Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Conversation with a Skeptic on the Existence of Jesus

Here is an actual conversation that took place a week or so ago between me and a skeptic (Andy) on an online forum about the existence of Jesus Christ. This was very constructive as debates go. They aren’t often this focused and usually contain many more insults from the skeptics.

I post this, not because I’m a world class debater (I’m not), but because the conversation is instructive in several ways. First, it shows the kinds of arguments skeptics out there are using and some ways to combat those arguments. Notice that I provide evidence and refer to evidence that he can verify elsewhere if he takes a little effort to do so.

Also notice that I do not always do all the looking for him. If he is interested, I have provided enough evidence to start him in the right direction. If he is only interested in ridiculing Christians, I have better uses of my time. Thus, I am under no obligation to ferret out every possible evidence for my position until he shows some signs of being a true seeker. My responsibility is to defend my position and provide a start for his own personal search, should he wish to undertake it.

The topic of the conversation itself is also instructive. There actually are still people out there claiming that the Jesus of the Bible never existed or that there is no evidence of him. My responses here include just a tiny intro to some of the evidences to contrary.

Another thing to notice here is how often Andy makes broad, sweeping claims with no evidence or refuses to look into sources I provide. This is typical. People like this like the idea of being atheists or agnostics and they like looking down their noses at Christians and pretending that we are the ones who are ignorant and backwards, yet they won’t even read an article or semi-lengthy comment on the evidence for our side, much less a book or scholarly publication. This conversation makes that clear.

Anyway, here’s the conversation, slightly cleaned up for clarity, but given in its entirety. The background is that Andy was having a conversation about the existence of God with someone else named Jan when I jumped in.


Andy: How real do you have to believe your imaginary friend is to consider it a relationship?

Jan: Andy, how real do you believe the air is that you breathe? You can't see it, but you know it is there.

Andy: When I put my head under water and breathe out, yes I can see it.

Me: And if you get to heaven, you'll be able to see God.

Andy: If I get to Valhalla I'll get to see Odin, which has as much likelihood.

Me: Except that Christianity has far more evidence for its truth than Norse mythology.

Andy: You're only saying that because Christianity is the dominant religion is your part of the world. You'd be saying something completely different if you lived in ancient Egypt, medieval Constantinople or modern day India.

Andy: I must point out that there is no evidence for Jesus' existence, and even if there were any to be found it still wouldn't verify any of his miracles or magic powers.

Me: I'm not talking about what religion I prefer to be true. I'm talking about which religion has objective evidence for its truth claims. Only Christianity has that.

Just for starters, do some research on:

The Cosmological Argument
The Teleological Argument
The Moral Argument
The Minimal Facts Case for the Resurrection of Jesus
The number of fulfilled OT prophecies

The first 3 are logical arguments for the existence of God and could apply to any personal monotheistic God. The last 2 are specific to Christianity.

As for the claim that there is no evidence for the existence of Jesus, that is patently false.

"Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, and most biblical scholars and classical historians see the theories of his non-existence as effectively refuted.[5][7][8][28][29][30] In antiquity, the existence of Jesus was never denied by those who opposed Christianity.[31][32] There is, however, widespread disagreement among scholars on the details of the life of Jesus mentioned in the gospel narratives, and on the meaning of his teachings.[12] Robert E. Van Voorst states that the idea of the non-historicity of the existence of Jesus has always been controversial, and has consistently failed to convince virtually all scholars of many disciplines.[28] Geoffrey Blainey notes that a few scholars have argued that Jesus did not exist, but writes that Jesus' life was in fact "astonishingly documented" by the standards of the time – more so than any of his contemporaries – with numerous books, stories and memoirs written about him."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus

Andy: Your copy and pasting skills are astounding. I'm not going to read something you've lazily C&P here, I want to hear these so-called objective evidences in your own words.

Me: Um, copying and pasting from a source, with a link, is called supporting your argument. You should try it sometime.

Me: The rest was my words and the information on those arguments is out there, easy to find if you look. If you want to know what evidence there is for Christianity, you'll have to do a little work. I have no incentive to provide information that you can just as easily find for yourself.

Andy: Firstly, if we're going to agree on the existence of Jesus' existence, we must first agree on a few standards Jesus must meet. What do qualifications should Jesus have?

Me: Read the link I provided. It's not a Christian source and it gives the basic facts that the majority of historians and scholars agree on. If you can't read a single Wikipedia article, I have nothing more to say. My explanation would be much longer and I don't plan to write it if you can't read that much.

Andy: I can accept there was a man running around Palestine 2000 years ago who claimed to be the messiah because there were literally hundreds doing that very same thing. So if you that's the only prerequisite that Jesus had to do, then yes, Jesus did exist.

Me: You still didn't read the link.

Andy: No, because we haven't decided on what standards Jesus would have to meet in order to determine if he did exist.

When you say Jesus, what do you mean?

Me: The accepted facts about Jesus include his baptism by John the Baptist, his crucifixion near Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate, that he had disciples, he was from Galilee, and that after his death his disciples were persecuted and killed. That sounds like the same person described in the Bible.

Andy: Then no, there is absolutely no evidence for that Jesus.

Me: Lots of historians disagree with you. Not just Christian historians, but atheists and agnostics as well.

Me: The historians Josephus and Tacitus, writing during the period, confirmed several details of Jesus' life, including his crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.

Andy: No, historians say that at the most they can say is that it's likely that a man called Jesus who claimed to be the messiah existed around Palestine 2000 years ago. They say nothing about his teachings, miracles or divinity.

You're wrong about the crucifixion; it's only been proven that Pilate existed and he probably had people executed.

Me: From Tacitus, a Roman historian, circa AD 117:

"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular."

Tacitus, The Annals, Book 15, Section 44


Andy: I didn't read the word 'crucifixion' at all; it doesn't even say he was executed.

Me: "the extreme penalty" could only be death. The extreme penalty among Romans was crucifixion.

Andy: Even if I grant you this as evidence, this has proven nothing about his miracles, divinity or resurrection.

Me: We weren't talking about those. We were talking about whether or not the Jesus of the Bible was an actual historical person.

Andy: You said:

"The accepted facts about Jesus include his baptism by John the Baptist, his crucifixion near Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate, that he had disciples, he was from Galilee, and that after his death his disciples were persecuted and killed. That sounds like the same person described in the Bible."

You have to provide evidence for all those points. Just having one source saying there was a chap called Jesus proves very little. You haven't shown evidence for John the Baptist, his hometown or that he was even executed.

Me: All of those facts are listed in the Wikipedia article I linked to as being accepted by most historians. There are references there. I don't have time to dig out everything I ever saw about the evidence for these things. Do a little research on your own. I provided one source for you, but I'm not going to write a book for you right now. It's already been done.

Andy: OK, for argument's sake, let's say you're right about those statements, so what? It doesn't mean anything.

Me: If you're interested, you can check out this blog post, which has a good summary of the evidence for the resurrection and links to more information:

http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/what-criteria-do-historians-use-to-get-to-the-minimal-facts-about-the-historical-jesus-2/

Me: Of course it means something. If I'm right, and there is evidence for a Jesus who was crucified by the Romans, baptized by John the Baptist, etc then that means the Biblical accounts of these things match known facts. That means the Biblical accounts have proven accurate and trustworthy on those points.

If the Biblical accounts (multiple accounts, written by different people at different times in different places) are accurate on these points, perhaps they are accurate in other places. A source that has been shown to be accurate in some places warrants further consideration as a primary source of information. Thus, the Biblical accounts form a historical record that provides information about the life of Jesus.

Andy: All things being equal, IF Jesus did exist and a two claims were made, firstly that Jesus' followers took the body, and secondly, Jesus rose from the dead, the most likely explanation is that the first claim is true. If the second were true is raises more questions than it answers. Why was it only known to a small number of people up until Constantine and how did he rise from the dead?

Me: In any historical document, there is always the risk that the writers made up what they were writing rather than recording what actually happened. That is true for any historical event or document out there, religious or not. However, there are several clues that historians look for in order to determine if the writers were likely to be telling the truth or not. They look for things like multiple attestation (i.e. multiple sources verifying one another), early records (i.e. written near the time they record), matching with known facts of the time period, dissimilarities between sources (i.e. different sources verifying a fact have differences to show that the accounts are independent, and not copies of one another), embarrassment of the writers (people tend not to make up things that are embarrassing to themselves and thus embarrassing details are good evidence that an account was recorded accurately), and linguistically accurate to the time period and area they are supposed to come from. All of these apply to the accounts found in the Bible and form good evidence that the writers of the NT documents were recording history accurately.

Andy: Yes, so what's more likely? These extraordinary events actually happened or the writers made them up?

Andy: If I said there was historical evidence for King Arthur, AND that he drew a sword from a stone and received Excalibur from the Lady in the Lake but I only provided evidence that he actually existed, would you accept the other two claims?

Me: The claim that Jesus' followers took the body seems not to fit as well with the facts. Why would they die for a story they made up? We know that Christians were persecuted and killed for their insistence on the resurrection of Jesus. Why face all that instead of admitting you lied?

Also, if the body had been stolen, in spite of the Roman guards, why weren't those guards put to death? It's not like the Romans had a big tolerance for negligence in the line of duty.

Also, the accounts of the resurrection contain details that would have been embarrassing for the writers and early Christians. For one thing, the empty tomb was discovered by women. In those days, women were not considered reliable witnesses and were not allowed to testify in a court of law. If people of that time were making up a story, they would have made it men that discovered the tomb - probably Peter or John. Similarly, they claim to have seen Jesus after the resurrection, but Thomas didn't believe it at first. Again, that's an embarrassing detail. Plus, the idea of a bodily resurrection was foreign to Jewish belief.

Andy: Your argument falls apart at the instant you claim that Jesus' body actually disappeared. You've presented no evidence for it.

Me: It seems to me that if Jesus' body didn't disappear it would have been easy to debunk the early Christians' claims of resurrection. All they would have to do is take people to the tomb and point to the body. The story that the disciples took the body would never have been invented if the body was still there. Historians generally agree that the body was missing for these reasons.

Andy: Where can we find the claims that any of this actually happened outside of the Bible?

Me: As far as I know, the claims of resurrection are found only in Christian writings, including several early documents known as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. However, these are historical documents with good evidence of their historical accuracy elsewhere, and which are written near the time of the events they claim to record, which agree on the important details and yet are independent sources and not copies of one another, and which contain details that would be embarrassing to the writers and early Christians, and for which claims the early disciples refused to recant, even on penalty of death. I didn't say there was proof positive, but there is definitely some evidence here, and far more than you'll ever find for any other religion.

Andy: I'm glad we've established that your claims are baseless.

Me: That's not what I said and not true. They might be false (though, obviously, I don't think so), but they aren't baseless.

Andy: There is nothing outside of the bible that mentions Jesus' resurrection, let alone verifies it.

Me: So why don't you consider the testimony of the accounts in the Bible? They are historical records, just like Josephus or Tacitus.

Andy: The same reason you don't accept accounts of alien abductions (hopefully poi don't anyway). I have no good reason to accept anything without decent evidence.

The bible is not a historical text because the amount of verifiable things in are of such a small percentage that it's virtually worthless, and certainly not reliable enough to be a commentary on any real events.

Me: Actually, the amount of information in the Bible that has been verified historically is great. Obviously, not everything in the Bible is verifiable. But where it can be verified, it matches well with what we already know about history.

Unlike Norse mythology or Mormonism, the events of the Bible take place in a real historical setting, with real people that are known to exist in history, with historically accurate details that match the time period. Unlike tales of alien abduction, there was no incentive for the early Christians to make up such stories, and in fact every reason not to considering that they were being killed in some of the most brutal ways for their claims.

And the separate accounts from the different gospels agree with each other in the important details while still incorporating different aspects, which shows that they are independent accounts and not copies of each other or written by conspirators. These writers show every indication of doing their best to recount an accurate account of their experiences, even including embarrassing details that might have made them look bad. It doesn't look like a made-up story. It looks like the people who were there really believed it.

Andy: Would you mind relaying a few?

Me: You want me to relay a few details of historically verified information in the Bible? Sure. There's lots and lots and lots. I couldn't possibly list it all, but I can give some idea of the scope.

Just talking about the life of Jesus, there are details about the geography and names of Roman officials that are well-known. Pontius Pilate, for example. And he was only short-term governor (AD 26-36), so that gives historical setting. Other historical figures mentioned in the NT include Herod the Great, Herod Antipas and wife Herodias (who had formerly been married to his brother, Philip), Governors Felix and Festus, "King" Agrippa, and others. The existence of places like Galilee, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, etc are confirmed. The Bible isn't written as a fable with "once upon a time, long, long ago." It happens in a real, historical place and time.

Crucifixion is described accurately and matches what we know from elsewhere about this Roman punishment. We also see other similar cultural details such as the practice of stoning, the common use of wine as a beverage at that time, many Jewish sayings and practices, the special status and rights reserved for Roman citizens, and lots of other details of the period.

In other areas of the Bible the same sort of thing applies. We know of Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Moabites, and many other people groups from the Bible and from other sources. The history of the Israelites given in the OT also matches several things known from outside sources (such as King Omri of Israel fighting against Moab, King Hezekiah of Israel being besieged by Sennacherib of Assyria, but then Sennacherib leaving without sacking the city, etc). There is every reason to believe that the Bible as a whole is an accurate historical record of events of the time, even if you disbelieve the religious claims.

Andy: So it names some historical locations; Spider-man mentions New York, is Spider-Man real?

As for the crucifixion, an execution like that often lasted for days, not just three hours.

Me: There is much more to the Bible than simply mentioning real place names. That is simply one type of historical detail that has been verified. Also, people didn't have the time, inclination, or resources to simply write fiction back then, as we do today. Parchment or papyrus were expensive and difficult to obtain, few could write, times were tough and everyone had to work hard to survive, and these precious resources of scribes and writing materials were generally reserved for important documents, not wasted on fanciful things. Not that all documents were historically accurate back then, but the fanciful ones were usually obvious in their flight from reality, not carefully crafted hoaxes with a little make-believe inserted in a grim, historical setting.

As for the crucifixion, the Bible agrees that crucifixions usually took a long time. That is why it records the surprise of the soldiers at finding Jesus dead so soon, the spear being stabbed into Jesus' side to check this, and the legs of the remaining criminals on crosses being broken to hurry their deaths.

Andy: That's one of my problems with the bible, it gets so many things wrong. Too many things wrong for it to be the work of an all-knowing being.

Me: What sorts of things wrong? Can you give any examples? You can't just claim the Bible gets stuff wrong. You have to at least provide some examples. While there are many apparent contradictions, all of them can be resolved with a little study so that there are no actual contradictions in the Bible. Or at least I have yet to find one. So if you have real examples of things that are false in the Bible, I would like to hear them.

Andy: OK, Sodom and Gomorrah never existed. There is no evidence that points to a large amount of people just leaving Egypt. In Exodus it states that the Egyptian army was drowned in the Red Sea; not a single artefact has ever been found to back this up. There is no evidence to suggest a large number of people invaded Canaan, result in the eradication of most of the indigenous population. In fact, evidence points to quite the contrary. Evidence shows that Judaism started in ancient Palestine. They borrowed beliefs and developed into another monotheism in the area.

Me: Since it is impossible to prove the non-existence of anything, you can't possibly have evidence that Sodom and Gomorrah never existed. At most you can claim that they have never been found. But to fail to find two cities that old is not exactly surprising, especially considering the Bible's claim that they were completely destroyed. So while you could claim it was made up, you haven't proven that. You have merely said that there is no evidence for the Bible's account. There are lots of points where the Bible hasn't been or can't be verified. But where it can be, it often has been.

As for the rest of the things you mentioned, you should probably learn a principle called "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." These things may not have been verified completely, but there is no evidence that the Biblical account is false.

While these events may not have been confirmed entirely, there is work being done to reconcile the Biblical accounts with other known chronologies such as that of Egypt.

Here's an article about an Egyptian papyrus that seems to indicate plagues that are very similar to those in Exodus: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roger-isaacs/passover-in-egypt-did-the_b_846337.html

Me: As for the Canaanites, it is clear in the Bible that the Canaanite populations were not wiped out since it speaks of various Canaanite cities that existed intact long after the Israelites invaded. Some cities were wiped out and perhaps some whole tribes, but not all Canaanites in the region.

Andy: Do you have any idea how asinine that statement was? You're pretty much saying that because there is no evidence then it must be true.

That's why I don't believe in God(s); I see no evidence for one/any. If you used the argument that if the lack of evidence is evidence in itself, you'd rightly be laughed at.

Me: No, I didn't say the lack of evidence makes it true. I said that you haven't proved the Bible is false. That's a completely different thing.

Me: The Bible itself is a set of historical documents that are better preserved and better attested than any other comparable ancient text. That alone is pretty noteworthy. And it has been verified in many instances, though evidence is still lacking for many of its claims (which is what one would expect since having independent confirmation of every claim in an ancient text would be beyond belief considering how little we can verify from that era).

Andy: If there's no current evidence for it, then we must assume the position that until it is proven, it probably doesn't exist. It's called skepticism and critical thinking.

I'd be willing to change my mind if compelling evidence were put forward, but until then I have to say that Exodus and the like, never happened.

If we're talking about the Biblical Jesus, I'd expect to see as strong evidence for his existence as we have for Julius Caesar.

Me: You expect to have the same amount of evidence for a homeless Jew in a backwater country with no political power as you do for the Emperor of the known world at the time? That's asking a little much.

Andy: That's a fair point, but I think Jesus' ability to raise people from the dead, walk on water, cure diseases, conjure up food from nowhere and even come back from the dead puts him back in the game for requiring evidence.

Me: How about fulfilling dozens of prophecies in ways that no one ought to be able to fulfill them? Like where he was born and how he died.

Me: As for the miracles, it is rather difficult to prove a miracle unless you happen to see it with your own eyes. If someone, even today, were to feed 5 thousand people from a small lunch, how could you prove it after the fact? You could only rely on eye witnesses. Which is what we do when we believe the Bible.

Me: Of course, one should ensure that such eyewitnesses are trustworthy as much as possible, but when you have multiple eyewitnesses saying the same things, some of which are embarrassing to them, but with enough different details to show they didn't collude in their stories, it's worth looking into further.

Andy: That's true. I'd need to see something that verifies the event. Nothing pops up anywhere regarding Jesus' miracles outside of the bible.

Not one single Roman scholar thought "Hmmm, I heard there's this chap in Judea raising people from the dead. Perhaps I should write this down."

Regarding the prophecies, that's pretty easy to discount when you realise the writers of the bible could just write whatever they like.

Me: The deal with the prophecies is that we have evidence that the prophecies were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Take a look at Psalm 22, for example. It looks, at first glance, like the writer (King David) is talking about his own troubles, but then you realize that he is giving a very accurate description of crucifixion (though in poetic form), which was unknown at that time. Jesus quoted the first lines of this psalm on the cross to indicate that he was fulfilling it right then. The parallels are astounding. Specifically, verses 12-18 are very interesting:

"Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture."

A crowd around him, staring and gloating. Bones out of joint (hanging on a cross, suspended by his arms). Thirsty (Jesus said he was thirsty on the cross). Pierced hands and feet (what other torture or method death produces that, and how could someone ensure they experienced that in order to try to fulfill the prophecy). No bones broken (Jesus died before they could break his legs as they did with the others on the crosses next to him). Casting lots for his clothing. How could one man make his own death match all those details? And how could the writer of the Psalm know anything about crucifixion - with its pierced hands and feet, bones out of joint, thirst from exposure, and people standing around watching - hundreds of years before the practice was invented?

Other prophets of the OT also foretold the death of Jesus. Isaiah 53:2-12 is very compelling.

"For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."

This was known to be a prophecy of the Messiah long before Jesus was born. Notice the parallels to Jesus. It talks of the Messiah being wounded and having stripes (whip marks). Led like a sheep to the slaughter, but did not open his mouth (Jesus was silent before his accusers and did not respond to their charges). He had no children. Died with criminals, but was buried by a rich man.

Micah 5:2 is another prophecy fulfilled: "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."

Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

These are just a few examples. There are others as well. It would be quite a feat for one man to make his life conform to these prophecies from hundreds of years before.

Andy: Too long. Didn’t read.

Me: As for the miracles, there weren't too many historians in Palestine at that time. They tended to regard the great deeds of Rome as more interesting to record. But the historian Josephus did speak of Jesus in his Book 18.

"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross,[9] those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day;[10] as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day."

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Antiquities_of_the_Jews/Book_XVIII#Chapter_3

Me: Too long, huh? I guess you don't really care to know the evidence. You'd rather spout borrowed cliches about "no evidence" than actually educate yourself about the topic.

Andy: Look, you're banging on about Josephus and after a little research, it turns out that he wasn't even that reliable. He was born after Jesus had allegedly lived, so he never even saw the guy. He wrote down accounts, third hand might I add, from people who could just make up any old shit about Jesus.

Me: Welcome to studying history. That's quite normal. It's tough to try to find any decent historical records from that long ago, especially in some areas. Modern historians have to invest a lot of work in sifting through old documents trying to piece together the past from the writings of people who may or may not have actually seen what they are describing and who may or may not have an interest in modifying the accounts for their own purposes.

That's why the Bible is such an exceptional group of historical records. It is better than the vast majority of sources out there because it was written primarily by eyewitnesses, contains multiple sources that agree with one another, and has good evidence that it hasn't been altered over the years because we have multiple copies from different time periods that all say nearly exactly the same thing, some of which date to within 200 years of the original writing. There are few, if any, historical documents of that era which can even come close to comparing.

Andy: I'm at a loss as to why to insist on claim the bible is a historically reliable document. If it is a historical document then the universe is only 6000 years old, which, as we all know, is wrong.

Me: Look, if you're waiting on a picture and an article about Jesus in the Jerusalem Times, you're going to be out of luck. They just didn't record things that way back then. They didn't have the wealth of information we have at our fingertips all the time. The existence of Jesus and his life and death are about as well documented as one could imagine for a poor Jewish man with no political power living in a poor area with no political importance. The fact that we even know anything about him from outside sources is rather amazing.

As for the Bible records themselves, people like you tend to discount them immediately without ever considering them, but they are actually valuable historical records. Perhaps because people place these documents in a single volume and call it "The Bible" people often think of it as just one book. It isn't. It's a collection of 66 books, written by about 40 people over a period of about 1600 years. These books are exceptionally well-preserved and well-documented as to their origin and history. There are literally thousands of documents and document fragments of books in the NT from the 3rd and 4th century AD through about the 14th century, in the original languages or from early translations. And, amazingly, while there are many minor variations of a word or sentence between these documents, it is quite possible for scholars to reconstruct the original words of the entirety of the NT to a high degree of certainty. That is unheard of.

As for the text itself, it has a very high degree of agreement within the text, contains things the people of that time would have found embarrassing to themselves and are not likely to have made up, and which they themselves had every reason not to spread considering that they were persecuted and killed for it. Why would they do this? Maybe they were all part of a big conspiracy and they were willing to die so that they could trick millions of people like me who believe their accounts into believing some made up story about a poor man in Palestine who did miracles and was crucified by the Romans, but who rose again because he was God. Maybe they were far-sighted enough to think up an idea that would live on for thousands of years beyond them and that people of all backgrounds throughout history would come to believe. Maybe it's all a big scam and I'm a sucker to believe it. Or maybe, just maybe, they died for this story and spent their lives travelling the world to tell others about it and refused to be quieted because it was true.

To get back to my original point, I never claimed to have absolute proof for Christianity. There is no absolute proof. But to say there is "no evidence" is false. There may not be enough evidence to satisfy you. Fair enough. That's your choice. But at least be honest enough not to claim there is no evidence or that Norse myths are equally supported by evidence. That is just false.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Legislating Morality: Should All Wrong Things be Illegal?

Murder ought to be illegal. Theft ought to be illegal. Rape ought to be illegal. Few people question these. Most would agree that these things (among others) should be illegal. But the important question is WHY? Why should some things be illegal and some should not? The reason matters. Without a reason for our laws, they become totally arbitrary. How can we advocate for making anything illegal unless we have a good reason for it? How can we expect anyone to agree with us, that some behaviors should be illegal, if we can’t give them a good reason for our views?

One potential reason that is often given in such cases is morality, often based on the Bible. The idea here is that wrong things should be illegal. However, this explanation is insufficient. There are many things that are wrong that should not be illegal. Some wrong things can’t be legislated because we humans cannot detect when they are occurring. Lust and coveting, for example, are wrong, but how could you tell if someone is doing those things?

But even beyond that, some wrong things are none of government's business. Government has authority over some areas of life, but not all areas. So some things, which might be wrong, simply do not fall under government’s jurisdiction, and thus, government has no authority to punish those who do them. For example, if a child disobeys his parents – perhaps he ate candy he was told not to eat – that is wrong. But the government has no jurisdiction to punish the child for the wrong he did. The punishment should be decided and administered by the child’s parents. Government simply has no authority to step in and haul the child off to juvenile hall for eating the forbidden candy. Similarly, if two adults engage in premarital sex, it is wrong. But it is not government’s responsibility to punish them for what they do in the privacy of their homes. A third example would be someone who swears. It might be wrong, but saying an expletive ought not to send you to jail or even cause you to pay a fine.

Because government has limited authority, there must be principles that explain the limits of that authority and explain what falls under government’s jurisdiction and what does not. It is very important to know WHEN it is government's business to get involved and WHY government should be involved in those cases if we are to make law properly.

The principles that show us when government should be involved in regulating or punishing behaviors are known as inalienable rights. Government's primary purpose is to protect inalienable rights and, thus, things that violate inalienable rights should be illegal.

If you don’t know what inalienable rights are, check out my 5-part series:

The Inalienable Rights Series
Part 1: What are Inalienable Rights?
Part 2: The Source of Inalienable Rights
Part 3: Liberty in Society and Government
Part 4: Government by Consent of the Governed
Part 5: Some Common Misconceptions

It should be noted here that no one can create inalienable rights just by dreaming them up. Like the principles of mathematics, they are discovered, not invented. They all logically follow from basic principles and apply to everyone. Thus, they form a solid basis for differentiating the things that fall under government’s jurisdiction from those that do not. In short, any behavior that violates the inalienable rights of anyone should be illegal. Government has a duty to make such behaviors illegal and to provide punishment for the violation of rights in order to protect those rights.

So, with that in mind, murder, which is a violation of the right to live, should be illegal. Rape and slavery, which are violations of the right to liberty, should be illegal. Theft, which is a violation of the right to own property, should be illegal.

On the other hand, premarital sex, though wrong, is not a violation of anyone's rights as long as it is consensual. Thus, it is none of government's business. The same goes for homosexual acts. They may be wrong, but punishing them does not fall under government's jurisdiction. Disobedient children, assuming they have not violated the inalienable rights of anyone, should not be punished by government. Taking God’s name in vain, though serious enough to be forbidden in the Ten Commandments, does not fall under government’s jurisdiction because it violates no one’s rights.

At this point, many conservative Christians tend to object. They don’t like idea that not all wrong things should be illegal. They point out that God’s laws are the ultimate foundation for all morality and truth. They question the principles of inalienable rights. They point out that inalienable rights can only exist if there is a God. I’m not unaware of these arguments. However, those who claim that laws should be based simply on morality or the Bible are making some very serious mistakes.

For one, when you conflate “wrong” with “illegal,” you are allowing government to become the arbiter of truth rather than leaving that role to God. God decides what is right or wrong and it is God’s job to punish wrongdoing. In some cases, God delegates the authority to punish evil to government. But in other cases, He doesn't. If it was true that everything that is wrong should be illegal, that means government is doing God’s job. If you think government is the punisher of all evil, then you are displacing God and elevating government to an improper role.

Not only that, but when you conflate “wrong” and “illegal,” people tend to think that if something is legal, it must be okay. Thus, there are lots of people, for example, who think abortion is okay because it's legal. They are looking to government as the arbiter of right and wrong because they think “wrong” and “illegal” are the same thing. People also get the opposite idea too. If something is illegal (like sharing your faith in some countries), people think it's wrong. Again, the problem is a lack of understanding of the proper role of government and its limitations.

Another problem that occurs when people don't understand the proper role of government is government overreach. If you think all wrong things should be illegal, you tend to advocate for government to step in whenever there is something you don't think is right. This grows government to a huge size and gives it far too much power.

It has been said that a government that is big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take everything away from you. It is similarly true that a government big enough to disallow every wrong thing is big enough to disallow (or allow) whatever it wants and to try to elevate itself to the place of God in the lives of the people.

So, I’ve explained why it is important to understand which things actually do fall under government's jurisdiction and which do not. It is so important to make the right argument about how we should make law. You can't say, or even imply, that being wrong is the sole reason a behavior should be illegal without assigning government the wrong role and usurping God's place as arbiter of right and wrong. Instead of simply saying that something is wrong, we need a rationale for why a particular sin falls under government's jurisdiction, not just God's. In other words, we need to show how a behavior violates inalienable rights in order to justify making it illegal.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Roast Pork Loin

It's been a while since I posted a recipe. But now I'm back sharing my favorite dishes with you. This is an especially good one that is so easy and makes a great meal and great leftovers (if there are any).







1 boneless pork loin (2-3 lbs)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2-1/2 tablespoons Weber roasted garlic and herb seasoning
1-1/2 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 teaspoons salt (I use about half Kosher salt and half table salt)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups water

Note: All seasonings are approximate amounts. I never actually measure them. You can adjust them to your taste also. If you don't have the same garlic and herb seasoning I use, substitute another garlic and herb seasoning or a mix of minced garlic, salt, sage, thyme, and whatever other herbs you like.

Rinse pork loin and pat dry with a paper towel. Place in a large roasting pan or baking pan. Mix all the seasonings together with the olive oil.




Rub the seasoning blend over the pork loin on all sides. Make sure the fat side of the pork loin is down. Pour the water into the bottom of the roasting pan.





Cover the roasting pan with the lid (or cover a baking pan with aluminum foil).

Bake at 300 degrees for about 3-1/2 hours or until tender enough to pull apart with a fork. Baste 2-3 times during the last hour.

That's it! For about 5-10 minutes of work (prep and basting) you get a roast pork loin that is juicy, tender, and so delicious.




Warning: The aroma of the pork loin cooking may cause excessive mouth watering, hunger pains, and frequent checks to see if it is done yet. When I make this, my whole house smells delicious for up to 2 hours before it is even done. No kidding.

Serve with mashed potatoes (you've got to have mashed potatoes with this) and a veggie side. I like steamed green beans or green peas with this recipe. I sometimes do candied sweet potatoes with it as a third side. Green lima beans, a green bean casserole, butternut squash, or any other hearty vegetable dish would also work well. Enjoy!




As an additional note, this recipe can be done in a crock pot as well. Just cook it for little longer (roughly 5 hours on high or 8 hours on low, depending on your crock pot).