Last Sunday’s magazine in The New Statesman was about religion, and contained a long piece in which Andrew Zak Williams asked 25 prominent people to explain why they believed in God (or a spiritual God-equivalent). I’ve been waiting patiently for the piece to come online, but I don’t think it will. (UPDATE: Alert reader Egbert has found the responses online here; Andrew Zak Williams’s analysis of the responses is here.) Fortunately, I have a transcript of the article (some of us are participating in a future counter-piece explaining why we are atheists), which looks like this:
You can see in the picture some of the notables interviewed, but I was particularly interested in the eight scientists. I’m always curious why someone would devote their working lives to accepting only things supported by evidence, but then reject that stance in their “spiritual” lives. I’ve gone through all the 25 answers, and found that their reasons for belief fall into seven categories:
- The design in the world (including the “fine tuning” of physics) testifies to a god
- I was taught there was a god
- I had a revelation that there was a god
- Christ’s life proves that there was a god
- Religion gives me tremendous consolation
- Morals and purpose testify to a god
- The world makes sense to me only if there was a god
The two most common answers are #4 and #7. I can at least sympathize with the “it makes sense of the world” explanation, but not so much with the “Christ’s life” explanation. After all, there were also Mohamed, Joseph Smith, and L. Ron Hubbard.
Here’s Denis Alexander, biochemist and director of the Farady Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge (also a member of the John Templeton Foundation’s board of trustees), deploying answers 3, 4, and 7:
I believe that the existence of a personal God. Viewing the universe as a creation renders it more coherent than viewing its existence as without cause. It is the intelligibility of the world which requires explanation.
Second, I am intellectually persuaded by the historical life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, that He is indeed the one He claimed to be, the Son of God. Jesus is most readily explicable by understanding Him as the Son of God.
Third, having been a Christian for more than five decades, I have experienced God through Christ personally over this period in worship, answered prayer, and the personal experience of His love. These experiences are more coherent based on the assumption that God does in fact exist.
He doesn’t pull any punches. But several of the other scientists are more cagey, trying to circumvent the obvious contradiction between their evidence-based science and their faith-based religion. Kenneth Miller, a cell biologist at Brown University and well known opponent of creationism, had the longest response, adducing reasons 4, 6, and 7.
I regard scientific rationality as the key to understanding the material basis of our existence as well as our history as a species. That’s the reason why I’ve fought so hard against the “creationists” and those who advocate “intelligent design”. They deny science, and oppose scientific rationality, and I regard their ideas as a genuine threat to a society such as ours that has been so hospitable to the scientific enterprise.
There are, however, certain questions that science cannot answer — not because we haven’t figured them out yet (there are lots of those), but because they are not scientific questions at all. As Greek philosophers used to ask, what is the good life? What is the nature of good and evil? What is the purpose to existence? My friend Richard Dawkins would ask, in response, why we should think that such questions are even important. But to most of us, I would respond, these are the most important questions of all.
What I can tell you is that the world I see, including the world I know about from science, makes more sense to me in light of a spiritual understanding of existence and the hypothesis of God. Specifically, I see a moral polarity to life, a sense that “good” and “evil” are genuine qualities, not social constructions, and that choosing the good life (as the Greeks meant it) is the central question of existence. Given that, the hypothesis of God conforms to what I know about the material world from science, and gives that world a depth of meaning that I would find impossible without it.
Now, I certainly do not “know” that the spirit is real in the sense that you and I can agree on the evidence that DNA is real and that it is the chemical basis of genetic information. There is, after all, a reason why religious belief is called “faith,” and not “certainty.” But it is a faith that fits, a faith that is congruent with science, and even provides a reason why science works and is of such value — because science explores that rationality of existence, a rationality that itself derives from the source of that existence.
In any case, I am happy to confess that I am a believer, and that for me, the Christian faith is the one that resonates. What I do not claim is that my religious belief, or anyone’s, can meet a scientific test.
By now we know what to make of this. The “there are some questions that science cannot answer” tactic has several responses, including a) there is no externally imposed purpose to existence, b) some questions are amenable to rational and empirical exploration, like “what is the nature of good and evil?”, and c) finding some questions that aren’t amenable to scientifically-based answers does not show that religious answers are correct. (By the way, I seriously doubt that Dawkins would consider questions like “What is the good life?” unimportant.)
Note that Miller starts off by establishing his bona fides as a scientist and creationism-battler (and indeed, he’s been great in the latter role), but then admits the disparity between evidence-based science and revelation-based faith: “Now, I certainly do not ‘know’ that the spirit is real in the sense that you and I can agree on the evidence that DNA is real and that it is the chemical basis of genetic information. There is, after all, a reason why religious belief is called ‘faith,’ and not ‘certainty.'” But yet Miller acts as if he does know that the spirit is real: he’s described himself as an “observant Catholic”, presumably agrees with some of the Church’s doctrines, like the Resurrection, and has based his life on the assumption that these notions are true. After all, if you’re doing things to assure that you’ll spend afterlife in Heaven, you can’t be in grave doubt about them. No, it’s not the firmness of belief that’s at issue here, but the basis for that firmness of belief.
The other reasons are familiar: morality has no explanation except for God (Miller sees morality as an objective phenomenon, presumably easily discerned from faith), and that God explains why science works (but if science did not work, that is, if there were no regularities to existence, we wouldn’t be here, for our bodies couldn’t evolve and function). Let us also note that if science did not work—that is, if “laws” were sporadically interrupted by miracles, so that, for example, a few people could raise the dead or cure the blind with a glob of spittle—that would also be evidence for God.
Finally, the idea that religious ideas are true because they “resonate” or “give the world a depth of meaning that one finds impossible without them”, are quite common among believers, but of course aren’t good reasons to believe in anything. The idea that Jodie Foster was his soulmate really resonated with John Hinckley, Jr., and presumably gave his life a new depth of meaning, but of course the man was delusional. The Manson Family found deep meaning in accepting Charlie as a guru—indeed, as a sort of deity. All manner of things resonate with people and give their world deep meaning, but what those things have to do with truth?
Miller demonstrates here the real difference—and incongruity—between faith and science. The former is based on wish-thinking, the latter not only explicitly rejects wish-thinking, but is structured to prevent it. (Double-blind experiments are one of the best things ever invented.) Why? Because science recognizes the strong human motivation to believe what we want to be true, and that that drive is a serious impediment in finding out what really is true.
More scientists tomorrow.
127 thoughts on “Scientists and public figures explain their belief”
Isn’t Denis Alexander the Homo divinus guy from BioLogos?
That’s pretty damned cagey, and more than a little dishonest, but one supposes that Dawkins is used to it now. But, really…So the Greek philosophers were able to focus on those questions, but the only way that we can is through faith. Musta been that ancientness.
I think #2 is the only genuine answer; everything else is after the fact rationalization.
They beleive because that is how they were brought up. Period.
But if they admit that, then they are admitting they are too weak to let go of something their mommy and daddy told them was true.
Deep down, they hat atheists because we remind them of their weakness.
“I’m a Believer”. Frackin’ earworm that one is. I guess we need a catchy theme song too.
Yes. A lot of people have limited imagination.
no wait that’s no good.
‘Last Train to Clarksville’?
On a blog called Why Evolution Is True we should surely be singing “Hey, hey we’re The Monkees…”
bhoytony, you win the Internets.
I thought faith was only true in fairy tales;
Meant for someone else but not for me.
Love was out to get me
That’s the way it seemed.
Disappointment haunted all my dreams.
Then I saw HIS face, now I’m a believer
Not a trace of doubt in my mind.
I trust in Christ, I believe in Him!
Couldn’t leave Him if I tried.
I thought faith was more or less a given thing,
Seems the more I gave the less I got.
What’s the use in tryin’?
All you get is pain.
When I needed sunshine I got rain.
Then I saw HIS face, now I’m a believer
Not a trace of doubt in my mind.
I trust in Christ, I believe in Him!
Couldn’t leave Him if I tried.
Oops – I missed one of the “love”s. Change the one in the first verse to “faith”!
I just don’t see (a) there’s a problem here and (b) even if there is a real problem, why does it end in “therefore my religion”.
It presupposes the world should make sense in some personal way – the conclusion that god is the answer makes a circular argument.
Why should the world make sense to you? I get annoyed when people say scientists are arrogant for claiming (partial) understanding of aspects of the world, but somehow it’s ok for the religious to assume the entire order of things must be set out for them in a way they can understand.
But I guess the phrase “makes sense” is one of those slippery ones…
Absolutely right. There is nothing constraining us to have to make sense of everything. However, it appears to be human nature to want to, so I didn’t pounce on that aspect.
Just Imagine . . . http://youtu.be/-b7qaSxuZUg
That’s not limited imagination – that’s NO imagination.
Science can never be reconciled with religion. You must choose, and no matter which way you decide to go, you must give up something, for good or ill, in yourself. You can pretend to have it both ways, but the price is high and harmful.
one is either a intellectually honest or he is a bs-er;
And trying to be “half pregnant” comes at a price because they have to run internal propaganda to silence cognitive dissonance
And this is why they are evolutionary past – when things become really tough (overpopulation, pollution, information overload) only those who are intellectually honest will have the chance to survive and be genetic material for future generations
Religion is bound to vestigialize: natural selection will take care of it with time
I rather lack your confidence. I’m afraid that, when things are toughest, self-delusion is most valuable.
i am talking about post collapse time – around 80 to 100 years from now – the overpopulation will reach its limits; citadel aristocracies will use up religion duping to the fullest; but the life for the drone/burden at the bottom will be nothing more than ferral aggregation – delusion will not work at that time – the violence will be so widespread and crazy preachers will become just part of the scene – no one in their right mind would entertain religion as a worldview
And here I thought prayer didn’t work that way.
Indeed. I’ve seen Christians insist that God does not answer prayers since that would impinge on our “free will”. Oh when will the God of the Bibbly show us who the TrueChristians are?
Don’t you remember? “All prayers are answered, but sometimes the answer is ‘no.'”
Which is sort of the equivalent of saying “this new medicine works — exactly as well as a placebo does.”
Yes-no-wait. Those are the official three answers one can “receive” from prayer.
A Magic 8 ball gives you 20 answers. And, unlike prayer, you don’t have to guess as to what the answer was.
I discovered, at about age eight or nine, growing up in a strict conservative Christian home, that prayer worked IF what I prayed for was something that was very likely to happen anyway. It gradually became obvious to me that prayer was nothing more than talking to myself – and whenever I needed a good talking to (myself), I prayed. Was it effective at other times? not so much … in fact, never.
Denis Alexander: Viewing the universe as a creation renders it more coherent than viewing its existence as without cause.
It is the intelligibility of the world which requires explanation.
1) The world makes more sense if I pretend there is a God, and
2) That the world makes sense is what requires a God-explanation?
That sounds like something from the Department of Circularity Department.
I noted the same thing.
Shorter Miller: There are things we don’t understand, therefore God. We understand things, therefore God. Very convenient.
I’ve heard Miller talk about miracles in the past – he was on ‘The Infidel Guy’ show being interviewed about the Dover case and his own religious beliefs came up in the conversation. In contrast to Francis Collins, Miller was much more reluctant to say anything definite about a belief in supernatural miracles. The one example he offered of a miracle involved some friends of his who had adopted a child from an orphanage in Africa. The children in the orphanage were there due to their own parents dying of AIDS and Millers friends were told that the little girl they were adopting was HIV positive. When they brought her back to the States they sent her for a checkup and the result came back that she was HIV negative. Miller described this as a miracle but was careful to word it in a way that it was less a case of supernatural intervention to cure the girl and more a case of statistically rare events fitting a divine purpose (Christians doing a good deed by adopting a HIV positive child being rewarded by their God).
It was quite weird listening to him talk like this just after being so positive and pro-scientific when discussing the Dover trial, a bit like hearing someone who is a clear scientific thinker suddenly revealing themselves as a 911 truther or anti-vaccine nut.
“Second, I am intellectually persuaded by the historical life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, that He is indeed the one He claimed to be, the Son of God. ”
Anyone who states this with a straight face has obviously not actually looked into real historical analysis of Jesus. That implies either doublethink, willful ignorance, or an absurd lack of interest in the faith one professes. Most of the time, my experience with Christians has shown the latter… they are happy to go to church and read the Bible, but their interest in it goes no further than that. Frankly, if you join some cult with a holy book, you should at least read up on how it was really made, and whether it has any accuracy at all. That’s what bugs me… its such a big commitment, and most people are really just making it because their parents told them so. You wouldn’t buy a car without looking it up, but you’ll spend your whole life and a good chunk of your income on a decision made for you by your parents?
Ridiculous, and sad.
There is absolutely no encouragement of this kind of exploration in any church I ever attended. You took the bible at what it said, or what your pastor/priest told you it said. “Bible study” didn’t involve looking behind the book, only reading it in the context of already believing in its truth and accuracy. Whether this is an active conspiracy to prevent people from learning the truth (and thereby questioning the thing), or simply a learned behavior passed from one generation to the next, I don’t know. But I suspect learning more about your faith from any outside perspective would be derided as “earthly wisdom” that affords one nothing but a ticket to Hell.
It irritated me as a kid, since I saw that my parents, in their adult Bible studies, actually got to talk about the more juicy parts of the Bible, while children’s Sunday School was just pap, 16 years of fucking pap about magic friend Jesus, and reading small parts of the Bible arranged to make 1 Gospel out of 4.
Finding out that there was more information, and indeed, more Bible out there left me feeling pissed off and betrayed, since they taught it more like Sunday School brainwashers rather than teachers.
And I guess he believes that Jesus was not only the “Son of God” (which would make him a mere demi-god) but he is also God himself– part of a 3-in-1 deity that really is monotheistic! *wink wink*
What’s not to mock?
Come one, come all! Get your child sacrifice and your autosadomasochism for the price of one! Best deal in the world!
I am continually amazed at the numbers of people who take the Bible, the Gospels in particular, as the gold standard in historical documentation. It just completely boggles my mind how it can even pass the sniff test in the first place — let alone the most basic of cross-checking with other ancient works.
Yet that is exactly what Denis Alexander explicitly does, and what untold millions of others do. It’s as if it doesn’t even occur to them that it might not be perfectly accurate.
…and, I might add, it’s probably impossible to reason with such people. I think the best one can hope for is to mock it to their children so they might grow up wondering why their parents are so into cadaveric visceral frottage.
Now I’m hungry.
No, wait, that’s fromage. Never mind.
Ben outdoes himself! Definitely my meme for the day!
Neither do I. I’d expect him to ask Miller: “Why do you think religion can answer them?”. At the very least, that would be my question.
I also couldn’t help but notice that Miller is effectively denying a belief in NOMA when he says:
I also wonder what this “god hypothesis” of his is, and what the material world would look like if that hypothesis were false.
‘the hypothesis conforms to what I know from science’ strikes me as profoundly nonscientific
The world only makes sense if there’s a god? Maybe, but only if that god is a cruel compassionless asshole with a very sick sense of humor.
Indeed, ask the Japanese.
I learned today that they just reelected the Tokyo governor who said that the 9.0 earthquake + gigantic tsunami was a god’s punishment. I’m not quite clear which god he was talking about or why the majority of denizens of Tokyo are such frackin’ idiots.
I have a hypothesis that 98% of humans cannot think logically. I cannot justify this with anything except observation, however so far I have found no evidence sufficient to reject it either.
Ishihara is a nasty, racist bit of work with some bloody odd ideas; but he is competent at his job as mayor of Tokyo, and there was nobody worthwhile standing against him.
‘A god’ – yes, I suppose it was one of Japan’s eight million gods, one ofthe nasty ones. It’s a bit like living in a divine termite mound here at times.
“…divine termite mound…”
WEIT-ers are in rare form today!
LOL about the divine termite mound! His comment really does make me wonder. I have heard he practices Shintoism. But really, this just shows that Japan could use a good infusion of Gnu Atheism, too. People shouldn’t be able to get away with wishy-washy, bigoted statements like that without having to explain what deity or group of deities they are talking about and also how they know such a thing in the first place.
And he is bitterly homophobic and a Rape of Nanking denier in addition to being nasty and racist. When a person with those traits is the most competent of them all (since 1999 no less!), something is drastically wrong.
Ishihara is all of those things (though the gay area not so far from the Tokyo city hall seems still to be flourishing), and I do not think he would get away with the kind of things he has come out with over the years in any Western country, but there is, alas, a strong chauvinistic undercurrent in Japan, and the press is pretty pusillanimous.
So, so true.
They complain that their voices aren’t heard in this supposedly secular society. Well, they shouldn’t. At least when it comes to religion. It is a personal choice and should be kept private. Too many people believe in too many different things for religion to be freely applied to modern medicine and science.
Orac, over at Respectful Insolence wrote a lengthy, but good post about “Prayer, surgery and separating doctoring from dogma”: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/04/prayer_surgery_and_separating_doctoring.php
One doctor says he likes to pray with his patients before surgery and asks them if they would like a prayer… then says he is not coercive. In truth, he is coercive. The fact that he asks, without knowing that patients beliefs will make the patient think otherwise. What if he is an atheist and refuses? Will that affect the doctor’s skill?
Those scientists are believers, good. Kneel and pray in your house, but leave your beliefs at the door. Reality needs fact, not fiction.
In fact the behavior of this surgeon praying with his patients is highly abusive since because of his position vis a vis his patient, the patient will be coerced to agree with the prayer, even if atheist. He should be banned from practice.
It is coercive. A similar thing happened to me today when a person estimating the damage to my car asked me if I went to church and then pressured me to do so and to believe in Jesus. How the hell do I know if he adjusted the cost down because I told him I don’t go to church? For all I know, if I had said I do go to church then I might be looking at an estimate for a brand new bumper rather than one for an aftermarket bumper. Mixing faith with professionalism is highly unethical and should never be done; it destroys trust.
That is appalling! Jaw-droppingly inappropriate!
Then why does it seem like I can’t stop hearing them?!
“Now, I certainly do not “know” that the spirit is real in the sense that you and I can agree on the evidence that DNA is real and that it is the chemical basis of genetic information. There is, after all, a reason why religious belief is called “faith,” and not “certainty.” But it is a faith that fits, a faith that is congruent with science, and even provides a reason why science works and is of such value — because science explores that rationality of existence, a rationality that itself derives from the source of that existence.”
Ummm, where is this science that is “congruent” e.g. being in agreement, harmony, or correspondence with faith? Sad when supposed scientists make baseless claims for their “faith”. This is only the usual whine that science doesnt’ tell us “why”.
Where is answer 8, which is simply: “Because I do.” Most everything else is some form of rationalization.
It has always bothered me that so many otherwise respectable people want to simplify not only the accomplishments and failures of the human race but the entire universe to God did it. Then they have the nerve to tell me that I miss the beauty of it all. It makes me wonder… if their belief makes life worth living, what would make their lives not worth living?
Cherie Blair’s is perhaps the best: “something my head cannot explain but my heart knows to be true”.
I suppose that’s how her husband handled the whole Iraq WMD thing.
You suppose right.
But remember, he sincerely believed he was right so he is absolved from any blame!
It is online here:
Just sad to read. Nice comment, though, Egbert. Kier, too.
I think that for many people the question why there is anything unconsciously presupposes the idea of something personal lying behind existence, because we cannot really separate why from what for. Somehow, why brings in purpose, and purpose=intention, and only persons can have intentions. So by a semantic process we end up with a personal creator. That seems sufficient. We don’t go on to ask why there should be a creator or what purpose means for it. So it is the personal that matters, someone who makes our lives meaningful because it cares (wants us to live in eternal bliss, wants us to do its “will” – and that’s very odd, isn’t it?) At all events, many many people don’t seem at all happy simply to accept that the universe is, unless it can be deified. Isn’t it all about need, about not wholly growing out of infant needs?
Right, Cherie Blair/Booth, wife of a former Prime Mister who sitting as a judge gave a more lenient sentence to a violent criminal because he was ‘religious’ (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8497365.stm), Jeremy Vine who enjoys numerous TV and radio presenting jobs with the BBC and has his persecution complex reported on by ‘quality’ newspapers (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/4277439/Christians-are-becoming-social-pariahs-in-Britain-claims-Jeremy-Vine.html), and Peter Hitchens, who has several published books such as ‘The Rage Against God’ and a regular opinion column in a leading newsaper, AREN’T HAVING THEIR VOICES HEARD?
Have they considered the possibilty that people simply don’t like what they’re saying?
Well said, V. I suspect that, in fact, they have considered it, hence the “social pariah” complaint, the “unheard voice” winge, the “sideline” whine. People no longer automatically feel respect for religious beliefs. Nothing like it has happened in 2 000 years. Good, good, good.
Um, that’s the Daily Mail; large circulation maybe but leading? Try Googling ‘Daily Mail Christian’ to see how unheard this viewpoint is – 9,310,000 results at this moment
It’s the Mail on Sunday which is second only to the News of the World(!) in circulation.
I am also so tired of the continual whiny complaint of “Religious voices aren’t being heard”! Euphemism for the fundamentalist “Christians are persecuted!” Honestly.
Peter Hitchens sounds like such a dolt, his brother obviously got all the brains in the family. Or, maybe the courage.
Illuminating that Jeremy Vine is there – he does not proffer any good reasons for his belief. There is a lack of non-christians here – what, no mormons or scientologists?
What exactly does Nick Brewin mean here?
“Perhaps by returning to the “faith” position of children or disabled adults, scientists can extend their own appreciation of the value and purpose of individual human existence.”
It is an odd statement, one needs to be emotionally underdeveloped or physically impaired to appreciate human existence. Sounds like he is endorsing lobotomies for faith.
Ah, ‘ignorance is bliss’?
Guy rises from the dead, ah, that happens all the time, but get this: He predicted it! Whoa.
It always amazes me that we are dealing with scientific people who are talking about a historical figure who (it is claimed) existed within historical times. So we are dealing with someone who lived at a similar time period to various Roman emperors and Greek and Roman philosophers. Indeed he is said to have lived a long time after other historical figures such as various Egyptian pharaohs and middle eastern rulers.
Yet there is a difference in how they are treated in the academic community. To understand the lives and words of the Pharaohs one uses the science of hieroglyphic linguistic analysis, archaeology, climatology, engineering and even DNA analysis. We understand that that is simply the best way to get to know as much as we can about them. The same thing with Romans, Greeks and middle eastern kings (lack of mummies notwithstanding).
Our understanding of these individuals are ‘compatible with science’ in the same way that all proper modern approaches to archaeological analysis involves the critical use of the scientific method.
Yet bring a persons religion into it and all use of science goes out the door. There is no sense that they are open to the idea that science could help their case. Imagine a hypothetical situation where Jesus was a real God who preached for three years and was then killed and came back to life briefly before disappearing to ‘heaven’. Wouldn’t it be useful to know exactly what he preached about. We know the gospels are often contradictory and don’t agree on many points and may contain many instances of later additions of fabrications to the texts. One might imagine that a scientist that was in favor of the existence of Jesus would be in favor of finding out what He actually preached about – or at least to rule out those parts of the stories that are historically inaccurate – the same way any expert in the life of a historical figure would approach the matter. Yet this is never the case. The stories are gospel. So that means they are true. No need to think any more.
I just find it weird that Ken Miller would first say that “certain questions that science cannot answer” and then goes on to talk about the ‘hypothesis of god’ framing god in the testable realm.
I also think its strange that he uses the expression ” I am happy to confess that…”, – confess – a word with a slightly negative bent, as opposed to for example, “I am happy to admit..” or just “I am an enthusiastic believer”. Curious choice of words.
It’s just a traditional religious one, older English, caught up in the time-warp of C-of-E language. It suggests cultural engagement, so it’s a natural choice of words after all.
Not to derail the conversation, but what happened to the look of this site?
For a few days now, it’s been changed to rather mid-90s looking sea of white with text in the middle.
(This is true in both Firefox and Safari.)
Are we in the middle of an upgrade? I didn’t get the memo. 🙂
It’s working fine in Safari for me — it sounds like you’re not getting the CSS file for some reason.
I’m looking at it with Safari on an iPad and it is white with retro’ print. I don’t know what it’s like on a computer though.
I think that’s the new mobile theme for WordPress.
There’s a link at the foot of the page for the “standard” theme.
That’s the look of the site I get when I’m at home, using my Mac. (I’m using Firefox at home, too.)
At work, where I’m using 12th century equipment and software, the site loads fine.
Haven’t noticed any change on my Windows laptop w/ IE…
There is an elven ghost that lives in my skull and talks to me. This experience is more coherent based on the assumption that it does in fact exist.
The vast majority of ancient historians don’t say anything about Jesus. That is the problem.
Here’s a list of some who don’t mention “the greatest man who ever lived”:
Aulus Gellius Philo-Judaeus
Damis Pliny the Elder
Dio Chrysostom Pliny the Younger
Dion Pruseus Plutarch
Epictetus Pompon Mela
Florus Lucius Quintilian
Hermogones Quintius Curtius Seneca
Justus of Tiberius Silius Italicus
Lysias Theon of Smyran
Martial Valerius Flaccus
Paterculus Valerius Maximus
The few references that do exist, such as Josephus, are vague or possibly forged.
The few references that do exist, such as Josephus, are vague or possibly forged.
The bit in Josephus is forged. Moreover, Josephus and other Roman writers who are cited by dim-witted Christians in support (Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger) all lived AFTER the alleged life and death of Jesus H. Christ, so there is no possible way they could have met him. They may have met, or heard of, members of the early Christian church, but that is not the same thing. No one doubts that the Christian church exists and was once young and small.
“The bit in Josephus is forged.”
You may be correct, but to write the above as a statement of fact rather than opinion is, at best, highly misleading. Indeed, according to Paula Fredriksen (in her book, “Jesus of Nazareth”), the academic consensus sees the “brother of James” passage as genuine and the Testimonium as edited/redacted — not forged. It doesn’t help the cause to lie.
Let’s not accuse people of lying, for that assume they knew better and are deliberately saying something that they know to be false.
Read the paragraph to its end another sentence or two later, and Josephus identifies the Jesus in question as being the son of High Priest Damnaeus.
While the Testamonium is clearly a wholesale fabrication of Eusebius, the chapter 20 reference is much more likely to be a marginal note (like students still make today) that a later scribe interpreted as a correction.
“While the Testamonium is clearly a wholesale fabrication of Eusebius, the chapter 20 reference is much more likely to be a marginal note (like students still make today) that a later scribe interpreted as a correction.”
So you say, and you may even be right. But since academia (in general) disagrees, you sound like a creationist ranting about the second law of thermodynamics without a substantive argument with sourcing. Peer review would be nice too.
“That is very lame. The scholars for the longest time have been treating religious texts with kids gloves. It is only now that some like Bart Ehrman are calling a spade a spade….”
Obviously false had you actually checked some sources. According to Fredriksen, the forgery view *used to be* the consensus academic view, but it has since been overtaken in recent decades by the redaction view. Check out Fredriksen, Vermes, Meier and Sanders for starters.
“[O]nce you open the door you can no longer shield canonical forgeries from being called out, and that is not good for the scholars’ careers.”
You wouldn’t make such a statement had you read even a tiny amount of NT criticism. For example, even the vast majority of *conservative evangelicals* now concede that the end of Mark was a later addition and newer translations don’t include it.
Winslow Homer says: “Obviously false had you actually checked some sources. According to Fredriksen, the forgery view *used to be* the consensus academic view, but it has since been overtaken in recent decades by the redaction view. Check out Fredriksen, Vermes, Meier and Sanders for starters.”
But no matter how you cut it, you have an entire religion resting on the very slim reed of the Josephus references and the 7 or 8 ‘genuine’ Pauline epistles and nothing else. Only by presuming that the (anonymous) gospels are ‘true’ and not the fictions they appear to be on their face do you have any support for the religion at all. If you reject the LDS religion (and I do) for any reasons whatsoever, you must reject Christianity for those same reasons and for better ones!
It’s not academia that disagrees, but apologetic theologians. The same “academics” who generally agree that the Testamonium is genuine also generally agree that Thomas fondled Jesus’s intestines. They’re fantasists, not academics. Taking them seriously is a joke and a grave disservice to academic integrity.
“It’s not academia that disagrees, but apologetic theologians.”
That might be a compelling argument were it not made up out of whole cloth.
Neither Fredriksen nor Vermes are Christians. Sanders identifies himself as a “liberal, modern, secularized Protestant” in his book “Jesus and Judaism.” Meier *is* a Catholic priest, but even he takes pains to differentiate what he sees as the “historical” Jesus from the “Biblical” Jesus by analyzing a multiplicity of sources including the New Testament and non-canonical works such as the agrapha, the apocryphal gospels, Josephus, and other Jewish and second-century Roman works. I suppose you claim that Bart Ehrman is merely an apologist as well as “a joke and a grave disservice to academic integrity” because he accepts the historicity of Jesus and the (partial) authenticity of Josephus?
What a joke.
“edited/redacted — not forged”
That is very lame. The scholars for the longest time have been treating religious texts with kids gloves. It is only now that some like Bart Ehrman are calling a spade a spade. Others still use technicalities such as “pseudepigrapha” even for well known forgeries like 3 Corinthians. The reason seems to be obvious-once you open the door you can no longer shield canonical forgeries from being called out, and that is not good for the scholars’ careers.
You left off the two most obvious omissions, and the only two that really matter: the Dead Sea Scrolls and Philo.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are the actual original manuscripts (rather than the usual copies-of-copies-of-copies-of-copies) penned by millennialist Jews in Jerusalem before, during, and after the proposed dates of Jesus’s life. They noticed not a thing.
Philo was King Herod Agrippa’s brother-in-law, the philosopher who incorporated the Greek Logos (the “Word” of John 1:1) into Judaism, and a prolific author who mentioned a great deal of contemporary people and goings-on. His last book is an account of his participation in an embassy to Rome to petition Emperor Caligula about the unjust treatment of Jews, including crucifixions, at the hands of the Romans; this happened in the year 40, well after the last possible date of the Crucifixion. Again, no mention of Jesus or any of the other goings-on the Gospels recount.
Those two are sufficient unto themselves to disprove the historical Jesus hypothesis. That Pliny the Elder and the Satirists and all the rest didn’t notice Jesus and his adventures either is just icing on the cake.
As to the actual genesis of the stories? Justin Martyr (and other apologists) went to great lengths to document the parallels between Christianity and the contemporary Greco-Roman paganism, so it’s unquestionable that those parallels exist and were well-known at the time. The obvious conclusion is that, exactly like the innumerable other religions that copied earlier religions wholesale, Christianity is a pagan syncretism. Specifically, Jesus is a death / rebirth / salvation solar deity in the model of Osiris, Dionysus, Bacchus, Orpheus, Mithras….
So how can folks like Swinburne continually get away with making statements like, “we have the well-authenticated account of Christ’s life, death and resurrection”?
Because they do have the Bible, and they consider the Bible to be unimpeachable, what with it having been written by Jesus himself and all.
You don’t think Jesus would lie to you, now, do you?
Okay, so Jesus didn’t personally write the Bible — he used ghostwriters. But he personally moved the hands of the ghostwriters, so it’s the same thing.
Okay, so the ghostwriters themselves didn’t actually say that Jesus was moving their hands — it’s just the inevitable conclusion from passages like 2 Timothy 3:16.
And we know that 2 Timothy 3:16 is true because it’s scripture.
See? Couldn’t be clearer.
That suck-uppy subhead is so irritating – believers think their voices are not being heard. Oh get a grip!
If they don’t completely dominate the discourse, or if others have a significant voice, they aren’t actually “heard”.
I wouldn’t mind going one day without hearing their voices.
If only the faithful would be as private with their magical beliefs as they want all those with differing faiths to be.
Christianity has been playing the persecution card since Day 1, and it has proved a reasonably successful rallying point event though it has over recent centuries been played for ever diminishing returns.
It doesn’t really attract any new adherents, but it does make at least some of the old incumbents hang on with grim determination out of a sense of guilt, shame and pity.
Why do they believe no one hears them if they believe in god? God hears them. Or maybe they don’t really believe.
Have you seen Jason Rosenhouse’s post from the other day? I think you might find some startling admissions in it:
It seems to me that Dr. Rosenhouse is advocating on behalf of the Ken Millers of the world.
Thanks for the link.
Yeah, that’s not Roesenhouse’s best work, I think.
ROSENHOUSE. Sorry, the spelling center in my brain is on the wane today.
To defend Jason:
(1) As to his first excerpt, I think he just misunderstands what Harris was seeing. Jason seems to treat it as if Harris is suggesting that science has proven the absence of the supernatural, rather than that belief in the supernatural cannot be sustained by science.
(2) As to the entitled excerpt, I’m with Jason on that. It’s a little too close to suggesting that the Kenneth Millers of the world should be excluded from the scientific community.
That was, “…what Harris was saying.”
I found the whole thing quite interesting. Jason called Harris out on something he said that was perhaps slightly over-reaching in its claims and then got called out himself by Tulse who made a rather excellent point about a problem with Jasons argument.
This paragraph captures it.
So what’s the scientific test for determining a real immaterial “divine” entity from an imaginary one?
articulett says: So what’s the scientific test for determining a real immaterial “divine” entity from an imaginary one?
Should we try? Since ‘god’ has clearly gone to so much trouble to appear non-existent surely we should honor ‘his’ wishes and refuse to acknowledge ‘his’ existence?
This kind of ties in to one of my problems with the God the Christians present – if he’s omnipotent and genuinely wants me to believe in him, there’s really no way I couldn’t have faith, is there?
And those who really do have faith need do nothing, no prayers, no worship, no public or private proselytizing, nothing at all. After all, what sort of ‘god’ needs or wants support or instructions from ‘his’ followers?
The coherence argument is laughable. If one believes in a personal omniscient, omnipotent and caring god, how does one explain all the terrible things he lets happen to humanity. How does one explain why god dispatched 20K japanese men, women and children with a wave of his tectonic plates? When pressed, we always get a variant of the “works in mysterious ways” argument. So what is it–mysterious or coherent?
God is only coherent with the evidence if you 1.) define God around the evidence as much as you can without losing God to naturalism and 2.) press as hard on the ‘mystery’ aspect as you can without losing God to incomprehensibility.
That can be a delicate balancing act. I think theists sometimes mistake the intellectual challenge of it for intellectual integrity. It’s not. When they bemoan how hard they struggle to keep their faith, they’re ignoring the fact that they’re actually wrestling with their own conscience.
Curiosity, clarity, and consistency kill God; those are virtues of science. Articles like the above aren’t going to resurrect it from the dead once you’ve figured that out.
“what is the good life?”
This precise question is often uttered by Sam Harris as he explains his ideas about morality. You’d have to have a pretty insular approach to media consumption to think only the religious ask questions like this.
Furthermore, what the hell does that question have to do w religion?!
In the science vs. religion debate, the religious are the ones trying to exclude ‘philosophy’ and ‘ethics’ from the table. That way, they can pretend everything in those categories really comes under ‘religion.’ Atheists then can’t legitimately do either.
Nice trick. Do they really think we are that stupid — or have they managed to fool themselves that successfully?
Both, I’m sure.
It’s not just the religious who try that trick. The big problem with Steven J Gould’s definition of NOMA was that he completely surrendered the idea of morality to the religious. If NOMA was defined as the supernatural magisteria being non-overlapping with the natural magisteria than there would be no problem with NOMA from the point of view of a philosophical naturalist (whether the supernatural magisteria exists or not would not make a difference since it couldn’t by definition interfere or interact with the natural world).
That rather obvious conclusion is what leads religious people to reject NOMA (for instace Francis Collins rejected it in one of his recent books (the anthology of apologetics) as being too restricting on Christianity. They don’t want NOMA, they need SOMA (slightly overlapping magisteria).
Religions all claim to have the answer to the question, “what is the good life?” Their problem is that they ignore human experience, or rather place human experience as last priority.
I agree with Sam Harris that our ideas of the good life, morality, etc…are in practice based on human experiences (i.e. observable evidence) and therefore science can have something meaningful to say on the matters.
And then there’s all the examples of empathy, altruism, cooperation, and such in wild animals. It all suggests that our “morality” is influenced more by natural selection than by scripture.
All of Miller’s unanswerable questions are only unanswerable because he (and many others) refuse to ask them.
How can one determine if it’s the existence of a real but invisible god that makes the world make sense to you, or just one’s own imagination that does the trick?
The Voices will tell you!
Isn’t it amazing that so many very intelligent people can be indoctrinated into believing a version of the Seamus the magic leprechaun argument. That IS what they are doing, isnt it?
“One word: Seamus. All that you imagine Leprechauns would be, He is. His life and His love are compelling, His wisdom convincing.”
“I would say I find Leprechaunism (rather than just belief in Fairies) the most intellectually and emotionally satisfying explanation for being.”
“I suppose I believed in an intelligent designer long before the idea became fashionable. So, that left me as a sort of a deist. But Leprechauns gradually became more personal to me and I was drawn against all my adolescent atheist beliefs deeper and deeper into faith in Seamus.”
“Do values such as truth, beauty and goodness emerge out of a contingent and meaningless substrate? Or do these values reflect a transcendent domain from which this world has emerged? I incline to the latter, and this is a major reason for my belief in Seamus the magic Leprechaun.”
“I have been overwhelmed by wonder at the order and intricacy of the world around us. It is like peeling skins off an onion: every time you peel off a layer, there is another one underneath, equally marvellously intricate. Surely this could not have arisen by chance? Then my belief is strengthened by reading ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ especially, with the accounts of that amazing Leprechaun, Seamus, His teaching, His compassion, His analysis of the human condition, but above all by His crock of gold.”
“I believe in Seamus the magic Leprechaun because the alternatives are worse. Not believing in Leprechauns would mean that we have no good reason to think that creatures such as us human beings (accidentally generated in a world without any overall purpose) have any capacity – still less any duty – to discover what the world is like.
Denying that “Leprechauns exists” while still maintaining a belief in the power of reason is, in my view, ridiculous.”
As Greek philosophers used to ask, what is the good life? What is the nature of good and evil? What is the purpose to existence?
I’ll allude to Hume once more, and note all of these involve a set of is-possibility choices and establishing an ought-ordering relationship among them. So, technically yes, they’re not questions in the philosophical demesne of science.
They’re questions of Engineering.
A personal god is like the imaginary playmates that children have purported to have had. The jesus person never existed, yet it is the personal god of many. OK have your personal god. When someone says to me, I hear you are an Atheist, I reply, what is your interpretation of the word atheist? They invaribly answer, a person who does no believe in God. I say, no, that is not I, I interpret the word literally from the Greek, as supposedly was done for your New Test., A, no + theos, god; there is no god. If I say I do not beoieve in Your God, you may be insulted. If I say there is no god, we only have a difference of opinion.
Miller says that there are some questions that science can’t answer.
So the obvious place to look for those answers is an ancient,pre-scientific,deluded culture who didn’t know where the sun went at night and offered up the tip of their penis to the invisible man in the sky.