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You have waited all week for this…. This week’s ATTIE award!!!!

August 17, 2009

attie_1x600As you remember, dear readers, we awarded this prestitious award to the creation museum. Not only did they get the first award, but they insipred the name. Thank you, creation museum. Your attack dog legacy will forever go on.

Oh, and quick note, Ray S. suggested that I expand the possible award winners beyond Christians and atheists. A great idea and we will do exactly that, choosing next weeks award winner from the field of ufology.

So, in order to be fair, this week’s award winner had to be an atheist. There are no sacred cows here at the Thomas Society. Everyone, which includes ourselves, is a possible canidate for this award. But, we try to be fair about the whole thing, so I did some research among atheists.  One of them said about this week’s award winner, “His history is awful. He irritates me because he keeps asserting that fundie Christianity represents true Christian belief. He forgets that the fundie American Christinaity has only been around 150 years.” And then a talk with another atheist, “He thinks that just because he spends time studying neurobiology, that he actually undestands it.” 

 So without further ado….. Mr. Sam Harris, come get your award.

I first read Sam’s book when it came out. I found his tone irritating and obnoxious, claiming knowledge about things he knew nothing about. I really don’t think he belongs in the Four Horsemen of the atheist, a place that should go to PZ or Michael Shermer. Dawkins is a great scientist, Hitchens is just hilarious, Dennett is first class philsopher, PZ a great scientist and Shermer a first class critical thinker. Harris fits none of those categories. He reminds me of a frat boy who took philsophy or history 101 and decided to write a book about it. Then pretends he is the smartest kid in the room.

And to add insult to injury, he particiated in that absurdist piece of cinema, The Jesus Who Wasn’t There. If you notice in the line up of that documentary, they didn’t have any serious history scholars, nor serious New Testament scholars. And I’m not even talking about believers. I’m talking about people like John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg who could give Sam Harris a basic understanding of how the study of history works. You don’t have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But to say he never existed in history is, frankly, a complete lack of understanding of the historical process.

And then there is the whole Francis Collins thing. I have worked really hard to understand the objections to Collins by Harris. I don’t want to misrepresent his argument, so I have read his column a few times.Then, I read his larger essay on the issue. I suppose this essay was a further attempt to clarify his objections, but it made it worse. He doubt Collins’ previous atheism (No True Scotsman), and continues his distortion of the historical process. That is, he leaves out the whole history of science, which has been dominated by people who hold Collins’ belief. It didn’t hold back their scientific investigation and it obviously hasn’t held back Collins. Collins’ assertion that science can’t solve the problem of morality is held by many atheists as well. Having said that, I think Collins is a philsophical and theological light weight. But, that’s beside the point.

Harris begs so many questions on the nature of science, belief and how our worldviews interact, I don’t even know where to begin.

 It seems to me is that his objections to Collins rests on his above problem with fundie Christianity, his complete failure to make distinctions and his willingness to lump everyone in the same Fundie Christian boat. It’s things like this that make Christian and atheist dialogue so difficult.

So, congrats Sam Harris, you win this week’s Attie awards for poor history, poor critical thinking and bad logic. Your picture will be hung up right next to Ken Ham’s. I’m guessing that’s the first time it’s ever happend.

St Thomas, release the hounds…..

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71 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2009 4:18 pm

    You need a trophy of some some to go along with this, or at least an image with an “Attie” logo on it. You might consider a contest and accept submissions.

  2. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 17, 2009 4:20 pm

    Hmm, an excellant suggestion on both counts. Anyone want to create an “Attie” image? No pay but the glory of creation.

    And, I’ll post something about Attie submissions.

  3. Ray S. permalink
    August 17, 2009 4:48 pm

    I won’t attempt to defend Harris as I’ve not read enough of his work to refute your assertions.

    I won’t attempt now to debate the historicity of Jesus, as we’ve enough on our plate to discuss, with some significant outstanding questions. But you assume it is a settled matter when you attempt to ridicule Harris with it. You may be a bit hasty in that regard.

    There is concern, which I think Harris documents, that perhaps Collins has, as a scientist, gone round the bend. My objection to Collins however is not his beliefs, but that he cannot seem to speak publicly without referencing them. A government official in the US should not be doing this. Here’s a thought experiment for you; Imagine Obama appoints a Muslim to a high official position, an individual who begins and ends each press conference with ‘Praise Mohammed, peace be unto him’, despite this having nothing to do with his official duties. Do you object?

  4. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 17, 2009 4:51 pm

    Not really, to the Muslim official I mean.

    And, the Atties are supposed to be a bit nasty. That’s why they are named after the Attack Dogs at the Creation museum. It’s all in good fun. After all, I set them on my own side first and they won’t be spared in the future. Consider this the South Park of awards.

    I’m comparing Harris’ grasp of history with the general accepted view among historians and how to do history. I’m pretty careful,so I don’t think I’m being hasty at all.

  5. August 17, 2009 5:19 pm

    “That is, he leaves out the whole history of science, which has been dominated by people who hold Collins’ belief. It didn’t hold back their scientific investigation and it obviously hasn’t held back Collins.”

    That’s rather a bold claim, but is it necessarily true? Yes, a lot of scientists who advanced science have shared Collins’ beliefs, but can we honestly say those beliefs haven’t been a limiting factor in some regard? I would be very surprised if there wasn’t a chilling effect of some sort when the church was ascendant, leading some portion of scientists to play it safe and wait for someone else with more courage or a better position to make advances that questioned the church’s position, or their own religious convictions.

    I don’t know that this necessarily applies to Collins, and as a Canadian I don’t really have a dog in this fight (ironically speaking). But it is a question worth asking whether his oft-stated convictions may lead to funding decisions that discriminate against projects he feels are not worth pursuing on those grounds. It may be that simply having the question spoken and out there is enough to prevent such things from happening.

  6. AdamK permalink
    August 17, 2009 5:30 pm

    “…the whole history of science, which has been dominated by people who hold Collins’ belief.”

    A common – and unworthy – christian rhetorical trick. What was a reasonable belief for a scientist to hold in the 18th or 19th centuries does not map onto the reasonable beliefs of scientists in the 21st. The god of the gaps is eternal and unchanging, but the gaps keep getting smaller. And weirder-shaped.

    And I think your reading of Harris re: Collins is deaf. Try reading PZ Myers or Jerry Coyne on the topic, if you have such trouble with Harris’ atty-tude. I think their concurring positions are moderate and well-expressed.

  7. AdamK permalink
    August 17, 2009 5:34 pm

    Or for that matter, read Collins. And BioLogos. Free confetti-mix of science and kookery. Science salad with superstition dressing, lightly tossed.

  8. AdamK permalink
    August 17, 2009 6:00 pm

    I have to add that I agree wholeheartedly about the lameness of “The Jesus who wasn’t there.” Sucked. Because it did such a disservice to the excellent scholarship being done on the jesus myth, and the current scholars who are shredding the historicity-of-jesus assumption with their impeccable historical scholarship.

  9. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 17, 2009 7:59 pm

    I don’t think it’s mean to be a rhetorical trick at all. And, doesn’t that argument smack a little of chronological snobbery? “If it’s old, it must be outdated.”

    And I don’t know anyone who really holds to the “god of the gaps” type of thinking.

    And I read PZ Myers and while better expressed than Harris, I still feel the same. I think the assertion that he is deaf because he choses to talk about his belief in regards to science is just plain wrong headed.

  10. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 17, 2009 8:00 pm

    Adam,
    Share the Scholars on that for everyone, if you don’t mind, that way people know what you are talking about.

  11. AdamK permalink
    August 17, 2009 9:37 pm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_myth

  12. AdamK permalink
    August 17, 2009 9:48 pm

    Earl Doherty’s web site is messy, but dense with argument and references:

    http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/home.htm

    There are other sources on the web via googling “jesus myth” and suchlike phrases. I haven’t examined them all.

    I remain agnostic on the question. But I think the mythical-jesus-hypothesis folks have strong arguments that have not been refuted seriously. The refutations I’ve seen have been brief expressions of contempt and appeal to dubious authority (the “consensus of Biblical scholars,” all of whom happen to be christians.)

    The Center for Inquiry has an ongoing scholarly examination of the question: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/jesusproject

  13. AdamK permalink
    August 17, 2009 9:51 pm

    “If it’s old, it must be outdated.”

    That’s nothing like what I said.

    Some things that are old ARE outdated. Especially in scientific opinion, which is not read from a magic, unchanging book.

  14. Matheus permalink
    August 17, 2009 11:09 pm

    You misunderstood Sam Harris’ criticism of Francis Collins.
    His point is that Collins asserts that morals appeared only in humans, and that it was given by god. He says this in some interviews and in his ‘Language of God’ book. Harris correctly asserts that this is not true, as other mammals show some degree of moral behavior. And that this is a legitimate field of science. Harris wrote his article out of concern that Collins will be biased against any research in this area.

    Did you really read carefully Harris’ article or did you just read the criticism about it?

    Anyway while agree that his arguments against religion are weak in several points, his main point is very strong, in that we should not treat religious beliefs different than any other beliefs, and we should not be afraid to criticize them. I thought you were all for that? Then how come you didn’t consider it in this award?

  15. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 17, 2009 11:20 pm

    Matheus,
    Harris was not given the award because he thinks religious views should open for critique. He was given it because he did his critique badly and because I think he is a d-bag. 🙂

    In seriousness, I did read his article, quite carefully and more than once. I don’t take this stuff lightly, Matheus and I certainly don’t rely on other people’s criticisms. I wouldn’t allow that in others and I certainly don’t allow it in myself.

    And I would certainly agree that animals have moral behavior. The question is, are we projecting some kind of morals on the behavior? Plus, I think he misunderstands Collins on this point, that is, we are the first animal to be able to discern moral behavior, not to practice it. Plus, again, his concern that he might bias in this sort of research must be proven. Collins’ track record in scientific work has never been in question, so my original point stands. Harris’ point is baseless.

    However, I will give you and Harris that Collins does bring his Christian presuppositions to his work, as does an atheist, Muslim, etc. And I can hear you all say as you read your computer screens, but we don’t have presuppositions we follow the evidence. If you say that, are you really examinine yourself that closely that you can say that with any degree of confidence? Color me skeptical.

  16. Matheus permalink
    August 17, 2009 11:27 pm

    Anyway as a followup to the previous post.

    So, in order to be fair, this week’s award winner had to be an atheist. There are no sacred cows here at the Thomas Society. Everyone, which includes ourselves, is a possible canidate for this award. But, we try to be fair about the whole thing, so I did some research among atheists. One of them said about this week’s award winner, “His history is awful. He irritates me because he keeps asserting that fundie Christianity represents true Christian belief. He forgets that the fundie American Christinaity has only been around 150 years.” And then a talk with another atheist, “He thinks that just because he spends time studying neurobiology, that he actually undestands it.”

    You totally miss the point here. He asserts that fundie christianity is more ‘correct’ because it actually follows what the bible says, instead of ignoring passages and using hermeneutics tricks to change the meaning of things.

    So without further ado….. Mr. Sam Harris, come get your award.

    I first read Sam’s book when it came out. I found his tone irritating and obnoxious, claiming knowledge about things he knew nothing about. I really don’t think he belongs in the Four Horsemen of the atheist, a place that should go to PZ or Michael Shermer. Dawkins is a great scientist, Hitchens is just hilarious, Dennett is first class philsopher, PZ a great scientist and Shermer a first class critical thinker. Harris fits none of those categories. He reminds me of a frat boy who took philsophy or history 101 and decided to write a book about it. Then pretends he is the smartest kid in the room.

    This is so full of personal attacks, it seems like you hate him.

    And to add insult to injury, he particiated in that absurdist piece of cinema, The Jesus Who Wasn’t There. If you notice in the line up of that documentary, they didn’t have any serious history scholars, nor serious New Testament scholars. And I’m not even talking about believers. I’m talking about people like John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg who could give Sam Harris a basic understanding of how the study of history works. You don’t have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But to say he never existed in history is, frankly, a complete lack of understanding of the historical process.

    And Dawkins, Shermer and PZ participated in Expelled!
    Your point is?

    And then there is the whole Francis Collins thing. I have worked really hard to understand the objections to Collins by Harris. I don’t want to misrepresent his argument, so I have read his column a few times.Then, I read his larger essay on the issue. I suppose this essay was a further attempt to clarify his objections, but it made it worse. He doubt Collins’ previous atheism (No True Scotsman), and continues his distortion of the historical process. That is, he leaves out the whole history of science, which has been dominated by people who hold Collins’ belief. It didn’t hold back their scientific investigation and it obviously hasn’t held back Collins. Collins’ assertion that science can’t solve the problem of morality is held by many atheists as well. Having said that, I think Collins is a philsophical and theological light weight. But, that’s beside the point.

    I addressed most of this in my previous post. You make it the case as if his refusal to acknowledge other fields of science is just a minor problem.

    Harris begs so many questions on the nature of science, belief and how our worldviews interact, I don’t even know where to begin.

    It seems to me is that his objections to Collins rests on his above problem with fundie Christianity, his complete failure to make distinctions and his willingness to lump everyone in the same Fundie Christian boat. It’s things like this that make Christian and atheist dialogue so difficult.

    Harris never lumps Collins together with christian fundamentalists.
    Can you quote him to prove otherwise?

    So, congrats Sam Harris, you win this week’s Attie awards for poor history, poor critical thinking and bad logic. Your picture will be hung up right next to Ken Ham’s. I’m guessing that’s the first time it’s ever happend.

    There is so many people out there much more deserving of this award.

  17. Johann permalink
    August 17, 2009 11:27 pm

    “And I would certainly agree that animals have moral behavior. The question is, are we projecting some kind of morals on the behavior?”

    This is a very good question to ask when we are looking at the human animal in particular. 😉 Many of the things we claim as morals are merely rationalizations – consider the use of the Bible in gay-bashing, for example. For a great many people, the impulse comes before the justification.

  18. Matheus permalink
    August 17, 2009 11:31 pm

    Anyway I don’t think Collins is not deserving of his new role in the government. However the criticism against him is valid, and it should have been supported in order to coerce Collins into not letting this particular belief interfere in his job. Instead I saw several ad hominen attacks against Harris, claiming he is unqualified, has not even a Phd etc. As if the Collins nomination was an all or nothing deal.

  19. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 17, 2009 11:40 pm

    Too true, I’m afraid Johann, too true.

  20. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 17, 2009 11:49 pm

    “You totally miss the point here. He asserts that fundie christianity is more ‘correct’ because it actually follows what the bible says, instead of ignoring passages and using hermeneutics tricks to change the meaning of things.”

    The study of hermeneutics is not a bag of magic tricks. It’s a careful, thought out approach of trying to the read the bible in it’s original contexts. No one I know ignores hard passages. Do some Christians? Sure. I didn’t miss his point at all. I just completely disagree with it. Plus, if you look, that wasn’t my quote.

    This is so full of personal attacks, it seems like you hate him
    LOL, come on Matheus, this is hardly a wide eyed hate rant about Harris. I’m poking fun at him just as I poked fun at the Creation Museum last week. With the Atties, I’m an equal opportunity offender.

    And Dawkins, Shermer and PZ participated in Expelled!
    T
    hey were in the move under false pretenses, if I recall.

    There is so many people out there much more deserving of this award

    And you are free to nominate them, as stated earlier today.

  21. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 17, 2009 11:50 pm

    I’m not attacking Harris for his lack of a phd. I’m attacking him for his poor critique of religion and Collins in general.

  22. Matheus permalink
    August 17, 2009 11:52 pm

    And I would certainly agree that animals have moral behavior. The question is, are we projecting some kind of morals on the behavior?

    This does not categorically dismiss the idea that morals have a biological nature, and so the scientific inquiry in this area shoudl remain open.

    Plus, I think he misunderstands Collins on this point, that is, we are the first animal to be able to discern moral behavior, not to practice it.

    This is not impressive at all, since according to your criteria, it seems only humans are capable of discerning anything.

    Plus, again, his concern that he might bias in this sort of research must be proven. Collins’ track record in scientific work has never been in question, so my original point stands. Harris’ point is baseless.

    Again, Harris merely criticized Collins, not fired him. As Collins publicly stated his beliefs in morals, this is more than enough evidence to write his critique.

  23. Matheus permalink
    August 17, 2009 11:54 pm

    I’m not attacking Harris for his lack of a phd. I’m attacking him for his poor critique of religion and Collins in general.

    I didn’t claim you did. I’ve read that on the guardian article I think. I was merely stating the general reaction against his piece.

  24. Matheus permalink
    August 17, 2009 11:57 pm

    And Dawkins, Shermer and PZ participated in Expelled!
    They were in the move under false pretenses, if I recall.

    Yeah but you can’t suppose Harris was full aware or endorsed the contents of the movie.
    You should just criticize what he said, and that is if you have no reason to believe it was edited or taken out of context.

  25. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 18, 2009 12:04 am

    Fair enough.

  26. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 18, 2009 12:04 am

    I read the Guardian article, the New York Times article and his essay expanding on the whole business.

  27. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 18, 2009 12:07 am

    Fair enough on Harris’ criticisim, but then, in doing so, opens himself up for further critique. It’s a fair exchange of ideas, which is the whole point really.

    I certainly wouldn’t dismiss that science can investigate moral behavior. As long as it stays in the realm of investigation and not prescribing.

  28. Matheus permalink
    August 18, 2009 12:12 am

    Well maybe this thing was supposed to be read in a funny tone, however the textual medium has this issue of not representing well emotional context, and I just incorrectly assumed hate from it 🙂

    Anyways glad we had this discussion. From posting so much on Tom Estes blog I missed for a while what it is to have a real exchange 😉

  29. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 18, 2009 12:14 am

    Ha, well, then I completely understand. Come, be healed and understandeth that goodeth speech can be had, forthwith.

  30. Ray S. permalink
    August 18, 2009 12:31 am

    Oh, and quick note, Ray S. suggested that I expand the possible award winners beyond Christians and atheists. A great idea and we will do exactly that, choosing next weeks award winner from the field of ufology.

    I don’t remember suggesting that you expand the awards beyond Christians and atheists. In fact, I think picking a category in advance is a terrible idea. Simply alternating is a terrible idea.

    If you really want to highlight “poor reasoning, poor thinking, and other actions that lead to destroying an enviorment where good discussion can happen in the atheist/christian dialouge[sp]”, ‘Honest Tom should have won well before Sam Harris. Bill O’Donahue would be another great candidate, not to mention virtually every right wing talk show host. In fact, I’d nominate Collins himself before I’d send the award to Harris.

    I think you blew this one.

  31. Johann permalink
    August 18, 2009 12:54 am

    They were in the move under false pretenses, if I recall.

    Er. It seems like you mean what I think you do, but to clarify for anyone not already familiar with that trainwreck – the people behind Expelled interviewed them under false pretenses, claiming that this was going to be a neutral documentary about the intersection of science and religion.

  32. Matheus permalink
    August 18, 2009 12:55 am

    Well while I think in general it’s not needed for one to preemptively present his own bias, I’ll go on nonetheless as I think people around here prefer it this way.
    I’m biased in the sense that atheists I read and listen to are generally previously selected by other sources against douchebagness. So while I ofcourse agree that there are those types of nonbelievers, I would dare to say that there are far more “christians” (that is, in the same sense as Tom Estes) douchebags than atheists ones, both in terms of numbers and of political importance. So by mere chance it should have been one of those Ray S. mentioned. If you were to select an atheist by purpose, I would expect him to be someone I either don’t know or am not familiar with. So the selection of Harris came as a shock in this sense.

    In fact, I’d nominate Collins himself before I’d send the award to Harris.

    Lol, It would be better to qualify that in the same sense as ‘choosing to kill either your own mother or father’.

    Maybe this award should be reserved to those who we have reasons to believe are behaving in a dishonest way, and not someone who merely has bad / weak arguments.

  33. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 18, 2009 12:59 am

    I’m scratching my head on this one, Ray. I could have sworn you suggested it. If not, I apologize.

    And while it can be questioned whether alternating categories is not the greatest idea, I stand by my choice of Harris. Tom is too easy of a target, as well as Bill Donhoe. As I have pointed out before, we will offend everyone here at one time or another. I’m not going to sit here and bash obvious targets just for the sake that they are obvious targets. I’m also poking fun at “icons”. Everyone is going to have their icon poked, or in this case bitten. If I just kept going after right wing targets, that would really destroy the crediblity of the Atties.

    You can certainly nominate Collins and I’d be willing to listen, especially for his grasp of theology. He isn’t immune and therefore neither is Harris.

  34. Matheus permalink
    August 18, 2009 1:01 am

    Ah, great I understand your reasons now then. If the criteria for receiving the award is high enough that Collins could be considered a possibility, then fair enough.

  35. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 18, 2009 1:02 am

    Yes indeed, Matheus, yes indeed.

  36. Ray S. permalink
    August 18, 2009 3:03 am

    It’s your blog so you can set whatever criteria you like. I’m just pointing out that you seem to have selected Harris more because he’s the atheist you dislike the most, rather than for weak or false arguments.

    I don’t claim there aren’t atheists as moronic as Ray Comfort, but I don’t know who they are. Perhaps there are atheists committing terrorism, but I can’t name any. And if you can find a UFO nut who has impeded the potential dialog between theists and atheists, then by all means give them an award.

    Look back at your own criteria. I’ll repeat:

    The Atties will be given to those who demonstrate poor reasoning, poor thinking, and other actions that lead to destroying an enviorment where good discussion can happen in the atheist/christian dialouge

    Do you really think there are an even number of theists and atheists that meet the criteria? I do not. But if you need atheists for your list, I hereby nominate Mooney, Ruse and Kirshenbaum for their collective demand that other atheists STFU.

  37. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 18, 2009 3:21 am

    Well, I’m not going to really pull the “It’s my blog card”. However, I selected Harris because his arguments are bad and I don’t like him. I’ll fully own up to it. I did the same to the Creation museum. I will select people I like as well especially if I feel like they are getting a bit too big for their britches.

    I’m not looking to keep the number even, but I’m trying to be fair. To answer your question, yes, I do think their are an even number that meet the criteria. And once again, you can nominate whoever you want. MRK are certainly good canidates.

    I really don’t understand why you guys are so protective of Harris. He is fair game, just like everyone else. You may not like it, but I’m sure the creationist didn’t like it when I tore into Creation Museum. Oh! But they deserved it, you might say. Well, in my mind, so does Harris. If you don’t agree, then you can certainly post your disagreement.

    If we are going to have even, rational discussion, then EVERYONE’S sacred cows go on the fire. I completely disagree with Matt’s review of Keller’s book (one of my sacred cows), but it’s on the blog. I certainly completely disagree with some of the comments on the comment section. but they go on with NO editing. Same with Matt’s post.

  38. Matheus permalink
    August 18, 2009 3:22 am

    By the way AdamK can you give sources on the Jesus-myth advances? I don’t believe in the virgin birth / resurrection / divinity thing, but last I checked the case for a real person called Jesus, that inspired the bible stories is rather convincing. Several sources get the names of his family members in a consistent manner. For example his brother James is mentioned even in Josephus’ Antiquities.

  39. Ash permalink
    August 18, 2009 8:23 am

    I personally agree with Jonathon on the whole ‘Sam Harris is a smarmy git’ theme. I like him, he’s a great, witty and sharp debator, but OH DEAR LORD does he know it. If you want to justify this award in terms of bad reasoning though, look no further than his support of torture being a necessary/justified means of extracting information. Completely full of fail.

  40. August 18, 2009 11:01 am

    Just wanted to say I appreciate your blog. It’s refreshing (and intriguing) to find a Christian willing to engage in such open-minded and even-handed discussion. Thank you.

    P.S. “And, doesn’t that argument smack a little of chronological snobbery?” // Obscure C. S. Lewis reference FTW.

  41. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 18, 2009 11:29 am

    Welcome Kelley. Glad you could stop by.

  42. AdamK permalink
    August 18, 2009 12:16 pm

    @Matheus – “By the way AdamK can you give sources on the Jesus-myth advances?”

    I did so it 2 comments above. The comments aren’t numbered, so I can’t point them out directly, but they’re up there. I don’t have any particular expertise on this, and consider it an open – and not very important – question.

  43. Eric Worringer permalink
    August 18, 2009 2:05 pm

    I would just like to chime in here, and remind Matheus that he uses Hermeneutics all of the time, it is the process of interpretation, and I guarantee you that you use your worldview as the lense through which you see the world, read the paper, respond to comments on this blog, etc. Heremeneutics is an attempt to understand things that aren’t readily clear, like parables, poetry, etc. Scripture is not just a non-Fiction book, it is filled with historical narratives (which by the way, a very strong argument can be made by very reputable Jesus scholars across the world that he existed, including N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, John Dom Crossan, Marcus Borg, Raymond Brown, John P. Meier, E.P. Sanders (who is not Christian, and was a professor of religion and history at Duke), poetry (see the Psalms), exhortations and sermons (see most of the New Testament), vivid imagery and prophecy, parables, stories, etc… The idea of literalism is a joke, because everybody has a lense through which they view the world.

  44. Ray S. permalink
    August 18, 2009 2:07 pm

    It’s not that I think Harris is not deserving of criticism, it’s that I don’t think he fits your published criteria for the award. The areas where I think he’s dropped the ball are areas you didn’t mention, while you did mention his participation in a movie a couple of years old. You didn’t cite the person who pretty much single handedly created that film. With regard to mendacity of reason and facts, he’s not in the same league with any creationist.

    Harris shows reasonable doubt as to whether the Collins of today can separate science from non-science and whether he can separate his personal beliefs from official duties. Sorry that offends you. Were he to approach things as Ken Miller does, I’d withdraw my objection to his nomination.

  45. Ray S. permalink
    August 18, 2009 2:43 pm

    When you say Jesus existed, these days you need to describe what you mean. An itinerant preacher who was entirely mortal, subject to the same limitations as any other human? Though some contest even this, it’s not much to build a religion on. If you want the full miracle package (virgin birth, divine origin, worker of miracles, raiser of the dead, resurrection, etc), you’re going to find a lot of those scholars are not on your bus.

    When you say the bible is non-fiction, yet go on to say that it contains poetry, parables and prophecy, I’m concerned you don’t quite understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction. It would seem that you do not consider Adam and Eve to be historical. There’s no evidence for a global flood or an exodus from Egypt. Please clue us in on how to tell which parts are authentic historical narrative and which are parables/poetry/prophecy.

    Here’s an exercise for Jesus biographers. Start by putting the New Testament books in chronological order as to their writing. (one caveat, if you ask the creationists about the dating of the various books, they sometimes will leave you with the impression that the Gospels were all largely written while they were waiting for Jesus to emerge from his tomb – almost no serious scholar supports such dating). Read them in chronological order, stopping after each book to record what you have learned about a potential historical Jesus.

    Afterwards, list all the archeological evidence for Christian churches, burials or any other thing that can be distinctly tied to the fledgling Christian religion, that can be accurately dated to the first century. I’ll save you some time, here’s a complete list: ().

    Finally, we do not have originals of any of these writings. The first time we have a complete set of gospels is the third century. The earliest fragment of any gospel we have is a portion of John (a fragment known as P52) which contains parts of 7 verses of John (no complete verses) and is dated by its calligraphy style to somewhere between 125 – 200. we honestly do not know exactly when and where they were written, who wrote them or what they originally said. Someone above mention Josephus, but what we have from him is because he was quoted in a book written circa 1100. Almost any reputable scholar will tell you it’s reasonable to believe it’s been tampered with, but nobody can prove exactly how.

    Settled history? Maybe not.

    Handwaving may now commence.

  46. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 18, 2009 3:14 pm

    Ray,
    It doesn’t offend me, I just think he is wrong.

    And, you can certainly question whether he fits the criteria, but I think he fits it just fine. It seems we are going to have to agree to disagree on this and move on.

  47. Eric Worringer permalink
    August 18, 2009 3:43 pm

    Ray S.:

    Im not quite sure where you get your information, but I said that the bible is not completely non-fiction in the sense of a book in the library. There actually is evidence that a major flood occurred in the world around that time, and is attested to in multiple sources from difference areas of the world. As for the exodus, there is evidence that not only did the Jews live in egypt, there as a major and sudden diaspoa around the time of the purposed Exouds.

    Second, we have a pretty good of idea of dating

    Paul’s Epistles – 35-50
    Mark – 65-75
    Matthew and Luke 75-90
    John 70-100

    And I know a great deal about the historical jesus, and I will be working on one of my masters in that subject.

    While the evidence for the 1st century Christian Church is very little , so is anything from 1st century Judaism and Jerusalem and surrounding areas, this is mainly because of the destruction of Jerusalem and all of the following wars leading to the destruction of the center of the Church, and the following persecution and destruction of Christians and Churches (even though these churches were not the buildings you think of, most 1st century christians met underground, in houses, etc…almost none were acceptable to the jewish or roman authorities.)

    Finally, the fact that Papyrus from that century survived kind of proves the point that the Church existed on some level, while Josephus writing around the same time, almost nothing from that age existed.

    Oh and I forgot, I think that Jesus as itinerant preacher is quite implausible, and I agree that it is nothing to build a religion on.

  48. AdamK permalink
    August 18, 2009 6:42 pm

    Jerry Coyne has a new post about Collins:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/francis-collins-and-genetic-medicine/

  49. Matheus permalink
    August 18, 2009 7:30 pm

    Ash said:

    support of torture being a necessary/justified means of extracting information. Completely full of fail.

    Lol that is so not true. Harris said that as we think it’s moral to be willing to having collateral suffering/loss of lives in a war, then he cannot categorically discard torture as unethical. He doesn’t think any of the torture cases that US got involved recently are justified, but he said he can’t discard a hypothetical ticking time bomb scenario for example. Read the section on his site where he addresses common criticism of his work.

  50. Ray S. permalink
    August 18, 2009 7:32 pm

    Eric:

    Regarding your flood: major – could have happened. Some talk of the creation of the Black Sea as an event that may be the origin of various cultures flood story. Global flood = no evidence whatsoever.

    Jews in Egypt – point me to the sources outside of your theological doctrine. There’s nothing in Egyptian records about it (or about a flood). Theres no archeaological evidence in the desert between Egypt and Israel, which you would expect if the number of people alleged in the bible were wandering the desert for 40 years.

    As for your dating, most scholars place all 7 of Paul’s epistles considered genuine between 50 and 60. Most scholars agree that Mark refers to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem which would limit Mark at its earliest to 70. Matthew and Luke certainly come later as both are basically embellishments of Mark. Though I’ve seen some argue that John was first, most everyone agrees he was last. Consensus seems to date John to 90~, though I’ve seen estimates for as late as 190. Even if we stipulate these dates, you do not know who wrote the gospel texts and with the fact that all we have is copies of copies of copies, you do not know precisely what the originals contained.

    Evidence of a church, whether we’re talking about the building or the cultural construct, is not evidence of the existence of a person. I’ll grant you that there were Christians in the first century, but they held widely divergent beliefs (Hey! that’s still true!) we’re still struggling to fully account for.

    Since you’re not of the itinerant preacher camp, and assuming you’re a believer in the virgin birth, worked miracles, rose from the dead stories, I’d love to hear how you think you can attest to those events historically.

  51. Matheus permalink
    August 18, 2009 7:34 pm

    @Eric Worringer
    Maybe we could postpone this discussion for another time, because it would start to get way too off topic. But my main concern with hermeneutics is a lack of a way to eliminate personal bias. But I don’t know much about that topic so I could easily be wrong.

  52. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 18, 2009 7:38 pm

    You beat me to it, Matheus. I was going to say something.

  53. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 18, 2009 7:48 pm

    Actually, if you read JAT Robinison, a liberal scholar, he dates ALL of the Gospels before 70 AD. He says even if you don’t buy Jesus made a prophecy, the gospels don’t make any mention of the prophecy being fufilled which Robinson contends is odd. Plus, he points out that anyone might have made that prophecy given the relationships between Rome and the Jew at the time. There is no way John is dated as late as 190 because he or his gospel is referenced in the writings of the church fathers before that date.

    Another fantastic scholar, Richard Bauckham, has published a book called Jesus and the Eyewitnesses that makes a very similiar arguement, except that it’s based on the names in each of the Gospels.

    And, if you do research on how copies were made then, you understand how anal they could be. I refer you to THE scholar on this issue, Bruce Metzger’s book.

  54. August 19, 2009 2:43 am

    1. I think any comments about Earl Doherty (causing any doubts on the historicity of Jesus are interesting-perhaps this would be good to read…
    http://preventingtruthdecay.org/jesuspuzzle2.shtml

    2. The book by Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy called The Jesus Legend shows issues related to respectable historical method. This book was even praised by skeptic Robert Price.

    3. Before we write something off as myth or legend, let’s make sure we understand the genre of what we are talking about. A good read is What Are The Gospels?: A Comparison With Graeco-roman Biography (Biblical Resource) by Richard A. Burridge. In studying for his doctoral dissertation, Richard Burridge, dean of King’s College in London England, researched the genre of the gospels. Burridge says, “Genre is the like a kind of contract between the author and the reader, or between the producers of a programme and the audience, about how they will write or produce something and how you should interpret what they have written. Therefore, it is important that you know what the genre of the thing is before you come to interpret it.”

  55. Ray S. permalink
    August 20, 2009 2:51 am

    I apologize for the delay in responding, I’m traveling.

    I don’t remember which thread it was, but someone mentioned that one always views everything through the lens of their worldview. I don’t agree with that mostly because it’s an oversimplification, and because not every worldview results in the same degree of distortion. Science attempts to overcome this through repeatability and peer review, among others.

    One possible source for such distortion is if one believes, prior to examining the ancient texts, that one is in need of salvation and accepts the widely promoted offer of one specific individual. It should not be a surprise that anyone beginning from such a position will evaluate anything written on the subject from that viewpoint.

    I have neither the time nor the desire to disabuse anyone of their beliefs through lengthy debate about the nature of the collective writings Christians hold sacred (even though you have to ask first to find out which ones are part of the set). I do note however, that some of the authors mentioned above as supporting what I call early dating and gospels as eyewitness testimony by the named authors, also support a view of inerrancy and support for creationism. Both of these lower my respect for a person greatly.

    I am done with this topic here, at least for now, but probably forever.

  56. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 20, 2009 10:36 am

    Ray,
    I’m curious as to which one of the above authors support six day creationism? None of them that I know. Have you read any of Bauckham, Wright, etc? JAT Robinson is not even a believer. Maybe Metzger did, but I’m not aware of it. So, this is a very curious assumption to make.

    Besides, just because a person might be wrong in one area doesn’t mean they right in the other.

    This sword cuts both ways. You can come to the text being convinced that none of the bible is true and it could distort your view of the evidence. Everyone above has listed some good arguments for early dating of the Gospels and all you could pull out was “well, they believe the Bible to be true, so that automatically lowers their credibility.” There is so much fallcious reasoning in that way of thinking that I don’t even know where to begin.

    Whether you like it or not, science presupposes a worldview that everything runs in order and we can figure things out. And, in my way of thinking, a naturalisitc view of the world undermines a scientific view of the world. It doesn’t strengthen it at all.

  57. Andrew permalink
    August 20, 2009 12:44 pm

    Anyone who thinks they know anything about the dating of new testament books should read this post by Richard Carrier.

  58. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 20, 2009 1:00 pm

    Andrew,
    Come on, most of Carrier’s stuff is a rehash of old arguments. Let’s not present him as bringing these new insights that no one has ever heard of. Let’s not assume that people here haven’t done their homework.

    Once again, I refer you to N.T. Wright, who spanks Carrier on a number of issues.

  59. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 20, 2009 1:14 pm

    Further, unlike Wright who quotes actual sources for his arguments, Carrier makes a number of assertions in this post with no evidence whatsoever. He claims, he asserts, but doesn’t prove anything. Worse, he exercises an argument from silence a number of times.

  60. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 20, 2009 1:17 pm

    Oh, and I love how he basically throws out other scholars (believer and nonbeliever) alike in regards for his own fresh revelations. How interesting.

    Sorry, Andrew, I don’t mean to be so sarcastic, but there are other and better scholars you could have quoted to help your case on this one.

  61. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 20, 2009 2:04 pm

    But, at least he is better than Earl Dohtery. Sheesh.

  62. Ash permalink
    August 20, 2009 3:54 pm

    Ash said:

    support of torture being a necessary/justified means of extracting information. Completely full of fail.

    Lol that is so not true. Harris said that as we think it’s moral to be willing to having collateral suffering/loss of lives in a war, then he cannot categorically discard torture as unethical. He doesn’t think any of the torture cases that US got involved recently are justified, but he said he can’t discard a hypothetical ticking time bomb scenario for example. Read the section on his site where he addresses common criticism of his work.

    I fail to see where what I said wasn’t true; it’s impossible to wage war without undeserving casualties, this is a case of reality not morality. His point appears to be that if this happens (as it obviously does), then torture is also acceptable. Given that torture does not ensure truth, I don’t see why this is logically or morally acceptable. Plus if you read this quote from ‘End of Faith’…

    Enter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: our most valuable capture in our war on terror … his membership in Al Qaeda more or less rules out his “innocence” in any important sense, and his rank in the organisation suggests that his knowledge of planned atrocities must be extensive. The bomb is ticking. Given the damage we were willing to cause to the bodies and minds of innocent children in Afghanistan and Iraq, our disavowal of torture in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed seems perverse. If there is even one chance in a million that he will tell use something under torture that will lead to the further dismantling of Al Qaeda, it seems that we should use every means at our disposal to get him talking. (p198)

    …I’m not sure whether it’s worth reading his site; his position here seems fairly clear so either I’d have to take back my comments about his being a good communicator, or I’ll be appalled at the hand-waving bluster that I find so offensive from stupid + offensive religious statements. However, I will be giving him the benefit of the doubt, and go look to see if he has more to offer than ‘if it’s okay to accidentally kill one person then it’s okay to intentionally inflict suffering on another with the remotest of possibilities of it having any beneficial outcome’.

  63. Andrew permalink
    August 20, 2009 4:06 pm

    Actually, if you read JAT Robinison, a liberal scholar, he dates ALL of the Gospels before 70 AD. He says even if you don’t buy Jesus made a prophecy, the gospels don’t make any mention of the prophecy being fufilled which Robinson contends is odd.

    How is this not an argument from silence? And how is it not also “basically throw[ing] out other scholars (believer and nonbeliever) alike in regards for his own fresh revelations”? It seems to me that this is what many writers on the NT do a lot of the time, which just reinforces Carrier’s point that the dating of these documents is not known with any accuracy and that much of the “consensus” position is no less speculative than that of the dissenting writers (whether arguing for earlier or later dates).

    (The idea that someone writing what is essentially a narrative account would necessarily include events that happened after the end of the story seems odd to me.)

  64. Andrew permalink
    August 20, 2009 4:14 pm

    Regarding N.T. Wright, I find myself struck by the repeated use in many of his articles of the “argument from incredulity” as applied to the resurrection stories. It seems to me to be rather obvious that new religious movements (and Christianity in the 1st century was a very small cult) frequently have beliefs that diverge significantly from the religious mainstream of the time, and arguing that this requires an actual miracle to justify it seems to me to miss the point.

  65. thomas2026 permalink*
    August 20, 2009 4:51 pm

    In New Testmant Scholarship, the usual way is to engage what other scholars have said on the issue. He dismisses them more than once on that post as confusiong without showing us why.

    Robinson’s point (again,not a believer) is that much can be aruged from that silence. I’m not saying you can’t argue from silence, but you have to present good reasons for doing so. Carrier makes tons of assertions, but offers no real proof other than what people have known for quite a long time.

  66. Andrew permalink
    August 20, 2009 6:51 pm

    Context: that post of Carrier’s is a rant about how the state of NT scholarship is impacting his work on a book, not an attempt to prove anything to you.

    As a historian, Carrier is making the point that the debates and “consensus” regarding dating of NT documents don’t stand up to the expectations that would exist in historical fields other than NT studies. He isn’t trying to prove any specific date in this case.

  67. Eric Worringer permalink
    August 20, 2009 8:10 pm

    Andrew-
    It actually is a common position among Christian and non-Christian NT scholars. John P. Meier, another superb NT scholar, wrote a two-volume series called “Rethinking the Historical jesus: The Marginal Jew”. In which he makes another interesting argument related to this which is two-fold. First, the claim of resurrection in 1st cenutry Palestine was beyond scandalous, and would have resulted in the immediate persecution of the church, and the attempts to label it as a heresy and embarassment, but it in fact did the opposite, why is this?. Meier calls this the criterion of embarassment.

  68. Matheus permalink
    August 21, 2009 12:24 am

    @Ash
    You are trying to destroy his point here by asserting that torture does not lead to truthful confessions, so that the torture would seem gratuitous.
    That is not true however, torture does work in some cases. If you have a target which you know, to a high degree of certainty, that he knows some information, and if it’s quick enough to verify the validity of the information, then torture is very likely to yield truth from the target. Now if this information has to be obtained quickly to save innocent lives, it’s hard to say it’s not justified.

  69. Ash permalink
    August 21, 2009 7:35 am

    @Matheus
    1) citation needed for cases where torture has worked (and if he’s claiming that it would save lives, where said torture would not cause retaliation attacks where more innocent lives were lost).
    2) and what of his other claim, that it is ‘moral’ (rather than a sad fact) to have accidental casualties, therefore it is moral to intentionally inflict suffering?

  70. Matheus permalink
    August 21, 2009 7:44 am

    @Ash
    1) Doesn’t Matter, All of these suppositions by Harris are qualified on the premise that torture does work in some circumstance. If it doesn’t, then ofcourse it would be useless and immoral.
    2) Terminology issue here. Moral is the opposite of immoral. There is no action that is neither moral or immoral.

  71. Andrew permalink
    August 21, 2009 6:12 pm

    @Eric Worringer:

    It actually is a common position among Christian and non-Christian NT scholars. John P. Meier, another superb NT scholar, wrote a two-volume series called “Rethinking the Historical jesus: The Marginal Jew”. In which he makes another interesting argument related to this which is two-fold. First, the claim of resurrection in 1st cenutry Palestine was beyond scandalous, and would have resulted in the immediate persecution of the church, and the attempts to label it as a heresy and embarassment, but it in fact did the opposite, why is this?. Meier calls this the criterion of embarassment.

    I’m not sure you clearly understand what the argument is here. The church in 1st century Palestine was a tiny persecuted minority, both by its own accounts (even the NT itself states that Christianity was not successful amongst the Jews) and by the available evidence from other sources.

    But look around you right now; how many people belong to fringe cults with marginal beliefs? Scientologists? Raelians? One religion founded by one man two centuries ago now accounts for 2% of the population of the USA, despite the fact that many of their beliefs are indeed considered preposterous by outsiders.

    To a non-Christian there is nothing at all strange here; a fringe cult was started with beliefs that were foreign to the dominant religions of the time; it found very few converts, and fairly quickly shifted focus away from the unreceptive Jews and to more fertile ground elsewhere; and even then grew only slowly, taking more than two and a half centuries to even get beyond single-digit percentages amongst the Romans.

    The “argument from incredulity” that Wright and some other Christians are apparently trying to make is that they somehow find it implausible that either (a) anyone would have come up with the beliefs in the first place, or (b) that Christianity would have had even the tiny proportion of converts that it did have, without some triggering event. This argument has no more merit than the argument from incredulity as deployed by creationists: “I can’t believe this could possibly have evolved, therefore it didn’t”.

    (I’m not addressing here the “criterion of embarrassment” arguments about specific points of doctrine; only the argument I’ve seen in Wright’s own articles.)

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