Book Plunge: Transcending Proof

What do I think of Don McIntosh’s book published by Christian Cadre publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to thank Don for sending me this book to see what I thought. As I read through, there were some parts I really did like, and some that I wasn’t so sure about it. I definitely did like seeing a foreword by Stephen Bedard, someone I have a great respect for. Since I said it was a mixed bag, I’ll go with what I did like and then mention ways I think a future edition could be better.

McIntosh makes an interesting beginning by starting with the problem of evil. One would think this is not where you would begin your case for theism, but it is for him. McIntosh I think spends the most time on this part of the book. He looks at evil and all the explanations for it. At times, I found myself thinking an objection from the other side could be easily answered, but then he answered it later on.

I also like that McIntosh is willing to take on popular internet atheists such as Richard Carrier. Again, this part is a case for theism and relies highly on the usages of the problem of evil. McIntosh makes a fine dissection of Carrier’s argument, though it’s quite likely you won’t follow along as well if you don’t know the argument of Carrier.

The same applies to Dan Barker. Of course, Dan Barker is about as fundamentalist as you could get and is a poster child for fundamentalist atheism. McIntosh replies to an argument he has against theism based on God having omniscience and free-will both and how Barker thinks that is contradictory. Again, it’s good to see popular atheists that aren’t as well known being taken on because you do find them often mentioned on the internet and many popular apologists don’t deal with them.

It was also good to see a section on the reliability of Scripture, which is quite important for Christian theism, and a section on Gnosticism. I see Gnosticism often coming back in the church. This includes ideas like the body being secondary and a sort of add-on. (Think about sexual ethics. People who think sex is dirty and a sort of necessary evil and people who think “It’s just sex and no big deal what you do with it” are both making the same mistake.)  I also see Gnosticism with the emphasis on signs and the idea of God speaking to us constantly and personal revelation being individualized.

That having been said, there are some areas that I do think could be improved. One of the biggest ones is it looked like I was jumping all over the place when I went through. It was as if one chapter didn’t seem to have any connection to the next one. I would have liked to have seen a specific plan followed through. If there was one, I could not tell it.

I am also iffy on critiques I often see of evolution. I am not a specialist in the area to be sure, but yet I wonder how well these would do against an actual scientist and I still think this is the wrong battle to fight. I also found it troublesome that the God of the living could not be the same as the one described as the abstract deity that was Aristotle’s prime mover of the universe. I do not see why not. I think Aristotle’s prime mover is truly found in the God of Scripture and that God is more living and active than any other being that is. I am not troubled by God using an evolutionary process to create life than I am by God using a natural process to form my own life in the womb and yet I can still be fearfully and wonderfully made.

I also would have liked to have seen a chapter focusing solely on the resurrection and giving the best arguments for and against it. I think it’s incomplete to have a look at Christian theism without giving the very basis for specific Christian theism. It’s good to have the reliability of Scripture, but there needs to be something specific on the resurrection.

Still, I think McIntosh has given us a good start and there is plenty that could be talked about. I do look forward to a future writing to see what it will lead to. We need more people who are not known willing to step forward and write on apologetics and especially those willing to engage with the other side.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Was Eusebius a Liar?

Did the father of church history lie? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

“Bishop Eusebius, a close ally of the emperor, was instrumental in crystalizing and defining the version of Christianity that was to become orthodox, and he is the first person known to have quoted this paragraph of Josephus. Eusebius once wrote that it was a permissible “medicine” for historians to create fictions–prompting historian Jacob Burckhardt to call Eusebius “the first thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity.” (P. 255 of Godless by Dan Barker.)

So says Dan Barker about Eusebius. Now this is naturally a serious charge if it is true, but is it in fact true? Well, not really. For one thing, the description comes from a chapter heading. The heading could have come from Eusebius, but not necessarily. It could have been a summation by a medieval copyist of what Eusebius wrote. Still, even if we grant it, do we have a dangerous case? Well no. In fact, if you just spend a few minutes looking up quotes, you can see what’s going on.

Let’s go and see what Eusebius said in the chapter in entirety.

CHAPTER XXXI

[PLATO] ‘But even if the case were not such as our argument has now proved it to be, if a lawgiver, who is to be of ever so little use, could have ventured to tell any falsehood at all to the young for their good, is there any falsehood that he could have told more beneficial than this, and better able to make them all do everything that is just, not by compulsion but willingly?

‘Truth, O Stranger, is a noble and an enduring thing; it seems, however, not easy to persuade men of it.’

Now you may find in the Hebrew Scriptures also thousands of such passages concerning God as though He were jealous, or sleeping, or angry, or subject to any other human passions, which passages are adopted for the benefit of those who need this mode of instruction.

Yes. That’s the entire chapter. Note that this is not at all about creating history. Eusebius writes about the Old Testament and I don’t know any skeptic who thinks Eusebius created that. (But hey, give it time and I’m sure someday some crazy skeptic will say that.) So what is going on?

Eusebius is writing about the use of anthropomorphisms in the Old Testament and saying that although these descriptions of God aren’t literally true, they can be helpful for those who need to be instructed in this way. Note that this does not mean it is a lie. It means it’s being explained in terms that can be understood. We should not expect the Old Testament to be the Summa Theologica for instance.

In fact, we have a parallel to this saying. That shows up in the Contra Celsum of Origen.

Others, then, may concede to Celsus that God does not undergo a change, but leads the spectators to imagine that He does; whereas we who are persuaded that the advent of Jesus among men was no mere appearance, but a real manifestation, are not affected by this charge of Celsus. We nevertheless will attempt a reply, because you assert, Celsus, do you not, that it is sometimes allowable to employ deceit and falsehood by way, as it were, of medicine?

Could this then be a sort of saying at the time? It’s possible. We don’t have enough evidence. Note in all of this, we’re not likely talking about lies, but talking about fictions. That is, it is beneficial to tell things that might not be true but serve for edification. Think of the parables of Jesus that don’t necessarily tell of true events, but are edifying, or of Aesop’s fables.

So again, we have an example of how modern day atheists too often do not check the original sources. Instead, most of them get in second hand from people who probably never checked either. (Jacob Burckhardt lived in the 19th century for instance.) The church fathers weren’t infallible and they needed a savior like we do, but always ask the person who gives a quote where it comes from and find it in its original context.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Is Jesus A Myth? A Reply to Chris Sosa

Is it really the case that there’s no evidence for the historical Jesus?

Huffington Post last Christmas published a piece arguing that Christmas was stolen from the pagans which I replied to. Their standards haven’t gone up at all and to show that they’re really up for anything that will lampoon Christianity, they’ve gone so far as to publish an article endorsing the Christ myth. This is of course the idea that Jesus never even existed which I have dealt with elsewhere. Overall, it is not a serious idea.

How much of a joke is this idea? Well let’s consider how atheists don’t take creationists seriously who say that evolution is only a theory. There is no real debate in the academy going on then about evolution. Okay. How does that compare to the Christ myth idea? As James McGrath has said

Creationists can find 3,000 academics who will sign a statement against evolution. That’s not 3,000 academics in relevant fields, just 3,000 academics, including retired ones. I’ve yet to see mythicism show any sign of even coming close to that. And yet supposedly we are to believe that creationism’s 3,000 are irrelevant, but the 10 or so mythicist sympathizers show that the historicity of Jesus is “a theory in crisis”?

creationistsmythicists

You won’t find this theory being taught by the leading academics in the field. Ph.D.s at universities and seminaries, even liberal ones, that are accredited and teaching Classical or ancient or NT history don’t even give it a moment’s notice. Usually when someone writes on this, it’s with a sense of exasperation. They can’t believe they actually have to say something about it.

Here are in fact a few scholarly writings from within the past century on the topic:

There is, lastly, a group of writers who endeavour to prove that Jesus never lived—that the story of his life is made up by mingling myths of heathen gods, Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian, Greek, etc. No real scholar regards the work of these men seriously. They lack the most elementary knowledge of historical research. Some of them are eminent scholars in other subjects, such as Assyriology and mathematics, but their writings about the life of Jesus have no more claim to be regarded as historical than Alice in Wonderland or the Adventures of Baron Munchausen.” – George Aaron Barton, Jesus of Nazareth: A Biography, Macmillan, (1922), px

An extreme view along these lines is one which denies even the historical existence of Jesus Christ—a view which, one must admit, has not managed to establish itself among the educated, outside a little circle of amateurs and cranks, or to rise above the dignity of the Baconian theory of Shakespeare.” – Edwyn Robert Bevan, Hellenism And Christianity, 2nded., G. Allen and Unwin, (1930), p256

Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the oldest Palestinian community.” – Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus and the Word, Collins, (1958), p13

A hundred and fifty years ago a fairly well respected scholar named Bruno Bauer maintained that the historical person Jesus never existed. Anyone who says that today—in the academic world at least—gets grouped with the skinheads who say there was no Holocaust and the scientific holdouts who want to believe the world is flat.” – Mark Allan Powell, Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee, Westminster John Knox, (1998), p168

The data we have are certainly adequate to confute the view that Jesus never lived, a view that no one holds in any case.” – Charles E. Charleston, Prologue from Bruce Chilton & Craig A. Evans, eds.Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research, Brill, (1998), p3

Most scholars regard the arguments for Jesus’ non-existence as unworthy of any response—on a par with claims that the Jewish Holocaust never occurred or that the Apollo moon landing took place in a Hollywood studio.” – Michael James McClymond, Familiar Stranger: An Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth, Eerdmans, (2004), p8, 23–24

A phone call from the BBC’s flagship Today programme: would I go on air on Good Friday morning to debate with the authors of a new book, The Jesus Mysteries? The book claims (or so they told me) that everything in the Gospels reflects, because it was in fact borrowed from, much older pagan myths; that Jesus never existed; that the early church knew it was propagating a new version of an old myth, and that the developed church covered this up in the interests of its own power and control. The producer was friendly, and took my point when I said that this was like asking a professional astronomer to debate with the authors of a book claiming the moon was made of green cheese.” – N. T. Wright, Jesus’ Self Understanding, from Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, Gerald O’Collins, eds.The Incarnation, Oxford University Press, (2004), p48

In the academic mind, there can be no more doubt whatsoever that Jesus existed than did Augustus and Tiberius, the emperors of his lifetime.” – Carsten Peter Thiede, Jesus, Man or Myth?, Lion, (2005), p23

I think the evidence is just so overwhelming that Jesus existed, that it’s silly to talk about him not existing. I don’t know anyone who is a responsible historian, who is actually trained in the historical method, or anybody who is a biblical scholar who does this for a living, who gives any credence at all to any of this.” – Bart Ehrman, interview with David V. Barrett, The Gospel According to Bart, Fortean Times, (2007)

…only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence. And yet this pathetic denial is still parroted by ‘the village atheist,’ bloggers on the Internet, or such organisations as the Freedom from Religion Foundation.” – Paul L. Maier, Did Jesus Really Exist?, 4truth.net, 2007, http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbjes…eid=8589952895 (Accessed November 20th 2015)

The very logic that tells us there was no Jesus is the same logic that pleads that there was no Holocaust. On such logic, history is no longer possible. It is no surprise then that there is no New Testament scholar drawing pay from a post who doubts the existence of Jesus. I know not one. His birth, life, and death in first-century Palestine have never been subject to serious question and, in all likelihood, never will be among those who are experts in the field. The existence of Jesus is a given.” – Nicholas Perrin, Lost in Transmission?: What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus, Thomas Nelson, (2007), p32

Frankly, I know of no ancient historian or biblical historian who would have a twinge of doubt about the existence of a Jesus Christ – the documentary evidence is simply overwhelming.” – Graeme Clarke, quoted by John Dickson in Facts and friction of Easter, The Sydney Morning Herald, (2008)

To describe Jesus’ non-existence as ‘not widely supported’ is an understatement. It would be akin to me saying, “It is possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, scientific case that the 1969 lunar landing never happened.” There are fringe conspiracy theorists who believe such things – but no expert does. Likewise with the Jesus question: his non-existence is not regarded even as a possibility in historical scholarship. Dismissing him from the ancient record would amount to a wholesale abandonment of the historical method.” – John Dickson, Jesus: A Short Life, Lion, (2008), p22-23

…the whole idea that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist as a historical figure is verifiably false. Moreover, it has not been produced by anyone or anything with any reasonable relationship to critical scholarship. It belongs in the fantasy lives of people who used to be fundamentalist Christians. They did not believe in critical scholarship then, and they do not do so now. I cannot find any evidence that any of them have adequate professional qualifications.” – Maurice Casey, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?, T&T Clark, (2014), p243

I should say at the outset that none of this [mythicist] literature is written by scholars trained in New Testament or early Christian studies teaching at the major, or even the minor, accredited theological seminaries, divinity schools, universities, or colleges of North America or Europe (or anywhere else in the world). Of the thousands of scholars of early Christianity who teach at such schools, none of them, to my knowledge, has any doubt that Jesus existed.” – Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument For Jesus of Nazareth, Harper Collis, (2012), p2

 

“No serious historian, of any religious or nonreligious stripe, doubts that Jesus of Nazareth really lived in the first century and was executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea and Samaria. — Jesus and the Remains of His Day, Craig Evans – 147

All this still does not stop people like Chris Sosa from endorsing this nonsense idea. What does he say? A bunch of the usual canards that no historian in the field takes seriously.

The first place he goes to is Bible contradictions. Never mind that the first reference we have to Jesus would really be in the Pauline epistles, but oh well. Sosa has this same hang-up with inerrancy that would not work in any other field. There are hopeless contradictions between how Hannibal went to conquer Rome. No one doubts that he did. (Of course, he failed, but he was well on his way.)

Unfortunately, despite there being difficulties sometimes in historical Jesus studies, this does not mean that there are not basic facts on the life of Jesus agreed on. Had Sosa cracked open any book on the historical Jesus, he would have seen this. For instance, there are facts such as that he was a Jewish rabbi born in Nazareth and that he had disciples. He had a reputation as a healer and exorcist. (Before atheists start assuming that I’m saying that all scholars believe Jesus did miracles, no. I am merely saying he had that reputation as a miracle worker. It might be a legitimate reputation or it might not.) They agree that he was crucified and that he was claimed to be seen alive again and this belief was the cause of the rise of the early church. Are there disagreements on his birth and such? Sure. So what?

Of course, Sosa has to say something about the writings of the Gospels being anonymous. This is a favorite one thrown about. Now if understood in the way to mean “Name not included in the body of the work” many books today are anonymous. We know who wrote them because of copyright pages and covers added and such but when they get to their work, many writers do not mention their names. If he means of totally unknown origin, well this doesn’t follow either. Just because we might not have immediate access to who wrote them does not mean the first recipients did not.

Of course, Sosa does no investigation into the authorship of the Gospels. After all, we have many documents from the ancient world that are “anonymous” and we still have a good idea who the authors are. We also have documents that do have names on them and we’re sure those were not the original authors. It’s rather amusing. It doesn’t matter if the work has a name on it or not, someone can always find a reason to cast doubt on the document anyway.

Naturally, Sosa then decides to go with the argument about contemporary references. So what does he do? He goes to Bart Ehrman. (You know, the guy who wrote a whole book arguing that Jesus existed.)

There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp 56-57 of Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium)

Okay. Let’s have some fun. Let’s apply this same argument to Hannibal, Queen Boudica, and Arminius and see how well it works. Who were these people? These were people well known in their time for standing up against the Roman Empire. What mention do we have of them by their contemporaries? None. Heck. Hannibal nearly conquered Rome at the height of its power. Surely he would be mentioned. No. He isn’t.

If we look in Judea, only one writer really wrote about figures of notice there. That’s Josephus. Josephus mentions Jesus twice, but he is the only one who tells us about other Messianic claimants and many of these raised up armies and required thousands of Roman troops to come to arms. These guys are not mentioned at all in Roman sources. Yet somehow, a crucified criminal that didn’t even require the Roman army to come and was squelched by a crucifixion and had a ragtag band of a dozen men should have been mentioned.

Of course, Sosa completely discounts the Christian and Jewish sources. Why should we? What if we discounted sources about Socrates that were not his students? After all, Thucydides wrote about the Peloponnesian War and Socrates served as a general in that war, and yet there is no mention of Socrates whatsoever in it.

Sosa from the paragraph of Ehrman goes on to say

Many Christian scholars will scoff at the preceding paragraph. But the outside arguments they offer in favor of Jesus’ existence, from Flavius Josephus to later figures like Tacitus, and Justin Martyr, all disintegrate upon close examination. Dan Barker gives a strong argument against their proposed “evidences” of Jesus’ existence in his excellent book Godless.

Well no. No they won’t. I interview Christian scholars and speak to them. They would not scoff at that. They’d just say that it is not a problem because really, it isn’t. Of course, he refers to Dan Barker and his book Godless. My ministry partner and I respond to that in our book Groundless. A quick visit to the Society of Biblical Literature shows no hits when Dan Barker’s name is put in. There’s a reason for that. He’s not taken seriously. He can say all he wants to that these references are not valid, but the real scholars in the field on all sides are not convinced.

And of course, no cry of mythicism would be convinced without the copycat thesis. Gotta hand it to these guys. They have some of the best scholarship of the 19th century.

Naturally, Zeitgeist is cited as well as Acharya S. and Kersey Graves. Any of these works taken seriously by scholars in the field? Nope. Not a bit. Let’s start with Buddha. Mike Licona contacted professor Chun-Fang Yu at Rutgers about Acharya S.’s claims about Buddhism. Professor Yu specializes in Buddhist studies. At the end, he got this reply.

Dr. Yu ended by writing, “[The woman you speak of] is totally ignorant of Buddhism. It is very dangerous to spread misinformation like this. You should not honor [Ms. Murdock] by engaging in a discussion. Please ask [her] to take a basic course in world religion or Buddhism before uttering another word about things she does not know.”

If Sosa is sure of this, I challenge him to find a primary source that predates the Christian era that says what he thinks it says.

How about Krishna? Well again, we have a flop here. I will state that Sosa needs to have some primary resources that pre-date the Christian era. For this one, Licona had contacted Edwin Bryant who is a professor of Hinduism at Rutgers. This was what was said.

When I informed him that Ms. Murdock wrote an article claiming that Krishna had been crucified, he replied, “That is absolute and complete non-sense. There is absolutely no mention anywhere which alludes to a crucifixion.” He also added that Krishna was killed by an arrow from a hunter who accidentally shot him in the heal. He died and ascended. It was not a resurrection. The sages who came there for him could not really see it.

Next is Odysseus. What do they have in common? Well they both wanted to return home (Which is news to me since I don’t remember Jesus’s longing to return to Nazareth in the Gospels) and they’re surrounded by dim-witted companions who misunderstand them and cause trouble. Of course, this is a rarity in history. Most great teachers have had companions who immediately understood everything that they said….

Seriously. This is your parallel?

Next is Romulus. The source for Romulus is in fact Plutarch, who wrote fairly close to the events of the life of Romulus, if you consider about eight centuries later to be close. (Never underestimate the ability of skeptics to question Gospels written within a century but place full trust in writings eight centuries later.) Again, let Sosa present the primary sources for this claim.

What about Dionysus?

Dionysus was born of a virgin on December 25 and, as the Holy Child, was placed in a manger. He was a traveling teacher who performed miracles. He “rode in a triumphal procession on an ass.” He was a sacred king killed and eaten in an eucharistic ritual for fecundity and purification. Dionysus rose from the dead on March 25. He was the God of the Vine, and turned water into wine. He was called “King of Kings” and “God of Gods.” He was considered the “Only Begotten Son,” Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Sin Bearer,” Anointed One,” and the “Alpha and Omega.” He was identified with the Ram or Lamb. His sacrificial title of “Dendrites” or “Young Man of the Tree” intimates he was hung on a tree or crucified.

This would all be fascinating to scholars of Greek mythology. Let him produce the primary sources. Please tell me where I can find an ancient source saying Dionysus was born on December 25th (Which isn’t even a claim of the New Testament about Jesus.) Feel free to show where Dionysus was called all of the titles given to him. Don’t just give me hacks that aren’t accepted by scholars. Give me the scholars themselves.

Next comes Heracles. Now this is quite amusing to me since as a child who enjoyed Greek mythology, Heracles was one of my favorite figures. The article starts by saying

Heracles is the Son of a god (Zeus). It is recorded that Zeus is both the father and great-great- great grandfather of Heracles, just as Jesus is essentially his own grandpa, being both “The root and offspring of David” (Revelation 22:16) as he is part of the triune God which is the father of Adam and eventually of Jesus. Both are doubly related to the Supreme God.

Yes. You read that right. Jesus is essentially his own grandfather. As if Jesus had sexual relations with His parents or something. Riiiiiight.

And again for the rest, we have strained parallels and no primary sources.

Next comes Glycon and we have a problem right at the start.

In the middle of the 100s AD, out along the south coast of the Black Sea, Glycon was the son of the God Apollo, who: came to Earth through a miraculous birth, was the Earthly manifestation of divinity, came to earth in fulfillment of divine prophecy, gave his chief believer the power of prophecy, gave believers the power to speak in tongues, performed miracles, healed the sick, and raised the dead.

This is all that is written and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone that Glycon comes AFTER Jesus, yet somehow Jesus is said to copy Glycon. It’s a wonder how this works. Again, primary sources?

Next is Zoroaster. Of course, going eight centuries with Romulus was enough (And it could border on nine), but with Zoroaster our first sources are ten centuries later. All of these sources come AFTER the time of Jesus. Still, it’s a wonder that no one ever supposedly copies Christianity but Christianity copies everyone. So Sosa, got any primary sources?

Attis was born on December 25 of the Virgin Nana. He was considered the savior who was slain for the salvation of mankind. His body as bread was eaten by his worshippers. He was both the Divine Son and the Father. On “Black Friday,” he was crucified on a tree, from which his holy blood ran down to redeem the earth. He descended into the underworld. After three days, Attis was resurrected.

By now, we know the drill. Primary resources. Does the author have any scholars of Attis to consult? It’s amazing atheists will readily believe anything they find that argues against Christianity, but only when it comes to examining the claims of Christianity do they demand evidence. (And then reject it when given.)

Disappointingly, Mithras is not on the list. Someone was slacking, but the last one is a favorite.

Born of a virgin, Isis. Only begotten son of the God Osiris. Birth heralded by the star Sirius, the morning star. Ancient Egyptians paraded a manger and child representing Horus through the streets at the time of the winter solstice (about DEC-21). In reality, he had no birth date; he was not a human. Death threat during infancy: Herut tried to have Horus murdered. Handling the threat: The God That tells Horus’ mother “Come, thou goddess Isis, hide thyself with thy child.” An angel tells Jesus’ father to: “Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt.” Break in life history: No data between ages of 12 & 30. Age at baptism: 30. Subsequent fate of the baptiser: Beheaded. Walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind. Was crucifed, descended into Hell; resurrected after three days.

That is of course Horus. Well Sosa, if you think this is convincing, I have a challenge for you. Find me one professional Egyptologist teaching today with a ph.D. in the field and at an accredited university who will say not that this is all true, but that this is on the right track. Maybe if you gave some tinkering, it would be accurate. Find me one. Just one.

Good luck.

Sosa thus shows himself to be one who will believe on blind faith anything that argues against Christianity. Believe it or not Sosa, many atheists believe in a historical Jesus and go on to live happy and meaningful lives. In the end, mythicism is just a loony conspiracy theory for atheists.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 4

Where does a preacher go after they apostasize? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So now that Barker is no longer a preacher, what’s he to do with himself? Part of what he does he says is to continue growing with nicely pointing out that religious conservatives don’t want to move on. This is after saying that for some, growth and progress are a threat. You see, those of us who are religious conservatives have always resisted progress because we’d rather hold on to tradition.

Okay Barker. Just because you were like this does not mean the rest of us are. It’s a comment like this that makes me sure that Barker holds to the Dark Ages myth as well. If you’re a religious conservative like myself and reading this blog, this I hope means you are interested in growth and progression.

Of course, the word progress is tricky. Yet I think it is trickier for the atheist than for the theist. Progress implies a goal, a purpose, something to move towards. That also implies that each of us has a nature and progress is befitting that nature. This is much easier to account for on theism where such things can be grounded in an eternal mind. For many, progress is defined as just going where you want. But what if man has a specific nature and a specific end and it might not be based on what we want but what we need? Could that not change things?

To get back to Barker, Barker is clear that he is still in essence a preacher. He just preaches a different gospel, though it could hardly be called a gospel. He now does this as part of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He talks about doing several debates, with most notably saying that his first one was in Nashville and it was on the topic of the historicity of Jesus. It’s revealing to know that when Barker pulled a 180, he immediately went to the total fringe extreme on the opposite side of the spectrum. (As we’ll find later in the book, he has a whole chapter devoted to arguing Jesus never existed.)

Barker also has a statement in here saying “Faith is what you need when you don’t have certainty. The more you learn, the less you need to believe.” This would be news to all the epistemologists out there who hold that whatever knowledge is, it is at least justified true belief. Even if we bring up the Gettier Problem, there is still agreement that knowledge is at least these three things. Why so many atheists like Barker want to put this radical dichotomy between knowledge and belief up is a mystery.

As will be no shock to anyone, Barker also does not have any clue what faith is. For all the talk that I hear about definitions like this and that faith is believing something without evidence, I just wish that I could get some evidence for this position. I guess those who espouse it just want me to take it on faith and ignore all the evidence to the contrary. Again, Barker is just assuming his old mindset is the same as Christians today. Sorry, but most of us are not that fundamentalist as Barker was and still is.

One other point is that during a debate, Barker asked a Christian “If God told you to kill me, would you?” What Barker misses is that when Christians are to think God is telling them something, it’s not because we’re driving down the road and get an impression that we should turn in various directions until we realize we’re in the middle of nowhere and then think God is congratulating us for testing our faith. (Incidentally, this happened to Barker.)

In fact, in their book Did God Really Command Genocide?, Copan and Flannagan spend a chapter on this. They point out that there must be strong evidence that God is behind it, this evidence needs to be public, and it needs to be verified by miracles of such a scope that they call them G2 miracles. These are miracles that you can be sure are not just sleight of hand but are actually the work of a supreme being.

In describing his debate with Swinburne, he states that he argued that God is not a simple being but infinitely complex. Barker makes the same mistake that Dawkins does. He assumes God must be like a material being and thus have composition, such as a massive brain that connects this part of God to that. This has not been the historical view of the church. Indeed, we have said God is simple. He is simple in that He is not made of parts. It is not that He is easy to understand.

Barker also tells of another debate where he says theistic claims are not falsifiable and if a statement is to be seen as true, there must be other statements that if true would make that false. Does this follow? Is the principle of falsifiability falsifiable? If so, then perhaps the principle is wrong. If not, then the principle itself cannot be true. Barker could not have it be both ways. Besides, it seems odd to show that he thinks it is not falsifiable when he has done debates on the existence of God.

But besides that, it still doesn’t matter. Theism is falsifiable. You can show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God or give another positive disproof for his existence. You can also try to show that there are fallacies in all of the theistic arguments. The latter would not show that theism is false, but it would show that theism was believed for poor reasons. Yet it gets worse for Barker’s case as he goes on to say

“Falsifiability cuts both ways, of course. I am often asked what would cause me to change my mind. “What would you accept as proof that there is a God?” I can think of dozens of examples. If you were to tell me that God predicted to you that next March 14 at 2:27 a.m. a meteorite composed of 82 percent iron, 13 percent nickel and 3 percent iridium, approaching from the southwest and hitting the Earth at an angle of 82 degrees, would strike your house (not mine, of course), penetrating the building, punching a hole through your Navajo rug upstairs and the arm of the couch downstairs, ending up 17.4 inches below the basement floor and weighing 13.5 ounces, and if that happened as predicted, I would take that as serious evidence that atheism is falsified. If Jesus would materialize in front of a debate audience, captured on videotape, and if he were to tell us exactly where to dig in Israel to find the ark of the covenant containing the original stone tablets given to Moses—well, you get the idea. Atheism is exquisitely vulnerable to disproof. Theism is not”

So please note this. Barker wants theists to tell some evidence that would change their mind. What evidence does he say would change his mind? Something no theist could provide. That means already that if I were to debate Dan Barker, he’s already set the bar for what would count as falsifiable evidence of atheism and it’s not rational argument. Instead, it’s dependent on his having an experience.

As I have said before, this is atheistic presuppositionalism.

Barker also claims at one debate that he had a list of 75 highly qualified Bible scholars, most of them believing Christians with at least one Ph.D. in biblical languages and other subjects related to the topic. He also showed where they taught at and that each of them is convinced the resurrection is a legend or a myth.

One would like to see such a list. For one thing, if they’re Christians, they do not hold that stance. A believing Christian is one who believes Jesus rose from the dead. I cannot help but be suspicious of this and wonder if this is anything like Ken Humphreys had in his debate with me. When he told me he had a list of scholars who upheld his view of the Gospels, I asked him for that list. Knowing what list he was speaking of, I asked his definition of a scholar. That’s when the wiggling really started.

Maybe someday I’ll get to see this list.

For now, we’re going to let this be a wrap-up. Next time we post on this, we’ll have a look at why Barker is an atheist.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 3

What was the fallout on Barker’s relationships with coming to atheism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and fall out.

Barker writes in his book about how he decided to mail everyone he had a significant relationship with and let them know he had abandoned Christianity and become an atheist. The sad reality in this chapter is that this is not one that is revealing of Barker, but rather is revealing of the church at large. As I read many of the letters that came back, I too felt great frustration, though no doubt for different reasons than Barker.

You see, too many Christians argued from their worldview back. Now in a sense, we all who are Christians argue from the position that our worldview is true, but when you meet an opponent, you don’t start with what you believe. You start with what he believes. Consider someone who says “It’s the devil! He’s out there trying to steal your joy!” Can you really imagine any atheist just saying to that “My gosh! I hadn’t realized that! I must go and repent right now! Please tell me where the nearest church is!”

And an emotional reaction is quite likely because of an emotional panic. This is because these people have never been trained to go this route. I would have preferred to have heard someone say “Wow Dan. That’s quite a remarkable choice that you’ve made. Can we maybe arrange a meeting or at least a few phone calls and talk about this decision and why you’ve made it and I can tell you why I think you should reconsider Christianity?” (And of course, be sure to give actual reasons there that show that you’ve done your homework.)

Then of course, there were the responses of indignation. I’m sure there were also quite likely some along the lines of “You were never a Christian to begin with.” This is one that I really don’t think we should make. After all, if any of us asked if we were a Christian today, we’d likely point to the same kinds of evidences. We remember when we gave our lives to Christ. We do our Christian service and we grow in holiness. Yet apparently someone can have those and still not be a Christian supposedly because of this rule that if you apostasize, you never were one. It gives the impression that you can never know unless you make it all the way. In the end, it will make us more followers of works-salvation.

Also, Barker says he received numerous letters asking how he was hurt. Now I do think there are emotional reasons for atheism, but that does not mean they are immediately apparent. Still, I don’t appeal to those unless there’s some reason that I think it necessary and I have evidence of those reasons. The data is what matters. Christians like this were trying to psychologize Barker instead of actually dealing with the data of what was being said to them.

Of course, there’s also the question of Barker asking two people “If I go out and get hit by a car and die, will I go to Hell.” For the talk about emotional appeals, this is about as emotional as it gets. Whether the answer is liked or not does not change it. It does not even say if the judgment is deserved or not. The truth of the matter is being determined by how one feels about it.

One interesting conversation he talks about is with his Uncle Keith.

“One day as we were driving back to southern California from a computer show in Las Vegas, he pointed to a huge rock formation in the landscape and said, “Isn’t that beautiful!” I looked at it for a moment and said, “Yes, it is beautiful. You can see how the multicolored ancient sedimentary sea beds were thrust upward after millions of years of tectonic pressure and are now tilted at an improbable angle.” He turned to me and snapped, “Do you have to ruin everything?”

And I read this wondering “How is this ruining?” Barker and Keith both have the wrong idea here. Barker thinks that if you provide a natural explanation for how it happened, then that means there cannot be any deity involved. Keith thought that if you gave a natural explanation, then you had killed the wonder of it. Both can be true. You can have a God who sets in play wonderful magnificent processes that produce beautiful things like rock formations.

So there’s not much to say about this chapter really. Before too long, we will be getting into the main arguments, the part I look forward to the most.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 2

How shall we continue our review of Godless by Dan Barker? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We now get to the part about Barker’s fall. He starts out by telling us it was 1979 and Jesus still hadn’t returned. (Yes. Barker was caught up in last days madness. Perhaps he could have avoided that had he had access to a work like DeMar’s at the time.) This again is a reminder of the hyper-fundamentalism of Barker. Jesus is returning and well, you know, every other generation was wrong about them being the generation, but we are the ones! Really!

Barker is visiting a church and he’s told that there are some members of the congregation that don’t think Adam and Eve were historical people. The pastor doesn’t deny that they’re Christians. This was a shock to Barker who was surprised they were allowed to be members. Barker goes on to describe how some people think some events in the Bible are not fully historical but meant to teach us lessons. Of course, Barker was just thinking it was liberal talk.

This experience for Barker would be akin to the experience Bart Ehrman regularly talks about where he got back a paper on Mark 2 trying to deal with what he saw as a Bible contradiction and was told “Maybe Mark just made a mistake.” Now yes, Ehrman says the problem of evil was the real clincher for his deconversion, but it cannot be denied that the breaking down of inerrancy in his mind had a lot to do with it and prepared him for that deconversion.

Barker tells us this was a big deal and started his slide towards where he is today. As he says “Those initial and timid movements away from fundamentalism were psychologically more traumatic than the intellectual flying leaps that came later. When you are raised to believe that every word in the bible is God-inspired and inerrant, you can’t lightly moderate your views on Scripture.”

Some of you wonder why it is that I have a problem with inerrancy being treated the way it is in the church as if it was the fundamental doctrine of the church.

This is why.

What happens if the resurrection of Jesus is made your focus? What happens if you can say Jesus rose from the dead even if the Bible is just a collection of ancient documents? Is something like Adam and Eve not being historical going to shake your trust? Nope.

Now Barker goes on to say he had read a lot of Christian writers, but had not interacted with the other side at all so he began reading everything he could. Now this part I do not condemn at all. However, there is one danger that I do stress to people. We cannot all be sufficient in every field. There are areas I do not read on because these are not my areas of interest. I do not study them. Oh I know the basics, but I am in no way a specialist. I know enough psychology that I could counsel someone in a pastoral way if need be. I know the basic science that most of us know, but that does not mean I am an authority in these areas.

Too many people can often jump into waters they know nothing about and they are very impressionable at that point and they get overwhelmed. If you do not know the field well, you really have no way of accurately judging the claims in that field and you can just believe whatever you are told. Barker says he did not get the liberal arts education he would have got at a real college. (And yes, there are Bible Colleges that teach these matters as well. Mine did.)

So again, could it be that the lack of education in the church is a problem? People don’t know how to interact with the other side and aren’t prepared in their own side?

Barker talks about visiting other congregations and seeing that they can all open the Bible and prove that theirs is the correct interpretation of the text.

No. No they can’t.

What it would mean if they could do that is that a text could mean in fact two contradictory things. The person can argue that theirs is the correct one, but proof is something else. What this does is raises the question of “Is there a correct interpretation of the text?” Unless Barker wants to go all postmodern on us (And it’s doubtful he does since he argues later on in the book for what the text says which seems to indicate the text can be understood) then it must be accepted that the text has a meaning. Maybe we don’t know it. Maybe we do. Maybe in some cases there is data missing that we can’t know it. It does not mean the text can mean anything or has no meaning and it does not mean the original recipients would not have understood the meaning.

Barker, like many others, uses the “God is not the author of confusion” at this point, though the text is about order in worship and saying when it comes to worship, God is not responsible for confusion. Yes. Barker is still a fundamentalist. He has just switched sides.

Barker also says when he preached, he talked less about hell and more about love and spent time talking about this life instead of an after-life. You can’t help but wonder what kind of preacher Barker really was and probably the only ones that would really like that style that is hinted at of hellfire and brimstone would be the rabid fundamentalists. As I’ve said before, we can too often create little safety bubbles in the church in an escapist mentality

On page 37, he talks about the fall more saying his experiences did not get weaker and that even today he can produce those feelings that he had. (He also says elsewhere that he can still speak in tongues and just practices every now and then to see if he still has it.) This is a reminder once again that too many Christians are rooting their faith in their own personal experience. Your faith is ultimately all about you then. This is why I get concerned when I meet Christians who only have their personal testimony. That is something that will hamper your evangelism in this day and age.

Barker goes on to say that it was beginning to look like there was no personal God. He ends the paragraph saying “What a strange and wonderful thing to realize.”

I must agree with my friend Jerry Walls. Why would anyone hope this?

Exactly how awful was Barker’s personal God?

Later on, Barker says he realized the counter-response to the information he says he was “learning” is just faith. For Barker, faith is a way to believe something. Biblically, faith is really a response to what you already believe. Let’s consider a scholarly source on the matter.

Faith/Faithfulness

“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.

It’s noteworthy that Barker admits that while he was an atheist, he was still preaching. To be fair, he did go and get a job doing something else, but it is a concerning issue to know that someone would go on preaching while still being an atheist. Barker talks about being invited to go to Mexico to do some ministry there while still an atheist and while there looking at the stars out the window, he says he realized that he was utterly alone and there was no “supernatural” realm. There was no one watching and judging him. He was all alone in the world in a universe that would burn out after it lost its fuel.

His thoughts?

“It was simultaneously a frightening and liberating experience.”

Okay. Frightening makes sense, but again, why liberating, unless Barker did have the god who was really a tyrannical judge all along and he hadn’t realized it? Why would anyone consider it liberating to be a universe where you are alone and that all you want will die eventually and any dreams will die with them? As Bertrand Russell said in a Free Man’s Worship:

“Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

All he needed to do was end this with a cute little smiley face.

Again, as Walls says, it’s understandable that someone can be convinced this is true intellectually and come to that conclusion with regret, but this strange speak of hope and liberation is just baffling.

But thus ends the story of the fall at this point. We’ll look at the fallout next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 1

What are my thoughts on Dan Barker’s book published by Ulysses Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Godless

I’m working on something right now studying the atheism of Dan Barker. He’s well known for being a minister who became an atheist and for his influential position with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. When you read a book like Godless, you won’t learn a lot about atheism really, but you’ll sure learn a lot about Dan Barker and you’ll learn a lot about how the fundamentalist mindset works.

To correct everything wrong in the book would require a whole volume in itself. The foreword by Richard Dawkins doesn’t really help make the volume better. If anything, it just feeds into the mindset because when it comes to studying religion, Dawkins is often just as fundamentalist. A point I wish to look at is how Dawkins describes Barker’s mother who having been a Christian for practically all her life in a fundamentalist background threw it out shortly after Barker told her about his atheism. Dawkins says

“In his mother’s case, it only took her a few weeks to conclude that “religion is a bunch of baloney” and a little later she was able to add, happily, “I don’t have to hate anymore.”

Many will be wondering what style of fundamentalism Barker grew up with. If so, consider someone like Pat Robertson or Bob Jones.

Now multiply that by about 100.

Even supposing that religion is a bunch of baloney, it is not a simple subject and why should one think that just a few weeks is enough to conclude? Let us suppose I said this instead.

“Yeah. I had a relative who tried to convince me of evolution. I just went out and studied it and in a few weeks, I knew it was a bunch of baloney.”

That’s the kind of conclusion not reached in a few weeks. That requires much more time, but in our generation, we too often think the answers are quick and easy.

Consider the case of an atheist who I am sure would love to be mentioned but is someone who really likes to try to make a habit of debunking the faith he once says to have defended. He had a post talking about a man who went into a Barnes and Noble browsing and picked up this atheist’s book. He looked at some arguments about the Bible and then went to look up the verses in the Bible in the store in their context. He then says that hours later he renounced his faith.

Again, maybe the arguments were valid, but you really think a few hours qualifies you to make such a huge decision?

And as for not having to hate any more, we can’t help but wonder what it is being talked about. First off, there are some things you ought to hate. You ought to hate all manner of evil for instance. You ought to hate that people are abusing children right now and that women are being sold in the sex slave market. You also ought to hate that there are people living in poverty.

So this blanket statement is hard to understand and an odd focus as well. But then, such is the way it goes in fundamentalism.

Dan Barker starts the book off largely with his personal testimony. (Some things never change do they?) As we go through it, we see a young man with a lot of passion, but not a lot of information, which is a disaster waiting to happen. Unfortunately, it’s also a formula we have too often with our own youth. We send them out on youth retreats and such where they get a lot of entertainment and a lot of personal motivation, but they get very little in content.

Barker also talks about the moral differences between believers and nonbelievers. Somehow in his environment, he got the impression that atheists must just be wicked people somehow. I don’t know any Christian intellectual who holds to such a position. The moral argument is one constantly misunderstood as if it is being argued that an atheist cannot be moral. It’s a straw man made over and over despite it being answered time and time again. The moral argument argues that atheism has no ontological basis for morality. The moral truths are still there and they’re still followed, but they’re just not explained.

Much of Barker’s life relied on what he thought was a personal experience of God. On page 22, he says it’s interesting that God called Him so often exactly where he wanted to go. This is not a shock. I have noticed the same phenomenon. It seems interesting that the call of God seems to match so well for some preachers with where they can go and get a bigger church and a bigger paycheck.

Barker also gives us a good look at the fundamentalist mindset on page 33. “To the fundamentalist there is no gray area. Everything is black or white, true or false, right or wrong. Jesus reportedly said: “I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16, and not a very nice image.”

It’s also worth pointing out it’s a false interpretation of the passage. The city had hot water that served a purpose and cold water that served a purpose. Lukewarm water was useless. Jesus is not referring to spiritual condition here at all, as if He would prefer they be cold. Is the image pleasant? No, but it’s not supposed to be. This is yet another part of the fundamentalist mindset. “If it’s from God, it should not offend me.”

Barker’s story is one that most every feeling and inclination was seen as from God and every event that was happening was the hand of God at work. Now of course, every event is used by God for the Christian, but it is not directly caused by Him. It’s like the story of the woman who drives in a parking lot and sees a spot near the door and thinks God has blessed her. (And sometimes she drove for twenty minutes in the parking lot before she found that spot)

Barker talks about not accepting money for his services even though he had a family to take care of and about the music that he wrote. Any intellectual development however is not really talked about. This is one reason that it’s so important for churches to be preparing the people intellectually. If a pastor cannot be prepared intellectually and thus fall away, how much more the laity? How many apostates is someone like Barker making because no one took the time to train him up properly and if he was not willing to listen to others, why give a place of authority?

There was a man once who made a statement about the danger of zeal not in accordance with knowledge…

Godless has a lot in it that needs to be taken care of. This is just the start. We’ll continue our look at this book later.