Thoughts on Joseph Atwill

Did the Romans invent the Christians? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

There has been much talk lately about Joseph Atwill and his claim that Jesus was invented by the Romans. It’s still bizarre to think the Romans would create a religion that they would go out and persecute. Still, many are claiming that Atwill is a biblical scholar as even the press release about the announcement said.

Reality? He’s not.

Is that the opinion of someone like me, a Christian who believes strongly in the reliability of the NT? No. That’s even the opinion of a Christ myther himself like Richard Carrier. Unfortunately as Carrier points out, news of this has not reached Richard Dawkins. Carrier also adds that Robert Price and Acharya S. disagree with this idea. As Carrier says about these people like Atwill:

They make mythicism look ridiculous. So I have to waste time (oh by the gods, so much time) explaining how I am not arguing anything like their theories or using anything like their terrible methods, and unlike them I actually know what I am talking about, and have an actual Ph.D. in a relevant subject from a real university.

If those three, some of the biggest names in Christ-mythicism, say that your theory is bunk, it’s quite likely that it is.

Now it’s rare to find scholarly talk about an idea such as this. Why? Because by and large scholarship ignores crank theories like this. In fact, most people if they really thought they had something would want to take their idea to the scholars first. Larry Hurtado has said that

I haven’t heard of the guy before either (Joseph Atwill), largely because, well, he’s a nobody in the field of biblical studies. No PhD in the subject (or related subject), never held an academic post, never (so far as I can tell) published anything in any reputable journal that’s peer-reviewed, or in any reputable monograph series, or presented at any academic conference where competent people could assess his claims. Instead, per the flimflam drill, he directs his claims to the general public, knowing that they are unable to assess them, and so, by sheer novelty of the claim he hopes to attract a crowd, sales, and publicity. It’s a living, I guess (of sorts).

In saying why he doesn’t bother with it that much, Hurtado says that

It’s not necesssary to engage something so self-evidently unfounded and incompetent. If his press releases at all reflect his stance, it’s not worth the time. We scholars have enough to do engaging work that is by people with some competence. There isn’t time or value in dealing with nonsense. And Atwill and his ilk don’t really want scholarly engagement anyway. Again, let it go.

And when told Atwill would want scholarly engagement Hurtado says

No. He wouldn’t. Otherwise, he wouldn’t avoid the normal scholarly venues to test theories. These people know that they would be shredded by competent scholars.

And yet, it’s making a buzz. Fortunately, even some atheists like P.Z. Myers are condemning it. Myers does not hold back.

I think a few too many atheists are seeing “Scholar Says Jesus Was Fake” and are not thinking any more deeply than that. The whole idea is ridiculous.

If you’re one of the many atheists who gleefully forwarded this to me or credulously mentioned it on twitter…hello, there. I see you’ve already met the good friend of so many half-baked wackos in the world, Confirmation Bias.

That many atheists did in fact spread this immediately and treated it seriously shows that there is indeed a great deal of ignorance in the atheistic community. “Well what about your Christian community?!” I’ve been saying for years the church has failed to educate its members and their fear at something like this is a prime example of it. Our tendency to want to protect ourselves more than anything else keeps us from really isolating with these issues going on in the real world. As I told one skeptic recently, I condemn ignorance on all sides.

Here are some of my problems with the whole theory.

First off, it will HAVE to deal with all the counter-evidence. Can he deal with Tacitus? Can he deal with Josephus? (I know his theory claims to rely on Josephus, but will scholars of Josephus support it?) Can he deal with Mara Bar-Serapion? How about a question of the reliability of the NT? Can he deal with claims for that?

Second, what about the Pauline epistles. The earliest epistles come before Josephus wrote. These epistles also include a creed such as in 1 Cor. 15 that comes to within a few years at most of the resurrection event. Can Atwill’s theory deal with this?

Third, can he demonstrate that the gospels in the genre of Greco-Roman biographies would be able to be read in this way? This theory has been tried over and over by so many people and it has never ended well. Why give Atwill any credit?

Fourth, does he have any evidence from the Roman perspective? Does he have some ancient mention of Jesus that we have never found even though scholars have been looking through works of ancient society? What would this say for Christ mythers who say that there is no mention of Jesus? Why mention Jesus if Jesus was not being talked about?

Fifth, can his theory account for the dating of the NT? Would this not presuppose that the gospels were written after the writings of Josephus? Has he made a case for that? If Josephus based his account on the gospels, which he didn’t, then Atwill’s theory is in trouble. Atwill will require a late date. It would also require the writings of Josephus to also be in Jerusalem at the time already and being read, which will be problematic enough even if just Mark dates to before 70 A.D.

Now by all means, let Atwill present his evidence, but keep in mind he’s trying to bypass the scholarly community and go straight to the sensationalist route. That might be a more popular approach, but it’s not the proper approach to academic work of this nature. The reason one seeks to bypass the scholarly community is most likely because one cannot survive scrutiny under that community.

Check the sources always on claims like this. That so many atheists have passed this on shows that there is just as much blind faith and lack of biblical scholarship in the atheistic community as in the Christian community they rail against. That so many Christians get scared of something like this is an important demonstration of why the church needs a good education in basic apologetics.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Atheism’s New Clothes By David Glass

What do I think about David Glass’s new book “Atheism’s New Clothes” by David Glass? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

When Brian Auten said he was giving away a book from David Glass about Atheism’s New Clothes at the price of a review, I was eager to do so, especially since the book came with a high recommendation from Tim McGrew, someone who I take extremely seriously in the apologetics world. My copy of Glass’s book came in recently and within a week of starting it, I had had it read and on the first day was messaging a friend of mine saying “You must get this.”

The title of the book comes from what is known as the Courtier’s reply from that great beacon of philosophical learning that goes by the name of P.Z. Myers at his blog “Pharyngula.” The reply goes as follows:

” I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.

Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed — how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.

Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.”

The basis behind this is that it’s ridiculous to say you have not read on it. Glass correctly says it is a wonderful piece of rhetoric (p. 27), but does not count as a response. The whole idea behind it is as that it is obvious that there is no God just as much as it was obvious to the little boy that the emperor was naked. It’s a wonder that something that is so obvious has been passed over by the majority world. It doesn’t matter if the new atheists think this is the case. The question they need to ask is why I should think this is the case.

Glass points to the emphasis on science that the new atheists make on page 20. He correctly shows that it has taken the place of religion. This is a criticism I have often raised where it has become the new priesthood. Glass also says on page 21 that the problem with the new atheists basing their atheism on science is that the question of if science leads to atheism is a question of philosophy and not of science.

On the same page, Glass points out that in the past, atheists have looked at the arguments for God’s existence in great detail. The new atheists do not. To make matters even worse for them, they don’t even really look at the arguments from philosophical atheists for atheism. Glass points out that Dawkins does attempt to deal with theistic arguments in chapter 3, and as critics have pointed out, this is the weakest part of the book. (Yes. Anyone who quotes Dawkins as an authority on say, the Thomistic arguments, does not know what they’re talking about.)

All of this is in the first chapter describing the new atheists, and I personally think this is the best chapter in the book.

Glass goes on to deal with the definition of faith that the new atheists put forward. He argues persuasively that the new atheists have redefined faith as belief without evidence, and then shown how silly this is, which is in fact something any Christian philosopher or scholar would agree with, and yet in thinking that they have shown how silly this concept is, the new atheists think they have destroyed the notion of faith.

On page 39, Glass shows how Sam Harris briefly points out that Paul Tillich has a different definition of faith, but says that anyone is free to redefine faith as they want and bring it into conformity with some ideal. As Glass points out, this is in fact what Harris himself has done, as well as the rest of the new atheists! Nowhere do you see any NT lexicons cited that will say that this is what the biblical writers meant by faith. It is something they believe without evidence. Perhaps we should remember what Hitchens could say. “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

An amusing example on page 40 is Glass citing Harris who says:

“Of Hebrews 11:1, Harris claims that ‘read in the right way, this passage seems to render faith entirely self-justifying: perhaps the very fact that one believes in something which has not yet come to pass (‘things hoped for’) or for which one has no evidence (‘things not seen’) constitutes evidence for its actuality (‘assurance’)’ ” He then goes on to set up a scenario where he thinks Nicole Kidman has a love for him and that this must be the case. How else does one explain the feeling?

As Glass points out, this is probably the clearest example of someone making the text say what they want it to say. Absent is any real exegesis of the text, yet this does not stop the new atheists! If one approached a science experiment the way they approach the Bible, the new atheists would be outraged, and rightfully so. It is because of their presupposition in advance that religion is ipso facto nonsense that they think the text does not deserve any real study.

After this chapter, Glass goes on to talk about science and faith. Is there really a conflict?

Glass does a fine job of showing there is no ultimate conflict. Of course, there are times the fields overlap and can seem to be contradict, but this has not been established. This situation also exists with science and history or science and philosophy. The idea that there is a major conflict came from people like Draper and Andrew Dickson White in the 19th century. A better look could be found in a work edited by the agnostic Ronald Numbers called “Galileo Goes To Jail.”

Glass on page 84 shows that this is readily apparent in their problem with miracles, something scientists like Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, etc. never had a problem with. The new atheists claim that belief in miracles means one rejects science presupposes that all events are brought about by natural laws. Of course, this would follow if there was no God, but that is the question being raised. It is saying “It is irrational to believe in miracles if there is no God.” Is anyone seriously disagreeing with that?

In fact, Dawkins says the last word was written on this by Hume. (It’s strange that for the new atheists who claim to want to use the latest research, that they look at the 18th century and don’t look to see if any interaction has taken place since then.) I refer the reader to my review of “Miracles” by Craig Keener that can be found here.

The next two chapters deal with the origin of the universe and fine-tuning respectively. This is not my area of expertise as the arguments are scientific rather than metaphysical. I leave that to the reader who has an interest in that area. The next chapter we will look at deals with the Boeing 747 argument of Dawkins.

Glass points out that Dawkins has said that science has set us free from religion, but instead his Boeing 747 argument is a philosophical argument, one that comes from Hume in fact. If it is science that deals the death knell, why is it that Dawkins wanders into philosophy? If Dawkins is allowed to give a philosophical argument against God’s existence, shouldn’t he consider more seriously the philosophical arguments for God’s existence? Before someone says that he has done that in chapter 3 of The God Delusion, I suggest you realize that his understanding of the arguments is incredibly shallow, even of the ones I don’t agree with, such as the ontological argument.

It would have been good for Glass to give more arguments on how a doctrine like the simplicity of God can deal with much of this. The argument is metaphysical and it is my contention that much of our problem in the debates we have today in many areas is that we have neglected the area of metaphysics. Interestingly, most people who I debate with don’t even know what it is, but they know that it is nonsense!

The next chapter is on evolution and the origins of religion. Glass is correct in showing that the origin of an idea does not go against the truth of the idea. Suppose that God exists. Could it not be the case that He would wire our brains through an evolutionary process in such a way that we would come to realize that He exists? (This could be expanded later on with Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism that Glass gets into later on.)

Glass points out on page 188 that Dawkins brings up cargo cults and says that it seems that Christianity almost certainly began the same way and spread with the same speed. Any evidence of this? Nope. It is amazing how far one can get without evidence! All you need is a theory that you think is plausible. Dawkins, of course, does not bother reading something like Rodney Stark’s “The Rise of Christianity.”

Chapter 8 deals with morality and the problem of evil, an area the new atheists lack in, especially since we have something like “The Moral Landscape” by Harris. In fact, Glass points out that if goodness is well-being, then if religion promotes goodness for people and their well-being, then it would seem that Harris should be in favor of religion. Dennett has even shown some beneficial aspects of religious belief.

Glass shows that the new atheists have this idea that for the Christian, the only place they get moral guidance is from the Bible. I have argued against this position for some time. It is my contention that something is not moral because the Bible says so, but the Bible says something is or is not moral because it is. Glass also points out that the new atheists when looking at tyrannical societies like Stalin’s, say that Stalin’s behavior was the kind of behavior religious people have (Even though Stalin was staunchly anti-religious) and so their reigns of terror are the fault of religion anyway!

Glass also shows that the new atheists do not spend much time with the problem of evil which is usually the best argument used against theism. The new atheists have not on their own established any metaphysical basis for morality. When it comes to looking at the claims, the new atheists once again ignore evidence. For the new atheists, evidence is only something a Christian has to provide. The new atheist doesn’t have to.

The ninth chapter is about the Bible. The reason many chapter reviews are getting sparse now for me is that many of these arguments are dealt with by other authors. This is not to say Glass does a bad job of that. He does a great job. Taking care of the new atheists today is like shooting fish in a barrel. As I have said before, we should thank God for the new atheists. They are injuring their own side and helping to wake up ours.

One amusing point in here is that the new atheists argue that the Bible was written by ignorant men. Glass responds that this is in fact the case. The writers were ignorant and we’ve never said otherwise. As can be expected, the new atheists do not deal with evidence. When the new atheists make a claim about the Bible, it is obvious who they go to. It will be a writer like Bart Ehrman, John Loftus, Robert Price, or Dan Barker. Interacting with any Christian scholarship that opposes is out of the question. After all, such people are ipso facto deluded and why waste time with people who are deluded?

Much of this continues with the tenth chapter on Jesus and the resurrection. Glass amusingly tells of how Dawkins says the Da Vinci Code is fiction, and rightfully so, but when Dawkins talks about the formation of the canon, one would be hard-pressed to really show the difference between the two views. Again, it is another case where the new atheists ignore evidence. In fact, Dawkins and Hitchens even say it can be questioned if Jesus existed at all. To say that is a serious question in NT studies would be like questioning descent with modification to biologists.

Fortunately, Glass does give the positive case for the resurrection of Jesus and how NT historians do take the claim seriously. It is the central question of Christianity and it is one that is historical and it is a wonder that the new atheists do not spend more time on it. Well, it would be if it wasn’t for the fact that the new atheists have reached a verdict beforehand so why bother with evidence?

The final chapter is on the question of if life has meaning. This is not an argument I use so I will not be critiquing on it.

The person who is highly familiar with Christian apologetics will get some out of this book and is thus worth reading, but there will also be much that has been seen before. This is not the fault of Glass of course. It’s just that there is so little in the new atheists that there is not much that needs to be said. Still, the book comes with great recommendations from people like Paul Copan and John Lennox and for good reason. The first chapter I still think is the best and I’m pleased to see chapter two is there as I do think Glass is pioneering some in this field.

In conclusion, I do recommend this book and I look forward to seeing what else Glass comes out with.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

David Glass’s web site can be found here.

Eschatological Insanity

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’ve decided I’m going to write again on the recent rapture talk with a look at what it is that the atheistic community is saying as well as looking at what Camping himself has said about his predictions and see what it is that can be learned.

Consider this one first from Atlanta. What does the writer tell us?

The argument from my reading is that the idea of Christ returning is just patently absurd and that we all want to go to a Disneyland with no sex, booze, or anything fun.

Yes indeed. We all want to sign up for that one. It’s bad enough that the author thinks he’s made a real representation of the story, but then he says that the problem is falsifiability. Yes readers. You read that right. Christians are afraid to test their belief. Therefore, all that needs to be done is set a date for the rapture. If it does not happen on X date, then it is false and will never happen.

Let us hope that the author never takes bets on professional sports.

The problem is not that Camping has an eschatology. Everyone does. The problem with setting dates is the idea from Matthew 24:36 that only the Father would know the date. As is the case of course, this is only a little detail that is overlooked. Such an attitude of setting a date and not seeing it happen could lead to a number of odd conclusions.

We will have flying cars by September 30, 2015. If we do not have them then, we will never have them.

We will be invaded by aliens on July 6, 2034. If we are not invaded then, we will never be invaded.

Israel and Palestine will put an end to the land war on April 22, 2029. If they do not do so then, they will never do so.

Science is a great tool, but one cannot deal with the past and the future using just the scientific idea of falsifiability. All that we have had falsified is that the rapture did not happen on the date Camping predicted. We do not have a falsification of the belief that Christ will ever return.

Next we have P.Z. Myers here.

Ah yes. This is what religion fosters. Just have examples of people believing crazy things and you can see what it does.

Fair enough….

Could it be anything like saying without evidence that Jared Loughner was a Republican who listened to talk radio despite even all the evidence coming in to the contrary and jumping on a screen shot without even investigating it to prove to the rest of the world that you were right only to find out that that shot was not accurate?

All something Myers did by the way.

No. The problem is not religion. The problem is just that a lot of people don’t know how to think and they add religion into the mix. The same can happen with any belief. Now I agree with what Myers wants in the end to happen to Camping. However, Myers is taking the sensational and making it the typical, instead of realizing that 99.9% of Christians around the world condemn this nonsense.

Far be it for Myers to actually deal with a sane position on eschatology….

Finally, we come to Mr. Camping himself. What does he have to say? Let’s take a look.

And here we have just a humble Bible teacher who says he makes no apology. Never mind that he’s made a laughingstock of the church leading those of us who condemned what he said into embarrassment as we are inevitably seen as thinking the world was going to come to an end that day simply because we’re Christians.

There is nothing humble about Camping. It is only arrogance to think that you can know something that Christ Himself said He did not know. Now Camping has gone to a spiritual understanding saying that Judgment Day did come and that the world will be destroyed on October 21st and it will not be spiritual, but he himself is not selling his possessions before then.

How convenient….

Family Radio is paid for by donations. No one at this point should donate a penny to such a cause. The church has been mocked as a result of what Camping has done. There are far better ministries out there that can be supported and many of them are from Christians who really do think about the issues and can help defend the faith against adversaries today.

It is a shame that eschatological insanity rests on all sides. That someone like Camping even has a platform shows how much the American church has fallen.