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Replying to Brandon

July 28, 2017

[This post is a reply to @BrandonSeeSound who spent 1.5 hours yesterday going through my previous blog post Evidence of Evidence. You can listen to him here: if you really must.]


Well, Brandon, I have to say I’m a bit disappointed. I was hoping for some serious interaction, a believable response to the things I listed as evidence, but that wasn’t forthcoming. There’s a fair bit of mocking and scoffing, and a number of “I can’t believe he’s saying this”, but you didn’t actually give any real factual counter-arguments. A number of times you don’t even seem to understand what I’m actually saying, which is very disappointing!

I was hoping for some serious interaction and a chance to sharpen my arguments, but if you can’t even deal with my putting “evidence” in quotation marks, what hope do I have? You clearly aren’t interested in a serious discussion.

Still, I’m going to comment on a few things you said, just because like the xkcd cartoon, I can’t stand people being wrong on the Internet…

Creation: You can’t possibly be blown away by me using the standard argument from creation, which BTW has not been demolished. I might need to add a few direct quotes, but still: you didn’t actually refute creation as evidence at all.

Morals: your discussion proves my point. You state that “we are becoming more and more moral as a people” – but on what grounds do you judge that 21st century values are more moral than 18th or 12th or 23rd century values? Your statement only makes sense if there is an external, absolute moral norm, which would suggest a divine norm-giver. Unless you believe that you are the absolute norm, of course, which would simply confirm my point: without a divine norm-giver, all norms are relative and subjective.

(BTW: I wasn’t arguing for any particular ethics, as some of your listeners seemed to think; my point is that the very fact that we believe in absolute ethical norms suggests the existence of a norm-giver. You missed this completely.)

Trial and error does not create improve morality; in what way would slave owners conclude by trial and error that abolition was good? By trial and error you could conclude that if you’re a lewd and dishonest bully, you can become POTUS, whereas being fair and honest and compassionate isn’t likely to get you very far in life… but based on my absolute, external standards, I still think the second option is better.

Bible: why do I compare Christianity to fairy tales? Because Richard Dawkins and many other online atheists talk about religion using exactly that terminology, and I think it’s slightly dishonest of you to pretend that they don’t. Same with “sky fairy” – I see that on Twitter quite frequently, much more often than “sky daddy”.

And my point wasn’t that Christianity is better than a fairy tale – my point is that Christianity doesn’t fit the category of fairy tale, and shouldn’t be treated as one. A narrative that makes serious claims to historicity can be dismissed simply because it contains supernatural events.

As for Mary’s virginity: you’re right that the Hebrew word can mean just “young girl” (although as you said, that would still imply virginity), but the Greek word in the New Testament unambiguously means “virgin”.

The church: I realise that I need to clarify that it’s specifically death by crucifixion that would have made the message so unpalatable. Crucifixion wasn’t heroic, it was the most shameful death you could imagine (it was illegal to crucify Roman citizens); so even though the idea of somebody giving their life for you might have some appeal in the non-Jewish world, getting yourself crucified would ruin it.

And the initial message of the early church was clearly the resurrection, not the Sermon on the Mount (remember that Paul’s letters were written before the gospels). The Sermon on the Mount doesn’t say much that other moral teachers weren’t already saying – but none of them had defeated death, and that was what the Christians were preaching.

Your repeated assertion that “all kinds of things could have happened” that caused Christianity to get off the ground is frankly ridiculous. “They met somebody looking like Jesus” ? Seriously? To my mind the birth of the church and the spread of the gospel is one of the strongest arguments for Christianity: what on earth could have made it happen? Maybe all kinds of things could have happened – but very few things would have had this result, and that is the evidence that you were supposed to examine.

(Last year I had a debate with another atheist who’d written a whole book about his alternative explanation, which was at least a serious attempt to answer this question. Your attempts were feeble at best.)

You did ask one serious question: “Is it possible that there was a man called Jesus who was the Best Jew and he … gained a lot of fame and then things got out of control and rumours spread?” At last an attempt at interpreting the evidence, but I’m afraid it’s not possible. If the authorities had really displayed the body of Jesus, there would be records about it in the contemporary Jewish records – but all they’re saying is that the disciples stole the body, which is highly unlikely. And if they did (or if the Romans had displayed the body), the ensuing persecution would have stopped the church in its tracks, since very few people are prepared to die for what they know to be a lie.

And it’s irrelevant (and tragic) that Constantine and Theodosius made Christianity state religion; the faith had by then already spread all over the empire, which is why Constantine decided to favour it to achieve unity.

To conclude: my point is that there is evidence for Christianity, in the sense of “relevant facts that have to be evaluated in order to reach a conclusion”. You even once reluctantly admit that these facts do constitute evidence. You kept saying it was very weak evidence; if so, it shouldn’t have been hard for you to demolish it. Instead you just mocked and implied that I don’t know what I’m talking about, which suggests that you can’t actually refute any of it.

I tried to avoid “conjecture” – my intention was to set out the evidence itself, to be examined by people like you. So it was a bit sad to see just how much conjecture you applied yourself in your reply!

You may disagree with my interpretation of the facts, or provide other facts that indicate that my interpretation is flawed (as in the case of cargo cults: once you know where the planes actually come from, the supernatural interpretation crumbles). But since you didn’t present actually any sensible alternative explanation of the evidence, my conclusion stands firm: the best explanation of all the relevant facts is that Christianity is true and Jesus is indeed risen.


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