Book Plunge: The Christian Delusion Chapter 14

Was atheism the cause of the holocaust? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this chapter of John…..what was his name again…..oh yeah! Loftus! In this chapter, we are looking at Hector Avalos responding to Dinesh D’Souza. Again, I was not going to go through D’Souza again just to respond to Avalos which is something quite bothersome about the book. You can read several chapters responding to works that you might or might not have read but you don’t necessarily have access to. Why not just make the case on your own and tangentially touch other critics who respond?

This time, we’re talking about the holocaust. Was atheism responsible for it? I’ll say outright, no. I don’t think Hitler was an atheist. Could he have had some ideas friendly to atheism? Sure, but he was not an atheist and he was not a Christian either. He was something else entirely.

Avalos starts by talking about Stalin and saying he wasn’t killing for atheistic reasons. Of course, dynamiting churches must have been purely accidental. The thing about Stalin is what he did was entirely consistent with atheism. There is not a single tenet of atheism that Stalin violated by murdering millions of his people.

Avalos also says Communism is a collectivism that was practiced in the early church. However, this was practiced in only one community and when people sold and gave to the cause, they could keep part of what they had for themselves. It was also completely voluntary. No one forced them to give.

Avalos also talks about the couple that died for lying. What they were doing was actually more honor-grabbing. They were wanting to look like people who gave all they had without doing so, intentionally shaming the church. The judgment was swift to show that sin is still treated seriously in the early church. Note also Peter didn’t do the deed himself.

Avalos does rightly point out that Positive Christianity played a role in the Nazi regime. This Christianity was a really anti-Semitic version that made Marcion look friendly by comparison. It is in no way representative of Biblical Christianity at all.

Avalos says that this movement represents a reinterpretation of Christianity, which explains the 25,000 denominations today. Even some Roman Catholics are acknowledging that that number is a myth. However, if we have a version of Christianity show up that is far and away from any connection to the church historical, we can have just grounds for questioning it.

I really don’t plan on responding to much else in this chapter because I am not an expert on Hitler and his stance. I also don’t think it makes much of a difference in the long run. Christianity depends on the resurrection of Jesus and even if Hitler said he was a Christian, regardless of what all he did, that doesn’t change Christian truth. It could be an interesting point to discuss, but let’s not get ignore that Christianity does not depend on this.

Those interested in more should listen to my interview with J.P. Holding on his book Hitler’s Christianity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 8

Is YHWH a moral monster? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Chapter eight brings us the first chapter by Hector Avalos. Much of the material I think is adequately covered in my review of his book on slavery here. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel.

The chapter might as well be a diatribe against Paul Copan and everything he says. I do think Copan is working on another book along these lines so we will see if there is any reply to Avalos there. I intend to really just hit on some highlights.

For one thing, Avalos looks at how Jesus interprets the Old Testament Law and says that Copan assumes Jesus’s stance is correct. In this case, Copan is entirely accurate to do so. It could be Jesus’s stance is incorrect, but Copan is seeing if Christianity is internally coherent within itself. He doesn’t have to prove everything he believes about Christianity in such a case. If he did, then his book Is God A Moral Monster would need to include arguments for God’s existence, the reliability of Scripture, the process of canonization, the existence of God, the case for the deity and resurrection of Jesus, etc. Such is not needed when Copan is really trying to address one question. We might as well say in a chapter by Avalos that he assumes that evolution is true without giving an argument. He has no need to do so when arguing from the perspective of atheism.

He does the same again when Copan argues that YHWH has the prerogative when it comes to life. Avalos says this assumes God exists. If it’s Allah, doesn’t He have the same? Indeed, He would! Yet once again, this is about internal coherence. We don’t need another chapter on why Islam is false.

Yet despite Avalos’s ranting throughout this chapter on how evil YHWH is, the humor and true gold of this essay comes at the end.

As an atheist, I don’t deny that I am a moral relativist. Rather, my aim is to expose the fact that Christians are also moral relativists. Indeed, when it comes to ethics, there are only two types of people in the world.

  1. Those who admit they are moral relativists.

  2.  Those who do not admit they are moral relativists.

It’s just really so amusing. We have a whole chapter arguing that YHWH is a moral monster and then, in the end, we are told there are no moral monsters because relativism is true. What has Avalos been complaining about this whole time? He doesn’t like killing Canaanites. YHWH does. So what?

While the book Copan wrote with Matthew Flannagan does advocate Divine Command Theory, there are other explanations. Avalos doesn’t even bother with any of them. He ignores that some of us of the more Thomistic variety have another way of determining morality and that’s by determining goodness. For all his talk about assuming, Avalos, in this case, does assume that there can be only one way to establish moral principles.

Avalos goes on to say that atheism offers a much better way to construct morals. Really? How could you tell? Do you produce better morals? That can’t be because of relativism. Better results? Same problem.

In the end, Avalos says that we still find God to be a moral monster who endorses slavery, genocide, and infanticide, as only a moral monster could. Upon what grounds? He has told us all of this is relative and then returns quickly to being an absolutist. He tells us that what is frightening is that Copan can say that killing women and children is sometimes good. That frightening ethos, Avalos says, makes the New Atheism more attractive all the time.

Except how could it? Copan supposedly says it’s good. Avalos disagrees. So what? Those are just relative differences. They don’t really matter. Again, Avalos is just confusing. He says that morality is relative and then complains about moral wrongs.

That kind of inconsistency is making Christianity more attractive all the time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How Jesus Passes The Outsider Test.

What do I think of David Marshall’s latest book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In the interest of admitting bias at the start, I will say I consider David a friend and he did send me this Ebook to review. I will still try to be as objective as I can, though I must admit the book is a joy and delight to read so it might not seem that way.

As I was going through Marshall’s book, I tried to think of a book that I could compare it to. Here we have a work dealing with the negative arguments of the day with a good touch of humor and stories and in simple layman terms that expresses the joy of who Jesus is. Mere Christianity as a comparison came to my mind a few times and I can’t help but wonder if a work like this if properly appreciated by the public could be a work like that of our own time.

In the book, Marshall is responding to John Loftus and his Outsider Test For Faith (OTF) as he calls it. Now Loftus has been criticized numerous times by even his fellow skeptics on this one, but still he trudges on with it. Marshall has taken a different approach and said “Let’s not go against the argument. In fact, let’s improve and refine it and see just how it is that Jesus stands in response to it.”

Marshall does remind us that this should change how we look at Jesus as well. We have made him so familiar and he quotes Dorothy Sayers in saying that we who follow Jesus have “declawed the lion of Judah and mad him a house-cat for pale priests and pious old ladies.” (Location 85)

Indeed, this is a benefit of Marshall’s book. You will come away from it with a greater wonder of exactly who Jesus is and frankly, that can be a sad rarity in many works today. We get so caught up in the academic side but Marshall’s book covers that as well as getting into the personal side which as I have said earlier, is because Marshall will regularly throw in some great humor and speak just like the man on the street speaks.

For an example of the humor, consider how he speaks about the OTF at location 378 and says “Is it simply an Ad Populum argument in a cowboy hat off the rack of the Fort Wayne, Indiana Wal-Mart?” For those of us who do know about Loftus and know about his signature cowboy hat, this is a passage that cannot really be read without cracking a smile and it comes at the reader unexpectedly. Regular dashes of humor like this keep the book moving smoothly. Michael Bird would be pleased.

It’s style like this that makes me think that this book could be easily read by non-Christians. Consider when talking about the sex market in Thailand at Location 905. Marshall says many Japanese and Westerners seemed welcome to the idea of the sex market. As Marshall says “And why not? Whatever feeble instinct we might have towards universal compassion, the male instinct for getting laid (our “selfish genes” on the prowl!) is visceral!”

Indeed it is, which is what makes the fact that Christianity has often overcome this so incredible. It is not because Christians are anti-sex, though no doubt some have been, but because Christians recognize the value of every human being, including the women that we are so often accused of being misogynistic towards. It is a Christianity that says every person is valuable for who they are that makes a Christian want to destroy the sex market.

Marshall also shows that he can have a touch of sarcastic humor and get his point across. In a criticism of Hector Avalos who actually thinks Luke 14:26 means that Jesus taught us to hate our family, Marshall says “And that was the only such passage Avalos could locate. With a little imagination, cults are largely (able) to find more convincing proof texts to show Jesus eloped and ran off to France to start a dynasty, or rode to Earth on the comet Haley-Bopp. But perhaps the best response to Avalos’ entire attack on the Christian tradition lies in Jesus’ own words also in Luke: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!’ (Luke 23:34)”

I could go on throughout but there are several places this occurs. That being said, what are many of the main arguments.

I will not cover everything and certainly not in the same detail. Marshall starts with the boldness with which Christianity spread and it must be said that aside from Jesus’s followers, everyone was an outsider at this point, and yet this outsider religion which would have been viewed with suspicion due to its being new was within a few centuries the dominant faith and began to go on to shape Western Civilization. In this chapter, Marshall does deal with objections from people like the prominent blogger Carrier. I leave that for the reader to see for themselves.

But this also ties in with another idea that Christianity fulfilled prophecy. One might think at this point that Marshall will go to Isaiah 53 or Psalm 22 and say “See? Look! Jesus fulfilled Messianic prophecies!” He does not. His point is that from even Genesis on, long before Christianity showed up, even if we went with a JEPD hypothesis, it was predicted that all the world would be blessed through Abraham. Messages of reaching Gentiles show up regularly in the Old Testament and when Christianity came, lo and behold, that happened.

But it wasn’t just Hebrew prophecies that were fulfilled! Marshall will show throughout the book that it was the hopes and dreams of pagans that were fulfilled too! So many of our myths rather than making the mythicist claim show a longing for the true God to intervene and save the world. Later, he will point to people like Buddha and Confucius who predicted that a great sage would come to speak. Confucius even said it would take place in around 500 years. Now one could go with a zany mythicist hypothesis that says all these cultures were being borrowed from, or one could go with a view more akin to Lewis and Tolkien that says that this is true myth being fulfilled.

Marshall also shows the gifts Christianity brought to the world. There was no dark age period where science was being oppressed. Christianity had been encouraging the usage of science. It was Christians who were building hospitals and universities and cathedrals and ending slavery and encouraging literacy. Of course, there was bad that came with the good and Marshall does deal with that in the book, but let us not ignore the great good, such as the efforts to shut down sex markets as spoken of earlier.

In fact, many who are non-Christians and reading this could be thinking it is good to get rid of slavery and the sex market, but why? Do we stop to think about that question? How many people today have been shaped by a Christian ethic and don’t even realize it? Now if one wants to point to Scandinavia as a sort of secular paradise, be prepared. Marshall has something to say about that too.

Marshall also does show that this does not show Christianity is true, but the hopes of all peoples being found so well in Christ and his answering the Hebrew and pagan longings of the day and the impact He has had on the world should at least give pause. While the approach is more of a defensive one, he does include a bibliography to look up claims made in the book that he has not had the time to address but that other scholars have.

This is one of the really good ones to read and it is very difficult to put down. If a print version comes out this year, I would rank that book as one of the best books already in Christian apologetics to read in 2015. We can be thankful that while atheists like Loftus try to undermine the teaching of Christ with objections like the OTF, that apologists like Marshall are able to put them to the service of the kingdom. In the end, because of Loftus, we now have a greater reminder of how awesome and unique Jesus is and that yes, he does pass the OTF.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: There Was No Jesus. There Is No God.

What do I think of this book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Raphael Lataster’s book is said to be a scholarly examination of the evidence for the existence of Jesus and God both, though most of the book does focus on the existence of Jesus. He starts off on the first page saying this:

Like many people, I just want to know if particular religious claims are true. And the truth is not a democracy, and certainly does not care about our feelings.

There will be no disagreement with a claim like this. Of course it doesn’t care about our feelings. If we find something is true, we should accept it as true and not let emotional reasons get in the way of accepting that truth.

One would hope that with a start like that, we would get a good look at the evidence, but while this book is many things, scholarly is not one of them. Aside from those already sold on Jesus Mythicism, it’s hard to imagine any NT scholar in the field being convinced by any argument in here. I found myself highlighting something on practically every page that was a great error.

To start off, let’s be clear that Lataster differentiates between the biblical Jesus and the historical Jesus. Yet is this not a problem at the start? What if it turns out that the biblical Jesus is in fact the historical Jesus?

Throughout the work, Lataster will make claims about how the gospels should not be trusted for having “supernatural” claims in them. Yet do we see an argument anywhere against miracles? No. I just did a quick search on the Kindle to verify what I was already sure of. Hume is not even mentioned one time. Sure. Hume’s argument has been dealt with time and time again, even by people who were his contemporaries, but you’d think there would at least be an attempt at an argument.

Let us keep in mind the rule of William James, not a Christian, made earlier.

a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule.

Suppose for the sake of argument that the historical Jesus did in fact do miracles and rise from the dead. If you come with a rule that says right at the start that miracles can never happen, then it follows that by your methodology you could never know the historical Jesus. Why not let the evidence decide if miracles can happen instead of beforehand saying “Miracles are highly improbable, therefore miracles cannot happen.”

As we move to the acknowledgments, we find part of the problem. There is appreciation given to Hector Avalos, Robert Price, and Richard Carrier. It is odd that in the book Lataster will talk about how often historicists will just cite each other and then be giving each other pats on the back.

Yet throughout the work, one will find Avalos, Price, Carrier, etc. quoted profusely. Want to see what Ben Witherington says? You won’t. Want to see a counter-argument from Gary Habermas and Mike Licona? You’ll be disappointed. Want to see the refutation of Richard Bauckham’s case that the gospels are eyewitness accounts? Bauckham’s name is not mentioned once. Want to note a reply to a scholar like N.T. Wright? The Bibliography fails to mention him. All we have is the sound of one-hand clapping.

A true scholarly work will interact with the best arguments on the other side.

On page 9, Lataster tells us that most biblical scholars are Christians. Considering that later on he considers himself and Bob Price Christians, despite being atheists, one wonders what kind of idea he’s talking about. In the sense of orthodox Christians, most are not Christians. Perhaps Lataster should go to an SBL meeting and see how many non-Christians he meets. On the same page, he also refers to secular scholarship as ‘real’ scholarship.

It’s nice to have that well-poisoning made so explicit isn’t it? One can’t help but wonder if Lataster has ever read any scholarship outside his circle. There are several Christian scholars who don’t hold to Inerrancy, for instance, but hold to essentials of the Christian faith.

He also then refers to John Dominic Crossan as a top scholar. Who gave this kind of judgment? We would love to know. This kind of terminology shows up regularly throughout the work. It’s just as wrong when evangelicals do it. Note that Lataster says he is a former fundamentalist Christian. Unfortunately, now he’s a fundamentalist atheist who just as uncritically accepts what non-Christian writers say as much as he did what Christian writers (If he read any) said in the past.

Also included as top scholars are Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, and Richard Carrier.

Of course these have done the hard work to reach their level, but who would refer to Price as a top scholar for instance? One would think a top scholar would be teaching at an accredited institution. Richard Carrier is popular in the world of internet atheists, but not so much beyond that. Beyond that, it’d be interesting to see if anyone knew his name.

On page 12, Lataster says that relying on scholarly opinions rather than the evidence is the fallacy of the appeal to authority. It’s a wonder that he says Carrier specializes in philosophy and yet Carrier apparently never showed Lataster what the appeal to authority is. If it is what he says it is, then Lataster is guilty for constantly appealing to Carrier, Price, and yes, *groan* Earl Doherty and Randel Helms.

The appeal to authority is fallacious when the person is not an authority in the related field. While Richard Dawkins is an authority on biology, he is not one on philosophy and history. While Mike Licona is an authority on history, he is not one on biology.

Note also that someone like Gary Habermas says in his talk on the minimal facts approach (Something Lataster never interacts with) that his argument is not “Scholars say, therefore it’s true.” It’s the point that if non-Christian scholars are willing to grant these claims about Jesus that they get no gain from, then there must be good reasons for accepting them.

On page 13, Lataster quotes Carrier to show that Craig Blomberg argues that one should approach a text with complete trust unless you have reason to doubt what they say. The citation for this is in Blomberg’s 1987 edition of the Historical Reliability of the Gospels on pages 240-254. One would think that for such a simple quote, one would only need one page, unless one is having the wool pulled over their eyes.

This news was quite a surprise to Blomberg when I mentioned it to him. Blomberg’s position is that one should give the text the benefit of the doubt unless one has reason to doubt. This is far from saying give the text complete trust.

On page 14, Lataster says we must hold ancient history up to modern standards. Professors of ancient history will be surprised to notice that Lataster then goes on to say “If that means historians can say nothing of the ancient world with certainty, then so be it!”

I really hope professors of ancient history become aware of this. It sounds like quite a move to say in order to have no real knowledge of Jesus, we’re going to throw out our knowledge of ancient history so that we can be certain of nothing in the field. Is that what it takes just to avoid belief in Jesus? I’m not even talking about belief in the Jesus who died and rose from the dead. I’m talking about just the existence of Jesus. Is that a worthwhile price to pay?

On page 15, Lataster says that “Possibly, therefore probably” is fallacious. I find this an amusing claim because Lataster will often make the same mistake himself throughout the book. For instance, why do we not have some works of ancient history, like some of Dio and Tacitus? Because Christians destroyed them since they didn’t talk about Jesus. Evidence of this? None whatsoever. But hey, it’s possible, therefore that’s probably what happened.

Of course, there’s also Bayes Theorem. I have strong reason to suspect that Lataster does not understand Bayes Theorem. I suspect instead that he’s simply going off of Carrier who I also suspect does not understand it, based on the interaction that Timothy McGrew of Western Michigan University has had. When I once asked McGrew for his credentials, I got the following:

I’ve been teaching epistemology and probability at the graduate level for nearly two decades. I’ve published work on applications of probability theory in major journals likeMind, The Monist, Analysis, Erkenntnis, and British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. I’ve given popular lectures on aspects of the subject for the Math department here, and Lydia and I presented work on the subject at the Formal Epistemology Workshop at Berkeley a few years back, and I’ve also given talks in this area at conferences at Notre Dame and in locations from Los Angeles to Leuven. I’ve published a paper (co-written with Lydia) on “The Credibility of Witnesses and Testimony to the Miraculous” in a book published by Oxford University Press, written (by invitation, but then peer reviewed) the article on “Evidence” for The Routledge Companion to Epistemology, and (also with Lydia, also by invitation, also then peer reviewed) the article on “The Argument from Miracles” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. I was asked to write a new article on “Miracles” for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, one of the requests specifically being to discuss some of the issues arising from a probabilistic analysis of arguments for and against miracles. Two of my forthcoming articles in peer-reviewed journals deal with the application of probability theory to historical and theological arguments.

Hmmm. I wonder who I should trust on Bayes Theorem. McGrew has been teaching for two decades in probability. He’s been peer-reviewed numerous times. How about Carrier? What credentials could he show to demonstrate his expertise in the area?

Lataster regularly notes that the gospels are anonymous. This mistakenly assumes that because a name was not included on the document, that this means we cannot know who wrote it. There is no interaction with cases made that defend the traditional authorship of the gospels.

In fact, there is no methodology given for how one determines authorship. How does one know that Plutarch wrote Plutarch’s biographies? We could also ask about Tacitus. Well Tacitus’s writings have his name on them! Okay. The Pastoral Epistles have the names of Paul on them but that doesn’t mean scholars just stop and say “Well that settles it! Paul wrote them!” Are we to believe that if the gospels had the traditional names on them then that means Lataster would just roll over and accept them as being by those people? Not at all. The anonymous bit is just a smokescreen to say that because no name is explicitly on them, we cannot know who wrote them.

We eagerly await to see Lataster’s methodology for determining authorship of ancient documents. We also suspect that he does not have any.

On page 19, Lataster quotes Carrier saying “All we have are uncritical pre-Christian devotional or hagiographic texts filled with dubious claims written decades after the fact by authors who never tell us their methods or sources. Multiple Attestation can never gain traction on such a horrid body of evidence.”

To begin with, what scholars out there say the gospels are hagiographies? The leading majority now is saying biographies, but hagiographies as a genre did not exist at the time of Jesus. In fact, it is fallacious and unethical to have a later genre show up, like hagiographies, note some characteristics of them, then go to an earlier time when the genre was not around and say because this work also shares those characteristics, it is hagiography as well.

It is interesting to see Carrier say something like this also when he points to the reliability of Caesar crossing the Rubicon. This event occurred in 49 B.C. Who does Carrier appeal to? Let’s look at Carrier’s own words.

Fourth, we have the story of the “Rubicon Crossing” in almost every historian of the period, including the most prominent scholars of the age: Suetonius, Appian, Cassius Dio, Plutarch

Suetonius was born around A.D. 69 and lived on into the second century. Appian was born even later around 95 A.D. and lived about 70 years. Dio was born in the early part of the latter half of the second century and lived on into the third. Plutarch lived from about 45-120 A.D.

Question. How many of these people could have been eyewitnesses to the crossing of the Rubicon? None. How many of them wrote “Decades” after the event.” Answer: All. In fact, all of them wrote at least a century after the event. Carrier’s list does not include one contemporary historian.

By his own standards, we should not believe Caesar crossed the Rubicon.

Or could it be that Carrier presents this as a powerful argument when it is used on the gospels and ignores it for the rest of ancient history. Will Lataster be consistent then and reject this piece of ancient history? Note that while he does give four sources, multiple attestation cannot work. No eyewitnesses and the time span is too great!

Furthermore, yes. These are pro-Christian claims. What of it? If you want to know about any great teacher, their disciples are likely to be the ones to write the most about them. Do we learn about Socrates the most from people who are anti-Socrates?

Lataster can complain about bias, but is it not just as much bias to treat a source differently just because it’s in favor of a position? It would be a wonder to see what would happen if we tried that in our legal system!

Lataster goes on to refer to Stephen Law saying a religion could make embarrassing and untruthful claims and points to scientology as an example.

Really? To begin with, how much money is involved in scientology? Answer: Plenty! Try getting an auditing session! It will cost you a bundle! Second, this is a modern society as opposed to an agonistic society. What did the apostles have to gain for making up a lie? Answer: Persecutions, shaming, being cut off from YHWH, estrangement from family and society, and sometimes death. What did they have to gain? Nothing.

Lataster will repeatedly say the gospels are not by eyewitnesses. Unfortunately, he gives no arguments for this claim. Will you see any interaction going on with Richard Bauckham’s massive work of “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.”? Not at all. It’s doubtful Lataster even knows it exists. Will you see any interaction with any scholarship making a case that the gospels are eyewitnesses. No. All you get is the sound of one hand clapping.

Lataster also says a fictitious work could have the details one sees in the gospels, much like Harry Potter has many details about London. Indeed! And what genre is Harry Potter? We will get into this more later, but the gospels are more and more being seen as the genre of Greco-Roman biography and should be read in that light.

Also, Lataster often makes comments about biblical Inerrancy, every word of the Bible being true and divinely inspired, and literal interpretations. This is just a hang-up from Lataster’s fundamentalist days that he still uses to understand the Bible. Lataster is unaware that for most of us, if we were shown an error in the Bible, we’d have to change our view of Scripture some, but we would not pack up everything and go home. The Bible is not an all-or-nothing game. Neither is any other ancient document.

Lataster also says to use the gospels is circular reasoning. Not at all. It would be circular reasoning to say all the gospels say is true, therefore Jesus existed. The gospels are a source like other sources. Lataster has this rule that biblical claims can only be validated if they are backed by non-biblical sources. Do we see the same done with Josephus? Tacitus? Plutarch? Nope. Not at all.

On page 27, Lataster brings up genre again saying

There is still not complete agreement over what genre the Gospels belong to, an issue that is explored later on.

Complete agreement? No. Yet if Lataster is saying we should only accept claims where there is complete agreement, he’ll be waiting. Would it be fine with him if I pointed to YECs and said “Therefore, since there is not complete agreement, the issue of the age of the Earth is still to be debated in science.” Would he do the same if I pointed to those who are skeptical of evolution? Now I have no dog in that fight. I really don’t care about evolution. Yet I suspect that Lataster would be sure the Earth is old and evolution is a fact despite lack of complete agreement. He could just say “Well the secularists all agree.” Oh good. Then this gets us to his quote of Richard Carrier in this page. Carrier assesses the way scholars use sources and says in his description that they are

producing standard answers constantly repeated as “the consensus” when really it’s just everyone citing each other like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

I suspect a number of Christian scientists might say the same thing about secularists. In reality, scholars point to others to show they are not just tooting their own horn. It’s amusing also to see a claim like this in a book that relies heavily on quoting mythicists profusely. Physician! Heal thyself!

Note also Lataster’s disdain for believing Bible scholars who he says are “often seen as lay people with a few letters after their name by ‘real scholars.’ ”

We eagerly await to see who the people are who think N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado, and Ben Witherington are just lay people. Does anyone say the same about Craig Keener and Craig Evans? It’s no wonder that Lataster says scholars agree with him when he discounts at the start any scholars who disagree with him.

Lataster points out that Meier says that multiple attestation properly used would back miracle claims. At this point, I do think there is much inconsistency in much scholarship today, but Lataster says I would object if the claims were made by rival religions.

Why? I have no problem. If you can give me good evidence that someone from another religion did a miracle, well I’ll accept it! I have no rule that says “All miracles that are true must be miracles in the Christian religion.” If Lataster thinks there is a better case out there, let him bring it.

Lataster goes on to say that Ehrman in a debate with Michael Licona (Someone Lataster never interacts with in this book) that

Historians must try and determine the most probable explanations, while miracles by definition are the most improbable explanations. They are considered to be miracles because they overturn scientific laws.

Tim McGrew disagrees giving this definition.

A miracle (from the Latin mirari, to wonder), at a first and very rough approximation, is an event that is not explicable by natural causes alone.

Nothing said about probability whatsoever. If someone wants to object that I used a Christian like McGrew, then please realize that that definition can be found by anyone who checks the article on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy web site. If they have a problem, please let them contact the web site and express their discontent.

Lataster does not give an argument against miracles beyond overturning scientific laws. One has to wonder how stupid he thinks ancient people were. Ancient people knew what it took to make a baby. That’s why a virgin birth was a miracle. Ancient people knew that people don’t naturally walk on water. They knew bread does not naturally multiply instantly. They knew water does not naturally instantly turn into wine. They also knew that dead people stay dead, and these people quite likely saw dead people far more often than we do.

Is it really rational to say that because we are so much more advanced scientifically that we know better? They knew better too! That’s why they recognized these as miracles! No one said “Oh look. Jesus is walking on water. Well I guess that happens.”

Lataster goes on to cite Ehrman who says the best evidence would be accounts that are numerous, independent, contemporary, coherent, and fairly disinterested accounts.

To begin with, the gospels are independent. If one wants to say they used each other, okay. No problem. They also each used their own sources of information, hence the major differences between them. It’s amazing that the same skeptics who complain about the gospels copying each other complain about them contradicting each other. One would think if such copying was going on they’d get the story straighter.

Furthermore, you could discount any historical claim this way. Perhaps the story of Caesar crossing the Rubicon was all just copied from an original source. Any differences later on? They’re just fabrications. It’s all just one story being repeated by others.

As for disinterest, that sounds good to us, but not to an ancient. You needed to have someone who was interested in what they wrote about. In fact, today we all write about what we’re interested about. I, for instance, won’t write about what plays were made in a football game because I frankly don’t care about football. I will write about a controversy involving Tim Tebow and religion possibly because I do care about religion.

Lataster banks much on the argument from silence saying on page 37 that “There are no extra-Biblical references to Jesus that are contemporary and by eyewitnesses.”

What of it?

Seriously. What of it?

What Lataster needs to convince me of is why anyone writing at the time would really care to mention Jesus.

“Well Jesus was the Son of God going around Judea doing miracles!”

Has Lataster ever been to Lourdes to verify any miracle claims there? Doubtful, though those are miracle claims that are regularly taking place. Does he investigate the claims of Benny Hinn or numerous claims that show up on TBN or on Pat Robertson’s show?

If not, why does he think that historians in Rome would do the same with Jesus. Let’s consider some information about Jesus.

Jesus was not a political figure. He never held office at all. He did not travel internationally. He was living in a world that had beliefs that were considered deviant but were tolerated. To make matters worse, he was crucified, which meant that he died a traitor to Rome (And for a Jew, a blasphemer to YHWH). Why on Earth would someone want to write about this? They would have seen him as a crackpot who got what he deserved.

It will not work to say that today we know he was the basis for the largest religion of all. That was not known then. It does not amaze me that so few people outside the Bible mention Jesus. It amazes me that anyone does! What Lataster needs to learn is that where we would expect silence anyway, the argument from silence is weak.

Furthermore, much of ancient history has been lost over time. For something to have survived to this day, there must be three things happen.

First, it must be noticed.

Second, it must be recorded.

Third, that recording must last.

Let’s suppose that 100% of people notice an event in the past. Then 100% of authorities in the area say something about it. Then, 15% of those survive. What are the odds we will have a record of this event? If you said “15%” move to the head of the class.

And this is with everyone noticing and writing about it, improbable in itself! (Keep in mind only one contemporary mentions the eruption of Vesuvius and he doesn’t mention the towns being destroyed!

Also, keep in mind that in the ancient world, if you wanted to get word out about something, writing was not the best way to do it. Writing was in fact seen as less reliable than the oral tradition. Where most people could not read, the way to reach them was not to point to a book. It was to talk to them yourself. In our post-Gutenberg society, we think we should write everything down immediately. Writing was expensive, timely, difficult, and it was just a lot easier to use oral tradition. (Of course, there will be no interaction with scholars like Ken Bailey or Richard Bauckham on the reliability of oral tradition.)

Lataster also says that Avalos says that the texts that we have are from the medieval period allowing plenty of time for creative editing.

Of course there is time for editing. There was also time in between my starting this blog and the point that I’m at now to go murder my neighbors next door. Does that mean then that there’s a basis for thinking that I have done so? To say there is time for something to happen is not the same as to say there is reason to think that it did. Avalos would need to present some textual evidence to show that the texts have been tampered with. It will also need to be convincing to scholars of other sources in question, such as Tacitus and Josephus.

Lataster says that the earliest copies we have of the Bible are far removed from the originals. Far less removed however than any other ancient work. This is especially the case if Dan Wallace’s claim about a copy of Mark that’s possibly 1st century is in fact true. We can be sure that Lataster has never read anything on textual criticism beyond just Bart Ehrman.

Lataster also says that Socrates’s record is also not so good, but billions don’t proclaim his divinity. At this point, Lataster is guilty of, oh, what’s the word, oh yes, bias! Jesus is to be treated differently because he makes a different claim.

Remember boys and girls. Bias is wrong when Christians are at the wheel. It’s okay when secularists are.

Lataster tells us that Philo doesn’t mention Jesus. What of it? Why should he? Philo was not interested in mentioning Jesus. What about Seneca. Seneca writes much about crucifixion but does not mention Jesus. Why should he? Jesus died as a traitor to Rome. Why would Seneca care?

Lataster tells us that Seneca and other writers wrote about everything from bizarre ways to die, how they brushed their teeth, and how people went to the bathroom, but they did not mention Jesus and His miracles.

Nor did they mention Vesuvius interrupting save one. So what? Again, we are not given a reason why they should want to mention Jesus. He was a leader of a deviant movement that had strange beliefs that would surely die out quickly. Does Lataster think Jesus should be treated seriously because he claimed to be the Son of God? Will Lataster go to an insane asylum now and start treating people there who make the same claim just as seriously?

On page 43, we are told that the argument from silence single-handedly does considerable damage to claims about Jesus.

No it doesn’t. We expect silence anyway. As we have said, Lataster gives no reason whatsoever to think that people would want to treat the claims of Jesus seriously. In fact, we have every reason to think that they would not.

Lataster then writes about Paul saying Paul got his information through divine revelation. His basis for this is Galatians 1:11-12.

What Lataster does not mention is that Paul is comparing himself to Jeremiah describing his call to be a prophet. It is certain Paul had some knowledge of the gospel! He was persecuting the church after all! He would have to know something of what they believed to be persecuting them. Unfortunately, Lataster goes on to apply the same to 1 Cor. 15:3-4 adding in that the OT was Paul’s other source.

Lataster makes no mention of the fact that scholarship, including the Jesus Seminar, agrees that 1 Cor. 15 is an early Christian creed that highly pre-dates the epistle and the terminology of “What I received I passed on” is the language used of passing on oral tradition, of which Paul, a Pharisee, would know. This is amazing in light of the fact that Lataster says Paul specifically dismisses human sources. The Galatians claim is meant to show the gospel has divine origin. It it not meant to show that it is only transmitted through divine sources.

As for the Old Testament, this is meant to show that what happened was part of the eternal plan of God and was thus a fulfillment of the promises of the OT. It was not saying that Paul just sat down with the OT one day and came up with a new belief system.

Much of this comes from Doherty. It is not a shock that Lataster did not find scholars sharing this idea. They don’t. Consider the Hebrews passage used. Hebrews 8:4 speaks about Jesus and says “If He were on Earth.” The author regularly has spoken about Jesus’s earthly existence beforehand. There was no need to spell it out. What the author is saying is Jesus serves now at the heavenly sanctuary and thus not being on Earth, does not have to repeatedly offer sacrifices as the earthly priests do.

Even more amazing is the Philippians 2:5-11 text where we are told that the name Jesus was given to Jesus later. No. What it is is a message of vindication. Jesus would be the name everyone bows to because of what He did on the cross and in rising again. It is hard to imagine how any serious exegete could come to the bizarre interpretations that Lataster does.

Lataster also holds the Testimonium Flavium to be an interpolation entirely and thinks Eusebius was the culprit, especially since he says Eusebius is a well-known defender of pious fraud citing Eusebius’s claim in the church history that

Hence we shall not mention those who were shaken by the persecution, nor those who in everything pertaining to salvation were shipwrecked, and by their own will were sunk in the depths of the flood. But we shall introduce into this history in general only those events which may be usefull first to ourselves and afterwards to posterity.

Where is the fraud? Eusebius admits that some fell away by their own actions. He just says it is of no benefit to talk about them so he’s not going to do it. That’s not pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. Lying about it would be saying “No one ever fell away so there’s no need to mention anything about that.” It is a way of shaming those who fail away and honoring those who stood faithful.

In speaking about Josephus’s other mention of Jesus, Lataster says “The Jesus mentioned need not necessarily be Jesus of Nazareth.” Lataster says there are several Jesus’s mentioned in Josephus and Jesus was a common name. While this is true, it is noteworthy that this Jesus is known as the brother of someone else, not a common methodology to use unless your brother was famous, and no description would indicate that Josephus is pointing to a prior reference, the one Lataster denies. Lataster thinks it’s more likely that it’s Jesus bar Damneus, mentioned later on in this same section. Why should we think that? No reason given.

Lataster also says we should be suspicious of Josephus due also to his references to Hercules. He gives page numbers, but unfortunately, he never looked them up.

One is in Against Apion in 1.18. What does it talk about? It talks about the building of the temple of Hercules. Another is in War of the Jews reference 2.16.4. It speaks about the Pillars of Hercules. The third mention is in the Antiquities in 1.15. How much of this relates to any Hercules is questionable, though it is not implausible to say there was a man named Hercules that had myths built up about him. The fact that two of these claims point to something no one would deny the existence of shows that Lataster did not bother to check the sources. (Indeed, this is not the first time I have seen such a claim. Some atheist site out there is no doubt propagating a myth that the faithful accept blindly.)

In fact, to make matters worse, Lataster tells us that by modern reckoning, Josephus was not that great a historian. It is a wonder this was allowed in what is supposed to be a Master’s thesis. If any school passed this, their credibility is called seriously into question. And why is Josephus questionable? Because he mentions miracles.

No bias here. None whatsoever.

Moving on to Tacitus, Lataster says it’s unlikely that a non-Christian would call Jesus “Christ.”


Beats me.

Christ became such a common way to speak about Jesus that it would not be a surprise to see that some people thought it was a name. (In fact, today, there are people who think Christ was Jesus’s last name, as if he was the son of Mary and Joseph Christ.) He also says Jesus is not specified.

Yes. Well he’s free to try to find another Jesus who was called Christ who was crucified under Pontius Pilate (Tacitus’s only reference to Pilate by the way) and who had a mischievous superstition (In Tacitus’s eyes) rise up about him that had reached all the way to Rome in Tacitus’s day and whose followers were persecuted by Nero.

Any takers for that Lataster?

Lataster also says many scholars dismiss this passage as Christian hearsay. Who are these scholars? We don’t know. They’re never named. He also says there is question over Tacitus’s reliability since he calls Pilate a procurator instead of a prefect. Interestingly, Lataster himself says Pilate could have been both! (And if that is the case, why say Tacitus was inaccurate?) Who are these scholars who think Tacitus is unreliable? If anything, he’s our most reliable Roman historian!

It’s also in fact entirely possible that Tacitus was using an anachronism since he was using the equivalent term his readers would understand. It would be like speaking about Constantinople in ancient history but using the name Istanbul.

Finally, we have the paranoia of Lataster kicking in as he says that most of book 5 and the beginning of book 6 is missing. Why is this? Because according to Robert Drews, it had to be pious fraud. Christians destroyed the text because it covered the relevant time period and made no mention of Jesus.

History gone amuck. You can make any claim you want to by pointing to theories. It’s amazing that someone who goes after Ehrman for using sources we don’t have will himself point to theories we have no evidence for when there’s any number of reasons a work would be lost over time. Lataster says the same about Cassius Dio not having information on the years 6 B.C. to 2 B.C.. Since there was no birth of Jesus, obviously the Christians destroyed them!

When it comes to Suetonius, we are told on page 65 that Chrestus is a Greek name meaning “The Good.”

I would like to see one source that says this! In fact, to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, I contacted others who are quite scholarly in Greek. One wrote back to say “No. It is a Latin term.” Lataster does not cite a Lexicon for this claim. His only source is Doherty.

On page 72, Lataster says there is no complete agreement over what genre the gospels actually fall into. Ironically, his citation for that is Richard Burridge’s “What Are The Gospels?” Had Lataster actually read that, he would know it is an argument that has changed the tide in convincing scholars that the gospels are indeed Greco-Roman biographies. Instead, he thinks it more likely that they fit the Mythic Hero Archetype. (Not noticing that such a claim has been applied to even Abraham Lincoln)

On page 75, Lataster tells us that NT scholar Jerome Neyrey says that John was structured to be persuasive in portraying Jesus as worthy of praise and the same applies to Matthew and Luke.

Well there’s your smoking gun right there! The gospels were written to be persuasive! We all know true historians never wrote works to be persuasive! Every single person who wrote a biography was writing to persuade the audience about the virtue of the person that they were writing about. It’s not a shock the gospels did the same thing! For Lataster, this calls into question their status as sober and objective historical biographies.

In fact, Lataster even suggests that maybe Luke’s source is also the same as what he thinks Paul’s source is, which is just divine revelation. Never mind Luke tells you his methodology. Luke must obviously be lying! He doesn’t fare much better with Mark saying it’s described as good news in the first verse rather than an accurate and objective historical account.

Lataster says that perhaps we should take all of Mark as allegory using the first parable in the gospel as an example while saying the version found in the Gospel of Thomas could be an older version.

Once again, there is a reason NT scholarship does not take this seriously….

Moving back to Paul, in 1 Cor. 15, Lataster says Paul does not mention any before-death appearances of Jesus. Why should he? His audience was questioning the possibility of resurrection and not questioning the existence of Jesus. Note also that Lataster tries to say a passage like this is from divine revelation because of the language of receiving tying it into the 1 Cor. 11 passage about what Paul says he received from the Lord.

Lataster is ignorant of the fact that a number of rabbis would speak about revelations they received from Sinai that were known to be part of the oral tradition that supposedly went back to Sinai. To say they were from Sinai then was to say they were the source, whether or not that claim was correct. To say Paul received the Lord’s Supper message from the Lord is to say that Jesus is the source, which makes sense since Jesus was the main figure at the Last Supper and spoke the words there. Paul does not say that in 1 Cor. 15 because he received no statement that finds its source in Jesus about the appearance of Jesus. Instead, the source is oral tradition as is practically universally agreed on in scholarship.

Lataster mentions several times where Paul could have cited Jesus but didn’t. The first is dietary laws in 1 Cor. 8. The issue is not dietary laws there but rather eating meat sold in the marketplace that was offered to pagan idols. This was never an issue Jesus dealt with.

What about celibacy in 1 Cor. 7? This was about the relationship between a believing spouse and an unbelieving spouse and what to do when a believer is abandoned by an unbeliever. Jesus did not recommend celibacy in the passage in Matthew 19 but said some were eunuchs for the Kingdom. Note that in the passage in 1 Cor. 7, Paul does in fact cite some of the Jesus tradition.

What about when discussing circumcision? Jesus said nothing on if circumcision would have been required for salvation. What difference would it make to say Jesus was circumcised? What about paying taxes. Paul is making a longer talk about the relation of Christians to government which as a whole Jesus did not address. Did Paul forget what the Romans did to Jesus? No. Paul is making a general statement. In general, it’s best to obey the authorities. What about Jews demanding miracles in 1 Cor. 1:22. What good would it do to say Jesus did miracles? He was crucified so the Jews would reject him. It would do no more good to say Jesus did miracles than it does to tell Lataster that Jesus did miracles.

Lataster also says that Paul believed Jesus was a spiritual being based on 1 Cor. 15. Absent is any looking at the work of Gundry and Licona in this regards. Absent is any mention that in 1 Cor. 2 the spiritual man judges all things, which does not mean the immaterial man. Are we to believe Paul thought Adam was immaterial since he refers to him as a living soul? Lataster along these lines also speculates letters of Paul we no longer have access to taught a cosmic Christ so the Christians disposed of them.

Yes. Orthodox Christians would have kept around the letters of someone who they deemed to be heretical and kept them in the NT. Lataster just has an intense paranoia with always assuming that if something is missing in ancient history, it must be the fault of the Christians! They must have destroyed all the references to Vesuvius interrupting as well!

Lataster also says since Paul referred to the twelve, he forgot about Judas dying.

Those who are into football often tell me about the Big Ten, a group that does not consist of Ten! Obviously every sports fan out there has forgotten this fact! We eagerly await Lataster’s contacting ESPN to get them to change their referencing of the group.

Lataster also questions the Galatians reference to the brother of Jesus citing Origen. Well good for Origen. Why should I think that he’s right? He also cites Hoffman saying that Since Paul is not interested in the historical Jesus, it’s unimaginable he would point to a biological relationship here.

Somehow, it seems quite imaginable to NT scholarship the world over. Incredulity is not an argument.

Lataster also says Clement of Alexandria had hints of Gnosticism saying “The Gnostic alone is holy and Pious.” Had Lataster done five minutes of research, he would have found that Clement is mocking the Gnostics saying they do not truly know. The Christians know and the Christians are the true gnostics then since they have real knowledge of the only real God. It is lazy research like this that calls into question Lataster’s methodology of study.

Of course, no work like this would be complete without the copycat theory going around. Jesus was just a copy of other mythical stories before him!

We are also told Philo spoke of a person named Jesus much like Jesus in a look at Zechariah 6:11-12. Most often, this is referring to “On The Confusion of Tongues.” I eagerly desire to see where this Jesus or Joshua is in this book. Doing a search through the book reveals no mention of Jesus or Joshua. Could someone please give a reference to this?

Thus far, I see no real arguments.

Moving on, we have Bayes Theorem, but I see no reason to think Lataster is competent in Bayes Theorem. As someone like Lydia or Tim McGrew would say, who are both skilled in this area, it goes beyond “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” The prior probability has to always change based on evidence. Indeed, an agnostic like Earman lambastes Hume’s argument against miracles in “Hume’s Abject Failure” using Bayes Theorem saying that Hume’s argument would destroy science as well since it does away with marvels too. I will say nothing more about it at this point leaving it to authorities like the McGrews.

Now we move on to God’s existence. Lataster first wants to deal with a posteriori arguments which he says rely on empirical evidence, that is, science. Unfortuantely, while all that is scientific is empirical, not all that is empirical is scientific. Empirical simply means relying on sense experience. I do not need to use science to know that the world exists outside my mind, and indeed I cannot. In fact, if one goes to, this is what is found under empirical.

em·pir·i·cal [em-pir-i-kuhl]
derived from or guided by experience or experiment.
depending upon experience or observation alone, without using scientific method or theory, especially as in medicine.
provable or verifiable by experience or experiment.

Lataster is just giving us a scientism. It is a wonder that science is said to admit its mistakes and correct itself while at the same time being the best methodology for truth. If it gets the truth so well, why does it have so many mistakes to admit?

Lataster says God denies moderns evidence of his existence since we are less superstitious and gullible. Absent is any interaction with Craig Keener’s “Miracles.” Has Lataster even bothered to research one miracle claim in that one? You know the answer to that one already. The problem is not lack of evidence but being unwilling to look at the evidence one has. Lataster’s claim throughout is that we need to see God come down Himself and speak to us in a dramatic way. (You know, the way he already did which Lataster would require have to have happen again and again regularly since no one should believe unless they personally experienced it.) Lataster has this idea that if God is real, God is supposed to serve him and make himself known or else Lataster has no obligation to believe. Perhaps it could just be that that is not the kind of belief that God wants.

Lataster also says historical arguments fail because history cannot prove miraculous claims. Evidence of this? None. Argument for it? None. It is just an assertion. Perhaps since Lataster at one point quotes Christopher Hitchens, I should do the same. “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

Note also that in speaking of arguments like the Cosmological argument, Lataster says that while many would call them a posteriori arguments since they rely on some sort of scientific evidence or concepts, he calls them a priori anyway. Why? None of the evidence is direct and exclusive.

And if you call the tail a leg, a dog has five legs then….

Philosophers around the world will also be amused to hear Lataster refer to their work as lazy. He says they only come about by thinking (Page 150) and not scientific evidence. No need to do actual work. In his words

These arguments are lazy, ambiguous, speculative, discriminatory, and often appeal to our ignorance (our not knowing something). Such arguments only make inferences. They prove nothing.

It would be amusing to see Lataster get pounded into the ground by someone like Edward Feser….

The main theistic arguments Lataster deals with are Craig’s, and even these dealings with them are ramshackle. Hardly a page if that much is dedicated to an argument. For instance, in looking at the moral argument, Lataster claims it’s circular. Most notably because Craig says it’s obvious that objective moral values exist. Some have disputed this of course, but Lataster does not. If so, what source does he give for morality? Answer. None.

It was hard to imagine doing even worse than Lataster did for Jesus, but somehow he did it for God.

Christians should hope, however, that books like those of Latester will keep coming out and become the bread and butter of the atheistic community. Such works will only further lower their intellectual standards. In the meantime, we’d best be building up ours all the more. Lataster’s work will help those who are already convinced, but only further cement them in their ignorance.

In Christ,
Nick Peters