Thursday, May 26, 2016

Response to Secular Sunday School

I did this video yesterday, in response to the twitter comments mentioned.  I haven't yet directly addressed the questions posted by the author, because I need first to break down the premises given.  It would be folly for me to simply jump right in and start dissecting the arguments which are based, it seems, on a few key fallacies, a couple of which are kinda subtle.

Let me today go one step further than the video, and create a list of simple responses, of which I will cover much more greatly in future videos.  Again, if you're interested in listening to me break down these kinds of arguments, by all means subscribe to my channel. It's the simplest way to keep up with what I'm doing.

I will direct your attention now to this page, but do be warned, the blog does have some apparent scripting issues which may bog down your browser (although probably not intentionally).  I'm simply going to go casually through here and hit a few main points, in no particular order.
Be warned, the site loads funny for me, and it might do for you also.
We are better educated, savvier, and harder to fool than ever. Today we find it easy to read between the lines and guess at an author’s motives. The Christian gospels were written for a less sophisticated audience, so it’s easy for us to see through them. The gospels were written generations after Jesus’ ministry, and all four of them plus Paul’s letters include “elaborations”. With our modern eye for shams, we can see the authors struggling to make the historical elements fit their mythic Christ figure.  
"New Testament Plot Fixes" 
 Here we have, one should think, the basic crux of the entire argument.  One could be forgiven for thinking that "this is a website with the aim of promoting evolution and agnostic atheism!"  Indeed, I might have thought such a thing myself, were it not for a line from another page, as referenced in the video above:
Online and at atheist gatherings, I’m likely to challenge atheists when their criticisms of religion are unfair. For example, saying that there’s no evidence for a historical Jesus is a flat-out error.
"Am I a Fake Atheist?"
It would seem that these two ideas are at odds with one another, and I should imagine that they are.  There's a special sort of cognitive dissonance at work here.  As Jonathan is quick to point out,
We atheists pride ourselves on being evidence-driven. 
"Am I a Fake Atheist?"
However, if we turn our attention to this section, we can clearly see the contrast.  Evidence isn't necessary when there's a preconceived notion to introduce bias:

 [In response to the anecdotes he gives to how the bible explains various things] 
All these cover stories point back to a historical Jesus.
"New Testament Plot Fixes" 
Just to retain the context and address one last point, I present to you this, in the same context as the last.
If there hadn’t been a historical Jesus doing things like getting baptized, the reasoning goes, then there would be no need for these layers of justification.
"New Testament Plot Fixes" 
This is clearly a fallacy of false dichotomy, as well as false cause.  It's a false dichotomy/false cause fallacy for two reasons:
  1. The author would have us believe that, since there are stories about Jesus, Jesus must've existed.
    1. The author neglects to address many simple, and many more complex, reasons why these stories might exist.  Such examples are as follow:
      1. Why is the false premise engaged that anything for which there are stories must be true?
        1. Does the author also presuppose that Uncle Sam was a real person, because there are stories about him?
        2. What about Heracles, Odysseus, Gilgamesh, Beowulf, and so on?
          1. Would the author really have us believe that the only reason there can be such complex stories about these individuals is the fact that the individuals existed?
      2. The second false premise engaged is that the stories must fundamentally be true because they exist.
        1. By that logic, Bilbo and Gandalf exist because they have extravagant backstories.
        2. Similarly, Santa Clause, the Krampus, the Tooth Fairy, Leprechauns, Bigfoot, Brownie Monsters, the Loch Ness Monster, Peter Cottontail, the Cadbury Bunny, and Nigel Tufnel also meet these criteria.
      3. The author presumes, falsely, that the only reason a story needs layers of justification is if it is true.
        1. This point is the simplest to address, and I like it least.
        2. Lies.  This describes lies.
          1. I don't need to justify gravity when I can simply demonstrate gravity.
          2. In the same way, I don't need to justify the Bible if I could simply show it was historically accurate.
          3. Einstein dropped his cosmological constant from his equation that describes relativity, for exactly this reason.
            1. It required too much justification and didn't appear to actually exist.
I'm not going to go any further today, except to posit this:

Since the story of Odysseus is so long and drawn out, and has so many justifications for the actions within it, does the author accept that Odysseus was a historical figure on par with any other?  Or would the author like a bit more evidence that he actually lived, let alone blinded a cyclops?

In fact, let me walk through this in a piecework, backward fashion.  Imagine that tomorrow, I decide to claim that Romeo Montague was a real historical figure.  I mean, we know that he has a particular sort of past, and he did things that might need many layers of justification.  We also know that Shakespeare probably wrote about him after reading about someone else writing about him (although we unfairly called it 'plagiarism' by comparison).  Would the author accept, therefore, that Romeo must certainly have been based explicitly on some actual figure, who lived perhaps a few decades before Shakespeare actually wrote about him?  Or would Jonathan require a bit more evidence of this supposed 'historical figure?'  If I were to claim that it's an outright lie to say that Romeo was not a real person, would Jonathan accept this explanation and contrarian justification?

I should think that Jonathan would be a bit more skeptical.  Especially considering that he seems to have a very solid grasp of evolution in general, and the general (though far from specific, and sometimes quite off-the-mark) ideas about atheism, to which he simultaneous claims to be party:
All these factors give me hope, and I’ll keep expecting reasonableness from my fellow atheists.
"Am I a Fake Atheist?"
and yet somehow claims he can be removed from by people who aren't like him, in literally the next sentence:
At least until they take my atheist card away and kick me out of the tribe for real.   
"Am I a Fake Atheist?"
With that in mind, my final parting thought is this: if you're actually an atheist (and I am actually a card-carrying one, though that's only in America, mind: It's not actually a religion, but it is here for equal protection purposes), how exactly would you posit that other (but somehow different?) atheists would not let you be one?

Perhaps Jonathan is merely misguided in this respect, or perhaps he's swinging hard from the Atheism+ stuff that others have done recently, but I don't think either of those is the case.  Also, a last word from Penn Jillette, so we don't keep making the Atheism=Agnostic mistake:

This has been Rev. J.R.
Signing off.