Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

willhud9 vs Byron

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Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#1  Postby Calilasseia » Aug 13, 2013 8:07 pm

The protagonists in this formal debate will consider the question "Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?," with willhud9 arguing the affirmative and Byron arguing the negative.

The debate will conform to the following format, as agreed by both participants.

  1. An introductory post from each participant, consisting of < 501 words.
  2. Five primary position posts each, on five agreed key points of Christianity: God, miracles, the resurrection of Jesus, the reliability of the Bible, and salvation heaven/hell, consisting of < 2626 words.
  3. Five posts each for rebuttal, in which the participants will be invited to address their antagonist's previous remarks, consisting of < 2626 words.
  4. One concluding post each, consisting of <2626 words.
  5. Replies must be posted within five days. An extension of a further five day may apply but only if agreed by both participants in advance.

A debate comment thread has been made available for the purpose of observer commentary: Peanut Gallery: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?.

Participants in the debate are expressly forbidden from posting to the commentary thread until the debate is concluded. Only willhud9 and Byron will be permitted to post to this thread - members who post here will have their comments deleted. Additionally, the usual terms and conditions of the Forum Users' Agreement apply throughout the debate.

willhud9 will post first and the debaters will then post alternately. I now invite willhud9 to post his opening remarks.
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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#2  Postby willhud9 » Aug 13, 2013 11:40 pm

Can the Christian faith be rationally defended? I chose this topic because I feel that oftentimes the concept of faith and rationality are forced into opposite sides of the room and a false dichotomy between the two is raised. I fear this stems from the understanding of faith which has become common in everyday usage of the word: a belief not based in proof. Without some sort of evidence, or reason to hold the belief, the belief is considered illogical, or irrational and for good measure. But is the Christian faith a belief not based in proof? I will argue the negative of that statement.

First of all, faith in the Greek is πίστις (pistis) and it literally means a confidence or trust in something. In Greek mythology Pistis was the embodiment/personification of trust. In Latin, the word fidem is used and was a value of high importance to Roman society. All of which mean faith. Now the etymology of a word is not as important as its use so what is the point? In Hebrews 11:1 it reads: "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Much like a friend who makes a promise and you have no direct evidence of whether or not he or she will keep the promise, faith in the Biblical understanding and usage is defined in a similar manner. It is an assurance.

So okay we get that faith means a trust in something, but that still leaves the entire notion of a supernatural God, miracles, and other extraordinary things within the Christian faith which are not based around any evidence and therefore require an abandonment of reason to justify the belief in it. It is a belief without proof. The focus of this debate is on what my opponent and I have agreed are key components of the Christian faith: The existence of God, the possibility of miracles, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the reliability of the Bible, and the concept of heaven, hell, and salvation. The defense of these key components are essential to determining whether or not the Christian faith can be rationally defended.

By showing the high probability of an existence of a "god" through examples of quantum mechanics, and cosmology, laws of order and chaos, we can establish a foundation for deism.

By showing the possibility of miracles and understanding what a miracle is we can understand that the "god" is capable of intervening.

By showing the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus we can close the gap onto Christianity.

By showing the reliability of the Bible we can be reassured about the contents of the book.

By discussing the concept of salvation we can understand the drive behind the Church.

All of these things are to be defended. I wish my opponent the best of luck and I hope this will be fun!
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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#3  Postby Byron » Aug 14, 2013 11:17 pm

Thanks to Will & the mods for setting this up, and Will's good wishes are heartily returned.

With the preamble done, let's get to it. :)

I'm privileged to be faced with an argument without foundation. This is a fight between reason and assertion. The position Will's defending is categorically incapable of being rational. The supernatural is the enemy of the rational, because supernatural claims make up the rules as they go, and rest on human assertion. Rationality is impossible when anything can go, and truth is reduced to power-play. Authoritarian creeds are forced to impose their will because they're incapable of winning an argument. Christianity's history of persecution and censorship is testimony not only to human cruelty, but to its inability to reason. If you can't persuade you're reduced to beating down.

"Christianity" is here taken to refer to traditional, orthodox Christianity, not the liberal theology of the 19th and 20th centuries. To the Christianity of creeds, biblical authority, and the church's magisterium. Liberal theology sought to reconcile Christianity and rationality by removing the supernatural. It did so because it recognized the conflict between authoritarianism and rationality. Christianity's tragedy that its majority have ignored this wisdom, retreating to a never-never land of evangelical fantasy and magisterial assertion. Their spirit-world of gods and devils, angels and demons, sin and salvation is less rational that Cthulhu. At least Lovecraft knew it was fantasy.

The authors of Christianity believed rationality was obeying God's revelation. The problem with this is that they never overcame the flaw that sinks all such claims: it's impossible to prove revelation, as we are its source. At best, we are its mediators. As it rests on subjective human assertion, there can be no external validation. Christianity is reduced to making an idol of the authority fallacy. Truth is what the source of authority -- be it church, scripture, or prophet -- says it is. "Because I say so" is ipso facto irrational.

All the debated claims embody this unreasoned, fallacious authoritarianism, and assume their conclusions. Without assertion, the house of cards collapses. The very terms used to defend the case for the reasonableness of Christianity serve to destroy it. They are suicidal. It is, literally, a self-defeating argument.

I feel guilty in having such an easy task here. Most of the work has been done for me by the poverty of the opposing case. This is no disrespect to Will, who is burdened by the shoddiness of the tools with which he is forced to work. It takes a skilled person indeed to attempt to defend the indefensible. He is a braver person than I to accept such a disadvantage. I have by far the easier task. I have merely to illuminate the defects Will is compelled to display.

I wish him luck, and admire his skill, but nothing can save his case. A house built on sand is doomed to fall.
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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#4  Postby willhud9 » Aug 15, 2013 5:48 am

Before I officially give my first argument on the existence of God, which shall be interesting as Mick has a similar debate at the moment on the same topic as this post, I would like to thank the mod team, Life, Byron and everyone who is watching from the Peanut Gallery for this opportunity. In my excitement to get started I totally forgot to give my thanks!

Secondly, for information's sake. I am still your converted atheist you all know and love. I am having this debate for the sake of fun and see if after almost two years I can argue for orthodox Christianity. So without further ado here is my first argument:

Part I Physics

Is there a higher power? A question which has puzzled theologians, laypersons, and even many scientists throughout the ages. Well around a third of professional scientists profess a belief in a God, mainly from one of the Abrahamic religions. Now I am not talking about those "scientists" from the Discovery Institute. They are neither professional nor serious about their academia, but how can scientists whom spend their life dealing with empirical data profess a belief in a God? Because to them there are clues in the science they study.

Kenneth Miller, professor of Biology at Brown University, discussed in his book Finding Darwin's God, what he considered three questions that science could not answer. The first is thermodynamics; the Universe has a plethora of energy, where did it come from? The Universe itself where did it come from? The second is the "anthropic principle" or rather a sort of fine tuning. The conditions of the Universe and the solar system of Earth are just right for human life to develop and form. Now this is not arguing intelligent design, that the universe was designed and therefore perfect, but rather the Universe was affected in some way so that life on earth may develop. And the third is the "uncertainty principle" of quantum mechanics which states that there are slight mathematical inequalities which limit how precise certain pairs of physical properties of a particle can be known simultaneously. It is these three positions I seek to explain in relation to the existence of a god.

So unto the first, thermodynamics. Thermodynamics deals with the reaction of heat and the conversion of energy in a system aside from by work. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, energy gives way to entropy, etc. Now some creationists use thermodynamics to "disprove" evolution, but we know that is a bunch of hogwash. The cosmological theory of the Big Bang, the most accepted out of the cosmological theories, states that at one point our universe was dense and hot, and that heat caused the universe to rapidly expand.

Now some scientists argue that since energy cannot be created , that the mass of energy from which the universe started has been infinite. And that could be true, but the problem comes with the laws of thermodynamics and entropy. For how long was the universe a condensed mass of energy? If for a long time (alright physicists I know time is relative and may not have been in existence prior to the Bang), was the "stuff" (for lack of a better term) around the mass of energy an open system in which new energy could come in? If for a short time, why the sudden expansion? These are questions for which most answers are speculative at best.

This understanding of thermodynamics in relation to the Big Bang has caused what is called the first cause hypothesis of many religious institutions. In which, the energy of the Big Bang had to have come from an outside source. It could have come from another Universe and our Universe is simply part of a bigger Megaverse, some astrophysicists even adhere to that explanation. And yet, at the same time it hints at something beyond our universe, a potential infinite source of energy. Kenneth Miller, argues that the infinite source of energy is very much God. Now for me that is a jump, so let us look at the other two questions.

The fine tuning argument is one in which the Discovery Institute has assumed as a valid explanation for Intelligent Design, and sadly has made many people cringe when they hear fine tuning. But the reality is the conditions of how earth formed in the billions of years the universe was cooling off, and the physics of the universe itself, are pointing towards a sense of awe that if just small fractions of the science were off during the Big Bang, our existence would not be the same, or even present. Creepy stuff to muse about late at night. Now some scientists, such as Daniel Dennett, have tried to explain away the concept of design, by arguing for multiple universes, but again that brings us back to earlier. Sure multiple universes can make sense, but by that logic and conjecture so can a first cause god.

Finally we have the principle of uncertainty in quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is the physics surrounding physical phenomena at microscopic levels and differs from classical mechanics i.e. the study of motion of bodies, on the subatomic levels. The uncertainty principle states that for every pair of properties of a particle observed, the more knowledge of how precise one property is the uncertainty of the other particle becomes. Because of this Miller argues that since electrons are the foundation for every atom and atoms are the literal building blocks of matter and therefore life, the entire foundation of life and nature is uncertainty. Because of the subtle changes in electron behavior due to quantum mechanics, mutations and evolutionary change occur. Because of the unpredictability of electrons, it can be argued that if there was a first cause, and the universe was fine tuned for life on earth, that even on the quantum level the behavior of electrons which are essential for the development of life can be affected by the same first cause which has affected the others. Miller believes that sets the foundation for a god. Perhaps not the Christian God, but a god nonetheless.

Part II Morality

So how do we get from a first cause god-like thing to the actual God of Christianity? Francis Collins, former geneticist of the Human Genome Project and the director of the National Institutes of Health, argues that the Christian God can be arrived at by what he dubbed from CS Lewis, "the Moral Law." The virtue of certain morals have been raised to a point in human society as being intrinsically considered right or wrong. Morals such as malicious lying, malicious killing, adultery, and theft have in human culture been considered morally wrong. Now the degree of the morality is relative. Some cultures believe that murder is justified if in self defense or to protect one's honor. Some cultures believe lying is okay if the lying is not for self gain, but to save lives or emotions. These variants of the morals are what is considered relative morality.

But underlying all the small variants of morals we happen upon a basic structure or framing of basic principles which human cultures have held since humanity began. It is that basic structure which is known as the Moral Law. Incidentally, that Moral Law matches in agreement with the God of Christianity and His Law.

Paul in the Epistle to the Romans wrote: For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

What is God's nature? God's nature is in his moral law. The understanding of right and wrong found within human instinct is part of God's nature. His eternal power can relate back towards the notion of quantum mechanics and uncertainty. Paul continues in Romans saying that people knew God but chose to ignore him. This is in relation to the moral law as well. They knew God's standard, but chose to ignore it for their own purpose. In much the same way we see that on an anthropological level. The subtle variations of morality extend from the basic structure of a moral law.

Now some, such as Dr. Richard Dawkins, have advocated that morality is a part of genetics that human evolution has "wired" us for morality and altruism in order so that our genes could survive, natural selection, etc. And there are two replies to that. The first is even if everything was simply genetics and that the morality humans experience is a result of biological evolution, it would not somehow negate the principle of moral law. Why? Because of quantum mechanics. If God is able to work on the quantum level and affect mutations, he could most definitely affect mutations and genetics to allow for a genetic moral law. But that is if everything was simply genetics.

There is an issue with the genetic argument and that is a disposition to choose i.e. free will. If morality was merely some genetic code hardwired into our DNA than by all means you'd expect everyone to behave the same morally or rather to varying degrees. Just like you have people with brown and blue eyes, you would find people more inclined to behave good and more people inclined to behave badly. But we do not. We see people whom choose to do something exemplary or we see people whom choose to do something wicked. This is shown by people who have done terrible things in the past, turning around and doing great things with their present and future.

Part III A Longing for Something More

So we touched on the science, we touched on the ethics, now it is time for a philosophical approach. Since humans learned to work with tools, and communicate, one of the greatest features of humans is to learn. What drives a human to learn? After all, no other animal actively pursues an education or knowledge. Sure a dog may curiously follow a scent, or a chimpanzee may learn to use a tool, but humans are the only ones who pursue knowledge for knowledge's sake.

So again, what drives a human to learn? It could be an evolutionary trait which helped early hominids survive. Or it could be the desire to seek the truth about life. Questions such as why are we here, and where did we come from? have been asked by humans from all walks of life for thousands of thousands of years. The fact that priests were some of the earliest professions in a civilization shows that for thousands of years people believed there was some higher power. Where did that belief come from? The fear of the unexplainable? The lies of the power hungry? Or perhaps from an actual deity? The longing for truth and for purpose is perhaps one of the biggest supports for God.

The Christian God expressly wants people to know Him. Jeremiah 24:7 reads: And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart. Because of this he created onto people a desire to seek the truth. Going back to the Romans verse from earlier, this also ties in with the concept of God's nature. God wants you to come to Him. His nature is for you to know Him. But people choose to reject God's moral law, and choose to reject God.

Part IV The power of individual testimony

Okay, so maybe individual testimony doesn't have that much power, but it sure can be convincing. Now it is true that many people can be delusional over something trivial. After all, we have a news story of religious people being awed over aphid feces and thinking it an act of God. Yeah, you have stupid people. But then you hear testimonies from former drug addicts and criminals, or suicidal people and how their life has turned around completely since becoming a Christian.

Now the testimony itself is not exactly proof of a God, but is the result found within the testimony an act of God or the individual willpower to change under a God delusion? I will argue it is the former. Life changing events in people's lives require major support and loads of time and effort. A lot of these changes in people's testimony are in a sense beyond what the person could be reasonably considered capable of.

In Romans 12, Paul talks about the renewing of our minds and therefore a transformation of character and that is exactly what we see with many people, a complete change of character. Those who come to be a Christian, are exposed to the Holy Spirit (I will discuss Him more when I discuss salvation) who actively lives within a Christian's life. Paul in Corinthian discusses how every believer is a temple onto God via the Holy Spirit. Because of this, the powers of God can be seen through those who lives through the spirit. Jesus, in the Gospels, said the testimony of his followers are by those who bear good fruit by living his teachings.

Now of course we have professed Christians who do terrible things in the supposed name of Christ or God, but did they really do it for God or for selfish, wicked reasons? The character transforming power experienced by many believers is testimony for his existence.

***

So I have discussed science, morality, philosophy, and the changing of lives. All of these I believe are sufficient evidences, if not direct proof, for the existence of a God. Can we be certain that this God is the Christian God? Not quite and that will come later. But as for now, I will concede my turn over to my partner and I wish him all the best as he argues why the existence of God is irrational.

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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#5  Postby Byron » Aug 15, 2013 7:28 pm

The Christians' god is irrationality personified.

He -- and he it is, in no uncertain terms -- is one person, yet simultaneously, three. His/their substance is indescribable and unknowable. He has the power to intervene in the world as and when he pleases, unbound by trifles like the observed norms of the universe. He saves and condemns without rhyme or reason, subordinates women to male power, casts gay men into a lake of fire for expressing their love physically, and does not tolerate rivals. If orthodox Christianity is right, the universe is the plaything of a capricious paterfamilias.

Kid, we ain't seen nothing yet. We come now to what passes for his plan for his creation. His playpen. He, omnipotent and terrible in his power, condemns humanity to burn in eternal fire, and then, in his mercy, rescues them with a cosmic blood sacrifice. Of his own son no less, and to multiply the mindfuck, the son is a part of him, and also the whole of him. Blessed Trinity, total headscrew. To save us from a mess he made himself, God sacrifices himself to himself to allow him to undo a curse he brought on himself.

Is there logic to this bloodsoaked scheme? To riff on Joss Whedon, God's logic does not resemble our earth logic.

Orthodox Christians have built an edifice of systematic theology to try to make sense of the insanity at the core of their faith. So much effort wasted! Christians have no shortage of the reason lacked by the god they inherited, misapplied into defending what it ought to tear down. Throughout centuries of Christendom, men of reason (and in this patriarchal religion it was men) wasted their talents on the chaos they inherited. Then again, given the fiery alternative that awaited the heretic, who can blame them?

God in Christ wasn't born of reason and logic. He was born in heat of the desert, born of desperate, disenfranchised people, people desperate enough to yearn for a miracle to end their woes and bring justice to the world. The Christian god was accidentally birthed in the apocalyptic fury of Jesus of Nazareth, a folk-preacher who announced Yahweh's eschatological judgment across the highways and byways of Galilee and Judea. Jesus got it wrong and got himself executed by an indifferent Roman bossman. His followers, unable to let go of the dream, carried on, and over the centuries, this tiny band of messianic Jews morphed into Christianity. Helped in no small part by the charismatic brilliance of a man who first persecuted and then joined them, Paul of Tarsus, more a founder of Christianity than Jesus of Nazareth ever was.

The Christian image of god is blood and fire, rage and fury, love and ecstasy. He is not reason, and he can never be reason, however much his followers try to straightjacket him with the false rationality of theological systems. He is the descendant of the longings of a 1st century doomsday cult. Many of his followers attempt to tether him, but inevitably, he breaks free, and returns to the fire of his birth.

The god of the Christians is the god of the apocalypse, the god of judgment and of rapture, the god of heaven and of hell. Know yourselves, you worshipers of God in Christ! Rationalism is not and never will be your king. As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be.

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Post of Rebuttal: Does God Exist?

#6  Postby willhud9 » Aug 16, 2013 6:44 am

My opponent has started off with an interesting line of argument. Instead of proofs as to why God is irrational, my opponent has chosen to go with argument ad incredulity. Interesting, but easy enough to give a rebuttal towards.

To begin with the Christian God is not irrationally personified. Despite the personal pronoun of He, God is genderless. The He is a result of a father like personification being rightfully attributed to Him. In Hebrew many of the names for God are indeed feminine. As for the trinity, 3 persons, one essence is not a very complex thing to understand. My favourite analogy for the trinity is the sun. You have the body, the ray, and the warmth. The Father is the body of the sun, the Son is the ray of the sun, and the Holy Spirit is the warmth of the sun. They are the same God, but different persons and are personified differently in discussions.

The Father is the creator, the designer, the planner, the architect, etc. While the Son is the builder, lays the foundation, and provides the means to build the house, and the Holy Spirit is the person who ties it all together.

My opponent than goes on to talk about several negative sides to the Christian God and I have to ask where he got the notions from? The Bible? And even if the Christian God was as malicious as my opponent has made Him out to be, that does not in any way disprove the notion of God.

I will discuss more about the Bible and its coherency and reliability when that section comes around, but suffice to say nowhere in the Bible is God inconsistent. He yearns for repentance and punishes those who continue to live in a lifestyle of sin. From Judges to Jonah, from Joshua to Ezekiel, the themes of God's love for not only Israel, but the surrounding nations is there. Those such as Rahab in Joshua who came to know God, were not rejected, but were welcomed. This is consistent with a loving God, presented in Christianity. Sure he is strict and cannot tolerate sin, but that is why in Christian theology the person of Jesus Christ exists.

Christian theology seeks to connect God with doctrines and apply the teachings of the doctrines to life. But as in my post, if God does exist, which I argued the affirmative, then the teachings of God are based around the Moral Law and are as ever based in rationality. Not killing people in cold blood is good for everyone. Not stealing from people is good for everyone. The list goes on and on. The Christian God is very much based in rational thought. His ways, while true are not the ways of man, or the world, are still based around a reassurance that what God plans is good for mankind.

Jeremiah 29:11 reads: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

The Hebrew word for hope translates in the Septuagint as ἐλπίς which can be translated as well into "confidence in that which is sure." Again this ties back into the concept of faith. Faith is a confidence or trust. The Bible, which I shall get to in more depth I promise, assures us of God's plans and gives us confidence in his promises. This is not a God of irrationality which would essentially breed chaos, but rather a God of clear and rational intents.

After all, the entire universe has a structured order to it. Sure chaos theory means it essentially carries a hint of unpredictability, but that is true about God as well. His ways are not our ways. But if God was an irrational God, then the universe of which He caused would not be a rational universe.

Since the churches inception, theologians have been at the foray of combining rational thought with God. Thomas Aquinas, considered the father of apologetics, was big in creating rational premises for God. So rationality is not against the Christian faith. Again, with faith comes a reassurance and that reassurance can be built off of a rational premise as to why God exists and as to why God's promises are good.

I will save my comments about Jesus for that part of the debate.

In conclusion, my opponent did not really argue against the proofs of a God, and I am waiting to see if he pulled the best for his rebuttal for my first post.

Because of the rather shortness of my opponents post, and since I did give a rebuttal to it, I guess that means my turn is over. My next argument will be discussing the existence of miracles and why they defend the Christian faith. Best of luck to my opponent on his rebuttal!
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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#7  Postby Byron » Aug 19, 2013 9:38 pm

Will's defense of God presents a series of proofs, but these fail in one fundamental regard, illustrated succinctly in this quote:-

"It is these three positions I seek to explain in relation to the existence of a god." [my italic]

We are not debating the existence of a god: we're debating the existence of the Christian god, as traditionally understood. This is a specific proposition: a triune god composed of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost in early modern English), with an interest in humanity and our eternal fate.

Apologetics tend to break down into two approaches: top-down, and bottom-up. The emotional approach starts with Jesus and works upwards: Will, appropriately for a debate of this nature, has started with an abstract deity that he intends to, literally, flesh-out into the incarnate God in Christ of Christianity.

This is, unfortunately, a non sequitur of epic proportions. The abstract god of the deists, and the triune personal god of the Christians, are clean different things. The disconnect between premise and conclusion can be illustrated with this formula:-

P requires Q, therefore X.

P is the universe, Q a deity of some kind, and X the Christian god.

Will attempts to leapfrog from the proofs that he claims set the "foundation for a god" with an appeal to morality. This fails on its own terms. Humanity does not enjoy a consistent ethic. The Jewish scriptures record G-d-fearing men offering their daughters up for gang-rape to preserve hospitality norms in Genesis and Judges; Israelite armies massacring the Amalekites in Exodus, Judges and Samuel. Will would perhaps argue that the inclusion of these atrocities in texts held sacred isn't an endorsement -- although it is portrayed as coming at Yahweh's command -- but that's beside the point that humanity lacks a consistent ethic. Anthropology offers us a litany of inconsistency: cannibalism, institutionalized human sacrifice to the sun god, institutionalized slavery (slaves are ordered to obey their masters, good or bad, in the New Testament books of Corinthians and Peter), the torture and execution of heretics, "murder" and "theft" defined in so many contradictory ways as to be meaningless beyond "killing or taking of property that the law forbids." The list of things we take to be wrong that were once thought right, in equal parts tedious and brutal, goes on, but the point is made. These aren't "variants" on a "basic structure": they're wildly inconsistent, rooted in warring premises, built on incompatible foundations.

As the point fails on its own terms, there's no need for me to go on to why it would fail regardless of its internal coherence, but I will, as this gets back to the heart of why Will's argument fails. It again tumbles into the chasm between premise and conclusion. Even if humanity had a consistent ethic, it would do nothing to prove a conscious and omnipotent god of three persons (in this theological context I use "person" interchangeably with "personal": an entity that is conscious and self-aware). The tyranny of the non sequitur again snares Will. Alternate explanations for a consistent ethic would pass Occam long before a god, let alone the Christian god.

The traditional "proofs" all take place in the abstract world of logic and theory, since they predate the rise of systematic empirical observation and the scientific method. When more tangible proofs are attempted, they either contradict the evidence, as with Will's claim of a consistent moral law; or they exceed it, as does Will's reliance on longing for a god, and personal testimony. Again and again, Occam puts the boot in, offering simpler explanations that better fit the evidence, and don't create more problems than they solve.

An innate tendency to desire a god, or even to long for the vaguest spiritual reality: maybe our imperfectly evolved brains projecting subconscious desires outwards; or a salve to the fear of death; perhaps a desire to see order in the chaos of the world. It's unnecessary to establish any of these as definitive: none makes the leaps and strains of "longing, therefore the triune Godhead."

Personal experience of a god: again our brains misinterpreting subjective experiences. We can misinterpret objects easily enough, reading a flat earth from the horizon, or the miasma theory of disease from the connection between stench and plague. How much easier to mistake thoughts for a god, projecting out mind outwards, personifying it, and worshiping our unwitting creation. Again, it's not necessary to believe that this is, merely that this, or an alternative, is more likely that the supernatural world of the orthodox Christian god.

We return now to the central flaw of defending orthodox Christianity as a rational construct. The anything-goes world of the supernatural is ipso facto irrational, since it lacks any coherence or logic in its operation. Will tacitly acknowledges this by beginning not with God in Christ, but with an abstract first cause version of god that might as well jump ship and sail off for our companion debate on the existence of a deity. Will doesn't start with the triune Godhead: he starts with something he views as consistent and logical, and tries to work up to the miracles, incarnation, and the rest of Christianity's theological deadweight. Swallow this, then, perhaps, you'll swallow that. It does not follow, as that is not this, a first cause not God in Christ. The moment he gets beyond a god that might as well be a deist construct, his argument is broken on the rocks of evidence, by claiming an ethical consistency that's as nonexistent as the God he's trying to defend. That Will feels it's necessary to claim that consistency is striking: he frames rationalism as a logical, consistent thing, and tries to hammer God in Christ into a framework alien to its birth.

The awkward fact for those who try to reconcile the Christian god with modernity is that we occupy a paradigm alien to the worldview of the women and men who first fell to their knees in worship of Christ. Ancient cosmologies varied, but what they had in common was smallness: the universe was our solar system and not much beyond. Disease was an infliction from the gods, or else unexplained, not something attributed to the amoral agents of destruction that we know bacteria and viruses to be. Empiricism has blasted through ancient paradigms with the ruthlessness of dynamite through rock: what was once the wisdom of the ages is now so much rubble. Christianity is rooted in claims of "revelation" that are repeatedly shown to misrepresent the world, from the heliocentric solar system to germ theory to evolution. What sort of revelation is consistently wrong? Blame interpretation as you like: the claims are not that obscure, not that open to misunderstanding. Their being the groping of limited humans gives Occam much less work than their being transmissions from the spirit world stuck forever on a bad line.

To clarify any queries from Will (or the peanut gallery -- my gratitude for your interest, folks!), I'm not arguing that negative consequences or immorality sink a rational defense of God in Christ. Rational isn't necessarily nice. The Godhead could be a rational monster. Rather, I am arguing that the orthodox representation of God is so illogical and inconsistent as to make a rational defense untenable.

God loathes sin, but, omnipotent and omniscient, chooses to create it: this is not consistent or logical behavior. God loves humanity so much that he will sacrifice a part of himself to save us, but chooses to condemn much of humanity to the everlasting flamepit of Gehenna (in the Gospels) or to save us all (in the climax of Paul's letter to the Roman church). Christian counsels ironed out, such as they could, contradictions in its apostolic documents, but the foundational inconsistency remains, and cannot be removed without editing the texts, itself made impossible by claims of apostolic and scriptural authority.

We have here a portrait of God that depends on the assertions of texts, counsels and institutions, with the occasional wild-eyed prophet thrown into the mix for variety. We have a god that, on one hand, Will argues, cherishes order in the universe, but on the other, arbitrarily intervenes in human lives, works miracles, and the slew of chaotic behavior to be found in two millennia of visions, charismatic "outpourings of the Spirit," and other random zaniness. It's claimed this is not random at all: it's a mystery of faith, which is a cop-out so shameless a person can but admire its brazenness. God in Christ is a rational and consistent entity that cherishes order -- except on innumerable occasions when he doesn't. Again the conclusion flees the premise.

I quote the church's time-bound and ruthless persecution of women and homosexuals not to show that God is bad -- God's morality could be different from ours and consistently appalling -- but to show that God is inconsistent in multiple spheres. What is the rational reason for subordinating women to the power of men, or for sending gay men to damnation? None is given in the Christian bible from which the prohibitions are drawn: the church makes blustering appeals to natural law, and half-hearted attempts at reason, but in the end, it comes down, once again, to "because the Bible says-so," which is shorthand for "because God says-so."

The Platonic dialogue Euthyphro nailed the flaw inherent to god-given morality centuries before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Is something good because the gods will it, or do the gods will something because it's good? Apologists will argue that the Godhead is goodness-itself, inherently good and therefore the source of all goodness, but this misses the point: the dilemma presupposes a substantive definition of "goodness," and Christianity, burdened with a swathe of contradictory and internally-incoherent doctrines and source-texts, has no consistent definition of goodness, God-given or otherwise. The Colgate apologist William Lane Craig popularizes the infamous "divine command theory," which comes down to "good is whatever God says it is," and is ridiculed for it, but he at least acknowledges what arguments like Will's fail to: the god of Christianity is a capricious entity, unreasoned, and irrational. Craig, however, does take the same broken path from P to Q, therefore X as Will's argument, attempting to use logical proofs to establish the existence of an illogical, incoherent god. Like Will, Crag tacitly admits the incoherence of his case by relying on a premise at war with his conclusion. Both desire the primacy of reason: but they apply it to an unreasonable end. A house divide against itself cannot stand.

By valuing reason and logic so highly, they also acknowledge the paradigm shift from revelation to rationalism. For the church of Christ, reason was traditionally second-best to revelation, the pitiful groping in the dark forced on men (of course men, God's hung, the schlong is sacred) in areas that God, without rhyme or reason, denied them the miraculous light of his illumination. Will's argument would be bizarre to Paul of Tarsus and the apocalyptic prophet who proceeded him: why exalt what Paul called the foolishness of men's wisdom, made foolish by the light of Christ? Reason and revelation are at odds. Always have been, always will be. The application of systematic philosophy and logic to the Christian universe has been awkward since the beginning, from the Platonism of the early church, through the Medieval scholastics, to today's grating attempt to give us "theistic evolution," a god of order who, for reasons unknown (aren't they always?), implements his design for life in a chaotic battle of blood, pain and adaptation. His desire is order, his method is chaos: a house divided, again and again, every time that our pitiful reason is set against "revelation," and "revelation" is found wanting.

The Christian god is internally incoherent, inconsistent, and his means of communication is consistently found to be drowned by static and confusion. Everything we "know" of him is rooted in human assertion, which paints a veneer of reason on a rusting heap of received assertion, assertion that, when challenged, swiftly retreats to the authority fallacy. Rational terms are used to defend an irrational spirit-realm, which contradicts everything we have been able to observe of material reality, and overturns the observed norms of the universe at a whim. It's little wonder. Christian theology compels Will to argue by defective analogy, such as comparing the Trinity to aspects of the sun, an analogy that compares things different in kind: a non-sentient body with different observable aspects, to a mysterious personal Trinity "known" from assertion, its essence as mysterious as the evidence for its existence. By their fruits shall ye know them! God in Christ is not rational: he is a remnant of a dead paradigm, a castle built on the eschatology of a 1st century doomsday prophet. Traditional Christians are happy to use the fruits of a worldview that contradicts theirs, from antibiotics that acknowledge the brutal chaos of evolution, to the electricity that provides an observed explanation for what was once the lighting wrath of God. As the theologian Rudolf Bultmann said, you cannot consistently believe in the spirit-world of the ancients while listening to the wireless and using electric light. Your means contradict your message. You're attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable.

God in Christ isn't rational: he's an apocalyptic vision in denial, buried under twenty centuries of rationalization and damage-limitation. This will be illustrated again and again, as his supposed tools are debated, and show themselves wanting.

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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#8  Postby willhud9 » Aug 23, 2013 5:47 am

This is perhaps the hardest post out of all of the subjects I will have to write. The historicity of the resurrection, in part itself a very miracle, is in my opinion an easier topic to write about than the topic of miracles in relationship to the rationality of Christianity, therefore this definitely going to be the shortest of all my argument posts. Sorry Byron!

So to begin.

Miracles are used by fundamentalists and atheists alike in their defense or refutation of Christianity. Fundamentalists point towards faith healing and atheists often jest about the lack of amputee healings. In honesty, the atheists point rings more true than the fundamentalists, but out of a misguided principle. Miracles are not special powers bestowed upon people by God, nor are they random events. The very concept of a miracle (the Greek is δύναμις) is by itself simply a "marvelous deed" and in the Christian world view, a marvelous deed achieved through the inherent abilities of God. This could be as simple as bringing someone to know Jesus Christ, an act which takes the abilities of God, and seen as a marvelous deed as a lost sheep returns to the flock (Luke 15:3-7). We do not think as people coming to know Jesus Christ as their lord and savior miraculous, but in the strictest sense of a miracle, it is.

But what about the big things? The parting of the Red Sea in Exodus, the whole Jonah and the great fish thing in his book, or all the miracles of Jesus? Why are there none of those in today's time? Well despite what some fundamentalists will try to apply, the issue has been widely debated among the church throughout the centuries.

The answer as to why the miracles of the Bible, the grand displays of God's power, is because miracles are not meant to be a guide to faith, but rather a response to faith. Moses trusted God to deliver him from Egypt, and God followed through with a miracle. Joshua prayed with fervor for a big sign, and God stopped the sun. Jonah cried out to God for forgiveness and God delivered him. Daniel trusted the Lord as he went into the lion's den and throughout the Gospel of John, we are told that the miracles of Jesus are all signs pointing to who He really is, but done when the people had faith in who he was (as we see he does not perform any big miracles for Herod, as the biggest miracle of Jesus would be self resurrection.) With the death and resurrection of Jesus, the signs of God, all point to a deliverer, a savior, and Jesus is just that.

Now there are things called spiritual gifts; what about those who claim to have the gift a healing (a gift Paul lists in his epistles)? Very valid, and it is possible that there are those who do have that gift. Going back to my first argument post, if God can work on the quantum level than yes all things are indeed possible through God. However, rationally we should always be skeptical of extraordinary claims. Even Paul in Thessalonians instructs the church to test all things. He was talking about the spiritual gifts of prophecy. People discerning what God really was trying to say. This practice applies with the acceptance of the credulity of supposed miracles. We know there are those who are willing to lie about their faith in order to boost their testimony. Paul even says so in Romans that people would try to justify such actions.

The scientist in me is wary of claims of miraculous healing. Because I know medical science, I know there are many things lacking in our understanding of cancer and other diseases. Yet people will claim and oftentimes truthfully that when doctors told them there was nothing left, all options were spent, and the people suddenly recovered and were cancer free; it is very easy to attribute that to God. Now again, all things are indeed possible, but rationally there could be an unknown medical reason. Of course, if one is feeling nuanced, the point could be made that God is sovereign and therefore in control, and therefore even if a completely natural response happened, it was still graced by God. Of course, that is true from a Christian world view, but is it the same as a miracle? No. There was no marvelous deed done through God's inherent abilities, if the cure was completely natural. Skepticism and Christianity are not opposed to each other here, as again Paul tells the church to test all things.

So miracles, and rationality? David Hume, a very brilliant man from the enlightenment, wrote that it is against nature itself for a miracle to a occur and in a sense he was correct. But if God works at the quantum level then nature itself is able to be manipulated. After all, quantum physics by its very nature deals with the concept of uncertainty that anything is possible, if not plausible or even remotely likely. That is the rationalist will never say something is impossible, but will rather say the more correct analysis of 99.99 percent. So therefore there is a .01 percent chance of something breaching the laws of nature due to quantum fluctuation. Extremely unlikely, but possible.

I will agree with David Hume, however, on his testimonial account of miracles. It is wise to be skeptical and take with a grain of salt all claims of miracles. But then that leads us to the miracles of the Bible.

Again, I will most readily deal with reliability of the Bible, after my two rebuttals and Jesus post, but suffice to say the Bible is reliable. Now this does not mean that it is the inerrant word of God, or everything literally happened. That is a position of fundamentalism and not orthodoxy. Many orthodox Christians have distanced themselves from fundamentalism. But I digress.

The miracles of the Bible serve one purpose: to demonstrate God's power and sovereignty. Many of the miracles may very well be allegory, meant to show us that by trusting God great things can be done (such as Joshua and the son) or hyperbole, to show us that you cannot escape the call (Jonah), or as John wrote, signs that gave testimony of whom Jesus really was. But by no means does this diminish the concept of miracles.

But honestly the only miracle that ultimately matters for Christianity is just one. And when it comes to Orthodox Christianity, it is what makes or breaks the reality of the religion: the Resurrection. More on that next post!

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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#9  Postby Byron » Aug 25, 2013 8:41 pm

"The universe is big. It's vast, and complicated, and ridiculous, and sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles, and that's the theory."

The Doctor, Doctor Who


Thankfully, I've not been asked to waste my time, and everyone else's, by debating the evidence for miracles. Whenever this sorry path is trod, Team Miracle runs itself ragged in chasing shadows, inflating claims, and, generally, doing everything possible to flip our perception of reality on its head via the Team Miracle claim that what appears to be a heap of nothing is in fact a test of faith, a sign from God, or any of the other saving throws for the failure of the evidence to back their claim that sometimes, very rarely (or not), impossible things just happen.

Instead we have a question that's more interesting by far: can the concept of Christian miracles be rationally defended?

We've done well so far not to get bogged down with defining terms, and I don't intend to break with that wisdom now. When it comes to definitions of rationality, myself and Will are preaching from the same book. Both parties to this debate have accepted hallmarks of "rationality," chief among them consistency and logical progression in explanation. For miracles to be rationally defensible, there must be a clear purpose to miraculous events, and they have to mesh with the framework within which they (are claimed to) occur.

Doesn't happen. Can't happen. Here's why.

Christianity can't agree on a theology of miracles. To a Christian miracles are signs, but of what? Their god's power, obviously, but what else? What's God in Christ doing when he suspends the norms of our existence? Testing people's faith? Sometimes. Rewarding it? Yeah, that too. Giving signs of how the world should be? Yup. All of these possible explanations slam into the core problem, the elephant sitting, implacable, in the graveyard of theological failure.

Miracles are exceptional.

Pious Christians suffer lives of torment and injustice. Devout multitudes are broken on the tides of history. Unworthy men like Paul of Tarsus are saved, redeemed and exalted. For every testimonial of God saving a sinning wretch with a miraculous sign, there the lament of a God-fearing disciple of Christ tossed to the wolves. Why, in the Christian framework, is God claimed to save some but not others? This intersects with theodicy -- the advanced theological school of asking why God lets shit happen -- and rationality is a stranger in the tortured explanations for why the triune Godhead allows his people to be tortured. Great is the mystery of faith when reason fails, and boy, does it fail here.


"This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us."

Rorschach, Watchmen


So then, explanations for why miracles appear to occur arbitrarily. A pitiful bunch they are, too.

A favorite is that God wants us to learn from suffering. This has a superficial appeal. We can most of us give testimony of someone who inspires by helping others in need, and of lives improved by painful experience. Dig below the surface and that appeal vanishes. The Christian god not only has the power to end suffering in an eyeblink, that's his stated endgame. There will, according to Christian eschatology, be a new heaven and a new earth, where tears will be wiped away, and all will be made good. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. In Christianity's own terms, God does not view suffering as a good, and this is not the best of all possible worlds.

What's keeping him, then?

The cry can go out, "Why doesn't God flick the switch on the greatest miracle and end suffering?" but even this misses the greater horror, and the greater irrationality. In the Christian worldview, God knowingly created an imperfect reality in which suffering occurs, just as he knowingly created one in which sin exists. The God who desires perfection created imperfection so great it could only be remedied, imperfectly, with a cosmic blood sacrifice. The perfect god of the Christians created a reality so flawed that he must periodically ignore its operational norms. Miracles are only needed to undo a design flaw from being-itself. There shouldn't be a problem to fix. To give the inevitable riff on Epicurus, if God was forced to create evil, he is not omnipotent, and orthodox Christianity implodes. Allowing that God chose to create suffering, we're left asking why, and coming up short. Learning from suffering even when it destroys us? Whatever you say, Jack. Being punished for an ancestral sin the capacity for which God hardwired into us.

Our ways are not God's ways.

Indeed not.

God's ways are a self-contradictory mess.

I am drawing a false distinction, strictly speaking, since God is our projection and creation. When viewed in this way the various miracle claims make so much more sense, but I'm not defending atheism here, I'm arguing against the rationality of Christianity, so back to its theological bandaids in defense of miracles.


"God did extraordinary miracles through Paul ..."

Acts of the Apostles (translation: NRSV)


To be fair to the early Christian writings, there are some coherent miracle explanations in the first New Testament writings.

They don't solve the larger issues of why God created a world that inflicts the evil that miracles are required to fix, but they do offer an explanation that follows from the premise: God is about to remake the world in an apocalyptic event, and his conduit and herald, Jesus of Nazareth, works miracles as signs of the imminent end, signs that draw Jews and Gentiles into repentance. In the argot of Madison Avenue, the miracles are the taster for the rollout.

Like all doomsday cults, the end never came, and here we are.

Burdened with 2,000 years of baggage and failed prophecy, orthodox Christianity can do nothing rational with miracles. It downplays them, or offers explanations that are either incoherent, incompatible with the wider theological framework, or both. How much easier it was when the end was nigh!


Of God and dice

Miracles are ipso facto incompatible with an ordered universe, since they are, by definition, extra-ordinary events that break with universal norms and rewrite our observed framework of how reality functions. Claims for a rational Christianity yet again serve up a schizophrenic deity who loves order, and simultaneously, overturns it with miracles. God has his reasons and, naturally, they've beyond our understanding (or rather, beyond the explanatory ability of his self-appointed mouthpieces -- not through any lack of skill on their part, but through the inherent flaws of the case they're trying to argue).

What we have is the familiar tale of Christianity juggling incompatible explanations, trying to keep itself from ghettoized fundamentalist absurdity by acknowledging human discoveries, while refusing to abandon the fruits of a dead paradigm. The house continually divided. Miracles come from the ancient worldview that didn't conceive of reality as we do: they've now been rebranded as arbitrary suspensions of universal norms of which the founders of Christianity knew nothing. The attempt to graft the fruits of an ancient cosmology onto the fruits of empirical observation makes even less sense than the thing it replaced. As least miracles had a sort of internal logic in their dead paradigm. Now they have none.

God doesn't play dice with the universe, except for when he does. God is rational, except for when he isn't. Non sequitur piles atop non sequitur to a height that'd do the Tower of Babel proud.


"Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church."

Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Life in Christ"


In Christianity, Miracles aren't confined to dubious healing claims. The church itself is a miraculous sign, as are its sacraments: rituals that are, to the Christian, outward signs of inward grace. The sacred heart of much orthodox Christianity, the eucharist, is a specimen count of everything that sets the miraculous against the rational. The elements of the mass are changed, miraculously, into the body and blood of the risen Christ. While appearing to be bread and wine. The miracle of transubstantiation has been defined in such a way that it cannot be tested, ever.

In Christianity miracles exist to overturn norms and actualize wish-fulfillment. Anything must be possible. Rational explanations can be applied to the miraculous, but these are nothing when compared to the emotional tumult raging beneath. Without miracles, Christianity would have to accept that it played by the same rules as everyone else. Even when there is no emotional need for a miracle, power-games demand the miraculous. Christianity will fight doggedly and furiously to retain the power to set the terms in any way it choses. The gifts of the Spirit must not yield to the skepticism of humanity, any more than the church militant can be allowed to yield to the same laws that every other organization must obey.

The miracle of "ontological change" is used to defend the all-male priesthood. Jesus didn't ordain women, and priests are miraculously changed to work magic on the sacraments, so valid sacraments require a man. The church's discrimination against women should appall us, but like victims of abuse, we've become inured to the horror through familiarity. There is no reason here, no sense, just the flint of power. Men have ruled, and by God, men will continue to rule, whether by the miracle of apostolic succession, or by the miracle of biblical authority.

The citadel of patriarchy is built on the foundation of miracle claims. The church uses miracles to beat women down, and the beatdown rests on the irrationality of miracles. Women aren't excluded from the structures of ecclesiastical power for any of the figleafs of "complementality" or "natural law." They're excluded because of various so-called miracles. Miracles aren't just hope and denial. They're power at its rawest.

We're back, again, to "because I say so."

Aren't we always?


"# It's a miracle we need ..."

Queen, "The Miracle"


Not only does the Christian notion of the miraculous contradict every systematic empirical observation undertaken, even if it somehow leaped the evidential burden, it lacks any internal coherence. Either Christians can't agree what miracles are for, or the explanations they produce are a trainwreck. The only thing in doubt is whether they collapse under the weight of their own incoherence, or under the weight of wider Christian dogma.

Christian defense of miracles slams repeatedly into the failure of God in Christ to work the ultimate miracle: the replacement of the world as it is with the world as it should be. Christianity is clear that what is, and what should be, are at odds. Miracles are signs of a power that the triune God refuses to exercise, reasons unknown, and unknowable, even to his would-be spokesmen.

The strongest Christian explanation for miracles, that found in the synoptic gospel accounts, is itself irrational in a wider framework, but collapses without the keystone of an imminent apocalypse. The 16th century protestant reformers who preached cessationism -- that miracles ended with the resurrection of Christ, and wouldn't resume until his second coming -- at least pegged the issue, but their solution didn't solve it. Nothing could. That boat's long sailed.

Miracles in Christianity are the very definition of irrationality, since they constitute extraordinary claims that run against the observed norms of the universe, have no logical basis, and are at odds with the very Christian dogma that posits their existence. Even their own irrational axioms are against them!

Miracles are "because I say so" taken up to eleven: they happen because God wills that they happen, without rhyme or reason, without regard for the piety or sin of the recipient, without any discernible pattern whatsoever. Great is the mystery of faith, but not great enough to begin to counter the incoherence of the miraculous in the Christian religion.

If miracles are a sign of anything, it's Christianity's estrangement from reason.

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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#10  Postby willhud9 » Aug 30, 2013 5:51 am

My opponent has posted a thorough review of why miracles are irrational and thus I am under pressure to provide a sufficient rebuttal. However, his argument relies too much on one thing: conflicting viewpoints.

My opponent speaks truly when he says that debating the evidence for miracles is a waste of time, and that squabbling with definitions can bog down the debate, and for that matter I leave it well enough alone as well; however, my opponent than jumps into the fray with the statement, "For miracles to be rationally defensible, there must be a clear purpose to miraculous events, and they have to mesh with the framework within which they (are claimed to) occur." And I fully agree with him. There must be a consistency of miracles for them to be rational. Forget the debate about the evidence for or against which will go nowhere but circles, the main premise is that miracles are consistent and that their consistency is a mark of their rationality.

And yet Byron states that it not only doesn't happen, but it cannot happen. Interesting, but incorrect.

First of all, Christian theology does agree with what miracles are a sign of and that is simply God. In some way, shape or form, the miracle is the sign or wonder which points towards God. It can even be an attribute of God, such as God's power (the stopping of the sun), God's wrath (the toppling of Jericho's wall), God's deliverance (the parting of the red sea), God's love (sending Jesus to die and rise), but it all in some way points towards God. This is unanimous in Christian theology. Now what constitutes as a miracle may be different depending on the theological study, but the main premise of miracles is consistent.

My opponent than goes on to state that "miracles are exceptional," detailing how some Christians live a righteous life and are blessed with supposed miracles, while other Christians are thrown to the wolves and in this regard my opponent seems to not understand Christian theodicy. In the opening verses of the New Testament book of James, the reason of hardships is a miracle in of itself: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance." So the adage of count your blessings applies here. James would write in a few more passages that every good, and perfect gift comes from above i.e. God. In many hardships there are silver linings if you look. A person who is diagnosed with terminal cancer, may feel that they've been dealt a short stick, but then realize they have an opportunity to make the most out of their life to do good and therefore bless others. My opponent will make a jest of the "God works in mysterious ways/his ways are not our own" line, but it is very applicable to Christian theology. In many regards, being well off is a trial by God in of itself, a person who has everything of the world, may have little regards for God and the Christian lifestyle, whereas the person with nothing and trials is rich in love and the fruit of the spirit. James even shows disdain for those who are proud in their earthly richness the sanctimonious.

But my opponent dismissed the concept of trials bring perseverance of faith in a flawed view of God does not like suffering in accordance to Christian theology. While it is true that in Christian theology God will ultimately recreate heaven and earth (which does not necessarily mean he will wipe away the old and start over, but more accurately means he will redeem the world and make it so it is like new, bringing Heaven and Earth together [I will deal more in this theology in my final argument post]), James is correct in stating that trials bring perseverance of faith. It means a person trusted God's promises through the trial and became stronger because of it. What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger. In the Old Testament the concept of refining through fire like silver and gold (Zechariah 13:9) is a common theme. The fire is metaphorical of course for those trials and struggles. But through them God can be seen and thus they are miracles of themselves. The person who has faith in God through the trials has seen God and thus again the notion that miracles are a sign of God, in the case of trials and endurance God's faithfulness is seen, is prevalent.

My opponent than goes on to make another faulty theological premise: i.e. God demands perfection, and yet created an imperfect reality. Nowhere in Scripture is perfection a requirement for Christian living. Even the law was not designed to be followed to the letter as it was impossible to follow, but rather it was designed to show Israel that on their own they cannot live up to God's standard. God has that covered with Jesus Christ. Sins have been ransomed and lives are transformed by the power of God, Himself. My first argument post used the testimony of people whose lives have been remade as evidence of a God and here it can also be used for the rationality of miracles. Come just as you are is a prominent theme in the Bible. True, it is not come just as you are and not change your ways, but it still does not demand perfection.

That does not address the fact that God still allows suffering, i.e. he created a world where suffering and evil exist, and that is not a mistake of God's who, in his creation, wanted humankind to learn and make decisions freely that mankind experience a fall of grace. The argument of omniscience is one which is debated on the extent of. Many fundamentalists will catch themselves in a logical loophole when they proclaim God is all knowing in everything, and all powerful in everything, and then realize that is baseless theology. The concept of inherent omniscience that God has limits to what he can and cannot know. If God chooses to know something, he can learn it, but if God desires not to know something (such as the freewill of mankind as is seen in Genesis) than that knowledge is not known to God. So suffering is not a direct result of God's creation or plan, but rather the fault in the fallibility of man's will deviating from that of God. John Calvin would coin this the depravity of man.

So to wrap this train of thought up: God created humans with free will, God chose to not know the future in regards to his creation, nor of man's and woman's ability to choose to disobey. Because of this, mankind disobeyed God, it was not the eating of the tree which was sinful, but rather the disobedience from God's command. Because of this disobedience, mankind would experience a sense of ease in disobeying further commands of God to the point of choosing to ignore the very moral law of God. This caused suffering to enter the world. But God redeems those who have faith in him and so through suffering faith is made stronger.

Theodicy 101.

So going back to my opponent's post, Byron then transitions over into the miracles of the New Testament and he acknowledges the coherency of them, which I would say constitutes as a point towards their rationality. But Byron points out that the miracles were a sign pointing towards an apocalyptic age which never occurred. While true, modern historians do agree for the most part that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher, this by no means gives evidence that Jesus believed the end times were nigh. The followers of Jesus perhaps, and this is evident by the church's behavior well after the death of Christ, and in the styles of the first of the Gospels, Mark, but in the sayings of Jesus, we are confronted with a new eschatology, and no doomsday messages. Jesus did not preach Armageddon, Jesus preached redemption and the love of God. But even if Jesus did, which he didn't, it still would not make Jesus' miracles null and void. John writes clearly in his Gospel. The miracles are all signs which state that Jesus and God are the same.

Byron then goes on to argue that miracles are against nature and therefore the God of order does something out of order. This is also faulty. First of all, a miracle is not exactly, as I explained in my argument post, a breach of nature. If God works on the quantum level than by that very logic due to the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, than anything can possibly happen in relation to the subatomic. If that can happen then miracles are by and by natural, just highly improbable. But this also dealt with in Christian theology. God is in control of his creation i.e. God is sovereign. In relation to everything, the laws of reality are consistent, the miracle is the event which showcases God's sovereignty over his creation, thus being consistent with the principle of miracles which is to point towards God. So the Christian faith does not have to juggle, as my opponent says, but rather can remain grounded in the fact that God is capable of doing wonders within his creation. It is not playing dice in the slightest.

My opponent than shifts the debate in another direction, again aimed more at the inconsistencies found within various theologies. Again the general theology remains largely untouched by these various discrepancies. For example, Byron mentions the Eucharist and in the Catholic Church the Eucharist is believed to transform in substance. The bread literally becomes the body and the wine the blood. A theology which evolved from a superstition and not really grounded in anything solid. The mentions of the Lord's supper in Scripture does not apply a literal rendition of the apostles eating the bread being the literal body of Christ. Even Paul understood it as a symbolic notion, but the breaking of bread was too Paul sacred for its symbolic nature, not its literalness. And my opponent would be correct in that the church irrationally attributes things to being miracles which cannot be tested. This is a failing of the church; however, and not the rationality of miracles. The miracles that do exist, or the ones that have been done are all testament to whom God is. All of them are consistent among themselves and are every bit as rational in Christian theology.

The power hungry will say anything, and do anything to keep power. But Jesus said in Matthew that the church should beware of wolves dressed as sheep and that we would know a follower of Jesus by their fruit. Paul tells the church to test everything. A person making claims about miracles in order to retain a patriarchal church order, and to put women down needs to be tested on what merits his claims are true. Again a skepticism of those in power, applied to a logic of the consistency of the miracles of God, would show that such a notion is illogical and irrational. Then again just because the people of the religion tend to be irrational does not mean that the faith itself is irrational. This is evidence by their being plenty of rational Christians to counterbalance the amount of irrationality.

Byron concludes with a series of statements saying that miracles are inconsistent, divisive, and illogical in nature, but as I feel I have demonstrated, my opponent could not be further from the truth. Within Christianity, miracles serve one purpose and that is to be a sign towards God, be it directly or some attribute of God's. Miracles are not random supernatural events, but rather improbable events demonstrating God's sovereignty over creation, and again pointing towards God. Miracles are not simply as my opponent says "because I say so" occurrences, but are a set of events which in the context of the event demonstrates who God really is to the witnesses of the miracles. Even the miracles of Jesus, including his resurrection, are all point to God and connect him and Jesus, thus dispelling the notion that it was a build up to some apocalyptic end which never came.

While it is true that many Christians use miracles irrationally in their defense of Christianity, the notion of miracles themselves are not irrational and therefore can be used successfully to demonstrate why the Christian faith can be rationally defended.

Awaiting my opponent's post of rebuttal!
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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#11  Postby Byron » Sep 01, 2013 10:47 pm

My thanks to Will for his thorough rebuttal.

My reply consists of an introduction, followed by a look at Christianity's civil war, Will's justification for divine inaction and his failure to rebut the contradiction between heaven and earth, and a conclusion arguing that the trainwreck of squaring miracles and rationality embodies a wholesale crisis in the faith.


Introduction


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

And so it begins. Will has conceded the irrationality of a swathe of Christianity before we've even reached the mid-point of the debate. Transubstantiation, a dogma central to the largest Christian institution, the Catholic Church -- a dogma paralleled by the mysterious metousiosis of Orthodoxy -- is dismissed as, "A theology which evolved from a superstition and not really grounded in anything solid." This is what I meant when I said the opposition case is, literally, self-defeating. Will isn't defending protestantism: he's defending Christianity. As he's helpfully shown, it can't be done.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Why is Christianity at war with itself, protestant against catholic, Catholic against Orthodox, liberal against evangelical? At first sight, this civil strife could be viewed as healthy debate, but it isn't. Healthy debates resolve one way or the other. Christianity, with no foundation beyond "revelation" that rests on assertion and authoritarianism, goes around in circles. Textual criticism of the Bible hasn't been accepted nearly two centuries after it was developed; evolution is still denied after a similar timespan; and miracles are defended long after miraculous explanations were chased from regular spheres of life, from the causation of disease, to the blast of a lightening bolt. Christianity, torn from the moorings of a holistically miraculous worldview by the discoveries of systematic human observation, now bolts its miraculous claims onto the natural universe that the systematic observation has unveiled. The mirror has shattered, never to be whole again. As the next line of Yeats' poem so rightly says,

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, ...

Will is reduced to resorting to quantum mechanics as a saving throw for miracles, which is, in itself, self-defeating: if miracles occur by natural processes, however mysterious they may currently be, they cease to be miracles. We both want to avoid getting snared in definitions, but this one is important: Christian miracles are not meant to be understood. They are, by their nature, inexplicable acts of the triune God. From an orthodox Christian POV, attempting to reduce his acts to mechanical processes verges on blasphemy. That Will feels the need to regularize miracles in this way just testifies, if further testimony were needed, that Christianity is at odds with reason. You know an argument's lost when it must resort to using the opposition's terms.


Civil War


It would be a mistake to write off Will's resort to a "general theology" that "remains largely untouched by these various discrepancies" as blinkered protestantism. Will is attempting to construct a rational case for Christianity, and, it appears, he cannot see a way to include the miracle of transubstantiation in that case.

It may be because the church's defense of transubstantiation is egregious in its "because we say so" chutzpah. The church admits that there's not even the possibility of proving transubstantiation by empirical means, regardless of how far our abilities advance, but has rendered belief in it a dogma central to the faith. It has defined transubstantiation as a miracle that's simultaneously immune to evidence and essential to believe. You believe it because the magisterium of the church catholic and universal tells you to believe it. Philosophical justifications don't precede the authoritarianism, they justify it. No argument or evidence can shift this dogma. That's what dogma is. It is as naked an example of the authority fallacy as you could ask for. No better exemplar of the irrationality of miracles could you want.

We will get onto the Bible in-depth later on, but beforehand, it's essential to lay the groundwork in the section on miracles, since miraculous claims and authoritarianism underpin the "reliability" of scripture. The Bible vs the magisterium is, famously, the civil war that tore a swathe through Christianity, but the pertinent thing isn't that Christians disagree, but how they disagree. The terms on which battle is waged speak of the merits of the war. Instead of rational skepticism vs dogma, Christianity tore itself apart by pitting one authority against another: church vs Bible. Scripture, like the magisterium, is claimed to be a miraculous revelation of God in Christ, the sure basis of faith and practice. The miraculous nature of the holy book goes by many names: biblical authority; biblical inerrancy; sola scriptura; God-breathed; biblical infallibility. For all the nuances of irrationality, the thread of a miraculous nature ties the Christian interpretation of scripture. The reformers argued "our authority trumps your authority," which translates as "our assertion trumps your assertion." The "plain reading of scripture" is a rock built on unevidenced, unreasoned authoritarianism.

The reformers didn't say the magisterium was wrong because it was irrational or unevidenced: they said it was wrong 'cause the Bible told them so. The magisterium fired back that the Bible is inseparable from the church. Authority vs authority. For all that Will calls transubstantiation "superstition," his case is no different. Just better disguised.


The Best of All Possible Worlds: Where's the Apocalypse When You Need It?


Upon seeing the weakness of his response to theodicy, you can understand why Will didn't attempt to defend transubstantiation.

One aspect of Will's argument is breathtakingly self-defeating, as he redefines "omniscient" to mean "not omniscient," or as Will phrases it, "The concept of inherent omniscience that God has limits to what he can and cannot know." No better example could be given of how hamstrung Will is by the incoherent, incompatible axioms of the argument he is attempting (impressively, but hopelessly) to defend. He is obliged to argue that God in Christ is all-knowing and all-powerful, not to mention all-good, but also, that sin and suffering are not God's fault. Defects in the pot must not lead back to the potter. Will is forced to produce this tangle of illogic: "If God chooses to know something, he can learn it, but if God desires not to know something (such as the freewill of mankind as is seen in Genesis) than that knowledge is not known to God." God knows, but God does not know, but only because God choses not to know. You know? Non sequitur chases the tail of non sequitur until they devour themselves. The Ouroboros of debate.

Compared to this incoherence, Will's "learning from suffering" take on theodicy rises to the level of grossly inadequate. God wants us to learn, but God's endzone is total revelation and total knowledge, as the world is made one in Christ. As William Tyndale translated Paul of Tarsus's letter to the church in Corinth, "For our knowledge is unperfect, and our prophesying is unperfect: but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is unperfect shall be done away." God in Christ wants us to learn from mistakes, but ultimately, he'll reveal all. Why wait? Will doesn't explain, for there is no explanation. It doesn't make sense. Never did, never will. This series of contradictory axioms isn't rational: it's an ex post facto saving throw for the failure of Christ to return when his earliest followers said he would (and for the world to end when Jesus of Nazareth said it would -- that the historical Jesus preached an imminent apocalypse will be addressed more fully in the coming parts).

I'll mention in passing that "learn from suffering" fails to account for suffering without purpose, that teaches lessons no one needs to know, and destroys without hope of education. The "free will" and "myserious ways" apologetics can be tossed into the fray at this point, and all fall at the aforementioned hurdle: if God in Christ wants the world to be different, has the power to make it different, and ultimately intends to do this very thing, why wait? Why did God create the world like this to begin with?

(As for God not desiring perfection, I'll direct Will to the beatitudes before we come on to the Bible.)


Conclusion


The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

Will sums up his defense of miracles thus:-

"Within Christianity, miracles serve one purpose and that is to be a sign towards God, be it directly or some attribute of God's. Miracles are not random supernatural events, but rather improbable events demonstrating God's sovereignty over creation, and again pointing towards God."

To which I reply: what's God got to prove? God in Christ is, according to Christian orthodoxy, omniscient and omnipotent, and intends to remake the world into paradise, where none suffer, and none want, and all shall be well. This is God's stated desire (as "revealed" by his self-appointed mouthpieces in the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the church). Miracles are a "sign" of a destination that God in Christ could bring about this instant. Moreover, by Christianity's own terms, God had no reason to create this imperfect reality to begin with: he doesn't learn anything from it (he's all-knowing); we don't need to learn anything from it (one day, God will reveal all); it is, literally, pointless. It is not rational for an all-powerful god to create a reality that is opposed to his desires and revealed will. The conclusion is at war with the premise.

Miracle claims are nothing but a poor attempt to explain why reality as we experience it contradicts the assertions of Christianity. They are nothing but burnished wish-fulfillment. This is a rational explanation for miracle claims, one that follows directly from its premise, and it is one that directly contradicts Christian orthodoxy. If a heresy makes more sense than orthodoxy, perhaps orthodoxy is nothing but the side that lucked out in the chance game of history. The question is, deliberately, rhetorical.

A strong argument could be made that Will has already conceded this debate by admitting that key components of Christianity -- transubstantiation, divine omniscience -- are indefensible. They might not be the whole, but they are loadstones without which the edifice crumbles. Unlike the wreck of orthodox Christian theology, this cracked pot does not reflect the skill of the potter. My expressions of respect for Will are wholly sincere. His case is juggling an impossible number of burning torches, which threaten to consume it at a moment's notice. He is fighting a lost battle, and I suspect he is fighting it a good deal better than I could do in his place, but admiration for the person doesn't impart worth to the case that they're tasked with defending. It takes no undue ego on my part to say that I'm watching the opposition crumble before me: as I said in my opening, all I am required to do is highlight the defects of argument that Will is compelled to display.

I return to what I said in the beginning of this post: a case fought on the opposition's terms is a case that's already lost. Will isn't fighting on those terms from want of skill or conviction. He's defending Christianity as a rational construct because a rational worldview is what we have deduced from the available evidence. Disease issues not from the wrath of God, but from the amoral and unthinking instinct of microscopic agents of destruction; storms and famine don't come as punishment for sin, but as a result of the natural cycle of the earth, wholly unaware of our presence upon its surface. Christianity is an earlier deduction overtaken by events, a dead paradigm of our existence that refuses to shuffle off alongside geocentrism and miasma, due to its institutional weight, emotional power, and power straight-up. It's no conspiracy, no creation of a cackling elite: its leaders are as trapped in the dead paradigm as its followers. Those who've broken free can take little if any pride from their escape, as circumstances and temperament play such a part in who stays and who goes. Those who have escaped the dead paradigm of orthodox Christianity haven't broken out the mental prison because they're better, but because they, in large part through luck and good fortune, have received the gift to being able see the world more clearly. A true revelation. Christianity makes empirical claims and is found wanting. Escapees don't see in whole, but they do see less in part. Those still inside don't even deny this, not really, for they accept the rational worldview in their day-to-day lives, but save their faith with signs of the world as they want it to be. Those signs are miracle claims. They lack any rational basis on the very terms that gave rise to their creation. Miracle claims aren't signs of the Christian god. They're signs that God isn't there, and the framework in which he was created has been overtaken by events.

Miracles are not only denial of reality as we are best able to discern it, they're denial of rationality itself. Miracles are because-I-say-so dressed in invisible robes and proclaimed emperor. Miracles are claimed to exempt the church from the rules everyone else must obey, the norms everyone else must observe. To claim a miracle is to announce that reality is whatever we want it to be. Their power comes not through any conceptual merit, let alone actuality, but the dead-weight of two-thousand years of Christendom, buttressed by emotional and institutional need. Now Christendom is dead, those walls are the walls of Jericho, and they shall fall. Not with the blast of horns, but from the loss of the struts that compensated for foundations that were always absent.

Join me in picking through the rubble in our next installment!

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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#12  Postby willhud9 » Sep 02, 2013 2:46 am

Forward: One of the reasons I chose Byron for this debate was because both he and I are privy to historical agreements in that we both acknowledge and accept the current historical model of Jesus' historicity. Since the persona of Jesus is essential for the historical Christianity, I did not want an opponent who would bog the debate down with trying to disprove the historical Jesus, while I was taking the historical Jesus one step further i.e. the historical resurrection. So if you were hoping for a historical Jesus debate, you are not going to find one here. Finally, while I wish I could give a reply to that devastating rebuttal Byron just handed me, we set the rules and I must move on, but thankfully onto my favourite topic in regards to Christianity, and the one which I have given much study towards. As always I wish Byron the best of luck!

"That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know." ~EP Sanders

Sanders, perhaps one of the most credentialed historians in the field of New Testament studies, gives excellent insight into the minds of the authors of the gospels. In response to allegations that the resurrection was myth, fabricated by a latter church well after the alleged death of Christ, Sanders remarks in his book, The Historical Figure of Jesus, that a plan to create a resurrection attempt would look more uniform and more consistent among the church than what was handed down to us from the end of the first century onwards. So it is with this seed that I wish to start a journey back to the first century and what really happened on Easter morning.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is perhaps the biggest deal or no deal maker in Christianity. Now some liberal Christians do try to play off the Christ wasn't God or supernatural, but is that really "Christianity" or is that some doctrine based around the teachings of a man who may or may not have been deluded? In honesty, liberal Christianity that removes the supernatural from Christ and portrays him just as a good teacher, is weak. But my argument is not with liberal Christians, but rather to defend the greatest miracle of them all: the resurrection.

So what evidences do we from a historical perspective have of a literal resurrection of Jesus Christ? I say literal resurrection because there was and is a movement that developed around the second century which claimed that Jesus did not have a bodily resurrection, but rather a spiritual one. This was a very Greek philosophy, which did not believe in bodily resurrections. But as we find out through the key author of the New Testament, Paul, we can be assured that the kind of resurrection the church meant was indeed a bodily i.e. literal resurrection.

The evidence:

The gospels. Perhaps the most studied writings in all of history, lots of doubt in this age of skepticism have been fired at the historical reliability of the gospels (next post everybody). The fact that miracles are mentioned, the fact that Jesus and the Christian church is considered to be a pillar of the western world, and the fact that for hundreds of years the Gospels were left really unchallenged has given many historians opportunity to leave a legacy with their own spin on the gospels. But what information do the Gospels give us about the resurrection? Can that information be reliable? Are the Gospels just a Jewish rendition of Greek and Eastern myths and the figure of Jesus himself doubtful? That is what we are going to find out.

Each of the resurrection accounts are for the most part uniform.

The first Gospel Mark, in Chapter 16 verses 1-8 records:

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.


Now Mark's gospel officially ends right there. Verses 9-20 are not present in early manuscripts and for our purpose we did not concern ourselves with them. Matthew and Luke, the other two synoptic gospels, are based around Mark and the Q source and remain uniform to Mark's story, yet with subtle differences. Matthew's gospel records an earthquake, a flash of light, and the revelation of Jesus along the road towards only the Mary's. Luke's gospel records two men who gleamed like lightning told the women about Jesus' rise from the grave. Again all of them are uniform with small, variables.

But why the small variables? Matthew and Luke were influenced by Mark and the hypothetical Q source, even within the two latter gospels, the differences are present. If it was some plan by the church to concoct a resurrected Jesus heavily influenced by pagan myths as Robert Price would argue, then you would not expect those differences. You would expect those differences if it was a recording of several different testimonies of the event. But alright, the synoptic gospels are closely related and therefore Mark *could* have been making it all up and therefore Matthew and Luke simply went along with that tale spun by Mark. That still leaves us with one other gospel, John.

John is considered the last gospel to be written with estimates placing it between 90 CE and 120 CE. Many scholars seem to want to dismiss John outright do to the fact that 90% of its content is original and not found in the synoptic gospels. There is a problem to this manner of dismissal in that it is baseless. If John was based off of testimony, even orally passed down testimony, it catches a glimpse of the patterns of thought found within the formulated Christian church. But despite all of its differences one thing is the same:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him... Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus...


John 20:1-2, 11-14
What similarities do all the resurrection accounts share?

    1. It was women who were heading towards the tomb.

    2. The tomb was always found empty with the stone already being moved.

    3. There was someone in or near the tomb to tell the women that Jesus was risen and that he was going to Galilee and that the women needed to tell the apostles.

    4. Matthew and John even have Jesus first revealing himself in the flesh to Mary.

So first of all, what is the importance of women in the Easter account. If the Christian church was trying to create an event and get people to believe in it, the account of women in the first century was not reliable. Even Luke's gospel, the non-Jewish author, writes that Peter and the apostles expressed skepticism at the words of the women. Now true in Jewish custom, two women could testify together, but even still, if they were trying to make up an event such as the resurrection, why not have Jesus directly reveal himself towards Peter? That is unless the apostles and subsequently the gospel authors truly believed that the apostles and the women genuinely had a resurrection moment. The quote from EP Sanders rings true. But does this necessarily give a foundation for the literal resurrection? For that we need to look elsewhere and thankfully we have the epistles of Paul, especially 1 Corinthians 15.

Paul was a Pharisee before becoming a Christian. He says it himself. We know that Pharisees actually believed in a bodily resurrection and it was not a new theology to first century Jews. Jews also believed in a resurrection for the entirety of Israel. So we come to Paul. Not only does Paul record for us his salvation event in Galatians, but within 1 Corinthians 15, Paul gives the most detailed explanation of the resurrection of Jesus found within the Bible. Let us take a look shall we?

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born... But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.


First of all, like I mentioned above, Paul was a Pharisee and Jewish religion was very much about bodily, not spiritual resurrection. Second of all, we know Paul talked and stayed with Peter and James due to Galatians 1. So Paul got the resurrection accounts from Peter. Now of course Peter may have been deluded and shared his delusions with Paul, who happened to have a Christ revelation on the road to Damascus and therefore Paul's ministry was based on a delusion. Possible, but look at the conviction of the above passage. Paul is writing to the church of Corinth that Christ revealed himself in the flesh after the resurrection as evidence to the Greek city of Corinth that bodily resurrection is a real thing.

Next Paul, as he says would not preach about a resurrection unless it were absolutely true or rather believed it to be absolutely true. Now Paul again could be deluded, but the evidence does not seem that way. He talks to Peter who was an apostle to Christ, he talks to James, the brother of Jesus, he sees Jesus on the way to Damascus, he had forsaken his life as a Pharisee to become a Christian; that is a pretty strong delusion, one that was shared by a vast amount of people. The epistle is dated to around 55 AD and is quoted by many early sources of the Church. Not only do the Pauline epistles (Romans, Galatians, Thessalonians, Corinthians, etc.) make a compelling case for the historicity of the bodily resurrection, but so does the early Christian church.

Bodily resurrection was uniformly held by the early church as being what resurrection meant. Despite some Greek philosophies seeping its way into Christianity, the resurrection was largely Jewish, but at the same time distinct from both the Gentiles and Jews. You see unlike the Jews who believed in a resurrection for Israel and the redeeming of Israel, Christians were uniform in believing it was to be a resurrection of the church, individuals making up the church, which would inherit life in the new earth (more on this in my final entry). But why this uniformity? Now we know by the end of second century so much for that uniformity as Arianism and Gnosticism tend to disrupt things a bit, but within the church, even the Greek patriarchs and early Christian apologists did not widely dispute the concept of bodily resurrection, despite it being a ludicrous concept to the Gentile philosophies. This suggests a more significant explanation than simply the early church made up the resurrection account.

So bringing this post into conclusion:

"That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know." EP Sanders makes a lot of sense. It is wise to be agnostic on the matter of the reality of the resurrection as it tends to make you look more rational. But is it irrational to suppose the historicity of the resurrection? Well if miracles are indeed possible, than the concept of bodily resurrection is not impossible. But that is flimsy logic on its own, so does the Bible give reliable evidence in support of the resurrection? As I have shown, yes. The Gospels are uniform in the basic pattern of the resurrection, showing that all four authors agreed that is how it happened. Paul gives testimony reinforced by not only his Pharisee theology, but his Damascus road experience, and his time spent with Peter, James and others. The fact that his epistles were written shortly after the death of Christ, gives strong testimony to their reliability. Finally the church itself was uniform in its understanding of resurrection and life after death, something which would not be likely unless something of historical significance did happen to a man named Jesus called Christ. The evidence suggests that the resurrection is not only rational, but also historical.
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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#13  Postby Byron » Sep 03, 2013 11:31 pm

My gratitude to Will for such an inventive and well-sourced post on the resurrection. I look forward to engaging with it in my rebuttal. First, my opening.

Its introduction argues that this debate is fought on the wrong terms, followed by a refutation of the theology of Christ's (claimed) resurrection, and a look at how this slots into the war between faith and reason, before it wraps in a conclusion that points to a way out for Christianity.


Introduction

"... the Passion narratives ended with the story of Easter Resurrection. This Resurrection is not a matter which historians can authenticate; it is a different sort of truth, or a statement about truth. It is the most troubling, difficult affirmation in Christianity, but over twenty centuries Christians have thought it central to their faith."

Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity


Debates about evidence for the claimed resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth revolve around a category error. Adducing documents and "testimony" to make a case misses the point spectacularly. You can't make probability judgments about miracles. Probability judgments need a consistent point of reference, relative to which the judgment is made. Miracles, as discussed already, make up the rules as they go. The concept of probability is meaningless when anything can happen, in any place, at any time, bound by nothing. As MacCulloch says above, historiography isn't equipped to handle this. It works within a naturalistic framework, not out of prejudice against the supernatural, but out of necessity. Any supernatural claims exist, by their nature, outside that framework. You can't prove miracles. The textual scholar Bart Ehrman argued this point to devastating effect when debating the apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig. Craig was reduced to appealing to faith. Confronted by the irrationality of his stance, it's all he had left.

Why, then, do Christian apologists try to prove that, in the power of God, Jesus of Nazareth conquered death and emerged from the tomb as the risen Christ? Why do they not have the courage of their (stated) convictions and say, "We believe the resurrection on faith"? A faith that Paul of Tarsus said was a gift from God. Why do they insist, yet again, on fighting on the opposition's terms?

The answer is the same as it always is: they're not half as confident as they claim to be. Apologetics, infamously, are there to reassure the faithful, far more than they exist to convert the heathen. Millions of Christians are functional atheists. They think in naturalistic terms, and expect to see things established in those terms. Witness the clunking "newspaper" analogy that apologists trot out, with "reports" from "eyewitnesses" to the empty tomb; or the equally clunking sub-Law & Order courtroom antics, with appeals to a jury finding the resurrection proved (a case even Lionel Hutz wouldn't go near). Christians should instead be appealing, with the swivel-eyed passion of Paul of Tarsus, to the mystical power of the risen Christ, with belief in his resurrection a gift of the triune God. Arguing for the resurrection in rational terms in itself concedes the point. The apologetics built on naturalistic foundations serve only to show that Christianity no longer believes in itself. They are, as ever, self-defeating. That much is self-evident.

The interesting thing is to ask how we got here, and how, if Christianity wants to remain as anything but an irrational ghetto, it can get itself out.

We start at the beginning of the story, with the orthodox theology of Christ's (claimed) rebirth.


He is Risen (Indeed?)

The theology of the resurrection is the theology of failure. The historic Jesus of Nazareth was -- as best as scholars have been able to reconstruct from the agenda-riven gospel biographies written decades after his death, by authors unknown -- a puritanical folk-preacher who taught his fellow Jews that Adonai their god was about to remake the world in fire, separate the righteous from the unworthy, consign the unworthy to burn in Gehenna, and establish a kingdom of peace and justice. Jesus was to rule with the Twelve. This is imminent eschatology through and through. This apocalyptic model of the historical Jesus, descending from Albert Schweitzer at the turn of the 20th century, through Rudolf Bultmann, then E.P. Sanders, and popularized by Bart Ehrman today, lays the groundwork for belief in the resurrection. For people thinking in apocalyptic terms, resurrection was the only way to reconcile their worldview with Jesus' execution at the hands of Pontius Pilate, by all extra-gospel accounts a brutal imperial bossman. If this thug in a toga was allowed to nail God's anointed to a cross, there had to be a reason. The alternative was unthinkable.

Will has helpfully quoted E.P. Sanders' statement from the epilogue of The Historical Figure of Jesus:-

"That Jesus' followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know."

I do not claim to know either. Psychoanalysis is hard enough of an art face-to-face: at a 2,000 year remove, it's impossible. We can offer informed speculation only. Perhaps the disciples and Paul saw similar visions of Jesus, visions embroidered by later accounts; perhaps they had different experiences, later reconciled through discussion and institutional necessity; perhaps there were no visions, just a powerful conviction that Jesus was risen; or something else entirely. Whatever it was, the belief that Jesus was reborn was rooted in a pre-existing framework of Jewish eschatology. God raised Jesus as he was about to raise the world.

Jews of the 1st century A.D. were split between those who believed in a general resurrection and those who didn't. For Paul of Tarsus, Pharisee and former persecutor of the Jesus movement, an experience of Jesus' resurrection was proof that Jesus was the Christ, the "first fruits" of a general resurrection of the righteous. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul not only groups his resurrection experience with those of Jesus' disciples, he sees Christ's rebirth in a "spiritual body" as part of a process that will come to encompass all those who follow Jesus as Lord. For Paul, charismatic, brilliant, a theological genius drunk on apocalyptic expectation, the resurrection isn't a unique event: it's a process that will soon extend to all the followers of Jesus, as God, through Christ, remakes the world anew.

And here we are. Paul and the first Christians died. The next generation died after them. And the next, and the next, and on until the present day. The later books of the New Testament -- John's Gospel, the forged letters of Peter -- start to offer explanations for why the apocalypse promised by Jesus and Paul hasn't come. Christians have been offering them ever since. Anything but admit that Jesus and Paul were wrong.

Stripped of its apocalyptic framework, the resurrection, already a saving throw for the earthly failure of Jesus of Nazareth, has morphed into a bizarre theological system encompassing the crucifixion, a system involving Jesus' blood sacrifice, his victory over death, and, most brutally, his penal substitution for the sins of mankind on Pilate's cross. There are seeds of this in Paul, but Paul, no systematic theologian, threw it out in passing, as he rushed to his exultant apocalyptic conclusions. It has ossified into dogma by the deadweight of two millennia of Christendom. Jesus hasn't come back. Those who call him Lord are stuck explaining his tardiness. As it was in the beginning, it is now, and it ever shall be.


Denial in Perfection: the Resurrection's War With Reason

Belief in the resurrection began because Jesus' prophecy failed. Enthroned at the heart of a religion founded on Jesus' failure, in its refusal to accept the world as it is, the claimed resurrection of Christ is the central and ultimate example of Christianity's irrationality. Death itself could not be allowed to get in the way of belief. Following the evidence where it leads, regardless of opinion, is a hallmark of a person applying reason. We are entitled to our own views, not our own facts. The first Christians made the facts fit their views, and that denial was subsequently infused with the terror of institutional power, often backed by violence, the literal fire of the church's judgment awaiting the heretic who dared to call the emperor out on his nakedness. Not that such a thought would have occurred to many, so entrenched did the dogma become.

Time passed, and the dogma's power lessened as churches lost their ability to impose it by force. Christians today answer the charge of irrationality by appealing to the hope that the resurrection gives them. Death is not the end. They will see their loved ones again. Injustice on earth shall be set right in heaven. This hope is not trivial or worthy of mockery, but neither is it rational. Reason is not kind, it is not just, and it is not merciful about the world's failings. The textual scholar Dale Allison said it brutally in the existential cry of anguish that closed his book Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet: if there is no hope for the six-year-old child ravaged by cancer, then let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, leaving an existence that is nothing but a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. There is a certain nihilistic appeal to be found in facing up to this bleakness, a philosophical swagger in those who gaze into the abyss, and blink first. It does nothing to alleviate the bleakness of the picture given, nor should it diminish empathy, or sympathy, felt for those who feel compelled to believe in resurrection as a cure for the world's ills. These human kindnesses, however, do nothing to inject reason into an irrational belief. Like all miracles, the resurrection is wish-fulfillment, denial, and ultimately, no answer.

It is no accident that belief in a physical resurrection -- the theological demand hardened and made specific as a reaction to the blitzkrieg of modernity -- has become a shibboleth for Christians. Nothing speaks to the unreason of the faith so much as witnessing the fury turned on Christians who dare to doubt that Jesus' corpse was transformed and regenerated in the power of God. Without that death-defeating miracle, Christianity loses its power, and becomes another human construct. And that cannot be allowed. Christians can tolerate contradiction by the crate-load, theological cruelty, misogyny and homophobia in the name of God, but they cannot tolerate the possibility that God can't fulfill their wishes, the horror that God isn't all-power. Not even reality can stand in his way. The world as it is must be capable of transformation into the world as they want it to be. Christ Pantocrator must have their back. Any Christian who dissents must be broken. Ridiculed, attacked, unchurched, shunned. When it comes to this merciless dogma, the disease of dissent must isolated, quarantined, and either cured or cast out. The cruelty remains, though the fire's thankfully gone out of it.

I can empathize. I can sympathize. I cannot call it anything but irrational, or anything but wrong.

Is this it?


Conclusion

It's easy to tear down, to deconstruct. Rebuilding, now there's the thing. Labeling belief in the resurrection as irrational wish-fulfillment backed by threat of ostracism is not a hard thing, nor is following through on that premise. The difficult thing is to offer a way out of this panicked, frightened mess.

Richard Holloway, former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, has sold a good many books in popularizing a line long taken by those Christians who dared to question the dogma of the resurrection. He casts resurrection in metaphorical terms, as a symbol of rebirth in the face of all odds and probabilities. The Civil Rights Movement in America was a resurrection. So too was the emergence of Europe from the ashes of two world wars and half a century of Soviet tyranny. The church itself is a resurrection in this sense, surviving the failure and execution of its unwitting founder, and inspiring billions across continents and centuries. Horror, yes, but wonder too. Angel and demon and all in-between, like all of us.

This alternate model can't be reconciled with tradition and metaphysical dreaming. The two are incompatible at their hearts. The traditional resurrection is reality-denying wish-fulfillment; the alternative takes the hard road of accepting the world as it is, and the responsibility of remaking it as we want it to be. Miracles won't do the job for us. We have to grow up, take the burden, and do it for ourselves. Improvement comes not through the magic of God, but through the long, hard trek of human discovery and its application. The church claimed miracles. Florey and Chain healed.

Not only is the resurrection of the orthodox irrational, the hope it gives is passive, and it infantalizes those who cleave to it. To live in the hope of the resurrection is to live a lie. Believing that all shall be well after death robs us of the imperative to make things better in life. Dreaming of joining the risen Christ, either in heaven, or on a new earth after his second coming, pulls us away from the grunt work of making our dreams a reality in the here and now. Life is not made fair through hope alone, but by ingenuity, sweat, tears and effort.

The victory is sweeter when achieved in knowledge of the possibility of failure. So long as Christians believe that it was won in a tomb two thousand years ago, they will be denied it.
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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#14  Postby willhud9 » Sep 08, 2013 10:16 pm

I thank Byron on his counter-argument post as it is well written and knowledgeable.

My rebuttal:

My opponent starts off his post with a very good quote by MacCulloch in which it states that the resurrection cannot be authenticated and this is true....from a sole empirical perspective. But as I have demonstrated earlier, miracles are not necessarily empirical, but not being empirical does not correlate with being irrational. Things can be subjective and not based around empirical observation, and can still be consider rational. It is completely rational to feel worthless if your significant other was found in an affair despite there being no empirical observation that a feeling of worthlessness is rational since it is a feeling and thus subjective to observation.

Historians do their job well, but in the post-enlightenment era we have become bogged down with ultra skepticism that we dismiss, without a thought, claims of the supernatural. Now that I do find irrational. There is a difference between being skeptical of miracles and flat out dismissing them as non-existent. On one hand, a historian who says the resurrection could possibly have happened, but is extremely unlikely if impossible, has more credit from a rational perspective than one who denies the resurrection solely because it is a miracle. It goes back to my post on miracles; they work on the fundamental levels of nature and seemingly breach the rules/laws of nature, but are instead flowing along the lines of quantum mechanics and uncertainty.

So the historicity of the resurrection, can it be proven to be historically true? Yes, through documentation of Paul, the gospels, etc. Can it be empirically proven? No, but again it does not need to be empirically proven to be rational.

So my opponent continues with a reply in regards to faith over evidence. And in many regards the Christian's answer is faith. But that is what I am trying to explain. Faith does not correlate with irrationality. The Christian believes in the resurrection, yes because of faith, but that faith is one built upon trustworthiness and confidence in the promise of God. It is not blind faith which accepts anything at face value. While the concept of miracles cannot be empirically proven, and so neither can the resurrection, it can be rationally defended.

My opponent than makes a mistake in assuming what apologetics is. The Bible and through the ages, apologetics was simply a defense to rationally defend your faith. It was not to convert anyone, but rather was to keep a person grounded in both rationality (Thomas Aquinas and other scholastics viewed rationality as a high virtue) and faith. Again through the history of the church, rationality and faith were regarded side by side, and never juxtaposed to each other.

The apologetics of the resurrection are not appeals to naturalism as my opponent describes, but rather are a reliance on historical documents, and historical understanding to make a conclusion built upon available evidence. It does not remove the concept of faith, and does not try to deal with the scientific explanations of how the resurrection happened, but it does make the case that the resurrection was widely believed to be literal fact and not just a spiritual resurrection, but a bodily one at that.

Christianity is anything but arguing over naturalistic foundations. Instead Christianity is relying on what it has to be able to defend one's faith as rational. And the resurrection and its defense is rational, as I demonstrated above in my argument post.

So with my opponent's introduction out of the way, I move on to his core argument.

My opponent starts off with a lot of assumptions that many modern day historians make in regards to the reality of the resurrection. He goes through a list of popular attributes of the character of Jesus, discusses the imminent eschatology that Jesus preached and insists that only by the theology of the resurrection does Christ's death make any sense to their worldview.

My response to that: what?

First of all, even if Jesus was simply an apocalyptic preacher from the first century, if he was killed, sure his teachings could probably survive in some Judaic rabbinical sect, but there is no reason to believe that a massive following would amass around the disciples of Jesus that would continue to grow exponentially over the years. Sure the disciples and later Paul definitely had conviction, but not only did the Roman world oppose them, but even the Jewish world opposed them. Making up a resurrection story makes no sense in the worldview of the early church and again there are several problems with this. EP Sanders writes that if the resurrection account was simply made up, you'd expect a more cohesive narrative. Now Sanders was not arguing for the resurrection, simply stating that those who argue a Jesus myth and the resurrection was completely made up, based around older folklore have an error in their logic.

Well I am applying Sanders logic right back at him. The resurrection account would indeed be varied, if multiple people had different resurrection experiences and recorded those accordingly. But if it was a made up event, the Christian church could easily have settled with one Easter story instead of 4, similar but unique stories. As I argued, the similarities are what give credence to their likelihood, but their uniqueness also gives credence to their authenticity.

My opponent than claims that psycho-analysis is impossible from this time difference and I disagree. By archaeology we can learn a lot about a person's customs. The Gospels give excellent insight into the disciples thoughts surrounding the resurrection, fear and awe. Furthermore, arguing along the lines of a massive delusion from not only the disciples, but Paul, and the multitude Paul mentions in Corinthians 15, is insane. Of course Paul, could have been lying, but we have no evidence or reason to suspect he was. A massive delusion that size is highly improbable. Of course maybe Jesus didn't reveal himself to Paul at all? True, but again it relies on what ifs and the assumption that Paul made it up. EP Sanders even agrees that he had a resurrection experience, but remains uncertain about the event which caused the experience. Again, skepticism and agnosticism are not irrational, or even wrong, but making the conclusion based around the textual evidence, is not irrational, but rather is a step built around a set of premises which are found to be correct.

The next point is in regards to the beliefs of the Jews concerning general vs. specific resurrection. While, true, Jews were torn on whether or not it would be a resurrection for all of Israel or the redeemed, this by any means is not a major factor in Paul's preaching on the resurrection, in fact he reconciles the two viewpoints. Resurrection is both specific (i.e. you die to yourself and are reborn in Christ) and general (one day there will be a massive resurrection of those who are sleeping and those who are awake). It is true that Paul does not see the resurrection as a unique event, and likewise it shouldn't be treated as such from a Christian perspective. After all, when a person comes to Christ, they are being "born again" or "resurrecting."

My opponent than makes the flawed apocalyptic prophesy argument (which shall be one of the topics I address in my final post in regards to heaven, hell, salvation, etc.) in that Christ and Paul passed away and yet the new eschatology has not occurred yet. Well as NT Wright will argue, that is flawed. The new eschatology started with Christ's resurrection and the world is currently resurrecting until a day when Christ returns. This is not extrabiblical or formulated by the forged letters of Peter, or the Gospel of John. This is called inaugurated eschatology. I will not go into much detail here, but suffice to say, the eschatology that Christ preached began with his death, and resurrection and continues within the church into modern times.

As for the transformation of the resurrection and the events leading up to it being morphed into a theological framework, all of that information comes from Paul, who writes that sin is death, but life is a free gift given by God through Jesus. The redemption and blood spilling is present due to the Jewish theological background, but this by no means reduces the rationality of the resurrection event. It shows the context, from the spiritual aspect of it.

My opponent than continues onwards to his second part in which he states that the resurrection is irrational. He begins by stating that the early Christians forced facts to fit their views and that Jesus' death would not stop their goals. What goals? To follow Jesus? He was shown to be a fraud, not the Messiah by his death, why believe in a failure? Unless either they had a larger plan to create a new religious system (unlikely and without evidence), they were heavily deluded (again a delusion that wide spread is unlikely) or they witnessed a resurrection event. Not saying it necessarily happened, but I am going with the EP Sanders quote, they had a resurrection experience.

Furthermore, my opponent seeks to discredit the rationality of the resurrection by the spiritual appeals of the hope it gives them. He argues along the lines of, "Christians cannot be faced with the reality of the resurrection, so they stick with metaphorical or spiritual reasons." Not necessarily making them irrational, but Byron fails to explain that it is not irrational to follow textual information and make firm conclusions based upon the following of available evidence and there is sufficient evidence to support the resurrection. It is this type of apologetics which Byron accused of being naturalism, but it is still based around faith, but a trustworthy concept, not blind faith.

Finally, Byron makes an appeal to incredulity by stating that Christians, mainly orthodox Christians, get offended when their concept of a prayer-answering God in the form of a literal resurrection is questioned. This may be true, but this does not answer the challenge of Christianity being irrational. People can be irrational about a wide assortment of things. I know people who are irrational about fitness, to the point where they do more harm to their body than good. But just because people can be irrational does not mean the core beliefs, or ideology of the people is. Fitness is good for you and is indeed rational to be fit. Christianity can indeed be rationally defended, and so the resurrection falls under that protection.

In my conclusion of my rebuttal, I strongly disagree with my opponent. If Christianity is nothing but a human construct that by its very nature it is based on irrational premise as Christianity is built around the resurrection. Making the resurrection a metaphor takes away the point of Christianity and fundamentally takes away the lessons of Paul. Again as Paul said, if Christ did not rise from the grave than faith is for naught.

But my opponent states that the hope the resurrection gives is passive and this is far from the truth as it could be. The thousands of people daily who pray, live, and respond within the Christian faith is testament to the fact that the hope of the resurrection, a literal resurrection, is very much active and a key component to the survival of Christianity. It is a message of redemption, justification, and salvation.

I thank Byron for his post, and await his post of rebuttal.

My next post will be on the reliability of Scriptures. Thanks!
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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#15  Postby Byron » Sep 12, 2013 9:20 pm

My respect to Will for putting together such a well-resourced case!

My introduction explains why Will's focus on empiricism misses my point, as does his denial of apostolic fraud; I then illustrate why any natural explanation beats a miracle claim before, following a diversion in which I examine the sources, I conclude with how Will's rebuttal serves to illustrate my points.


Introduction

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces ...
... Or polite meaningless words, ...
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:

All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born. ...

As it was for Yeats in light of the Easter Rising, so it was for the followers of Jesus of Nazareth in light of their resurrection experiences. Not only do I make no claim of fraud on their part: I make no specific or definite claim whatsoever about what they experienced, why they experienced it, and by what mechanism it reshaped them.

Instead my case is built on one short claim, a claim Will has not only failed to rebut, but has failed to describe. You can't make probability judgments about miracles, since probability depends upon a stable frame of reference, and miracles have none. My argument isn't limited to empiricism. Any probability claim about miracles is rendered meaningless by the nature of the thing being claimed.

This is not, as Will's rebuttal mistakenly says, "flat out dismissing [miracles] as non-existent." It's a narrower, and more devastating, proposition than denial: miracles are categorically incapable of being established on a balance of probabilities. They must be believed in, if they are believed in at all, on the basis of irrational faith.

It's telling that N.T. Wright, who Will references, had no reply to Dale Allison's observation* that no one, including Wright, comes to believe in the resurrection by a dispassionate analysis of the sources. As with all apologetics, belief precedes evidence. The faith may be informed, but it remains faith, and due to its inability to make a probability judgment, irrational faith at that.

... All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born. ...


Fraud ...

"I do not regard deliberate fraud as a worthwhile explanation."
E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus

Will says that "those who argue a Jesus myth and the resurrection was completely made up, based around older folklore have an error in their logic." It's curious to know why he's chosen to say this, as I've made no such argument. Far from it. I haven't thrown the weight of my argument behind any particular scenario for how the resurrection belief originated. I suggested several possibilities, in passing, for illustrative purposes only.

The point that Will hasn't addressed is that I don't need to produce any alternative scenario to unseat the resurrection claim, since that claim fails on its own terms. Just as a defendant isn't obliged to do anything if the prosecution fails to make its case. A resurrection legal analogy that, for once, stands.

I agree with Sanders that fraud is not a worthwhile explanation. If nothing else, there's no apparent motive, least of all for the resurrection-based conversion described by Paul of Tarsus. Palestine and the wider Roman Empire was not known for its money-soaked megachurches. However, fraud, unlikely as it is, would still be a more probable explanation than a miracle. People do commit frauds for a variety of motives. Fraudulent cult leaders exist. And believing in a fraud requires no miraculous explanation.


... and a TARDIS?

This is what the argument revolves around: any natural explanation is, ipso facto, more probable than a miracle claim, since a natural explanation is made in relation to a stable frame of reference, while a miracle claim is made in relation to itself.

In his debate with William Lane Craig, Bart Ehrman deliberately concocted the most fantastical natural explanation he could think of: Jesus' body was spirited away from his tomb at night, only for the 1st century Burke and Hare to die in a scuffle with a night patrol, and end up tossed, along with Jesus' corpse, into a common grave. Jesus' followers stumbled upon an empty tomb and it snowballed from there. Absurd and unlikely? Yes, but possible within a naturalistic framework. Unlike the resurrection.

I'll push it further. Way further. A future time traveler, also a devout Christian, journeys back to the 1st century to observe the historical reality behind the passion narratives, and discovers, to his shock, that nothing is happening. There is no Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem. He realizes that there's fun with paradoxes to be had, and the mother of all acting jobs is required of him. He travels back a few years further, takes on the role of Jesus, and acts out Jesus' life in accordance with the gospels. For that tricky death scene he substitutes his body with an android, sets up a holographic projector by the unfortunate robot's tomb, and we're away.

What? Time travel might be possible. History could be altered. Robots and holograms exist. If we have to consider every alternative, however absurd, there's no reason that this naturalistic scenario can't be thrown into the mix. Scarves and blue boxes optional. Apologists scorn such reductiones ad absurdum. No wonder: they expose the absurdity of consistently applying their "consider everything" approach.

For some reason N.T. Wright's doorstop on the resurrection** didn't turn into a science fiction novel hounded by the BBC's copyright lawyers. A shame, it would've been a damn sight less turgid if it had. As ever, the Christian suspension of disbelief is selective in the extreme. For the apologist, it is reasonable to assess biblical miracles as if they were as mundane as a centurion taking a dump, but other fantastical explanations aren't even entered for consideration. If an explanatory framework varies by its adherence to your chosen dogma, it's the very definition of irrationality. William Lane Craig illustrated it perfectly when, in debate with Ehrman, he dismissed non-Christian miracle claims out-of-hand as myths and legends. That old-time chutzpah never fails to impress.

Will's rebuttal has missed this fundamental point: I haven't said the resurrection didn't happen. I don't need to. My claim is, simply, that historiography isn't equipped to assess claims set outside a natural framework. Will has not demonstrated that it is. He's demonstrated an impressive and comprehensive knowledge of the sources, but he's failed to produce a methodology that supports using them towards his purpose. If you can't make the evidence work for you, it doesn't matter how good, or bad, it is.

Since Will's rebuttal has failed to address, let alone refute, the point on which my case rests, it's not a rebuttal in any substantive sense. It is, I'm sad to say, not even wrong. As usual in this debate, the fault lies not in Will, but in the case he's arguing. When a debater as skilled as Will can't make a case work, its inherent weakness is plain to see.

Out of respect for Will's work, I'll now take a look at the sources. Since this tangent doesn't affect my argument in any substantive way, anyone who wants to should feel free to skip ahead to the conclusion.


Passion, Hope, and Legend: the Resurrection Sources

The earliest account of the resurrection is found in an apostolic letter Paul of Tarsus wrote to the church in Corinth, usually dated around the mid-1st century. By later convention, it's labeled the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians:-

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Simon Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

(Translation: NRSV)


The next account comes from the end of the anonymous biography of Jesus later attributed to John Mark, a companion of Simon Peter. Removing the forged ending, absent at late as the 4th century, it reads:-

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

(Ibid)


The anonymous gospels later attributed to Matthew and Luke, which use Mark as a source, embellish the tale. The gospel attributed to John provides its own spin. The details shift -- in Matthew, Salome vanishes and the two Maries are greeted by a Cecil B. DeMille spectacular, with an earthquake and descending angel; Luke offers us a group of women running into two figures in the tomb; John offers a solo visit by Mary Magdalene, who doesn't enter, but fetches Peter and the mysterious disciple "whom Jesus loved," who engage in a tag-race to the tomb, followed by angels and a touching scene with Mary, again on her lonesome, mistaking the risen Christ for the gardener -- and theological narratives are woven.

Treating this as some tawdry eyewitness reportage is an insult to the material. As MacCulloch says, it's not history, but a statement about truth.

The resurrection stories conflict with Paul's account and with each other. The divergence between Paul and the gospel material is the greatest. Paul groups his resurrection experience with those of the other apostles, the same in kind. (Hardly surprising, given his incessant power-play with the Jerusalem church.) The Acts of the Apostles, which shares authorship with Luke's Gospel, places Paul's experience after the ascension of the risen Christ into the clouds (that ancient cosmology at its most blatant), the conversion experience presented by "Luke" as a blast of light which blinds Paul but is invisible -- but audible -- to his companions. Did Paul experience the resurrection, a vision, or were the two one and the same? Depends on which biblical story you read, and how you interpret it. On biblical grounds alone, arguing for a distinctive "physical resurrection" is a nonsense.

I note these developments and contradictions not to "disprove" the resurrection -- such a thing is unnecessary, given the argument made above -- but to highlight just how flexible and inventive the early Christians were, even about the core of their faith. We do their creativity a disservice by playing CSI: Jerusalem with it. Analyze it as literature and as a source for early Christian belief. Believe a resurrection miracle happened on faith if you want. The sources support no more.


Conclusion

... We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead.
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died? ...

Will says, following Paul of Tarsus, "if Christ did not rise from the grave then faith is for naught." That is a matter for Christians to decide. I don't agree, but that's outside the remit of this debate. The question before us is the rationality (or not) of believing that Jesus of Nazareth was bodily resurrected in the power of God.

Understandably, Will seeks to separate the irrationality of Christians from the supposed rationality of the resurrection claims, but for naught. Highlighting their panic isn't an appeal to incredulity; rather, it's an illustration of the irrationality at the resurrection's core. Resurrection hope speaks as deep as its rational foundations are shallow: it must be defended by the force of the authority fallacy precisely because its evidential basis is so weak. The fact that faith is not enough for so many Christians and their institutions just goes to show how important rationality is, even -- indeed, especially -- for those who would believe irrational claims. Will claims that apologetics are based on informed faith, not naturalism, but its practice says otherwise.

... All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born. ...

The belief that God became incarnate in Christ and won a victory over death inspires the hopes of billions, but that inspiration can so easily cause Christians to waste their lives dreaming of the undiscovered country beyond death, and has been used to make the oppressed resign themselves to their lot. Not necessarily, but frequently, and therein lies the tragedy amidst the exaltation.

Belief in Easter resurrection changed the disciples who in turn changed the world. Alongside Will, I think it's likely that they had some kind of resurrection experience -- it fits the cognitive dissonance model established convincingly by Dale Allison in Millenarian Prophet, and explains the drive behind the early Jesus movement -- but with E.P. Sanders, I don't pretend to know what it was. Will has failed to make any sort of case as to why it is rational to jump beyond the evidence and attribute the experience to a miracle. My point stands unrebutted: there is no rational basis on which to make probability judgments about miracle claims, including the claim that Jesus of Nazareth conquered death. They are something that must be believed on faith, or not at all.

I don't know what the disciples experienced in the wake of Jesus' judicial murder. Neither does anyone else.

... All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born. ...


Endnotes:-
* Dale C. Allison, Jr, "Explaining the Resurrection: Conflicting Convictions," Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 3.2, June 2005
** N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, SPCK, 2003
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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#16  Postby willhud9 » Sep 18, 2013 1:32 am

Scripture. The Bible. The Good Book. The Holy Word. Whatever, you call it, in Christianity there is no single document, no single anthology of history, wisdom literature, and theology than the Bible. So of course, defending its reliability is a serious task. Of course, you can have Christianity without the Bible, but as we can see the sects of Christianity that go away from the foundation of the Bible can indefinitely make even more outstanding claims without any source of fact checking. The Bible is a standard not only for individuals, but for the Christian church. It provides insight into the history of Israel and God's promises, and gives wisdom to those who seek it.

My post will consist of three main parts. The first shall be the overview of the history of the Bible, it's authorship, the various scholarly opinions held by different people. The second shall be the discussion of history and exaggeration, and why exaggeration does not discredit reliability, and the third is simply my reasoning why the Bible is reliable and therefore rational.

Part One.

When was the Bible written? By whom was it written? Many conservative Christians seek to answer that question with the Sunday school answer of : The Bible was written by God. But it wasn't. It was written by man. Even the doctrine of Biblical inspiration, does not negate that the words written were words written by man, not God or angels. Because of this, a lot of the Bible is cultural material. As I will argue in part three, this by no means discredits the Bible, but it does serve a reminder that one cannot read a part of the Bible and try to apply it as if there is no difference between 5th century BCE Palestine and 21st century America, or Europe, etc.

So what is the Bible? The Bible is a collection of writings, letters, prophecies, etc. in one anthology. In most Bibles there are three parts. The Old Testament, books written before the time of Jesus, the New Testament, letters and Gospels written after Jesus' death, and the Apocrypha, books not really accepted as canon but contain cultural information such as the book of Enoch.

Most of the Old Testament was written in its final form around the time of the Babylonian Captivity. Some scholars go as far to say that most of the books were actually conceived during this period and I think that is a weak idea at best. Historians agree that the written form we currently have was definitely a second temple era piece, but the underlying components of the books were not. For example, Leviticus comes from an era much earlier than that of Deuteronomy. The contents of Samuel and Kings are also older than the time they were finally written, suggesting either a strong oral tradition or writings we do not have.

So who wrote the various books? Traditionally the first five books were attributed to Moses, but as historians investigated, it is doubtful Moses actually wrote anything. I do not question whether or not he was a historical person, as there is no evidence to make a definitive statement either way. But the Pentateuch was most likely composed during the time of Israelite monarchy, and then latter added to in the time of captivity to reflect on the nature of disobedience to God carries punishment. The books Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, and Kings were most likely written in a similar fashion. The wisdom literature, Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Songs, were written scattered and were finally placed in a collection of writings around the second temple era. The prophets are lot trickier to pin point an author and date. Isaiah and Ezekial, for the most part can be attributed to the name's of the writings during the age they were writing in. But in Isaiah we know a second and perhaps a third author added information at the end most likely following with the belief in a messianic figure which accompanied second temple thoughts. The minor prophets can safely be attributed to the authors of the writing because there is no major issue with the writings to suggest otherwise. Daniel is the biggest mess because a variety of authors touched and edited that book, making its authorship and date, largely uncertain. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were most likely written by Ezra, himself.

The New Testament was predominantly written by Paul and a pseudo-Paul. I actually disagree with a lot of New Testament scholars in that I have no issue with many of the epistles being considered Pauline. Timothy, Colossians, Ephesians, the language is not different enough to justify a non-Pauline author. The Gospels were written 40-60 years after the death of Jesus. While traditionally the four namesakes of the Gospels have been accepted as the authors, the reality is this is uncertain and doubtful. The only Gospel I could see written by the author attributed to it is Luke, and only because the Gospel closely follows the language used by Paul and if Luke was a follower of Paul, it makes sense. The rest of the New Testament is attributed to Peter, James, John, and Jude. Whether or not they wrote it is a matter of debate.

The apocrypha is accepted by Catholics and some Orthodox faiths, but is rejected by the Protestant faith due to the controversial nature of the texts. They were not wholly accepted by Jewish culture. As well Maccabeus, the books concerning Judas Macabeus is not accepted by Protestants for not really being a text of divine nature.

So with that brief summary of the Bible out of the way, onto part two.

Part Two: Ancient History is oftentimes exaggerated.

Whenever historians study ancient cultures, especially those surrounding Mesopotamia, they have to pay scrutinizing attention to texts because it was natural for a culture to exaggerate their accomplishments and demises. This is very much true for ancient Israel.

A culture which was mainly a shepherd, nomadic people surrounded by the Phoenicians to the west, the Assyrians to the north, Babylonians to the east, the Egyptians to the southwest, and were largely unimportant, would want to seem larger than life, considering they were surrounded by ancient giants. So in collecting their histories they exaggerated. Instead of a minor exodus from Egypt, it was a major Exodus (and there is evidence of Jews being in Egypt and hurriedly leaving). Instead of small skirmishes with the Phoenicians and other Palestinian people, it was a major military campaign. Instead of having decent, but relatively unknown kings, they had David and Solomon, kings of greatness and splendor.

In Israel's historical texts, we see accomplishments being accredited to God. It is a case of the fish was really this big. But does this mean the texts are unreliable? No. Exaggeration simply means instead of taking something at face value, we look beyond what the text literally says. We see a story of a nation surviving amidst a storm of larger cultures bonded by the faith they have in their God. As we approach the New Testament, we see a culture that has survived but is disheartened.
Part Three: Can the Bible be considered reliable then?

So with authorship and dating being unknown and with exaggerations with the text being common, how can you have anything to do with reliability? Well the fact remains that although the text may be exaggerated, on the whole the base facts match the reality. The history of Israel is largely supported via archaeology and comparing the texts with contemporary texts of Assyria and Babylon. The New Testament is largely the opinions of a man, Paul. The Gospels are written via a collection of sayings and accounts from a variety of sources and cannot be dismissed as a fabricated story as some people would have done with.

So with the accuracy of the historical nature, if not the exaggerated details, the Bible gets some validity. Again, I can catch a fish and claim it was 50 meters long, but in reality it was only 50 centimeters. Does this mean my story is unreliable? No, it simply means that you do not take the story at face value. Which is the rational thing to do.

So what about the cultural material? Well since a good portion of the book comes from a different time period, some people hold a belief that different culture had different answers and thus the biblical answers from those cultures should no longer be considered reliable, and to a degree, yes. The punishment of stoning a person to death should not be considered reliable as a punishment, but that does not mean the material of the Bible is null and void. Good advice fifty years ago such as look both ways before crossing the street is still good advice today. Lessons such as do onto others, and worry not about tomorrow, but focus on today, are all drawn from the Bible. Good lessons still applicable despite coming from a different culture.

We have here a case of do we dismiss the Bible wholesale, or do we simple put on our glasses and read the material accordingly. Both the fundamentalists and new atheists make in my opinion the largest of errors. The fundamentalists accept everything as is in the Bible and the atheists tend to reject the Bible as not needed and a bad book. Both are foolish ideas to have. The Bible is still a source of history, and still a source of wisdom, and still a source of understanding who God is.

Because of this, the Bible is necessary to a Christian faith. Perhaps not the doctrine of sola scriptura or inerrancy that many protestant fundamentalists would preach, but definitely the concept of relying on scripture for an overview of the history of Israel, and Jesus/the disciples and on matters concerning theology.

So the Bible is still reliable, and because it is reliable it is part of the rational defense of Christianity.

*I do apologize for the rush on this one. Between work and busy weekends I was hard pressed to really have time to think let alone write this. I have a feeling Byron is going to hand me a challenge in his negative post on the matter, but I await the chance to offer a rebuttal and hopefully add more clarity once I gather my wits.
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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#17  Postby Byron » Sep 19, 2013 6:07 pm

Thanks to Will for a comprehensive and insightful account of biblical history. I disagree about Pauline authorship, but that need not detain us here.

My introduction looks at the theological absurdity behind claims of biblical accuracy, an absurdity illustrated by witchhunts and antisemitism, followed by an issue of contemporary relevance, homophobia, and a conclusion arguing that Will must defend a miraculous definition of "reliability" to make his case.

Biblical excerpts come from the New Revised Standard Version.


Introduction

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

Second letter to Timothy

The reason for claiming that the Bible is reliable is found in this quote from a letter forged in Paul's name. Yes, the forgery refers to Jewish scripture, but Christians routinely apply its assertion to the entire biblical canon. The Bible is, we're told, "God-breathed." It is, yet again, a question of authority. Because-I-say-so. Assertion substituted for evidence. Same old jazz.

Here's the core of my position:-

The question of biblical reliability is inseparable from the underlying theology of biblical authority.

Biblical authority comes down to this fallacious claim: the words of the Bible have special weight because they're in the Bible. The authority fallacy is a central Christian dogma. According to Christian orthodoxy, the Spirit of God inspired the biblical authors in a miraculous way, helping them to craft God's revelation while preserving them from error, and Christians revere the fruits of this most awesome of collaborations as holy scripture. Sunday by Sunday Christians chant, "This is the Word of the Lord," and thank God for his revelation. Biblical authority is the subtlest of miracle claims, and with it, the most insidious.

The recurring thread of this debate, authoritarianism, is fully realized in the bibliolatry of orthodox Christianity. All arguments about the Christian bible's "reliability" rest on this fallacious base. If Christianity were rational, it would not enshrine a fallacy as a dogma. It would not have dogma. Q.E.D.

I won't waste my time, or anyone else's, by focusing on the symptom of biblical reliability while ignoring the disease of biblical authority. That's a road to nowhere. Apologists have concocted a saving-throw for every contradiction, error, and howler in their sacred text. The nature of texts ensures that they can never be disproven, any more than they can be proven. Someone determined to impose a meaning on a text will do so regardless of its ability to support them.

If you want to bring down a wall you go for its foundation.

Instead of playing on the opposition's terms within their closed-system, I'll step outside its confines, and look at why biblical reliability is given such weight by Christians. My aim is to show that it's the enemy of reason.

If the resurrection is Christianity's most fantastic claim, biblical authority is its most dangerous.


Malleus Maleficarum

You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live.

Exodus 22:18

When the junior senator for Wisconsin was pulled, spitting bile and hate in the name of righteousness, from his pulpit, he embodied the spirit of earlier witchhunts as much as he did their method. Senator "Joe" McCarthy didn't believe in trifles like due process for those on whom his disfavor fell. Neither did the Christian witchhunters whose bloodstained footfall Tail-Gunner Joe sought to continue. Treating accusation as proof, the modus operandi of the witchfinder, is the authority fallacy at its most brutal. You're guilty because I say you are.

Christian witchhunting is so cloaked in folklore and sensation that its terror and extent can be lost. Shrouded in Hammer Horror kitsch, witchhunting conjures images of diabolical lechers in wide-brimmed hats chasing buxom maidens, doubtless flanked by torch-wielding mobs; or else dour puritans (there's another kind?) stalking through colonial Massachusetts, terrorizing meek women prefixed "Goody," alongside the heroic Giles Corey.

Behind these images, half-Witchfinder General, half-Crucible, is the more sordid reality.

To be fair here, Christianity is not inherently predisposed to witchhunting. For most of the Middle Ages, the church scoffed at claims of witchcraft, dismissing them as folk tales and superstition.

What changed?

Although the extent of its influence is debated by historians, Heinrich Kramer and (possibly, his co-authorship is disputed) Jakob Sprenger's bloated 1487 tract of misogyny and paranoia, Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches) played a substantial role in lighting the fires of the early modern witch craze. It came in the wake of the 1484 papal bull Summis desiderantes affectibus, written at Kramer's request, which acknowledged the existence of witchcraft, and granted him, and his fellow Dominican friar Sprenger, inquisitorial powers in north Germany. Behind the Malleus' argument that witches are a real and present danger is a terrible scriptural warrant:-

"Maleficos non patieris vivere."

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Malleus Maleficarum is a mix of pornography and hate speech. The instructive thing is how the Bible, backed by the authority of the church and, most terribly, the power of the confessional state, was marshaled to its cause, and how people under the thrall biblical authoritarianism responded. The Malleus made arguments, yes, but biblical authority was the steel in the glove. Anyone who dissented could find themselves accused of going against God's will as expressed in scripture as interpreted by the magisterium. Defend a witch and burn alongside her, alongside him. So powerful was the Malleus that even the church's eventual condemnation couldn't halt its spread. The authority of ecclesiastical bureaucracy lost to something more potent: the ability to infuse your will with the power of scripture. Cloak your desires with biblical texts and you become God's mouthpiece.

As McCarthy showed, religion isn't necessary for a witchhunt, but hysteria, moral panic and authoritarianism are. The dogma of biblical authority doesn't create our worst aspects, but it does fuel them, fuels them until people hang and burn. Authority smothers reason.

The problem isn't the Christian bible per se. The problem is the way in which the canon of scripture is used, the weight of authority invested in it. As a text, scripture is inert, harmless in itself. Only when we start arguing that finite human opinions are infallible does it become something else.

The horrific timeline of Christian antisemitism illustrates just how bad the something else can get.


"Perfidus Iudaeus": The Deicide Libel

So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves." Then the people as a whole answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!"

Matthew 27:24-25

This short passage from the anonymous gospel attributed to the apostle Matthew has been used to justify the slaughter of millions.

Antisemitism became so embedded within the Christian imagination that the Second Vatican Council thought it necessary to absolve the Jewish people of Christ's murder. Christian antisemitism was premised on racial guilt for deicide. All Jews, said this evil doctrine, carried a blood curse for rejecting and murdering their god. "Christ-killers" deserved no mercy, and received none.

I will not insult the intelligence and decency of those reading by arguing why blood-guilt and collective punishment are irrational and barbaric. These were mainstream Christian positions for 2,000 years.

Modern, post-Holocaust apologists for biblical authority will howl in protest, as well they might. The verse has been taken out of context! It was a corruption by the church! (Protestant) The church never taught that, not really. (Catholic) Matthew was a Jew, as was Jesus, Paul, and all the apostles, it's absurd to suggest the gospel was intended to be antisemetic!

Well, perhaps. The point missed by the passage's defenders is that it doesn't matter. As post modernist critics enjoy telling anyone who'll listen, a reader isn't bound by authorial intent. The biblical authors are dead in more senses than the obvious. Readers inject meaning. When any text is given authoritarian weight, any agenda that can be read-in to it is duly empowered. Whether it's the hunting of witches or the murder of Jews, if it can be made to fit, people will suffer and die. As interpretation is inherent to all text, there will always be latitude to turn them into a weapon against a vulnerable minority.

Here is the crowning irony of biblical authority: it empowers not the text, but the people who interpret the text. It doesn't check demagogues: it hands them a weapon.

Biblical authority isn't the most fantastical illustration of Christianity's irrationality. It is, however, the most dangerous, because it injects the opinions of men with the power of the Word of the Lord. It turns hatemongers into God's mouthpiece. Nothing could be more unreliable, more irrational, or more dangerous.

Today, it's a danger manifest in scriptural gay-bashing.


Homophobia: A Biblical Abomination

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

And with that passage same-sex fucking becomes a "salvation issue" for millions of evangelical Christians. From a rational perspective, Paul of Tarsus isn't even wrong. No premise is offered. Paul nowhere says why same-sex copulation is a sin that denies people their inheritance of the kingdom of God. He just asserts that it is. Because-I-say-so at its purest.

Christians tried to inject reasons into the authoritarian biblical condemnation of homosexual relationships, illustrating, once again, that they don't operate on their claimed terms. Once, they claimed to have evidence that homosexuality was harmful, but as more and more people shook off the chains of two millennia of Christian homophobia, and came out to their family and friends, the attempts at reason dropped away in all but the most bigoted cases.

Now, Christian homophobia is the dogma that dare not speak its name. The irrationality of biblical authority is at its starkest in the reactions of Christians confronting what they insultingly call an "issue." Witness the awkward, twitching attempt at welcome to be found amongst contemporary evangelicals:-

"Why of course, homophobia (its existence now acknowledged) is wrong! Come in, gay and lesbian people, you are welcome in church, most welcome. Why no, of course, God doesn't hate you! Please forget such wicked things, those who voice them are no true Christians; we doubt they're even Scotsmen. God loves you! God loves friendship. Friendship? Why yes. You see, God makes demands on us all, gay and straight. For us straights it's the discipline of marriage; for you gays, the discipline of celibacy. Not equivalent, you say? Well I suppose not, but God is demanding. Not fair? God knows better than us. He has his reasons. What harm does a sexual relationship with your partner do? Well, it damages your relationship with God. How do we know this?

"It's simple.

"The Bible tells us so!"

And there it is. Behind its veil of faux-concern and insincere-regret for past wrongs, evangelical Christianity won't budge in its condemnation of same-sex lovemaking. It just really, really hopes that you don't ask. These days, it's not even "hate the sin, love the sinner," but "love the sinner, and pray you don't have to call it a sin."

Evangelicals find themselves in the ridiculous position of condemning gay relationships for no reason whatsoever, but feeling unable to budge from their condemnation, out of a fear that to do so would undermine biblical authority. Homophobia might have motivated their obsession with a few scattered texts, but they now find themselves trapped by it, ensnared by the monster they created. Scripture reliably led them into the most senseless cruelty.

They'll shift eventually, of course, just as they shifted over divorce, and are in the process of shifting over women in authority. At some point, the cost of gay-bashing will become too great for them to bear, and it'll be decided that the Bible always supported gay relationships and equal marriage, just as it was always against slavery.

What Paul really meant was ...


Conclusion

The things that yo' liable
To read in the Bible,
It ain't necessarily so!


Ira Gershwin, "It Ain't Necessarily So," Porgy and Bess

As I argued in the introduction, there's no point in addressing the consequence of biblical reliability while ignoring the cause of biblical authority. To do so leaves you playing a rigged deck. No contradiction is too extreme to be "explained" by some ingenious exegesis from a conveyor-belt of clean-shaven evangelical scholars with $2,000 suits and $10,000 smiles. "Matthew and Luke set their nativity stories ten years apart? Why no, when you look closely at the text ..."

This game can be played all day long, and it is. People make careers of making the Bible into what Christian dogma needs it to be.

Although I've focused on biblical authority through a protestant lens, scripture is held sacred throughout Christianity. All that changes is the dogma's implementation. Catholics buttress it with the magisterium, the teaching authority of the church, itself buttressed, since the end of the 19th century, with papal infallibility. The catholic argument at the time of the reformation wasn't that the reformers were wrong to invest the Bible with such weight: just the opposite, it was that the Bible was so sacred that it needed the authority of the church to interpret it correctly (and, since it was the church that authenticated the canon to begin with, scriptural authority was meaningless outside the magisterium). Your because-I-say-so is trumped by my because-I-say-so. My fallacy beats your fallacy. Irrationality in perfection.

Since Christian scripture is so diverse, canonical status being attached to the texts long after they were written, it's a nonsense to make uniform statements about the Bible's reliability, The Christian bible is no more or less reliable than any other library of varying date, provenance and authorship. Referring to this body of work as a unified whole with consistent characteristics frames the debate in supernatural terms. It's as absurd as making claims about a bookshelf's reliability. If the irrational concept of biblical authority wasn't in play, it wouldn't occur to frame the question thus. The act of arguing that the Bible is reliable is in itself irrational.

The canon's reliability varies depending on authorship, and, even at its best, is subject to the flaws and biases inherent to all people, bound as we are by a finite perspective limited by time, place, knowledge and experience. If Will is arguing that the Bible's reliability is of a normal human kind, he's not defending orthodox Christianity, and will have conceded this part of the debate. If he's arguing for a supernatural, "God-breathed," reliability, he'll be addressing biblical authority in-depth. In either case, I look forward to his rebuttal.
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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#18  Postby willhud9 » Sep 25, 2013 10:39 pm

My opponent has tackled an issue I was expecting to see addressed: Biblical authority. But Byron has, in my opinion, failed to distinguish Orthodoxy from Protestantism. Out of the 3 major branches of Christianity, Protestantism is the one who appeals to the notion of Sola Scriptura as a major source of authority. The Catholics and the Orthodox while they do hold notions of Biblical authority tend to treat it less sacred and dogmatic than those of the Protestant denominations tend to do.

So onto the issue that Byron has laid before me: Is Biblical authority a fallacy? I will argue that yes, if taken out of proportion it does indeed become a fallacy, but when taken in appropriate strides is a pinnacle for Christian thought, philosophy, and theological expansion.

The first premise of my argument will be that just because the Bible is taken to be 100% authority by some does not mean that the Bible is not authoritative in other regards. As my post addressed, the Old Testament is largely a recollection, even if exaggerated like most ancient histories, of Israel's history.

The second premise of my argument will be that God-inspired is not a irrational notion and that if there is a God then God has given humans tools to better understand him, including inspired agencies. I will also agree with my opponent in that something like Sola Scriptura and a strict adherence to dogma has led to nasty events in Church history.

The final premise of my argument will be that Biblical authority is far from a fallacy, but rather is a unique quality of the Christian theology which gives it some background and textual support.

So onto the first!

The Christian at Church on Sunday is listening to a sermon on the teachings of Jesus. The pastor makes the claim that because the Bible says so, it must be so. Welcome to the fallacy of Biblical authority which as my opponent pointed out is indeed commonplace among many laypersons of Christianity. Where there is blind acceptance or adherence to set of rules, documents, etc. irrationality is usually close behind.

But just because it is commonplace for Christians to be irrational in regards to their religion, does not mean the religion cannot be rationally defended. Liberal theology started expanding rapidly in the 19th century under the understanding of critical thinking in regards to the Biblical text. It was long held a dogmatic standard for years that the Bible was written in a certain way and that questioning it was a heresy.

But was this the fault of Biblical authority? Or was this a matter of having the wrong kinds of people leading the church? As the liberal theologians started expanding on their understanding of Biblical authorship many notions such as the Deuteronomist, the Yahwist, the Elohist, and the Priestly source as authors/editors of the Biblical text in the Old Testament. But did these liberal theologians puzzle away at the authorship to do away with the Bible as a document for the Christian faith? No! Friedrich Schleiermacher, considered the father of liberal theology, stressed the importance of hermeneutics for this very reason. While he stressed the ideas of the individual's faith over the collective body of the church, he also stressed the individual critically accessing the Bible.

So what does that mean? Well much like the acceptance of miracles, a person should always question the source, the history, and the context of the written material they are reading. Some material is indeed useful as the author of Second Timothy notes for teaching, rebuking, correction, and training in righteousness, but others are in a cultural context and would be foreign if applied to a 21st century setting. Paul's words in 1 Corinthians about a woman staying silent for the honor of her man seems incredibly sexist and priggish in today's culture, but his words in relation to living a non-judgmental life and living by the Spirit and not the Flesh are words of wisdom that carry its meaning loud and clear in this time period.

As well, the Bible is useful for understanding how the Christian church fits into the grand scheme of God's "plan." By presenting a history, however rough, the Christian can understand where their roll in the church is and how even one part of the body is essential for the entirety. Liberal theologians brought the emphasis simply back to the individuals making up the church.

So understanding the Bible is a key component to understanding the rationality of Biblical authority. Blindly accepting Biblical authority or the text is fallacious as is the blind acceptance of anything in any field. But applying critical scholarship to the text and then applying that critical scholarship to one's life is far from fallacious, it is logical and rational.

That brings me to point number two!

Byron started off his post with the quote from 2 Timothy. It is a good quote and as Byron said, it is often used by Christians to refer to the Bible and not Jewish Scriptures as its context implies. But what is God inspired? What does that mean? Some people bog down the debate with concepts such as inerrancy and infallibility, and NT Wright, in his book Simply Christian has rejected the use of those words as distracting for the true purpose of the Bible which he writes, "The Bible is there to enable God's people to be equipped to do God's work in God's world, not to give them an excuse to sit back smugly, knowing they possess all God's truth."

So inspiration. What does it mean? It simply means that the authors, editors, poets, people involved with the Bible were caught up in God's plan. It means that God wanted the story told and chose those individuals to write the story in their own words. The Bible is a human creation, but it is also a tool for the Christian, given by God to as previously said to further the Christian's understanding of God and live a Christian life.

Now it is argued that the adherence to the Bible has caused heretics to be burned at the stake. Witch hunts to be conducted, homophobia to be brought to physical violence. But is this a critical adherence to the Bible or a dogmatic one? In all of the cases it is a dogmatic, political one. The Salem Witch Trials were more for political power and land grubbing than it was for actual fear of witches. The Bible was simply a tool used for wickedness by wicked people and they had power to enforce its blind fear on the masses. The Spanish Inquisition was a political attempt at maintaining Catholic dominance in the area from the Jewish and Turkish immigrants who were residing in España. As we see many of the attempts at using the Bible for ill were not for righteous reasons at all, but were for the reasons of the corrupt and power hungry or money loving. Sure the authority of the Bible was abused, but does not mean Biblical authority is fallacious. It means the sheepishness of the people in regards to the authorities of the Church or community has a larger effect than that of righteousness. Perhaps if those individuals would apply critical thought and test all things as Paul instructs things could have been different.

So onto my third and final point!

Biblical authority is not a fallacy when applied with critical thinking and understanding. If the study of the Bible yields of a philosophy that works such as not worrying about the future, but carrying for the present, or living a life of love, joy, peacefulness, etc. than that authority is applicable. If the study of the Bible reveals a place in the grand scheme of life as a teacher, a student, a servant, etc. than that authority is used.

NT Wright, again in Simply Christian, writes that, "Living with 'the authority of scripture,' then, means living in the world of the story which scripture tells. It means soaking ourselves in that story, as a community and as individuals. Indeed, it means that Christian leaders and teachers must themselves become a part of the process, part of the way in which God is at work not only in the Bible-reading community but through that community in and for the wider world."

NT Wright's point stands true. Having the authority of Scripture is not a think to sit back and gloat about, but rather is a means the Christian has at being a living application of the Scriptures. The epitome of the Christian is to love God, and to love their neighbour and by living with the authority of scripture that is how the Christian accomplishes this. It is not as my opponent accuses a means for "because I told you so" theology, but rather a chance for the Christian to demonstrate the validity of the claim through his or her life. While it is true, Christians can abuse Biblical authority and turn it into legalism, the Bible is far from legalistic, but rather is a living tool, much like the church, in God's plan.

So in conclusion. A thorough understanding of historical context and hermeneutics is a necessary function of a rational approach to scripture. Instead of blindly accepting a text or an interpretation of the text, a Christian should be challenged to think critically about the text. In doing this, the Christian gains an understanding of the text and can better yield the lesson from the text. By following the lessons of the text, the Christian affirms the authority of Scripture, an inspired tool used for God's plan, and likewise the Christian grows in righteousness and it carries over into the non-Christian world. Living with the authority of Scripture allows the Christian to be firm on their beliefs, but at the same time gives them textual support for their beliefs in which a spiritual belief alone does not have. Therefore Biblical authority, in its proper application is quite rational.

I await my opponents rebuttal! We are nearing the end of this debate as my last two posts will be in regards to salvation.
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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#19  Postby Byron » Oct 01, 2013 11:34 pm

Thanks to Will for his rebuttal, and in particular, for raising the issue of different models of biblical authority.

I introduce my own rebuttal by arguing that these are beside the point, a claim illustrated by highlighting theological evasiveness, after which, I jump back to a less evasive time to argue that Christianity's reluctance to be pinned down is evidence of biblical authority's failure, which leads into a look at how moderate Christians misuse biblical criticism, before I conclude by noting, briefly, why any attempt to rationally defend supernatural biblical reliability is doomed.


Introduction

In attempting to salvage biblical authority, Will takes two approaches: a No True Scotsman attempt to argue that biblical authority has been misunderstood; and an attempt to redefine it into something rational. I admire Will's inventiveness, but, given the irrational nature of the thing he's defending, it was bound to fail. The superficial appeal of both fails to compensate for their baselessness. Neither rebuts my core argument: biblical authority is an example of the authority fallacy, and the concept of supernatural biblical reliability rests on this fallacious base. Will's arguments are articulate and informed, but they do not fix that core problem, because it cannot be fixed.


Purple Haze: Bishops and their Masks

Will has quoted N.T. "Tom" Wright, conservative evangelical, theologian, bishop in the Anglican church, a man so thoroughly post modern that he has two names, depending on the audience. Wright is a master of being all things to all people, and evasiveness is a skill that's essential to this politician's art. Inevitably, the mask on occasion slips, and Wright is pinned down. When this happens, when the ecclesiastical and academic bling are stripped away, Wright is exposed as yet another naked emperor, who misuses his intelligence to defend received opinion instead of to challenge it, a betrayal of the most basic tenet of academia, the imperative to follow the evidence where its leads. Wright is a man enslaved by dogma. If he had an original thought it would die of loneliness.

In a 1989 lecture*, Wright lays out his case for "story authority," and appropriately for a dogmatist, it hasn't changed since. He summarizes his argument thus:-

I have argued that the notion of the "authority of scripture" is a shorthand expression for God's authority, exercised somehow through scripture; that scripture must be allowed to be itself in exercising its authority, and not be turned into something else which might fit better into what the church, or the world, might have thought its "authority" should look like; that it is therefore the meaning of "authority" itself, not that of scripture, that is the unknown in the equation, and that when this unknown is discovered it challenges head on the various notions and practices of authority endemic in the world and, alas, in the church also.


What does this mean, especially in practice?

Professionally evasive Wright may be, but a 2004 interview** with the National Catholic Reporter pinned him down. After several dodges, Wright was forced to admit, in response to the question So a Christian morality faithful to scripture cannot approve of homosexual conduct?, "Correct. That is consonant with what I've said and written elsewhere." One of those dodges says it all: Wright said, after dismissing attempts to use context to explain away Paul's anti-gay verses,
What can you still say, of course, and many people do, is that, "Paul says x and I say y." That's an option that many in the church take on many issues. When we actually find out what Paul said, some say, "Fine, and I disagree with him." That raises all kinds of other issues about how the authority of scripture actually works in the church, and at what point the authority structure of scripture-tradition-reason actually kicks in.


And there you have it. Yet again. Behind Wright's certificates and purple is the primitive, fallacious bleat of every thug, every incompetent boss and parent who ever lived: "Because-I-say-so." Threat over reason. That most brutal of fallacies, argumentum ad baculum, appeal to the cudgel. Wright condemns homosexual copulation in all circumstances because the Bible tells him to. As noted in my opening, Paul of Tarsus doesn't explain why homosexual lovemaking is wrong, he asserts it. Wright is left constructing a justification involving Genesis and marriage to fill in the gaps of his sacred text. The Bible is silent.

It's a strange revelation that doesn't reveal.

Interestingly, Wright isn't half as eager to apply the biblical prohibition on women holding authority. That old-time chutzpah is at its most brazen as Wright argues that Paul -- or rather, whoever forged his lines in 1st Timothy -- argued the opposite of what he appears to argue. What pro-gay Christians do to "save" the Bible from homophobia, Wright does to save it from patriarchy. The eisegesis is so blatant that Wright feels obliged to cover his ample rump: "I fully acknowledge that the very different reading I'm going to suggest may sound to begin with as though I'm simply trying to make things easier, to tailor this bit of Paul to fit our culture. But there is good, solid scholarship behind what I'm going to say, and I genuinely believe it may be the right interpretation." *** Whatever you say, "Tom," whatever you say.

Will contrasts the "because the Bible says so, it must be so" pastor with the theologian, but they're one and the same. At least the pastor is honest about what he's doing, and doesn't cloak his authoritarianism in jargon and spin. Both the academic and the pastor cherry-pick the Bible, empowering themselves, not the text. Wright wants women to be equal, and for whatever reason, doesn't feel the same about gay people, so he uses the authority of scripture to inject his personal opinions with the power of God.

It was never meant to go down like this. The Reformation wasn't supposed to lead to thousands of factions bombarding one another with their take on the truth. The fact that it has just goes to show how wrong and irrational the original idea was.


By Scripture Alone?

Will draws a distinction between sola scriptura and biblical authority, but the difference is in emphasis, not in kind. Whether the authoritarianism is rooted in a book, or in a combination of a book and the church, its fallacious because-I-say-so basis remains.

The 16th century reformers who advocated sola scriptura didn't even advocate what the name suggests. They recognized the need for an external authoritative agent to aid in the interpretation of scripture. The reformer and translator William Tyndale railed in The Obedience of a Christian Man "... but that every man take the scripture, and learn by himself. Nay, verily, so say I not," but rather, "if any man thirst for the truth, and read the scripture by himself, desiring God to open the door of knowledge unto him, God for his truth's sake will and must teach him." In other words, the supernatural power of God will point the reader towards the truth. This is the "plain meaning of scripture" on which protestantism is based. After a preacher has spoken this biblical truth, says Tyndale, "then shall the Spirit of God work with thy preaching, and make them feel." As Paul of Tarsus believed the Spirit of God transmitted knowledge of right and wrong into the minds of those who were in Christ, so Tyndale believed that God would upload the truth into the faithful. It was all so simple.

Of course, the meaning of the Bible isn't at all plain, at least when you attempt to make it consistent, and protestantism made schism into an art form rivaled only by Marxist sects. Dogma slams into reality. The godless materialists and the devout refuse to compromise over one jot or tittle of their holy writ, and try to remake the facts to fit their views, whether by pretending that the Bible doesn't endorse patriarchy, or by pretending that it's a reliable text that harmonizes across the centuries of its composition.

This schismatic chaos is avoided by the Catholic and Orthodox churches, but only by adding an additional layer of discipline and authority, whether the magisterium, or ancient church councils. They exalt scripture as much as any protestant. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "God is the author of Sacred Scripture because he inspired its human authors; he acts in them and by means of them. He thus gives assurance that their writings teach without error his saving truth."

William Tyndale, for all his naiveté, at least spoke plainly. Wright, along with Rowan Williams, the donnish archbishop who raised him to the purple, equivocates and obscures, but behind the obscurantism, nothing has changed. The Bible says so. Therefore, it must be so. End of debate.

Williams prattled on about "painstaking exegesis" as the only way in which the Anglican communion could end its persecution of gay people who refuse to suppress their sexuality and live a life of self-hating loneliness and frustration.**** In other words, as Wright did with the patriarchal verses, Williams wants to do with the homophobic ones. What they refuse to countenance is the alternative that cleaves the Gordian Knot.

The Bible is wrong.

As Wright put it, "Paul says x and I say y." As for the church's "authority structure of scripture-tradition-reason," let it burn, it doesn't affect the likes of Wright or Williams personally as they sit, patrician and complacent, over the human suffering that their policies inflict. Policies that are as irrational as they are cruel, policies rooted in the idea that "because-I-say-so" is a legitimate form of argument, instead of what it is, the abandonment of argument and the embrace of force.


Critically Uncritical

Tasked with the defense of an indefensible proposition -- that the Bible is reliable -- Will sacrifices internal coherence on the altar of his case:-

So understanding the Bible is a key component to understanding the rationality of Biblical authority. Blindly accepting Biblical authority or the text is fallacious as is the blind acceptance of anything in any field. But applying critical scholarship to the text and then applying that critical scholarship to one's life is far from fallacious, it is logical and rational.


This is a smart move, but its cleverness can't overcome its incoherence. Will's premise -- truth-finding via critical scholarship -- is incompatible with his conclusion -- the Bible is revealed truth. Inductive reasoning is absent, and the argument tumbles into the chasm between premise and conclusion, vanishing into the depths.

Biblical reliability is premised on the idea that scripture is God-revealed truth; critical thinking, on our ability to discover truth for ourselves. Inherent to the revelation model is the claim that we can't find truth unless God gives it to us.

Will attempts to reconcile two irreconcilable propositions: the Bible is a reliable and authoritative document; and also subject to all the flaws inherent to being a human creation. The propositions are at war, as reason and authoritarianism are at war, as revelation and discovery are at war.

Textual criticism is devastating to claims of biblical reliability. It's found that swathes of the Bible aren't written by their claimed authors: the Pentateuch isn't the work of Moses, but a compilation of sources; the gospels are anonymous and copy one another; half of Paul's letters are forged, as are the New Testament letters in the names of Simon Peter and John.

The "moderate" Christian position that Will echos says, in effect, "Hey, you're right, the Bible is a mess, but it doesn't matter, it's still the Word of the Lord." It's a doctrine of denial, that accepts the evidence, but refuses to accept its implications. It's not rationality: it's closeted dogmatism. It seeks to preserve the structure without its foundations. Yes, it says, scripture is full of forgery (or "pseudepigrapha" as biblical forgery is couched in disingenuous pseudo-neutrality) and inaccuracy, but it's still special and inspired by God. It just needs to be understood in context and with study, study, conveniently, by learned folks like us. "Painstaking exegesis" ahoy. In this incoherent schema, flawless revelation is unearthed by flawed human reasoning. The method is incompatible with its purpose. Behind this nonsensical academic gloss, interpreters are here again empowered in the name of their holy book.

Time was that orthodox Christianity would have burnt the lot of 'em as heretics for denying the inspiration of scripture. It's only when Christendom's power waned, and the evidence piled up, that Christianity, grudgingly, shifted to allow for the "moderate" position. The church was forced to acknowledge evidence that contradicted its claims. Was forced to adopt the opposition's terms, but, being dogmatic, refused to jettison its authoritarianism as a result.

So we have this shining example of the golden mean fallacy: the canon of scripture bears all the hallmarks of being a flawed human creation; but is in fact the inspired Word of the Lord. Just as the eucharistic elements bear all the hallmarks of being bread and wine, but are in fact the body and blood of Christ. The substance changes although the appearance remains. There is no evidence, no reason: you believe this claim on faith.

You believe because we tell you to believe.


Conclusion

Will's choice of arguments serve to concede this section of the debate.

He hasn't attempted to defend the concept of supernatural reliability for the canon of scripture, nor has he shown how its basis, biblical authority, is not an example of the authority fallacy. Instead, he has produced a hodgepodge of liberal theology and orthodox Christianity, a premise at-odds with its conclusion, and attempted to define his way out of the problem, rendering "biblical authority" so vague as to be meaningless.

Will has done this because he's a rational person tasked with defending an irrational cause. His rebuttal has produced an inventive argument, but it's an argument that's incoherent at best, irrational at worst. When Will employs reason, it bounces off its target like a ball slamming into glass, its merits serving only to show the irrationality of the thing being defended.

Will cannot get to the supernatural reliability of scripture from a rational premise, despite his best efforts. The reason is, as ever, no reflection on him. He can't get there because it can't be done.


Endnotes:-
* Wright, N.T., AKA "Tom," How Can The Bible Be Authoritative?, the Laing Lecture, and the Griffith Thomas Lecture, 1989
** "Interview with Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright of Durham, England", National Catholic Reporter, May 21, 2004
*** Wright, N.T., Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis, a conference paper for the Symposium, "Men, Women and the Church," September 4 2004
**** Williams, Rowan, 2009, Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future, Reflections on the Episcopal Church's 2009 General Convention from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion
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Re: Formal Debate: Can Christianity Be Rationally Defended?

#20  Postby willhud9 » Oct 05, 2013 10:43 pm

Alas I really wish I could tackle that rebuttal post because I really enjoyed reading it, but we must move this debate along and we are nearing the end my friends!

So within Christianity we have several key positions which I have done my best to defend. The first is the greater concept of the existence of God. The second is on miracles. The third was the defense of the literal resurrection. The fourth was the defense of the Bible. And the fifth is now going to be about a more theologically based discussion: Salvation.

What do I mean by salvation? I mean what about heaven and hell is rational? How can a salvation system which punishes universally those who profess a rejection of God no matter how righteously they lived and wholesale acceptance of anyone no matter the sins they have committed be a rational system?

Heaven and Hell are two places which I feel the Western world and the Church for that matter have heavily romanticized. Heaven is this place with angels and beautiful women and Hell is this place of fire and brimstone. The honest truth is that the Bible doesn't really describe either Heaven or Hell and so much of their descriptions came from the minds of future theologians speculating. Many of our popular renditions of both places actually comes from Dante's work of fiction, The Divine Comedy, hardly a qualifying book of theology.

So what is salvation? Contrary to popular belief, even within the church, the theology of salvation is not one of getting to heaven when you die, but rather a concept of being redeemed in the image of God. The Christian belief is that human sin has warped our very nature and because of that we are a fallen creation. Salvation restores that nature to what it was meant to be. How does one receive salvation? Paul sums it up in Romans 10:9: If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

But why salvation? I mean what's the point of it? Is it so God can reward the just and punish the wicked? In many ways, that was the idea behind it. But it's not quite the full rationale. See the belief in heaven was not this spiritual paradise the soul goes to upon death. Instead in early Christianity the belief of heaven was of God's realm. It was the place which God dwelled within and in Christian eschatology there was the belief that God would restore Earth and bring Heaven and Earth together to recreate the Heavens and Earth. Hell on the other hand was not a place of fire and brimstone, but a place of eternal separation from God. It was a place where those who rejected God were finally severed for eternity from the goodness and righteousness of God. The Bible describes it as a place where there is much gnashing of teeth and pain and torture and from an early Christian's perspective that figuratively made sense. The separation from God, especially for eternity, was believed to be agonizing. Why anyone would choose to remain separated from God was baffling.

It is that concept which I shall focus on for defending its rationality. You see there is a drive within the universal church to bring people to know Jesus Christ. It was the Great Commission at the end of Matthew, it was Paul's mission in life, and it was the foundation of evangelism. Where did this drive come from? The desire for power? No as many evangelists/missionaries lead powerless and impoverished lives. The desire for companionship? Possibly, but there are other outlets for such a thing. What drives the church if not a sincere belief in salvation? Now I made mention in my first argument post how I found one of the greatest cases for God was personal testimony and I stick by that line of defense as there are some people who could not turn their life around without the assistance of a strong supporting character. That supporting character is in Christianity the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles was given to the church to assist them in their Christian walk. The same is said about the Holy Spirit in assisting Christians with their desire to bring salvation to the world. You see there are Christians out there who will go up to the most wicked criminals in prison and evangelize to them because they sincerely believe that anyone can be saved. What drives them? The Holy Spirit. But why? What good does the Kingdom of God gain by having a serial killer join them? It's not about the numbers, as the Anglican church and many protestants are woefully experiencing, it's about the desire out of love for everyone to become whole again.

Penn Jillette, perhaps my biggest role model, ever, expressed it perfectly when a Gideon evangelist handed him a small New Testament Bible. A Christian sincerely believes that without Jesus a person will experience agony at the separation of God in the end. They sincerely believe that. Penn continued with a situation in which you knew your friend would be hit by a car if he walked out onto the street. What do you do? Most people are morally obligated to tell their friend. Penn said the same is true about Christians and it is. Many Christians and the Church feel that without God, or Jesus, people will experience eternal agony and they sincerely do not wish that upon anyone. Now some do it a bit vehemently, but for a good portion of evangelists the love is sincere.

But how does that make salvation rational? In fact one could argue that it was a massive delusion driving the church and in a way I can see that argument, but a delusion the size of the entire universal church? A major difference between Christianity and the other large world religions is also in its evangelism. Islam for example stresses evangelism for the benefits of both parties. If you convert a non-believer to Islam, Allah rewards you. In Buddhism or Hinduism there is no major incentive to evangelize. But in Christianity there is no incentive to the evangelist. He or she is already saved and there is no promise of riches or treasures. Christianity the motivator is love for their neighbour and a sincere desire to see someone come to know Jesus. That is a powerful testament.

So by understanding the driving factor behind the church we can further add to the defense of the rationality of Christianity.

I await my opponent's argument post on the subject and am genuinely curious in the direction he will choose!
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