Posts Tagged ‘Richard Carrier’

Sense and Goodness Without God Part 5

December 17, 2013

What do I will to say about the topic of freedom in Carrier’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I’ll go ahead and say that this is one debate I tend to not take a side in. I believe in the freedom of the will and that’s about it. How far does that go? I’m not going to say. If there’s one debate I can’t stand in Christian circles, it’s the Calvinism/Arminianism debate. It’s particularly bad when I have seen some people say “Calvinism is the gospel.” Thankfully, I do have some Calvinist friends who do not go to that extreme and we never discuss it.

So when I look through this section, I am not going to be critiquing on the points. Carrier is taking on J.P. Moreland in this part of the book and I am not going to be Moreland’s defender either. He can fight his own battles, though it’s a wonder why anyone would think he should take a challenge such as Carrier’s seriously. Still, what did I find in this section that concerned me?

For one thing, Carrier says Moreland’s meaning of freedom doesn’t correspond to actual human practice. We are told on page 105 that if you ask people on the street whether freedom is “getting to do whatever you want” and they will wholeheartedly agree.

The first problem is, when using philosophical terminology, it is not best to get the terminology from the man on the street, but from those who have most often done the serious thinking on the issues. This would include a good philosophical dictionary or encyclopedia.

Second, no one has this kind of freedom also. I can’t do whatever I want. If I want to murder my neighbor and then follow through on that, the police will have something to say about my use of freedom. If I want to jump off the roof of my house and fly, gravity will have something to say about what I want.

It’s noteworthy that later on this page, Carrier says Moreland gets a definition from the antiquated medieval philosopher, Thomas Aquinas. (Yet we saw in the last post that perhaps Carrier should have listened to this antiquated medieval philosopher) We are told Aquinas uses a definition of source that is not employed in normal conversation.

I wasn’t aware Moreland in giving a philosophical defense was engaging in “normal conversation.” In saying all of this, there is not a reply to Aquinas. (In fact, I find most people who want to reply to Aquinas redefine what he said, such as a modern notion of motion from Newton rather than the one Aquinas was working with.)

Carrier does the same thing on page 111 when he says “In the real world, hardly anyone brings up the acausal metaphysics of the soul, much less do they actually try to determine where and when such a strange substance was or was not involved in any given case. So the libertarian defense of free will is irrelevant to human and social reality, while the compatibilist definition fits it like a glove.”

Which pretty much says our words define our time fairly well so anything that disagrees with our understanding is wrong. In fact, I could even give another reply.

“”In the real world, hardly anyone would spend a whole chapter in a book talking about the meaning of words. So Carrier’s emphasis on the importance of words is irrelevant to human and social reality while modern ignorance of it fits it like a glove.”

The last point to bring out is that Carrier then goes to court cases to see how they understand the definition of freedom. Again, why not go to philosophical dictionaries and encyclopedias? Why should I think the modern courts definition of a philosophical topic is correct?

There’s not much in chapter 5 to really comment on so I plan on skipping that. I will next time then cover a short portion in chapter 6 on the nature of the mind.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sense and Goodness Without God Part 4

December 16, 2013

Does metaphysical naturalism account for the existing of the universe? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We’re continuing our review of Sense and Goodness Without God (SGWG) by Richard Carrier and we’re on the chapter about the nature and origin of the universe. I wish to give a caveat right at the start of this chapter.

I have made it a point to not talk about science as science. Why? Simple reason. I am not a scientist. I do not like Richard Dawkins and others speaking on theology, philosophy, history, Biblical interpretation, etc. without showing they’ve done any serious study on the matter. I, in like suit, will not comment on science as science.

Does that mean I don’t have opinions? Of course I do, but my opinions are not authoritative in any way on that issue. For instance, I do hold that the Earth goes around the sun, but I could not begin to tell you a reason why other than that seems to be the accepted position. Now I do enjoy commenting on the history of science, but for the science itself, no. I leave that to scientists.

Therefore, when it comes to the scientific theories discussed in this chapter, insofar as they are scientific, I will not be saying anything. Now when these questions do get to something I have studied, I will comment. At the outset, I can say that if Carrier wants a multiverse or an eternal universe or some combination thereof, I would be willing to grant any of those. They don’t damage my theism or the case for the resurrection.

Also, I can say that I am somewhat skeptical of the ID movement. I have a problem with scientific arguments for theism in general in that they tend to be more inductive than anything else and frankly, most of us don’t know the language. It also has us often implicitly buying into the idea that science is the highest field of knowledge. It is a great one. It is an important one. It is not the only one.

And as for evolution, which will be discussed later, I have no opinion either. I will even grant macroevolution just for the sake of argument because I could not make any argument pro or con in regards to that. I do not doubt it’s an important question, but one cannot have the time to study all important questions. I have chosen my field and I will stick with it.

Anyway, on page 71, Carrier makes a statement about what would be the case of the most plausible theory.

“So after meeting the criteria of plausibility, the most plausible explanation will be the one that has the greatest explanatory scope and power. A hypothesis with ‘explanatory scope’ explains many facts, not just one or two, and thus would explain a great about why this universe exists rather than some other, why the universe has the properties it does rather than others.”

I find no problem with this. In fact, I agree. We do want to find the best explanation. We are also seeking to study this universe. We can postulate other universes, but as far as I know, we have no hard evidence of other universes, just a theory. The only universe we can treat as a certainty is this one.

Carrier on the next page starts calling into question the God hypothesis. I wish to state at the start that I have a problem with just saying “God did it.” I have no problems with seeking out means considered “natural” for lack of a better term. None of these would dispense with God. Still, I find some of Carrier’s criticisms lacking.

For instance, Carrier says on this page that

“Worse, the idea that there was a god around before there was a universe–in other words the idea that something existed when there was no place for it to exist, that something acted when there was no time in which it could act–done not make much sense.”

To say something is difficult to comprehend is different from saying it does not make much sense. The problem I see here is that it assumes God is a material entity. I’m sure Carrier knows that in Christian theology, God is not material, but why bring up the idea that God is to exist in a place, as if any place could contain God? Why think He exists in any time, as if any time could contain God? The Christian doctrine is that God is omnipresent and eternal. He exists in place but is not bound by it, but rather sustains it. The same with time. God eternally exists and is not bound by a timeline any more than He is bound by the physical universe.

For the sake of argument, this could be false. It could be this is what Christian theology teaches, and it does, and still be wrong, but let us make sure that we are representing Christian theology accurately. I do not see any reason why anyone who has studied Christian theology or philosophy would be troubled at all by the sort of argument Carrier makes.

Next we have the question of why didn’t God just create Heaven at the start? This assumes a more modern view of Heaven that it’s that nice place in the sky that you go to when you die. Heaven is in fact the place where the presence of God is made manifest to the delight of His servants. I contend that Heaven actually comes to Earth. (Strangely enough, so does the Bible. See the Lord’s Prayer and Revelation 21) I also contend the same with Hell and that Hell is where God’s presence is made manifest to the agony of His enemies.

So why not make Heaven right at the start? Because Heaven is a choice. The love of God is chosen and if one is created in the manifest loving presence of God, there is no choice, and God values choice enough that He lets us have it.

Next comes the problem of the infinite regress, or rather the so-called problem. As Carrier says on page 73 “If everything must have an explanation, then you do not really get anywhere by explaining the universe by proposing a god.”

In some ways, this is the “Who made God?” objection. The problem with the infinite regress is that people confuse infinite regresses. There are two kinds. They are the regress per se and the regress per accidens.

The latter is a temporal chain. Let us suppose that a tragedy happens and my parents and my wife’s parents both die suddenly. Right now, Allie and I are childless. Does that mean that we will be unable to have children now since our parents are gone? No. Not at all. Our being able to continue the chain of humanity through us does not depend in any way on the existence of our parents. This is the kind of regress that Aquinas and Aristotle are both open to. (In fact, in the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologica, Question 46, article 2, Aquinas says that by reason alone, you cannot know the universe had a beginning. Christians only know it by revelation. He would disagree then with the Kalam as used today.)

So what is going on in the first way? In the first way of Aquinas, we have a regress per se. This is a regress of instrumental causes. The classic example is of a hand moving a stick. The stick moves the rock. The rock moves the leaf. Remove any part of the chain before the leaf, and the leaf does not move. There is an ontological dependence. This kind of regress is the one that is impossible, because instrumental causes are only secondary causes. They are the means through which an efficient cause acts. There must be some force that acts that is itself not acted upon and that force, everyone knows to be God. (In Thomistic language) For God, the basis for His existence lies in Himself, for He is being by nature with no add-ons. Everything else has the reason for its existing outside of itself. It has a nature that is given existence. God has no nature given existence but His nature is found in what it means to be. (I highly recommend Edward Feser’s “Aquinas” at this point.) In fact, Carrier says on page 81 that an ultimate being has only two properties we can be sure of. It’s nature is to exist and it has a reasonable chance of producing the universe exactly as we see it.

Carrier says there can be no ultimate explanation because there must be something that either just “is” or there is a brute fact. I do not see this argued but rather assumed. Yet my answer is there is something that just is and it is because it is in its very nature to be and that is God. Yet Carrier has a statement that is so brief coming up that many will overlook it, but really think about it. On page 73 he says

“Why should such an infinite series of explanations exist for something as relatively simple as a single universe?”

Does anyone really want to say that they think our universe is simple?

Our universe is in fact one of the most complex things we know of and yet we’re told why should a series of explanations exist for it? The universe has thus become a brute fact and well we grant it and then go on. I would need to show the universe has the principle of its own existing in itself. (Note I said existing and not just existence. What keeps the universe going right now?) This is an argument that will not be scientific. It is metaphysical seeing as it deals with the nature of existence. Carrier asks why not just stop with what we know, the natural world?

And here I thought theism was supposed to be the view that stopped us from asking questions….

On page 74, we get to questions about the Big Bang asking what God needs a Big Bang for. It’s a complicated method to use.

Indeed it is. So what? To say that God did not create by the method I would use does not mean He did not create, and last I checked, Carrier has no qualifications on how to make a universe. Perhaps if he thinks the way was done improperly, he should create his own real universe and show us how it would be done. He can create all the laws and such that hold it in place and present it for comparison.

This will not be done and frankly cannot be done.

God is not limited in his resources nor is He limited by His time nor is He obligated to create everything optimal, especially since in my view He did not create the universe to be the way it is right now eternally. To argue against this methodology one needs more than “I would not do it this way and here’s why.” One needs to show there is no God who did do it this way.

On page 78 Carrier says that “We barely struggle along on this tiny little planet, in brutal competition for scarce resources, on a microscopic island that will be melted by the sun in a relatively short time.”

Oh, and by the way, have a nice day.

It’s amazing that the Big Bang is a slow and long process, but the time it takes for the sun to swallow us up will be a relatively short time. I also wonder what world Carrier is living in. I suspect Carrier lives where he does near grocery stores where he can get food and has refrigeration where he can store it and does not have to go out and hunt the beast. I suspect he’s also never had to go out and struggle in battle just to get a meal. No doubt, this does go on in some places, but we’ve managed to do a good job here on this Earth. Reading Carrier, you’d get the impression we’re caught in the Hunger Games.

On page 82, we are told that the multiverse is a far better explanation. Carrier says something must exist without explanation and if God can do it, so can the multiverse.

Why yes. This makes sense. This would be consistent. If one thing thought of can exist without explanation, why not just tack that ability onto something different? Maybe I could even argue eventually that I exist without any explanation.

Or could it be that God is different from the multiverse in some respects?

To show this, let’s start with looking at what Carrier says on the same page. He says that the multiverse is a much simpler entity than a god.

Unfortunately, He does not show this and I would contend exactly the opposite. I contend that God is the most simple being that there is.

“But God is so hard to understand! He’s omni-everything and invisible!”

Yes, and He’s simple. Simple does not mean in relation to our understanding but rather in relation to His make-up. Simpliciity has long been held in the doctrine of God. Indeed, in the Summa, right after God’s existence, Simplicity is the next topic discussed. An excellent look at it from the church fathers can be found here.

With a multi-verse, one can imagine someone taking it apart somehow and putting it back together again. It is made of several material aspects, and these material aspects within themselves are all composed and come together. The multiverse contains planets, galaxies, solar systems, etc. Add in also that this matter contains no basis for its own existing in itself. It carries no essences in it.

Now let’s look at God. What does He have?

Being.

You cannot take something away from Him. You cannot add to Him. He is not composed of being plus essence. He is not being plus material. He is not being plus essence plus material. He is just what it means to be. Carrier says on page 83 that none of God’s attributes are supported by any science, but he is wrong. A science classically understood is a body of knowledge, and there is a body of knowledge that supports this. That is metaphysics. Does it do so through the scientific method? No. But that is because it is not that kind of science. It does so by reasoning from the evidence that we have.

Carrier does say again in the chapter that God is complex, but until He demonstrates that, I see no reason to take it seriously.

On page 85 Carrier says

“When we cast aside our prejudices, it remains perfectly sensible, and indeed most plausible, that the multiverse just is, and always has been. Everything else follows inevitably from that. There can be no objection to this, for the exact same objections would eliminate god as an explanation too. Think about it. Just as one might ask, for example, ‘why does the multiverse exist?’ one can also ask ‘why does God exist?’ Ultimately, proposing a god gets you no further than proposing a multiverse.”

It takes some great confidence to say there can be no objection to this, but alas for Carrier, there can be. God is altogether simple and is what it means to be. The multiverse is not. This is not some random idea in Christian thinking. This is an idea that has been held for well over 1,000 years and nearly 2,000 years. I would think that for all the time Carrier talks about reading and studying, he would have come across that and given a response.

On page 87, Carrier asks how a complex order could arise and tells us Isaac Newton found the answer. Gravity. Throw planets and stars together and add in gravity and you get something like what we have right now.

Well I have to be straw manning there.

No. Not at all. As Carrier says

“For all you had to do was throw planets and stars together, complete with their gravity, and ‘Presto!’ a solar system pretty much like ours would result.”

Apparently, “God did it!” has been replaced by “Gravity did it!”

Amusingly, Newton would not see this as an argument against God. In fact, He would see it as an argument for God. For the medievals and later scientists, the more they learned about how the universe worked and filled in the so-called gaps, the more they were amazed and in awe of the creator.

On page 88, Carrier says “At the very least, there is nothing incredible about proposing that all order has such an explanation. After all, theologians have been wrong every time so far, so why keep betting on them?”

Unfortunately, I saw no theologians cited. Beware the sound of one hand clapping. Furthermore, there are a great number of theologians who are advancing many of these scientific theories. It was a Catholic who came up with the Big Bang Theory and told the Pope to not use it as an argument for God’s existence.

On page 93 Carrier says complex things only arise from simpler ones. We’ve never seen anything to the contrary. I can take this as further support of my position. My beginning ontological point is ultimately simple. It is God. Carrier has given me no argument against simplicity. Carrier prefers to say that it is a fundamental chaos that is the simplest thing we can speak of.

So chaos is simple?

I don’t see an argument for that. I do see an argument for God being simple. It has been presented by theologians from early times.

Once again, I have not said anything about the science behind the theories. I fully support the scientists doing the work here and let each theory be tested. I also add this important distinction. Scientific work should be critiqued scientifically. No one’s worldview should have an authority. The science works the same for an atheist or a Christian, just as in biblical interpretation, the rules of interpretation work the same for an atheist or a Christian and in history, the historical method works the same for both. I encourage that atheists should have their sciences critiqued by Christian scientists and Christian scientists have theirs critiqued by atheist scientists. Of course, atheist scientists can also review the work of atheists and Christians that of Christians, but this methodology would help us keep our biases in check as we all have them.

I object to Christians wanting to use the Bible (Which I do not think is meant to be read in a scientific manner, including Genesis 1) to critique science. If something is true, it is true and if science shows something is true, well we’d best accept it. If we believe the resurrection is true and the existence of God is true, we have no need to fear anything science shows as anything science shows cannot contradict that.

I know today’s entry has been long. I do not suspect the next one will be as lengthy as it involves free-will and the debates around that I have tended to not even want to touch with a ten-foot pole.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sense and Goodness Without God Part 3

December 12, 2013

What’s my opinion on Carrier’s take on method? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Our continuing review of SGWG involves looking at the chapter on methodology next. To be fair, I do indeed think it’s important to show one’s methodology. Usually in a debate on the NT, I will ask someone what their methodology is for determining authorship or the historicity of a text. Usually, they have none.

Carrier says at the start that the end result of any method can never be absolute certainty, but why should anyone think this? It could depend on the claim. Some fields use a more inductive reasoning. Others use a more deductive reasoning.

For instance, consider the following syllogism.

All cats are felines.
Shiro is a cat.
Shiro is a feline.

If the premises are true, the conclusion follows with absolute certainty. I have absolute certainty that tautologies are true and contradictions are false. With other fields, like science and history, one has a more inductive approach. These fields rely more on probability. (It is strange to see the emphasis on science which is inductive and the disregard then of other fields that use more deductive approach, as certain philosophical arguments do.)

Carrier even says a god cannot have absolute certainty. He could be the victim of a greater Cartesian demon. As a Thomist, this argument doesn’t apply to me because whatever is at the end of the chain is ultimate and in fact, it is necessarily good. I will not full flesh out that argument here, though I have written more about it in my review of the Summa Theologica portion on God and on the five ways.

Carrier in seeking a good method starts out with predictive success, but is this not begging the question? Axioms of logic don’t involve predictions. They start with a certainty that a contradiction cannot be true. Logic in fact is not a method of finding truth but rather of finding error. Some methods work less by predictive power and more by explanatory scope.

It’s not a shock that in fact Carrier comes down on the side of the scientific method as the best method we have. As I said last time with pointing to Feser, the method works great with science, but it does not work great with other fields of knowledge. The scientific method has often been made too all-encompassing. As said before, this is not to denigrate science and it is a shame to think that such a claim is a denigration of science. It is to recognize its limitations. Use the scientific method for science. Use a literary method for literature, historical method for history, etc.

The problem that often comes is one has a claim that falls outside of the realm of science, such as miracles or the existence of God and immediately hears “Well do you have any scientific evidence?” You might as well ask if you have any mathematical evidence that Shakespeare wrote his plays. Of course, science can help inform us on these areas, such as showing us the way nature works when there is no interference (Although to be fair, I question the existence of laws of nature seeing as I hold to essences more) or perhaps Intelligent Design arguments. (Which I’m also skeptical of seeing as it treats the universe more like a machine)

Eventually, we get to the historical method. We are told on page 58 about how experts in the field should meet qualifications of reliability. These include genuine qualifications suited to the issue at hand, corroboration by others, and that the bias be controlled. I have no problem with these by and large and of course, the list is not limited to these.

I do think it’s important that we seek experts who have credentials in the field and I would add that we seek them from all sides. Too many atheists are ready to discount a claim in NT history because it comes from a Christian scholar, just as too many Christians could deny a claim in scientific theory because it comes from an atheist. Both are wrong. Look at the evidence. Don’t look at the position.

I also agree that one should seek corroboration from other experts. This is why I find it important to look for works that are by writers who have undergone peer-review. In history, we recently had the case of Joseph Atwill and “Caesar’s Messiah.” Atwill did not put his opinion to scholarship first to have it tested. Nope. He went straight to the media. This is sensationalism.

It’s also important with books to see who published the book. Most academic publishing houses want to protect their reputation and not publish material that will be embarrassing to them. This doesn’t mean everything by a non-academic publisher is false as its harder and harder to get published today, but in today’s age, self-publication is easier and easier, meaning one must be quite careful.

Also, biases need to be controlled. We all have them. That’s also the purpose of peer-review. You submit your work to those who are of a different mindset and see if you can defend your view. It doesn’t mean you will prove your view, but it means you do defend your view.

All of this is well and good but I found myself wondering, “Does Carrier’s Christ myth idea pass this criteria?” The answer is no. This is one of many reasons I can’t take such an idea seriously.

The next section we will go through in our review will be discussing the origins of the universe. We’ll cover that next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Sense and Goodness Without God Part 2

December 11, 2013

Are there any words to be said about words? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Our review of Sense and Goodness Without God (SGWG from now on) continues with a look at the importance of philosophy and of words. Having been a Master’s student before I left the Seminary I was at studying in philosophy, I do agree it is important. It’s also why on my own podcast I’m working to bring in more philosophers to talk on important topics in philosophy.

But I do not think Carrier is the one to be telling us about philosophy. As I’ve said, those wanting a more thorough philosophical analysis of the material of Carrier are invited to see the work of David Wood, who is in fact a credentialed PH.D. philosopher. I invite others skeptical of my stance on Carrier here to by all means go check with those who are more authoritative in whatever field and see what they say as well.

So getting to what we have, Carrier has a revealing line saying “This is a little known secret of thinking like a genius; it doesn’t matter where your ideas come from, or how many turn out to be harebrained, so long as you only trust the ones that are soundly proved.”

My first thought in reading this is what kind of way must a person think about themselves to think that they can tell us the secret of thinking like a genius. For saying that there is not much in the Bible, it would have been well to have gone to Proverbs 27:2 and read about how you should let another man praise you and not your own lips.

My second thought is how far does this go? I should only trust that which is soundly proven. Okay.

Is that proven?

I figure I could keep going on and on. Part of the problem is that if we just go by what is proven, we have to at some point reach some claims that are unproven, but that we think would be absolute nonsense to deny. “The universe did not pop into existence five minutes ago with false memories in our minds and false foods in our stomachs.” No way you could prove this, but only a fool would think the universe if five minutes old.

There are also statements that you do not prove or disprove because they are tautologies and contradictions.

“At this time, my wife either exists or she does not.”

This statement has zero predictive power and in fact it would be bizarre to think about proving it. It is entirely true regardless of which one it is! (She just went up to my mother’s to wrap Christmas gifts, but I am certainly hoping the former is the case and no mysterious sink hole has swallowed her or something of the link.)

Now here’s another statement.

“Right now, my wife is married and not married.”

This statement could not be proven at all as it is nonsense. Someone cannot be both at the same time. Of course, you could say that she is married to me and not married to any other man out there, but that requires adding information to the claim.

And finally, we can ask how a statement is proven. Too often in the book, Carrier holds to a mild form of scientism that places science on the highest level. Science is great for scientific predictions. It’s not for everything else.

For instance, if I am studying Shakespeare and I am being told that when saying X, Shakespeare is really making a comment about Y in his day, how should I verify this? Do I do so scientifically? No. I go and use literary methodologies including asking literary experts who know the field far better than I do.

There is a great danger we have in our day and age of thinking science works so well where we apply it that it just has to work everywhere else and if we do that, we will end up missing out on other truths that could, for the sake of argument, be out there. Let’s consider it with the metal detector analogy of Edward Feser. In this short section of that post, Feser presents the common view and then responds with the analogy.

1. The predictive power and technological applications of [post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic] science are unparalleled by those of any other purported source of knowledge.

2. Therefore we have good reason to think that [post-Galilean, post-Cartesian, mechanistic] science can explain everything that there is to explain.

And that sort of argument is no better than this one:

1. Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has.

2. Therefore we have good reason to think that metal detectors can reveal to us everything that there is to be revealed.

For those interested, Feser also deals with an objection to that here.

Thus, I wish to warn my readers about a mild scientism coming up in the future in the book. The sad reality is too many readers will think I am anti-science. Not a bit. I am for using a proper methodology in its right field. A table knife is a just right tool to spread peanut butter on a sandwich for lunch. A chainsaw doesn’t work as well, but that says nothing about one’s overall view of table knives or chainsaws.

On page 26 Carrier says “Above all, I have a clear sense of always improving myself and my worldview, a sign that I am indeed approaching the truth, and am with every step closer to it.”

It is a wonder to read this and see how this could be known. An obvious problem that should leap out to anyone is there are numerous Christian philosophers who would say the same thing. There are Christians in history who would all say the same thing. We all think we’re approaching the truth and we all think we’re improving ourselves and our worldview. Does that mean we’re all closer to the truth? Carrier is getting deeper and deeper in his atheism. Okay. Mike Licona is getting deeper and deeper in his Christianity. Are both of them approaching the truth? How could they both be when both of them are diametrically opposed?

There are other steps one would take. One would want to read that with which one disagrees. One would interact with disagreement. One would seek to get the best scholarship in any field. There would definitely be any testing and living out of one’s ideas to see how they apply in the schoolhouse of life.

After all, everyone thinks they’re approaching the truth. I can say I have refined my view drastically in all my years of study. I would certainly say I am closer to the truth, but I am constantly reading to see where I am at and interacting with others who disagree. Does that mean I’m necessarily approaching the truth. I would hope I am, but it could be tomorrow I will make a discovery that leads in the opposite direction. What then? Will I then turn and say the same thing after a few years?

As we move on to the chapter on words, there’s really not much to critique here. I will instead pull out a few points to consider.

On page 29, Carrier writes that

“Naturally, applying this first principle to itself, it follows that if we can find any proposition that has meaning but does not make any predictions, or that makes predictions that does not have any meaning, or that can be confirmed as true or false without any reference to what it predicts, then this principle would have to be revised, and my entire philosophy reconstructed from the ground up (unless the revision has no other consequence than to expand or qualify what was already established). So it is important to see if I’ve got it right here, and equally important that I help you grasp what I am talking about. In the process, you will get a taste of different aspects of my whole philosophy, on which I expand in later chapters.”

But as David Wood has said, these statements do exist. Tautologies and contradictions. See the examples above.

I suppose it’s time for a total overhaul.

Carrier also goes against Plantinga’s idea of Warranted Christian belief. I’d leave it to Plantinga to defend it, though I doubt he’d even bother. My own position is more of a common sense realism. Yes. The world outside of my mind exists. How do you know?

You tell me why I shouldn’t.

As soon as I accept the claim that I need to demonstrate this, I am no longer a realist. I see no reason to deny the reality of the material world any more than I see a reason to think the universe popped into existence five minutes ago with false memories in my mind and false food in my stomach. Carrier could say could exist anyone why they believe in the material world and they’d point to evidence. I wouldn’t. Every bit of evidence could be assumed under an idealist system. Kicking a rock done not refute Berkeley. (Berkeley was a bishop who was an empiricist and held to the non-existence of matter. While I disagree, it would be difficult for many of us to refute the arguments he puts forward in his dialogues.)

Eventually, the idealist path gets us to where Carrier arrives, and I’m not surprised, and that is the place of the Cartesian demon. Maybe it’s really an evil power outside of me that’s causing everything and just leading me to think my beliefs are true.

And again, I do not take such an idea seriously since I do not hold to any idealism. Could it be that such a power exists and is tricking me? Perhaps, but it would be up to my opponent to demonstrate that. Note also in my Thomistic arguments for God, His goodness is entailed as well in the arguments, hence many atheistic arguments against God really don’t even touch the arguments that I prefer to use. To critics out there, I also do not prefer to use most arguments used by Christian apologists today, such as the Kalam argument or the design argument. Part of that is also realizing my limitations. I have no study in science and therefore would not comment on the scientific aspects of such arguments.

In our next review, we will spend time looking at Carrier and method. There will not be much, but I hope it will provide some fun and informative interaction. For those wanting to get to the heart of the issues, be patient and wait. We will. (Though I will be regularly interspersing with posts about the podcast and some Christmas post as the holidays draw near.)

Book Plunge: Sense And Goodness Without God Part 1

December 10, 2013

Does Carrier really provide a good defense of metaphysical naturalism? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Carrier’s book is Sense and Goodness Without God, but it looks like it doesn’t deliver on either account. Going through this book will in fact be extremely laborious for anyone else who tries to do so. (I think of Allie’s repeated question of “You’re not finished with that yet?!” No love, I’m not.) The writing is entirely dry. There is apologies for that saying it will apply at the start, but it never picks up.

Of course, the real meat of a book is found in the arguments that it gives, and in this case, they’re not good at all. We get the sound of one-hand clapping largely, meaning there is often total neglect of arguments for the other side. For instance, in the long chapter on why there is no God, I was hoping I’d see the Thomistic arguments, my favorite ones, interacted with since so many people leave those out. Indeed, they weren’t. In fact, no theistic arguments were interacted with.

Another problem is that Carrier is too much of a polymath. He wants to write a little bit on everything, some of which the reader wonders what it has to do with metaphysical naturalism. Do I really need to know what Carrier’s views are on politics in order to defend metaphysical naturalism? Does it really matter what he thinks about abstract art?

If I’m to take what’s in this book seriously, I am to believe that Carrier is an authority on linguistics, philosophy, morality, free-will debates, cosmology, evolution, theistic arguments, history, economics, art, interpretation of court cases, etc.

We could grant for the sake of argument that Carrier should be seen as an authority on one or two of the issues perhaps, but on all of them? Not a chance. Now there could be some basic study in other issues, but not enough to really be taken as an authority.

No problem! That’s what footnotes are for!

Except there aren’t any.

In fact, he explicitly says there aren’t any! On page 5 he says “I use no footnotes or endnotes.”

Hardly ever will you find a book and page number as a claim for where an argument came from. Instead, at the end of a section Carrier will list books you can read on the topic with the idea that if you read these books, somewhere in there you will find what backs what is being argued. Excuse me if I don’t want to order a dozen books and read through them to verify one claim that will be found somewhere in all of that.

When he does also mention someone he is arguing against, it is a wonder why he thinks that person should take him seriously. Why should Moreland or Plantinga really be interacting with what Carrier says? Does anyone think these credentialed philosophers are going to be listening to the words of someone like Carrier at this point? Now he’s free to make critiques of them, but if anyone will get the benefit of the doubt in this case, it will certainly be these credentialed philosophers. Of course they could be wrong, but I highly doubt that Carrier has shown the case from what I’ve read. For those wanting to see more on the philosophical issues, I recommend reading David Wood’s review.

Because there is so much problematic with this book then, I am not going to have a full review in one post. I am going to handle this as a multi-part process.

Carrier starts with the praise of philosophy. No problem with that! Yet too often in this book one will often find philosophy somehow morphs into science. That is something indeed problematic, but we will cross that bridge when we get to it.

Of course, I wonder if he has a right understanding of philosophy. Philosophy is not just thinking about stuff. It’s a rigorous process which is why one needs to be interacting with those who have best shown themselves to be authorities and to interact with those who have studied it on an academic level. Hence, while I am a Thomist, I will give a basic defense of my position, but then point to others who know far better than I do, like Edward Feser.

Carrier describes his religion as philosophy and says the following:

“Every hour that devout believers spend praying, reading Scripture, attending sermons and masses, I spend reading, thinking, honing my skill at getting at the truth and rooting out error. I imagine by most standards I have been far more devout than your average churchgoer. For I have spent over an hour every day of my life, since I began my teenage years, on this serious task of inquiry and reflection.” (page 4)

It’s nice to begin a book with a bit of hubris. Readers of Carrier’s book will not learn much about metaphysical naturalism, but they will learn much about Carrier.

On page 5, we find that he says “For all readers, I ask that my work be approached with the same intellectual charity you would expect from anyone else.”

I want readers to keep this in the back of their minds for now. If this is so, then when we get to Scriptural interpretation, we should see this intellectual charity. We won’t. He goes on along these lines on the same page and the following page to say:

“If what I say anywhere in this book appears to contradict, directly or indirectly, something else I say here, the principle of interpretive charity should be applied: assume you are misreading the meaning of what I said in each or either case. Whatever interpretation would eliminate the contradiction and produce agreement is probably correct. So you are encouraged in every problem that may trouble you to find that interpretation.”

I have no problem with this kind of idea. I have a problem with it not being consistent. Again, when we come to Scripture, will we find the same thing? Will we find a desire to try to work out supposed contradictions between events, or will we find there is not even an attempt. You don’t need a crystal ball (Which Carrier doesn’t believe in any way) to know the answer to that.

So since that was short and all of that in the first chapter, I’ll move on to the second for today as well.

This one deals with how Carrier got where he was. Carrier grew up in a background that had this idea that the text should clearly say something. Granted his church was not conservative. Still, there is this hang-up in most American churches today that the Bible should be clear to modern-day Americans. I always wonder why clear to us? Why not clear to 16th century Japanese or 19th century Germans or 13th century Chinese or 11th century Frenchmen or 9th century Italians or 1st century Jews?

You get the picture.

What hubris our culture has!

Carrier also asks why the Bible wasn’t saying much that seemed to be about what was on his mind. Why does it not talk about science or about Democracy? It never seems to register that these were not issues the biblical writers were wanting to talk about. That does not mean they’re unimportant to them. You won’t read hardly anything on my blog about nutrition or medical care, but that does not mean I find them more important. It simply means the focus is elsewhere.

On the other hand, gender equality was there as well to which I can’t help but wonder why Carrier wasn’t paying attention to the first chapter of Genesis? Man and woman are both created in the image of God.

On page 15, we read Carrier say that “In general, no divinely inspired text would be so long and rambling and hard to understand.” He goes on to say:

“The Bible is full of the superfluous–extensive genealogies of no relevance to the meaning of life or the nature of the universe, long digressions on barbaric rituals of bloodletting and taboo that have nothing to do with being a good person or advancing society toward greater happiness, lengthy diatribes against long-dead nations and constant harping on a coming doom and gloom, I asked myself: Would any wise compassionate being even allow this book to be attributed to him, much less be its author? Certainly not. How could Lao Tzu, a mere moral, who never claimed any superior powers or status, write better, more thoroughly, more concisely, about so much more than the Inspired Prophets of God.”

This boils down to an argument one sees repeated often in the book.

I would not do X if I was God.
God does X.
Therefore, this claim cannot be a claim of God.

Never does it occur to Carrier that the Bible is the story of the people of Israel and all of this information is indeed relevant to Israel. The genealogies matter greatly as for the ancient mindset, who you came from spoke volumes about who you were and your history. The judgments against nations that were long-dead would remind the Israelites of God’s faithfulness in doing what He said He would do, which would mean He could also be trusted in to do what He promised He would do through them. Finally, if the Christian claim is true, it means God has interacted to deal ultimately with the problem of evil in Christ. How can that not be towards the advancing of society?

Of course, I would not deny that one should read the great philosophers. I certainly think so. They comment on many issues the biblical writers did not comment on. I happen to enjoy going through the Golden Sayings of Epictetus for instance. Yet why should I think the Bible is written largely with the idea of telling me how to be a good person? That is in there, but that is not the main point of Christianity. The main point is how God is dealing with the problem of evil in Christ. Being a good person is part of that, but not the whole of the situation.

It’s not a shock also to find on page 16 the complaints about the God of the Bible. The picking up of sticks in Numbers 15, the idea of judgment through war on those who were opposed to Israel, genocide and fascism, slavery, etc. All of these have been seen numerous times before, but it’s nice to see that intellectual charity disappeared so quickly. No. You won’t find Carrier responding to responses to these. They’re just asserted.

Be wary always of the sound of one-hand clapping.

Carrier in fact on page 16 says “It does not good to try in desperation to make excuses for it. A good and wise man’s message would not need such excuses. It follows that the Bible was written neither by the wise nor the good.”

So let’s see what we have here.

A good and wise man’s message does not need excuses. (I’m sure Socrates would have liked to have known this when he was on trial. However, we see no defense of Carrier’s claim whatsoever.)
The message of the Bible needs defending. (No problem here.)
It follows then that the Bible is not from a good and wise man and certainly not God.

But it doesn’t! The first claim is not backed at all! How many good and wise men in history have had to give account for their actions? How many have written defenses of their own message? If Carrier ever has to defend himself from his critics, does that mean that he is not good and wise since if he had a good and wise message, it would not need defense?

It’s furthermore just a way of saying to avoid looking at the evidence on the other side. Why should someone not want to do that? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do, especially if we are to follow the path of intellectual charity?

On page 17, Carrier says when he finished reading the Bible, that he declared that he was an atheist.

Really? The most you could declare is you think the Bible’s message is false. You certainly can’t get to atheism! There are so many more arguments for theism than just the Bible. Did Carrier not interact with them?

On page 18, Carrier talks about what the experience was of declaring himself an atheist in the society around him.

“For the first time, rather than being merely consistently pestered, I was being called names, and having hellfire wished upon me. It was a rude awakening.”

I am sure right now Christians in Sudan faced with death constantly are thankful they do not have it so rough. There’s real persecution. Carrier was called names and had hellfire wished on him.

This is amusing considering how just before he talked about the awful history of Christianity. He talks about the terrible things they’ve done and are still doing such as “trying to pass blasphemy laws to murdering doctors, from throwing eggs at atheists to killing their cats, from trying to dumb-down science education to acting holier-than-thou in pushing their skewed moral agenda upon government and industry alike.”

For murdering doctors, I suppose he’s talking about abortion doctors. If so, the huge huge huge majority of Christians stand outside abortion clinics and protest and offer help to those considering an abortion. This is entirely within their legal rights to do. For those who are bombing clinics and murdering doctors, we certainly condemn those, but this is the rare rare rare exception to the rule.

Of course, there’s always the great danger of having eggs thrown at someone and having their cats killed. I know I regularly go out and meet with my evangelical brethren. We get together at the grocery store and buy a mass of egg cartons and look for atheist houses and let loose! When we find their cats, we kill them and bring the corpse to church giving thanks that we tormented the atheist.

Of course, there are some legitimate problems in all of this. I have no desire to dumb down science education for instance and think Christians make a mistake when they treat the Bible as if teaching about science. At the same time, if someone wants to present evidence for a view like ID, for instance, a view I’m somewhat skeptical of as a Thomist, then let them do so. I’m open to it. As for holier-than-thou types, I have zero patience whatsoever with them. If Carrier thinks he finds Christians annoying, he’s not the only one.

Well Carrier certainly does show how he views the opposition. As he says on page 19 when writing about the Christianity he faces, “So great is the threat of this superstition against individuals, against society, against knowledge, against general human happiness, that it would be immoral to not fight it.” He later describes it as a crusade. (So apparently Carrier doesn’t condemn all Crusades.)

Sometimes people wonder why I speak in the language of battle. This is why. I believe the stakes are high and ironically, I see holding to an atheist system as a threat to society. Of course, to be sure, my idea of combat is only intellectual though I do use physical metaphors to explain the picture. I don’t doubt that Carrier has no desire to use physical violence either in this kind of debate, but I wonder if atheists in history have thought the same way.

We’ve only gone about 20 pages through and already there’s a lot to deal with. We’ll deal with even more next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Why Arguments From Silence Are Weak

December 2, 2013

Does silence on cases involving Jesus reveal a problem? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of the #1 arguments used by people like Christ-mythers is the argument from silence. Surely if Jesus was a historical figure, more people would talk about him! This was the Son of God! This was someone going around doing miracles! Why isn’t he being talked about everywhere?

Some people compare this to the modern world. If some great phenomenon happened, such as, say, a meteor hitting Mt. Rushmore and destroying it immediately, this would be talked about the world over immediately. You would suddenly have bloggers writing everywhere! News teams would swamp the area! Even as far away as the other side of the world, people would be talking.

Yes. Yes they would be. The problem is these modern comparisons fail. Let’s note some important differences.

First off, this all takes place after what Brent Sandy and John Walton have called in their book “The Lost World of Scripture”, the Gutenberg Galaxy. (The title is not original with them) Readers interested in The Lost World of Scripture are invited to listen to my interview with one of the authors, Brent Sandy, here and read my review of it here.

After Gutenberg everything changes. People can produce books much more quickly and efficiently. As a result, the number of books goes up and the cost to make them goes down. Because of this, literacy will go up as more books can be distributed to the public and there is in fact more leisure time rather than much time spent on the tedious task of copying a manuscript. Of course, it’s still not as efficient as today’s methods, but it is much more efficient.

Move forward to today and everyone can get their opinion out there. As soon as you see a story on the news, someone can comment on it and it can be anyone. Twitter is an excellent example of this. A news story takes place and people are immediately sharing it and in fact sharing links to it.

Over Thanksgiving while visiting the Liconas, we were watching a football game on Thanksgiving night. (I say we loosely. Allie and Mike were watching. I was reading more. Football just bores me honestly, but my wife and father-in-law are both Ravens fans.) Mike was getting tired and so was Allie and we all decided we’d just go to sleep.

Now this game was not played in the city where we were, but there was no doubt that when we woke up in the morning, we would be able to tell who won. In fact, immediately when the game was over, we could have been told who won. The age of mass communications has made this kind of knowledge much easier to come by.

Second, if literacy is up, then it turns out that the written word can often become the best way to spread information, though even this is not always the case. Today, we can use videos on YouTube or for news just go to a news broadcast. The visual is still a powerful aid to get the message out. Something that made the Vietnam War so different was we could really see the images of it. People who heard the Kennedy/Nixon debate for the most part said Nixon won. Those who watched for the most part said Kennedy won. The visual is definitely having an impact.

Third, when information is written down more and more, memory will take less and less place in society. An oral culture thrives on memory far more than we do and seeks to have all its information not so much in individual memory, but rather in collective memory. (Again, see Sandy and Walton above) You could change some secondary details in a story, such as some chronology, but the primary details had to stay the same.

We still do this today. If I have Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons visit me, I will certainly call my own parents to give an account of what happened, but my parents are not apologists so I give a basic account. When I call Mike then or my former roommate or write it out here, the account gets more and more detailed. Why? Because these are the people that know the language and I can communicate it to them in a different way.

It’s not for these reasons alone that written sources were not used the most in the ancient world. As alluded to earlier, cost was an issue.

Here is what one writer says about the issue who happens to have a PH.D.

“By the estimates of William Harris, author of Ancient Literacy (1989), only 20% of the population could read anything at all, fewer than 10% could read well, and far fewer still had reasonable access to books. He found that in comparative terms, even a single page of blank papyrus cost the equivalent of thirty dollars—ink, and the labor to hand copy every word cost many times more (p. 195). As a result, books could run to the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in value each. Consequently, only the rich had books, and only elite scholars had access to libraries, of which there were few.”

Of course, I already am sure that several out there are saying that this is just another Christian excuse for not having writing. It’s a convenient little remark that is meant to explain away a problem. For those who think that, there is a problem. Here is the source for this statement.

“Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness Without God, 2005. p. 232”

Carrier himself is a Christ-mythicist, but I have no problem with this here. To get just the papyrus of a single page could cost $30. Ink and labor would cost more. Add in as well that for these books someone else would have to deliver the book which would be a delivery charge and you’d have to make sure someone was there who could read the book. Usually, the deliverer would serve as a reader and he would have to know the content well enough to be able to explain it to the audience, properly read it with all the nuances in speech, etc. This was a costly enterprise!

So let’s compare these methods.

One method, writing, costs an exorbitant amount to produce and reaches only about 10% of the population at the most. Oral tradition, which in the ancient world was just as reliable if not more reliable, was absolutely free and could spread the word far and wide to everyone who could speak the common language.

Which one will be done? Decisions decisions….

Today we value the written word the most, but the problem is this is an anachronism on our part where we throw our modern mindset back into the ancient world. It is saying “We value writing today and seek to write things down immediately. Weren’t the ancients the same way?” No. No they weren’t.

Another point when it comes to Jesus is as I have written about elsewhere, Jesus would have essentially been a nobody in the ancient world. He could have been popular in some circles where he was, but that does not extend everywhere.

Many a town can have its own celebrities and such. Politicians in states can usually be known in their states, but unless they do something really big or have a scandal of some sort, that fame won’t likely extend much beyond that. A professional athlete who’s not that well-known can still be a celebrity in his own town.

Jesus lived in an area that was important as a trade route that connected three continents, but it was not viewed as important for its culture. The culture was certainly tolerated by the Romans due to it being old, but it was not something that they celebrated. What was Rome interested in? Power and glory. What were the Greeks interested in? Knowledge.

So who was Jesus?

Jesus was a rabbi. He was a preacher who supposedly did miracles (Oh who would believe in that stuff? Not an educated Roman). He never ran for political office. He never as an adult traveled outside of his own country. He never led any troops into battle. He was such a weak figure that it only took a small cohort to arrest him. The Romans didn’t have to call in an army or anything. The movement was put down in a weekend. (Of course, the resurrection did change that) Worst of all, He was crucified, the most shameful death of all, something that any Messiah and Son of God claimant would surely avoid.

It’s quite amusing to hear Jesus then being compared to other people at the time who we have records of such as, say, the Caesar on the throne. Yes. We all know that a Jewish rabbi should get as much attention as the reigning Caesar at the time. Let’s keep in mind that some who have made the mistake of thinking that the sources are equal have in fact admitted it was a mistake. See here for details. Of course, we all will make mistakes in our research from time to time. By all means, check all claims from everyone.

Yet we are told that there are no contemporary eyewitness accounts for Jesus. Indeed, there are none for Alexander the Great. Tim O’Neill at Armarium Magnum gives a comparison with this in using Hannibal. As he says:

“To highlight how easily a peasant nobody like Jesus could very easily pass without any surviving contemporary notice at all, I held up the example of someone at the other end of the scale of fame and significance to Jesus and who, despite this, also has zero contemporary references that have survived to us. Hannibal was about as far from a Jewish peasant preacher in terms of fame and significance as you could get in the ancient world, yet we have no contemporary references to him at all. None. This shows that the nature of ancient source material is such that we have contemporary references for virtually nobody, including people much more significant than Jesus. So making an argument about the existence of any ancient figure based on the lack or otherwise of contemporary references is patently ridiculous; doubly so for a peasant preacher.”

Source here.

And once again, before someone writes this off as another Christian grasping at straws, please keep in mind Tim O’Neill is an atheist. He has no desire to promote Christianity, and while I disagree with him on his historical conclusions concerning who Jesus is and what He did, I have great respect for his methodology and for his also not putting up with atheists making bad historical arguments.

If Hannibal does not receive this then why should we expect such for Jesus?

In fact, all of this assumes that the gospels are not contemporary and are not eyewitnesses or based on eyewitness accounts. Luke explicitly says he spoke to the eyewitnesses. Few people in fact I see are actually responding to a work such as Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” to see if it could be that the gospels are eyewitness accounts.

As for contemporary, I recently had Dr. Paul Maier on my show which can be heard here who said no scholar he knows of who studies the ancient world would accept the idea that only contemporary accounts are to be used. If we followed such an account, we would have to throw out much of ancient history. In fact, Carrier saying why he thinks the accounts of the crossing of the Rubicon are more reliable than that of the resurrection says the following:

“Fourth, we have the story of the “Rubicon Crossing” in almost every historian of the period, including the most prominent scholars of the age: Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, Plutarch.” That can be found here. Little problem with this. Not one of those scholars is a contemporary.

Let’s consider Appian. From Livius.org, we get this. This tells us that Appian would have written in the second century A.D. Carrier dates the crossing of the Rubicon to 49 B.C. This means that Appian wrote at least 149 years later and unless he wrote when he was 5 years old, it could have been written around 200 years later.

Information on Suetonius is here.

What does this mean? Suetonius was born 120 years after the event and would have written later as well of course.

Cassius Dio is even worse. We are told he started his work in the 190’s and wrote the Roman History from 211-233. So let’s go with 211 being the date of the writing of the event just to be as generous as possible.

This is 260 years later!

Finally, there’s Plutarch. Plutarch’s information can be found here.

This means Plutarch was born 95 years after the event.

Now if all of these are acceptable to be seen as accounts of historians of the age writing about these events, then if the gospels are before 125 A.D. (30 + 95) then we should be on good grounds. In fact, most liberal scholarship today would date the gospels to around 80-95 A.D. This isn’t even counting the Pauline Epistles which speak of these events even earlier. If 95+ counts for Caesar, why does it not count for Jesus?

In fact, James Crossley has argued for an early date of Mark, perhaps going into the 40’s. Once again, I’d like to remind readers that Crossley is not a friend of evangelical Christianity. He is an atheist. See an interview here.

Another claim is that the gospels are anonymous. We are not told what this has to do with the price of tea in China. I suppose if every skeptic was immediately convinced of traditional authorship, then they would suddenly accept them as valid historical accounts.

Yet as Paul Maier told me on the show, this is really a weak argument. A large number of works from the ancient world are anonymous and we know about who wrote them from outside sources. Besides, even if there was a name on them, why think that would be accepted? The Pastorals have the name of Paul on them, but most critics do not accept Pauline authorship of those works. To establish authorship of a document requires more than having the name on the document. This will require a methodology of determining authorship. Unfortunately, most skeptics today have no such methodology and just want to shout out “anonymous!” as if that alone is an argument. For those interested, I plan on writing in the near future why I consider the gospels to be by their traditional authors. Those interested in more right now can look at my interviews with Dr. Tim McGrew and with Andrew Pitts.

Let’s also not forget something else. Much of the writing of the ancient world has sadly not survived. Some of it was destroyed intentionally unfortunately, but some of it is just lost due to the ravages of time, and this includes Christian writings. Much of what we could find about Jesus would be in the area of Jerusalem and yet we are told by Josephus that after its destruction one would never know a city had been there.

It is for all of these reasons that arguments from silence is weak. The principle to follow is that where we would expect silence anyway, the argument from silence is weak. The rest of the world would not have been interested in a failed Messiah who was crucified and never ran for office or led an army. Miracles would only be scoffed at.

What is required? Doing real history which will require real work, including reading as much as one can on an argument. Too many atheists for too long have been using simple arguments without doing the heavy lifting of real historical work. They may think they are damaging the Christian cause, but in reality, they are only hurting their own cause.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Thoughts on Joseph Atwill

October 14, 2013

Did the Romans invent the Christians? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

There has been much talk lately about Joseph Atwill and his claim that Jesus was invented by the Romans. It’s still bizarre to think the Romans would create a religion that they would go out and persecute. Still, many are claiming that Atwill is a biblical scholar as even the press release about the announcement said.

Reality? He’s not.

Is that the opinion of someone like me, a Christian who believes strongly in the reliability of the NT? No. That’s even the opinion of a Christ myther himself like Richard Carrier. Unfortunately as Carrier points out, news of this has not reached Richard Dawkins. Carrier also adds that Robert Price and Acharya S. disagree with this idea. As Carrier says about these people like Atwill:

They make mythicism look ridiculous. So I have to waste time (oh by the gods, so much time) explaining how I am not arguing anything like their theories or using anything like their terrible methods, and unlike them I actually know what I am talking about, and have an actual Ph.D. in a relevant subject from a real university.

If those three, some of the biggest names in Christ-mythicism, say that your theory is bunk, it’s quite likely that it is.

Now it’s rare to find scholarly talk about an idea such as this. Why? Because by and large scholarship ignores crank theories like this. In fact, most people if they really thought they had something would want to take their idea to the scholars first. Larry Hurtado has said that

I haven’t heard of the guy before either (Joseph Atwill), largely because, well, he’s a nobody in the field of biblical studies. No PhD in the subject (or related subject), never held an academic post, never (so far as I can tell) published anything in any reputable journal that’s peer-reviewed, or in any reputable monograph series, or presented at any academic conference where competent people could assess his claims. Instead, per the flimflam drill, he directs his claims to the general public, knowing that they are unable to assess them, and so, by sheer novelty of the claim he hopes to attract a crowd, sales, and publicity. It’s a living, I guess (of sorts).

In saying why he doesn’t bother with it that much, Hurtado says that

It’s not necesssary to engage something so self-evidently unfounded and incompetent. If his press releases at all reflect his stance, it’s not worth the time. We scholars have enough to do engaging work that is by people with some competence. There isn’t time or value in dealing with nonsense. And Atwill and his ilk don’t really want scholarly engagement anyway. Again, let it go.

And when told Atwill would want scholarly engagement Hurtado says

No. He wouldn’t. Otherwise, he wouldn’t avoid the normal scholarly venues to test theories. These people know that they would be shredded by competent scholars.

And yet, it’s making a buzz. Fortunately, even some atheists like P.Z. Myers are condemning it. Myers does not hold back.

I think a few too many atheists are seeing “Scholar Says Jesus Was Fake” and are not thinking any more deeply than that. The whole idea is ridiculous.

If you’re one of the many atheists who gleefully forwarded this to me or credulously mentioned it on twitter…hello, there. I see you’ve already met the good friend of so many half-baked wackos in the world, Confirmation Bias.

That many atheists did in fact spread this immediately and treated it seriously shows that there is indeed a great deal of ignorance in the atheistic community. “Well what about your Christian community?!” I’ve been saying for years the church has failed to educate its members and their fear at something like this is a prime example of it. Our tendency to want to protect ourselves more than anything else keeps us from really isolating with these issues going on in the real world. As I told one skeptic recently, I condemn ignorance on all sides.

Here are some of my problems with the whole theory.

First off, it will HAVE to deal with all the counter-evidence. Can he deal with Tacitus? Can he deal with Josephus? (I know his theory claims to rely on Josephus, but will scholars of Josephus support it?) Can he deal with Mara Bar-Serapion? How about a question of the reliability of the NT? Can he deal with claims for that?

Second, what about the Pauline epistles. The earliest epistles come before Josephus wrote. These epistles also include a creed such as in 1 Cor. 15 that comes to within a few years at most of the resurrection event. Can Atwill’s theory deal with this?

Third, can he demonstrate that the gospels in the genre of Greco-Roman biographies would be able to be read in this way? This theory has been tried over and over by so many people and it has never ended well. Why give Atwill any credit?

Fourth, does he have any evidence from the Roman perspective? Does he have some ancient mention of Jesus that we have never found even though scholars have been looking through works of ancient society? What would this say for Christ mythers who say that there is no mention of Jesus? Why mention Jesus if Jesus was not being talked about?

Fifth, can his theory account for the dating of the NT? Would this not presuppose that the gospels were written after the writings of Josephus? Has he made a case for that? If Josephus based his account on the gospels, which he didn’t, then Atwill’s theory is in trouble. Atwill will require a late date. It would also require the writings of Josephus to also be in Jerusalem at the time already and being read, which will be problematic enough even if just Mark dates to before 70 A.D.

Now by all means, let Atwill present his evidence, but keep in mind he’s trying to bypass the scholarly community and go straight to the sensationalist route. That might be a more popular approach, but it’s not the proper approach to academic work of this nature. The reason one seeks to bypass the scholarly community is most likely because one cannot survive scrutiny under that community.

Check the sources always on claims like this. That so many atheists have passed this on shows that there is just as much blind faith and lack of biblical scholarship in the atheistic community as in the Christian community they rail against. That so many Christians get scared of something like this is an important demonstration of why the church needs a good education in basic apologetics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Jesus Is Not Worth Talking About

September 24, 2013

Why should no one care to talk about Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Today, Jesus is a really popular guy. Everyone who is informed today in the world knows something about Jesus. Everyone has to come up with a response to him. Islam that came up after Christianity had to explain Jesus. Religions like Buddhism and Hinduism that existed prior to Christianity try to give a place to Jesus. Cult groups that rise up have to say something about Jesus.

In pop culture, he’s everywhere. Sure. We could talk about a movie like “The Passion of the Christ” but how many movies do we see where a hero dies and we see his arms outstretched and think “He’s supposed to mirror Christ.” How many times do we see the concept of one person sacrificing themselves for another and realize that we’re supposed to see Christ?

Discussion today still rages around this person. Philosophers and ethicists look at his life and discuss whether miracles are possible and what the great teaching of Jesus was. Ethically, most would say Jesus was ahead of his time. Even those who are not Christians like Jesus. Richard Dawkins even has support for the idea of “Atheists for Jesus.” Even those who don’t think Jesus was a historical figure often can point to several good teachings we’d like to see followed in the gospels.

When we see such a figure like Jesus, we have this idea that surely everyone must have been excited when he showed up on the scene! Surely everyone must have been paying attention to someone who claimed to be the Son of God and was working miracles!

But no. For the ancient world, Jesus was not worth talking about.

And that’s for very good reason.

Suppose today that somehow, Mormonism took over America. Then using America as its main tool of evangelism, the Mormon Church became the dominant world religion after that with everyone all over the world knowing about Joseph Smith.

Now suppose one historian says “I want to know all about the origins of Joseph Smith!” So off he goes to do some research and studies the accounts and says “Well, I see we have a notice of birth here, but that was for everyone. Nothing special about Joseph Smith.”

The historian looks and notices that few people outside the church really were interested in the life of Smith. If they wrote about him, they would write to condemn him if anything. Even nearly 200 years later, the ones who would write about him most were generally those following his tradition or those who were his critics wanting to stop his tradition.

Our historian could be puzzled. This man is known all over the world today after all. Why would no one make a big deal about his life?

The mistake many people make is the same with Jesus. They look at how He is today and assume that it must have been the same for those people back then. The truth is, it wasn’t. Jesus just really wasn’t worth talking about. In fact, what I tell people is that it doesn’t surprise me how few sources outside the NT mention Jesus. What surprises me is that any of them bother to do so.

Many skeptics make a big deal out of what is called the argument from silence. The principle one must keep in mind with silence is that where we would expect silence anyway, the argument from silence is weak.

There are some claims that we would not expect to see mentioned because they’re mundane. The fact that the president had breakfast this morning would not be worth mentioning in a future biography. Most people do that already. The fact that he is in a tight political situation with Syria would be worth mentioning.

Let’s suppose however that someone shows up centuries from now who is unaware of who the president is and they pick up a biography. They read it and find no mention of Michelle Obama anywhere in it. They could be justified in thinking that Obama wasn’t married. Why? Because an important aspect of any president we’ve had is who their first lady was. Note they could have justification, but they’d still be wrong.

When someone writes something claiming it is historical, they write it for two reasons. The first one is that they think that it is true and they want you to believe it. The second is they think that it is false and they still want you to believe it. One could write about a belief they wish to criticize, but they want you to know they think their criticism is true.

Also, we have to keep in mind that in the ancient world, much has been lost. We could say some of it has been destroyed by some groups, including the Christians, but we can also say much has been lost due to the ravages of time. For instance, we would love to have Thallus’s record of the darkness at the crucifixion. We don’t. Most likely because it has been lost over time. Furthermore, keep in mind how much would have been lost in Jerusalem where the most would have been said about Jesus! After its destruction, Josephus even said it looked like there had never been a city there.

Suppose there was an event that took place and 100% of the people noticed this event. Then suppose that 100% of the people recorded it. Already, this is extremely unlikely. 100% of the people who could write wouldn’t even mention the rule of Caesar due to writing about their own interests. Still, stay with the argument. Now suppose 15% of those writings have survived. What are the odds we will have a statement about that event happening today?

Answer: 15%.

This gets even more complicated when we realize that we live in a post-Gutenberg society. Today if something happens, it hits the written word before too long. Blogs can be written near instantly. Newspapers will have it all the next day. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites will have the news everywhere. It will show up on the major news networks as well and even with pictures in many of these places. Why? Because we have the means to do that today and it works well. If we see someone in our society who is incapable of reading, we find that person to be an anomaly. How can you make it without reading? Gutenberg made it so that books are more accessible to people and therefore made reading more of a necessity.

Now go back to the time of Jesus.

Let’s suppose in Judea about 10% of the population could read. Also, keep in mind that even if you could read, being able to write was a totally different skill. Furthermore, paper would not come about cheap. It was a costly process to make and ink was just as costly. Then, you also had to pay someone who could send your message to its recipients. In fact, the cost of writing one of Paul’s epistles if put by today’s standards could be around $2,500.

You can go this route if you want to, or you can go the route of oral tradition whereby you could have items memorized and in a society where memorization was prized. After all, if you could not make a note to yourself and read it later, you will make it by improving your memory over time. Furthermore, Jesus’s parables were often memorable and easy to learn. We can have a parallel today by seeing how easy it is to learn a song after hearing it a couple of times or to tell a joke after just one hearing.

In the oral tradition, the story would be told to a community and that community would pass it on and check itself regularly to make sure the facts were still the same. Minor details could change, but the gist of the story had to remain the same and checks and balances were in place to make sure it happened. In reality, this tradition was more valued than the written tradition because it had more checks and balances to it.

So you can write your message down which would cost thousands of dollars and be heard by few, or you could have the story spread orally.

It was no contest.

Hence, when we are told “Why didn’t anyone write this down for decades?” the response is “Why should they?” It was only when the apostles began to die off that they wanted to get their teaching down for the future generations as apostolic authority was very important. Until then, there wasn’t much need.

“Well why would no one else really want to mention the Son of God doing miracles?”

Question. How many of you have investigated Lourdes? How about perhaps Benny Hinn? How about any miracle claims? Now Lourdes I think has some credibility to it. I don’t attach any to Benny Hinn. Yet few of us have really bothered to really investigate miracle claims from any of these sources because they’re written off right at the start. If you have a worldview that says “Miracles can’t happen” then are you really wanting to take the time to investigate Lourdes or just write it off? In fact, those of us who have a worldview that says that miracles can happen rarely investigate Lourdes. We can be just as skeptical!

To the ancient world, someone doing miracles was viewed with great suspicion like a televangelist today and people sought to explain away miraculous claims. Just look at the way Lucian liked to expose a false prophet in his own time.

Do we really think someone sitting in Rome who is concerned about political and economic situations in the Roman Empire is going to want to go and investigate claims of someone like Jesus doing miracles in Judea based on what for him is just hearsay? No. He’s going to dismiss them just as much as you or I would.

Oh yes. Jesus is in Judea. Let’s talk about that. It was an important part of the world as trade routes went through there and it did connect three continents, but it was also a place of strange customs. The people held to what was then seen as a bizarre monotheistic viewpoint and where tolerated only because their belief was old. Judea did not produce great politicians or ethicists or philosophers. The only Jewish philosopher we have of the time, Philo, lived in Alexandria.

Why would anyone take a Jew from this area seriously?

Then of course, there’s the idea that Jesus was crucified. If anything says Jesus is not worth mentioning, it’s that he was crucified. There’s no point in listening after that point. Jesus was guilty of treason to Rome and was seen as guilty of blasphemy to YHWH. On both counts, he would not be mentioned by Jews or Greeks both. Crucified people were not worth talking about, except perhaps only to add further shame to them.

So what do we have of Jesus? He never really traveled in his adult life past Judea. He never held political office. He did not fight any major battles. He was said to perform these questionable practices called miracles. He was from a land that was just bizarre to people. His own hometown in there was a small place not worth talking about. He was crucified.

“But he was the Son of God!”

So He claimed, and yet people looking at that above paragraph that talks about Him would say “If He was the Son of God, you think He’d have avoided crucifixion and have done a bit more.” That claim wasn’t taken any more seriously than you take the claim of the man in the local insane asylum who claims to be the Son of God.

Who talks about Jesus the most? His students, and this is the same for most any great figure in ancient history who’s a teacher. Muslims talk about Muhammad the most. Buddhists talk about Buddha the most. Mormons talk about Joseph Smith the most. Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about Charles Russell the most.

We can look back today and realize Christianity did in fact become the dominant world religion, but no one would have seen that coming at the start. Until around the time of Constantine, it was seen as still something that could be shut down in fact. Even afterwards, Julian the Apostate tried to shut it down and restore paganism, which, of course, he failed at.

Today, we expect people to talk about Jesus. More people can read and write. We have more ways of distributing the written word and its much cheaper. We see the effect today that Jesus did in fact have on history. The Roman Empire was wrong and Jesus was right. Today, we must mention Him.

Back then it was not so, and it should not surprise us.

It is for reasons like this that the argument from silence so often used just doesn’t work. Where we expect to see such silence anyway, the argument is weak, and we can rightly expect that such silence would surround the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: There Was No Jesus. There Is No God.

September 17, 2013

What do I think of this book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Raphael Lataster’s book is said to be a scholarly examination of the evidence for the existence of Jesus and God both, though most of the book does focus on the existence of Jesus. He starts off on the first page saying this:

Like many people, I just want to know if particular religious claims are true. And the truth is not a democracy, and certainly does not care about our feelings.

There will be no disagreement with a claim like this. Of course it doesn’t care about our feelings. If we find something is true, we should accept it as true and not let emotional reasons get in the way of accepting that truth.

One would hope that with a start like that, we would get a good look at the evidence, but while this book is many things, scholarly is not one of them. Aside from those already sold on Jesus Mythicism, it’s hard to imagine any NT scholar in the field being convinced by any argument in here. I found myself highlighting something on practically every page that was a great error.

To start off, let’s be clear that Lataster differentiates between the biblical Jesus and the historical Jesus. Yet is this not a problem at the start? What if it turns out that the biblical Jesus is in fact the historical Jesus?

Throughout the work, Lataster will make claims about how the gospels should not be trusted for having “supernatural” claims in them. Yet do we see an argument anywhere against miracles? No. I just did a quick search on the Kindle to verify what I was already sure of. Hume is not even mentioned one time. Sure. Hume’s argument has been dealt with time and time again, even by people who were his contemporaries, but you’d think there would at least be an attempt at an argument.

Let us keep in mind the rule of William James, not a Christian, made earlier.

a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule.

Suppose for the sake of argument that the historical Jesus did in fact do miracles and rise from the dead. If you come with a rule that says right at the start that miracles can never happen, then it follows that by your methodology you could never know the historical Jesus. Why not let the evidence decide if miracles can happen instead of beforehand saying “Miracles are highly improbable, therefore miracles cannot happen.”

As we move to the acknowledgments, we find part of the problem. There is appreciation given to Hector Avalos, Robert Price, and Richard Carrier. It is odd that in the book Lataster will talk about how often historicists will just cite each other and then be giving each other pats on the back.

Yet throughout the work, one will find Avalos, Price, Carrier, etc. quoted profusely. Want to see what Ben Witherington says? You won’t. Want to see a counter-argument from Gary Habermas and Mike Licona? You’ll be disappointed. Want to see the refutation of Richard Bauckham’s case that the gospels are eyewitness accounts? Bauckham’s name is not mentioned once. Want to note a reply to a scholar like N.T. Wright? The Bibliography fails to mention him. All we have is the sound of one-hand clapping.

A true scholarly work will interact with the best arguments on the other side.

On page 9, Lataster tells us that most biblical scholars are Christians. Considering that later on he considers himself and Bob Price Christians, despite being atheists, one wonders what kind of idea he’s talking about. In the sense of orthodox Christians, most are not Christians. Perhaps Lataster should go to an SBL meeting and see how many non-Christians he meets. On the same page, he also refers to secular scholarship as ‘real’ scholarship.

It’s nice to have that well-poisoning made so explicit isn’t it? One can’t help but wonder if Lataster has ever read any scholarship outside his circle. There are several Christian scholars who don’t hold to Inerrancy, for instance, but hold to essentials of the Christian faith.

He also then refers to John Dominic Crossan as a top scholar. Who gave this kind of judgment? We would love to know. This kind of terminology shows up regularly throughout the work. It’s just as wrong when evangelicals do it. Note that Lataster says he is a former fundamentalist Christian. Unfortunately, now he’s a fundamentalist atheist who just as uncritically accepts what non-Christian writers say as much as he did what Christian writers (If he read any) said in the past.

Also included as top scholars are Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, and Richard Carrier.

Of course these have done the hard work to reach their level, but who would refer to Price as a top scholar for instance? One would think a top scholar would be teaching at an accredited institution. Richard Carrier is popular in the world of internet atheists, but not so much beyond that. Beyond that, it’d be interesting to see if anyone knew his name.

On page 12, Lataster says that relying on scholarly opinions rather than the evidence is the fallacy of the appeal to authority. It’s a wonder that he says Carrier specializes in philosophy and yet Carrier apparently never showed Lataster what the appeal to authority is. If it is what he says it is, then Lataster is guilty for constantly appealing to Carrier, Price, and yes, *groan* Earl Doherty and Randel Helms.

The appeal to authority is fallacious when the person is not an authority in the related field. While Richard Dawkins is an authority on biology, he is not one on philosophy and history. While Mike Licona is an authority on history, he is not one on biology.

Note also that someone like Gary Habermas says in his talk on the minimal facts approach (Something Lataster never interacts with) that his argument is not “Scholars say, therefore it’s true.” It’s the point that if non-Christian scholars are willing to grant these claims about Jesus that they get no gain from, then there must be good reasons for accepting them.

On page 13, Lataster quotes Carrier to show that Craig Blomberg argues that one should approach a text with complete trust unless you have reason to doubt what they say. The citation for this is in Blomberg’s 1987 edition of the Historical Reliability of the Gospels on pages 240-254. One would think that for such a simple quote, one would only need one page, unless one is having the wool pulled over their eyes.

This news was quite a surprise to Blomberg when I mentioned it to him. Blomberg’s position is that one should give the text the benefit of the doubt unless one has reason to doubt. This is far from saying give the text complete trust.

On page 14, Lataster says we must hold ancient history up to modern standards. Professors of ancient history will be surprised to notice that Lataster then goes on to say “If that means historians can say nothing of the ancient world with certainty, then so be it!”

I really hope professors of ancient history become aware of this. It sounds like quite a move to say in order to have no real knowledge of Jesus, we’re going to throw out our knowledge of ancient history so that we can be certain of nothing in the field. Is that what it takes just to avoid belief in Jesus? I’m not even talking about belief in the Jesus who died and rose from the dead. I’m talking about just the existence of Jesus. Is that a worthwhile price to pay?

On page 15, Lataster says that “Possibly, therefore probably” is fallacious. I find this an amusing claim because Lataster will often make the same mistake himself throughout the book. For instance, why do we not have some works of ancient history, like some of Dio and Tacitus? Because Christians destroyed them since they didn’t talk about Jesus. Evidence of this? None whatsoever. But hey, it’s possible, therefore that’s probably what happened.

Of course, there’s also Bayes Theorem. I have strong reason to suspect that Lataster does not understand Bayes Theorem. I suspect instead that he’s simply going off of Carrier who I also suspect does not understand it, based on the interaction that Timothy McGrew of Western Michigan University has had. When I once asked McGrew for his credentials, I got the following:

I’ve been teaching epistemology and probability at the graduate level for nearly two decades. I’ve published work on applications of probability theory in major journals likeMind, The Monist, Analysis, Erkenntnis, and British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. I’ve given popular lectures on aspects of the subject for the Math department here, and Lydia and I presented work on the subject at the Formal Epistemology Workshop at Berkeley a few years back, and I’ve also given talks in this area at conferences at Notre Dame and in locations from Los Angeles to Leuven. I’ve published a paper (co-written with Lydia) on “The Credibility of Witnesses and Testimony to the Miraculous” in a book published by Oxford University Press, written (by invitation, but then peer reviewed) the article on “Evidence” for The Routledge Companion to Epistemology, and (also with Lydia, also by invitation, also then peer reviewed) the article on “The Argument from Miracles” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. I was asked to write a new article on “Miracles” for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, one of the requests specifically being to discuss some of the issues arising from a probabilistic analysis of arguments for and against miracles. Two of my forthcoming articles in peer-reviewed journals deal with the application of probability theory to historical and theological arguments.

Hmmm. I wonder who I should trust on Bayes Theorem. McGrew has been teaching for two decades in probability. He’s been peer-reviewed numerous times. How about Carrier? What credentials could he show to demonstrate his expertise in the area?

Lataster regularly notes that the gospels are anonymous. This mistakenly assumes that because a name was not included on the document, that this means we cannot know who wrote it. There is no interaction with cases made that defend the traditional authorship of the gospels.

In fact, there is no methodology given for how one determines authorship. How does one know that Plutarch wrote Plutarch’s biographies? We could also ask about Tacitus. Well Tacitus’s writings have his name on them! Okay. The Pastoral Epistles have the names of Paul on them but that doesn’t mean scholars just stop and say “Well that settles it! Paul wrote them!” Are we to believe that if the gospels had the traditional names on them then that means Lataster would just roll over and accept them as being by those people? Not at all. The anonymous bit is just a smokescreen to say that because no name is explicitly on them, we cannot know who wrote them.

We eagerly await to see Lataster’s methodology for determining authorship of ancient documents. We also suspect that he does not have any.

On page 19, Lataster quotes Carrier saying “All we have are uncritical pre-Christian devotional or hagiographic texts filled with dubious claims written decades after the fact by authors who never tell us their methods or sources. Multiple Attestation can never gain traction on such a horrid body of evidence.”

To begin with, what scholars out there say the gospels are hagiographies? The leading majority now is saying biographies, but hagiographies as a genre did not exist at the time of Jesus. In fact, it is fallacious and unethical to have a later genre show up, like hagiographies, note some characteristics of them, then go to an earlier time when the genre was not around and say because this work also shares those characteristics, it is hagiography as well.

It is interesting to see Carrier say something like this also when he points to the reliability of Caesar crossing the Rubicon. This event occurred in 49 B.C. Who does Carrier appeal to? Let’s look at Carrier’s own words.

Fourth, we have the story of the “Rubicon Crossing” in almost every historian of the period, including the most prominent scholars of the age: Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, Plutarch

Suetonius was born around A.D. 69 and lived on into the second century. Appian was born even later around 95 A.D. and lived about 70 years. Dio was born in the early part of the latter half of the second century and lived on into the third. Plutarch lived from about 45-120 A.D.

Question. How many of these people could have been eyewitnesses to the crossing of the Rubicon? None. How many of them wrote “Decades” after the event.” Answer: All. In fact, all of them wrote at least a century after the event. Carrier’s list does not include one contemporary historian.

By his own standards, we should not believe Caesar crossed the Rubicon.

Or could it be that Carrier presents this as a powerful argument when it is used on the gospels and ignores it for the rest of ancient history. Will Lataster be consistent then and reject this piece of ancient history? Note that while he does give four sources, multiple attestation cannot work. No eyewitnesses and the time span is too great!

Furthermore, yes. These are pro-Christian claims. What of it? If you want to know about any great teacher, their disciples are likely to be the ones to write the most about them. Do we learn about Socrates the most from people who are anti-Socrates?

Lataster can complain about bias, but is it not just as much bias to treat a source differently just because it’s in favor of a position? It would be a wonder to see what would happen if we tried that in our legal system!

Lataster goes on to refer to Stephen Law saying a religion could make embarrassing and untruthful claims and points to scientology as an example.

Really? To begin with, how much money is involved in scientology? Answer: Plenty! Try getting an auditing session! It will cost you a bundle! Second, this is a modern society as opposed to an agonistic society. What did the apostles have to gain for making up a lie? Answer: Persecutions, shaming, being cut off from YHWH, estrangement from family and society, and sometimes death. What did they have to gain? Nothing.

Lataster will repeatedly say the gospels are not by eyewitnesses. Unfortunately, he gives no arguments for this claim. Will you see any interaction going on with Richard Bauckham’s massive work of “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.”? Not at all. It’s doubtful Lataster even knows it exists. Will you see any interaction with any scholarship making a case that the gospels are eyewitnesses. No. All you get is the sound of one hand clapping.

Lataster also says a fictitious work could have the details one sees in the gospels, much like Harry Potter has many details about London. Indeed! And what genre is Harry Potter? We will get into this more later, but the gospels are more and more being seen as the genre of Greco-Roman biography and should be read in that light.

Also, Lataster often makes comments about biblical Inerrancy, every word of the Bible being true and divinely inspired, and literal interpretations. This is just a hang-up from Lataster’s fundamentalist days that he still uses to understand the Bible. Lataster is unaware that for most of us, if we were shown an error in the Bible, we’d have to change our view of Scripture some, but we would not pack up everything and go home. The Bible is not an all-or-nothing game. Neither is any other ancient document.

Lataster also says to use the gospels is circular reasoning. Not at all. It would be circular reasoning to say all the gospels say is true, therefore Jesus existed. The gospels are a source like other sources. Lataster has this rule that biblical claims can only be validated if they are backed by non-biblical sources. Do we see the same done with Josephus? Tacitus? Plutarch? Nope. Not at all.

On page 27, Lataster brings up genre again saying

There is still not complete agreement over what genre the Gospels belong to, an issue that is explored later on.

Complete agreement? No. Yet if Lataster is saying we should only accept claims where there is complete agreement, he’ll be waiting. Would it be fine with him if I pointed to YECs and said “Therefore, since there is not complete agreement, the issue of the age of the Earth is still to be debated in science.” Would he do the same if I pointed to those who are skeptical of evolution? Now I have no dog in that fight. I really don’t care about evolution. Yet I suspect that Lataster would be sure the Earth is old and evolution is a fact despite lack of complete agreement. He could just say “Well the secularists all agree.” Oh good. Then this gets us to his quote of Richard Carrier in this page. Carrier assesses the way scholars use sources and says in his description that they are

producing standard answers constantly repeated as “the consensus” when really it’s just everyone citing each other like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

I suspect a number of Christian scientists might say the same thing about secularists. In reality, scholars point to others to show they are not just tooting their own horn. It’s amusing also to see a claim like this in a book that relies heavily on quoting mythicists profusely. Physician! Heal thyself!

Note also Lataster’s disdain for believing Bible scholars who he says are “often seen as lay people with a few letters after their name by ‘real scholars.’ ”

We eagerly await to see who the people are who think N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, and Ben Witherington are just lay people. Does anyone say the same about Craig Keener and Craig Evans? It’s no wonder that Lataster says scholars agree with him when he discounts at the start any scholars who disagree with him.

Lataster points out that Meier says that multiple attestation properly used would back miracle claims. At this point, I do think there is much inconsistency in much scholarship today, but Lataster says I would object if the claims were made by rival religions.

Why? I have no problem. If you can give me good evidence that someone from another religion did a miracle, well I’ll accept it! I have no rule that says “All miracles that are true must be miracles in the Christian religion.” If Lataster thinks there is a better case out there, let him bring it.

Lataster goes on to say that Ehrman in a debate with Michael Licona (Someone Lataster never interacts with in this book) that

Historians must try and determine the most probable explanations, while miracles by definition are the most improbable explanations. They are considered to be miracles because they overturn scientific laws.

Tim McGrew disagrees giving this definition.

A miracle (from the Latin mirari, to wonder), at a first and very rough approximation, is an event that is not explicable by natural causes alone.

Nothing said about probability whatsoever. If someone wants to object that I used a Christian like McGrew, then please realize that that definition can be found by anyone who checks the article on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy web site. If they have a problem, please let them contact the web site and express their discontent.

Lataster does not give an argument against miracles beyond overturning scientific laws. One has to wonder how stupid he thinks ancient people were. Ancient people knew what it took to make a baby. That’s why a virgin birth was a miracle. Ancient people knew that people don’t naturally walk on water. They knew bread does not naturally multiply instantly. They knew water does not naturally instantly turn into wine. They also knew that dead people stay dead, and these people quite likely saw dead people far more often than we do.

Is it really rational to say that because we are so much more advanced scientifically that we know better? They knew better too! That’s why they recognized these as miracles! No one said “Oh look. Jesus is walking on water. Well I guess that happens.”

Lataster goes on to cite Ehrman who says the best evidence would be accounts that are numerous, independent, contemporary, coherent, and fairly disinterested accounts.

To begin with, the gospels are independent. If one wants to say they used each other, okay. No problem. They also each used their own sources of information, hence the major differences between them. It’s amazing that the same skeptics who complain about the gospels copying each other complain about them contradicting each other. One would think if such copying was going on they’d get the story straighter.

Furthermore, you could discount any historical claim this way. Perhaps the story of Caesar crossing the Rubicon was all just copied from an original source. Any differences later on? They’re just fabrications. It’s all just one story being repeated by others.

As for disinterest, that sounds good to us, but not to an ancient. You needed to have someone who was interested in what they wrote about. In fact, today we all write about what we’re interested about. I, for instance, won’t write about what plays were made in a football game because I frankly don’t care about football. I will write about a controversy involving Tim Tebow and religion possibly because I do care about religion.

Lataster banks much on the argument from silence saying on page 37 that “There are no extra-Biblical references to Jesus that are contemporary and by eyewitnesses.”

What of it?

Seriously. What of it?

What Lataster needs to convince me of is why anyone writing at the time would really care to mention Jesus.

“Well Jesus was the Son of God going around Judea doing miracles!”

Has Lataster ever been to Lourdes to verify any miracle claims there? Doubtful, though those are miracle claims that are regularly taking place. Does he investigate the claims of Benny Hinn or numerous claims that show up on TBN or on Pat Robertson’s show?

If not, why does he think that historians in Rome would do the same with Jesus. Let’s consider some information about Jesus.

Jesus was not a political figure. He never held office at all. He did not travel internationally. He was living in a world that had beliefs that were considered deviant but were tolerated. To make matters worse, he was crucified, which meant that he died a traitor to Rome (And for a Jew, a blasphemer to YHWH). Why on Earth would someone want to write about this? They would have seen him as a crackpot who got what he deserved.

It will not work to say that today we know he was the basis for the largest religion of all. That was not known then. It does not amaze me that so few people outside the Bible mention Jesus. It amazes me that anyone does! What Lataster needs to learn is that where we would expect silence anyway, the argument from silence is weak.

Furthermore, much of ancient history has been lost over time. For something to have survived to this day, there must be three things happen.

First, it must be noticed.

Second, it must be recorded.

Third, that recording must last.

Let’s suppose that 100% of people notice an event in the past. Then 100% of authorities in the area say something about it. Then, 15% of those survive. What are the odds we will have a record of this event? If you said “15%” move to the head of the class.

And this is with everyone noticing and writing about it, improbable in itself! (Keep in mind only one contemporary mentions the eruption of Vesuvius and he doesn’t mention the towns being destroyed!

Also, keep in mind that in the ancient world, if you wanted to get word out about something, writing was not the best way to do it. Writing was in fact seen as less reliable than the oral tradition. Where most people could not read, the way to reach them was not to point to a book. It was to talk to them yourself. In our post-Gutenberg society, we think we should write everything down immediately. Writing was expensive, timely, difficult, and it was just a lot easier to use oral tradition. (Of course, there will be no interaction with scholars like Ken Bailey or Richard Bauckham on the reliability of oral tradition.)

Lataster also says that Avalos says that the texts that we have are from the medieval period allowing plenty of time for creative editing.

Of course there is time for editing. There was also time in between my starting this blog and the point that I’m at now to go murder my neighbors next door. Does that mean then that there’s a basis for thinking that I have done so? To say there is time for something to happen is not the same as to say there is reason to think that it did. Avalos would need to present some textual evidence to show that the texts have been tampered with. It will also need to be convincing to scholars of other sources in question, such as Tacitus and Josephus.

Lataster says that the earliest copies we have of the Bible are far removed from the originals. Far less removed however than any other ancient work. This is especially the case if Dan Wallace’s claim about a copy of Mark that’s possibly 1st century is in fact true. We can be sure that Lataster has never read anything on textual criticism beyond just Bart Ehrman.

Lataster also says that Socrates’s record is also not so good, but billions don’t proclaim his divinity. At this point, Lataster is guilty of, oh, what’s the word, oh yes, bias! Jesus is to be treated differently because he makes a different claim.

Remember boys and girls. Bias is wrong when Christians are at the wheel. It’s okay when secularists are.

Lataster tells us that Philo doesn’t mention Jesus. What of it? Why should he? Philo was not interested in mentioning Jesus. What about Seneca. Seneca writes much about crucifixion but does not mention Jesus. Why should he? Jesus died as a traitor to Rome. Why would Seneca care?

Lataster tells us that Seneca and other writers wrote about everything from bizarre ways to die, how they brushed their teeth, and how people went to the bathroom, but they did not mention Jesus and His miracles.

Nor did they mention Vesuvius interrupting save one. So what? Again, we are not given a reason why they should want to mention Jesus. He was a leader of a deviant movement that had strange beliefs that would surely die out quickly. Does Lataster think Jesus should be treated seriously because he claimed to be the Son of God? Will Lataster go to an insane asylum now and start treating people there who make the same claim just as seriously?

On page 43, we are told that the argument from silence single-handedly does considerable damage to claims about Jesus.

No it doesn’t. We expect silence anyway. As we have said, Lataster gives no reason whatsoever to think that people would want to treat the claims of Jesus seriously. In fact, we have every reason to think that they would not.

Lataster then writes about Paul saying Paul got his information through divine revelation. His basis for this is Galatians 1:11-12.

What Lataster does not mention is that Paul is comparing himself to Jeremiah describing his call to be a prophet. It is certain Paul had some knowledge of the gospel! He was persecuting the church after all! He would have to know something of what they believed to be persecuting them. Unfortunately, Lataster goes on to apply the same to 1 Cor. 15:3-4 adding in that the OT was Paul’s other source.

Lataster makes no mention of the fact that scholarship, including the Jesus Seminar, agrees that 1 Cor. 15 is an early Christian creed that highly pre-dates the epistle and the terminology of “What I received I passed on” is the language used of passing on oral tradition, of which Paul, a Pharisee, would know. This is amazing in light of the fact that Lataster says Paul specifically dismisses human sources. The Galatians claim is meant to show the gospel has divine origin. It it not meant to show that it is only transmitted through divine sources.

As for the Old Testament, this is meant to show that what happened was part of the eternal plan of God and was thus a fulfillment of the promises of the OT. It was not saying that Paul just sat down with the OT one day and came up with a new belief system.

Much of this comes from Doherty. It is not a shock that Lataster did not find scholars sharing this idea. They don’t. Consider the Hebrews passage used. Hebrews 8:4 speaks about Jesus and says “If He were on Earth.” The author regularly has spoken about Jesus’s earthly existence beforehand. There was no need to spell it out. What the author is saying is Jesus serves now at the heavenly sanctuary and thus not being on Earth, does not have to repeatedly offer sacrifices as the earthly priests do.

Even more amazing is the Philippians 2:5-11 text where we are told that the name Jesus was given to Jesus later. No. What it is is a message of vindication. Jesus would be the name everyone bows to because of what He did on the cross and in rising again. It is hard to imagine how any serious exegete could come to the bizarre interpretations that Lataster does.

Lataster also holds the Testimonium Flavium to be an interpolation entirely and thinks Eusebius was the culprit, especially since he says Eusebius is a well-known defender of pious fraud citing Eusebius’s claim in the church history that

Hence we shall not mention those who were shaken by the persecution, nor those who in everything pertaining to salvation were shipwrecked, and by their own will were sunk in the depths of the flood. But we shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be usefull first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity.

Where is the fraud? Eusebius admits that some fell away by their own actions. He just says it is of no benefit to talk about them so he’s not going to do it. That’s not pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. Lying about it would be saying “No one ever fell away so there’s no need to mention anything about that.” It is a way of shaming those who fail away and honoring those who stood faithful.

In speaking about Josephus’s other mention of Jesus, Lataster says “The Jesus mentioned need not necessarily be Jesus of Nazareth.” Lataster says there are several Jesus’s mentioned in Josephus and Jesus was a common name. While this is true, it is noteworthy that this Jesus is known as the brother of someone else, not a common methodology to use unless your brother was famous, and no description would indicate that Josephus is pointing to a prior reference, the one Lataster denies. Lataster thinks it’s more likely that it’s Jesus bar Damneus, mentioned later on in this same section. Why should we think that? No reason given.

Lataster also says we should be suspicious of Josephus due also to his references to Hercules. He gives page numbers, but unfortunately, he never looked them up.

One is in Against Apion in 1.18. What does it talk about? It talks about the building of the temple of Hercules. Another is in War of the Jews reference 2.16.4. It speaks about the Pillars of Hercules. The third mention is in the Antiquities in 1.15. How much of this relates to any Hercules is questionable, though it is not implausible to say there was a man named Hercules that had myths built up about him. The fact that two of these claims point to something no one would deny the existence of shows that Lataster did not bother to check the sources. (Indeed, this is not the first time I have seen such a claim. Some atheist site out there is no doubt propagating a myth that the faithful accept blindly.)

In fact, to make matters worse, Lataster tells us that by modern reckoning, Josephus was not that great a historian. It is a wonder this was allowed in what is supposed to be a Master’s thesis. If any school passed this, their credibility is called seriously into question. And why is Josephus questionable? Because he mentions miracles.

No bias here. None whatsoever.

Moving on to Tacitus, Lataster says it’s unlikely that a non-Christian would call Jesus “Christ.”

Why?

Beats me.

Christ became such a common way to speak about Jesus that it would not be a surprise to see that some people thought it was a name. (In fact, today, there are people who think Christ was Jesus’s last name, as if he was the son of Mary and Joseph Christ.) He also says Jesus is not specified.

Yes. Well he’s free to try to find another Jesus who was called Christ who was crucified under Pontius Pilate (Tacitus’s only reference to Pilate by the way) and who had a mischievous superstition (In Tacitus’s eyes) rise up about him that had reached all the way to Rome in Tacitus’s day and whose followers were persecuted by Nero.

Any takers for that Lataster?

Lataster also says many scholars dismiss this passage as Christian hearsay. Who are these scholars? We don’t know. They’re never named. He also says there is question over Tacitus’s reliability since he calls Pilate a procurator instead of a prefect. Interestingly, Lataster himself says Pilate could have been both! (And if that is the case, why say Tacitus was inaccurate?) Who are these scholars who think Tacitus is unreliable? If anything, he’s our most reliable Roman historian!

It’s also in fact entirely possible that Tacitus was using an anachronism since he was using the equivalent term his readers would understand. It would be like speaking about Constantinople in ancient history but using the name Istanbul.

Finally, we have the paranoia of Lataster kicking in as he says that most of book 5 and the beginning of book 6 is missing. Why is this? Because according to Robert Drews, it had to be pious fraud. Christians destroyed the text because it covered the relevant time period and made no mention of Jesus.

History gone amuck. You can make any claim you want to by pointing to theories. It’s amazing that someone who goes after Ehrman for using sources we don’t have will himself point to theories we have no evidence for when there’s any number of reasons a work would be lost over time. Lataster says the same about Cassius Dio not having information on the years 6 B.C. to 2 B.C.. Since there was no birth of Jesus, obviously the Christians destroyed them!

When it comes to Suetonius, we are told on page 65 that Chrestus is a Greek name meaning “The Good.”

I would like to see one source that says this! In fact, to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, I contacted others who are quite scholarly in Greek. One wrote back to say “No. It is a Latin term.” Lataster does not cite a Lexicon for this claim. His only source is Doherty.

On page 72, Lataster says there is no complete agreement over what genre the gospels actually fall into. Ironically, his citation for that is Richard Burridge’s “What Are The Gospels?” Had Lataster actually read that, he would know it is an argument that has changed the tide in convincing scholars that the gospels are indeed Greco-Roman biographies. Instead, he thinks it more likely that they fit the Mythic Hero Archetype. (Not noticing that such a claim has been applied to even Abraham Lincoln)

On page 75, Lataster tells us that NT scholar Jerome Neyrey says that John was structured to be persuasive in portraying Jesus as worthy of praise and the same applies to Matthew and Luke.

Well there’s your smoking gun right there! The gospels were written to be persuasive! We all know true historians never wrote works to be persuasive! Every single person who wrote a biography was writing to persuade the audience about the virtue of the person that they were writing about. It’s not a shock the gospels did the same thing! For Lataster, this calls into question their status as sober and objective historical biographies.

In fact, Lataster even suggests that maybe Luke’s source is also the same as what he thinks Paul’s source is, which is just divine revelation. Never mind Luke tells you his methodology. Luke must obviously be lying! He doesn’t fare much better with Mark saying it’s described as good news in the first verse rather than an accurate and objective historical account.

Lataster says that perhaps we should take all of Mark as allegory using the first parable in the gospel as an example while saying the version found in the Gospel of Thomas could be an older version.

Once again, there is a reason NT scholarship does not take this seriously….

Moving back to Paul, in 1 Cor. 15, Lataster says Paul does not mention any before-death appearances of Jesus. Why should he? His audience was questioning the possibility of resurrection and not questioning the existence of Jesus. Note also that Lataster tries to say a passage like this is from divine revelation because of the language of receiving tying it into the 1 Cor. 11 passage about what Paul says he received from the Lord.

Lataster is ignorant of the fact that a number of rabbis would speak about revelations they received from Sinai that were known to be part of the oral tradition that supposedly went back to Sinai. To say they were from Sinai then was to say they were the source, whether or not that claim was correct. To say Paul received the Lord’s Supper message from the Lord is to say that Jesus is the source, which makes sense since Jesus was the main figure at the Last Supper and spoke the words there. Paul does not say that in 1 Cor. 15 because he received no statement that finds its source in Jesus about the appearance of Jesus. Instead, the source is oral tradition as is practically universally agreed on in scholarship.

Lataster mentions several times where Paul could have cited Jesus but didn’t. The first is dietary laws in 1 Cor. 8. The issue is not dietary laws there but rather eating meat sold in the marketplace that was offered to pagan idols. This was never an issue Jesus dealt with.

What about celibacy in 1 Cor. 7? This was about the relationship between a believing spouse and an unbelieving spouse and what to do when a believer is abandoned by an unbeliever. Jesus did not recommend celibacy in the passage in Matthew 19 but said some were eunuchs for the Kingdom. Note that in the passage in 1 Cor. 7, Paul does in fact cite some of the Jesus tradition.

What about when discussing circumcision? Jesus said nothing on if circumcision would have been required for salvation. What difference would it make to say Jesus was circumcised? What about paying taxes. Paul is making a longer talk about the relation of Christians to government which as a whole Jesus did not address. Did Paul forget what the Romans did to Jesus? No. Paul is making a general statement. In general, it’s best to obey the authorities. What about Jews demanding miracles in 1 Cor. 1:22. What good would it do to say Jesus did miracles? He was crucified so the Jews would reject him. It would do no more good to say Jesus did miracles than it does to tell Lataster that Jesus did miracles.

Lataster also says that Paul believed Jesus was a spiritual being based on 1 Cor. 15. Absent is any looking at the work of Gundry and Licona in this regards. Absent is any mention that in 1 Cor. 2 the spiritual man judges all things, which does not mean the immaterial man. Are we to believe Paul thought Adam was immaterial since he refers to him as a living soul? Lataster along these lines also speculates letters of Paul we no longer have access to taught a cosmic Christ so the Christians disposed of them.

Yes. Orthodox Christians would have kept around the letters of someone who they deemed to be heretical and kept them in the NT. Lataster just has an intense paranoia with always assuming that if something is missing in ancient history, it must be the fault of the Christians! They must have destroyed all the references to Vesuvius interrupting as well!

Lataster also says since Paul referred to the twelve, he forgot about Judas dying.

Those who are into football often tell me about the Big Ten, a group that does not consist of Ten! Obviously every sports fan out there has forgotten this fact! We eagerly await Lataster’s contacting ESPN to get them to change their referencing of the group.

Lataster also questions the Galatians reference to the brother of Jesus citing Origen. Well good for Origen. Why should I think that he’s right? He also cites Hoffman saying that Since Paul is not interested in the historical Jesus, it’s unimaginable he would point to a biological relationship here.

Somehow, it seems quite imaginable to NT scholarship the world over. Incredulity is not an argument.

Lataster also says Clement of Alexandria had hints of Gnosticism saying “The Gnostic alone is holy and Pious.” Had Lataster done five minutes of research, he would have found that Clement is mocking the Gnostics saying they do not truly know. The Christians know and the Christians are the true gnostics then since they have real knowledge of the only real God. It is lazy research like this that calls into question Lataster’s methodology of study.

Of course, no work like this would be complete without the copycat theory going around. Jesus was just a copy of other mythical stories before him!

We are also told Philo spoke of a person named Jesus much like Jesus in a look at Zechariah 6:11-12. Most often, this is referring to “On The Confusion of Tongues.” I eagerly desire to see where this Jesus or Joshua is in this book. Doing a search through the book reveals no mention of Jesus or Joshua. Could someone please give a reference to this?

Thus far, I see no real arguments.

Moving on, we have Bayes Theorem, but I see no reason to think Lataster is competent in Bayes Theorem. As someone like Lydia or Tim McGrew would say, who are both skilled in this area, it goes beyond “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” The prior probability has to always change based on evidence. Indeed, an agnostic like Earman lambastes Hume’s argument against miracles in “Hume’s Abject Failure” using Bayes Theorem saying that Hume’s argument would destroy science as well since it does away with marvels too. I will say nothing more about it at this point leaving it to authorities like the McGrews.

Now we move on to God’s existence. Lataster first wants to deal with a posteriori arguments which he says rely on empirical evidence, that is, science. Unfortuantely, while all that is scientific is empirical, not all that is empirical is scientific. Empirical simply means relying on sense experience. I do not need to use science to know that the world exists outside my mind, and indeed I cannot. In fact, if one goes to dictionary.com, this is what is found under empirical.

em·pir·i·cal [em-pir-i-kuhl]
adjective
1.
derived from or guided by experience or experiment.
2.
depending upon experience or observation alone, without using scientific method or theory, especially as in medicine.
3.
provable or verifiable by experience or experiment.

Lataster is just giving us a scientism. It is a wonder that science is said to admit its mistakes and correct itself while at the same time being the best methodology for truth. If it gets the truth so well, why does it have so many mistakes to admit?

Lataster says God denies moderns evidence of his existence since we are less superstitious and gullible. Absent is any interaction with Craig Keener’s “Miracles.” Has Lataster even bothered to research one miracle claim in that one? You know the answer to that one already. The problem is not lack of evidence but being unwilling to look at the evidence one has. Lataster’s claim throughout is that we need to see God come down Himself and speak to us in a dramatic way. (You know, the way he already did which Lataster would require have to have happen again and again regularly since no one should believe unless they personally experienced it.) Lataster has this idea that if God is real, God is supposed to serve him and make himself known or else Lataster has no obligation to believe. Perhaps it could just be that that is not the kind of belief that God wants.

Lataster also says historical arguments fail because history cannot prove miraculous claims. Evidence of this? None. Argument for it? None. It is just an assertion. Perhaps since Lataster at one point quotes Christopher Hitchens, I should do the same. “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

Note also that in speaking of arguments like the Cosmological argument, Lataster says that while many would call them a posteriori arguments since they rely on some sort of scientific evidence or concepts, he calls them a priori anyway. Why? None of the evidence is direct and exclusive.

And if you call the tail a leg, a dog has five legs then….

Philosophers around the world will also be amused to hear Lataster refer to their work as lazy. He says they only come about by thinking (Page 150) and not scientific evidence. No need to do actual work. In his words

These arguments are lazy, ambiguous, speculative, discriminatory, and often appeal to our ignorance (our not knowing something). Such arguments only make inferences. They prove nothing.

It would be amusing to see Lataster get pounded into the ground by someone like Edward Feser….

The main theistic arguments Lataster deals with are Craig’s, and even these dealings with them are ramshackle. Hardly a page if that much is dedicated to an argument. For instance, in looking at the moral argument, Lataster claims it’s circular. Most notably because Craig says it’s obvious that objective moral values exist. Some have disputed this of course, but Lataster does not. If so, what source does he give for morality? Answer. None.

It was hard to imagine doing even worse than Lataster did for Jesus, but somehow he did it for God.

Christians should hope, however, that books like those of Latester will keep coming out and become the bread and butter of the atheistic community. Such works will only further lower their intellectual standards. In the meantime, we’d best be building up ours all the more. Lataster’s work will help those who are already convinced, but only further cement them in their ignorance.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Debate Synopsis

September 10, 2013

How do I think last night went? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I had my debate last night with Matthew Ferguson. For those who want to listen to it, a link can be found here. It was certainly an interesting debate and a fast one.

I do think the numerous people who listened in and the many who have given good compliments and good ideas on how I can improve on a performance they already thought was well done. Such is an important aspect of doing any endeavor like this. There will be much time to study and review and look back.

I also will be writing when I get done with the current series that I am on more on the debate as there were several aspects that due to time restraints, I did not get to cover. As is the case with any debate, there are also aspects that need to be explained in a fuller sense and what better forum to do so than on my own personal blog?

In fact, it is one reason that I have not been doing much writing here on the front of the historical Jesus. I have not wanted to share any cards that I had, a number of which I can add the opportunity to use did not come up last night.

Overall, I am pleased with how I did. I really last night cannot think of any persuasive argument that I saw on the other side. As I am expecting, there will be people who will be supporting what I said and people who will be supporting what my opponent said. It is my hope that this will in fact inspire people on both sides to do further research into the subject matter.

My approach is also a unique one and I plan to hammer it out further in my future in working on my Master’s at North West and then eventually a PH.D.. My argument has a minimal facts approach, but I much more prefer as well to look at the idea of Jesus from a social science perspective in the climate of an honor-shame society. (As we’ll see later, this is why a comparison to Mormonism really misses the mark.)

Many people spoke to me afterwards about how this by and large depended on Carrier’s arguments. Yes. That will be looked at as well as we move further along. My thanks does still extend to everyone who was a part of the endeavor as well. I also realize this could be the first debate of many. It might be that there will be a round two perhaps three or four years or so down the line. If we both continue on our studies, I do not doubt that our paths will cross again.

So when I get done with my series on sexual ethics, readers can expect that I will be coming back to this and devoting more time to subjects I’ve been wanting to write about for the past couple of months anyway. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters