This is a continuation of my reply to Andrew Finden’s “one last philosophical hurrah” post, and addresses the question “why believe there is a god?”
It is encouraging to read the opening statement of this section where Andrew admits “that one
can cannot prove that God exists”, however he quickly (and rightly) dismisses philosophical materialism – the position that everything which exists can be empirically observed or measured. This differs from methodological materialism which maintains that phenomenon may exist outside our empirical observations but if we have no methods for measuring or observing them we cannot say anything about them. Methodological materialism is the basis of science and gives rise to its agnosticism.
Contrary to the beliefs of some, I am open to the idea of the supernatural, spiritual, or metaphysical. However without a sample of one of these “things” we cannot say anything about them. We cannot list their properties. We cannot observe their interactions with other things. We cannot build models for how these things might work and make prediction of their future interactions. This interface is where the real meets the unreal, the natural meets the supernatural, the physical meets the metaphysical, and philosophical materialism meets methodological materialism.
The trap I see many religious people fall into is in placing “god” outside the universe and into the realm of the supernatural. This places “god” beyond the reach of direct empirical observation, yet they still proceed to make a multitudes of claims. For example:
- “God is love.”
- “God will judge the living and the dead.”
- “God will send you to Hell if you do not accept Jesus into your heart.”
- “God is all merciful.”
- “God is vengeful.”
- “God told me to run for President.”
- “God hates fags.”
Let’s not pretend that many religious people have vague beliefs in some “metaphysical entity”, they are often convinced their God is exactly as depicted in an ancient holy text. Typically and coincidently this text also happens to be the script most prevalent in their society. Their gods are saddled with many claims about their nature which the original authors could not have known unless their god has reached into this reality and made their presence unmistakeable. Of course this is a possibility, however rational people demand more evidence than a handful of ancient accounts written by unknown authors which have been translated innumerable times thorough the centuries.
Andrew has not launched to these points just yet (although I am sure they shall appear shortly), but starts with a much broader statement:
“One of the most persuasive reasons, to my mind, is that the universe is rationally intelligible. This points towards the existence of a rational intelligence behind it. I’ve not seen any examples of order or intelligibility from chaos and mindlessness.”
I think we can agree the universe is rationally intelligible – at least to some degree. Although we cannot be sure this is truly the case. The British geneticist and evolutionary biologists J. B. S. Haldane once said:
“Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we *can* suppose.” J. B. S. Haldane
If true, this would indicate the universe, at base, may actually be unintelligible. However, this is not the universe we reside in. The universe at our scale is reliably predictable – at least within reasonable parameters. Nevertheless, if this “rationally intelligible universe” can be explained by a “rationally intelligence” then I must ask the next question – is this “rationally intelligence” rationally intelligible? If so, then we are presented with the same problem we began with and we have solved nothing. If this “rationally intelligence” is in fact irrational (which is what we call anything which is not rational), then what *can* we say about it? This seems to be an insurmountable problem for the believer.
Moreover, the fact that Andrew (or anyone as far as I am aware) has “not seen any examples of order or intelligibility from chaos and mindlessness” does not make it impossible. I have often been accused of falling foul of the problem of induction, but it seems the shoe is now on the other foot. To play devil’s advocate, what if the smallest scales of the universe are chaotic, unintelligible, unpredictable, and mindless yet give rise to rationally intelligible, logical, predicable, and consistent universes all the time? While I have no evidence that this is the case, I cannot rule it out as a possibility and would be interested to see how Andrew Finden did so.
Andrew goes on to ask what may be the oldest philosophical question in existence:
“Why there is something rather than nothing?”
To my mind the fact we are here to ask this question does not render the question itself ridiculous, however every available answer to solve this riddle seems ridiculous. We cannot conceive that something could spring from nothing, or that the universe has always existed in some form, or some other unintelligible proposition. It is important to point out the question is equally applicable to the religious answer with slight modification – why is there a god rather than not? Once again, the proposed answer has inherented the problem it is attempting to solve and we have gained nothing.
In a similar fashion I have always found the idea “precise physical properties to allow this universe” (and our existence) possible to be slightly weird. I know am I somewhat of a loner here, but we simply do not have other universes to sample. We have no idea what the qualities potential universes may sustain. The “precise physical properties” are a result of *descriptive* laws which may not in fact be free to change. Our universe may be the *only* way a universe could exist, and in a similar way the universe may not permit absolutely nothing to “exist”. The default state may be existence rather than nonexistence.
I will save the next point for another post, since tackling the Kalam cosmological argument typically takes some space – and this post is already long enough.
Until next time.
Those who have been following this blog for a while will, no doubt, recall the various discussions/debates/arguments I have had with Andrew Finden in the past. As frustrating as I find them at times, I think he often tackles interesting and difficult topics with a calm intelligence not very often found in the religious debate. This makes me a little ashamed of the ridicule we levelled at him during an early podcast; but just a little.
So it is with a some disappointment I note that Andrew is wrapping up his religiously focused blog with “one last philosophical hurrah.” Andrew’s post is rather lengthy and covers many topic, however I wish to adequately address the points he has raised which means this post is only the first of many replies.
Andrew first raises the spectre of “agency verses mechanics”, drawing a distinction between how something works and why, or the difference between “mechanics and agency”. He invokes an “agency” who tinkers with the physics to effect the universe. I have never been fond of metaphysical arguments of this nature for they make a number of unstated assumptions, which often sail by without question. For example:
- The metaphysical actually exists.
- A metaphysical agent exists.
- The metaphysical agent is not natural in the sense that it occurs within the universe. It is something separate.
- The metaphysical agent can affect changes within the natural world, and
- The metaphysical agent cannot be considered part of an all encompassing metaphysical universe, for this would render the agent itself a part of the overall machinery and undermine the conclusion of the syllogism.
Of course, Andrew is free to state such metaphysical agents exist and “cause” the mechanics of the physical universe to behave in certain undefined ways, but he bears the unenviable burden of proof for this extraordinary claim – a charge he conveniently avoids because:
“… limited to studying the physical universe, so of course, anything that is not a part of the physical universe (e.g. a universal causal agent, meaning, art, love, purpose, or any range of meta-physical things) is not going to fall within science’s scope.”
Having shed the the tools of science he is left simply asserting that the metaphysical actually exists and he knows this because “there are other ways of knowing”, but refuses to detail how these “other ways” work, or how we can test their accuracy.
The statement “god” is a “metaphysical” entity like love, art, and purposes raises some interesting problems for his argument: “God”, like meaning, art, love, purpose is a concept. I am sure Andrew is not arguing that “god” is merely just a concept, but that he actually exists in some real way. Some metaphysical “real” way. None of the other “things” in the list exist in any real sense, they are descriptions of real objects, feelings, or behaviours. No one has ever been able to capture “love” in a jar, or examine “art” under the microscope, although we may examine our feelings, or paintings.
“Love” is an emotion; a powerful brain state. Everything we know about human physiology suggests our bodies, emotions, and our brain states are affected by chemistry, electrical impulses, magnetism, diet, thermal changes, and a host of other purely physical characteristics. Some drugs are known to induce feelings of euphoria where the afflicted expresses deep “love” for everything and everyone. Are we to believe a metaphysical substance called “love” associates itself with particular compounds waiting for the next hippie to blaze up? No, this is clearly absurd. The same basic arguments can be made against “art”, “purpose”, or any other imagined metaphysical property.
Of course, at first glance it appears I have fallen into the trap of using science in an attempt to discover and examine the metaphysical and therefore have stepped beyond of scope of the scientific endeavour, but not so. If you will pardon the pun, let me illustrate with colour.
There are many things in this world I call “yellow”. Flowers, bananas, The Simpsons, frogs, lemons, fish, sapphires, Spongebob Squarepants, rubber ducks, snakes, and those awful happy pants I purchased in the 80′s. We can agree all of these things are “yellow”, but what does that actually mean? Not many give the sensation of colour any serious thought, much less the specific colour “yellow” We simply assume it exists and is real, for that is what our eyes tell us. Unfortunately, colour doesn’t actually exist in the real world – at least not in the sense we commonly think about it.
Light with a wavelength of between 570–590 nm equally stimulates long and medium cone cells of our retina, which is interpreted by our brains as the colour “yellow”. There is nothing inherently “yellow” about this wavelength of light anymore than the “non yellowness” of 565 nm or 600 nm. Light simply has a frequency at which is oscillates. It does not gain “yellowness” and it passes through this frequency range. It is our brains which interpret the impulses sent from our eyes to form the concept of yellow. “Yellow”, if it can be said to exist at all, is a pattern of neural activity brought about by the application of 570–590 nm lightwaves to the retina of an individual. What’s important is that light does not gain a “yellow” metaphysical “substance” as it passes 570 nm, only to shed it again once the frequency rises above 590 nm.
We have evolved various (limited) methods to detect our environment which clearly aids in survival. As language evolved, the sensation of internally experiencing this wavelength of light has been given the label “yellow” (at least in the English language). “Yellow” is the label we give to a feature of the universe as detected by our senses. We take the linguistic shortcut to assist our communication – just imagine trying to honestly and fully explain the universe every time you desired a piece of fruit, or wanted to look like an idiot in happy pants again.
I believe the same can be said for everything we experience. Our senses detect parts of the real world and we internally simulate the world attaching crude labels to our internal experiences. This leaves my position as a physical reductionist bare – a position Andrew takes issue with:
“Take, for example, the words on your screen. One kind of explanation is to describe the electronics, the LCD and all the physics and so forth which allow you to see words appear on the screen. Another explanation is to say that I had some thoughts I wanted to communicate, and so I wrote a blog post. Both explanations are true, but they are different kinds of explanations – one is about mechanics and the other about agency, and neither explanation precludes the other. The extent to which an understanding of the mechanics can inform us about agency is rather variable, and requires a whole stack of other background knowledge. An explanation of the physics of seeing words on a screen can’t tell you, for example, that I’m writing in English – you need further background knowledge for that*.”
* John Lennox points out that semantic meaning, while emergent from letters, cannot be explained by a reductionist view of the physics and chemistry of ink on paper.”
While I have addressed this point in the past, I continue to think Andrew’s brain and thoughts (as well as yours and mine) are a product of its physical structure, chemical reactions, electrical activity, and a raft of other purely physical phenomenon. Everything medical science knows about the brain suggests it is intimately tied to personality, thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs – so much so that there does not appear to be any facet left untouched by the physical. Accident victims struggle with physical brain injuries, taking drugs (including alcohol) affects your mood, and applying electrodes can ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. There is nothing which suggests “thoughts” are somehow separate from the brain; not only do our thoughts occur within the brain, they are the brain. “Thoughts” are the label we give to the emergent phenomenon of a properly functioning human brain.
Let’s be clear: Andrew’s brain reacts concordantly with its initial physical state, and the laws of the physical universe. This results in him writing a blog post, where this computer encodes the message electronically and stored the results onto magnetic patterns of a web servers hard drive for future visitors to discover. Their computers render the fonts using a Liquid Crystal Display (or something fancier depending on your budget), which throws light into our retinas, to be interpreted by our physical brains. Being raised in an English community I recognise the patterns and swirls on the screen as “English” and can parse the information presented. I may also recognise the patterns of other languages, but may not have the skills to interpret their meaning, which should be a point which utterly destroys Andrew’s position.
If, as John Lennox puts it, “semantic meaning” is emergent from the “physics and chemistry of ink on paper” then why does it break down if the symbols cannot be recognised or interpreted by the receiver? In other words, if “meaning” transfers independently from the ink we should still be able to discern “meaning” without knowing the language utilised. Since this clearly is not the case it seems the notion of “semantic meaning” is bunk.
For the same reasons I also discard the idea of a “meta physical agency” for it fails in a similar manner and adds no explanatory power to our understanding of the universe. Andrew would have you believe a
supernatural metaphysical god agency intervenes in the natural world, or is ever present – in which case god spends an inordinate amount of time attending to orbits of electrons. Either way, I find the hypothesis to have no utility – they are, by definition, useless. The first because I cannot devise a way to differentiate the natural world acting in accordance with its own innate laws verse behaviours caused by an supernatural agency (something I have challenged Andrew on int he past). The second because an answer which answers everything, in fact answers nothing.
Lastly and for the sake of argument, if I were to assume a “meta physical agency” somehow exists beyond space and time, then I may equally ask the same questions; How do you account for the behaviours and actions of this “meta physical agency”? Just as things within the natural world could have external agents affecting them, surely the same could be said for an “meta physical agent”? I would also be interested to know how anyone can make any claims about the non-physical as it is surely beyond the scope of our natural senses to perceive. Personally, I find Occam’s razor makes swift work of these “explanations”.
Next time: “Why believe there is a God?“
Quite often in serious philosophical discussions the concept of “truth” arises. Various methods which may be at our disposal to discern reality are discussed, which would naturally include the supernatural – should it exist. In discussion with religious folk we are often informed science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria. Both tools are methods for discerning truth, and “expecting physical evidence or evidence via a physical methodology is as circular as expecting to find two-inch fish with a three-inch net“.
“Quite often, evangelical atheists will defend their philosophical naturalism by pointing to science.”
Science relies on empirical evidence and employs methodologies to remove bias and subjectivity wherever possible. It detects and correct errors and does not concern itself with the deeply held personal beliefs its practitioners. Science ruthlessly peruses knowledge of the universe. However, science does have one limitation – it rests on methodological naturalism – that reality can be empirically measured.
In the physical world each force and form of matter will have a corresponding and theoretically measurable effect. Any force which exists but has no discernible effect on the reality is irrelevant by definition, and the slippery slope of philosophical naturalism appears.
Philosophical naturalism asserts that all that exists can be detected via empirical means, and it is a view I reject for a number of reasons. For example, other realities may indeed exist but have no effect on our universe – some versions of the multiverse hypothesis propose exactly this scenario. While such parallel universe could be said to exist they are irrelevant to our existence. However, this is not the kind of reality our religious friends are promoting, apparently we require different tools to discern “evidence of the spirit”:
“Science is not the only way of knowing… Scientists who deny this would be well advised to consider limits of their own tools… (Eddington) described a man who set about to study deep-sea life using a net that had a mesh size of three inches. After catching many wild and wonderful creatures from the depths, then concluded that there are no deep-sea fish that are smaller than three inches in length! If we are using the scientific net to catch our particular version of truth, we should not be surprised that it does not catch the evidence of the spirit.”
While existing scientific technology may not be sensitive enough to detect a particular force, it nevertheless exists awaiting some future scientific advancement to discover. All we require is a suitably designed “fishing net” to detect and measure “spiritual forces” at which point we might be able to hypothesis models to explain and predict this elusive force.
However, religionists assert we already have the necessary tools to detect the supernatural. It’s just that none of these methods are scientific in nature, so any attempt to overlay the scientific method is meet with shrieks of “scientism” and “circular reasoning”. Some even resort to erroneous claims that their “wife loves me, not because of any kind of empirical scientific experiment“.
While emotions such as love are currently difficult to empirically verify within the brain of their owners, there seems to be no reason to expect their origins to be supernatural. We know emotional states, personality, and motor function are affected by chemistry, physical trauma, and other measurable forces. The reasonable inference is that all emotions are the result of an enormously complex interaction between brain structure, biology, chemistry, and electrical impulses. Moreover, the behavioural interactions between two individuals certainly fall into the domain of science, for they can all be directly observed, classified, catalogued, mapped, and predicted.
It should also be noted that any “fish” less than three inches in length have been shown to exist using empirical methods. Given our religious friends have not supplied any scientific method which demonstrates the existence of “the spirit” how can we conclusive say if it exists at all, let alone determine anything about its nature?
I kind of promised myself to limit theological arguments on Twitter this year. Think of it as a New Year’s resolution; not that I adhere to such silly rituals. I would be failing completely if I had been foolish enough to think a late night drunken promise could change the course of my life. Anyway, after posting a particularly stupid comment from another clueless moron, Andrew Finden suggested he should read Francis Collins book “The Language of God“. Naturally, a battle ensues.
Admittedly I took a swipe and Collins book (which I have not read) calling it (and I quote myself here) “crap”. This is unfair so I apologise for the accusation, however I will still not be reading a book produced by someone who sees a frozen waterfall and devotes his life to Jesus as a result.
In response, Andrew Finden accused me of straw manning Francis Collins:
A straw man is attacking a position someone does not hold. For example, we never see monkeys giving birth to humans, therefore evolution is false. Well, let’s see what Francis Collins has to say on this matter:
“On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains during my first trip west of the Mississippi, the majesty and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.” – Francis Collins
Now I may be missing something here, but this does not seem like a fully honest “intellectual journey” nor the product of a man who was “questioning everything”. Did it ever occur to Francis Collins that a waterfall might have simply frozen into three streams due to a combination of extreme cold conditions and local geography? Nope – it was a sign from Jesus, on your knees son!
How about this gem from the “great mind” who sequenced the human genome?
“Nobody gets argued all the way into becoming a believer on the sheer basis of logic and reason. That requires a leap of faith. And that leap of faith seemed very scary to me.” - Francis Collins
Opps. Seems Francis is admitting “questioning everything” only gets you so far. To make the final leap requires faith. Perhaps this is how Francis came across this brilliant scientific insight:
If you don’t believe the above is a slide from Francis Collins, a video of the entire train wreck can be found here.
Again, not the most rational mind at work here. Don’t get me wrong, Francis Collins made an enormous contribution to scientific knowledge by delivering the human genome decades ahead of many predictions, but that does not mean we should take everything he says as gospel (argument from authority). Francis Collins claims in relation to God, Jesus, souls, and divine absolute morality are broken in the worst possible way.
So would you read a book written by someone like this?
Am I wrong ignore his literary works?
Should I read “The Language of God”?
Our friend Findo has posted a quote from the “eminent philosopher Alvin Plantinga” (but of course, this is not an appeal to authority):
“Now, evolution doesn’t give a toss about what you believe. It only cares about rewarding adaptive behaviour and punishing maladaptive behaviour. So evolution will modify those neuro-physiological properties in the direction of greater adaptiveness, but it doesn’t follow that it modifies belief in the direction of truth. Evolution doesn’t care about true belief.
So, says Plantinga, if you accept the combination of naturalism and materialism, you’ll have to take it that for any particular belief you might hold, the probability that it’s true is about a half. It could as likely be true as false. All you really know is that as creatures, we evolve and behave adaptively. If that’s the case, given naturalism and evolution, then the probability that one’s beliefs are reliable will be low.”
Let’s unpack this.
“Now, evolution doesn’t give a toss about what you believe.”
The survival of an individual is somewhat dependant on the beliefs that individual holds. One who believes they can out run a cheetah, or fly, or is invisible to ravenous dogs by standing still, or can eat poisonous berries almost certainly has a lesser chance of survival than his brethren who hold opposite beliefs. Likewise, the chances of a society of individuals (whether a family, tribe, or country) hinges on the beliefs they collectively hold and their success against competing groups. If genetics play any part in the beliefs within the human species, then it follows that those genes promoting those advantageous evolutionary traits will propagate more successfully.
Put more succinctly: People who hold detrimental beliefs with respect to their survival will select themselves for extinction.
“It only cares about rewarding adaptive behaviour and punishing maladaptive behaviour.”
Again, not true.
Evolution works by selecting those species which are more successful in comparison than their competition. This has nothing to do with adaptiveness. The ability to change and adapt to a variety of environmental conditions may well make a species more successful over others, but it also can result in disadvantages when faced with a more specialised and successful competitor which is well suited to their environment. Since adaptiveness is generally coupled with generalisation, such species have a distinct disadvantage in such situations.
“So evolution will modify those neuro-physiological properties in the direction of greater adaptiveness, but it doesn’t follow that it modifies belief in the direction of truth.”
I agree. There is nothing within evolution which could be said to be striving to achieve “Truth(tm)”. The “goal” of evolution (of you must insist of phrasing things in this manner) is to survive until the next generation.
“…if you accept the combination of naturalism and materialism, you’ll have to take it that for any particular belief you might hold, the probability that it’s true is about a half.”
Any notion could either be true or false, but that does not make the odds of either 50/50. I could assert the existence of a colony of Smurfs live on Neptune, but no sane person would entertain the idea the probability of this as true being 50/50. I am wondering if this brilliant man has thought beyond the facade of “everything is either true or false”.
“It could as likely be true as false.”
Oops, it appears not.
The idea we could actually weigh probabilities based on verifiable evidence seems absent in the minds of this “leading American philosopher”.
Of course, I could easily pose the same question to the theist: Since your beliefs are based on the unnatural and intangible the odds of them being correct are 50/50. Do you think any theist would accept such a preposterous argument?
“All you really know is that as creatures, we evolve and behave adaptively.”
Theistic evolutionists (those whacky people who manage to maintain the cognitive dissonance between the evidence and their beliefs) must believe they are not only creatures which evolve and behave adaptively, but who were also created by their deity. I am not sure how Mr. Plantinga might deal with such people – and there seem to be many of them. I leave that as an exercise for the reader.
In any case, evolution is a known fact. Numerous independent lines of enquiry converge on identical phylogenetic trees. We actually do know and can prove evolution. Nor does one need to reject the belief in a deity, or adopt naturalism or materialism to accept the overwhelming mountain of evidence. What do the theists have to support their view of the world?
“If that’s the case, given naturalism and evolution, then the probability that one’s beliefs are reliable will be low.”
As I read this I experienced what could only be described as my brain attempting to escape the confines of my cranium. Firstly, brilliant Mr. Plantinga estimates the odds of evolutionary derived “Truth(tm)” to be 50/50, and a few short sentences later this becomes “reliably low”. I am not sure which universe this genius lives in, but a 50/50 chance is not what many people would consider “low”.
The original referenced article goes on to say :
“Now of course, if you don’t accept naturalism and materialism, and suspect there is more going on inside you and those you love than mere physical matter, then you don’t have that problem.”
Emotions (including love) are brain states, and a brain is a physical device. God does not (as far as anyone can tell) “pour love into your brain” when you gaze into your loved one’s eyes. Where is the ghost in the machine?
“If you think there is more to life than only that which you can see and touch and smell, you have grounds for trusting your faculties.”
So we have good grounds to trust our physical faculties if we base them on the intangible, supernatural, ethereal, and unverifiable “realities”? Can our theist friends point to a single emotion or feeling which does not reside within the brain? How can we detect the existence of unreal substances? If this detection in any way relies on our senses or emotions, please refer back to question 1.
Hilariously, the article closes with the following statement:
“None of this is intended to prove belief.”
Amen to that!
Back in episode 2.1 of the podcast, the crew mocked Findo’s 12 facts which reportedly pointed to the divinity of Jesus. After some discussion I wrote a rather flippant and snarky blog post regarding these historical facts where I outlined some of my objections. I admit to not taking these facts seriously for two reasons:
1) I do not consider these facts in the purely scientific sense.
Of course this is harsh because history is not a hard science. It does not rely on hypothesis, experimentation, observation, or repeatability. There is a consensus methodology employed to determine historical events. Contrary to opinion I have no issue with this approach so long as the scope of events being considered it focused appropriately.
2) I do not believe historical records are sufficient evidence from which to extrapolating supernatural events.
Most historical conclusions are rather mundane. Julius Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March is not miraculous, nor a detail worthy of deep consideration. The history of life is driven by death, and with monotonous regularity species have been killing their own. The terminal anniversary of a Roman General is not a pertinent fact to everyday life. I suspect no one’s life would be radically altered if a critical piece of evidence forced the conclusion Caesar was killed on the 16th March. The same cannot be said for the resurrection of Jesus.
Andrew Finden (@findo) posted a summary refutation of my original post on the 21st October 2010. I have been promising a reply ever since. Rather than address each and every point raised, I will be taking a broad brushed approach to Andrew’s objections, beginning with the fact Jesus does not appear on any Roman records:
“I might facetiously ask if Andrew could provide a list of all those crucified under Pontious Pilate to show that Jesus is missing from it, but I suspect he is unable to.”
The simple fact is – I don’t have to. If the Church had such a document it would be waived under the noses of every doubter who ever lived as incontrovertible evidence that Jesus was indeed crucified. Instead we have (as Andrew rightly points out) an argument from silence. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence indeed.
Naturally Andrew cannot help himself and goes on to demand we prove a negative (emphasis mine):
“There is also no competing account in existence saying he wasn’t crucified…”
Once again we would find ourselves teaching the basics regarding the burden of proof, except I am not going to bother here.
Here’s another gem:
“So? It was a predominantly oral culture.”
I do not think Andrew has ever played “Chinese Whispers” (also called “telephone” in other circles). I have yet to be convinced that even a culture focused on oral tradition as a means of preserving information is immune to such changes – especially when the loosely coupled and isolated groups the Middle East of the time probably was. Interestingly, what suddenly changed within their entire culture 40-100 years after the death of Jesus which caused all those “eye witnesses” to record their stories in print?
Next up, we have a long explanation why the Shroud of Turin is probably the burial cloth of Jesus (but even @findo does not take it that far):
“Even if it is a medieval fraud, that is no evidence that the crucifixion never happened.”
I never denied people were crucified, not someone called “Jesus” might have been. In fact, if my dear readers were to revisit the original post they might see I do not have any real objections to any of the “12 facts”. What I have serious problems with are the explanations which require the supernatural.
To be crystal clear, I am not denying the possibility of supernatural explanations (although I can already hear the screams to the contrary), but why are they considered more likely than perfectly rational and reasonable naturalistic events?
As I already outlined, none of these 12 facts are particularly stunning. Nor do I see any requirement to explain them all with a single encompassing framework. These are isolated events, not different accounts of critical moments in history which demand historians weight the evidence and arrive at consensus.
Your move, Andrew.