The Scandinavian system (or why Atheism is a belief system)
Guest blog post from Dr. Andy Bannister, the Canadian Director and lead apologist for RZIM Canada. You can find him on the web at www.rzim.ca or on Twitter at @rzimcanada
“I don’t believe that Sweden exists,” my friend suddenly declared from across the coffee shop table. He took a sip of espresso and stared intently at me, clearly awaiting a response. I paused, my cinnamon roll halfway to my mouth, as I digested what he’d just said.
“I don’t believe that Sweden exists,” he repeated. “I think it’s just a political conspiracy, designed to motivate other European citizens to work harder. All that talk of the best health care system, the highest standard of living, of tall and beautiful people. It sounds like a myth and I’m not buying it. I don’t believe in Sweden.”
I stared at my friend silently for a moment, allowing the sounds of the coffee shop to drift over us as I pondered. In the background, the radio began playing ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba.
“What do you mean, ‘You don’t believe in Sweden’?” I finally replied. “That’s insane. If Sweden doesn’t exist, how do you explain IKEA furniture, or the Swedish chef on The Muppet Show, or what glues Norway to Finland? That’s a staggering claim! What’s your evidence?”
“What do you mean ‘evidence’?” he asked.
“Evidence,” I said. “You must have more than just a hunch but some pretty impressive evidence for your belief. I know Sweden only has 9.5 million inhabitants, but you can’t simply deny outright that it exists!”
“Aha,” said my friend sagely, “I see your confusion. You think that my denial of Sweden is a belief. But it’s simply a non-belief and so I don’t need to give evidence for it.”
“Come again?” I said.
“Yes,” he continued, warming to his theme, “I don’t have to provide evidence for my non-belief in Atlantis, El Dorado, or Shangri-La and nor do I need to do so for my non-belief in Sweden. You I’m not making a claim of any kind—quite the opposite: I’m claiming nothing, I’m merely rejecting one of your beliefs—your belief in Sweden.”
That story was, of course, entirely fictional but the response that I described from my friend concerning his Scandinavian skepticism does have some real world parallels, especially in the way that many contemporary atheists describe their non-belief in God. As one atheist put it recently: “I don’t believe in God and I don’t need to justify this, just as I don’t need to give reasons for my non-belief in the tooth fairy or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” The late New Atheist writer, Christopher Hitchens, put it even more succinctly when he wrote:
Our belief is not a belief.1
In recent weeks, the merry bunch of atheists who like to hang out on my Twitter feed have posted similar examples, my favourite being:
Atheism isn’t a claim. It’s just non-belief in the claim “There is a god”.
Since this idea is heard increasingly frequently, often when the atheist making it is asked to give reasons or evidence for their position, it’s worth taking the time to briefly explore six problems with the idea that atheism is not a claim or a belief—and that to argue otherwise is to place oneself on the same level as my Sweden-denying friend.
Proving Too Much
The first problem is that the statement “atheism is just non-belief in God” proves too much. What do I mean? Well, on this definition my cat is an atheist, because it does not believe in God. (I sometimes suspect cats believe they are God, but that’s another story entirely.2) Likewise potatoes and small rocks are also atheists, because they, too, do not possess a belief in a deity of any kind.
When I have pointed this out to atheists, I usually receive a response along these lines: “But a potato can’t believe anything”. To which I reply: “So you’re now saying that atheism is the lack of belief in God by a creature that has the ability to form beliefs?” This is a different claim entirely—indeed, it’s a positive claim. The atheist is now claiming to believe that the external world really exists (thus she is rejecting metaphysical idealism), that other minds exist, that the human mind can form beliefs, and that our cognitive faculties are broadly reliable.3 Each of those is a hotly debated area in philosophy.
Suddenly what looked a simple statement of non-belief (“I don’t believe in God”) has sprouted a whole series of positive claims, popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. I have not yet encountered an atheist who believes that positive claims do not need to be argued for (indeed, atheists are fond of crying ‘Evidence!’ whenever confronted with a religious believer) and so it is the atheist’s job to give evidence for each of the philosophical positions they are encamped on. If they are not willing to do the hard reasoning, well, then, they can take their place alongside the cat, the rock, and the potato.
Neither True, Nor False, But Meaningless
A further drastic problem arises if the atheist wishes to claim that his statement “there is no God” is not a claim or a belief—if it isn’t, then it cannot be true or false. The problem is that only claims can be true or false. It makes perfect sense to ask whether a claim like “It is raining today” or “The Maple Leafs lost again” is true or false.4 On the other hand, it is meaningless to ask whether the colour blue, a small offduty Czechoslovakian traffic warden, or the word ‘Wibble’ are true—they are not claims and thus cannot possess a truth value.
So here’s the problem for the atheist. If atheism is not a claim of any kind, then it is simply meaningless. On the other hand, if the atheist wishes to claim that his atheism is true, then that must mean that atheism is a claim, and claims need to be defended, evidence provided and reasons given. If atheists wish to join in the conversation and the debate—and I believe that they deserve their seat at the table of ideas as much as any other worldview—then they must recognise their belief for what it is and start behaving accordingly.
Belief Leads to Action
A third problem with the idea that atheism is not a claim or belief, but merely the absence of belief in God, is that absences possess no causative power. If I drop a sledgehammer on my foot, it will cause pain. Touching the screen on your iPod may cause an Abba track to play through your headphones. But a non-existent sledgehammer or non-existent iPod causes nothing (in the case of Abba songs, much to the relief of lovers of music everywhere).
When it comes to beliefs, much the same applies. Non-belief in the tooth fairy does not cause action (it might arguably cause non-action, such as not putting your teeth under the pillow when they fall out.5) For something to cause an action, it has to be a positive belief, an actual claim.
So what about atheism? It doesn’t take a lot of searching to quickly discover that atheism does indeed cause actions. For example, many Internet-dwelling atheists read skeptical websites, edit Wikipedia articles, frequent atheist discussion forums, and post anti-religious sound bites on Twitter. These are all actions, caused, one would imagine, by their atheism. Likewise, it was his atheism that caused Richard Dawkins to write his best-selling book The God Delusion and, presumably, atheism that led many enthusiastic young skeptics to buy it, causing if not much rejoicing in heaven, certainly much celebration in the North Oxford branch of whoever Dawkins banks with. For a non-belief, a non-thing, atheism looks rather busy and active and so we must be suspicious of anybody telling us atheism is nothing.
Ideas Have Consequences
A fourth hallmark of an actual belief or claim is that it has entailments, consequences that flow from holding or stating it. For example, denying that Sweden exists entails the need to find a new source of cheap pine furniture, meatballs and gravad lax.6 It also has some pretty drastic consequences for geography, requiring a redrawing of the map of Northern Europe as well as implications for politics, history, linguistics and the compilers of “Greatest Hits of the 1970s” CDs.
So what about atheism? Does the denial of God have any entailments? Yes, it does: take just one example—the concept of human rights. Modern human rights theory is based on the Judeo-Christian idea that human beings are of tremendous value and worth, because they are made in the image of God. Reject God and suddenly you have to start again, explaining why one particular creature, thrown up by the forces of time, chance and natural selection mixing and chopping atoms and chemicals for several billion years possesses inalienable rights, whereas amoeba, aardvarks and eggplants do not. Many philosophers and thinkers recognise the problem and are honest enough to admit if you dismiss God, you lose many other things, too. Listen to these words from atheist Llewelyn Powys:
It is not only belief in God that must be abandoned, not only all hope of life after death, but all trust in an ordained moral order ... We must be prepared to take our bearings without a compass and with the slippery deck of our life-vessel sliding away under our feet. Dogmatic nihilists, profoundly skeptical of all good, we are put to our resources like shipwrecked seamen. We have no sense of direction, and recognise without dispute that all beyond the margin of our own scant moment is lost.7
If Powys is right—and other atheists, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell and, more recently, John Gray have argued similarly—then atheism has some entailments.8 But if it does, if denying God does indeed cause us to “throw away the compass” with Powys, to “wipe away the horizon” with Nietzsche,9 or to embrace “unyielding despair” with Russell,10 then, ipso facto, atheism is a belief because it has consequences.
Beliefs Attract Beliefs
A fifth hallmark of a belief is that it attracts other beliefs to it, in the same way that a planet draws moons into its orbit. For example, because of their beliefs about God and about Jesus Christ, most Christians have related beliefs—they believe (or should do) in human rights, in the limited ability of human progress, in justice, and in absolute moral values and duties. And so the list goes on. Likewise my Scandinavian skeptic believed in a great global conspiracy designed to prop up the myth of Sweden. Beliefs attract beliefs.
So, again, we can ask: what about atheism. Does it stand alone, stark, naked and proud—or does it attract other beliefs to it? Once again, it’s easy to see that it does. Most atheists believe in naturalism, the worldview that says that only material things exist. Many also believe in scientism, the view that science can answer any and all questions about both the natural world and the human condition. And the list goes on and on. That most atheists believe these things is not random: it’s driven by their atheism. If you believe in God, you won’t believe that physics, chemistry and biology can explain everything. If you disbelieve in God, you’re likely to pounce on materialism as the best way to keep the divine foot out of the door.
Given these additional beliefs that cluster around atheism, we’re forced to ask how a non-belief, a nonclaim, a non-thing could have such gravitational force. One of the ways that scientists have in the past detected distant planets, too remote to see by telescope, is by their gravitational effect, often seen as a ‘wobble’ in the orbit of their parent stars. In the same way, the tendency of atheism to draw other beliefs into its orbit is powerful evidence that it is a belief.
I Disbelieve, Therefore I Am
There is one final powerful piece of evidence that atheism is a belief and that is its tendency to act as an identity marker. Many people self-describe as atheists, in a way that non-believers in the tooth fairy, Atlantis or Santa Claus do not. I have never, for example, introduced myself at a party as an “Atoothfairyian” and I have no plans to start doing so. But atheists on the other hand do use their nonbelief in God as an identity marker. They proudly write ‘atheist’ or ‘free thinker’ in their social media profiles and the more zealously enthusiastic change their profile pictures to little icons of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Furthermore, atheists show a tendency to gather together in communities centred around their atheism. For example, they hang out online at places like RichardDawkins.Net in order to beat up on believers and remind one another how cool it is to be an atheist. They attend conferences and seminars, they buy books written by atheist gurus like Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris,11 they have creeds and accuse those who disagree with them of heresy.12 They are even starting churches. I’m not making this up—in London, England a group of atheists have launched ‘The Sunday Service’ where every week, hundreds of people gather in a deconsecrated Anglican church to sing secular songs (like Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’) and hear messages on everything from science to the importance of volunteering. They then sit around and enjoy coffee and biscuits.13
Quite how a non-belief, a non-claim, a non-thing has performed so well as an identity marker and as the kernel of community is mystifying. The much simpler suggestion is that atheism is a belief and, just like other beliefs, ranging from the political to the religious, can indeed form part of a person or a community’s identity. Atheism looks like a belief, functions like a belief and behaves like a belief—in short: it is a belief.
But can we go further than this? Could some forms of atheism even be described as a religion? Many scholars think that they can, especially the ‘New Atheist’ form of irreligion that has proven so popular of late. Listen to these words from Stephen Prothero of Boston University:
Atheism is a religion of sorts, or can be. Many atheists are quite religious, holding their views about God with the conviction of zealots and evangelizing with verve … It stands at the center of their lives, defining who they are, how they think, and with whom they associate. The question of God is never far from their minds.14
Can atheism really be described as a religion? I believe so. You see, simple disbelief in God does not make one non-religious. As Stephen Prothero points out, plenty of religious people don’t believe in God, including many adherents of Buddhism, Confucianism and some forms of Judaism.15 The key is what we mean by the word ‘religion’, something scholars have debated for decades. A useful definition was offered by sociologist Émile Durkheim, who defined religion as ‘a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things’.16 Now before atheists get too antsy, Durkheim was clear that ‘sacred things’ did not necessarily have to be supernatural beings such as gods, but could be anything held dear to the person including ideas or values. It’s really not difficult to see how atheism, with its fetishization of science and human reason fits this definition quite nicely.
Another helpful way to think about the word ‘religion’ is to consider a religion as a system of belief that attempts to answer ultimate questions: Is there a God? Why are we here? How do we determine good and evil? What happens when we die? Atheists certainly claim to have answers to those questions (“No”, “Time plus chance plus natural selection”; “Personal preference”; “We rot” etc.) and so fits the definition well.
Whether or not it is a religion, atheism, certainly is a belief, a positive claim, just as much as the claim ‘Sweden doesn’t exist’ and positive claims need to be argued for. That can take time and effort but if the claim is true, the hard work will presumably pay off. Sometimes however, I’m afraid, I encounter atheists who seem to prefer to simply deconstruct the worldview of others without bothering to put in the effort to defend their own.
Deconstruction is easy but it is also lazy. It would take the work of a few minutes to round up a dozen physically fit young people, equip them with sledgehammers, pickaxes and a backhoe or two, and ask them to demolish my home. They could probably do it in a few days. But if I then asked them to build me a new home, I suspect I’d have baffled looks. Any fool can tear something down—but it takes wisdom, effort and hard work to build something up.
Yet build and construct we must if we wish our beliefs to be taken seriously, whether those beliefs are religious or irreligious. Christians should not mock or belittle atheists, but we must certainly press them and insist they provide evidence, reasons and arguments. Otherwise they will fall foul of the aphorism coined by one of their own, Christopher Hitchens, who quipped: “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”.17 I agree entirely and his advice applies not just to Christians but also to atheists—I would advise them to take it seriously.
1 Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great (London: Atlantic Books, 2007) 5.
2 Terry Pratchett and Gray Jolliffee, The Unadulterated Cat (London: Vista, 1992).
3 Out of a spirit of generosity, we’ll ignore the atheist’s need to adopt some kind of philosophical position as to how and to what extent language can convey meaning. When an atheist says ‘I am an atheist’, she clearly believes she is conveying something—but precisely what and how is debated by linguists and philosophers.
4 Many Canadian hockey fans suspect that the statement ‘The Maple Leafs lost again’ is necessarily true.
5 Presumably if the tooth fairy did exist, then sleeping with one’s entire head under the pillow would necessitate a trip to the dentist in the morning for a complete set of dentures.
6 For more information on this delicious Swedish dish, see http://www.sweden.se/eng/Home/Lifestyle/Fooddrink/Swedish-culinary-classics/Gravad-lax/.
7 Llewelyn Powys, Impassioned Clay. Cited in John Gray, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2013)179-180.
8 See for example John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2003).
9 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Parable of the Madman (1882), online at http://www.historyguide.org/europe/madman.html (accessed 24 June 2013).
10 Bertrand Russell, ‘A Free Man's Worship’, The Philosophical Society (online at http://bit.ly/russelldespair, accessed 27 August 2013).
11 One self-described free thinker once proudly told me, without a hint of irony, that he had read Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great, over fifty times.
12 Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel was deluged with thousands of angry messages, many calling him a ‘heretic’, after his book Mind and Cosmos questioned several aspects of evolution and suggested materialism could not explain several key features of reality. See Joseph Brean, ‘“What has gotten into Thomas Nagel?’: Leading atheist branded a ‘heretic’ for daring to question Darwinism’, The National Post, 23 March 2013 (online at
http://life.nationalpost.com/2013/03/23/what-has-gotten-into-thomas-nagel-leading-atheist-branded-a-heretic-fordaring-to-question-darwinism/, accessed 28 August 2013).
13 David Knowles, ‘The Sunday Assembly, an atheist church in London, is a runaway success that is drawing standing room only crowds’. Daily News (New York), 6 Feb 2013 (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/atheist-churchhuge-
success-london-article-1.1257274, accessed 13 February 2013).
14 Stephen Prothero, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World (New York: HarperOne, 2010) 326.
15 ibid., 323.
16 See Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Translated by Carol Cosman with Introduction and Notes by Mark S. Cladis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) esp. xxi, 46.
17 Hitchens, God Is Not Great, 50.
More like this ...
I don't really understand the point that this person is driving at.
Saying that "Sweden does not exist" is a negative claim which does not require evidence to substantiate. If another person claims "Sweden does exist" then it is encumbered on that person to provide evidence to back up that claim. The "burden of proof" is on the person making a positive claim.
In this trivial example, it is very easy for some-one to present evidence that Sweden does exist (named on maps, details from UN files etc etc.), so it is a relatively easy thing to prove, and the person who made the negative claim would be "forced" to accept that Sweden did actually exist.
Now when we come to claims about god(s) this becomes problematical since "extra-ordinary claims require extra-ordinary evidence", and here we are talking about some "transcendental entity" which seems to make a virtue out of "its" hidden-ness.
The famous example is that, if I claim I have a car in my garage, you would probably accept that without proof. If I said I had a Honda car in my garage, you might still accept that on fairly slim evidence (maybe a photograph). Now if claimed I had an invisible purple fire-breathing dragon in my garage, I think you would definitely demand substantial evidence before accepting it, and you could rightly reject the claim if no evidence was forthcoming. As Christopher Hitchens remarked "What is claimed without evidence, can be rejected without evidence".
I have yet to see irrefutable evidence presented for the existence of a god or gods, and the Bible is a poor source for such a claim. I am always open to being persuaded, but nothing presented so far has even come close to "proof". There is absolutely no evidence, outside the Bible, that Jesus even existed, let alone was "divine". Don't even bother quoting Josephus etc; He wasn't even born when Jesus supposedly lived. If what he claimed was actually written by him, it would only confirm what christians at that time "believed" about Jesus, and is not eyewitness testimony.
Just my thoughts on this matter.
Thanks for your comments. I'll respond to a few.
There is absolutely no evidence, outside the Bible, that Jesus even existed, let alone was "divine"
We don't need to go outside the Bible. Mainstream historical scholars consider the individual writings of the Bible, such as John, Luke, Mark, Matthew, L, Q, James, Paul as valid historical writings. They don't treat them as religious texts but as individual authors and their writings as historical evidence of the existence of Jesus. From this the mainstream historical position within non Christian historical scholarship is that Jesus existed, without doubt.
One aussie historian on ABC online challenged that he would eat a page of his Bible if anyone could find a main stream historical scholar from a mainstream university who denied the existence of Jesus. So far, his Bible remains intact despite John Safran tweeting this challenge out to his followers.
Regarding Josephus, if you disregard his writings as not being valid in any measure because of the time difference then you have written off the vast majority of historical writing. The gap between Josephus' life & writings and the events he comments on are not considered very large at all. In fact, the gap between other valid commentators on historical events that historical scholarship accepts is much larger. If you reject him on this gap you have to reject most historical writings and our knowledge of those events.
In short, if you rejected Jesus on these historical grounds then can I invite you to reassess your rejection?
The claim for Jesus isn't being made without evidence at all but extra ordinary evidence. Compared to every other ancient historical event or person the evidence we have regarding Jesus is overwhelming in terms of number of copies and numbers of sources.
So what might motivate us to check this out? The same thing that would motivate us to check on the claim about Sweden not existing. If we had a ticket purchased to fly to Sweden the negative or positive claim would matter to us. But, if we think the claim has no significance of course we won't check it out.
Thanks for your detailed response.
I did not say that I thought Jesus did not exist. I just stated that there is no evidence for his existence outside biblical sources. Personally, I believe that Jesus may well have existed, but I reject any "divine" part of his story.
I do not think that you can claim the gospels etc are reliable "historical" texts. They are "theological" documents with an "agenda", and cannot be considered as unbiased. The earliest writings were probably Paul, dated to about 50-60 CE (already about 15 years after the probable death of Jesus), and Paul admits he never actually met Jesus; just seen in a vision. His accounts are thus suspect.
The earliest gospel is probably Mark dated around 70 CE. Mark does not even mention any post-resurrection sightings in the original manuscripts. Mark was almost certainly not an eyewitness. The other gospels of Matthew & Luke use Mark as their source, and thus would be unlikely to be eyewitnesses. They are dated around 90CE, so long after Jesus lived. John is a bit different, but since dated around 90-110CE is unlikely to be written by an eyewitness, let alone the disciple John. The "Q" document only contains sayings of Jesus, no historical details.
Josephus probably wrote around 90CE, and the section about Jesus is almost certainly an interpolation. Even if original, it only describes what christians "thought" about Jesus at that time. He never mentions he gets his information from eyewitnesses.
By the way, the Phd Professor, Richard Carrier certainly does "reject" the actual existence of an actual person named Jesus, and he is certainly a mainstream historical researcher.
I still stick to my original challenge - Please provide any contemporary "non-biblical" evidence of Jesus living in 1st century Palestine, and especially any record of miracles or special events he supposedly performed. Historians like Philo of Alexandria lived around this time, and did describe some preachers but never mentions Jesus even though he was in Jerusalem around the right time.
I still reject the divinity of Jesus, and I doubt you can provide irrefutable evidence of this claim.
Thanks again for your interest.
Thanks again for your comments and apologies for my delayed replies.
Let me just take up two issues in your post above. You've said Mark wasn't an eyewitness. (Or at least the author behind the gospel 'According to Mark' a historical title, wasn't an eyewitness.) Where is your evidence for that?
Secondly, you've said Luke is based on Mark. Yes, some of the texts of Luke are so close to Mark that either he used 'Mark' as a source or whoever Mark used. However, there are many, many parts of Luke that are unique to the gospel of Luke. How do you account for these?
Luke, says himself acknowledges he was not an eyewitness. He is clear, honest and upfront that he interviewed eyewitnesses. (Chapter 1, verses 1-4) Furthermore, he references various other written sources that already exist.
Throughout his gospel Luke goes onto name drop various people in his eyewitness account. Why? So that his readers could go and speak with the living eyewitnesses.
Warm regards again,
Thanks for your most interesting response.
About the Gospel of Mark; -
Firstly, most biblical scholars agree that the gospel of Mark (who-ever he was) was written around 65 -70 CE, since he mentions the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is not that controversial.
Also, it is generally agreed that the gospel was written by a Gentile probably living in Syria or Rome. This is thought probable because because Mark makes mistakes in Jewish practises and Palestinian geography. Matthew, who seems to be using Mark, has to correct these mistakes. This makes it unlikely he was an eyewitness or had access to eyewitnesses.
Matthew & Luke both use Mark as can be seen from the almost exact copy of some passages. It is thought that the extra information contained in Luke was probably taken from the works of Josephus since he repeats the same mistakes Josephus makes in his works.
Even though Luke mentions several names, it is unlikely anyone would be in a position to "fact-check" his statements. Most people mentioned would be long gone by the time Mark was circulated.
By the way, you mentioned that discrepancies in the copies don't change the meaning of the message significantly. In this case, how do you explain the missing "ending" of Mark which is the only part that has post-resurrection appearances. Also, early copies of John's gospel don't have the "woman taken in adultery" passage. Other copies don't have the mention of "sweating blood" in the Garden of Gethsemane which is thought to have been added to conteract the theology of docetism. These are all significant passages in the narrative. There are, I believe, several other instances of discepancies.
This of course doesn't include those passages that contradict other parts of other gospels, but that would take too long to list (The most famous would be the Matthew & Luke nativity narratives).
Thanks again for your interest in my comments.
I realise I did not address your comment about there being better evidence for Jesus than many other characters from history.
I know you are quoting from the "Apologetic's Manual" section "101" (sarcasm), but this line of argument has been soundly debunked many times.
Whilst it is true we have many pieces of text about Jesus (maybe over 5,000), but most of the complete manuscripts date from the 3rd or 4th century. Earlier material is just "scraps" with very little information on them. This is a good & bad thing; you have plenty of material, but much of this material has errors & discrepancies, so it is difficult to decide what is the original text. You must also remember, you do not have originals of any of these documents; just copies of copies. Even if you had "perfect" and reliable text, this does not give you any idea whether the "content" is true, and historically reliable.
The other main thing is that, it is not crucial to your "immortal soul" whether we have good evidence for say Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great, but you are "gambling" your "immortal soul" on the veracity of this text.
I would ask you to reassess your rejection of my argument, as you have asked me to do the same. If you are intellectually honest, you will admit your evidence is extremely sketchy, and certainly not something I would want to base my "worldview" on.
Thanks for your reply and email from ages ago. Sorry for my very delay apology.
I think I'd debate your statement that we only have "scraps" coming from before 3 or 3th C. I'd also debate the discrepancies implications. Yes, there are discrepancies, but having looked at a few of them (Greek copies of NT show the various discrepancies) I'd say no key doctrine is changed by the ones I've looked at.
I think you might find this video very interesting. It is scholarly (ie a little slow!) but the argument here is that looking at just 1 Corinthians 15 and Galatians 1 & 2, which are texts both accepted by critical scholars as authentic, we are exploring the understanding of Jesus within a handful of years of his death and resurrection.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay_Db4RwZ_M (Habermas Veritas Forum)
I want to ask you a question if you will allow me:-
The Salem Witch Trials were held between February 1692 and May 1693, and were documented with court transcripts and details from witnesses. This is far better information than that we have for Jesus and is actually contemporary with the time that witches were supposedly witnessed.
My question is :- Do you believe there were actually witches in Salem at that time?
How can you deny it; there is catagorical evidence for it. If you do not believe it, why not?
In about 1823, Joseph Smith claimed that he was visited by the angel Moroni, who gave him information about golden plates with texts about the Indian tribes being one of the lost tribes of Israel. He was apparently able to read these plates with "seer stones", and we have witnesses who swore that these events happened.
My question is:- With all this evidence, do you believe in the veracity of this account? If not, why not?
Mohammed apparently flew on a winged horse and split the moon. This happened in the 7th Century more than 600 years after Jesus, so it is much more recent.
My question :- Do you believe it actually happened? It's in a holy book, so you should have every reason to believe it.
My point is that you are just accepting the Jesus story on "faith" and have no reason to believe it actually happened.
Also you mentioned stories don't get distorted after a few years. This is patently false. Remember the Jesus stories were oral traditions for at least 15 to 20 years, and had plenty of time to be "distorted". Rumours and speculation can grow almost instantly. Just think of the 9/11 attack. Almost immediately people came up with conspiracy theories about it was "set up" by the government to allow for an attack on Iraq. This story is ridiculous but still persists even with all the information people have to call on. Just imagine in 1st Century Palestine with no Internet or newspapers to check facts. A story could quickly get fabricated and passed on as actual fact.
I'm interested to hear your comments.
Your assumption above at least at one point seems to be - it is a holy book - therefore it is believed.
In the video I referenced with Gary Habermas he shows that you can set aside the Bible as a holy book, set it aside as even a reliable book and just consider two parts of it as historical documents, which is what major historical scholars do, then you can show the historical understanding of Jesus within a few years.
The challenge to find contemporary evidence for Jesus in this context is exactly the same challenge that you would have to prove many many historical events and people. The things that they did are in the past, by definition.
If you can find contemporary documents that confirm the existence of Jesus, I will reciprocate the offer, and eat a page from "God is not Great" or "The God Delusion".
Such discussions that you hypothetically had are used in philisophical situations to help teach ppl not to believe blindly what ppl tell you but to question views others put forth with out valid backup. That you use it here in such fashion begs the question what are you trying to say? That ppl should just believe what you tell them and not try and think for themselves? Are you against freedom of thought and rational thinking?
Now i agree that atheismis a form of belief. Any belief is a form of belief and any who say differently are deluded yes. But i have never heard any person claim that a claim is not a claim. That sounds like a reach, but i will look at what you the sources you have cited to see in what context such things were said, but it sounds like cherry picking to me.
Just like your comments that atheists are immoral ppl. That is a sad argument for it is wholly unfounded. The examples you give are of only a select few and extremist in their own way. Are you truly saying that only those who believe in God can be and are good ppl and those who do not are really incapable of doing any good and of thinking that humans have worth? While many ppl who follow God are good ppl, i have meet many who are not. Those who believe that any who do not follow their God (either non Christian beliefs or Christians of another denomination) are not worthy of any kindness, and even treating ppl from their own church badly because of preserved social or class differences. Just because one believes in Christ does not make a person good, moral or in anyway better than any other, only ones actions.
I spend much of my time defending Christians from ppl who claim that Christians are smallminded and bigoted, stating that those who are are a) a small minority and b) not only confined to religion. Then i find this written here on a forum of a prominent Christian org. You have just set back my defence against militant atheists back by centuries and given more ammunition to such militant atheists by comments worthy of anceint religion persecution that uninlightened Christians once inflicted onto others that militant atheists use for 'evidence' in today's world.
Jesus said that those who do not believe can not hurt God, but those who defend God with harsh words and deeds do more damage then any others. Congratulations on doing the work of those few groups that would gladly see Christians embarrassed.