Uncle Karl runs out of gas

November 16, 2010 • 6:04 pm

FINALLY Uncle Karl has finished his “I burn teh strawmenz” series on BioLogos, having exhausted all his arguments against me in the lamest post of all, engagingly titled “Part Six.”

This article is giving me a pain in my lower mesentery, which I can ill afford since I’m on my way to my final dinner in Bogotá, so I’ll just state his arguments briefly.  And since they’re self-refuting, I need hardly say more than, “Nice try, Karl, but you didn’t pwn me.”

1.  Just like religion, science relies on faith:

Faith plays different roles in different disciplines. The physicist needs no faith to accept the law of the conservation of energy. There is no need for the chemist to have faith in the periodic table. The factual evidence is so great that faith is simply not needed. But evolutionary biology needs some faith. The reconstructions of the history of life on this planet require the postulation of species for which there is no direct evidence. Most of the “common ancestors” are hypothetical in the sense that they have to be constructed indirectly with methods that are far from flawless. I think the evolutionary biologists are doing a great job with this—read Coyne’s excellent Why Evolution is True, if you are skeptical—but the enterprise requires inferences that look very much like little leaps of faith.

I don’t have faith in common ancestors of reptiles and modern birds in the same way that Karl has faith in God. There is tons of real scientific evidence indicating that such ancestors existed, and I anticipate that they, or closely related transitional forms, will be found (many of them have been).  There’s no “leap of faith” here.  In contrast, belief in God is a leap of faith simply because there’s no credible evidence.

When someone who purports to sell science to religious people starts saying that both magisteria really rest on “faith”, you know that they’re dealing in bad faith.

2.  There’s real scientific evidence for Jebus:

Religious reflection is more like economics than it is like chemistry. There is evidence for the claims of the economist and for the chemist and there is evidence for religious truth claims. This is a simple fact. The New Testament contains several documents written about Jesus by smart people in the first century. These documents are evidence.

Yes, just like the Qur’an and the Bhagavad Gita and Urim and Thummim (the golden plates of Moroni) and the writings of L. Ron Hubbard—and all the thousands of religious documents written by smart people purporting to recount real events.  Those were also written by smart (or canny) people, and so should count as “evidence” too, no?

One can disagree with the documents and reject the evidence as weak or inadequate in some way. Or one can accept the evidence and be a Christian. But what one cannot do is claim that there is no evidence or dismiss the evidence because it fails to meet the standards of the chemist. If the central claim of Christianity is true—that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ—that is the most complicated and mysterious event in history and the people who tried to articulate what it was like certainly cannot be critiqued because their analyses would not meet the standards of the chemist.

Why not? People are basing their entire lives, and hopes for the afterlife, on what is written by “smart people” in those fictitious documents. Why shouldn’t we require that that evidence at least meet the standards of chemistry? And since Uncle Karl sees so much of the Bible—stuff recounted as if it were as factual as the Resurrection—as simply fictional metaphor, why does he see Jesus’s return to life as “real scientific evidence” while cavalierly dismissing tales like the Flood or Adam and Eve as pretty fictions?  Given that nearly the entire Bible is written as if it were true, how does one separate the “evidence” from the pretty stories?

The far more significant difference, of course, relates to the dynamic character of religious investigation. When Isaac Newton “leaped to the conclusion” that gravity ruled the universe, gravity did not respond by embracing Newton and healing his brokenness. When believers make their leap of faith to embrace God, God responds by entering into relationship with believers, often with transformative consequences. There is no counterpart to this response in scientific or historical investigation.

Yes, because religious belief involves fooling oneself while science does not. God doesn’t transform the believers; they believe they’ve been transformed because they’re kidding themselves.

So let’s not disparage the central claims of theology just because they are so much more complicated than the function of penicillin.

Oh, let’s!  Those claims really aren’t more complicated than penicillin; they’re just much more ridiculous and much less credible.

It’s been fun, Karl, but can you go after Al Mohler for a while?

195 thoughts on “Uncle Karl runs out of gas

  1. Sophisticated theological arguments indeed. I have a hard time believing that an adult actually wrote this stuff…

    1. Well, I suppose that is to be expected when you realize that this is a description of one who has faith.

      Mark 10:15
      Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.

      “Child-like faith” I think they call it. Not much mature thinking going to come out of that.

  2. The New Testament contains several documents written about Jesus by smart people in the first century. These documents are evidence.

    It’s true that the New Testament contains documents that probably date to sometime in the first century.

    However, not even the most apologetic of apologists pretends that anything in the New Testament dates to before the 50s at the earliest — an entire generation after the latest possible date for the Crucifixion. Most of the works were penned much later, well into the second century…and the oldest surviving fragment of papyrus is much more recent still.

    Let’s ignore for the moment that not a single biographical or historical fact claimed in the New Testament is unanimously supported by all the works in the anthology, and instead pretend a coherence that simply doesn’t exist. In that case, we are left with a picture of Jesus as a monumental figure — the human incarnation of the god who created Life, the Universe, and Everything; whose birth was known far and wide, high and low, well before even his conception; who preached to and performed miracles in front of the masses; and whose execution was personally ordered by the highest-ranking officials in the land.

    If we delve even a bit deeper into the story, we are to believe that the proximate motivation for calling the kangaroo court that ordered his execution was that he reanimated a putrid corpse, to the dismay of some of those in attendance. The moment of his death coincided with a number of spectacular events, including an impossible eclipse and a massive zombie horde descending upon Jerusalem to the “amazement” of the inhabitants. A day and a half later, Jesus himself rose from the grave and convinced his disciples of his bona fides by showing off the holes in his hands and feet and even inviting them to fondle his intestines through his gaping chest wound. Finally, after a month and a half of continuing the ministry that had resulted in his execution, he flew up into the sky, accompanied by angels, from a hilltop in full view of all of Jerusalem. Presumably, he still had to hold his intestines inside lest they fall out.

    In other words, no matter how you slice it, the Jesus of the New Testament was a most noteworthy person.

    So why is it that he is completely missing from the historical record of the period, and so poorly documented by subsequent generations?

    After all, the Dead Sea Scrolls were written during the period. There are copies of the passages from Isaiah which Christians cite as prophesies foretelling Jesus’s coming — copies that were inked about the same time that the Magi would have been making their journey, give or take. Yet there is no mention of the Magi or of Herod or any of the rest. There is contentious commentary on community rules and benedictions and war and all sorts of such things that were central to Jesus’s ministry…and no mention of Jesus. And, remember: these are the actual documents written at the actual time in and around Jerusalem.

    Next up, we have an exhaustive amount of (copies-of-copies of) the writings of Philo, a Jewish philosopher who was born a couple decades before the start of the first century and who died a decade or so after the latest possible date of the Crucifixion. He was the brother-in-law of King Herod Agrippa, who was the reigning king during the time of Jesus’s alleged ministry. He is the first person to integrate the Greek concept of the Logos into Judaism; Jesus, of course, was described in the Gospel According to John to have been the human incarnation of the Logos. Philo’s writings include mention of a seemingly-endless list of other like-minded philosophers and thinkers. His last work is an account of a diplomatic mission he participated in soon after the death of Pilate; he was part of an embassy of Jews who petitioned Caligula regarding the unjust treatment, including crucifixion, of Jews at the hands of the Romans.

    As you probably realize by now, Philo never wrote even a hint of Jesus.

    And the list hardly stops there. Pliny the Elder surely would have heard of the miracle-working Jesus and written of him; he didn’t. No Roman satirist ever ripped Jesus a new one; such was their stock in trade, and Jesus would have been an inescapable target. Origen bemoaned the fact that Josephus never mentioned Jesus; the omission was so glaring that Eusebius saw fit to remedy the situation by fabricating the infamous Testamonium.

    Instead, what we have are the bizarre and contradictory Gospels, the even more bizarre and contradictory Heresies…and the same sorts of back-room political wheeling and dealing (in Fourth Century Rome) that has surrounded the establishment of every other major religion to date.

    Uncle Karl, you’re absolutely right. The New Testament serves as evidence. Powerful evidence, in fact.

    It’s just that the evidence is in support of a conclusion opposite to the one you have reached.



    1. Although there is a bit of evidence that there probably was a popular rabbi named Yeshua Ben Yosef, the “Jesus as Myth” scholars are left with the questions of why the synoptic gospels were written, why Paul and other writers were so fanatical, and why the story has been persistent. Was it really a Passover Plot as described in Schonfield’s book by that title??

      1. Evidence? What evidence?

        Oh, sure. “Joshua” was a very popular name in those days. Josephus mentions plenty of Joshuas, even one that was crucified. I’d be surprised if there weren’t quite a few rabbis with the name, for that matter.

        The problem with your theory is that there isn’t a single ancient reference to Jesus in which he could be mistraken for some random schmuck unworthy of further notice. Paul certainly didn’t think he was a random schmuck, and neither did the Gospel writers.

        And what’s so special about the Synoptics that they deserve special mention? They still read like a bad zombie horror SciFi movie plot. To somebody who hasn’t grown up in a culture in which they’re considered…well…the Gospel Truth™, they’re utterly, incomprehensibly bizarre. Indistinguishable, really from all the rest of the religious screeds that were popular in that era.

        And do you really think Paul and the other Christians were the only religious fanatics back then?

        Really, if it weren’t for the fact that Christians have been telling you for your entire life that their fantasies are real, you wouldn’t even give them a second thought.

        Or do you also think that Xenu nuked the Earth a couple dozen billion years ago, and that the aliens hiding behind the comet are about to save us from Armageddon?



        1. Ben – not sure why you have to blow a gasket, particularly since you provided the “bit” of evidence to which I was referring. And I fail to see a theory in what I wrote – I was actually looking for a serious answer to why this group of religious fanatics of that particular time have persisted.

          Cheers indeed

          1. Sorry to get so excited, but I’ve gotten a bit sick of all the times I’ve had a Christian proselytize to me by starting with the “Jesus is well evidenced as a mortal human” schtick. Not only is there no credible evidence of any sort of Jesus whatsoever, what evidence we do have is that Jesus most emphatically was not an ordinary banal sort of human…yet Christians so often seem to think that, if they can get me to “believe” in that sort of a Jesus, getting me to join them in their wine and cracker pretend-cannibal parties is a trivial next step.

            …which is why that kind of a response from me sorta just trips off the fingers….



        2. Ben, let me ask you this, since you got it going on much better than I do 😉

          My understanding was that one of the chief arguments for jesus as historical figure was the unflattering nature of some of the accounts of his behavior, such as the fig tree. The idea was, a fictional story about the son of god wouldn’t include details that would make him look bad.

          Stupid, I know – Stan Lee doesn’t seem to have any issues with it. I haven’t seen anyone actually address this, but it seems like a weak argument in light of the time period that elapsed before the definitive split from judaism, which wouldn’t have recognized jesus’ divinity (prophet only, not actual god/son of). Additionally, didn’t the gnostics (active well past the writing of the gospels) maintain that all humans could display the spark of the divine, given sufficient piety? It would seem to me that displaying human fallibility wasn’t considered bad until much later, and thus such accounts being fictional not really that farfetched an idea. Any input on this, or simply links you might know of?


          1. This lame trick of ascribing negative comments, equally applies to ‘proving’ that Sherlock Holmes was a real character.
            It is utterly useless.

            1. Actually, I should think the better comparison would be with every single member of the Greco-Roman pantheon. Even the Olympians were deeply flawed characters; Zeus couldn’t keep his toga tied and flew into a rage at the drop of a hat. Orpheus’s downfall was the exact same doubt that Jesus expressed at Gethsemane. Odysseus needed to be lashed to the wheel to counter the call of the sirens.

              Indeed, if Jesus’s character flaws are “proof” (rather, evidence) of anything, it’s of the heritage he shares with all other pagan deities.



            2. I like the Holmes comparison for what I think are good reasons, considering that I aim to prod the average punter, not the learned academic:

              1) It is both familiar and distant enough. Most people know that it is a fiction, but some actually believe that Holmes was an historical character. (Witness the ton of letters that still flow into 221B Baker St!)
              The comparison between the books of the miracles performed by Holmes and his Disciple are close enough to be compared with Jesus’ conjuring tricks for didactic purposes.
              2) Joe Blow knows too little of the antics of the Greek deities for that comparison to be of any use for my purposes.

        3. Although it’s hard to imagine Jews of that time period accepting an unmarried rabbi…

          Unless he headed a sect that celebrated celibacy.

      2. I love this one:

        “why Paul and other writers were so fanatical”

        Since when does a story have to be true for people to get fanatical about it? Presumably, the fanaticism of some Muslims wouldn’t be counted by a Christian as evidence of the truth of Islam.

        In fact, I find that people are liable to get more emotional when their unsupported beliefs are challenged than when their more firmly established beliefs are — I know this is true for me as well, and I try hard to fight it. If you know you’re right, you won’t bother arguing with some idiot who says otherwise. But if you’re not so sure, you’ll fight tooth and nail to convince the other person.

        If anything, fanaticism is evidence against the truth of a proposition.

    2. Great summary! One thing, though, I thought Josephus DID mention Jesus. I guess it was the fabrication, then? The last fundie I debated clung to that flimsy piece of evidence… Anyway, I guess I have some work to do…

      1. My [limited] understanding is that Josephus probably made a very short reference to the rabbi Yeshua but that most of the detailed references to Jesus were added later by Christian apologists.

        1. No, it’s perfectly clear that the entire thing is a fabrication.

          First, there isn’t a single phrase in the Testamonium that doesn’t read like fundamentalist Christian propaganda, and Josephus never even hinted at leaving Judaism elsewhere. Strike out all the things that Josephus as a lifelong Jew couldn’t possibly have written, and there’s absolutely nothing left.

          Then there’s the fact that Origen was quite distraught at the fact that Josephus never mentioned Jesus. As I recall the phrase — and, frankly, I can’t be arsed right now to look it up — was that Josephus knew not the Christ. What with Origen being a second century Christian apologist who studied Josephus’s works quite extensively, I’m inclined to trust him on the matter.

          There’re also lots of notable omissions, too — as notable as the omission of Jesus from the Dead Sea Scrolls and Philo’s works. For example, Martyr never mentioned Josephus on Jesus, even though the Testamonium would have been the ultimate and irrefutable counter to Trypho.

          Finally, there’s the fact that nobody at all mentioned it before Eusebius in the fourth century, combined with the fact that Eusebius very openly embraced the Platonic principle of fabricating lies if they furthered the cause of a higher truth. For example, Eusebius would recommend that parents teach their children about Santa as something of a gateway drug to Jesus.

          So…do you have anything to offer that isn’t a tired old rehash of long-since-trivially-debunked Christian apologetics? Or are you going to start citing the “prophecies” in Isaiah next? In which case I’ll offer up the same replies as Trypho, and you’ll promptly do exactly as Martyr did: change the subject without even pretending to address the matter.



          1. hahaha. BG, did you study theology officially? It sounds like you did. I’m a biologist, though, and I could be wrong…

            1. Far from it, actually. I did hang out on USENET for quite some time. The theologians there are (or, at least were) the real deal. More than one doctorate-toting historian of ancient Judea lurked in those waters. Used to be you could get quite the unofficial education just by posting something uninformed on alt.atheism.

              Besides. No seminary is going to point out that the only significant biographical detail of Jesus in an authentic Pauline epistle is the Last Supper. And they certainly aren’t going to observe that it’s not the Last Supper that Paul relates, but rather instructions for performing the Eucharist. They might make passing mention that Martyr accused the Mithraists of stealing the Eucharist from Christianity, but even if they do, they won’t point out that Mithraism predates Christianity by centuries. And the fact that Plutarch wrote of Mithraic rites that predated Christianity? And that Tarsus was at the heart of Mithra worship? Wouldn’t even be a footnote.

              No, if you want that level of theological scholarship, you’ve got to look outside of a seminary. Way outside of a seminary.



      2. Yes, the Josephus reference is a crude fabrication, and has been accepted as such by Germen biblical scholars since the late 19th C.

    3. Most of the works were penned much later, well into the second century…

      May I inquire what the evidence for that is? AIUI the most probable date for Mark is the early 70’s, based on oblique references to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, and the latest possible date for the others is around 140 CE, based on a reference by Papias. I gather that the other gospels could date from anywhere in this bracket, but that analysis of language used suggests 80-100 CE. Do you have something else?

      1. What, exactly, are your references for your “understanding”?
        In other words, what is the evidence for your assertions?
        I’m sure that both Ben G. & I would be feverishly interested to discover previously overlooked evidence that render your recolletions of scholarly interest.
        (Especially your assertion that the ‘language’ can be dated with such precision.)

        1. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. I understand that the margin of uncertainty in the dating of the gospels is quite high (with just some hints at a first century origin – sorry, read that a few years ago and can’t give a reference). However Ben is stating quite firmly that they come from well into the second century, and I was wondering what that is based on.

          1. Whilst I cannot speak for Ben, my dating is based on extant physical evidence, such as the papyrus Greek P457. (P52)
            (A fragment of a two-sided page of what to me is obviously the Greek Gospel of John)

            This has been covetously dated by extremely dubious means (the shape of the letters) to around 150AD, which I do not believe for a moment.
            This is the earliest extant bit of evidence for the New Testament.
            There quite simply are no 1st century texts in existence.
            Case closed.

          2. Aside from the actual hard evidence Michael refers to, I don’t think there’s any way to pretend a first century origin for G. John, even granting apologists all sorts of undeserved leniencies.

            The Synoptics cannot possibly have been authored before the fall of Jerusalem; they were written over about the span of a generation or so from first to last; and G. John was at least another generation later still. You do the math.

            While we’re on the subject…the Gospels were written in literary Greek by well-educated Greeks and addressed to a Greek audience (Luke 1:1). They consist entirely of well-known ancient Greek myths that Greek parents had been telling in Greek to their Greek children for almost as long as there had been Greeks in Greece; the only differences were the names of the people and places. Oh — and Mark, the oldest of the lot, knew nothing of Judaism or of Palestinian geography and had trouble with Hebrew and Aramaic.

            Starting to Greek the picture?

            It wasn’t all Greek all the Greek time, though: at least the Ophites were Egyptian.

            Greek out,


            1. I’m still missing something here. Why would it take a generation to write the synoptics and another generation to write John? Why could they not all have been done in 20 years or so? I’m not saying you’re necessarily wrong – I just don’t follow the reasoning.

            2. And 70+20=90. So I still don’t understand why most of the NT is necessarily second century. The post-Mark gospels may be, but there hasn’t been any evidence for that offered in this thread.

            3. There hasn’t been any evidence that the gospels are anything but post 1st century ANYWHERE in the world, let alone this thread.
              The default assumption is therefore that the gospels are at least a 2nd C fiction, if not later.
              The burden of proof always gets reversed for some reason, and I hear you doing it too.
              Prove, using hard evidence, that any gospel was written in the 1stC. You quite simply cannot do so.
              As I have stated, the default position is that none of the Gospels were penned in the 1st Century.

          3. Biblical scholars in the field of textual criticism, such as Bart Ehrman, Paula Fredriksen (and their colleagues in this field who they reference) date the writing of Mark to about 70 CE, Matthew/Luke to 80-85 CE and John to 90-95 CE. The earliest writings being the letters of Paul about 50 CE. Of course, the oldest surviving manuscripts date to much later.

            1. quoting vytautas…
              “and their colleagues in this field who they reference”

              This is the problem in a nutshell. All these authorities reference each other to date the respective works but nobody actually provides any evidence for these proposed dates. I suspect that the whole house of cards depends on accepting the “Book of Acts” as historically reliable. Thus we have Saul of Tarsus (Paul) converted around 35 CE & his works must follow closely; right? But Acts is almost certainly an early to mid 2nd Century creation with the author “Luke” plagiarizing Josephus’ details to create his historical setting. Clement & Ignatious are also tough to date without a lot of similar orthodox assumptions. Therefore, without the pious fiction of Acts, there is nothing to tie these works to the 1st Century.
              It is even more astonishing to recognize that we have very little (?No)evidence for any Gospel-Jesus followers in the first century CE. The Pauline epistles likely represent an earlier, more gnostic or Logos-cult Celestial Christ form of Christianity than the allegorical & concretized Gospel Jesus. The authors of the “Pauline” epistles are ignorant as to this Gospel Jesus…probably because the gJesus hadn’t been invented/created yet.

              All the appeals to authority are no substitute for real evidence. I am not aware of any evidence to support the earlier dates besides traditional consensus.


            2. If they “date the writing of Mark to about 70 CE, Matthew/Luke to 80-85 CE and John to 90-95 CE” then they are speaking out of their arses, to use a technical term.
              They are relying on pure guesswork, unsupported by ANY actual evidence.
              As soon as I read anything like this from a supposed ‘scholar’, it makes me very suspicious of everything that they pontificate about, for that claim amounts to an outright lie, when it comes down to tin-tacks.

            3. eheffa wrote:
              “All the appeals to authority are no substitute for real evidence. I am not aware of any evidence to support the earlier dates besides traditional consensus.”

              Quite. This is the very first thing that strikes scholars seeking the truth, and following the probity of forensic trails.
              It reveals one big circle-jerk, based on nothing at all but wishing castles in the air.
              They all quote each other as support, and they MUST do this purposely as a knowing fraud, hoping that they will fool most folk with their airs of false scholarship.

              It strikes everyone who investigates the origin of the bible, especially wrt the NT.

              These optimistic early datings are clearly a knowing fraud, not only based on zero evidence, but ignoring the mass of contradictory evidence!

            4. What amazes me most is that, even if we grant the apologists their sky castles, their case still makes no sense.

              For example, an apologist would have us believe that Matthew waited a half a century, until he was at least in his seventies, before writing down his personal experience of seeing a mass zombie invasion of Jerusalem in the thirties — a mass zombie invasion that he and only he ever saw fit to document.

              I ask you: is this the work of a credible eyewitness, or of a senile old fool?

              Even in this make-believe fantasy of the apologist, the Gospels are worthless. One might suggest that there are nuggets of truth to piece out, but how? You can’t turn a page in the Gospels without coming across a pregnant virgin or demon-posessed livestock or loogies curing congenital blindness or zombies. Lots and lots of zombies, in fact. So which of these bits are dementia-induced fantasies, and which are trustworthy recollections of septuagenarian eyewitnesses?

              Oh — I know! That bit where Thomas fondled Jesus’s intestines through his gaping chest wound? That really happened! I swear it really did — and so will every Christian preacher you’ll ever meet!



              P.S. I’ve got some prime beachfront property for sale here in Arizona in case anybody’s interested. b&

            5. Yes Ben, I agree 100%.
              Even given the apologists’ witless witnessings, it is obvious bollocks from beginning to end, that even a 7 year can discern as worthless fiction.
              That supposed grown-ups such as the Gibbering one can say aloud that they fervently believe this infantile tripe marks their intelligence and probity as that of a retarded child. (Or a clumsy fraud. He can choose up sides. It is monu-mentally sad either way.)

  3. One can disagree with the documents and reject the evidence as weak or inadequate in some way. Or one can accept the evidence and be a Christian. But what one cannot do is claim that there is no evidence or dismiss the evidence because it fails to meet the standards of the chemist.

    Oh come ON. Of course one farking can! Pride and Prejudice is not evidence that Lizzy Bennett and Mr Collins had a particular conversation on a particular day in a particular house in Kent. Pride and Prejudice is not that kind of document, and neither is the farking New Testament. If Karl Giberson doesn’t know this, he damn well ought to.

      1. Oh, I certainly don’t mind. After all, the point you make is one I only hinted at — that the Gospels are fiction. Not only are they obviously fiction; not only do they make no pretenses otherwise; but they even go out of their way to establish themselves as such. Re-read the opening verses of Luke, for one obvious example. Then note all the reliances on standard fictional literary techniques, such as third-person omniscient reporting on events with no witnesses present.

        But the comparison I like to make isn’t with Austen’s favorites, but with Paul Bunyan.

        Nobody’s bothered by the fact that Bunyan goes from using a beer barrel as a thimble (making him about 50″ tall) in one story to carelessly carving the Grand Canyon with his axe (making him taller than Everest) in another. In the same way, nobody at the time was bothered that Jesus was born to a virgin in Luke yet teleported onto the scene in Marcion, or that he was stoically mute at his trial in Matthew yet preached eloquently to the court in John and 1 Timothy. Such trivialities only become important when you take the blindingly stupid step of confusing barefaced mythology with reality.



        1. My favorite example to use is “Romeo and Juliet,” because it has the added benefit that it has been retold a number of different ways too.

          1. I like the Stephen King analogy myself: remove the supernatural elements, and many of King’s books present historically-verifiable documentation of life in Maine in the 20th century, with plenty of references to real, historically-verifiable personages. It’s only the supernatural stuff that makes it fiction.

        2. Frankly, I think the most damning bit of evidence that Jesus was a fiction comes from John. In particular the last few verses, where John declares that Jesus performed so many wonderful, amazing feats, that all the books in the library could be filled with is exploits.

          Really? And you’re not going to tell me even one of those exploits? Not even a hint?

          Let’s see: The son of GOD ALMIGHTY, a deity in his own right, makes a proof-positive appearance on the planet. And you can’t be bothered to chronicle all of his exploits? Seriously? And there is not one shred of evidence from anyone else anywhere you look of ANY of these exploits?

          Oh brother. Bernie Madoff has more credibility.

          I’ve said this before, and I’ll repeat it for the record because it’s apt:

          Uncle Karl does not have “faith”. He has credulity. He is swallowing as evidence tales that the rational people in the crowd find silly superstitious nonsense.

          Then, of course, there is the “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.” Uncle Karl is declaring that we should not hold him to the same standards of evidence that he hold the chemist to?

          Excuse me, but I think the stakes are a bit higher than whether a certain compound can be methylated at a specific temperature.

        3. I read Misquoting Jesus by Ehrman recently, and one of the things that most interested me was that at certain points, different Christians were using the different Gospels quite exclusively, and that the Gospel writers were altering the character of Jesus to fit their own notions of what he was about. Mark’s Jesus was more of a jerk, while Luke’s Jesus was a stoic, and so on. Since the Gospel stories are all blended together for the religious, its no wonder that people think Jesus is a well corroborated story, when in fact we’re dealing with four similar but different Jesuses.

          It does seem to me that at the very best, the Gospels are giving us the account of a cult leader as described by another cult leader (namely Paul).

  4. The assertion that the ‘New Testament contains several documents written about Jesus by smart people in the first century’ is highly questionable. These anonymously authored books are not independent sources. (Mark was written as a Midrashic allegory & is filled with Old Testament allusions while the authors of Matthew & Luke cribbed entire sections from Mark to craft their own versions of the story.) When these books were written is not at all clear as they are only first referenced by Christian writers some time in the latter half of the Second Century. They could well be second century fiction.

    To consider these evangelistic hagiographies to be historically reliable accounts of actual events would be quite naive & foolish.


    1. Well he worded it carefully. They are “documents” in a sense (though not primary documents, by a long chalk). They were (some of them) written in the first century. The people who wrote them were “smart” enough to be somewhat literate (though not very – the writing is pretty crude). The sentence is all true in its way, but it doesn’t nearly do the work he implies it does.

      1. While they may have been written in the first century, isn’t it also true that only a select few of the books of the “bible” around actually made it into the final “printed” version?

        Those that showed JC in a different way to that desired by the (Catholic?) Church at the time, were ordered to be destroyed.

        There was a documentary on this matter not long ago, can’t remember which channel but the presenter was a qualified theologian – who struck me as an unbeliever too given the evidence.


  5. When believers make their leap of faith to embrace God, God responds by entering into relationship with believers, often with transformative consequences.


    And yet they want us to stop! They want us to stop disputing this kind of thing! Well I ask you – how can we? How can we not dispute something that inane and that transparent?

    Uncle Karl’s problem here is that he’s writing for BioLogos. That kind of stuff goes down a treat with BioLogos types, but it’s baby talk to anyone else.

    1. There is no counterpart to this response in scientific or historical investigation.

      Says who? When a student really groks science for the first time, the consequences can be transformative. Where does Karl get the idea that religion has a monopoly on that?

      1. This is an excellent point, which anyone who has been involved in education has seen for themselves; and of course it is a real world they suddenly glimpse and embrace. So often the the effects of ’embracing Jesus’ have more of the character of a narcotic addiction . . .

      2. Yes, great point. I can pinpoint a few moments from undergrad that were absolutely transformative.

        I think my best example is combining Hubble’s law with a budding understanding of the size of galaxies and the magnitudes of the distances between them. In college, I started to realize just how big the universe is and how small I am — how small the earth is, for that matter.

        For all they talk about humility, no Christian has ever told a story so humbling as the one Edwin Hubble told.

    2. How can we not dispute something that inane and that transparent?

      Well, we could mock it instead, I suppose.

      Actually, I rather prefer mocking transparent inanities.

      Unca Kara probably wouldn’t like that, either, though, I suppose. Ah, well. His loss.



    3. There are quite a lot of scientific studies with regard to religious conversion.

      Funny, they all seem to tell basically the same story, whether it be conversions to Christianity, Hare Krishna, Heaven’s Gate, $cientology, and all the rest.

      If Christianity were the one true religion, people would only get a transformative conversion experience by converting to Christianity. The rest would be dry as dust.

      But no. Every religion has it’s new adherents who claim the transformative power of that religion.

      Blech. Argument from personal experience. Logical fallacy.

      1. ARRRGGGGGHHHH….its not it’s.

        Seriously, the its/it’s distinction is the very first element in Elements of Style. I’m a professional writer – I’ve had that book at my side for the better part of 40 years.

        You would think it would be automatic by now.

        I now slink away to do real (paying) writing, and hope my brain hasn’t been rotted to the core by reading Uncle Karl’s scribblings.

        1. I’m a professional writer – I’ve had that book at my side for the better part of 40 years.

          Heh, maybe that’s the problem! Strunk and White didn’t even know what the passive voice was. Flip to the section on passive and you’ll find 4 examples of passive voice, only one of which is actually passive. If I were you I’d find another book….

          1. They were, however, 100% correct on the distinction between it’s and its.

            S&W isn’t the ONLY grammar or usage book I have on my shelf, however.

  6. Please, christians, scientists and rationalists do not have faith in science, they have CONFIDENCE in it. Confidence rooted in knowledge derived from observations, evaluated experience, research, evidence, etc. There is a difference.

    1. The Bayesian statistical standpoint can sum it up quite succinctly: science works, bitches.

      Show me a religion that works as well as science for predicting truths, and maybe then we can talk.

  7. I’m sorry, but slowly I turn, step by step, inch by inch …

    I refrain from calling Uncle Karl a fucking moron, but, seriously, I could qualify for a degree in theology if Karl is any example.

    Seriously. Karl, broom. Please think broom. thx

  8. Locutus7, yes that fallacy of equivocation! Confidence or trust is not faith as believers use that term.
    Uncle cannot stand that per the evidence as Lamberth’s atelic-teleonomic argument notes, no directed-evolution can exist as that very evidence reveals teleonomy- no planned outcomes rather than the planned ones of divine teleology- intent-agency. And that teleology not only fails the Ockham with its convoluted, ad hoc suppositions and is parasitic on natural forces, but contradicts that very teleonomy that scientists ever find. So much for Uncle’s directed evolution that thus cannot complement science but rather contradicts it!
    We ever have to insist on that fact against any kind of creationism!
    Both Behe and Miller thus err with their forms of theistic evolution- creation evolution and evolutionary creationism respectively.
    Thus, the believers, errantists and inerrantists,err in finding their scriptures as having meaningful metaphors and salvation from Him-no divine intent!

  9. Technically, the Urim and Thummim were (supposed to have been) the glass balls, or lenses, that Joseph Smith looked through to translate the golden plates. Perhaps some folks here will find this bit of trivia interesting or useful.

      1. If you didn’t, I was going to.

        The LDS mythology is so maximally bizarre that misrepresenting it will usually get you something that makes more sense than the accurate version. Might as well get it right 🙂

    1. Joe Smith was a con throughout his life (which has obviously been schooled into the mormon christian culture.) Blood of the Prophets by Will Bagley gives good insight into the culture that the mormons practice. They take their practice of deception seriously.

      1. A con man indeed. He would not allow himself to be seen while dictating the translation. Wonder why that could be…

        1. It’s like the church in Jerusalem where, on a certain holiday, a torch is “miraculously” set aflame. Said miracle, of course, happens behind a wall where nobody can see the priest holding the torch.

    2. The Urim and Thummim (using the cheap wikipedia form of spelling) was originally older, going back to Samuel. I remembered them from The Bible Geek podcast, and Smith pretty much stole the name. They were used (supposedly) in divination, and were part of (possibly) the breastplate of a high priest. The wikipedia entry covers this (or the alternative is to go track down the discussions over hundreds of podcasts, which I can’t do).

      1. Yes. IIRC, these lenses were nestled in some kind of contraption which fit over the wearer’s shoulders and chest, like a breastplate. At least, that’s the description circulating in Mormondom.

      1. Indeed. My original correction of Jerry’s assertion in the OP was meant to be taken in the context of things Mormon, as Jerry was referrencing the golden plates (Book of Mormon).

      2. I’m glad you said “by page number” to guess at the age of the tract.
        The Torah is a jumble of dates of origin, and is certainly NOT in chronological order of authorship.
        As an example, there is one single verse in Genesis 2:4a/b which is a concatenation of a 5th-4thC BCE at the start, and a much older 9th-8thC BCE ending!
        With a mess like that, one has to be on the ball to date even a single verse, let alone a chapter or even a book of the OT. Single logical stories span the gap between books as well.
        It is a complete mess.

  10. “…but the enterprise requires inferences that look very much like little leaps of faith.”

    Inferences and Leaps of Faith do look similar on the outside, but closer inspection will reveal them to have utterly different starting points–a nice example of convergent evolution:))

    (Is there an emoticon for Faint Satirical Smile?)

  11. If Gilberson is asserting this–“The New Testament contains several documents written about Jesus by smart people in the first century. These documents are evidence,”–there is utterly no reason to read another word he writes. Ever. He is simply not a serious person.

    1. Uncle Karl – Higher Criticism is your friend, but you have to use it. And it really suggests the opposite of what you say, so it may not really be your friend, but it could help you learn.

  12. The first century documents that cite Jesus, if taken at face value, reveal that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, sometime during Tiberius’s reign. But this information could just be a re-statement of what Christians themselves asserted and thus lacks sufficient independent status to qualify as good historical evidence. The consensus of historical experts appears to be that the Testimonium Flavianum was at least partially written by someone other than Josephus at a later date, but that Josephus probably did identify James as Jesus’ brother. So the evidence suggests little more than that early “Christians”, who apparently were people who followed what they considered to be ideas of someone named Jesus who had a brother named James and who was considered an “anointed one” (Christ), existed. To interpret this poor quality and very limited evidence as showing much more than that is to go beyond anything the evidence actually supports. Surely Karl Giberson can recognize this weakness problem with regard to that 1st evidence – that this evidence doesn’t take us close to the spectacular conclusion that he advocates?

    1. Even the James reference in XX.ix is obviously bogus. The passage ends by identifying Jesus as being the son of Damneus and as having been made High Priest by Herod Agrippa.

      To be charitable, it most likely was “merely” a Christian scribe who misinterpreted a speculative marginal note (such as students still make today in their textbooks) with an instruction to insert the text, “the Christ,” at that point. Take out those two words (and keep in mind that the only other occurrence of the word, “Christ” in all of Josephus is in the Testamonium) and there isn’t any reason to even pretend that it has anything at all to do with one of the favored gods of the Christian pantheon.

      And let’s do keep in mind that that’s exactly what we’re discussing: whether or not Clark Kent really did work for the Daily Planet.



    2. If we go to 2d c. documents, the Babylonian Talmud asserts that Mary was a whore and Jesus was a mamzer bastard:

      Yeshua’s [Jesus’s] mother was Miriam [Mary] … This is as they say about her in the Pumbeditha: This one strayed from [was unfaithful to] her husband. … He is guilty as a beguiler who says, “I will worship (other gods),” … In the case of any one who is liable to death penalties enjoined in the Law, it is not proper to lie in wait for him except he be a beguiler … [as] they did to Ben Stada [Jesus] whom they hanged on the eve of the Passover. … The husband of his [Jesus’] mother was called Stada [Joseph ben Stada], and her seducer Pandera [a Roman name].
      —The Talmud, Mishnah 27:15

    3. There are no 1st century biblical documents at all.
      Not a one.
      Zero, zilch, nada, nil.
      To what then do you refer?

  13. Unkle Karl: “God responds by entering into relationship with believers, often with transformative consequences.”

    That’s just creepy.

    I find the idea of an all-powerful super-entity, creator-being seeking out and entering the lives of humans rather unsettling. How can one relate to such a thing? It would be like trying to form a meaningful relationship with a black-hole. And that it’s supposedly sentient is cause for concern. And I don’t care that apologists like Karl assure us of its benevolence, absolute power is too much for one entity to have over us. This is the stuff of nightmares.

    1. Surely if Karl’s statement is true, he has the statistics to back it up? I mean, if God “often” enters in to a transforming relationship with believers, then surely believers would be, well, transformed in some measurable way? Surely he wouldn’t just be saying shit because it sounds good, right?

      So how about it Karl? Are Christians different people in some way than non-Christians? Because that’s what you’re implicitly claiming, and those statistics are damn easy to dig up.

      1. The Gibbering one is clearly lying if he claims such an absurd notion.
        Such juvenile pretensions rank amongst the most transparent revelations that Aunty Karl is speaking from his anal orifice, as his perpetual wont.

  14. The New Testament contains several documents written about Jesus by smart people in the first century. These documents are evidence. … If the central claim of Christianity is true—that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ

    Giberson is either ignorant of or ignores his own church’s history. It is manifestly not a central claim of first century Christian writers “that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ”. The lack of evidence for this claim is what led directly to centuries of open conflict over the various heresies within the Church, the first major one being Arius’s 4th c. theology that Jesus Christ was created by and subordinate to God. The “Homoousian” Trinitarian theology prevailed at Nicaea, and the Arians were purged from the Empire. So the “evidence” provided by Giberson is not 1st c. Christian writing as he claims, but a 4th c. outcome of what was in effect the first dispute of what grew into centuries of civil wars fought by the Byzantines over the unresolved nature of Christ. Actual disputes fought because there is no evidence for any of it.

    Giberson may as well have offered up the “evidence” that one should eat an egg from the little end.

    1. Quite. The lack of evidence is deafening, especially when we have extant contemporary tribal manuscripts by the bucket loads.
      They do not mention Jesus, his conjuring tricks, the march of the Jewish Zombies, nor anything at all.
      The Essenes were living in the very area, had literate scribes, and were very interested in potential messiahs.
      If Jesus had existed and done a hundredth of what is claimed he would be all through the Dead Sea Scrolls.
      But not one mention.
      To me that is proof enough that the biblical Jesus never existed.

  15. If I wanted to argue that there’s a faith component in doing science (which I will do this once just to try to make what I think is a worthwhile point) it would be the faith that scientists have that the universe is not playing a malicious joke on them. For example, a scientist accepts on “faith” (momentarily disregarding the principle of parsimony here) that some devious world-creating deity didn’t bury countless fossils and geologic evidence in the ground just to lead the untrusting in God or Jebus astray.

    Giberson and his cohorts on the other hand have faith that the people that wrote the gospels did so “in good faith,” and not deliberately deceivingly. This is a much more risky proposition than the ostensible faith a scientist has that the universe is not cooked to deceive him or her. It would take so many many countless deliberate actions, by an entity that we have no evidence for, and no reasonable inkling of how said entity could go about cooking things up so they appear the way they do. On the other hand, to cook up a religion, it just takes one or a few people getting together and writing some fiction, and a lot of gullible people to consume it, and that’s not hard to understand, and has happened plenty of times probably even Karl would agree, for example about those golden plates.

    I don’t see any reason not to consider that the gospels could be just as much cooked up as those plates of Moroni. When has that been ruled out?

      1. Ha ha, the possibilty that it might be a deliberate deception hasn’t even been entertained by such as Giberson. But that’s only to be expected. What bothers me is that it hasn’t been properly considered by the skeptical community. I’m convinced by Joe Atwill’s book Caesar’s Messiah that it can be known with certainty Christianity was invented by the Roman imperial Flavians, as a replacement theology for militant messianic Judaism. Are you familiar with this conjecture? You can get the pdf for free now from esnips. I found it truly astonishing.

        1. Yes. It is not that far from the proposition that Constantine invented Christianity. Both propositions have a lot going for them, and a lot against them.
          Neither have convinced me that they invented Christianity out of whole cloth.
          Both stories may be partly true, though.

          1. Well, Constantine ruled 306-337 (born 272), yet Christianity became state religion in Armenia in 301 (and between 319-337 in Georgia). Kinda rules out Constantine as the inventor I guess. Anyway, guess whom they worshipped in Armenia before Cheez-us? Mithra.

            // all dates from wikipedia

            1. These “facts” may be dismissed out of hand.
              Eg: The Wiki article also claims “Christianity spread into the country as early as AD 40” which is obvious bollocks.
              In that vein, the claim that Xtinaity was established in 301AD is referenced as being sourced from the CIA World Factbook, and The TIME Home Entertainment book.
              Not very scholarly sources, to say the least!
              The 301 date may be equally dismissed as completely unsupported.

            2. I agree with your dismissal of the Christianity spread to Armenia in 40AD, that’s obvious bollocks. And I agree that one obviously incorrect fact in an article weakens the other facts mentioned therein. However, I referenced wiki only because I know that people here like references (for a good reason) but I knew about the year 301 long before I found it in wiki. It is a common knowledge among Armenians (I’m not one of them) that their kingdom was the first country to accpet Christianity. How do they know, I don’t know, maybe word of mouth or their schools. And I remember reading this somewhere else (I don’t remember where – which in a community of sceptics is not very persuasive – therefore the wiki reference (at least something)). Moreover, I think that they are a little different statements (when C. spread somewhere and when some king officially declared it as a state religion) for I think there might be more documents documenting the latter. Anyway, I don’t have a dog in this run except for an irrational affinity towards the caucasus region.

          2. Michael, thanks for yoyur replies. Would you care to list some of the things going against the Atwill thesis? I’d be interested to know them. What Ben Goren mentions above about Eusebius bemoaning the lack of mention of Jesus by Josephus is one item. I was aware of that already when I read CM though and I found it not particularly consequential, as Atwill’s interpretation of Testimonium Flavianum is rather aside the main body of the CM thesis. Anyhow Atwill makes a fairly convincing argument that at least some mention of Jesus is original. He makes it fit into the rest of piece. Also people argue that the Pauline literature dating to the 50s CE contradicts it, but it’s confirmable even just with wikipedia that that dating is purely contextual, and also does not even consider that it might be a later fabrication, as Atwill argues. That is Domitian getting in the game after Titus’ early death and creating a back story, according to Atwill. Domitian gets in the game as the “Holy Ghost”.

            1. Michael can reply for himself, but I’d observe that Atwill seems to incorrectly assume that there is one single Jesus at the genesis of everything. Quite the contrary; every account of Jesus was radically different. His thesis may well apply to one version of Jesus that’s not reasonably inconsistent with the general thrust of the Synoptics, but it utterly fails to account for, say, the Ophic Jesus or Marcion’s Jesus.

              In other words, he may well have something going to describe how one particular species of the Jesus thread evolved, but he’s missing the bigger picture of the multiple Jesus species, each with their own origins.

              If you want a simple, big-picture explanation, Jesus is simply an incarnation of Osiris / Dionysus grafted onto Judaism, with lots of Hellenistic philosophy (by way of Philo of Alexandria) at its core and with other critical mythical elements (such as the virgin birth) grafted from other popular local religions. Quite simply, it is an archetypal syncretic pagan mystery cult set in the Jewish pantheon.

              I’ve yet to encounter a fact which isn’t trivially reconcilable with that theory. Atwill’s theory would, of course, be perfectly consistent with this explanation — provided his theory is restricted to a particular sub-branch that eventually became the most popular.

              I’ll echo Michael’s sentiment that his theory has a lot going for it, but that it’s clearly not the final word on the subject (or even close to it).



            2. Thanks for weighing in, Ben, I’ve been hoping you would.

              Atwill actually does argue that there are multiple Jesuses in the different gospels. He takes them at face value and if it’s not possible that one Jesus can be doing both things, then that’s a different character. Then some of the characters from the different gospels mistake each other for angels at the empty tomb. Which is the wrong tomb anyhow and it’s empty because one of the Jesuses resurrected Lazarus from it. It’s been a while and I’m just going from memory (which isn’t too good in my case) so I hope I didn’t screw it up too much.

              Your reply also doesn’t seem to get at who was making up these stories and why. Do you buy into that everyone was doing it innocently? If not, then wouldn’t you have to agree that the Flavians would have to be prime suspects, if not the prime suspects.

              I think it all boils down to whether Josephus refers to (and satirizes) the canonical gospels. Isn’t it already clear that the Son of Man prophecy refers to Titus? Then if it was written in originally (and not a prophecy) then the gospel (of Mark at least, right?) must have been written after the events and Josephus. But if Josephus refers to the gospels, then they almost certainly have to have been written by the same team. And I find the case that Josephus does refer to the gospels very convincing. Also that the gospels refer to Josephus much more than previously recognized.

            3. I think I should first start by admitting that I haven’t really done more than skim Atwill’s thesis.

              The basic premise — that Flavius is responsible for at least some of the foundational parts of Christianity — certainly seems plausible on its face.

              Where I depart is that early Christianity is far more varied than merely the canonical texts preserved in the New Testament — and even those present a picture of a deeply divided religion. 2 John 1:7 is a classic example.

              I’m familiar with the claim that G. Mark references (or even quotes or paraphrases?) Josephus, but I’m sorry to admit that I haven’t checked the claims for myself. Again, it wouldn’t surprise me, since I’ve personally suspected a much later genesis of the Gospels than the apologists claim. Frankly, I’d be surprised to learn that the Gospels really do predate Josephus.

              I’m far more skeptical of the claim that Josephus satirized the Gospels. Would you be so kind as to point me to some specific examples?

              I’m also not sure what would qualify as an “innocent” act of inventing a religion. Rather, I would sidestep the entire matter and suggest that lots of people were inventing their own variations on the theme at the time for whatever their own motivations happened to be. Many of them wrote gospels that reflected their own opinions and / or agendas. Many others wrote epistles in the names of various authority figures doing the same; half of the Pauline epistles alone fall into that category. And let’s not forget that virtually all of these authors are anonymous. (There’s almost as much reason to doubt Paul was an historical figure as there is to doubt Jesus’s historicity, though it seems reasonable to suggest that somebody wrote at least some of those epistles in the second half of the first century, and we might as well use the name, “Paul,” to identify that person.)

              So, could one or more of the anonymous authors have been Josephus or somebody else in Flavius’s employ? Sure. But I’m nearly positive that all of them weren’t. Some of the others would probably have been written by “true believers,” of various beliefs; others by Joseph Smith-style con artists on a personal power grab; and others by people with who-knows-what motivations.

              There are other equally plausible explanations for many of the perplexing bits of the texts. It seems quite likely that at least some of the gospels are astrological allegories; somebody else whose name escapes me has written a rather convincing thesis on that subject. Lucian wrote of Peregrinus scamming the foolish Christians into accepting him as a prophet — after which he promptly inserted all sorts of Pagan myths into the canon; what name the Christians knew Peregrinus by is a mystery, but it seems quite likely that they did indeed welcome him.

              The reality is almost guaranteed to be that the proper answer is, “most of the above.” After all, it’s the only answer that’s consistent with what we know of every other successful religion ever invented.



            4. Also, the Atwill thesis offers an explanation for why the Flavian flavor of christianity became established and why the RCC is based in Rome. I know there are other explanations floating around for these but the Atwill one seems to make loads of sense and to have some physical evidence supporting it, like the inscriptions in the Catacomb of Domitilla, or on the Arch of Titus. The Flavians would have had a lot of power to get a religion off the ground, too, through the cults of the Caesars and by edicting indoctrination of slaves.

            5. Ben, it’s probably an exaggeration to say that Josephus satirizes the gospels. It’s more that the Josephus and the gospels function together as a satire of the messianic Jewish mindset at the time. For example, Josephus has a mother named Mary roasting and eating her baby, during the seige of Jerusalem, and making a speech about how he will become a byword to the world, and a bane to the seditious varlots who brought Roman vengence down on their heads. This is satirizing that the Jews were too fastidious to eat pork, but that they resorted to cannibalism when the chips were down. This is then commemorated at every Eucharist, according to Atwill. Another example, when Jesus is captured at the Garden of Gesthemane, there is a mysterious naked man who the Romans also attempt to capture, but who escapes into the night, and is not mentioned further. Josephus relates an episode where Titus riding alone and without his armor (i.e., naked), is ambushed and narrowly escapes. He doesn’t say it’s at the Garden of Gesthemane, but Atwill argues it’s clear from the description that that’s where the ambush happens. Then Josephus gives us a little lecture about how the truly righteous are smiled upon by providence (or something like that) while the unrighteous (false prophets presumably) would have been captured. Or, where Jesus encounters the demonaic and releases a legion of demons who flee into pigs who promptly drown themselves, Titus encounters a sizable band of rebels who are slain. Josephus gives a detailed description of all the livestock in the vicinity, but swine are not among them. They have presumably all drowned earlier. Ha ha. (There is a lot more to this episode which enriches it further.) Then there is the lunatic Jesus character who is killed by an artillery stone. That part at least is not too far into chapter 8, “Until All is Fulfilled”. If you don’t have the book or the file already, you can download after free registering at esnips, or contact me through my blog page through my nom de plume here, and I’ll email it to you. Atwill won’t mind I know. He has a new version coming out next year with a better publisher. They won’t make him call it a conspiracy this time, apparently.

            6. Paul,

              I have never considered the possibility that Joephus was satirizing the Gospels; but, isn’t it more likely that the Gospel Writers, (Luke especially) relied upon Josephus’ work to craft their “historical verisimilitude? Many scholars have noted multiple instances of Luke’s plagiarism on the the understanding that Joesphus predated the Author of Luke. We know when Josephus lived & wrote his work but know nothing about the author of Luke. As far as I can recall, The gospel named Luke was only first refernenced by Marcion in ~150 CE. My money would be on Jospehus being first & Luke adding him to his list of plagiarized sources.


            7. Thanks for the examples.

              While they all would seem consistent with the hypothesis, none of them would seem to constitute evidence of the conclusions of the hypothesis.

              As such, I would classify it as something plausible that might well have happened, but I would be very reluctant to declare it to be factually sound.

              We can be very certain, for example, that the rather-obvious parallels between Jesus and various pagan gods are, in fact, the classic examples of syncretism they appear to be. On the one hand, we have Justin Martyr carefully cataloguing a great many such similarities; on the other, we have Lucian describing in detail an instance of the exact process of interpolation (in The Passing of Peregrinus). And, of course, we see the exact same process in pretty much every other religion in that time and area. Not only is it a consistent hypothesis, but it is positively supported by affirmative facts.

              The Flavian genesis theory, on the other hand, is, by definition, a well-executed conspiracy. As such, it hardly lends itself well to falsification. Were there to be uncovered heretofore-unknown correspondence between Flavius and Josephus describing some of aspect of their conspiracy, the theory would instantly become much more than merely plausible. Lacking such a revelation, however, it’s hard to imagine how something so specific could ever rise above the level of well-considered speculation.

              Again, I’m not trying to suggest that Atwill is worng; only that there would seem to be insufficient evidence to claim any degree of certainty.

              It’s somewhat like the Q hypothesis. It’s plausible and passes the sniff test, but it’s a bit disingenuous to make the leap to assuming that there actually was a Q gospel — let alone to start making detailed assumptions as to its content. (And, of course, actually attempting to date it, as the sorriest of apologists are want to do, is sheer batshit fucking insane lunacy.) General assumptions and suggestions, yes; but more than that would seem to be resting on most shaky ground.



            8. I forgot to address the relationship between the Son of Man prophecy in Mark and the events of the First Jewish Rebellion as related by Josephus. Paraphrasing, “Mark” has Jesus relating how Jerusalem will be encircled, and laid low, and the temple will be taken down so that no stone is upon another. Also that it will happen while some present will still be living. Then 40 years later Titus comes along and encircles the city, then razes the temple, and causes a lot of general wailing and gnashing of teeth. So it’s not a direct quote just a very close similarity to the actual events that “subsequently” take place. Also Josephus himself pops up out the ground and promptly declares Vespasian the true messiah, for which he gets adopted into the imperial family, instead of his other likely fate of getting crucified as a rebel leader. A very wise move indeed. And you know, he had this revelation just after it turned out he was the last survivor of a mutual suicide ensemble arrangement with his fellow holdouts in the hole. I saw this on the history channel the other day, so it must be true.

            9. eheffa, that’s why it’s important that Josephus also refers to the gospels. If Josephus and the gospels are mutually referential, they had to have a common origin, or at least there had to be shared knowledge between the various authors, which will place them all in the 70s. The date of publication of War of the Jews is not in doubt, I guess. Atwill says there is a dedication by Caesar Titus. It is clearly official Flavian propaganda. I have the Whitson translation but not here. I think I have checked the dedication to confirm but not sure. I can check it later if there’s any doubt.

              Ben, it’s all about the quality and quantity of the parallels between Josephus and the gospels, and other factors like that the order is preserved, and I can’t do them justice from memory and in a short space and anyhow that is what the book is there for. Some people read through it and think it’s just cherry picking but other people like me read through it and can’t see how it can possibly be coincidental.

              Also if the empty toomb story is really a choreography as Atwill claims, this is really really unlikely to happen by chance. If I wanted to prove Atwill wrong (or had more time on my hands) I would take the time to analyze the whole play to see if I could reproduce Atwill’s analysis. Nobody seems to have done that so far. Price certainly didn’t attack it on any technical grounds at all. In fact he called Atwill brilliant in his review. That puzzle being real does not pin it on the Flavians directly of course but it puts the gospels in a new light that would seem to be most easily understood as Atwill proposes, in my view.

            10. I am currently in the process of re-reading Atwill, and making annotations as I proceed. It is something I have been meaning to do in any case.
              I may “get back to you” when I have completed this task, unless Ben has covered all of my points in the interim! (Which is highly likely)

            11. Paul wrote:
              “The gospel named Luke was only first refernenced by Marcion in ~150 CE”
              This date is highly suspect, and amounts only to a guess.
              It was arrived at by orthography alone, an unreliable technique as it is very easy for a scholarly scribe to fake.
              The actual papyrus (P69) is so fragmented that it could be anything. It also appears to be in scroll form, not the codex form typical of NT Greek texts of the purported period. This adds to the suspicion that the dating of ~150CE is bogus wishful thinking.

            12. Oops: Brain fart.
              P69 *is* a codex, not a scroll. I was speaking off the cuff and thinking about another document. Sorry for any confusion.
              Recto & Verso can be seen at

            13. Paul: The iron Chariots proposal is a very Good idea. I have started making notes now, and it is a very effective method of avoiding real work! P.S.:
              Are you one of those damned Gnu-man Atheists? 😉

        2. Yet there were people being called “Christians” before Jesus Christ was supposedly born.

          My gut feeling:

          I think that being accepted as a Man of the Cloth was a good gig back then. Free food and lodging, and all one had to do was trip fantastic about the Man. Eventually the street rappers evolved a more complex theology as the good gig turned into a great gig complete with social standing and power. Which meant they actually believed the yarns they had spun, and schools and sects preached competing scenarios.

          I think it is more helpful to view the internal contradictions and incoherence of the Bible as a record of competing factions, rather than a single record told by many cooperative voices. More like contesting streetcorner breakdancers or rival movie production companies putting out sequels to the same movie.

          1. Yet there were people being called “Christians” before Jesus Christ was supposedly born.

            This is true, but not quite so significant as it might seem at first blush.

            Literally, the term “Christian” can be taken to mean “one who has been anointed (as with oil).” The high mucketymucks of Serapis (a syncretic Pagan mystery cult that merged Osiris and Apis for political reasons) were called Christians for exactly that very reason — and Serapis worship predates Christianity by centuries.

            Theophilus of Antioch even made the point that he and his fellow believers “are called Christians on this account, because we are anointed with the oil of God.” Note: not because they are followers of Jesus the Christ, but because somebody spilled salad dressing on them.

            It is worth observing that a literal translation of “Jesus Christ” would perhaps best be rendered as “YHWH’s anointed savior.” Also, early Christians generally used the epithet “Christ” as a title of the man (or godman or whatever) named “Jesus.” Many Christians today still do the same.

            And Christians still anoint each other with oil. John Ashcroft did so quite famously, and it’s a standard Catholic rite.

            Of course, they’re far from the only ones to do so….



            1. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure it has to be somebody else who spills the dressing on you for it to count. I think there might be a bit of requisite mumbling involved as well.

              So, chances are you aren’t really a Christstain after all.



    1. If I wanted to argue that there’s a faith component in doing science (which I will do this once just to try to make what I think is a worthwhile point) it would be the faith that scientists have that the universe is not playing a malicious joke on them. For example, a scientist accepts on “faith” (momentarily disregarding the principle of parsimony here) that some devious world-creating deity didn’t bury countless fossils and geologic evidence in the ground just to lead the untrusting in God or Jebus astray.

      That is not what happens according to a well tested theory of science. What happens is that testing rejects theories that doesn’t work. With enough predictivity and so tests, usually there will remain one. Which may fail anytime, have more parsimonious theories out-compete it, or be subsumed or replaced by more predictive theory.

      So we don’t accept on “faith” that there is an agency copycat doing this or that, we reject such theory on its failing to compete.

      Further, there is a fundamental problem with copycat theories.

      If they go universal, they are useless. A theory that explains everything explains nothing, it can’t be tested so must be rejected.

      A specific theory on an agent fails because testing is specific. I.e. every time we can reject a theory, it is rejected on its specific parameter and variable set. It can be that a slightly modified theory, with a slightly modification in parameters say, would pass. But it would be a different theory.

      Likewise the specific individual agent will be rejected. Therefore it follows that if individual agents are rejected all the time, there is no way you can map the current agent to your god of choice. Tomorrow, nay later today, it will be another agent or agents.

      But after all, are these powerless gods-of-the-gaps agents which are vagaries of random fate (and faith!) the kind of gods you want to rely on? And they sure don’t look anything like Giberson and his ilk’s omnipotent god.

  16. I find it truly ironic that I learn far more theology and religious history from the commenters on this and other Gnu Atheist blogs than I ever get from those who are actually religious.

      1. Well, that and the fact that as a curious intellect learns more and more, s/he becomes more and more likely to conclude that the god hypothesis is ridiculous. [snarky unfounded generalization alert]: Probably most folks who remain religio-heads are not curious intellects.

    1. Churches have no interest in teaching biblical archaeology, or textual criticism.
      You have to learn that on the street, or in a seminary. Hopefully that will change, since there have been more popularizes lately for both of those topics.

    1. And this is what torques my tensor about Uncle Karl whose PhD clearly stands for Piled Higher and Deeper.

      Sorry, Karl, but I do not respect you as I cannot believe you’re that stupid, therefore you must be dishonest and that pretty much does it for me.

      Reminds me of that old Larson cartoon. Jerry writes “Why evolution is true” and Karl reads “blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah.”

      Karl’s superficial knowledge of chemistry is insulting to me, a chemist. Hey, Karl, tell me the difference between a hypothetical common ancestor and a hypothetical intermediate complex in a chemical reaction. Hey, Karl, what’s the difference between chemistry and biology?

      This appears to be the bottom line with Karl. He’s blowing smoke about science then goes on to demonstrate that Jesus and the Great White Whale are one and the same because both were written about by smart people.


  17. 1. “The reconstructions of the history of life on this planet require the postulation of species for which there is no direct evidence.”

    No one has ever directly seen neutrons or gamma rays, but they exist – therefore god! Anyone else think Karl’s as dumb as M. Behe? Is a grown man really so damned stupid that he can’t discern claims supported by evidence (in fact, no opposing evidence whatsoever) from claims which not only have no evidence whatsoever in their favor but much evidence against? I have to wonder if Gibberish is doing a Mooney and writing lies intended to jack off the faithful (because, as we all know, encouraging delusions solves problems – and that’s another Giberson Fact).

    2. “…and there is evidence for religious truth claims. This is a simple fact.”

    It’s a ‘fact’ because Karl says so. Going by Karl’s logic there is evidence for Santa Claus. After all, many intelligent people have written poems and songs about him and there have even been movies. This is evidence that there really is a fat man in red who rides a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer.

    Let’s not forget the Roman and Greek gods as well. After all, Santa Claus is not worshipped as a god. Many intelligent people of the era wrote about the Roman and Greek gods – this is evidence that they must exist!

    1. “1. “The reconstructions of the history of life on this planet require the postulation of species for which there is no direct evidence.”

      “Fucking Evolution! How does it work!”

      or (to continue another internet meme)…Double Rainbows, Uncle Karl! What does it mean?

    2. Santa Claus did exist—the Byzantine saint that we know today as “Santa Claus “—assaulted Arius at the Council of Nicaea for maintaining the heresy that Jesus Christ was not god.

  18. “the dynamic character of religious investigation” = Shifting Goalposts (and that’s a Good Thing &=tm;)

    “God responds by entering into relationship with believers”

    Yeah, god nailed the virgin Mary. He also saves some people in disasters and allows others to suffer and die – same with horrible diseases. Nice relationship there – with friends like that, who needs enemies? God must be the ultimate asshole.

  19. “If the central claim of Christianity is true—that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ—that is the most complicated and mysterious event in history and the people who tried to articulate what it was like certainly cannot be critiqued because their analyses would not meet the standards of the chemist.”

    Nonsense. If anything, analyses of such a “complicated and mysterious” event should be held to a *higher* standard.

    1. As Carl Sagan put it, Extraordinary Claims require Extraordinary Evidence . . . otherwise it seems the higher the stakes the less we should ask

    2. As I commented on Biologos, the claims of a virgin birth (of a male!) and resurrection of various people both contradict science. If you’re going to make claims like that, they should be analyzed as scientific claims, no matter how thoughtful and serious the claimant is.

      1. Especially since our modern world rejects all of the other claims of virgin births (or god-fathership), including Plato, Alexander the Great, and many others.

        Why reject the claim that Plato’s father was prevented from lying with his mother until after Apollo had performed the procreative act and yet accept the story of Mary and Joseph?

        Where’s the evidence to support either position?

      2. It was tough to wade through that self-congratulatory wankfest that passes for a comment thread at Biologos. The few gems were provided by truthspeaker whose comments were mostly ignored. All these intellectual lightweights can do when faced with a difficult question like, “What evidence?” is change the subject. “Hey, how about that PZ guy?”

        truthspeaker got right to the hub and nub of Uncle Karl’s “argument” (and I use the term lightly) and nobody rose to the challenge. Well, except for one guy who suggested truthspeaker “open his heart” to “other ways of knowing.”

        Hey, TS, I know a good surgeon here in Houston if you’re interested.

    3. Don’t you worry your pretty little head one bit about that Uncle Karl, your god-idea was said to be supervising the articulation. Did your god-idea make boo-boo?

    4. How God became incarnate in Jesus Christ— – when “Paul” described him as a non-carnate God coming down from the Heavens in the earliest revelations available on JC – that is the most complicated and mysterious event in Christian history.

      Fixed that for you, Uncle Karl.

      1. How God became incarnate in Jesus Christ— – when “Paul” described him as a non-carnate God coming down from the Heavens in the earliest revelations available on JC – that is the most complicated and mysterious event in Christian mythology.

        Fixed yours.

  20. The physicist needs no faith to accept the law of the conservation of energy.

    Of course he does! A physicist would have to observe every single particle interaction for all of time to know that conservation of energy is universal. If he thinks it happens when no one is looking or measuring, isn’t that a “leap of faith” by the standard Giberson has set for paleontologists?

    Um, and doesn’t Giberson supposedly teach about science? He should be aware of stuff like this:
    Energy is Not Conserved by Sean Carroll

    1. Um. There’s plenty to object to in Giberson’s article, but I think you should read Sean’s article more carefully before you accuse Giberson of malpractice on this particular point. In particular, reread the following passages:

      “Having said all that, it would be irresponsible of me not to mention that plenty of experts in cosmology or GR would not put it in these terms. We all agree on the science; there are just divergent views on what words to attach to the science. In particular, a lot of folks would want to say “energy is conserved in general relativity, it’s just that you have to include the energy of the gravitational field along with the energy of matter and radiation and so on.” Which seems pretty sensible at face value.

      There’s nothing incorrect about that way of thinking about it; it’s a choice that one can make or not, as long as your clear on what your definitions are.”


      “All of the experts agree on what’s happening; this is an issue of translation, not of physics.”

  21. I need to deepen my knowledge of biblical authorship and history. I’ve heard a lot of the points discussed here, but haven’t read anything directly other than a (forgive me) Karen Armstrong book. Any suggestions for good works on that?

    1. Bart Ehrman and Richard Carrier would both be good starts. They have several books each on the subject.

      Also, Hector Avalos, who was a child Pentecostal preacher and has a PhD in theology. He went deep into the historicity and archeological evidence for the tales told in the bible and came up — not surprisingly — empty. Which led to his deconversion.

      Victor Stenger, a physicist who approaches the god question from the direction of science, is another good source.

      And, of course, there are Dawkins, Hitchen, Dennett, and Harris.

      But for historicity of the bible, Ehrman is probably your best bet. Then Avalos and Carrier.

    2. The Bible Unearthed by Finklestein is a good one for the Old Testament, and he’s written other books that I haven’t gotten to.
      I’ve never read a book that made me so angry. Bible study groups in my old church had maps showing the disposition of the kingdoms of David and Solomon, the Exodus, and the Conquest of Canaan. And all of that stuff never happened. It may as well have been a map of Mordor.

      1. I believe that a reliable artifact has been been found recently confirming the historicity of King David, although his kingdom is believed to be much smaller than what would be portrayed on that map of which you spoke.

        1. Finklestein’s book said that they had no reason to doubt that there was a David and a Solomon, since they had artifacts that proclaimed a ‘Davidic’ monarch, but that the actual David was very small time, and the *actual* great kings of the Jewish kingdom were the ‘evil’ monarchs like Ahab, who were quite successful at kingdom building for a time, before the Assyrians crushed them.

    3. Many thanks for the suggestions. Ehrman has been on my to-read list for a while, but I wasn’t aware of the others. Have my Four Horsemen covered – time to go further down the rabbit hole!

    4. At post #24 in this thread, eheffa linked to an outstanding essay by David Fitzgerald that’s an excellent summary of almost all the key points. In fact, about the only thing missing is a discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their significance.

      His bibliography and end notes are also excellent and should serve to keep you amply busy for quite some time.

      The link again:




    5. Although Karen Armstrong doesn’t go into it too deeply, she does seem to be pretty well-read on Biblical scholarship and the history of Christianity. That’s why I assume she’s lying and not mistaken when she claims Christianity has never been about believing that God actually exists – she’s educated enough to know better.

      1. In my opinion, Karen is not a scholar, but a lazy plagiariser, and she is getting progressively worse.
        From what I know of her, she is poorly read on Biblical scholarship, to the point of willful ignorance, and I agree: she is educated enough to know better.
        I consider her output to be less than worthless.

    6. Five history books for atheists about the foundations of the monotheistic worlds of Christendom and Islam, focusing on the Mediterranean.

      1. Byzantium (3 volumes, although there is an abridged single volume), by John Julius Norwich. Of special interest for atheists: everything to do with early church heresies, the challenge of Islam, and the Fourth Crusade.

      2. Venice, by John Julius Norwich. Of special interest for atheists: La Serenissima’s pragmatic military and political strategy especially in
      competition with Rome, the challenge of Islam, and the Fourth Crusade.

      3. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, by Amin Maalouf. Of special interest for atheists: the pragmatic military and political strategies of both the Crusader and Arab states in competition with each other and themselves. Bonus atheist quote:

      The inhabitants of the earth are of two
      Those with brains, but no religion,
      And those with religion, but no brains.
      —Abu’l-`Ala’ al-Ma`arri

      4. Ottoman Centuries, by Lord Kinross. Of special interest for atheists: The
      challenge of the post-Enlightenment West.

      5. Atatürk, by Andrew Mango. Bonus atheist quote:

      I have no religion, and at times I wish
      all religions at the bottom of the sea.
      He is a weak ruler who needs religion
      to uphold his government; it is as if he
      would catch his people in a trap. My
      people are going to learn the principles of democracy, the dictates of truth and
      the teachings of science. Superstition
      must go. Let them worship as they will;
      every man can follow his own
      conscience, provided it does not
      interfere with sane reason or bid him against the liberty of his fellow-men. — Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

    7. Earl Doherty’s work is also very interesting – his latest tome on the “mythicist” hypothesis is stunning, but one will need some Greek philosophy as background or some will just sound outrageous. (Neoplatonism *was* outrageous, but one needs an independent source to tell one that.)

    8. For a more scholarly and technical read, may I suggest “How the Bible Became a Book” by William M. Schniedewind (2004) ISBN 0-521-82946-1
      (Bill is the professor of biblical studies & semitic languages at the U. of California, LA, etc.)
      It covers both the O.T. history, and N.T. dismantling, with copious references and foot-notes.
      Beware: it is heavy going, but worth it!

  22. Here’s a question for the group think. I have a good friend who is very smart, and is religious, though she is married to and friends with many atheists, and keeps her religion pretty much to herself. She’ll ask us to move on to a different topic if we really start bashing into the Bible, which I think is fair enough, since she never really bothers us. But at the same time, I think she isn’t doing something that is good for herself by avoiding listening to the hard truth, like some of the historical sources of the Bible that is being talked about in this thread. I’m tempted to suggest she read The Bible Unearthed by Finklestein, but what might be other books that would give her some concrete historical/literary evidence without seeming like it was coming from a bunch of loudmouths?

    1. “The End of Biblical Studies” by Hector Avalos.

      His bona fides: Doctor of Philosophy in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University (1991), a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School (1985), and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Arizona in 1982.

      He was a Pentecostal child preacher, probably has the entire bible memorized right down to the begats.

      And now a card-carrying atheist. Because none of the stories in the bible could stand up to historical or archaeological scrutiny.

    2. As I recall, Ehrman also came from a believing background but was de-converted by his studies. Might also be a credible source to a believer, depending on their particular brand/depth of belief.

      Or they might conclude he “just didn’t have enough faith” and dismiss him. It’s been known to happen. 😉

      1. Ehrman accepts without question that Jesus was an actual historical person. His defense of the proposition on the Infidel Guy interview was “Lots of people really did exist”. He loses a lot of credibility with me there.

        I guess the most knowledgable people here reject it, but I accept the explanation by Joseph Atwill that Christianity was invented by the same Romans who crushed the First Jewish Rebellion. Titus Flavius “fulfills” the Son of Man prophecy to the letter and exactly at the right time. He encircles Jerusalem and takes the temple down until no stone is upon another. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, as tens of thousands of rebels were crucified.

        Atwill has found many literary allusions to the canonical gospels, and vice versa, in Josephus’ War of Jews. Josephus, you can confirm on wikipedia, was an adopted member of the imperioal Flavian family (assuming he was a real person, which seems unlikely if you read his back story). If the alleged mutual references seem compelling as such, I don’t see how one can avoid concluding the thesis is broadly true. A single apparent contradiction, such as what Ben Goren mentions above, that Eusebius bemoaned that Josephus never mentions Jesus, does not disprove the thesis, because many apparent mutual references and parallels are present, and the proposed parallel events preserve the order. Essentially, Atwill argues that Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee follows Titus’ military campaign there that happened 40 years later. Major episodes in the ministry reference battles and other events recorded by Josephus. For example “fishing for men” corresponds to a sea battle where the Romans speared the Jewish rebels in the water like fish.

        If you go to esnips dot com and search atwill caesar’s messiah you will find the book. You can read it in place or register and download the whole pdf for free.

        1. iirc, Ehrman’s strongest argument for the historical Jesus was references to his brother James in both Paul’s letters (which are generally thought to be earlier and more reliable than the Gospels) and Josephus.

          Anyway, it seems a bit much to invoke a grand conspiracy theory when the writings we have can adequately be explained by urban legends accreting onto a fairly mundane historical core.

          1. Nonsense. The truth claims of the CM thesis deserve examination in their own right. It can sink or swim on the strength or weakness of them. It claims not just to be plausible (that idea has been around longer), it claims it is demonstrably true. So if it holds up it obviates that there are other more prosaic possibilities.

            It’s not really a conspiracy, anyhow, just an act of a government with a bureaucratic arm dedicated to creating religions. An arm that remarkablke resembled the RCC.

  23. Thanks for the posting. Until now I thought the discord between Coyne and Giberson was a rational conflictbetween two who had rational, but differing views (I have little time or the Christian dismissal of non-Christian religion, especially when it is ignored or denied).

    However, I read as much of Giberson as I could take. In my view he is playing fast and loose with the facts of contemporary scholarship which holds Jesus as a sage in the same league with Socrates/Plato, Buddha and Confucius/Lao-Tzu.

    Is the question of their existence more important than the insights students gather from their teachings? Not for me. Of the four, the probability that they actually lived seems highest for Socrates and Confucius, less for Buddha and Jesus and possibly unlikely for Lao-Tzu whose attributed I Ching is my favorite reflective reading text with Rumi being a close second.

    Thanks again. I visit WEIT to cause turbulence in my thinking.

    1. Oldfuzz – I too am an oldfuzz and can closely relate to your position that historicity is much less important than insights. After, all we can learn a bit of wisdom from pure fiction 🙂 Like you, I enjoy the turbulence here, and particularly appreciate those who articulate what they are for or against versus who they are for or against.

      1. As one raised in a metaphorical Christian culture, I was taught that God was transcendent, beyond knowing. Accepting that idea makes any discussion of God’s existence moot. While I viewed God as a reality then, my views have changed. I still use the term–after all it’s a perfectly good word–but in a different way. A better word for me would be KIN, Know I Not, but I’m not here to create language only make my best effort in using it.

        While God has become a term without rational meaning, I still use out of habit (I also catch myself chewing my fingernails). It has it’s place. When my wife says, “George Clooney is a god.” I know exactly what she means and am glad she doesn’t know him… so I believe.

        1. Thanks OF for your insights. I was raised in a progressive Mennonite/anabaptist community where theological ruminations were a distant second to living simply, helping anyone in need, and loving your enemies as well as your neighbors. Such praxis still works for me, sans doctrine and dogma.

        2. Well I would disagree that it’s a perfectly good word, since it’s so variable and thus prone to confusion-creation, but I too still use it, especially for purposes like the one you cite.

          1. Of course one could ask what I mean by good. I prefer goddess which applies mainly to Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton.

  24. I have to ask: has Uncle Karl some how squared away the fact that Jesus died for a metaphor yet?

    I mean, I just don’t get it. Original sin came from Adam and Eve; assuming that the concept even holds water*, then wouldn’t modern genetics have made that story not even remotely plausible? There could have never existed an Adam and Eve at the same time such that they were the sole ancestors of the human race; the entire Christian narrative depends on this one point being actually true, and Karl’s okay with consigning it to metaphor? What gives?

    *it’s like how when you start a game of Animal Crossing, Tom Nook “sells” you a house and then you must repay him; what, I don’t even get a choice in the matter? It’s bullshit in the game and it’s bullshit in reality, though at least in the game Nook is a cute fuzzy raccoon and he doesn’t really demand anything from you.

    1. “…has Uncle Karl some how squared away the fact that Jesus died for a metaphor yet?”

      This is most certainly NOT a ‘fact’, as “Jesus” never existed.
      A fictional character cannot die for a metaphor.

      1. Well, we know that. I think Tacroy is wondering how UK deals w the fact that he’s on board w a progressive, metaphorical interpretation of Genesis, while clinging to a literal reading of the passion narrative. The former concession really fucks up the latter assertion.

  25. Giberson plays fast and loose with the old strawman of theories of observable processes vs historical pathways they may have taken, to construct faith where there are none:

    The factual evidence is so great that faith is simply not needed. But evolutionary biology needs some faith. The reconstructions of the history of life on this planet require the postulation of species for which there is no direct evidence.

    With the same ‘logic’ one would claim that we must have faith in the Earth orbiting the Sun, since we have no direct evidence to reconstruct earlier orbits in detail.

    What we in fact use is observations of repeating seasons and stellar configuration movements, as well as of gravity and orbits themselves. In the same way evolution is tested by observing repeated finds of fossils and their repeated hierarchical nesting, as well as of mechanisms and speciation. There is no faith involved at all.

    Giberson would do better to point at such processes as nucleosynthesis, where we do know the mechanisms of slow and fast capture to build new nuclei. There is scant evidence for this outside of the lab and/or simulations when we go to elements beyond nickel, which is believed to be mainly created in supernovas.

    It is again not a faith issue however, but a problem of testing. Meanwhile we state outright that we do not know, and possibly put a figure on our remaining uncertainty. This is after all exactly what we can do after testing, quantify uncertainty.

    And here is Giberson again making stuff up in its entirety:

    When believers make their leap of faith to embrace God, God responds by entering into relationship with believers, often with transformative consequences. There is no counterpart to this response in scientific or historical investigation.

    Making response, react to action, is a hallmark of reality, and specifically of Newton’s mechanics as well as modern quantum mechanics. That is how we test them and that is how religion and other supernatural claim fail to qualify as reality.

    More to the point, which is Giberson’s evidence to test against? Which ‘transformative’ imaginations does he refer to? And how does he know that sundry imaginations are actual ‘responses’ of an invisible sky-daddy?

Leave a Reply