Preaching Christ During the Festival of Science

Last Friday, the 6th of June, was the last day of the Cheltenham Festival of Science, held annually in Cheltenham, in Britain. It’s been going for a few years now, and is pretty much like the annual Festival of Literature held in the same town every October, with the obvious difference that it’s about science, while the other festival is about literature. Both feature leading figures in their respective areas talking about their subject, and particularly their latest work, or the latest issue to grab the national attention and be debated. In the case of the Festival of Literature, it’s obviously writers discussing their latest book, while in the Festival of Science it tends to be scientists talking about the latest issue in science.

Scientists and Writers at the Cheltenham Festival

As it’s an event aimed at getting the general public involved with science and more aware of contemporary research and issues, the scientists appearing at the Festival tend also to be the authors of books on popular science, or the hosts or producers of TV and radio programmes on science. For example, this year one of the guests at the Festival was Dr. Robert Winston, a fertility expert and the presenter of a number of science and factual programmes, such as Walking with Cavemen and The Story of God. Walking with Cavemen was a series the Beeb screened a few years ago now about human evolution, tracing the origins of the human species from its earliest ancestors up to the emergence of modern humans, Homo Sapiens, on the plains of Africa. The Story of God, on the other hand, was a straightforward history of the various religious faiths around the world. While he definitely isn’t a Creationist – the Story of God showed him debating Creationism in a radio studio in America – Winston is an observant Jew. There was a bit in the series where he appeared to leave the militant atheist and biologist Richard Dawkins momentarily speechless. Dawkins had just declared that he really couldn’t understand how any intelligent person could possibly believe in religion, to which Winston simply said quietly, ‘I believe it.’ Dawkins looked amazed, and said to him, ‘You do?’

‘Yes,’ said Winston, ‘I honestly do.’ Winston then went on a few months after the series and the publication of Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, to criticise Dawkins publicly at a festival of science in Edinburgh for trying to associate atheism with science, politely stating that while he respected Dawkins personally, he thought he was profoundly wrong to do so. The title of Winston’s speech even suggested that in his attempt to connect science to atheism, Dawkins was deluded.

Other speakers who have appeared at the Festival in the past have included the australian astronomer, Duncan Steele, and the Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, who were on a panel with a number of other scientists talking about the dangers of collision from asteroids; the physicist Jim al-Khalili, giving a brief introduction to Quantum physics to coincide with his book, Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed, and the mathematician Simon Singh talking about codes and ciphers through history. It can be a really great, fascinating, fun event, depending on who’s speaking at the Festival and your particular interest in science. It’s run in association with a hands-on science centre in Cardiff, so there’s a series of scientific games and fun experiments in the main hall, and some of the events and speakers are definitely not solemn, dry lectures. They had one tent set up as an arena for Robot Wars one year when that was on British TV.

Problems of Presenting Atheism as Science

While it’s a great event generally, I have some real qualms about the very reductionist materialism preached by some of the speakers. While the vast majority of the speakers and events at the Festival don’t touch on religion, some of the scientists and writers who have appeared have very strong atheist views which they articulate as part of their general views on science. Richard Dawkins is one such guest at the Festival who talks about science in terms of a general atheist worldview. Other atheist scientists who also view science and atheism as strongly linked, and are very hostile to religion, who have appeared at the Festival of Science include Steven Pinker and the philosopher, A.C. Grayling.

The Christian Origins of Experimental Science

Now modern experimental science first emerged in Europe through the belief of medieval and Renaissance Christian natural philosophers that nature was available to rational study as, being created and established through God’s divine and transcendent Wisdom, it was therefore itself rational and ordered. These early scientists believed that nature and Scripture comprised two books, which together revealed God’s glory, although while nature demonstrated the existence of God, it could never give as full a revelation of God as Scripture. The pioneering scientists of the Renaissance – Copernicus, Galileo, Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton were all devoutly religious, even if, like Newton, they held unorthodox religious views. Boyle, for example, in his book The Christian Virtuoso, made it very clear that he believed, in contrast to Rene Descartes, that the universe clearly showed evidence for teleology, and pointed very much to the existence of God. He also endowed a series of lectures to be preached annually to prove the existence of the Almighty. All this is often forgotten in the contemporary view of the history of science, which tends to view it in very Positivist terms as an intellectual endeavour opposed to religious belief, and which emerged to challenge religion and the supernatural to replace it with rationality and materialism.

Presenting the Christian Origins of Science During the Festival, and Great Resources on Christianity and Science

I’d like to challenge that perception of science and its history. I’d like to hire a church hall or similar venue one day around the time of the Festival to present a lecture on the history of science, showing that it was based very much on the Christian conception of an ordered nature established by the divine reason. I’d also like to make the point that, contrary to the views expounded by Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett and other atheist scientists and philosophers, science is not intrinsically atheistic, and there is much in science that points away from atheism and towards the existence of God. It’s just an idea, and really should be done by someone like the awesome Bede, who’s a historian of science and whose website, Bede’s Library and blog, Bede’s Journal, are superb resources for science and Christian faith. At the moment it’s just an idea, but I think, given the intense debate between science, religion and atheism at the moment, it needs to be done, and the case clearly presented for the Christian creation of and support for science. I also thoroughly recommend the ‘Scientists of Christian Faith’ project over at J.P. Holding’s awesome Tekton Apologetics site as another great resource giving brief biographies and descriptions of the lives and work of numerous scientists, including the above founders of this part of the human project to understand the world, who are also Christians, and whose work often reflects and strengthens their Christian beliefs.

Problem of Distinguishing Scientific Fact and Personal Views of Scientists

One other point needs to be made about some of the scientific views presented as the latest research, or as predictions of what will occur in the future, at science festivals and in the press generally. Scientific views in particular areas are changing all the time as new evidence emerges and old evidence re-examined. Moreover, scientists in their interpretation of particular facts aren’t immune from the influence of their own personal beliefs and general cultural attitudes. Some philosophers of science have stated that there are no ‘brute facts’ in science, that is, no facts whose meaning is immediately self-evident, independent of other facts. All scientific facts are interpreted through a network of related scientific facts and models by a human mind. This means that while most of the material and research presented as scientific fact at such festivals can be trusted as well-established science, some of it should also be treated with a certain scepticism as the researcher’s own personal opinions. Thus, Jim al-Khalili’s treatment of Quantum physics in his book will be a more or less trustworthy account of the main ideas and debates in that science, even if there is also considerable differences of opinion between scientists on the wider philosophical implications of the theory. However, the view presented by one scientist, the author of the book, The End of Time, that time does not exist and is illusory, while cogently argued and intellectually respectable, is an extreme view that is far less likely to be objectively true.

Commercial Pressure and Exaggerated Scientific Claims

Moreover, some of the descriptions of the progress made and what can be expected in particular areas of science in years to come have struck me as being more like a commercial advertisement than an impartial description of the current state of that science. Scientific research can be expensive, and the universities and companies engaged in it depend on government funding and private investment for their financial support. Thus it appears to me that there’s a financial incentive for some scientists to exaggerate publicly the results they expect of their research, while being much more cautious in private. Consciousness research is a good example. In a piece published in the British newspaper, The Guardian, just before the Millennium, various scientists in Britain and America were interviewed giving their views on what science would discover in the future. This included a couple of neurologists declaring that the solution to the problem of consciousness would be found, and that it would be much simpler than previously considered. Yet philosophers have also noted that despite the optimism of some materialist philosophers and neurologists, like Daniel C. Dennett, the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness has not been solved and many materialist philosophers themselves do not consider that a materialist solution will be easily found.

Differing Views on the Development of Intelligence in Robots

This tendency for scientists to exaggerate the results they expect of their particular branch of science can also be seen in some of the statements by AI researchers developing robots. The British cyberneticist, Kevin Warwick, of the University of Reading very strongly feels that AI will be a genuine reality, and that we are on the verge of creating truly intelligent, autonomous machines. He’s extremely pessimistic about this, however, arguing that such robots will be a very real threat to humanity. In the first chapter of his 1997 book, March of the Machines: Why the New Race of Robots will Rule the World, he paints a grim picture of the fate of humanity fifty years in the future. By 2050, according to the book, if current progress in robotics continues, the robots will have taken over and what remains of humanity will be reduced to complete servitude, farmed and controlled by the machines.

The robotics experts Mark Tilden and Dave Hrynkiw, who specialise in developing very simple robots that can be built by the amateur enthusiast at home, are far more sceptical about the development of AI and the potential for robots to become truly autonomous, intelligent machines. In his preface to their book Junkbots, Bugbots & Bots on Wheels: Building Simple Robots with BEAM Technology, Tilden gives an hilarious account of his attempt to create a robot butler, an excessively complicated machine that gradually proved to be a complete failure until it was finally outwitted by his pet cat. He describes coming home one day to find it spinning uselessly in the middle of the carpet. When it came out to vacuum, the cat had learned to block it with play furniture, until the machine thought it was completely surrounded and so was reduced to spinning helplessly, leaving the cat to go back sleeping in peace. After seeing his five thousand dollar robot beaten by his cat, Tilden switched it off, and turned instead to developing far simpler, much less intelligent, but far more reliable machines. Regarding the problems in developing truly conscious machines, he states

‘Alas, unlike in the movies, and despite all wishes to the contrary, the ability to make a conscious robot creature doesn’t happen by just throwing electronic bits together. Even the best minds and budgets haven’t managed it outside the usual nonclassroom biology. True, sophisticated computer characters have been made that appear to have some aspects of life (they’re a prime seller of the video game market), but their responses are limited. Even real goldfish show more life than the best screensavers made in their image. However, the general mass-belief in “automatic consciousness” is a problem for robotics researchers because popular media keeps implying it’s not a problem.’ 1

Now Warwick, as an expert in his field, clearly knows what he’s talking about and it would be unwise not to pay attention to his warnings, particularly as arms companies have developed a battlefield robot, which some observers fear is a real threat to human life and the continued existence of the human species. On the other hand, from what Tilden and Hrynkiw say, it’s clear that the machine aren’t going to take over soon, and that the human race needn’t fear an army of robots all looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger rising up against it any time soon.

Pressures from Funding and Exaggerated Claims of Future Results

Beyond this particular debate in robotics, my point is that in certain areas of science scientific opinion may be very divided, and present a far different picture from the one an individual scientist may wish to promote. Undoubtedly the scientists working in particular areas genuinely believe that their research will yield important results, but in their public statements commercial and financial pressures may lead them to play down any difficulties or problems, which may be considerable, that they also face. After all, government funding bodies aware of the need to give the public value for the tax money they’re considering spending, banks, and entrepreneurs looking for a useful and commercially viable product that will give a good, reliable return on their investment, are going to be reluctant to put money into a project in which the leading researchers believe that it might yield some interesting results, eventually, but it’ll be several decades, if at all. Hence, in my view, the various confident predictions by materialist neurologists that the problem of consciousness is about to be explained and that very shortly mind will be found to equal brain. They undoubtedly believe it, but few people and organisations are going to fund their research if they present a much more sober, far less confident picture of future progress.

Confusion of Atheism and Science in Popular Science Writing

Tilden’s view that popular science has created false expectations is also shared by the Christian writers Paul Marston and Roger Forster, who have backgrounds in science and mathematics. They comment that much of the popular science in bookshops around Britain, especially that written by Peter Atkins, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Steven Pinker and John Gribbin, ‘is metaphysics not ‘science’, popular or otherwise, and their books are full of extended analogy and parables’ to the point where they suggest that ‘we might call them ‘Penpops Fables’ since Penguin ‘popular science’, books are especially full of them’. 2 Dawkins in particular has been criticised for confusing his own ideas with generally accepted, good science, and presenting them as the view of science in general. Fraser Watts, a former President of the British Psychological Society and Starbridge Lecturer in Science and Religion at Cambridge, stated that Dawkins

‘purports to be speaking for the whole of science as though all scientists think what he thinks, but they don’t … I think there is undoubtedly truth in Darwin’s theory of evolution, but it is not a complete explanation of everything as Dawkins makes out – and he muddles up what is validly established science and the ideas he had in the bath last night, and he presents this as though it is a seamless robe and it is actually quite misleading.’ 3

Conclusion: Some Scientific Statements Need To Be Viewed with Scepticism

Thus, there are very good reasons, such as the commercial pressures on professional science writers and their own, personal ideological and professional biases, why some of the statements about the nature of science and state of research in popular science should be taken with a degree of scepticism. The whole point of science is that its findings and statements can be subjected to critical testing and scrutiny, and that critique should also include atheist metaphysics when this is presented as an intrinsic part of science itself.

Notes

1. Tilden, M., and Hrynkiw, D., Junkbots, Bugbots & Bots on Wheels: Building Simple Robots with BEAM Technology (New York, McGraw-Hill/Osborne 2002), pp. XIV-XV.

2. Forster, R., and Marsden, P., Reason, Science & Faith (Crowborough, Monarch 1999), pp. 42-3.

3. Fraser Watts, in the Christian Students in Science video Encounter, cited in Forster and Marsden, Reason, Science and Faith, p. 53.

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16 Responses to “Preaching Christ During the Festival of Science”

  1. Feyd Says:

    Well let us know if go ahead with that lecture idea Beast, Im sure several of your readers will attend if we can!

    Regarding the Christian origins of science, its possible to go further and make a case that Western science depended on the Christian mindset – for example our faith in a rationally ordered universe , our directional energy to push at boundaries and Christian optimism.

    Some thinkers like Rodney Stark in his excellent ‘For the Glory of God’ have suggested that this accounts for Science as we know it arising in the Christian West and no where else.

    A return to Christian values may be just the antidote Science needs for some of its current ills which you highlighted in your previous blog!

  2. Bjørn Are Says:

    Thanks for another great article!

    I just had to endorse it at http://jameshannam.proboards83.com/index.cgi?board=science&action=display&thread=20

  3. Beastrabban Says:

    Thanks, Feyd! That’s very encouraging. And your comments about the origins of science in the Christian mindset, as suggested by Rodney Stark, amongst a number of others, is exactly what I had in mind. I’ll start seeing whether it will be possible to hire a hall or other venue in Cheltenham, as I do believe very strongly this needs to be done.

  4. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Speaking of science (and I’d love to go further with this later), it seems of late that some have some nifty ways for using what they term “science” to portray an ugly side to the Scriptures. Not talking about darwinian descent or the usual accusations, but in this case what I run into more often.

    The allegations of science and alleged “research” historians–or rather some claims made by people claiming to be scientists who use history as a weapon and/or place their faith in modern psychology. Allow me to demonstrate.

    Wanted your take on THIS claim that Christ was “a suppostion”—or “myth” from one blogger.

    (From a recent blog discussion):

    …..the claim that the Gospel of John contradicts the other three. The argument started from one person’s premise that no text outside the Bible supports even thinly the existence of Christ in history. See also commentary from a one Dale–who claims that modern psychology contradicts the Golden Rule.

    I KNOW YOU HAVE SOMETHING ON THESE! (LOL)

    –Wake

    First, see text from blogger below about Christ being pure myth and not known from any text outside the Scriptures, etc., horrid spelling included:

    Dont point out the splinter in one’s eye until you take out the beam from your own eye. I am hoping that you seriously were just too lazy in posting your “corroborating evidence” to consciously promote forgeries and fakes as if they were real. Let’s look at your little list:

    Flavius Josephus (A.D. 93) FORGERY according to consensus of scholars since the 18th century. Authenticity of this was disputed since at LEAST the 17th century. You need to catch up a few hundred years.

    the Babylonian Talmud (A.D. 70-200) these Jewish writings talk of a Yeshua who lived 130 years before Christians think Jesus lived, and Jewish scholars understand this to be talk of a different person altogether, or a direct contradiction of the historicity of Jesus, certainly NOT evidence for Jesus in any case (unless of course you are already Christian, then of course only then will you consider this as an argument for Jesus’ historicity and not against).

    Pliny the Younger’s letter to the Emperor Trajan (around A.D. 100) This guy was born in 61 or 63, and lived until 113. He witnessed the eruption of a volcano, not the life, death, nor ascention of Christ. He didnt write about Jesus either in his personal letters. Rather, he wrote about everyday life in Rome and about the eruption of Vesuvius. While he did mention Christ, any good historian or scholar knows that “Christ” the word is not any historical mention of Jesus himself. The phrase and concept of “Christ” and the word itself predate Jesus anyway. The two words are not synonyms (unless of course you are already a contemporary Christian with poor reasoning skills).

    Annals of Tacitus (A.D. 115-117) Tacitus wrote about this in 116… not exactly a historical eyewitness account. And he only wrote about “Christians” and “Christus” being persecuted by Pilate. No mention of Jesus. In addition, many scholars consider the relevant passage to have been added later by Christians, aka, a forgery.

    Suetonius’ life of Claudius and Life of Nero (A.D. 120). Are you kidding me? Suetonius merely mentions the existence of the Christian sect. Hardly anyone disputes the existence of Christians back then, but instead we are questioning the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, not mere followers of the belief.

    What hack of a teacher/pastor did you get this list from? Please tell me you were ignorant of these works’ flimsiness and you werent trying to deliberately sell a brick as a jade. For shame.

    NEXT

    _______________________________

    July 1, 2008 11:34 AM

    James E. said…

    “To those who disagree, I would simply challenge to read the Gospel of John, and see for yourself. ”

    It’s telling that you refer to John, the most self-evidently apocryphal of the Gospels that clearly contradicts the other three.
    _____________________________________

    This from a real pal named Dale—or hates Christians and is afraid of the “religious right” or some such. Dale is responding to someone making much of Jesus eloquence in speech. So that’s where he took off from…..

    But still, here is:

    “Jesus is without question the most eloquent Man who ever lived. Those who heard Him said, “Never a man spoke like this Man”.”

    Dale responds thusly….

    Students of Shakespear, Hemmingway, etc would have a huge argument with that.

    The sayings of Jesus would fit into a small pamphlet. And most of those were plagurized from the Old Testament.

    In fact, the “Golden Rule” has been totally invalidated.

    Social scientists have shown that it is harmful to treat others “as we wnat to be treated.” We should treat others as “they want to be treated.” The platinum rule.

    A lot of people do not want to be treated as you like to be treated. They want to be treated how they like to be treated.

    In human relations it is shown that is always better to treat people how they wnat to be treated rather than how “you” want to be treated.

    IE., I like to be treated as the salty old skeptic that I am, but it is obvious that if I treated all the people I know like that, I would be a pariah. Pay attention.

    Bits and pieces of science–pseudo–or both?

    –Wake

  5. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    A book I always intended to read, but never got around to, was Roger Penrose’s The Emperor Has No Mind.

    The title of which is a play of course on the famous emperor has no clothes story, and in said book this physicist goes to the quantum level to demonstrate that machines cannot think even with the most advanced “difference engines” and logic processors in the way human can. At least not from the point of view that “mind” (as CS Lewis pointed out) is EXPERIENCED as much as it is some physical intity. Thus a cascade of reactions is one PART of the human mind in chemical/atomic content but we have no idea to REALLY give conscious input to machines using current, non-biological materials.

    Mary Shelly’s Dr. Frankenstein was closer to what was required, it seems.

    –W

  6. Beastrabban Says:

    Hi Wakefield – thanks for the comments. I’m sorry I’ve been late replying, but I’ve been a bit busy at the moment with one thing and another. One of the things I’ve been trying to do is write a piece on the origins of modern democracy in Judaism and Christianity. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of material. You could probably write a whole book about it. So that’s taken up a fair bit of my time, and I’ll post it up in due course.

  7. Beastrabban Says:

    Regarding the Christ myth – the idea that Jesus never existed and was invented by the early Christians – that idea can be utterly discounted. For historians the evidence is simply too strong. This fact transcends differences of personal belief amongst historians. I know a number of atheists who are very strongly opposed to the Christ myth because it is such appallingly bad historiography. If the rules of evidence that are applied to argue that the witness of the Gospels and the other, secular Roman evidence for the Lord was consistently applied to other historical figures, then we’d probably end up concluding that we know nothing, or next to nothing, about the past, simply because so much of the primary, narrative historical sources for even major historical figures are naturally written after the event, sometimes years after the event, by writers who weren’t present, and who may have written their accounts for distinct ideological reasons, and because the accounts included the supernatural as part of their narrative, often because it was felt it had a direct bearing on subsequent or contemporary events. For example, the contemporary histories for the War of the Roses in English history – the struggle between the houses of Lancaster and York for the English crown from 1455 to 1485, frequently include miracles and omens as supernatural indicators of their sanctity of particular claimants to the throne, and thus that they are the true heirs to the throne of England, or as signs of of the horrendous nature of a conflict that was destroying God’s peace in the realm and upsetting the natural order of the kingdom. That does not, however, mean that Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III and Warwick the Kingmaker didn’t exist, nor that the evidence presented for the events is necessarily untrustworthy.

  8. Beastrabban Says:

    Now let’s look at some of the comments Dale makes about the historical Jesus.

    The sayings of Jesus would fit into a small pamphlet. And most of those were plagurized from the Old Testament.

    This doesn’t have anything to say about the profundity or otherwise of Christ’s sayings. The Gospels make very clear that there was much more they could say about the Lord, but just include the most profound and important. I’m not sure that length in this context is particularly relevant, as I’ve got a feeling many other Roman bioi of great historical figures, such as Suetonius’ portraits of individual emperors, are similarly short.

    As for Christ’s sayings being plagiarised from the Old Testament – this is pretty much what you’d expect from a 1st century rabbi expounding the Law. Christianity emerged from Judaism, and Christ was the consummation of the divine revelation which began with Almighty’s election of Abraham. It’s why the early Christians saw themselves as the new Israel. Furthermore, it also corroborates Jesus as a real, historical figure. The argument used by Bultmann that only one saying by Jesus could be traced back to Him comes ultimately from the 19th century view that the Christ of faith was developed in the 2nd century by the early Church. But the work by E.P. Sanders and Geza Vermes that shows how much of what Jesus taught and preached was similar to the common culture and debates in 1st century Judaism have strengthened the argument that the Gospels are historically accurate.

    For example, the statement by Jesus that ‘The Lord your God is the only Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your soul. On this hangs all the Law and the prophets’ is a kelal – a very, very brief summary of the very essence of the Law. It’s an example of the debates about the essence of Jewish faith and observance at the very time Christ lived and ministered. One of the questions rabbis would ask each other was ‘Can you summarise the Law while standing on one leg?’ Which means, basically, can you produce a very brief encapsulation of the fundamental principles of the Law, as you would if you were balancing on one leg, in the time you had before you fell over. Christ is here a real figure in history, not a late invention produced by the importation of ideas from Hellenistic paganism.

  9. Beastrabban Says:

    Now let’s look at the comment about the ‘Golden Rule’. In fact, the “Golden Rule” has been totally invalidated.

    Social scientists have shown that it is harmful to treat others “as we wnat to be treated.” We should treat others as “they want to be treated.” The platinum rule.

    A lot of people do not want to be treated as you like to be treated. They want to be treated how they like to be treated.

    In human relations it is shown that is always better to treat people how they wnat to be treated rather than how “you” want to be treated.

    IE., I like to be treated as the salty old skeptic that I am, but it is obvious that if I treated all the people I know like that, I would be a pariah. Pay attention.

    The point of the Golden Rule is to universalize moral norms. Each person is to be treated in the same way. It’s the same principle behind Kant’s statement that if you’re legislating for one, you’re legislating for all. Moral values have to have universal validity and cannot be arbitrary.

    Secondly, the Golden Rule is based on Christ’s statement that you are to love you neighbour as you love yourself. In other words, it’s expected that you love and respect yourself, and should extend this natural self-love to others.

    As for the comments that you should treat others how they would like to be treated, there are real problems with this interpretation of morality. For example, think of those poor souls with extremely low self-esteem. The individuals who really suffer from this may believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that they deserve the suffering and abuse they receive. Yet they don’t. By the standard of the maxim that people should be treated the way they would like to be treated, these people should be abused and maltreated. Yet the most moral way of treating them would be to do everything possible to increase their self-esteem.

    At the other extreme there’s the example of the complete egotist or megalomaniac who believes he’s far better than everyone else, and so must be treated accordingly, despite the fact that he’s no better than anyone else, and frequently behaves much worse. Clearly, such extreme selfishness is immoral and shouldn’t be encouraged. In this instance, moral behaviour consists in giving the person exactly the same treatement that everyone else experiences, regardless of that person’s delusions of grandeur.

    The statement that people should be treated according to how they wish to be treated actually doesn’t work as a moral principle, because it assumes and mandates that people should be treated differently according to their expectations, rather than that everyone should be treated with same love and respect most people have for themselves.

  10. Beastrabban Says:

    Now let’s examine the arguments against the corroborating evidence for Christ’s existence from non-Christian Roman sources.

    Flavius Josephus (A.D. 93) FORGERY according to consensus of scholars since the 18th century. Authenticity of this was disputed since at LEAST the 17th century. You need to catch up a few hundred years.

    Actually, not quite. Yes, the majority of scholars do consider that one of the references to Jesus in Josephus was forged, but it’s only a minority of scholars who believed it to be a complete forgery. Most of the rest believe that the reference to Christ in Josephus is genuine, but was added to by his Christian compilers and copyists from veneration and respect for the Lord. It’s not a complete invention. For more information on this, have a look at the entry for Josephus on J.P. Holding’s awesome Tekton site, where he gives the precise breakdown of how many scholars believed what about the reference there.

  11. Beastrabban Says:

    the Babylonian Talmud (A.D. 70-200) these Jewish writings talk of a Yeshua who lived 130 years before Christians think Jesus lived, and Jewish scholars understand this to be talk of a different person altogether, or a direct contradiction of the historicity of Jesus, certainly NOT evidence for Jesus in any case (unless of course you are already Christian, then of course only then will you consider this as an argument for Jesus’ historicity and not against).

    Now there are indeed references in the Talmud to a Yeshua who lived about 130 years before Jesus. However, the passages describing this Yeshua, and his disobedience to a superior rabbi, are quite dissimilar to the passages that refer to Jesus. The passage that is believed to refer to Christ seems very clear that it does indeed. The passage is in b. Sanh. 43a:

    ‘On the eve of Passover Yesu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray’.

    Other passages seem to refer to Christ’s disciples, and there’s one which records a debate, or rather an exchange of insults, between a rabbi and one of Christ’s followers in Sepphoris, which would itself indicate a date after 130 BC, and that it refered to Jesus, rather than the Yeshua who preceded Him in the second century BC.

    It’s also true that there are Jewish scholars who don’t believe that the Yeshu in these passages refers to Christ. However, the texts certainly seem to refer to Jesus, and are accepted as such by scholars.

  12. Beastrabban Says:

    Pliny the Younger’s letter to the Emperor Trajan (around A.D. 100) This guy was born in 61 or 63, and lived until 113. He witnessed the eruption of a volcano, not the life, death, nor ascention of Christ. He didnt write about Jesus either in his personal letters. Rather, he wrote about everyday life in Rome and about the eruption of Vesuvius. While he did mention Christ, any good historian or scholar knows that “Christ” the word is not any historical mention of Jesus himself. The phrase and concept of “Christ” and the word itself predate Jesus anyway. The two words are not synonyms (unless of course you are already a contemporary Christian with poor reasoning skills).

    Firstly, there’s no reason why he should have referred to the events of the life of Christ Himself. Judaea was an imperial backwater in which the Romans actually took very little interest. Josephus is the only secular historical source for the country in the 1st century AD. Jesus was just one of a number of rebels who simply aren’t mentioned elsewhere as they were of no real interest to Roman authorities. It’s only when Christ’s worship spreads, and threatens the proper worship of the Graeco-Roman gods and so is perceived as a threat to imperial society that high ranking civil servant like Pliny begin to take notice.

    Now the word ‘Christos’ does indeed predated Christ. It means ‘the anointed one’, and is a translation of the Hebrew ‘messiah’. Now scholars today have rejected the theory that the claims of Christ’s divinity were invented by the early Christians, so this statement by Pliny does corroborate that Jesus was being worshipped as God by the early 2nd century, even if it does not give the details of His life and ministry.

  13. Beastrabban Says:

    Annals of Tacitus (A.D. 115-117) Tacitus wrote about this in 116… not exactly a historical eyewitness account. And he only wrote about “Christians” and “Christus” being persecuted by Pilate. No mention of Jesus. In addition, many scholars consider the relevant passage to have been added later by Christians, aka, a forgery.

    No, the passage doesn’t refer to Jesus by name, but it certainly seems to refer to Him nevertheless. The passage reads that Christians

    ‘got their name from one Christ, who was executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. The pernicious superstition, suppressd for the moment, broke out again, not only throughou Judaea, the birthplace of the plague, but also in the city of Rome…’

    Now as the Bible clearly states that Christ was executed by Pontius Pilate, who governed Judaea during the reign of Tiberias, it seems very clear to me that it does indeed refer to Jesus. As for not mentioning Him by name, Tacitus is trying to explain who the Christians were, and this means explaining the origins of their name in the word ‘Christ’, rather than Jesus’ own, personal name.

  14. Beastrabban Says:

    Suetonius’ life of Claudius and Life of Nero (A.D. 120). Are you kidding me? Suetonius merely mentions the existence of the Christian sect. Hardly anyone disputes the existence of Christians back then, but instead we are questioning the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, not mere followers of the belief.

    Right, Suetonius’ brief comment does indeed really refer to Christianity as a religion. However, he clearly considered ‘Chrestus’ to be an historical figure, as he says that the Jews were expelled from Rome ‘because of the riotsthey were causing at the instigation of Chrestus.’

    Note – he does not cast doubt on the existence of Chrestus, as he could by stating, for example, that Christus was supposed figure.

    In fact all of the Roman authorities considered that Christ was a real historical figure. Celsus, one of the Christianity’s most bitter opponents, did not doubt that Christ existed, even though he was severely critical of His miracles and argued that Christ had adopted His teaching from the ancient Egyptians. The Greeks and Romans had very sophisticated text-critical techniques, which were used to argue against the historicity of literary sources. The early Church used them against the Gnostic Gospels. None of the pagan opponents of Christianity argued that Jesus never existed. Instead they argued that he was indeed a criminal who had been correctly sentenced to death by Pilate.

    What hack of a teacher/pastor did you get this list from? Please tell me you were ignorant of these works’ flimsiness and you werent trying to deliberately sell a brick as a jade. For shame.

    Actually, that list of extra-Biblical sources is eminently respectable. The great Biblical scholar E.P. Sanders uses the Roman sources, for example. The classical historian Robin Lane Fox refers to the Roman source in his book, Pagans and Christians , which is a work of secular history. As I said, the vast majority of historians really do reject the claim that Christ never existed, and it’s the individuals making those claims who are in the minority and whose claims are ahistorical and unsupported.

  15. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Thanks, BR.

    More than you can know.

    Not a problem about the time issue!

    As far as the Golden Rule, my own thinking on reflection is that treating some people HOW the way the want is NOT recommended due to particular issues in their mind. And I agree that the purpose is to set forth moral precepts that MUST apply to all, else they are not morals but preferences—and not universal.

  16. Beastrabban Says:

    Hi Wakefield – thanks for the reply. I’m glad I could help, and that you share my views on the Golden Rule.

    There are a few things that could be added further regarding John’s Gospel and Jesus’ eloquence.

    Firstly, for many Biblical scholars John’s Gospel provides powerful testimony in favour of the historicity of Jesus and which support the historical accuracy of John’s Gospel itself. It contains detailed accounts of particular locations in Jerusalem, such as the Temple and the Pool of Siloam, that were totally destroyed after 70 AD. For most scholars, it seems these descriptions were based on eyewitness accounts. Even if the Gospel itself was written too late to be by John himself, from what I understand the community that wrote it were strongly influenced by John and his ideas. So regarding those details, its historically very accurate.

    As to the Lord’s eloquence, the German New Testament scholar Jonas Jeremias noted that if you translated Jesus’ words into Aramaic, they had all the qualities of Hebrew poetry. For him, this was a powerful indication that they were based on Christ’s own teaching and an indication of the Gospels’ authenticity. As for Jesus’ eloquence, it has to be noted that He was a preacher and teacher of the Law, not a poet or novelist, and so stylistically His speech and comments are not going to be like that of a modern writer, who composes his works according to contemporary aesthetic conventions. Furthermore, the structure of Hebrew poetry is different from contemporary poetic conventions. Hebrew poetry was based on repetition and refrain, rather than meter and rhyme. Nevertheless, Jesus clearly produced some powerful, memorable images in His parables and teaching, and articulated ethical commands, which have inspired both moral reformers and artists and writers for millennia. The Sermon on the Mount is a powerful example of this.

    Now the type of Greek the Gospels are written really isn’t terribly impressive. It’s in Koine Greek, the type of Greek used by the ordinary people of the eastern Mediterranean. It’s not the polished, classical Greek of the educated upper classes, and it contains a number of Semitisms. I suppose that if you want to put it into a modern context, it’d be like the type of English spoken by Jewish immigrants in the Bronx in the early part of the 20th century, compared to, say, the very polished type of English spoken by the British or American upper classes. At the time a number of educated Romans looked down on the Bible because it was written in what they saw as very poor Greek. However, the whole point of the Bible’s revelation was that God had come and appeared to ordinary men and women, rather than only to members of the aristocracy, and the type of Greek used by the Bible writers is a powerful witness to this fact. One could also argue that it further demonstrates the truth of the Bible’s witness that it was accepted as an authoritative account of God’s revelation because of the strength and truth of its contents, rather than because the language in which it was written was particularly impressive.

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