Lennox Debating the Atheists - Confident Humility

Again, I'm indebted to Phil Ritchie – here he gives us a great video from CPX in Sydney where they interviewed Dr John Lennox.

Lennox's observations are equally relevant here in Sydney, where the interview took place. There is a curious historical selectivity about the New Atheists – they are incredibly reluctant to properly engage with the historical claims about Christianity, yet at the same time are almost blind to the flaws in their claims about the benign nature of atheism – as the history of even the last century surely demonstrates.

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54 comments on “Lennox Debating the Atheists - Confident Humility

  1. By the way, Ken.

    You don’t get to define my beliefs for me any more than I get to redefine what the word “christianity” means, though if you keep it up, I’ll start too.

    The definition I’ve given is agreed on by a significant proportion of the modern “atheist movement”. If you don’t like it, tough.

    And David, I predict you’ll be having a whinge about the “imaginary friend” characterisation. Get over it. Your beliefs are not automatically worthy of respect. They have to earn it.

  2. I recall watching Lennox debate Shermer. Humility was not a word I would have chosen, but then it’s a subjective measure. I would have chosen “smug”.

    btw: Strawman.

    they are incredibly reluctant to properly engage with the historical claims about Christianity, yet at the same time are almost blind to the flaws in their claims about the benign nature of atheism – as the history of even the last century surely demonstrates.

    Nice avoidance of a Godwin though. Because you know we’d just tell you we was a catholic, right?

  3. Interesting, Jason. What in particular about Lennox’s style in that debate would you characterise as “smug”?

    Strawman? I wasn’t aware that Stalin (or Hitler, for that matter) was a practising Catholic – I’d be delighted, of course, to be proven wrong.

  4. It’s true that Stalin presided over a government with officially imposed atheism, however he was seminary-trained (orthodox) and it’s unclear whether he was personally a believer or not.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin#Religious_beliefs_and_policies

    It is absolutely clear that he saw the church as a threat to his own consolidation of power, hence his campaign against it.

    Hitler, (to whom I was referring as catholic) wrote on god often, never renounced his catholicism, and was described during post-war trials (by Albert Speer) as “remaining a catholic until the end”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler’s_religious_views

    His views were certainly unorthodox for a catholic, but he was quite clearly not an atheist.

    So there’s a few million deaths off my column and onto the columns of theism.

    As for John Lennox, his entire demeanour struck me as condescending and self-satisfied. Smug really was the word I’d have used. He carries the air of someone who is assured and secure in their own beliefs and mildly contemptuous and dismissive, yet polite, about non-belief and any argument counter to his own opinion. The debate audio is available as MP3 from CPX. You can probably hear Dave and I objecting vociferously near the end when he smugly declared “god created science, you see…” with an “oh you poor deluded children” look on his face. My friend Rachel wanted to slap him for that look.

    He also loves to tell people that he’s a scientist (he’s a mathematician actually, slightly different thing) and uses it often as an argument from authority, rather than actually bolstering his arguments.

    It’s written all over him.

    I could be far more impolite about the man, but this is your blog not mine

  5. So Stalin presided over an officially atheistic government, destroyed the churches but “it’s not clear whether he was an atheist”? Nice work. The wikipedia article you refer to does speak of a, perhaps, later softening of his stance. If that is to be conceded (and I don’t see why not) then one must also attribute his pogrom against the Churches as part of his atheistic phase.

    As for Hitler, I don’t think I’ve ever claimed he was an out and out atheist. One thing he certainly wasn’t was a Christian. Albert Speer records him as saying

    “You see, it’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?” (Albert Speer. 1971. Inside the Third Reich Translated by Richard Winston, Clara Winston, Eugene Davidson. New York: Macmillan. p 143; Reprinted in 1997. Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 96. ISBN 0-684-82949-5.)

    In a similar vein, the diaries of Göbbels have this,
    The Führer is deeply religious, but deeply anti-Christian. He regards Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so. It is a branch of the Jewish race.

    At best he might be described as pantheist and a social darwinist.

    you could then add Pol Pot, Mao and even Kim Jong-Il to the mix and end up with a smorgasbord of oppressive dictators – some “religious”, some clearly not. What do they have in common? Well, they’re autocratic totalitarians – and that’s an affliction that’s shared by those that claim to be religious and those that don’t.

    I’m interested in your perception of Lennox. I hadn’t picked it up as strongly as that. Curiously, I wonder if you apply the same critique to Dawkins who comes across as supremely “smug” at times? Perhaps its just a question of perception?

  6. “curious historical selectivity”…

    There’s a good example of this in Sam Harris’ new book “The Moral Landscape”. In the introduction, Sam laments a practice in Albania which forces many men into hiding: if someone in my family kills one of your male relatives, then you are entitled to kill one of my male relatives.

    Sam condemns the practice (as he should) but then has a swipe at “honour cultures”.

    Yet he doesn’t ask “Why is *my* culture not an honour culture?”. Given that Sam is white and American, he should thank God for the Christian missionaries who converted the Anglo-Saxons, the German tribes, etc. Through their efforts, and not the rational arguments of middle-class liberals, Sam enjoys life in a culture that has a respect for law and a space for forgiveness.

  7. Perhaps you missed my distinction between Stalin’s private beliefs and his public policies? I’m also not sure if I impressed the point that communism was meant, in quite a real sense, to become the state religion. The “pogrom” against the church was viewed as necessary to remove opposition to his totalitarian brand of communism – regardless of whether he personally believed in a god. He certainly believed in plenty of pseudoscientific nonsense other than theism

    I’m also not convinced you digested either linked article in that short time. For shame, David. Who’d have thought you’d knee-jerk like that?

    Hitler’s beliefs were not, as I said, orthodox for a catholic, though they wouldn’t be out of place in many modern “inclusive” churches. Still, the distinction is meaningless to me. “not atheist” is enough for my purpose here.

    As for Dawkins, sure. He can come across as smug on occasion, but I’m not the one labelling him with the word “humility”, now, am I?

  8. I’m afraid you’re far too quick to judge me, Jason. I had a good survey of Hitler and Stalin (including those 2 sites) much earlier this year when I prepared for a public debate over in Perth.

    Communism as a “religion”? It’s a helpful label, I’m sure, to avoid the consequences of where all this is going.

    As for Hitler, I’m not sure that you are anywhere near accurate in describing his beliefs as being “not out of place” in “inclusive” churches. Pushing right through his thought-structures was a rampant notion of superiority which I don’t think would be accepted in any of those organisations.

    Either way, I think my point still stands. “Theism” (although, frankly, I don’t think Hitler’s pantheism really fits into that narrow category – but I don’t see you as being particularly concerned about the distinction) doesn’t have a monopoly on autocratic totalitarianism with a murderous bent.

    Fair point on Dawkins, glad to see we’re in agreement that he can be a bit of an arrogant b*st*rd at times wink

  9. “Pushing right through his thought-structures was a rampant notion of superiority which I don’t think would be accepted in any of those organisations.”

    I disagree. The number of christians I’ve personally met with rampant notions of superiority is staggering, and the number with beliefs that you’d probably consider to be “not christian” might also surprise. Yet they attend christian churches and hand over their cash just like everyone else.

    Atheism is absolutely not a proof against irrational ideological nonsense. Atheism is merely the lack of belief in a god or gods. Scientific, rational skepticism in conjunction with atheism and/or humanism would do better. And I don’t think we’ve had too many of those in the ranks of world leaders.

    The common thread in all these totalitarian regimes is dogged adherence to some dogmatic position or other. Religion can be a great enabler of this dogmatic acceptance of authority.

    But all this is really beside the point and will get us nowhere except very unsatisfying middle-ground positions. Lennox, the original subject of my comment, is a smug, self-satisfied professional apologist with a disdain for evidence.

  10. oh, trust me – I’m not surprised by beliefs that people hold.
    Your claim was that Hitler’s theology would be welcome in “inclusive” churches. I almost laughed when I first read that. “Inclusive” churches (at least those that claim that label for themselves) tend to be more liberal theologically and veer towards the “everyone’s right, in their own particular way” stance on things. Hardly the sort of place where Hitler would be welcome.

    As for Lennox, you now claim he has a disdain for evidence. Citation?

  11. I can only imagine that you’re deliberately misreading me.

    Note the words “Hitler’s theology”, which you yourself used in your response. Please, David. Try harder.

    “As for Lennox, you now claim he has a disdain for evidence. Citation?”

    He’s on record saying he’s a christian.

    Di you really not see that one coming? I telegraphed it in from miles away.

  12. I remember the good old days when ‘lack of belief in god(s)’ was called ‘agnosticism’ rather than ‘atheism’. Serious atheism surely has to posit that ‘there is no God’ and then explore the consequences.

    I’m currently reading Neitzsche’s “Beyond good and evil” and it’s refreshing (albeit spine-chilling) to read a man who’s not afraid to follow his convictions.

  13. No, Jason – not at all deliberately misreading you. I’m trying to be very precise about responding to exactly what you’re saying.

    Of course Hitler has a theology. Everyone has a theology – even the atheist is making a statement about “God”. Hitler, as I’ve acknowledged, was not an atheist. But he was hardly a classical theist. You, however, claimed he would be welcomed in “inclusive” churches. I’m simply pointing out to you that it’s just not true.

    Your claim re Lennox remains unsupported. You may very well think he ignores evidence since he is a Christian. But then your argument relies upon the axiom that Christianity is not true, ergo, Lennox denies evidence.

    At this point we might very well charge you with not reading Lennox carefully yourself. One of his key arguments is that there is no debate over the evidence, only its interpretation. You appear unwilling even to charitably concede that he might be more than a blinkered rejecter of all that he disagrees with. But then your own apparent blinkered rejection of Lennox’s own self-description of his position would look rather curious.

  14. @Ken Years ago you were also wrong.

    Agnosticism/gnosticism/gnosis refers to knowledge claims.
    Atheism/theism refers to belief claims

    You can simultaneously be both agnostic and an atheist, and in fact this is the most common stance among us. We don’t believe that there’s a god and we don’t claim to have proof of that.

    Your definition is wrong now and was wrong then. It’s a common and really annoying mistake, especially in this day and age when we as atheists make it clear for you so often.

    @David

    Just stop playing hot potato. Hitler is one of yours, not one of mine – but it’s unimportant in the context of what we’re talking about here.

    As for Lennox, have you forgotten I’ve watched him debate? His casual dismissal of a number of Shermer’s points indicates a contempt for evidence counter to his own beliefs. It’s OK, we’re all human and we all do it. It’s a common cognitive bias. You can admit it. It won’t hurt. Lennox’s claim that there’s no debate over the evidence is inaccurate in one very important sense, and that’s in what constitutes evidence.

    Also well done in overanalysing what was actually a joke.

    The axiom that christianity is not true is, I’m afraid, quite supportable in the view of the lack of evidence and the implausibility of its claims. Christians just don’t seem to realise it. And that’s part of the joke.

    Now, as for these “historical claims” you keep harping on about – do you have anything relevant with corroborating evidence that is distinguishable from fiction?

    Because I’ve never seen a shred.

  15. Jason, Hitler is no more “one of mine” then he is “one of yours”. I might equally well argue since he despised Christianity that you and he have far more in common and, on those terms, he is “one of yours”. Bottom line, which you keep ignoring, religious people don’t have the monopoly on murderous totalitarian autocracy.

    Again, can you point to an actual instance of this “casual dismissal of evidence”? You keep claiming it. The entire debate is up on youtube. Give us the url and time of the “casual dismissal”.

    As for “never seeing a shred of evidence” for Christianity, I remember a conversation that we had in the pub where you claimed that you were simply unwilling to even investigate any form of historical evidence for Christianity, given the nature of the claim. That position of unwillingness to ever engage which you hold strikes me as deeply ironic at this moment.

  16. Jason, you’ve been pointed to plenty of corroborated evidence in the past. I, for one, have sat with you in the pub and listed the historical sources for the Resurrection of Jesus. The problem wasn’t with the evidence, you just stated you were simply unwilling to accept it given the nature of the claim.

    As for Lennox not dealing with evidence, in the absence of you giving us an URL and timepoint I guess we’ll have to leave that claim unsubstantiated.

    And it’s a little sad to see you throwing around labels like “imaginary friend”. You can call it whinging if you like – perhaps that will help you justify your inexplicable need to insult those you don’t agree with. FWIW, even if you don’t think someone’s beliefs are worthy of respect, perhaps it is worth considering that the person is? And even if they’re not, how about we treat them with respect anyway?

  17. “have sat with you in the pub and listed the historical sources for the Resurrection of Jesus. “

    Yes, you did. And I explained at the time why they’re not sufficient. But you’re still flogging that pony.

    For example, the claim you made at pubchurch that “500 (or however many) people witnessed the resurrection” is qualitatively no different from the claim that 500 people witnessed Superman save a falling child at Niagara falls. The single source is biblical and the biblical account is one of the things we’re questioning. It’s circular, and just not valid and I’m surprised that you’re still runnning with it. You can do better.

    You also agreed, as I recall, that Josephus and Tacitus (and so on) were not actually contemporaries and were in some cases later interpolations or “pious frauds”. The corroborative evidence is lacking. It is not sufficient in any way to cite the bible’s own corroborative story when the biblical account is what’s being questioned

    Other historical claims utterly fail too – the exodus, for example, should have archaeological evidence to back it up. After all, a group with distinctive cultural beliefs purportedly escaped from a record-keeping culture and wandered for 40 years in the desert. We should therefore find remains of their camps, including garbage dumps (with a conspicuous lack of pig bones) dating from the same period in Sinai.

    We don’t.

    But we find plenty of evidence for a jewish/hebrew culture that weren’t wandering the desert for 40 years.

    We also don’t have, and I’ll dig up a citation for this, a Nazareth dating to the purported time of Jesus, and we have Roman records that place Herod, censuses and the tenure of Quirinius all at the “wrong” time

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

    It just doesn’t stack up. And that’s not the half of it.

    Now you may well cite some rationalisations for this. Ahwellyouseeology has plenty to offer. Spare me. I’ve told you before that theology and biblical analysis bore me – which may be where you got the “unwilling to examine evidence” claim you’ve previously made.

    Lastly, you need to learn the difference between my disrespect for christianity (which I find to be a crock, as you know) and respect offered to persons. You’re in an imaginary friend club. It doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person. Deal with it.

  18. Jason,

    Regarding “knowledge claims” v “belief claims”…

    I’ve just finished reading Sam Harris’ “The Moral Landscape”. Harris argues persuasively (on the basis of evidence from neuroscience and philosophical considerations) that “knowledge” and “belief” are points on the same continuum, and that (colloquially at least) we use the terms to indicate different levels of certainty. The semantic gap you are trying to insert between belief and knowledge is misleading.

    For instance, your lack of “proof” has no lifestyle impact, does it? The only time I’ve ever been able to prove anything was in mathematics. People cope happily with “agnosis” in economics, engineering, romance, etc.

    Regarding “years ago was wrong”…

    Thomas Huxley coined the term ‘agnostic’ in 1869, to describe his position of ignorance with respect to metaphysical and theological dogma: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism

    Huxley sought to distance himself from both theism and atheism.

    I put it to you that I’m not “wrong” as you claim, and furthermore, that redefining “atheism” to include “agnosticism” is a device: a clever device to make atheism more palatable. It’s intriguing that at the same time churches are emptying of “nominal” Christians, the atheists are trying to attract “nominals”. Perhaps the lack of “proof” is unnerving the faithful (or should I say “faithless”).

  19. @David

    “That position of unwillingness to ever engage which you hold strikes me as deeply ironic at this moment.”

    A deliberate misrepresentation.

    @Ken

    Dissembling, nothing more. The proof I’m looking for is not a mathematical proof and you know it. I just want some evidence from either of you that might distinguish your happy little imaginary friend club from mere fiction

    I note neither of you are willing to engage on the question of actual, corroborated evidence.

    That’s just fine with me. I expected no different, let’s face it.

  20. I should have known it would end up with you disingenuously and dishonestly caricaturing my positions. Oh, and defending the circular nature of your biblical acceptance.

    How stock standard and predictable of you.

    Then again, I suppose it’s not lying if it’s lying for Jesus, right?

  21. By the way

    This is bullshit:

    The bottom line is that you refuse to accept the NT accounts not in and of themselves, but because you have a prior commitment to not accepting the evidence.

    The bottom line is I am starting from the honest point of “I do not automatically accept these accounts as true”. You are starting from automatic acceptance of their truth and expecting me to respect that.

    Try doing the same with Lord of The Rings and see where you end up. Gandalf is real because LotR says he’s real.

    It’s a circular argument, David, and you know it. The bible is true because the bible says it’s true, and that’s true because the bible says so.

    And you claim you’re not a fundamentalist. Shame.

  22. Jason, you may protest strongly but I have a vivid recollection of a conversation where you were asked, having summarily dismissed the New Testament, what actual evidence would satisfy you.
    Your answer was striking, an unequivocal “none”. There is, therefore, in your own position a striking unwillingness to engage on this. You plainly and simply reject anything that would constitute evidence. I remember you also very clearly citing something you called “Sagan’s Law” which you defined as “the greater the claim, the greater the need for evidence”. On the basis of this you informed the 2 of us who were talking to you that there was simply no evidence you were prepared to accept.

    Now, if that is a caricature of your position then I have recollected the conversation incorrectly and I would be more than happy to be corrected. However, I remember being very struck at the time with the starkness of your stated position.

    FWIW, I would never have described my position as “the Bible is true, therefore it’s true”. I don’t recall ever making such a statement. Indeed, I agree with you that it would be a ridiculous position to hold. As for the label “fundamentalist”, you would have to define it a little tighter. It seems you are using it in a particularly negative way, but then I’m not sure on your exact intent so some clarification would be helpful.

    And to answer your final assertion, no I don’t think “lying for Jesus” is acceptable.

  23. Your answer was striking, an unequivocal “none”.

    I certainly don’t recall using that wording. Perhaps we were further down the line in the inevitable “evidence” argument script, at the point where we get to “how much evidence have you ever seen?”, or perhaps it was later in the evening and I was being flippant. You don’t seem to have the best sense for sarcasm, sometimes.

    But again, you’re being disingenuous.

    ECREE (extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence), which I’ve never called Sagan’s Law (though I know people that have), is a commonly understood philosophical principle. If I tell you I’ve seen a three-legged dog outside my house, you’ll require less evidence than if I tell you I’ve seen a three-legged Diplodocus in the same place. Not hard to understand.

    You object to my own rejection of biblical claims in the face of my acceptance of other historical claims. I’m afraid you’re either not getting the point or you’re deliberately dissembling.

    I accept, for example, the existence of Julius Caesar based on the extant documentation and evidence. But there is nothing outlandish about Julian history, and the physical and documentary evidence is ample. We have documents and artifacts which corroborate each other. We have plenty of proof.

    I do not, though, accept all biblical claims. You’ll recall I have admitted I’ll happily accept the existence of a preacher called “Jesus” at around the time who happened to have a following. That is not outlandish. It is not a problem in and of itself. Jesus (or Yeshua) was a common enough name, preaching was a common enough profession, and we know the middle east existed at the time. These three things do not require extraordinary proof.

    The supernatural trappings, however, require a lot more than mere assertions that “it’s written here that 500 people saw it happen”.

    Now, the fact that the cited history contains so much that is outlandish reflects badly on the parts that are mundane. I cannot, in good conscience, accept the existence of a historical personage based on a book that makes so many absurd and contradictory claims.

    Now, back to your dishonesty

    “Only theism leads to violence. Well, except for cited Atheistic governments – but then they weren’t really atheists.”

    yeah, sure. That was the position I was arguing. Keep telling yourself that.

    “Lennox is apparently arrogant, but this really on the vibe that you got from him in one debate.”

    It’s not the wording I used, but I do find him both arrogant and dismissive of counter-opinion. As I said to Ken, you don’t get to label my beliefs for me. Such presumptious behaviour really does mark you out. I consider Lennox dismissive and smug. You’re free to do otherwise, if you like, but you may have to live with people caling you out on it.

    Lennox dismisses evidence, but no actual citation given. Just “he’s a Christian”.
    Christians, on the other hand, are apparently not able to provide any evidence at all – except of course for relatively contemporaneous accounts which should be dismissed on the basis of … well, because they’re just not true.

    Again, you are firstly stretching your own position into “contemporaneous” when your cited evidence is not proven so. Secondly, you haven’t even tried offering corroborative evidence. You’ve just been posturing and waving the bible. You’re also failing at sarcasm detection.

    And no, I will not waste another hour of my life trawling YouTube videos of Lennox searching for a minute:second notation of where he’s dismissive. It is my judgement based on my own experience of the man and you’re free to differ if you will. I would expect even if I gave you a timecode you’d disagree with my assessment, so this appears to me to be wasted effort.

    But in closing, here’s the problem: You seem to wish me to accept the biblical account as valid a priori. This is not going to happen, not because I am playing the denialist, but because the evidenciary criteria required to establish the bible as reliable have not, for me, been met. Not in any way whatsoever. Your criteria are obviously far more loose.

    You need to get this through your head: I have no reason to believe that the biblical account is true. Therefore there’s no point citing it to me as an automatically valid “historical claim”.

    I have started from an open position of “it could either be true or false, let’s see the evidence or lack thereof”. You have started from a closed position of “it’s true. Therefore if I cite it and get rejected, it’s because the other party is in denial”.

    We’re unable to reach common ground unless one of us changes his position.

    But I don’t expect you to budge an inch. Really I don’t.

  24. Jason, we weren’t following any “script”. It was just a simple question of what evidence, if any, you would find acceptable. Your plain answer of “none” was so striking I remember it vividly.

    FWIW, I don’t think I have ever asked anyone to accept the Biblical account a priori. That would be ridiculous. You accuse me of dishonesty but it is worth pointing out that you are repeatedly labelling me in terms of positions that I have never stated. Whereas, in return, I’m being very careful to quote your own words back.

    The one word that just sticks in my mind is “none”. If you want to talk about a priori then I think that’s the best locus of discussion.

  25. We get a bit lost here, don’t we? We can’t cite the Bible as evidence for Jesus. Which is a bit like saying we can’t cite stuff you dig out of the ground as evidence for fossils. go find something corroborative before I accept those petrified remains?

    The bottom line is that you refuse to accept the NT accounts not in and of themselves, but because you have a prior commitment to not accepting the evidence.

    So you end up having to dismiss Josephus and Tacitus (later interpolations on J. notwithstanding). But historians see no reason in general to arrogantly set aside their records. True, they both write with a certain bias but all of recorded history is the same. You’d have us throw out pretty much all of the Ancient History we know if the same terms of engagement were used throughout. Of course, at some point you have to draw back but then the inconsistency of approach just becomes more glaring.

    If you like post up arguments against exact historical claims in the Gospels. In fairness you could also post up links to what you consider the best responses to those claims. But, sadly, it’s more likely that you will arrogantly dismiss them as fanciful, and throw in a couple of pejoratives for good measure – seems to be par for the course for the New Atheists these days.

    Let’s see where we’ve ended up.

    Only theism leads to violence. Well, except for cited Atheistic governments – but then they weren’t really atheists.
    Lennox is apparently arrogant, but this really on the vibe that you got from him in one debate.
    Lennox dismisses evidence, but no actual citation given. Just “he’s a Christian”.
    Christians, on the other hand, are apparently not able to provide any evidence at all – except of course for relatively contemporaneous accounts which should be dismissed on the basis of … well, because they’re just not true.

    oh, and there’s a cloud fairy. Because it’s important in these discussions that thinly veiled contempt be, well, very thinly veiled. we just have to “deal with it”.

  26. Thanks Jason,

    Your understanding of the context of that statement is helpful. I still think you’re vastly over-egging your pudding when you claim there is no corroboration.

    It’s not simply a matter, especially, when it comes to the NT accounts of Jesus of “the Bible” as one single entity. The right question is not “what is there to corroborate the Bible?” Rather, you have multiple sources. The question is lot more like,

    “What is there to corroborate the common source (Q?) that Matthew and Luke share?
    The answer is “Matthew has unique material”.
    What further source is there to corroborate those 2 sources?
    Well, Luke has his own unique material. What further source to corroborate those 3 sources?
    Mark has his own unique material. Then John has a whole stack of independent material. Add onto that Paul’s varied kerygma, and even the isolated instances related in Peter’s letters (although I would, conservatively, include them in Mark’s source) and you have a good number of sources of information, each corroborating the others. Now, you can lump them all together as though they’re just one item but that’s not at all how they come to us.

    The most recent exploration of this issue is Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels As Eyewitness Testimony. Again, the bottom line is that you proceed on the basis that none of these sources are ever sufficient. You know you’re not going to get a Roman record of the crucifixion, they just don’t exist today from that period. You have Bar Sanhedrin speaking to the events but would you accept that?
    As for your “cockamanie” alternatives – you’re right, they’re cockamanie. The conclusion of many of those that study the historicity of these events is that they can, eventually, come to no other conclusion than that the events as recorded in the NT are the explanation for the incredible explosion of the Church in the C1. YMM obviously V but to simply discount the sources because they are extraordinary is to be prejudiced in the matter. Many of us, on the other hand, are convinced of these things not because we decided beforehand but because the extraordinary events recorded there seemed to us the most logical and rational explanation. In doing so we stand beside a vast array of thinkers, including Nobel Laureates. That is not, of course, in and of itself definitive proof but it does have to make you question your sweeping dismissal of the issue.

    As for your claims on the OT, I’m afraid I have less knowledge. Lasor, Hubbard and Bush address the Exodus in their book Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament in the following way (pp58-59)

    First, while there is no direct historical evidence for either the oppression in Egypt or the escape, the conviction that Israel became a nation at teh Exodus is deeply rooted in the Israelite tradition (e.g., Hos. 2:15; 11:1; Isa. 43:4). The indirect evidence is supportive. The story of Joseph authentically reflects Egyptian life, customs and literature (especially in the northeast delta region). This correspondence lends historical credence to the sojourn in Egypt. It is also known that the Egyptian court employed large numbers of Semitic peoples as state slaves on building projects near Thebes in the Eighteenth Dynasty and in the northeast delta during the Nineteenth Dynasty. in addition, several Israelite names of the period, especially in Moses’ family. are authentically Egyptian. The escape of subject peoples from a major state is not without analogy in the ancient world. From the perspective of social psychology, it is doubtful that a people would invent a story about being slaves to a foreign power. indeed, the story is unique in literature that has survived from the Ancient Near East. The most viable explanation of these facts is that God did indeed intervene to save his people.

    Now, of course, you will disagree with the conclusion drawn – but that doesn’t mean that its unreasonable. I can provide the references at the end of each argument he makes if it interests you.

  27. David, there are multiple versions of the Grimm fairy tales too. Does the existence of these multiple stories all stemming from a common source make them any more true?

    You’re just not getting the point and it’s frustrating, because it’s not a difficult point to grasp.

    to simply discount the sources because they are extraordinary is to be prejudiced in the matter.

    Wrong.

    Remember my example earlier? If I say I’ve seen a three-legged dog, you’re likely to accept this with little more then testimony to back it up. If I say I’ve seen a three-legged dinosaur walk past, you’ll want significantly more than my say-so. Photos, perhaps. Or a video. Or a biological sample of said dinosaur.

    This is not a difficult principle, yet you’re saying that it’s prejudiced?? Seriously? Are you properly nuts?

    Without this simple principle, you’ve got no way to evaluate claims in a sensible manner. You’ll end up believing aliens kidnapped Elvis.

    I have told you. The mundane claims of the bible are “meh, whatever”. The miraculous claims are certainly not acceptable with only testimony, and you’re just not getting this through your head.

    I think we should leave it here, don’t you? It’s fruitless to argue with someone who finds the gradation of evidence relative to the claims to be “prejudiced”.

  28. Jason, you mistake my lack of agreement with your argument with my lack of understanding of it. I simply don’t share your premise that testimony is, on its own, unacceptable.

    That’s the basic difference. In a law court we often convict people on the basis of the testimony of more than one witness. I can see that you don’t like the obvious conclusion that must be drawn if, in this case, you accept that process.

    And, FWIW, the Brothers Grimm/Hans Christian Andersen/Sherlock Holmes are all presented as fiction. There’s a basic presumption you begin with as you open the text which the text itself declares to you in form and genre. You know very well that the historical accounts of Bible do not present in the same way. To boldly claim that they be accepted only in the same fashion is to decide the matter beforehand, rather than tackling the sources on their own terms. Again, the underlying issue here is that you consistently approach the matter in this fashion, and then get really frustrated when others don’t accept your premise.

  29. In a law court we often convict people on the basis of the testimony of more than one witness

    Except you’re wrong on that.

    In the vast majority of cases, there is corroborating evidence and a weighing of the balance of probabilities.

    In murder and assault cases, medical evidence, cause of death, doctor’s reports. In driving cases, skidmark analysis. In civil defamation cases, recordings and published material. In fraud cases, forensic accountancy. Almost all cases cite previous convictions or behaviour as a means of judging probability or invoking leniency. There is also an increasing understanding, in legal circles, of the unreliable nature of human memory and perception.

    There needs to be corroborating physical or otherwise objective evidence to prevent collusion among complainants to push undeserved punishment onto innocent parties – aka conspiracy against defendants.

    “He said/she said” cases, especially those with outlandish claims, get thrown out of court in short order. It is rare to get a successful prosecution based on testimony alone. Testimony is a good starting point, and is emotionally satisfying to juries, but it’s actually not the gold standard you seem to be objectifying it as.

    So I call that one out as utter bull, immediately. Don’t start a new career in law, please.

    “You know very well that the historical accounts of Bible do not present in the same way”

    Wrong. Again

    The OT is most certainly presented as mythology or fable. It contains an epic storyline based in large part on earlier mythologies and blends this storyline with culturally distinctive elements such as legal codes and bloodlines in order to bind the myth to the tribal identity. It’s not the only book of its kind.

    The NT is only slightly less mythical. It reads as a variation on a heroic tragedy to me, one inextricably spun out of “prophecy” in book 1.

    Oppressed people under yoke of bad guy, hero arises in response to prophecy, hope springs, wonders occur, joy rises, but alas! Hero killed by bad guy. All seems lost, but hero comes back, but only temporarily, leaves road open for sequel with a promise that James Bond will return. Sorry, Jesus. Not James Bond. Definitely not james Bond.

    Then there’s the weird addition of Revelation at the end, a departure from the genre into some kind of eschatological version of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Wacko.

    It’s no coincidence that CS Lewis was able to adapt many of the overarching themes of the OT and NT into the Narnia series – it’s archetypal mythical fiction. Perfect for the stealth indoctrination of Narnia.

    The Bible’s not particularly entertaining, once you realise that millions of people think it’s a fact, but it’s certainly a classical myth.

    In summary, that was a particularly weak comeback, and I’ll repeat my offer to just leave it there.

  30. While I think about it, just a little starting point on the current thinking with regard to conviction based solely or in large part on testimony:

    http://www.google.com.au/search?q=conviction+based+solely+upon+testimony&sourceid=ie7&rls=com.microsoft:en-au:IE-Address&ie;=&oe;=&redir;_esc=&ei=_q8BTZP5IYnnrAeZmaCRDw

    Over 1.7 million results, the majority of which say that conictions based mainly on testimony are not reliable and in many cases breach human rights law.

    Worldwide, flawed statutes allowing for this kind of conviction are being changed.

    Even in Texas, which now automaticaly invalidates convictions based solely or in main on the testimony of accomplices, jailhouse snitches and paid informants. TEXAS. Seriously.

    If you have convictions based solely on testimony, you end up with witch hunts, innocent people jailed over grudges and a total lack of order whereby a colluding majority can remove the freedom of others at a whim.

    Just so you won’t try and use that nonsense again.

  31. Jason, I thought you were calling off the “fruitless” discussion?

    I’m afraid you’re overstating my argument to find something to respond to. I said “we often convict people on the basis of the testimony of more than one witness”. You’re the one that introduced the terms “only” and “sole”. Of course, the historical debate is not the same as a “proof beyond reasonable doubt” argument in a court of law. In history we have the witnesses of different types records and archaeological remains.

    Your claim that the google search shows that Over 1.7 million results, the majority of which say that conictions based mainly on testimony are not reliable and in many cases breach human rights law. is not quite true. The point being made in many of those citations is that the single uncorroborated testimony of witness is not sufficient. That, of course, is a principle that the Bible itself expounds (Dt. 19:15). In the case of the NT accounts of Jesus’ life we’re not talking about a single uncorroborated witness. We’re talking multiple sources – at least Q, Mt, Mk, L, P, J.

    So yes, a conviction beyond reasonable doubt on the basis of one uncorroborated witness would be suspect. But a solid historical claim on the basis of multiple sources? That’s a completely different matter.

    Your comments on the OT are equally surprising. It is chock full of specific historical statements. You can go to the British Museum and read the cuneiform records from almost 3000 years ago of Assyrian monarchs that you read about in the Bible and so on. Nothing in the narratives gives any indication that anything other than an actual historical account is intended to be understood. Even at the time of the Exodus the text is full of names and locations. There’s nothing there in and of itself to suggest that a factually distant mythology is the intent of the author.

    As for your comments on the NT, you make a lot of assertion but not much demonstration. The event of the crucifixion right at the centre of the historical claims is such an incredibly different “story” to that of the supposed contemporary myths that the notion it was written to appeal to its culture is so far-fetched as to illicit a bit of a guffaw. As Paul himself puts it,

    1 Corinthians 1:22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

    Striking. Paul notes that the crucifixion of Jesus, rather than just another “hero” story to appeal to the masses is, in fact, the exact opposite. It fails in the expectations of both its target audiences; Greek and Jew. If you were going to write a myth about a hero it was just about the worst way to write it.

    As for Revelation, it’s a classic example of apocalyptic literature. You may not like the genre, or understand it, but you can hardly dismiss it. It was a prominent feature of Jewish writing around that era. You call it “wacko” which doesn’t strike me as a particularly sophisticated argument – rather it appears to indicate you just don’t understand it. And if you don’t understand it then you’re hardly in a place to criticise it so strongly.

  32. You know, David, I was willing to call off this fruitless discussion, but every time I do you come back with something more inane than before, and well… it’s difficult to leave inanity unchallenged, you know?

    Let’s just have a bit of a look at this most recent one, shall we?

    So you take my response about “sole” eyewitnesses, (which actually made mentions of provision against large groups of purported eyewitnesses) and you attempt to turn it into a dishonest statement on my part by suggesting I moved the goalposts. Hey, whatever, not bothered any more. I’ve come to expect this kind of crap in the comments here.

    Then, interestingly, you say this:

    We’re talking multiple sources – at least Q, Mt, Mk, L, P, J.

    Now, as I understand it, scholars cite “Q” as the source document for Mt and L, so therefore if we’re going to use Q, we honestly have to throw out Mt and L from that list. Because they’re sourced from Q.

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

    Now, the provenance for all the gospels is, to use a phrase you’ll hate, dodgy at best. They’re most likely, as I understand it, not eyewitness accounts. So your entire comparison with eyewitness testimony in a legal case actually falls to bits anyway. C’est La Vie.

    Also, remember it’s possible for collusion to happen.

    Still, as I’ve told you before, I find biblical analysis rather tedious (because inevitably it’s debating the reality of Gandalf), so let’s move on before I start yawning.

    Your comments on the OT are equally surprising. It is chock full of specific historical statements. You can go to the British Museum and read the cuneiform records from almost 3000 years ago of Assyrian monarchs that you read about in the Bible and so on.

    Wait, what?

    Wow.

    You know, you’re right. It’s a book and it has some statements about people, places and artifacts in it that are real. Why didn’t I think of this before? This is an insight of such power that I’m going to start applying it to my entire life. I mean, this is revolutionary logic. I’d never considered that before, that, you know… maybe some real things in books and other media might be an indication that everything else in the book is real. Seriously, I’d never thought of that.

    For instance, I’m currently watching King Kong, the 1933 version. It has a rather accurate portrayal of the Empire State Building in it. Therefore…

    Yes, therefore according to your logic…

    I can hardly say it…..

    The Empire State Building is real, therefore:

    KING KONG IS REAL!!

    OMFSM!

    ALL HAIL THE GIANT APE! HE IS KONG! HE IS KONG!

    Oh, I can see my life will be enhanced by this new logical approach, Oh, thank you David!!

    Let me see if this works elsewhere…

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

    Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Good book, first published in 1851. A bit long and rambly, perhaps, but some great action scenes. And hey, look, among other real scenarioes and characters, it contains a rather accurate portrayal of Nantucket.

    Nantucket is a real place. Check it out.

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

    Wow. This means the events of Moby Dick really happened. All of them.

    ALL HAIL THE GREAT WHITE WHALE!! MAY HE BE SHOWERED WITH PLANKTON!!!

    (Bonus, Moby Dick can also be used as a “Bible Code” source – http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/moby.html )

    Wow. This is weird. Maybe it was just luck. Maybe I just happened to choose two accounts that I thought were fictional that turned out to be fact. OK, let’s try it again, this time on a series of books I have to hand. They’re clearly marked “fiction” on the cover, so this will be the real acid test of this wonderful new logic.

    I’m so excited!

    It’s the Brentford Trilogy by Robert Rankin

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

    Now, let me see…

    Wow, what do you know… Brentford is a real place. It’s, like, in West London. And the first novel, “The Antipope” features a reincarnated Rodrigo Borgia, aka Pope Alexander VI. He was a real historical personage. You can read about him at the British Museum. In, like, books.

    One of the Brentford books features the Turin Shroud, which we know exists. You can see it, apparently, in Turin. Another features the Olympic Games. And they’re real too. We had some in Sydney.

    And wait, what?

    Some of Rankin’s novels feature Mornington Crescent Underground Station. I’ve been to Mornington Crescent. It’s so real, I’ve touched it!

    This is groundbreaking!!

    ALL HAIL POOLEY AND OMALLY!! YEA, THEY ARE RISEN!! CLEARLY THIS IS A SIGN!!! MAY THEIR BLAKEY’D HEELS BE BLESSED!!

    Thank you, David. You’ve made me a believer. Totally.

    (btw, this whole scenario is so funny that just to make sure it sees the light of day, I’ve screenshotted your reply and copied this response, and I’ll be publishing them later at my blog. I thought Tommy Cooper was the king of deadpan comedy – after all, when he died on stage people thought it was an act – but you’ve surpassed him. Be proud)

  33. Well Jason, that’s your right. You appear to take great joy out of mocking those you don’t agree with. I’ll try and wear it as a badge of honour.

    For the record, your knowledge of source criticism is a little incomplete.

    Yes, “Q source theory” relates to the common material shared between Matthew and Luke. But then there is material original to Matthew and Luke themselves, thus “Mt” & “Lk”. I know it’s easy to link to a wikipedia article and think you’ve covered a vast tranche of the topic. In reality it’s a lot more complicated. To be fair, there’s a diagram right at the top of that wiki article that looks like this:

    You’ll see that Matthew and Luke are both theorised to be composed of the purple “Mark” material, then the dark blue “Q”source, and finally each has their own third and independent source of material. Indeed the third paragraph of the wiki page summarises this:

    In The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins (1924), Burnett Hillman Streeter argued that a third source, referred to as M and also hypothetical, lies behind the material in Matthew that has no parallel in Mark or Luke.[6] Furthermore, some material present only in Luke might have come from an also unknown L source. This Four Source Hypothesis posits that there were at least four sources to the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke: the Gospel of Mark, and three lost sources:Q, M, and L. (M material is represented by green in the above chart.)

    Again, if I might be so bold, you do seem to quite overstretch your limits when you deal in any detail with the actual text of the Bible.

    Do also make sure in your blog post that you include the necessary amount of sheer bafflement that anyone could disagree with you on this. In addition, a healthy dose of pejorative will also serve to convince those of your readers who might have an open mind on the issue that you really are correct.

  34. I’d love to respond in detail, David, but I’m still laughing too hard.

    Honestly, you should currently be curled up in a corner sobbing from sheer embarrassment.

    Stupid beliefs deserve to be mocked, and claiming that because a book happens to contain some actual facts then the rest of the book is somehow validated is utterly, cringingly, ball-achingly stupid. What are you, five?

  35. For the record (since you asked) I’m not 5 but actually 36. I’m afraid you appear to have (once again) over-read my argument. That’s ok. The failure is probably mine.

    My oldest boy, out of interest, is not yet even 5 years old but he doesn’t seem to feel to need to slavishly and repeatedly deride those he doesn’t agree with.

  36. Oh dear, has it really come down to “Hitler was an atheist” David?
    Surely you aren’t trying to trot out that old line. Hitler was very much catholic and relied on god so often in his speeches there’s no WAY he could ever be regarded as atheist.

    Although there are many people who have used Christianity as a tool to manipulate the faithful while not believing (e.g. mother theresa was obviously lying through her teeth).

    So anyhow: what’s your point – that you’d like to believe that hitler somehow despite all the references to god and pulling bits out of the bible left right and centre was atheist? Where in “I don’t believe in god” is there motivation to do any of the acts he committed. Where in “I don’t believe in god” is “Jews are responsible for killing christ, thus must die”, or “no god gives me the power to commit great evil in the name of no god”.

    If every justification for ridiculous beliefs has to come down to what hitler believes: I guess it is an improvement over where the “wisdom” of christianity comes from: 2000 years ago.

    Me: I prefer to live in the age of the internet, the lightbulb and not one ruled by superstition about burning bushes and faux miracles.

  37. @David

    you seem inordinately frustrated Jason. Is that what leads you to pick up the rate of invective?

    I don’t have to be angry to say the word “fuck”. Perception fail. Again.

  38. Hi Nathan.

    No, it’s not actually “Hitler was an Atheist”. Probably my fault for not being clear enough but in the thread I think my argument is,

    “Stalin was an Atheist”
    and
    “Hitler was not a Christian”

    Jason seems to have made the same mistake. But then it’s a lot of comments and if you’re speed reading you may have missed me state,

    As for Hitler, I don’t think I’ve ever claimed he was an out and out atheist.

    Now, you also call Hitler a “Catholic” but I think I demonstrated above his disdain for Christianity. So, again, from Göbbels’ diaries:
    The Führer is deeply religious, but deeply anti-Christian. He regards Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so. It is a branch of the Jewish race.

    You mention Mother Theresa. Yes she had a great crisis of doubt at the end. Also, I’m not a big fan of Roman Catholicism myself but I think it’s a bit harsh to brand her as “manipulating the faithful”. I’m sure the thousands of people she and her organisation have served and tended to would want to disagree with you.

    I wanted to like your xkcd rewrite. It just fell a bit flat for me. Sorry.

  39. If every justification for ridiculous beliefs has to come down to what hitler believes: I guess it is an improvement over where the “wisdom” of christianity comes from: 2000 years ago.

    That’s an intriguing statement. Are you suggesting that the older a statement of purported wisdom is, the less useful it will be? Again, I’m not sure that modern students of Plato or Aristotle would be entirely in agreement.

  40. You mention Mother Theresa. Yes she had a great crisis of doubt at the end.

    She was also a horrible bitch who deliberately withheld pain control from sick and dying inmates at her “home for the sick and dying” because, apparently, suffering and pain scored points with god – not only for the inmates, but for the nuns too. Sick kink. Seriously sick and weird.

    She did have a crisis of faith. But she did the stupid thing of going to priests for counsel on it. That’s not unlike going to your local cigar-chomping loan shark and meekly telling him you’re a bit worried that you’re paying too much interest.

    As for Hitler, you favour statements about him being anti-christian. However there are also statements that claim he was actually a christian and a catholic to the end. The best you’re going to get is a “we’re just guessing but he was not atheist”. I don’t know why theists still bother going there – nobody wins.

    Also: LOL. STUFF IN BOOKS THAT’S TRUE! 

    XD!!

  41. I don’t think I have ever asked anyone to accept the Biblical account a priori

    Strange. I could have sworn that you have.

    That was sarcasm, David. Just in case you missed it

    For instance back at pubchurch when you cited the number of witnesses to the resurrection, a claim which has no corroboration other than biblical/early christian sources. In using it you’ve attempted to use the biblical account to prove the biblical account, though you’re obviously spinning that desperately. It is merely a repeated story, but you’re asking us to just accept it at face value. I objected at the time, and I still object now. See my superman analogy in the thread above.

    So there’s your point refuted. You’re welcome. I also find it satisfying that I get to use the word “spinning” to describe a circular argument.

    Now, as for the “no evidence would convince me” trope and how I recall the conversation. You’re being very selective in how you’re remembering, and you’re taking what I recall as a practical assessment of the situation at hand and spinning it into a philosophical position statement.

    It is true that at this point, 2000 years later, it would be close to impossible to properly prove that a person was crucified to death then later came back to life. At this point it would be hard to prove that the crucifiction even took place, since there are no extant non-biblical records (though we have plenty of other roman records from the period)

    Time travel would fix it. That would convince me. Fly me back in the Tardis. However, for a separate line of reasoning I’m fairly well convinced that time travel is not possible.

    I can come up with plenty of cockamamie ways I could be convinced, but none of them are in themselves a practical possibility. So the assessment, for an honest person, is that there’s no way it could be properly proven at this point. And it would need to be well proven. As I’ve mentioned above, I have no problem that a guy called jesus might have existed, preached, built a following and then been executed. Whatever. They’re just human, ordinary things. No biggie. Things like that happen all the time. The extraordinary thing is the resurrection, and for that you need very good evidence.

    A really good set of independent records would get you part of the way. Roman government custody certificates, chain of evidence for handling of the body, a death certificate and so on. It still would not preclude fraudulent claims, substitution, bribery, fakery, mistaken identity, a spectacular (but gory) magic act or a simply mistaken declaration of death for someone still breathing when taken down. All of these possibilities are, in my mind, more likely than a crucified man coming back to life. They all happen, regularly. Resurrection does not. ECREE, remember?

    Testimony alone is not sufficient to prove a miracle, and testimony, at this distance from the event, is all we’re going to get.

    I seem to recall trying to explain this on the night in question, but perhaps you weren’t listening, or you’d moved on to another question, or you’ve removed the nuance because it helps your case. Or perhaps, as you say, you were so struck with one bit of phrasing that you entirely forgot the rest.

    The point is this, and I’ve tried to make it clear but you’ve skipped past it:

    There is no way to distinguish a standalone textual claim from a mere fiction. You need corroborative evidence, and you’re just not getting that point.

    The supernatural claims of the bible are extraordinary, and the evidence offered for them is not even mundane. It’s mere text, and in the cases where corroborative physical evidence has been sought, it’s generally come up blank or contradictory (Egyptian Slavery, Sinai, Nazareth, Jericho, etc)

    So the case has not been met.

    Therefore, I am not a christian.

  42. As Nathan has returned to the topic of Hitler’s beliefs, I thought I’d share my views on that. I think 3 points are certain about both Hitler and Stalin…

    • These men shared a materialist worldview
    • Neither man had time for Christianity except where it could be used for political gains
    • Their careers serve as a warning of the possibilities that modern philosophies open up

    In support of these points, here’s an interesting quote from Alan Bullock’s biography Hitler and Stalin: parallel lives. Describing Hitler’s views on religion etc, Bullock writes…

    … he shared with Stalin the same materialistic outlook, based on the nineteenth-century rationalist’s certainty that the progress of science would destroy all myths and had already proved Christian doctrine to be an absurdity. On the other hand, Hitler’s own myth at least had to be protected, and this led him, like Napoleon, to speak frequently of Providence, as a necessary if unconscious projection of his sense of destiny which provided him with both justification and absolution. “The Russians”, he remarked on one occasion, “were entitled to attack their priests, but they had no right to assail the idea of a supreme force. It’s a fact that we’re feeble creatures and that a creative force exists.”

    For Hitler, “God” is merely a force to which he appeals to underwrite his own political goals. When you read his speeches, it’s clear he is merely using Christian terms to resonate with his audience: the content of his propaganda doesn’t reflect Christian thought (eg, “Jesus is a fighter” (!) therefore it’s OK for Hitler to be a fighter).

    I think that name-calling and saying “Hitler was a Catholic” has no explanatory power in either understanding Hitler’s regime nor avoiding another regime like it.

  43. Ken, what does intrigue me here is that you’re very fond of defining other people’s beliefs for them in contrary terms to those people’s own statements. You did it to me earlier, now you’re doing it with a well-known German leader of the 1930s and 40s.

    Here’s a collection of quotations from the man himself

    http://atheism.about.com/od/adolfhitlernazigermany/tp/AdolfHitlerQuotesGodReligion.htm

    They’re fairly unequivocal

    And you know… I find it a little odd that while the only christian group to get sent to death camps en masse were the deliberately pacifist Jehovah’s Witnesses, steps were taken by the regime to deliberately extirpate humanist and atheist movements.

    “We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.”

      — Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin on Oct. 24, 1933

    And, of course, the “Faith” of the leader is only one component in the venomous porridge of 1930s and 40s Germany. Have a look at the population’s religion at the time

    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_was_the_religious_make_up_of_Nazi_Germany

    As near to 100% christian as makes no odds.

    This was the engine room of the nazi regime, and they went along with it happily. They were the ones turning the stopcocks on the gas chambers, they were the ones rounding up minorities for the ovens, they were the ones shooting the cripples rather than wasting time getting them to the camps and they were the ones so enamoured with master-race rhetoric that they set the entire world against itself. They had “god is with us” on their belt-buckles and they had christianity.

    So man up and catch the hot potato instead of trying to pass it off on atheism.

  44. Jason, I think you’re confused again. Neither Ken nor myself are claiming that Hitler was an out and out atheist.

    Moreover, as Ken has pointed out (and I have outlined with citations from Speer and Göbbels), Hitler used Christian language to justify his position and appeal to the masses. So yes, you can find him using Christian vocabulary but that doesn’t make him a Christian.

    You accuse Ken of “passing the hot potato” but then engage in the very same act yourself by switching the argument to the supposed “Christianity” of Germany at the time. To say that Germany was “protestant” and therefore to ascribe to Christianity the blame for Nazi outrages is such an empty statement as to, frankly, beggar belief.

    Any passing acquaintance with the religious milieu of 20s&30s; Germany would tell a different story on the ground.

    The last census here in Neutral Bay shows that over 2,000 people alone call themselves “Anglican”. However, as you would expect, we’re not seeing the vast majority of them. Why not? Well, because as every even passing observer knows, these statistics don’t begin to touch on actual practice.

    In the same way, a piece of census from Germany during Hitler’s time stating that the country was “mostly protestant” tells you very little about actual practising protestants.

    On top of this is the peculiar situation of the German church at the time. Like many other European protestant bodies it had laboured strongly under the influence of liberal theology. The 20s and 30s saw, in response, a resurgence of orthodoxy and neo-orthodoxy. Perhaps the most famous of those on the vanguard of this movement was Karl Barth. Nevertheless, the response was by no means wholesale. So much so that by the time of Hitler’s accession to power the protestant church in Germany was essentially a theological liberal body, quite adrift from Christianity’s Biblical foundations. Calling it authentically “Christian” is a bit like calling Tony Blair’s New Labour movement authentically socialist.

    That there was this deep disconnect in the German church became apparent when Hitler himself because to impose his own hegemony over the church. Most liberal authorities simply capitulated to his mastery, so utterly vacuous was their conviction. Yet, at the same time, there was a small minority who simply refused to bow the knee. They were known as the Confessing Church. Men like Bonhöffer stood against Hitler. When you read their declarations and writings you find a stream of piety that is distinctively Biblical and stands against the distortion of Christianity that Hitler was propogating for his own purposes.

    To lump all of these different expressions in together and to label them all as “Christian” is, frankly, quite ignorant. Not only that but it’s deeply disdainful and insulting to those genuine believers who risked their livelihoods and lives rather than submit to Hitler. I find it, frankly, staggering that you would (once again) be so dismissive of the detailed historical realities.

    My own grandfather, a Lutheran minister in Austria, was a member of the Confessing Church. One day you might like to come and read his personal papers (some of which were handed to me on my own ordination) and hear the stories of what happened to him and his comrades and then reconsider your breathtakingly ignorant dismissal of the religious history of inter-war Germany.

    At times it appears you are so blinkered by your need to be right on these issues that you will regularly vastly oversimplify the facts of the matter (as you also did when seeking to school me earlier in this thread on the source critical questions of the synoptic gospels).

  45. I think Ken should be answering for himself, David, not being defended by you. He’s the one that dug up the Hitler zombie.

    Now as for the motivations, you know as well as I do, and you’d be hypocritical to claim otherwise, that – almost without exception – when the “H” word is raised in a discussion about religion, it is an attempt to blame the Nazi regime on non-belief, either through innuendo or outright claims of Hitler’s atheism.

    It has no bearing whatsoever on the argument, and it is a simple and clumsy attempt at argument from moral consequences, but it is bigoted, and I take it personally that someone would attempt to sully me, as an atheist, with it. People who try it on deserve some of their own medicine.

    Unless we invent time travel, and probably not even then, we will never know Hitler’s private beliefs. But they do not matter. We have his statements and his actions and the interpretation thereof. Churches were complicit. Humanist and atheist groups were supressed. End of story. Many theists acted nobly. Some took part in atrocities. The same applies to nonbelievers.

    It has no bearing on the argument, but it still gets raised and I’m tired of it. Ken deserves a good verbal slapping for digging it back up.

    Now, as for this:

    (as you also did when seeking to school me earlier in this thread on the source critical questions of the synoptic gospels).

    Do I really need to tell you that textual integrity os not the same thing as textual veracity? Are you really that wrapped up in all this not to see that?

    No matter what the origin and evolution of the text, there is still no way to distinguish it from mere fiction. NONE. That it contains nuggets of true information has no bearing – fiction tends to include some elements of truth. That the book itself cites “500 people” as eyewitnesses has no bearing – none of those people wrote anything down, and there’s no way to tell whether that claim itself is just made up. That people have died for it has no bearing on the truth value. People die for lies all the time.

    Other religions make similar claims for their holy books. Why is it special when you make those same claims, David?

    It is not possible to tell the biblical account apart from fiction, unless you’ve been keeping some trump card in reserve among the torrent of poor logic you’ve so far displayed?

  46. Regarding “defining other people’s beliefs”…

    Jason, I’m relying on a respected biographer of Hitler, not a shallow and select reading of Hitler’s propaganda.

    Regarding “man up and catch the hot potato”…

    If you want me to say “Christians do evil” then of course they do. If you want me to agree that “Christianity caused the Germans to do this evil” then I’d want to see some evidence for that. Excuse my skepticism.

    Regarding “dug up the Hitler zombie”…

    No I didn’t. I responded to Nathan’s remarks.

    Regarding “Many theists acted nobly. Some took part in atrocities. The same applies to nonbelievers.”…

    So you’ve stopped the “Hitler was a Catholic” blame game? I never stated Hitler was an Atheist or a Catholic. Neither did David. Can we move on?

    Regarding “a good verbal slapping”…

    Your blows are so wide of the mark, I’m left thinking “why is this fellow standing over there flailing his arms like that?”

  47. I think Ken should be answering for himself, David, not being defended by you. He’s the one that dug up the Hitler zombie.

    No, the record shows that YOU were the one that dug it up. I had stated in my OP:
    [The New Atheists] are incredibly reluctant to properly engage with the historical claims about Christianity, yet at the same time are almost blind to the flaws in their claims about the benign nature of atheism – as the history of even the last century surely demonstrates.

    To which your initial response was,
    Nice avoidance of a Godwin though. Because you know we’d just tell you we was a catholic, right?

    Which I found quite surprising. Since I had made no statement about Hitler (although that’s the direction that YOU took the thread.

    Then you will see that my response was,
    Strawman? I wasn’t aware that Stalin (or Hitler, for that matter) was a practising Catholic – I’d be delighted, of course, to be proven wrong

    So only one person on this thread “raised the zombie” of Hitler. It was you. I was referring to Stalin. As I go on to point out on a number of occasions, I have never made the claim that Hitler was an atheist but you appear to be like a dog with a bone. Nathan makes exactly the same mistake when he bursts into the thread.

    What is interesting is that you then fail to engage with the actual argument being made re Hitler – that he may have used religious and even Christian language (which no-one here is denying), but that doesn’t make him a Christian.

    What is fascinating is your statement in the last comment:
    when the “H” word is raised in a discussion about religion, it is an attempt to blame the Nazi regime on non-belief, either through innuendo or outright claims of Hitler’s atheism

    But YOU were the one who raised the “H” word (technically, you actually referred to “Godwin” but it’s the same thing). YOU were the one who introduced him into the discussion with the intent of smearing the reputation of Christians and theists in general.
    So, when you claim that mention of Hitler, “is bigoted, and I take it personally that someone would attempt to sully me, as an atheist, with it. People who try it on deserve some of their own medicine.” The only one that needs to swallow the medicine is you. YOU raised the issue of Hitler. YOU sought to use him to sully the reputation of theists (and Christians in particular) and YOU are the one who has personally insulted the legacy of a dearly loved grandfather and member of the Confessing Church. Rather than step back properly and disown your error you simply shrug it off. It is not Ken that needs to apologise. It is not he that introduced the topic of Hitler with the intent of besmirching others. The record clearly shows that long before Ken commented, YOU were the one who brought him into the discussion.

    As for my point re Q and source criticism. I was merely pointing out that it serves as yet another example of your shallow and superficial engagement – in fact at this point it’s starting to look a little like bluster. I had pointed out that there were a number of independent (I use the term in the technical sense) sources making up the NT account of Jesus, listing them as Mk, Mt, Lk, Q, J, P. You, in return wrote this:

    Now, as I understand it, scholars cite “Q” as the source document for Mt and L, so therefore if we’re going to use Q, we honestly have to throw out Mt and L from that list. Because they’re sourced from Q.

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

    But, as I pointed out, the very wiki article you link to rebuts your claim. It shows what even the most basic of source scholars argue – that Q, Mt, and Lk are identified as separate sources. The details of that argument are in my earlier comment and (since you didn’t read it even superficially) the wiki article you linked to.

    Once again, rather than acknowledge your basic error in fact you resort to bluster, invective and ad hominem.

    As it is in this case again. I go into some detail pointing out how you are incorrect in your analysis of the “Christian” make-up of Nazi Germany, including personal family history, and rather than acknowledge that you have vastly overstated your case you simply ignore it.

    And finally, you return to your claim that the NT is fiction. Well, so be it. You may wish to argue that you come to this position from a degree of learning but, with the greatest respect, every time you are pressed on an issue of detail you are found wanting. So at the end of the day you end up slowly being pushed against the wall of bare assertion.

    Actually, that’s not true. Assertion regularly clothed in disdain. Feel free to respond. But if you do so without engaging in the specifics of Germany’s religious history (rather than cheap but ungrounded rhetorical soundbites) then do not be surprised if readers begin to suspect that you cannot really deal with the arguments being made.

  48. Yes, David, I agree.

    YOU were the one that started it, with a very-much-aware piece of innuendo. You should know better.

    [comment edited, except for following ad hominem]

    (I’m not spending all week on this, if you’re going to act all butthurt in your response, make it a short whinge)

  49. YOU were the one that started it, with a very-much-aware piece of innuendo.

    Simply put. No. I made no such innuendo. In my OP I commented that atheism doesn’t have a great track record on violence in the 20th Century. It was you who assumed I was writing about Hitler whereas as I noted in the thread I have never claimed Hitler was an atheist. If there was an innuendo it was one that I didn’t even know I was making, and one contrary to the actual understanding I have of Hitler’s religious views.

    You are much too quick to jump the gun in your assumptions. Now, I am perfectly happy for you to continue posting here but I think, for the sake of clarity, it would be helpful for you to slow down and realise what you’re doing. Answering a couple of questions will help assure me:

    Who was it that introduced the person of Hitler onto this thread?
    Who was it that first made a claim about Hitler’s theism and what was that claim?

    Take your time and review the thread. I think if you take a deep breath and calm down you’ll be able to answer both those questions easily. Once we stop, take a pause, and get this issue clarified I’m more than happy to post everything else that you write, as until now I am sure you will concede I have consistently done (despite your presumption otherwise on your blog).

    This is an important issue since you made some very clear allegations about it,
    I take it personally that someone would attempt to sully me, as an atheist, with [the claim that Hitler was an atheist].
    So we should clear it up.

    Whenever you’re ready

  50. Comment edited? Because you were all put out that I demolished your “logic”?

    [actually no. The reason is that given in my comment above. No other]

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