Friday, January 28, 2011

How to Debate Christians and On Answering Questions



A Worrisome Trend
As I’ve been engaging with fellow Christians, friends, family, and the occasional passerby, I have come to realize a disturbing pattern. Each time I approach subjects of controversy, or what they hold to be controversial, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, Biblical errancy, or the doubtful historicity of Jesus and so on, there is a reoccurring theme with nearly all of them. The vast majority of believers I speak with have not read anything related to Darwin’s theory of evolution, they haven’t read any of their own religion’s history, and certainly they have barely managed to peruse the pages of the Bible, let alone read it closely enough to find any internal inconsistencies.

What this means is, in the realm of the dialectic, it appears that those like myself who are taking the time to keep up on the current events, information, and ideas are largely debating those who are relatively in the dark. Now before you judge me as sponsoring an elitist form of atheist snobbery, I should like to point out that this borderline illiteracy of believers was reported on earlier this year by the Christian research group Barna. Barna found numerous embarrassing facts about Christians reading habits, two statistics which are worth reiterating: 1) Christians normally don’t even have a rudimentary knowledge of their Bibles because, in most cases, they don’t read it, and 2) Atheists, on average, have a better understanding of religion than most Christians.

I find it astonishing that so many Christians are so comfortable with not having read the whole Bible. After all, I’m pretty sure many of them have read the Lord of the Ring trilogy, all seven Harry Potter books, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The DaVinci Code, The Pillars of the Earth and more. Yet God wrote a book (or directly inspired it) and the majority of his followers haven’t actually bothered to read it. Even as Christians constantly pay lip service to “God’s Holy Word” by invoking their bibles as a moral anchor and guiding force in their lives, it seems totally hypocritical since, apparently, most haven’t even read it. Shocking to think that, if we are to give Christians the benefit of the doubt and assume the Bible is a divinely inspired work, we have the single most vitally important text in the entire universe, but Christians don’t think it worthy of their time to read in full.

Just to be fair, the lackadaisical routine of Christians isn’t the only cause in the amassing ignorance I detect in my conversations with them. Indeed, the U.S. education system can take the bulk of the blame. The Associated Press recently reported that less than half of American students are proficient in science. Last I checked, fifty percent constituted a failing grade (i.e., a big fat F marked in red ink). The American education system has been slowly declining over the decades, and now the effects are starting to take their toll. At the same time, and it’s no trivial matter, religious institutions are inculcating children into superstitious modes of thinking and teaching them to be weary and distrustful of science. All this really means, however, is that religious faith is acting as an impediment to the learning of the next generation of thinkers. Needless to say, religious children will be at a disadvantage as they will have fewer opportunities as adults when they are competing for careers in a global economy dedicated to science and technology.

Engaging in the Dialectic
The above facts reflect something I have been noticing in my conversations with believers, which is there is often a tendency for the Christian (or person of faith) to demand the atheist (or nonbeliever) explain their position. In other words, believers are frequently demanding we justify our position, and more often than not, we do! What this normally entails is an atheist will sit down and explain the scientific, philosophical, textual, and/or historical reasons for why they simply can’t believe in God and the far fetched tenets and strained theologies of any particular religion. Peculiarly enough, many believers find such ideas downright offensive. As with any critical analysis, whether it be Higher Criticism or Comparative Religion, ideas that oppose the orthodox customs, beliefs, and practices or which may interfere with or undermine Christianity are usually eschewed. As with most robust religions, Christianity has a long history of trying to quell religious opposition and stamp out heretical views. Today this takes the form of many Christians just denying everything nonbelievers have to say, in fact, many like to engage in online debates and just state the contrary to whatever an atheist or secular humanist or free thinking naturalist might have to say.  

For example, if we state evolution is a fact, they state it’s not. If we say the bible is riddled with discrepancies and errors of every kind they deny this too. If we say that modern historical research casts doubt on the historicity of Jesus they just assert the opposite. This tactic of denying everything the atheist says may work to frustrate the atheist who is trying to have a serious conversation, but it does nothing to address the valid, and multifarious, points which the atheist raises. For each piece of evidence the atheist cites, which simultaneously works to validate their position, the theist simply takes the opposite stance—regardless of whether or not they have actually looked at the information, understood it, or not. It is literally like trying to talk to a toddler who is hell bent on frustrating you just to get one up on you. Christians might as well stick their fingers in their ears and yell “Blah-blah-blah!” at the top of their lungs, or like many adolescent children, they may choose to simply say, “Nuh-uh” to every affirmative statement you make.

On the rare occasion you do find someone patient enough, and willing enough, to engage in an adult conversation, usually, as has been my experience, you get into circular arguments, semantic accusations, or accusations that you didn’t address their flurry of questions to absolute satisfaction. Consider, for example, those precious times when you do manage to give a knock down argument, or bring up a great example they haven’t ever thought of before, they will often break into a series of sporadic, disorganized, sometimes rehearsed, string of questions, usually integrated with endless scriptural citations and third rate exegesis, which they typically feel atheists won’t be capable of responding to. When we do respond, they either raise more questions, or retreat back to their accusation that we didn’t address the prior set to their satisfaction and rephrase the entire set of questions, usually asking more convoluted questions instead of trying to clarify their initial points. (Admittedly, this is partially due to their general lack of training in formal logic and/or analytical thinking skills—and it’s not just Christians who are guilty of this as many haven’t had formal training in such areas—but I would like to point out that whereas religion has a tendency to create bubble environments of like mindedness, frequently creates dogmatic certainties, and often compel confirmation biases of all kinds, atheism less so—for obvious reasons). Other times they'll quickly change the meanings of words and continually shift the goal posts of their own terminology to accommodate themselvesbut then turn around and blame you for playing semantic word games when your definition disagrees with theirs.

Recently, I got bombarded with a string of such meandering and unfocused questioning with regard to my previous post “Because the Truth Matters,” and I feel like I should paraphrase them here just to depict the sort of disorganized, confused, and ill-informed nature of the questions. Nonetheless, I feel that anyone who has ever had a religious discussion will recognize instantly the sort of thing I am referring to by seeing the questions laid out.

Now I should preface this with a short disclaimer, many of these questions come from a dear friend of mine, and I mean him no ill will by reproducing the questions here (you may wish to refer to my previous post “Because the Truth Matters” just to be clear as to the context of these questions).

“To say that Hitler was a devout follower of Christ is nonsense. Tristan, do you honestly think that the cleansing of the Temple gives anyone any grounds for eliminating an entire nationality? Firstly, Christ did not kill anyone, but merely removed them from His Father’s house. Secondly, the apostles in Acts spoke very harshly against the Sanhedrin and accused them of killing Christ. But, they did not kill the members of the Sanhedrin but instead, the Sanhedrin imprisoned them for blasphemy and spreading rumors which put them in a bad light.

“Simply stated, give me a Biblical case for genocide. If none can be made, then a Christian should view it as wrong.

“Mostly, you need to read more about Christian Apologetics if you’re only now hearing of Hank [Hanegraaff], then you’re in the dark about a lot of authors probably. My personal favs (currently) are CS Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, RC Sproul, and John Lennox. I believe you know of Lennox who is a gifted mathematician. Most of the articles you’re slamming are very light and go into NO detail. Rather than slam them, read more exhaustive ones. For example, if you haven’t read Miracles by CS Lewis then you’ve not heard a well stated Supernaturalist view of the world. I agree that Hank won’t get you there… Lewis will get you closer and an honest reading of scripture will get you the closest… only the Holy Spirit can do the rest.

“I’d like to end on your “Thirdly” point about Metaphysics… Sure, this article whetted your appetite for easy slander, but have you stopped to consider the point? Are you too entrenched in other’s thoughts (such as Dennett) to think of your own?... Do you feel angry? What physical reaction in your brain causes repulsion? Which causes swooning? Which causes fear? If you could tell me where the brain produced the physical reaction, does that explain why it happens?... Write a word down on a piece of paper and describe it in pure physics and chemistry… Don’t like that example? What does Father mean to you? Is there a text book definition that you could quote? Perhaps a sociological study is more in order. Is the love for your family just the movements of atoms through your brain? Can I make myself think things? If I can, is there an order of thoughts? Meaning, can some thoughts rule others and create others?

“If everything is physical: Who are you? Are you the sum of atoms, or more? If you lost one of atoms, would you cease to be you? What part has to go before that happens?... Before you write off all these questions as “Christian philosophical drivel” or something else, you should think. With all these thoughts swirling about in my brain: why should I believe any one of them?... I beg you, try not to slam the messenger who you feel doesn’t measure up to your level of intelligence or research. Wisdom may be gained from many different levels of a person.”

The inner workings of the mind of a devout Christian ladies and gentlemen! I know, because I used to think just like this, believe it or not. My friend is right, however, that we should try not to simply write off other people's thoughts and ideas as “philosophical drivel” or worse. Personally, I have good critical methods which help me sift the layers of information and detect the gold nuggets hidden within otherwise rocky silt, techniques such as Occam's razor. Critical thinking skills help to analyze and scrutinize the content of an idea, and I usually rely on a strong basis of research to balance and weigh the value, accuracy, and consistency of what I am hearing or reading. Logic helps me gauge what is most probable, and helps me hone in on the best inference to the truth. Indeed, without these tools we could not make light of any information we had.

Just to be clear, I do not think my friend is deliberately trying to be accuse me of sophistry, rather, I feel he is genuinely sincere in his sentiment. However, sentiments can sometimes be misguided, and our feelings can sometimes be misleading. I will attempt to address some of his points, however superficially, as I am no expert in all of the areas. As such, I can only point out obvious fallacies, mistakes, and show the evidence to my friend.

Critically Responding to the Questions
As I am formally trained in literary criticism, I must warn that the language of any critique can sound disconcerting, but where there is both positive and negative criticism, the thing we must pay attention to is the level of objectivity we apply in scrutinizing any idea and assessing its value. As such, if I sound harsh it is not because I am angry or offended. Rhetorical parrying can often come off sounding like mean spirited jabs, but I can assure you, I intend no ill will. That said, let the dialectic commence. (As per usual, my words are in red.)

“To say that Hitler was a devout follower of Christ is nonsense.”

Actually, I merely quoted Hitler, who himself, said it. As controversial as it is though, Hitler was a devout Christian. Here’s an overview: 1) Hitler was raised a devout Catholic, 2) the Nazi party prescribed to Positive Christianity (as Point 24 in the Nazi Party Program indicates) and held to an age old Christian tradition of Anti-Judaism, 2) the Nazi plan for Jews is nearly identical to Martin Luther’s seven-point plan to rid the world of Jews in his (extremely sinister) essay On the Jews and Their Lies, 3) Luther’s anti-Jewish tract was the basis for anti-Jewish policies implemented by Nazi Germany (which even leading Lutheran scholars agree, e.g. Martin H. Bertram), 4) Hitler praised Martin Luther in Mein Kampf and named him as one of his three main influences, 5) many of Hitler’s speeches pay lip service to God and Jesus Christ, the savior, and often mimics the Jewish extermination rhetoric of Pope Innocent III, 6) Hitler stated he believed he was doing a continuation of Catholic policy confirmed by a conversation he had on April 26, 1933 with the bishop of Osnabruck, Hermann Wilhelm Berning, 7) Hitler cited the 1933 Concordat between the Catholic Church and the Nazi Party as helping to further his cause, 8)   Holocaust historian, Guenter Lewy, has stated “Hitler was merely doing what the church had done for 1,500 years.” 9) I refer you to the original quote in which Hitler calls himself a Christian, and states he admires the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, regardless of what anyone may think, Hitler was, by any other definition, a believing Christian, 10) and on top of all this Hitler never once (not once!) mentions Darwin (or any of his works) in any of his speeches, writings, or dinner conversations which rules out any ties to Darwinism, meaning that Christianity was the main force behind Hitler's superstitious religious ideologies regarding the Jews.

“Tristan, do you honestly think that the cleansing of the Temple gives anyone any grounds for eliminating an entire nationality? Firstly, Christ did not kill anyone, but merely removed them from His Father’s house. Secondly, the apostles in Acts spoke very harshly against the Sanhedrin and accused them of killing Christ. But, they did not kill the members of the Sanhedrin but instead, the Sanhedrin imprisoned them for blasphemy and spreading rumors which put them in a bad light.”

I am going to skip this biblical exegesis since it has no actual bearing on whether or not Hitler was a believer in Christ (other than to show he knows his Bible stories), because as we have seen, he undeniably was. All I will add is that—like most Christians—Hitler was a “sinner” in need of saving. I personally make no distinction between Christians who fail a little bit to exemplify the life of Christ and those who fail a lot. But it is no secret that Christians in every age have invoked the name of God and the authority of Holy Scripture to attempt to gain power, control, and total hegemony over others.

“Simply stated, give me a Biblical case for genocide. If none can be made, then a Christian should view it as wrong.”

Without meaning to sound sardonic, try the Old Testament.

“Mostly, you need to read more about Christian Apologetics if you’re only now hearing of Hank [Hanegraaff], then you’re in the dark about a lot of authors probably.”

Actually, I’m not sure Hank was well known when I was in the Evangelical upswing of mid-West in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Certainly his online ministry would not have been known to me at that time, but as for reading more third rate apologetics which show an incompetence to do basic research, which gets basic facts wrong, and which are theological unsophisticated, how is this going to help? Believe you me, I have read my fair share (probably 120 books in all). I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news here, but I think it’s painfully obvious that, in the case of Christian apologetics, less is more.

“My personal favs (currently) are CS Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, RC Sproul, and John Lennox. I believe you know of Lennox who is a gifted mathematician. Most of the articles you’re slamming are very light and go into NO detail. Rather than slam them, read more exhaustive ones. For example, if you haven’t read Miracles by CS Lewis then you’ve not heard a well stated Supernaturalist view of the world. I agree that Hank won’t get you there… Lewis will get you closer and an honest reading of scripture will get you the closest… only the Holy Spirit can do the rest.”

I have read Miracles thrice over, in fact, I’ve read all of C.S. Lewis’ theological works. My original copy of Miracles has been literally highlighted to death, and I had to buy a new copy when I turned atheist just to re-read it without the pages falling out! Even so, that doesn’t mean he proved a single thing in that book, in fact, I am perfectly willing to argue that it was his poorest theological piece. It is fraught with false premises, fallacy driven inferences, and so much reductionism (disguised as methodological deduction) that it cannot even hold a flame to his other works. But that is a debate for another time.

“I’d like to end on your “Thirdly” point about Metaphysics… Sure, this article whetted your appetite for easy slander, but have you stopped to consider the point?”

Just to make myself absolutely clear, I never slandered anybody. I refuted the incompetent essay written by someone, who by default, must be either incompetent or deluded. That’s not a slander, that’s simply a result of the factual evidence. I then corrected the evidence, gave my sources, and showed the exact level of incompetence. Indeed, I was very careful to remain objective, and my rhetorical parrying should not be mistaken for personal attacks against anybody. Moreover, those criticized are more than welcome to write a rebuttal and defend their points with better research. In fact, I encourage it.

“Are you too entrenched in others thoughts (such as Dennett) to think of your own?”

On the contrary, I’m not entrenched in others thoughts, and I can think perfectly well on my own (and do). But I do use others as a springboard for new ideas, furthermore I rely on professional's exacting research and their findings to support my claims. This is part of critical thinking and writing. What's more, you can’t expect to weed out the bad theories and data and thereby replace it with the correct theories and data if you don’t take the time to do the minimum required research first. To prove a truth claim true requires, at the least, a bare minimum effort to support one’s claim with evidence. If you fail to do that, then all you have is an empty claim. Citing one’s sources is the scholarly thing to do, otherwise you are just talking out of your hat, and then nobody has any good reason to believe anything you say.

“Do you feel angry? What physical reaction in your brain causes repulsion? Which causes swooning? Which causes fear? If you could tell me where the brain produced the physical reaction, does that explain why it happens?... Write a word down on a piece of paper and describe it in pure physics and chemistry… Don’t like that example? What does Father mean to you? Is there a text book definition that you could quote? Perhaps a sociological study is more in order. Is the love for your family just the movements of atoms through your brain? Can I make myself think things? If I can, is there an order of thoughts? Meaning, can some thoughts rule others and create others?”

As I stated in my previous article, there is a vast and growing literature in the field of cognitive sciences. I referenced three books (Dan Dennett and Zoltan Torey’s work which both addressed human consciousness) but I will recommend some more.  Supersense by Bruce M. Hood answered both your questions about disgust and fear, as well as addressed the metaphysical perceptions generated by the mind. Antonio Damasio’s book Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain is an extremely thorough look into the mind/body link and is one of the best introductions into the evolutionary basis for human consciousness and cognition. The Physiology of Truth: Neuroscience and Human Knowledge by Jean-Pierre Changeux examines how we know what we know, how we know if it’s true or not, and whether or not we can trust our own perceptions/intuitions. The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris examines whether or not morality has a basis in science and whether or not the cognitive sciences yield any insights into how the brain generates morality. The reason I didn’t cite these examples before is because they did nothing to support my point about Hitler’s Christianity, but by all means refer to them and consult the experts!

“If everything is physical: Who are you? Are you the sum of atoms, or more? If you lost one of atoms, would you cease to be you?”

Well, technically, yes—if I lost an important atom I would become something else. It’s elementary my dear Christian! Take an oxygen atom away from H2O and you’re left with two paired hydrogen atoms. So, technically speaking, if you changed a single atom my atomic properties would be changed. However, you can remove mass and still maintain your basic physical properties. For example, if you have a surgery to take out a defective gallbladder you are losing the atoms which comprise that gallbladder without compromising your atomic stability (in this case you're just losing cells--not your atomic composition). Again, since there is no evidence that any metaphysical reality exists independently of the reality we observe, I simply cannot answer the first question, but at the same time it would be a futile endeavor to try to do so without the requisite evidence.

“Before you write off all these questions as “Christian philosophical drivel” or something else, you should think. With all these thoughts swirling about in my brain: why should I believe any one of them?... I beg you, try not to slam the messenger who you feel doesn’t measure up to your level of intelligence or research. Wisdom may be gained from many different levels of a person.”

I already addressed the first two points above. As for wisdom, what is wisdom if it is not experience gained? And through experience knowledge? I for one feel that there is just one level of wisdom—experience. Now the application of wisdom, that is, applying what we have learned through our daily experience, and using this knowledge for good, is a different matter entirely. If wisdom can come from any place else than experience, then I am unaware of any such case. I understand religious types believe there is a supernatural experience to be had, but as I have alluded to, we can explain our understanding of the world via strictly physical processes regarding the mind/body relationship. There is no reason to presuppose an alternate realm of experience, especially when all the desired evidence is still completely lacking, and so it begs the question—how could there be any other form of wisdom than that which we accrue from our daily interaction with the world around us and the experiences which help us to learn and grow?

Reversing the Trend by Setting the Record Straight
Whether or not I adequately answered my Christian friend’s questions, I do not rightly know. I guess you will have to be the judge of that. But I did my best to keep my responses succinct and state with clarity my ideas. Whether or not my answers will be looked into, that is fact checked, maybe, but maybe not. All I can say is, thus far, rarely has any Christian I have ever encountered read even one book I have referenced—let alone taken it upon themselves to follow up on all of the references. Usually they just engage in further rambling and question begging—and finally, when you’re worn down, they like to preemptively declare victory, assert that you have no real answers, and so claim their position becomes true by default—as if they were unconscious during the entire conversation—oblivious to the avalanche of refutations which relentlessly assaulted them from all sides.

Even so, by setting the record straight perhaps we can begin to reverse the worrisome trend I spoke about earlier, indeed, maybe by making the correct and up to date information more accessible, then our level of education won’t be such a dividing ordeal.  Hopefully, by being erudite and rising to the challenge, the religious will be persuaded to do the same—or else admit defeat.

In summation, the best method I have found for engaging with Christians (and the religious in general) in any debate, on any subject, is simply to refer them to the evidence—ask them to consult the relevant information—and hope they have as strong as desire as myself to keep searching out the truth—wherever it may lead.



Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Because the Truth Matters or Darwin vs. the Holy Flaming Snowflake of God!

 
Because the Truth Matters
“Is evolution racist?” is the insensible title of an article on CRI, or the Christian Research Institute, website which can be found at www.equip.org and which is spear headed by Evangelist Hank Hanegraaff (considered one of the world’s leading Christian apologist—according to his own bio on his own website and blog—although I wouldn’t really know since this is the first time I’ve ever heard of him).

After Googling his tome of work I was even less impressed. His book on the resurrection of Christ, simply titled Resurrection, seems to be all rhetoric and nonsense. After using Amazon.com to look inside the book I found some amazingly blinkered apologetics, such as Hanegraaff’s question “Will there be sex after the Resurrection?” His answer, simply put, “Yes and no—it all depends on what you mean by sex.” How could anyone not know what sex is?! Yes folks, that’s the exact level of sophistication we have been primed to expect from Christian apologists like Hank Hanegraaff (apparently this is what happens when your parents forget to have “the talk” with you).

You're probably thinking it couldn’t get any worse than this disconcerting display of claustral thought and, well, you’d be wrong. Hanegraaff’s explanation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is flabbergasting, to say the least. In summation it goes something like: The Lord is the resurrection, and His resurrection was the beginning of the release of His divine life into His believers. He came back and breathed Himself into His disciples… and it continues on like this ad nauseam. I mean, do Christians even bother trying to sift through the vague assumptions and convoluted content just to decipher the so-called truth? For some reason I highly doubt it.

Be aware, however, that like most Christian apologetics/ministry websites, most of the site is a money making racket. Every other link takes you to some sort of CRI sponsored merchandise for purchase, DVDs, books, direct donations, etc. Of the websites motto, because truth matters, I fully concur, but sadly, as you may have predicted, that’s where the search for the truth begins and ends—with a quaint sounding epigraph.

The mission of CRI, according to their official mission statement, is to provide Christians with carefully researched information (although this is contestable) and well-reasoned answers (even though this is likewise debatable) that encourage them in their faith and equip them to intelligently represent it to people influenced by ideas and teachings that assault or undermine orthodox, biblical Christianity (which begs the question, does this mean they will not accept the truth even if it should undermine orthodox, biblical Christianity?).

I first came across this apologetics website on my Facebook page when a Christian acquaintance had put up a link sponsoring the site's rhetoric (which we’ll get to momentarily). Ironically enough, however, the CRI post followed a James Randi Education Foundation post (www.randi.org). Just as an aside, if you are a believer and want to learn how to critically access the facts and use reason to scrutinize theories then there is probably no better place than the James Randi Education Foundation to learn about the methods and techniques of critical analysis. If I were you, I’d simply skip bad apologetics websites like CRI and go straight to www.randi.org and start reading. But that’s just me.

At any rate, I recently stated that I was feeling a little burnt out with the whole God debate, but perhaps that’s because I was not properly motivated. But then I came across this polemic filled misinformation machine called CRI and was just appalled at the sort of misconceptions it was sponsoring and the sort of misapprehensions of science and everyday reality it was churning out. That’s when I thought to myself, somebody has to shut this evil propaganda and misinformation machine down. Down with Newspeak!

Needless to say CRI is chock-full of pitiful (i.e., not even researched), embarrassing, incompetent, intellectually shaming, articles—tens of dozens of them. As such, I cannot waste my time and energy responding to every bit of incorrect information of each poorly researched article, since that would be quite impossible, but I shall attempt to address two really degrading and inferior articles called: “Is Evolutionism Racist” and “What about Theistic Evolution?” (which can be found at: www.equip.org/bible_answers/is-evolutionism-racist- and www.equip.org/bible_answers/what-about-theistic-evolution- on the CRI website).

Like the aforementioned James Randi, however, I too feel it necessary to set about correcting the misinformation and debunking the erroneous and flabbergasting propaganda out there.

Is evolution racist?
The title “Is evolution racist” is a dead giveaway that Hanegraaff, et al. (et al.—because it is unclear whether he is writing himself or has a bunch of born again lackeys doing it for him) knows absolutely zilch, nadda, nothing about Darwin’s theory of evolution—but apparently Hanegraaff wrote an entire book on the subject (cf., Fatal Flaws: What Evolutionsists Don’t Want You to Know, Nashville: W Publishing, 2003). The article opens with the disclaimer, “while not all evolutionists are racists, the theory of evolution is racist in the extreme.”

If I may make an observation, it appears the author is either incompetent or just completely ignorant, just as surely as an competent person of average intelligence wouldn’t mistake a natural theory about cellular reproduction and adaptation via natural selection for something as hackneyed as the social construct of racism. I got hammered for bringing this up to my Christian friend, who said I was simply engaging in a bit of name calling, but I reassured him that my intentions were sincere—and that I genuinely felt sorry for this poor deluded person (i.e., Hank Hanegraaff, et al.) since he was only propagating a lie and making himself look foolish and shaming himself in the process.

Next our author, after embarrassing himself with his lack of knowledge (as if Googling or typing into Wikipedia the key-phrase ‘the theory of evolution’ was just too difficult) he continues on to quote Charles Darwin, citing The Descent of Man in which Darwin states, “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.” Ironically enough, something which is lost on our author, is that Darwin makes it explicitly clear that “race” simply refers to the common descent of man (hence the title of the book). Never mind that Christianity for centuries has sponsored a strong support for racism and even used it as an excuse to maintain slavery! (I refer you to the writing of Louis Agassiz who advocated polygenism, which was popular among the Christian slaveholders of the South, since for many of the day his opinions legitimized the belief in a lower status of the “negro.” Darwin’s book The Descent of Man, however, is opposed to most of Agassiz’s theories—as anyone who has read it could tell you—and I have—and I just did).

Nice quote from Charles Darwin, but for some odd reason Hanegraaff, et al. seems to think it supports some sort of concealed form of racism when, in fact, it does not. Apparently our Christian apologist didn’t take the time to familiarize himself with the book (i.e., actually read it). Anyone who has read The Descent of Man knows that it explains, in exacting detail, one very important fact not to be forgotten—we’re all savages that will be replaced by highly evolved versions of ourselves, which Darwin makes perfectly evident in the very next few lines of the same paragraph, which our author would have known if he had read The Descent of Man in the first place. In the next several lines Darwin writes:

At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla. (Darwin, The Decent of Man, 1871, pp.200-201)

Thrashing the “Bulldog”
Predictably, our Christian apologists launches a tirade against Darwin’s “bulldog” the distinguished Thomas Huxley, stating that Huxley was “most responsible for advancing Darwinian doctrine.” Instantly, I was perplexed, and wondered what the hell “Darwinian doctrine” might be, but alas, our author does not define it—we can merely assume our author means it is some sort of “Bible of Evolutionism” which evolutionists keep in their top dresser drawer by their beds. 

Upon doing an online search on “Darwinian doctrine” I instantly found thousands of hits related to the “Doctrine of Creation” as sponsored by Creationists, which clues me in that “Darwinian doctrine” is merely Creationist terminology devised to earmark anything related to evolution or which might contend with their pet theory. Subsequently, this does nothing to clarify what “Darwinian doctrine” may entail, probably because it’s not a real doctrine of any sort, but let’s not bother ourselves with the trivial.

Our author then points out that Thomas Huxley titles his magnum opus The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, and then goes on to states that Huxley coined the term ‘agnostic’—as if this has any bearing on whether or not evolutionists are racist. Neither account, however, counts as evidence—and of course our author proves his ignorance of the text he refers to by failing to cite and address why he finds it, quote unquote, “racist.”

Following this illogical rationalization, team Hanegraaff quote mines from Huxley, who once stated, “No rational man cognizant of the facts, believes that the average Negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man.” Then our author adds that “Huxley was not only militantly racist but also lectured frequently against the resurrection of Jesus Christ in whom we are all one (Gal. 3:28).” Yet our author, in true form, fails to cite anything which shows Huxley’s so-called “militant attitudes” or, for that matter, fails to cite anything related to Huxley’s lectures against the resurrection of Jesus Christ (which is a pity because I was hoping to read some of that).

Once again, the Internet proves an invaluable research aid, as I again took the time to track down the Huxley quote. As it turns out, Huxley’s phrase has been lifted from his essay “Emancipation—Black and White” in which Huxley actually defends the emancipation of black slaves! What this means is, contrary to what the author may believe, Huxley’s quote is actually evidence against the rise of racism sponsored by any so-called “Darwinian doctrine.” In fact, Huxley states:

The highest places in the hierarchy of civilization will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins, though it is by no means necessary that they should be restricted to the lowest. But whatever the position of stable equilibrium into which the laws of social gravitation may bring the negro, all responsibility for the result will henceforward lie between Nature and him.” (Huxley, “Emancipation—Black and White,” available online: www.readbooksonline.net)

Here lies proof that Huxley was making the call for an emancipated black race, bound not by others, but only restricted by the laws of Nature—the same laws we all must abide. While some might mistake Huxley’s usage of the term negro as racist, we mustn’t neglect to take into account the basic histiography of the day. Indeed, because an author from the 1850’s uses an outdated term, which has since become obsolete, doesn’t mean the author was in fact racist. Nor could we expect someone to avoid usage of the terminology, especially one coming from the privileged class and could not foretell the future equality blacks would eventually come to share, even if they were acutely aware of the evils of racism in their day.

Mark Twain is another example of an author who frequently employed the colloquial terminology of his day, making quick use of the word nigger, as he penned the great American classic the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). Many have accused Twain of being a racist, thus banning his book from school and public libraries (often coming under attack by religious critics), yet obviously having missed the message of emancipation not having read the book—which is about the freeing of a black slave. After all, the story ends with Huck’s intention to head West—and back then the West was the land of opportunity—the frontier where one could stake out his own destiny.

Thus it does us good to pay attention to the basic histiography of the era we are quoting from lest we mistakenly accuse others of being racist, or inciting racism, when in fact they are not. Just as Twain wrote on themes which embodied the search for freedom, and took aim squarely against racial prejudice, rising segregation, lynchings, and the generally accepted belief that blacks were sub-human, so too the radical consequences of Darwinian evolution seek to render any notion of racism counterfeit while simultaneously emancipating our thought from the manacles of age old shibboleths. Along with Darwin, Huxley was a monogenist, which is a ten dollar word for the belief that all humans are part of the same species! What’s racist about that? In fact, that’s the opposite of racist, if you ask me. Ultimately, Darwin’s theory of evolution is unifying—showing that we are all brothers and sisters who are part of the same great big family—we are all made equal.

Night of the Long Knives
Without any transition, or warning, our unscientific and ahistorical minded apologist brings up “survival of the fittest” and the German Fuhrer, claiming both were consequences of the theory of evolution. Hanegraaff, et al. even goes as far as to state that “Adolf Hitler’s philosophy that Jews were subhuman and that Aryans were supermen led to the extermination of six million Jews.” Never mind that Aryanism stems from metaphysical (i.e., religiously based) misconceptions about human decent (again siding with polygenist opinion—in accordance to Biblical doctrine—e.g., Adam and Eve were the first humans *created by God. This Creationist ideology directly conflicts with the theory of evolution which supports the monogenist opinion that we evolved from one biological specimen that was not created by God but, rather, derived from Nature).

In a swift attempt to get rid of any opposition our author quotes the physical anthropologist Arthur Keith who maintained that Adolf Hitler’s philosophy conformed to the theory of evolution—something echoed in the work of Richard Weikart (see From Darwin to Hitler, 2004). Even as this sentiment directly contradicts Hitler’s own accounts of being a devout Catholic who was obliged to rid the world of Jews because they condemned Christ to death. In a speech given on April 12, 1922, Adolf Hitler had this to say: 

My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison and as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people. (Speech cited in Letter to a Christian Nation, p.14, originally from Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939. Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20. Oxford University Press, 1942).

Nevertheless, what we have here is Hitler’s own testimony to be a devoted follower of Jesus Christ! Hanegraaff, et al’s ploy is distinctly a religious attempt, once again, to tie all things secular to the atrocities of Adolf Hitler rather than the religious beliefs directly compelling his depraved ideology. The Biblical scholar and historian Hector Avalos has put this issue to rest in his essay “Atheism Was Not the Cause of the Holocaust” (which can be found in the anthology The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, ed. John W. Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2010). If you’re under the impression that Hitler wasn't, as he himself claims to be, a pious Christian—then you are mistaken.

Hanegraaff, et al. next states, surprisingly enough, something which makes sense, adding, “social Darwinism has provided the scientific substructure for some of the most significant atrocities in human history.” This is probably the only accurate comment in the whole piece, as far as I can tell, but for one small deficiency: Hanegraaff, et al. conflates social Darwinism (the origins of which are attributed to Darwin’s half-cousin Francis Galton—who coined the term eugenics in his book Hereditary Genius in 1869—and was later advocated by Herbert Spencer which was, in turn, greatly misused by Nazi and American scientists alike: see the BBC miniseries “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” for the history of social Darwinism and the misapplication of Darwin’s theories) and confused it with Darwin’s theory of evolution (a scientific theory based on incontestable evidence). This is a hugely embarrassing mistake which no knowledgeable person (or any person with a working Internet connection and ability to type a keyboard) would ever make.

Also, as with most Christian apologists, team Hanegraaff shows a shockingly superficial knowledge of Christian anti-Judaism. In fact, the link between Christianity and anti-Semitism is well documented, and realistically speaking, likely would not be contested by any serious historian in the know (see: Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of anti-Semiticism by Rosemary Ruether and The Origins of Anti-Semetism: Attitudes Towards Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity by John Gager).

Finally, in a bizarre conclusion, Hanegraaff, et al. writes on the racism sponsored by recapitulation theory and then informs that “modern molecular genetics has demonstrated the utter falsity of the recapitulation theory.” That’s how he concludes the piece. If you have a thought bubble floating above your head filled with a bold faced “???”—then you’re not alone. Yet such an ill-informed person would, in theory, be capable of making such a grandiose mistake as this—since only a dimwit or a delusional person would say something as self-contradicting as “Modern molecular genetics, which is rooted in the success of Darwin’s theory of evolution, disproves Darwin’s theory of evolution.” Well, to be precise, he said it disproves recapitulation theory—which subsequently disproves Darwin’s theory of evolution—recapitulation indeed. But as any well informed (Internet savvy) person knows—molecular genetics is sine qua non the best proof available that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny and the incontestable success of it was made by the prediction capabilities of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The Sing-a-Long Sing Song Against Evolution!
This is the song that never ends—yes, it goes on and on my friends. By now we have come to expect nothing less than the former example of dogmatic certitude coupled with lack of research and sheer scientific ignorance from Christian apologists who oppose the theory of evolution, and to a larger extent, science in general. Preferring their metaphysical assumptions about reality—instead of, well, reality—most apologists do not even bother looking into actual science—after all, they have the only book they’re ever going to need to read—God’s good book. How do Christians know evolution is wrong? Because it says so in the Bible. Well, not actually, but it does affirm a Creationist account of how things came to be—and this is clearly incompatible with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Clearly.

Christians who deny the theory of evolution, in my experience, are simply unknowledgeable in the areas that they criticize. I’m no scientist either, but at least I have taken the time to pick up a book on the subject and engage in the literature before I share my contrived opinion. As the saying goes, an uneducated opinion is like an asshole, everyone’s got one. But an educated opinion, that’s nothing the like—it’s something that is respectable because it counts in the realm of ideas—it is, literally, the proliferation of information, ideas, and knowledge. I cannot respect an uneducated opinion, because like an asshole, it is fetid and continuously constipates the realm of good ideas with bad ones.

Regardless, many Christians like to jump on the “evolutions is false” bandwagon and chime in with the tune, as if it’s become a tired-out church hymnal, and habitually their choir leaders love to wail the solo part at the top of their lungs—hoping to move the hymnists to their very core with the gut feeling that what they have to say is all true—evolution really is a sham—it hasn’t been proved—and science is untrustworthy! Hallelujah! Praise God on High! We believe, we believe, evolution is false, and if you chant it enough, you may even start to believe it too—that is, if you’re a weak minded twit.

This parochial sentiment is no clearer than on apologetics websites like CRI and in the ensuing article, entitled, “What about Theistic Evolution?” Yes, pray tell Mr. Hanegraaff, et al., what about theistic evolution? We can’t neglect to address that thorn in our theological back-side.

Apes evolving into Astronauts?! God forbid!!!
Our brave apologist, for this is the only redeeming character trait I can find in someone so totally ignorant that they are a borderline menace to society, I find his next endeavor a bit beyond his ability to research and access information. That is to say, without trying to sound too elitist, the incompetence to do any basic research or requisite fact checking proves that team Hanegraaff neither has the intellectual capacity or capability of even approaching a topic as philosophically complex as theistic evolution. But that doesn’t mean they don’t try—because they do—and, once again, fail miserably.

Hanegraaff, et al. goes on to state that “a growing number of Christians maintain that God used evolution as his method for creation. This, in my estimation, is the worst of all possibilities.” Worse than naturalistic atheism, I wonder? Okay, so let’s assume he means it, what is his evidence for this lofty presupposition? “It is one thing to believe in evolution; it is quite another to blame God for it. Not only is theistic evolution a contradiction in terms—like the phrase flaming snowflakes…. The biblical account of creation specifically states that God created living creatures according to their own “kinds”… As confirmed by science... Thus while the Bible allows for microevolution (transitions within “the kinds”) it does not allow for macroevolution (amoebas evolving into apes or apes evolving into astronauts).” Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle, science really does confirm Creationism, suck on them flaming snowflakes you damn dirty evolutionists!

Wait… what???

As per usual, the whole microevolution vs. macroevolution debate is once again called to the forefront of the theist’s repertoire—never mind it is a moot issue. Although I would typically expound on why it’s a moot issue, I don’t see the need to since our apologist neither explains the difference or the reasons for why one or the other supports his case—so, moving on.

Holy Flaming Snowflake of Metaphysical Reality Batman!
My favorite quote is the next fabulous piece of writing, in which our author affirms:

Evolutionary biology cannot account for metaphysical realities such as ego and ethos. Without data demonstrating the physical processes can produce metaphysical realities, there is no warrant to dogmatically declaring that humans evolved from hominids…. Finally, an omnipotent, omniscient God does not have to painfully plod through millions of mistakes, misfits, and mutations in order to have fellowship with humans. As the biblical account of creation confirms he can create humans instantaneously (Gen. 2:7)…. Evolutionism is fighting for its very life. Rather than prop it up with theories like theistic evolution, thinking people everywhere must be on the vanguard of demonstrating its demise.

Let’s unpack this jumbled up rambling series of thoughts and ideas, shall we?

First, ego has to do with ‘the thinking self’ or, in modern terms, self-consciousness. Kant distinguished between two types of ego, the empirical ego (or ordinary self-consciousness generated by our brains) and the transcendental or pure ego (something that cannot be known be known but must be presupposed for our experience to have any meaning). Freud would later develop the psychology of the conscious self, further developing the empirical ego, whereas Descartes would develop the transcendental or pure ego, also known as the Cartesian ego. Recent strides in the cognitive sciences, on the other hand, have done a lot to show that self-consciousness is entirely the byproduct of our brains functioning—and that without our brains—consciousness ceases to exist (there is a dense and growing literature on the subject, but for a quick summary I recommend reading Daniel Dennett’s work Consciousness Explained, The Mind’s Eye, as well as Zoltan Torey’s book The Crucible of Consciousness).

Secondly, ethos simply deals with the characteristics of current trends or trains of thought within a culture, era, or community. The Greek word ethos literally means “natural disposition” and is often translated as “customs.” I don’t know what our author intends by saying evolution is incapable of proving either, since it seems to me, that our evolutionary traits go a long way in explaining certain customs (e.g., courtship rituals and dating customs are, predictably, brought on by sexual selection). Meanwhile, cognitive science, such a natural psychology and neuroscience, seem to show that our brains, and so too our thoughts, are the end results of a long evolutionary process involving the handiwork of natural selection—that is we have adapted over the course of history to have larger brains (as evident in our species’ fossil record). This sort of disproves the Hanegraaff, et al. thesis right there. Even so, we ought to continue on with our critique, as not to say we ducked the responsibility of correcting the bad information.

Thirdly, if metaphysical realities did exist, then wouldn’t they have physical (detectable) consequences? If not, then why invoke an improbable and improvable concepts as evidence for something you wish to prove? If, on the other hand, metaphysical realities do exist—then I suppose, in theory, anything would be possible—even flaming snowflakes. Which just goes to show that our author seriously needs to put a halt on his jabbering and turn on that light bulb upstairs—you know the one—the one that’s been gathering all that dust. Hanegraaff, et al. needs to stop, do some real research, and then engage in some major reanalysis if they want to be taken seriously. Otherwise, the only thing Hanegraaff, et al. apologetics ministry and the CRI community has proven is that they are proud of their own reality defying ignorance. After all, they proudly plaster it on the World Wide Web for all to see, they unashamedly display it on the CRI website as badge of blind faith—a badge of Christian honor! But, maybe, in the end, that’s good enough for them?

Fourthly, I do not see what sharing a “fellowship with God” has to do with the topic of evolution. Again, this tangent is wrought with dubious allusions to other allusions about theological premises which involve Creation doctrine and a dubious talking snake. But whatever our author might mean, I’m certain it does him no good in proving his point, whatever it may be.

Fifthly, I really like the last sentence, “Evolutionism is fighting for its very life. Rather than prop it up with theories like theistic evolution, thinking people everywhere must be on the vanguard of demonstrating its demise.” It’s well written, it’s poetic, and it really makes you think. Also, it raises a lot of good questions, like, how does a scientific theory fight for its life? Are we merely mixing metaphors or is there some deeper meaning here? Having done nothing to show how theistic evolution is unsound, how do we expect to know when it’s being propped up when we don’t even know what it is and how it (supposedly) fails? Those on the vanguard of demonstrating its demise must wonder what it is exactly, I should think. Are we talking about evolutionism here or theistic evolution? Because last I checked, proving the validity of a scientific theory, such as the theory of evolution via natural selection, was distinctly not the same as validating a theological consideration. That is to say, as I understand it, science and theism are different disciplines entirely. Regardless of whether the theory of evolution fits with Christian doctrine or not, my point is, nothing of this sort was discussed—assertions were made to the effect that theistic evolution is false—but this has yet to be demonstrated.

As such, we must reject this unfounded theological conjecture not only because it is altogether unsupported but, perhaps more importantly, it makes utterly no logical sense to demonstrate the failure of something (i.e., demonstrably falsify it), and replace it with something that cannot be demonstrably falsified (e.g., the Christian concept God). If we take anything away from this though, it’s this: Christian apologetics websites are not places we should look to in order to get real, up to date, information about science any more so than a cooking website would contain useful information for motorcycle repair.

Don’t be that Guy
When I was a believing Christian I used to write essays like these, not knowing a thing about the positions I was arguing against, usually due to the fact that I hadn’t read any of the relevant literature out there. This is why I am confident that Hanegraaff, or whoever else may be behind these lackluster essays, did not read any of the relevant literature either—which, as a happy coincidence, accounts for their utter scientific ignorance.

At the same time, this is why genuine scientists like Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, and Victor Stenger (among other professionals) don’t typically waste their time arguing with second rate Christian apologists. First off, it is examples like the above which prove most apologists aren’t even familiar with the other side’s position in the first place, which is typically why whenever they argue against such positions they are merely arguing against themselves (and whatever clichéd version of the theory they have devised for themselves—this is a blatant case of the strawman fallacy). Indeed, the one thing that is abundantly clear is that evolution deniers, such as Creationists and Christian Fundamentalists, aren’t really arguing against evolution per se, since they (as we have seen) unwittingly invoke it as support more often than not, but they are arguing against their own concoction of whatever they imagine evolution might be (while being entirely in the dark as to what it really is—likely due to their stupendous scientific ignorance and sanctimonious certitude in their own pre-established religious beliefs).

Second of all, I might add, that I feel dismayed whenever I see Christians posting links to such apologetic drivel, as my online friend did, because it only acts as a disclaimer which boldly advertises their own stupendous ignorance and incredulity! As if they were proudly wearing the popular T-shirt which reads, “I’m with stupid” and sports a big cartoon finger (or arrow) pointing at, you guessed it, themselves. No need to advertise your own ignorance folks, have some dignity for crying out loud!

Christians would be wiser just to drop the middle-man, that is to say, stop reading apologetics websites hosted by second rate apologists like Hank Haengraaff and CRI, which may promise the truth but only offer up scantily clad generalizations of things which barely even remotely resemble the truth. Furthermore, take it from an ex-Christian who saw the light (that brilliant and illuminating Promethean flame), if you truly want answers, it helps to go straight to the source.

If you want to know about gardening you ask a horticulturist. If you want to know about the weather you ask a meteorologist. If you want to know about dinosaurs you ask a paleontologist. If you want to know about the best possible diet for you then ask a dietition. You want to learn about sex you consult a physiologist, psychologist, or porn star (perhaps all three). You want to learn to roll a cigarette with one hand, your best bet is, ask your uncle (who may or may not have once been a porn star). Understanding evolution then requires we ask someone in-the-know, namely an evolutionary biologist, as it certainly helps to become acquainted with the theories as proposed by the actual scientists—not some unqualified religious quack who has his own website—anybody can do that—don’t be that guy.

Granted, I don’t have all the answers, I never have pretended to—especially when it comes to advanced scientific theories beyond my domain of expertise. I try to leave that up to the professionals. But every now and again I will come across something so dreadfully appalling as to constitute a new sort of offense, in this case the offense being the spread and propagation of misinformation for the purpose of buttressing an already robust faith, all at the expense of the genuine truth. That’s why I felt compelled to step out of my domain of expertise for one moment and refute the wild fly by night theories coming out of the twice baked theology of Christian apologists, because I earnestly do believe the truth matters.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Burnt Out


Sorry for the lack of savvy and well researched posts. I have been so busy with work the past month that I haven't had time to write that much (let alone do any proper research). I'm finishing my book up now and will probably post publishing info in the near future.

As for the God debate, it's over. I'm fairly certain atheists are right and the religious are suffering from misperception. I know believers would like to say it's the other way around, but for the fact that atheists have two things going for them--their argument is supported by SCIENCE!

AND

The evidence for the existence of God is indistinguishable from the nothing atheists say they think is more probable than the existence of something which would require a surplus of tangible evidence which is seemingly all but absent. Let me word it another way, the evidence for God is exactly the same as if you'd expect nothing... so even if the atheist's conclusion turns out to be wrong--we ALL know that their prediction (as it is now) is undeniably sound.

Well, that's the uncertainty we all must live with.

I for one am burnt out on trying to convince believers to stop, pause for a moment, think about their beliefs, read a few good books, and re-think things. Anybody can cogitate... it never ceases to surprise me, however, that so many people should choose not to.

At any rate, if there is a subject any of you would like me to tackle or write on, just let me know.

Peace!

--Advocatus Atheist

You Think I'm Crazy?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Literary Jesus

Literary Jesus
Ten Reasons that Show the Gospels to be Works of Fiction
By Tristan D. Vick


Often times a certain work of fiction, or character portrayed within, will become so iconic that the work will literally challenge the way we perceive the world around us. As a student of literature, I know the profundity of stories which can capture the human imagination and hold power over us. In all this, there is probably one figure, one story that is still considered taboo to criticize completely, and that is the story of Jesus Christ.

Recently, however, there has been a greater attempt by scholars and historians alike to treat the material, namely the Gospels, which contain the exploits of the so-called historical Jesus in a different light by exposing it for what it (in actuality) appears to be—the work of fiction.

Christians seems to get annoyed by the mere suggestion that the Gospel Jesus may merely be little more than a fictionalization. They often rebut the statement by pointing toward all the historical information, never mind that much of it is inaccurate or altogether wrong, what counts for historical material also counts for Jesus’ historical validity in the eyes of the religious.

In fact, devout belief in Jesus’ historicity has been one of the leading reasons why the mythicist view, as well as the legendary and literary hypothesis, have all but been dismissed by Christians. But what strikes me as peculiar is the sheer ignorance and naïveté of the Gospel Jesus with which the religious prescribe to.

Christians aren’t stupid people—but time and time again they prove to be ignorant of the book they hold to be divine and the person they believe to be the Son of God—or so legend has it. You see, there are just too many reasons, too many clues, to many pieces of evidence which all compound to prove a rather startling case—the gospel Jesus is a literary creation. There may have been a real genuine historical figure lurking in the penumbra of ancient history, but this is only speculation since, as fate would have it, there isn’t enough evidence to identify let alone nail down (pardon the pun) any actual Jesus.

Meanwhile, anyone who has read their Bible and understood it will undeniably realize that nearly all of it is myth while the rest is historical fiction interwoven with these very same myths. Those who cannot see this, I am afraid, simply haven’t understood their Bibles and need to re-read it with a more critical outlook.

Recently I came across a very well written explication of why the Gospels are distinctly a literary creation and not historical. For some time now I have been of this opinion, but reading the Gospel Fictions by Randel Helms sealed the deal for me. Read it if you get the chance, because honestly, I do not see how anybody (even third rate apologists) can contest his research.

That said, I have composed a short list of reasons why we know the Gospels are fiction and the New Testament Jesus to be little more than a literary fabrication.

Clues which reveal a literary (e.g., fictitious) Jesus are:

1)     The Christian Story has its Roots in an Archaic Fable

Jesus is sent to earth to atone for mankind’s sins. But mankind’s “sins” are a convoluted concept found in an ancient Hebrew myth about a talking snake. If you read the Garden of Eden story very carefully the one thing which becomes abundantly clear is that the NT Jesus is (technically) dying because of the dubious antics of a fabulous talking snake (which traditionally appear in fable and folk-lore—tell tale signs of a tall tale, if you will). Biblical literalists have traditionally gotten over this by suggesting the so-called “talking snake” was, in “reality,” a devil tongues Satan in disguise—although there is absolutely zero Biblical evidence for this. Even if sin is real and the Garden of Eden myth is just a metaphor, it does nothing to explain away the problem of why God would have created sin in the first place or why he would sacrifice his own son unto himself for a curse he endowed upon the human race in the first place (see: Penal substitutionary Atonement theory).

Theology aside, we cannot expect the historical Jesus to literally have atoned for the curse of sin placed (unfairly) on two unknowledgeable, gullible, child-like, simple-minded adolescents who were beguiled by a cunning talking snake in a magical garden. Yet if you dismiss the story in Genesis as merely a fable, then the consequence is explicit, the concept of sin could only ever be a metaphor. Jesus very well could not have died for a metaphor, and that leaves sin undefined—but more importantly—it leaves the concept of sin open to interpretation. At the same time, it suggests that if there was a historical Jesus he probably died for social and political reasons related to his day and not for some unspecified, barely perceptible, supposition.


2)     No Authentic Eye-witness Testimony and too much Third Person Narrative

The Gospels contain the tradition of literary third person narrative for events which couldn’t possibly have had any eye-witnesses. Whether it is Jesus praying to God alone in the desert, or having a conversation with Satan atop of the highest pinnacle of the Jerusalem temple (cf. Luke 4:1-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13), or his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Mark 14:32-42; Matthew 26:36-46; Luke 22:39-46), the fact is, there couldn’t have possibly been anyone around to account for these moments of solitude. Third person narration is a technique frequently employed by storytellers while first person narration is usually used by those who have experience a particular event and later reflect upon it. Moreover, the NT continually gives itself away, as is the case in Mark (Mark 16:1-8) when the two women stumble upon the empty tomb of Jesus and flee in terror to tell know one of it, this only begs the question, who’s telling us (if nobody else is the wiser) and how on earth did they find out? The problem here is obvious; any theory which comes after the fact of the women’s silence which literally attempts to account for how we could possibly know what they never spoke of can only be post hoc speculation.


3)     There are Signs of Literary Embellishment

The Gospels, in their proper chronological order, have signs of literary embellishment which move further and further away from the original source of Mark, which itself may purely be fictional. About Christ’s resurrection the Biblical historian James D. Tabor clarifies has this to say:
“What I don’t think was happening was that there were people going around and saying, “I saw him,” as a revived flesh-and-blood corpse. That comes later. The reason I say that is because there are no Resurrection appearances in Q or in Mark. If they were so well known and so widespread, how could Mark write a Gospel and not put them in? If you read the Gospels in chronological order, Mark has no appearances, Matthew has one to the disciples and one to Mary Magdalene, Luke has several, and John has the most, and these get more and more “physical,” so that finally Jesus even eats with his disciples. What’s happening is that you get this embellishment of legend and a magnification of the theology.” (See: “Mysteries of History,” p.41, 2010. Available in PDF courtesy of James D. Tabor: http://www.youtube.com/user/Evid3nc3#grid/user/A0C3C1D163BE880A )

The same can be said with other details, such as who was at the tomb, was there no one, a boy perhaps, maybe an angel or two? How many animals did Jesus ride side-saddle into Jerusalem, was it one, or did he surf in on two? When Jesus rose on the third day did he hang around for forty days and sup with the remaining disciples, did an army of the undead rise and parade down the streets with him, or did he fly off into the sky like Superman? Up, up, and awayyyy! The point is, the pattern of embellishment always follows the progression of the mundane to the phantasmagorical. All this, of course, is the stamp of the literary imagination running wildand the taller the tale gets the less certain we can be it ever had its roots in reality to begin with. The consequences being, if we know points A, B, and C are all fabrications, then what it to suggest that points E, F, and G are not also? Therefore the whole NT becomes suspect.

4)     The Gospels are Historically Unreliable

Doubting the historical reliability of the NT is easy—especially since it gets more wrong than it gets right. Luke is reporting himself to be a careful (supposedly reliable) historian (Luke 1:3), yet seems to have the most trouble accurately reporting on historical concerns, such as the census debate, incorrect genealogies, conflicting accounts when Jesus was supposedly born, and so on. Whereas the author of John’s high Christology is evidence that he was writing from a very different mind-set and from a very different Jesus tradition. It’s not the fact that one or two of the NT stories have historical inaccuracies which should bother Christians, but the fact that there are so many as to constitute the NT as a unsanctioned, unauthorized, and unofficial work by hack historians who are all but malfeasant in how they practice and apply the historical method (apparently a tradition which has carried on in Biblical studies relatively uncontested). On the other hand, if the Bible, the Gospels, and the rest of the NT are works of fiction then (at least) the historical inaccuracies are forgivable, albeit an eyesore for any historian and/or knowledgeable reader.

Archeology, meanwhile, has proved beyond a reason of a doubt that there was no town called Nazareth during Jesus’ day (See Rene Salm’s book The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus for more on the Christian problem of a distinct lack of archeological evidence with regard to the Gospel stories, also read Frank R. Zindlers essay “Where Jesus Never Walked,” in American Atheist, Winter 1996-97—available online at: http://www.atheists.org ). In fact, oddly enough, mention of the capital city, the Jewel of Galilee, Sepphoris, is missing altogether from the NT. The implications of this all point to the Gospels being a later literary creation—as the Greek authors of the NT were obviously unfamiliar with the basic geography of the region they were writing about. Nobody from Galilee would have made this mistake, and this presents a two-fold problem for Christians because 1) it reveals that the whole of the NT is literary in nature and 2) definitively proves that the synoptic tradition has no actual eye-witness testimony to speak of (since any living eye-witness would have corrected the information. That is, in modern terms, you could not talk about the politics of Washington D.C.—in a tome as large as the NT—without briefly mentioning Capitol Hill or the White House even just once).


5)     The Gospel Jesus Uncannily Conforms to the Mythic Hero Archetype

There is nothing in Jesus’ life story that does not conform to the mythic hero archetype (to acquaint yourself with the mythic hero archetype read Joseph Campbell’s A Hero with a Thousand Faces). Nearly every event, every miraculous deed, even the themes of his teachings and the adventures he has with his merry band of Apostles, from his virgin birth to his death and resurrection, all these events fit with similar events cataloged in the stories of countless other heroes of myth and legend—which subsequently either predate (i.e., precede) or immediately follow (i.e., tag on to) the Jesus narrative. Although this doesn’t prove there was no historical figure named Jesus, it does confound any attempt to separate the historical Jesus from the Gospel Jesus—leaving Christians in a bind. Now Christians must concede one of two points, neither of them trivial. Either they concede to the fact that there was probably never any historical Jesus and side with the mythicist view, or else they can salvage their faith in the historical Jesus as long as they concede to the fact that, as the Biblical historian R. Joseph Hoffmann has alluded to, there is relatively nothing that can be known of him to any certainty which would pass as historically trustworthy—that is we must remain agnostic as to who and what the historical Jesus may have been.


6)     The Gospels are Self-reflexive

The Gospel Jesus often times contradicts himself, so frequently in fact that he negates many of his own sayings (meaning it’s more likely they aren’t genuine sayings at all—John 5:31 and John 8:14 are good examples of this). Not only this, but many of Jesus’ so-called sayings fit the pattern of literary persuasion, or rhetoric. Frequently when a NT author would want to get across a message they would Jesus as a mouthpiece, but often times the authors disagree on what the message should be. An obvious case with this is with regard to Jesus final dying breath of Jesus, in which, according to the Gospels, each time he dies he says something inharmoniously different. First, I should like to point out, this again rules out any eye-witness testimony, since we can reasonably assume that if there were eye-witnesses they all would have reported Jesus last words to be the same—instead of the discrepant and discordant reports we do get. Second of all, within these sayings are embedded subtle strands of Midrashim—as the basis and content for Jesus’ dying speeches are rooted in the Psalms, for example. Randel Helms has pointed out that the NT frequent interpolation of OT text, utilized to supply an intended meaning, is an element of literary creation, observing:

In the language of literary criticism, the Gospels are self-reflexive; they are not about Jesus so much as they are about their own attitudes concerning Jesus…. The Gospels are Hellenistic religious narratives in the tradition of the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, which constituted the “Scriptures” to those Greek-speaking Christians who wrote the four canonical Gospels and who appealed to it, explicitly or implicitly, in nearly every paragraph they wrote. (Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions, p.16)


7)     Lack of Authentic Jesus Sayings

What’s more, many of the self-reflexive elements also appear to be anachronistic reflections of the evangelist and not the original teachings or sayings of Jesus. In Mark 8:35 Jesus said: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whoesoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” How could Jesus have said this when there was no actual gospel text when he lived? The Gospels, which are about Jesus, did not appear until after his death! So this verse must be anachronistic, or, if Jesus was prophesying about the future, surely one of his followers would have raised an eyebrow and asked, “Rabbi, what the bloody hell is a “gospel”? (The point being the word ‘gospel’ comes from the Greek euangelion, or ‘good news’, and would not have been used by Jesus who spoke Aramaic—therefore this is a literary term incorporated by a Greek author and not the original sayings of Christ—see: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2098&t=KJV).

If, on the other hand, the term gospel here simply refers to the coming Kingdom, as Jesus frequently intended, then the salvation theology of this quote seems to be derivative of the “good news” of the evangelist (Rom. 1:1-2; 1:16) rather than falling in line with the “good news” of an apocalyptic preacher (Mark 1:15). I know the subtle difference here may go over some readers head, but just to clarify, “repent and be saved” is distinctly a different type of ‘gospel’ than ‘take up your cross, follow me, and be saved.’

Interestingly enough, in the very next chapter Jesus follows up his salvation speech with his most famous failed prophecy (Mark 9:1) which, coincidentally enough, happens right before a meeting with the divinely reincarnated corporeal forms of Elias and Moses—which the Apostles beheld (Mark 9: 2-9) which, in turn, gives itself away as a literary creation when in verse nine the author of Mark  has [Jesus] “charge them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead.” Oddly, none of them stop to ask, “But Rabbi, are you going to die and bodily come back to life like Moses and Elias—whom we just met?” Again, if they just assumed they would see Jesus again in the coming Kingdom, then this whole affair seems rather pointless, but in Mark 9:31 Jesus restates the point, adding details of the crucifixion (so important as it cannot possibly be forgotten and so needs reiterating), but here Mark simply has the disciples cower in fear and confusion stating, “But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him (Mark 9:32). This bodily resurrection theology and strong emphasis on the importance of the resurrection (not the coming Kingdom), again, fits with the evangelical author and not with the original teachings of an apocalyptic prophet. That’s the distinction readers should be keen to keep in mind.


8)     No Aramaic or Hebrew Source

Now it is well known that there is no Aramaic or Hebrew source for the synoptic tradition, something which Christians never seem to think twice about, but such a fact should cause us to pause. Randel Helms goes on to outline a case of further literary embellishment via the use of language and how an original Greek phrase in the Gospels will get changed to Aramaic to sound more authentic, but then the Aramaic would be changed to Hebrew as an apologetics ploy to avoid linguistic confusion which would arise through use of the Aramaic. In fact, this is such an important point in exposing the Gospels as works of fiction that I must quote a large section of Randel Helms’ work at liberty since he explains it far more judiciously than I could. Again, we come back to the last words of Christ.
Mark presents these words in self-consciously realistic fashion, shifting from his usual Greek into the Aramaic of Jesus, transliterated into Greek letters: Eloi eloi lama sabachthanei (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?—Mark 15:34). Mark gives us no hint that Jesus is “quoting” Psalm 22:1; we are clearly to believe that we are hearing the grieving outcry of a dying man. But the author of Matthew, who used Mark as one of his major written sources, is self-consciously “literary” in both this and yet another way: though using Mark as his major source for the passion story, Matthew is fully aware that Mark’s crucifixion narrative is based largely on the Twenty-second Psalm, fully aware, that is, that Mark’s Gospel is part of a literary tradition (this description would not be Matthew’s vocabulary, but his method is nonetheless literary). Aware of the tradition, Matthew concerned himself with another kind of “realism” or verisimilitude. When the bystanders heard Jesus crying, according to Mark, to “Eloi,” they assumed that “he is calling Elijah [Eleian]” (Mark 15:35). But Matthew knew that no Aramaic speaker present at the Cross would mistake a cry to God (Eloi) for one to Elijah—the words are too dissimilar. So Matthew self-consciously evoked yet another literary tradition in the service both of verisimilitude and of greater faithfulness to the Scriptures: not the Aramaic of Psalm 22:1 but the Hebrew, which he too transliterated into Greek—Eli Eli (Matt. 27:46)—a cry which could more realistically be confused for “Eleian.” Matthew self-consciously appeals both to literary tradition—a “purer” text of the Psalms—and to verisimilitude as he reshapes Mark, his literary source. The author of Mark was apparently unaware that his account of the last words was edifying fiction… but Matthew certainly knew that he was creating a linguistic fiction in his case (Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew), though just as clearly he felt justified in doing so, given his conviction that since Psalm 22 had “predicted” events in the crucifixion, it could be appealed to even in the literary sense of one vocabulary rather than another, as a more “valid” description of the Passion.
            Continuing on, Helms identifies similar literary emendation in Luke, observing:
Luke is even more self-consciously literary and fictive than Matthew in his crucifixion scene. Though, as I have said, he knew perfectly well what Mark had written as the dying words of Jesus, he created new ones more suitable to his understanding of what the death of Jesus meant—an act with at least two critical implications: First, that he has thus implicitly declared Mark’s account a fiction; second, that he self-consciously presents his own as a fiction. For like Matthew, Luke in 23:46 deliberately placed his own work in the literary tradition by quoting Psalm 30 (31):5 in the Septuagint as the dying speech of Jesus: “Into your hands I will commit my spirit” (eis cheiras sou parathesomai to pneuma mou), changing the verb from future to present (paratithemai) to suit the circumstances and leaving the rest of the quotation exact. This is self-conscious creation of literary fiction, creation of part of a narrative scene for religious and moral rather than historical purposes. (Helms, Gospel Fictions, pp.16-17)

9)     The Gospels were Written by Greek Authors Wholly Unfamiliar with Jesus

Knowing that there was no Aramaic or Hebrew source, and having evidence which shows this to be an incontestable fact, we are left with one last startling revelation: the Gospels were written by Greek authors living hundreds of miles away from where the purported events took place, and they wrote down their versions of these events from (most likely) hearsay and oral tradition, but themselves had not been witness to the events they pretend to report. Furthermore, they were unfamiliar with the basic geography and archeology of the region. On top of all this, each author employs literary methods of storytelling thereby making their writing self-reflexive.


10) Confidence in the Literary Hypothesis as the Best Inference to the Truth

Finally, we must be brave enough to face the facts, and the fact of the matter is all the evidence we have alludes to the reality being that the Gospels are conspicuously works of fiction (read the aforementioned Gospel Fictions by Randel Helms). Thus, the only estimation of Jesus we can make is that he may have been a real historical figure (see The Jesus Dynasty by James D. Tabor), but all the evidence points to the contrary (I expound on this point further in my forthcoming book Deconversion: Why I am Not a Christian). In fact, unless Christians can satisfactorily address all of these points clearly and without conjecture—then we can be confident that the literary hypothesis, or more accurately the mythicist view, has a higher probability for being the correct depiction of how the Gospels came about and at the same time accounts for the discrepant information we find within the Jesus narrative and tradition (see The Empty Tomb: Jesus beyond the Grave ed. by Robert M. Price, Not the Impossible Faith by Richard C. Carrier ).

In conclusion, there is nothing to suggest the Gospels were not intended to be historically realistic fictions (see The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics by Christian theologian and scholar Hans Frei), on the other hand, there is a surplus of evidence to show they are ahistorical, discrepancy filled, inharmonious texts (see Life of Jesus Critically Examined by David F. Strauss). This fact casts doubt on any theoretical model which would try to make them literal accounts of authentic history. This much we do know—they could not possibly be literal accounts of history (read The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man by Robert M. Price, Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? by Dennis R. MacDonald, Lost Christianities and Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman, and Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth by Burton L. Mack just for starters).

We know enough about the time, the era, the history of our immediate past to know the Gospels are egregiously poor written “historical” reports at best, and at worst they are the religious fictions, by men who knew nothing about the real Jesus and who lived and wrote several decades after the purported events ever took place (read Jesus Interrupted by Bart D. Ehrman). Therefore any theory which contends that the Gospel and NT account of Jesus is historically accurate needs to put on their analytical thinking caps and re-read their Bibles (read Sources of the Jesus Tradition ed. by R. Joseph Hoffmann).

I think it’s fairly safe to assume any such theory which tries to claim the Gospel Jesus as a purely historical Jesus can be readily dismissed as the evidence demands it. Rather a new dominant theory must emerge which makes sense of both the historical as well as the literary elements, and the best theory I know of which includes both and leaves nothing out is the literary hypothesis of Jesus which comes out of the mythicist view held by a wide variety of scholars and historians (e.g., Charles Francois Dupuis, Constantine-Francois Volney, Bruno Bauer, Arthur Drews, John M. Allegro, G.A Wells, Alvar Ellegard, Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, Richard Carrier, Thomas L. Thompson, and R. Joseph Hoffmann). It currently appears to be the best inference to the truth, and until other competing theories can explain as much while accounting for all the areas of interest such as archeology, history, literary, etc., then it seems to me that it the mythicist view becomes the preeminent representative view of Christian history.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist