Friday, March 19, 2010

The "Ressurection" Guy Writes Back

The young man featured in Martin’s last “resurrection” post wrote back to me on a response I had offered him. My original response wasn’t nearly as long and thorough as Martin’s. I had only asked a simple question:

To paraphrase: “Many Christians assert the resurrection stories align perfectly, and this is evidence of their truth. You are writing to say they are not aligned, and this is evidence of their truth. My question is: How do we identify a falsehood if stories that are either consistent or inconsistent are both evidence of truth?”

Since other people as well replied, I didn’t expect an answer from such a brief note from me. But when he wrote back he explained he’s in a confused state where he doesn’t know what to believe, and he’s contacting us mainly as a sounding board to see what we say to evidence and reason that seem convincing to him currently. He even added that what we said, he thought, "made a lot of sense." I admire that he’s even asking questions. And I also understand how indoctrination can make nonsense sound sensible. So, even though the rebuttals seem obvious to me, I do get that he really doesn’t see them.

His point back to me was to issue another question. He thinks it is valid to consider that many parts of the Bible are myth, and not all literal. I agree. The difference between us is that I classify anything that isn’t demonstrated in reality (or conflicts with demonstrated reality) into the “myth” category, while he is trying to sort out which of the things that defy reality are “literal.”

He expressed that he has heard that god wrote to Hebrews in terms they could understand—to the mind of an ancient Hebrew—and that’s why the content is sometimes wrong or less than perfect. He asserted further that if the Bible is concerned with how to get to heaven, rather than how the universe works, then it’s not right to judge the problems it presents in its less-than-accurate models of reality. He gave me a quote from Galileo to support this. It is ironic the quote he offered was from Galileo—a man who dispelled more than a few erroneous Christian beliefs, some of which were supported by Biblical texts. Nobody would know better than Galileo that the Bible got it’s “reality” a bit muddled. But he excused it by saying this isn’t the point of the Bible’s divine message.

Again, I asked the same question (again to paraphrase): It is either the case that you are right, and a god wrote a book using ancient Hebrews, that was riddled with the misconceptions and ignorance we would expect to find in the ancient Hebrew mind, or it is the case that it actually is a book written by ancient Hebrews including all the misconceptions and errors within it we would expect to find in an ancient Hebrew mind, but attributed to a god in the same way many other cultures have developed similar stories about gods that sound like their own minds. If this book contained correct and advanced scientific statements, would you then consider it’s not from god, since it doesn’t sound like an ignorant Hebrew? Really, I think that if it had that sort of really good and sufficiently advanced grasp on reality within it, you’d be writing to say anyone should see no ancient Hebrew could have produced such knowledge out of his own head without an advanced intelligence to guide him. So, I’m back to the question: If god writes books that sound just like books ignorant people write—how do we tell books written by gods from books not written by gods?

I also suggested he do some research into the canonization process to make his own assessment about whether that sounds like a good strategy for a god to use to get his message to mankind.

What’s interesting to me, as well, is the emphasis this young man puts on the idea that god inspired the Bible. He’s putting the cart before the horse. The question of whether or not god inspired the Bible can only be relevant after the question “Does a god exist?” has been answered. And I did bring this up with him as well—that I don’t see any reason to believe a god inspired anything until I see some demonstration of gods in reality.

Eventually, I’m betting, he’s going to get to that point—to the realization that the real question here isn’t what god does or does not do, but whether there is a god at all. We can start the dialog at the middle or the end, but until that question is resolved, no claims about god—god’s actions or attributes—matter.

And I wonder how long it will be before we get to ID? To the point where I’m asking the same question about the universe: How do we tell a universe without a god from one with a god where god makes it look like he’s not there? There’s an old saying, “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…” I would like to change the ending to “then why would you assert it’s a god disguised as a duck, rather than a duck?”

I’ve said before that it’s a testament to the awesomeness of nature that so many people can’t believe what they see before their very eyes. It reminds me of Matt. Yes, I agree he’s awesome; but that’s not what I’m driving at. Matt does magic tricks. The last one I saw was a really good one where he sat me down with zener cards and “I” was able to predict all of the cards before he turned them over, on a table right in front of me—supposedly a “test” of my “psychic abilities.”

I joked with Matt that one problem with the trick is that he can’t do it without me—since psychic powers like mine are demonstrably very rare from even a cursory survey of reality. I don’t know many people who could do what I just did sitting at that table—successfully predicting every card without so much as breaking a sweat!

Of course, we all know it’s a trick—even if we never find out how it was done (and no, he didn’t tell me, and I knew better than to ask). But what a testament to the wonderful illusion of that trick if someone was thoroughly convinced that it had to have been done through magic—real magic: “No mortal man could possibly have done what I just saw. Matt has magic powers, the ability to draw out my psychic capacity in some way.”

If I walked away convinced of that—what a trick that would be! Now, it would pay no homage to Matt’s real skill as a magician in one sense, since I failed utterly to appreciate the work that really went into creating such a brilliant demonstration of mental manipulation. But in an odd way the fact I would seriously doubt his skill as a magician, and become convinced the trick is real, demonstrates how well the trick was executed.

And nature is exactly the same. What a testament to nature’s amazing presentation that so many walk away convinced that what they see happening each day, before their very eyes, is completely impossible without magic.


  1. The question of whether or not god inspired the Bible can only be relevant after the question “Does a god exist?”

    I would take a different tack. In my mind, it doesn't matter so much that our universe may have been created by some powerful intelligence. With regard to the Bible and Christianity, the question, at least for me, is not whether there is a god at all, but "Do humans possess souls that exist separate from their physical bodies?"

    Because, it is entirely possible that the universe was created by an entity that we could consider to be a god, but that such an entity need not be particularly concerned or interested with the mundane affairs of a race of beings on a tiny speck of a planet in a universe filled with billions of galaxies.

    The claims of Christianity rise and fall on whether or not it can be conclusively demonstrated that we have a soul that continues to exist even after the death of our physical body, and therefore that this soul can be made to suffer torment because we went against the will of this god during the course of our physical existence.

    If there is no soul, then there is no eternal torment to be suffered for not believing that a Universal Creator impregnated a virgin teenage girl in the Galilee a couple of millennia ago, and that the superboy who resulted from the union grew up to preach, perform miracles, cast out demons and die for our sins.

  2. Your analogy at the end is fantastic Tracy. I hope you bring that up on the T.V. show sometime!

  3. Another great post Tracie: in fact, I wonder if you have ever thought about collating all your more lengthy posts into some kind of online resource? The main focus would be actual responses to real world questions and communications the ACA has received over the years. It would cater to a different audience than, say, Ironchariots.

    Or why not have a site where all the blog contributers have their responses to the e-mails you receive? I think most of us enjoy these e-mail exchanges above the more regular news blogs.

  4. @Tommykey. I think your different tack is putting the cart before the horse. You really have to answer the "Does god exist" question first.

    Also the "soul" question is not a uniquely religious question.

    It is quite possible for all religion to be false and science to discover something akin to a soul which exits in addition to our physical bodies.

    I do,however, doubt this very much.

    If science genuinely discovered that we were more than the physical it would not make christianity any truer.

  5. Tommy:

    I was talking about the question specific to atheism—which addresses a single position on the single question “Does god exist?” I did not mean to claim this was the only question that matters to people, but that it’s the only question that matters in an atheist/theist debate. An atheist and a theist arguing about “what god does” seems odd to me, since they start the debate disagreeing on the claim “god exists.” I don’t see the point of arguing anything about god until it’s established there is a god.

    The question of souls is outside of atheism/theism—since Buddhists, for example, accept immaterial existence, but often reject the notion of the existence of gods.

    Additionally, the Hebrew tradition had no solid doctrine of life after death. It appears many of the Hebrew writers gave no thought to life after death—but they still sacrificed and obeyed, because they believed they would benefit in _this world_, even if there was no “next world.”

  6. James:

    Thanks. There is the need for me to both remember it and for the appropriate circumstance to arise--but it would be good to talk about, I agree.

  7. Pombolo:

    I have talked to Matt about some collection of our e-list letters. People love to hear them read, and love to read them posted. I won't go into detail--but I agree it would be a good collection and worth pursuing.

  8. One day I hope you write a book Tracie. I think you have enough content in your posts for one. And have put some Atheist Eve strips in it.

    I find debating about the resurrection always frustrating, because there are so many presuppositions and downright falalcies from the believer's mind that it is difficult to even get some facts straight. You blogged before about intererence and it is exactly what it is: the Christian will assume that the events alledged events surrounding his death and resurrection in the Gospels are historical, for instance, that they have been verified. And when you try to show by A+B that no, not only have they not been demonstrated as historically acurate but we can be fairly sure that many of them have been fabricated, then they look at you like you are from another planet.

  9. Guillaume:

    I'm very flattered. I've said before that while my posts make it seem that writing something the length of a book should be no problem for me--It doesn't seem to really work that way. But I'm glad you like my posts. Thanks!

  10. @tracie-I know writing a book is different than writing a blog post, or even many blog posts even if the sum of words are sometimes the same (in your case), but I do think you have the capacity to write a book making atheism understandable to a wide readership.

  11. Guillaume:

    I hope I do make some things easier for people to understand--that's the goal of communication for me. But I find my muse on any given topic seems to have a maximum length more conducive to over-long blogs, but not to the point of a book. Until that changes, I can't even make an attempt.


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