Sometimes stories lie

I sit in a house that’s both quiet and not quiet. It’s quiet in the sense that I don’t have Hugh Hewitt on, as is my custom this time of day (he’s interviewing Andrew Sullivan, and who needs that at suppertime? Or is it Andrew McCarthy?).

But the house is noisy because I’ve got a half-dozen guys crawling around my roof replacing the shingles, hammering away and occasionally dropping what sounds like sleeper sofas. The Day has come at last. In theory they’ll get the job done tonight, though it looks to me like a lot of work remains.

The previous owner was in love with green. The walls of Blithering Heights are a mottled green stucco, and the shingles were bright green. Up till now I’ve been able to end my directions, when telling people how to get here, with, “And my house is the green one, third from the corner.”

I am not in love with green. It’s my least favorite color, in fact. I chose a solid, conventional brown for my new shingles. I have no objection to standing out from other houses, but I don’t want to stand out in terms of greenness.

My impulse was to shingle the place in red, but I figured it would end up looking like a Christmas decoration.

Restraint is my watchword.

Restraint and “chocolate.”

Hence the brown shingles.

I think I’ve got one more post on subjectivity and stories in me. I’ll just open up the old brain-box and see if anything’s in there…

Nope.

Ready as I ever am, in other words.

I was saying that stories are a powerful means of teaching, because they engage both reason and emotion, thus bringing the whole person into the project.

But this is a sword that cuts both ways (“The Amazing Crossover Cutlass! Only $49.95 in three easy payments, from K-Tel!”). You can use a story to nail truth down in a person’s heart. But you can nail a lie down just as easily.

I read some time back about a phenomenon in cinema called “Movie Logic.” The wonderful thing about movies is that people believe what they see. If you show a car leaping over a twenty-six foot gap in a bridge, you believe it because you just saw it happen, right before your eyes. You don’t think about the fact that one end of a car contains the engine and is therefore much heavier than the other end. For that reason, when a car goes over a gap like that in real life, it tends to nose down (if the engine’s in front) pretty quick. Stunt arrangers load the rears of stunt cars with counterweights to permit them to make such jumps.

How many times in recent years have you seen somebody in a movie run out of an exploding building, ahead of a blast that just barely manages not to catch them?

Care to try that in real life?

It’s similar in stories, though not as vivid. But most of us trust writing more than movies, so I suspect literature may have more staying power in the long run.

How many kids have learned one of their first profound life lessons from Dr. Seuss’s The Butter Battle Book? Dr. Seuss explains it all. The Yooks eat their bread butter-side-up, and the Zooks eat it butter-side-down. And that’s all the difference between them. All this war stuff, it’s based on a misunderstanding. All our differences are trivial. If we’d just sit down and talk it over reasonably, why, we’d discover we all want precisely the same things.

Remember M*A*S*H*? The TV show especially. The North Koreans, when we were allowed to see one, were always scared, confused young men who only really wanted to go home. They weren’t interested in killing anybody. The only people who wanted to kill anybody were stupid Americans like Frank Burns and Col. Flag (apparently the rule that we all want the same things doesn’t apply to Americans).

It’s all a misunderstanding! We just haven’t talked enough! Can’t we understand that the North Koreans were always our friends? Even today, Kim Jong Il is just posturing with those nukes. What he really wants is for George Bush to put his arm around his shoulders and tell him how proud he is of him.

We all want the same things. We Americans want our children to grow up happy and healthy. So the Islamic jihadists have to want that too. If they instead strap bombs to their kids and send them out to blow themselves up in crowded markets, well… well, we must have driven them to it by not understanding them enough. And anyway, George Bush signed death warrants in Texas, so it’s all the same.

It must be, because Dr. Seuss told us so.

We need stories that touch our hearts, but we need stories that exercise our brains too. Stories informed with knowledge of the real world.

Remember the movie “Being There” with Peter Sellers? At the beginning Sellers, playing a retarded man who has spent his entire life watching TV in a rich man’s house, is turned out on the street, with nothing but a nice suit and his remote control.

When some young muggers confront him, he tries to use the remote to change the channel.

There’s a story we can learn from.

73 thoughts on “Sometimes stories lie”

  1. I’m not sure but I think Seuss stole his idea from J. Swift (was it something about an egg?)

    – in my cynical moments I have no doubt all people want the same thing; namely power.

  2. Yes, we all want the same things. All of us want to hide our women under burkas and live by the laws of Mohammed. And even if we did laugh at some pretty outrageous cartoons of Condoleezza Rice, we agree that racial and gender bigotry is rude and can be hateful, so we don’t do it ourselves. And when the Democrats accuse the Republicans of starving children in public schools . . .

  3. I was saying that stories are a powerful means of teaching, because they engage both reason and emotion, thus bringing the whole person into the project.

    I agree. What I am asking is, which do you suggest leading with, your emotions or your mind? Should you filter information primarily through your emotions using your mind only to validate those emotions or should you experience your emotions through your mind, but let your mind be your guide? Which has the lead, or should have the lead, your emotions or your mind?

    I don’t think you’re serious with the ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ idea. I think you’re trying to switch channels, hoping I’m so far left my neck is sprained 😉

  4. There’s no single answer to that question. People come in various temperamental combinations of logical and emotional. Maturity ought to teach logical people to adjust for emotion, and emotional people to adjust for logic. Unfortunately maturity is becoming rather rare.

    Furthermore, as a Christian I believe that God created us to be members of communities, known as churches. The Bible describes the church as being like a body–various organs with very different strengths and weaknesses working in coordination. In this body, logical people and emotional people are meant to listen to one another, cooperate and learn from one another.

  5. I think you’re equivocating. I didn’t ask about people’s physiology, the tempermental or non-tempermental combinations people have. I agree everyone has emotions, some more than others, and they also have a mind, some more than others. I asked which way around you think it should be, regardless of your physiological condition – should you filter information primarily through your emotions using your mind only to validate those emotions or should you experience your emotions through your mind, but let your mind be your guide? Which has the lead, or should have the lead, your emotions or your mind?

    I think one indication of a person’s maturity is that they listen to what their emotions tell them, but do not allow their emotions to dictate what they think or do. It is ultimately their mind they use to guide them to a decision, not their emotions. This tends to keep them out of a lot of trouble, for themselves and for others who may be depending on them.

    I’d also like to ask why you need the Bible to tell you people should cooperate with one another. Are you suggesting there were no acts of human kindness or cooperation before the Bible was written?

  6. I can’t argue with your take on maturity, but I reject your preconceptions. You seem to want to separate reason and emotion, to make it an either/or. I love either/or’s, but I don’t think this is the place for one. My whole premise is that we live in the purple zone, where both reason and emotion matter. The central doctrine of my beliefs is the Incarnation: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

    As for the Bible, I reference it because I’m a Christian and this is a Christian blog. If you want opinions uninformed by Scripture, go to a university or an Episcopalian church.

  7. Lars, it’s not like I’m surprised that you would reference the Bible, or am in any way objecting to you raising it, though I do think it’s okay to ask a question about it and perhaps also to expect an answer. It might make for an interesting debate.

    Nowhere have I suggested it has to be a choice between all reason or all emotion. I agree people use both. All I was asking is which do you think a person should lead with – their mind or their emotions?

    If you don’t wish to have your opinions challenged, I understand and hope you haven’t taken offense. That would be a waste of time (not to mention emotion) 🙂

  8. My answer is that it depends on the person; that you should know whether you’re basically logical or basically emotional, and adjust for that. One size doesn’t fit all. But you aren’t satisfied with that answer, so I don’t know what to tell you.

  9. I don’t know anyone who is basically logical or basically emotional. Everyone I know is a blend of both. Sure, they may appear more logical or emotional than at other times, but whatever their basic physiology is, I think it’s better to always try leading with your mind, that is, to try filtering your emotions through your mind, rather than the other way around. I’m not sure why you are reluctant to agree that this is a good idea.

  10. I think it depends on the person. 😀

    Really, though, why this emphasis on there having to be a ‘right’ answer? I find that strange and maybe even a teenie bit disturbing. Why would there be a one size fits all approach to life?

  11. David, you are suggesting that there are no right answers, only answers that suit whatever the person wants to believe, depending on how they’re feeling at the time.

    To answer your question, I think you can choose to allow your emotions to lead you or your mind to lead you. Since everyone has a mind and emotions, it is a conscious decision to choose to be guided by one or the other and I think it advisable for a person to let their mind guide them rather than their emotions because if you use your mind only to justify your emotions, you are guaranteed to cause destruction, to yourself and anyone depending on you.

  12. #8; “I’d also like to ask why you need the Bible to tell you people should cooperate with one another. Are you suggesting there were no acts of human kindness or cooperation before the Bible was written?”

    In my opinion the bible (and thus ethics) begins with the first word God says to Adam. Being someone who takes covenantal theology seriously, I would claim language itself (all its definitions and categories) is a creation of god; a gift from god, and therefore grace shown to man. Therefore man’s rationality itself depends on god; as well as his ideas of ethics and morality. All this is inherent in the language he was given. (Of course if you believe in evolution this makes no sense.)

  13. I just remembered the bit about Swift and the egg; it seems many rebellions were fought in some country over whether one ought to break an (hardboiled?) egg at the smaller or the larger end.

  14. # 14; what do you mean by mind? you mean that chemical soup the professors talk about? you mean those genes dawkins talks about? The biblical position on whether on should ‘lead’ with one’s mind or emotions is; neither. One should follow (in the area of ethics/morality) the commandments of god.

  15. sr, people believe in evolution not because they want to, but because of the overwhelming publicly available evidence. Evolution has been proven. How it occurs is still open to debate but that it occurs has been proven. If you want to see it in action for yourself, take a look through a microscope at a flu virus.

    I think the Bible is the word of man, not God, though I am open to seeing evidence to support the idea of God. Unfortunately, there isn’t any. Plenty of interesting, even entertaining, stories, sayings and tribal myths, but no evidence.

    Mind is defined as “the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought.”

    On language being a creation of God, I think language was invented by people, not God, to ask questions. As Eric Hoffer said, you can grunt a response, but questions have to be spoken.

  16. Well, I was going to comment on personalities with the mind and emotion angle, but since you brought this up, Noel, I want to get into that a little instead. I can’t do it right now though. I’ll come back soon so we can swap observations and arguements on God and evolution.

  17. I’m looking forward to it too – didn’t have time to join in the fun when I saw this thread this morning, but maybe when Phil has more time I will too.

  18. Perhaps I should start with my primary assumption. Evidence for “idea of God” as you put it is clear and abundant. You object to what you believe that God to be, what you’ve heard taught or said by those who claim to believe or follow him. I can understand that because there’s a lot of horrible teaching on God. The Bible is reliable, but many people teach without understanding it.

    What evidence for God is clear, you ask? The stuff that macro evolution attempts to prove are natural developments. You said we can see evolution just by looking at the flu virus. That points to the fundamental issue of the origin of life. Sure the flu virus mutates or changes. Sure the beaks of some birds adapt to their environment. It’s a far cry from that kind of adaptation within a specific kind of organism to the flu virus evolving into something completely different, completely non-virus like. That’s big.

    Darwin made good observations on Galapagos Islands and elsewhere, but his argument is still only a theory–that because many animals and organisms are similar means they are actually the same.

    Take your moth example. I think it’s the typical hubris of scientists to mock Darwin for his suggestion that there’s prob. a moth to match the flower he had found. Scientists in general appear to believe they know everything there is to know about a subject, and if it’s inconceivable to them, it’s idiocy without a doubt. Somehow they forget the many times they are shown wrong even in their own research. However, it’s a huge leap of faith to argue that because a flower is found, a moth would have adapted or evolved to eat from it. Why haven’t horses adapted to be better riden by men, since we’ve done it for hundreds of years? Why haven’t whales evolved to counter whalers? But more importantly, why hasn’t some creature turned into something new?

    They haven’t evolved because they can’t. God designed the animals to raise up cubs after their own kind, and while some of them adapt to new evironments, they don’t fundamentally change. The fact that we exist at all is one bit of evidence for the idea of God.

  19. Phil, I think you are saying that you don’t ‘believe’ in evolution, but evolution is not a matter of faith; it is proven scientific fact.

    All mammals, including cats and dogs, evolved from a common ancestor. To understand evolution, it is easiest to look at the cellular level because it is in our cells that we find DNA. DNA not only explains physically how we form, there are also instructions in our genes for when genes are switched on and when genes are switched off. For example, we share something like 60% of our genes with the sea cucumber and 80% with the house fly. When genes are turned on and turned off determines how many arms and legs we have, where they grow from and what size they become. Our closest relative on earth today, as far as we are aware, is the chimpanzee, varying only in a minor way from our own DNA.

    It is worth noting that Europeans were unaware of apes and monkeys before exploration in Africa and the Far East began, and if you look around and see cows and horses and mice and cats, but no other bipedal creature with hands like ours etc., it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that we are unique. But when you see a mama chimpanzee holding her baby with its fingers wrapped around her finger, and see her put its little fingers to her lips, exactly the way I have seen my wife hold our little babies and kiss their fingers, it is much easier to understand the genetic connection, a connection that has been scientifically proven. (Naturally there are gaps in the fossil record because the circumstances required to form a fossil are very rare. Very few deaths result in a fossil. Nevertheless, scientists can trace through the fossil record man’s evolution from the bipedal ape Australopithecus).

    We evolved from apes and are still apes, less hairy maybe (unless you originated from the mediterranean where your beard grows up to your eyes and your eyebrows up to your hairline and even the women sport a thin moustache) and more ingenious, but apes nonetheless. That is the family of animals we belong to. Some of us still live in trees. I dare you to look into the eyes of a gorilla, a chimpanzee or even a baboon (which is not an ape, but a monkey) and tell me you do not see intelligence there. All of us in the ape family shared a common ancestor and through the slow process of evolution, branched off in different directions.

    Look at the difference between a flying squirrel and a gray squirrel. One can glide from tree to tree and therefore avoid snakes; the other cannot, but essentially they are both squirrels.

    A fish has a heart, intestines, a liver, a brain, spine and ribcage, and eyes just like we do, but it continued on its evolutionary path in the ocean while our ancestors climbed out of the water and onto land. And to see a perfect example for this transition from water to land, look at amphibians, frogs, for example. An adult frog has lungs, liver, brain, intestines just like we do, but when it’s a baby it swims in the water and breathes through gills. It is as they mature that they develop lungs and live on land. The point is that when you look beneath the surface of life on this planet, it is obvious that we all developed in a beautiful variety of ways from the same ancestors.

    Evolution happens very slowly over time – subtle changes, little by little with the birth of each new baby. This has been proven. You can have a sudden change, which is essentially a mutation, for example when an albino is born, they are missing the information which allows them to produce pigment. This is a change in the DNA, an evolution. But would you say that an albino is inferior to us? Would you say that I am inferior because my eyes are brown and maybe yours are blue? In the same way we cannot think ourselves superior to any of the earth’s creatures. We have all evolved together and we all began from common organisms in the sea that decided over time that it was more convenient to work together and form larger cooperative units or multi-cellular creatures like fish, and eventually, human beings. To deny evolution is to deny the very fabric of your being and also to deny yourself the pleasure of reveling in all of the multitudinous varieties of life on earth.

    Everything is constantly changing, but on a time scale that is difficult to appreciate since our life-span is so short. Who knows what changes will be in the future for us and for all of the earth’s creatures? I am only sorry that I will be dead long before they come about.

    The other point I would like to take you up on is your suggestion that “Scientists in general appear to believe they know everything there is to know about a subject.” There is one telling difference between the scientific view and the religious view and it is this: science does not arrogantly claim to have all the answers, including those of the hereafter, if there is one. Religion arrogantly does, based on no evidence, no proof, nothing. I prefer the more humble view of science which understands better our tiny place in the universe. What science does understand it has studied and tested, unlike religion which just proclaims it and then insists we believe. We are born with minds and whether you believe God put them there or they evolved naturally, they are there to be used.

  20. I think it is harder to explain, given the minute difference between humans and apes, the stupefying gap in comprehension and capability between us. This is the divine spark, my friend, and only we seem to have it. How strange.

  21. Yes, the divine spark. Thanks for bringing that up, Hunter. It points to the origin of language which I think is a huge whole evolutionary thought. Our use of language cannot evolve through a series increasingly complex grunts, because there’s a great leap between sounds which communicate directly (e.g. “I’m bigger than you,” “Follow me,” or “Let’s be fruitful and multiply”) and sounds which we communicate something abstract (e.g. “Did you hear the one about the fat man in a spa?”) From the language theories I’ve studied, the gap cannot be crossed through natural means. That’s because language is a gift from our creator.

    I suppose what I really need about this point is a quote by a strong evolutionist about the need for real proof of Darwinianism, but I don’t want to hunt for that. Evolutionary theory still needs to prove how everything can come from nothing wihtout an unnatural agent, a creator who makes everything from his resources, not those found in nature.

  22. Hunter, not at all. As mentioned previously, there is a gap in capability between the gray squirrel and the flying squirrel, yet both are squirels. Evolution is something that happens very slowly over time. And as it is occurring, there are crossovers between species – an offshoot branches off into a different direction while the other retains more of its current characteristics. Some die out, like the neanderthals, who as you know had a very heavy bone structure and very large skull. There is fossil evidence to show a crossover between neanderthals and homo sapiens, that they were close enough genetically to mate, and that they did.

    Human beings belong to the ape family of creatures. Over vast stretches of time our ancestors branched off in a different direction by walking on their hind legs, coming out of the trees, learning to use tools and hunting for food in the plains, in the process developing larger brains giving greater computing ability. But our upright method of walking evolved before significant brain enlargement occurred.

    Science has used DNA to trace people’s ancestry. Every human being has a slightly different genetic code and different races share different genetic characteristics. For example, a black man in Africa has more pigment in his skin to protect him from the harsh rays of the sun at the equator than a man from Norway with blond hair, blue eyes and very little need, owing to the way the sun’s rays are angled and weakened toward the poles, for pigment in their skin. A cursory glance around the world’s peoples shows that we have evolved to suit our environments. Nevertheless, there is too little to separate us into different species.

    Different people from different parts of the world have general differences in their codes and each and every one of us have smaller differences in our codes. We’re all different. And it’s always changing, but it’s important to remember that while there are little changes over each generation, it takes millions of years to see a visible change occur in a species so that it can be said to have evolved, or branched off, into a new species. Looking at a flu virus is a way of seeing evolution working at breakneck speed, at least in terms of our life span.

    Phil, I think the ability to communicate is a common skill throughout nature. We may not understand exactly the ways in which birds or dogs or penguins or dolphins are communicating when they make noises. They are not using words as we understand them, but they are still communicating. We have gradually developed formal languages that are more advanced, just as our capability with tools is more advanced, but the differences in capabilities between us and other apes didn’t happen overnight. They took millions of years to develop.

    I know it is comforting to want to believe there is a benevolent superbeing taking divine interest in what we get up to on our moldy little planet, but there is no evidence to support this belief and plenty of evidence to dispute it.

    I have a few questions:

    1. Creatures, it’s been proven, have lived on earth for hundreds of millions of years before man arrived. The great dinosaurs, for example, lived from 200 million years ago to 65 million years ago. Why haven’t people been on earth since the dawn of time? Why did it take God so long to get around to suddenly making people? Is it that God keeps having failed experiments?

    2. Why has God chosen a planet orbiting a star in the far outer edges of the Milky Way galaxy to do his work? Why wouldn’t he pick something in the center of the universe?

    3. Based on what can you say for certain that there is a God?

  23. Yes, animals communicate, but they don’t tell stories.

    Honestly, I think the idea that evolutionary changes need millions of years to see is an appeal for mercy due to lack of evidence. We can’t see it, but we’re sure it’s out there. It’s the old monkey and typewriter illustration. The probability of these changes happening and building on each other for better living all around is ridiculously high, but the evolutionists hopes that given enough time it all works out.

    You want me to trust you, even though I can’t see it working. It’s the reverse of the argument you are making against God. You can’t see him, so you’re sure he isn’t out there.

    To answer to most of your questions, God chose to do it that way to glorify himself. We have a vast universe with boundaries we don’t understand and we don’t really know how it came to be. That argues for God’s work. He is infinite, like the heavens, and sovereign over all creation. The point of all creation, both the galaxies and our DNA, is to honor the Lord God.

    “Why haven’t people been on earth since the dawn of time?” I believe they have been on earth since the beginning because I think the Bible makes the best argument for that, but I know many Christians and the science you remember says what you’ve said. That’s an interpretation of evidence which I suggest could be wrong, and since I’m not a paleantologist, I can’t argue the details. If God did create the world slowly with various animals who died off before he made mankind, he did it because he wanted to. No failed experiments, just choice. You can probably find some detailed discussions of this at http://www.reasons.org.

    And the winning question of the morning: how can I know for certain there is a God? I trust the testimony of the Bible, and I have followed the Lord for 27 years. When I look at creation, I see the work of the Almighty. Didn’t the man who figured out DNA’s double helix write a book this year about his faith in the Lord? I don’t know all he said, but generally speaking, I’m with him. It’s impossible for all of this to exist by a quirk of fate, and if it is true that we are all accidents of nature, then life is meaningless.

    Sorry for the tangent. The Bible is a remarkable work, which would have the same impossible chances of coming together as evolution does if it would written by men. There are hundreds of true prophesies. The history is all accurate. And despite being written over 1000 years, it agrees with itself. I believe it is the word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit.

  24. Honestly, I think the idea that evolutionary changes need millions of years to see is an appeal for mercy due to lack of evidence.

    Phil, the evidence for evolution is freely and publicly available. All you have to do is take a look. Here is something Richard Dawkins said that you might find interesting:

    “There is no evidence in favor of intelligent design: only alleged gaps in the completeness of the evolutionary account … And, while it is inevitably true that there are incompletenesses in evolutionary science, the positive evidence for the fact of evolution is truly massive, made up of hundreds of thousands of mutually corroborating observations. These come from areas such as geology, paleontology, comparative anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, ethology, biogeography, embryology and – increasingly nowadays – molecular genetics.

    The weight of the evidence has become so heavy that opposition to the fact of evolution is laughable to all who are acquainted with even a fraction of the published data. Evolution is a fact: as much a fact as plate tectonics or the heliocentric solar system.”

    What’s curious is that we demand science prove its claims while expecting absolutely no evidence, not a shred, from religion. That’s hypocrisy.

    You want me to trust you, even though I can’t see it working

    When you look up into the sky, you cannot see a black hole through any telescope. It is only by observing the effects of the enormous gravitational force exerted by the black hole on the surrounding stars that we can figure out where it is. We can also figure out where a black hole is by photographing levels of radiation our eyes cannot see. It is the same with Quantum Mechanics. It is the behavior of atomic particles that allows us to understand the properties and behavior of subatomic particles.

    When you look at your arm, you cannot see the tiny cells that make up your skin anymore than you can see the miniature dustmites crawling on the tiny hairs of your arm. This does not mean that they are not there. People will say “Aha, just because you can’t see God doesn’t mean God isn’t there.” What makes all the difference is being able to test our theories through the use of our reasoning minds, whether it’s through using the microscope or the telescope or the very advanced equipment used to predict the mass of subatomic particles.

    God is just an idea. It’s not even a theory since a theory requires evidence to support it. The idea of God does not come with evidence. Science may not currently be able to show me a pretty picture of a subatomic particle, but if I can be shown the math and the observations that support the theory for their existence, I’ll take that over 2000-year-old fables about a superbeing no one has ever been able to prove the existence of.

    | trust the testimony of the Bible

    My wife says Abraham is her favorite from the old testament, but says she feels sorry for the life Abraham’s wife must have endured. There she was, locked in the desert with her crazy husband, no medication, no psychiatrists, having to say “Yes, dear” whenever he had that look in his eye so that he wouldn’t slaughter anyone, or things like “I’m so sorry my love. It’s just that I’m making a very special dinner tonight and I need ALL the knives” …. must have been a pretty scary life, far beyond the usual complaints most women have about their husbands.

    The point of all creation, both the galaxies and our DNA, is to honor the Lord God

    To make that statement and expect it to be believed, you need to be able to explain who or what the “Lord God” is. As Douglas Adams said:

    “God used to be the best explanation we’d got, and now we have vastly better ones. God is no longer an explanation of anything, but has instead become something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining.”

    Didn’t the man who figured out DNA’s double helix write a book this year about his faith in the Lord?

    Telling us what a Christian scientist believes is not evidence that he is right. What he’s given is his personal opinion and it is not unusual to find scientists with personal opinions.

    if it is true that we are all accidents of nature, then life is meaningless.

    I think the purpose and meaning of life is to live, and we can do that happily, morally, successfully, without needing to believe in any form of supernaturalism. It is your choice. Jesus lived and died 2000 years ago. There is no evidence he was divine. Two thousand-year-old answers to questions we asked before we even knew what caused disease is definitely not enough for me, not when there is such a big universe and so much more to discover about it.

  25. The evidence you’re looking for is in the Bible. The book has proven to be historically accurate on every count. King David was known only in the Bible for a long time. Archeologists tried to disprove the facts on Jericho to no avail.

    There are many statements which are too accurate to be human forecasts, many of them about Jesus, and there are many details of Jesus’ story which wouldn’t have been made up by writers of the day as well as the fact that Jesus’ body disappeared and many claimed to see him afterward. I am confident that if the story of the Bible is fiction, we would not be arguing about it today like this.

  26. I don’t do debate, and I’ll probably be sorry I put my oar in.

    But Noel: You make the following statement: “I think the purpose and meaning of life is to live, and we can do that happily, morally, successfully, without needing to believe in any form of supernaturalism.”

    My question to you is, since you reject all beliefs not based on scientific proof, what is your scientific evidence that morality is a purpose of life? You can argue that morality makes life more pleasant (although that’s not universally true), but I don’t think you can prove scientifically that pleasant human life (yours or mine or anybody’s) is important in any way, or that humans ought to have lives at all.

  27. Lars, I reject all religious beliefs because none of them can offer any proof of what they are claiming; all resort to supernatural explanations. This is not to suggest I require science to validate everything, for example, even if science could explain the pleasure I experience when I hear a beautiful piece of music – Vivaldi or Bach – I wouldn’t care. But I am not comfortable accepting things blindly, as the church expects me to.

    Though the teaching of morality is found in religion, morality is not the sole preserve of religion. Saying you walk with Jesus does not automaticallly confer virtue anymore than being secular automatically implies you must be perverted. After all, ordained priests have been guilty of child molestation and you don’t get more religious than an ordained priest, God’s mouthpiece on earth and married to the big invisible guy himself.

    I think we are all born with a moral conscience that our parents in raising us help to hone. This is why I asked you earlier: Are you suggesting there were no acts of human kindness or cooperation before the Bible was written? I do not need the church to tell me the difference between right and wrong. That’s something parents teach their children.

    I’m a family man and I’m a family man not because my church taught me to or because I’m afraid God is watching. I’m a family man because I love my wife and our children and our home.

  28. Now I think you’re equivocating, Noel. You talk of morality and conscience as if you knew they were valid. How do you know this? Where is your scientific proof?

    Say, for instance, that someone seriously thought it would be a good idea to kill your children. I assume you would defend them in some way. But how do you justify shoving your subjective belief (that your children are valuable) down the throat of the killer, who does not believe that?

    Let’s take it to a wider example. You could make a very good claim, on the basis of scientific evidence, that the best thing to do for the world would be to drastically reduce or eliminate all human life. Human pollution, urbanization, etc. would end, and the world would revert to natural balance. So someone could make a scientific argument that it would be a moral act to release some deadly biological agent into human population centers, to kill billions of people. As far as I can tell, he would have all the science on his side. Assuming that you would oppose his plan, you would have no science to back you up that I’m aware of. So how would you justify your opposition to his plan (assuming that you would oppose it)?

    I don’t see how you could do that without appealing to a higher authority that transcends materialistic explanations.

  29. Definitely the Bible is full of interesting stories people have kept alive. In the Old Testament, you have incest, sodomy, intrigue, murder, politics, sun stroke victims talking to burning bushes and great prophets who hear voices telling them to kill their children. The New Testament isn’t quite as spicy, but there’s still plenty of miracles to keep the bored reader interested. And the hero of the story is supposed to be the son of God, which, you know, puts him right up there with Hercules. It’s the greatest soap opera ever told.

    If you go in for Islam, Jesus is just one of many prophets, Mohammed being the last and most important, at least to Muslims. If you’re a Jew, you do not believe that a Messiah has come yet. If you’re a Buddist or a Hindu or a Taoist, you don’t care much for the Bible, old or new. And it’s worth pointing out that more than two billion people fall into this category.

    Jackie Collins sells millions of books, every one a bestseller. Doesn’t make it literature. It also doesn’t make it non-fiction. 😉

  30. Now I think you’re equivocating, Noel. You talk of morality and conscience as if you knew they were valid. How do you know this? Where is your scientific proof?

    Lars, where have I said scientific proof is required for everything? I have clearly said it is not; only that I am not comfortable accepting things blindly, as the church expects me to. To make a point, you need to have more going for you than just your desire to make it stick. 😉

    I think we are all born with a moral conscience that our parents in raising us help to hone. Morality is not the sole preserve of churches. To suggest it is is to claim that people have never shown each other kindness or fairness without a church having a hand in it and this is clearly ridiculous since people have been around long before churches and have managed by following their own conscience to treat each other fairly and help each other out. It still happens today all over the world without requiring church involvement.

    But how do you justify shoving your subjective belief (that your children are valuable) down the throat of the killer, who does not believe that?

    I live naturally and it is my natural instinct to beat the living daylights out of any molester who dared to go near my children, be they priest or not.

    So someone could make a scientific argument that it would be a moral act to release some deadly biological agent into human population centers, to kill billions of people.

    Lars, the definition of morality is understanding the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. How could someone morally suggest poisoning billions of people? They could make an ideological argument – religious, political or economic – for killing billions, even suggest employing tools discovered by science to accomplish the task more efficiently, but their plans could not be termed ‘moral’. Immoral, yes.

    I don’t see how you could [justify your opposition] without appealing to a higher authority that transcends materialistic explanations.

    Science cannot be blamed for the rise of the last century’s despots. Political ideology was what they preached, not science, and they lost, not because God triumphed, but because ordinary men and women fought, and often died, for freedom.

  31. It boils down to this, as I see it. We both believe in things that cannot be proven or disproven in a laboratory or a longitudinal study.

    But you believe that your transcendant beliefs deserve respect, while mine ought to be dismissed as superstition.

    You think you can dynamite the foundations of my house without damaging your own. You are wrong.

  32. I wouldn’t try to scientifically prove the love I feel for my wife and children, or that Vivaldi or Bach are wonderful composers. What would be the point? Even if science could prove these and many other things, I wouldn’t care. May as well just enjoy it.

    Could you tell me what you mean when you say I have transcendent beliefs? I ask because I am not aware of having any and wonder what gave you the impression that I did.

    I don’t believe we should burn all the Bibles or ban all religions. They are a valuable part of our history, serving as a reminder of where we came from, and of what we are capable of believing in.

  33. You believe that morality and conscience are valid, though you cannot prove it scientifically. You believe that people shouldn’t be killed, even if it would be good for the environment. You believe that your family is valuable, even though they are only (in your view) the random results of physics and natural selection, objects which possess organic life temporarily but will soon disappear, to be forgotten forever by an indifferent cosmos. These are transcendent beliefs, held by you for no reason other than that they make you feel good. They are faith, not science, but you defend them as if they were self-evident.

  34. Of course morality and conscience are valid, but when have I said I believe my family are only the random results of physics and natural selection? When have I suggested I know what happens after death? You might want to consider asking if your conclusions are right before announcing them.

    I have beliefs, yes, but they are not transcendent beliefs (transcendent being above the range of normal physical human experience). They are based on my experience and on what my mind tells me after I have thought it through. I do not presume to know what happens after I die, unlike you, even though on this subject you know no more than the rest of us.

  35. Well, I’m confused then. I thought you insisted that evolution was entirely satisfactory to explain everything about the world and humanity. You believe evolution isn’t a satisfactory explanation then? We’re making progress.

  36. Well, the next step in this discussion, if you’re interested Noel, is for you to read through the Gospel of John several times. It will tell you about the living God and argue his case better than we can. You can find it online at biblegateway.com and other places.

  37. Lars, there is no reason to be confused. I have never insisted evolution was entirely satisfactory to explain everything about the world and humanity. Evolution is a proven explanation of where we came from, unlike religion whose supernatural explanations come with no proof whatsoever.

    Phil, many religious scholars dispute John the Apostle wrote the Gospel of John or the other five books of the New Testament he is credited with. The truth is that much of the Bible was written 400 years after the man it speaks about died, by monks we know nothing of who attributed what they wrote to people who were already dead.

    We don’t have the original Bible. We have the telephone version, that is, it’s been handed down from person to person, language to language and generation to generation, and I suspect altered greatly in the passing. It’s like that old story from WWI where a message was passed through the trenches to HQ by one soldier whispering it to another. It started out as, “Send reinforcements. We’re going to advance.” It arrived at HQ as, “Send three and fourpence. We’re going to a dance.”

    I have taken a look at the Bible and think it is a fraud. It is not the word of God, it is the word of man. For a more detailed analysis of the Bible, you could take a look at The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine. I think it is always a good idea to inquire into both sides of something before drawing conclusions on who is right and who is telling tall tales.

    Thanks, I’ve enjoyed this conversation and hope you have too!

  38. Noel, I’m not sure what your source is for the history of the biblical texts. The oldest New Testament manuscript portions we have on hand date back to about the year AD 200, the oldest Hebrew Bible manuscripts we have are among the “Dead Sea Scrolls”, dating before AD 100, and in fact to a great degree they corroborate the accuracy of Hebrew manuscripts dating 1000 years later. And the reconstruction of biblical texts is a much more exact science than you’re suggesting. Even NT scholar Bart Ehrman, who is definitely not the type of Bible-believer as Phil or Lars or I, says “…the oldest and best sources we have for knowing about the life of Jesus … are the four Gospels of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This is not simply the view of Christian historians who have a high opinion of the New Testament and its historical worth; it is the view of all serious historians of antiquity of every kind, from committed evangelical Christians to hard-core atheists.” (Truth and Fiction In The Da Vinci Code, p. 102)

    Any possibility that further conversation on these topics can be appended to a post designed especially for the purpose?

  39. “The history of Jesus Christ is contained in the four books ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The first chapter of Matthew begins with giving a genealogy of Jesus Christ; and in the third chapter of Luke there is also given a genealogy of Jesus Christ. Did these two agree, it would not prove the genealogy to be true, because it might nevertheless be a fabrication; but as they contradict each other in every particular, it proves falsehood absolutely.

    If Matthew speaks truth, Luke speaks falsehood; and if Luke speaks truth, Matthew speaks falsehood: and as there is no authority for believing one more than the other, there is no authority for believing either; and if they cannot be believed even in the very first thing they say, and set out to prove, they are not entitled to be believed in any thing they say afterwards.

    … The disordered state of the history in these four books, the silence of one book upon matters related in the other, and the disagreement that is to be found among them, implies that they are the productions of some unconnected individuals, many years after the things they pretend to relate, each of whom made his own legend; and not the writings of men living intimately together, as the men called apostles are supposed to have done: in fine, that they have been manufactured, as the books of the Old Testament have been, by other persons than those whose names they bear.

    The story of the angel announcing what the church calls the immaculate conception, is not so much as mentioned in the books ascribed to Mark, and John; and is differently related in Matthew and Luke. The former says the angel, appeared to Joseph; the latter says, it was to Mary; but either Joseph or Mary was the worst evidence that could have been thought of; for it was others that should have testified for them, and not they for themselves. Were any girl that is now with child to say, and even to swear it, that she was gotten with child by a ghost, and that an angel told her so, would she be believed? Certainly she would not. Why then are we to believe the same thing of another girl whom we never saw, told by nobody knows who, nor when, nor where? How strange and inconsistent is it, that the same circumstance that would weaken the belief even of a probable story, should be given as a motive for believing this one, that has upon the face of it every token of absolute impossibility and imposture.

    The story of Herod destroying all the children under two years old, belongs altogether to the book of Matthew; not one of the rest mentions anything about it. Had such a circumstance been true, the universality of it must have made it known to all the writers, and the thing would have been too striking to have been omitted by any. This writer tell us, that Jesus escaped this slaughter, because Joseph and Mary were warned by an angel to flee with him into Egypt; but he forgot to make provision for John [the Baptist], who was then under two years of age. John, however, who staid behind, fared as well as Jesus, who fled; and therefore the story circumstantially belies itself.

    Not any two of these writers agree in reciting, exactly in the same words, the written inscription, short as it is, which they tell us was put over Christ when he was crucified; and besides this, Mark says, He was crucified at the third hour, (nine in the morning;) and John says it was the sixth hour, (twelve at noon.) [According to John, (xix. 14) the sentence was not passed till about the sixth hour (noon,) and consequently the execution could not be till the afternoon; but Mark (xv. 25) says expressly that he was crucified at the third hour, (nine in the moming,) — Author.]

    The inscription is thus stated in those books:

    Matthew — This is Jesus the king of the Jews.

    Mark — The king of the Jews.

    Luke — This is the king of the Jews.

    John — Jesus of Nazareth the king of the Jews.

    We may infer from these circumstances, trivial as they are, that those writers, whoever they were, and in whatever time they lived, were not present at the scene. The only one of the men called apostles who appears to have been near to the spot was Peter, and when he was accused of being one of Jesus’s followers, it is said, (Matthew xxvi. 74,) “Then Peter began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man:” yet we are now called to believe the same Peter, convicted, by their own account, of perjury. For what reason, or on what authority, should we do this?”

    From Part II The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine. You can read the rest of it here.

  40. Well, thanks for showing how little Thomas Paine knew about the Bible. That’s some sorry criticism. I suppose the idea that John was well out of the Bethlehem region wasn’t good enough for him. Saying that the four accounts aren’t written the same way shows ignorance of ancient writing in general and the gospel in particular.

    You should read the gospels, Noel, not Thomas Paine.

  41. Ok. I’ll read The Age of Reason sometime this year. I will give it serious consideration, even though I don’t think I need to read more of it to comment on the sorry nature of that excerpt.

  42. I am glad to hear that you will give The Age of Reason serious consideration, however, what you’ve said in response to the excerpt quoted would suggest that when you do get around to reading it, you will be leading with your emotions rather than your mind. 😉

    Your rebuttal of Paine’s suggestion that the massace was a fabrication of Matthew’s imagination rests on “the idea that John was well out of the Bethlehem region,” yet Matthew does not confine the massacre to Bethlehem alone:

    “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Matthew 2:16

    The historical evidence for Herod’s massacre of all children under the age of two is only Biblical and in fact only one verse in Matthew mentions it. The event is notably absent from the other gospels.

    It seems difficult to imagine such a massacre was not mentioned by Josephus, a first-century historian who described other events in Herod’s life. I think it is reasonable to be sceptical of Matthew’s account of a massacre of infants.

    Saying that the four accounts aren’t written the same way shows ignorance of ancient writing in general and the gospel in particular.

    Paine’s suggestion is that if the four apostles were present together at the scene of the crucification, they would have recorded the inscription over Christ exactly as it was written, and I think that is a reasonable point to make. There is certainly no justification for why ‘Mark’ and ‘John’ would dispute the time of day the crucification occurred, had they really been there.

    In dismissing this excerpt out of hand, you are conveniently ignoring Paine’s observation that Matthew’s genealogy of Christ totally contradicts Luke’s genealogy of Christ. As Paine said: “If Matthew speaks truth, Luke speaks falsehood; and if Luke speaks truth, Matthew speaks falsehood: and as there is no authority for believing one more than the other, there is no authority for believing either; and if they cannot be believed even in the very first thing they say, and set out to prove, they are not entitled to be believed in any thing they say afterwards.”

    You are also conveniently ignoring this paragraph:

    “The story of the angel announcing what the church calls the immaculate conception, is not so much as mentioned in the books ascribed to Mark, and John; and is differently related in Matthew and Luke. The former says the angel, appeared to Joseph; the latter says, it was to Mary; but either Joseph or Mary was the worst evidence that could have been thought of; for it was others that should have testified for them, and not they for themselves. Were any girl that is now with child to say, and even to swear it, that she was gotten with child by a ghost, and that an angel told her so, would she be believed? Certainly she would not. Why then are we to believe the same thing of another girl whom we never saw, told by nobody knows who, nor when, nor where? How strange and inconsistent is it, that the same circumstance that would weaken the belief even of a probable story, should be given as a motive for believing this one, that has upon the face of it every token of absolute impossibility and imposture.”

    As Lars has suggested in his title to this post, sometimes stories lie.

  43. I wanted to drop this, but you’re just wrong, Noel. Ask any cop. If three witnesses give you precisely the same story, with all details matching, you know immediately they’ve colluded in a lie. Truthful eyewitness accounts always vary in details while agreeing in the broad outline of the story.

    We all knew about the genealogy problem long before you brought it up. It’s been dealt with by scholars in a manner which satisfies me, but will not satisfy you.

    Thomas Paine found America too religious and hypocritical for his pure, Enlightenment mind. So he went to France where they were having a morally superior, atheist revolution. The French imprisoned Paine and came very close to guillotining him.

    Can’t argue with those results.

  44. I downloaded “Age of Reason” (thanks for the link) & intend to read it sometime when I have the time, but so far I’m not any more impressed than Phil.

    From comment #43:

    “The story of Herod destroying all the children under two years old, belongs altogether to the book of Matthew; not one of the rest mentions anything about it. Had such a circumstance been true, the universality of it must have made it known to all the writers, and the thing would have been too striking to have been omitted by any. This writer tell us, that Jesus escaped this slaughter, because Joseph and Mary were warned by an angel to flee with him into Egypt; but he forgot to make provision for John [the Baptist], who was then under two years of age. John, however, who staid behind, fared as well as Jesus, who fled; and therefore the story circumstantially belies itself.”

    Paine managed to get two “arguments from silence” into one paragraph. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_silence

    Noel echoes this reasoning in comment #47:

    “The historical evidence for Herod’s massacre of all children under the age of two is only Biblical and in fact only one verse in Matthew mentions it. The event is notably absent from the other gospels.

    It seems difficult to imagine such a massacre was not mentioned by Josephus, a first-century historian who described other events in Herod’s life. I think it is reasonable to be sceptical of Matthew’s account of a massacre of infants.”

    One trouble with arguments from silence is that occasionally the silence is broken by new evidence, such as when Darwin was vindicated (on one particular point, anyway) when the missing moth was found with a 12″ tongue to match the 12″ flower neck. New evidence has been dug up from time to time that corroborated biblical evidence – in fact, this has happened several times since Paine’s time. Maybe some secondary account will be found some time of Herod’s massacre. We don’t know. But writers, ancient and modern, include what serves their purpose.

    From comment #43:

    “Not any two of these writers agree in reciting, exactly in the same words, the written inscription, short as it is, which they tell us was put over Christ when he was crucified; (…)

    The inscription is thus stated in those books:

    Matthew — This is Jesus the king of the Jews.

    Mark — The king of the Jews.

    Luke — This is the king of the Jews.

    John — Jesus of Nazareth the king of the Jews.

    We may infer from these circumstances, trivial as they are, that those writers, whoever they were, and in whatever time they lived, were not present at the scene.”

    If I were a judge presiding over a case in which four separate witnesses gave those four answers, years after the event, I would call that a remarkable degree of consistency rather than a remarkable degree of inconsistency. Also, are there not a number of possible explanations for the differences in the four accounts? To deny that possibility would be to commit a “False dilemma” fallacy (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma).

    One possible explanation: John 19:20 points out that the inscription was in three languages. What if it just simply read a bit differently in each language, and the four Gospels reflect that? For example, it’s well-documented that there are variations between the German and Latin original texts of the “Book of Concord”, an official statement of Lutheran teaching from the 1500s (feel free to make your own conclusions about Lutherans from that).

    At the risk of being accused of “conveniently ignoring” the many other issues that Noel G & Thomas P have made, and which I haven’t yet addressed, I need to wrap this up and get on with today’s “miles to go before I sleep”. But let me say this: If, as Paine says, Matthew and Luke “cannot be believed even in the very first thing they say, and set out to prove” and so are “not entitled to be believed in any thing they say afterwards”, then I’m entitled to harbor my doubts about the level of reasoning in Paine’s “Age of Reason” based just upon the brief excerpt Noel has provided, which contains examples of logical fallacies such as “false dilemma”, “argument from silence”, “ad hominem” (against Peter), and I think others as well. Indeed, based upon the piece of evidence supplied so far, I suspect Paine’s entire “Age of Reason” to be a specimen of “Proof by verbosity” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_by_verbosity)

  45. Ask any cop. If three witnesses give you precisely the same story, with all details matching, you know immediately they’ve colluded in a lie. Truthful eyewitness accounts always vary in details while agreeing in the broad outline of the story.

    My father was a cop. He told me that if every detail in eyewitness accounts match, what they say could be either true or false, but that if significant details differ, one or more of them is lying. He classed when an event supposedly occurred as a significant detail. ‘Mark’ says Jesus was crucified at nine in the morning, ‘John’ says the sentence wasn’t even passed until noon, meaning the crucification took place in the afternoon. This would suggest one or both of them is making it up and was not an eyewitness to the scene.

    We all knew about the genealogy problem long before you brought it up. It’s been dealt with by scholars in a manner which satisfies me, but will not satisfy you.

    This tells us nothing, except that you don’t like discussing Christ’s genealogy problem. 😉

    You’re still ignoring in that excerpt the challenge to the ‘immaculate conception’ which Paine called “blasphemously obscene. It gives an account of a young woman engaged to be married, and while under this engagement, she is, to speak plain language, debauched by a ghost, under the impious pretence, (Luke i. 35,) that “the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.” Notwithstanding which, Joseph afterwards marries her, cohabits with her as his wife, and in his turn rivals the ghost. This is putting the story into intelligible language, and when told in this manner, there is not a priest but must be ashamed to own it. [Mary, the supposed virgin, mother of Jesus, had several other children, sons and daughters. See Matt. xiii. 55, 56.–Author.]”

    Instead of addressing this point, you try to discredit Paine for having raised it.

    What I try to keep in mind about Thomas Paine is that without him it is likely the American Revolution would not have occurred at the time it did or with the result it had. His pamphlet, Common Sense which advocated independence from the Kingdom of Britain, was credited by George Washington as having heartened his despondent army. It is also said that he heavily influenced “much of the phrasing and substance of the Declaration of Independence.” Both Lincoln and Edison “read his works with respect.” So did Napoleon, who upon meeting him suggested “a statue of gold should be erected to you in every city in the universe.” Paine considered him “the completest charlatan that ever existed.”

    You need to ask why the French nearly guillotined Paine. The answer is because he objected to chopping people’s heads off (particularly the king) after the revolution had been achieved.

    And Paine was not an atheist; he was a deist, that is, he believed in God, but not in any organized ‘revealed’ religion.

    Many of Paine’s religious friends understandably objected to The Age of Reason when it was published in 1794. Here are a couple of things he said in reply to them:

    “As I have now given you my reasons for believing that the Bible is not the Word of God, that it is a falsehood, I have a right to ask you your reasons for believing the contrary; but I know you can give me none, except that you were educated to believe the Bible; and as the Turks give the same reason for believing the Koran, it is evident that education makes all the difference, and that reason and truth have nothing to do in the case. You believe in the Bible from the accident of birth, and the Turks believe in the Koran from the same accident, and each calls the other infidel. But leaving the prejudice of education out of the case, the unprejudiced truth is that all are infidels who believe falsely of God, whether they draw their creed from the Bible, or from the Koran, from the Old Testament, or from the New.”

    and:

    “It is often said in the Bible that God spoke unto Moses, but how do you know that God spoke unto Moses? Because, you will say, the Bible says so. The Koran says that God spoke unto Mahomet, do you believe that too? No. Why not? Because, you will say, you do not believe it; and so because you do and because you don’t is all the reason you can give for believing or disbelieving except that you will say that Mahomet was an impostor. And how do you know Moses was not an impostor?”

  46. To answer Michael … all Paine is saying is that if Herod had really ordered the murder of every baby under 2, we could expect more than one writer to have recorded it because it was such an horrific thing to do. Seems reasonable.

    Maybe some secondary account will be found some time of Herod’s massacre.

    Maybe, but until new evidence is found we must work with the evidence we have which is one account in a highly suspect book by a man who forgot to explain how John, two years old at the time and living in the Bethlehem area, could have escaped the atrocity.

    One possible explanation: John 19:20 points out that the inscription was in three languages. What if it just simply read a bit differently in each language, and the four Gospels reflect that?

    Yes, that’s possible. Still leaves why ‘Mark’ says the crucification occurred at nine in the morning while ‘John’ says the sentence wasn’t even passed until noon, meaning it didn’t take place until the afternoon.

    I suspect Paine’s entire “Age of Reason” to be a specimen of “Proof by verbosity”

    Try reading it with an open mind and drawing your own conclusions when you’re done. After all, Paine didn’t try to just argue a few excerpts from the Bible. He went through it chapter and verse, both the Old and the New Testament.

    P.S. I await with interest your attempt to explain the differences in Christ’s genealogy as recorded by ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’, and the notion of the “immaculate conception”, both of which were also contained in the excerpt. Should be fun!

  47. First of all, Paine was factually wrong in his reference to the Immaculate Conception. Christians do not use the term “Immaculate Conception” to describe the incident to which he refers. They use the term “Virgin Birth.” “Immaculate Conception” is a Catholic term referring to their doctrine that Mary was born sinless, a non-biblical teaching rejected by Protestants. Paine demonstrated his theological ignorance by saying this.

    To simply re-tell a story in the most insulting terms, as Paine re-tells Mary’s story, is not a refutation. It’s just slander.

    A judgment of whether you’re dealing with perjury or a differing perspective in a testimony has a lot to do with your subjective judgment of the character of the witness. You believe the people who gave us the gospels were conscious frauds working long after the events. I believe they were eyewitnesses, or people writing shortly afterwards, relying on the testimony of eyewitnesses, passing on stories that differed in details but were essentially in agreement. I believe your judgment is based on your subjective distrust of people who testify to supernatural events. You believe my judgment is based on my prejudice and credulity.

    Thomas Paine got to see the practical results of what happens when a society turns its back on Christianity. He was such a doctrinaire skeptic that he couldn’t learn from the lesson. The history of Christian societies is good and bad, glorious and shameful — a mixture. The history of atheist societies is almost uniformly shameful. In my opinion, those who still hold out for the dream of a humane, humanist, rationalist society without God are practicing the greatest act of denial, clinging to a subjective dream, in the history of the world.

  48. Immaculate Conception is simply a way of justifying the notion of a Virgin Birth and it is most definitely christian since catholics are christian. The story of Mary having intercourse with God in the form of a Ghost had to be explained away in the context of original sin (which, supposedly we are all born with). Otherwise, God, in having any kind of intimate relations with her, would have been contaminated by it. Term it whatever you like; it is still an abominable story, in the same way that ” … the christian story of God the Father putting his son to death, or employing people to do it, (for that is the plain language of the story,) cannot be told by a parent to a child; and to tell him that it was done to make mankind happier and better is making the story still worse; as if mankind could be improved by the example of murder; and to tell him that all this is a mystery is only making an excuse for the incredibility of it.”

    I believe your judgment is based on your subjective distrust of people who testify to supernatural events.

    To an extent, yes. Anyone who tells me they speak to God regularly or have been witnesses to supernatural events, I tend to distrust. But I know there are things we do not fully understand about life so my judgment is also based on the evidence. Unfortunately, the idea of ‘God’ does not come with any evidence.

    You believe my judgment is based on my prejudice and credulity.

    Yes. Your beliefs are what you have been taught to believe and want to believe in the absence of any evidence to support them and despite plenty of evidence to dispute them.

    Thomas Paine got to see the practical results of what happens when a society turns its back on Christianity.

    No, he got to see what happens when a revolution is allowed to go too far. Had he lived during the Inquisition, he would have seen what happens when christianity is allowed to go too far.

    The history of Christian societies is good and bad, glorious and shameful — a mixture. The history of atheist societies is almost uniformly shameful.

    You’re comparing christian with atheist. I think it is more accurate to compare christian with secular since that is what the United States of America was intended by its Founders to be – a secular society, divorced from religion, all religions, not just christianity.

    In my opinion, those who still hold out for the dream of a humane, humanist, rationalist society without God are practicing the greatest act of denial, clinging to a subjective dream

    Why do you think this? What are your reasons?

  49. I didn’t say the Immaculate Conception wasn’t a Christian concept. I said it didn’t mean what Paine said it meant. Because it doesn’t. Because his knowledge of Christianity was sketchy, tinged by his biases.

    As for godless societies, look at Europe. Europe has been carrying on a social experiment for a couple generations now. “We don’t need God. We can create an idyllic, just society through social engineering which will liberate our essential human goodness.”

    The result is a dying culture, one which can’t even reproduce itself and will be replaced by an Islamic culture within a couple more generations. They rejected the “bondage” of Christianity, only to fall under the far greater bondage of Islam and Sharia law.

    Jesus told a parable about a man who had a demon cast out of him. The demon came back to the man and found the man empty, like a house “swept and garnished.” He moved back in with several other demons even worse than himself.

    If that happens when you drive out a bad thing and leave a vacuum, it’s even worse when you drive out a good thing and leave a vacuum.

  50. I have to quit this now. I said I don’t do debates, and there’s a reason. I can’t handle it emotionally. I get angry and say things I’m sorry I said.

    If you want to tell people you beat me, Noel, there’s nothing I can do to stop you. Though there’s no particular honor in outrunning a paraplegic.

    And I apologize if I’ve said anything personal or offensive. I sometimes do that.

  51. I didn’t say the Immaculate Conception wasn’t a Christian concept. I said it didn’t mean what Paine said it meant.

    You are attempting to distract from the point Paine was making by fixating on the terminology while ignoring the substance. Here it is again, with what I believe is more appropriate terminology:

    “The story of the angel announcing what the church calls the [Ripping Good Yarn], is not so much as mentioned in the books ascribed to Mark, and John; and is differently related in Matthew and Luke. The former says the angel, appeared to Joseph; the latter says, it was to Mary; but either Joseph or Mary was the worst evidence that could have been thought of; for it was others that should have testified for them, and not they for themselves. Were any girl that is now with child to say, and even to swear it, that she was gotten with child by a ghost, and that an angel told her so, would she be believed? Certainly she would not. Why then are we to believe the same thing of another girl whom we never saw, told by nobody knows who, nor when, nor where? How strange and inconsistent is it, that the same circumstance that would weaken the belief even of a probable story, should be given as a motive for believing this one, that has upon the face of it every token of absolute impossibility and imposture.”

    Because [Thomas Paine’s] knowledge of Christianity was sketchy

    I understand that this is what you would like to believe, but I think you have to read all of The Age of Reason before you can say that. I have, and don’t think anyone can reasonably claim that his knowledge of christianity was ‘sketchy.’

    As for godless societies, look at Europe. Europe has been carrying on a social experiment for a couple generations now … The result is a dying culture, one which can’t even reproduce itself and will be replaced by an Islamic culture within a couple more generations. They rejected the “bondage” of Christianity, only to fall under the far greater bondage of Islam and Sharia law.

    I have no idea what you are talking about. Please tell us what European country has recently rejected christianity and come under sharia law? I think you’ve been reading too much Mark Steyn.

  52. You should ask the thousands of children who love this story.

    Phil, I think you are missing the point. Paine is saying that any system of religion that has anything in it thatshocks the mind of a child cannot be a true system and this I completely agree with. The story of God the Father putting his own son to death, or employing others to do it while standing by and watching it happen, is not a very fatherly thing to do. In fact, it is plainly disgusting. Saying God did it so as to make people happier is obviously twisted since how can people be improved by the example of murder? And I think that murder should shock the mind of a child, don’t you agree?

  53. Lars, you’ve nothing to apologize for. It was a frank exchange of views and I thank you for allowing it to take place on your blog. I don’t think I ‘beat’ you anymore than I think you ‘beat’ me. It was just an interesting conversation, that’s all.

  54. “any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child cannot be a true system”

    I’m sorry. That makes no sense to me. Are children capable of understanding all of the deep truths of life in full?

    As you said we need to read Paine, you need to reread the Gospel of John a few times.

  55. You are suggesting murder is a “deep truth of life.”

    Think of it like this. Some kids are very clever and from a very early age begin to think for themselves. When they realize what the story of God the Father sacrificing his own son really means, it shocks their mind. There should be nothing in a system of religion capable of demolishing the natural innocence of a child’s mind.

    Since you have agreed to read The Age of Reason, I agree to reread the gospel of ‘John’. Sorry, couldn’t resist. 😉

  56. Honestly, if you want to know the truth, reading John’s gospel a few times over will help. I’ll be praying the Lord reveals himself to you.

    What I’m arguing is a deep truth is the sacrifice God made for us in order restore our relationship with him. This is the basic message of the Bible. Having rejected God in the beginning, all people are separated from their creator by sin. God became a man in order to work the justice needed to restore our relationship with him. We couldn’t pay our own debt. It was beyond us. But God as a man could pay it by dying at the hands of evil men and returning to life as the conqueror of death and savior of the world.

    Sure, it’s shocking. Part of the problem in the modern church is that too few are shocked by what the Lord did for us. And you need to be shocked by the fact that you are an enemy of God who will be judged for your life, if you continue to reject the message he has given you.

    The evidence you want is in the Bible and the lives of many Christians, but you sound like the people who bugged Jesus in some cities. He produced enough food out the thin air to feed a few thousand people, and some of them just wanted him to do it again. “Show us the evidence that you are from God,” they said, but he doesn’t perform tricks for the crowds.

    To return to couple of your points, Harod ordered the murder of the children in the Bethlehem area, “in Bethlehem and in all that region” (ESV), not the whole country.

    And your question about Mary’s conception is interesting and vulgar. Can the creator of life not do anything at all or will Paine not accept the idea that God could give a woman a child outside the natural methods? “The virgin was found with child” means exactly that, not the way you describe it in comment 53. Matthew’s account appears to say that Joseph did not believe her, because Paine is right about the skeptical nature of Mary’s story. She told her soon-to-be husband that she was pregnant of the Lord’s will, and he didn’t believe her, so an angel appeared to him too.

    Why don’t all the gospel give exactly the same details? Because the ancient writers were not writing definitive biographies. As John says at the end of his account, they were writing for the testimony of their audiences. Matthew wrote to Jews, I believe, and Luke wrote for a Greek audience. The way Paine describes it, I suspect he doesn’t understand ancient literature or is willfully ignorant of the Bible he opposes. Being a pagan, of course, he wouldn’t have understood it anyway.

  57. Phil, you offer hearsay stories from questionable sources to support your beliefs, but no evidence, not a shred. You cannot even explain who or what the dickens ‘God’ is. Believing in Christianity is as valid as believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The only difference between them is that Christianity has more tradition (more blood on its hands, too).

    It reveals a lot about you that you call me an enemy of your ‘God’ because I don’t share your beliefs.

  58. Oh, well. It was interesting and challenging to discuss this with you. Thanks for the opportunity.

    Just to clarify, I refering to part of Paul’s argument on salvation in Romans 5, where he says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” That is, that while we were enemies of God, he reconciled us to him. I didn’t intend to be personally combative with you. I used the word to describe our position before the Lord when we reject him. I hope that’s clear.

    I’ll try to post some thoughts on Age of Reason, so if you check the blog periodically, you’ll know I did read it.

  59. Wo-oah man, this looks like the Energizer Bunny of discussion threads … Is this a record for “Brandywine Books?”

    Way up there in comment #51 Noel nudges me on to respond to a couple of things:

    P.S. I await with interest your attempt to explain the differences in Christ’s genealogy as recorded by ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’, and the notion of the “immaculate conception”, both of which were also contained in the excerpt. Should be fun!

    People have been attending to this problem for a long time. According to Third Century church historian Julius Africanus, intermarriages and levirate marriages between two lines of David’s descendants explain at least some of the differences between Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315-367) proposed that Matthew recounted the paternal origin that began in Judah, Luke a Levitical line through Mary. Some have proposed that Matthew gives a legal genealogy through Jesus’ foster father Joseph, while Luke gives a biological lineage through David, then Nathan, thence to Heli, Mary’s father. Though Joseph is called the son of Heli in Luke 3:23, a tradition existed in ancient times that Heli was Joseph’s father-in-law. The Talmud Haghigha (77:4) refers to Mary as “the daughter of Heli.”

    Augustine (354-430) had another theory, that one line was through Joseph’s biological father, the other through Joseph’s adoptive father, noting “Indeed, this was the custom of adoption even among that people of God. In this way they could endow sonship upon those whom they had not given birth” thence citing the biblical examples of Pharoah’s daughter adopting Moses & Jacob adopting his two grandsons.

    You’ve certainly zeroed in on a Bible difficulty without one unmistakeably preferable solution (though I think Augustine’s theory has merit), but since several plausible theories have been discussed since ancient times, I don’t see it as an obstacle. And I don’t think ancient people were so foolish. The early Christians placed Mt. & Lk. together in authority very early, so I doubt they perceived the “conflicts” to be a threat.

    Not sure what part of the immaculate conception/virgin birth issue you’re referring to, other than that which Phil & Lars have already discussed. But I invite you to prove from primary sources (NT and early Christian documents) that this mental picture of Mary having sex with a ghost was current in the early centuries AD and not just a straw man set up by Paine, or some other modern writer.

    Another puzzle you mentioned is the time of the crucifixion:

    (Paine) and besides this, Mark says, He was crucified at the third hour, (nine in the morning;) and John says it was the sixth hour, (twelve at noon.) [According to John, (xix. 14) the sentence was not passed till about the sixth hour (noon,) and consequently the execution could not be till the afternoon; but Mark (xv. 25) says expressly that he was crucified at the third hour, (nine in the moming,) — Author.]

    One possible solution is that Mark’s Gospel contains a copyist’s error, as the Greek numerals for three and six could be confused. Another possibility is that John could have been using Roman time, in which case the appearance before Pilate would have been at 6:00 AM and the crucifixion at 9:00 AM, the third hour according to Jewish reckoning.

    I suppose we could go point-by-point through this stuff for a long time. Way back in this post’s Jurassic Era (that is, in comment #18), Noel said:

    I think the Bible is the word of man, not God, though I am open to seeing evidence to support the idea of God. Unfortunately, there isn’t any. Plenty of interesting, even entertaining, stories, sayings and tribal myths, but no evidence.

    May I modestly propose that the uniquely non-mythological character of the religion of Israel in biblical times as a piece of evidence. Since others have given book recommendations (and I would concur with Phil, for more than one reason, that John, or any portion of the Bible, is the thing to read and reread), let me recommend that you find and read The Religion of Israel by Yehezkel Kaufmann. I would give a few choice quotes, but I’m running out of time once again. Maybe soon I can offer some, but whether we’re wearing out this particular blog post thread I don’t know.

    For some reason I’m not surprised to see the Flying Spaghetti Monster make its appearance. I happen to live less than 100 miles from the campus where Dr. PZ Myers teaches – I believe it’s on his “Pharyngula” blog that the FSM first arose, whether by spontaneous generation or Intelligent Design I don’t know.

  60. BTW, I was going to say that I do respect Thomas Paine as an original and influential thinker, and I’m glad that Phil will be posting thoughts on Age of Reason. Maybe if I keep up with the reading pace it’ll give me a place to append my observations as well. But I’ll warn you – way back in a college philosophy course I remember the observation being made that it took great minds to come up with the great, influential ideas, but lesser minds can ably refute them. If a bunch of undergrads can poke holes in Descartes and Hume, I don’t think that Paine is immune to careful analysis in “Brandywine Books.”

  61. I see from the Wikipedia article that I was mistaken about the origins of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Oh, well, nobody’s perfect – and no religion, real or feigned, and no non-theistic ideology is immune from gathering a bloody track record, given enough time.

  62. We all enjoy the quest for truth, and “meeting” you, too. We hope to “meet” you again, and not just to debate.

    In case it matters to anyone, I posted a few Kaufmann quotes (see comment #66) here.

  63. Wow, seventy replies. I got lost way back.

    I’ll stick my toe in a little bit, even though there’s been some peaceful resolution (bad me!)

    Age of Reason’s a pretty lousy source, I’m afraid. The study of the Bible’s very much so an ongoing process, so it’s odd to find someone quoting an over two hundred year old source (before anyone had even first began to think about the source to the synoptics or found the Gospel of Thomas or Nag Hammadi) as authoritative.

    A lot of Biblical scholarship that I’m able to keep up on (being a work at home dad and full time college student and getting something published once in a blue moon) is largely centered around reconstructing Q, a hypothetical source for the 3 synoptic Gospels (i.e. all of them but John). These Gospels share a lot of material, with 91% of Mark showing up in Matthew, and 53% of Mark in Luke. This has led many to conclude that all three of them are copying from the same source (though I’ve always thought the rationals to it all were a little flimsy).

    A concurrent theme to this is the idea of pericopes, which is to say that Jesus’ teachings and miracles were accurately recorded, but the context thereof grew shady over the years. You have to remember the large time that grew between happening and recording. Of course, disputes over the exact wording of something that’s a triple translation anyway (like the inscriptions on the Cross) are a little silly, but there are some legitimate time-of-day questions about the Crucifixion that a paradigm like this can explain.

    Anyway, Wikipedia’s a good free source for that (I have some textbooks lying around if I haven’t sold them, but that doesn’t help you).

    Now, if you absolutely must have a Christian take on your two hundred year old champion that was written with bad sources and from translations that are considerably worse than we have now and before many of today’s sources were found, I’m sure that I can find something…

    Ah, here you go. 127 pages. Good luck…

    http://www.tektonics.org/lp/painet02.html

  64. I don’t want to reopen this thread but I’d like to respond to a few things Noel said. (A great debate guys; you know a lot more than I do.)

    – you claim ‘science’ has proved the long age of the earth. I don’t believe this is correct. From a philosophical view science can’t prove anything. (Many secular scholars agree; Kuhn, Popper, etc.) All science can do is offer hypotheses. The testing of these hypotheses never ends. Nothing in science is ever finally, conclusively proven. The old age theory is based on unproven, unprovable presuppostions; for example the idea the laws of the universe have always operated the way they do now. This can’t be proven; and neither can the general concept of uniformitarianism. (Increasingly held in disrepute.)

    – you seem to labor under the Enlightenment view that reality is what it appears to man’s senses. More than 200 years ago Kant denied that man can know things in themselves (the noumenal realm) but merely appearances (the phenomenal realm.) I believe you spoke of objective reality, but I don’t know of any philosophers today who believe man can know ultimate reality. (Having said this I admit that appearances seem to be on your side in this regard.)

    – Language. One of the best evidences for creation is language. Most secular scholars admit to being unable to explain its origin. In my opinion this could only have had an outside source. (I recommend the Language Gap by Clifford Wilson.) I don’t think this proves the existence of God, as I don’t believe there are any conclusive proofs for god’s existence. (As I don’t believe anyone can prove materialism or evolution.)

    – as a long time atheist it was the evidence for creation that led me to abandon the materialist view. I just cannot believe a rock turned into prof. Einstein simply by hanging in space for a few years. If you can believe that, fine. I can’t.

    – As all of us are (very) finite creatures we can only see things from a partial view. That’s the best any of us can manage; and why both the theist and the materialist must depend on faith for what they believe.

    – Thanks for participating.

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