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.


Not a fan of Carrier: SJT tries to be an historian


Christian SJ Thomason runs a blog and active twitter account to proselytize for her faith.  She's also engaged Matt Dillahunty on the Atheist Experience. One of the linchpins of her argument for Christianity is the bravery of early Christians (now christianapologist) sic.  I had sort of promised to respond to it.  Her post is long, and necessitates a two part response from me. 

Executive Summay

  1. The main problem with the SJT post is it dances between two arguments. First, she tries to debunk Carrier's 'mythical Jesus'. Second, she tries to argue that the early Christians were brave and this was a product of witnessing the resurrection.  This makes her blog post a complete mess to wade through.
  2. The only evidence supplied of this bravery, is the deaths of three early Christians between the alleged crucifixion and Vespasian's capture of Jerusalem.   That's a pretty mild body count for a period of sustained religious violence in the province. One per decade on average. Atheist bloggers in Bangladesh suffer a higher attrition rate!
  3. Persecutions of early Christians are wildly exaggerated. Nero's scapegoating of Christians in Rome does not generalise to the rest of the Empire, up to Constantine.    
  4. Because the bravery of early Christians sic is not established, this argument for Jesus fails on its first premise.
  5. An underlying flaw is not realising the gospel Jesus and an historical Jesus are not the same thing.  

Part 1: She's Not a Fan of Carrier

SJT: The intention of the following blog is to offer support for Christians who encounter people who believe Jesus is merely a myth, perpetuated by the early Church. One such mythicist is Dr. Richard Carrier. 
 1. So, nothing really to do with the bravery of the early Christians. This is going to be a long ride.  Seriously, I don't have a dog in this fight. I don't care if there was an historical Jewish dude who thought he was the messiah, or whether he was a complete myth.  What I'm unconvinced by is the gospel Jesus- the offspring of a Judaean god who mated with a virgin, who performed miracles and was inconvenienced by the Romans for a few days, by being attached to a couple of sticks.

SJT: I have had a number of delightful interactions with Carrier on Twitter, which alerted me to his thoughts on Christianity, Jesus, and the Bible. He is an historian with a Ph.D. from Columbia University who has written numerous books and blog posts refuting the existence of Jesus.
Unlike Carrier, supporters of major world religions outside of Christianity do not question Jesus’ existence. 
2.  I'm going to guess that these supporters aren't generally historians with doctorates from Columbia University.  It's a bit early to try the Argumentum ad populum fallacy surely?

SJT: For example, Jews and Muslims do not claim that Jesus didn’t exist. While Jews do not accept Jesus’ divinity, they acknowledge His existence and crucifixion. 
3. Not accepting the miracles and resurrection is just evidence they don't believe in the gospel Jesus. Which is the version of Jesus that Christians market.
SJT: According to Muhammad, Muslims consider Jesus a prophet whom God took to heaven prior to the crucifixion (leading some to conclude that someone else took Jesus’ place on the cross). Carrier denies Jesus walked the earth, stating in his Twitter posts that Christianity was born out of a “hallucination” by Paul of a “celestial Jesus.”
4. Well Paul did have a vision of Jesus rather than ever meeting the magic carpenter dude when he was alive.  Epileptic seizures are also associated with religious experiences and hallucinations. See below:
The nature of ictal religious seizures varies, including intense emotions of God's presence, the sense of being connected to the infinite, hallucinations of God's voice, the visual hallucination of a religious figure... Devinsky & Lai, 2008, p638 [1]
It doesn't seem unreasonable to conclude that Paul, who never met Jesus- if and when he was alive-  had a temporal lobe epileptic seizure and hallucinated the event. 

[1] Orrin Devinsky, George Lai, Spirituality and Religion in Epilepsy Epilepsy & Behavior, Volume 12, Issue 4, Pages 636-643
SJT: According to Carrier’s webpage, his research focus is on the “origins of Christianity,” yet he has tweeted that the Bible is “propaganda” and the only historical texts one can rely upon are extra-Biblical.
5. I can't comment on Carrier's webpage, but as I understand it, trying to understand the motives of the ancient writer is part of historical analysis.  The gospels have a very clear propaganda function.  They're a tool for converting people to Christianity*.  That does imply one should be more cautious about accepting these accounts. As extra-biblical sources won't have this bias, that helps their reliability.

* During a brief period of curiosity as an undergraduate, I attended some bible-study classes on campus organised by a local Christian group.  They promoted the gospel of John. It was intended to win converts.

Fallacious use of reductio ad absurdum argument follows: SJT: Let’s consider that point. If I were going to write books on the “origins of Muslims,” wouldn’t it make sense for me to incorporate the Quran? If I were going to craft a history of any countries within the Arab region, wouldn’t I want to take the Quran into account? The Quran certainly offers historical accounts of Muhammad, Muslim beliefs, and Sharia law. Muhammad is an extremely influential prophet among Muslims, so excluding him from any discussions about Arab history seems nonsensical. Applying Carrier’s logic to this situation would require that I obtain extra-Quran accounts of Muhammad’s life before admitting he even lived.
6. Clearly Carrier does use the bible (as a check of his website shows), he's just very critical about it.  Just as someone who used the Qur'an might be critical too. Or even of ancient biographies of Julius Caesar. Nobody is going to believe that Muhammad split the moon, or Julius Caesar really was the descendant of the goddess Venus, without some compelling additional evidence.  We have the same expectation for Jesus. 

Look at my shiny secondary sources

Argumentum ad populum fallacy follows: SJT: Note that the Guinness Book of World Records has indicated: “Although it is impossible to obtain exact figures, there is little doubt that the Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book. A survey by the Bible Society concluded that around 2.5 billion copies were printed between 1815 and 1975, but more recent estimates put the number at more than 5 billion” ( Furthermore, the Bible has been translated into 349 languages. Such figures indicate strong support for the Bible from all over the globe.
7. Popularity is not a metric of historical reliability.  This is a really weak argument!

Massive Non sequitur fallacy ahead!  SJT: William Lane Craig’s website includes the following comment: “Archaeology is the greatest defender of the accuracy of the Bible. Archaeologists, when in Israel, still rely on the Bible to determine the location of tell sites which reliance has proved to be remarkably accurate. Historians have long acknowledged the accuracy of place names and events recorded in the Bible despite so-called “higher criticism” and skepticism. In fact, the Bible is now a standard historical text for archaeologists in the Middle East, Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and Macedonia. 
8. This shows that some of its geography is correct, not that its history is correct.

Appeal to authority fallacy: SJT: The great names of Archaeology, including Dr. Flinders Petrie, Dr. William Albright, Dr. J.O. Kinnaman, Ira M. Price, Professor Sayce of Oxford, and Sir William Ramsay have gone on record to say that archaeology confirms the accuracy and reliability of the Bible. Dr. William Albright, who was not a friend of Christianity and was probably the foremost authority in Middle East archaeology in his time, said this about the Bible: ‘There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament.’”
9.  Seriously?  No archaeological evidence of the Noachian flood or Exodus, a persistent lack of evidence that the Kingdoms of David and Solomon were as described in the OT?  If you're going to claim archaeology supports the OT, supply some relevant actual evidence.

This is also starting to be a massive red herring.  If you want to convince people that there was an historic Jesus, and this was the same as the gospel Jesus, some Canaanite archaeological digs won't get you there.

SJT: “Sir William Ramsey, one of the greatest archaeologists of all time, spent 30 years of his life trying to disprove the New Testament, especially Luke’s writings. After much intensive research with many expecting a thorough refutation of Christianity, Ramsey concluded that Luke was one of the greatest historians of all time and became a Christian based on his archaeological findings.”
10. That's a nice appeal to authority.  Note that Ramsay did the bulk of his archaeological work in the late 1800s. What do modern archaeologists think? How is this relevant? And Luke's screw-up with the date of the birth of Jesus isn't a good advertisement for his reputation.
SJT:  Extensive evidence of the Bible’s historicity exists, derived from the Dead Sea Scrolls, stone inscriptions, and archeological findings from regions described in the Bible. For a more extensive review, visit addition to the support from archeologists, secular historians support the historicity of the Bible. One example of a history book in which the history of early Christianity and Jesus is documented is “Historical Atlas: A Comprehensive History of the World” written by forty-five academic contributors from prestigious universities from all over the globe.
11. Blah blah. If you want to establish that archaeology supports the gospel Jesus, then you need excavations and the like, that corroborate this. Some of the bible is undoubtedly historical. Some of it is also allegorical, or mythical or legendary.  Some of it is outright propaganda. This isn't a binary "all historic" vs "zero historic" decision. The dead-sea scrolls don't prove that the gospel Jesus existed. They don't even prove an historical Jesus existed.  

SJT: The Historical Atlas states: “In fact, it came to pass that Jesus’ death was the foundation of Christianity as we know it. Rather than running scared, Jesus’ followers grew into thousands. This early ‘church’ ran into very strong opposition in Jerusalem and around 35CE great persecution took place there. Around this time, one of the most decisive turning points in world history occurred. The early church began to accept those who were not of Jewish origin- the Gentiles” (Wawro, 2008, page 84).
12. So not really primary source material, nor has any relevance to the existence of the gospel Jesus?  It reflects perhaps an orthodox view that there was an historic Jesus. And sadly for you, it attributes the growth of the Church to its opening up to non-Jews (dropping dietary and circumcision requirements), not the bravery of the apostles.  Let me repeat this for emphasis. It contradicts your whole thesis

Part 2 follows

Monday, 3 April 2017

Index of Posts Responding to Christian SJ Thomason

SJ Thomason composed a response to my 10 reasons (edit: now moved to a christianapologist website) for why I was not a Christian. Given the length of her post, I broke down my replies into the different topics supplied.

Note that my original post was an explanation of why I am not a Christian. In that context it is not a list of reasons why Christians should become atheists, or even why all atheists aren't Christians. It's an account of my personal objections.

1. Never mind the Punc Eq, where's Adam and Eve?: SJ takes on genetics
2. They call him Mr Fantastic: SJ builds a strawman
3. Soapy Red Herrings: SJ takes on soap
4. Will the real JC stand up? SJ takes on the gospels
5. Not feeling the power: SJ takes on prayer
6. Whip it good, SJT takes on slavery
7. God kills black people for love: SJT takes on disasters
8. Hell and the Heavens: SJT takes on Erastothenes
9. Dream big little god: SJT takes on parochalism and freewill


  1. It's not really a rebuttal if my objection is ignored
  2. Bible verses are not rebuttals
  3. My, Ross is astonishingly ignorant of the basics of biology
  4. All arguments can be instantly improved by not quoting C.S. Lewis

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Dream big little god: SJT takes on parochalism and freewill


The last two responses (I refuse to call them rebuttals) by SJ Thomason can be summarised briefly as, "you're ignoring my objections again".  I'm so surprised...

Number 9

My objection. It is inescapable that the events of the bible are restricted to a tiny part of the world. Most of Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania are excluded. For a universal deity, this is suspiciously parochial. It is according to the Abrahamic religion capable of communicating in all kinds of ways. There are burning bushes, talking donkeys, angels etc. But only a small tribe of pastoralists are selected for this direct communication. In particular, a tribe that whose accomplishments were so minor, they had little ability to communicate their god to others. While civilisations around them developed maths, astronomy, engineering, democracy and philosophy, ancient Judea developed, well, penis modification.
Even within that context, only a small part of the population is considered worthy of this message. This part being men, of course. For a universal deity that considered all to be equal, this incredible favoritism does not make any sense.

When you've no argument, quote the bible.

SJT: The most famous Bible quote, John 3:16, states: “For God so loved the WORLD, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” If God were only trying to appeal to a small segment of the world, He wouldn’t have made this declaration.
No, if he was a universal deity he'd have been appearing to the ancient Greeks and Romans, Egyptians, Persians, Indians and Chinese. He'd have been appearing in the Americas, in Oceania, to Aboriginal Australians.  Appearing to one minor civilisation in the Eastern Mediterranean only makes sense if that culture invented him. Bible verses don't trump history. The god of ancient Israel does not manifest himself anywhere else. 

SJT: Furthermore, in Mark 16:15-16, Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His word by the signs that accompanied it.” Such passages call attention to the call from Jesus to grow Christianity in all parts of the world.
Noting their idea of the world was pretty much the ancient classical world, and they never made it to China, or the Americas etc.  Ideally, an appearance during the Achaemenid Empire, or Alexander the Great's empire centuries earlier, would have spread the Christian word sooner, faster and over a wider area.  Both the Achaeminds and Alexander were in contact with India afterall. 

A far less parochial manifestation of this universal deity, and to states that were capable of propagating the Christian message sooner and faster, makes sense.  You're not explaining why earlier opportunities were dropped, or why a simultaneous manifestation was eschewed.  You're not even explaining the bias toward appearing to men. From Abraham to Jesus, and perhaps Paul, the universal deity has a strong preference to men. 

In his book, On Guard, William Lane Craig cites a study by David Barrett, which notes that in 100 A.D., the ratio of non-Christians to committed Christians in the world was 360 to 1. In 1000 A.D., the ratio was 220 to 1. In 1500 A.D., the ratio was 69 to 1. By its final count in 1989, the ratio was 7 to 1. In other words, for every 7 people on the planet, one is a Christian. Christianity is slowly but surely closing the gap.
So even after 2000 years, 6 out of 7 people on earth aren't Christian.  This is the problem.  If the bloodgod that appeared to the ancient Israelites wasn't so parochial, if it had manifested and communicated with more than one culture in ancient times, then it would have acted like a universal deity.  More of the planet would have been Christian, sooner. 

Number 10 - Free Will

Free Fallin’ 
The problem with an all-knowing (omniscient) god is well known. It makes free-will a fantasy. If a deity knows everything I’m going to do and say over my life-time, there’s nothing I can do to change that. If Abe’s god knows I’m going to have sushi for lunch, then I cannot choose anything else. That extrapolates to every other action I take, to very word I utter. I cannot choose anything, choice is always following a single course of action. I can only say the lines I was given. I can only play the role I was destined to play.
Life in this case, is meaningless. If I am going to hell, then, nothing I do over my life will change that. I can only undertake the actions this deity already knows I’ll take. All life is, is a brief moment where I can change nothing, followed by an eternity of hell. There’s no point to this life at all. This god may as well put those destined to hell, straight there. Because nothing will change that destiny.

Blah Blah 

The sins of humanity are the result of God’s gift of free will, 
Let's not forget that picking sticks up on the Sabbath is a deadly sin, but owning another person as a slave, or executing a nonvirgin bride isn't.  Seems to me that sin is more likely to be the concoction of some filthy ancient slave-owners who needed a rationale for oppressing others. 

SJT...which underscores God’s generosity and love in giving such a gift as He knew the implications. He knew that by giving the gift of free will, He would also need to make a tremendous sacrifice to give the gift of eternal life, as free will in a world of temptations and challenges often leads to sin, which leads to death.
Given free will is disputed, blathering on about it as if it is a fact, is just ignoring my objection

C.S. Lewis says, “If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”
Vacuous and irrelevant. 

The Strawman Gambit

SJT: Kaimatai asserts that if God is omniscient, we cannot have free will. This assertion is untrue as it conflates our free will to make choices with His control over our choices. Omniscience refers to “all knowing,” not “all controlling.” God does not control our actions, which is the essence of free will.
 No. You are grossly misrepresenting my objection.  That is not what I said at all! 
There is nothing in the objection about your deity controlling actions.

  • It is that any choice or action is an illusion in the presence of omniscience.  
  • Because every time someone thinks they have a choice, they can only act in the way your god knows they'll act.  
  • E.g. I don't buy sushi for lunch because your deity controls my purchase.
    • I buy sushi because your god knows I will. 
    • I can't deviate from that.  
  • There's not a single thing I will do, that can deviate one bit from god's omniscience.  I cannot make any choice that will alter my eternal afterlife.  
  • If your god's omniscience means he already knows I'm going to end up in hell, that's not a single thing I can do to change that.  I will end up in hell.
  • That makes freewill an illusion.  You can't have freewill when your actions and choices are already known and unalterable. 

SJT: To understand God’s omniscience and our free will, we need to understand that God is unbounded by time. The reason God knows our future is not because He’s controlled our future, but because He’s witnessed our future. Just as a journalist can skip through the pages of the newspapers in which she has published, moving back and forth in time, God can move back and forth in time. So, the real time that constrains us does not constrain Him. He sees our decisions and actions and knows whether we’ll be in the Lamb’s Book of Life, not because He’s predetermined our destiny, but because He has watched us as we exercise our free will through the lens of unbounded time. Furthermore, God is always in the present, yet He is unbounded by linear time so He is concurrently in our future and our past. According to Revelation 1:8, the Lord God “who is and who was and who always will be.”
Blah blah blah.  It's not about god predetermining our destiny. It's about every choice we make being an illusion of a choice. That we could not at that moment, choose to do anything other than what your god knew we were going to do. 

Let's say for argument's sake, your god had foreknowledge I'd go to hell when I was born. It knew I wouldn't believe you when you said he was real. Could I choose to believe you instead now?  Could I make a decision now, that deviates from what your god knows I will do, and change my afterlife? In other words, could your god not know the choice I was going to make? 

SJT: C.S. Lewis described this concept in his book Mere Christianity in this way: “Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along; and there is room for very little in each. That is what time is like. And of course you and I take it for granted that this time series – this arrangement of past, present, and future – is not simply the way life comes to us but the way things really exist…But many learned men do not agree with that. It was the theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in time at all: later the philosophers took it over: and now some scientists are doing the same. Almost certainly, God is not in time…If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty – and every other moment from the beginning of the world – is always present for Him.”
Vacuous rubbish

This is a difficult concept for some to grasp, but according to C.S. Lewis, it fits within Christianity. People may choose to ignore the concept, which is fine, yet it serves to understand the relationship between free will and omniscience.

You didn't address my objection. At all. It doesn't matter how your deity is omniscient.  Once you concede it knows every event in my life, then I'm bound to act only in ways that comply that knowledge.