Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Whip it, whip it good

One of the cruelest legacies of the Abrahamic religions, was the normalisation of slavery.  Slavery in the Western Christian world persisted largely until the 1800s. Islamic countries did not ban slavery for the most part until the 1900s.  Even then it survived in extremist groups as with Islamic militias in Sudan or ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

This slavery presents a major problem for theists.  It is in direct conflict with a range of claims. These include the moral character of their prophets.  Abraham owned slaves. Mohammad owned slaves. The benevolence of God of Abraham and the origin of morality with this deity, does not survive the reality of slavery.

Christians throughout history have used two main arguments to defend slavery.  These are that their version was more humane, and that slavery was in some sense, a necessary evil.

The Nice Version of Slavery Argument.

This is often seen in pop-apologist defenses of ancient Judeao-Christian slavery.  Apparently all slavery in the ancients kingdoms of Israel was voluntary debt-bondage, of limited scope (rolls eyes).  There's nothing wrong with slavery therefore, if it is practiced by ancient Israelites or Christians.

This is a completely made-up argument. The OT rules on slave ownership make it clear manumission-guarantees were limited to Jewish males. Foreign slaves did not get the right to be freed after 6 years. The OT also describes slaves taken in warfare. Exodus 21:20-21 contradicts alleged humane nature of this ancient slavery by sanctioning the beating of slaves, and more explicitly, defining them as property rather than human beings.

Despite many Christians today wanting to distance themselves from pro-slavery arguments, this 'nice slavery' defense is echoed in later centuries. The motif of the kind slaver-owner, solicitous of their slaves' welfare, was commonly employed to defend slavery.
"We ought to consider whether the negroes in a well regulated plantation, under the protection of a kind master, do not enjoy as great, nay, even greater advantages than when under their own despotic governments" - Michael Renwick Sergeant
This tries to justify slavery as welfare-enhancing. While slavery isn't a good thing per se, the slaves are better off than in their own countries.  Or even better, by being exposed to Christianity they would become Christian and so, save their souls. Slavery was a small, temporal price to pay for an eternity in heaven. And with such justifications, moral slippage occurs.
The blunting effects of slavery upon the slaveholder's moral perceptions are known and conceded the world over; and a privileged class, an aristocracy, is but a band of slaveholders under another name.
- Mark Twain A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

The Necessary Evil Argument

This argument is duplicated by slavery apologists, both modern and historical.  Arguments from the 18th (and 19th Centuries in antebellum US) were that slavery had benefits. It civilised or Christianised the barbaric and pagan peoples of Africa.  

The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. - Robert E Lee. 
Modern apologists do not balk at similar arguments. Slavery was necessary for ancient societies and economies. 
Noting that Jesus did not instruct followers to abolish slavery ignores the fact that slavery was often voluntary and civil and a component of societal functioning in Biblical times - Pop-Apologist Stephanie Thomson
I note that there are other forms of 'unfree' labour that ancient economies could use instead. Ancient Egypt and China used a corvee system of mass labour conscription in agricultural slack-months, to undertake public works.  And while slavery did exist in Ancient China, there were attempts to abolish it. The Han emperor Wang Mang did so in 9 CE- during the lifetime of Jesus. Serfdom in various forms was also possible. Slavery was not necessary.

But wait, Christians ended slavery

It seems always odd the Christians also want plaudits for ending slavery in the West.  While I appreciate the efforts of all who were involved in abolition movements, the reality is they were also strongly opposed by Christians. Some were still defending slavery when the Federal Army's guns reached Richmond.  Most people for much of Christendom's history, were not like Wilberforce.  

One thing that also struck me is how much the abolition arguments emphasised the cruelty and brutality of slavery, rather than Christian arguments for ending it. It seems odd that if the argument against slavery really was theological, that this was employed so rarely. 

The problem is also that Christians had to end slavery because no-one else could. They had the political power in the West. It wasn't the Atheists or Buddhists in Western countries that could abolish slavery. They had no power to do so.  And when slavery has been legal for say, 90% of your religion's history, it's not earning the religion much credit to finally abolish it. That's taken far too long and the agonising suffering slavery produced reached too great a scale. 


It seems ironic that modern apologists use arguments that mimic those from people they claim to oppose.  The Trans-Atlantic slave trade was terrible. Antebellum slavery was not wonderful. Both were defended by Christians for centuries. 

Overall, I find the arguments defending historical slavery inadequate and unconvincing.  They lack a proper moral justification.  It seems instead they require a degree of moral slippage that people outside these faiths, would balk at. In ancient times, few had the courage and moral character to seek the abolishment of slavery. Moses, Jesus and Mohammad were not among them.  I cannot reconcile slavery with the alleged morality of the Abrahamic prophets and deity. 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Atheism and the meaning of life

I had a recent conversation on Twitter with a Christian on whether my life has meaning.  Many such theists seem to believe that life can have no meaning for atheists.  The fact that we can be out there, enjoying life and the experiences it offers, seems impossible for some to grasp.

Problem 1: The Permanence Assertion

The first problem is that argument is built on an assertion. The assertion is that an experience has to be permanent for it to have meaning.  The assertion is never proven, it is obstinately accepted by fiat by the theist.  Yet, I know that holding my daughter the moment she was born, was an extremely meaningful experience. It still provokes a powerful reaction in me. That eventually I'll be dead, does not alter the fact that I felt something real, that it did have meaning for me. It doesn't have to be a permanent experience to have meaning.

If I don't have the belief that permanence is a prerequisite for meaning, it's not enough to keep repeating that assertion. You need to produce a strong argument, not insults, to establish it.  I've never heard such an argument.

Problem 2: An eternal afterlife makes this life meaningless

This can be established by comparing the different outcomes under different assumptions about an afterlife.

Lets suppose however, that each experience in Heaven gives a payoff of B, you average an annual level of happiness of b when you're alive in the mortal realm, and that each torment in Hell gives you a payoff of -H. With Heaven being superior to this life, and Hell being worse, let's simply say the B > b > -H.

Both Heaven and Hell are eternal, and thus provide you with an infinite benefit (or harm) stream.
Hence the actual payoff to being in heaven is ∞B and the payoff to being in hell is ∞(-H). With these being infinite streams, then the B and and -H is not really relevant. Heaven has an infinitely positive good payoff, Hell an infinitely negative payoff.  This is largely the logic behind Pascal's Wager. In that wager doesn't matter how unlikely you think Christianity is true, you will always win by being a Christian (or feigning being one).  The size of the payoff completely dominates the probabilities.

Your earthly existence, assuming you generally enjoyed life, has a payoff of tb, where t is the number of years you lived.  This has to be finite. Nobody is immortal.

So the ratio of payoffs of of your mortal life to heaven is tb/∞, or zero (0). In short, your mortal life is such a tiny fraction of your total existence that all your earthly experiences vanish to nothingness. You may as well shuffle off to the afterlife as fast as you can.

If we change the assumptions to an atheist one, then there is no afterlife. All the afterlife payoffs drop to zero. Which means the ratio of payoffs to a mortal life, to the after life, is tb/0. With denominator being 0, the ratio is ∞.  In short, every experience now is of profound value when we recognise its finite. The only way life can have meaning, is if it is finite in nature.

Problem 3: the Omniscience Dilemma

It gets worse if the deity is omniscient (all-knowing) as is attributed to the Abrahamic god Yaweh. Now its not just short, finite life you face that produces meaningless. Because this deity knew before you were born, where you would end up after death. If you're Hell-bound, because say you voted for Hillary Clinton or had some gay friends, Yaweh knows you can't change anything to escape Hell. You'll exist for an insignfiicant fraction of time, before suffering horrible torture. The same argument applies to heaven. Life isn't really a test if your deity already knows you're going to pass and get to Heaven. What possible meaning can life have, if there's not a single thing you can change to avoid your eternal fate?


The argument atheists can have no meaning to their life is not based on rational deliberation. I suspect rather, it's based on being intimidated by mortality and hoping a pact with an ancient god will allow the theist to escape this. People do derive however, meaning from their lives in varied ways. Living according to the values of some ancient Near Eastern pastoralists doesn't really satisfy the goals of all.  Indeed, I'm surprised anyone finds it satisfying.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Let's Run


This isn't so much a blogpost on running. It's a personal account, that includes running.  Maybe it's important. Maybe it's not. But it gives some perspective at least, on myself. If anyone is interested.

The Human Runner

The human body is well adapted to running. We have relatively long legs, a narrow pelvis, a valgus knee and a rigid toe.  Within the animal kingdom, we are superb endurance runners. Many of us can, and will run 42 km without stopping. Few animals can match that. We do it because its fun. We do it because it's a challenge.

I find running to be calming (running does produce good things). It gets you outside, the kilometers pass by your running shoes, for a time modern life is shut out.  You don't have to think, to interact, just settle into a rhythm and run.  You're out feeling the sun, or the wind, or the rain.  That inner African plains ape is released.

The Teenage Runner

I wasn't particularly athletic before then. I hit the teen years though, as family-life took a hit. It's somewhat too personal to go into here, and there's nothing unique about the teenage years being rough.  Still, one relationship has never recovered. Running was therapeutic. It was an escape.  I started to win races.

Later we moved. It was to a rural village. There wasn't a lot of things to do there. By the time I was 15, there were 5 other boys my age there. By the end of the year, only 2 of us were left alive.

J took the longest to die. He was smart. Really smart.  He was probably smarter than I was (and I've got a PhD so not lacking there). He got leukemia though. The bad kind. He withered away over the months and died.

His sister committed suicide a few years later.

I stayed in contact with his mother for years afterward.

K was also my age. A gangly kid teenage boy. Got on well with lots of people. He died suddenly. One day he was catching the bus to school with us. Then he wasn't. He swung some irrigation pipes over his shoulder at his farm. They hit power lines.

I never saw his mother smile again.

I wasn't close to the other two. They died in a car crash. Old cars, rural roads and teenage boy drivers aren't a good combination.  It was still a shock.  There were too many funerals that year.

I ran a lot. It helped. There was an isolated lake over some hills I could reach if I wanted to. I could disappear for a while. Feel the dry summer grass crunch under my shoes.  Feel the sun on my skin. I ran a practice marathon once, just to see if I could do it. And I got fast and fit. By the time I'd finished High School I'd got several athletics awards and cups.

I met the only other survivor of that year, G, years later at his mother's funeral. He was the one with the prison guard. He'd been let out for the occasion. He'd got fat. Teeth were missing. We locked eyes, but he didn't recognise me.  I remembered though.

I still think of J.  He'd already won scholarships at his age.  He should have lived. 

The Raw Runner

I'd got back from university for a summer break. Xmas had past. I was at  remote beach in NZ.  R was also there. Older than I was. Wife had died a bit earlier.  That was the catalyst.

He drowned himself. 

It was before cellphones hit the market, not that we'd have had coverage out there.  Getting to a landline took time. That sense of panic is still there, despite the years. It took 3 hours from the drowning, to when emergency services arrived at the beach.

That's not an optimal duration to be left with a dead body.

The nightmares started soon after.  Sleeping crashed.  Being asleep was worse than being awake.

I ran in the night instead. If you push your body to the limits of physical exhaustion, you can over-ride the brain. You'll get some sleep. My feet quickly got blisters. The blisters would burst or bleed. And I'd keep running.

After a while the insomnia wins. There are vast holes in my memory from that year.  I'd hallucinate stuff.

That was the first time I used therapy.  I was practically ordered to by the University.  There were things outside my friends' experiences. Outside their comprehension. It needed something for the experts.

Edit: Only one person ever got the full story of what happened over those 3 hours. That was my therapist. I've never told anyone else. Not my parents. Not my wife later on.  It is an experience that is unshareable.

I didn't stop running. But I eased back on the damage.

Everybody Hurts

I wasn't ignorant of what it was like to parent a child with a disability. My uncle R was born late in my grandparents lives. He had spina bifida. And significant intellectual impairment.   It was tough on my grandparents. It was from an era where there was little social support for such problems.  He died when he was a teenager.  As my parents were starting their family.  All that is left of him is a few scattered memories and a name on a tombstone.

At the very end, my grandmother would dream of him and her late husband. Despite the gulf of the decades, and numerous children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren, it was R she came back to.

Something is Wrong

He didn't talk.  That was the first sign. I read to him every night. It was part of the therapy. Sometimes my wife would come in to find us both asleep, book open in my hand. It exhausted us.

Along the way there was the trips to the hospital. The school years, when nobody ever invited him to a birthday party, or to hang out after school.  The sudden collapses and seizures without warning. You entered the world of MRIs, and of specialists. Of teetering on that edge of uncertainty of whether it was a terminal illness or not.  Of battling the system for the promised support, that never seemed to be as timely or as fulsome as promised.

And along the way, your friends and family find reasons not to visit as often.

Eventually you notice they don't come at all.

It's not just the people with disabilities who get marginalised, and pushed to the edges and cracks of society. Their families get carried along with them.

I like to run. It takes me back to those years when I was running as a teenager. That for a period of time, the world is calmer and simpler. I'm slower than I was then.  But the calm of eating up the kilometers in running shoes remains.

So I run.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

On the side of the angels?

Or, a closer look at Morality

One of the popular arguments for deities (specifically the Abrahamic god) is based on morality.  This has always surprised me.  The argument that our morality is derived from this deity seems absurd.  The idea that we'd get morality from an ancient blood-god that commanded and committed genocide, seems, well, beyond ridiculous.  It's way out there in cloud-cuckoo land.

Nonetheless, it merits a deeper response. Many theists seem fond of it. I'm even accused of borrowing my morals from Christianity (rolls eyes).  One assumes if I was to borrow my morals from some other belief system, it wouldn't be one with a body-count as high as Christianity. Or Islam.

The argument roughly is that humans have objective morals, objective morals can only come from gods that need living creatures killed to deter its retribution, therefore this god exists.

1. Objective or Subjective Morals?

 The first problem is that a false dichotomy is created with morals. Borrowing from axiology (philosophy of values) it is asserted that locus of morality is either the object, or the subject.  If morality is objective, all the subject need do is recognise what is moral in that case. Morality is external to the subject.

If morality is subjective, the subject applies their values to the relevant case. It is thus the subject that determines if something is moral.  Morality is internal to the subject.

The crucial difference is that we would not disagree on what is moral, it it is objective.  It can't change. It's a property of that case.  We can only disagree if morals are subjective.

This however, is not the only way morals could be classed.  We could also distinguish that is authoritarian, and that which is rational.  The challenge for theists is explaining why their morality is objective, rather than authoritarian.

Let's illustrate. The bible contains the edict to kill witches. Exodus 22:18 - "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live".  For centuries, thousands and thousands of people were killed by Christians for witchcraft. It continues in some parts of the world.  It is a merciless and cruel act, tragically based on a fictional crime.

It's clearly not an application of a subjective, or rational, moral philosophy.  If the only option is objective, then it must be the objectively moral thing to do.  It is also vile and repugnant. In truth, it is not objective. It is authoritarian. And for most of Christianity's history, it was also the right thing to do.  So, no, I don't borrow my morals from Christianity!

2. Do Objective Morals Exist?

What would it take to show that morals are objective?  This requires finding a moral rule that we agree is moral, but is inexplicable by other means.  I can conceive of a minimum of two tests.

a) The Evolutionary Test

Evolutionary biology provides several mechanisms to account for why humans would adopt rules and behaviours we would class as moral.  These include kin-selection and reciprocal altruism.  In addition, some behaviours can be Evolutionary Stable Strategies.  Their evolutionary advantages make them stable and are selected for in successful societies.

Parental care is easily explained by kin-selection mechanisms.  Charity toward others also appears to be an ESS.  Early human societies would have suffered from a lot of food variance.  Being willing to sharing food acts like an insurance policy for all. An unwillingness to share would be punished by others refusing to share. This would hurt the selfish during times they suffered food shortages.

In short, we expect certain rules and behaviours to be selected for because they are evolutionary stable or advantageous.  They benefited humans, in the communities they lived in.

b) The Rawlsian Contractarian Test

Rawls is not an explicit Contractarian. Rather he is a hypothetical Contractarian.  Whether a rule is moral or not, can be evaluated rationally by all parties. If the parties agree on the rule, it can be considered moral.  To prompt rational consideration, Rawls uses the veil of ignorance.  Nobody knows whether they will be the victim of such a rule, or a benefactor.  This ignorance forces everyone to consider everyone.

Hence, a Contractarian would argue that say, killing people for witchcraft or owning blacks as slaves, is immoral.  The parties would not agree such acts are moral out of concern they could be victimised by the rule.

This makes Contractarian rules, neither purely subjective nor objective. It makes moral rules a rational product of human societies.

c) Do such rules exist?

There are many Christian rules that fail the tests above.  The problem is they're also immoral.  Whether it is the public execution of non-virgin brides, or the killing of Sabbath stick-gatherers, they don't appear moral.

3. Objective Morals Don't Exist

The morality argument fails on its first premise. Objective morals don't appear to exist.  What is considered moral changes.  Our attitude to slavery has changed, in many parts of the world, so has attitudes to divorce, gay marriage, women's suffrage and capital punishment.  Applying the brutal and authoritarian morality of the slave-owners of the biblical era would get you arrested today.

These changes in morality are more consistent with an explicit Contractarian moral philosophy.  We debate what is moral. We try to consider the welfare effects not on us, but others. And what was once moral, like slavery, becomes immoral. What was once immoral, like homosexuality, is no longer.

4. Conclusion

The argument that the Abrahamic god is the source of our moral sense is ridiculous. It relies on a false dichotomy between objective and subjective morals. It confuses authoritarian, or evolutionary stable rules, as objective morals.  And it turns a blind eye to the atrocities undertaken, and commanded by the Abrahamic god.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Index: Brave Christians

I read and debunked SJ Thomason's (aka @lead1225 on twitter) "Brave Christian" argument for god, so you don't have to

Basically, it ignores contemporaneous martyrdom in other Jewish sects, provides a very low body count of early Christians, ignores natural explanations of Paul's vision and conflates an historic Jesus with the gospel Jesus.

The long versions:
Part 1: Not a fan of Carrier

Part 2: Will the brave Christians standup?

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Death and Legend in Judea


Well, Easter has come and gone again.  That seems to be a good time to talk about the resurrection. Because many Christians have been talking about it.  How else can we explain the empty tomb if Jesus wasn't magically resurrected via the power of an ancient bloodgod? It's the only explanation that makes sense! (rolls eyes)

The problem with the question is its loaded nature.  The empty tomb is presented as a fact. This has some major credibility problems.

Problem 1: Timing

The empty tomb isn't used as proof of Jesus' divinity and resurrection until we get to the gospels.  The  (genuine) letters we have from Paul do not mention it. Nor is it present in other early NT letters.  For something that's supposed to convince us all that Jesus was divine and resurrected, its absence for decades in early Christianity literature is astonishing.

The gospels are generally reckoned to be written after Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans (70 CE) because they're not referenced in earlier Christian documents. Paul seems completely unaware of them.  And prophecies of Jerusalem being sacked are always easier to make after the event...

The sequence for the gospels is usually reckoned as Mark, followed by Luke and Matthew, and finally John.  This spans around 30-40 years.  And all are long after the alleged event. The gap between when the empty tomb alleged occurred and when it's first mentioned is extraordinarily large.

Edit: this alone persuades me that the empty tomb was a later contrivance.  

Problem 2: Inconsistencies

Despite the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) patently using the same sources, they can't keep the empty tomb story straight. Throw in John and it gets worse.  The number of women who went to the tomb, when they went, what they saw at the tomb, what they did afterward, whether they were believed or not are all inconsistent across the gospels.

The Apologist gambit is to assert that this is what we expect with eye-witness accounts.  No. It's consistent with a bunch of people who didn't balk at making things up to sell their religion.

Edit: the women are not the only inconsistency of course. E.g. Matthew has guards and a seal that everyone else seems to forget. The accounts are more what we'd expect with oral traditions and attempts to establish the orthodoxy or early doctrines over several decades.

Problem 3: It conflicts with Roman practice

As far as we can tell Romans did not normally allow crucified victims to get buried in tombs. Crassus left thousands of ex-slaves rotting on crosses after the suppression of the Slave revolt.  Normally crucified victims were left aloft to be picked clean by birds and the like.  

To be buried, and buried ceremoniously instead of in a common pit, is a deviation that begs for explanation.   

Edit: this is the weakest objection I have, and one that Richard Carrier has explained to my satisfaction. It is highly likely Romans allowed the locals to maintain their traditional burial practices. 

Problem 4: Joseph of Arimathea

It has always struck me how much of a Deus ex Machina Joseph plays.  In order to get Jesus from the cross, into a tomb and in the time available, requires a very powerful and capable character.  There's nobody in the disciples capable of pulling this off.

Enter Joseph.  He fixes all the problems with the plot.  First, he's politically powerful.  He's part of the council that condemned Jesus.  But like all superhero fiction, he has a secret identity.  He's also a disciple of Jesus.  He's influential enough to persuade Pilate to take the body off the cross.  He's also rich.  This is also necessary for the plot.  They have to buy linen cloth and 100 pounds of myrrh and aloe that evening.  He's also already got a tomb ready.   Every plot-hole (bar one) is immediately fixed.  Evening might be approaching when he asked Pilate for the body, but Jesus is lying in a shroud, in a tomb, with a stone covering the entrance in time for his resurrection. Phew!

The remaining plot hole of course, is there isn't enough time to get this all done in the time available. 

Joseph's appearance in the story is dramatic.  He's not mentioned in the gospels before this.  And he disappears just as dramatically. He's never mentioned again.  He's not mentioned in Acts, he's not mentioned in any of the letters preceding the gospels.  Paul, Peter and James have no recollection of him at all. He's a powerful and connected guy with massive influence, and nobody mentions him?! Amazing.  

Joseph only has one job.  He appears at exactly the right time to fill in a bunch of critical plot-holes, and then disappears.  He has the traits of a literary invention that appears decades later when the empty tomb story gets added to the Jesus legend- not the traits of an historic person. 

Edit: Even the locale of Arimathea appears made up. 

(If you want a much deeper analysis of Joseph of Arimathea, I recommend John Loftus' blog).


I don't feel that I need to explain the empty tomb, because I don't think there was one.  Early Christendom was plagued with doctrinal problems.  Hints of this are preserved in the letters of Paul, James and others.  This also created a range of heretical sects, such as the Arians.  

The gospels weren't written to be histories.  They were written to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah and of divine origin.  And by drawing on the authority of Jesus and the early disciples, they could be used to resolve doctrinal disputes.  Was the resurrection a mostly spiritual personal visionary event?  Or was it a physical event?  For anyone who believed in a physical resurrection, the canonical Gospels make a perfect argument. And they get more elaborate the later the gospel is composed. It's the last gospel, John, that introduces Thomas as the clincher for the physical resurrection. 

So either major scientific laws were broken to miraculously bring the offspring of an ancient god and virgin back to life.  Or the belief that the resurrection was a physical event evolved slowly in a community that was willing to add embellishments that showed this, in retelling, over decades.  It's not really difficult deciding what's the least plausible.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Are we there yet? SJT tries to find some brave Christians

Part 2: Are we there yet?

The Short Version

SJT quotes a lot of secondary sources to claim persecutions were common, still only comes up with Nero's persecution in Rome in 64 CE, makes some stuff up (Christianity was illegal until Constantine) and provides a pitiful body-count to support her early Christians were brave claim.

Long Version 

SJT: Carrier’s blog opines that the apostles “died for a vision.” He then proceeds to refer to a debate he had with Bass, stating that “He couldn’t even establish that they could have avoided their deaths by recanting. Or even that what they died for was their belief in the resurrection, rather than their moral vision for society, or (I could have added) some other belief they wouldn’t recant—such as their already-Jewish refusal to worship pagan gods, the only thing Pliny really ever killed Christians for (the resurrection was never even at issue); and that’s the only explicitly eyewitness account we have of any Christians being killed for anything in the whole first hundred years of the religion. (my emphasis added)”
As reported by Wawro (2008) in the Historical Atlas, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus reported that “Nero punished Christians for their role in the April 64 CE fire in Rome’s Circus Maximus using the following means:
  • He had them covered with animal skins and let them be eaten by dogs.
  • He had them nailed to crosses.
  • He had them burned as torches for light after sundown” (Wawro, 2008, page 85)
1. Tacitus was born in the provinces in 56 or 57 CE.  He wasn't an eyewitness. And these Christians were killed as scapegoats.  So Carrier's reasoning is sound, recanting wouldn't have done a thing. So you have one persecution, from Rome, in 64 CE. Which is about 30 years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus.  I'm dubious a lot of the converts there witnessed the resurrection decades earlier in Jerusalem.

SJT: In Tacitus Annals 15,44, Tacitus states “Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dross of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car.”
2. Carrier is still correct. Tacitus is not explicitly an eyewitness.  Recanting would have not saved them as they were scapegoats.  They weren't killed for believing in the resurrection, but the claim they started they fire in Rome.  

The major flaw in your argument is you cannot identify any early Christians who 'witnessed the resurrection' sic who were killed by Nero.  Which is going to be hard because it is 30 years later and a long way from Jerusalem. 

Irrelevant: “Despite persecutions for the next 150 years, the new Christian Church spread into France, Spain, North Africa, and Mesopotamia. The once small sect devoted to Jesus Christ grew to between 5 and 6 million by 300 CE. By 350 CE, the number of Christians in the Roman Empire was over 33 million, and Christianity had become a universal religion” (Wawro 2008, page 85). 
SJT: In other words, between 5 and 6 million Christians were willing to worship Jesus illegally in the first few hundred years following Jesus’ resurrection. In 312 AD, Constantine had a vision of a Christian symbol, which led to a battle victory and the legalization of Christianity, ending the persecutions of early Christians.
3. And now you're just lying. Christianity was only illegal briefly during the reign of Valerian over 200 years later than the alleged resurrection. One brief persecution in Rome under Nero does not mean Christianity was illegal up to Constantine. Most of your 5-6 million Christians would never have witnessed the resurrection either.  They would have lived in the wrong time period, or the wrong location.  

Does it seem reasonable to determine that millions of early Christians would risk their lives by worshipping illegally to follow a “vision” or “hallucination” by a tentmaker named Paul?
4. If they knew it was an hallucination, sure, that'd be unreasonable. If they thought it was a genuine religious experience- such as you do- why not?  And you have failed completely, to show that it was a risky religion to belong to.  Josephus doesn't mention anything about them being persecuted and he's pretty good at covering Jewish sects between 35 and 70 CE.  Now the Zealots. That was dangerous to belong to. The body count at Masada alone seemed much higher than anything described in Acts. 

It took over 30 years after the alleged crucifixion before Nero decided to persecute some Christians in Rome (and there's no evidence that this went wider than Rome).  That's pretty good compared to the regular religious violence recorded in Josephus in Judea. 
SJT: Additionally, Paul’s supposed hallucination did not include the gospel accounts of Jesus and accounts of the many miracles He performed, including the Resurrection.
5. Bingo. His hallucination didn't include any corroborating detail about the gospel Jesus.  Like the gospel Jesus never existed... 

It is the miracles, including the Resurrection, which drove Christians to risk their lives.
6. 1 Corinthians, written by Paul decades before the gospels were compiled, has this little nugget
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom...
Somehow Paul was oblivious to the signs the Jews wanted?  No fulfilled prophecies?  No miracles?  The gospels are full of them. Yet he doesn't tell people people to believe because of miracles.  

You still haven't shown it was a risky religion to belong to. 

SJT: Paul’s supposed vision, or hallucination, of a celestial Jesus obviously excluded same.
Below I’ve listed some of Jesus’ miracles:
8. This is so boring.  These aren't actual facts you can use. These are what early Christians came to believe.  The fact there is no corroborating extra-biblical evidence for these miracles, and Paul earlier seemed unaware of them, ruins their credibility.  That and the fact they're impossible!  The gospels were written decades later than the alleged life of Jesus.  That's plenty of time for various legends and myths to be promoted and adopted as 'true' by the time the gospels were composed.  
  1. Jesus turns water into wine (John 2:1-12)
  1. Jesus heals an official’s son without going to see the boy (John 4:46-54).
  1. Jesus heals a crippled man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-17).
  1. Jesus feeds 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:19-21; Mark 6:30-34; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14).
  1. Jesus walks on water (Matthew 14:22-32; Mark 6:47-52; John 6:16-21).
  1. Jesus heals a man born blind (John 9:1-41).
  1. Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44).
  1. Jesus heals a bleeding woman (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48).
  1. Jesus calms a storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:37-41; Luke 8:22-25).
  1. Jesus heals a paralyzed man (Matthew 9:2-7; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:18-26).
  1. Jesus resurrected from the dead (Matthew 28:5-6; Mark 16:6; Luke 24; John 20).
SJT: Additionally, does it seem reasonable that a tentmaker invent his own tale of Christianity when the rewards of crafting such a story did not exist?
9. Just because he believed he had a genuine encounter with some manifestation of Jesus, does not make this a fact.  
SJT: Paul boasted about his suffering because he truly believed in a greater purpose, which was glorifying Jesus and advancing in heaven.
10. Right, because people who start religions are so trustworthy and reliable when it comes to what they say.  Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Jim Jones.  People who were as straight as an a arrow.  

You're putting a lot of faith in the words of guy who seemed oddly ignorant of much of the gospel Jesus. 
SJT: Paul suffered great peril, as documented in the books he wrote. This suffering occurred after his conversion from a Jewish persecutor of Christians to a Christian persecuted by Jews.
11. Again. So what?  If he genuinely believed his vision was the correct manifestation of Jesus, that works. 

SJT: Paul, the author of thirteen New Testament books, offers one of the most compelling stories of a transformation. Paul (known as Saul) was on the road to Damascus in his effort to identify and arrest early Christians for illegal worship. “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ (Acts 9-1-6). Paul immediately converted to the Way and became one of its most ardent followers who was beaten, imprisoned, and eventually beheaded all in Jesus’ name.
12. You have a sample size of one! You describe an event that has a suspiciously odd similarity to a seizure. This when epileptic seizures are known to cause increased religious experience and conversions. And you've got exactly one prominent Christian killed between the alleged crucifixion and the sack of Jerusalem.  And this is a guy who could never have witnessed the resurrection.  

In 2 Corinthians 16:26-27, Paul states: “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 adds: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Clearly, Paul was not living an easy life once he decided to follow Jesus.
13. Again, your sample size of early Christian bravery is stuck at a sample size of one.   Even if you throw in James and Stephen (noting Stephen was a later convert who didn't witness the resurrection either), that's about one prominent Christian a decade. Only one of which, could have experienced the resurrection of Jesus. 

And speaking as someone whose field-work in conservation in developing countries has entailed a lot of that above, I'm not sure why Paul's "sacrifice" should mean anything.  At least he believed he was securing for himself a wonderful afterlife. 

SJT: As C.S. Lewis said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me ‘happy.’ I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
14. All arguments can be improved by not quoting CS Lewis.  

SJT: Carrier points to times in history in which people have been “gullible,” thereby generalizing all gullible people into a basket of gullibles into which he throws early Christians. He implies that the gullible within the “Heaven’s Gate Cult” are similar to early Christians and that all Christians are “gullible.”
15. No, you're misrepresenting that point.  The reality is that ancient peoples who were semi-literate, had little scientific knowledge and saw the supernatural- including gods- everywhere- aren't a hard sell. Even Julius Caesar got to be a god. 

We do know that people have been willing to make enormous personal sacrifices, down to death, for their gods. Whether it is the Zealots fighting Vespasian, or the  Ismailian assassins operating out of 12th C Syria, or kamikaze pilots during World War two, or suicide bombers in the Middle East, it happens. Dying for religious beliefs is depressingly common. 

SJT:  More boring bits deleted: I agree that some people are gullible within every group, as were the adherents to atheist despots like Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, and Stalin, yet I would never make the assertion that the gullibility of Stalin’s  followers applies to atheists today (following Carrier’s logic that all atheists are “gullible”). I also know that the vast majority of atheists today abhor the acts of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung, so I would never throw them into a basket of atheists with Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung.Carrier states: 
“Thus countless people die for a ‘lie’ in the sense that they don’t know that what they are dying for is false. This is most obviously true for non-eyewitnesses, who die merely for trusting someone else’s word (many religions have many examples of this happening, from Mormonism to Islam to Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, and beyond). But it’s also true for “eyewitnesses,” whose own minds have lied to them. And also, of course, eyewitnesses who are being conned (and indeed many a person has been fully convinced of something that was in fact a perpetrated sham). And also witnesses who aren’t sure of what they saw, but who believe they will gain eternal life if what they saw is what they are told it was, or want it to be—convincing themselves it must be true, merely to avoid personal despair.”
Rather than dig into the psychology behind the movement of early Christians, Carrier implies that their minds have lied to them, they are following a perpetrated sham, and that the early Christians (who, again, were burned and nailed to crosses), believed to “avoid personal despair.” Other more honest atheists with whom I’ve had these conversations acknowledge that early Christians truly believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
16. Again, I don't have a dog in this fight.  Believing in the resurrection is part of the beliefs of Christianity. Becoming Christian means accepting that. It doesn't make the resurrection true, or early Christians brave.  

SJT: Early Christians weren’t merely following the hallucination of Paul. They believed Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. Jesus’ birth was predicted in the scriptures, as noted here:
17. Oh please.  You're doing that amateur apologetic thing of finding allegorical and vague verses that can be manipulated into matching the gospel Jesus.  
Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. stuff deleted 
SJT: Roman history books included references to Jesus, as noted here (Miller, 2007, page 346):
  1. Antiquities of the Jews, by Joseph (about 93-94). “There was a wise man who was called Jesus, and His conduct was good…Pilate condemned Him to be crucified…His disciples didn’t abandon their loyalty to Him. They reported that He appeared to them three days after His crucifixion that He was alive.”
18. This is from the Testimonium Flavianum and much of it is thought to represent later Christian editing. Note that Josephus was not an eyewitness and wrote the Antiquities nearly 60 years after the events.
He also didn't mention that the early Christians were brave, nor corroborates the miracles or the resurrection. 
  1. Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus (about 55 – 120). “Christ suffered the ultimate penalty at the hands of procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor of Rome.”
19. The Annals were written in the early 2nd Century.  It does not corroborate the resurrection of Jesus, any miracles, or mention the conspicuous bravery sic of the early Christians. All it mentions is something early Christians already believed, which Tacitus could easily got from them.  
  1. The Lives of the Caesars, by Suetonius (about 70-130). “Chrestus caused the riots in Rome in AD 49. This is probably a reference to Christ and to the hostility that erupted when traditional Jews clashed with Jews who believed Jesus was the promised Messiah. Acts 18:2 supports this theory, reporting that Claudius Caesar expelled all Jews from Rome during this time.
20. This is very vague. You have to equate Chrestus with Christ, and overlook that he's being described as still alive.  Still no corroboration of the gospel Jesus, resurrection or bravery of E Christians. 

Carrier goes on to state that “it’s also possible for people to die for what they know is a lie.”
Yes, this is possible if the death were unexpected, yet for Carrier to suggest that early Christians, whom either expected or acknowledged the possibility of death, beatings, or imprisonment, knew in their minds that what they were doing was in vain obliterates any rational theories of human behavior and psychology.
21. Wow, what a Strawman Argument.  Here's a simple concept. Early Christians believed they same way you and other Christians believe. They were told a story and they bought it.  They didn't believe because they personally witnessed anything. They believed because conversion tactics in that period worked.
  1. People of sound minds make decisions that maximize their outcomes.
  2. People of sound minds weigh benefits against drawbacks when making decisions.
22. And as Pascal's Wager reminds us, Christianity is supposed to generate an enormous benefit for belief in the afterlife, and a horrific cost if they don't. 
  1. Early Christians wanted to maximize their chances of going to heaven by following Jesus.
23. And martyrdom pretty much gives you an automatic pass into heaven.
  1. Early Christians weighed the benefits of going to heaven and following Jesus against the risks of imprisonment and death.
24. So one on side, we have an infinite eternal benefit stream, and on the other a fairly trivial risk of death and persecution. That pretty much ensures the Benefit-Cost ratio is all on the joining Christianity side. 
  1. Had early Christians determined the risks outweighed the benefits (and considered it all a lie), they would have recanted their testimonies in support of Jesus.
25. Where do you get that anyone thinks they all knew it was a lie?  I thought Carrier argued the basis of Paul's belief was an hallucination, not lied. 

“In the centuries that followed, the believers in Jesus, called Christians, braved horrible persecution to found communities across the Roman Empire” (Belt, 2014).

26. And another secondary source.  That actually lists zero persecutions. Here's an idea. The reason the early church grew quite happily, is they weren't persecuted by and large.  They were tolerated. Christians didn't start insurrections. They paid their taxes.  They weren't worth the effort of persecution. 

Carrier then questions whether saints such as Peter, Jesus half-brother James, Stephen were (1) martyred and if they indeed were martyred, he questions whether they (2) were martyred for what they believed or for what they saw.
27. And Carrier's criticisms stands. He addressed your concerns below.

According to the Antiquities of the Jews, written around Flavius Josephus mentions the death by stoning the brother of James the Just, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.”
28. Problematic because both James and Jesus were pretty common names, no identification is made with the early Church- other than the disputed "who was called Christ" passage.  It's thought this likely an later Christian edit as Josephus, as a non-Christian Jew, would not have given out this title.  Nor as Carrier explains, was the motive for the death sentence clear-cut.

According to Acts 12:2, King Herod put the apostle James to death with the sword.
29. Herod reigned from 41-44 CE.  So we've gone about a decade since the alleged crucifixion before James has been killed. 
According to Acts 7:55-58, Stephen was stoned. “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city, and began to stone him.”
30. Not exactly a story brimming with credibility. It has a lot of fantastic elements and an amazing tolerance for a hostile crowd to listen to a lengthy diatribe, that gets recorded at an amazing level of detail to be written years later.

This is even if we assume that Acts is a credible source in the first place.  Which SJT has not established. 

Other accounts of the deaths of the disciples are based on tradition. The most commonly accepted traditions are as follows: ( unless otherwise noted).
31. Yeah, so no actual primary sources for this. Just tradition from an organisation that exploited martyrdom to market its beliefs.   

So in the end, the body count of apostles, of believers who were even present during the alleged life of the gospel Jesus, is very low. Much lower than what we'd expect for a group of people at constant risk of death, and martyred at a regular pace.  Compared to the Jewish zealots, early Christians seem to have been absolutely wimps.  The Zealots knew how to kill and die for their beliefs.  
  • Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword.
  • Bartholomew was flayed to death by a whip (Johns, 2014).
  • Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross in Greece. The cross is now known as the cross of St. Andrew (Johns, 2014).
  • Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India
  • Paul was tortured and beheaded by the Emperor Nero in 67 AD.
  • Peter was crucified upside-down, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy (John 21:18).
  • James the Lesser was either beaten or stoned to death, while praying for his attackers (Johns, 2014).
  • Philip was reportedly crucified upside-down in Hierapolis, Turkey. In 2011, archeologists in Hierapolis discovered what they believed to be Philip’s tomb (Johns, 2014).
  • Matthias reportedly preached in the “land of the cannibals” (Johns, 2014).
Though we only have traditions that offer glimpses of the specific ways that most of the early Christian disciples died, we can infer from the fact that Christianity was considered illegal

32. No, you haven't established it was illegal

 and Christians were persecuted that no matter the means by which they passed, their lives were not easy and their faith in the way, the truth, and the life was strong.
33. You have neither the body-count nor the actual attested-to persecutions to support this claim.

The disciples preached, despite the risks, because they believed that a humble carpenter is the Son of Man and Savior of the world. 
34. Believing something doesn't make it true.

Had they not seen Him resurrect, they wouldn’t have preached that He resurrected. 
35. Why not?  Neither Stephen nor Paul witnessed the resurrection.  They had no difficulty preaching it. They were persuaded it happened. In one case, probably via a seizure. 

Had they not seen Him perform miracles, they wouldn’t have preached that He performed miracles.
36. Rubbish, Paul doesn't care about the miracles. That's the line from 1 Corinthians again.  
Had they not been filled with the Holy Spirit, they would not have been so brave.
37. If risking their lives is the metric for true belief, then the Zealots are more entitled to have their faith accepted as true.  There's nothing here that marks the Early Christians exceptionally brave.
(Platitudes deleted)

“The great difficulty is to get audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity simply because you happen to think it true.” – CS Lewis
38. What a stupid thing to say. Of course we realise you believe it is true.  


A lengthy and delusional polemic that hopes wild exaggeration will stand in the place of evidence and logic.