this post has been split into two parts. part 2 can be found here.)
Sorry for the hiatus on the blog, everyone. I thought I might address one of the comments on one of the other blog entries since there are some interesting claims by a Christian apologist and a blog entry is more conducive to a thorough investigation of them. I’ve also been kibitzing in comments so check there for more discussion. This is a long post, but you know that this will often be the case on my blog. They may be to your taste or not.
Currently, we’ve had Ben and his guest poster Silverswiper (from here out termed SS) commenting on my reviews of their claims. They indulge in the usual Christian apologist nonsense but that’s what I’m here to rebut so it works out well. I do appreciate their participation. Their use of a lot of the typical apologist claims always gives a good place to start from. As is common, refuting the claims of theists, especially Christians gets very tedious and repetitive. Dearly held beliefs given to them by people they trust are hard to eradicate. Add to that the very pleasant fantasy that one is the special focus of some omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent deity, and it’s a very addictive combination. I found it to be so myself when I was a Christian and it is not pleasant at all to lose such beliefs. The feelings of withdrawal e.g. “I can’t have been that wrong.” will keep a believer coming back for years, still hoping for any evidence for their god or eventually any gods at all.
I found myself in that situation when I finally lost my faith in Christianity and went looking at other religions. Thanks to that search, I know a lot about many religions. I had a shelf full of books about Wicca. I still have a handful of manuals from the Rosicrucians and a shelf full of books on comparative religion. They all unsurprisingly gave many promises of what worshipping the god and following the religion would achieve. And unsurprisingly, all of those promises failed just like the ones offered by Christianity. Then one goes to the effort of creating a god that doesn’t fail, one that does nothing but exist, just to salve those wounds of abandonment.
SS has offered stories as evidence and I have berated him for that. He claims that stories are evidence. I’ll try to clarify why that is the case in the instances of claiming that since a story exists about Jesus, that means he existed. I can claim that I have a dragon in my attic. Is this evidence for the dragon or just a claim that I have one? A similar instance: I claim I killed a man. Is this evidence or just a story until I can provide evidence to support it?
For example, the claim of an “empty tomb” is nothing more than a story, it has nothing to support that there was a tomb or that it was empty. A story isn’t a bad thing but it’s not the truth. Much of ancient history we know because of similar stories, claims of cities, battles, and gods. But what is history and what is myth can be determined by artifacts, contemporary accounts, etc. SS used an old apologist claim that “pretty much all of ancient history can be discounted because, after all, they are just “stories”.” Unfortunately, he and other apologists, fail to realize that those stories that archaeologists have followed have either been proven true, partially true or false. For instance, we had folks following the story of the battle of Troy and have found a site that is generally agreed upon as the site of Troy, the site and artifacts fits the legend fairly well. However, we have not found evidence of the Greek gods’ involvement there or of Cassandra or any of the magical things claimed by the legends. In contrast, your stories about Jesus Christ is a story that has gods and events and real places mentioned, *but* there are no artifacts, no contemporary accounts for what should have been very noticeable things, etc. Both stories have extraordinary claims concerning magic and gods and there is no reason to think that those parts of the stories are true. We have a city of Troy; Christians don’t even have a tomb. That’s what is different between the bible stories and the stories from other sources, be they pagan or not.
Now, for the claims SS and Ben have used about their religion to be true, for example that JC was a man/god and that his body vanished by magic and he came back from the dead, we need a story *and* evidence to support it. We have nothing that does so that cannot be used for other religions. You have offered stories, not the evidence that supports them. A claim that 500 people saw JC is not evidence. I can claim to have 500 people in my backyard. What would be evidence for this claim? Maybe a photo, crushed plants (I have a wee back yard), a police report from my neighbor who doesn’t like me, etc.. We can have a believable “report” if we have that corroborating evidence. A story does not stand on its own. I have no more reason to believe the stories of Indian gods being with people than I have to believe the Christian claim that there was a demigod. I ask Ben and SS: Do you believe that the gods interacted with the ancient Hindus? Or do you think that they are just stories? What would make you believe that such claims are true? For me, it would be again corroborating evidence as I have listed.
Despite SS’s claims, it is not rare at all for events to have matching descriptions. Let’s take a sporting event, like Super Bowl 13. What happened at the event? Well, the Steelers won. If one claimed otherwise that would be a contradiction, and the evidence would support that. Terry Bradshaw threw a 75 yard touchdown pass. If one claimed it was Franco Harris, that would be a contradiction. If one had claimed that there was an appearance by Sir Isaac Newton, discoverer of the laws of gravity, on the 50 yard line at the half-time, that would be a contradiction of actual events. We will have approximately 74 million people, those on site and watching on television, who will have the same story. In the story of Jesus Christ, we have four differing stories of what should be the most important event in history, and no one else in the world noticed events that should have been pretty obvious. Yes, there are differences in what was *claimed* about the sinking of the Titanic, the crossing of the Alps, but those differing claims were put to rest from artifacts and contemporary accounts. For example, how the Titanic sank was up for debate when it was just competing stories, but the actual ship shows what happened. Stories can be told about such things, but that doesn’t mean that the there was one ridiculously large blue diamond on board. If we have no good reason to believe in what is claimed, an event that has no evidence to have happened of to have *ever* happened, having contradictions about the event shows that there is even less reason to believe it. For instance, the bit about whether Jesus can be touched or not. If one touches him and one is not supposed to, then what? They are struck down like Uzzah? That JC ceases to become holy? He was certainly worried about it in one story, but not the others. If I can’t trust JC’s words in this, why trust it when he says “Him that believes in me shall have everlasting life.”?
SS also noted the jury instructions for California. However, I do not know if he knows all of the instructions depending on cases. The instructions say “Do not automatically reject”, and indeed I am not “automatically rejecting” anything. The instructions do say how to consider carefully what the witness claims and compare it to other things. If witnesses have differences, they are important to compare them and ask why there are differences. This is especially true if one thinks that this is accurately describing the most important event in human history. People do honestly forget and make mistakes; however, there is no evidence of an honest mistake in something written decades after the supposed event. And indeed, two people may witness an event differently.
I’ve grabbed a bit more of the instructions so everyone can see just what is being told to the jury:
You alone must judge the credibility or believability of the witnesses. In deciding whether testimony is true and accurate, use your common sense and experience. You must judge the testimony of each witness by the same standards, setting aside any bias or prejudice you may have.
You may believe all, part, or none of any witness’s testimony. Consider the testimony of each witness and decide how much of it you believe. In evaluating a witness’s testimony, you may consider anything that reasonably tends to prove or disprove the truth or accuracy of that testimony. Among the factors that you may consider are:
How well could the witness see, hear, or otherwise perceive the things about which the witness testified?
How well was the witness able to remember and describe what happened?
What was the witness’s behavior while testifying?
Did the witness understand the questions and answer them directly?
Was the witness’s testimony influenced by a factor such as bias or prejudice, a personal relationship with someone involved in the case, or a personal interest in how the case is decided?
What was the witness’s attitude about the case or about testifying?
Did the witness make a statement in the past that is consistent or inconsistent with his or her testimony?
How reasonable is the testimony when you consider all the other evidence in the case?
[Did other evidence prove or disprove any fact about which the witness testified?]
[Did the witness admit to being untruthful?]
[What is the witness’s character for truthfulness?]
[Has the witness been convicted of a felony?]
[Has the witness engaged in [other] conduct that reflects on his or her believability?]
[Was the witness promised immunity or leniency in exchange for his or her testimony?]
[If you decide that a witness deliberately lied about something significant in this case, you should consider not believing anything that witness says. Or, if you think the witness lied about some things, but told the truth about others, you may simply accept the part that you
think is true and ignore the rest.]
To let you know, this is what the brackets are indicating: “The instructions use brackets to provide optional choices that may be necessary or appropriate,depending on the individual circumstances of the case http://www.courts.ca.gov/partners/documents/calcrim_juryins.pdf
So, as one can see from a source SS has provided, the jury instructions do not eliminate disregarding the claims of a witness if one has good reason to, for instance other evidence proving or disproving the claims of the witness.
As in all cases, the evidence for someone existing is dependent on evidence, not only stories. I can claim that Thor Odinsson existed but unless we can find corroborating evidence, my claim has no basis in reality. Can we make an educated guess at the probability of someone existing? Yes. In this case, Thor is a god, and since we have no evidence of gods or the supernatural, the probability of his existence approaches zero. Did Julius Caesar exist? Well, we know that there was a Roman empire, there were generals and there were emperors, so the likelihood of his existence is high. Can we accept all that is claimed about him with no question? No. Same with Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Saladin, King Richard the Lion-hearted, etc. In archaeology, we can be pretty sure that a stone mason or blacksmith existed, but we may not have a name to put with the artifacts in a village.
Now, let’s look at the claims of about James. We have the Bible claiming he existed, as the brother of Jesus Christ, son of God. We have Josephus mentioning him: “Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.” However, if one reads about James, there are problems with calling him a “brother” if one accepts one sect’s version of Christianity. Is he brother or cousin? Or was he either? We have a few mentions in Acts, this mention in Josephus and mentions hundreds of years later. At best, we can say that there probably was a person who led the Jerusalem Christians. He may have been called James, since that seems to be a fairly common name (in regards to common names, Josephus mentions 20 men called Jesus aka Joshua, a common Jewish name). He may have been the brother to a rabbi who claimed to be the messiah. But we have nothing that shows he was the brother to a demigod. And that is the person that Christains need to show existed. I could say “sure, there was a man who thought he was the messiah. Per records from the time, there were bunches of them.” I ask Ben and SS and our other Christians here: “And then what? We know that this is not the character you wish to prove existed. I have no problem with you denying the divinity of Joshua ben Joseph, but I think your religion does. “Who do you say that I am?”
We then have SS claiming that James is mentioned in works of “non-fiction” and Horus isn’t. The idea of what consists of non-fiction and fiction changes when one’s beliefs are involved. Those who worshiped Horus were sure that the Book of the Dead was not fiction. And Christians need to believe that the bible and other works are not fiction either. Since there is evidence for neither Horus nor Jesus Christ, there is no reason to think either theist claims to be true. Parts of Josephus, like the bible, may contain accurate information. But we know that all of it does not. This shows how some Christians cherry pick their sources. They wish to say that since Paul mentions James, James must exist. All we have are Paul’s claims, nothing more. Paul mentions demons, again, nothing shows that they exist either. In that we have stories about characters that non-Christians find true, and believe to be non-fiction, that should mean that SS, for example, should accept them for truth as much as he thinks I should accept his claims as truth. I think I am fairly safe in guessing that SS isn’t going to proclaim the authenticity of the deeds of Heracles or Hanuman anytime soon. And thus, if that isn’t proof enough that Heracles and Hanuman didn’t exist, then” nothing, simply nothing will convince you or anyone else. “