wondered as I read the initial argument whether or not Craig is familiar with Hector Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies.
    They’ve debated. More information can be found here and here.

    Yes, but that debate happened in 2004 and so BEFORE The End of Biblical Studies
    was published in 2007. The End of Biblical Studies refutes many of
    the claims that Dr. Craig made in that debate.

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