CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I love it when atheists attempt to use logic to argue against Christianity. The only problem is that too much of what passes for logic on the Internet is actually emotional haranguing cloaked in the veneer of logic. Under this “logic,” Jesus didn’t rise from the dead not because it was logically impossible, but because it grinds against the preconceived notions of the alleged logician. When using logic and using it correctly, one has to throw out preconceptions and actually look at the arguments to determine whether they are sound and valid.

This is one reason I actually appreciate a post that recently appeared on The Secular Outpost by Keith Parsons entitled “Jesus End: The Formal Possibilities.” In the post, Mr. Parsons provides a series of dichotomies similar to the Kalam Cosmological Argument where the choices are either one or the other. He then presents his views on the advantages and disadvantages to adopting one or the other position. The dichotomies presented can be summarized in this manner:

1. Either Jesus of Nazareth existed or he didn’t exist. (By this, Mr. Parsons apparently means that Jesus existed as a real, historical human being).

2. If Jesus of Nazareth existed, either He was publicly crucified by the Romans around 33 A.D. or He wasn’t crucified by the Romans.

3. If Jesus was crucified, either He died on the occasion of His crucifixion or He didn’t die at that time.

4. If Jesus really died, either He returned to life, rising from the dead shortly after his crucifixion or He didn’t.

Now, as an atheist, it is apparent that Mr. Parsons doesn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God who rose on the third day for the salvation of the world. So, somewhere in the course of this evaluation, it is apparent that Mr. Parsons will be answering one or more of the questions in the negative, i.e., Jesus either didn’t exist, he wasn’t crucified, he didn’t die or he didn’t rise. That’s a given. Still, the discussion is interesting and I certainly welcome people to read through the entire post.

What’s interesting in what he wrote is the final paragraph because it is a moment of honesty about the atheist position rarely seen on the Internet. He writes:

It is clear from the above that the only options I take seriously are A (that Jesus didn’t exist), D (that Jesus didn’t resurrect), and E (that Jesus did rise from the dead). The other two are hard to see as anything other than a joke or a fantasy.

Thank you, Mr. Parsons. I agree that the idea that Jesus wasn’t crucified or that he didn’t really die to be nonsense as well. I also find it interesting that he agrees that it is a joke or fantasy to believe that Jesus wasn’t crucified or that Jesus didn’t really die, but somehow finds it a credible position to argue that Jesus never existed. I understand that he is only evaluating the likelihood of succeeding on the arguments, but it astounds me that he should recognize that Christians hold the upper hand on the other two arguments but not the first.

Regardless, Mr. Parsons believes that the real fight is on the issue of the resurrection. He continues:

Further, I presume that A (that Jesus didn’t exist) will always be a minority view among unbelievers since it bites off considerably more than the skeptic needs to chew. Principled unbelief does not need to deny the historicity of a wandering rabbi of the first century who said and did some of the things attributed to him in the canonical Gospels. Such can be conceded, a least for the sake of argument. The core issue, as I indicate above, is how to account for the claims of Jesus’s postmortem appearances. I think that they are accounted for in much the same way that we account for UFOs and alien abductions, sightings of Bigfoot, homeopathic “cures,” and the innumerable visions, epiphanies, theophanies, visitations, possessions, hauntings, and so forth reported in all cultures throughout history.

There is no way to respond to all of these ideas in a single, short post on a blog. However, I will say that I appreciate the fact that Mr. Parsons has decided to take the battle to a particular point. Why is it that we believe that Jesus really rose from the dead rather than being dismissed as just another sighting of Bigfoot or UFOs, etc.? Since I cannot respond to them all, I do want to point out an underlying assumption that Mr. Parsons is making in his objection. The problem is this: he wants to discount all UFOs, alien abductions, Bigfoot sightings, etc., etc. as somehow completely unwarranted. But on what basis does he make the claim that these types of events have no basis in fact? Because he doesn't believe them to have occurred? Isn't that assuming the conclusion? 

Of course there have been false reports of UFOs (for example). Some people have faked UFO sightings for any number of reasons. Some people have mistaken weather balloons or rocket tests for UFOs. These are pretty much indisputable facts. But that doesn't mean that every one ofthe alleged sightings does not have some type of basis in fact. Maybe the viewers have misinterpreted what they observed, but it is quite possible that something actually happened that cued people who are not charlatans to report sightings across multiple times and multiple cultures that they honestly thought was a UFO. You cannot issue a blanket dismissal of all of these sightings. 

So what was it that people saw if not the risen Jesus? What really explains the reports of the multiple sightings of Jesus which we are told in the Epistles that many of those who saw the risen Jesus were still around at the time of the writing of the letter and who can attest to it? Were they mass hallucinations? More commonly referred to as collective hallucinations in the professional literature, there is no study that has ever shown that they occur and no scientific explanation of how they could occur. Passing along the urban myths of others? If I recall the chapter in the Secular Web book about the Empty Tomb (and why it wasn't really so empty, according to them) which I seem to recall Mr. Parsons authored, it was theorized that one person thought that they saw Jesus who passed it along and others then began to see him motivated by their desire to see him. Personally, the only evidence I see for this theory being true is among Internet atheists who hear or read one author making a bad point against Christianity, and then passing it along as if it were true. But even that is a bad analogy. 

We can spend a lot of time talking about his points D and E, and we will. But the real takeaway from Mr. Parson's post is that atheists should lay off the "Jesus wasn't really crucified" and "Jesus didn't really die from the crucifixion" arguments because even other atheists aren't buying them. 

I know that I don't. 

Bradley Bowen of Secular Outpost, argues William Lane Craig can't prove that Jesus died on the cross. His ultimate goal is to negate Craig's proofs of the resurrection, he does that by arguing that there is no proof that Jesus died on the cross. No death = no resurrection. There's a secondary issue of interpreting a Bible scholar whose works we used at Perkins (Luke Timothy Johnson), I'll deal with that in part 2. My point here is to argue that Jesus' death on the cross is well warranted for belief. That is the only point with which I will concern myself. Moreover, I will not defend Craig but come at it from my own perspective.

Bowen points out that Craig assumes that scholarly acceptance (of Jesus' death) proves the evidence for it is strong. He then argues that this is not proof that the evidence is strong, he then argues that Funk and Johnson doubt it. He uses them to leverage the idea that there are a lot more doubters of that point than Craig knows. [1] I doubt that that Craig doesn't know that, he studied with Ernst Kasemann who was a student of Rudolph Bultman and a major liberal himself. Kaemann also believed in the resurrection. (I will argue to defend Johnson in part 2). First, he's right, scholarly consensus as a whole is not "proof" of anything. Come to that I don't argue proof even in terms of God arguments. I do argue that the historical evidence is strong enough to warrant belief in the Res. While scholarly consensus doesn't prove the evidence is strong it is an indication. There is more important evidence and I'm abouit to get into it.

He then uses Johnson and Funk against Craig's assumption of "Historical fact" that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter morning."[2] He specifically argues that the probability of a claim is relative to the information and assumptions one takes to it. Of course that's true but the evidence is not bound up in Funk and Johnson. First they are opposed to each other. Johnson wrote against the Jesus Seminar.[3] Funk was a major member of the Jesus seminar.They make different assumptions. Nor does Bowen deal with all the evidence. The probability of an argument being true is also effected by using the right evidence or ignoring major portions of it. I will get to that presently.

Again he uses Johnson as though he were really opposed to the Bible. As I say above I will define Johnson in my own reading latter. I'm going for the the larger point here.
First of all, the typical Evangelical Christian will think that the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion and death of Jesus are sufficient to prove that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross. But Johnson would not agree with this assumption, because he has a more skeptical view about the historical reliability of the Gospels. Johnson compares the Gospel accounts about Jesus with the accounts that we have of Socrates, and he finds the Gospels to be more questionable and problematic than the accounts we have of Socrates:.[4]
I don't deal in "proof." The evidence warrants belief it is not proof. Proof would mean all must give ascent. Warrant means one is justified rationally in inferring a conclusion. I can be justified in faith and the skeptic not be compelled to join me. The proving is not strong but the warrant is. Secondly Bowen seems to make a neat dichotomy writing off all "evangelical scholars" by the use of all liberal scholars whom he sees as skeptical, so it appears, although I may be wrong. He brought Funk and Johnson into it because Craig used them in his example to Bowen. Major liberals such as Kasemann and Moltmann accept the resurrection, Crosson says the Gospels are enough to accept that the belief of the early church was in the Resurrection.

The problems facing the seeker of the historical Jesus are even more severe [than the problems facing the seeker of the historical Socrates]. Although the biographies of Jesus…were composed within forty to sixty years of Jesus’ death, that is still greater than the memoirs about Socrates composed by Xenophon and Plato. Socrates, furthermore, was remembered by disciples who were longtime companions and eyewitnesses. Although the Gospels undoubtedly bear within them evidence of firsthand sources and even eyewitnesses, such material is not identified as such, and the narratives as a whole were most probably composed by authors of the generation after that of Jesus’ immediate followers.[5]
First he speaks of the gospel's as biography. NT scholars don't really think of them that way. They are their own unique genre. The expectations are different. They are sermonic not illustrative or historical, although much in them can be verified historically. Secondly, they are the memory of the community. I address the time differential between event and writing below. Bowen's statement vastly under estimates the role and extent of eyewitness testimony lying behind the communities. The community is the author not the namesakes. It was Johnson who first taught me that (through his bookThe New Testament Writings).I don't have that source now but I do have a quote by the same author from a different book that makes the same point:
"...Non narrative New Testament writings datable with some degree of probability before the year 70 testify to traditions circulating within the Christian movement concerning Jesus that correspond to important points within the Gospel narratives. Such traditions do not, by themselves, demonstrate historicity. But they demonstrate that memoires about Jesus were in fairly wide circulation. This makes it less likely that the corresponding points within the Gospels were the invention of a single author. If that were the case than such invention would have to be early enough and authoritative enough to have been distributed and unchallenged across the diverse communities with which Paul dealt. Such an hypothesis of course would work against the premise that Paul's form of Christianity had little to do with those shaping the memory of Jesus.".[6]
There is little doubt that the community is laced with and started by the witnesses. Two of them show up being nammed 50 years latter by Papias(?)[7] There are witnesses at all different levels. The witnesses do not have to be the name sakes. Johnson is right that we can't say witness X saw Jesus here and joined the Matthew community on August second, 37AD. We do know the communities were full of witnesses and they show up here and there. The personal relationships that emerges in John between Jesus and the family of Bethany, for example. How do we know they were in the community? Lazarus was said to be loved by Jesus, he's a good candidate for BD of john's Gospel. The story of Mary of Bethany anjounting Jesus is in all four Gospels that's a good indication. Buckingham makes extensive arguments along these lines..[8]He also argues based upon names that the gospels are replete with eye witness testimony..[9]

They were a real community. The Christian community began out of the mundane community of Bethany. At the end of Luke the risen Christ walks through the streets of the Little town where his dear friends lived. That not only links the eye witnesses of John to the Gospel of Luke but it also sets up a logic for the communal structure. Then when they moved in and had things in common many of them had known each other all their lives anyway, That could be the 500 Paul referred to as witnesses:

Acts 2:42-47
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. 43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. 44 Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. 46 And every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added those being saved to them.
What were they doing in the commune? teaching and studying. That means telling their oral tradition. We all know the Gospel material was first oral tradition. Most people think oral tradition means wild rumors floating around at random, it is not so. Oral tradition is more like the Bardic tradition where a Bard such as Homer will memorize huge discourses the size of the New York phone book and spit them back word for word. I don't know if first century Jews could do that but they did have an oral tradition. They did have a practice of learning the teachers words and echoing them back. They probably told them orally before the group and with the witnesses present. How do I know that? That's how the Talmud got going. That's why the early church lived communally. They studied scripture together every day and it just stands to reason they would listen to the witnesses talk in front of the group. Of course the witnesses would correct mistakes. That's obvious, why doubt it?

As Stephn Neil said:
"No one is likely to deny that a tradition that is being handed on by word of mouth is likely to undergo modification. This is bound to happen, unless the tradition has been rigidly formulated and has been learned with careful safeguard against the intrusion of error" Tradition was controlled....[Neil adds in a fn:] "This is exactly the way in which the tradition was handed on among the Jews. IT is precisely on this ground that Scandinavian scholar H. Risenfeld in an essay entitled "The Gospel Tradition and its Beginnings" (1957) has passed some rather severe strictures on the form cuticle method. [10]
As N.T. Wright tells us:
Communities that live in an oral culture tend to be story-telling communities. They sit around in long evenings telling and listening to stories--the same stories, over and over again. Such stories, especially when they are involved with memorable happenings that have determined in some way the existence and life of the particular group in question, acquire a fairly fixed form, down to precise phraseology (in narrative as well as in recorded speech), extremely early in their life--often within a day or so of the original incident taking place. They retain that form, and phraseology, as long as they are told. Each village and community has its recognized storytellers, the accredited bearers of its traditions; but the whole community knows the stories by heart, and if the teller varies them even slightly they will let him know in no uncertain terms. This matters quite a lot in cultures where, to this day, the desire to avoid 'shame' is a powerful motivation. [11]
Bowen demands an exactitude one should not seek in history.

If we knew that half of the information in a particular Gospel was based on “firsthand sources and even eyewitnesses”, then we might infer that at least half of the events or details in the Gospel were historically reliable (although without knowing anything about the personality, character, history, mental health and intelligence of the persons who were the supposed eyewitnesses, this would be a questionable inference), but since we don’t know which events or details have such backing, it would be the toss of a coin as to whether a given event or detail had such eyewitness evidence behind it. But we don’t even know this much. We don’t know whether 10% of the events and details of a particular Gospel are based on “firsthand sources and even eyewitnesses” or whether 30% or 50% or 70% of events and details are based on such evidence. Thus, the weak concession that Johnson makes here is of little significance.
That's a standard misconception about the nature of Biblical criticism and its a standard historians don't use. No historian tries to quantify the percentage of truth in a document. I realize Bowen is saying that metaphorically. He is right that we can't look at the Gospels as history books. But historical critical methods are better than just assuming that we can't know anything. He says we don't know 10% and that's ludicrous. We know much more than that. If we could quantify it, it would probably be more than 50%. Yet the idea is foolish. The apostolic father's truth tree gives us more than that. The concerns he raises about the pitfalls of not knowing the exact authors are just standard atheist message board reasoning that historians and scholars don't do. Moreover, when he says, "without knowing anything about the personality, character, history, mental health and intelligence of the persons" (previous quote) that really assumes one author thinking. The community is the author not one guy. Some may have been insane but not all. It's a community witness. We do know that apostles and eye witnesses had a closer link than that. It's not just a guy decided to write down the rumors. It was told carefully with the witnesses present and the original attempts at writing are done by witnesses.

Bowen says, "According to Johnson, the Gospels were NOT written by “disciples who were longtime companions and eyewitnesses” of the life or death of Jesus."

Johnson allows that the authors of the Gospels might well have used some information from “firsthand sources and even eyewitnesses”, but he points out that we don’t know when they are doing so. He does not say that in order to promote unbelief or to erode confidence in the text. Let's look at what else he says:
As I have tried to show, the character of the Gospel narratives does not allow a fully satisfying reconstruction of Jesus ministry. Nevertheless certain fundamental points when taken together with confirming lines of convergence from outside testimony and non-narrative New Testament evidence, can be regarded as historical with a high degree of probability. Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate, and continued to have followers after his death. These assertions are not mathematically or metaphysically certain, for certainty is not within the reach of history. But they enjoy a very high level of probability."[12]
The important thing I took away from the book, The real Jesus, was (aside from the Jesus seminar sux) is an argument I've been making since the book came out. Namely, there are several different trajectories from which attestations to Jesus' career come to us. Some of them include the Gospels and new testament but not at all. I will not have time to lay all of that out but I don't have to because I've already done it. This is not the exact "trajectories" Johnson uses but the concept is one I learned from his book then did more research. I will give a basic outline then link to those pages on my site.

8 levels of verification click the link to documentation for each point in the outline.

1 pre mark redaction
2 P)auline corpus
....(a) what he got form people who were there
Quoting Paul himself: quotes James, the Jerusalem church's creedal formula and hymns.

....(b) his saying source.
Koester documents
synoptic saying source

........(c) the chruch tradition he learned in Jerusalem

3 extra canonical gospels
4 Oral Tradition
5 The Four Gospels themselves
6 Writers who write about their relationships with Apostles

Six major sources enumerated but 8 counting three levels of Paul's writings.

see these points fleshed out with quotations on my page: "Gospel Behind The Gospels", also, "Historical Validity of the Gospels Part 1"

So the mechanisms were in place to spread the word and control the telling according to eye witness testimony. Of course I'm not saying that happened. It did not. The communities began to proliferate, doctrinal differences developed, new communities sprang up, people got the story in bits and pieces. yet in all of that there is only one story of Jesus' death. It was established in the beginning that he died on the cross and that's the way it stayed. No other version ever came along. Even when Gnostics denied his death they still explained what appeared to be the crucifixion. Why? Because it probably really happened and everyone knew it.

In fact out of 34 Gospels found in whole or in fragment (about four theoretical such as Q) not one of them has any other death for Jesus but the cross..

The Gospel of the Saviour, too. fits this description. Contrary' to popular opinion, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not included in the canon simply because they were the earliest gospels or because they were eyewitness accounts. Some non canonical gospels are dated roughly to the same period, and the canonical gospels and other early Christian accounts appear to rely on earlier reports. Thus, as far as the physical evidence is concerned, the canonical gospels do not take precedence over the noncanonical gospels (in terms of history--they do in doctrine). The fragments of John, Thomas and the Egerton Gospel share the distinction of being the earliest extant pieces of Christian writing known. And although the existing manuscript evidence for Thomas dates to the mid-second century, the scholars who first published the Greek fragments held open the possibility that it was actually composed in the first century, which would put it around the time John was composed.[13]
Ray Brown proved that the Gospel of Peter followed a tradition independent of the canonicals that dated to first century. GPete as it's called has Jesus die on the cross. It also has guards on the tomb. Not derived from Matthew. Independent tradition.[14] Moreover, The versions we have of the canonical Gospels are only the final versions. There are older readings that can be traced to the first century even though they show up in latter copies. These early readings indicate a shared narrative used by the four canonicals and GPete. That much is fairly standard now. Koester, Rossson and several others date that "pre Mark Passion narrative" at mid first century. Jurgen Denker argues that the Gospel of Peter shares this tradition of OT quotation with the Canonicals but is not dependent upon them. Koester writes, "John Dominic Crosson has gone further [than Denker]...he argues that this activity results in the composition of a literary document at a very early date i.e. in the middle of the First century CE" (Ibid). Said another way, the interpretation of Scripture as the formation of the passion narrative became an independent document, a ur-Gospel, as early as the middle of the first century.(empahsis mine). [15]The crucifixion of Jesus was circulating in oral testimony before it was written about, but it was written as early as just 20 years after the events, when there were still a lot of witnesses left. The witnesses weren't just running around unnoted and alone, they were living in the communities and teaching the gospel. Everyone agreed Jesus was executed and on a cross and one denied it. Hundreds of documents no counter claims.

We have every reason to believe Jesus was crucified. The Romans were not slackers about crucifixion. The inference is warranted that Jesus died on the cross. That is not proof. We don't need proof. The belief is warranted. That still leaves the possibility that Jesus was crucified but didn't die. As I say the Romans were not slackers in such matters. The Passover plot kind of scenario is, in my opinion, an extraordinary claim, we all know what atheists do with those. They can't prove that either. Maybe it undermines the big William Craig style apologetic. I guess my next move is to discuss the nature of apologetics.


[1] Bradley Bowen, "Response to Dr. William Lane Craig part 2" Secular out Post, (Nov 4 2015) URL
[2] Ibid
[3] the real Jesus
[4] Bradley Bowen, "Response to Dr. William Lane Craig part 3" Secular out Post,
[5] Johnson,The Real Jesus,San Francisco: Harper, 1996, 1st paperback edition, 107, quoted in Bowen part 3.op cit
[6]Ibid. first hard back ed. 121 [7] Papias quoted in Documents of the Christian Church, edited by Henry Bettonson, Oxford University press, 1963, 27.
very famous quotation:

"I shall not hesitate to set down for you along with my interpretations all things which I learned from the elders with care and recorded with care, being well assured of their truth. For unlike most men, I took pleasure not in those that have much to say but in those that preach the truth, not in those that record strange precepts but in those who record such precepts as were given to the faith by the Lord and are derived from truth itself. Besides if ever any man came who had been a follower of the elders, I would inquire about the sayings of the elders; what Andrew said, or Peter or Philip or Thomas, or James, or John or Matthew, or any other of the Lord's disciples; and what Aristion says, and John the Elder, who are disciples of the Lord. For I did not consider that I got so much from the content of books as from the utterances of living and abiding voices..."

[8] Richard Bu8ckingham, Jesus and The Eye Witnesses: The Gospels As Eye Witness Testimony, Grand-Rapids, Michigan: William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, 2006, 39-40.
[9] Ibid 472
[10]Stephen Neil, The Interpretation of the New Testament: 1861-1961, London: University of Oxford Press, 1964,250.
[11] N.T. Wright, "Five Gospels But No Gospel," Authenticating the Activities of Jesus,Netherlands Knoinklijke Brill ed. Bruce D. Chilton, Craig A. Evans, 1999, 112-113.
[12] Johnson, Real Jesus...op.cit.
[13] Charles W. Hendrick, "34 lost gospels," Bible Review, (June 2002): 20-31; 46-47
[14] Raymond Brown, Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave, A commentary on the Passionnarratives in the Four Gospels. Volume 2. New York: Dobuleday 1994 1322 [15] Helmutt Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development. Bloomsbury: T&T Clark, 1992, 218.

 photo god-in-the-age-of-science_zpstdmh9rzj.jpg
About the graphic: obviously the cover of the book. It's a cool cover. Try to enlarge because this is one of the best paintings of a great moment in science. Robert Boyle used the air pump to prove air was good to breath. Put a rat in the chamber and pumped the air out, it died. Therefore, air is good. The thing the guy is pointing to is the dead rat in the glass chamber.The man on left facing us is Boyle, with shawl, The look on his face is priceless it says "O my God I've proved something!" The two little girls look devastated, it was probably their pet rat. What they thought before that when people suffocated I do not know. Boyle and the air pump where the center of my dissertation. It's very important in the history of science, not so much for his discovery but for the protocols of experimentation that he invented around the air pump. Also his conflict over it with Thomas Hobbes. See a book Leviathan and the Air Pump. By Shapen and Shaffer.

Turning to the Review of the book, Part 1, last Wednesday

Philipse uses the issue of of explanatory power to justify using Bayes to establish the illusion of technique for deciding the matter.[24]Of course his explanatory power is a scientific explanation but he never bothers to justify it. A scientific explanation would have to be limited to the workings of the physical world and modern theology doesn't claim to answer that. Swinburne finds God probable in the prior[25] (Bayes works by establishing a prior probability as a basis from which to begin calculations). The problem is Swinburne uses simplicity as the criterion to set the prior. Philipse apparently can't dispute it. Thus, he objects to simplicity as the criterion rather than try to argue that God is complex as did Dawkins (see above). He argues against simplicity as criterion on the basis of lack of empirical evidence. He then takes up the issue of final cause. Theists sometimes use final cause as an “ultimate explanation.” “God forms a more natural stopping place [for theists] than, say, the existence of the universe.”[26] The existence of the universe is what is in question so of course that in itself can't prove its origin. He is calling into question the satisfying nature of final cause, apparently assuming that the infinite causal regress (ICR) is not unsatisfying. He asserts that defense of God as explanation can't be “full” and “final” because it doesn't answer the kinds of questions science answers. He couches this in terms of introducing “questionable metaphysical assumptions.”[27] It seems that they are talking at cross purposes because each means something different by “full” and “complete.” For Swinburne this is causal and includes motivations. Philipse contrasts motivations as part of the cause with naturalistic explanations which are about “causal laws of nature.”[28] So Swinbure is talking about “why” and Philipse is talking about how. It may be a matter of taste but it seems that asking after why is a philosophical view and more satisfying in some ways, whereas the scientific explanation has to exclude why as though there is not one and that seems less “full” as an explanation. If there is no why there is none but why should we just assume a priori there is none? If the explanation is only a scientific one then that is what we must do. That's why we should prefer the philosophical and asked “is there a why?” When we find one that should be it.

At this point he brings in what he takes to be the ultimate “brute fact” of God's existence as a negation of a complete explanation. In order to pull this off he establishes synchronic and diachronic both as requirements of a “complete” explanation.[29] The former refers to causes immediately temporal effecting the given outcome, while the latter entails causes perpetuated through time before the event. In other words, synchronic, the match burst into flame due to friction caused by the striking board. Diachronic, the match burst into flame due to the factory used to make chemicals, applied these chemicals to the match at a given time, and the store that sold the matches and every other aspect of buying the matches, up though the motion of my hand of running the match along the striking board. So he's saying that because we don't have that sort of knowledge about God then God can't be a full explanation. Then he's going to spend a lot of time picking apart the motivations of God, such as the motivation to create humanity.[30]Because we can't understand God's exact motivations, nor is there a set of diachronic explanations for God's being, then the explanation can't be full.

There are two problems with this argument. Philipse has defined “full explanation” and “ultimate” explanations in ways that favor scientific kinds of information. The philosophical understanding does not necessarily require the same kinds of explanation. Why do we need to know, for example, what exactly God's motivation to make man felt like or even what it was? We can understand the motivation of love, all of God's motivations can be summed up in love. The demand for scientific exactitude is a smokescreen. We might qualify “full” and “complete” and limit it to matters we can understand. God as the final explanation can be based upon both the final cause and the bestowing of meaning via reasons for our own existence; these have to be in general terms such as “love” because we can understand love (at least on an instinctive level). The second problem has to do with the idea of God as brute fact (BF).

The concept of brute fact turns upon the notion of their being no reason for the BF. A BF is a fact for which there is no reason at all. That's not to say no cause but no reason other than the naturalistic causal nexus of the physical world. The BF is a slippery concept because many philosophers mean different things by the term. John Hospers understands BF simply as something that can't be explained.[31] Does this mean we don't even know a scientific cause? For Some Philosophers it does and for some it does not. Eric Barnes lists several philosophers who use the term to mean no known explanation, not even a scientific one (Freidman, Kitcher, Lipton).[32] Barnes himself says “it is my view that brute facts need not be thought to represent any gap whatsoever in scientific understanding.”[33]We can side step the problem because we can't get a scientific explanation of God. God is not given in sense data, thus it is an a priori truth that we can't have a scientific explanation of God. To say that without a scientific explanation we have not a full or complete explanation is merely to exchange one set of metaphysical assumptions for another. Privileging science as the only valid form of knowledge is just as much a metaphysical assumption as is belief in God.

Moreover, these are two fundamentally different kinds of explanations, scientific and purposive. There is no purpose in naturalistic processes and forces of nature. If that is all there is then all reality is a brute fact. For me brute fact means no higher reason than just bare existential facts. There is no higher purposive reason for God than God. That is not the same as saying the world just happens to be here for no reason other than the natural causal connections involved in its coming to be. Naturalistic processes are all cause and effect, they are all contingent. That puts God on a different level than anything else. God is the only truly non contingent reality. With all temporal natural things necessities are themselves contingent upon higher necessities. That is until we come to God. We should expect that the process of necessity and contingency would keep on going, although that leads to questions about infinite causal regress (ICR). If there is ICR it's not there for a reason. But God gives us not only a stopping point for causes but also a higher purpose in life.

That explanation is more full in terms of purpose and more complete in terms of causation. This reasoning could be circular if one is not careful. It begs the question to assert that there must be a “higher level” reason. But the opposite is also true; the assumption that there isn't a higher reason also begs the question. One way around this is to embrace the final cause argument. Another way would be to take it as axiomatic based upon proper basicality or some intuitive sense or experience that there is higher purpose.

At this point Philipse turns to Bayes theorem as a means of proving God is not probable. So he moves from denuding the empitus for belief by calling it "unscientific" to a reason not to believe. I have shown that Bayes can't be applied to God.
My Answer to Lowder's attack on my Bayes article
24 Ibid., 91

25-27 Ibid. 192

28 Ibid. 195

29 Ibid 193

30 Ibid 195

31 John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (1997) p. 211

32 Eric Barnes, “Explaining Brute Facts,” PSA: Proceedings of the biennial Meeting of The Philosophy of Science Association.. Vol 1994, Volume one: Contributed Papers, (1994), 64-68, 64.

33 Ibid.

 photo god-in-the-age-of-science_zpstdmh9rzj.jpg

About the graphic: obviously the cover of the book. It's a cool cover. Try to enlarge because this is one of the best paintings of a great moment in science. Robert Boyle used the air pump to prove air was good to breath. Put a rat in the chamber and pumped the air out, it died. Therefore, air is good. The thing the guy is pointing to is the dead rat in the glass chamber.The man on left facing us is Boyle, with shawl, The look on his face is priceless it says "O my God I've proved something!" The two little girls look devastated, it was probably their pet rat. What they thought before that when people suffocated I do not know. Boyle and the air pump where the center of my dissertation. It's very important in the history of science, not so much for his discovery but for the protocols of experimentation that he invented around the air pump. Also his conflict over it with Thomas Hobbes. See a book Leviathan and the Air Pump. By Shapen and Shaffer.

Philipse makes three major moves indicative of the scientistic ideology. Rather than deal with his entire book I will isolate those points and show how they exhibit the ideology. Those three points are:

I. God, as an explanation of the world and any meaning in life, must be derived by scientific methods and must constitute a scientific explanation. Only scientific answers are real proof and can be checked by others, This is reduction of all knowledge to the only valid kind of knowledge: science.:

II. He uses that position to leverage the battle on to his own turf, The proofs of God must be scientific proofs, therefore he totally discounts revelation.:

III. Having moved the battle to his own turf he argues against Swinburne's use of Bayes so that he can use it as the scientific evidence. Having established that only scientific evidence will do then he's the only one in the debate with scientific evidence.:

The way he accomplishes move I is by dispensing with revelation and personal experience. His first chapter argues for the priority of natural theology. [1] The establishment of that point is really based upon the supposed weakness of revelatory knowledge.[2]Essentially he asserts that only natural theology can be checked by others, revelation and personal experience are unreliable and subjective. He constructs four dilemmas for the believer designed to leverage her into fighting the battle on his own turf. The first such dilemma is between what he calls “cognitive and non-cognitive.” By non cognitive he may include experiences, but he's speaking more directly of liberal theology, that tends to be metaphorical vs. a factual account. He says, “according to...cognitive interpretations a believer who says 'God exists' is making a factual claim which is either true or false, whereas according to non-cognitive interpretation such sayings have a very different function. Evaluation of these statements in terms of truth or falsity is inappropriate.[3]His examples of non-cognitive are Wittgenstein and Karen Armstrong. The non-cognitive makes belief immune to criticism but also leaves it cut off from non-believers as unprovable.

For the “cognitive believer” there's a second dilemma. Either belief must be backed by evidence or it's not needed.[4] An example of the latter is the work of Alvin Plantinga and his idea of “properly basic beliefs.” In that view belief is rationally warranted though not proven to others. Philipse answers Plantinga, “I shall argue that religious beliefs, and indeed most religious believers, not be called justified or reasonable or warranted unless the latter...can support their beliefs by abducinng good positive reasons to the effect that these beliefs are true.”[5]Here's where he starts leveraging the believer off the ground that makes strong faith (experience) and onto his turf where he controls the landscape (that of scientific knowledge). He says, “...these reasons [the believer's justification for belief] shall not derive from, or not derive merely from, a revelation or from faith. In other words rational or natural theology is indispensable to modern religious believers, if at least they want to be called 'reasonable,'” [6] Either bring religion into compliance with the priesthood of knowledge (science) or the gate keepers will slam the door in your face and you will be obsolete. Either way religion loses.

He brings out the next dilemma, either the methods used to defend belief will be scientific or not scientific. He says “both horns imply great peril for the believer.”[7] In debate we avoided that position by exposing the false premises upon which the dilemma was based. Most dilemmas are like a long horn steer, a point here, a point there, and a lot of bull in between.[8] First of all abductive reasoning means inference from the best explanation. That does not require proof and it may not involve establishing facts. He's going to have to prove that the best explanations are always and only the scientific ones. To assert that only the scientific answers count means that he reduces all knowledge to science. Secondly he's done a bait and switch in that he's demanded science but clearly substitutes the fortress of facts. Moreover, there is a distinction between warrant for the belief of the believer and warrant for an argument that will persuade others. The former is what Plantinga speaks to, the latter is Philipse's demand. Obviously revelatory proofs will mean more to the one who had the revelation. We can't let others in on it. So personal experience could be valid and warrant belief even if it does not function as proof for others. Personal experience, however, can function as warrant even for others, we do have scientific evidence, I will get to that in a bit.

Let's look at his three dilemmas. The first is factual and non factual. In the non factual camp he really includes liberalism and non literal views of theology. That's important because he has to get the believer on his turf, the fortress of facts. Apparently that's what he means by “science,” the fact producing machine. It is possible to employ metaphor in a belief system without reducing belief in God as a stark choice of either fact or metaphor. The second dilemma is for the so called “cognitive side” (for that I read “literalistic,”) it must be backed up or not. I say it only needs backing up if one needs to prove to others. Otherwise we all have reasons for believing, and if faith is sincere those reasons can only be life transforming. There's nothing irrational about that. If something is so overpowering it can't be denied and if it changes your life dramatically for the better it would be irrational to refuse it merely because it's not part of the truth regime. The third I just discussed, the demand for scientific evidence.

A major problem here is that he has these neat segmented little compartments, where reason and faith are kept apart; where natural theology and reformed theology are kept apart. Real faith and real religious thought is not like that. People have both faith and reason, revelation and objective proofs. It is perfectly possible to mix the two sides and most of us do to some extent (with a thousand variations of degree). We really need to take to heart the distinction between personal faith and the desire to convey one's reasons to others. No one believes for no reason. Belief is an existential/phenomenological matter. It's not a test for a driver's license. The scrutiny I have to care about is my own and that of those I love. When Philipse says things like, “...for modern believers faith is not an epistemic virtue but a vice, unless there are convincing arguments for the truth of its contents,”[9] there is no reason to credit that statement. Convincing to whom? The only person I have to convince is me. I do have reasons I find powerful and if others would not find them so more is the pity for them.

He says modern believers are in a methodological dilemma. “Do They have at their disposal reliable and validated methods of religious research? If so it seems that the content of their faith can be refuted...”[10] If it can be validated it can be refuted. That goes for all positions. I was a college debater I can refute anything. Actually that's not a dilemma it's a double bind. He's saying if it's validated that's bad, then he blames it because it's not validated. “...If not, [validated] how can a religious creed be credible at all in our scientific era?”[11] That depends upon who is doing the validating and upon what basis.. The philosopher kings have been in the ivory tower too long. That statement in and of itself screams ideology. Why should religion not be credible merely because we are in an age of science? We all believe for a reason, modern people have modern reasons.

Of course Philipse, brilliant and rigorous though he is, seems blissfully unaware of the fact that there is good scientific evidence backing up many aspects of religious faith. In the chapter on supernatural I will discuss the vast body of empirical work backing the veracity of religious experience; the skeptic really has no justification for dismissing experience as evidence, they way Philipse does. The “M scale” gives us a scientific means of control for understanding what is a valid experience and what is not (see chapter on supernatural). By the same token the same chapter also documents unexplained events well documented and factual form the basis for modern miracle claims. These both experiences and miracles are controlled for and validated by double blind experiments and medical diagnostics. Even so its only if one intends to persuade the skeptic that one needs to meet the demand for evidence. Then evidence need not be scientific. Yet we do have the validated scientific methods, I wrote a book about them.[12]
(to understand the studies proving scientific methods for a God Argument see the summary of my book on my blog "The Trace of God).
He continues more of the water tight compartmentalizing by stating that there are so many contradictions in the “traditional concept of God.”[13] Then the most troubling part, “without introducing analogy or metaphor...” Why should we want to avoid analogy and metaphor? That's rather irrational since we can't talk without them. It's not the literalistic aspect that makes language work as communication but the space afforded understanding in the use of analogical speech. Not only is all religious language analogical but all language is to some extent.[14]That is a major method in theology, use what we know in analogy to communicate in the face of the unknown. Yes, it can be inaccurate, but how accurate does it have to be? Why doesn't the fact that we have no empirical proof of string theory or multiverse stop scientists from talking about those things? Personal belief is a phenomenological matter. The short cut to defining that term: metaphysics imposes pre set categories upon sense data, phenomenology is allowing the sense data to suggest its own categories. In equating metaphor with untruth he is imposing many preset categories (ideology) upon the sense data.

Philipse associates literal language (no analogy or metaphor) with being reasonable defined as “objective diachronical rationality”). [15]I disagree that “objective” opposes metaphor. One can be objective about the use of metaphor. I certainly object to the implication that metaphor is irrational. To use metaphor properly one must reason about meaning and implication. Since belief is a phenomenological pursuit it requires an individual understanding. It's not science nor can it be. We just have to accept that science is not the only avenue for reason. One can be rational and reason in the continental style of philosophy, using phenomenology for example. The compartmentalizing is a hindrance. That seems to be the ideology of scientism. That's an upshot of the reduction of all knowledge to science.

He equates belief in God with a scientific hypothesis and demands of it the kind of explanatory power one finds in science. Rather he asks (rhetorically) “...whether theism can be an explanatory theory or hypothesis at all.” [16]That rather depends upon what one means by “explanatory.” What kind of explanation are we seeking? Why should it be a scientific hypothesis? It's not meant to be one. One does not dedicate one's life to a mere hypothesis. Hypotheses are meant to be tested. We can't test God. Take the Lord out for a test prayer! Science works by testing ideas and culling bad one's until the last one not culled is assumed true. It's not proved its just assumed (see chapter 3, Popper). To that extent Paul Tillich's notion of theology is scientific.[17]Tillich's “method of correlation” in which he “attempts to correlate the various analyses of the human predicament produced in modern culture with the answers provided by the symbols used in the Christian message.”[18] This a sort of hypothesis testing where one is comparing empirical experience to “theory” (doctrine). This is not to say, however, that doctrine is at all like an hypothesis. Nor is it intended to be. Philipse's demand is an example of the reduction of all knowledge to science. Yet Philipse demands that an understanding history be included to be rational (“diachronical”). Tillich said that the sources for doing theology are not only the Bible but history and culture as well. Moreover, he spoke of theology as explaining the meaning in the human condition.[19] That is a kind of explanatory power science does not have.

In order to counter the realization that all language is analogical he quotes Swinburne saying “...if theists cannot articulate their religious view except by using the key terms in an irreducibly analogical manner theism cannot be a theory of hypothesis.” [20] Well its not. He still has not bothered to say why it should be. In fact this line of argument seems to be a smokescreen. It's irrelevant what Swinburne makes of analogy because that doesn't answer the point that all language is analogical. The issue there revolves around the term “irreducible.” Philipse acknowledges that all language is somewhat analogical but not irreducibly so. If the term means that there is meaning present to the signifier then he's wrong, all language is irreducibly analogical. There is a literal meaning to all utterance but that doesn't mean that meaning is ever totally present in any signifier. In speaking of God we can say “God is the basis of all that is.” That is a literally true statement and yet it's fraught with ambiguity. God is beyond our understanding, we don't need words to feel love, or to know that love is real. Belief is personal and doesn't stop when you leave the lab. It's given a deep hidden personal slant multiplied times all believers, Naturally, it's not going to have the kind of precision a scientific hypothesis will have. Nor will it have the kind of explanatory power.

He does point out metaphor is used in science. He gives several examples. The mechanical model, seeing universe as a machine (eighteenth century) gives way to the organic model. These “models” are really analogies. He argues that science has clearly defined limits for such ideas but God is transcendent of our understanding so all our speech about God is completely analogy.xxi [21] The upshot is religion is not science, so religion is false because science is all that is. He argues that some people think they experience God's presence but of curse they don't. It's true that God is not given in sense data. A thing need not be amenable to our sense data in order to be real.:

Although some believers claim to have perceived God, the speakers of the language cannot be perceptually aware of God in the same unambiguous public manner in which human beings, cities, dogs, or mountains can be perceived. Hence no intersubjective referential use of 'God' can be established by such deictic methods. As a consequence one is only able to provide the proper name 'God' with a possible referent by giving a description of what the name is supposed to refer to. If no literal description is possible of an entity to which the word God allegedly refers...since that entity can only be hinted at by irreducible metaphors...we could never succeed in providing the word God with a referent.[22]
First of all, speaking a language does not in and of itself assure us a signified (referent) for our signification. It's irrelevant what the speakers perceive qua speakers. Secondly of course God is not going to be as well perceived as a tangible object, at that point he's merely saying God is not tangible, that cannot be equated with “there is no God.” Moreover, not to be pedantic but proper name is not God. That's his job description.

It is basically true that we can't communicate what God is in words because its beyond our understanding. That's why there are mystics. Lots of other things are known to exist but can't be communicated in words. Some examples include love, the colors, the feelings (try describing a feeling without referring to other feelings). Some philosophers try to deny the existence of feelings, those of us who don't need therapy know they exist. Now if it be objected that these things are not physical objects and God must be a physical object, that is an ideological assumption. There is no proof that there can't be real objects that are not physical. The disproof of Philipse's point, however, is the scientific data to which I refer in the chapter on supernatural, in connection with the M scale and Ralph Hood Jr.[23] The data proves that mystics around the world in all faiths are having the same kinds of experiences. These can be separated from physical causes of brain chemistry, drugs, perceptual problems and the like. Not only do they have an intersubjetive basis for referent but that basis furnishes good evidence of a reality external to their own minds which they all experience. The differences in those experiences are the doctrines used to explain them, that acts as a cultural filter, not the experiences themselves.

part two monday


1 Herman Philipse, God In The Age of Science, Oxford, London: Oxford University Press, 2012, 3

2 Ibid 23

3 Ibid., xiv

4 Ibid-xv

5-8 Ibid

9 Way back in the Trojan war, when I was in high school debate the Dallas Jesuit debators used that saying, that's where I got it.1973-74. Jesuit was the top school having won NFL district championship 3 years in a row (1972, 73, 74).

10 Ibid xvi

11 Ibid

12 Joseph Hinman, The Trace of God: a Rational Warrant doe Belief, Colorado Springs: Grand Viaduct, 2014. no page indicated. This book is only available on It covers a host of methodologies in over 200 studies on religious experience forming a huge body of work going back to the 19960s. Of these the chief study instrument is the “M Scale.”

13 Philipse xvi

14 Phiipse acknowledges this, 95

15 Ibid., 95

16 Ibid.

17 Guyton B Hamond, “An Examination of Tillich's Method of Correlation,” Journal of Bible and Religion, 1964,Vol. 32, No. 3 (Jul., 1964), pp. 248-251, 24

18 Ibid.

19 Philipse, 96

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid., 97

22 Find chapter and fn on Hood article.

23, Ibid,91

An atheist professor said Tuesday that it’s acceptable to criticize Christians but not Muslims, because he does not “fear” retaliation from Christians. “I know what keeps me from critiquing Islam on my blog is just fear,” Phil Zuckerman said at a discussion on religious liberty at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “I’ve got three kids. “So I know I can say anything about Christianity or Mormonism, and I’m not living in fear, which is a testament to Christianity and Mormonism, and that’s wonderful. Thank you,” said Zuckerman, who is a self-described atheist and professor of secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif." Atheist: 'Okay For Those on The Left to Critique, Mock, Deride Christianity, But Islam Gets a Free Pass' 

Professor Zuckerman’s quote showed up on my newsfeed about a week ago, but I doubt anyone would really see it as “news.” After all, it has become quite clear over the last few years that Christianity (and sometimes Judaism) has become the target of most attacks on religion.  Muslims are largely being left alone by Atheists and others.

What is interesting is that this particular professor states that the reason that he does not criticize Muslims is because of fear of the harm that they may cause to him. Whether CAIR or any other Islamic organization wants to acknowledge it or not, the fear is certainly justified. While it is true that most Muslims live quiet, law-abiding lives, a significant number of Muslims have demonstrated that they are willing to commit violence against people who insult their religion or its founder or its god. Even according to a very pro-Islam site, Encountering the World of Islam, “ninety-three percent (93%) of Muslims do not support extremist views of terrorism.”   If 93% of Muslims do not support extremist views of terrorism, then 7% do support those views. In a world of more than two billion Muslims (8 million in the U.S. alone), that means there are 140 million Muslims around the world who support extremist views of terrorism (560,000 in the United States). So, I think that Professor Zuckerman has some justification behind his concerns that saying or writing too much negative about Muslims could result in provoking an Islamic radical or someone else who believes “infidels” should be killed for insulting Islam, its founder or its god.

Make no mistake about it, people who identify as atheists are every bit as likely to be subjected to brutal treatment at the hands of Islamic radicals as Christians – at least, that’s what the study commissioned by Humanists claim. According to a Reuters news release

Atheists and other religious skeptics suffer persecution or discrimination in many parts of the world and in at least seven nations can be executed if their beliefs become known, according to a report issued on Monday. The study, from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), showed that "unbelievers" in Islamic countries face the most severe - sometimes brutal - treatment at the hands of the state and adherents of the official religion.
Now, Atheists, as I understand them, don’t believe in God, a god or gods, and certainly believe the world would be better off without people adhering to a belief in God. The New Atheists (fun-loving characters that they are) go even farther sharing “a belief that religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”  So, it would seem reasonable that while Atheists would not trust Christians of any stripe because they hold to what they views as an antiquated belief in God, they would feel less warmly towards Muslims because countries where Muslims are in control are, by the Atheists’ own study, the place where Atheists “face the most severe – sometimes brutal – treatment at the hands of the state and adherents of official religion.” One might suspect that they would feel less warm towards Muslims because, like Doctor Zuckerman, they are fearful of saying things critical of Islam, its founder or its god in the same way they do against Christians, Jesus or God.

Nevertheless, Atheists (who tend to think that they are smarter than poor deluded Christians like myself) apparently don’t follow that reasoning. In a Pew Study from July 2014, various people were identified by religious or a-religious affiliation and asked the following question: 

“We’d like to get your feelings toward a number of groups on a ‘feeling thermometer.’ A rating of 0 degrees means you feel as cold and negative as possible. A rating of 100 degrees means you feel as warm and positive as possible. You would rate the group at 50 degrees if you don’t feel particularly positive or negative toward a group.” 

Among the people asked were Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Jews, Atheists and Agnostics. And the results?

Atheists give largely positive ratings to several non-Christian religious groups, including Buddhists (who receive an average rating of 69 from atheists), Jews (61) and Hindus (58). Atheists tend to give much cooler ratings to Muslims and the Christian groups asked about in the survey.

How much cooler are the ratings? Well, Christian groups can be divided into Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. Atheists give Roman Catholics a medium rating of 47, but that’s nothing compared to the rock-bottom number given to Evangelicals of 28. That's a pretty darn low number. But certainly it must be the case that Atheists would give an even lower rating to Muslims given the mistreatment that they receive when Islam is the ruling religion, wouldn’t they? Not a chance. Muslims receive the relatively moderate mean thermometer rating of 44 from Atheists.

44? Muslims get a 44 “warmth” from Atheists versus a 28 for Evangelicals? Seriously?

Okay, I get it that some “Christian” countries can be oppressive, too. But even the Atheists acknowledge that the places that they are most likely to be treated “brutally” or even executed for their beliefs are in Muslim countries. Yet, Evangelicals are the least liked by Atheists. That is very puzzling.

I really can’t explain it rationally, and I doubt that any atheist can. One might conjecture that the reason that Atheists like Jews, Hindus and Buddhists is because these groups largely don’t try to proselytize. Proselytizing, of course, means trying to get others to become adherents to your religion, and certainly Christianity is the most forward at trying to proselytize since general Christian doctrine holds that one must acknowledge the gift of salvation that comes from God through Jesus’ death on the cross to be saved. Other religions don’t necessarily hold to as strong of a “narrow road” view for salvation and so proselytizing will not be high on their list of priorities. (Muslims, of course, believe that they have the only way, but their way of proselytizing internationally seems to be to seize a country and force conversions -- an entirely different animal.)

But if proselytizing is the reason that Atheists hate Evangelicals, I guess I just wonder – do Atheists really hate having people try to talk to them about God more than being treated brutally or executed? Seems like priorities are a little lopsided here.

2 Samuel 2:10 - Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The tribe of Judah, however, remained loyal to David.

King Ish-Bosheth was the youngest of the sons of King Saul. His name means “Man of Shame” or “Man of Humiliation,” and he apparently lived down to that moniker because he was a weak king who reigned a short time in opposition to King David. His story can largely be found beginning in 2 Samuel 2 and ending with his murder at the hands of his guards in 2 Samuel 4. Ish-Bosheth, however, was known by other names. One of which was Eshba’al (1 Chron. 8:33, 1 Chron. 9:39) which means "fire of the idol."  

Interestingly, the name Eshba'al came up in a recent Biblical dig. According to an article in Discovery News entitled "Rare Inscription Bearing Biblical Name Found in Israel," the name of Eshba'al was discovered on a 3,000 year old piece of pottery in the Valley of Elah. 

A rare inscription showing a name shared with a biblical rival to King David has been found on a 3,000-year-old earthenware jar that was broken into shards, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Tuesday. Pieces of the large Iron Age jar were found in a 2012 excavation at Khirbet Qeiyafa, in the Valley of Elah west of Jerusalem. This is where the biblical battle between young David and the giant Goliath took place. As hundreds of pottery fragments were glued together to form the whole pot, letters carved in the ancient script of the Canaanites, a biblical people who lived in the present-day Israel, were clearly visible. They read: Eshba’al Ben Bada’. “This is the first time that the name Eshba’al has appeared on an ancient inscription in the country,” Yosef Garfinkel of the Institute of Archeology of the Hebrew University and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement. The name recalls the biblical Eshba’al, a son of King Saul and a rival to King David for rule over the Israelite kingdom.

So, is this a jar that belonged to King Eshba’al, the son of Saul? Unfortunately, it probably isn’t because the name engraved is not “Eshba’al Ben Shaul” (which means Eshba’al, son of Saul), but rather Eshba’al Ben Beda (which means Eshba’al, son of Beda’). Nothing in the Bible or otherwise seems to suggest that Beda’ is an alternative name for Saul, so that makes it very unlikely that the Eshba’al whose name is engraved into the jar is the same as the Eshba’al named in the Bible.

To me, the article is fine to this point, but then it makes a rather disputable statement. It says, “Although it has no connection with the biblical character, the inscription shows that Eshba’al was a common name during the early Israelite period.” First, I am not certain that finding the name on one piece of pottery shows that it was a common name. Perhaps there were only two Eshba’als in all of the history of Israel, and archaeologists happen to have stumbled across a jar belonging to the only other Eshba’al in that long history. Of course, the odds of that happening are rather long, but it remains possible.

Still, let’s follow on the assumption that the odds are that we would not find a jar belonging to the only other Eshba’al in the history of Israel, but rather that the name Eshba’al appears on this jar because there were numerous Eshba’als making it more likely that we would find one of their jars. Arguably, if there were multiple Eshba’als at this time, there are at least two possible conclusions that can be drawn from this. First, the Biblical account is a fiction that merely drew on the common name Eshba’al as a son of Saul because it was a common name at the time and the author lacked enough imagination to pick another name. It would be like a 21st Century novelist naming a character in her novel “John Smith” – a name that many people have, but one which would raise eyebrows in a story because people would think it rather obvious. This appears to be a doubtful construct because the evidence is that Saul and David did exist, so there is no strong reason to doubt that Eshba'al wasn't really the name of Saul's son. So, those that doubt the existence of Biblical Kings Saul and David are unlikely to gain much traction by pursuing this conclusion.

A second more likely conclusion that can be drawn is that the reason there were several people named Eshba’al living at the time is because they were named after a famous Israelite who lived approximately 3000 years ago, i.e., 1000 BC. The practice of naming a baby after a great leader or other famous person is carried on today. A quick example, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez aka Selena was an extremely popular Mexican-American singer-songwriter who died tragically at the age of 23 in the early 1990s. The name Selena, for girls, was pretty standard fare during the 1970s and early 1980s. In the 1970s, less than 100 girls in one million were named Selena. But in the 1990s, after the singer-songwriter Selena had become popular and continuing when she was murdered in a way-too-young and way-too-sad manner, the name Selena became very popular reaching a height of more than 350 girls out of a million being named Selena. Even today, more than 200 babies a year are still named Selena (although many of those may possibly be named after the now-popular actress Selena Gomez -- but Selena Gomez was also named after Selena Quintanilla-Pérez aka Selena so arguably all of the girls named after Selena Gomez are still being named after the original Selena).

So, if the archaeologists are correct and the name Eshba’al was popular at the time in Israel, then the name was popular about the same time that David is thought to have ruled Israel, i.e., 1000 BC. If that’s the case isn’t it possible – maybe even likely – that the name gained its popularity because Eshba’al was really the king around that time and his murder helped to solidify his memory? In other words, can’t this be understood to be further evidence for the truth of the historical accounts in the Bible?

Ho hum. Every few months, some scientist who almost certainly has an animosity towards belief in God will stand up and make an announcement that his/her research has somehow disproven God or the need for God, etc., etc. And every time these types of claims arise, people with cooler heads usually look at the claims and show them for the nonsense that they are. (Of course, true adherents never understand that the arguments have been discredited, but that's why certain arguments like the Argument from Evil continue to pop up as supposedly air-tight arguments against the existence of God.)

Today, a good friend who is an atheist posted an article which seems to fall into that category on Facebook. The article is entitled . According to the article:

A group of scientists led by Prof Mir Faizal, at the Dept of Physics and Astronomy, at the University Of Waterloo, Canada, has positively applied the theory to the very creation of existence itself. Prof Mir Faizal: “Virtual particles contain a very small amount of energy and exist for a very small amount of time. However what was difficult to explain was how did such a small amount of energy give rise to a big universe like ours?”

Okay, but aren't virtual particles something? Apparently not. After mentioning the minimum length scale, doubly special relativity and inflation theory, the authors of the study make a statement that is ... er, stunning.

Just to make things more complex Dr Mir says we have been trying to answer the question ‘how did the universe come from nothing?’ all wrong. According to the astonishing findings, the question is irrelevant as the universe STILL is nothing. Dr Mir Faizal said: “Something did not come from nothing. The universe still is nothing, it’s just more elegantly ordered nothing.”

Wait a minute, so I am supposed to believe that the universe is nothing? Oh, excuse me, I am supposed to believe that it is elegantly ordered nothing. Of course, if we redefine what "nothing" is, then the universe can be "nothing." But in all common understandings of the term "nothing", the universe is not nothing.

But even Dr. Mir does not believe the article's title. The article adds,

When asked if the amazing findings and the convincing if complex solution disinterested the need for a God figure to kick start the cosmos Dr Mir said: “If by God you mean a supernatural super man who breaks his own laws then yes he’s done for, you just don’t need him. But if you mean God as a great mathematician, then yes!”

Notice the condescension that arises in this statement. God is the "supernatural super man who breaks his own laws." Ah, yes,  Dr. Mir is one of the people who believes God is nothing more than the "big daddy in the sky" who is believed by us lowly barbarians who don't understand how science has made God irrelevant. But it is like the old joke about the scientist and God. That joke reads: 

God was sitting in heaven one day when a scientist said to Him,  “God, we don’t need you anymore. Science has finally figured out a way to create life out of nothing – in other words, we can now do what you did in the beginning.” “Oh, is that so? Explain…” replies God.  “Well,” says the scientist, “we can take dirt and form it into the likeness of you and breathe life into it, thus creating man.” “Well, that’s very interesting… show Me.” So the scientist bends down to the earth and starts to mold the soil into the shape of a man.  “No, no, no…” interrupts God, “Get your own dirt.”

- See more at:

Well, given what little bit shows up in this article, the authors will have to do a lot of talking to convince me that the universe is nothing let alone that God had nothing to do with kick-starting it. But at least we're on the same page when the author acknowledges that God, as the author of mathematics, must remain in the picture for anything to make sense. This author just kicks the can down the road -- the scientist doesn't need to use God's dirt, but he does need God's laws.

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