Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Response to Secular Sunday School, Part 2

As Jonathan is rather in a hurry for me to mop up the supposed questions he has posed on his blog, and would like to ignore my counterpoints, I shall waste no time further in heeding his request.

Jonathan is absolute in his conviction that he has provided definite evidence that the claims of the biblical Jesus are true.  Let's take a look at his site.  I'm going to quote long bits of text here as it's appropriate, so be aware that all quotes in this article (indented paragraphs) are his work, which I'm quoting.  Hopefully these answers will suffice, and he shall give me a few days respite before ignoring what I've typed and claiming I've not written (two articles, now, actually) discussing the points on his blog.

To maintain continuity, text from the same page will be identified with the same color.  New Testament Plot Fixes will be red, for example.

 Let's start by taking a look at his New Testament Plot Fixes page.  What sort of evidence can we find in the following paragraph?
We modern people are sophisticated consumers of media. In our commercially oriented lives, we have heard more sales pitches than people in any other time or place in history. We hear and evaluate propaganda from our political and societal leaders. 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.
How very interesting.  Not terribly sophisticated.  We get it.  So, about that evidence?

The gospels were written generations after Jesus’ ministry, and all four of them plus Paul’s letters include “elaborations”.
So basically, what you're saying is, it's probably a fictional tale recorded some time after the originator of the tale created it?  That's some odd evidence to post against your own conviction that Jesus was literally a real person.  Remember this line, from your Am I a Fake Atheist page?
For example, saying that there’s no evidence for a historical Jesus is a flat-out error.
Let me get this straight.  A bunch of guys, decades after the supposed events, made up stuff about a person (I'm glad you put "elaborations" in quotation marks so we know you meant "lies" or "fabrications"), but you're claiming the person in question literally existed and did the things attributed to him?

Well, that matters not.  Let's go back to the paragraph at hand.
With our modern eye for shams, we can see the authors struggling to make the historical elements fit their mythic Christ figure.
So wait, is he a mythical figure, or was he literally the person described, since saying he's mythical in any sense is a flat-out error?
In particular, many parts of the New Testament read like answers to skeptical questions that 1st-century Christians may have heard from their dubious neighbors.
Hey, this sounds familiar.  Some guy compiles answers to questions he's heard people present to him, skeptical of his claim.  Oh, you're borrowing their gambit!  I get it now, it's a self-referential thing.
Here is a list of hypothetical skeptical questions and the Bible verses that look like early Christian responses to them. 

Oh good, you are are able to answer questions directly.  Now, about my last blog post, will you answer those questions as well, or am I just having a monologue here?

Scriptural Sources
Responses to each question are in chronological order, as found in the following works.
  Q, a lost compilation of Jesus’ sayings, written by c 50
  Paul’s letters about theology and conduct, written c 60
  Mark’s gospel, about how Jesus had secretly been the Messiah, written c 70
  Matthew’s gospel, which is Mark + Q + extras, edited for a Jewish audience, written c 80
  Luke’s gospel, which is Mark + Q + extras, edited for a gentile audience, written c 90
  John’s gospel, a bold retelling with an all-divine, not-at-all-secret Jesus, written c 100
Neat.  So, to point this out early, literally the only sources you've given here are from within the bible.  Even then, you're not addressing the points, you're simply engaging in revisionist history.  Let's take a look at a few of these 'questions.' For the sake of not taking up too much time, I'm going to leave his bible responses aside, and actually answer these SkepticalQuestions he's put forth, one at a time.
Skeptical Question: If Jesus was the Son of David, why was he from Nazareth instead of from Bethlehem? 
He wasn't.  He didn't exist.  This is too easy.

Alright, a serious answer.  You've provided no evidence that Jesus existed. Saying that 'the bible says Jesus was real' is exactly the same thing as saying that 'Spider Man is real because Marvel says so." Lots of fans of comics will ask why there are inconsistencies within the stories.  For example, Spider-Man has two different origin stories. One involves him being bitten by a spider, and one a bit more recently (though shorter than the span of time between when Jesus supposedly walked and when he was written about) wherein his powers are merely technology.  The question you're asking is no different than asking "If Spiderman was bitten by a spider, why does he need high tech stuff to make web?"

It's because they're two different versions of the same fictional character.  Even if Peter Parker's personality, mannerisms, physicality and so on were based on a real person, it doesn't make Spider Man a real person.  Without evidence that comes from another source, you cannot make any assertions about the validity of the historicity of the person in question.  This is called a Fallacy of False Premise, and it's a fundamental error in logic.  You're assuming that, because a story was written about someone, that story must be true.  It's exactly like saying that Harry Potter was, without question, a real person, because he appears in a book.

However, your main concern was that I answer your questions.  I shall not tarry here further.

I needed to include this here.  You do not speak for all atheists.  I do not speak for all atheists. 'Us atheists' isn't a group that exists.  The only thing Atheists share in common is that we do not believe in a god.  Period.  It's that simple.  Some think that Jesus was a literal real person, as you claim, and some like me are on the opposite side, and believe the entire bible is fiction with regard to its supernatural claims and so on.

It doesn't matter what evidence I'm familiar with. It matters only if you can provide it, as you are making the positive claim.
 SQ: If angels or wise men came to herald Jesus’ birth, why didn’t Jesus’ neighbors know he was special?
Because it didn't happen.  Again, you need that evidence you keep harping on about so.  If you can provide it, I will be required to change my opinion.  In the mean time, again, you've only given us a story that was written only by people who definitely were not there.  A fictional account of a fictional person, it would seem.  Again, if you have evidence to the contrary, it only takes a few clicks to provide it.
SQ: John the Baptist preached about a great apocalyptic figure to come, but he never named Jesus as that figure. Why didn’t John recognize him?
Well, for one, even within the bible, the apocalypse and second coming haven't happened yet.  Second, he wrote that story, one hundred years later, or so, according to your own numbers.  Can you honestly not see how you are being revisionist in exactly the same way you claim they were?  If John could make stuff up to fit his own narrative, and you're pointing out that he did, then why should I presume you aren't doing exactly the same thing?  Then again, when you get us that evidence, maybe we'll change our minds.  With that in mind, another tweet.

You're absolutely right, I don't have evidence, because I don't need evidence for a negative claim.  I don't need evidence in exactly the same way that I don't need it to claim that Uncle Sam, the Krampus, Harry Potter, Bilbo Baggins, nor Bugs Bunny are real.  There is absolutely no evidence that any of these are historical characters, and that's why it's a negative claim.  If someone found the grave of Bugs Bunny tomorrow, and found the cartoon corpse of an anthropomorphic bunny, then my claim would become a positive one.  Unless it was the corpse of Roger Rabbit, of course.

 If the Holy Spirit came to Jesus the instant he was baptized, why didn’t John recognize him then?
Again, by your own admission, the stories were decades old before these authors recorded them.  This is because they likely never happened.  Sure, it's entirely possible that baptisms were common, but that's not the question here.  The question here is specifically why John didn't recognize the Holy Spirit.  It's because the holy spirit was never there.  We don't need to analyze four old pieces of paper, because they're all retelling the same fictional story.

This is exactly like Cinderella.  Cinderella was an oral tradition for hundreds of years, and as a result, it's told in many different ways.  It's fundamentally about Cinderella, but it doesn't mean that Cinderella was an actual real person who received a visit from a fairy godmother, got magical shoes, or even ever went dancing.  The sole purpose of the story of Cinderella is to instill certain virtues within children via memetic device.  The Cinderella story isn't told over and over again because it was about a real person, it's told over and over again to drive home the morals held within.  Similarly, unless you can prove otherwise, it's exactly the same kind of claim as the one concerning Jesus.  So far, you've only demonstrated flaws in the story, but you claim to have some evidence.  With that in mind, let's keep moving right along.
SQ: But why did Jesus get baptized anyway? If he was the perfect Son of God, then why did he need baptism for the remission of sins? Was he a follower of John’s? 
When you've got a fictional story, rewriting it isn't hard. See Cinderella again.
SQ: If Jesus was the Son of God, why didn’t he tell people? 
I don't think anyone who has ever read the bible would ask this question.  Also, where's that evidence he existed at?
SQ: Jesus said that we in this generation wouldn’t get a sign, but if he had given people signs, wouldn’t more people have believed and get saved? Wouldn’t mighty signs have brought more people to your church? 
 That's a pretty good question.  I suppose it's probably for the same reason that Google Maps has never accidentally gotten a picture of the actual Bat Symbol, though Bruce Wayne should easily be able to send one up if he were real.
SQ: What did Jesus mean when he said that the hungry were the ones with God’s blessing? Going without food is a curse, not a blessing. And how can the poor be blessed? Wealth is a blessing, not poverty. Was he crazy, like his family thought?
Another good question, but what does it have to do with proving a god exists, or a mythical Jesus figure?
SQ: I talked with some other disciples, and they never said anything about Moses and Elijah showing up to give Jesus their endorsement.  
What do these questions have to do with proving Jesus existed?  Absolutely nothing!  So naturally, let's keep talking about superfluous nonsense.
SQ: While Jesus was alive, even Peter, James, and John didn’t say anything about Jesus meeting Moses and Elijah. 
Oral traditions of fictional accounts are a pain, aren't they?  What's it got to do with Jesus being real again?  Are you saying people couldn't possibly have made up a story?
SQ: If Jesus was the anointed king of the Jews and their savior, why did they reject him? If the Jews didn’t accept him, why should gentiles?  
If I claimed to be the son of god right now, do you think people would take me very seriously?  Even if I were?  Let's list a few example of people who claimed to be divine:
  • Jim Jones
  • Arnold Potter
  • Charles Manson
  • Krishna Venta
  • David Koresh
  • John Smith
  • Kim Jong Il
  • Every King and Queen of England
All of these people claimed to be god, or god appointed, and had people who believed they were god.  Do you accept their claim equally with that of your supposed historical Jesus or not?  If not, why not?  Is it because you'd like to have some outside evidence other than them simply saying it's true?  Is it something else?
 SQ: If Jesus was God’s Son and everything, why were the Romans able to nail him up on a cross like a runaway slave? 
Again, another wonderful question founded on a false premise.  There's no evidence it ever happened.
 SQ: If Jesus taught the disciples that he was going to die and then rise from the dead, why were they surprised when he was killed and when he rose from the dead? 
If I said exactly the same thing, right now, would it surprise you if it happened later?  These questions are utterly weak.
 SQ: If the crucifixion was all in God’s plan, why did Jesus cry out in despair as he was dying on the cross?
Because God is a Sadist.
SQ: So if the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate had Jesus crucified, does that mean Jesus was an enemy of Rome? 
You mean, if I claimed to be god, and declared that I should rule over America (Or the entire world)< do you think the response would be different?  It wasn't terribly different at Jonestown, after all.
 SQ: Bodies of crucified criminals are thrown to the dogs. How was there a tomb for Mary Magdalene to visit? 
Again, what has this got to do with proving Jesus existed?  You claimed these were questions for "Mythicists" but really, these sound much more like questions believers argue over in seminary.
SQ: You say Jesus supposedly “appeared” to a couple followers after his death. So what? Sometimes people see things. 
Good point.  Someone could have just made up a story or something.
SQ: Now that Jesus is dead, you Christians are claiming that he taught stuff that no one has heard before.
Apparently you're not even reading your own questions.  Jesus isn't actually dead, he rose from the dead and came back to life, in canon.  Then he ascended to heaven among the clouds.
SQ: Jesus never said that the disciples had any of his authority or set any of them up as a leader.
Good for him.  What does this have to do with whether or not he was a real person?  I mean, Superman once said that being a racist is anti-American.  Does that mean Superman was real?
SQ: Jesus never baptized anyone. Why are you Christians baptizing people? That was John the Baptist’s thing.
Another excellent point which has no bearing on whether or not the story is real.
SQ: I get having a meal in Jesus’ honor, but where does all this sacrificial blood imagery come from? 
I hate to sound like a broken record, but can you guess what I say next? What has this got to do with whether or not Jesus is real? Are you saying people can't form religions around things that aren't real?  Platonic Solids must exist because Plato existed?
SQ: When Jesus was alive, his sect was strictly Jewish. Now that he’s not around running things, gentiles are joining his sect, and they don’t have to convert to Judaism any more. 
This question is terrible for many reasons, not the least of which is that it has absolutely nothing to do with showing evidence of Jesus having existed.

I realize this has stretched on quite long enough, so I'm going to continue this in Part 3, where I'll deal with the page entitled Historical Jesus beats Mythical Jesus.  This may in fact have been the set of questions he'd liked me to have dealt with, but the link he originally sent me linked to the one I've just torn apart today.  However, I'll close by responding to this bit one more time, for clarity sake.  Also, since Jonathan likes repeating that I haven't answered him all the time, I'll be doubly sure to answer every single quandary he could possibly posit via that page.

Today I was the guest speaker at Sunday Assembly Seattle. Sunday Assembly is a secular “church,” a celebration of life with singing and community. They asked me to talk on the topic of why atheists can act like jerks sometimes, based on my September 28th blog post
Repeatedly telling people they haven't answered your question, and being impatient.  Do those sound like things you've been working on, at all?  Do you not consider it kinda jerky to shrug off opinions you're not comfortable with in leiu of actually addressing rebuttals to your preconceived notions? Is it just me?  Odd.

Also, you're acting as though you speak for all atheists, when clearly you do not.  You do not speak for the general population of atheists any more than I do.  Begging the question (a fallacy no less) that atheists are just seen as jerks is a two-part problem.  The first problem is that it implies that belief in a deity is what makes a person not act like a jerk; the second is that most people in general, atheists included, are not jerks.  There's a third, more subtle point here, in that being offended is partially on the end of the recipient, and not necessarily at all on the part of the giver.  If I've offended you, it doesn't mean I've been offensive, merely that you've been offended.  Same thing with theism.  If a person believes in god, or that a mythical character is real, and someone tells them it's probably not the case, that doesn't make the person questioning the belief a jerk, nor offensive.  Perhaps some people are merely too easy to offend.
Today I’m addressing the topic in a less confrontational way and suggesting that atheists ought to achieve greater degrees of self-awarenessniceness, and humility
Again, atheism isn't a religion.  It's simply a lack of belief in a god.  That's it. Buddhists are atheist, as are a great many religious folk.  Followers of Astrology, for example, can very easily be atheist.  Most deists are, in fact, theist, because deism doesn't presuppose a god.  Similarly, you're begging the question again that somehow, being a theist fundamentally makes a person more self-aware, nice and humble, by virtue of the corollary: the absence of theism makes people less self-aware, nice and humble (through some unexplained mechanism).

I don't really care if you respond to my rebuttals, but I'm far from done.  I have tried to be nice and take everything in due time, but you've forced me to be perhaps less charitable to your arguments than perhaps I would have been.

Also, blindly repeating "You've not answered my questions" isn't an argument.

See you all next time.