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Is God? “Jesus BY A Preponderance of the Evidence” IV

September 4, 2017 Leave a comment

Is God what? You might be asking. Well me too, but that’s not our author’s point. The entire point is to shorten the question down to two words so that it seems so simple, but then to spend thirty pages trying to explain those two words in such a way that “is god?” seems like a deep and thoughtful question. “Is god?” makes about as much sense as asking “are peaches?” but because we’re dealing with the g-word people just assume there’s more to the story.

Which is something religion gets away with all of the time. Just put the phrase, “well from a theological perspective” in front of any stupid question and people will consider it to be meaningful. A person can justify just about any ridiculous behavior by claiming that the behavior is “part of their religion” and all of the sudden it’s treated with at least the appearance of respect…unless you’re a scientologist, everyone’s pretty on board with ridiculing them. Don’t want to speak to your wife for a week? Just say it’s part of the religion. Now, it’s somehow less bad.

What I realized during this month’s preparation work is that this is going to be awhile. The book itself is around 150 pages. I’m skipping the anecdotes, so I’ve got about 130 pages to read. We’ve already arrived at page 23, meaning we’re 1/6th of the way through on post 4. The problem though is that today’s post covers ONE page. That’s not a good sign, but there’s so much here that I can’t just move on.

The chapter begins discussing how “Is God?” is the most important question in our lives. I wonder if the author was tired of writing “does god exist?” and just shortened it out, because that’s the meaning of his two word question. Let’s ignore a continuing diatribe on how dumb this is, and get to the meaning of the assertion. Is it the most important question? There are two answers to my question. The first is “yes” if the answer to the question is “yes.” If we can prove god is real, then that necessitates that it becomes the most important question. This would then be followed by other questions such as “Is god Christian?” “Is god Muslim?” Hindu? etc. Then we would have to parse out the sects, schisms, and heresies; i.e. the history of the world up until recently. If the answer is “not yes” because nothing has been proven, we can just move on with our lives and get to more important things. Of course, for some people, who believe the answer is “yes” it’s important despite that it’s not an objectively proven thing.

Of course, there are three answers to the question he actually intends on asking which he addresses, “Agnosticism is as much an answer as atheism or a profound faith in a Creator Law-Giver God.”

I love the bias of that statement. You’re either in the “don’t-know camp” the “don’t believe camp” or the “totally awesome deep admission of the one true divine power for whom you have a deep and meaningful relationship with camp.” At this point, we get that the author believes in, not only god, but Christian God and Christian Jesus, yet the point of this book is to show the objective evidence for such a belief. As I said earlier, we’re 1/6th of the way through and we’ve only gotten a list of what constitutes that proof and not the proof itself. So we’re still waiting on the proof. To be fair, he’s right: those are the only possible answers to the question. Win for him I guess.

According to him the answer to the question is important because “Where we believe that rights and obligations are defined by man, or are ‘naturally endowed by our creator,’ critically affects the workings of any civilization.” My general problem with this kind of assertion is that it’s often a false dichotomy. On the one hand, yes a society will be influenced by its morals. That much is certainly true. On the other hand, if those rights are naturally endowed then we ought not need a religious authority figure to explain them to us. Since, as he’s claiming, they are natural they would not need to be taught. Yet, we do need to be taught them, so they cannot be naturally endowed.

This reminds me of Adam Smith, who wrote “Wealth of Nations” as an ethics book wherein the basic thesis is that everyone acting in their own self-interest will naturally produce the best kind of society. I’m being way too short with it, but his point is that we will make laws and morals that protect ourselves but will be generalizable to the rest of society treating everyone the same. We don’t need a creator to instill morals and rules, we all want laws protecting us against murder because we don’t want to be murdered. The real problem for our author is that when religious laws invoking creator gods are established we often have more killing in the name of society than we do otherwise. Saudi Arabia is one of the most religious countries on Earth, and they have the death penalty for a great many things in the name of “the Creator.” We also have lists of laws in the religious texts that have nothing to do with morality but somehow the deity thinks that they are super-important. Prohibitions on tattoos, what to eat, wear, who we can speak to, etc. About five of the ten commandments, these are not laws about morality but religious tribalism laws. Thanks, I’ll pass.

Finally, he ends with claiming that our answer to the above question is given in a cultural context which then becomes the cultural idiom. Yes, agree completely…maybe not with the idiom part. One of my favorite podcasts is “God Awful Movies” where the three hosts watch and then ridicule what are known as “Christian Movies” (and some other religious movies). A recurring problem with these movies is when they tip their hand too much and reveal the sham of their belief. When the anti-Christ character in the Apocalypse movie turns out to want world peace and to feed the hungry, that’s tipping the hand, because he’s the villain the good guys are going to stop. Here our author has tipped it as well. He’s admitted that there is no proof and that his belief is cultural. I’ve said it before: the only thing stopping an evangelical pastor Kentucky from being an Imam in Riyadh is the geography of their birth. They both want the same thing, almost eerily so, but they dislike each other because they don’t worship the same book. Born in the US means you are statistically a Christian, whether you keep that or not is one thing, but that’s the cultural importance.

Hopefully we’ll start getting to some evidence soon. It would be helpful that he actually not pretend to have written a book about evidence and actually had done it.

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Mythicism

June 5, 2017 3 comments

Mythicism is the belief that person: Jesus of Nazareth, was not a real person. Now, every atheist rejects the notion that Jesus was anything other than a regular guy. The belief that a figure named Jesus may have existed, who was also a an apocalyptic preacher may be accepted. However, to restate the definition, there are those who think that the actual figure was just a character alluded to by a handful of individuals trying to create a new system of belief.

I, am not sold on Mythicisim. My belief tends more strongly along the lines of real person/real preacher guy than likening Jesus in the same vein of Harry Potter or Gandalf. The reasons for this are many, but to be clear: I reject the notion that there is any supernatural aspect to the figure as I reject all supernatural aspects to anything.

Possibly this is due to my Catholic upbringing wherein I, for nearly half of my life accepted that Jesus was not only real but divine. There might a vestigial attachment that I am unwilling to reject. On the other hand we must get into what it means if the Mythicist position it true: and it would be a conspiracy on a grand scale.

Outside of the blogging, I am a PhD candidate in Philosophy. I teach at a college in NY, and the class that I teach the most is a course on conspiracy theories and skepticism. While I spend most of the semester going through informal fallacies and pseudo medicine, the first few weeks of the course are spent in defining conspiracies and how, prima facie, most of them couldn’t be true. The reason? People, in large numbers, are untrustworthy, fickle, and terrible at keeping secrets.

Not one person mind you. You can always find one person that’s good at maintaining secrecy. You can also find one person that can keep a consistent story in their head. Add another? It gets less likely, and with each person the secret gets less likely to be kept secret. In fact, if enough people know a thing, by definition, it’s no longer a secret. All of that being said, I find it unlikely that the figure of Jesus would be an entire fiction. There’s got to be at least some historical persona that the stories are attached around, or else, why would they be so contradictory?

Let’s assume, for the sake of falsification, that the mythicist position is true. What, exactly does that imply? First off it implies that the entire religion is based on a lie. Ok, fine, I’m an atheist and in some respect that’s true of all religions. However, that’s not what I’m driving at. That the religion is a lie, would mean that the central figure for whom the religion is based on is foundationless. This would be perplexing for a number of reasons. The first, and perhaps most important, is that it is completely unnecessary to base the religion on a figure in the first place. Daoism, while based on the teachings of Lao Tzu, doesn’t rely on the character of Lao Tzu for its teachings, it relies on the teachings themselves. Judaism, doesn’t rely on the fact that Moses wrote the laws, or brought the law to the people of Israel, but rather that the law itself is derived from God. You don’t need a “Jesus” for a religion, you just need a message that people are willing to believe, maybe you dress it up in some spirituality and a promise of extra-life reward, but the central preacher character need not be central to it.

Secondly, it seems that if a group of people got together to fabricate this character in order to create a religion, why wouldn’t they do a better job of it? Jesus does some pretty contradictory stuff in the tales of his life on Earth. He talks of peace, but then of bringing a sword. He talks about turning the other cheek, but raises his fist to those that he feels have defiled the temple. Everyone is saved, but there are those who are not. If a conspiracy is a foot, they didn’t do a great job of it. The first gospel is dated at around 70CE while the only contemporary writings are from Paul and he admits none of it comes from eye witness accounts but from “revelations.” So if this thing is being made up, perhaps have “Paul” put in a reference to when they were hanging out together. Conspiracies of this magnitude wouldn’t leave clues to the lie, despite what internet sleuths say regarding the moon landing, JFK, or 9/11. We might also have stories of his childhood, or something like that: cool stuff with dragons and raising birds back to life or whatever.

Finally, and this is probably my weakest assumption: where is the documentation of the argument over this character? Unless there was a guy in the second century named Jesus, who just backdated a bunch of stories with his name on it, there would have to be some kind of conflict over what that person did. Now maybe this is an explanation for the contradictory stuff, but I’m going to apply Occam’s razor and just say, “while contradictory, the multiple stories are best made up by individuals dressing up stories they heard from a guy who knew a guy who dated their third cousin.”

All of that is premise to my introduction to a series I’m going to do whereby I read through a book titled, “Jesus By a Preponderance of the Evidence” by Robert Palaszewski. This book is going to prove the divine Jesus and the truth of Christianity. The summary on the back says that it’s for “seekers and open minded skeptics alike.” This entire post’s point has been to show that while I’m an atheist, I’m also not susceptible to an argument just because I want it to be true…and believe me nothing would warm the cockles of my heart more than finding out the entire thing was based on what a couple of guys made up way back when.

I’ve done no pre-reading, and will only prepare as much as necessary for each post. Ill be posting these on the first Monday of every month. Starting now (by that I mean this is post 1).