Posts Tagged ‘Huffington Post’

Jesus Never Existed, Religion is False

September 29, 2014

Those are the conclusions made by one Nigel Barber writing at the Huffington Post. He bases this claim on a recently published historical survey by Michael Paulkovich in a magazine called Free Inquiry.

 

As someone raised in a Christian country, I learned that there was a historical Jesus. Now historical analysis finds no clear evidence that Jesus existed. If not, Christianity was fabricated, just like Mormonism and other religions. Why do people choose to believe religious fictions?

Given the depth of religious tradition in Christian countries, where the “Christian era” calendar is based upon the presumed life of Jesus, it would be astonishing if there was no evidence of a historical Jesus. After all, in an era when there were scores of messianic prophets, why go to the trouble of making one up?

Various historical scholars attempted to authenticate Jesus in the historical record, particularly in the work of Jesus-era writers. Michael Paulkovich revived this project as summarized in the current issue of Free Inquiry.

 

I am sure the article is thought provoking, but unfortunately I cannot read it. Access to the articles at Free Inquiry is limited to print subscribers only. So much for Free Inquiry.

 

Paulkovich found an astonishing absence of evidence for the existence of Jesus in history. “Historian Flavius Josephus published his Jewish Wars circa 95 CE. He had lived in Japhia, one mile from Nazareth – yet Josephus seems unaware of both Nazareth and Jesus.” He is at pains to discredit interpolations in this work that “made him appear to write of Jesus when he did not.” Most religious historians take a more nuanced view agreeing that Christian scholars added their own pieces much later but maintaining that the historical reference to Jesus was present in the original. Yet, a fudged text is not compelling evidence for anything.

Paulkovich consulted no fewer than 126 historians (including Josephus) who lived in the period and ought to have been aware of Jesus if he had existed and performed the miracles that supposedly drew a great deal of popular attention. Of the 126 writers who should have written about Jesus, not a single one did so (if one accepts Paulkovich’s view that the Jesus references in Josephus are interpolated).

Paulkovich concludes:

When I consider those 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not – and Paul and Marcion and Athenagoras and Matthew with a tetralogy of opposing Christs, the silence from Qumram and Nazareth and Bethlehem, conflicting Bible stories, and so many other mysteries and omissions – I must conclude that Christ is a mythical character.

He also considers striking similarities of Jesus to other God-sons such as Mithra, Sandan, Attis, and Horus. Christianity has its own imitator. Mormonism was heavily influenced by the Bible from which founder Joseph Smith borrowed liberally.

 

There is more on the origins of Mormonism which is irrelevant to the question of whether Jesus existed as a historical person, so I’ll let it go and go straight to the question.

 

I have to wonder that the Huffington Post sees fit to waste the time of its readers with such nonsense. The idea that Jesus is a mythical construct from pagan deities is one that few, if any, historians familiar with the first century Roman Empire would endorse. Skeptical historians naturally do not believe that Jesus was the son of God, but even the most skeptical concedes that there was a person named Jesus of Nazareth who lived during the time of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. The mythical Jesus concept is an example of pseudohistory, on par with Dan Brown’s ideas about Jesus’s descendants or or whether the lost continent of Atlantis really existed.

 

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Yes, he really existed.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The truth is that the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is better attested than many figures of ancient history. Josephus did mention Jesus, even if the statements claiming his divinity were added by later Christian copyists. Tacitus and Pliny the Younger both referred to the early Christian movement, writing around AD 100, within 70 years of his crucifixion. Even better we have biographical material written by his followers, the Gospels, from perhaps AD 70-100, although the Gospel of Mark may have been written before 60 and the passion narratives were certainly composed before the rest of the Gospels. Paul refers to Jesus as a historical person in his letters which were written from around 50-65. in other words, we have materials written about Jesus within living memory of eyewitnesses to his life. That is far better than we have for many historical figures of ancient times.

 

The earliest biography of Mohammed was written about 150 years after his death. That work has been lost but is extensively quoted in later biographies of the prophet. Because much of what is known of Mohammed is from the oral transmission of his sayings and deeds,we cannot be certain to what extent the traditions of his life are accurate or if Mohammed even existed. The earliest biographies of the Buddha were not written down until 500 years after his death. His teachings were also not written down for centuries and there is no way to know to what extent the Buddhist religion actually reflects the teachings of the historical Buddha. Even a secular figure like Alexander the Great had to wait about two hundred years before a biography was written about him. We are lucky to have as much material on an obscure person like Jesus as we do.

 

But perhaps Mr. Barber would counter that the Gospels ought not to be relied upon. They were clearly works of fiction written by the early Christians. But, on what basis should we dismiss the historicity of the Gospels? Much of what we know of many persons of ancient times is derived from the writings of their admirers. We know of Socrates from the writing of his pupils Plato and Xenophon. We know if Confucius by his successors. These writings may be biased but no one would suppose that Socrates or Confucius were fictitious. Ought the New Testament be held to a different standard simply because billions of people consider it to be a sacred text? Why?

 

The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles do not seem to be fictitious. There are no major anachronisms. Many of the people mentioned; the various Herods, Pilate, Gamaliel, Festus, Felix, Annas, Caiaphas,and many others were real people, attested in non-Biblical sources and the depictions of them in the New Testament seem to be accurate. The places mentioned are real locations that one can visit today. If you take away the miracles and the resurrection, you have a completely credible account of a Jewish preacher who managed to offend the religious and secular authorities and ended up being crucified, and whose followers somehow believed, had risen from the dead. The men who wrote the Gospels really believed what they were writing. This does not make the Gospels true, but they are not forgeries or fiction. If it were not for the prejudice against Christian scripture shown by certain secular humanists, no one would doubt they were as reliable historical documents as any produced by Herodotus or Plutarch.

 

It is understandable that someone wouldn’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I wouldn’t expect anyone but a Christian to believe that. After all, believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ is what makes a Christian. I do not understand why this idea that he never even existed crops up about every twenty years or so. It seems like overkill to me. Perhaps they hate Jesus, and by extension God, so much, they would rather he not exist at all.

 

I want to say something very briefly on the related idea that Christianity borrowed the idea of Christ from pagan myths, like Horus, Attis, Mithra, and the like. If you really examine these myths, you find only the most superficial resemblances between these mythological figures and Christ. The god who dies and comes back to life is rather common in mythology, but none of these gods suffered a humiliating death by crucifixion, nor do the stories of their lives resemble the story of Jesus in detail. I should also note that much of the historical information we have about these ancient cults derives from sources after Christianity began to be established so there is some question which way the influence really went.

 

 

 

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Keith Ablow’s Homophobia

July 10, 2014

I had never heard of Dr. Keith Ablow before following a link from Yahoo News to this piece at the Huffington Post. I still don’t know very much about him and I am not really that curious. It may be that he has a whole history of saying controversial or even insane remarks in public, but I am only interested in the statements that the Huffington Post considered to be extremely homophobic.

When discussing gay rights on Fox News, who better to consult than the network’sreliable source Dr. Keith Ablow?

“Fox & Friends” asked Ablow on Wednesday for his thoughts on a new California lawthat replaces the words “husband” and “wife” with “spouse” under state laws. The new law has been described as a “milestone in the journey towards full equality” and an end to the last barrier to same-sex marriage in California.

“Nuts,” Ablow said of the new law. “There’s no way that the state of California can deny a marriage license to four spouses now. Eight spouses, or I would say three human spouses and the canine they absolutely love because if love is the foundation of marriage, they can love their dog, too.”

That’s right, folks. You heard it here first. A step forward for marriage equality will only lead to polygamy and marrying your dog.

Most of the comments that followed this piece were of a similar nature, mocking Dr Ablow for his ignorance and bigotry. Yet I want you to observe two things in the article I quoted in its entirety. First, notice that homophobia consists not in making hateful or derogatory comments towards or about homosexuals but in not embracing an entire agenda with sufficient enthusiasm or in raising an obvious, logical point against same-sex marriage.

Second, notice that neither in the article or on the comments are there any arguments presented that show that Dr. Ablow is wrong. If we are going to make a fundamental alteration in the nature of marriage by changing from a particular, and theoretically lifelong, relationship between a man and a woman for the purpose of creating and maintaining families into a generic relationship between two individuals, of whatever gender, who feel a mutual sexual attraction, then what is there to stop any further alterations? Why not polygamy? There have been many cultures throughout history that have permitted polygamous marriages. Polygamy is a far less drastic alternation in the essential nature of marriage than same-sex marriage. Why not permit close relatives to marry? If they agree to not have children, there is no possibility of birth defects from inbreeding. Why not marry your dog or cat? There may be some question of consent here, but if that were  resolved, why not? For that matter, since we are separating sexuality from reproduction, why bother with marriage or families at all? Why not go for a Brave New World society in which babies are grown in test tubes?

I don’t believe that the person who wrote this or any of the commenters are in favor of either bestiality, incest or polygamy. They are in favor of  “marriage equality”. This is another example of feeling good without going through the trouble of thinking things through. There is no particular, logical reason why any of the innovations I listed above should not be adopted, once the logic that supports same-sex marriage is accepted, except that these innovations made people uneasy. They seem to forget that not two decades ago the idea of same-sex marriage was considered to be just as insane as anything I listed and even ten years ago, the idea made people uneasy. If such progress in changing people’s minds about same-sex marriage could be made through incessant propagandizing and not a little bullying, why couldn’t similar progress be made in anything I mentioned?

Thinking such matters through is hard work, however. Trying to think for yourself is even harder, and may even take some moral courage. It is much easier simply to insult the person who brings them up and repeat the same slogans and talking points everyone else is saying. If the good people are for  marriage equality, then it is best to fall into line and not think too much on where it is leading.

 

Liar, Liar

February 23, 2012

Some time ago, I referenced Richard Feynman‘s famous 1974 Caltech commencement address, in which he discussed what he called “cargo cult science“. I think it might be a good idea to remember a small part of that address.

I would like to add something that’s not essential to the science,
but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool
the layman when you’re talking as a scientist. I am not trying to
tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your
girlfriend, or something like that, when you’re not trying to be
a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We’ll
leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I’m talking about
a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending
over backwards to show how you are maybe wrong, that you ought to
have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as
scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

Feynman was not engaging in abstract moralizing. Science simply cannot function without that kind of integrity. It is essential to the enterprise of learning about the world we live that those who do the research be as honest as humanly possible about their findings. The credibility of science depends on this honesty.

This brings me to some recent developments in the conflict between the global warmists and the nefarious deniers. It seems that one Peter Gleick, the head of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security acquired  electronic documents from the Heartland Institute under false pretenses. He planned to expose these deniers for the scoundrels they are and disclose the members of the secret cabal that is funding all of the climate change deniers. Perhaps this would have the same sort of impact the “climategate” emails had. The problem was that there wasn’t anything really sinister about the documents. Well, that is not a problem. He simply forged what he needed. Well, he hasn’t admitted to the forgery yet, but he has to be a prime suspect.

After getting caught, Gleick admitted his actions in a statement on Huffington Post. There has been a lot of commentary on this subject all over the place, and I don’t really have much to add. I do want to quote the last two paragraphs to make my point in this.

Given the potential impact however, I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else’s name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues. I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public. I made no changes or alterations of any kind to any of the Heartland Institute documents or to the original anonymous communication.

I will not comment on the substance or implications of the materials; others have and are doing so. I only note that the scientific understanding of the reality and risks of climate change is strong, compelling, and increasingly disturbing, and a rational public debate is desperately needed. My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts — often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated — to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved. Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected.

I think that it is interesting that he claims to want a rational debate on the issue of climate change. In fact, the global warmists seem to want nothing like a rational debate on the issue. Instead they engage in name calling (deniers), alarmism, and squelching dissenting views.

But my main point is this. Between the climategate emails with their statements about “hiding the decline”, Michael Mann’s  hockey stick with dubious statistical methodology, and now this, climate science has some serious credibility issues. To put it bluntly, why should anyone believe anything they say? This is precisely the sort of thing Feynman was warning about. Unless a scientist is rigorously honest about his methods and his results, and guards against self deception mot of all, sooner or later there will be a problem with credibility.

What if the the climate change crowd are correct? I do not believe that they are, but I could be wrong. If so, they have badly damaged their case with these sort of antics, not to mention their inability to come up with credible solutions, and put the whole planet in danger.

Update: I think Walter Russel Mead has the best summary of this business I have yet read.

Like Dean Acheson addressing the communist menace, they were “clearer than truth.” They stretched evidence, invented catastrophes—vanishing glaciers, disappearing polar bears, waves of force five hurricanes sweeping up the coast, the end of snow—to sell their unsalable dream. Not all greens were this irresponsible, but many prominent spokespersons and journalists working with the movement were; ultimately the mix of an unworkable policy agenda and a climate of hype and hysteria holed the green ship below the waterline.

Of contemporary mass movements, the green movement has been consistently the most alarmist, the least constructive, the most emotional, the least rational, the most intolerant and the most self righteous.  What makes it all sad rather than funny is that underneath the hype, the misstatements, the vicious character attacks on anyone who dissented from the orthodoxy of the day, and the dumbest policy ideas since the Kellogg-Briand Pact that aimed to outlaw war, there really are some issues here that require thoughtful study and response.


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