September 2016

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  


« Teaching Activity | Main | God in a Box »

April 04, 2007


Harris: "We got rid of slavery because we realized it was manifestly evil ..." Here Mr. Harris appeals to a universal moral standard in order to make his argument. He's too blind to see the inconsistency of his own thinking.

I finally read the End of Faith last week. I don’t agree with much in it, but it’s actually a quite entertaining read. For one Harris at least attempts to get us off the mansy pansy pluralism and relativism that one would expect in books of this sort. He loses me when he started talking about morality without God – its axioms derived from “intuition”, and his possible belief in ESP.

The book was full of interesting random stuff. Some so interesting that I copied them down.

Did you know if you fold a piece of paper 50 times, it will span then length from the earth to the sun?

And I thought this was an interesting observation on mind vs computers and maintaining a sound worldview:

“How many beliefs could a perfect brain check for logical contradictions? The answer is surprising. Even if a computer were as large as the known universe, built of components no larger than protons, with switching speeds as fast as the speed of light, all laboring in parallel from the moment of the big bang up to the present, it would still be fighting to add a 300th belief to its list. What does this say about the possibility of our ever guaranteeing that our worldview is perfectly free from contradiction? It is not even a dream within a dream.” [Sam Harris – The End of Faith, 57] * This example is taken from W. Poundstone, Labyrinths of Reason: Paradox, Puzzles, and the Frailty of Knowledge (New York: Anchor Press, 1988), 183-188

Anyway, that’s about all I got from the book. Hee hee…


Even granting the validity of that example without argument, this seems to be a better support of traditional Christianity then agnosticism or atheism. It plainly shows the futility of the human intellect left to contemplate it's own "navel" with respect to ultimate questions and issues in a universe that even Richard Dawkins admits "appears designed".

It shows that we have a real and practical need for special, divine revelation. In otherwords, if the design of the universe is real and not illusionary, then as C.S. Lewis wrote.."we could not hope to find the designer as a part of the universe anymore then we would hope to find an architect as part of building". (paraphrase)

We would need God to reveal Himself to us, in an unmistakable way...such as living among us and saying things like..."I am the way the truth and the life..."...predicting His own death and resurrection and then making good on the prediction.

Whatever that Man said has a certain authority such that it gives incredible credence to his worldview wouldn't you say? Christianity isn't true as a worldview or a map of reality because it works, it works at navigating reality because it's true.

Food for thought my friend.



Huh? You lost me. What example are you referring to?

The example from Sam's 57.


ok then i still don't get it.

How does the observation about the limitations of processing power in achieving logical consistency in a string of propositions, relate to intelligent design?

Maybe it's impossible to test every world view exhaustively, but some have such glaring contradictions that they could be found in minutes, rather than years. Atheism has its own logical problems, such as explaining how something can come from nothing. Nothing in theology, philosophy or science claims to prove anything with absolute certainty. They only point to evidence that indicates probability.
As for "how many beliefs could a perfect brain check for logical inconsistency?" one only needs to check which ever one is being asserted. If you make the assertion "Jesus is the Son of God," I have no need to check out Hinduism, Islam, or Zoroastrianism for logical consistency to decide whether to accept or reject your claim.

Tony wrote: "How does the observation about the limitations of processing power in achieving logical consistency in a string of propositions, relate to intelligent design?"

It doesn't. You're arguing the example and the example was granted for the sake of a broader point. In otherwords, the example is obviously untestable, because it postulates a computer no one has built (or can build). The example was granted to make the broader point that one does not need to posses omniscience or an intellect with the processor speed of the computer described to investigate Christianty's central truth claim - the resurrection. It all rises and falls on that one event in history my friend.

Christ died and the tomb is empty. These two facts are granted by even the most skeptical secular scholars. There are only a few explanations. If Christ did rise from the dead - as He predicted - I assume you see my point; that this would obviously give this Man's view of the world authority over our ruminations?


Daniel, John,

Oh i think i see what you're saying. It might have seemed above that I was offering this example as some sort of argument for agnosticism or something.

Noooooooo. Actually - i haven’t even thought about the philosophical ramifications yet. I just thought it was a neat mathematical observation – just an interesting proof.

But ok uhmmm…the philosophical ramifications…thinking…

Well ive been sitting here for a few minutes now and I don’t really see anything interesting that would benefit my side or your side. Only thing I could offer is that perhaps a test could be given to a human in which he was tasked with ascertaining the validity of 300 propositions based on some sort of multiple choice test. If you could find a guy who could get all the answers right, this might be used as proof of a soul/mind – i.e. proof that wetware processing must be utilizing processing power from the spiritual realm – which is supposedly not hindered by time constraints. It would be the best if the test was composed of symbolic expressions and not, say, derived from a social framework. Then of course checking the test would put us back to the same problem because it would take the age of the universe to know if he’s right or not. I wonder if the question sheet could be generated by automated theorem provers that would maintain a list of derived forms…might be able to make 300 questions that way – and if you mix them up on the page... Hmm…I dunno…gotta find a math guy.

Anyway, I ordered the book Labyrinths of Reason from Amazon last week but it’s not hear yet. I’m really anxious to learn exactly what his methodology was. I don’t understand it as of now and I couldn’t find much on the net.

By the way, with the folded paper example above, I did notice a flaw. After about the 30th fold, the surface area of an 8.5 x 11 piece of Letter size paper is smaller than an atom. So there’s not enough paper to get to the sun. Only to the limits of earths atmosphere (30 folds). To make it to the sun, without splitting atoms, the paper would actually have to have a square surface of 1,076,391.04 square feet or so I think.


I didn't think you were making an argument for anything....just an observation of something you found interesting in Sam's book. Interesting enough that you wrote it down and later shared it here with us.

I was just telling you what I thought of it. I presume that's why you posted it in a public forum because you didn't mind feedback.

Have a good one my friend,

God is not Real. God is Ideal.

John wrote..."It all rises and falls on that one event in history my friend."

Can you prove that one event occured? How would one proceed in securing this knowledge with certainty? Do you accept the "beyond a resonable doubt" standard? Or are you absolutely certain that this event occured?

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your reply. Am I "absolutely certain" about the resurrection? I am "absolutely certain" that I am typing this reply to you right now!....for everything else, including our view of history - there is evidence.

I am not a historian by trade, nor am I a scholar of the resurrection in the formal sense. I have read and studied a lot of material over the past (5) years since I've become a Christian discussing the available evidence and I can tell you there are only a few explanations for the facts.

Now, you may take exception to my use of the word "fact" in regards to history - especially ancient history. However, I can assure you the things I call "facts" indeed are.

For example, it is a fact that you and I have available today a book called the bible that includes (4) gospels. It is a fact that all (4) gospels record that Jesus died by crucifixion. It is a fact that we also have at least (5) extra-biblical, non-christian sources (that I am aware of) that also record and attest to the crucifixion of Jesus.

Now, this is obviously just one piece to the puzzle. There is a lot more work to do to show that Someone rose from the dead then the fact that He died. In fact the universal law of dead people is that they stay dead! But we can't have a resurrection if we don't first have a dead body so I don't think we can just blow by this first, important piece.

And if you are a skeptical person, like I am, you may be thinking right now...."well hey that's great these sources may settle this one issue about this resurrection claim for you, but what do the scholars say about this "fact"? Scholars rarely agree on anything". And that objection carries some weight. You're right, scholars disagree about evidence and what it means and if it's reliable. In fact, in any field of study, we will always have the mainstream consensus and the fringe viewpoints....the viewpoints that take the extreme, maybe less reasonable view of the evidence. When it comes to this fact - the death of Jesus Christ by crucifixion - we don't necessarily have that problem. Not only does mainstream secular scholarship hold this view, but even the fringe, even the most skeptical scholars recognizes that “....he [Jesus] was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” (Ref: John Dominic Crossan, “Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography”)

So, where does this first fact of history leave us?......with a dead Jesus. There are other facts that present themselves to us from history that we must also address.

But I want to stop here for a minute and ask you a question about the nature of evidence. Does your view of reality exclude the possibility that supernatural events can occur? Because I would hate to waste your time and present the rest of these facts of history, if we really should be discussing philosophy. If your personal philosophy excludes the knowledge of anything supernatural, before any examination of the evidence - no matter how compelling - then let's be honest with each other - there isn't anything I will present that will convince you otherwise. If you are already committed (and I'm not saying you are) to the conclusion that the supernatural does not exist, even if that is what the evidence suggests, then I can not break that commitment with evidence. In fact, depending on how committed you are, I may not be able to even move you much by critiquing your philosophy with reason. Again, not saying you are strongly committed to naturalism or materialism, but just wanted to get that out in the open up front.

I look forward to your reply and since this is a post for discussing the Warren-Harris debate and not neccessarily the resurrection, if you would like to continue this conversation by email, that's fine with me too.



>> “Does your view of reality exclude the possibility that supernatural events can occur?”


I got a thought exercise that I made to ask Christians about belief in amazing things. You might like it:


"God is not Real. God is Ideal."

Tom -- as it stands, this statement means nothing. Actually, it's just complete nonsense. If God is not real, then it makes no sense to even utter the second sentence (that is, if an object/person doesn't exist, then attributing qualities to that object/person is nonsensical).

"The Loch Ness monster isn't real. And it's purple!"


Thanks for the link. I read your experiment and a couple things stood out for me about it:

1. The "amazing paper" thought experiement starts with just that - a thought. Nothing in reality, but something from your imagination. That's not to say it wasn't a good thought experiment, just that when facts aren't involved we can easily draw any conclusions we like about anything. So, it's interesting, but it's none-the-less fiction.

2. In response to your thought experiment you write..."I wouldn’t believe that ‘visitors’, nor the Christian God, had visited planet earth based on a document someone handed me."

And I agree! I wouldn't either. In fact, I didn't come to Christ by reading the bible or without doubts. Conversly, these facts of history exist and we find them not just in the bible but in various other documents of antiquity and they are independent of our imaginations. So what are we to make of them?....these facts that we didn't invent, create, but are presented with to form a conclusion? If you're like me, you probably want to take the most reasonable position, the view that best explains the facts.

You went onto write:...."I would need a LOT more than paper to believe such things." Again, couldn't agree with you more my friend. As there is much more to reality and our human experience then just the study of ancient cultures and history through documents, I would expect that if Christianity were true (which I believe it is) then it would be the best explaination for all of reality and not just be the best explanation to a given set of historical facts about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

At the sametime, I don't think we can minimize the implications of the facts of history that strongly point to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and we should allow this to come to bear on a more cumulative case for Christianity with evidence from other fields of study and personal experience.


Well lets focus on the ressurection.

So ok, besides paper what would you need? Is there any evidence in your pocession about the resurrection that you didnt learn about via words/paper?


Do you know what Plato means by Ideal?

Do you know what Berkeley, Descartes, Kant, and Hegel mean by "Ideal"?

Do you know how "idealism" has gone though several changes, from the strict Idealism of Berkeley, to the pyschologism of Descartes' ontology, to the transcendental idealism of Kant, and the world-historical idealism of Hegel?

Do you understand what "Realism" is vs "Idealism"?

Do you understand the difference between Platonic Idealism and Aristotle's Realism?

Try answering one of these questions first.


Let me say to you that I do not dismiss the supernatural out of hand.

Their are some things that are "beyond" nature, that is, beyond the physical, or "super-natural" (to use your word).

However, I think you are referring to a specific kind of meta(beyond)-physics(nature). You are suggesting that their are rules of nature, and anything that could violate these rules of nature, would be a super-natural agent, who has the power to "break" these rules at will, and is the cause of great miracles, including the resurrection, ascension, and miraculous healings

I am not opposed in principle to miraculous events happening. I have just never witnessed any for myself.

Your two premises are that Jesus rose again, demonstrating his "super-naturality", and this is a historical "fact", and this is a testable historical hypothesis supported by several attestations, taking these other accounts as data in verifying your theory that Jesus' death is a historical fact.

How many data points do we need to confirm the hypothesis of Jesus' resurrection for it to be "certain"?

Can this inductive method of yours, "reasoning" from data to making a general statement with "certainty", confirm your data "beyond a reasonable doubt".

Or are Christians "absolutely certain"?

Their are plenty of things that are "super-natural" as in "beyond physics"...such a thing is "mind", or anything that occurs on the phenomenal level of exerience, that is not experienced as chemical reactions, but emotional experience.

Is there an emotional experience associated with reading the Jesus story?

Also John...

How do the historical "attestations" of other mystery religions figure into our understanding of the Jesus dying god-man story and our, how do these "facts" figure into our historical theory of mediteranean syncretic religions?

Tom -

Thanks for your reply and clarifying your philosophical position.

And....whoa, slow're drawing conclusions already and wondering "how many more facts we need before we can draw this conclusion with certainty..... and what does this have to do with syncretic religions".....and all we know so far is that Jesus is dead.

As you asked some more questions about certainty and "reasonable doubt"....I'll do my best to clarify my position further. Quite simply, my standard for historical belief..for accepting a historical event as "true" happens at the point when the reasons for accepting it significantly outweigh the reasons for rejecting it. (consequently, this is not an original thought of mine...but a paraphrase of Graham Twelftree by way of Gary Habermas).

And I understand this answer may assume something in the discussion that seems to be major question for you as you write..."Can this inductive method of yours, "reasoning" from data to making a general statement with "certainty", confirm your data "beyond a reasonable doubt"?"

Honestly Tom - I don't know. I don't really know how to answer that. I can tell you that it seems very reasonable to me to use this methodology to determine historical truth because it's the same methodology I use to navigate everyday reality. From buying a home..... to planning a vacation teaching my children I consider data and draw conclusions - as do you. So I guess you could make a case that all knowledge is "suspect" and that we just popped into existence (5) minutes ago, with memories and food in our bellies...but that would be unreasonable and disingenuous.

Your original question was... can I "prove" the resurrection...and I've given you one event that it is significantly more reasonable to believe happened then did not happen - Jesus Christ died by crucifixion. Ok...what else do we know in a similar fashion?

We know that the disciples believed Jesus Christ rose from the dead and appeared to them. Paul tells us this in Acts, we have the oral tradition of the early church and the writings of the early church fathers all attesting to this as fact. Now, the disciples may have been wrong. There could be alternate explanations for this besides the conclusion that they did indeed see the Risen Christ. But let's be clear about something - these men believed it! We can not mistake the transformation of the disciples from fearful, cowering men who denied Jesus before the event in question (the resurrection) to these men who boldly proclaimed "He is Risen", at the expense of great bodily harm and ultimately death for the vast majority of them.

I'll grant you that, they could be wrong, but we cannot reasonably conclude that these men died for something they knew was a lie. These men believed they saw the Risen Lord in the flesh.

Your thoughts?


If you have a specific definition of "real" and/or "ideal" in mind when you make a statement like the one you made, you should give it, otherwise we are perfectly legitimate in our taking them at face value, in the common understanding of their definitions. It's not my job to determine which of the several definitions (for either word) you have in mind.

Whether or not I understand any of the things you mentioned is immaterial. Support/explain your position, don't attack me (personally) for questioning it (yours is an ad hominem).

Paul, I wasn't attacking you.

I thought you may have read some of these characters. Then we could discuss what I mean.

I thought you might have a particular interest in one of the many said authors. Perhaps you would like to discuss the infiltration of Platonic Idealism into the Christian church via Plotinus and the Neoplatonist early church faters.

I thought you might like to discuss the infiltration of Aristotelianism into Christianity via St. Acquinas.

Or the Modern, or "free will" christianity, introduced at the time of Descarte.

or the German idealists, etc.

This is a great start John. You have really spelled out your thinking.

The key responses you made were:

"Quite simply, my standard for historical belief..for accepting a historical event as "true" happens at the point when the reasons for accepting it significantly outweigh the reasons for rejecting it."

And then I must respond to this whole paragraph regarding the question of induction and "certainty".

"Honestly Tom - I don't know. I don't really know how to answer that. I can tell you that it seems very reasonable to me to use this methodology to determine historical truth because it's the same methodology I use to navigate everyday reality. From buying a home..... to planning a vacation teaching my children I consider data and draw conclusions - as do you. So I guess you could make a case that all knowledge is "suspect" and that we just popped into existence (5) minutes ago, with memories and food in our bellies...but that would be unreasonable and disingenuous."

The most important point to make, the most important disctinction, is that historical studies are not approached the same way as "everyday reality" (to use your phrase). So there is a distinction in the kind of "knowledge" that one obtains, and how one goes about obtaining "knowledge" in each area, in the area of theoretical inquiry and in the area of "real life".

What you have decided to do is take a "scientific" approach to deciding the historical question regarding who was Jesus of Nazareth and how did this movement get started. This approach is "scientific" because it "reasons" from "evidence" to support a "theory", a theory we "reconstruct" out of source documents (regarded as evidence as in a court). Both scientific "reality" and historical "reality" are explored this way. The philosophical term for it is "induction" as opposed to "deduction" which is "reasoning" within a closed system of well-defined terms.

The reason I pose the question philosophically is to point out that all inductive methods, are in principle, uncertain. Induction cannot confer "certainty", as in "absolute certainty" (As John Mclaughlin says on his Sunday morning political talk show "metaphysical certitude")

Metaphysical certitude is impossible if you are reasoning inductively. So the answer is…historical arguments can never, in themsleves, provide complete, absolute "certainty".

The next move is to see that somehow true Christians do attain absolute "certainty" in life, it is often called the "absolute certainty of faith". However these two kinds of "certainty", the kind impossible to achieve using inductive, historical arguments, (historical theories that account for "bulk of the evidence" standard in constructing historical theories from related documents), and the kind of "certainty" one acquires when they "become" a Christian…may be slightly different kinds of "certainty", and certainly result from different phenomena, or different experiences.

But first lets discuss the "reasonable doubt" standard. I'm finally starting to see something thanks to talking to you. I'm starting to see that having one account for "what really happened" 2000 years ago is not enough. There really needs to be a "replacement" theory that accounts for the evidence better than the one you currently hold, that Jesus' movement was born the moment he resurrected, and if we can secure this moment using documentary evidence, it becomes "reasonable" for us to "believe", and the disciples were followers that attested to their beliefs despite great personal peril. There really needs to be another theory developed simultaneously. That is, as we are researching all the data, we are building a model, a model of the religious landscape of the Meditteranean 2000 years ago, and if the current model is not going to work, then the evidence must be used in the new model. The best model is the one that can account for the "bulk of the evidence".

That is why I ask the question about mystery religion. The religions of Dionysus, Osiris, Adonis, Tammuz, Sandan, Mithras, etc. These other gods are all dying god-men from the cultures surrounding Jerusalem, many of them infiltrating Jerusalem, or the surrounding country-side, that were prevalent in Jesus' time and in Paul's time. Paul is often regarded as a practicioner of mystery religion, and also a major figure in bringing together the Jews of Jerusalem (Peter and James) to form a new religion.

So I was wondering how your model concerning the Jesus movement accounts for the similarities in the other religions at the time. Granted these "religions" were mythical, relying on a mythical story, rather than a story said to "really have happened", but many elements in the Jesus story are found in these other stories as well. And not only are the few years surrounding Jesus' life important, but we must also take into account the next 3-4 hundred years (at least).

Now you said you use the "significantly outweighs" standard. That' what I mean about the simultaneous development of two working historical models. One has to "significantly outweigh" the other. In Kuhnian jargon ("The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"), the new theory has to "do more work"…that is, it has to account for more phenomena than the other theory.

And I think the "phenomena" that the Jesus story captures, is the "born again" phenomena, when a Christian humbles themselves, prostrate before god, and "dies to the old man", and becomes "a new creature" (according to Paul).

This "moment" is usually experienced in "everyday life" (to use your phrase again). That is, it has to do with the personal circumstances of the life of the individual that finds themselves "in need of forgiveness".

The "moment" that is experienced academically, is as you say, the moment your model becomes "more reasonable" than the others.

These are two different moments and two underlying phenomena. One is theoretical, the action of a mind, reflecting on historical evidences, and the other is "in real life", when the god graces you, and you feel a power you never knew you had, a power from "outside" (as the christians say) who "transforms" them in that moment. In that moment they receive a kind of "certainty" that is "absolute".

The methods used in constructing theoretical, historical models are not "the same methodology" (your phrase) as the methods used in acquiring "knowledge" in everyday life, in your everyday activities. What "counts" as "knowledge" may be the "knowledge" one gains from having this "born again" experience. Christians who have had it can say they "know" something that people who have not had it cannot say they "know". It is direct experience with the god. It is not indirect, or "knowledge" of the god through historical texts and academic, objective, inductive inquiry.

The reason I state it phiosophically is because I too have been battered around by all the evidence, gathering so much it became harder and harder to determine with any "reasonable" sense of certainty to "bet my life" on it. Evidence has accumulated on both sides, and I wondered if it was really necessary to become an academic, a PhD in history, to "understand" christianity.

If the question becomes undecideable because of the evidence on both sides, then the question should be "Why is it that I have to choose between one or the other to decide my fate". Or stated another way..."Why is my eternal destiny dependent on indirect evidence, the testimonies of others?"

It's hard to believe that the key to life is knowing history.

Most historical Christians fail to see the distinction, the difference in kind, a difference in genus, of the two different "ways" one becomes a christian. And most historical christians fail to see the difference between the two "methodologies". Consequently most academic christians fail to ask the question regarding induction or fail to see that inductive methods are insufficient.

God is a concept.God is not a person. You have not met a "real" person.

When you say that god is "infinite", that is abstracting god into an "ideal", a "concept".

When you conceive an infinite god you are not dealing with a person, but imagining infinity, something meta-physical, that is "beyond physics", something only accesible by your mind, not something you encounter in the "real" world, or even in the "phenomenal world" of our experiences, which matters most.

When Descartes uttered the "Cogito Ergo Sum" we all became thinking beings trapped in ourselves, trapped in our minds, and our minds give meaning to everything, including external objects.

Descarte made us all "subjects" and everything else "objects". (Those terms weren't around before that.) Thus the emphasis on "objectivity" and "subjectivity". Kant further explained what it was to be "subjective", that we should no longer obey the pope or the king except for reasons I give myself. We were self-sufficient or "autonomous".

As autonomous agents we were responsible for determining truth and it became a matter of "free will" to "choose" between alternatives, alternatives provided by "reason".

Enlightened beings were even responsible for giving themselves the moral law. Respecting reason was its own motivation. What mattered is that we decided "objectively" rather than "subjectively", or passionately.

Hume said "Reason is a slave of the passions". Kant thought this was an outrage. Reason was sovereign, and in order for our reason to reign supreme, we must be free from all illusion, even the illusions of the senses, and all other illusions of experience.

What mattered was that we were clear in our minds what to choose and choose it freely.

Modern christians use the phrase "Jesus stands at the door and knocks"...but he respects free will enough not to barge in, to let you go to hell if you choose.

However this modern day "free will" christian had undergone so many changes that it was practically unrecognizable from the ancient Jewish god Yahweh who killed innocent egyptian children without any regard for their "free choice", and not even for their own crimes!

Yet Christian philosophy, or theology, is currently practiced all over Christendom, where philosophers, now called theologians since they work for the church, try to make sense of 3 in 1, Father-Son-Spirit into the oneness of the Jewish YHWH.

This is an ideal conception, not someone you interact with in the "real world".

Now you could say you interact with your god directly when you pray, as if it were a "real person". Christian children are often taught to "talk to Jesus as if he were a best friend" and "he knows you better than you know yourself" (identifying god with the self).

But as I've asked before on this order to be talking to a "real person" have to have exchanged what has Jesus every said during prayer?

Tom wrote: "The most important point to make, the most important disctinction, is that historical studies are not approached the same way as "everyday reality" (to use your phrase). So there is a distinction in the kind of "knowledge" that one obtains, and how one goes about obtaining "knowledge" in each area, in the area of theoretical inquiry and in the area of "real life".

There are differences but not in the way you describe them.

You went onto write..."The methods used in constructing theoretical, historical models are not "the same methodology" (your phrase) as the methods used in acquiring "knowledge" in everyday life, in your everyday activities."

Why not? We accept certain events as "facts" in ancient history because the reasons to believe the events happened significantly outweigh the reasons to believe it didn't happen. Why can't I apply this same methodology to consider if my gardener really did mow the lawn this past Monday? Both are events in the past. Whether they are ancient or not may change the nature of the evidence, but it does not change the methodology.

Tom wrote: "What you have decided to do is take a "scientific" approach to deciding the historical question regarding who was Jesus of Nazareth and how did this movement get started."

Tom - respectfully, I think you are missing an important distinction here that maybe confusing the issue. A historical question is not synonymous with a scientific question.

Historical questions are answered by constructing forensic models. We cannot test them in the lab in the same way we can test a true scientific theory. We cannot set them up and make observations about how they "behave", because they aren't physical things. Now, the data used to construct the historical model are usually physical documents and pottery chards, etc, but the theories themselves are not. So I don't think "science" is a good description of what we are doing here. (We might call this an amateur historical inquiry using the best work of many people more studied with this material then us - yes, but not science.)

Ok - a few questions for you Tom to make sure I'm answering your first question about proving the resurrection....

What are your thoughts about these two facts of history?
1. That Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. His disciples believed He rose from the dead.

Do you agree that they are facts, or do you have significant doubts? And if you have doubts.... what are the competing reasons that significantly outweigh your reasons for believing these events as facts?


Tom - you wrote: "If the question becomes undecideable because of the evidence on both sides, then the question should be "Why is it that I have to choose between one or the other to decide my fate". Or stated another way..."Why is my eternal destiny dependent on indirect evidence, the testimonies of others?"

What "evidence" are you talking about? So far we've looked at two events in history.

1. Christ's death by crucifixion
2. The disciples belief that Christ rose from the dead.

The only evidence presented has been by me and it's in support of these events as historical facts! Again - these are not controversial facts. They are widely accepted in mainstream scholarship, but that doesn't mean you accept them. I'm looking for some feedback here as we go.

We haven't drawn any conclusions or constructed any models using these facts. For all we know right now the disciples could have been hallucinating...we're not constructing any explanatory structures yet....just fact gathering.

You are way ahead of me here. Respectfully, let's take this one step at a time. If you disagree with anything I've presented this far, let's get it on the table as we go.


Ahh John, but you see they are the same...

You are approaching history in the same manner, or in the same spirit, as those scientists approach the physical universe.

You might say, both "historical science" and physical science share the same method, or ethos.

While phyiscal science, such as physics and chemistry, can only register a material component, physical science is not the right tool when digging for historical facts.

But both are approached "objectively" and both "reason" from the particular (data) to the universal (a theory), or from single sources such as documents to reconstruct a universal historical past, one that everyone must accept.

As I've said, this kind of reasoning cannot, in principle, achieve a level of absolute certainty.

What you are doing is "historical science". It is an inductive, academic exercize.

Now I do think that there is a "kind" of Christian, that really exists, that is a "true" christian, based on their practices and whether they have experienced the world-changing power of the god, who have experienced the dying god-man directly, who have been transformed by grace, and now remain loyally determined to live with their savior.

As far as answering the question about the Historical Jesus...I think there really was a Jesus who was killed by the romans....but that's just my best guess.

I think that what Paul unified were the mystery religions, the Greek speaking world with the Hebrew speaking world, by turning the Jesus movement into the same dying god-man theology of the surrounding mystery religions...but that's just my best guess.

As far as the "legendary" disciples. There is so little evidence pertaining to their activity. Some of them were said to have died for their cause.

But I also think that many of them thought Jesus was "coming back" in their lifetimes to relieve them from their oppressors, to rule from Jerusalem. I'm not pinning my hopes on legendary stories about martyrdom.

You see, John, both sides pull out Tacitus, and Seutonius, and Pliny, and Josephus...

both sides also have to account for other scriptures they consider sacred...

The Nag Hammadi library included the Gospel of Thomas while the Catholics rejected this book as canonical.

However the Catholics do retain many more scriptures they consider "non-canonical" that the protestants don't accept.

The oldest papyri we have are a few scraps from the 100-200's.

And we didn't have bibles until the fourth century.

By this time the Catholics had also infiltrated state power in Rome. They combined their beliefs with the power of the Roman state to impose order. Now "heresy" was a crime punishable by the state, a state with considerable reach.

These are the Catholics that formulated the bible. Many of them were "Neoplatonists".

I think much of the discussion remained the same until about the 19th century when Europeans became obsessed with academic history, and responding to the great scientific ethos that took over during the Enlightenment.

I think the German enlightenment and post-modern reactions are a very public debate among the German nation in the late nineteenth century. They grappled with the "historicist" movement in a very public way, out in the open, among the writings of the continental philosophers and academics.

American academics was slow to react since we were busy tearing ourselves down and reconstructing ourselves in the late nineteenth.

I would recommend books by Albert Schwietzer, Strauss, and Arthur Drews, all writing about turn of th century. These are standard texts in the Historical Jesus debate.

I would also recommend "Religion adn the rise of Historicism" by Thomas Albert Howard. He talks about DeWitte and Burkhardt as to european reactions to historicism as a paradigm example of how religous sentiment has changed.

It's hard to "lay out" evidence on a table without including books by other authors.

I know we are not here to recommend reading lists.

But for a study on mystery religion, there is a book called "The Jesus Mysteries" by two authros Freke and Gandy. The first thing I realized was that it was very similar in content to Arthur Drews "The Christ Myth" written in 1910.

The difference is these two authors only have masters degrees, and these conclusions are trickling down the ivory tower from the academic works of Schweitzser, Strauss, and Drews, who were PhD's and documented their sources much better (but its in German).

John...I think the word you are looking for is "repeatable".

Objective tests in verifying natural phenomena, called "experiments" by scientists, are "repeatable" and "peer reviewed".

In historical science, the tests are not repeatable, you gather as many evidences as possible, while your working model grows and changes.

That is why modern historians who claim to practice "objectively" accept the "bulk of the evidence" standard.

So evidences just don't fit. (Like the opposing accounts of Sennacharib's seige of Jerusalem). So we must reconstruct a model of the past based on the few accounts we do possess. That evidence is constantly being gathered, and we can never know if we have reviewed it all. We can just go on "best guess" for what is available now.

Luckily deciding this question does not have to determine how you live your life. I know many non-christian scholars who still manage to live an ethical life.

There must be something beyond "belief". It must be your practices.

Christianity is not a set of beliefs, it is a set of practices. One can be “rationally convinced” of a set of historical beliefs, but if they do not translate into actions, into practices, then the beliefs are useless.

Christian practice are first and foremost centered on the practice of marriage. In the Christian world, marriage is devotion, and from that perspective everything follows. It follows that the husband and wife are transparent to each other, that they do not keep secrets, that they are honest with each other, that they love each other, which means they respect each other, plus they are transformed by their love, given a new identity as “spouse”, with futures linked together, a future relationship, that must be constantly tended, constantly growing and maturing, passing each stage on life’s way together, doing whatever the relationship requires, refreshing their love, but risking life’s “slings and arrows” together, remaining loyal to the end.

Form the perspective of Christian marriage everything else follows. As Hegel said, “the child is the expression of love”. Christians should love their children as they believe “God the Father” loves his children – unconditionally. It is no wonder that the child is also the standard of morality. What hurts the parent most is when the children learn that their parent has behaved badly. Parents try to preserve the child’s innocence as long as possible. They constantly measure moral behavior according to what the child will think.

And their parent’s love for the children also grows, along stages of maturity, just as the wife. The Christian’s devotion is no longer centered on the spouse alone. The identity of “father” or “mother” is added to their identity, not by the biological fact that they have produced offspring, but that their devotion is now compounded, a devotion to their spouse, as well as a devotion to their new child. Devotion is to the family.

What if one “knows” all the historical beliefs, can recite all the historical scholarship, and nonetheless disrespects his wife and family? What if this person acts immorally and betrays his children, betrays his wife, and yet can recite Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, and the whole new testament, providing a laundry list of “evidences” for his “beliefs”? Has he “become” a Christian? Is he a “true Christian”? Have they “understood” Christianity?

No. Christianity is a set of practices or it is nothing. As the person is transformed by love, again and again, each time remaining “faithful”, tending to their relationships as they taverse time spent here on earth, doing whatever it takes to keep their relationships afloat, as if constantly over 70,000 fathoms, facing the world together. This is faith.

As Schleiermacher and Wittgenstein said...

our gods are in our practices...

everything is in our practices...

Tom -

Respectfully, we seem to be talking past each other here. Perhaps I am partially to blame. Maybe I didn't state these questions clearly:

1. Do you accept the death of Christ by crucifixion as a fact of history? (again I have defined "a fact of history" as an event that we have significantly more reasons to believe it happened then it didn't happen)

2. Do you accept the fact of history that the disciples believed Christ rose from the dead?

And my third question would be - if not, what significant reasons do you have to believe otherwise? Remember Tom, we're just talking about two facts here. We haven't imposed any interpretive structures to these fact to inductively construct a model. So while your critique of inductive knowledge is interesting against what you think my view of the resurrection to be, it is first of all a self-defeating view (because what is your view of history.... non-inductive?) and it doesn't apply yet.

Further, these are facts we find in historical documents beyond the bible, that are widely accepted in mainstream academic scholarship. Again that doesn't make them true, but if you disagree, I would expect you to present better evidence then they have to support your view. Certainly you don't expect me to accept your point of view on faith do you?

Thanks in advance for clearly and directly answering my questions,

John...the answer for me, concerning the "facts" of Jesus' resurrection is... was certainly a conspiracy, since many other people had to come along for the next 300 years to direct "christianity" before it was formulated into the Catholic church...

...mostly involved in the conspiracy are Jesus, the leader of a movement in Roman Judea, who was supposedly killed for his beliefs, and Paul, a mystery religion sectarian...

Considering that most of the other religious sects in the region also had a dying god-man story...and sine Paul was also well versed in Parasaical Judaism expecting the Son of Man...he combined them into a coherent system and taught James and Peter in Jerusalem how to "preach the gospel" (Galations 1-5).

I think the "disciples" were expecting Jesus to come back and were willing to die thinking they would be alive with their leader soon anyway.

But he didn't come back. He was a man. I don't think they apparition stories after Jesus' resurrection make sense. I think James and Peter in Jerusalem spread the gospel first to Cyprus and Cyrene where adonis was worshipped...declaring "our god is your god".

Paul assumed this man was the "messiah" and also "christos", similar to the dying-resurrecting myths of the mysteries.

For Paul, the "secret of the mysteries is CHRIST IN YOU" (Col 1:26)

I could present a much fuller view with documented sources but this would get very long.

Maybe we can take turns laying out "evidences" on the table?

I also think this retrospective form of "fact-finding" christianity is very different from those who "become" christian by being born again, who do not discover christianity via objectivity, but through a very profound, subjective experience of being "born-again".

Unless a man is "born-again" he cannot see the kingdom. John3:3

I don't consider the moment some historical "reasons" pile up a "significant" amount more than other historical "reasons" to be the moment that grace appears and "transforms" you, "saves" you. is important to keep in mind that what you call "facts" attested in ancient documentary evidence are never "facts" as in absolutely certain...just as inductive "laws" of nature are never considered "laws"...inductive evidence cannot confer certainty, only more or less confidence in a theory.

This is an interesting statement...

John said..."We haven't imposed any interpretive structures to these fact to inductively construct a model."

What makes this statement interesting is that what you call "interpretive structures" might be hermeneutic, or theoretic.

In the philosophy of science, the question remains whether "theories" or "hypotheses" do not themselves already "impose" (your word) a meaning onto an otherwise meaningless piece of data. So the question is does the data affect the hypothesis or does the hypothesis affect the data.

There are many "interpretive structures" we impose on written historical texts...the most recent is called "the modern historical consciousness" by most historiographers and philosophy of history.

Yes history is not inductive, at least "the present", is not inductive. We need a distinction between the historical (as understood in phenomenology by Husserl and Heidegger) and "written history" or "textual history".

And it is in "the present" that true christians discover their god.

Tom -

I'm confused. We have two facts on the table. Just two. Neither one of them is the resurrection event and both of them are widely accepted even by the most skeptical secular scholars. Yet you're already spinning theories about how it's a hoax. It might be a hoax. But we're not there yet. We don't even have all the facts on the table to call this thing a hoax.

Respectfully, you queried my view and I'm presenting it to you. Now, I don't want a monologue. I want to hear when you disagree. However, the points of contention you've raised have nothing to do with the facts I've presented. If you know of some evidence from the first century or before that supports your view that Jesus did not die by crucifixion and that His disciples did not believe they saw Him in risen form, by all means please present it!

You didn't question me about my testimony or what happened when I met the Risen Lord in present time. You asked me about a historical event.

Can we continue?


I disagree with calling these "facts"...let's call them "conjectures" or "hypotheses".

My "best guess" is that Jesus did exist.

According to Matthew and Mark, Jesus was tried and sentenced by the Jewish Sanhedrin. Luke has it that Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin but not sentenced by them. Yet according to John, Jesus does not appear before the Sanhedrin at all.

The Romans were renowned for keeping careful records of their activities, especially their legal proceedings. Yet there is no record of Jesus being tried by Pontius Pilate or executed.

If Jesus really was just another failed messiah movement, as the Jews believe, since there were other failed messiah movements whose followers also martyred themsleves, then we can expect Jesus' followers to martyr themselves too. There is not much "evidence" concerning the martyrdom of the disciples. Who knows how much of it is legend.

That's the funny thing about inductive never ends, you are always "waiting for the next paragraph to be written" by some scholar.

I will ask you about your personal encounter with whatever-it-was later.

In light of these objections, please proceed.

John said..." If you know of some evidence from the first century or before that supports your view that Jesus did not die by crucifixion and that His disciples did not believe they saw Him in risen form, by all means please present it!"

This is my other point. Historical hypotheses are not "confirmed" (a better word would be "verified) the same way physical science verifies its hypotheses.

Let's start with the classic Carnap-Popper debate in Philosophy of Science.

Carnap, and all the logical positivists, thought that "verification" was all that was necessary to "confirm" an hypothesis. Then Popper demonstrated that any one positive piece of evidence does not "confirm" anything, but rather one negative piece of evidence is enough to destroy the hypothesis.

So scientists should try, design experiments, that attempt to falsify, so Einstein tested his theory by attempting to explain what Newton could not explain. If his new theory could not account for the perihelion shift in the orbit of Mercury then it was "false".

But this is not how the historian proceeds. (they still proceed with the scientific ethos, objectively, and inductively - my other point) The historian cannot play this game of verification-falsification.

What would a "falsification" be? A text that testifies that the disciples DID NOT martyr themselves? What if this document was never written, or didn't survive, for any reason.

There are cases where we have "contradictory" accounts (such as Sennacharib's seige of Jerusalem). But all we can go on is what has survived.

So rather than gathering evidences attempting to show that one event did indeed happen, historians must gather all evidences, and construct a "most likely scenario".
So the standard used by historians is the "bulk of the evidence" standard.

Now I contend I have a scenario that is more likely since I can account for the influence of mystery religions, and therefore account for the bulk of the evidence.

Do you understand what I am saying?

Should I start laying this out or is it your turn?

Or should I humble myself, experience Jesus for myself, be "born-again", discovering a determination I never knew I had to live a new life? (Just kidding...I just like to juxtapose these two ways of "knowing" to expose the differences)

Tom wrote: "I thought you may have read some of these characters. Then we could discuss what I mean."

Tom, with all due respect, this is a bunch of hooey. I suspect you didn't really want to engage in discussion (as your track record here has demonstrated), you just wanted to play the intellectual bully (and then steamroll the thread, as you just demonstrated by your numerous epic-length posts). You want me to take the bait and say something like "well, I haven't read all of those people", to which you respond "then why are you questioning my statement."

You are just flame-baiting, which is why people don't take you seriously.

Yes I do like to be the academic bully sometimes.

Its because you guys are supposedly all smartypantses.

Smartypants christians all running around touting Tacitus and Seutonius, and Josephus, all thinking they have the "objective truth"...the truth that allows them to act so smug.

It turns out you don't know much.

I'm a smartypants. You're a smartypants. Now let's get down to business and discuss some things.

Paul, if you have a problem with me, so be it. John and I have been getting along perfectly well, and we have had some very lengthy discussions full of disagreement, but at least he can follow.

I just posted this on "Our Certificate of Debt"...I think it is a good one...

Let me just name what I believe (ala Kripke's naming and necessity)

Ahistorical Christianity.

Now what is that, you say? You see, I believe that it is becoming increasingly possible to construct an alternative history to the traditional history of christianity. I think that over the last 150 years biblical scholarship has painted a picture of the near east that accounts for the possibility that Jesus' movement was a failed messiah movement, that it was given the theological significance of other dying god-man myths by Paul, and came to political power in the Catholic Church. It is increasingly possible to "reason" to a view that paints an entirely different picture of Jesus' demise and Catholic ascendency.

Now at times I do engage in historical debate, in an attempt to present this alternative view, but it requires that you account for the phenomena of mystery religions, the cults of other dying-god-men gods. This position is "reasonable".

Then I realized that trying to decide between reasonable, alternative histories was not the position one should be in, in order to "become" a christian. I wondered how one should proceed if they cannot choose between these two histories, taking on years of reading in order to decide the matter, and only reaching an impass. The historical question became undecideable.

So I thought I would go one level deeper and ask what is this kind of "evidence". Why is this the evidence I should accept rather than the "evidence" from my everday life, from my own expereinces, from my own senses ("sense" in the largest possible meaning of the word, the way I might "sense" Jesus during prayer).

So I asked the question about induction. And it confirmed what I suspected…not only are there two competing histories that make deciding the matter impossible, but it was impossible in principle. Inductive methods are uncertain by nature. That just pushed me over the edge and I knew that deciding to be a christain could not come down to deciding the historical question.

But I did not immediately defect to atheism. I saw the good in christianity. I saw the "truth" of christianity, and I did not want to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Now switch gears and think about the real way someone "becomes" a christian.

For many the moment they become a christian is the moment, after much research into historical documents and theological arguments, that one version of history becomes "more reasonable" than the other. This is the bad way.

But for most, I think the moment they become a christian is the moment they are "saved", and get a new identity, and get a defining determination. This moment does not arrive at the end of historical studies. I guess it can, but it usually doesn't. The moment they arrive at an "understanding" of Jesus is the moment they change their lives, and the whole world changes with it. Whatever this spirit that possesses them, they receive a newfound determination to live their lives a certain way. Often this is called "born-again" and it doesn't happen via historical-textual evidences, but is evidenced by the experience itself.

The many good christians that I know testify to this power, and their new lives, and what confers certainty on their newfound "faith" (because at this point it is properly called faith because they set out on a new path, frought with dangers, and yet they persevere…I think "faith" is properly called your "defining determination") is the moment they experience this power for themselves, in their lives, in their individual existences, and individual circumstances.

Yet most testify to the same thing. They felt a power come over them. They realized their humility. They "die to the old man". They get a new identity. They are attuned to a new way of life, a new "understanding".

Lez Shulz on the "Resurrection day" blog said this...You ask me how I know he lives?
Not because I feel his presence, not because I have a burning in my bossom, not because I get emotional when I'm in Church it's because it's historic and over 500 people saw him after his crucifiction!


Look at Les...he's got it exactly backwards. The whole STR project is exactly backwards. So I consider it a totally different "kind" of christianity…the academic kind, the kind for thinkers, yet as thinkers STR does not even think it through. That's why I pester you guys and often strike a sarcastic tone.

I think I present an opposing viewpoint that is well thought out, and still locates christinaity where it belongs, in the individual experiences of being born again.

I think I present a significant challenge to the historicist position. It is that I oppose you that bothers you. I understand, these things tend to get political, and people harden their resolve on both sides to undo the other. But this is not the "defining determination" one receives in the moment they transform. It is a political determination. I call this a "commitment" just to distinguish between the two. What would it require to drop the whole historical view? It would require a lot from you if you have invested time and effort into one understanding and maybe even publicly advocated one view and suddenly changed views.

But what do you gain? If you can understand the nature of the gods as ahistorical then we can eliminate the opposing historical viewpoints, including those of Judaism and Islam, and retain the phenomena we recognize as the one given by the gods. It is actually a pretty attractive view. To think that all the opposing histories can be swept off the table, the idea of grounding our religious beleifs in historical documents, and instead ground it in the tranformative experience (for christians) is a good view.

It leaves some questions unanswered, like where do we go when we die, but it solves many more problems than it creates. We no longer have to defend a personal trinity as our pantheon of gods. We no longer have to settle the theologically significant historical problems like why resurrect if he's a sacrifice, or why the historical Jesus suddenly vanished without a good explanation, etc. We no longer have to defend the "historic faith", the Catholic Church, who assembled the canon, and slaughtered millions, as the other historic faiths have done, both the Jews and Muslims are guilty of genocide. And for what? For a book?

The book has preserved the god for us, our generation would not have christianity had it not been preserved an passed on through the expereince of our forefathers. But what they have passed on is not a love for precise, academic reasons, but emphasizing born again expereinces, emphasizing the transformative power of love, that one experiences in their everyday lives among their own friends and family, the transformative power of humility, of eliminating our egos, making it possible to appreciate the good things in life.

When the bad things happen, we persevere anyway. The alternative is to hate life on earth and not appreciate it. This is what happens when someone loses a loved one and "struggles with their faith". The historical facts don't change, according to the historicist view, but they struggle to stay positive, to stay appreciative, when their whole world has collapsed and, say, they lose their spouse, or their child to some meaningless disease, or if they just die, or leave. If it were a matter of historical belief, then the phrase "keep the faith" would be meaningless.

Now in this marketplace of ideas are supposedly blogging people with a "reasonable" position, who pride themselves on understanding history, theology, and philosophy as I do. Where else would I go to debate this idea?

What I have found instead are people who use the bible to hurl insults instead of recognizing serious objections. What I have found are people that refuse to address these objections. What I have found is that it appears I have you all stumped.

What exactly do you guys read anyway?

Paul and John...those last two were mine...TOM

"Yes I do like to be the academic bully sometimes."

Well, it is quite a charming quality, and one to be cultivated and proud of.

"Its because you guys are supposedly all smartypantses."

Show me where any of us claimed to be such. We try to pursue intellectual matters... perhaps that is what you meant.

"Smartypants christians all running around touting Tacitus and Seutonius, and Josephus,"

Show me once where I have quoted any of these people.

"... all thinking they have the 'objective truth'...the truth that allows them to act so smug."

I only see one person acting smug and demonstrating their belief in their possession of (apparently all of) the objective truth here. Guess who.

"It turns out you don't know much."

Ooh. Ouch. Is this where I go cry?

"I'm a smartypants. You're a smartypants. Now let's get down to business and discuss some things."

I don't claim myself to be as smart as you claim yourself to be. It's called humility. Try it.

"Paul, if you have a problem with me, so be it."

I don't have "a problem with you", I just don't have a problem pointing out your folly.

"John and I have been getting along perfectly well, and we have had some very lengthy discussions full of disagreement, but at least he can follow."

I take it as a positive sign that I can't follow most of the mental meanderings of the insane (or just severely delusional).

Tom - it isn't any better here than the other thread. I already responded over there.

This is getting to be fun.

The comments to this entry are closed.