Friday, February 29, 2008

Reply to Soldier4Him (My Latest Christian Interlocutor)

I love how you completely disavow any evidence before it is able to be presented to to you.

I only disavow bad evidence. My response to good evidence, I assure you, would be alacritous.

You say prove to me that something happened but don't use any methods that A COURT OF LAW uses to prove something.

No courts of law employ 2000-year-old texts to prove their cases. If somebody wishes to provide testimony, he must do so personally and the opposing side must interrogate his story. The Bible amounts to hearsay, given that the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were composed decades after Jesus’ death. And hearsay is not admissible.

For example you say that you want Christians to prove that Jesus really did rise from the dead, but then you say don't use the only methods that are available to us because of course they had no way of recording events except to write them down.

The problem is not my standard of evidence; rather, the problem is your claim. You are trying to substantiate a wholly extraordinary claim by appealing to the most ordinary of evidence. Your anecdotal evidence fails for the same reason that stories about Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster and alien abductions are unconvincing: One cannot substantiate the extraordinary by appealing to the ordinary. 2000-year-old stories are not of interest to me.

Now as for scientific evidence it is rather hard to prove something that is not of this physical world. I know as I say this any atheist will say "Now he is bringing theology into it or some other such nonsense", however I would argue that anyone who brings forward a view will have many different underlining presuppositions that come along to help make a decision. For example you would probably agree and stop me if I am wrong, that evolution proves that there is no need of any such nonsense as a Creator Being. That seems to be the conclusion scientists come to when talking of orgins. It was a huge explosion in the cosmos and slowly planets formed then water fell and then chemicals mixed and the first organism appeared.

Evolution has nothing to say about the origin of life and just as little to add to the debate about whether god exists. Evolution deals with the origin of biodiversity—that is, evolution deals with how Earth came to be populated with so many different species. The origin of simple life is another field of research. There are also many Darwinians who believe in a god character. After all, the overwhelming majority of scientists is Darwinian, but only half or so of them are atheists. Therefore, there is no absolute relationship.

However, I would ask if that is not coming to the table of science with an improvable unscientific question. There are many things that science cannot prove, where I think it is the job of other studies to prove.

The value of science, other than explaining the natural world, is demonstrating the centrality of evidence if we are to understand anything at all. Science is built upon evidence; that is what makes it so useful.

Now, I say all this because it is impossible for us to prove scientifically that it is possible for people to rise from the dead since we have very little physical evidence to work on, however it is possible to prove that someone did if you have good evidence. Now this brings into question the Bible. You come to the table of this discussion with the presupposition that the Bible is a piece of garbage that is all lies and moonshine. However, we know that the Bible is considered a marvel among scholars for its accuracy to the original texts compared with other works such as Homer's Odyssey. But this does not prove that what is actually written in it. Scholars agree on the authors of most of the New Testament and while all of the Gospels may have been written ten, twenty or even later, it does not mean that they are inaccurate, because they were written by the same generation that was with Jesus and all the Gospels' basic stories all agree.

Of course, I would dispute your assertion that all the gospels’ basic stories agree. There are innumerable contradictions contained within all the books, but Matthew and Luke, in particular, have a difficult time converging on common facts. I assume you have some background in apologetics, so I will not repeat the contradictions to you. Also, I have to correct your implication that the gospels were written by those who were of Jesus’ generation. In fact, most scholars have concluded that Mark wrote his gospel around 70 CE, which is roughly 40 years after Jesus’ death. Luke, Matthew and John—probably in that order—came even later. Given the short, hard lives people lived in that age, it more likely was the generation after Jesus’ own. I also must stress that, in all probability, the gospel writers never met Jesus at all, and were simply regurgitating stories. Finally, the prevailing standards of evidence in that age were very weak, given the relative ignorance of the people. As Christopher Hitchens observed, those who composed the Bible did not have the smallest idea of what was going on.

Furthermore, it is a fallacy to assume that these early Christians would have been stupid enough to create something that would get them killed. Why hold on to something so steadfastly if it you created it and by admitting so you could live and not be killed in a horrible manner. All of the disciples in particular would have to be insane.

You, again, are appealing to Bible stories. Unless you can prove the veracity of the stories, I am not interested in them. Moreover, I am not arguing that every early Christian was crazy or deliberately spreading a lie. Rather, in a time of such manifest and pitiable ignorance—a time when the germ theory of disease was centuries from being formulated and people attributed weather events to deities—it would be very easy for a special person to develop a cult following and, after the leader’s death, for the cult to advance stories that spread like wildfire through the ignorant population. There were many savior figures during that period; there also were plenty of uneducated dolts happy to follow them.

So, I would contend that the Bible can be considered accurate and since eyewitness testimony is considered the best possible evidence a human can present in a court of law that eye witness testimonies can be accurate and since the disciples were not the only ones who saw a resurrected Jesus it would be horrible wrong to say that over 500 people who say him can all be insane liars who are saying these things so they can gain so how.

As I already stated, in all probability, neither Mark nor Matthew nor Luke nor John ever met Jesus. Therefore, their gospels are not eyewitness testimony. Second, again as already stated, the prevailing standards of evidence at that time were extremely poor. Even many centuries later, during the infamous witch hunts, the evidential bar was set so low that some 40,000 innocent people (mostly women) were slaughtered by their Christofascist oppressors for engaging in “witchcraft” and “sorcery,” neither of which actually exists. Third, again to repeat myself, you are presupposing the validity of the Bible in your defense of the Bible’s validity. Where are the 500 people to whom you refer referenced? Oh yes, the Bible. This is called question begging. Fourth, eyewitness testimony is weak evidence by any objective measure. That is why prosecutors like having lab work to present to jurors.

Now the only other argument I think of now is that Jesus was not dead but simply swooned on the cross and escaped that way, however there is a problem with this. Romans were not in the habit of letting their prisoners swoon and further more we know the spear pierced a lung by the fluids that came out of the wound so when he was put in the tomb he was dead.

I have read the Bible; the tale does not require synopsizing. The problem is that a 2000-year-old book is not sufficient evidence. Testimony in general is not sufficient evidence. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. If you can provide none, the problem lies with your claim, not my evidence standard.

So he have a very dead body in the tomb and then we have over 500 people saying he rose from the dead and then many of those people going and dieing many horrible deaths for what? something a few of those people made up?

You are still begging the question. You are presuming the Bible’s validity even while trying to prove the Bible is valid.

I pretty much have made the point already: The Bible was written in ignorant times. If the most intelligent people living during Jesus’ time were resurrected and introduced in 2008, they would know much less than the average fourth grader. Think of the bounds and leaps made on every front since 30 CE: medicine, technology, biology, chemistry, meteorology, ecology, etc. The germ theory of disease was not formalized until fairly recently. Given all this, we cannot give much credence to the beliefs of men who knew essentially nothing. The “cargo cult” phenomenon shows how easily the primitive can be deluded.

One more thing before I end I would like a fuller description of what you mean by evolution, a neo-Darwinian view the view taught in text books or what, thanks.

Evolution presents the case that every living (and extinct) species descended from a single common ancestor. This is the theory of universal common descent.

Let me break down Darwinian evolution to its core. [If you put your faith in Michael Behe, you need all the explanation you can get!] Presumably, you acknowledge that sexual reproduction is an inexact process, during which new mutations can and do occur. I also shall presuppose that you acknowledge heredity, which basically means those mutated genes can be passed down to offspring. (Whether any single offspring possesses the phenotypic variation in question is not particularly important). The only other core element of evolution is variable fitness in the natural environment. Fitness in this context means only the ability to mate and reproduce. In essence, within the same species and same population, some creatures are more “fit” than other creatures. And so, if a particular mutation is propitious to a creature’s fitness, statistically speaking, those genes will be more likely to be passed down. Over stretches of time, propitious mutations will grow much more prevalent in the gene pool and deleterious mutations will die out. The changing genotypic makeup of a population results in phenotypic modification—observable evolution. (Please note: Evolution is only coherent in the context of populations. Individuals do not evolve, and placing any great emphasis on one individual or “family” is misguided. Our primary concern is gene prevalence in a population.)

Let us not fall into the trap of vague generalities. Creationists often have a tendency to cite examples which, in actuality, hobble their own unscientific dogma. One such example is the eye, which often has been falsely labeled as irreducibly complex. In truth, the natural world demonstrates a beautiful continuum of eyes, ranging from exceedingly simple to amazingly effective. Human eyes, for example, are quite spectacular in comparison to most. However, ospreys, just to take one example, have eyes which make our own seem quite pathetic and primitive. In any event, it surely was a propitious mutation when the first creature on the planet was endowed with a few light-sensitive cells. It is not at all hard to observe that such a mutation would increase the creature’s fitness compared to its compatriots. That is all that is needed for the gene(s) in question to begin its path to prevalence in the population’s pool. Another suitable example would be wing nubs—precursors to the array of wings we observe today. Even if 1% of a wing was the first mutation, there is a height from which a creature possessing the nub could fall and survive, whereas, for a creature lacking the nub, the fall would likely result in death. This is a clear example of increased fitness; increased fitness results in a gene’s increasing prevalence in the population’s pool. This is all that is needed for the phenotypic cornucopia we see today. (Note that, if one population becomes split into two geographically isolated subgroups, the process of speciation is essentially bound to occur, particularly if different environmental selective pressures are in effect for the two subgroups.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Torturous Thought

To their limited credit, Christians have mellowed over time. Christians’ practices—if not Christian theology—have become rather benign, at least when compared to the wanton savagery that occurred on the European continent between 1250 and 1700. Centuries ago, inquisitors butchered roughly 40,000 innocents for “witchcraft” or “sorcery.” Historical evidence documents the hideous torture to which the accused were subjected, and the pious glee with which the inquisitors inflicted their agony. I often reflect on the fact that, when contemporary Christians clutch the Bible in church, they are holding the very same tome that helped to inspire delusional primitives to torture, mutilate and roast thousands of their fellow creatures. A bloodstained Bible, and perhaps a Malleus Maleficarum, was doubtless next to many a torture rack. I often wonder whether, in the imaginations of Christians, the Inquisition’s devout savages are basking in the ethereal delights of heaven or roasting in the bowels of hell. True, the Bible indeed avers, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” but, given that no sorcerers existed to be uncovered, thumbscrews and the Judas Cradle seem rather more evil than, for example, homosexual copulation.

What say you, Christians? Is Pope Innocent IV presently in that place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”? An atheist can hope….