The Virginal Consensus

Question from Kaitlyn:
I need some help with a question that is really confusing me. I just watched a video regarding Jesus in the Bible. It said that Matthew and Luke wrote about how Jesus was born, his miracles, and his resurrection. It also was said that they may have not known each other. How were they able to write about the same thing, for example that Jesus came from a virgin? Even though they don’t have the exact same story, how could they both all of a sudden think he came from a virgin? I am an atheist, but I question all theories because I would rather be 100 percent about everything before completely crashing it down. This question is one I can’t find myself to answer on my own, and is really making me question what to believe. Please, some help would be awesome! Thanks.

Answer by SmartLX:
There’s quite a lot going on here. Your question touches on several different issues of Biblical authorship, so I’ll address them separately.

If the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke were in fact written by the apostles Matthew and Luke who knew and followed Jesus, then of course they knew each other and could collaborate on their accounts. As you probably know, though, these gospels were written years or even decades after the given timeframe of Jesus’ crucifixion, and very possibly by other people.

Though the authors might not have known each other, they could have had access to the same accounts from earlier on. As it happens, a popular hypothesis is that the authors of Matthew and Luke shared two principal sources, which explains much of the overlap: the Gospel according to Mark, and an as-yet-undiscovered and therefore hypothetical second document known as the Q source. To summarise, there are credible alternative explanations for the claims made by Matthew and Luke ‘independently’ to the false dilemma of pure coincidence or divine advice.

When the Book of Isaiah, which contains the prophecy relating to the Messiah’s birth, was translated from Hebrew to Greek, the word almah regarding the mother was translated to parthenos. The easiest way to explain the significance of this is that the equivalent of the word maiden, which might mean ‘virgin’ in some circumstances but otherwise just means ‘young woman’, was changed to the word virgin and all ambiguity was eliminated. (The literal Hebrew word for ‘virgin’ is betulah, which wasn’t used.) The Greek translation was made around 200 BC(E) and was therefore available to all the authors of the Gospels if they did basic research. Even if the above hypothesis is wrong and ‘Matthew’ and ‘Luke’ had no common direct sources for the life of Jesus, they both knew that the Messiah’s life had damn well better match the centuries-old prophecy’s call for a virgin mother.

The Khabouris Codex: cool name, but proof of God?

Question from Abishek:
Does anyone know the truth about this “Khabouris Codex”?
Some Christians on the internet use it as proof that the New Testament is divine. I am confused, please help me in this.
Thank you.

Answer by SmartLX:
This was a new one on me. The Khabouris or Khaboris Codex is a manuscript of the New Testament (except for five books) dating back to the 12th century. It contains a note to say it’s a copy of a second-century manuscript, which if true gives it serious bragging rights as one of the most authoritative sources of the NT text in Jesus’ own language of Aramaic.

That doesn’t seem to be what’s important about it for the purposes of proving the divinity of the text. Since it was acquired from Kurdistan in 1966, the manuscript has been physically used to assist in religious healing and spiritual instruction. Reading from it has been claimed to cause minor psychological miracles; the main example is that regularly concentrating on the text in Aramaic – without understanding Aramaic – is said to make one more mature. It was even used in an attempt to calm violent prisoners. It’s a proper Christian relic, with minor powers such as you’d see on items in the ‘relic’ or ‘trinket’ category in a role-playing game. It’s most likely in a private collection at the moment.

The Christians you’re referring to may be arguing for the divinity of the New Testament from any of a few different angles. It might be the idea that the text has barely changed over thousands of years, which is dependent on the unverified claim of the Codex’s own source. It could be the discovery of the Codex, as a new revelation from God. It could be any of the abilities the Codex supposedly displayed after it arrived in the West, which are highly subjective in nature. It could be some passage which differs from the modern Bible and can be interpreted as making a unique prediction about subsequent events. None of these seem to be anything to worry too much about, honestly, but if you have more details of their claims (or a link to their website) please fill us in using a comment.

If you don’t believe in a god, why bother?

Jackie comes to us with this question…

hi, I just wanted to ask you guys that if you guys do not believe in God why bother and created a Blasphemy Challenge? why bother with something that does not exist? For example: If do not believe my husband is cheating on me 100% and to my knowledge there is no evidence that he is cheating on me, but every time he gets home I fight with him accusing him of cheating. That sounds ridiculous. Why fighting for something that inst there. So why the challenge? Maybe because you guys are not 100% sure that there is no God? Or you guys just don’t want to believe in God because you guys do not want to follow God’s instructions? Its ok if you guys dont. God made us with free will. You choose to follow Him or not thats all just simple. Why the hate for something that does not exist? ( that does not exist to guys af course) Hope you guys answer my question. Thank you guys for your time. I look forward to see your email with your thoughts. Best wishes =D. Sincerely, Jackeline P.S God bless you guys.

I see this question on Twitter all of the time and I find it, admittedly, a bit strange. To me, it should be obvious that since atheists don’t believe in gods, we can’t hate them. So why does this question get around so much? Are believers that naive? Do they really think we hate their god, and if so, why do they think that? Is your preacher telling you this? Why is he/she perpetuating a lie? Who keeps saying atheists hate gods? It’s certainly not atheists.

The reason the Blasphemy Challenge was created was for several reasons. First to show Christians that we do not fear their god (because we don’t believe it exists) and to show this lack of fear, what better way then committing what is referred to as “the unforgivable sin” which is to deny the holy spirit. The second reason was to show atheists that there are others just like them who don’t believe, and to feel a sense of unity. It was a great success. Lot’s of people took the challenge, it got publicity in the news, and a broader dialog was created.

Atheists do not hate gods. What we hate is the way religion pushes itself on to others. Take the phrase “One nation under god” in the pledge of allegiance for example. Most Christians today don’t realize that the original pledge never said “under god”. Here’s a video of the cartoon character Porky Pig saying the pledge before it was changed in the 1950’s….

Why was the pledge changed? Because of the great “Communist scare” of the 1950’s. The fear of communists was so strong that pressure was put on the government by religious lobbies and organizations to change the pledge to reflect the differences in our political structure and communism. Never mind that it doesn’t actually reflect the beliefs of all Americans.

I could go on to give you more examples of how religion interferes with personal liberties. Dry counties, decency laws, laws against homosexuals, laws against atheists holding public office, laws against women controlling their reproduction, public displays of religion on government property, forced prayer at schools, laws that withhold the progress of science, Religion can also be abusive by teaching that men have the right to lead women, that the natural desire for sex is wrong and that even touching oneself makes you less then human, and that child abuse is permitted (spare the rod and spoil the child).

For these reasons and more atheists speak out against religion. Atheists in the U.S. want this to be “One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” not just the religious.

So no, atheists don’t hate your god. We just don’t want your god belief to be pushed on us. Hope this answer helps.

 

Do you admire any Christians?

JimmyC asks….

There are many negative stereotypes about Christians. And, unfortunately many of those stereotypes prove to be true. Are there any Christians in your past or present that you admire and feel are misrepresented by the stereotypes? Thanks

Great question Jimmy and very original. We haven’t had that one here yet. Thanks.

There are many people who are christian that I admire. They range from my friends and family to politicians. What makes a person admirable to me isn’t what faith or political side they swing towards, it’s how they treat other people. I don’t care what a persons faith or lack of faith is as long as they lend a hand to someone who needs one. Christianity teaches that “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8 KJB) but few Christians actually practice this, which in turn creates the stereotype you’re referring to.

Jimmy Carter is a great example to me of a devout christian who practices charity. Instead of sitting on his ass after his presidency, he went out and built homes. He helped feed the hungry. He works toward improving the conditions of those that society has brushed aside. He also believes in the separation of church and state. If more Christians, hell, if more people of faith were like him, atheists wouldn’t have as much of a problem with them.

 

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, defeated?

Question:
The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible contains a long list of supposed contradictions in the Bible, but apologetics sites such as LookingUntoJesus.net have published articles reconciling every single one. Is there any remaining argument against the total internal consistency of the Bible, as befitting its divine origins?

Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve referred to this many times, but it’s always deserved its own piece.

The shortest answer is to point out the fact that the SAB contains links to the responses in each of its articles concerning an apparent contradiction (this one, for example, has three). Why would it do this if the responses in any way undermined the point it’s trying to make?

I’ve read a lot of the responses, and as far as I can tell they all take the same approach. Using this particular interpretation of the relevant passages, they say, there is no real contradiction. Very well, I say, but what is the evidence that this interpretation is the correct one, i.e. the meaning intended by its unknown author(s)?

More to the point, is it more likely that the 2000+ identified passages are each meant to be understood in the specific way a modern apologist has decided, or that the separate authors collectively got a few things wrong here and there when it’s all considered together? If you presume or presuppose not only the existence of God but the divine authorship of the Bible then of course it must be interpreted in whatever way means it’s not wrong, but the whole point of arguing for its incredible consistency is to advocate that it’s the word of God, so you can’t invoke this in the middle of that very argument or you’re “begging the question”.

So, with the thousands of SAB articles and thousands of attempted refutations, where does it ultimately leave us? There are thousands of potential contradictions, each one of which might indicate that the Bible was written by fallible people. For every one of them there’s at least one interpretation that makes it look at least okay. If we say for the sake of argument that no two of these reconciliations contradict each other either, then there is at least one reading of the entire Bible that is internally consistent, but there are still countless others that are self-contradictory, and no objective way to choose between them. Therefore it’s not certain that it’s perfect, and it’s not certain that it’s imperfect, so all we can do is consider probabilities. That approach, in my view, is not favourable to the book.

Unpleasant Family Discussions

Question from Chance:
I grew up Christian, I’m not anymore. I don’t consider myself anything, just a human.

My question is how can I deal with my family that is all Christian and talk down to me? It’s starting to piss me off, but I’m always the bigger person. I’m kind when we debate ideas and religion, but they are the total opposites. Any opinions?

Answer by SmartLX:
There’s not a lot to go on here. If your family sees you as lesser or inferior as a result of your apostasy, it’s likely because of their underlying assumptions about the nature of believers and non-believers. You may wish to go beyond a discussion of the religious topic at hand and question their treatment of you directly, because it will very quickly lead back to the topics of faith and reason.

Comment with some extra information if you like. How do these exchanges begin, and how do they usually end? How do you go about being the “bigger person”? In what ways are they unkind, and what triggers this behaviour?

Fear of the Devil – as an atheist

Question from Evelyn:
So I recently accepted being an atheist and I’m fine with it. But even though it’s easy for me to accept that there probably isn’t any God and I’ve been praying to dust this whole time, I still find myself panicking at the thought of Satan. I still have the same fears as when I was religious, and I find myself quickly making sure I didn’t commit blasphemy, or praise the devil. I figure it’s from all the fear techniques people from my religion used to get people to follow them. I wasn’t in any cult religion or anything, just Christian. But looking back the way it was fed to me was quite like the manner of a cult. Anyway, I just want to know if you have any tips for my irrational fear of the devil coming to eat my soul. Thank you!

Answer by SmartLX:
Welcome to faithdrawal, which is the best word I’ve ever invented.

This happens to a lot of people because fear of Hell and Satan goes beyond the intellectual. You’re not frightened of him just because they’ve told you he’s there, or else you’d have stopped being frightened when you became an atheist. Rather it’s been drilled into your subconscious to the point where your emotions bypass rational thought entirely and you simply behave as if there’s a devil. There’s no particularly insidious technique the religious use to achieve this, they just speak and preach to you as if it’s all true until you internalise it as an unspoken assumption.

Fortunately, this kind of conditioned fear needs regular reinforcement to persist at the same strength, and as an atheist you’re not getting that reinforcement anymore. (Some evangelists threaten atheists with hell in an attempt to reach lapsed believers with some last-minute reinforcement, and sometimes it probably works on individuals, but generally speaking it’s a futile effort.) It’s still bad now, I know, but it will fade over time until you calmly look back on your prior fear and see it for what it was, namely unjustified and needless.

If you want to try to speed up the process to save yourself some stress in the long term, equip yourself with a little ridicule. Satan has shown up in popular culture quite a lot recently (try this list), and in nearly every case some aspect of the concept of Satan is held up to the light and found to be silly in some way. There’s not that much media openly ridiculing all religious faith (yet), but criticising and lampooning specific ideas within specific doctrines is fine, and the Devil is a prime target. Go check out some different takes on the character. My personal favourite is Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate, who makes a raucous but really quite robust case that he’s actually the good guy.

Finally, just take a moment of self-awareness whenever you find yourself afraid of something you don’t really think is there. The more you catch yourself at it, the less you’ll end up doing it. And don’t worry, because right now is worse than it’s ever going to feel again.

“And must I now begin to doubt…”

Question from Jackson:
Should I believe in the Bible? I have grown up in a Christian church and I am having my doubts about the Bible and “God”.

Answer by SmartLX:
Well, I don’t think you should believe in it because I don’t think its central claims are true, like the existence of a god or the resurrection of Jesus or the instant creation of humankind in its present shape, but that’s just my opinion.

What’s important is what you think, and you can think better by learning about the issues. If you have a specific doubt about the Bible, many others probably share that doubt, so if you Google some keywords you’ll find a wealth of information and arguments. Or just use the search field on this site, because we’ve gone through all the major ideological battlegrounds at some stage. Feel free to comment anywhere with questions, even in long-dead threads, because we see it all at this end.

Don’t just look for the skeptical material, though. Ask your fellow Christians about the things that cause you to doubt, and see what you think of their answers – and just as importantly, their emotional reactions. Are they ready with an answer like the Bible tells them to be (1 Peter 3:15)? Do they try to deflect the question with appeals to unquestioning faith? Do they start to become wary of you as a potential source of doubt in themselves? Or do they just avoid the subject?

Trust me, you’re not alone among Christians in doubting the dogma, and it’s often flavoured with a significant fear of doubt. Admitting that you have your doubts is therefore an important first step towards either becoming more secure in your beliefs or discarding them altogether. Either way, it’s in your best interests to pursue this line of inquiry.

The Case for (and against) Christ

Question from Michael:
Hi again. So, although I’m an atheist, I try to keep an open mind and would consider the evidence anyone might provide for the existence of God or gods. To that end, I’ve started examining evidence for the other side. I’ve begun reading a book entitled “The Case for Christ”. I’m sure you’re familiar with it and I would like to know your opinions on this book in general.

There’s a lot of information in the book, but I’ve gotten the impression early on that the basic premise is that the Bible itself serves as proof of God and Jesus Christ as the son of God. This really doesn’t sway me at all because I don’t believe in the Bible either. That is to say I don’t believe that its ancient text is true or divinely inspired. If I did, I would obviously believe anything it said.

Is there any validity to the Bible as proof of God, divinity, or a creator? Why do Christians present it as such? Do you consider any part of the Bible to be factual? Or do you think of it merely as a work of fiction? I appreciate any insight you can offer. I’ve grown really tired of the “Because the Bible says so!” argument.

Answer by SmartLX:
The really annoying thing about a lot of Christian apologetic is that it sounds to Christians like it would be really convincing if they didn’t already believe, despite the fact that it’s not at all convincing to those who actually don’t believe. Arguing from the authority of the Bible is a prime example of this.

On a superficial level, Strobel takes the right approach with The Case for Christ: he spends the first half trying to establish the authority of the Gospels, and then argues that they’re saying Jesus actually did what Christians claim. The issue is that he does not establish the Gospels’ authority to anything like the extent that it can be trusted when it claims supernatural events. Any broad, well-accepted criteria for historical data which Strobel applies to the Bible were not created with claims of gods or miracles in mind for serious consideration.

The book’s style is that of a journalist interviewing various experts to get at the truth, but Strobel follows a hard and fast rule (feel free to correct me on this, folks): he never interviews anyone who does not already agree with him on the subject at hand. He does find some people who had previously disagreed and then changed their position, and he does ask a lot of textbook skeptical questions, but he is only ever setting up proponents of his own position with material they can use to make their case. That’s why he asks the skeptical-sounding questions himself instead of seeking responses from actual non-believers.

The Case for Christ is old enough and famous enough that it’s got plenty of fully researched responses, both in print (e.g. Challenging the Verdict by Earl Doherty, excerpts here) and online-only (example here), so I won’t reinvent the wheel by going point-by-point here. That said, if you or anyone reading has a particular argument from the book which you don’t think has been adequately rebutted anywhere, bring it up in a comment and we’ll take a look.

As for my own opinion of the Bible, while it doesn’t convince me of the truth of Christianity that doesn’t mean nothing in it is true at all. The parts concerning Jesus were most likely written long enough after the fact, and by people far enough removed from the living person(s) who inspired the story, that it’s quite possible that the authors thought they were largely writing the truth. There’s just too much material to dismiss out of hand, and I’m sure there’s a lot of real history to be gleaned from it, directly or indirectly. The hard part is separating the truth from the fiction, although some claims are easier to place in one category or the other.

Short, but not so simple…

Questions from Avi in bold, answers by SmartLX following each one:

Short and simple answers to these questions, having a hard time to answer, voices tend to question my thoughts into confusion. Please don’t waste time, answer it objectively and simple.
Thank you.

I’d bloody well better do short and simple answers, because some of these questions touch on such huge subjects I could take hours to answer them properly.

– Why is there a large growth of Christians in Philosophy, People like Alvin Platinga, Richard Swinburne, John Lennox, William A. Dembski, Nicholas Wolterstorff, William L. Craig, Tim O’Connor?
There have always been a huge number of Christian apologists, compared to any other type. There are a large number of newly publicised apologists now because there’s money in it. These guys sell books, tickets to seminars and other appearances, subscriptions to their regular publications…and some get huge donations from politicians for tacitly endorsing them.

– Are they stupid and delusional, must we force them out of education?
No Christian is necessarily stupid or clinically delusional. They are simply very likely to be wrong, and whenever this can be established with confidence the incorrect teachings should be kept out of the relevant parts of school curricula, for instance biology.

Is it possible to reduce a mental event into a physical events?
Are they interchangeable?
M=P
P=M

In the naturalistic, materialistic view, a mental effect is a physical effect as the brain is a physical part of the human body, but not all physical effects are mental effects because some of them have nothing to do with the cognitive areas of the brain.

– Can we only define pain as C fibres?
Pain is a signal that travels from parts of the body to the brain, and the reaction that signal creates. C fibres are merely the conduit for the signal.

– Can we as individuals have privileged access to other individuals?
If that’s the way things are arranged, sure. There’s a sci-fi convention coming up in Australia where you can pay through the nose for a small amount of quality time with William Shatner and Richard Dean Anderson. Try getting in for an autograph if you haven’t got a ticket.

– Can reality only be known through the 5 senses?
There are way more than five senses, but anyway, reality may not be known even through the senses. Some idea of reality can only be inferred from the information we receive through our senses, whether we experience things directly or we analyse evidence of past or remote events, but it might all be wrong. We can only amass enough information to reach a certain level of confidence in our opinion of what’s really going on around us. To declare any more surety than that is to delude oneself, which we all commonly do.

– Why is ID allowed in the scientific community in China, why is it free there?
Negligible copyright enforcement has a lot to do with it; English-language books advancing ID and denouncing evolution can be freely translated, copied and sold for a buck, but really I’ve got no evidence that ID is regarded in China’s scientific community any better than in America’s. Some scientists like Professor Paul K. Chien are advocating it there, just like Michael Behe does in the US, but is there any indication that it’s catching on?

– Is it ok to be a Christian? Why are Christians delusional?
As I said, Christians are likely to be wrong in my opinion, and there’s nothing wrong with being wrong except that you have an opportunity to correct yourself. Maybe they were raised with the idea, or they fell for some complicated apologetics, or they had some personal experience which they ascribed to the divine, but every believer has some reason to believe. The question in each case is whether it’s a good reason.

– Do we have to kill Christians in the very end in order to have a free, peaceful and open society?
Even if the existence of Christians absolutely precluded the existence of freedom and peace, killing them wouldn’t be the only answer; they could be persuaded that Christianity is false, for example. So without even discussing whether Christianity is compatible with freedom and peace, the answer to your question is no.

– If nihilism is true in the very end, where did value, and purpose come from? Should we force Christians into nihilism?
We humans place value on things and people ourselves, and we decide what our purpose is. Christians do the same, ultimately, but they attribute their values and perceived purposes to their God long after the fact. There’s no real motivation to force Christians into another philosophy, firstly because it’s almost impossible to change someone’s philosophy by force and secondly because just being Christian isn’t doing the majority of Christians (or everyone else) much harm. It’s the actions of Christians that occasionally do harm, and these should be addressed first.

– Why do I exist, Why am I here, Why do children have value? Why do I love? < Scientific view point
You exist because your parents had sex. There is a line of causality stretching from the fact of your existence to as far back as we can reasonably look into history. The ultimate prime reason for your existence may be the same as everyone else’s, or the line might go back forever. We don’t know. You love because your brain is equipped to form that kind of attachment to other people and living things, and that has a lot to do with why people give children the high value they have in today’s society.

– Do we force our mind into atheism and nihilism?
I certainly didn’t. I didn’t decide to be an atheist at all, I realised I was one already after not seriously thinking about it for more than a decade. You really don’t have to force it.

So, go chew on that lot.