My purpose here is to respond to a post published by Steven Dunn over at Philosophic Augustine. I met Steven several years ago in conversations on Tumblr. Over the years, he has maintained a resolute interest in philosophy, which is something I greatly admire about him. Few things remain constant over several years, so the fact that he has retained his passion for philosophy is impressive. He’s also grown a lot with respect to his knowledge and that’s to be applauded.
Prior to reproducing our discussion hitherto, I want to be clear about what I’ll be looking to accomplish in this response: a) address his latest response that features Aristotelian personalism and metaphysics b) circle back around to Bill Vallicella’s argument. I think it’s important not to lose sight of the argument, especially given that that’s the reason I commented on Steven’s Facebook post to begin with. I will make it clear that even if one granted the undeniable personhood of a fetus, it still would not follow that an abortion is equivalent to murder. With that said, here is the discussion as it stands; my reply to Steven’s latest response will follow.
Steven Dunn: Philosopher Bill Vallicella over at his blog Maverick Philosopher considers a brief but important argument:
(a) Abortion is murder.
(b) Abortion ought to be illegal.
The question: Can one consistently hold (a) and not (b)? Suppose an added proposition:
(a) Abortion is murder.
(b) Abortion ought to be illegal.
(c) Murder is illegal.
I posted this argument on my personal Facebook page which wrought the response of one of my old friends from the Tumblr blogosphere, R. N. Carmona. Carmona is a philosophic tour de force, one of whom I’m familiar with conversing and debating since I was 17 in 2013 (now I’m 24).
There was a lot of heated exchanges between me and Carmona. After learning of his upcoming book, Ending the Abortion Debate, I knew that this issue was something he was well-versed in and felt passionate about. The following exchange doesn’t do full justice to Carmona’s overall position, but the highlights I’m sure are as he would see fit. Enjoy!
R. N. Carmona: (a) is unsound, hence making the whole argument unsound. Aborting an embryo or non-viable fetus simply is NOT murder. Most abortions happen before week 16, with a majority of them happening before week 9. At no point in those times does a fetus resemble an infant and more importantly, the hallmarks of a person aren’t present yet. That happens at around week 22, hence the hard cut off in most states at 20 weeks. Specifically, EEG waves register in the neocortex at around week 22 and the neocortex isn’t full developed till around week 36. I’d argue that it’s murder after week 22.
The only time I make exceptions after that many weeks is if there’s a threat on the mother’s life, but if the choice is between the quality of life of a mom and her family and a nine week old fetus, it’s an easy choice. Keeping abortion legal prior to week 20 reduces maternal mortality, which, if you’re pro-life, you should care about. Moreover, restrictive policies increase infant and maternal mortality. We’ve had lots of tries at the conservative Christian way: Northern Island, the Muslim World, the Philippines, etc. Restrictive policies do not work.
This is precisely what my next book is about. Want to end abortion? Get behind the issue. Address poverty, lack of education, lack of access to contraception, domestic violence, etc. That’s the only way to slow the rate of abortion. Restricting it won’t work and those conservative states that have passed heartbeat bills are about to find out the hard way.
Steven Dunn: There is actually a large extent in which I agree with you. I’ve read a lot of your writing on this issue and I appreciate you’ve pointed the dangerous restrictive policies that do currently exist. There is also an importance as you say in addressing poverty, lack of education, etc.
However, my initial problem began when you claimed that aborting an embryo or non-viable fetus is not murder. Even though non-viable fetuses have no chance of survival, that still does not warrant moral permissibility to end its life. I don’t see where the line of moral difference changes with an embryo, fetus, or fully grown human infant. Is it a spatial difference? Is it a temporal difference? Does the week, day, or trimester matter when ending the life of a *potential human?
Of course, we could have a metaphysically more significant conversation than the kinds of questions I’m asking you. I just think that these questions are a good starting point. Also, what is the “hallmarks of a person”?
R. N. Carmona: The hallmark of a person is quite simply, the consciousness attributed to human beings and higher order animals like dolphins and the great apes: neuroplasticity, memory acquisition, language capacity, etc. Even simpler than that, the capacity to apprehend taste, texture, sound, and so on. Even them who are mentally disabled, assuming they aren’t blind or deaf, can have these experiences. The blind and deaf, though lacking an important sense, still have propensities for memory acquisition, language, and so on.
And that’s the difference: spatio-temporal. Of space, because the potential person now occupies a uterus, taking nutrients from the would-be mother; of time because the potential person is currently not in the world, i.e. is not a citizen of a given country; is not protected by laws.
Potential simply is not enough. The fetus is potentially stillborn or potentially going to die of SIDs or will potentially be an ectopic pregnancy or will potentially be born to become a serial killer that will make Ted Bundy blush. You can’t speak of potential as though it’s solely and predictably positive; potential can be very negative. In fact, this child can be the reason the mother dies and leaves behind a husband to raise several kids, including the newborn, on his own. Potential simply isn’t enough to obligate a woman to continue a pregnancy she’d rather terminate.
So yes, the week matters because so long as a fetus isn’t viable, abortion should be permissible. The moral difference changes once the fetus is viable. Potentiality simply isn’t a good argument. Viability is a much stronger argument.
Furthermore, the moral difference changes when purposeful modification comes into play. Sure, an infant doesn’t have that capacity: it doesn’t, for example, set goals for itself. However, the parents, once they are told that the fetus is developing well, start to purposely modify on the fetus’ behalf: they start thinking of a name, buying clothing, setting up its room, putting money in its college fund, etc.
No parent, even if they’re a Christian conservative, begins to purposely modify at conception or even in the early weeks. It’s simply not enough to go on and tells you that, behaviorally speaking, most parents write off potential. Potential isn’t enough for anyone to go on and that’s why most people need something concrete before they begin to purposely modify on their baby’s behalf.
So yes, there’s a simple line to draw between a non-viable fetus and a viable one. I can speak of organismality as well, namely comparing and contrasting between organisms to come to a good conclusion regarding what a non-viable fetus most closely resembles, and it’s clear that they don’t resemble a newborn. There are marked differences, but I digress.
Steven Dunn: I would clarify that you are *technically correct in saying that potentiality is not enough. A potential X of course is not an X. Because I am a potential speaker of the French language doesn’t mean I can speak the French language. However, potentialities are still nonetheless grounded in being: they are realities not merely possibilities.
They are actual human beings with various potentials.
Though they are not realized among differing spatial and temporal locations/positions, I don’t think you’ve provided a meaningful account of persons. Human persons, as I see it, are instances of personalized being; persons possess phenomenological qualities that make them eligible for relationships – or interpersonal love. I think our definitions of persons should capture something specific (and simple), rather than be a construct of various qualifiers (neuroplasticity, apprehension of the senses, etc).
One biological example worth mentioning that I think you’ll appreciate is the cognitive capacity of bonobos – which is one of my favorite areas of primatology to examine their analogous behavior with humans. They’re sympathetic, they can experience pain, they are highly intelligent, they can have an extensive non-verbal vocabulary, etc.
Despite these striking qualities, they do not fit under the definition of persons I’ve provided above.
What does it mean to be a real person? A couple things: (i) what W. Norris Clark has called the “participation structure of the universe”; rational-intelligibility that allows for human persons and the universe to find meaningful relations/predictions; (ii) existence as a dynamic act of presence and (iii) action as a [self] manifestation of inner-being.
I think your definition of persons is merely conditional; it’s dynamic but not exhaustive. Human beings – that is, if a personalized being possesses such potentialities – are intrinsically valuable; there can be no moral difference among this being’s spatial or temporal location.
In summary. . . I think you are raising issues that aren’t typically addressed by conservatives. It’s important that we better handle areas of women’s reproductive healthcare, which can be dealt with through better and intentional education, personal conviction, etc. However, I think we need to agree that the moral question is not somehow addressed because we’ve raised current social or political problems surrounding abortion. There are consequences and symptoms that need to be taken care of, by all means. However, if structurally we are dealing with the intentional ending of a human life then we need to talk about it.
R. N. Carmona: I disagree there. What I hear is Aristotelian language here and I reject his metaphysics all the way through. Potentialities are not realities grounded in being. I think even Aristotle makes a distinction between potentiality and actuality, and as I recall, he doesn’t conflate them in this manner.
Persons do, however, possess phenomenological qualities, like phenomenal consciousness, but that isn’t what makes them eligible for relationships and interpersonal love. What’s needed there is simple empathy and bonobos and chimps, in general, are capable of that; that’s one reason why some advanced nations recognize them as persons. So rather than a construct of qualifiers, it’s more a recognition of qualifiers taken together to get a basic definition of person.
The base anthropocentrism of theists doesn’t allow them to accept that other higher order animals are persons, and that’s what you’re doing here. Dolphins call each other by name and remember individuals for decades. Elephants can also remember individuals after years of not seeing them. So while there’s certainly a distinction between a human person and a dolphin person, there is overlap that qualifies them both and that overlap is found in the sciences. The issue here is that your definition relies less on science and more so on an implied belief in the soul or on metaphysics rather than science.
I agree with (I) as it’s pretty much purposeful modification paraphrased. (II) relies heavily on Aristotelian metaphysics and I reject it outright. (III) stems from two, but alludes to libertarian action of will, which I don’t think anyone has. There’s no [self] without the [other] and other is much more crucial in action, especially willful. I think human persons can change course, but only after realizing enough deterministic conditions underlying their actions, thus empowering them to experience determinants that may lead to an overall change of course.
Think of the proverbial alcoholic; he doesn’t willfully change his bad habit, but what he does is “change” a given number of determinants so that his actions may change and out of a recognition that if he doesn’t make these changes, he is pretty much enabled: a) stops associating with friends who drink regularly b) doesn’t go to bars when invited c) goes to rehab. And so on and so on and so on.
Action itself isn’t in a vacuum, but dynamic and intertwined with the flux of all there is. So human potential takes course in a deterministic manner and any human looking to have any semblance of control over that will reposition herself with respect to determinants. A fetus is incapable of this sort of purposeful modification, which I think is the most actualized of all.
So my definition, while not alluding to souls or anything religious, is also sufficient because it recognizes the role of the other in the shaping of the self. The embryo and non-viable fetus do not interact with the other in the manner in which persons do and it is simply potentiality and not actuality, to use your language. What is commonly aborted is (what can be) rather than (what is), so that spatio-temporal difference lays the groundwork for a moral difference and the moral difference lies in purposeful modification which I think your (I) paraphrases.
Any metaphysic that doesn’t account for the other, even something as arbitrary as a chair, isn’t complete. Hegel understood this and is the forefather, I think, of modern metaphysics, starting in the phenomenologists that soon followed him. Hurssel relied a lot on Aristotle too and I’m not alone in seeing that he was mistaken for doing so, but again, I digress.
Steven Dunn: I would respond to your outlook on Aristotelian personalism as not fully appreciating what the system has to offer. In our personal conversations on abortion I have mentioned to you that yes, personalism and the potentiality principle has largely been carried and grounded in Catholic moral theology. I understand, therefore, we both don’t share views in the inspiration of Christian theology.
Hence, we need to find anthropological and philosophical commonalities in which we can meaningfully proceed in a discourse about human persons and what exactly is developing in the womb. The best system that does this, in my view, is Aristotle’s conception of being from his Metaphysics and the further extension from Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of persons (with some modifications).
Aquinas argued that persons are that which is “perfected in all of nature.” This essentially means that persons are not merely special “modes” of being amongst others, but that personhood is being when it is allowed to be at its fullest. In other words, persons are not restricted by sub-intelligent matter. There are a number of reasons why persons – humans – possess the special status that they do, and while I think there are theological reasons for this I think I can still demonstrate that apart from any inspired or “revealed” source.
First, Aquinas’ notion of person was conscious of the distinction between person and nature, because providing a consistent account of personhood meant that a consideration of God as Triune (one divine nature amongst three persons) and Christ as the God-man (divine person possessing two natures) needed to be contextually consistent.
Therefore, it has been an accusation by some leading Catholic philosophers (Wojtyla, Ratzinger, Clarke, etc) that Aquinas falls short of a comprehensive philosophical definition of person because the medievals relied primarily on the Boethian definition of person: “An individual substance of a rational nature.” Hence, I would argue for a further inclusion of the concept of “relation,” which is fundamental to our understanding of what it means “to be.”
Aquinas moved away from the what has been called “self-diffusiveness” of the Good as seen by the NeoPlatonists (the collaboration of the Good with all “substances”) and instead moves to Supreme Being, where Existence (esse) – as I said before – now becomes the root of all perfection. Supreme Being is the subsistent Act of Existence, where now the self-diffusive Good now becomes self-communicative Love.
Hence we have three primary qualities for the relationability of persons: being is (1) self-communicative (showing that persons are intelligible [ratio] by their actuality); (2) being is self-manifesting (persons are immediately relatable to other beings); and (3) being is intrinsically active (persons are not merely present but actively present).
Suppose a being for example that existed in reality but didn’t or couldn’t manifest itself to other beings, or if it didn’t or couldn’t act in any way. If this kind of being lacked such properties then other beings couldn’t have knowledge of its existence; it would be almost as if it had no being at all. Now imagine if all beings existed in this sort of way; the universe itself wouldn’t be connected in the unified sense that philosophers and scientists typically speak of the rationality of the universe.
Now combine this with the potentiality principle. According to Current Anthropology (2013), potentiality is a principle not so foreign to them: potentiality “denotes a hidden force determined to manifest itself – something that with or without intervention has its future built into it.”1
Let me be clear that potentiality is the only relevant metaphysical principle worth considering for abortion. My position, to be clear, is not:
- X is a creature of a certain sort.
- Creatures of this sort have right R.
- Therefore, X has a right R.
Premise 2 of course begs the question in favor of what I want to prove. In summary, my position is that the full and perfect realization of being is always inherent in its nature. All living things, including mindless plants, dolphins and gorillas have a proper end or “good” which is naturally directed within their nature – even from a formless or potential state. Nothing can exist without potentials, and potentials cannot be realized apart from something actual.
Now the metaphysical picture I’ve provided is not mere conjecture but is what historically has served as the foundation of Western intelligentsia for over 1,500 years, until the advent of the modern model by Descartes and Newton. And I would argue that that move away from the model of classical metaphysics has been one of the greatest errors and blunders of Western thought. It was an illegitimate move because it’s not as if new physical discoveries were made, hence “outdating” the Aristotelian system.
Descartes, among other French intellectuals at his time were responsible for the shift away from potential/actual, the four causes, and his metaphysic of being. Bad move.
R.N. Carmona: While not mere conjecture and arguably the foundation of Western intellgentsia for over 1,500 years, one would have to gloss over important bits of history to make that argument. One of the more significant bits of history I have in mind is the Christian and Muslim censorship and destruction of texts that were not in agreement with monotheism, especially works that were of a more naturalistic flavor. Carlo Rovelli puts it succinctly:
I often think that the loss of the works of Democritus in their entirety is the greatest intellectual tragedy to ensue from the collapse of the old classical civilization…We have been left with all of Aristotle, by way of which Western thought reconstructed itself, and nothing of Democritus. Perhaps if all the works of Democritus had survived, and nothing of Aristotle’s, the intellectual history of our civilization would have been better … But centuries dominated by monotheism have not permitted the survival of Democritus’s naturalism. The closure of the ancient schools such as those of Athens and Alexandria, and the destruction of all the texts not in accordance with Christian ideas was vast and systematic, at the time of the brutal antipagan repression following from the edicts of Emperor Theodisius, which in 390-391 declared that Christianity was to be the only and obligatory religion of the empire. Plato and Aristotle, pagans who believed in the immortality of the soul or in the existence of a Prime Mover, could be tolerated by a triumphant Christianity. Not Democritus.2
It’s not a mere coincidence that Aristotelian metaphysics stood in fashion for so long, nor was it established that the Aristotelian system was better than other systems. In that same time period, theists, especially Christians, held a virtual monopoly on ideas and as such, metaphysical frameworks with more naturalistic bents were destroyed or censored. Due to this, there was a reluctance on the part of skeptics and naturalists to offer a naturalistic metaphysical system. They were rightfully afraid of The Inquisition. So, Aristotelian metaphysics didn’t dominate the landscape because it was the best framework, but rather, because the game was rigged in its favor.
Copernicus and Galileo, for instance, dealt with the consequences of challenging theistic thought. Copernicus’ De revolutionibus “was forbidden by the Congregation of the Index ‘until corrected’, and in 1620 these corrections were indicated. Nine sentences, by which the heliocentric system was represented as certain, had to be either omitted or changed.”3 Galileo’s house arrest is a well-known historical fact and there’s no need to tread over old coals here. More to the point, “Bruno [was]…much more of a philosopher than a scientist. He felt that a physicist’s field of study was the tangible universe, so he challenged any line of thought that utilized nonphysical elements and avoided what he considered the juvenile exercise of calculation. To him, computational astronomy missed the true significance of the sky.”4 Bruno held to eight purportedly heretical theses and they served as the reason for his execution. Among these theses were patently naturalistic positions: the universe is spatially infinite, there are other planets very similar to ours, there were humans before Adam and Eve, the Earth moves in accordance with Copernican theory.5 In all but one of these positions, Bruno has been proven correct. So the notion that Aristotle’s system is best overall or, at the very least with respect to defining personhood, is already disputable because as has been demonstrated, competing, especially naturalistic, frameworks were discouraged. Despite this, before I set out on my own exploration with regards to what best explains potentiality, I will challenge Aristotle’s personalism.
Even if I were to grant that Aristotle offered much in the way of explaining personhood, there’s still the question of how any of these criteria apply to embryos and early fetuses. Take for instance, (1) self-communicative (showing that persons are intelligible [ratio] by their actuality). To my mind, embryos and early fetuses are not self-communicative nor intelligible, and that’s because they have yet to develop the organ that makes this possible, namely the brain. Now, while I recognize that Aristotle offers an interesting conundrum worth considering, i.e., as you put it, “Nothing can exist without potentials, and potentials cannot be realized apart from something actual,” I don’t see that a fetus’ obvious intelligibility and self-communication follows. As we will see shortly, there’s a better explanation for the notion that nothing can exist without potentials and that no potentials can be realized separate from something actual.
In like manner, let’s consider also (2) being is self-manifesting (persons are immediately relatable to other beings). On the assumption that Aristotle was correct, I don’t see how embryos and early fetuses are self-manifesting and immediately relatable to other beings. If anything, it is only relatable to its parents and siblings, assuming they had children already. Since it has not emerged independently within the world, it is not relatable to other people, the ecosystem in its locale, nor the wider biosphere. The fact that it isn’t independently within the world makes so that it isn’t relatable to any other beings. Furthermore, it’s relation to its parents and siblings is best explained and anticipated by genetics, which we will get to shortly.
Let’s also consider (3) being is intrinsically active (persons are not merely present but actively present). Again, embryos and early fetuses are not present, let alone actively present for the same reasons they aren’t self-manifesting. The fact that it is not independently within the world, once again, proves problematic for the third criterion. I can grant that it is actively present once born, for its parent(s) is now self-modifying on its behalf. It is interacting with other persons in a very obvious manner and relies on them for its physical, emotional, and psychological growth, growth that is crucial for its potential to eventually become a person who has a theory of mind, a sense of self, an ego, memories, desires, goals, and so on. Within the womb, that simply is not the case early in any pregnancy. The woman’s voice and music can help with brain development starting at 29-33 weeks. So harkening back to what I said earlier, interpersonal interaction is only possible when the brain is sufficiently developed, which strongly favors the thesis that the brain is integral to a human person rather than a soul.
Now to the matter of what better explains the predictable potential of a human fetus, after which three conclusions should be immediately clear: either 1) that we do not require a metaphysical explanation for potentiality and personhood or 2) that given genetics and evolution, what’s necessary is a metaphysical framework that is congruous with and readily predicts scientific facts and 3) that nothing can exist without potentials and that potentials are not realized without actuals has been solved.
One of the primary reasons I reject Christian theism as a worldview is because it gives human beings an undue “special status” all while ignoring human evolution. Human potential or more specifically, homo sapien potential wouldn’t exist without an ancestor’s (probably homo antecessor) potential. Furthermore, homo sapien potential would not have been realized without the actuality of ancestors and likewise, without the divergence of ancestors, great apes would not have progressed as they have. As you well know, we share about 98.5% DNA with chimpanzees and some 96% with gorillas, two facts that establish a common ancestry. So this “special status” is actually an example of special pleading because it’s not at all clear why chimps and gorillas do not qualify for such status; also, neanderthals, given what we currently know about them, are in many respects like homo sapiens (a fact that made their interbreeding possible) and as such, would qualify for such status without question. Yet on Christian theism, no human ancestor qualifies for this status, an attitude I find very suspicious.
Human evolution, like evolution in toto, has an underlying genetic component that explains these variations in populations over time. That same genetic component continues among all populations of species and thus, better explains “the perfect realization of being…inherent in the nature of mindless plants, dolphins, and gorillas.” Furthermore, potentiality does not denote a “hidden force determined to manifest itself,” but a rather statistically predictable pattern present in the genome of an organism; it isn’t hidden at all, but rather in plain sight. The pattern is so predictable that one can readily explain how and why that which is formless becomes something with form.
So prior to circling back to Vallicella’s argument, I will offer a brief overview showing how the actuality of parents results in the potentiality and probable actuality of a child. It is also important to note that given genetics, there are a number of factors that determine morphological sex, eye color, hair color, skin tone, and so on. So let’s imagine that in universe A, Jack and Jill have a baby girl named Janice and that in universe B, they have a boy named Jake. Let’s consider the important differences in each child, differences that explain why Janice exists in A and Jake in B.
In universe A, Jack and Jill are both 24-years-old when they agree to having a child. Jack and Jill are wealthy and have spent the last four years of their relationship traveling. Neither of them are stressed and have no trouble being happy and grateful for all that they have. When considering that high stress increases the probability of having a boy, it is no surprise that Jill gives birth to Janice nine months later. Yet that still does not explain why Janice has brown eyes (though both her parents have blue eyes), her mother’s hair color, and her father’s hitchhiker thumb. In the main, had another sperm fertilized the egg, Janice very likely would have been born with completely different features. Despite low stress levels, there’s also the fact that Jack has five sisters and no brothers, therefore increasing the probability of having a girl. This still does not explain why Janice has brown rather than blue eyes, blonde rather than brown hair, and a hitchhiker thumb rather than a straight thumb.
Allelic combination is important in explaining her phenotypic features. Should both parents pass on recessive genes, Janice is born with a hitchhiker thumb. Or alternatively, if there’s a combination of dominant and recessive genes, she may have a chance to have a hitchhiker thumb or a straight thumb. If there’s a combination of dominant genes, then she will predictably have a straight thumb (see reference). Eye color tends to be similar, albeit more complicated.
For instance, the assumption is that since Janice’s parents have blue eyes, she will also have blue eyes. There are two genes integral to determine eye pigmentation: OCA2 and HERC2. An active HERC2 activates OCA2, which determines pigment; given this, we know that this is what explains Janice’s brown eyes. Her counterpart in universe B, Jake, has either a broken HERC2 or a broken OCA2 and therefore, has blue eyes (see reference). He also has brown hair and a straight thumb. He has a straight thumb because instead of a recessive and dominant gene (what we find in Janice’s genome), we find two dominant genes in Jake’s genome. Their disparate hair colors are also explained in this manner as well. It is also likely that in Universe B, Jill gave birth to Jake because of the high levels of stress she experienced during pregnancy. Jack and Jill decided to conceive at the ages of 31. During the pregnancy, they moved from Middletown, NY to New York City because they both wanted more job opportunities. The crowded commutes, her career, the noise pollution, among other things, stressed Jill out to no end and this increased the probability of having a boy, hence (probably) the birth of Jake.
Form, likewise, follows suit. Drosophila have been important in research in evolutionary biology and genetics. In observing curious mutations in these flies, geneticists discovered homeotic genes that determine the body pattern of all organisms. The research gets very technical and makes for quite the tangent, but homeotic, or Hox genes themselves come from a Hox-like ancestor that explains the similarities Hox genes have from organism to organism (see reference). The graphic makes the extrapolations of their research clear.
What is also clear is that the following turns out to be false: “All living things, including mindless plants, dolphins and gorillas have a proper end or “good” which is naturally directed within their nature – even from a formless or potential state.” It’s not so much that there’s a natural tendency even from a formless, potential state, but rather, that there’s an evolutionary and genetic history that informs how a comparatively formless embryo develops into a human being. There are also traits that are arbitrary as there’s no purpose as to why someone would have brown rather than blue eyes or a hitchhiker thumb rather than a straight thumb. Some traits are inconsequential with respect to who a given person is.
Aristotelian metaphysics is considered outmoded by contemporary philosophers and scientists because it is incongruous with various scientific paradigms. Setting cosmology and physics aside, as I think I’ve shown, Aristotle’s concept of a person is incongruous with evolution and genetics and the system did nothing in the way of anticipating the advent of evolutionary biology and genetics. His system speaks of personhood in a patently non-naturalistic or even supernatural manner whereas genetics and evolution show that personhood is linked to certain types of purely physical organisms. What is required is either no metaphysical framework at all (à la logical positivists) or a framework that coincides with modern philosophical and scientific paradigms. Aristotle’s system doesn’t accomplish that and far from a “bad move,” Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and everyone who eventually stood on their shoulders have every justification to move away from the Aristotelian system. Although interesting, that potentials can’t exist apart from actuals is explained by genetics for that which is animate and memetics for that which is inanimate. In fact, Aristotle was closer to correct with regards to universals and particulars, an explanation that can be applied to inanimate objects rather than living entities. Yet despite the potential for a human embryo to become an actual human person, a roughly predictable, naturalistic set of occurrences take place before every human birth. The process is also a fragile one as an injury to the would-be mother can end the pregnancy; genetic anomalies and an implantation anywhere other than the uterus can make it so that this potentiality never results in an actuality. Aristotle’s system also doesn’t explain the fragility of this process not just in humans, but in other organisms as well. It should therefore be clear that conclusions aforementioned have been firmly established and that if metaphysics remains a concern for philosophers, we have to do better than what Aristotle and his disciples rendered us.
Now to circle all the way back to Vallicella’s argument. Even if one were to grant the undeniable personhood of a fetus, either through the medium of Aristotelian metaphysics or another metaphysical framework altogether, there’s still the issue that the intentional killing of this person doesn’t constitute a murder. The pivotal error pro-choicers make is that they tend to define abortion and ignore what it’s being equated to. They should also consider the legal definition of murder, since Vallicella is alluding to the legal rather than the moral definition.
The killing of an embryo or fetus is done with intentions and motives altogether different from those underlying homicide, and as such, from a legal standpoint, it can’t be approached as murder or even a lesser offense like manslaughter. There is no degree of murder applicable to abortion; the intention and motive are not the same either, so even from a legal perspective, abortion is not murder. It would constitute an intentional killing of a different sort, of an even benevolent sort. Therefore, a woman who has an abortion can’t be tried and convicted as a murderer, neither can the doctor who performed the abortion. Let’s consider first degree murder. Premeditation is already an issue for Vallicella’s argument; the prosecution wouldn’t be able to argue that the mother had a malicious intent to kill this person. As for second degree, even though lacking the premeditation criterion, implies a reckless disregard for human life. The prosecution can’t accuse a woman of that either.
What’s more is that, if you were right in that a fetus is a person despite its viability, then restrictive policies would be the only choice we’d have. Like Vallicella’s argument implies, murder is treated in an extremely restrictive manner; even self-defense has to be established with no room for doubt. So if abortion were murder, it would be dealt with in like manner. So setting metaphysics and ethics aside, from a practical point of view, we should be wary of equating abortion with murder because we have dealt with the latter in a restrictive manner and we should know better, especially given the deadly consequences of such policies. So even if for solely practical reasons, we should shy from such equivalence even if it could be proven that abortion is murder. The issue here is that no pro-lifer has qualified that statement in any manner that doesn’t make for a bare assertion. Abortion is simply not murder and to think of women who have abortions as murderers is to misunderstand this issue altogether. What we should be addressing are the common motivations for seeking an abortion: poverty, domestic violence, lack of employment opportunity, and so on. I can go on, but I’ve probably overstayed my welcome as it is, so for the time being, I will leave this here.
The featured image to this article was taken from https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/4291/
The featured image to this article is Rembrandt’s Two Old Men Disputing (1628).
-  Taussig, Karen-Sue, Klaus Hoeyer, and Stefan Helmreich: “The Anthropology of Potentiality in Biomedicine: An Introduction to Supplement. Current Anthropology (vol. 54). 2013.
-  Rovelli, Carlo, et al. Reality Is Not What It Seems: the Journey to Quantum Gravity. Riverhead Books, 2018, pp. 32-33.
-  “Nicolaus Copernicus.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.20 Jun. 2019 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04352b.htm>.
-  NA. “Bruno and Galileo in Rome.” Honors Program in Rome, University of Washington. 2003. <https://depts.washington.edu/hrome/Authors/pev42/BrunoandGalileoinRome/pub_zbarticle_view_printable.html>
-  Ibid. 
By R.N. Carmona
Them who, for philosophical reasons, adopt perspectivism or them who, in the interest of preserving their beliefs, adopt perspectivism misunderstand what Nietzsche intended to achieve. Nietzsche was not arguing that all perspectives are created equal; he recognized that some were better than others. Neither was he arguing that objectivity was not possible. He wrote: “The more eyes, different eyes, we know how to bring to bear on one and the same matter, that much more complete will our ‘concept’ of this matter, our ‘objectivity’ be.”1
The truth isn’t a democratic process. Taken together, he was arguing that if we to consider all perspectives worth considering, namely those perspectives that are among the best, we can arrive at a more objective conclusion. On political, legal, moral, philosophical, and even scientific matters, informed perspectives can help us arrive at the objective truth. Nothing at all is shielding people from the facts of the matter. Our perspective may be wrong or distorted, but if we account for other perspectives, especially better ones, one can adopt a better perspective.
This take is more accurate than a take which argued that the truth is equal to opinion. Nietzsche would not have argued that. Most contemporary perspectivists miss that crucial point: objectivity is not impossible; in fact, the more complete one’s accounting of better perspectives is, the closer one gets to achieving objectivity with regards to the case in question. Opinions are not created equal; some are better than others. Opinions and perspectives are virtually interchangeable. While opinions are informed by one’s given perspective, one’s opinion would differ given that one’s perspective differed; this is to say that opinions are contingent on one’s perspective. An opinion might even be considered an iteration of one’s perspective, a way of explaining one’s perspective or putting it into words.
This isn’t necessarily a post-truth era, since truth still exists. The truth can be avoided or flat-out denied, but this doesn’t imply that we now find ourselves in an era in where there’s no truth. There are still truths, both mundane and profound–from your particular date of birth to the fact that the universe is roughly 13.8 billion years old. We are, unfortunately, free to deny these truths, but that doesn’t change their status. Contemporary perspectivists have bastardized Nietzsche’s view and presented it as an enemy of truth. In fact, perspectivism may be the only account of truth that makes sense, both philosophically and practically. If one were to consider that, for instance, arguments were needed to tell people why slavery was wrong, one will begin to see that a fuller consideration of better perspectives helps us to see reason. Arguments were also needed to show people why misogyny was wrong; arguments were needed to overturn the nonsense law that allowed men to keep the belongings of their former wives. This new Act allowed women to have rights to their inheritances and property–even the property they acquired during marriage.
In a post-God era, Nietzsche’s view makes sense. If God is truly dead, the only unity of human reality we can achieve is one that accounts for as many human perspectives as possible. Nietzsche’s perspectivism, when considered fully, is a valid theory of truth. Contemporary proponents of a more simplistic perspectivism would fool one into thinking that there’s no objectivity to be had. Nietzsche clearly didn’t argue that. His perspectivism is much more careful in how it proceeds and gives us a way to achieve objectivity — a way that is in keeping with history. This should come as no surprise coming from a philosopher who was concerned with the use and abuse of history. It is only fitting that his theory of truth is one that is supported by historical trends.
1 Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Beyond good and evil ; and the genealogy of morals. New York: Barnes & Noble , 1996. Print.
Book is now available for purchase here! Here are the Table of Contents to whet the appetite:
Chapter 1: Philosophical Approaches to Atheism
Chapter 2: Refuting the Kalam Cosmological Argument
Chapter 3: The Moral Argument Refuted
Chapter 4: Refuting Plantinga’s Victorious Ontological Argument
Chapter 5: On Qualia and A Refutation of the Argument from Consciousness
Chapter 6: Refuting the Fine-Tuning Argument
Chapter 7: The Failures of Aquinas’ Five Ways
Chapter 8: Transcendental Arguments and Presuppositionalism Refuted
Chapter 9: The Argument from Assailability
Chapter 10: The Arguments from History and The Multiplicity of Religions
Chapter 11: The Argument from Cosmology
Chapter 12: On the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument
I hope you guys enjoy!
By R.N. Carmona
The questions that are most relevant to understanding Acts is when and why it was written. To many Christians, the answer is quite simple. Despite the story-like continuation from the Gospel of Luke, they take it to be a straightforward history of Christianity’s inception. The book begins with Jesus’ ascension into heaven and continues by following the activities of the Apostles thereafter.
Without getting into the book’s more fantastical bits, e.g., Peter healing with his shadow (Acts 5:15); Paul’s healing handkerchiefs and aprons (Acts 19:12), one can cast doubt on the historical reliability of Acts. The anonymous writer of Acts and Paul sometimes write about the same events in Paul’s life and though some discrepancies are minor and even negligible, others cast doubt on its historical reliability. Bart Ehrman explains:
Paul is quite emphatic in the epistle to the Galatians that after he had his vision of Jesus and came to believe in him he did *not* go to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles (1:15-18). This is an important issue for him, because he wants to prove to the Galatians that his gospel message did not come from Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem (the original disciples and the church around them) but from Jesus himself. His point is that he has not corrupted a message that he received from someone else; his gospel came straight from God, with no human intervention. The book of Acts, of course, provides its own narrative of Paul’s conversion. In this account, strikingly enough, Paul does exactly what he claims *not* to have done in Galatians: after leaving Damascus some days after his conversion, he goes directly to Jerusalem and meets with the apostles (Acts 9:10-30).1
Erhman explains that Paul could have lied about not consulting the Apostles. In Galatians 1:20, Paul asserts that he isn’t lying. Erhman, therefore, sees this as a discrepancy stemming from the writer of Acts.
It is important to note that Paul, in the Book of Acts, is depicted differently from how Paul represents himself in the Epistles. These differences will be made clear below. To understand why there are differences between Paul in Acts and Paul in his own Epistles, we need to understand why it was written. Prior to understanding why it was written, we need to answer the question of when it was written.
I. When Was Acts Written?
Though Acts is usually dated between 80 and 90 CE, the consensus isn’t based on evidence. As Richard Pervo explains: “Scholarly consensus has dated Luke and Acts at c. 85, with a dwindling number who place the work in the 60s and a larger minority who prefer the last decade of the first century. The consensus date is a convenient compromise that seems to demand little proof.”2
Pervo goes on to explain that it is likelier that Acts was written around 115 CE for a couple of reasons. One reason is that the author shows familiarity with Paul’s Epistles and with Josephus’ Antiquities, the latter of which was written around 94 CE. The main reason, as Pervo explains, is that the author seemed preoccupied with the concerns of early second century apologists who took on the task of defending their faith against polytheists and heretical Christian factions.
II. Why Was Acts Written?
Given this, one can then answer why Acts was written. One reason it was written was to respond to critics of the so called proto-orthodox view. It was written as a response to polytheists, but more importantly, it was written as a response to heretical factions. The most prominent of these factions were the Marcionites. Robert Price explains:
Knox argues persuasively, along many lines, that Luke-Acts was a second-century Catholic response to Marcion’s Sputnik, the Apostolicon. Canonical Luke was a catholicizing expansion of the same Ur-Lukas Marcion had slightly abbreviated, while Acts was a sanitized substitute for Marcion’s Pauline Corpus. Thus it presents a Paul who, though glorified, is co-opted, made the merest Narcissus-reflection of the Twelve–and who writes no epistles, but only delivers an epistle from the Jerusalem apostles! Knox sees the restoration of the Pauline letters (domesticated by the “dangerous supplement” of the Pastorals) and the addition of three other gospels and several non-Pauline epistles, In short the whole formation of the New Testament canon, as a response to the challenge of Marcion and the Marcionite church.3
As Ehrman explained earlier, there’s a major discrepancy between the Pauline Epistles and Acts concerning how Paul acquired his message. It must be stated that though Ehrman sides with Epistles on the matter, i.e., Paul did not get his message from the Apostles, this does not mean that he believes Paul’s account, namely that he received his message directly from Jesus.
1 Peter, 1 Clement, and the Gospel of John have much in common with the Pauline Epistles. As Pervo explains, 1 Peter agrees with some of Paul’s theology; 1 Clement quotes Paul, but diverges from his theology; the Gospel of John shares much of his theology though it developed independently. This is to say that Paul’s theology isn’t unique and that it did not have to come directly from an apparition of Jesus.
III. Two Pauls?
The author of Acts, a person claiming to have been Paul’s companion, clearly isn’t attempting to discredit Paul’s claim. Yet the question still remains: why is Paul in Acts different from Paul in the Epistles? Accounts of his life are different and his theology differs in key respects. This was done because the author of Acts–both Pervo and Ehrman agree–wanted to promote unity among believers by showing that Paul, Peter, and James were in agreement. As Ehrman explains:
For Acts the whole point is that Paul, Peter, James, and in fact all the apostles were completely simpatico, totally on the same page in terms of doctrine and practice, united in every way. And so he tells the story differently from Paul. And in fact in ways that flat out contradict Paul.4
There are two contradictions that stand out. One is that Paul wants to make clear that he was on a Gentile mission. Acts, on the other hand, has Paul giving most of his sermons to Jews. Another contradiction is Paul’s theology with regards to polytheism. According to his Romans 1:18-32, polytheists were not ignorant of the one true god and thus, their idolatry was an act of disobedience worthy of punishment. On Acts 17, it’s precisely the opposite: pagans are simply ignorant of the one true god and are not to be held accountable.
Conservative scholars have argued that the latter of these contradictions can be resolved by separating the audiences Paul was addressing. His softer approach in Acts was simply a means to convert polytheists. However, there’s another, more plausible, option. Ehrman explains:
Luke, rather than Paul, is the author of the speech on the Areopagus, just as he is the author of all the other speeches in his account, as we saw in Chapter 9. This goes a long way toward explaining why so many of the speeches in Acts sound so similar to one another, regardless of who the speaker is — why, that is, Paul sounds like Peter and Peter sounds like Paul (compare the speeches of Acts 2 and 13, for example). Rather than embodying *Paul’s* view of the pagan religions, then, the Areopagus speech may embody *Luke’s* view, representing the kind of evangelistic address that he imagines would have been appropriate to the occasion.5
If one is unfamiliar with Paul’s Epistles, specifically Galatians, one would think that Paul and Peter were always in agreement. One would think that they agreed on circumcision and more generally, that they were in agreement concerning either the abolition of the Jewish law or the fulfillment of the law through Jesus. In other words, one would assume that they thought the law was no longer applicable.
However, this contrasts sharply with Galatians 2. In short, Peter was in the habit of eating with Gentiles. When Jews came to Antioch, he stopped doing so because Jews were to behave in a certain way, and this meant not eating with Gentiles. Paul strongly disagreed with Peter’s obedience to the law and argued that Peter missed the point of salvation through Christ. Here we have Peter and Paul on opposite ends of the spectrum rather than in full agreement with one another.
There’s also the fact that in Acts, Paul is not recognized or depicted as an apostle. This is at variance with what he says about himself in the Epistles. As Pervo explains: “Although the Paul of Acts is not an apostle in name, Luke and Paul agree that the missionary to the gentiles follows and identifies with his master…Acts presents Paul as a Jerusalem missionary, subordinate to the community there, a Christian preacher who has not severed his connection with the Pharisaic party.”6
Paul was no doubt an important figure in the early Christian community. If going by his own words, we see a theology that identifies a sharp delineation between the old and the new, between Judaism and Christianity. Rather than maintain a connection with Pharisees, Paul severed all ties as he didn’t promote observance of the law. His own words, which were written earlier than Acts, should take precedence. As Pervo observes:
Given their different situations and disparate outlooks, it should come as no surprise that the Paul of Acts is at considerable variance with the Paul who appears in the epistles. Luke evidently felt obliged to update Paul for the current situation. There is nothing novel about that. The same charge may be laid against Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, and John Wesley, to name but three from a lengthy catalogue of those motivated by Paul to erect fresh theological systems and launch new eras and movements. The real mystery, for those in quest of one, is why anyone has ever sought to prove that the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the letters thought and acted in similar ways. The obvious clue, a smoking gun if ever one was, is that the driving concern of this effort is not theology, but history. To the degree that Acts portrays not only Paul, but also Peter and James, in colors derived from the palette of Lucan theology, its historical value is considerably compromised.7
IV. Other Historical Problems
Aside from its depiction of Paul, there are other problems present in Acts that should make clear that it isn’t history. Historians have methods. Regardless of this, people who read the Gospels and Acts as history commit two fallacies that run counter to these methods. The first, coined by Richard Carrier, but noticed by others, is possibiliter ergo probabiliter (possible therefore probable).8 As Pervo observes, “[n]ot all that is possible is probable, and some probabilities are greater than others.”9 Related to this fallacy is the assumption that once one sets aside all the fantastical bits, whatever remains is true. This, however, ignores why a given passage was written.
When it comes to the Book of Acts, why a passage was written and by extension, why the book was written is crucial to understanding the book. Seeing it as straightforward history misses the point, which is theological and not historical. The point is no better made than by Acts 9. Acts 9 introduces us to a Christian community without telling us how or when it got there. From there, it tells us that the high priest tasks Paul with seizing these believers and bringing them to Jerusalem. As Pervo explains:
It is most unlikely that the chief priest possessed the power to interfere in the affairs of another province and have its residents extradited to stand trail for capital charges (cf. 26:10) in his court. This is a fantasy with serious historical implications. It has become the basis of the portrait of Paul the Persecutor.10
He goes on to explain that though Paul admits to persecuting Christians, e.g., Galatians 1:13, it is much more likely that his persecution was verbal and not physical. Luke prefers physical persecution because it supports a theological point. In Matthew 24:9, Jesus prophesies of Christians being brought to death. He doesn’t prophesy of Christians being opposed in debate. He doesn’t speak of polemics written against their beliefs or satire designed to debase their claims. This might go a long way in explaining why Luke preferred stories of martyrs rather than stories of Christians who couldn’t hold their own in a debate or who couldn’t address slanderous polemics and satire written against their beliefs.
Another passage with theological intents is Acts 13. The mission to Cyprus simply doesn’t read like history. It revolves around a Jewish sorcerer who goes blind and then converts to Christianity. The passage is only meant to showcase Paul’s power in Christ, so to speak. Acts is about legitimizing Paul’s ministry and also about reframing his history as partly told in the Epistles. The motivation for doing so is, once again, theological and not historical.
There are many other historical difficulties that can be discussed, e.g. Timothy’s circumcision, the improbable route from Cyprus to Derbe, Paul and Silas’ Roman citizenship, the chronology used by Luke. The point here has been to briefly discuss the historical reliability of Acts, so none of these points will be belabored here. It will prove useful to return to Acts 18 for one final example of the theological motivation in Acts.
In Acts 18 we are introduced to Apollos, who was a Christian with an outdated baptismal theology. He, in other words, preached the baptism of John and had to be corrected by Aquila and Priscilla concerning the baptism of the spirit. As stated earlier, Acts was written as a response to critics of the proto-Orthodox views. Some of the earliest so called heretical factions were gnostics. When speaking of gnostics, one should think of a diverse set of groups rather than one group. There was one thing these groups may have had in common and that becomes important in Acts 18. The gnostics were popular among women and this is because they weren’t on board with the patriarchal thinking of proto-Orthodox Christians. If Acts preserves any history, it preserves the fact that men held positions of authority in the early church. Acts 18 momentarily subverts that by having not only Aquila, but also Priscilla, correct Apollos. Priscilla was a female figure who was more than likely a literary device and a character stemming from theological motivation. She was, in other words, the proto-Orthodox answer to the gnostics or better said, one of the answers.
In the previous chapter (Acts 17), the writer of Acts makes no distinction between the male and female converts. He does, however, name two of the female converts: Damaris and Dionysius. In Acts 16, he names another female convert, Lydia. In Acts 21, the daughters of Philip are mentioned and emphasis is put on their gift of prophecy. These women are further responses to gnostics.
Given this, part of the reason Acts was written was to show that women had authority in the church and that they could also have the gifts of the spirit. It is likely that these stories were meant to dispense with the notion that the proto-Orthodox community was unpopular with women and that it had a penchant for putting men in positions of authority. Along those lines, Acts could have been meant to show a reversal of patriarchal thought, especially when one considers 1 Corinthians 14:34. Again, Paul’s Epistles were written earlier and thus, they take precedence. The notion of keeping women silent in church contradicts the stories briefly surveyed above. Aside from being yet another way the Paul in Acts differs from the Paul of the Epistles, the women in Acts are perhaps the strongest point to be made for the conclusion that Acts was written for theological reasons. If so, the Book of Acts is far from straightforward history and its historical reliability is further compromised.
Ultimately, what has been surveyed here is by no means exhaustive. This hasn’t been written to convey the idea of authority, but authorities have been cited and should be consulted on the matter. What’s clear is that Christians are wrong to claim that Acts is a history of the early church. They’re also wrong to claim that its historically reliable, for that entails much more than the previous claim. What they’re saying there is that we can extract historical facts from reading Acts. More specifically, we can extract such facts about Paul, the other Apostles, and the geography of Asia Minor in the early centuries. Yet historians wouldn’t go that far and that’s because their methods are at variance with the fallacies underlying the approach Christians and more specifically, apologists take. Acts, like the Gospels, isn’t history nor is it historically reliable. It’s a theological narrative that serves a theological purpose and it’s in the best interest of its readers to read it as such.
1 Erhman, Bart. “The Historical Accuracy of Acts (For members)”. Ehrman Blog. 4 Sep 2013. Web.
2 Pervo, Richard I. The Mystery of Acts: Unraveling Its Story. Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge, 2008. 9. Print.
3 Robert M. Price, “The Evolution of the Pauline Canon,” HvTSt 53 (1997): 36-67
4 Erhman, Bart. “Paul in Acts: Part 2”. Ehrman Blog. 22 Jul 2012. Web.
5 Erhman, Bart. “The Accuracy of Acts: Part 2 (For members)”. Ehrman Blog. 5 Sep 2013. Web.
6 Ibid. , pp.31-32
7. Ibid. , p.37
8 Carrier, Richard. Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2012. 26-27. Print.
9 Ibid. , p.116
10 Ibid. , p.123
After some hesitation, I’ve decided to write a response to David Marshall. The reason for this is because I see that he has been disingenuous and outright dishonest in his response to my post, “The Gospels are Unreliable and the Gospel Jesus is not a Historical Person.” I’ll bypass the attempted insults and dig right in. I’ll keep the parts in where he quoted my post in bold; I’ll put his words in quotes.
In order to prove Christianity true, two central claims are necessary: the Gospel Jesus is a historical person and the Gospels are historically reliable. These are two related claims and both are verifiable or falsifiable. What follows demonstrates exactly why both claims are false.
(1) Actually, “Jesus is historical” is implied by “the Gospels are reliable,” so really this is only one claim.
This is disingenuous at best and a non sequitur at worst. Either David is overlooking the fact that I separated the claims for good reason or he’s masking the premises of the above conclusion. If the former, it should be noted that if the Gospels are shown to be historically reliable, this does not imply that Jesus, as depicted in the Gospels, is historical. Marshall may believe that’s the case, but the one does not imply the other. It is one thing for them to be historical and entirely another for their depiction of Jesus to be historical. This is setting aside that they paint very different portraits of him. Getting into that will be too much of a tangent, but David’s self-proclaimed scholarly acumen implies that he knows what I’m getting at.
If a non sequitur, David is basically making his predilection obvious. He’s arguing: P1 If the Gospels are historically reliable, the Gospel Jesus is equivalent to the historical Jesus; P2 The Gospels are historically reliable; C Therefore, the Gospel Jesus is equivalent to the historical Jesus. This is what he must argue, since he sees the claims I kept separate as one.
Are the Gospels historically reliable? The answer is a resounding no and this much is admitted by the consensus:
“Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis. Their aim was to confirm Christian faith (Lk 1.4; Jn 20.31). Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.” (Matthew Ferguson)
(2) “Historical analysis” and “confirm Christian faith” is a false dichotomy. Only a small subset of true writing about the past can be called “historical analysis.” The authors of the gospels were not academic historians, but that need not mean they were freely making stuff up. Ferguson makes a big deal about differences between the genre of history and the genre of gospel, but this is to confuse real issue, which is not genre but accuracy.
It’s disingenuous to claim that Ferguson intended to create a dichotomy in what he said. I’m sure he’s aware that there are other options. As you claim, they could have been attempting to record historical events pertaining to Jesus and his ministry. They could have been trying to confirm the Christian faith or more specifically, their version of it. As you know, there were competing versions of Christianity; this is attested in the Pauline Epistles. So there’s a third option: they wrote the Gospels in order to win over converts, as means of competing with other versions of Christianity. In any case, you’re assuming their accuracy over and over again. You’ve yet to substantiate that claim.
(3) “Confirming Christian faith” also cannot be reasonably contrasted with “tell the truth.” For instance, “The witnesses’ aim in testifying was to confirm that he saw the accused murder the deceased” may be entirely true, without in any way impugning his or her testimony. People often try to convince others because they themselves have been convinced: that is not inherently irrational or unworthy.
It can be reasonably contrasted iff we have reason to doubt what they’re trying to confirm. As I showed, we do have reason to doubt. The difference between a witness in court and these purported eyewitnesses is simple: the former is not trying to confirm that the accused murdered the deceased; instead, they’re relaying what they saw or what they think they saw. Paul tells us that Jesus was buried. He doesn’t say where or how. We have reason to believe that the disciples didn’t know where he was buried, so if this is the case, the Gospels could be stories they told to resolve that uncomfortable fact among themselves. Modern Christians who read Paul’s statement like to superimpose the Gospels onto it. They are, in other words, assuming that when Paul says that Jesus was buried, he means to say that he was buried in the manner that’s described in the Gospels.
(4) The last sentence is a gross non sequitur. It assumes a conflict between “written 40 years later” and “from eyewitnesses” that does not exist. I know people who can testify to events they witnessed, for instance the nuking of Nagasaki, and Paton’s march across Germany, from 70 years ago. Jesus’ disciples were young, certainly, and could easily have lived until the date at which the gospels were written.
We spoke about this at length in our exchange on John Loftus’ blog. As to your examples, you’re overly trustworthy of their accounts. There are known problems with testimony. Go back to the exchange we had. This would essentially be raking over old coals. You were wrong then; you’re wrong now.
(5) In addition, many scholars think Mark was written earlier than that.
The scholars who think that are overly dependent on a supposed proto-Mark. This Gospel has not been found. What we have is speculation that Matthew and Luke used an earlier version of the extant gospel. Other than that, there’s no reason to think Mark was written earlier. Aside from that, this is another blatant appeal to authority. Which scholars argue this? Why haven’t their arguments gained any traction?
(6) Furthermore, there is a great deal of evidence (see Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, and just wait for my new book!) that the gospels DO present eyewitness accounts.
What evidence? Give me something to field, something to consider. What are his arguments? How does he support them? Does he engage with scholars who disagree with him? This is essentially a Courtier Reply. This is the same thing John Loftus called you out about. You claim to have read so much and yet you never prove to have any understanding of what you read–even in cases like this one where an understanding of your sources would help to strengthen your presentation. This just looks as though you’re citing Bauckham because the title of his book agrees with your view. It adds no force to your “rebuttal.” Also, there’s no need for self-promotion here. If your book is that great, let it speak for itself when it is published.
I’m sure Christians think the consensus says otherwise, since many of them seem to have done nothing but indulge their confirmation bias and read what conservative Christian scholars have had to say about this matter. Like the evangelists and first readers, these scholars want to confirm the Christian faith. They never intended to conduct honest research.
(7) Tendentious, sweeping slurs of unnamed scholars have no place in writing that styles itself academic.
It is enough that Christians interested in these topics know the scholars and apologists I’m referring to. Also, my audience is more informed than you think; my readers also know who I’m referring to. Naming them doesn’t change the content of what I said. You’ve named Ferguson, Ehrman, and Carrier and it adds no force to your various opinions about them. Naming them doesn’t strengthen your opinions in the slightest. If anything, it weakens your opinions as it shows you have a personal vendetta against them, especially Ferguson. I simply disagree with these conservative scholars. Naming them wouldn’t say anything more than what I’ve said.
For starters, had they actually intended to conduct honest research, in starting from the assumption that the Gospels are historically reliable, they would have quickly come to find out that the Gospels are not historically reliable at all.
(8) Begs the question.
How? The entire post draws from various sources and comes to a conclusion Christians don’t like. They’ve certainly made that clear in the comments!
To find out why this is the case, we need to discuss authorship, genre, external attestation, and internal consistency. If we want to find out whether we have a historically reliable piece of ancient writing, authorship is important. The Gospels are a curious case already because unlike the writings of ancient historians, the Gospels are, strictly speaking, anonymous.
(9) There is nothing “curious” about books belonging to one genre (gospel) not sharing some characteristic of some other genre (Greek history). Especially since the gospels were written when Christians were persecuted. Besides, Bauckham argues that they weren’t that anonymous.
Appeal to authority. It doesn’t matter what he argues, unless you summarize his argument. You want us to be convinced by an argument we haven’t heard ourselves, which is essentially an argument that hasn’t been made. If your response ends up being, “well, go read the book,” that’s unhelpful. It doesn’t advance the discussion at all.
Curiously enough, you allude to something important: “they were written when Christians were persecuted.” That says much about their allegorical style. Also, your insight meshes better with the idea me and Matthew endorse, namely that the Gospels were written to confirm Christian faith. More specifically, they were written as means of communication between believers and not as histories to be passed down the centuries.
(10) Also, this is another non sequitur. Anonymity is not inconsistent with accuracy. That’s why we believe maps, street signs, and instructions books for new cameras. Even most facts on the better-traveled pages of Wikipedia are fairly reliable, now, most of the time.
Anonymity, in general, isn’t inconsistent with accuracy. However, when concerning history, it commonly is. Also, you speak as though that’s the only strike against the Gospels. Here’s an example I like to use. Philo and Josephus wrote about Pilate’s antics. None of their reflections record an event that took place in private. The Gospels, on the other hand, talk about Jesus before Pilate (see Mark 15). Eyewitness or not, who had intimate access into Jesus’ encounter with Pilate? Sure, he later takes Jesus out in public and offers to free him or Barabbas, but what happens prior to that doesn’t take place in the public eye. That’s not a miracle, not a faith healing, not an exorcism; yet it is improbable that any of the eyewitnesses you’ve alluded to were there to record that.
In the same vein, the genre of the Gospels has to be called into question because they’re not written as history. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem they were written as biographies.
(11) On the contrary, Richard Burridge showed that they were — to the satisfaction of many academics, including me. Heck, even Ferguson grants this one, I think. And I show that they’re better than many ancient biographies.
Burridge shows that they were read as biographies in the centuries following Christianity’s inception. It’s non sequitur to conclude that because they were considered biographies then, they’re considered biographies today. This is the standard interpretation of Burridge’s “What Are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography.” Did he say more than that? What specifically and on what pages? Which edition?
Even if we allow the assumptions that they were ancient biographies and are historically reliable, we’d still require external attestation–especially for the more fantastical bits found in the Gospels, e.g., Jesus walking on water. Also, if we allow for these assumptions, we’d want to see if the Gospels are internally consistent, i.e., do the Gospels cohere with one another. Once we discuss these points, we’ll arrive at the honest conclusion that the Gospels are historically unreliable.
(12) “Internally consistent” means is each Gospel consistent with itself, not with another Gospel.
Wrong. One item that’s discussed is the discrepant genealogies in Matthew and Luke. Internal consistency is about coherence with one another.
Matthew Ferguson, a Ph.D. graduate student in Classics at the University of California, Irvine, states:
The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure, Jesus Christ, to confirm the faith of their communities.
(13) Names given in the gospels almost perfectly match names discovered by archeology from the time. Bauckham explains this fact, which shows that in fact, the gospels must have been extremely close to 1st Century Palestine in their reporting.
All this is saying is that the names were common at the time.
(14) No “substantial gap” in time existed — not beyond ordinary memory
A substantial gap did exist, enough to put a strain on ordinary memory. Go back to our discussion on John Loftus’ blog. I refuse to rake over old coals.
(15) We probably do know two or three of the authors of the gospels. Bauckham’s book has been extremely well-received by top scholars.
Which scholars? You accuse me of an “error,” but I see you’re exempt from committing what you called an error. Take your own advice.
Even conservative scholars like Craig Blomberg accept this conclusion, so if you’re the type of Christian to bypass that and say the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you might as well continue in your delusions.
(16) What, the author of The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, and The Historical Reliability of John? I think Blomberg’s true views are being misrepresented here. A direct quote would help.
Craig Blomberg states:
“It’s important to acknowledge that strictly speaking, the gospels are anonymous.”
Strobel’s The Case for Christ (p.22)
(17) But the alternative, again, is not that “the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John” per se. Straw man.
You do realize I’m dealing with the claims of everyday Christians, yes? This is the alternative according to them. Hence I am debasing that alternative. Another Christian named Stephen Bedard, whose review I’m choosing to ignore, had this to say:
“Secondly, this does nothing to diminish the historical value of the Gospels. It is possible that the Gospels were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (although I think a good case can be made for traditional authorship) and they would still be good sources.”
Emphasis mine. He’s an everyday Christian as he’s not a qualified scholar. He clearly thinks the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The related delusion is that these accounts were written by eyewitnesses. It is also a matter of consensus that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. B
(18) No, it is not. Majority opinion, perhaps, but not consensus.
“To provide a good overview of the majority opinion about the Gospels, the Oxford Annotated Bible (a compilation of multiple scholars summarizing dominant scholarly trends for the last 150 years) states (pg. 1744):
“Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis. Their aim was to confirm Christian faith (Lk 1.4; Jn 20.31). Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.”
You wrongly attributed this to him earlier and then proceeded to rant. Rant against Oxford for making this claim. Go after the scholarly trends for the last century and a half.
That the authors don’t tell us who they are is a glaring issue because the authors of historical accounts identify themselves, e.g., Jospephus, Suetonius. It’s an issue, but it can be overcome. Tacitus, for instance, did not identify himself. Thus, this need not be the deciding factor in concluding that the Gospels are historically unreliable. The question remains, however, how exactly does one identify the author of a historical text. Though we’re not discussing external attestation and internal consistency just yet, these points relate to how we find out who the author of such a text is. It is widely recognized that there’s not one generally accepted method for doing this, but there are reliable ways. Matthew Ferguson outlines one way in which we identify the author of an ancient historical text:
“Scholars generally look for both internal and external evidence when determining the author of an ancient text. The internal evidence consists of whatever evidence we have within a given text. This can include the author identifying himself, or mentioning persons and events that he witnessed, or using a particular writing style that we know to be used by a specific person, etc. The external evidence consists of whatever evidence we have outside a given text. This can include another author quoting the work, a later critic proposing a possible authorial attribution, what we know about the biography of the person to whom the work is attributed, etc.”
This is more or less the smoking gun. If we have either of these, but preferably both, we have no reason to doubt the authorship of the text. To go with an example you’re no doubt familiar with, no one can reasonably doubt the authorship of the authentic Pauline Epistles: 1 and 2 Corinthians , Galatians, Philemon, Philippians, Romans, and 1 Thessalonians. This can’t be reasonably doubted because Paul identifies himself within the text. Yet the ones that are doubted– Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus–are doubted for one of the reasons cited above. The non-authentic Pauline Epistles are written in a palpably different style that doesn’t match the style of the authentic ones. That there are only seven authentic Pauline Epistles is a matter of scholarly consensus as well. Ephesians was and still is disputed, but it is likelier that Ephesians is not authentic . . .
(19) The author again confuses the difference between “consensus”and “majority opinion.” Personally, I think Ephesians and Colossians especially match Paul’s style (and thought) very closely, while Hebrews obviously does not.
Consensus or majority opinion, your opinion doesn’t hold a candle to either one. The consensus, in a scholarly discussion, according to Merriam-Webster is, “the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned.” So consensus just is the opinion of a qualified majority. You do not fall into that majority. More on that later.
Aside from this, since the original manuscripts aren’t available, we don’t know whether these titles were original to the text. Bart Ehrman explains that the titles can’t be traced back to the original manuscripts and that it is highly likely that the titles were added afterward by scribes.
The fact remains that there’s no external attestation. Pliny, for instance, confirms that Tacitus wrote Historae. No one confirms that Mark, for instance, wrote the Gospel of Mark.
(20) Papias obviously attests to the authorship of books by the four writers now identified as the authors of the gospels. He may have had in mind a different Gospel of Matthew. Justin and others also attest, in the 2nd Century, to the authorship of the gospels.
Papias and Justin Martyr aren’t considered historians. They’re second century apologists who had a vested interest in the authorship of the Gospels. In fact, Papias is credited with starting the tradition on the Gospels’ authorship. He states: “[John] The Elder used to say: Mark, in his capacity as Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately as many things as he recalled from memory—though not in an ordered form—of the things either said or done by the Lord.” Eusebius would later claim that John the Elder wrote the Book of Revelation, a book that Eusebius considered heretical. These men were more interested in substantiating the authority of their canonical scriptures so as to invalidate the scriptures of them they considered heretics. It would seem that in an attempts to uproot heresy, they would go as far as to disagree with one another and disagree on what was considered canonical and what wasn’t.
The problem is the Christian’s starting point. Their claim is fixed and is therefore the “truth claim.” They then try to find only that evidence which seems to agree with they’re presumed conclusion. This is confirmation bias.
(21) This is psychobabble. No particular person has been named, yet, still less any particular error exposed, still less its psychological origins demonstrated.
Confirmation bias is pervasive among Christians and it manifests itself in different ways. This is why creationists quote mine. This is why intelligent design advocates quote the same three or four Ph.Ds. This is why David Marshall lauds the scholars who argue to his favored conclusion and rails against the scholars who don’t.
This is what I mean when I call someone intellectually dishonest. They do not research first and then conclude. They draw a comforting conclusion and then seek evidence; some don’t even care about evidence or change the meaning of evidence so that it is easier for them to disqualify unfavorable facts. At any rate, the authorship of the Gospels is a settled matter: the Gospels are anonymous works and aside from the pretended expertise of layman and the books of dishonest apologists like Lee Strobel, there’s no way around that.
(22) It is not academically credible to identify an opposing position with a layman like Strobel, when serious academics like Bauckham (backed up by the likes of NT Wright) argue in great detail, and quite famously, for the same position.
Again, I’m arguing against the claims everyday Christians make. Everyday Christians don’t read Bauckham and Wright. I’ve heard of Wright from a literal handful of Christians. I’ve not heard of Bauckham from any of them. Strobel, Licona, and Craig are the usual suspects. But like you said, the serious academics argue for the same positions. Unfortunately, they’re not as famous as you think, since Christians rarely mention any of them. That’s just the reality. It’s a shame you’re so disconnected from everyday Christians.
(23) It is also uncharitable and unwarranted (by anything shown) to accuse Strobel of not caring about the evidence — still less, the masses of unnamed Christians the author refers to. Does Strobel ever argue, “I believe in Jesus because Matthew was written by Matthew?” If so, let this person offer a quote.
Remember whose claims I’m addressing.
When concerning the genre of the Gospels, it is not straightforwardly obvious to Christians that they are not historical accounts. Christians with more literalist bents can’t see it any other way. This goes back to starting with a comforting conclusion.
(24) More tendentious psychobabble in lieu of reason.
Confirmation bias once again. They need the Gospel Jesus to exist. Without that Jesus, Christianity is just another religion.
(25) What does the word “historical” mean here? Belonging to the genre of ancient Greek history? Or historically truthful in its affirmations about the past? I think I see Ferguson’s practice of gross equivocation on the tarmack, awaiting liftoff.
Both, but definitely more of the latter. I’m not equivocating. Their genre isn’t history nor are they historical in the way we understand it, i.e., relaying a factual account of the events in question.
The conclusion is that Jesus was god and that therefore, the acts attributed to him in the Gospels actually happened. Otherwise, it would be difficult to conclude that he was god incarnate. Take away all of these fantastical acts and all you have is an itinerant first century preacher.
(26) No, the reasoning is the other way around, as is quite clear already in the Gospels. “He even opens the eyes of a man born blind! Who is this fellow?”
No. I’m talking about modern Christian claims and not the purported claims made in the Gospels.
(27) More begging of the question. As Jesus himself asked, why shouldn’t God raise the dead?
You might want to stop accusing a philosopher of fallacies you can’t define. Furthermore, they’re inapplicable, since you’ve lost sight of my intended audience.
This is precisely who the historical Jesus was according to the majority of scholars. They have, in other words, favored a minimal historicist conclusion. They have, for all intents and purposes, stripped Jesus of the divinity he demonstrated in the stories told by the Gospels. In any case, the Gospels aren’t historical accounts. Matthew Ferguson outlines the criteria historical texts meet:
“The genre of ancient historical prose has key features that are crucial to understanding which works belong to the category and why they are more trustworthy than sources that do not. It is not enough for a text to simply talk about things that took place in the past, even when the content deals with real people and locations. A historical text must investigate and probe these matters, discussing the research process involved, so that it does not merely provide a story, but a plausible interpretation of what took place.”
(28) As I said, gross equivocation. Ferguson is conflating historical genre with historicity. But not all truthful writings of the past belong to the genre of history.
I’m sure you’ve taken that up with him and received thorough correction. He has addressed all of your laymen accusations.
Right away, if we call to mind the content of the Gospels, we will quickly notice that the Gospels meet none of these criteria. They don’t accurately represent the past events in question. In fact, the Gospels embellish and mythologize and thus, make it quite difficult to find the historical tidbits contained within them.
(29) More begging of the question. Pure Hume: “My world doesn’t allow God to act, so anyone who says they saw God act must be lying.” Sorry for your world, but it’s too small for the rest of us to fit.
Matthew Ferguson addressed this as well. We aren’t assuming naturalism. We’re weighing probabilities. Go back to my Pilate example. We don’t even need to get into the supernatural stuff. But while we’re at it, supernaturalism is a slippery slope. Religious folk, like yourself, only seek to qualify their own supernatural claims and yet, they have no criteria to disqualify similar claims made by adherents of other religions. Sure, you can say it’s the devil or demons, but that doesn’t tell us skeptics anything. So you’re actually begging the question. All we are arguing is that in a very superstitious, syncretist society, it is highly unlikely that someone actually walked on water or ascended into heaven in broad daylight. Again, why stop there? What’s stopping you from qualifying the miracles of other religions of the time and after? I know what’s stopping you: patently Christian predilections.
They also do not investigate these events or offer plausible interpretations of what happened. More specifically, they don’t explain how or why a given event happened. Ferguson continues:
“As someone who studies ancient historical writing in the original Greek and Latin languages, it is clear to me that the Gospels are not historical writing. These texts instead read like ancient prose novels. In all but Luke, we do not hear anything about the written sources that the authors consulted (and even the author of Luke does not name them, explain their contents, or discuss how they are relevant as sources), the authors of the Gospels do not discuss how they learned their stories or what their personal relations are to these events, and even when John claims to have an eyewitness disciple “whom Jesus loved,” the gospel does not even bother to name or identify this mysterious figure (most likely an invention of the author). Instead, the Gospels provide story-like narratives, where the authors omnisciently narrate everything that occurs rather than engage in any form of critical analysis. Accordingly, the Gospels all fall short from the criteria that can be used to categorize a piece of historical prose.”
(30) As someone who has read all extant ancient Greek novels (in English), Ferguson is so far wrong, it isn’t even funny. Not a one of them looks remotely like the gospels. There are dozens of differences that are highly significant and favorable to the gospels historically — as I begin to show with Ferguson’s favorite example, The Contest of Hesiod and Homer.
Once again with your obsession with Ferguson. Take this up with him. But honestly, I prefer the person who reads these novels in their original language over someone who has to read them in English because he’s too unqualified to speak on these matters.
(31) The authors of the gospels were much closer to the events than the authors of many ancient histories, which far and away makes up for failure to name sources. (Out of safety concerns, perhaps.)
Perhaps, but you still haven’t addressed my point: the Gospels aren’t histories. You’ve appealed to authority, begged the question, and alluded to arguments that lie somewhere in the privacy of your consciousness. As is common with you, you didn’t summarize these arguments or give me anything to consider.
(32) Obviously it is not that John “did not bother to name” the beloved disciple — more psychobabble.
That’s actually relevant, but since you have nothing better to say, you settle for a meaningless sentence.
(33) “Story-like narratives?” What other kind are there?
As to what kind are there, there are historical narratives that don’t have a group of disciples behaving abnormally. Follow me and I’ll make you a fisher of men. Sure dude, we’ll quit our jobs and follow you.
(34) Ancient Greek historians often go for long, long stretches without naming sources. This is, at best, a secondary characteristic.
Yet you can’t say that Ancient Greek historians never name sources, so this is another meaningless sentence.
(35) The author simply overlooks the dozens of traits in the gospels that render them, in fact, highly credible historical accounts, which I will describe in detail in the upcoming book. (And some of which have been part of the scholarly conversation for decades.)
Why not describe them here? Afraid an “amateur” can continue to prove that you’re not the expert you claim to be?
This is the arguably the primary reason they’re historically unreliable: they don’t even qualify as historical accounts in the first place.
Please go look that word up. It makes no sense as a response to what I said above.
If we cannot establish that these are historical accounts, then we can’t even begin to talk about whether they’re historically reliable. It stands to reason that they have to be proven historical texts before we begin to have a conversation about whether the text honors what actually took place and whether it adequately explains and interprets these events. A Christian can claim, for example, that Jesus walking on water is the “truth claim.” Yet this doesn’t read as a historical account, much less a reliable one. We have an isolated event that is told in a story-like manner in where the writer narrates his account from an omniscient point of view. There is no investigation, no explanation of why this happened, and no plausible interpretation for this rare feat.
Aside from that, there is absolutely zero outside attestation of this event . . .
(37) Again, “outside attestation” should properly include “from other early sources,” other gospels.
Sure, let’s get the Gospel of Peter, so we can read the only extant resurrection account. Jesus walks out with two gargantuan angels (see The Gospel of Peter, verses 35-40). As Ehrman states in an article he wrote for the Huffington Post:
“Remarkably, the Gospels of the New Testament do not tell the story of Jesus emerging from the tomb on Easter morning. But the Gospel of Peter does. In this text, discovered near the end of the nineteenth century, Jesus comes out of the tomb as tall as a mountain, supported by two angels, nearly as tall themselves. And behind them, from the tomb, there emerges the cross, which has a conversation with God in heaven, assuring him that the message of salvation has now gone to those in the underworld. How a Gospel like this was ever lost is anyone’s guess.”
Other gospels do not count. That’s selective by the way because you’re definitely going to want to omit parts of these other gospels (perhaps the talking cross!). So you’ll essentially take what confirms what you already think is true and throw away what you think is false or ludicrous. See what I mean by confirmation bias?
(38) And in fact, there is attestation from outside even all the NT for much of Jesus’ life — that he lived, preached, did miracles, died, and was said to have risen from the dead.
Yeah? Which sources corroborate the miraculous stuff?
For our purposes though, it is useful to note Ferguson’s observations concerning the type of biographies the Gospels attempt to be–namely ones that focus on Jesus’ moral character and personality:
- The Gospels are anonymous in the composition, just like the popular biographies of Homer, Aesop, and Alexander.
3. The Gospels do not discuss their sources or methodology, which is a feature of more historical and scholarly biographies. Instead, like the popular biographies of Homer, Aesop, and Alexander the Great, they are less critical, more hagiographical, and include more legends and myth-making.
And that point.
That last point speaks to the exact genre of the Gospels.
As they stand, they are mythological hagiographies. As a point of comparison, Ferguson goes on to speak of Alexander the Great, since myths about him became ubiquitous shortly after his death.
“As Kris Komarnitsky discusses in “Myth Growth Rates and the Gospels,” fictional biographies emerged about Alexander the Great within half a century of his death, just as the Gospels were written about Jesus roughly 40-60 years after his death. As the comparison with the Alexander Romance shows, a biography is not historically reliable simply because it is written only a few decades after the subject’s death, since many popular ancient biographies were written within that span, even for historical figures like Alexander the Great, and yet they included large amounts of legendary development. This form of biography likewise does not engage in the source analysis and methodology that is necessary to make an ancient text historically reliable.”
(39) The Alexandrian Romance is a particularly hilarious comparison to the gospels. But did anyone say, “This story is early, so it must be true?”
It isn’t a hilarious comparison when you consider that both are myths. It’s hilarious because you call the one historical and the other myth.
Ferguson eventually concludes that the Gospels resemble the Septuagint more than Greco-Roman biographies.
“It should also be noted that, unlike historical Graeco-Roman biographies, the Septuagint is not as methodologically rigorous, and almost never discusses the sources or the methods of investigation used to construct narratives. This may very likely account for why the Gospels are not similar to ancient Graeco-Roman historiography. Since historical biographies, such as those of Plutarch and Suetonius, overlapped with this category, the Gospels are not very similar to them as well, though they may share features with popular Graeco-Roman biographies, such as those of the Alexander Romance.”
(40) It is not very convincing to cite a grad student with an unestablished thesis against Burridge, whose thesis that the gospels are bioi has convinced many eminent scholars. Especially without engaging his arguments.
Again, Burridge argues that they were considered biography in the early centuries, which isn’t the same as arguing that they’re still considered such. Nice ad hominem by the way. Ferguson is a grad student and that says what exactly? At least he didn’t get his degree from a degree mill that’s actually a church. You pretty much confirmed that yourself. You’re a counterfeit scholar. Matthew is real currency.
(41) Discussion of sources, again. Repeating that one very minor point ad infinitum will not buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks, nor should it convince any critical thinker. In fact, ancient novelists often DO discuss their “sources.” But the writer of the Analects does not.
A critical thinker you are not. More on this later.
III. External Attestation
As stated earlier, we cannot have external attestation of Jesus walking on water. According to the myth, it happened during a storm, so there’s no conceivable way an ancient historian would have been out in the storm seeing this all unfold.
(42) Now this is a truly bizarre argument. Is the writer maintaining that the disciples were all blind? That would be a dangerous affliction indeed for a group of fishermen. The reports all say they were nearby in a boat, and that they saw Jesus. Why is it incredible that fishermen who have spent their lives on the sea, should manage to see a person in a vertical position rising above the plain of the water? If that were the case, they would have crashed into any number of reefs, logs,and other less prominent objects, and won a Darwin Award, long since.
This is begging the question. You haven’t established that they’re eyewitness accounts and yet you’re assuming that the disciples were eyewitnesses to this event. Outside attestation would come from someone else who saw the event. As I argued, it is unlikely someone could see through a heavy storm. Thus, there can’t be any outside attestation for some of the Gospel myths.
One might argue, however, that there is historical attestation for the existence of Jesus. In this section, I simply want to throw the external attestations into disarray. I, in other words, want Christians to question Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and so on. I want them to realize that these external attestations aren’t as reliable as they’ve been led to believe.
(43) Again, “external attestation” must be described in reference to a single document, not a collection of documents by different writers, like the gospels. They provide independent attestation for one another.
They don’t. That’s an unsubstantiated claim, a mere assumption. Bible scholars recognize that there’s content in Matthew and Luke that do not occur in Mark. Then there is content in John that doesn’t occur in any of the them. This is why the Q source was proposed, to account for the content that Matthew and Luke share, content that they didn’t get from Mark. Whatever they do agree on is, sure enough, content found in one of the previous Synoptic Gospels that was then either redacted or expanded upon. Even then, there’s still vast disagreement. Go back to my set of inconsistencies.
Did Jeus carry the cross the entire way or did Simon of Cyrene carry it for him; Mark 15:21 or Luke 23:26 and John 19:17? Did one robber mock him or did both; Matthew 27:44 or Luke 23:39-40? Did the curtain rip before or after; Mark 15:37-38 or Luke 23:45-46? Who went to the tomb–did Mary Magdalene go alone or did she have company and if so, how much company; Mark 16:1-3 (Mary Magdalene goes with Mary and Salome) or Matthew 28:1 (Mary Magdalene goes with just Mary) or John 20:1 (she goes alone)? Was there one man or one angel in the tomb (Mark 16:4 or Matthew 28:2-3) or were there two men or two angels (Luke 24:4 or John 20:11-12)? Was the stone rolled away or not; Mark 16:3-4 or Matthew 28:2? Where’s this earthquake in the other Gospels by the way? Were the disciples to stay in Jerusalem or were they to go to Galilee (Mark 16:7 and Matthew 28:7or the silence of Luke and John on whether or not to go to Galilee)? Did the women tell the disciples or did they stay silent? As Ehrman says, it depends which Gospel you read.
(44) I feel Richard Carrier coming on. That in itself is a logical fallacy.
I feel more ad hominem coming on, which is actually a fallacy.
For starters, Christians who think that the miraculous acts found in the Gospels are historical are confronted by an unfavorable fact: none of the extra-biblical sources confirm any of Jesus’ miracles. My purposes here aren’t so much to show that they fail to mention any of his miraculous acts, but that they might also fail to mention him altogether.
(45) Actually, they do refer to his resurrection, the most important of them. And that he was a worker of miracles. And why would one expect any more than that? Heck, important Greek historians write 400 books without even so much as mentioning the existence of the Jewish people!
What source, outside of the Gospels, corroborates the resurrection? Other gospels? The Gospel of Peter? We just went over that. Again, keeping what you like and discarding what you don’t like I see.
We’ll begin by discussing the Testimonium Flavianum. There isn’t much debate about it’s authenticity. Christian apologists will have us believe that, but there have been a few nails in this coffin for quite some time. Richard Carrier put the last nail in the coffin…
Surprise, surprise. Guessed right. I’ve exposed enough about that crackpot on this blog over the years, that I think I can rest on my laurels now, and stop at 45.
And just skip Goldberg who you didn’t address? I guess he’s also a crackpot simply because he doesn’t agree with you. More ad hominem.
(46) Enough to add, most scholars, including atheists, think Josephus DOES report on Jesus. It is possible that this one time Carrier is right, and the full weight of scholarship he opposes (as usual, he is the Donald Trump of New Testament studies) is wrong. The problem here is the utter failure of “Academic Atheism” to so much as mention the little fact that almost all scholars disagree with the fringe scholar he or she is citing. That’s academic malpractice, end of story.
Personally, though, I could hardly care less about Josephus. I maintain that the evidence for historicity within the gospels is so strong, that distant shout-outs by random Roman historians several decades later, add no more to that total weight than a feather to the top of Mount Tai.
Actually, the consensus is that Josephus contains interpolations. It is still problematic.
(47) The author goes on to critique other extra-biblical sources, which matters no more to me, and seems no more likely to succeed against the weight of scholarship. He then points out that there are numerous conflicts in the various accounts given by the gospels about details in Jesus’ life.
I guess you can’t address any of it. But then again, you’ve already assumed that the Gospels are histories.
He should read more ancient history. Arrian alone points to far more discrepancies among the historians who act as his sources, when he chronicles the life of Alexander, some of thos errors quite serious. That’s normal. It moves no modern historian whom I know of to deny either the existence of Alexandria, or the broad outline of his life that Arrian details. That is simply not how history is done. One expects the perspective of witnesses to differ. Indeed, prosecutors become suspicious when witnesses agree too closely.
Talking to yourself I see. The historians are my sources now? If not me, who are you talking about? What does Arrian detail? What discrepancies are you alluding to?
What is remarkable about this article is the discrepancy between the author’s claim to “academic” quality writing, and its actual amateurish quality. He or she relies heavily on two scholars, one of whom has yet to earn a terminal degree, the other of whom has no teaching position, has made no impact on the scholarly world, and has a reputation for wild theories, over-heated rhetoric, and an astonishing, often almost comic, degree of self-importance out of proportion to his success. These two scholars he cites uncritically, without any awareness that doubts have been expressed about their theories, still less of counter-arguments. His (or her) own writing shows little independent awareness of the issues or the texts. It is full of tendentious rhetoric, straw men, sweeping but vague slurs, and claims that beg extremely important questions (like what kind of universe we actually live in!).
This is how bad habits of mind reproduce.
This is the same mistake other Christians make. Academic Atheism implies that I’m highlighting the work of academic atheists. I am not claiming to be an academic. In fact, I don’t consider myself one just yet. But I can assure you, I’m not going to a degree mill to get degrees in philosophy. I’m at an accredited school and if everything lines up, I will follow in Massimo Pigliucci’s footsteps and attend CUNY Graduate School. The rest is more ad hominem from someone who couldn’t define a fallacy if it slapped him across the face.
Ultimately, you’ve only pretended to address my post. You committed various fallacies, most pronounced of which being a constant appeal to authority and a serious case of confirmation bias. A critical thinker’s first step is doing away with confirmation bias, what Michael Shermer calls “the mother of all biases” (Shermer 2012, p.259). The rate at and negligence with which you commit these fallacies tells me that you’re not a critical thinker. Before addressing posts like mine, you have to address your persistent cognitive and logical shortcomings. That isn’t an attempt at insult; it’s honest advice.
It is often argued by conservative Christians that Hitler was an atheist. In the same breath, they also argue that he was never a Christian. Both of these claims are false. So my purpose here is twofold: to disabuse such people of the notion that Hitler was an atheist and to trace the development of the anti-Christian views he eventually espoused, views that, I will argue, are the direct result of his anti-Semitic views. I will not argue, as Richard Carrier does, that we can’t trust the English translations of Table Talks.1 While it is the case that context and words may have been left out, Carrier’s thesis is unnecessary for our purposes. My purpose, as stated above, is to trace Hitler’s anti-Semitism to its definite end and more importantly, to discuss the Christian roots of his anti-Semitism. Let us begin by observing some of his earlier confessions. One of the more commonly cited confessions is the following:
My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice…For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.2
Emphasis mine. Four times in this section of a speech he gave in 1933, he repeats the phrase “as a Christian.” “Summoned men to fight against [the Jews]” and “The Jewish poison” are phrases I singled out for reasons that’ll be obvious shortly. Hitler also stated:
His [the Jew’s] life is of this world only and his mentality is as foreign to the true spirit of Christianity as is character was foreign to the great Founder of this new creed two thousand years ago. And the Founder of Christianity made no secret indeed of His estimation of the Jewish people. When He found it necessary He drove those enemies of the human race out of the Temple of God; because then, as always, they used religion as a means of advancing their commercial interests. But at that time Christ was nailed to the Cross for his attitude towards the Jews.3
Emphasis mine. Whether or not anti-Semitism can be found in earlier versions of the Gospels and Acts is not up for debate. The Bible Hitler read and the Bible Christians currently read definitely have anti-Semitism within their pages. That the Jews wanted Jesus crucified because he was calling himself their king can be found in these verses: see Luke 23:1-3, which is to be read in conjunction with Luke 22:66-71 and 23:5-19. Also, Acts 2:36 and 3:13-17 explicitly blame the Jews and recall, it’s widely held that the same anonymous author wrote both Luke and Acts.
One must ask: if these sentiments weren’t original to the earliest Christians, how did these sentiments get into the Gospels and Acts and why? The reason, if one is familiar with the Church Fathers and later influential Christians, is obvious: anti-Semitism was a sentiment felt by some proto-Orthodox Christians, so it’s no wonder Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Lutherans, and Protestants came to harbor such sentiments. Let us consider key examples and then show the salient connection such views have to Adolf Hitler’s views.
Perhaps the most important point to be made here is that anti-Semitic views are strongest in the later Gospels, John most specifically. Samuel Sandmel, who was Professor Emeritus of Bible and Hellenistic Literature at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, stated: “John is widely regarded as either the most anti-Semitic or at least the most overtly anti-Semitic of the gospels.”4 Robert Kysar adds:
Little has been done to ameliorate that harsh judgment since it was first written. While efforts have been made to soften the impact of the tone of John when it comes to Jews and Judaism, the fact remains that a reading of the gospel tends to confirm Sandmel’s judgment. Still, recent theories for understanding the historical setting of the writing of the Fourth Gospel do offer some ways of interpreting the harshness with which the gospel treats Jews and Judaism. Such theories do not change the tone of the gospel but offer a way of explaining that tone.5
The Gospel of John would serve as the basis for anti-Semitic sentiments expressed by later Christians. Ignatius stated: “[Jesus Christ] made known the one and only true God, His Father, and underwent the passion, and endured the cross at the hands of the Christ-killing Jews.”6 This is in clear agreement with the verses cited earlier. His sentiments were no doubt bolstered by Luke, John, and Acts. Justin Martyr is more elaborate when rebuking Jews. He openly condemns them in stating:
For other nations have not inflicted on us and on Christ this wrong to such an extent as you have, who in very deed are the authors of the wicked prejudice against the Just One, and us who hold by Him. For after that you had crucified Him, the only blameless and righteous Man,– through whose stripes those who approach the Father by Him are healed, –when you knew that He had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, as the prophets foretold He would, you not only did not repent of the wickedness which you had committed.7
The proto-Orthodox view found in Luke, John, Acts came to be the Orthodox view. Unfortunately, these anti-Semitic sentiments didn’t stop there. Catholics took in Orthodox dirty laundry and this was best illustrated by Pope Leo who stated:
And when morning was come all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.” This morning, O ye Jews, was for you not the rising, but the setting of the sun, nor did the wonted daylight visit your eyes, but a night of blackest darkness brooded on your naughty hearts.This morning overthrew for you the temple and its altars, did away with the Law and the Prophets, destroyed the Kingdom and the priesthood, turned all your feasts into eternal mourning. For ye resolved on a mad and bloody counsel, ye “fat bulls,” ye “many oxen,” ye “roaring” wild beasts, ye rabid “dogs,” to give up to death the Author of life and the LORD of glory; and, as if the enormity of your fury could be palliated by employing the verdict of him, who ruled your province, you lead Jesus bound to Pilate’s judgment, that the terror-stricken judge being overcome by your persistent shouts, you might choose a man that was a murderer for pardon, and demand the crucifixion of the Saviour of the world.8
Pope Leo dehumanizes Jews similarly to how Hitler eventually dehumanized them. They’re now “fat bulls,” “many oxen,” “wild beasts,” and “rabid dogs.” Luther apparently tried to usher in change. Lutheran and Protestant disagreement with Catholics is well documented, but apparently, anti-Semitism wasn’t something Luther and his sympathizers saw fit to change. He also dehumanizes and maligns Jews. He states:
The Jews are a base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.” They are full of the “devil’s faeces …which they wallow in like swine.” The synagogue was a “defiled bride, yes, an incorrigible whore and an evil slut …” He argues that their synagogues and schools be set on fi re, their prayer books destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes razed, and property and money confiscated. They should be shown no mercy or kindness, afforded no legal protection, and these “poisonous envenomed worms” should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time.9
He sort of sounds like Adolf himself! The “Jewish poison” is now “these poisonous envenomed worms.” Hitler would eventually do all this and much more against the Jews. Hitler, in fact, cited Luther as an influence:
The great protagonists are those who fight for their ideas and ideals despite the fact that they receive no recognition at the hands of their contemporaries. They are the men whose memories will be enshrined in the hearts of the future generations….To this group belong not only the genuinely great statesmen but all the great reformers as well. Beside Frederick the Great we have such men as Martin Luther and Richard Wagner.10
Emphasis mine. Given this context, it’s clear that Hitler considered Luther a great reformer. Given his anti-Semitism, it’s clear that he was familiar with Luther’s anti-Semitic polemics. Tangentially, one has to wonder whether Lutherans even care about the polemics of their Founder. Luther was to Christianity what ISIL is to modern Muslims–extremist and proud of it.
We’ve seen how Hitler felt about Jews given my extensive analysis above. But how did he feel about atheism?
We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations; we have stamped it out.11
His feelings toward Christianity apparently changed, assuming the English translations of his Table Talks are reliable. He believed Bolshevism was the bastard child of Christianity and that Christianity should die a natural death due to a better understanding of the universe. He stated that Christianity has reached the height of absurdity and that it was invented by sick brains.12 We will see some of this in more detail shortly.
Perhaps his views toward atheism changed as well. Though conservative Christians would love for that to be the case, if they were to read the Table Talks, they’d find that his views on atheism remained the same. He states: “The Russians have no God, and that doesn’t prevent them from being able to face death. We don’t want to educate anyone in atheism.”13 This is in keeping with what he said about secular schooling: “Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith.”14
It doesn’t stop there. He also states: “An uneducated man, on the other hand, runs the risk of going over to atheism (which is a return to the state of the animal)” (Ibid. ) Well then! Now he’s dehumanizing atheists as well. No honest person will bypass these facts, so Christians who seek to poison the well by saying that Hitler was an atheist should consider his confessions.
This isn’t to say that I don’t find Hitler’s comments about Christianity and Christians to be disturbing. If we can rely on these English translations, then this is a real departure from his earlier views. What exactly happened over the course of his reign that led to this departure? I read his Table Talks more closely and discovered the obvious truth staring me in the face. Hitler’s anti-Semitic views are well documented above, but where did these anti-Christian views come from? I will argue that his anti-Christian views are the necessary and logical end to his anti-Semitic views. In other words, if Christianity is the bastard child of Judaism, which it demonstrably is, then one who hates Jews may come to hate Christians. Of course, given his reign, there are more layers here. Like Stalin, he had to neutralize the Church’s influence. However, his Table Talks are quite revealing. Hitler states in detail:
The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity. Bolshevism practises a lie of the same nature, when it claims to bring liberty to men, whereas in reality it seeks only to enslave them. In the ancient world, the relations between men and gods were founded on an instinctive respect. It was a world enlightened by the idea of tolerance. Christianity was the first creed in the world to exterminate its adversaries in the name of love. Its key-note is intolerance. (Ibid.)
Hitler was well aware of the connections between the Abrahamic religions for he also states that without Christianity, we wouldn’t have Islam. In keeping with what I said in terms of neutralizing the Church, he had this to say about the potential for organization that Christianity offers: “We must likewise prevent them from returning to Christianity. That would be a grave fault, for it would be giving them a form of organization” (Ibid.)
Though Hitler desired the slow death of Christianity, he didn’t want that to result in non-belief:
One may ask whether the disappearance of Christianity would entail the disappearance of belief in God. That’s not to be desired. The notion of divinity gives most men the opportunity to concretise the feeling they have of supernatural realities. Why should we destroy this wonderful power they have of incarnating the feeling for the divine that is within them? (Ibid.)
Apparently, Luther’s influence was still felt. “The divine that is within them” sounds a whole lot like Luther’s sensus divinitatis (sense of divinity). As is also well documented, Hitler and the Nazis wrote their own Bible. They more or less appropriated Christian beliefs and mixed and matched them with pagan woo woo. To further establish my argument–that Hitler’s anti-Christian views are the logical end of his anti-Semitic views–I’ll leave my readers with the following: “Christianity is a prototype of Bolshevism: the mobilization by the Jew of the masses of slaves with the object of undermining society” (Ibid.)
My argument is parsimonious. Hitler’s anti-Christian views are the logical end to, the direct result of, the path of least resistance taken by, his anti-Semitic views. This, to my mind, is the clearest conclusion to be made. Does it follow that Nazism is the result of Christianity? No. That isn’t what I’m intending to argue. From this, however, we can gather, quite conclusively, that he was never an atheist and that he was, in fact, opposed to atheism and secular schooling.
Given my analysis, the Christian arguing that Hitler was never a Christian and that he was an atheist should abandon both claims. Both claims are patently false and are clearly denied by Hitler’s confessions. He was never an atheist and early during his reign he identified as a Christian. These are clear facts. What’s also clear is that his anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in the Bible and the confessions of Christians, Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, and Protestant. What was perhaps less clear and what I intended to highlight is that his later anti-Christian views developed from his anti-Semitic views. Whether or not I succeeded at that is for the reader to decide, but what clearly does not succeed are the claims conservative Christians make.
1 Carrier, Richard. (2003). “‘Hitler’s Table Talk’: Troubling Finds”. German Studies Review 26 (3): 561-576.
2 Norman H. Baynes. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler. Vol.1. Oxford University Press. 1942. 19-20.
3 Adolf Hitler. Mein Kampf. Hurst and Blackett Ltd. 1939. 240.
4 Kysar, Robert. Voyages in John – Charting the Fourth Gospel. Baylor University Press. 2005. 147. Print.
5 Ibid. 
6 The Apostlic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Justin Martyr (trans. Philip Schaff ) Ignatius Epistle to the Ephesians. Chapter 11. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 107.
7 Ibid; Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho; Chapter 17. p. 320.
8 Philip Schaff . Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers: 212: Leo the Great & Gregory the Great. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. (1885). p. 317.
9 Sherlock, Michael. “Refuting the Atheist-Hitler Myth”. Michael Sherlock Author. 26 Nov 2014. Web.
10 Ibid. , p.171
11 Adolf Hitler. Speech in Berlin. October 24, 1933.
12 Trevor-Roper, H.R. (1953). Hitler’s Table Talk 1941–1944. Trans. Norman Cameron and R.H. Stevens. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 2nd ed. 1972; 3rd ed. 2000. PDF
14 Ernst Helmreich, The German Churches Under Hitler. Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1979, p. 241.
In order to prove Christianity true, two central claims are necessary: the Gospel Jesus is a historical person and the Gospels are historically reliable. These are two related claims and both are verifiable or falsifiable. What follows demonstrates exactly why both claims are false.
Are the Gospels historically reliable? The answer is a resounding no and this much is admitted by the consensus:
Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis. Their aim was to confirm Christian faith (Lk 1.4; Jn 20.31). Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.1
I’m sure Christians think the consensus says otherwise, since many of them seem to have done nothing but indulge their confirmation bias and read what conservative Christian scholars have had to say about this matter. Like the evangelists and first readers, these scholars want to confirm the Christian faith. They never intended to conduct honest research. For starters, had they actually intended to conduct honest research, in starting from the assumption that the Gospels are historically reliable, they would have quickly come to find out that the Gospels are not historically reliable at all.
To find out why this is the case, we need to discuss authorship, genre, external attestation, and internal consistency. If we want to find out whether we have a historically reliable piece of ancient writing, authorship is important. The Gospels are a curious case already because unlike the writings of ancient historians, the Gospels are, strictly speaking, anonymous.2 In the same vein, the genre of the Gospels has to be called into question because they’re not written as history. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem they were written as biographies. Even if we allow the assumptions that they were ancient biographies and are historically reliable, we’d still require external attestation–especially for the more fantastical bits found in the Gospels, e.g., Jesus walking on water. Also, if we allow for these assumptions, we’d want to see if the Gospels are internally consistent, i.e., do the Gospels cohere with one another. Once we discuss these points, we’ll arrive at the honest conclusion that the Gospels are historically unreliable.
Matthew Ferguson, a Ph.D. graduate student in Classics at the University of California, Irvine, states:
The mainstream scholarly view is that the Gospels are anonymous works, written in a different language than that of Jesus, in distant lands, after a substantial gap of time, by unknown persons, compiling, redacting, and inventing various traditions in order to provide a narrative of Christianity’s central figure, Jesus Christ, to confirm the faith of their communities.3
Even conservative scholars like Craig Blomberg accept this conclusion, so if you’re the type of Christian to bypass that and say the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you might as well continue in your delusions. The related delusion is that these accounts were written by eyewitnesses. It is also a matter of consensus that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. Bart Ehrman puts it succinctly:
To begin with, they are not written by eyewitness. We call these books Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John because they are named after two of Jesus’ earthly disciples, Matthew the tax collector and John the beloved disciple, and two of the close companions of other apostles, Mark the secretary of Peter and Luke the traveling companion of Paul. But in fact the books were written anonymously—the authors never identify themselves—and they circulated for decades before anyone claimed they were written by these people. The first certain attribution of these books to these authors is a century after they were produced.4
That the authors don’t tell us who they are is a glaring issue because the authors of historical accounts identify themselves, e.g., Jospephus, Suetonius. It’s an issue, but it can be overcome. Tacitus, for instance, did not identify himself. Thus, this need not be the deciding factor in concluding that the Gospels are historically unreliable. The question remains, however, how exactly does one identify the author of a historical text. Though we’re not discussing external attestation and internal consistency just yet, these points relate to how we find out who the author of such a text is. It is widely recognized that there’s not one generally accepted method for doing this, but there are reliable ways. Matthew Ferguson outlines one way in which we identify the author of an ancient historical text:
Scholars generally look for both internal and external evidence when determining the author of an ancient text. The internal evidence consists of whatever evidence we have within a given text. This can include the author identifying himself, or mentioning persons and events that he witnessed, or using a particular writing style that we know to be used by a specific person, etc. The external evidence consists of whatever evidence we have outside a given text. This can include another author quoting the work, a later critic proposing a possible authorial attribution, what we know about the biography of the person to whom the work is attributed, etc.5
This is more or less the smoking gun. If we have either of these, but preferably both, we have no reason to doubt the authorship of the text. To go with an example you’re no doubt familiar with, no one can reasonably doubt the authorship of the authentic Pauline Epistles: 1 and 2 Corinthians , Galatians, Philemon, Philippians, Romans, and 1 Thessalonians. This can’t be reasonably doubted because Paul identifies himself within the text. Yet the ones that are doubted– Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus–are doubted for one of the reasons cited above. The non-authentic Pauline Epistles are written in a palpably different style that doesn’t match the style of the authentic ones. That there are only seven authentic Pauline Epistles is a matter of scholarly consensus as well. Ephesians was and still is disputed, but it is likelier that Ephesians is not authentic.
As with Tacitus, even if the author doesn’t identify himself within the text, there are other ways we can know who wrote the text. One way is to place one’s name in the genitive, as Tacitus did. This isn’t to say that the name in the genitive correctly attributes a work to said author in every case. This can still be doubted. The Gospels, on the other hand, fail in this regards. Ferguson states:
[T]he Gospels have an abnormal title convention, where they instead use the Greek preposition κατά, meaning “according to” or “handed down from,” followed by the traditional names. For example, the Gospel of Matthew is titled εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Μαθθαίον (“The Gospel according to Matthew”). This is problematic, from the beginning, in that the earliest title traditions already use a grammatical construction to distance themselves from an explicit claim to authorship. Instead, the titles operate more as traditions, where the Gospels have been “handed down” by church traditions affixed to names of figures in the early church, rather than the author being clearly identified. In the case of Tacitus, none of our surviving titles says that the Histories or Annals were written “according to Tacitus” or “handed down from Tacitus.” Instead, we have clear attribution to Tacitus in one case, while only vague and ambivalent attributions in the titles of the Gospels.6
Aside from this, since the original manuscripts aren’t available, we don’t know whether these titles were original to the text. Bart Ehrman explains that the titles can’t be traced back to the original manuscripts and that it is highly likely that the titles were added afterward by scribes.7
The fact remains that there’s no external attestation. Pliny, for instance, confirms that Tacitus wrote Historae. No one confirms that Mark, for instance, wrote the Gospel of Mark. A lot more can be said on this topic and since I do not consider myself an authority on this topic, I’d advise Christians to read Ferguson’s “Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels” and also Keith Reich’s series on Gospel Authorship. He has a Ph.D. in Religion/Focus New Testament from Baylor University.
The problem is the Christian’s starting point. Their claim is fixed and is therefore the “truth claim.” They then try to find only that evidence which seems to agree with their presumed conclusion. This is confirmation bias. This is what I mean when I call someone intellectually dishonest. They do not research first and then conclude. They draw a comforting conclusion and then seek evidence; some don’t even care about evidence or change the meaning of evidence so that it is easier for them to disqualify unfavorable facts. At any rate, the authorship of the Gospels is a settled matter: the Gospels are anonymous works and aside from the pretended expertise of layman and the books of dishonest apologists like Lee Strobel, there’s no way around that.
When concerning the genre of the Gospels, it is not straightforwardly obvious to Christians that they are not historical accounts. Christians with more literalist bents can’t see it any other way. This goes back to starting with a comforting conclusion. The conclusion is that Jesus was god and that therefore, the acts attributed to him in the Gospels actually happened. Otherwise, it would be difficult to conclude that he was god incarnate. Take away all of these fantastical acts and all you have is an itinerant first century preacher. This is precisely who the historical Jesus was according to the majority of scholars. They have, in other words, favored a minimal historicist conclusion. They have, for all intents and purposes, stripped Jesus of the divinity he demonstrated in the stories told by the Gospels. In any case, the Gospels aren’t historical accounts. Matthew Ferguson outlines the criteria historical texts meet:
The genre of ancient historical prose has key features that are crucial to understanding which works belong to the category and why they are more trustworthy than sources that do not. It is not enough for a text to simply talk about things that took place in the past, even when the content deals with real people and locations. A historical text must investigate and probe these matters, discussing the research process involved, so that it does not merely provide a story, but a plausible interpretation of what took place.8
Right away, if we call to mind the content of the Gospels, we will quickly notice that the Gospels meet none of these criteria. They don’t accurately represent the past events in question. In fact, the Gospels embellish and mythologize and thus, make it quite difficult to find the historical tidbits contained within them. They also do not investigate these events or offer plausible interpretations of what happened. More specifically, they don’t explain how or why a given event happened. Ferguson continues:
As someone who studies ancient historical writing in the original Greek and Latin languages, it is clear to me that the Gospels are not historical writing. These texts instead read like ancient prose novels. In all but Luke, we do not hear anything about the written sources that the authors consulted (and even the author of Luke does not name them, explain their contents, or discuss how they are relevant as sources), the authors of the Gospels do not discuss how they learned their stories or what their personal relations are to these events, and even when John claims to have an eyewitness disciple “whom Jesus loved,” the gospel does not even bother to name or identify this mysterious figure (most likely an invention of the author). Instead, the Gospels provide story-like narratives, where the authors omnisciently narrate everything that occurs rather than engage in any form of critical analysis. Accordingly, the Gospels all fall short from the criteria that can be used to categorize a piece of historical prose.9
This is the arguably the primary reason they’re historically unreliable: they don’t even qualify as historical accounts in the first place. If we cannot establish that these are historical accounts, then we can’t even begin to talk about whether they’re historically reliable. It stands to reason that they have to be proven historical texts before we begin to have a conversation about whether the text honors what actually took place and whether it adequately explains and interprets these events. A Christian can claim, for example, that Jesus walking on water is the “truth claim.” Yet this doesn’t read as a historical account, much less a reliable one. We have an isolated event that is told in a story-like manner in where the writer narrates his account from an omniscient point of view. There is no investigation, no explanation of why this happened, and no plausible interpretation for this rare feat.
Aside from that, there is absolutely zero outside attestation of this event. There can’t be any because this anonymous writer is telling a story that conveniently took place in a storm. Therefore, no one could have seen it happen and thus, there cannot be any extra-biblical attestation. There’s a much more plausible explanation for this story and I’ll be sure to return to this later, but as far as the historical reliability of this story, it is safe to conclude it was dead on arrival. The notion that Jesus actually walked on water is beyond laughable in any circle outside of one comprised of deluded believers. Furthermore, there’s no research they will find to adequately defend their view. They are, in other words, left with no warrant or justification for holding said view. They are therefore left with no claim to the truth or factuality of their claim, not just for the miracle in question, but also for the other miracles mentioned in the Gospels.
Though there is a clear issue in identifying biographies in the Greco-Roman period, as with the criteria of historical texts, the Gospels also fail to match the criteria of historical biography in that period. The reasoning here is quite involved and once again, I’d advise Christians to read Ferguson’s “Are the Gospels Biographies?: The Spectrum of Ancient Βίοι,” which is cited below. For our purposes though, it is useful to note Ferguson’s observations concerning the type of biographies the Gospels attempt to be–namely ones that focus on Jesus’ moral character and personality:
- The Gospels are anonymous in the composition, just like the popular biographies of Homer, Aesop, and Alexander.
- The Gospels operated, at least originally, more as “open texts,” since much of their content was adapted and reworked into later versions. For example, the Gospel of Matthew borrows from as much as 80% of the verses in Mark, and Luke likewise borrows from 65% of the material in Mark. This is not typical of historical and scholarly biographies, which had greater authorial control, such as those of Plutarch, who does not merely copy his material from earlier works.
- The Gospels do not discuss their sources or methodology, which is a feature of more historical and scholarly biographies. Instead, like the popular biographies of Homer, Aesop, and Alexander the Great, they are less critical, more hagiographical, and include more legends and myth-making.10
That last point speaks to the exact genre of the Gospels. As they stand, they are mythological hagiographies. As a point of comparison, Ferguson goes on to speak of Alexander the Great, since myths about him became ubiquitous shortly after his death.
As Kris Komarnitsky discusses in “Myth Growth Rates and the Gospels,” fictional biographies emerged about Alexander the Great within half a century of his death, just as the Gospels were written about Jesus roughly 40-60 years after his death. As the comparison with the Alexander Romance shows, a biography is not historically reliable simply because it is written only a few decades after the subject’s death, since many popular ancient biographies were written within that span, even for historical figures like Alexander the Great, and yet they included large amounts of legendary development. This form of biography likewise does not engage in the source analysis and methodology that is necessary to make an ancient text historically reliable.11
Ferguson eventually concludes that the Gospels resemble the Septuagint more than Greco-Roman biographies.
It should also be noted that, unlike historical Graeco-Roman biographies, the Septuagint is not as methodologically rigorous, and almost never discusses the sources or the methods of investigation used to construct narratives. This may very likely account for why the Gospels are not similar to ancient Graeco-Roman historiography. Since historical biographies, such as those of Plutarch and Suetonius, overlapped with this category, the Gospels are not very similar to them as well, though they may share features with popular Graeco-Roman biographies, such as those of the Alexander Romance.12
As stated earlier, unless you’re a conservative New Testament scholar, this is straightforwardly accepted. Of course, this isn’t widely accepted by Christians, but that’s because this information isn’t as accessible as misinformation. Apologetic works like Strobel’s “The Case For Christ” are much more available. Furthermore, this sort of information isn’t openly discussed in church or even in seminaries. Some seminaries will brainwash Christians into thinking all of this is irrelevant. Unfortunately, it isn’t–most especially when they’re trying to argue that the Gospels relay historical events. The Gospels do not speak of a historical account.
III. External Attestation
As stated earlier, we cannot have external attestation of Jesus walking on water. According to the myth, it happened during a storm, so there’s no conceivable way an ancient historian would have been out in the storm seeing this all unfold. One might argue, however, that there is historical attestation for the existence of Jesus. In this section, I simply want to throw the external attestations into disarray. I, in other words, want Christians to question Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and so on. I want them to realize that these external attestations aren’t as reliable as they’ve been led to believe.
For starters, Christians who think that the miraculous acts found in the Gospels are historical are confronted by an unfavorable fact: none of the extra-biblical sources confirm any of Jesus’ miracles. My purposes here aren’t so much to show that they fail to mention any of his miraculous acts, but that they might also fail to mention him altogether.
We’ll begin by discussing the Testimonium Flavianum. There isn’t much debate about it’s authenticity. Christian apologists will have us believe that, but there have been a few nails in this coffin for quite some time. Richard Carrier put the last nail in the coffin with his paper, Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus. Before we go there, allow me to quote Carrier who speaks of another important paper that Christians will likely never read:
Further evidence that the longer reference is a Christian fabrication lies in an article I didn’t cite, however, but that is nevertheless required reading on the matter: G.J. Goldberg, “The Coincidences of the Testimonium of Josephus and the Emmaus Narrative of Luke,” in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha (vol. 13, 1995), pp. 59-77. Goldberg demonstrates nineteen unique correspondences between Luke’s Emmaus account and the Testimonium Flavianum, all nineteen in exactly the same order (with some order and word variations only within each item). There are some narrative differences (which are expected due to the contexts being different and as a result of common kinds of authorial embellishment), and there is a twentieth correspondence out of order (identifying Jesus as “the Christ”). But otherwise, the coincidences here are very improbable on any other hypothesis than dependence.13
Part of the reason Carrier doesn’t cite it in his own paper is because Carrier’s conclusion is markedly different from Goldberg’s. Carrier’s conclusion addresses James the brother of Jesus. The James passage isn’t “almost universally” acknowledged as authentic as some have claimed, and that has never been the case; more importantly, because of Carrier’s paper that will never be the case. So what is Carrier’s conclusion?
It is more probable that the phrase, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, the name for whom was James,” originated in an accidental interpolation in the Caesarean library than that it came from Josephus’s hand. Without “who was called Christ,” we have no reference to this passage in Origen at all, and we have no evidence that the phrase was ever in Josephus, as the silence of Luke-Acts, Origen, and every other author, including Hegesippus (whose account shows no knowledge of the events related in AJ 20.200) suggests. Origen does not quote Josephus when he, in three places, uses the phrase “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ,” because in none of these places does he quote or refer to other Josephan material (be it a distinctive construction like “the name for whom was James,” or content particular to AJ 20.200). Rather, he uses a story clearly found only in the Christian author Hegesippus, who also relates a story unknown to Luke and, therefore, probably a second-century invention, as its internal absurdities further suggest. Origen never claims that his material originated from the AJ, and Eusebius could not find it anywhere in Josephus’s writings either, so he simply quoted Origen, but passed it off as a Josephan quotation. Eusebius is the first to notice any mention of Christ in AJ 20.200; unlike Origen, he is the first to quote it; he is the first to declare it a reference to the same James. It seems highly likely, then, that τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ (“who was called Christ”) is an accidental scribal interpolation or innocent emendation, and never appeared in the original text of Josephus.14
He also concludes that the passage was likely speaking of Jesus ben Damneus and his brother James. Ananus ordered that James be stoned to death; Ananus was soon replaced by Jesus ben Damneus–perhaps a punishment for killing an innocent man. Josephus discusses this in the same narrative a few lines after purportedly mentioning “James the Just” who was “the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ.“ Therefore, it is highly probable that he originally spoke of Jesus ben Damneus and his brother James. This is a well-supported conclusion–especially when considering that the death by stoning of “James the Just” is not corroborated anywhere else. Hegesippus wrote a myth concerning the stoning of James; however, this myth is markedly different. In this myth, James the Just is thrown from the roof of a temple and then stoned; however, that doesn’t result in his death. He dies when he is struck in the head with a staff.15 Also, there is no mention of Ananus, and that is perhaps the key difference.
Josephus does mention the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist, but he disagrees with the Gospels on some details, e.g., why he was killed; where he was imprisoned. Ultimately, the historicity of John’s baptisms doesn’t imply that he baptized Jesus. Historical people and places are commonly incorporated into myths, e.g., Darius I in the book of Daniel; Pharaoh (which one?) in Exodus. Therefore, it is our right to ignore Josephus’ mention of John the Baptist given these reasons.
In order to understand the conclusion made, it is useful to quote the passage in question. Then you’ll see why some scholars have concluded that Tacitus is relaying hearsay.
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind (Annals 15:44, c.a. 116 AD).16
Scholars generally consider this passage to be both authentic and historically reliable. However, there are some issues with this source, namely that the passage may have been hearsay. R.T. France states that Tacitus repeated what he heard from Christians. More specifically, he stated:
The brief notice in Tacitus Annals xv.44 mentions only his title, Christus, and his execution in Judea by order of Pontius Pilatus. Nor is there any reason to believe that Tacitus bases this on independent information-it is what Christians would be saying in Rome in the early second century. Suetonius and Pliny, together with Tacitus, testify to the significant presence of Christians in Rome and other parts of the empire from the mid-sixties onwards, but add nothing to our knowledge of their founder. No other clear pagan references to Jesus can be dated before AD 150/1/, by which time the source of any information is more likely to be Christian propaganda than an independent record.17
Also, Tacitus would have known that Pilate was a prefect and not a procurator. At best, the passage describes an event that involved early Christians and it also establishes that a man known as Christus was crucified by Pilate. It doesn’t establish that he resurrected. It doesn’t establish that he performed miracles. It doesn’t establish that he walked on water. It doesn’t establish that he ascended to the right hand of the father. It is not corroboration for the Gospel Jesus.
C. Pliny the Younger
Pliny’s letter to Trajan provided details concerning the trials Pliny conducted. Though the letter mentions Christ, the letter gives more insight on the practices of early Christians and the attitudes Roman officials had toward them. Like the previous sources, it doesn’t give us any information on a historical Jesus nor the divinity of Jesus as described in the Gospels.
The following is Roman historian Suetonius’ reference: “Claudius Judaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit (Life of Claudius, 110 CE).” The translation is: “Claudius drove the Jews out of Rome, who at the suggestion of Chrestus were constantly rioting.” The reference doesn’t say Christus. It clearly says Chrestus. However, Jesus could not have been alive at this time because Claudius reigned from the years 41-54. Christians believe that Christ was crucified in the year 33 C.E. Thus, if he existed, he was not alive at this time and therefore, the passage isn’t referring to the Gospel Jesus or the individual he was based on. Like the previous three, it does nothing to establish his divinity.
E. Thallus/Julius Africanus
This event followed each of his deeds, and healings of body and soul, and knowledge of hidden things, and his resurrection from the dead, all sufficiently proven to the disciples before us and to his apostles: after the most dreadful darkness fell over the whole world, the rocks were torn apart by an earthquake and much of Judaea and the rest of the land was torn down. Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of his Histories, without reason it seems to me. For….how are we to believe that an eclipse happened when the moon was diametrically opposite the sun?18
This would no doubt be of interest had it been written about closer to the event. Unfortunately, the consensus is that Thallus wrote in the second century. Richard Carrier states:
This is all we get. It isn’t clear what Thallus actually said, or whether he even mentioned Jesus at all. Africanus is merely criticising the possibility that the darkness at the death of Christ was a solar eclipse, and thus a natural rather than a supernatural event–an attack addressed in the Apology of Tertullian, and voiced by the Jews in the Gospel of Nicodemus, which may have been written in the time of Africanus. Although this implies that Thallus mentioned the death of Christ in some way, it does not entail it. For Thallus may have simply recorded an eclipse that occurred around the time that Christ was believed to have died, with Africanus connecting the events on his own. We do not have the context of this quote, and we do not know what else Africanus said about this event or about Thallus. Of course, even if Thallus did mention the death of Jesus, we have already shown that he then probably wrote in the 2nd century, when we know this gospel story was already circulating nearly a century after the event. In such a case, Thallus is not an independent witness to the story, but is merely responding to Christian literature. This makes him of practically no use to apologists.19
Carrier goes on to speak of Phelgon of Tralles. His analysis is interesting and to my mind, thorough and conclusive. Anyone who’s interested can read his full analysis which is cited below.
F. The Talmud
The mentions occurring in the Talmud are extremely problematic:
1. Jesus as a sorcerer with disciples (b Sanh 43a-b)
2. Healing in the name of Jesus (Hul 2:22f; AZ 2:22/12; y Shab 124:4/13; QohR 1:8; b AZ 27b)
3. As a torah teacher (b AZ 17a; Hul 2:24; QohR 1:8)
4. As a son or disciple that turned out badly (Sanh 193a/b; Ber 17b)
5. As a frivolous disciple who practiced magic and turned to idolatry (Sanh 107b; Sot 47a)
6. Jesus’ punishment in hell (b Git 56b, 57a)
7. Jesus’ execution (b Sanh 43a-b)
8. Jesus as the son of Mary (Shab 104b, Sanh 67a)
Of these references, two, three, seven (?) and eight relate to the figure in the Bible. However, the other references do not relate to him in the slightest; (1) doesn’t because it specifically says he had five disciples and not the 12 mentioned in the Gospels, and (8) doesn’t relate to him because it says that Mary slept with a soldier named Pantera–thus making Jesus his bastard son rather than someone born of a virgin. Number seven speaks of a Jesus who was stoned and then hanged. The Gospels do not corroborate the stoning account in Sanhedrin 43. It is obvious that Christians are biased when appealing to this source. Scholars are divided concerning the relationship these references have to a historical Jesus. Moreover, they consider the passages to be a response to Christian proselytism.
Of course, there are many other sources according to apologetic sites, but like the above, which are the most commonly cited, they are all problematic. More importantly, none of them establish Jesus’ divinity; none of them attest to his miracles and fantastical acts.
IV. Internal Consistency
To demonstrate why the Gospels aren’t internally consistent, I need only present a series of examples. No Christian to date has solved this conundrum and that’s because they simply can’t. Bock’s harmonizing tactics don’t work because in many of these cases, it makes for one heck of a confused narrative.
Did Jesus carry the cross the entire way or did Simon of Cyrene carry it for him; Mark 15:21 or Luke 23:26 and John 19:17? Did one robber mock him or did both; Matthew 27:44 or Luke 23:39-40? Did the curtain rip before or after; Mark 15:37-38 or Luke 23:45-46? Who went to the tomb–did Mary Magdalene go alone or did she have company and if so, how much company; Mark 16:1-3 (Mary Magdalene goes with Mary and Salome) or Matthew 28:1(Mary Magdalene goes with just Mary) or John 20:1 (she goes alone)? Was there one man or one angel in the tomb (Mark 16:5 or Matthew 28:2-3) or were there two men or two angels (Luke 24:4 or John 20:11-12)? Was the stone rolled away or not; Mark 16:3-4 or Matthew 28:2? Where’s this earthquake in the other Gospels by the way? Were the disciples to stay in Jerusalem or were they to go to Galilee (Mark 16:7 and Matthew 28:7 or the silence of Luke and John on whether or not to go to Galilee)? Did the women tell the disciples or did they stay silent? As Ehrman says, it depends which Gospel you read.
Given what’s outlined above, the authorship and genre of the Gospels are dubious. In other words, we don’t know who the authors actually were. Furthermore, despite Christian pretenses, they aren’t historical texts or biographies. They are embellished hagiographies that are littered with myths. There’s also no external attestation or corroboration of any of the more fantastical elements in the Gospels; also, corroboration of the more grounded elements are questionable. To top it all off, the Gospels do not cohere with one another in a few key places. So aside from the fact that Jesus did not walk on water, Jesus didn’t do anything the Gospels say he did. The Christian must either a) provide warrant for their opinion; b) provide justification for their opinion; or c) demonstrate that their opinion aligns most closely to the facts or is a reiteration of some truth. In this case, their opinion is untenable.
As stated earlier, I said I would return to the story of Jesus walking on water. Despite what some modern Christians think, it can be argued that this was never meant to be taken literally. Likewise, this story may have been written as allegory.
It is, as German theologian David Friedrich Strauss wrote in his two-volume book The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (Das Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet), myth. Not “myth” as in complete fiction, but, similar to the story of Jesus’ resurrection, parable with the intent of conveying a deeper meaning, or lesson. It is a history-like story trying to convey some truth. It is, in other words, allegorical.
In ancient cultures and religions, and very much so in Christianity, it was common to liken tough times to stormy seas that were life-threatening This can be seen in instances of the Dioscuri, who delivered shipmen from stormy seas, as seen in the Homeric Hymns. Or even with Archilochus or Alcaeus comparing the troubles of tyranny to stormy seas. The purpose was to show that one, and only one, could rise above the trials and tribulations of life. That person was Jesus of Nazareth, and if others would follow him, they, too, would rise above all the issues that faced the people of that time.20
In fact, this sort of figurative talk for so called trials and tribulations is alive and well in the modern day. Christians still talk about deserts and storms when speaking of their problems or tests of faith. In fact, the story of Jesus walking on water is often used in one sermon after another in relation to the struggles one is currently facing. The disciples represent the Christian. They are, in other words, alone and helpless. Though they have each other’s company, none of them can stop what comes next. The congregation can’t exactly help the Christian out of their current jam. But along comes Christ as a phantom on the stormy sea; he has come to rescue them and get them out of the jam. I can’t for the life of me see how anyone would come to read this story literally and consider it a piece of historical retelling.
In any case, anyone willing to be honest would see that the story of Jesus walking on water isn’t historical. It’s not based in fact nor is there any evidence to support that claim. To the contrary, there is incontrovertible evidence to support what I’ve offered here–even a charitable interpretation available to Christians. That the story of Jesus walking on water was meant to be considered an allegory in no way implies that they should renounce their beliefs altogether; it in no way implies that Christianity is false. In fact, there are plenty of Christians who favor this interpretation and have no issue with its ahistorical content. Or perhaps, to their mind, it isn’t even an attempt at historical retelling; it’s, in other words, non-historical since the story wasn’t meant to be read that way.
Ultimately, my purpose was to demonstrate the historical unreliability of the Gospels and by extension, the non-historicity of the Gospel Jesus. That’s the Jesus modern Christians need to exist in order for them to assert that their beliefs are true. These two claims are absolutely essential to Christianity and no amount of pseudo-philosophical language can change that. Some Christians may be, for instance, of the Van Tillian flavor and argue that I need to either firmly establish my entire epistemology or debase their epistemology in order to make my claims. They’re essentially moving the goalposts and making Christianity as abstract as possible, so that it is easier to sidestep the questions I’ve just answered.
1 Ferguson, Matthew. “Ancient Historical Writing Compared to the Gospels of the New Testament”. Κέλσος. 18 Aug 2013. Web.
3 Ferguson, Matthew. “Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels”. Κέλσος. 17 Dec 2013. Web.
4 Ehrman, Bart D.. How Jesus became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2014. 90. Print.
5 Ibid. 
6 Ibid. 
7 Ehrman, Bart D. Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. 249-250. Print.
8 Ibid. 
9 Ibid. 
10 Ferguson, Matthew. “Are the Gospels Ancient Biographies? The Spectrum of Ancient Βίοι”. Κέλσος. 8 Jul 2014. Web.
11 Ibid. 
12 Ibid. 
13 Carrier, Richard. “Jesus in Josephus”. Freethought Blogs. 21 Dec 2012. Web.
14 Richard Carrier. “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20.4 (2012): 489-514. Project MUSE. Web. 29 Dec. 2012. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
15 Now some persons belonging to the seven [Jewish] sects existing among the people, which have been before described by me in the Commentaries, asked James: “What is the door of Jesus? And he replied that he was the Savior. In consequence of this answer, some believed that Jesus is the Christ. But the sects before mentioned did not believe, either in a resurrection or in the coming of one to requite every man according to his works; but those who did believe, believed because of James. So, when many even of the ruling class believed, there was a commotion among the Jews, and scribes, and Pharisees, who said, “A little more, and we shall have all the people looking for Jesus as the Christ.”
They came, therefore, in a body to James, and said, “We entreat you, restrain the people: for they are gone astray in their opinions about Jesus, as if he were the Christ. We entreat you to persuade all who have come here for the day of the Passover, concerning Jesus. For we all listen to you; since we, as well as all the people, bear you testimony that you are just, and show partiality to none. Therefore, persuade the people not to entertain erroneous opinions concerning Jesus: for all the people, and we also, listen to you. Take your stand, then, upon the summit of the Temple, that from that elevated spot you may be clearly seen, and your words may be plainly audible to all the people. For, in order to attend the Passover, all the tribes have congregated here, and some of the Gentiles also.”
The aforesaid scribes and Pharisees accordingly set James on the summit of the Temple, and cried aloud to him, and said, “O just one, whom we are all bound to obey, forasmuch as the people are in error, and follow Jesus the crucified, do tell us what is the door of Jesus, the crucified.” And he answered with a loud voice, “Why ask me concerning Jesus the Son of Man? He Himself sits in heaven, at the right hand of the great power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven.”
And, when many were fully convinced by these words, and offered praise for the testimony of James, and said, “Hosanna to the son of David,” then 30. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.23.3–18 (SC 31:86–90; trans. NPNF2 1:207–8, modified; my emphasis). again the Pharisees and scribes said to one another, “We have not done well in procuring this testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, that they may be afraid, and not believe him.” And they cried aloud, and said, “Oh! Oh! The just man himself is in error.” Thus they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah: “Let us away with the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore shall they eat the fruit of their doings.” So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to one another, “Let us stone James the Just.” And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned, and kneeled down, and said, “I beseech Thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
And, while they were thus stoning him to death, one of the priests of the sons of Rechab, the son of the Rechabites, to whom testimony is born by Jeremiah the prophet, began to cry aloud, saying, “Stop! What are you doing!? The just man is praying for us.” But one among them, one of the fullers, took the staff with which he was accustomed to wring out the garments he dyed, and hurled it at the head of the just man.
And so he suffered martyrdom; and they buried him on the spot, and the pillar erected to his memory still remains, close by the temple. This man was a true witness to both Jews and Greeks that Jesus is the Christ. And immediately Vespasian besieged them.
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.23.3–18 (SC 31:86–90; trans. NPNF2 1:207–8, modified; my emphasis).
16 Kirby, Peter. “Cornelius Tacitus”. Early Christian Writings. ND. Web.
17 France, R.T. “The Gospels As Historical Sources For Jesus,The Founder Of Christianity”. Leader University. ND. Web.
18 Carrier, Richard. “Thallus: An Analysis”. Secular Web. 1999. Web.
19 Ibid. 
20 Mehta, Hermant. “Jesus Didn’t Walk on Water”. Patheos. 18 Sep 2014. Web.
By R.N. Carmona
When concerning economics, no economic system is more misunderstood and more polarizing than socialism. Given the controversial history of one of its variants, namely communism, that socialism is a polarizing concept isn’t at all surprising. This, however, is no justification for them who would choose to remain ignorant of what socialism is. To draw an analogy, one could weigh the pros and cons of capitalism. Clearly, it wouldn’t be fair to be uncharitable and speak of capitalism by way of only its cons. In other words, speaking of self-interest or more forcefully, greed as though these characterized the whole of human nature would be disingenuous. Moreover, accusing capitalist models of exposing or drawing out these aspects of human nature, at least without added justification, is dishonest. It is to demonstrate that one is ignorant of capitalism as a whole. There are pros that need to be considered in any discussion on capitalism and the same undoubtedly applies to socialism.
Unfortunately, in discussions on socialism, what one will often find is a determined party whose only interest is to impart their misunderstanding. Implicit in that is the will to poison the well, even going as far as attacking the reputation of politicians who even mention socialist ideas, let alone propose legislation partially structured around these ideas. In 2008, Barack Obama, then Junior Senator of Illinois, was accused of being a socialist and this was the basis of criticism for voters on both sides of the aisle, especially on the right. Today, Bernie Sanders is the candidate being written off by right wing voters. Some would state that he has done himself no favors by identifying himself as a democratic socialist. Regardless of the fact that democratic is much more pronounced and important than socialist in the label ‘democratic socialist’, many Americans blatantly choose to misunderstand what it is he stands for. They would much rather liken him to Soviet communists than to Swedish social democrats, and that’s likely because they aren’t students of the history of economics with regards to socialism. In 1981, after being elected Mayor of Burlington, Sanders said, “I’ve stayed away from calling myself a socialist because I did not want to spend half my life explaining that I did not believe in the Soviet Union or in concentration camps.”1
This introduction therefore has this audience in mind. The candidacy of any given politician shouldn’t suffer due to what amounts to nothing more than libel and slander. The candidacy of a politician should stand or fall on the basis of the merits and demerits of their voting records, policy proposals, and broader plans if they are elected to the public office they’re running for. Bernie Sanders is a great and worthwhile candidate. Left or right wing, his voting record and his policies should be considered without resort to ad hominem and blatant misunderstanding of how he chooses to label himself.
Perhaps this willful ignorance and uncharitable approach to alternative views is a symptom of something more insidious and maybe what’s needed is a cultural overthrowing or a social revolution, but these endeavors are much too grand to consider. People can be persuaded within their own subjective experience. They can come to be convinced of something they currently do not accept and for these narrower endeavors, grandiose goals or perhaps delusions aren’t necessary. At the very least, my hope is that my readers are persuaded that socialism isn’t a blasphemous term to be met with scorn. It isn’t a mere alternative because as will be demonstrated, it can be fully integrated into a capitalist system. It need not stand alone nor lead to the fall of capitalism which Marx considered inevitable.
II. What Socialism Is
Socialism, like any ideology, cannot be defined easily. It is best defined by an explication of its principles and perhaps in also expounding on these principles. With this in mind, one can think of the principles that the variants of socialism hold in common. Michael Newman makes explicit these principles in stating:
[T]he most fundamental characteristic of socialism is its commitment to the creation of an egalitarian society. Socialists may not have agreed about the extent to which inequality can be eradicated or the means by which change can be effected, but no socialist would defend the current inequalities of wealth and power. In particular, socialists have maintained that, under capitalism, vast privileges and opportunities are derived from the hereditary ownership of capital and wealth at one end of the social scale, while a cycle of deprivation limits opportunities and influence at the other end. To varying extents, all socialists have therefore challenged the property relationships that are fundamental to capitalism, and have aspired to establish a society in which everyone has the possibility to seek fulfillment without facing barriers based on structural inequalities.2
Newman goes on to explain that another feature of socialism has been the belief in an egalitarian system. This, however, depends on an optimistic view of human beings that differs from a pessimistic view such as the one that characterizes people as self-interested, competitive or even greedy. Though Nazism and Stalinism would say much against more optimistic views, this hasn’t prevented socialists from thinking that an egalitarian society is possible. Bernie Sanders, for example, has an optimistic view of human beings. Sanders stated: “What being a socialist means is…that you hold out…a vision of society where poverty is absolutely unnecessary, where international relations are not based on greed…but on cooperation…where human beings can own the means of production and work together rather than having to work as semi-slaves to other people who can hire and fire.”3
In keeping with Newman’s ideas of hereditary ownership, inequality, and everyone having the opportunity to seek fulfillment, Sanders has been vocal about the Citizens United decision and what he has called the oligarchy. He states:
American democracy is not about billionaires being able to buy candidates and elections. It is not about the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other incredibly wealthy individuals spending billions of dollars to elect candidates who will make the rich richer and everyone else poorer. According to media reports the Koch brothers alone, one family, will spend more money in this election cycle than either the Democratic or Republican parties. This is not democracy. This is oligarchy. In Vermont and at our town meetings we know what American democracy is supposed to be about. It is one person, one vote – with every citizen having an equal say – and no voter suppression. And that’s the kind of American political system we have to fight for and will fight for in this campaign.4
Given this, it is to be clearly noted that Sanders is not a communist. Though there are elements of Marxism in his view, Sanders isn’t a Marxist. This will be demonstrated shortly. What is clear is that his opponents are both wrong and dishonest to mischaracterize his views, to speak as though he agrees with socialist models that failed and led to abuse of power and injustice. As will also be shown, Sanders isn’t merely a socialist. He’s a democratic socialist, so it will be useful to distinguish between this strand of socialism as compared to others and to also discuss what would result from the implementation of a democratic socialist model. As one will see, this will not result in the end of capitalism in the U.S. nor the rise of a communistic government. To make this manifest, a brief survey of two important strands of socialism is necessary.
A. Marxism and Marxist elements in Sanders’ Views
It could be argued that the common misunderstanding people have of socialism stems from their misunderstanding of it’s common ancestor, namely Marxism. That will not be argued here. It’s merely been suggested because the branches of Marxism have each retained Marxist traits and thus, to misunderstand Marxism will, in all likelihood, lead one to misunderstand its branches. Setting aside historical materialism, since a broader discussion of Marxism isn’t intended, Marxism says nothing radical. Perhaps people recoil in horror because it strips them of what some philosophers have labeled an illusion: free will. Marxism is utterly deterministic in that it asserts that society determines human consciousness. In Preface to A Critique of Political Economy, Marx stated:
In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the conic structure of society—the real foundation, on which rise legal and poetical superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.5
This is to say that in any society, the mode of production corresponds to whatever ideas and institutions are in place. In all of these societies, a ruling class derived their power from control over the economy. Also, the ideas and institutions in place aligned with the interests of these classes.
Though Sanders isn’t a Marxist, you can trace Marxist influences in his views. As mentioned earlier, Sanders is concerned with the oligarchy and more specifically, the power it derives, perhaps underhandedly, from the Citizens United decision. Tangentially, the Supreme Court decision reversed the Citizens United decision and allowed corporations to make campaign contributions. This is what Sanders is getting at when he makes pointed attacks against Hillary Clinton’s super Pacs. In the latest Democratic debate, Sanders strongly hinted at the notion of a ruling class deriving its power from existing ideas and institutions:
But here is the issue, Secretary touched on it, can you really reform Wall Street when they are spending millions and millions of dollars on campaign contributions and when they are providing speaker fees to individuals? So it’s easy to say, well, I’m going to do this and do that, but I have doubts when people receive huge amounts of money from Wall Street. I am very proud, I do not have a super PAC. I do not want Wall Street’s money. I’ll rely on the middle class and working families.6
What he’s implying here is that candidates who receive contributions from corporations likely won’t bite the hand that fed them. Put another way, one cannot expect a candidate who received millions of dollars in contributions to go after the very ideas and institutions that give them their power. Sanders is correct to point out that Clinton will not break up large banks because that will definitely upset her campaign contributors. Also, candidates who receive large contributions from major corporations are indebted to them and therefore, are far more likely to vouch for whatever special interests they may have. This reciprocity is not in the interest of the people and most certainly not in the interest of the middle class Americans Sanders represents. If this sort of thinking sounds too paranoid, know that Bernie isn’t alone. After the reversal of the Citizens United decision, President Obama had this to say: “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”7 In the same vein, Senator Chuck Schumer stated:
We are not going to let this decision go unchallenged…At a time when Americans are worried about special interests having too much influence, this decision opens up the floodgates and allows special interest money to overflow elections and undermine our democracy. If there’s one thing that Americans from the left, right and center can all agree on, it’s that they don’t want more special interests in our politics.8
Schumer alludes to special interests already having some sway. Though political dramas aren’t fully accurate, anyone who has watched Netflix’s House of Cards or ABC’s Scandal knows how often such special interests have featured in the respective plot lines of both dramas. “We the People” has been overthrown by an oligarchy—a ruling class that Bernie Sanders is all too aware of. He’s also aware of the conflict of interest that will ensue if the reversal of Citizens United isn’t opposed. Again, on this sentiment, he isn’t alone. Justice John Paul Stevens stated the following:
The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case. In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907. The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.9
Though Marxism threatens one of our most basic assumptions, namely that we have free will, it’s deterministic bents are neither strange nor shunned by philosophers. Tangentially, a deeper consideration of our wills will inevitably lead to either strict determinism or compatibilism. In other words, if the former, we have no will and are always subject to the sway of the circumstances involved in our decisions. If the latter, these circumstances only partially determine the decisions we make and thus, the final say rests with us. Marxism disturbs neither of these views. It is, in other words, fully compatible with both views.
Moreover, further consideration of slave, feudalistic, capitalistic, communistic, and other societies will show that Marx was correct to point out that society determines our consciousness and not vice versa. Members of the middle class in the United States will attest to this by alluding to the ideas and institutions that impose their social consciousness. Talk of glass ceilings, economic barriers, and the plight of women and minorities will no doubt feature in any assessment which explains why a given middle class American didn’t realize the American dream. These points warrant much more attention than can be given here, but one thing is absolutely clear, relevant Marxist ideas are present in Sanders’ views and Sanders is correct to expose the ruling class and to have a desire to oppose it.
Conversely, and along those same lines, Sanders has characterized his campaign as a political revolution. Marx’s theory also featured this notion of change by way of revolution. This revolution did not imply a violent overthrow, but rather, a pacifistic changing of the guard. This changing of the guard happened gradually, however. Marx did not intend to argue that this occurred overnight. Rather, as he put it, “the material forces of production in society come into conflict with the existing relations of production, or…with property relations within which they had been at work before. From forms of development of the forms of production these relations turn into their fetters.”10 From this comes revolution.
Sanders’ notion of a political revolution differs in key respects from Marx’s notion of social revolution. Sanders, for instance, wants a fairer distribution of wealth and he also wants to revert power to the people and away from corporations. It isn’t the sort of social revolution that will be necessary when, for instance, robots begin performing the tasks now carried out by humans. In such a society, there will no doubt be a ruling class, perhaps large corporations, looking to pad their bottom line by drastically cutting the cost of labor. Laborers who relied on these jobs will come into conflict with these corporations and will, for a time, inhibit such developments. This will then lead to a change in social relationships and what Marx called the superstructure, which is ideology, laws, and even the state.
Though speaking of wealth inequality in the UK, Michael Newman is aware of the fact that such inequality is derived from structures. Under capitalism, certain individuals who are talented or outright lucky can achieve a level of success that the majority of people cannot. While capitalism seeks to incentivize innovation and creativity, such an ideology has led to rampant incentives. It is clear that in order to address wealth inequality, ideologies of this sort have to be opposed. A surgeon should get paid more than a cashier, but the cashier shouldn’t find himself below the poverty line. Incentive can be granted, but not at the expense of others. Such a superstructure only reinforces inequality.
B. Utopian Socialism
Prior to discussing democratic socialism, it is necessary to briefly discuss the contributions of utopian socialists: “cooperation, association,…harmony in a context of egalitarianism” and “an emphasis on sexual equality.”11 Aside from egalitarian, small scale societies, democratic socialism has been a beneficiary of these contributions. As was shown earlier, Sanders calls for cooperation and social ownership of the means of production. This will require us to associate with one another and organize ourselves in a way that’s conducive to a working economy.
In terms of sexual equality, Sanders believes that “[w]e must establish pay equity for women workers.”12 He has also worked to do away with the gender wage gap:
In 2012, Bernie support the Paycheck Fairness Act and helped the effort to bring it to a vote again in 2014. The bill was designed to strengthen the claims that female employers had against companies in cases of sex or gender discrimination. Among his twelve point Economic Agenda for America, Bernie wrote that we must “provide equal pay for women workers who now make 78 percent of what male counterparts make.” In addition to these more recent efforts, Bernie voted in favor of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which aims “to ensure that individuals subjected to unlawful pay discrimination are able to effectively assert their rights under the federal anti-discrimination laws.”13
Sexual equality goes further than equal pay for women. Sanders has fully embraced this utopian ideal. He has been a pro-choicer for his entire political career. In an op-ed he wrote for the Huffington Post, Sanders wrote: “We are not returning to the days of back-room abortions, when countless women died or were maimed. The decision about abortion must remain a decision for the woman, her family and physician to make, not the government.”14 Sanders has also been in favor of contraceptives. He has also voted in favor of the Violence Against Women Act whilst maintaining that more needs to be done to address sexual and domestic violence against women. With this in mind, it is time now to turn to democratic socialism in order to see how it compares to and differs from other schools of socialism.
C. Democratic Socialism
In terms of why the label democratic is necessary, democratic socialists added the adjective in order to distinguish themselves from Communists who also identify as socialists. Modern democrats, with the exception of Marxist-Leninists, believe that communism is not democratic and totalitarian.
III. What Socialism Is Not: What is Communism and How It Differs from Socialism
Communism also puts emphasis on centralization or a nationalized economy. That is to say that the government appoints officials and also oversees production, distribution, and transactions. There is no free market or social ownership of resources. At the height of Stalin’s regime, his Five Year Plans made these points explicit. Stalin, for instance, collectivized all farmlands and transferred ownership of these lands to Soviet leadership. He also created GOSPLAN, which was an economic planning committee.
Democratic socialism, on the other hand, doesn’t call for a nationalized economy, but rather, a socialized economy. Donald Busky states that it’s “the movement of people to end their own exploitation and the destruction of the environment. It takes power out of the hands of elites who run political and economic systems solely for their own benefit at the direct expense to everyone and everything else.”15 Later he explains that democratic socialism synthesizes social ownership and political democracy. Though there is often hesitance to label this position a social democracy, since this position entails a reformation of capitalism and to some, a watered down socialism, this notion of social democracy entails an all conclusive, comprehensive welfare system. A social democracy would provide free healthcare as a right, as a guarantee to all of its citizens. There will also be more accessible assistance for employment and education. It must be emphasized that Sanders and democratic socialists, in general, are evolutionary socialists who expect a gradual transition from capitalism to democratic socialism. They are not expecting a revolutionary or even violent overthrow of capitalism and are thus, willing to allow capitalists to retain their control over industries.
With this in mind, one must question whether Sanders’ views are in keeping with what’s been surveyed in this section. The honest answer is a resounding yes, especially given what he said in a recent speech on democratic socialism in the U.S. At this point in history, it is a necessity given the grotesque wealth inequality that exists in the U.S. Sanders states that “[d]espite the incredibly hard work and long hours of the American middle class, 58 percent of all new income generated today is going to the top one percent.”16 Prior to assessing whether Sanders’ views align with the ideals of democratic socialism, it is necessary to take pause at this statistic. It is also necessary to look into our own expectations of what wealth distribution is in this country and then consider what an ideal distribution would look like. Thankfully, the YouTuber politizane has already charted the actual, expected, and ideal wealth distributions. Below is a chart showing what they look like.
More striking still are the charts that follow. These charts show more accurately how the wealth in this country, approximately 54 trillion dollars, is distributed in the U.S. The ideal is shown below.
This ideal is more representative of democratic socialism than it is of capitalism. Them who have argued that socialism destroys incentive and private ownership have misconstrued what socialism means. Marx stated: “The capitalist mode of production and accumulation and, therefore, capitalist private property, have for their fundamental condition the annihilation of self-earned private property; in other words, the expropriation of the laborer.”17 As Atkinson explains, socialism would prevent the destruction of private property and the expropriation of laborers. In the ultimate bait and switch, opponents of socialism, who are generally capitalists, have indicted socialism on false charges—charges that can be rightly used to indict capitalism. Capitalism, when given free rein, provides excessive incentive and often at the expense of lower class citizens. Americans on both sides of aisle are keenly aware of this and the chart below alludes to that.
As can be clearly seen, the distribution of wealth is no longer as smooth. The wealthiest citizens are no longer 10-20% more well off than the poorest on the chart. In the ideal chart, the poor aren’t exactly poor since the poverty line isn’t even visible on the chart. On the expected chart, it is clearly visible and the distribution of wealth is much more skewed in the direction of the wealthy. Unfortunately, what’s actually the case doesn’t match our expectations.
On the expected chart, the wealthiest had 100 times more wealth than the poorest. On the actual chart, the middle class is nearly indistinguishable from the poor. The wealthy are far more well off than the rich and the 1% we’re accustomed to hearing about has such a distribution, it’s not even visible on the chart. The stack (the last bar on the right) goes up so high, it can be piled into ten even stacks of cash. This is the grotesque inequality democratic socialists take issue with; this is the inequality Sanders is looking to address.
Today, in America, we are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but few Americans know that because so much of the new income and wealth goes to the people on top. In fact, over the last 30 years, there has been a massive transfer of wealth – trillions of wealth – going from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent – a handful of people who have seen a doubling of the percentage of the wealth they own over that period. Unbelievably, and grotesquely, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.18
Sanders is also aware of the relatively large number of Americans in poverty. According to the 2014 census, about 47 million Americans are below the poverty line. Included in that number are 21% of children.19 The U.S. has one of the highest rates of child poverty in any of the developed countries. Since the 2012 UNICEF survey, the rate of child poverty has decreased, but there is still much room for improvement.
According to Sanders, “[Democratic socialism] builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor.”20 With this in mind, it is time now to look at its success around the world. Then an emphasis will be put on its prospects in the U.S. and Sanders’ plans to implement it.
IV. Democratic Socialism in the Modern Day
[T]he poverty that exists in much of the world is that of absolute destitution—the lack of food, drinking water, basic sanitation, healthcare, and education. Meanwhile, the richest 1% of the world’s population now receive as much income as the poorest 57%, while the income of the 25 million richest Americans is the equivalent of that of almost 2 billion of the world’s poorest people.21
As Newman would later explain, “the socialism of the future must surely be democratic both in its organizations and in the wider institutions in which it operates.”22 It should resemble the movements in countries like Sweden, a country that boasts one of the highest standards of living in the world. It also has a cooperative movement that provides housing for its citizens.23 Going back to Marxist thought, it should come as no surprise that Sweden contributes more that goes toward the aid and development of poor countries than the U.S. does. If society determines consciousness, democratic socialism would determine social consciousness and it appears that it would lead to more empathy. Perhaps this is a further indictment of capitalism, but as Newman and others recognize, a critique of capitalism is not sufficient nor would it mean that people would begin to lean toward democratic socialism.
So perhaps what’s required is to implement what does work. Sanders is, once again, one step ahead. Busky suggested the following after examining why a major socialist party doesn’t exist in the U.S.:
Instead of a maximum program of advocating immediate, total nationalization of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, as small socialist sects have tended to do and which has often proved to be too radical for the majority of people to accept in many countries, American Socialists would do well to advance a minimum program calling for the creation of a national health plan which all other developed nations except for the United States already have..Another program would be to abolish unemployment by having the government hire all those who want and need to work but whom the capitalist system is unwilling or unable to hire. Still another program would be to abolish poverty by the creation of a guaranteed annual income by means of a negative income tax. If a person’s or family’s income fell below the poverty line, then the Internal Revenue Service would give them enough money to bring them to some point above the poverty line as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.24
As for nationalization, as democratic socialist scholars have suggested, it must be reiterated that control of industries would be turned over to workers and not to the state. The economy would not be centralized the way it is under communism, but rather, socialized as explained earlier. Optimism must be expressed. “Socialism…is the hope for human freedom and justice under the unprecedented conditions of life that humanity [faces] in the twenty-first century.”25 Not just any variant of socialism, but a democratic socialism that emphasizes equality, the end of absolute poverty, and a higher standard of living for all human beings. It is the American ideal. If all men are equal, then all of humankind should have the opportunity to succeed. As stated earlier, this need not lead to the destruction of incentives; this ought not discourage them who are creative and innovative. There will be a just reward for people who advance society scientifically, medically, technologically and so on, but the reward will not come at the expense of others nor would it be unjustifiably excessive as it is now. Bernie Sanders understands this and his vision for the U.S. confirms that. What follows is what democratic socialism means to him and implicit in that will be his vision for the United States:
In my view, it’s time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just Wall Street, billionaires and large corporations. It means that we should not be providing welfare for corporations, huge tax breaks for the very rich, or trade policies which boost corporate profits as workers lose their jobs. It means that we create a government that works for works for all of us, not just powerful special interests. It means that economic rights must be an essential part of what America stands for.
It means that health care should be a right of all people, not a privilege. This is not a radical idea. It exists in every other major country on earth. Not just Denmark, Sweden or Finland. It exists in Canada, France, Germany and Taiwan. That is why I believe in a Medicare-for-all single payer health care system. Yes. The Affordable Care Act, which I helped write and voted for, is a step forward for this country. But we must build on it and go further.
Medicare for all would not only guarantee health care for all people, not only save middle class families and our entire nation significant sums of money, it would radically improve the lives of all Americans and bring about significant improvements in our economy.
People who get sick will not have to worry about paying a deductible or making a co-payment. They could go to the doctor when they should, and not end up in the emergency room. Business owners will not have to spend enormous amounts of time worrying about how they are going to provide health care for their employees. Workers will not have to be trapped in jobs they do not like simply because their employers are offering them decent health insurance plans. Instead, they will be able to pursue the jobs and work they love, which could be an enormous boon for the economy. And by the way, moving to a Medicare for all program will end the disgrace of Americans paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
Democratic socialism means that, in the year 2015, a college degree is equivalent to what a high school degree was 50 years ago – and that public education must allow every person in this country, who has the ability, the qualifications and the desire, the right to go to a public colleges or university tuition free. This is also not a radical idea. It exists today in many countries around the world. In fact, it used to exist in the United States.
Democratic socialism means that our government does everything it can to create a full employment economy. It makes far more sense to put millions of people back to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, than to have a real unemployment rate of almost 10%. It is far smarter to invest in jobs and educational opportunities for unemployed young people, than to lock them up and spend $80 billion a year through mass incarceration.
Democratic socialism means that if someone works forty hours a week, that person should not be living in poverty: that we must raise the minimum wage to a living wage – $15 an hour over the next few years. It means that we join the rest of the world and pass the very strong Paid Family and Medical Leave legislation now in Congress. How can it possibly be that the United States, today, is virtually the only nation on earth, large or small, which does not guarantee that a working class woman can stay home for a reasonable period of time with her new-born baby? How absurd is that?
Democratic socialism means that we have government policy which does not allow the greed and profiteering of the fossil fuel industry to destroy our environment and our planet, and that we have a moral responsibility to combat climate change and leave this planet healthy and habitable for our kids and grandchildren.
Democratic socialism means, that in a democratic, civilized society the wealthiest people and the largest corporations must pay their fair share of taxes. Yes. Innovation, entrepreneurship and business success should be rewarded. But greed for the sake of greed is not something that public policy should support. It is not acceptable that in a rigged economy in the last two years the wealthiest 15 Americans saw their wealth increase by $170 billion, more wealth than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans. Let us not forget what Pope Francis has so elegantly stated; “We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”
It is not acceptable that major corporations stash their profits in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens to avoid paying $100 billion in taxes each and every year. It is not acceptable that hedge fund managers pay a lower effective tax rate than nurses or truck drivers. It is not acceptable that billionaire families are able to leave virtually all of their wealth to their families without paying a reasonable estate tax. It is not acceptable that Wall Street speculators are able to gamble trillions of dollars in the derivatives market without paying a nickel in taxes on those transactions.
Democratic socialism, to me, does not just mean that we must create a nation of economic and social justice. It also means that we must create a vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person one vote. It is extremely sad that the United States, one of the oldest democracies on earth, has one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country, and that millions of young and working class people have given up on our political system entirely. Every American should be embarrassed that in our last national election 63% of the American people, and 80% of young people, did not vote. Clearly, despite the efforts of many Republican governors to suppress the vote, we must make it easier for people to participate in the political process, not harder. It is not too much to demand that everyone 18 years of age is registered to vote – end of discussion.25
Bernie Sanders hits all of the major points discussed here and more. This is his vision for the United States—a vision that every American should endorse. Them who do not endorse him either because he’s a “socialist” or because he disagrees with Republicans on a given issue are putting dishonesty before truth, putting themselves before the well-being of their fellow citizens, and prioritizing in a way that’s socially and morally irresponsible. They’re saying that the abortion issue matters more to them than poverty. They’re saying that they’d rather war over the peace of mind of millions of Americans without healthcare and a livable income. They’re saying they have no problem with special interests effectively running the show, dictating the terms of elections. They’re saying they’d rather a Republican candidate who stresses the right to bear arms over a candidate who recognizes the issue of illegal firearms in urban populaces throughout the United States. Sanders’ views on guns is far more nuanced and actually succeeds at synthesizing both sides of the issue; he, in other words, recognizes that guns in rural states take on different meaning than they do in urban settings. He isn’t trying to strip a hunter of his rifle, but he is imploring the gang member to turn in his illegally acquired, unlicensed, and unregistered firearm. Sanders’ vision for the U.S. is one of great depth, optimism, and promise. If you aren’t already a supporter, honestly consider it for yourself. He isn’t only the ideal American candidate, he’s a global candidate. His vision is not only needed in the United States, it is also needed abroad. Socialism isn’t a dead ideology. It is the one true hope for a bright future for us all.
1 Kruse, Michael. “14 things Bernie Sanders has said about socialism”. Politico. 17 July 2015. Web.
2 Newman, Michael. Socialism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 2-3. Print.
3 Ibid. 
4 “Bernie’s Announcement”. Bernie Sanders. 26 May 2015. Web.
5 Ibid. , p.23
6 “Transcript of the Democratic Presidential Debate”. The New York Times. 17 Jan 2016. Web.
7 “Petition Against Citizens United Decision Gains Steam”. Democracy Chronicles. ND. Web.
8 Ibid. 
9 Ibid. 
10 Marchionatti, Roberto, ed. Karl Marx: Critical Responses. London: Routledge, 1998. 171. Print.
11 Ibid. , p.15
12 “Remarks by Sen. Bernie Sanders”. Burlington Free Press. 26 May 2015. Web.
13 “Bernie Sanders on Equal Pay”. Feel The Bern. ND. Web.
14 Sanders, Bernie. “United Against the War on Women”. Huffington Post. 30 Apr 2012. Web.
15 Busky, Donald F. Democratic Socialism: A Global Survey. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000. xi. Print.
16 “Senator Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism in the United States”. Bernie Sanders. 19 Nov 2015. Web.
17 Atkinson, Warren. “Incentive Under Socialism”. Indiana State University. ND. Web.
18 Ibid. 
19 “Poverty: 2014 Highlights”. United States Census Bureau. ND. Web.
20 Ibid. 
21 Ibid. , p.140
22 Ibid. , p.145
23 Ibid. , p.37-38
24 Ibid. , p.170
25 Harrington, Michael. Socialism: Past and Future. New York: Arcade, 1989. 1. Print.
26 Ibid. 
By R.N. Carmona
In an attempt to avoid the intricate history of hell, Satan, and demons, Christians will often accuse atheists of blindly subscribing to Zeitgeist. I’ve gone on record multiples times stating that Zeitgeist is bad scholarship. In fact, it doesn’t even qualify as sound scholarship. Though Zeitgeist alludes to some truth, that is mired and obscured by its faults. Furthermore, though mythicist theory features in the film series, I myself have watched nothing of relevance related to our present topic. So to respond to these accusations, I turn to reputable authorities on these matters. Given this, any honest Christian shouldn’t be dismissive of such sources; as we’ll see later, one of my sources, namely Rikk Watts, is a Christian. The tendency to be dismissive of a source simply because it disagrees with or challenges one’s views is not a feature of intellectual honesty. Let us turn now to a brief discussion on the historical development of hell, Satan, and demons.
Michael Strausberg, Professor at the University of Bergen, surveys the development of Hell starting in the Rig Veda. He, however, says that passages in the Rig Veda do not lend much support to the notion of Hell though he agrees that “in the later Vedas the notion of hell seems to be well attested.”1 He continues by adding that developments in Buddhism and Hinduism soon developed the concept more fully. This is precisely why I specifically mention the Narakas whenever I encounter people who are unfamiliar with the nuanced history of hell. He states:
Voltaire claims that fundamental ideas such as god, devil, resurrection, paradise, and hell, which constitute something like the doctrinal kernel of Christianity, did in fact originate with Zoroastrianism. The presumed impact of Zoroastrian theological ideas such as monotheism, dualism, angels, demons, eschatology, paradise, apocalypticism, and pollution on the Judaic-Christian traditions have been an important stimulus triggering the academic interest in Zoroastrianism. Nowadays, such claims abound in cyberspace, often based on older scholarly literature. The Oxford Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics, Robert Charles Zaehner (1913–1974), for example, writing in 1961, finds that “the similarities are so great and the historical context so neatly apposite that it would be carrying scepticism altogether too far to refuse to draw the obvious conclusion” (1961:57), namely that Christian concepts of rewards and punishment, heaven and hell, are dependent on Zoroastrian ideas.2
That the concept of hell comes directly from Zoroastrianism, as demonstrated above, is an oversimplification of the concept’s development. As it is related to Christianity, there’s also the fact that it’s a later development in the Christian tradition. Rikk Watts, Associate Professor at Regent College, states that Allen Bernstein’s fundamental thesis in The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds “is that the Christian notion of hell as “a divinely sanctioned place of eternal torment for the wicked” is a late development among views of after-death existence (p.3). In a partially thematic, partially chronological treatment, Bernstein briefly examines ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian ideas before concentrating on Greco-Roman, Jewish, and finally Christian perspectives.”3
He goes on to highlight the neutrality of the afterlife, which more closely resembles the Jewish Sheol rather than the Christian Hell and the Islamic Jahannam. This neutrality led to a problem for some. They reasoned that they, being righteous, shouldn’t share the same fate as the wicked. A bifurcation, occurring in ancient Egyptian mythology, then stated that one’s life determines one’s fate. He concludes that Bernstein’s book has its weaknesses, but none are particularly damning. His main criticism is that Bernstein’s presentation is too linear to capture the intricacy of Hell’s development.
Likewise, the beings said to inhabit Hell, namely Satan and his demons, do not escape such a cross-cultural analysis. They too are derived from Zoroastrian eschatology and demonology. Satan, like Hell, is a concept that developed over time. In fact, he’s not original to Judaism. He’s a later Christian invention that resulted from Christian appropriation of Jewish texts. Elaine Pagel states:
In the Hebrew Bible, as in mainstream Judaism to this day, Satan never appears as Western Christendom has come to know him, as the leader of an “evil empire,” an army of hostile spirits who make war on God and humankind alike. As he first appears in the Hebrew Bible, Satan is not necessarily evil, much less opposed to God. On the contrary, he appears in the book of Numbers and in Job as one of God’s obedient servants—a messenger, or angel, a word that translates the Hebrew term for messenger (ma’lak) into Greek (angelos). In Hebrew, the angels were often called “sons of God” (bene ‘elohim), and were envisioned as the hierarchical ranks of a great army, or the staff of a royal court.
In biblical sources the Hebrew term the satan describes an adversarial role. It is not the name of a particular character. Although Hebrew storytellers as early as the sixth century B.C.E. occasionally introduced a supernatural character whom they called the satan, what they meant was any one of the angels sent by God for the specific purpose of blocking or obstructing human activity. The root stn means “one who opposes, obstructs, or acts as adversary.” (The Greek term diabolos, later translated “devil,” literally means “one who throws something across one’s path.”)4
Interestingly enough, this is what may have been at play in 1 Samuel 16:14. The notion of “a harmful spirit from the Lord” is foreign to modern day Christians. That’s why there are apologetic attempts to explain this verse—i.e., to explain it within the context of modern Christian theology. In line with my earlier point, the concept of Satan didn’t develop apart from cultural diffusion. J.B. Russell writes:
The Christian concept of the Devil was influenced by folklore elements, some from the older, Mediterranean cultures and others from the Celtic, Teutonic and Slavic religions of the north. Pagan ideas penetrated Christianity while Christian ideas penetrated paganism.5
The concept of demons also didn’t develop apart from cultural diffusion. Like Satan, this concept is also the byproduct of contact with other cultures. Dale Martin, professor of Religious Studies at Yale, demonstrates that the notion of fallen angels isn’t in the Bible. In fact, it’s an idea that hadn’t even occurred to the earliest Christian authors.6 Shaul Saked shows how the resurrection of the dead, the two judgments, and angels and demons are integrated into the theology of Zoroastrianism in a manner that’s more coherent than the way such concepts are incorporated into Judaism.7 The evidence for the fact that Christian eschatology and demonology was influenced by other religions is incontrovertible. Given this, a Christian arguing that Judaism and Zoroastrianism are false might want to consider whether Christianity is also false on the basis of similar reasons.
When attempting to recall the name of the adversary in Zoroastrianism (Angra Mainyu), I came across the following:
It is generally accepted that in the Abrahamic religions, the concepts of Heaven and Hell, as well as the Devil, were heavily influenced by Zoroastrian belief.8
As stated earlier, that Christianity was directly influenced by Zoroastrianism is an oversimplification, but Zoroastrianism had an influence nonetheless. There’s more from where this came from, but that’s certainly enough to put the accusation to sleep. It’s easy enough to accuse so called internet atheists of using Zeitgeist as a source, especially given their affinity for the December 25th graphic that shows that other demigods, e.g. Krishna, Hercules, Hermes, etc., were born on that day. However, one would be hard pressed to make that accusation stick with regards to the scholarship cited here. Voltaire, for instance, was an 18th century historian and philosopher who was born more than two centuries before the first working television set–let alone some pseudo-scholarly documentary that came more than three centuries after his birth.
1 Stausberg, Michael. Hell in Zoroastrian History. Numen 56, 217–253. 2009. Web. 27 Dec 2014.
3 Watts, Rick. The History of Heaven and Hell. Baylor Univeristy. 2002. Web. 27 Dec 2014.
4 Pagels, Elaine H. The Origin of Satan. New York: Random House, 1995. 39. Print.
5 Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Lucifer, the Devil in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1984. 62. Print.
6 Martin, D. (2010). When did angels become demons? Journal of Biblical Literature, 129(4), 657-677. Web.
7 Shaked, Shaul. “Iranian influence on Judaism: first century B.C.E. to second century C.E.”, The Cambridge History of Judaism. Ed. W. D. Davies and Louis Finkelstein. 1st ed. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984. pp. 308-325.
8 “God, Zoroaster, and immortals”. BBC. 2 Oct 2009. Web. 30 Dec 2014.
By R.N. Carmona
With the exception of the last tactic on the list (obscurantism), I’ve attempted to place the arguments in an order proportional to their degree of weakness. In other words, none of the arguments below are strong arguments or tactics for the existence of a god. All of the arguments are weak, but some are undoubtedly weaker than others; to put it bluntly, some of these arguments are plain foolish and it is difficult to explain why they’re so frequently used. So let us turn now to what I think is the weakest argument frequently used by Christians.
The “Faith in Science” Argument
This argument is perhaps the weakest argument offered by Christians. In more than three years of blogging, I’ve experienced this argument countless times–most recently twice within the same week (see here and here). Given the ensuing length of this post, you can read those responses to see why the argument is simply bad. There’s no reason to beat a dead horse.
The Argument From Consequences
The most common version of this argument is one attempting to link atheism and nihilism. Some Christians would go as far as to say that modern atheists aren’t really atheists. A Tumblr Catholic posted the following unsourced quote from Father Baron:
… at least the existentialists were serious about their atheism — they saw the implications of it. I think what we see in a lot of the New Atheism is a kind of frivolous, or superficial, or childish atheism, a kind of playing at atheism.
Jerry Coyne writes: “atheists simply aren’t dolorous enough about our nonbelief; Like Nietzsche, we should be mourning the death of God, which takes away from us a grounded morality, and one that we haven’t replaced it with a solid secularly-based morality.“1 Coyne isn’t agreeing with this sentiment; he’s objecting to it. This argument can often piggyback on the Moral Argument for God. We’ll discuss this argument later.
Even if it were the case that there is a salient connection between atheism and nihilism, this still wouldn’t imply that atheism is false. Truth often has uncomfortable implications. “How can you believe in natural disasters? They kill so many people and destroy so many things.” Obviously, this type of contention doesn’t show that natural disasters don’t happen. They do happen and it’s true that they destroy things and kill people, but the fact that natural disasters lead to discomforting consequences doesn’t mean they don’t occur or better said, that we should deny that they occur or force ourselves to believe that they don’t on the basis that its more comforting to do so.
Likewise, if it’s true that nihilism follows from atheism, then if atheism is true, life is devoid of meaning. That life is devoid of meaning if atheism is true doesn’t mean that theism has to be true because a meaningful life is more comforting. Conversely, this same reasoning can be applied to notions of an afterlife. The finality of death is uncomfortable for most people who dwell on it, but that it’s uncomfortable doesn’t make it false.
Such arguments are fallacious because they appeal to consequences. Whether one appeals to desirable or undesirable consequences doesn’t make a difference. Aside from the aforementioned example, one will often hear Christians state that evolution must be false because if it isn’t, we’re equal to animals. One will also hear that since eternal life is preferable, heaven must exist. The desirability or undesirability of a given consequence(s) doesn’t prove or disprove any proposition.
In any event, this still doesn’t prevent atheists from finding meaning in life. Nietzsche’s nihilism isn’t an atheist’s only choice when it comes to existentialism. His nihilism can be considered the epistemic equivalent to atheism: atheism is the lack of belief in gods; nihilism is the lack of belief in meaning in life. However, like the question of god, there are alternatives and a middle ground. For instance, absurdism is to existentialism what agnosticism is to the question of god; while absurdism states that there’s an incongruence between our desire for meaning in life and the lack of meaning in the universe, agnosticism states that the question of god is unanswerable because whether or not god exists is unknowable. They both posit an unknowability. An atheist can also choose to believe in self-generated meaning; this attitude originates in the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre though Sartre’s existentialism is more metaphysical given his heavy emphasis on the concept of being.
The Argument From Martyrdom
This argument is less frequently used and for good reason. Aside from the assumption that something is true given that people die for it, it completely ignores the fact that people have died for the sake of other religions. Aside from that, people have died for ideologies (e.g. Nazism, racism, nationalism). Richard Carrier puts it succinctly:
[T]he fact that believers are willing to die for their belief does not confirm their belief is true, since there have been willing martyrs for Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Marxism, even paganism, and many other religions and ideologies throughout history. In the right social conditions, such martyrdom doesn’t even slow recruitment because such willingness to die is normal for such movements, not unusual. As W.H.C. Frend says of that time, “there was a living pagan tradition of self-sacrifice for a cause, a preparedness if necessary to defy an unjust rule, that existed alongside the developing Christian concept of martyrdom inherited from Judaism.” Christian martyrdom particularly made sense from a cultural and sociological perspective. Many sociologists studying world martyrdom movements have found they have a common social underpinning throughout history, from aboriginal movements in the New World to Islamic movements in the Middle East. For example, Alan Segal says that in every well-documented case a widespread inclination to martyrdom “is an oblique attack by the powerless against the power of oppressors,” in effect “canceling the power of an oppressor through moral claims to higher ground and to a resolute claim to the afterlife, as the better” and only “permanent” reward. “From modern examples,” Segal concludes, “we can see that what produces martyrdom,” besides the corresponding “exaltation of the afterlife,” is “a colonial and imperial situation, a conquering power, and a subject people whose religion does not easily account for the conquest.” Some of these subjects are “predisposed to understand events in a religious context,” and are suffering from some “political or economic” deprivation, or even social or cultural deprivation (as when the most heartfelt morals of the subgroup are not recognized or realized by the dominating power structure).2
Matthew Ferguson takes the wheels off this argument by investigating “the circumstances of the apostles’ deaths” and finding “that they are virtually all ahistorical legends, full of contradictions, and little more than magical absurdities.”3 This argument isn’t cogent and while not as bad as the previous argument, it’s still a bad argument.
The Design/Watchmaker Argument
This argument has taken on various forms over time and though it’s closely related to one of the notable arguments below (namely, the God-of-the-Gaps Argument), it’s an argument unto itself. The argument was originated by William Paley who opened his book, Natural Theology (1802), with the following:
In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there: I might possibly answer, that for any thing I know to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch, as well as for the stone? Why is it not as admissable in the second case as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz., that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose … This mechanism being observed … the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker; that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place of other, an artificer or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.4
This argument has modern variants: Kyle Butt, in his debate with Dan Barker, employed the Watchmaker Argument but instead of a watch, he asked us to imagine stumbling upon a laptop on a beach.5 This argument is rightfully called the Watchmaker Fallacy. This analysis of the argument is correct since the argument hinges on a false analogy. That something appears designed doesn’t mean it is. It’s also non-sequitur to infer design where there’s no evidence of any.
A more modern iteration of the Design argument, which is a teleological argument, is the Fine-Tuning Argument. Sean Carroll, in his debate with William Lane Craig, offers a rebuttal against the Fine-Tuning Argument:
Even if you think the universe is finely-tuned and you don’t think that naturalism can solve it, theism certainly does not solve it. If you thought it did, if you played the game honestly, what you would say is, ‘here is the universe I expect to exist under theism; I will compare it to the data and see if it fits.’ What kind of universe would we expect? And I claim that over and over again the universe we expect matches the predictions of naturalism, not theism. So the amount of tuning—if you thought the physical parameters of our universe were tuned in order to allow life to exist—you would expect enough tuning but not too much. Under naturalism a physical mechanism could far over-tune by an incredibly large amount that has nothing to do with the existence of life, and that is exactly what we observe. For example, the entropy of the early universe is much, much, much, much lower than it needs to be to allow for life. You would expect under theism that the particles and parameters of particle physics would be enough to allow life to exist and have some structure that was designed for some reason; whereas under naturalism, you’d expect them to be kind of random and a mess. Guess what? They are kind of random and a mess. You would expect under theism life to play a special role in the universe; under naturalism you’d expect life to be very insignificant. I hope I don’t need to tell you, life is very insignificant as far as the universe is concerned.6
In another lecture on this topic, Carroll offers the possibility that the parameters aren’t as fine-tuned as we think when concerning life and that it’s presumptuous to assume that we understand perfectly when life could exist, since different parameters might yield different forms of life. He adds that if we were serious about this argument, we’d consider all possible theories, all cosmologies arising as a result of those theories, all possible manifestations of life and consciousness, and calculate which universes among all possible universes are life-bearing. He also points to a specific case of over-tuning, which is the entropy of the early universe. At 10^10^120, the entropy of the early universe is enormously smaller than it needs to be to allow for the existence of life.7
Victor Stenger notices a case of double think among proponents of this argument. In other words, he notices a common inconsistency among apologists and their admirers.
On the one hand the creationists and God-of-the-gaps evolutionists argue that nature is too uncongenial for life to have developed totally naturally, and so therefore supernatural input must have occurred. On the other hand, the fine-tuners (often the same people) argue that the constants and laws of nature are exquisitely congenial to life, and so therefore they must have been supernaturally created. They can’t have it both ways.8
Aside from the fallacies already mentioned, the argument is a case of agency over-detection. Proponents of this argument are inferring agency where there isn’t any. Furthermore, they’re engaging in confirmation bias. For instance, to them, the Earth is obviously created and bears the marks of fine-tuning. However, they ignore cases in modern astrophysics which show planets forming naturally and without any discernible purpose.9 Given such cases, the Earth isn’t the exception to the rule. It’s likelier that the Earth was the product of naturalistic processes.
The “Atheist Atrocities” Argument
This argument is quite common. Whether it’s an attempt to poison the well by making atheism look bad or simply a response to an atheist who brings up The Dark Ages is hard to notice. In any event, even if it were true, the argument would rest on a fallacy–namely tu quoque. Tu quoque is a “you too” puerile response that forgets that two wrongs don’t make a right. Whether the argument is made on a whim or as an attempted rebuttal doesn’t change the fact that a fallacy is being committed. If on a whim, the Christian is poisoning the well; if as a response, they’re committing tu quoque: “sure Christians have killed in the name of Jesus, but atheists murdered millions in the name of atheism!”
Unfortunately for the Christian, this is an oversimplification of what actually happened. It ignores, especially in Mao’s and Pol Pot’s cases, a number of facts that have to be accounted for. Michael Sherlock shared a well-researched piece very recently.10 Any Christian who puts stock in this argument owes it to him/herself to read it.
This is an argument that apologists claim isn’t understood by modern believers and atheists. This is apparently why we have colloquial variants of the argument: “it’s better to believe in God; this way you’ll avoid going to Hell.” Unfortunately, this argument isn’t misunderstood because it’s precisely what Pascal argued.
On the basis of doxastic voluntarism, Pascal assumed that we can choose whether or not to believe. He therefore offered scenarios: if one believes, there’s an infinite reward, whereas if one disbelieves, there’s infinite punishment. He also argued that even if god’s existence were 50/50, it would still be more rational to believe on the basis of expectations.11
The multiplicity argument, first offered by Denis Diderot, is one of the more common rebuttals. A short video posted on YouTube by Theramin Trees illustrates it succinctly.12 The rebuttal refutes Pascal’s two-two matrix. The matrix is clearly not a two-two matrix. It’s not as simple as belief versus non-belief in the Judeo-Christian god. There are consequences if you choose to believe in this god though Allah exists or choose to believe in Allah though Krishna exists. There are myriad religions with multifarious consequences for rejecting the purported truth offered by said religion. Some religions, on the other hand, don’t carry any consequences for disbelief and thus, if they turned out to be true, the non-believer wouldn’t face punishment of any kind.
While the multiplicity argument is a strong rebuttal, I think a more pointed rebuttal rests on the same decision theory employed by Pascal. I introduced the thought process of investors and gamblers to show that risk is taken only when real rewards are available.13 On Christianity, there’s no definitive way to know that there’s reward for one’s risk. The afterlife and all its rewards are believed on the basis of faith rather than fact. This isn’t the case with investing and gambling. Furthermore, as surveyed in this post so far, there’s no good reason to wager on the Judeo-Christian god.
The Moral Argument(s)
In case anyone is still inclined to think that the laws of nature can be identified with the commands of a superior being, it is worth pointing out that this analysis cannot be correct. It is already an objection to it that it burdens our science with all the uncertainty of our metaphysics, or our theology. If it should turn out that we had no good reason to believe in the existence of such a superior being, or no good reason to believe that he issued any commands, it would follow, on this analysis, that we should not be entitled to believe that there were any laws of nature. But the main argument against this view is independent of any doubt that one may have about the existence of a superior being. Even if we knew that such a one existed, and that he regulated nature, we still could not identify the laws of nature with his commands. For it is only by discovering what were the laws of nature that we could know what form these commands had taken. But this implies that we have some independent criteria for deciding what the laws of nature are. The assumption that they are imposed by a superior being is therefore idle, in the same way as the assumption of providence is idle. It is only if there are independent means of finding out what is going to happen that one is able to say what providence has in store. The same objection applies to the rather more fashionable view that moral laws are the commands of a superior being.14
The Moral Argument for God states that since objective values and duties exist, god exists. A relativist will disagree with the former assertion. My view is that the Moral Argument for God, which is rooted in substantive realism, has the story backward. Substantive realism is the view that states that “there are correct procedures for answering moral questions because there are moral truths or facts, which exist independently of those procedures, and which those procedures track.”15 The fatal flaws of this position are as follows:
- Whether one argues that morality is simply objective and that it exists independently, or that it’s objective because it hinges on god and exists independently insofar as its being is conferred by god, the view begs the question and thus isn’t epistemically justified.
- Given that the view begs the question, we need to look elsewhere; in other words, given that it isn’t enough to posit that morality is contingent on a deity, we’ve more work to do.
- Enter procedural realism: “there are answers to moral questions because there are correct procedures for arriving at them.”16
- Such a procedure would be Kant’s CI procedure or Smith’s problem-solution model. Or it could be something simpler. The procedures could even vary. One thing is clear, however: morality is constructivist and more specifically procedural and this is evidenced by the codification of law throughout history.
Conversely, that law descends from a sovereign was fashionable in one of the earliest theories of law. John Austin’s Command Theory, which is arguably the first fully developed positivist theory of law, stated that law was the command of a sovereign. By sovereign, Austin wasn’t referring to a god, but rather, to a king. This portrait of the law was supplanted by H.L.A. Hart’s Model of Rules17, which is an alternative positivist theory of law, and then later by Ronald Dworkin’s Law’s Integrity, which is a non-positivist theory of law.18 In brief, the reason these theories supplant Austin’s is because his theory doesn’t accurately apply to governments like those found in the US and England. The notion of sovereignty is either nonexistent or conflicting in some governments and therefore, Austin’s theory is inadequate. Hart’s theory is actually a generalization of Austin’s theory and therefore, encompasses the types of governments accurately described by Austin’s theory and governments his theory fails to describe. In any event, notions of a divine sovereign cause problems as my reductio ad absurdum of Divine Command Theory demonstrates.19
Kant’s CI Procedure and Adam Smith’s Problem-Solution Model are detailed in this response to a defender of the moral argument. These concepts are simply too broad to cover here. Also, along Goldstein’s suggestion of morality operating like an algorithm, I suggested two types of moral algorithms that may exist in the human mind if we are to assume CTM (Computational Theory of Mind).20
If this is too esoteric, one can easily attack the first premise of the Moral Argument for God: if god does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. The premise contains a hidden presupposition. One cannot simply assume that objective moral values and duties can’t exist without god. The premise, in essence, assumes the conclusion of the argument and thus, reveals a veiled circularity. The premise is therefore, unsound.
The argument only pretends to give us an origin for morality, whereas my explanation is both philosophically and scientifically sound. Generally speaking, humans are moral agents. This, in part, can be traced given evolution. There are, for instance, empathy, cooperation, and care for kin in nature. Therefore, the rudiments of morality can be seen in nature and not surprisingly, it is mostly seen in mammals—the phylum we pertain to. Given our common ancestry and given the congruence of our brains, whatever procedures (e.g. problem-solution; CI procedure) we employ to answer moral questions will be objective. Even if it doesn’t start out that way, it will end up that way (e.g. Kant’s Kingdom of Ends). Also, given that morality is an example of crowd-sourced knowledge, the peculiarities of this or that individual or group will eventually be weeded out.
An explanation on the origin of morality can consist of the following parts: evolution and/or neurobiology, genetics, cultural evolution, etc. The reason I offer a choice between evolution and neurobiology is because people have questioned whether evolution is necessary when explaining morality. In other words, who’s to say we evolved to be moral? What if our moral instincts find their origin in our brains? This is Churchland’s line of thinking in her book Braintrust. Then again, contrast that with Korsgaard’s view, which is based on Nietzsche’s internalization of man. She maintains that we, as primates, may have internalized what was once external authority. In other words, when you look at most primate societies, you’ll find an alpha. This alpha serves as an authority. As h.sapien became a separate biological population, this sort of authority was seldom needed. Eventually, we developed autonomy and upon doing so, we internalized the authority that was once external. In this sense, evolution can serve as morality’s foundation.
Aside from the fact that the Moral Argument is redundantly offered as a so called ironclad proof of god, Christians commonly demonstrate ignorance of ethics. None of the Christians I’ve spoken to are aware of alternatives. The most common tripe is that if we don’t accept the Moral Argument, relativism ensues. I’ve yet to meet a Christian who doesn’t assume all atheists are moral relativists. They couldn’t summarize moral nihilism, contractualism, consequentialism, utilitarianism, procedural realism, etc. even if their lives depended on it. On philosophy, this sort of behavior is unacceptable. One can’t simply side with a position without considering alternatives. It isn’t enough to state that one knows the truth if one never set out in search of it.
Also, and this is rather pathetic, they show no sign of knowing of better alternatives on their end. Take, for example, Leibniz’s Natural Law, which takes morality to be independent of god and considers it to consist of “eternal truths, objects of the divine intellect, so to speak, the essence of divinity itself.”21 Rather than hinge on a particular god, the view hinges on the existence of metaphysical entities that include morality. This is a more general postulate of religion. Going back to my summary of the problems faced by substantive realism, all it would take is one alteration to apply those same problems to Leibniz’s view (i.e. given that it isn’t enough to proffer that morality has independent existence, we have more work to do).
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
Popularized by William Lane Craig, this argument is mostly presented by admirers of Craig or people who want to be or fancy themselves apologists. Whether from a scientific or philosophical angle, the argument is unsound.
Scientifically speaking, Craig attempts to provide support for the KCA by citing the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem. Craig offered the following in his debate with Sean Carroll:
In 2003 Arvind Borde, Alan Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin were able to show that any universe, which is on average in a state of cosmic expansion throughout its history, cannot be infinite in the past but must have a beginning.22
This is false as Carroll pointed out:
So I’d like to talk about the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem, since Dr.Craig emphasizes it. And the rough translation is that in some universes—not all—the space-time description that we have as a classical space-time breaks down at some point in the past. Where Dr.Craig says that the Borde-Guth-Vilken theorem implies the universe had a beginning, that is false. That is not what it says. What is says is that our ability to describe the universe classically—that is to say, not including the effects of quantum mechanics—gives out. That maybe because there’s a beginning or it maybe because the universe is eternal—either because the assumptions of the theorem were violated or because quantum mechanics becomes important.23
Carroll would later state that he talked to Alan Guth. Guth then popped up on the projector holding up a sign that read: “the universe probably didn’t have a beginning, and is very likely eternal.”24
Given this, it’s safe to conclude that the KCA has no scientific support. A misapplication of cosmology and theoretical physics merely appears to support it. Upon scrutiny, this seeming support folds. The KCA isn’t empirically established because though Big Bang cosmology is the current paradigm in modern cosmology, it isn’t set in stone. There are details that need to be ironed out and some of these details are damning to the notion of creation (e.g. primordial gravitational waves, which imply inflation; inflation then implies the inflationary multiverse).
Philosophically speaking, there are two issues with the KCA that are condemning. Both of these issues arise from the first premise: whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence. One could, for example, apply Humean causal skepticism to P1 of the KCA. This isn’t as absurd as some people may think. C.S. Peirce, who many consider the greatest American philosopher, stated the following:
In order to explain what I mean, let us take one of the most familiar, although not one of the most scientifically accurate statements of the axiom viz.: that every event has a cause. I question whether this is exactly true. Bodies obey sensibly the laws of mechanics; but may it not be that if our means of measurement were inconceivably nicer, or if we were to wait inconceivable ages for an exception, exceptions irreducible in their own nature to any law would be found? In short, may it not be that chance, in the Aristotelian sense, mere absence of cause, has to be admitted as having some slight place in the universe.25
I note that Peirce is well-respected, in this case, because it must be stressed that this wasn’t offered by some quack pseudo-philosopher who pretended to know what he was talking about. Humean causal skepticism is a perfectly valid approach to the KCA. His causal skepticism can possibly be traced back to the following:
To begin with the first question concerning the necessity of a cause: ’Tis a general maxim in philosophy, that whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of existence. This is commonly taken for granted in all reasonings, without any proof given or demanded. ’Tis suppos’d to be founded on intuition, and to be one of those maxims, which tho’ they may be deny’d with the lips, ’tis impossible for men in their hearts really to doubt of. But if we examine this maxim by the idea of knowledge above-explain’d, we shall discover in it no mark of any such intuitive certainty; but on the contrary shall find, that ’tis of a nature quite foreign to that species of conviction.26
In employing causal skepticism, I entertained the possibility that dispositions explain what we otherwise would call cause and effect.27 From this, in my initial response to Edward Feser, I noted that a material condition has to be met given that dispositions are the case.28 This material condition isn’t met by god. In other words, since god is universally considered to be an immaterial being, he hasn’t the dispositionality to interact with and/or within the universe. Also, since my material condition encompasses Hume’s spatio-temporal condition, there’s no way for god to interact within space-time–since he is also considered to be transcendental (i.e. existing outside of space-time).
The second issue we encounter in P1 is double think. There’s an inconsistency inherent in any Christian who cites the Problem of Induction to discredit science, but consciously misses or avoids it in P1 of the KCA. The KCA is a deductive argument, but P1 imports inductive reasoning.29 Therefore, if the Problem of Induction is an outstanding problem–as some Christians will argue–then the proposition in P1 isn’t established. The argument, therefore, doesn’t follow.
The Ontological Argument
Every version of this argument hinges on one or more of the following: Leibnizian Possible Worlds, Leibnizian Necessity, or Anselm’s notion of conceivability. He argues that since we can’t imagine or conceive of a being greater than god, god exists. A criticism offered by Gaunilo of Marmoutier is still the most common rebuttal of the argument. Anselm never justifies his move from conceivability to reality. In other words, Anselm never legitimizes his move from the idea to an existing entity that corresponds to that idea.30 A theist may object to the following statement, but a close analysis of modern variants of Anselm’s Ontological Argument (e.g. Alvin Plantinga’s), demonstrates that this same mistake is repeated. So though such arguments are considered revisions of the original formulation, they do nothing to respond to Gaunilo’s original criticism.
For instance, Plantinga’s version of the argument begins with the following as its first premise: “There is a possible world in which unsurpassable greatness is exemplified.”31 Not only does this contain a veiled presupposition, but it also implies a transfer from conceivability to reality by offering a proposition that expresses the idea as though it is true in reality. This then follows to the conclusion of Plantinga’s argument, which states that unsurpassable greatness exists in every possible world.
Another version of the argument doesn’t make use of this concept or possible worlds. It instead hinges on Leibniz’s notion of necessity. This is to be contrasted with contingency and impossibility. While the Modal Ontological Argument is a valid argument for a necessary being, the inverse of the argument is a valid argument for an impossible being. Therefore, when choosing between the two, we have to figure out which argument is sound because it cannot be the case that god is both necessary and impossible.32 He either exists or he doesn’t.
Given the failure of the above arguments and the arguments below, another common tactic is obscurantism. This isn’t so much an argument, but rather, a response to the failure of theistic arguments. Others are dishonest and claim that the tactic is original to Patristic thought (i.e. the thoughts of early Church Fathers). David Bentley Hart would make that argument. In any case, you can’t find a believer that is capable of explaining the following:
Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), for instance, spoke of God as the non aliud: the “not other” or “not something else.” For the Neoplatonist Plotinus (c. 204-270), the divine is that which is no particular thing, or even “no-thing.” The same is true for Christians such as John Scotus Eriugena (c. 815-c. 877) or Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-c. 1327). Angelus Silesius, precisely in order to affirm that God is the omnipotent creator of all things, described God as “ein lauter Nichts”—“a pure nothingness”—and even (a touch of neologistic panache here) “ein Übernichts.” If this all sounds either perilously blasphemous or preciously paradoxical, this is because language of this sort is meant to give us pause, or even offense, in order to remind us as forcefully as possible that, as the great Muslim philosopher Mulla Sadra (c. 1572-1640) insisted, God is not to be found within the realm of beings, for he is the being of all realms. Or, as the Anglican E.L. Mascall put it, God is not “just one item, albeit the supreme one, in a class of beings” but is rather “the source from which their being is derived.33
What is meant by “he is the being of all realms”? This kind of talk strips the notion of god of all its definition and plunges it into the obscure. We can no longer have a discussion or debate if definitions are discarded. It’s difficult enough to have such discourse when there’s disagreement on definitions, so what are we to do in the absence of definitions? This sort of talk is an abuse of language. Theologians of this sort are intentionally obscuring the concept of god so that they have a better chance of preserving it.
Also, this puts the concept on equal footing with Deepak Chopra’s concept of consciousness and Karen Armstrong’s concept of god–which is just as obscure as Hart’s as recently pointed out by Jerry Coyne.34 The reason obscurantist tactics resound with people is because such people are desperate to preserve religious belief and a given concept of god. Both are continuously eroding in societies that are scientifically and technologically advancing. The explanatory power religion once had is increasingly being viewed as inferior to empirical explanations. This leads us to notable arguments.
God of the Gaps Argument
Given the increasing explanatory scope of science, Christians are now turning to an argument that cites the ignorance of science as proof of god’s existence. This argument was popularized by Bill O’Reilly’s meme-worthy statement: “Tide goes in, tide goes out…you can’t explain that.”35 Fortunately, its variants usually focus on the origin of the universe and the origin of life. Christians have argued that since we can’t explain the origin of the universe, god exists; alternatively, they’ve argued that since we can’t explain the origin of life, god exists. Suffice it to say, that if that’s what they’re offering as evidence, “god is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance.”36 The more doors science closes, the less are the gaps he can be shoved into.
Ignoring that there are theories that explain the origin of life and the origin of the universe, what makes this argument bad is that it’s perhaps more obviously fallacious than many of the previous arguments. Since there’s no evidence to the contrary when considering the origin of life and the origin of the universe, god must explain both. If that isn’t enough, they ignore the fallacious nature of the argument and commit another tu quoque: “sure we have god-of-the-gaps, but atheists have science-of-the-gaps.” In other words, they claim that we’re also committing a fallacy when we respond by stating that science will eventually pinpoint the origin(s) of life and the origin of the universe. I would argue that this isn’t the case, but doing so requires me to employ inductive reasoning even if I were to present a deductive argument to that effect. Consider the following:
P1 If the history of science features cases where previously unexplained phenomena were explained, then science will explain contemporary unexplained phenomena.
P2 The history of science features cases where previously unexplained phenomena were explained.
C Therefore, science will explain contemporary unexplained phenomena.
Though this is a deductive argument, P1 imports inductive reasoning. I argue that we can replace inductive reasoning with abductive reasoning. This discussion, however, is too much of a tangent for our purposes. Suffice it to say there’s nothing fallacious about citing the history of science and on that basis concluding that science will eventually answer modern conundrums.
The Christian Argument From Tradition
Any argument from tradition is fallacious, but in refuting this argument, I’m not at all interested with P1. I’m interested in P2. I want to know whether or not it’s apt to assume that Christianity has been around for a long time. My conclusion is that it hasn’t been around for a long time and that, in fact, it has been long dead.37
The Argument From Desire
This argument is popular among the Tumblr Catholic community though it’s rooted in the following statement by C.S. Lewis: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”38 Though popular, the argument is unsound. Furthermore, though it’s as bad as the “Faith in Science” argument, it is offered less frequently as a solid proof of god’s existence. As I summarized, the argument fails because some of us don’t share the desire Lewis speaks of; the Judeo-Christian god is assumed to be the only god concept capable of satisfying said desire; to support the argument, Lewis and others have offered needs (e.g. hunger and thirst) rather than desires; gods are invented solutions rather than actual entities capable of satisfying this desire; there’s the issue of insatiable desire and thus, not all desires warrant satisfaction.39
The Argument From Experience
Subjective experience simply doesn’t prove anything. This argument is frequently used–especially among fundamentalists. I put it under notable arguments because it’s a bad argument. Simple analogy refutes it:
[T]he “feeling” that Christ now speaks to us or lives in our hearts is not such, because people of completely different religions have exactly the same feelings and experiences, only of their gods and spirits and forces, so we know the odds of such feelings and experiences being had even by believers in false religions is 100 percent. Christians experiencing such feelings, too, proves nothing precisely because this is already expected even if their religion is false.40
Sometimes I sympathize with Keith Parsons who states:
I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud, and I can no longer take it seriously enough to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position–no more than I could present intelligent design as a legitimate biological theory…I just cannot take their arguments seriously anymore, and if you cannot take something seriously, you should not try to devote academic attention to it.41
Unfortunately, matters are more complicated. While it is true that some Christians are intelligent, others simply aren’t. Some aren’t even aware of how often they display logical fallacies and cognitive biases. Such people will influence other gullible people, and raise and indoctrinate children. Given this, as painstaking as it is, they have to be addressed. In order to promote philosophical and scientific literacy, it is necessary to address them who would work against that goal–them who would distort the facts, or lead people to deny the facts or consider them to be falsehoods. Freedom of speech has led many to regard opinions as sacred. No opinion, whether religious or not, can be immune to criticism and outright derision.
Now, there are arguments that are more specific to Christianity (e.g. the minimal facts argument; the Argument From the Resurrection; the Argument From the Success of Early Christianity). Those aren’t included here because surprisingly, they’re not frequently offered when Christians attempt to demonstrate that Christianity is true. Like the arguments surveyed above, these arguments also fail because they’re based on non-specialist publications geared at a gullible lay audience whose only interest is the verification of their deeply seated beliefs. Many of these people won’t go out of their way to test claims like the following: “there’s more evidence for Jesus than there is for Alexander the Great” or “there’s more evidence for Jesus than there is for Emperor Tiberius.” Both statements are false. The same can be said of the pseudo-historical arguments.
Ultimately, the failure of pseudo-historical arguments attempting to prove Jesus’ existence, his resurrection, or some other false historical claim attached to Christianity undermines the entire endeavor of apologetics and thus, guarantees the failure of apologetic arguments. This is precisely the conclusion of my Argument Against Apologetics.44 If Jesus wasn’t the Christ portrayed in the New Testament or if Jesus never existed, Christianity is false; if Christianity is false, then apologetics is pointless. Apologetics is only valuable to them attempting to defend their religion or prove it true. In particular, apologetics is valuable to Christians and Muslims; even then, it is only valuable to small groups within these religions. Even apologetics has it variants (e.g. creationist apologetics: defending against the claims of so called evolutionists).
I have to reiterate, apologetics is a fruitless endeavor. Truth may require explanation and elucidation, but it certainly doesn’t require defense and yet, this is precisely what apologists set out to do. Arguments for god don’t explain or elucidate anything. They merely make assertions and attempt to make them appear intelligible. When scrutinized, as we’ve hopefully gathered by now, these assertions are false and unintelligible.
1 Coyne, Jerry A. “Michael Robbins uses a book review as an excuse to bash atheists—again!”. Why Evolution is True. 9 Jul 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
2 Loftus, John W. “Christianity’s Success Was Not Incredible.” The End of Christianity. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2011. 64-65. Print.
3 Ferguson, Matthew. “March to Martyrdom! (Down the Yellow Brick Road…)”. Κέλσος. 18 Dec 2012. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
4 “William Paley: A View of the Evidences of Christianity”. William Carey University. 26 Jun 2001. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
5 “Kyle Butt vs Dan Barker ‘Debate’ – The Existence of God (part 1 of 14)”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 26 Jan 2010. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
6 William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll, “God and Cosmology (33:33)”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 3 Mar 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
7 Sean Carroll, “God is Not a Good Theory (26:50)”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 6 Jun 2013. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
8 Victor Stenger, “Is the Universe Fine-Tuned For Us?”. University of Colorado. ND. 24 Nov 2014.
9 Byrd, Deborah. “Astoning image of planet-forming disk from ALMA”. Earth Sky. 6 Nov 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
10 Sherlock, Michael. “The Atheist Atrocities Fallacy – Hitler, Stalin & Pol Pot”. Michael Sherlock Author. 21 Oct 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
11 Saka, Paul. “Pascal’s Wager about God”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ND. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
12 “Betting on Infinity”. Theramin Trees. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 13 Apr 2010. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
13 See “Pascal’s Wager Refuted”
14 Ayer, A.J. “Laws of Nature.” Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. Second ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. 817-818. Print.
14 Korsgaard, Christine M., and Onora Neill.The Sources of Normativity, p. 36-37. Ca5mbridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.
16 Ibid. 
17 Austin, John, and Wilfrid E. Rumble. The Province of Jurisprudence Determined. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. Print.
18 Dworkin, Ronald. Law’s Empire. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 1986. Print.
19 See “Utilitarian Command Theory”
20 See “The Moral Algorithm”
21 Youpa, Andrew. “Leibniz’s Ethics”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 26 Aug 2004. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
22 Ibid. 
23 Ibid. 
24 Carroll, Sean. “Post-Debate Reflections”. Preposterous Universe. 24 Feb 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
25 Peirce, Charles S. “Design and Chance”, The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings (1867-1893). Indiana University Press. Bloomington Indiana. 1992. Print.
26 Hume, David. “A Treatise of Human Nature”. Online Library of Liberty. 2004-2010. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
30 Himma, Kenneth E. “Anselm: Ontological Argument for God’s Existence”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ND. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
31 Oppy, Graham. “Modal Theistic Arguments”. Infidels. 1993. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
33 See Hart’s The Experience of God
34 Coyne, Jerry A. “The incoherence of Karen Armstrong”. Why Evolution is True. 18 Nov 2014. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
35 “Tide Goes In, Tide Goes Out”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 17 Feb 2011. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
36 “God of the Gaps & The Frontier of Knowledge – Neil deGrasse Tyson”. YouTube. YouTube, LLC. 1 Mar 2011. Web. 24 Nov 2014.
38 Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. Harper. San Francisco, California. 2009. Print.
40 Ibid.  (p.69)
41 Keith Parsons as quoted in: Loftus, John W. “Christianity is Wildly Improbable.” The End of Christianity. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2011. 75. Print.
42 Ferguson, Matthew. “Ten Reasons to Reject the Apologetic 10/42 Source Slogan”. Κέλσος. 14 Oct 2012. Web. 25 Nov 2014.
43 Carrier, Richard. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, p.21-23. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press Ltd, 2014. Print. Available on web.