The Bible’s Dark Ages

Parchment and whether Jesus is divineWe’re taking a trip through time, from our English New Testament, back through the translations and various copies (Part 1), back through the textual variants to our best guess at the original Greek manuscripts (Part 2). We’ve arrived at our best reconstruction of the canon determined by the Council of Nicaea (325 CE).

The novel The Da Vinci Code portrayed the Council as the stereotypical politicians’ smoky back room where the features of Christianity and the books that represented it (the canon) were haggled over. Many Christian sources have argued against this characterization, saying that the canon had largely been decided by the early churches by that point, but this doesn’t avoid the problem. Selecting the canon would’ve been a popularity contest either way. If the bishops at Nicaea didn’t vote it into existence, then the weeding-out process in the early church created a de facto canon that the bishops accepted with minimal change. Either way grounds the canon on the imperfect shoulders of ordinary people.

Let’s take the next step. We have a big gulf to cross from 325 CE to roughly 70–90 CE, when the originals were written down.

Suppose that Mark was written in Rome in the year 70. Copies are made and it gradually makes its way to Alexandria, where it is copied over and over until it finds its way into the Codex Sinaiticus in about 350. What happened to it in those 280 years? How does the version that we have vary from the original manuscript, now lost to history? That’s a lot of time for hanky-panky.

The issue isn’t that I’m certain that the books were changed significantly; rather, we aren’t certain that they weren’t. This period from Nicaea back to the originals is the Bible’s Dark Ages, a period with very little documentation. We have just a few dozen Greek manuscripts that precede the complete codices. The papyrus manuscripts are all fragments, containing at most a chapter or two of one book. These manuscripts are remarkable finds, but that does nothing to change the fact that we’re bridging a large gap with little information. We can’t say that our copies differ little from the originals because we don’t have the originals.

This biblical Dark Ages was a period of much turmoil in the Christian community. The divisions in early Christianity were much bigger than the modern Lutheranism vs. Presbyterianism distinction, say. Instead of French vs. Spanish, think French vs. pre-Columbian Mayan. And these divisions were all fighting for survival, fighting for their place in the canon.

Historians know of four primary divisions in the early Christian church.

Proto-Orthodox. This is Bart Ehrman’s term for the early Christian sect that would become Christianity as we know it today. Paul’s writings (which changed Jewish law to reject circumcision, the kosher laws, and so on) form the heart of this division.

Ebionites. These may have been the first Christians, because they saw Jesus as a Jew. This was the Jesus who said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (Matt. 5:17). The New Testament documents the struggles between the James/Peter sect and Paul in Galatians 2:11–21. Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus says,

According to the Ebionites, then, Jesus did not preexist; he was not born of a virgin; he was not himself divine. He was a special, righteous man, whom God had chosen and placed in a special relationship to himself.1

Marcionites. This Christian variant was put forward by Marcion in about 144 CE. The Marcionites had no use for the Old Testament, since it documented the Jews’ god, who was different from the (unnamed) father of Jesus. Marcion argued that you could answer to Yahweh if you wanted, but Jesus offered a much better option. This Jesus was divine and only appeared to be human. Consider John 20:26: “Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.” Marcion considered only Paul’s writings to be canonical.

Gnostics. The Gnostics rationalized the evil in the world by saying that the world was created by a demiurge (craftsman) who didn’t intend to or wasn’t able to create a perfect world. While most people on the earth were just animals, some held a divine spark. For that special few, Jesus’s hidden knowledge would be necessary after death to see them safely back to heaven. We see this in Luke 8:10: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, ‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’”

Biblical redaction is the deliberate change or concatenation by a later editor, and the Bible is full of examples. For example, the Old Testament has two creation stories, two flood stories, two contradictory Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 vs. 34), and even two David and Goliath stories.

The New Testament holds clues to this kind of change as well. For example, John ends with chapter 20 and then again with chapter 21.2 The authorship of Peter’s two epistles is unclear. Jesus says, “But about that day or hour [of the end] no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36), but some scribes omitted the startling phrase “nor the Son” from their copies.

The Ebionite, Marcionite, and Gnostic passages above suggest that our Bible is a conglomeration of different traditions, with verses or chapters added as necessary to dull the edge of an unwanted concept.

This isn’t meant to be a thorough discussion of New Testament redaction. Rather, I want to show just a few places where it is suspected and to suggest that it could have been even more widespread. Claims as remarkable as those of the gospels must be built on more than “Well, they might not have been changed.”

The message of James differs from the message of Paul; the message of Paul differs from the message of Acts; the message of the Revelation of John differs from the message of the Gospel of John; and so forth. Each of these authors was human, each of them had a different message, each of them was putting the tradition he inherited into his own words.3

Would writings be deliberately changed? The author of Revelation apparently knew it was widespread enough to end with a curse against anyone who would modify his book. The famous Testimonium Flavianum in Josephus (“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man …”) is almost universally said to have been added by later copyists. With the pull of competing Christianities, the urge to “improve” a book might have been irresistible.

Would competing writings be destroyed? It happened in Islam. The “Uthmanic recension” was the process through which one version of the Koran was accepted and all competing versions destroyed. The Nag Hammadi library seems to have been buried. Why hide these books unless there was reason to fear destruction? Perhaps, like the Koran, the Bible has been modified through destruction.

While historians have told us a remarkable amount about the societies from which Christianity arose, our understanding is changing even in our time. For example, consider “Gabriel’s Revelation,” a recently discovered first century BCE writing that talks about a suffering messiah, not Jesus but Simon of Peraea. “In three days you will know that evil will be defeated by justice.” Do we conclude from this that resurrection after three days wasn’t a new concept to the Jesus-era Jews? In this revelation, the messiah sheds blood, not for the benefit of sinners but for the redemption of Israel.

Of course we don’t discard the clues we have about the original New Testament documents, but let’s proceed with humility about how little we can say with confidence.

Read the first post in the series here: What Did the Original Books of the Bible Say?

Next time: the last post in the series will take the step from gospel originals to the figure of Jesus.

1 Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (HarperOne, 2005), p. 156.
2 Ehrman, 61.
3 Ehrman, 215.

Photo credit: Walter Noel

76 thoughts on “The Bible’s Dark Ages

  1. The issue isn’t that I’m certain that the books were changed significantly; rather, we aren’t certain that they weren’t. This period from Nicaea back to the originals is the Bible’s Dark Ages, a period with very little documentation. We have just a few dozen Greek manuscripts that precede the complete codices. The papyrus manuscripts are all fragments, containing at most a chapter or two of one book. These manuscripts are remarkable finds, but that does nothing to change the fact that we’re bridging a large gap with little information. We can’t say that our copies differ little from the originals because we don’t have the originals.

    Herein lies Bob’s problem. Is Bob certain that the Bible has been changed in a significant way? No, he is not. Bob’s whole argument here, and in many other posts is:

    “Well, they could’ve been changed!”

    Bob lists many separate things, which to him, make it plausible that the Bible could have been changed. None of these facts are actually evidence that the Bible was changed, mind you, these are just facts which, to Bob, renders it plausible that the Bible was significantly changed.

    Now, this is meaningful, if like Bob, you are biased against the supernatural. If the existence of a natural explanation you find “plausible” automatically trumps any supernatural explanation, Bob’s posts are meaningful.

    Now, an open minded person would look at Bob’s facts and not the following:

    1. Small, insignificant changes have indeed been made (spelling, punctuation, so on).
    2. There is no actual evidence supporting the idea that large widespread changes were made.
    3. While it is possible that large widespread changes in the Biblical manuscripts did occur, without actual evidence that they did, the mere possibility that they did is not enough to take this explanation seriously. We should believe things that are supported by evidence, and not just because we happen to find them “plausible”.

    Bob is a fan of posting a great many things he finds “plausible”, and the reasons that he finds those things “plausible”. None of those reasons are actually evidence that any of those things occurred, just random stories that Bob happens to think are more plausible than the Biblical accounts actually being true.

    Would Bob apply this standard to other historical works? Would he say that we really can’t have any idea what Plato, or Aristotle ever said or wrote? No he wouldn’t. Because those aren’t “supernatural” or “extraordinary” claims to Bob. He is far more willing to accept those those documents really are genuine than he is the Bible, or other supernatural accounts.

    Why? Because Bob is biased.

    It’s really that simple.

    Now, for those reading this, you have a choice. You can be biased, prejudicial and judgemental like Bob. Or, you can actually be a true free-thinking open minded individual. It’s your choice.

    Bob has made his. It doesn’t have to be yours.

    • “Well, they could’ve been changed!”

      It’s good that we’re finally on the same page. Given the myriad places where we’re certain that the Bible was changed, it seems likely that in this documentation-free period, there was much more monkey business.

      The Bible story is a pretty shaky foundation on which to place the claim “Jesus rose from the dead” (or any other supernatural claim).

      Now, this is meaningful, if like Bob, you are biased against the supernatural.

      And we’ve yet to hear your judgment on the supernatural. How do you evaluate Sathya Sai Baba’s claims to have raised the dead? This happened in your own lifetime, so my worries about stories being corrupted or modified wouldn’t apply here.

      If the existence of a natural explanation you find “plausible” automatically trumps any supernatural explanation

      Yes, this is how I weigh things. I suspect that I’m in the majority.

      2. There is no actual evidence supporting the idea that large widespread changes were made.

      Right. Except for all the evidence that we have. Reread the post and see.

      We should believe things that are supported by evidence, and not just because we happen to find them “plausible”.

      And following the evidence is how we find something plausible or implausible.

      Bob is a fan of posting a great many things he finds “plausible”, and the reasons that he finds those things “plausible”.

      Hopefully these reasons will shake the certainty of some Christians.

      None of those reasons are actually evidence that any of those things occurred

      OK–evidence of the flimsy support that the miracle claims of the gospels are built on doesn’t interest you. Got it.

      Would Bob apply this standard to other historical works? Would he say that we really can’t have any idea what Plato, or Aristotle ever said or wrote? No he wouldn’t.

      Wrong. Every single stinkin’ claim that Plato or Aristotle made that was supernatural, I doubt. Consistently. Just like with the Bible.

      • It’s good that we’re finally on the same page. Given the myriad places where we’re certain that the Bible was changed, it seems likely that in this documentation-free period, there was much more monkey business.

        We’re not really on the same page. You should really read what I say in context, not just lift and quote what makes you feel better. As for your new claim, why is it “likely”? Is it the case that, in general, the existence of small errors makes big errors “likely”? Of course not.

        What evidence do you have that it was “likely”?

        How do you evaluate Sathya Sai Baba’s claims to have raised the dead?

        I try to evaluate them the same way I would evaluate any claim.

        This happened in your own lifetime, so my worries about stories being corrupted or modified wouldn’t apply here.

        Why is that? To you, 5 yrs is enough for an almost complete rewrite of a text to occur just due to “corruption” alone. I don’t see how you can then turn around and say “Well, this argument wouldn’t apply because it happened in my lifetime”.

        I am rather older than 5 Bob. I know that’s a shock.

        Right. Except for all the evidence that we have. Reread the post and see.

        I did. You don’t give a scrap of evidence actually demonstrating that major, significant changes have occurred. Weaving a story and then concluding that well.. its possible.. is not evidence.

        What sort of facts do you actually state here?

        Divisions in the church.
        The existence of small errors.
        The existence of different accounts of certain events in the Bible.

        Your argument can really be best summed up by these passages

        This isn’t meant to be a thorough discussion of New Testament redaction. Rather, I want to show just a few places where it is suspected and to suggest that it could have been even more widespread.

        The issue isn’t that I’m certain that the books were changed significantly; rather, we aren’t certain that they weren’t.

        Or to put it another way, since its possible they might have been, they must have been until someone can prove to your standard of evidence that they weren’t.

        Yes, this is how I weigh things. I suspect that I’m in the majority.

        Your “suspicions” are meaningless.

        And following the evidence is how we find something plausible or implausible.

        Indeed. For instance, I might find it “plausible” that there were major rewrites of the Biblical texts if you were to establish some sort of precedent showing that rewrites from completely natural to completely supernatural accounts have occurred in other places. You haven’t done that.

        You might also provide a chronology of Biblical manuscripts that suggest that over time, the accounts grew more and more different from the earliest known account. Well, you haven’t done that either.

        A third possibility would be demonstrating that where small errors in a manuscript transmission are found, statistically speaking, there are larger errors present as well. Have you done that? No.

        All of those things would be actual pieces of evidence supporting you conclusion. Saying “They were written so long ago!” , “Look at all this division!”, “Isn’t it just plausible ?” isn’t evidence its just cheap rhetoric.

        Hopefully these reasons will shake the certainty of some Christians.

        How’s that been working out? I don’t seem to remember anyone ever having their “certainty” shaken from your ever so enlightened arguments.

        Wrong. Every single stinkin’ claim that Plato or Aristotle made that was supernatural, I doubt. Consistently. Just like with the Bible.

        Indeed. You are close minded, prejudiced, biased, and too ignorant to realize it.

        • We’re not really on the same page.

          Dang!

          You should really read what I say in context, not just lift and quote what makes you feel better.

          You said, “Bob’s whole argument here, and in many other posts is: ‘Well, they could’ve been changed!’” and I agreed.

          You’re a tough guy to agree with.

          As for your new claim, why is it “likely”?

          Read what I wrote. It’s because of the dramatic changes we know were made.

          To you, 5 yrs is enough for an almost complete rewrite of a text to occur just due to “corruption” alone.

          Oh dear, yet another reference to 1 Cor. 15. We don’t know that it was just 5 years–that’s my point. Might’ve been added 50 years later.

          “Well, this argument wouldn’t apply because it happened in my lifetime”.

          Huh? The argument “well, that story could’ve been corrupted by centuries of copyists with agendas” doesn’t apply when it’s a story told from the mouths of eyewitnesses.

          You don’t give a scrap of evidence actually demonstrating that major, significant changes have occurred.

          Or you could just read the post. And the two that came before. No point in repeating it here.

          You are close minded, prejudiced, biased, and too ignorant to realize it.

          Case closed! I’m glad we got that resolved.

        • Read what I wrote. It’s because of the dramatic changes we know were made.

          Name one single “dramatic” change that we know was made. Not, one “different version” that we know is out there. I want a dramatic change from one accounting to the next.

          Oh dear, yet another reference to 1 Cor. 15. We don’t know that it was just 5 years–that’s my point. Might’ve been added 50 years later.

          Right. I forgot. You don’t agree with the consensus of Biblical scholars because there might be a Muslim somewhere that has a different opinion than them. And after all, all Biblical scholars (except for Muslim) are probably Christians and then they have (gasp!) “agendas”!. No.. we can’t trust them. Not at all.

          That makes perfect sense .

          Case closed! I’m glad we got that resolved.

          Well.. we don’t. Cause you don’t realize it. Unless.. you do realize it, and you are happy being close minded, ignorant, prejudiced and biased? I suppose that is possible.

          Since Bob is too high and mighty to restate even one scrap of the volumes of evidence he’s apparently provided, perhaps some other kind soul can step in. Just one actual piece of evidence supporting the idea that major significant changes were made to the Bible, transforming it from a natural to a supernatural account. That’s all I ask. Is that so hard for the wise, enlightened skeptics on this board?

  2. One last thing. If Bob’s conclusion after all these random facts was “We cannot be certain of the entire Biblical account, however some of it is probably correct” that would be one thing. While it is not supported by evidence, it is at least a rational position (to me) to wonder about some of the small details in Biblical stories and accounts.

    Bob on the other hand, trashes every supernatural aspect (and probably quite a few natural ones) of Biblical accounts, just because he happens to find a “plausible”, yet not supported by any evidence, naturalistic explanation.

    • One last thing.

      Dear God, there’s more …

      it is at least a rational position (to me) to wonder about some of the small details in Biblical stories and accounts.

      Was Dorothy really wearing a gingham dress during her travels to Oz? There’s nothing supernatural about that … maybe that’s something that I can believe was real.

      • Was Dorothy really wearing a gingham dress during her travels to Oz? There’s nothing supernatural about that … maybe that’s something that I can believe was real.

        If you have such a mental block against anything against your worldview, why in the world should anyone believe that you believe things, or that you do not believe things for any sort of intellectual, rational reason?

  3. Pingback: new myth, old god (and the origin of heaven and hell on earth) « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

  4. ” let’s proceed with humility about how little we can say with confidence.”

    Seems to me like he is being pretty even handed. As you quoted, TheRealRandomFunction, he said that we don’t know for sure what happened and he ended saying we need to be careful what we conclude with confidence. It seems to me that when we have so little real evidence the thing to do is lay out what bits of information we do have. It seems to me that is exactly what has been done here.

    As to the claim that he is biased against the supernatural, is that supposed to be an insult? I’ve seen this a lot lately but I just don’t understand it. Speaking for myself, I am definitely biased against the supernatural. Why? Because I have never seen anything supernatural myself and I have never seen anything claiming to be supernatural to be even remotely credible. This does not mean that I am completely unwilling to entertain supernatural claims, but it will take some seriously good evidence. This does not seem unreasonable to me.

    If you were to claim you could fly by flapping your arms I wouldn’t believe you. But that doesn’t mean I would deny it happened if you came over to my house and did it right in front of me.

    • As you quoted, TheRealRandomFunction, he said that we don’t know for sure what happened and he ended saying we need to be careful what we conclude with confidence.

      Indeed. The problem is, the conclusion Bob actually draws is “Since we don’t know for sure what exactly happened, we must deny any and all of the supernatural accounts of what happened”.

      If all Bob is pointing out is “well, the Bible could be made up”, well sure. It could. That’s not enough for me to say that it actually was however. I actually require evidence supporting that idea, evidence that Bob does not supply. See, I have this odd idea that I want to believe things that are supported by evidence. I have at least two theories to consider:

      1. The Bible is at least mostly true.
      2. All supernatural accounts in the Bible are complete and total bunk, and the result of textural corruption.

      Bob, and most likely you, argue that I should assume 2, unless there is an “extraordinary” amount of evidence for 1. This is because you are biased. I on the other hand, weigh the evidence for both, and try to assume nothing. This is because I am open minded. There is at least SOME evidence for 1, and there is not a lick of evidence for theory 2. Possible vague stories do not evidence make. So I’ll go with the theory that has the greater amount of evidence, up to and until I receive more information. Does that mean I am 100% sure? No.

      As to the claim that he is biased against the supernatural, is that supposed to be an insult? I’ve seen this a lot lately but I just don’t understand it. Speaking for myself, I am definitely biased against the supernatural

      Is it supposed to be an insult? Not really. I just find it odd that for people who laud themselves on being “free-thinkers”, “open-minded”, “enlightened”, “intelligent” individuals and who very often denigrate theism as being a “mind virus”, or a “delusion” or a product of ignorance, what’s really the case is that its the theists that are open minded thoughtful individuals, and its the supposed “free-thinkers” who are closeminded, biased, prejudiced and ignorant. It all just seems like a massive case of projection on the part of the supposed “free-thinkers”.

      If you don’t mind being close-minded, prejudiced and biased… well fine. Personally, I try not to be any of that.

      Because I have never seen anything supernatural myself and I have never seen anything claiming to be supernatural to be even remotely credible.

      I’ve never seen a black swan in person. Sure, I’ve heard “eyewitness testimony”, but as we all know, eyewitness testimony is unreliable, so that’s not really evidence. Who knows what they really saw? Photos? Photos can be faked. So can videos.

      So there’s really no evidence for the existence of the black swan. Now, given that people do have hallucinations, and given that not everyone is an orinthologist, and is thus capable of identifying (accurately) if a bird is a swan, isn’t it just more “plausible” that everyone who’s ever seen a black swan was just having a hallucination.. or saw a different sort of bird and made a mistake?

      • If you don’t mind being close-minded, prejudiced and biased

        This is not the same as demanding evidence. The fact that I don’t think supernatural claims should be accepted without evidence is not the same thing as being prejudiced. As far as I am concerned, equating the two things is dishonest. (Am I reading more into this than what you said? Possibly, but that is how it reads to me)

        And for what it is worth, I think I am in the same boat as you as far as examining the evidence as to whether the supernatural events from the bible are real. I try to look at whatever I come across and keep an open mind. It is just that for myself, I have never seen anything I thought was convincing.

        • This is not the same as demanding evidence. The fact that I don’t think supernatural claims should be accepted without evidence is not the same thing as being prejudiced.

          What sort of “evidence” do you demand though? Is your demand for evidence in the case of a supernatural claim different than your demand in the case of a natural claim?

          Most skeptics I have met have a “guilty until proven innocent” attitude towards most supernatural claims, and a “innocent till proven guilty” attitude towards most claims that fit in their worldview. Perhaps you are different than that?

          There is nothing wrong in demanding evidence. There is a great deal wrong in changing what your standards of evidence are, so that your standards of evidence for supernatural claims are so high, they could never be met, even if the claim is true. Bob does this I believe. Perhaps you don’t, I don’t know.

          I try to look at whatever I come across and keep an open mind. It is just that for myself, I have never seen anything I thought was convincing.

          That’s fine, as long as you realize that its subjective. The fact that you have never seen anything that you’ve “found convincing” doesn’t necessarily mean that I, looking at similar things did find it convincing.

          You are entitled to your opinion, and your choices. Its when you try to argue that you were irrevocably led to your conclusion by a strict process of rational thought (thus implying that all theists are at some point irrational) that we have problems.

          I have nothing but disdain for individuals who perpetuate the “ignorant theist vs. wise enlightened atheistic” stereotype. Bob does this. To him, all theists are ignorant. If they weren’t ignorant, they would believe just as he does.

          As long as you don’t attempt to perpetuate that stereotype, well.. your choices are your choices and you are welcome to them. Just be prepared to own up to the conseques of your choices if you are wrong.

        • What kind of evidence do I demand? I am not sure honestly. I suppose it depends on the claim. It is hard to imagine what exactly it would take to convince me that there was a mini-zombie invasion when Jesus died for example. A good start would be it being recorded somewhere other than the bible, as far as I am aware such a thing does not exist.

          That’s fine, as long as you realize that its subjective. The fact that you have never seen anything that you’ve “found convincing” doesn’t necessarily mean that I, looking at similar things did find it convincing

          actually this is where I think things get the most interesting. Whenever we can find a specific point that you find convincing and I don’t, to me that is the best ground for a good conversation. At the end of it we might still disagree, but if we can understand each other’s position better then we have all gained from it. This is the kind of thing I’m always hoping for, although it rarely if ever seems to quite go that way. Oh well :)

        • What kind of evidence do I demand? I am not sure honestly. I suppose it depends on the claim.

          Why is this?

          A good start would be it being recorded somewhere other than the bible, as far as I am aware such a thing does not exist.

          If what was recorded outside of the Bible? Evidence of the Resurrection? Also, how likely is it that something else would be recorded? Back then there was no evening news, facebook, twitter.. or anything like that. To expect anything close to the amount of evidence we might have today for an average claim seems unreasonable to me. It would be like demanding video evidence of what happened back then.

          Whenever we can find a specific point that you find convincing and I don’t, to me that is the best ground for a good conversation. At the end of it we might still disagree, but if we can understand each other’s position better then we have all gained from it.

          That’s fair, however most of the time from skeptics what I get is “I find this convincing, and if you don’t its just cause you’re ignorant, or too emotional, or just not smart enough to get it”.. so on and so forth.

          For instance, you aren’t sure what evidence you would need to convince you of that mini-zombie invasion. I’m not sure what evidence it would take to convince me of that either. Of course, I’m also not sure that that’s precisely what was meant by those verses.

        • Why does the evidence I demand depend on the claim? I think it has to be like this. If you claim you have a pet dog I will accept this with very little evidence, if you claim you have a pet dragon I will be more skeptical and demand something more substantial.

          I don’t demand video evidence of what happened back then, as you said that would be absurd. However, you can’t tell me no one was keeping records, and something as remarkable as a zombie uprising should have turned some heads and gotten written down somewhere.

          most of the time from skeptics what I get is “I find this convincing, and if you don’t its just cause you’re ignorant, or too emotional, or just not smart enough to get it”.. so on and so forth.

          I actually hate when I see that too. Drives me crazy when people who I agree with argue poorly.

        • RRF:

          To expect anything close to the amount of evidence we might have today for an average claim seems unreasonable to me. It would be like demanding video evidence of what happened back then.

          It’s unreasonable to expect that we would have video and photographic evidence of anything in Jesus’ day. But it’s quite reasonable to demand a very, very high level of evidence to support the claim of resurrection. If what we have left (a handful of epistles and 4 gospels, the copies of which are centuries after the actual event) are inadequate, well then I guess they’re inadequate. No reason to accept the claim then.

      • Also, a response to this would be a appreciated:

        Because I have never seen anything supernatural myself and I have never seen anything claiming to be supernatural to be even remotely credible.

        I’ve never seen a black swan in person. Sure, I’ve heard “eyewitness testimony”, but as we all know, eyewitness testimony is unreliable, so that’s not really evidence. Who knows what they really saw? Photos? Photos can be faked. So can videos.

        So there’s really no evidence for the existence of the black swan. Now, given that people do have hallucinations, and given that not everyone is an orinthologist, and is thus capable of identifying (accurately) if a bird is a swan, isn’t it just more “plausible” that everyone who’s ever seen a black swan was just having a hallucination.. or saw a different sort of bird and made a mistake?

        You’ve never seen anything approaching the supernatural that you’ve found “remotely credible”. Using the same sort of arguments commonly in use by skeptics, I can also say that I’ve never seen anything approaching evidence for a black swan that I find “remotely credible”. Yet.. black swans do exist.

        This tells me that there’s something wrong with the way most skeptics argue.

        • I’m not sure I completely understand your question here regarding the black swan. I think you are saying I am using a different criterion for natural and supernatural. I don’t really know anything about the black swan, but I suppose I believe it exists as I don’t see a good reason not to. There are pictures of them on the wikipedia page, could those be fake? Sure they could, I don’t know. Could all of the videos of such birds be fakes? Possibly. Could everyone who has seen them be hallucinating? Yes. Could we all be in the matrix? Maybe. I suppose it all comes down to what we call credible, we each make our own decisions as to what that is.

          So do I think black swans exist? Sure, the wikipedia page is good enough for me at the moment. If someone came along and said that they are fake I would be curious as to why they said that, probably look back at the wikipedia page with more scrutiny, click through some references see what is there. Examine the evidence of the person saying black swans are not real. Then revise whether I think they exist.

          If I completely missed the point of your question please excuse my rambling.

        • I’m not sure I completely understand your question here regarding the black swan.

          I find the same sort of arguments frequently made to dismiss various evidences for the gospels / Bible / supernatural can be equally applied to well.. just about everything.

          I don’t really know anything about the black swan, but I suppose I believe it exists as I don’t see a good reason not to. There are pictures of them on the wikipedia page, could those be fake? Sure they could, I don’t know. Could all of the videos of such birds be fakes? Possibly. Could everyone who has seen them be hallucinating? Yes.

          Now, if those pictures weren’t of a black swan, but of bigfoot (as an example) would you just say “could those be fake? Sure they could, I don’t know”, or would you be just a bit stronger in the idea that these really are fake, or staged, or of something else… so on and so forth.

          Sure, the wikipedia page is good enough for me at the moment.

          Why is the wiki page good enough for you, but the Bible isn’t? In some ways, the wiki page is worse than the Bible. We have some ideas as to who wrote the Bible and how the Bible was transmitted, and the agendas of people who did that. Who wrote the wiki page? How many people have edited it? What were their agendas? Certainly I don’t know. You have any idea?

        • Why is the wikipedia page enough? That is a good question. I guess largely it is enough because I don’t care about it very much. If I was at all invested in whether or not the black swan is real the wikipedia page would merely be a starting point but in no way would be enough.

          But there are references, so if I wanted I could follow up. I know that if those references were no good someone would probably have come by and edited the page saying so. Then the first person could edit the page back and make it look like there is no controversy, I don’t know that this didn’t happen. If I really wanted to know I could look at the edit history. If there was a lot of this going on there would be a note on the front page by moderators and it might be closed to general editing. And so forth.

        • Hausdorff:

          I guess largely it is enough because I don’t care about it very much.

          Good point. This is Lessing’s Ditch–claims such as “Julius Caesar conquered Gaul” don’t matter much to our everyday lives. If we uncovered new evidence that this claim was false, it would change nothing in our daily lives. But “Jesus rose from the dead and you’d better believe it or you’ll be sorry for eternity” matters quite a lot. I demand high quality evidence in this case (and I won’t offload that decision to someone else, as I would to the historian who is the expert on Julius Caesar).

        • Why is the wikipedia page enough? That is a good question. I guess largely it is enough because I don’t care about it very much.

          So the degree that you care influences your standard of evidence? How odd. I don’t find any rationale behind that at all to be honest. Does this same idea extend to non-supernatural claims?

          But there are references, so if I wanted I could follow up. I know that if those references were no good someone would probably have come by and edited the page saying so. Then the first person could edit the page back and make it look like there is no controversy, I don’t know that this didn’t happen. If I really wanted to know I could look at the edit history. If there was a lot of this going on there would be a note on the front page by moderators and it might be closed to general editing. And so forth.

          We can check the Bible to see if parts of it are absolutely contradicted by history. (Have any such parts?) We can check to see if the Bible is internally consistent, we can check those extra-biblical creeds and other documents for authenticity. We can examine those documents we do have, and see what they tell us, and not indulge in “plausible” flights of fancy.

        • So the degree that you care influences your standard of evidence?

          Ahh, I see what you are saying. Yes, the degree to which I care does influence the standard of evidence I require, but it also affects my level of certainty. Something that I don’t care much about will not take much to convince me that it is true, but I also know that my knowledge of the topic is fairly limited and therefore I could change my opinion of it with relative ease compared to something that I do care about and am knowledgeable of.

        • Ahh, I see what you are saying. Yes, the degree to which I care does influence the standard of evidence I require, but it also affects my level of certainty. Something that I don’t care much about will not take much to convince me that it is true,

          I don’t understand the rationale behind this. For me, if anything it is almost the opposite.

          If I’m at the airport, and I hear that there’s a bomb threat, it would take a fair amount of evidence for me to act and believe that that threat was false. I’m not going to stick around the airport saying “Well.. its plausible it could all be a prank” and “a bomb threat is such an “extraordinary” claim I would need a lot of evidence to believe in it”. I would clear out of the airport.

          Yet it seems to most skeptic, the degree they “care” about a claim affects how difficult it will be to convince them that that claim is actually true.. instead of false.

          If I have a wife, and I believe she’s being faithful to me, as open minded as I try to be its most likely going to take quite a lot of evidence to convince me she’s not (that my belief is false). Yet.. to most skeptics since they would most likely “care” about the claim “my wife is faithful to me” it would be almost the exact opposite. They would require lots of evidence to believe the claim.

        • With respect to the bomb threat, I can act without being sure of what is going on (we do this out of necessity all the time). Even if I am not sure what is going on and not convinced in any meaningful way, I can still evacuate. If I hear that there is a bomb threat, I’m going to evacuate now and think about it later.

          Yet.. to most skeptics since they would most likely “care” about the claim “my wife is faithful to me” it would be almost the exact opposite. They would require lots of evidence to believe the claim.

          Why do you take the most fucked up interpretation of what was said and then assume that most skeptics act that way? I care about my wife being faithful, why not conclude it would take a lot of evidence to make me believe the claim that she is not faithful? That conforms to the rest of the conversation just as well, except it sounds worse the other way so that is what you go with.

          To put it the way you have framed things, instead of starting with “my wife is faithful” start with “my wife is not faithful” and run your logic, you get the opposite result.

        • With respect to the bomb threat, I can act without being sure of what is going on (we do this out of necessity all the time). Even if I am not sure what is going on and not convinced in any meaningful way, I can still evacuate. If I hear that there is a bomb threat, I’m going to evacuate now and think about it later.

          If you hear the is a bomb threat, why would you evacuate unless you think the claim of the bomb threat is at least something that should be taken seriously?

          If I applied the same sort of arguments skeptics routinely use against Christianity, the conclusion would be not to evacuate as there is insufficient evidence.

          Why do you take the most fucked up interpretation of what was said and then assume that most skeptics act that way? I care about my wife being faithful, why not conclude it would take a lot of evidence to make me believe the claim that she is not faithful?

          I hear from skeptics all the time that, due to how “important” the Christian claims are, and how much they “care” about them, they need a lot of evidence to believe in them. An “extraordinary” amount. The implication is Christianity is guilty until proven innocent.

          With other claims that you supposedly “care” about and which are important, things are reversed. Now its “innocent until proven guilty”.

          This seems inconsistent to me. Why not try to not assume anything and just deal with the evidence as you find it? That seems the most logical to me.

          Let’s leave “caring” out of the picture, and just deal with the truth value of claims using logic, evidence and rationality. That sound good?

        • Hausdorff.
          To put it another way, wrt to Christianity, that claim is “important” and you “care” about it a lot, so you’ll need lots and lots of evidence before you’ll believe it.

          On the other hand, wrt to your wife being faithful to you, a claim that you also care about and a claim that is important to you, you’ll need a lot of evidence until you disbelieve it.

          This is an inconsistent princple from what I see. I like consistency.

        • When I was talking about not caring about something, I was referring to the black swan example. I’m accepting of a low amount of evidence and I will take a low amount of certainty because I don’t care about it. Is this ideal? Perhaps not. But it is necessary. We can’t completely examine everything we come across. With respect to your other examples (the bible, the bomb threat, the cheating wife) let’s just assume I care about it and move on.

          the bomb threat, I have little time to act and the bomb threat is close at hand. Even if I don’t think it is particularly credible, I am going to evacuate anyway unless I really think it is a false alarm. Even if I think there most likely isn’t a bomb, I’ll evacuate anyway most of the time until I figure out what is going on.

          As to whether or not my wife is cheating, I have a ton of evidence that she is not cheating (our relationship is strong) so it would take a lot of evidence that she is cheating to overcome that. If on the other hand we were fighting all the time and she was disappearing a bunch it wouldn’t take so much evidence.

          How much I care about something really only matters when I don’t care about it much at all.

          As to the bible, I clearly care about it very much, I have a blog about it. The thing is, the more I read it the more I find it lacking.

        • the bomb threat, I have little time to act and the bomb threat is close at hand. Even if I don’t think it is particularly credible, I am going to evacuate anyway unless I really think it is a false alarm. Even if I think there most likely isn’t a bomb, I’ll evacuate anyway most of the time until I figure out what is going on.

          If you’re at the airport and you hear “There’s a bomb! Evacuate the airport immediately!” over the loudspeaker, that’s extraordinarily good evidence that there’s a real danger. I would leave ASAP.

          But let’s imagine that “There’s a bomb!” comes from some random person. I’d look around to see if other passengers too him seriously. I might leave, just because this is unprecedented. Heck–maybe he knows something I don’t.

          But now let’s imagine that “There’s a bomb!” comes from every third person, and that’s been my experience every time I go to the airport. It’s an extraordinary claim that’s been tested … and found lacking.

          It’s the same with “Jesus exists!”—it’s a bold claim, but where’s the evidence? It keeps failing to materialize. Prayers unanswered, bad stuff happening equally to good and bad (or Christian and non-Christian), contrary claims made by believers in other religions, and so on.

  5. We’ve arrived at our best reconstruction of the canon determined by the Council of Nicaea (325 CE).

    As usual Bob’s has no scholarship. All Bob does is cut and paste.. No research. And misrepresents Christianity all the time .

    Bob if you did a little research you would find out that the construction of the canon was not determined at the Council of Nicaea in 325. ( In fact the “Moratorium fragment written in 170 AD has over 90% of the books of the New Testament). The Council of Nicaea never even discussed the canon. ( So again you are either ignorant of your work and just paste and click what ever you can with no research , or you are purposely deceiving your 4 readers) . The council of Nicaea in 325 AD was about the nature and substance of the Deity of Christ. “Homoousion”.

    • the construction of the canon was not determined at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

      Good point. That’s made clear in Wikipedia.

      I was focusing on refuting the claim in The Da Vinci Code that the canon was decided there. I thought that the truth was that the canon was minimally decided there when in fact it was not at all decided there.

  6. Thomas Paine’s argument in “The Age of Reason,” for the redaction of the Bible was based on the numerous “until this day” passages.

    Here’s an example:
    Matthew 28 13
    “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”

    “To this very day” implies that the passage was written a considerable amount of time after the event. So either the account was not contemporaneous or the account was edited.

    • “To this very day” implies that the passage was written a considerable amount of time after the event.

      This seems like a stretch. In modern day use of language “to this very day” may imply a long period of time. But from a Bible passage that is English, translated from Aramaic (or perhaps Greek or Latin), where the passage itself is from many hundreds of years in the past when different terms were in use? Also, there are multiple different versions of the Bible. Do they all say the same?

      • If you are saying that the Bible can not be creditably quoted then you are only affirming just how dubious the Bible is.

        If a long period of time had not passed then what would be point of saying to this day?

        If the passage that I cited does not indicate that passage of a long period of time then pray tell what does it indicate?

        Then there’s this:

        John 20:

        30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

        John 21:
        24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

        25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

        These verses also indicate the passage of a great deal of time. The author/editor is conceding that many stories about Jesus had circulated. Too many to record. Too many to verify and too many to refute. That would indicate a long period of time, perhaps decades.

        Also John 21:24 seems to be the remarks of an editor not the author. How could someone say of themselves, “we know that his testimony is true?”

      • If you are saying that the Bible can not be creditably quoted then you are only affirming just how dubious the Bible is.

        Since I am not saying that, I am not affirming that either.

        If the passage that I cited does not indicate that passage of a long period of time then pray tell what does it indicate?

        I would suggest doing some research and finding out. Biblical scholars most likely have looked at that passage. Now, if you just want to make snap judgements on things you know nothing about, that’s fine. I’ll just know not to take anything you say seriously.

  7. RRF:

    For instance, you aren’t sure what evidence you would need to convince you of that mini-zombie invasion. I’m not sure what evidence it would take to convince me of that either. Of course, I’m also not sure that that’s precisely what was meant by those verses.

    I didn’t notice this earlier but it stuck in the back of my mind. The last sentence that you wrote here, you are not sure what is meant by those verses. If you are not sure what the verses mean, how can we use the bible as a means to get at truth? What method am I supposed to use to determine whether or not something written in the bible literally happened?

    You say you are not sure whether or not the mini-zombie invasion really happened, maybe those verses meant something else. What about the resurrection of Jesus? How can you determine that one is maybe true and the other one for sure happened?

  8. Pingback: The Bible's Dark Ages | Cross Examined | Christian Dailys

  9. You say you are not sure whether or not the mini-zombie invasion really happened, maybe those verses meant something else. What about the resurrection of Jesus? How can you determine that one is maybe true and the other one for sure happened?

    One difference is the amount of detail given. A couple of verses is slightly different than many chapters to almost entire books of detail. There are other ways.

    That being said, maybe it did occur. Its worth noting that “many holy people” does not a “zombie invasion” make. Unless you assume that there were a LOT of holy people.

  10. With respect to your other examples (the bible, the bomb threat, the cheating wife) let’s just assume I care about it and move on.

    You didn’t deal with my last post though.

    With your wife, you care about her fidelity, so it would take must to prove her false.
    With the Bible, you care about its truth, so it would take a lot to prove it true?

    Inconsistent it seems to me.

    Also, the Bomb threat example is interesting. You would act as though the bomb existed, until you have “figured out what is going on”. Its not enough for you to simply say: “Well, its plausible that the bomb threat’s a fake, so I’ll stay in the airport.”

    Yet, with regards to Christianity, you accept the mere plausibility of another explanation. You are basically staying in the airport because to you, there mere existence of a plausible other explanation is enough.

    As to whether or not my wife is cheating, I have a ton of evidence that she is not cheating (our relationship is strong) so it would take a lot of evidence that she is cheating to overcome that.

    If you applied the same tactics and arguments skeptics make towards Biblical evidences, towards evidences your wife is faithful, would you still think that you had all that evidence?

    For instance, a common argument to eliminate eyewitness testimony with regards to tales of miraculous is to say “eyewitness testimony is unreliable”. If eyetwitness testimony is unreliable, then its unreliable. Let’s apply that princple to eyewitness testimony of miracles, and to any eyewitness testimony supporting your wife’s faithfulness (I don’t know if there is any of that, as it may be other types, but hopefully you get the idea).

    • Let’s apply that princple to eyewitness testimony of miracles, and to any eyewitness testimony supporting your wife’s faithfulness…

      Apples and oranges.

      We know wives exist, we know that some wives will sometimes cheat on their husbands.

      We don’t know that a God exists, or that miracles have ever occurred.

    • With your wife, you care about her fidelity, so it would take must to prove her false.
      With the Bible, you care about its truth, so it would take a lot to prove it true?

      Inconsistent it seems to me.

      Ok, I think I finally see what you have been trying to say. Part of the problem is in the way you are phrasing things. I wouldn’t say “I care about X so I need to try to prove it true”, I would say something more like “I care about X so I will investigate further and see where the evidence takes me”

      When it comes to my wife, I don’t start by assuming she isn’t a cheater and require extraordinary evidence to prove infidelity. I have a bunch of evidence that she is not a cheater, so the idea that she is cheating is an extraordinary claim and so it requires extraordinary evidence.

      If on the other hand I was married to someone who has a history of cheating, and we’ve been fighting a lot lately. If someone told me they thought she was cheating it would sound a lot more credible.

      The bible is the same way, I didn’t start assuming it was false and require extraordinary evidence to prove it is true. I actually grew up Christian, I started out assuming it was all true. But the more I thought about things the more of it didn’t sound realistic to me. It sounds false to me, they strike me as extraordinary claims, so I require extraordinary evidence.

      I don’t think it is inconsistent as the situations are quite different

      • Ok, I think I finally see what you have been trying to say. Part of the problem is in the way you are phrasing things. I wouldn’t say “I care about X so I need to try to prove it true”, I would say something more like “I care about X so I will investigate further and see where the evidence takes me”

        Fair enough. Plausible stories though are not evidence. There are many things I think are possible stories, but without any evidence for them, I don’t tend to actually believe them. Given that I don’t have a presumption of guilt against the supernatural, and at least with Christianity, so far I haven’t found anything really conclusive against it, it seems reasonable for me to say that Christianity is true, or at least mostly true.

        You think differently.

        I have a bunch of evidence that she is not a cheater, so the idea that she is cheating is an extraordinary claim and so it requires extraordinary evidence.

        First of all, I’m glad that your definition of “extraordinary claim” seems to include non-supernatural claims.

        Second, and I’m not looking for specifics here exactly, but sort of evidence do you have that your wife is faithful? IMO, most of the skeptical arguments that get applied to biblical evidence, if applied to all evidence consistently, would rule everything out. Any evidence for any claim.

        • Second, and I’m not looking for specifics here exactly, but sort of evidence do you have that your wife is faithful?

          I think the way I said that reads a little strange, sorry about that. Basically our relationship is built on trust and honesty and we are both happy with the marriage.

        • That’s reasonable, but is “trust” and “honesty” really evidence?

          If a Christian said that he/she trusted God, would you say that was rational? Or would you want the theist to offer up some reason, some evidence supporting that trust?

    • Also, the Bomb threat example is interesting. You would act as though the bomb existed, until you have “figured out what is going on”. Its not enough for you to simply say: “Well, its plausible that the bomb threat’s a fake, so I’ll stay in the airport.”

      This is actually a really good point, I’m glad you brought it up. If I was in an airport and there was a bomb threat my first instinct would be to get out of there. With Christianity I had the same reaction. I was terrified of hell and it kept me in the religion for a long while. It’s the natural reaction I think, especially for a kid. But I then looked into things more and as far as I can tell there is no good reason to think hell exists and therefore I don’t think it’s a good reason to be a Christian. This is perfectly analogous to the bomb threat at the airport, my first reaction would be to leave until I realize the threat is fake.

      • This is actually a really good point, I’m glad you brought it up. If I was in an airport and there was a bomb threat my first instinct would be to get out of there. With Christianity I had the same reaction. I was terrified of hell and it kept me in the religion for a long while. It’s the natural reaction I think, especially for a kid.

        It also strikes me as an entirely reasonable reaction. I wouldn’t go back into that airport unless I was sure, as sure as I could be, that there was no bomb. Likewise, I wouldn’t be an atheist unless I was sure, as sure as I could be, that Christianity, and indeed all religions were false. Mere plausible stories would not be enough for me.

        Most of the time, skeptical argumentation consists of throwing out a great many “plausible” stories, possible explanations for what happened, instead of the supernatural event in question. The implication is that unless every one of these stories are disproved, we must reject the supernatural explanation. Yet, most of these “plausible” stories rely on very little (if any) evidence, or invalid argumentation. Sure, the conclusion is possible. In some cases, it might be plausible.

        For me that’s not enough. I need evidence FOR atheism. Have any?

        • I wouldn’t go back into that airport unless I was sure, as sure as I could be, that there was no bomb.

          You’d never go into any airport then, would you? You can never know for sure that there isn’t a bomb.

          Likewise, I wouldn’t be an atheist unless I was sure, as sure as I could be, that Christianity, and indeed all religions were false.

          We all know that bombs exist, and that there have been some people crazy enough to blow things up with them.

          We don’t know that any gods exist.

          In fact, if you’re going to believe unless someone proves a religion to be false, then you had better start believing in all of them, and not just Christianity.

        • You’d never go into any airport then, would you? You can never know for sure that there isn’t a bomb.

          Of course, its not always the case that there is a claim of a bomb in an airport. I am less concerned with non-existence claims than I am with existent ones.

          We don’t know that any gods exist.

          That’s not enough for me to be an atheist. I guess its enough for you.

        • Of course, its not always the case that there is a claim of a bomb in an airport. I am less concerned with non-existence claims than I am with existent ones.

          You said that you wouldn’t go in unless you were sure, as sure could be, that there was no bomb.

          Obviously, if a reasonable search provides no evidence of a bomb, then you’re no longer worried about the existence of a bomb.

          So then, after doing a reasonable search, what evidence do you have that any god or gods exist?

          What evidence do you have that an afterlife, Heaven, and/or Hell exists?

        • You said that you wouldn’t go in unless you were sure, as sure could be, that there was no bomb.

          One way that occurs, is if I have absolutely no reason to believe that there is a bomb in an airport.

          As I said, I am not concerned about claims that are never made.

  11. RRF:

    Most of the time, skeptical argumentation consists of throwing out a great many “plausible” stories, possible explanations for what happened, instead of the supernatural event in question. The implication is that unless every one of these stories are disproved, we must reject the supernatural explanation.

    That really seems like a poor way to argue to me. I honestly wonder if that is not really the implication they are making. Do you have an example?

    You don’t need to disprove every possible alternate explanation to show that your idea is true. Also, if you do show that all other available alternate explanations are false, that does not show that your idea must be true. Unless of course you also show that the list we have is all possible explanations, which seems like an impossible task in any real world situation.

    Let me provide a silly example. Suppose I have a field and one morning I see that there are crop circles there. I think that aliens must have caused them. You think I am being silly and don’t believe me that aliens caused them. You suggest that perhaps a cow has been rolling around in my field and caused the crop circle.

    Q1. does your explanation make mine less plausible?
    Q2. If I can prove your explanation wrong does that mean mine is correct?

    I would say no to both of these questions. So why come up with an alternate explanation? I imagine you would try to come up with an alternate explanation because you are not satisfied with mine. And in your estimation, my explanation was not satisfying so you are trying to come up with something, even if you don’t have proof either, why not brainstorm and hope you land on an idea that you can actually test.

    well, enough rambling from me for the moment

    • That really seems like a poor way to argue to me. I honestly wonder if that is not really the implication they are making. Do you have an example?

      I would say most of how Bob argues is to simply put up “plausible” stories. He’s even said that his goal is to put up “plausible” alternatives to Christianity so people will take the “path of least resistance” and disregard Christianity in favor of one or more of these “plausible” stories. Yet, you will not be able to pin Bob down and have him really push one of his “plausible” stories as what he thinks really happened.

      You don’t need to disprove every possible alternate explanation to show that your idea is true. Also, if you do show that all other available alternate explanations are false, that does not show that your idea must be true. Unless of course you also show that the list we have is all possible explanations, which seems like an impossible task in any real world situation.

      I agree. Yet most of the time, the arguments I hear from skeptics come down (basically) to “Here is an alternative explanation for (insert supernatural account). Unless this is disproven it is unreasonable to believe in (said supernatural account) .”

      The only exceptions are things like the Problem of Evil, which is actually trying to argue that God does not exist, and not merely bring up a “plausibility”.

      And in your estimation, my explanation was not satisfying so you are trying to come up with something, even if you don’t have proof either, why not brainstorm and hope you land on an idea that you can actually test.

      In an ideal world, having the ability to “test” everything would be great. Sadly, the world is not ideal. Most of the time I would say, especially when you are dealing with anything historical, you can’t really run any “tests”. You can just examine the evidence, and go from that.

      • Yet, you will not be able to pin Bob down and have him really push one of his “plausible” stories as what he thinks really happened.

        Au contraire. I’m happy to explain how legend is my best explanation of the facts about the Jesus story that we all agree to. And have done so many times.

        The only exceptions are things like the Problem of Evil, which is actually trying to argue that God does not exist, and not merely bring up a “plausibility”.

        Once again, I must correct you. I have written many posts arguing that God does not exist, including a 5-part series here.

        • The argument is simple. You can’t evoke the supernatural explanation as long as there are plausible natural explanations for “miracles.”

          Its called natural law for a reason. Engineers can depend on natural law when they build a bridge. Historians can depend on natural law when they are trying to make determinations about the past.

          What was the chance that natural laws were suspended in the past for religious heroes?

          Before you can tell me Jesus did miracles you need to demonstrate that anyone ever did a miracle, anytime anywhere.

        • Au contraire. I’m happy to explain how legend is my best explanation of the facts about the Jesus story that we all agree to. And have done so many times.

          So you’re willing to claim that all supernatural events in the Jesus story were simply due to “corruption” or legendary development from some entirely naturalistic set of events?

          More specifically, do you claim that the Jesus story was due entirely to corruption? Or corruption + outright lies?

        • The argument is simple. You can’t evoke the supernatural explanation as long as there are plausible natural explanations for “miracles.”

          How do you define “plausible”?

          Unless you have a definition different than every other skeptic I’ve met, all you have is a circular argument, as most skeptics will admit that any naturalisitc explanation is more plausible than “miracle” to them.

          If that’s the case, then all you’re saying is that you’ll never believe in miracles. Which is fine, but don’t try to argue that you are being intellectual while you do it.

          Its called natural law for a reason. Engineers can depend on natural law when they build a bridge. Historians can depend on natural law when they are trying to make determinations about the past.

          Indeed. When a miracle occurs, natural law is not violated. If you disagree, answer this simple question.

          If tomorrow, God were to cause the Red Sea to increase in temperature by 50 degrees, where is the violation of natural law?

          What was the chance that natural laws were suspended in the past for religious heroes?

          Probability has nothing to do with this.

        • RRF:

          More specifically, do you claim that the Jesus story was due entirely to corruption? Or corruption + outright lies?

          Hard to tell. We see corruption of stories in our daily lives, and it’s no stretch to imagine that this would affect stories told orally then as it does today. Did a gospel author knowingly tweak a story that he’d heard to improve it? Could be.

        • RRF:

          If that’s the case, then all you’re saying is that you’ll never believe in miracles.

          I’m happy to believe in miracles; I’ve just got to have the evidence. And so far, the evidence isn’t there.

          Probability has nothing to do with this.

          So then we’ve left the realm of science and evidence?

        • Hard to tell. We see corruption of stories in our daily lives, and it’s no stretch to imagine that this would affect stories told orally then as it does today. Did a gospel author knowingly tweak a story that he’d heard to improve it? Could be.

          I don’t want a “plausible” or “it could be” from you. If you really believe that some level of corruption / outright lies occurred in order to generate the Jesus story, I want you to support that with actual historical evidence (preferably those things accepted by the historical consensus if you can).

          If all you can offer is a weak argument for “Well… it coulda happened.” Then don’t bother even posting it. Yeah, it couldve happened. I want actual evidence that it DID.

        • RRF:

          I want you to support that with actual historical evidence

          I have none. Why would you expect any? Do you demand specific evidence that Merlin wasn’t a shape shifter? Or that Gilgamesh didn’t survive a great flood? Or that Caesar Augustus didn’t ascend into heaven after death (as a Roman senator claimed)?

          I don’t think you understand this whole evidence thing.

        • I have none.

          Got it. You make claims, and you can’t support them with evidence, but you demand that theists support their claims with evidence. You’re basically a hypocrite.

          Do you demand specific evidence that Merlin wasn’t a shape shifter? Or that Gilgamesh didn’t survive a great flood? Or that Caesar Augustus didn’t ascend into heaven after death (as a Roman senator claimed)?

          No. Then again, none of these are claims that people are making.

          If you think that the Jesus story isn’t true, because there’s just “not enough evidence” for you, that’s fine. It’s your opinion, you have every right to it. Just don’t think you’ve formed it intelligently, or act surprised when other people disagree. Other people have different feelings on ice cream as well.

          On the other hand, if you think that the Jesus story isn’t true, and what really happened was that a lot of textual corruption / outright lies occurred, you’d need some actual evidence to support that alternative story. You don’t have any by your own admission. Its just your opinion. Well.. super. I really couldn’t care less what your unintellectual, subjective opinion is.

          You post a lot of things that you happen to think are “plausible”. Some of them I actually agree are “plausible”.

          “Plausible” doesn’t mean much. I want to believe things that have sufficient evidence to support them, not things that are just plausible. You’ve just said you have no evidence supporting your idea of textual corruption or outright lies occuring. So, I’m not going to believe that claim.

        • You’re basically a hypocrite.

          Prove that you do things differently. Show me that you reject the claim that Merlin was a shape shifter because you have “actual historical evidence” to the contrary.

          For extra credit, do the same for the claim that Gilgamesh survived a great flood and that Augustus Caesar ascended into heaven.

          Then again, none of these are claims that people are making.

          So then you’re basically a hypocrite, demanding a tough standard for evidence against Jesus but no standard at all for things you don’t care about.

          you’d need some actual evidence to support that alternative story.

          Consider any celebrity who’s had a false story told about them in tabloid newspapers. There you go–evidence that false stories can get into print.

          “Plausible” doesn’t mean much.

          On the contrary, “plausible” is an essential test. There is no proof for any of this stuff; we’re just trying to sift through contradictory claims to find the best explanation to the evidence that we have.

  12. Prove that you do things differently. Show me that you reject the claim that Merlin was a shape shifter because you have “actual historical evidence” to the contrary.

    Would historical evidence demonstrating that the story was never intended to be taken literally help? Or perhaps evidence demonstrating that the Arthurian myths are just that, myths? Would that work? There’s lots of that.

    If you claimed to have evidence that the Bible wasn’t true, or at that God did not, or could not exist that would be one thing. Really though, most if not all of what you say is just repeated cries of “isn’t it plausible?!” You’ve even said yourself that your goal is simply to bring up other possibilities in the hopes that other people will take the path of “least resistance” and accept them. You aren’t concerned with truth, you’re concerned with ease of belief.

    Its very easy to believe that God doesn’t exist if you’re close minded, prejudiced and ignorant. That doesn’t make it true.

    So then you’re basically a hypocrite, demanding a tough standard for evidence against Jesus but no standard at all for things you don’t care about.

    No. Again you are wrong. I demand A standard of evidence for claims that people make. If all you ever said was “in my opinion, there isn’t enough evidence for the existence of God” I would just leave it there. Its your opinion. You are entitled to it, however meaningless it is.

    If you claim that the story of Jesus is actually due to textual corruption and lies, well.. shockingly, that’s an actual claim. Just as you demand evidence from theists who make claims, I demand evidence from you when you make actual claims. You don’t have any. So, you’re a prejudiced, close-minded, ignorant, foolish hypocrite.

    It’s really that simple.

    On the contrary, “plausible” is an essential test. There is no proof for any of this stuff; we’re just trying to sift through contradictory claims to find the best explanation to the evidence that we have.

    As you have said though, there is absolutely no evidence that supports your position. So obviously your explanation is not the “best”. Its not even close. I’d take Last Thursdayism over your explanation. That at least has an argument that at least attempts to use logic and evidence. You frankly don’t even make the attempt.

    • perhaps evidence demonstrating that the Arthurian myths are just that, myths? Would that work?

      Well … now that you mention it, showing that myths can be wrapped in historical garb would be effective. OK–you’re right!

      But now that you’ve agreed that you don’t need direct historical evidence against a claim like Merlin (which in this case might be a contemporary clearly stating, “I was with Merlin 24×7 and he never shape shifted”), why demand it for Jesus? Sounds like you’re backing away from that demand now.

      Really though, most if not all of what you say is just repeated cries of “isn’t it plausible?!” You’ve even said yourself that your goal is simply to bring up other possibilities in the hopes that other people will take the path of “least resistance” and accept them.

      And what is the best-evidenced explanation but the path of least resistance.

      The plausible natural explanation always trumps the supernatural one.

      Again you are wrong.

      Why? You didn’t apply a single set of criteria for evaluating evidence–you have one set for Jesus (where rejecters of your position must have “actual historical evidence” to rebut specific claims in the NT) and another set for Merlin, Gilgamesh, and Augustus because “none of these are claims that people are making.”

      Doesn’t having different standards make you a hypocrite?

      If you claim that the story of Jesus is actually due to textual corruption and lies, well.. shockingly, that’s an actual claim.

      And I back up that claim just like you did above, by showing that myths are possible.

      you’re a prejudiced, close-minded, ignorant, foolish hypocrite.

      I’m basking in Christian love right now.

      Y’know, you really should take your show on the road. You’d have atheists eating out of your hand!

  13. But now that you’ve agreed that you don’t need direct historical evidence against a claim like Merlin

    As per usual, you demonstrate your inability to understand what I say.
    For those who aren’t blind, allow me to be clear.

    1. If you just think “there isn’t enough evidence” for you to believe in Christianity, your opinion is noted, but is also meaningless. Its just your opinion.
    2. If you make an actual claim, such as “The story of Jesus is nothing but the result of textual corruption and lies” then I’ll expect actual evidence supporting that. If all you can do is argue that its plausible that that happened, well.. who cares? I could care less what is “plausible” to you and what is not.

    I don’t expect Bob to understand what I just said, or even acknowledge that I just said it. Hopefully this will clear up my position for those on the board who can actually read, and who aren’t ignorant, hypocritical, blinded, and close-minded.

    And what is the best-evidenced explanation but the path of least resistance.

    The plausible natural explanation always trumps the supernatural one.

    Both of these statements are false.
    If my wife is cheating on me, it may very well be the “path of least resistance” to be close-minded, overlook the evidence and continue to believe she’s loyal. It is certainly much “easier” for me to believe that then follow the evidence. I need not change or do any sort of mental work.

    For an atheist, believing that their might be a God is a very uncomfortable truth. It entails getting rid of intellectual pride, arrogance, and it entails actually looking at evidence, and not just finding cheap ways to reject it. It is much easier for an atheist to remain in his /her ignorance, than to actually become open minded.

    As for your second statement, you have never given any evidence or arguments supporting that its true, and indeed what arguments have been given by atheists demonstrate its incorrectness. Its the explanation that is best supported by evidence, regardless of natural vs supernatural that always trumps those explanations not supported by evidence.

    Why? You didn’t apply a single set of criteria for evaluating evidence–you have one set for Jesus (where rejecters of your position must have “actual historical evidence” to rebut specific claims in the NT)

    Again false. I have never said actual historical evidence was needed to simply “rebut” a claim.

    Doesn’t having different standards make you a hypocrite?

    I don’t have different standards. If you weren’t so ignorant of the basic idea of logic and argumentation and the English language, you’d realize that.

    Sadly, I can’t fix your ignorance. I can respond to what you say so others know there is a response, but that’s about it.

    And I back up that claim just like you did above, by showing that myths are possible.

    A murder is committed. Someone is arrested and we’re looking for evidence that he committed the crime. Actual evidence might be camera footage, eyewitness testimony, forensic investigation of the suspect’s gun, DNA, things of that nature.

    What wouldn’t be evidence is the fact that the suspect was in the same state as the victim at the time.

    The idea that “myths can happen” is not evidence demonstrating that in one case, an actual myth did happen. Sure, it renders it not absolutely impossible. I’ll give you that. Its not absolutely impossible that every single supernatural aspect of the Jesus story is the result of innocent textual corruption and/or outright lies. Simply saying that well.. “myths happen” is nothing more than saying “well.. the suspect was in the same state as the victim.. so he might have done it.”

    I’m basking in Christian love right now.

    It’s not unloving to point out the truth. Even you’ve admitted you don’t get the arguments made by most theists on this board. You have demonstrated time and time again an ability to understand what I say. So calling you ignorant seems quite supported by evidence. You demand evidence for every claim made by a theist, yet you feel free to make whatever claims you want, and not support them at all. That makes you a hypocrite. You’ve admitted (even in your very last post) that you’re prejudiced against the supernatural. And you are obviously close minded as you refuse to believe any explanation that is against your worldview.

    I suppose you might not be foolish.

    As far as I can see, everything else is spot on. You may not LIKE what I’m saying, but its not unloving for me to say it Bob.

    • For an atheist, believing that their might be a God is a very uncomfortable truth. It entails getting rid of intellectual pride, arrogance, and it entails actually looking at evidence, and not just finding cheap ways to reject it. It is much easier for an atheist to remain in his /her ignorance, than to actually become open minded.

      And doesn’t all this apply to theists as well?

      Wouldn’t theists be uncomfortable with believing that God might be different than the one they already believe in?

      Wouldn’t theists be uncomfortable with believing that God might not exist at all? It would entail the theist getting rid of pride, arrogance, and actually looking at evidence, and not just finding cheap ways to reject it. It is much easier for theists to remain in his /her ignorance, than to actually become open minded.

      • And doesn’t all this apply to theists as well?

        It completely applies to theists as well. Which is why I don’t care about what the “path of least resistance” is. It seems relatively useless in deciding what’s true and false, and what’s supported by evidence.

        Do I always succeed in that? No, I’m only human. Not even the best example of humanity. I do try though.

    • your opinion is noted, but is also meaningless. Its just your opinion.

      Is this how you wiggle out of arguments with other people? You just say, “that’s just your opinion, which is meaningless” and then they say, “Yeah, touche–OK, you win the argument”?

      In most parts of the civilized world, everyone has opinions, and they discuss them. Sometimes you hear something that makes sense and you adopt a new viewpoint. Give it a try!

      If you make an actual claim, such as “The story of Jesus is nothing but the result of textual corruption and lies” then I’ll expect actual evidence supporting that.

      And I’ve given evidence that texts can be and have been corrupted. Where’s the problem?

      I could care less what is “plausible” to you and what is not.

      Sounds like this site is a waste of your time.

      If my wife is cheating on me, it may very well be the “path of least resistance” to be close-minded, overlook the evidence and continue to believe she’s loyal.

      And with my last comment, you’ve now see how I use “path of least resistance.” I’m glad we had this chance to clear up this confusion in your mind.

      you have never given any evidence or arguments supporting that its true

      Nor can I. If you reject the axiom “The plausible natural explanation always trumps the supernatural one,” then I can’t help you, I’m afraid.

      But to help me see your point, show me a counterexample.

      I have never said actual historical evidence was needed to simply “rebut” a claim.

      Let’s go back to what you did say. You said, “If you really believe that some level of corruption / outright lies occurred in order to generate the Jesus story, I want you to support that with actual historical evidence.” What were you demanding here?

      The idea that “myths can happen” is not evidence demonstrating that in one case, an actual myth did happen. Sure, it renders it not absolutely impossible.

      And that we have zero widespread agreement by historians, scientists, or even the general public that any supernatural event of any kind has ever occurred does make it pretty close to impossible.

      It’s not unloving to point out the truth.

      It’s unloving to be a dick about making your claims. Ask your fellow Christians for a critique if my opinion isn’t trustworthy.

  14. Is this how you wiggle out of arguments with other people? You just say, “that’s just your opinion, which is meaningless” and then they say, “Yeah, touche–OK, you win the argument”?

    No.

    In most parts of the civilized world, everyone has opinions, and they discuss them.

    Indeed. Sometimes they bring facts or evidence supporting those opinions, and not just rendering them not impossible.

    Nor can I. If you reject the axiom “The plausible natural explanation always trumps the supernatural one,” then I can’t help you, I’m afraid.

    I reject it because its not supported by anything.

    Let’s go back to what you did say. You said, “If you really believe that some level of corruption / outright lies occurred in order to generate the Jesus story, I want you to support that with actual historical evidence.” What were you demanding here?

    Actual historical evidence demonstrating that significant amounts of textual corruption occurred in the transmission of the Jesus story, or that outright lies occurred in transmission. So for instance, if you happened to have a document that explicitly describes how the disciples went, took the body from the tomb, hid it somewhere else, and then covered it up, that would be evidence. Would that be enough for me to change my mind? Maybe, maybe not. It would be a darn good start though.

    “Corruption has occurred in stories.. sometimes” is not evidence that it ever has. One might as well say that I’m guilty of murder.. because well.. murder occurs.

    And that we have zero widespread agreement by historians, scientists, or even the general public that any supernatural event of any kind has ever occurred does make it pretty close to impossible.

    False.

    We have zero mention of the miraculous by most scientists and historians when they are acting in that capacity (when Dawkins writes his anti-Christian books, he’s not acting as a scientist). A lack of mention is not a lack of agreement. As for the general public, we have lack of agreement from the general public on anything at all. The general public doesn’t even agree on evolution, so bringing them up as though agreement of the “general public” is meaningful.. is nothing but a sidetrack.

    It’s unloving to be a dick about making your claims. Ask your fellow Christians for a critique if my opinion isn’t trustworthy.

    Ok. I’ll thow it out there. Should I tone it down? If so, how so?

    • No.

      So you use this tactic with me only? “That’s just your opinion, which is meaningless” doesn’t carry the day with me or, as you apparently know, with anyone else.

      if you happened to have a document that explicitly describes how the disciples went, took the body from the tomb, hid it somewhere else, and then covered it up, that would be evidence.

      Yes, that would be interesting evidence. And as I’ve stated before, I have nothing like it. And as you’ve stated before, you have nothing like it to refute claims about Merlin, Gilgamesh, and Augustus Caesar.

      Historians don’t demand what you’re asking for.

      We have zero mention of the miraculous by most scientists and historians when they are acting in that capacity

      I’m glad we agree.

      As for the general public, we have lack of agreement from the general public on anything at all.

      There is not a single statement on which the majority of the world agrees?

  15. Pingback: What Did the Original Books of the Bible Say? | Cross Examined

  16. Pingback: What Did the Original Books of the Bible Say? (Part 2) | Cross Examined

  17. In matters of faith if one is dealing with a believer one cannot appeal to common sense,or logic, for a believer to acknowledge the truth and honesty in what someone like yourself is saying would require them to immediately admit that everything they have been inculcated with is a “big fat lie”.
    I have read several ex-Christians (there must be a great many, I’m sure) that have come out and exposed the lies. And this is what it will take. One person at a time.

    Excellent post.

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