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. 
Let’s start with well-known, often disputed verses:
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. Deuteronomy 10:17
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment. Psalms 82:1
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.Psalms 86:8
And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done. Daniel 11:36
Recently, I brought up the fact that modern Christians are polytheists. On the one hand, they believe in the God of the Bible and on the other, the so-called god of philosophers or as they would put it, the god of monotheism. A commenter on my post over on WordPress brought up the fact that the early Jews were polytheists. He provided a number of verses like the ones above. I responded to him and stated that Christians have a go-to copout. They’ll argue that this is merely a recognition that people at the time worshipped other gods, gods that were mere idols. That, however, demonstrates that they are either ignorant of historical context or they know of the context and yet ignore it. We can discuss the polytheistic origins of Judaism further, but that’s not my purpose here.
My purpose here is to debase the notion of a god of (mono)theism, to disrupt that convenient narrative. A Christian on Facebook recently offered an ontological argument he confused with Godel’s Ontological Argument. That wasn’t the argument he offered. He offered another ontological argument in where ‘God’ could be replaced with ‘Allah’ or ‘Ahura Mazda’ and the result wouldn’t change. Two other people then responded and said that the refutation fails because the argument sets out to prove the god of monotheism.
The god of (mono)theism, as William Lane Craig posits, is timeless, personal, omniscient, and so on. I’ll set exegesis aside because there are ways to prove otherwise given passages in the Bible (e.g. why did god ask Adam questions in Genesis 3 if he’s omniscient?). What I want to offer instead is a new argument against the notion of a so-called god of (mono)theism. We know from mathematics that there are different infinities. Since infinity is already a large value, if we can even call it such, there’s no way for the human mind to apprehend one infinity or another, let alone distinguish them. So given that line of thinking, there’s an element of vagueness we can introduce to debase the notion of a god of (mono)theism.
Take, for instance, timelessness. A Christian will posit that their god has no beginning; he’s eternal and exists outside of time. All well and good. Let’s say there’s another being who had a beginning outside of the universe billions of years ago, e.g., Satan. What disqualifies this being from being timeless as well, especially given that we can’t ascertain the beginning of this being’s existence? In other words, if god is present at point 0 and then Satan at point 0.00000005, what difference is there? There are some beginnings that result in a virtual eternity and so, just like there are different infinities, there are different eternities, different versions of timelessness.
The same goes for omniscience. What if there’s a being that knows all things except one thing; let’s suppose this being doesn’t know how to play billiards. What is the difference between an omniscient being who knows all things and another being who knows all things save the required know-how to play billiards? Again, as there are different infinities, there are different levels of omniscience and we simply wouldn’t be able to distinguish between a being who knows everything and one who knows everything except for how to play billiards.
Omnipotence, omnipresence, the capacity to be personal, and so on, all fall victim to vagueness, and as such, the same defeater that exists for Godel’s Ontological Argument, namely that parallel arguments work just as well (see Oppy 1996), also exists for the notion of the so-called god of monotheism. There is no such entity. It is logically possible that, given vagueness, there are millions of beings that fit the description. However, one should not draw ontological conclusions on the basis of logical considerations. Just because there could be a million such beings doesn’t mean they actually exist; likewise, just because one such being is logically possible doesn’t mean it actually exists. The god that apologetic arguments allude to is a product of Christian obfuscation.
Given that Christians are overly fond of deductive arguments, I will do my best to formulate an Argument From Vagueness, which isn’t necessarily an argument on its own. Let’s consider Plantinga’s Victorious Ontological Argument:
- A being has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in W; and
- A being has maximal greatness if it has maximal excellence in every possible world.
- It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness.
- Therefore, possibly, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good being exists.
- Therefore, it is necessarily true that an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good being exists.
Now, consider a parallel Argument from Vagueness. D1 is crucial to the argument.
D1: A being with maximal excellence* has omnipotence* (which is to be so close to all-powerful that its lone incapacity is negligible; it once failed to push a universe to the left), omniscience* (which is to be virtually all-knowing; it doesn’t know how to play billiards), and perfectly good* (which is to be virtually morally perfect, but it once told a white lie). Maximal greatness* is to have maximal excellence* across all possible worlds.
- A being has maximal excellence* in a given possible world W iff it is omnipotent*, omniscient*, and wholly good* in W.
- A being has maximal greatness* if it has maximal excellence* in every possible world.
- It is possible that there is a being that has maximal greatness*.
- Therefore, possibly, it is necessarily true that an omniscient*, omnipotent*, and perfectly good* being exists.
- Therefore, it is necessarily true that an omniscient*, omnipotent* and perfectly good* being exists.
Once this counter-argument is offered, what a Christian has left is the bare assertion that a being with maximal excellence* isn’t truly god because it has negligible limitations. The question remains: how do we know that the purported attributes of god are true? It is, as it will always be, a matter of faith. There is no way to ascertain that god is eternal, omnipotent, and omniscient. We can ask whether he is perfectly moral, but that’s a separate issue entirely. The thrust that Arguments From Vagueness drive is that there’s no justification for speaking of any infinity with such certainty. There may be an infinity so near to the one a theist reveres that the differences are negligible. That’s precisely what these arguments are designed for.
By R.N. Carmona
The following argument is based on an obvious truth and also on a theistic assumption. The obvious truth comes from John Mbiti who in his African Religions and Philosophy (1975) said: “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am.” This isn’t the Cartesian view many people operate from: “I think, therefore I am.” Consciousness, in other words, isn’t born in and doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It isn’t, as it were, a location on a map that can be identified in isolation of other locations; it is like a location that’s identified only in its relation to other locations. I know where I find myself only because I know where all other minds in my vicinity are. Even deeper than that is the unsettling fact that my entire personality isn’t a melody, but rather a cacophony; I am who I am because the people in my lives are who they are and they are who they are because of the influence of others and the circumstances they’ve faced, and so on and so forth. As Birhane explains:
We need others in order to evaluate our own existence and construct a coherent self-image. Think of that luminous moment when a poet captures something you’d felt but had never articulated; or when you’d struggled to summarise your thoughts, but they crystallised in conversation with a friend. Bakhtin believed that it was only through an encounter with another person that you could come to appreciate your own unique perspective and see yourself as a whole entity. By ‘looking through the screen of the other’s soul,’ he wrote, ‘I vivify my exterior.’ Selfhood and knowledge are evolving and dynamic; the self is never finished – it is an open book.
Most people, given the Cartesian view, look at the self through the lens of what Dennett calls the Cartesian theater. There is, to our minds, a continuity between the self when we are children and the self now as adults. We point to attributes, even if only loosely related: our temperament, our competitive nature, the fact that we’re friendly or not, and so on. Few of us consider the circumstances and the people who played a role in molding these seeming consistencies. Where many of us see a straight continuous line, others see points on a graph, and yet, even if there’s virtual consistency in one’s competitive edge, for instance, there are milieus to consider, from the school(s) one attended, to one’s upbringing, to the media one was exposed to. The self is indeed an open and ever-changing book. The Cartesian theater, like the Cartesian self, is a convenient illusion; there is no self without other selves.
The Cartesian view is problematic on its own. “I think, therefore I am” was Descartes’ conclusion, but one can imagine saying to Descartes: “okay, but what do you think about? What is the content of your thoughts?” So even on the Cartesian view, Mbiti’s truth is found. It is, in fact, a tacit admission contained in Descartes’ view because in order to think one must be thinking about something or someone. Some thoughts are elaborate and involve representations of places one is familiar with whether it be one’s living room or local grocery store. Even the content of Descartes’ thoughts acknowledged other people and things, so Descartes didn’t conclude “I think [full stop], therefore I am.” In truth, it was more like “I think [about x things and y people represented in z places], therefore I am.” He identified himself only through other selves.
The theistic assumption is the idea that the mind of god(s) is like ours. On Judaism and Christianity, we were fashioned in his image. This doesn’t apply so much to our physical bodies, but more so to our minds because on the theistic assumption, the mind proceeds from an immaterial, spiritual source rather than from a physical source like our brains or the combination of our brains and nervous systems.
On the assumption that god’s mind is like ours and given the truth expressed by Mbiti, it is impossible for a singular consciousness to have existed on its own in eternity past. In other words, before god created angels, humans, and animals, there was some point in eternity past in when he was the only mind that existed. Yet if his mind is like ours, then there was never a point in where he existed on his own. The only recourse for the monotheist is therefore, polytheism because the implication is that at least one other mind must have existed along with god’s in eternity past.
Muslims and Jews, if Mbiti’s truth is accepted, will have no choice but to concede. Some Christians, on the other hand, will think they find recourse in the idea of the Trinity. Some might try to qualify the notion that the minds of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from one another. The obvious issue with that idea is that that would undermine the unity their god is said to have. In fact, that has been at the core of much philosophical dispute since the Muslim golden age. As Tuggy explains:
Muslim philosopher Abu Yusef al-Kindi (ca. 800–70) understood the doctrine to assert that there are three divine persons, three individuals, each composed of the divine essence together with its own distinctive characteristic. But whatever is composed is caused, and whatever is caused is not eternal. So the doctrine, he holds, absurdly claims that each of the persons isn’t eternal, and since they’re all divine, each is eternal.
Whether or not these contentions hold is still a matter of dispute and is not our present focus. The Trinity on its own wouldn’t be sufficient because it would require a milieu to exist within. Given this, then there would be other things that also existed in eternity past. Plato’s Forms might be those sorts of things because god’s mind, being like ours, would require a number of things to experience and to assist with maintaining god’s self, per se. Mbiti’s truth applies to cognitive and psychological aspects about humans and other animals even, especially mammals. It also applies, more broadly, to consciousness and as such, the Problem of Other Minds as it is so-called is only a problem if one were to assume that the Cartesian view is the case; other minds and other things are the reasons a self forms and can come to identify itself as distinct. Cognitive and psychological aspects about us don’t exist in a vacuum, but neither does consciousness. The same, on the assumption that god’s mind is like ours, applies to god’s mind.
Ultimately, a singular consciousness could not have existed in eternity past absent other consciousnesses and things. Unless one continues to obstinately assume that Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” is true over and above Mibti’s “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am,” there’s no recourse outside of polytheism. Either there were two or more gods that existed in eternity past or there are no gods. What should be clear from what’s been outlined here is that a singular consciousness that once existed in a vacuum at some point in eternity past, i.e., the monotheistic conception of god, is impossible.
It is useful to note that even if Plantinga or any Christian rejects the contra-argument, the first premise can be challenged. Rather than quibble with what is meant by maximal excellence, an atheist can accept the definition as it stands. The atheist can, however, question whether this is possible world W in where a being of maximal excellence exists and explore the consequences if it turns out that this isn’t that possible world. In other words, if this isn’t that specific possible world, then the argument is speaking of a possible world that is inaccessible to the believer and the believer is therefore in no better position to convince the non-believer. Put another way, if a being of maximal excellence doesn’t exist in this possible world, then it possibly exists in another world that cannot be accessed by any of the inhabitants in this world. There is therefore no utility or pragmatic value in belief. The argument would only speak of a logical possibility that is ontologically impossible in this world.
The atheist can take it a step further. What Christian theists purport to know about god stems from the Bible. The Bible, in other words, gives us information about god, his character, and his history as it relates to this world. Assuming this is possible world W, does he represent a being having maximal excellence? Is he, for instance, identical to a being who is wholly good? Any honest consideration of parts of the Bible would lead one to conclude that god is not identical to a being who is wholly good; god, in other words, isn’t wholly good. So obvious is his evil that Marcion of Sinope diverged from proto-Orthodox Christians in concluding that the Jewish God in the Old Testament is an evil deity and is in no way the father of Jesus. Yet if he’s evil, then he isn’t wholly good and if he isn’t wholly good, he fails to have maximal excellence.
Moreover, and much more damning to Plantinga’s argument, is that a being of maximal greatness has maximal excellence in all worlds. Therefore, if this being does not have maximal excellence in one of those worlds or more specifically, in this world, then it does not possess maximal greatness. Far from victorious, Plantinga’s argument would taste irreparable defeat and this, in more ways than one.
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!
Proponents of the Moral Argument share a view known as substantive realism, which 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.”1
Let’s consider the fatal flaws this position has:
- Whether one argues that morality is simply objective or it’s objective because it hinges on god, the view begs the question and thus isn’t justified. Begging the question is a fallacy, so a view that begs the question is either incorrect or must be revised so as to eliminate the fallacy in question.
- The view is unjustifiably metaphysical. It, in other words, argues that morality is innate. It cannot be learned. It is part of the maker’s mark that god supposedly imprinted in us.
- Given the weaknesses of this view, 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.
Prior to discussing procedural realism as contrasted with substantive realism, the notion alluded to in the second bullet point–which is, in fact, the notion alluded to by any proponent of the Moral Argument–was put to rest by the father of empiricism, John Locke. He argued that moral principles are not innate. One reason for this is because they aren’t universally assented to. We don’t come to immediate consensus on right and wrong the way we do when concerning the laws of logic. To put it another way, no matter the person or culture, the laws of identity, of non-contradiction, and of excluded middle are universally agreed upon. If any person fails to act in accordance with those laws, that person has failed to think or has lost his/her capacity to reason. This is not the case with morality.
Locke argues, for instance, that the consensus on whether an action is right or wrong has everything to do with how generalized the action was. Proponents of the Moral Argument argue that we all know it’s wrong to lie, to murder, or to rape, and from this, they conclude that morality proceeds from god and since we’re created in his image, moral values and duties have been ingrained in our souls since creation. Yet if we were to get more specific, agreement dissolves. Have a discussion, for example, on euthanasia, self-defense murder, and Anne Frank-esque sort of lies, i.e., lies that literally save lives or keeps one from harm, and you’ll immediately see that there’s absolutely no consensus on these matters.
The reason is because, as Locke further argued, we are likelier to provide reasons and justifications for our moral behavior. If it’s innate or proceeds from god, there will be no disagreement on these epistemic fronts. We would, in other words, be readily able to show why such an action is right or wrong. There would be no need to prove the correctness or incorrectness of an action, since this would already be known to us.2 Unfortunately, this isn’t the only claim implicit in the Moral Argument, so there’s more to be said.
Enter procedural realism: “there are answers to moral questions because there are correct procedures for arriving at them.”3 Such a procedure could be Kant’s CI procedure or a problem-solution model. Or it could be something simpler. The procedures could even vary. In narrowing our focus, we should consider Kant’s CI procedure, which can be expressed in the following ways. There are four formulas for us to consider4:
1) The Formula of the Law of Nature: “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature.”
Kant placed a lot of emphasis on autonomy. Modern Kantians like John Rawls and Christine Korsgaard place similar emphasis on autonomy, but they also speak of self-legislation. This formulation is compelling because moral truths could arise from mere human agency rather than divine authority. One may contend that a psychopath would will murder as if it were a universal law of nature. However, like Goldstein, I would argue that morality is akin to crowdsourced knowledge; morality is, in other words, the culmination of human efforts spanning centuries. Rebecca Goldstein puts it this way:
There’s some ideal algorithm for working it out, for assigning weights to different opinions. Maybe we should give more weight to people who have lived lives that they find gratifying and that others find admirable. And, of course, for this to work the crowd has to be huge; it has to contain all these disparate vantage points, everybody who’s starting from their own chained-up position in the cave [Plato’s cave analogy]. It has to contain, in principle, everybody. I mean, if you’re including just men, or just landowners, or just people above a certain IQ, then the results aren’t going to be robust.5
This is a point I often make about moral epistemology. I argue that there are moral classes that are roughly analogous to economic classes. Some people have more moral expertise and therefore, lead more admirable and ethical lives. The average person is, at the very least, better than the career criminal. Sam Harris has endorsed this idea. He states:
Whenever we are talking about facts, certain opinions must be excluded. That is what it is to have a domain of expertise; that is what it is for knowledge to count. How have we convinced ourselves that in the moral sphere, there is no such thing as moral expertise or moral talent or moral genius even? How have we convinced ourselves that every opinion has to count? How have we convinced ourselves that every culture has a point of view on these subjects worth considering? Does the Taliban have a point of view on physics that is worth considering? No. How is their ignorance any less obvious on the subject of human well-being?6
Sam Harris is talking about moral classes. One reason some of us are convinced that there can’t be moral expertise, talent, or genius is because of fervent religious belief. Christians argue that without god, true morality cannot be achieved. Without god, all we’re left with is human opinion–-as though all human opinion is equal. Some opinions are undoubtedly better than others. The opinions that have been thus far expressed are better than those of Christians who disagree with them. It should be clear to any impartial third party that one side has thought more, read more, studied more, questioned more, and so on, and that in light of this, one set of opinions is superior to the other.
In the same vein as Harris, Goldstein talked about ruling out the peculiarities of certain people. Every moral opinion doesn’t count and that’s because some people and groups are morally superior to others. Unless one wants to argue that people are generally on par with the Taliban when it comes to morality, they’re admitting to the fact that there are moral classes. As stated, a simple corollary are economic classes. It’s clear that some people are prosperous and others are not. Some people can afford mansions and luxury cars; some people can afford a three-story house; others can barely afford an apartment and still others can scarcely afford a room; still others are homeless. In like manner, some people are simply morally superior to others and when looked at objectively, one will quickly realize that religious affiliation has nothing to do with it.
Some people, for instance, can see the injustice in discrimination and perpetrating acts of prejudice against minorities and gays. Some Christians cannot. Any Christian or non-Christian that has the capacity to see such injustice is in a higher moral class than Westboro Baptist and conservative, right wing Christians.
Some are admittedly anti-gay. This makes clear that they advocate restrictive legislation against them. They will protest the legislation of gay marriage though it’s already been made legal. They likely argue to invalidate the love gay couples share; this is quite common among conservatives. They misrepresent gays by accusing them of succumbing to so called sinful concupiscence. I, for one, wouldn’t advocate restrictive legislation against a group if whatever they’re doing isn’t harming anyone. Other than self-righteousness, what do they care if gays marry? Are they at their weddings? Are they watching them as they consummate their marriages? Are they there when homosexual couples choose to raise children? Conservative Christians might clamor about public displays of affection, but it’s not like straight people don’t forget to get a room! Given their self-proclaimed discriminatory stances, it can be stated without hesitation that they’re in a lower moral class than Christians and non-Christians who don’t think that way.
2) The Formula of the End Itself: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”
What is meant by treating a person never simply as a means, but always as an end? This means to extend kindness to others with no intention of exploiting them, e.g. I’ll befriend this guy because he’s rich. You may contend that this sounds like Jesus’ Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, first and foremost, isn’t original to Jesus. This will be much more relevant shortly. Patricia Churchland puts it succinctly:
The Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is very often held up as a judicious rule, and exceptionless rule, and a rule that is universally espoused, or very close to it. (Ironically perhaps, Confucius, though known to prefer the development of virtues to instruction by rules, might have been among the first to give voice to a version of this maxim, though given his broad approach to morality, it is likely he offered it as general advice rather than as an exceptionless rule.)7
Like Churchland, I don’t think the Golden Rule is sufficient. Also, this formulation is simply not the Golden Rule. Don Berkich, Philosophy professor at Texas A&M stated the following:
“Some make the mistake of thinking that the First Formulation of the Categorical Imperative is but a badly worded version of the Biblical “Golden Rule”–Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Golden Rule, as Kant well knew, is a deeply misguided ethical principle. To see this, consider the following somewhat salacious example.
Suppose that Martin is 20 year-old college student. Suppose further that Martin has never been out on a date. The woman of his dreams finally agrees to go out with him. So Martin gets all dressed up and takes her out to a nice dinner, after which they drive up to Lookout Point. And…Martin does unto others as he would have done unto himself, with disastrous consequences. Because the same result cannot be obtained by application of the Categorical Imperative, it follows that the Golden Rule and the Categorical Imperative are not extensionally equivalent.”8
Kant argued that if we were to act to harm others, civilization would come to an end. It follows then that we’ll act to the benefit of one another. This is where Kant’s notion of a Kingdom of Ends comes from. We’ll get this shortly.
On the Golden Rule, a necessary tangent is required. The Golden Rule, according to Christians, is original to Jesus despite historical facts to the contrary. Jesus is, however, considered god incarnate. He is one with Yahweh. He is one mode of the Triune godhead. Therefore, if the Moral Argument is right in stating that moral values and duties exist because god exists, then these moral values and duties are based on a flawed ethical view known as egoism. This is precisely what Jesus advocates in the Golden Rule. In other words, any right action is the product of your own self-interest. The benefits I can reap are the basis of all my actions. Without diverging too far, I reject the Golden Rule and all variants of egoism for the same reason Louis Pojman rejected it:
We do not always consciously seek our own satisfaction or happiness when we act. In fact, some people seem to seek their own unhappiness, as masochists and self-destructive people do, and we all sometimes seem to act spontaneously without consciously considering our happiness.9
Given this, if the Golden Rule is a rudimentary formulation of egoism–-and I see no compelling reason to think it’s not–-we can reject Jesus’ ethical system and therefore, god’s basis for moral values and duties. It follows that the Moral Argument is wrong.
3) The Formula of Autonomy: “So act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal law through its maxims.”
This is related to the first formulation, but this formulation puts more emphasis on autonomy and like modern Kantians would argue, self-legislation. This formula of autonomy has manifested itself time and again. Morally superior people are not only admirable, but they compel others to emulate them. This formulation is prominent in rearing children. Children learn moral behavior from their parents, so in a sense, this goes back to Locke; if moral principles are innate, they would, in his words, be known to “children and idiots.” Children quickly learn what’s apt and what’s inappropriate given other people’s feedback. If they do something wrong, they’re scolded. If they do something right, they’re commended. Going back to the notion of inverting authority into oneself, the child then becomes an adult who (roughly) follows the moral values instilled in her during childhood. She then becomes an autonomous self-legislator. God isn’t necessary once again and thus, the Moral Argument is wrong.
4) The Formula of the Kingdom of Ends: “So act as if you were through your maxims a law-making member of a kingdom of ends.”
This formulation is the most compelling given that it absorbs, so to speak, the other formulations. Kant didn’t only speak of wills; he spoke of rational wills. Thus, under this formulation, we are to act in such a way that would be acceptable in a community of rational wills. In a community of rational wills, rape and murder would be unacceptable. Since people are autonomous, taking their lives is a violation of their autonomy. Your fellow rational wills will also recognize you as an autonomous individual and thus, without any need for Jesus’ Golden Rule or more generally, egoism, the rights conferred to them will also be conferred to you. It certainly looks as though developed countries look a lot more like Kant’s Kingdom of Ends than like a society of egoists pursuing their own self-interests. Even despite capitalism, people enjoy charity, sharing, altruism, and equality. People, in other words, recognize one another as autonomous and there are strict laws in place to punish people who violate the autonomy of others.
Ultimately, the Christian demand for an authority is quelled by the fact that we, at the very least, possess the potential to legislate. That is to say that anyone of us can be exemplary moral agents. Kant’s rational will is preferable over the Hobbesian sovereign who can bend and break laws as he pleases. Such a sovereign sounds a lot like god. Also, their demand for a viable non-theistic ethical view has been addressed. The Moral Argument has not only been refuted, but the superiority of procedural realism, as a viable non-theistic view, has also been established.
1 Korsgaard, Christine M., and Onora Neill.The Sources of Normativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 36-37. Print.
2 See Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in Cahn, Steven M. Ed. Classics of Western Philosophy, 7th Ed. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis/Cambridge. 2006. 630-632. Print.
3 Ibid. 
4 Pecorino, Philip A. “Chapter Two: Ethical Traditions”. Queensborough Community College. 2002.
5 Goldstein, Rebecca. Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away. New York: Pantheon Books, 2014. 105. Print.
6 Churchland, Patricia Smith. Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011. 168. Print.
7 Pojman, Louis P. Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Pub., 1990. 84. Print.
8 Ibid. 
9 Bagnoli, Carla. “Constructivism in Metaethics”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2011.
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 they’re 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
Over at PhilosophyNow, which is a site I frequent for philosophy articles, Stephen Anderson, a philosophy teacher in Ontario, puts atheism on trial. Before I write my rebuttal, I must speak bluntly: his trial is egregious and makes obvious a gross misunderstanding of atheism and the various positions among atheists. I’ll make his misunderstandings clear. This rebuttal isn’t meant to open a debate between myself and Anderson, but I welcome it. I will, however, speak honestly once again: once my rebuttal is done, I doubt there will be a response, since Anderson’s mistakes are so elementary.
He begins with an introduction that attempts to skew the truth, i.e., he speaks of atheism as though it is a privileged position; he speaks as though there’s a such thing as atheist privilege rather than religious or more specifically, Christian privilege. This immediately shows Anderson’s disconnect from the truth. There is no atheist privilege in many countries. He says that atheists like to remind people that in the past, atheists were “hacked to pieces with a scimitar or boiled in oil…as if the follies of distant ancestors should make us blush.” The glaring issue here is that this isn’t merely the folly of distant ancestors, but rather, past follies resemble the follies committed by religious people in the modern day. Anderson never makes clear what his religious beliefs are though he seems to suggest in his conclusion that he’s Jewish; he simply refers to his deity as the “Supreme Being.” Given this neutral position, the crimes of religious people in the modern day are enough to refute his claim. The reason we’re fond of reminding people of such crimes is because they still happen. They happen, in particular, to atheists around the world. They also happen, in general, to people due to the radical religious beliefs of some practitioners. Therefore, such comments are made because they’re still relevant.
Earlier this year, American secularist Avijit Roy was hacked to death in Bangladesh.1 His wife was also attacked. As a result of the attack, her finger was amputated. He was one of three bloggers murdered in Bangladesh over the last four months and the fourth in the last two years. Two more have been attacked since 2004. After killing Roy, two of Roy’s followers were murdered: Ananta Bijoy Das and Washiqur Rahman.2 Such examples are not only instances of violence against atheists, but they’re indicative of what would happen if believers were given more power than they have in secular countries. It’s also a continuing trend: when a theocracy is in place, violence against nonbelievers and people holding other religious beliefs are the norm. In 13 Muslim countries, atheists could be legally executed.3 The article (which is cited below) also shares some striking examples of violence, discrimination, and prejudice against atheists. “This report shows that the overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers although they have signed U.N agreements to treat all citizens equally,“ said IHEU President Sonja Eggerickx. Also, in India “humanists say police are often reluctant or unwilling to investigate murders of atheists carried out by religious fundamentalists.” “Across the world, the report said, “there are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, revoke their citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prevent them working for the state.””
There are also crimes against people in general. The next example could be considered violence against atheists since some scholars and critics of Islam are atheists. Robert Spencer, a renowned critic of Islam states:
Some of the bold scholars who have investigated the history of early Islam have even received death threats. As a result, some publish under pseudonyms, including scholars of the first rank, such as those who go by the names Christoph Luxenberg and Ibn Warraq. Such intimidation is an impediment to scholarly research that even the most radical New Testament scholar never had to deal with.4
There’s also the fact that extremist Muslims pour acid on young girls and women who simply want an education.5 Before responding by saying that all of my examples have focused on Islam, I will add that Christians have murdered dozens of children during exorcisms. Belief in so called faith healing has also led to many deaths, spanning decades. In this, there’s also an implicit discrimination against atheists. For instance, Jerry A. Coyne states:
If your faith mandates spiritual healing and your child dies because you offer prayer instead of insulin or antibiotics, your chances of being charged with a crime are slim. There are religious exemptions for child neglect and abuse, negligent homicide, involuntary manslaughter. Several states allow parents to use a religious defense against charges of murder of their child—and in some places they can’t be charged with murder at all. And even when parents are prosecuted, acquiescence to religious belief often leads to their being acquitted or given light sentences, including unsupervised parole. None of this, of course, applies to parents who refuse medical care on nonreligious grounds; those individuals get no immunity from prosecution.8
As clearly stated, nonreligious parents receive no leniency when concerning child neglect, abuse, or wrongful deaths. Though there are no clear examples of religious favoritism between religions, e.g. Christianity favored over Buddhism, I’d argue that Buddhist parents who cite a religious exemption after the death of one of their children will be treated far less favorably than a Christian claiming the same. This is to set aside that atheists are legally prohibited from taking public office in seven states.9 Discrimination and prejudice against atheists are both subtle and obvious. Atheists around the world are still murdered for their non-belief. Today’s Muslims are yesterday’s Jews and Christians. Never mind that there are clear examples, in books shared by the Christian and Jewish canon, of violence against atheists and people subscribing to other religious beliefs. I will, however, digress since I think I’ve given this claim a thorough thrashing.
Atheists do not remind people of the past for sake of doing so, but because past treatment of atheists is relevant to present treatment of atheists. Given evolving standards of decency and the improvement of governments around the world, the murder of someone who doesn’t believe or believes differently is prohibited. That isn’t to say that there aren’t other ways of harming atheists and people subscribing to different beliefs. One can discriminate and commit acts of prejudice against such people, and as discussed, there are legal avenues that enable such discrimination and prejudice.
Anderson’s primary mistake–the mistake that is, in fact, at the root of his other errors–is his definition of atheism. His definition of atheism is purely etymological and ignores the changes in its definition over time. Anderson, for example, never considers the modern definition: the lack of belief in gods. He goes with the definition “no theism,” which he interprets to mean “no gods.” He, like many theists, conflates epistemic belief and epistemic knowledge.
Though related, these concepts are different. Epistemic belief is established by epistemic entitlement and also, warrant and justification, e.g., justified true belief. “Philosophers who acknowledge the existence of entitlements maintain that there are beliefs or judgments unsupported by evidence available to the subject, but which the subject nonetheless has the epistemic right to hold.”10 Knowledge, on the other hand, is established by these as well, but to believe in something and to know something aren’t one and the same. Warrant and justification are often conflated, but epistemologists differentiate between the transmission of one and the other.11 Given that knowledge and belief are often conflated and that, at least, one definition, i.e., Plato’s definition, defines knowledge as justified true belief, when concerning atheism, which is a position of belief and not one of knowledge, it is easy to see how someone can make the mistake Anderson makes. Atheism is the lack of belief in gods and is therefore, our position of belief when concerning gods. Theism is the belief in gods, whether one (mono) or more (poly), and is also a position of belief regarding gods. Neither is a claim of knowledge. A theist might believe in one god or many, but s/he isn’t obligated to know whether or not their god(s) exists. Likewise, atheists do not believe gods exist, but it is not incumbent on them to know or to be able to demonstrate that this is, in fact, the case.
Given this, Anderson also misuses the position of knowledge. He focuses on his meaning of agnostic, but his meaning imports the error implicit in his definition of atheism. Agnostic, etymologically speaking, means “no knowledge.” This is contrasted with the term gnostic, which is derived from the Greek gnosis, meaning knowledge. Theists and atheists can be either agnostic or gnostic, and it’s those terms that contain the position of knowledge. Most atheists are openly agnostic atheists, since gnostic atheists, as Anderson intuitively understands, have their work cut out for them. Anyone who claims specialized knowledge is also required to demonstrate how they know what they claim to know. Christians, for instance, claim to know rather than merely believe that their god exists. None of them can demonstrate how they came to know this. Many of them will cite revelation as though that’s sufficient, but ultimately, they fail to establish their knowledge. Atheists, on the other hand, have demonstrated that the Judeo-Christian god doesn’t exist.
In order to demonstrate this, religious knowledge is not required, as some would claim. All that’s required is to take x or y religious claim as the null hypothesis.* The alternative hypothesis, in this case being the atheist’s hypothesis, is the inverse of the null, i.e., the direct contradiction of the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis is that Yahweh created the universe, the earth, and all of life, and that he assumed a human body on Earth through Jesus Christ, died for our sins, resurrected, ascended to the right hand of the Father, and left with believers his Holy Spirit, which bears witness to Jesus. The alternative hypothesis is that none of that is true, and this can be demonstrated by independent domains of knowledge: anthropology, history, science, philosophy, etc. I will not undertake the task here, but this is something that I’ve done in the past, as I’ll link below. Given the near universal belief in the Trinity, all that’s required is evidence against either the Father or the Son. Suffice to say that there’s no conclusive evidence for the Jesus depicted in the Gospels, and this is, in fact, the consensus position among Jesus scholars despite the overwhelming bias toward maximal historicity; even theists will make the minimal claims that Jesus was baptized and was crucified, and that he was an itinerant preacher. This is to set aside intra-contradictions (inconsistencies within a Gospel) and inter-contradictions (inconsistencies between the Gospels). Whoever Jesus might have been, it’s enough to say that the Gospel version is at best embellished and at worst mythologized. As stated, this can be shown given objective, independent methods that have nothing to do with dubious revelations of any sort.
Atheists can therefore claim to be gnostic atheists when concerning Christianity. In fact, they can go through similar motions to show that there’s evidence against Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism and thus, make the same declaration when concerning those religions. Atheism is therefore less black and white and instead, more like a spectrum. Given the claims of holy books, especially claims regarding this or that god, it is possible to debase such claims to such a degree that even a fervent believer can come to be convinced that such claims are false. In the absence of such claims and in the presence of ingenuity, e.g. Spinoza and less admirably, Deepak Chopra, it is harder to demonstrate that there’s no evidence for a given god. Chopra, for instance, does not claim that his deity created the Earth in six literal days, as some Christians do. Spinoza doesn’t claim to have four hagiographies depicting the life of his Savior. Einstein didn’t claim that he had dozens of Hadiths depicting the life of the prophet of his god. There is thus less reliable ways of establishing non-belief in such gods.
On the subject of agnosticism, Anderson makes use of a false analogy. To make this clear, I’ll quote him generously:
Let me illustrate. I have never been to Denmark. Call me, if you will, a ‘Denmark-agnostic.’ I have seen brochures that show a pretty country; but we all know about Photoshop fakery, so I remain doubtful. I’ve eaten some nice cheese that purported to be from Denmark, but I don’t know how far one can trust the word of cheese. My friends claim to have visited Denmark, and they report having a lot of fun. I have even been told that my ancient ancestors may well have hailed from thence. Still, I have no first-hand evidence that any of this is true.
Should I declare against the existence of Denmark until further notice? Of course that is silly. The fact that I have not personally been to Denmark doesn’t count in the question of its existence. Whether it’s actually there is one question; whether or not I have certainty about it personally is another. There is simply no reason to jump to the conclusion that because I don’t know a thing, no one else does either. That’s not sound philosophy. Furthermore, is not my skepticism willfully stupid? Suppose my friends really are reliable, or the cheese really is telling the truth. Suppose I have a personal opportunity to find better evidence, or even to visit Denmark – and I refuse, because I can’t be absolutely sure beforehand that it’s there: how silly would that be?
Similarly, the person who declares herself agnostic has only said something about her personal certainty, not about the existence of God. And that lack of certainty is met with a satisfactory rejoinder if someone else can honestly claim to have some real personal knowledge of God, or can describe a way she could obtain better information. But the agnostic has no logical reason at all to insist that no one else can possibly have such knowledge.
These examples are, in fact, dissimilar. No one, not even the most radical believer, can establish that their “brochure” is the true word of their god. They cannot claim to have seen their deity or claim that others saw him/her as well. Group hallucinations and mass hysteria do happen and for various reasons, but these are not indicative of truth, especially when considering that such hallucinations bolster the claims of different and contradictory religions.12 Religions are, for the most part, mutual exclusive: if one is true, that excludes the possibility of another being true. Therefore, group hallucinations or mass hysteria cannot indicate that two or more religions are true since they openly exclude the possibility of another religion being true.
Going back to Anderson’s false analogy, it suggests that we can know a god in the same way we know a place. It would be silly to be agnostic when concerning Denmark simply because I haven’t been there or haven’t had experiences there. Others have been to Denmark. Others live there and have experiences there. Aside from that, Denmark is marked on maps and globes. One can get a visa to go there. There are flight tickets from New York to Denmark, from DC to Denmark, from [insert almost any place in the world] to Denmark. If one were silly enough to be agnostic when regarding Denmark, there are myriad, independent ways to affirm Denmark’s existence. The same cannot be said of god.
A religious experience is not enough to establish a god’s existence because unlike the experience of traveling to and being at a certain place, one can be mistaken about religious experience. One can speak in tongues and attribute this to their Christian beliefs, but one might be mistaken in doing so, especially given that believers of other religions also speak in tongues.13 This is ignoring the fact that other Christians are cessationists and therefore believe that the so called gifts of the spirit are no longer operable, i.e., they do not believe that modern Christians can actually speak in tongues. Revelation, which I glossed over above, cannot establish the existence of a god either. Kai Nielsen makes this clear:
Similar things should be said for an appeal to Revelation or Scripture. Even without philosophical analysis, a cursory study of anthropology or the history of religions should disabuse us of that. Putative revelations and holy books or holy legends are many and conflicting. There is no way by an appeal to any putative Revelation or Scripture to establish or to know which, if any is, or even could be, “the genuine Revelation”—The Truth and The Way—and to return to natural theology, philosophy, or historical inquiry to establish which one is the genuine one is to abandon the appeal to Revelation or Scripture as our ultimate court of appeal and to appeal to something else instead to ascertain genuine Revelation from counterfeit. If we try to say “Well, they are all genuine!” then we are just left with a conflicting mess of different appeals—sometimes with radically different and conflicting or perhaps upon occasion incommensurable conceptions.14
Anderson’s biggest error, which is again based on his initial error, namely his definition of atheism, is that atheists cannot have adequate evidence for denying the existence of a god. He states that the God hypothesis is too high for atheism. He, however, makes use of a covert God of the Gaps Argument, i.e., an argument from ignorance. By adequate, he actually means all of the evidence regardless of whether we have access to it or not. He states that “one would need to rule out every reasonable possibility of positive evidence for his existence.” He adds:
How is that to be done? Can we go everywhere, at all times, and see everything? And if we could, must such an entity necessarily present Himself upon the whim of the experimenter, to be crammed into a beaker or pinched in calipers, so to speak? (Some theists have argued that, having a sovereign will, God disdains to do parlour tricks to entertain skeptics – but that is another matter.)
Aside from the fact that these questions conceal a God of the Gaps Argument, this set of questions is unfortunately a proverbial shot in the foot. For a theist to affirm the existence of his/her god, s/he would have to go everywhere, at all times, and see everything and then, on a whim, this god, apparently against its nature, would have to do a parlor trick to reveal itself. The standard of evidence is too high for either side! If this is the kind of evidence required to affirm or deny belief in a god, then it would be unattainable by believer or non-believer.
Thankfully, scientific and historical methodology disabuse us of having to have such a standard. Inductive, abductive, and deductive forms of reasoning can help either side to, at the very least, attempt to establish their belief or non-belief. History has not been kind to theists, despite what apologists might claim. Despite supposed ironclad arguments for god, none have proved convincing to atheists nor conclusive overall. Hume and Kant and then Mackie, Watson, Flew, Russell, Nielsen, and others have settled that score; apologetic arguments, which are usually deductive, are not sufficient evidence for god. I must also stress that a god that refuses to do parlor tricks is as good as nonexistent. William Provine said it best:
A widespread theological view now exists saying that God started off the world, props it up and works through laws of nature, very subtly, so subtly that its action is undetectable. But that kind of God is effectively no different to my mind than atheism.15
Therefore, if deductive arguments aren’t enough and your god refuses to do parlor tricks, what sort of evidence can a theist claim to have? If the null hypothesis cannot be established in some way, then it is incumbent on any rational person to reject it and therefore, accept the alternative hypothesis. In the jargon Anderson prefers, the positive claim is that a god exists whilst the negative claim is that a god doesn’t. This is akin to talk of statistical null and alternative hypotheses. The null is the positive whilst the alternative is the negative. In good fallibilist and Bayesian fashion, since we can’t be 100% certain of these sorts of claims, we’re left with the probability of one of our hypotheses being true. In this case, the null or positive hypothesis, i.e., the God hypothesis, must be rejected. We therefore accept the alternative hypothesis, which is essentially to establish the negative.
Getting into inductive and abductive methods of establishing non-belief would serve as an unnecessary tangent. For argument’s sake, I would like to point Anderson and people who disagree with my rebuttal to my Arguments for Atheism and my analysis of Philosophical Atheism. Assertions are only allowed if the toil of supporting them has already been done. I can make the kinds of assertions I’ve made, e.g., that the Judeo-Christian god is demonstrably nonexistent, because I’ve labored to establish such claims.
At any rate, despite the rampant scientism of the so called new atheists, to say that science has destroyed god isn’t exactly a controversial statement given that one understands what is meant by it. The statement is not claiming that science, as though it were an entity, literally stood toe to toe with god and destroyed him. The statement is claiming that scientific advancements have led to the retreat of religious and paranormal explanations and thus, the refutation of religious claims both past and present. Given immutable fundamental laws of physics, it cannot be argued that Jesus walked on water. Given the philosophical investigation of causation, it cannot be argued that an immaterial god created a material universe. In my response to Edward Feser, I discussed an example.
Quentin Smith alludes to a similar concept–namely Hector-Neri Castaneda, Galen Strawson, David Fair, Jerrold Aronson and others’ Transference definition of a cause. He cites Castaneda as stating that “the heart of production, or causation, seems, thus, to be transfer or transmission.“ Smith also states the following:
Castaneda’s full theory implies a definition that includes the nomological condition: c is a cause of e if and only if (i) there is a transfer of causity from an object O1 to an object O2 in a circumstance x, with the event c being O1’s transmission of causity and the event e being O2’s acquisition of causity; (ii) every event of the same category as c that is in a circumstance of the same category as x is conjoined with an event of the same category as e.
In the same vein as normative dispositions, if god is immaterial, how can he transfer causity to material objects. Castanda’s (ii) meets Hume’s nomological condition and my more fundamental material condition. To get around this issue, the theist would have to introduce a brand, so to speak, of causation that makes discussions like this unintelligible. To put it bluntly, it would be the invocation of nonsense to preserve nonsense. The same objection applies to how a timeless deity can operate within time. That, however, is a discussion for another time.
In the section Anderson titled “The Negation Problem,” Anderson makes use of the same error to continue his discussion. He uses another horrid analogy, but more importantly, he again claims that we have to be more or less omniscient to be a rational, logical atheist. As far as proving a negative is concerned, I updated his choice of words to show that negatives are proven at an astonishingly high rate. Every time we reject a null hypothesis, we accept the alternative and therefore, prove a negative. Furthermore, whenever a positive claim cannot be substantiated, it is reasonable to conclude that its negative is, at best, implied. This terrain is to be carefully treaded because, as Aristotle showed, some claims do not imply their negative. If we cannot establish that all swans are white, this does not imply that none are white, but rather, that some are not white. If, however, we make a particular claim rather than a plural or general claim, such as the claim, “this specific god exists,” if it cannot be demonstrated that that particularly god exists, then the implication is that that specific god doesn’t exist. The failure of apologists, especially evidentialists, to provide evidence for the existence of their god(s) implies that their respective deities do not exist. This is still a long way from the claim “no gods exist,” but as we’ve already discussed, an atheist need not adopt that claim though I would argue, on the basis of consistency, that this claim is eventually made by seasoned atheists. It’s, in fact, a claim I have no trouble making since as aforementioned, I’ve gone through the painstaking process of developing arguments, refuting arguments for god, fielding rebuttals, and assessing the available evidence. As a Bayesian, I don’t need near omniscient insight into the universe and all of the evidence at all places and times. As mentioned, that standard is unattainable and unrealistic, and though Anderson finds it feasible, he’s being dishonest in attempting to pigeonhole atheists whilst ignoring that he shoots himself in the foot.
In his section titled “Atheists Dodging the Bullet,” he makes use of the initial error: that atheism and agnosticism are mutually exclusive. I will therefore say nothing about that section. There’s also the fact that much has been said about Dawkin’s agnosticism. I honestly find it ridiculous since he openly discusses his spectrum in The God Delusion. He clearly acknowledges that on a scale of seven, he falls under six. For people claiming to be familiar with so called new atheist literature, they fail to demonstrate this familiarity.
Overall, though he claims to be “charitable” toward atheism, he is dishonest in making that claim. He was not charitable in the least. He was deceptive and dishonest. He demonstrated every characteristic one would come to expect of a religious apologist. Unfortunately, I’ve presented Anderson with a barrage of bullets he will be unable to dodge. My objections are indeed penetrating. But if Anderson is like the common apologist, I’d expect him to put his obduracy on display, repeat his vacuous claims, and claim a victory he didn’t earn. Given his egregious errors, he forfeited the game before it was played.
*I am well aware that some think it’s accurate to describe atheism as the null hypothesis and I agree. I am, however, working from Anderson’s flawed theistic framework, which would instead characterize theism as the null hypothesis. If that were actually the case, we would have to reject it and accept the alternative hypothesis, atheism.
1 France-Presse, Agence. “American atheist blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh”. The Guardian. 27 Feb 2015. Web. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/27/american-atheist-blogger-hacked-to-death-in-bangladesh>
2 Al-Mahmood, Syed Zain. “Third Atheist Blogger Hacked to Death in Bangladesh”. Wall Street Journal. 12 May 2015. Web. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/third-atheist-blogger-hacked-to-death-in-bangladesh-1431439393>
3 Evans, Robert. “Atheists Face Death Penalty In 13 Countries, Discrimination Around The World According To Freethought Report”. Huffington Post. 25 Jan 2015. Web. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/10/atheists-death-penalty-_n_4417994.html?1386682143>
4 Spencer, Robert. Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry Into Islam’s Obscure Origins. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2012. 13-14. Print
5 Khan, Shaan. “Pakistani Taliban target female students with acid attack”. CNN. 3 Nov 2012. Web. <http://edition.cnn.com/2012/11/03/world/asia/pakistan-acid-attack/>
6 Karimi, Faith and Sutton, Joe. “Police: Maryland mom kills 2 of her children during attempted exorcism”. CNN. 19 Jan 2014. Web. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/19/justice/maryland-exorcism-deaths/>
7 Collins, Dan. “Autistic Boy Dies During Exorcism”. CBS. 25 Aug 2003. Web. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/autistic-boy-dies-during-exorcism/>
8 Coyne, Jerry A. “Faith Healing Kills Children”. Slate. 21 May 2015. Web. <http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2015/05/religious_exemptions_from_medical_care_faith_healing_kills_children.html>
9 Goodstein, Laurie. “In Seven States, Atheists Push to End Largely Forgotten Ban”. The New York Times. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/07/us/in-seven-states-atheists-push-to-end-largely-forgotten-ban-.html?_r=0>
10 Altschul, Jon. “Epistemic Entitlement”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ND. Web. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/ep-en/>
11 Moretti, Luca. “Transmission of Justification and Warrant”. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 19 Nov 2013. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/transmission-justification-warrant/>
12 McGirk, Tim. “Hindu world divided by 24-hour wonder”. The Independent. 23 Sept 1995. Web. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/hindu-world-divided-by-a-24hour-wonder-1602382.html>
13 Koic, Elvira, et. al. “Glossolalia”. Antropol. 29 (2005) 1: 307–313 UDC 616.89-008.434 Review. Web. <http://www.psihijatrija.com/bibliografija/radovi/Koic%20E%20GLOSSOLALIA%20COLLEGIUM.pdf>
14 Nielsen, Kai. Naturalism and Religion. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2001. 399-400. Print.
15 Quoted in Strobel, Lee. The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points toward God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2004. 26. Print.