Thursday, March 26, 2009

Test Your Faith with the Outsider Test of Faith

Recently, I read a book entitled, “Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity”, by John W. Loftus. It’s a book designed to convince the Christian that Christianity is a fairy tale myth that is essentially no different than belief in, what Richard Dawkins calls, “Flying Spaghetti Monsters”. I must admit that Mr. Loftus’ book is a thorough and comprehensive critical look at Christianity. It’s better than the books by the Atheist Four Horseman, because he deals with what Christians actually believe, having been one himself. It’s hard core and will force you to justify your belief system.

Loftus has a chapter in the book that calls upon the Christian to test his own faith as if he were a dispassionate outsider looking at the claims of Christianity. He calls it the “Outsider Test of Faith”, or OTF. He is convinced that if the Christian will remove his God biased spectacles and adopt a position of skepticism the Christian will find his faith to be absurd. The Christian, he says, looks at faith claims from other religions as weird, stupid or even silly, such as: Hinduism, Islam, Confucianism, or Mormonism. But, Loftus surmises, what if the Christian will but turn his critical eye to his own faith? He suggests that when he does he will find the same absurd and irrational claims in his own belief system that he finds in others. As a result, once he sees that his Christian Faith is absurd and irrational he must abandon it. This reminds me of what Mythologist Joseph Campbell once said while reflecting on aspects of Hinduism, “every religion has its absurdities”.

To help explain how to take the “Outsider Test of Faith” he uses the analogy of the prince in the Cinderella story who must question 45 people to find the girl with the glass slipper at the ball last night. The prince wants the “real” girl so he takes the search for her as seriously as a CSI investigator. This is how we should examine our own faith system, he suggests. After all, don’t we want what is “real”? He understands that presuppositions are next to impossible to shed when one examines his own faith, so Mr. Loftus suggests taking stringent measures such as: 1) Consciously remove all of your controlling beliefs and adopt skepticism as your controlling assumption. 2) Read books critical of Christianity to help you think critically, such as his own book. 3) Examine how you adopted your faith to determine if your faith was derived from social conditioning or rational choice (His assumption is that you will find that religion is merely an accident of geography and thus social conditioning. You are supposed to see that this is irrational and therefore unworthy of acceptance).

Mr. Loftus is convinced that if you will take this test you will find Christianity to be “silly”. He told me so himself on his internet forum, “Debunking Christianity.” I wrote to him and others on that forum that I took the test and I am still a Christian. I am an OTF graduate and I still believe that Christianity is a coherent, rational, and existentially satisfying religion. So, he wrote back to me and suggested that I probably did not properly understand the test if I am still a Christian! Well, I just reread the OTF chapter from his book, again. I don’t know what else I can do to convince him that I did understand the OTF and I did take the test using his “draconian measures”. In fact, I have been taking that darn test over and over for many years. Why, because I happen to be naturally skeptical and a natural doubting Thomas, like most people. Actually, I think some form of the OTF is taken by most Christians. At least the one’s I know. But you see, after taking the OTF every time, I come to the following conclusions: Christianity is unique among world religions in its historically accounted for resurrection of a savior, Christianity is a distinctively superior world view among other great religions, and Christianity has a compelling and incomparable gospel message among other world religions. Now, what about absurdities? I agree with Joseph Campbell that all religions have their absurdities, even Christianity. However, in Christianity I see the absurdities as “apparent” and not logical. Take for instance the Trinity and the Hypostatic Union of Jesus. These do seem absurd and incomprehensible. But, they are not illogical or irrational, however absurd they might be.

My conclusion: I encourage every Christian to take the “Outsider Test of Faith”. John W. Loftus wants you to take it because he is convinced that you will lose your faith, so that you can become enlightened like him. But, I say you might strengthen your faith if you take it and become more convinced that Christianity is true. Go for it, Christian! By the way, Loftus says on page 71, “If after having investigated your religious faith with the presumption of skepticism it passes intellectual muster, then you can have your religious faith. It’s that simple.” Thanks for your permission, Mr. Loftus. I’ll do just that!

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Joe, you may have found a new calling. Have you considered the fact that God allowed you to go through this journey as a means of using you to reach many people in the philosophical, scientifical, historical, and biblical worlds? What a difference you could make! I only wish I knew half as much as you do, and had the time to learn half as much as you have. Joe...you're a force to be reckoned with now, I have no doubt. Use this experience to awaken many, and not just in your blog! You always like a challenge. Thanks for sharing this.
Brenda

downtownpastor said...

Hi Joe,
Thanks for a very thought provoking entry.
Is Loftus on a Romans 1:21 track here, promoting a speculative approach to faith? Having read the book, what would you say is his take on the idea of an inherent (but supressed) knowledge of God? If that point is conceded, that people do have some awaremess of an divine Other, is it possible to really take his test?
Love you brother!
Ken

Joe Staub said...

Ken,

Thanks for you comments. I appreciate the interaction.

As I see it, you and I, as believers, understand that the unbeliever suppresses what he knows to be true (Romans 1:21). However, I don't see how approaching an atheist with this concept is meaningful when arguing with him. The reason is that the athetist rejects God's existence, making the statment meaningless to him. I know, I have tried to argue this way and it only serves to end the conversation. He won't assume God to begin with, as a Christian would do. So, there is no point of contact or common ground with that approach. I have tried to find common ground that we both can use to argue from. But maybe I give away too much in doing that (Van Till would probably turn in his grave knowing what I do!)

But, your question is, can a person really take the test if the knowledge of God's existence is a necessary presupposition? Loftus' test calls for a dispassionate skepticism. Is it possible? I agree that at the very least it is impossible to remove yourself of all bias and influence. Even Loftus admits that presuppostions and mental conditioning are nearly impossible to remove. This is why he calls for, as he puts it, "draconian measures" to try and remove as much bias as possible. However, I still "grant" a dispassionate skepticism to Mr. Loftus when taking this test, all the while knowing that I cannot. In other words, I am agreeing to play the game on his terms. What I want to do, as one who seeks common ground with other world-views, is enter his world of thought and use his own system to evaluate Christianity. With my best effort to play his game I come out as a Christian believer for the reasons I stated in the post.

I read part of a very good critique of Mr. Loftus' book by Jeff Carter at http://sophiesladder.com/. I suggest reading it. He contends that Mr. Loftus' approach in the entire book is flawed because Loftus adopts the presupposition of Rational Positivism, which Jeff sees as an impossible position to hold. As a Christian I know this but the guy out there in our world today is a naturalist/rationalist, so I have tried to argue from his world view.

I think people ought to take his test as best they can. I trust that the Holy Spirit will guide one to the truth through the process. I am not afraid of it and if anything it is a good exercise in trying to understand how thoughtful unbelievers see Christianity.

Joe Staub said...

Hey Brenda,

Thanks for your kind comments! However, I am a real light weight compared to many others, but I do try.

Peace,

Joe

Chuck O'Connor said...

Joe, what non-canonical sources did you examine to verify the veracity of the resurrection's historicity? If you use non-canonical sources to prove your point then you have engaged in an honest OTF examination. If you did not then you are either misunderstanding Loftus' concept or purposely lying.

If you educate yourself you will see the myth of Osiris-Dionysus mirrors the exclusivity of Jesus savior status.

Here you go:

Osiris-Dionysus is God made flesh, the savior and “Son of God.”
His father is God and his mother is a mortal virgin.
He is born in a cave or humble cowshed on December 25 before three shepherds.
He offers his followers the chance to be born again through the rites of baptism.
He miraculously turns water into wine at a marriage ceremony.
He rides triumphantly into town on a donkey while people wave palm leaves to honor him.
He dies at Eastertime as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
After his death he descends to hell, then on the third day he rises from the dead and ascends to heaven in glory.
His followers await his return as the judge during the Last Days.
His death and resurrection are celebrated by a ritual meal of bread and wine, which symbolize his body and blood.

Joe Staub said...

Hi Chuck,

Thanks for responding. Very provocative challenge! Here is my response:

First, I think I have done a fair amount of study on the issue of extra-biblical documents. However, In my most recent foray into the OTF I did not deal with extra-biblical documents or the psuedepigrapha. I have been down that road already. This time, I really tried to get to the bottom of the historicity of the gospels themselves, which is the real challenge today. Thanks to Bart Ehrman's popular resurrection of liberal form criticism. I read Richard Bauckham, "Jesus and the Eye Witnesses" and Bart Ehrman, "Jesus Interrupted". As for the so called, "lost gospels", they really don't help, since they are not even close to consistent with the canonical gospels. The Gospel of Thomas, for instance, is well understood to be a Gnostic document and Gnosticism came along much later than the early Christians. I think this is why there is such a distinction between them. The early church had far more documents available to them than we do now and they eventually only adopted the four. We see that there is good reason for that.

Second, the Osiris, Horus, Mithras, Dionysius connection is not a new charge against Christianity. The Patristic Fathers dealt with it too as an apologetic issue. It's funny to me, because so many people, especially on the internet, are propogating this "copy cat" theory as "new discovery" kind of information. There is a lot of misinformation floating around about the parallels. It's bogus. You do not find mainstream scholars making the one-for-one parallels, as you do, because they are not there. You won't find them in the original sources. I don't contend that some parallels exist, but it not a borrowing, rather it is a forshadowing. I refer you to the link below because I just can't deal with it extensively as a comment in a blog post.

http://www.pleaseconvinceme.com/index/Is_Jesus_Simply_a_Retelling_of_the_Osiris_Myth

Peace,

Joe

methodicalmusings.com said...

"Christianity is unique among world religions in its historically accounted for resurrection of a savior, Christianity is a distinctively superior world view among other great religions, and Christianity has a compelling and incomparable gospel message among other world religions. Now, what about absurdities"

I honestly don't understand how any of these mean Christianity is true. Can you explain how how the uniqueness of an idea makes it true? Also can you explain how the best piece of "good news" is most likely the truth?

Its so confusing how you have come about this. Just because its a nice story and is really unique does not mean it is true and yet this appears to be exactly what you are saying.

ZAROVE said...

I emailed this to a friend, btu decided ot post it here as well.


I am DYslexic, sorry for the spelling.

*********

I never udnerstood the firts bit of htis argument.

Basiclaly, the Atheist says the Christian see's all Religiosn as irrational and sillymythology, but refuses to unerstand his own religion is just the ame.

However, I never saw Hinduism, or Islam, or Buddhism as absurd and silly wiht Irraitonal beelifs.

I actually don't think all Religions are silly and absurd except Christianity.

I never udnerstood these sorts of comments from Atheists.

Its always been my contention that Christianity isn't so much true in and of itself, nut is like Science, it is a description of thigns htat are true. THe thigns it describes are external, with Christianity just being a modle we use to udnerstand those things we see.

In that way, I agree with C. S. Lewis, in that he didn't think one had ot reject all claism by all Religions, just those portiosn that cotnradicted Christianity had ot be rejected. (THis isn't to say all beleifs that don't contradict Christianity must be accepted.)

Thus, I see Buddhism as an examinaiton of the Human condition and the problem of sufferingwht valuable insights, and understand ISlam as an attemto to unify and rstore th worship of the true God amongst the Pagan Arabs, and to correct the difficulties Muhammad had in mind when he saw CHristian teaching on the Trinity.

I do not think they are all just silly and absurd, but just different understandings of the same world and same problems we face.

I also apply Sceptical prunciples ot new claims, always hcanlengin everyhting. I am heaivly infleunced by Caresian philosophy after all. Des Carte introduced the idea of Systematic Doubt. I've always employed this. I am after all a Rationalist. ( And I mean that int he true sense, not hwo its been appropriated by the modern day NEw Atheism.)

So why is it Loftus htinks that as a Christian I see all religiosnas absud but my own? WHy do many Ahtiets? And hwy do thry think if I examien criticlally my own ebelfis Ill come to the conclusion that it too is absurd?

Joe Staub said...

Josh, at Methodoligical Musings.

Thank you so much for coming over here and responding. I took the liberty of going to your blog, Methodoligical Musings, and reading your latest post, "Open Letter to My Family". Wow! You are exactly the kind of guy I want to relate to. I'll tell you why. After reading your post I strongly identified with you and your experience. I have had a lot of the same experiences and feelings and conclusions. Over the course of 15 years I was a Christian School Bible teacher and Pastor of three churches. The last pastorate ending a few years ago. It was then that I went though a serious crisis of faith and went whole hog in to and OTF kind of challenge of my faith. I even became an atheist, in order to test my faith. I felt that I had to do this in order to honestly evaluate my faith. That is why I appreciate Loftus' challenge. It resonated with me. Part of my experience during this foray in to atheism was reading Loftus' book. It is very persuasive! I even wrote a 10 page deconversion testimony as part of my exercise. What I came away with was partly what I said above, but I did not write or explain "everything" in the above post, so I understand why you would question me. So, let me briefly respond to you with a few more reasons for staying with the Christian Faith:

1. The Christian Faith is rooted in the claim to a historical resurrection. Part of my OTF exercise was to honsest deal with the problem of historicity. Bart Ehrman is great contemporary source defending the idea that the Christian documents cannot be trusted as history. Very persuasive and compelling. But, to be fair to myself, I checked this against my own adopted belief that the gospels are historical. To help me with this I read Richard Bauchkam's, "Jesus and the Eye Witnesses". To me, an equally compelling defense of the historical accuracy of the gospels. These reads and other information led me to the conclusion that I had no good reason to reject the historicity of the Resurrection. By the way, Loftus' chapter "exposing" the resurrection contradictions in the gospels is nothing new. I taught the gospels for 5 years and had no problem resolving the apparent contradictions. There is no smoking gun. But, if you want to see the different accounts as contradictions you can. Again, I see no reason to reject the gospel's historicity on the "apparent contradictions" challenge. I see that you are a highly intelligent and probably very well read guy, but I have to ask, have you read Bauckham and NT Write on the Resurrection? I know that they are written as a defense of the historical resurrection, but at least you will get a scholarly treatment of the issues. If then you are certain the resurrection is whooee, then so be it. I respect that. The resurrection is really at the heart of what I call the "uniqueness" of the Christian message that I stated in my Post.

2. Evolution vs. Creation! Look, I am not against some form of evolution, but I do not see any good reason to believe in at least an unguided evolution. You cite some important people who were atheist, such as Churchill. There are a lot of very impressive people who were and are atheists, but there are very important people who are theists, also. For instance, in the science realm, Francis Collins is a Christian, who as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute led the discovery of the DNA map. It is often thought that the discovery of DNA and how it works is proof of evolution. But, I have real problems with evolution to begin with. Entropy, the perfect organization of the universe to support life on earth, missing links, origin of organic matter, how DNA works, and so on. There is a whole host of web sites that can do a far better job than I on the topic. My point is that it is "highly" questionable. In Romans 1 Paul says that God's existence is "evident" to us through the the things we see. I have no good reason to reject this. I am not saying I don't doubt, but doubt is not a good reason to reject in the face of the evidence I do have to believe.

3. I looked at my reasons for deconverting from the ten page paper I wrote and I noticed that most of it was anecdotal evidence. It reminds me of what you wrote in your open letter. Reasons like: The history of failure in the church (Holy Spirit failure), Personal experiences, Hypocrisy of the church, The misuse of Christianity. These are very powerful and persuasive arguments, but they are not necessarily logical arguments. I mean, they do not logically defeat Christianity and Christianity can answer these objections. There is no utopian or ideal world here and Christianity does not claim that there will be before the return of Christ.

I would go on if not for the nature of blog comments. I feel that I do understand you and sympathize strongly with you. I would very much like to openly dialogue with you. My email is: joestaubnw@gmail.com

Peace,

Joe

methodicalmusings.com said...

"I even became an atheist, in order to test my faith."

Is this a subtle confession that you never fully became an atheist because your primary purpose was to strengthen the faith you had already adopted?

If you start on a journey with the end in mind you will end up there. Sounds like you decided to become an atheist so you could end up a better Christian :)

"By the way, Loftus' chapter "exposing" the resurrection contradictions in the gospels is nothing new."

So? The oldest arguments are often the best. Being able to say "this is nothing new!" means nothing to me.

"I taught the gospels for 5 years and had no problem resolving the apparent contradictions. There is no smoking gun. "

So you used reason - with a specific intent to harmonize - to come up with solutions to problems. How does this validate the gospels again? I think it just validates your ability to solve problems, not the trustworthiness of the gospels. Your just smart. Anybody can resolve an error in any holy book if they really put their mind to it.

And of course there is no "smoking gun". Why would there be? What kind of smoking gun would you accept?

Is my Ezekiel error not enough?

"In Romans 1 Paul says that God's existence is "evident" to us through the the things we see. I have no good reason to reject this."

If its so evident why do Christians need to evangelize again? And what exactly is evident? God's power? Why not just say the universe's power? What's the difference?

"These are very powerful and persuasive arguments, but they are not necessarily logical arguments."

Well I don't know about your arguments, but I don't think the ones you listed are anecdotal at all. If a religion makes a prediction on what should happen, and that prediction does not come true, then the source of the religious claims is completely defeated. That's logical.

So if Jesus says that all these things will take place in that generation, and they don't, then its completely logical to reject his message. And if that is not what he "meant", then the Bible is not clear. If the Bible is not clear, then how can we trust our interpretations are accurate? And if we cannot trust our interpretations of the Bible, then hell... what's the point?

If Jesus prays in John 17 that there will be unity in the church and in 2000 years the prayer still has not been answered, then I feel justified in rejecting it as spiritual rhetoric. That's logical. And wise.

And the Holy Spirit is just as easily explained naturally as spiritually. As such, I feel quite "justified" in rejecting any existence of the Holy Spirit. I have not found one instance where the Holy Spirit was supposedly involved that does not have a clean psychological or emotional or naturalistic explanation. Especially in my own life.

And trust me. I know. I used to have voices in my head (thought they were demons, angels, and the Lord). I used to experience massive rushes from the "Holy Spirit" and on and on. I know the experiences. They are powerful and they are controllable. And they are not real.

I can still bring back the voices at will if I want and predict what they will say. Exciting stuff!!

"There is no utopian or ideal world here and Christianity does not claim that there will be before the return of Christ."

Exactly. And that is the nature of Christianity and why it works so well: its predictions (at least in the 21st century) are never guaranteed until death. Hold the carrot far enough from the donkey and it will just keep on moving forward and never know the difference. "Now we see dimly..." Al.... most.... there...

And the coolest thing about it is that since the faith is so ambiguous and amporphous to the ages it find itself in there are always new opportunities for new faith heros of every generation. Those faithful few who made it through the arguments of men like Loftus and survived to bring life and hope to those who still want to believe.

Its an absolutely beautiful system to keep adherents moving forward, never really completing anything or resolving issues, just moving and adapting.

How are you or I supposed to know the entire religion is not based on empty promises - preferably before death?

How would we know?

How would we really know?

Can we?

If we can't, then what separates faith in Christianity from - say - a belief in UFO's? There's never enough evidence against them... and always just enough evidence for...

The key to faith is not in taking the OTF and coming out the other side as a Christian. The key is in genuinely having meaningful and informative interaction with the God of the universe - something which I have never seen in any Christian. Ever.

If you can demonstrate in a reasonable manner that you have informative and reasonable interaction with the God of the universe I will believe you.

[BTW, You should read my post on presuppositionalism]

Jeffrey said...

>The Christian Faith is rooted in the claim to a historical resurrection. Part of my OTF exercise was to honsest deal with the problem of historicity. ... These reads and other information led me to the conclusion that I had no good reason to reject the historicity of the Resurrection.

The question is not if the contradictions, etc. discredit the Resurrection accounts. The question is if they are so convincing as to point to a miracle.

If several people on TV are sure that they and a crowd of 500 people saw a UFO, you would still doubt if the UFO is real if that's all you had. Write down the testimony and wait 2000 years, and that's what the Gospels are. This is even giving away all the apologetic arguments like the Gospels are historically reliable, consistent with each other, and written by eyewitnesses.

The way you have phrased this sure makes it look like you aren't thinking in terms of the OTF. If you were, the point would not be rebutting skeptics, but making your own case. You have not even hinted at what this might be.

>For instance, in the science realm, Francis Collins is a Christian, who as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute led the discovery of the DNA map. ... But, I have real problems with evolution to begin with.

What you have just revealed is that the first highly intelligent Christian who came to your mind is someone who famously accepts evolution. And then one of your reasons for believing in Christianity is the case against evolution. His most important work with genome sequencing is also highly relevant to what is arguably the best evidence for common descent.

If evolution is false, then Collins is a Christian whose claim to fame is tied very closely with a great deception that he has fallen for and is actively promoting. It's hard to be impressed with your reasons to believe when they contradict each other.

You can't get around this by "not being against" guided evolution when your objections to evolution include missing links.

>In Romans 1 Paul says that God's existence is "evident" to us through the the things we see. I have no good reason to reject this.

Suppose Muhammad said that the truth of Islam is obvious to all - some simply choose to ignore the evidence.

The question is not if you have reason to reject Paul's claims. The question is if you have reason to accept them. This sentence also makes it look like you aren't applying the OTF.

I'll believe that you honestly think you have passed the OTF, but your arguments suggest otherwise.

Joe Staub said...

Hi Josh,

You certainly know how to lay down a challenge! BTW, love the pipe. I used to have a briar pipe that was really cool, but somewhere in the past I lost it. It would be a blast to sit down with you over a beer and bowl of good tobacco. But, on to the dialogue…

“If you start on a journey with the end in mind you will end up there. Sounds like you decided to become an atheist so you could end up a better Christian.”

I agree with the principle stated in the first sentence, but the second sentence is not true. I wanted Christianity to be wrong because I was so mad at God and the church. I saw what I interpreted as the Holy Spirit’s failure surrounding my life and so I went on a mission to denounce God. Email my wife and ask her yourself, map_backwords@hotmail.com . I won’t even tell her about our interaction, so that I don’t seed her mind. It didn’t last long, but I did abandon the faith. That is what I meant by, “test my faith.” I also had a good bit of exposure to Buddhism and meditation and found in it some existential and psychological value. I find it satisfying to practice meditation and mindfulness. I began my atheism stint with all the doubts, questions and arguments already there. I had all the years of seminary training, reading, discussions with unbelievers, my own questions and problems to help me. I read Loftus, Ehrman, the Four Horsemen and listened to numerous debates. Having said this, there is a point at which the OTF fails. At least as John Loftus defines it. You cannot entirely reset you mind. Unless you have a stroke or have amnesia you will take your previous experiences and education with you in to what ever you study and evaluate. But, I can say that I “took on” the mind of an atheist or a agnostic. I said all the same things you are saying. I respect your evaluation. And, I can say I still have many of the same concerns.

“Well I don't know about your arguments, but I don't think the ones you listed are anecdotal at all. If a religion makes a prediction on what should happen, and that prediction does not come true, then the source of the religious claims is completely defeated. That's logical.”

What I mean by anecdotal is that I can marshall forth all kinds of information on the “glories” of the Christian movement over the centuries. John Loftus has a section in his book where he displays the hypocrisy, cruelty, and internal conflicts of the church over 2000 years in order to show that Christianity has failed. Well, read D.James Kennedy’s, “If Christ Had Not Been Born” to get a different perspective on the church. Or, Kenneth Laturette’s, “History of Christianty”. Just to be fair. By the way, Laturette was no spin doctor, so I think he is very fair with the data. I mean, just be fair with the information instead of finding only what has been bad. It’s kind of like looking at life and saying, “life is full suffering, pain, sadness, and evil, period.” Well, that is not true, it is also full of, “enjoyment, happiness, laughter, and peace.” So, when we say that the Holy Spirit failed or that Jesus’ prayer wasn’t answered, it really amounts to our opinion or interpretation.


“If the Bible is not clear, then how can we trust our interpretations are accurate?”

I agree that this is a problem and have also raised the question. But, why can’t we understand that the problem is not with the Bible or God’s revelation, but with our human incapacity for perfection.

“The key to faith is not in taking the OTF and coming out the other side as a Christian. The key is in genuinely having meaningful and informative interaction with the God of the universe - something which I have never seen in any Christian. Ever.”

I don’t know how you can make this judgment? Do you have some sort of test you use to make this determination, or is it just your “impression”?

I read your post on presuppositional thinking. You made the comparison between Christian faith and belief in UFOs. I think the principle you present about presuppositional faith is right on. I know you see this as a problem, even if I don’t. What I see is that ultimately all world views will have a degree of circular reasoning. The Christian is encouraged to start with faith (Romans 1:18ff; Hebrews 11:1ff), but not blind faith, as I said in the previous post. God has made it evident to us that he exists (Romans 1). But, there is a big difference between UFOs and Christian Faith as presupposition, in my evaluation. The Christian faith has been around for 2000 years and has grown in to the largest religion on earth, with billions of adherents. Of course there are different “kinds” of Christianity (we can argue about that another time), but it doesn’t really compare with the small group of people who believe in UFOs. This is what I call the “Spaghetti Monster” false comparison; playing off the comparison Richard Dawkins makes with Biblical Faith.

Also, if I understand you correctly, your problem with Ezekiel and the sacrifices has been a big intramural debate in the church for generations of Biblical Theologians. I have never seen it as an inerrancy issue. The Premillenialist usually believes that the sacrifices in the Millenium after Christ returns (Ezekiel’s Restoration) will be memorial or symbolic of what already has been accomplished. They would be performed for the sake of looking back to Christ’s finished atonement. The Amillenialist and Postmillenialist sees the Ezekiel restoration as symbolically fulfilled in the New Covenant. I don’t see a problem with contradiction.


Peace,

Joe

Joe Staub said...

Hi Jeffrey,
Thank you for responding. I welcome any respectful debate. I think your criticisms are fair and I want to try to respond to some of them.
“If several people on TV are sure that they and a crowd of 500 people saw a UFO, you would still doubt if the UFO is real if that's all you had. Write down the testimony and wait 2000 years, and that's what the Gospels are. This is even giving away all the apologetic arguments like the Gospels are historically reliable, consistent with each other, and written by eyewitnesses.”
If I understand you correctly, I think you miss characterize the way Christianity developed. The gospels were eyewitness accounts with names of the eyewitnesses attached to the recollection and transmission. At that time in history people relied on eyewitness history, not on hearsay or some concocted story. There had to be corroborating witnesses and testimony as well. You owe it to yourself to read Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, where he argues that first century history was serious business. At least he will describe how history was done in the first century. In addition, the eyewitness testimonies were passed down to faithful guarantors who eventually wrote down the accounts in such a way to address the audience and life setting in which they were seeking to reach. Also, the early church, not 2000 years later, adopted the written four gospels we have in our cannon. These gospels were circulating within 100 years of Christ’s death. By the Council of Carthage in 397 the cannon was finalized. But as I said, the gospels were attested by the Christian community within a generation or two of their eyewitness testimony. Of course, you still have to trust the eyewitness accounts and the transmission of those accounts. At least Bauckham makes a strong case that they were trustworthy.

“The way you have phrased this sure makes it look like you aren't thinking in terms of the OTF. If you were, the point would not be rebutting skeptics, but making your own case. You have not even hinted at what this might be.”
If I understand you correctly, see my response to Josh above. I think I answer this in my second response to him. I only started rebutting skeptics after I finished the test, so to speak.

“For instance, in the science realm, Francis Collins is a Christian, who as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute led the discovery of the DNA map. ... But, I have real problems with evolution to begin with. What you have just revealed is that the first highly intelligent Christian who came to your mind is someone who famously accepts evolution. And then one of your reasons for believing in Christianity is the case against evolution. His most important work with genome sequencing is also highly relevant to what is arguably the best evidence for common descent.”
Well, I did not say I “didn’t” accept the veracity of evolution. I said I have problems with it and especially the way naturalism communicates it. I know that Collins is a theistic evolutionist and I respect that. I don’t see a contradiction in what I have said. The issue has to do with origins and guidance if you are a theistic evolutionist. It seems that evolution in the public area is interpreted in light of naturalism. In other words, Naturalism is the presupposition guiding the understanding of evolution. That is what I reject and that is what my questions deal with. If God did originate and guide evolution it would resolve the problem of entropy, origins, sentient beings, etc. The problems I have with Naturalism.

“You can't get around this by "not being against" guided evolution when your objections to evolution include missing links.”
It is a big question mark for me. One of many. However, the links may be discovered and that would relieve that problem.

“In Romans 1 Paul says that God's existence is "evident" to us through the things we see. I have no good reason to reject this. Suppose Muhammad said that the truth of Islam is obvious to all - some simply choose to ignore the evidence. The question is not if you have reason to reject Paul's claims. The question is if you have reason to accept them. This sentence also makes it look like you aren't applying the OTF. “
During my OTF foray, I did give up my presuppositional faith, described as essential to the Christian Faith by the Apostle Paul. I accepted Atheism or a kind of neutral skepticism. Again, please read my second reply to Josh. However, my point is that I attribute my ultimate inability to leave theism to such an idea. I realize this is a matter of faith and not just evidence.

Peace,

Joe

Chuck O'Connor said...

Thanks Joe for reading my comment. Your answer was unsatisfactory. Your claim that Christianity is a belief-system with a unique resurrected god is disproved with Dyonysus and your claim that proves prophecy is intellectual fallcious. Thanks for helping this skeptical Christian on his own OTF and helping me realize that Christians claim to historical or intellectural honesty is really just self-delusion.

Joe Staub said...

Wow, Chuck, you don't leave any room for dialogue. Did you come here to interact with me or to inform me?

tigers1984 said...

Joe,

I am honestly taking the OTF.

Therefore when presented with false evidence I will use my skeptical mind and call it as I see it.

You claim Chrsitianity is superior because of its unique resurrection/savior story.

I pointed to two other myths that had the same device inherent to their theology.

You then respond by debunking the very easily observed fact I stated by pointing to literature that says Christianity couldn't have stolen those myths as their own.

That wasn't my point. My point was that Christianity is not unique in its savior story. That is one of your basic claims to its reality correct? If so, you should rescall that claim. It isn't true.

Also, my point in making the comparison is not to imply that Christianity stole anything from anyone. My point is that the human imagination if capable of creating salvation myths with resurrected man-gods. If any of the culturals never intersected it would make my premise even stronger. You would then need to accept as fact Osiris or Dyonysus as actual historical human beings to then accept Jesus. Something you would not do.

I have recently come to a place of awareness where I see chrstians claims to know the truth should be held to a standard where they provide proof to the truth of those claims.

You haven't and in short I consider you a liar.

I am okay with that. It helps provide further clarity that christianity is not the truth but a well-designed myth which, like all myths, can help make sense of what it means to be human. It is not the answer to the difficulties in being human however.

Thanks,

Chuck

Joe Staub said...

Chuck,

Thanks for clarifying your opposition to my claim of "uniqueness". What I mean by uniqueness is that the presentation of Jesus as a divine resurrected savior who opens the door to reconciliation with God though faith in Him is a unique message - so far as I can see, historically. The mythical figures referred to do have some correspondance, but not entirely. I think you admit this in your last comment. I interpret the correspondance as a kind of prefiguring/foreshaddowing of a true and satisfying savior. You even find this kind of correspondance in literature over the past centuries following Christ. We sentient creatures seem to have a need for deliverance stories. Stories like the enslaved damsel in distress who is rescued by a night in shinning armor. We are the bride and Jesus is the bridegroom. This is all actually quite similar to what you say. It is inherent in humans to look for a god figure to relieve them of their most dreaded problems of unexpiated guilt, meaning in suffering, and deliverance from death. As humans we look for deliverance and restoration and so the stories abound. Everyone on the atheist side seems to admit that this is true.

I am disappointed that you would charge me with lying, because if this is your posture it makes me wonder if you will be able to find the truth. You can charge me with being deluded or with being wrong. But, there is nothing in my statement that indictates I have lied. Please be fair with yourself in your search.

I hope the best for you in your pilgrimage, Chuck.

Peace,

Joe

tigers1984 said...

Joe,

You can drop the condescending tone.

Okay, you are deluded.

Did you really read Ehrman's latest? Did you? If so, then please discuss Apocalyptic Prophet perception/expectation the 1st Century followers had and how that was later conflated in John when the kingdom didn't arrive during their life-time.

Because we psychologically seek a pattern of belief does not mean the legends we create are fact.

Josehph Campbell does some nice writing about this but I'm sure you've read him too (or at least will claim to to justify your "faith").

I seriously doubt you have done any honest investigation of the canon with a historical-critical eye because if you did then you would consider the text as probable legend, not authorotative history.

Oooops, am I calling you a liar again? No, I am questioning your comprehension skills.

Joe Staub said...

Tigers1984,

I apologize for the condescending tone. Thanks for making the observation, because I don't want to come across as though I am intellectually superior, or superior on any ground. I am truly just a beggar trying to show other beggars where to find bread. That's the way I see myself.

Anyway, you are quite right that I could be deluded, dumb, ignorant of all information upon which I comment, incapable of comprehension, etc. Even a liar. You have no way of knowing, really. However, as you know, we cannot know each other by these posts and comments. This kind of forum is so limited in its ability to do justice to what you and I both know and seek to communicate.

Now, I am not wet behind the ears regarding early Christian history, having 20 plus years experience with it. Most recently I have read Ehrman, Bauckham, NT Wright and a variety of articles. I think Ehrman is incredibly cogent and compelling. However, I don't just buy all that he says. You see, I don't know your background, so I can't comment and I don't want to sound condescending, but when I put Bauckam and NT Wright along side Ehrman, Ehrman doesn't sound so convincing. What I mean is, often it comes down to one's theory of how to understand history. And also, it comes down to how you present the history and what history you do and don't present. Ehrman assumes certain things are true based on his adopted theories. Of course, we all do! If you read NT Wright you are going to get a different understanding or interpretation of the facts. And, it is not only what Ehrman says, but what he doesn't say. For instance, he speaks of the varieties of Christianities as though they were all so distinct. Different Christianities. But he does not do justice to the fact that the resurrection of Jesus was the center piece of the early church message. He also doesn't do justice, in my opinion, to the resurrection as that which caused the whole movement to begin with.

When I "claim" that Christianity is unique, I base that on historical data. My study leads me to conclude that there is no corresponding "resurrection" in any of the mythological figures people compare to Jesus. Not bodily resurrection, at least. You won't get this kind of treatment of history from Ehrman, but you will from NT Wright.

Apocalyptic conflation? Well, what does this prove? Jesus said that he himself did not know the time when the Father would bring things to an end, but Ehrman doesn't mention that passage. He just points to the passage where Jesus says that he thought the Kingdom would come in his life time. As I see it, Jesus interpreted the coming of the Kingdom as immanent (in the present time) and it just happens to still be immanent.

Ehrman concludes that the text variants are significant enough to destroy our ability to trust the Scriptures and that the gospels are so different that the early church believed in different Jesus'. I think Ehrman's conclusions are just incorrect. The gospels are thematic and present Jesus from different angles. What does that prove? Not as much as Ehrman believes, I suggest. As you know not all scholars agree with Ehrman.

I think Joseph Campbell was a great guy and great teacher. I have learned a lot from him and I wish I could have met him personally. He was not opposed to Christianity, but interpreted it in light of his mythological scheme. John Muir is another one of my favorite guys that was not necessarily a Christian but from whom I have gained spiritual insight.

I might even be able to learn from you too, Tiger.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Joe,

Bodily resurrection was a key element for 1st century apocalyptic Judaism and, in that light, diminishes the uniqueness of Christ's legendary resurrection.

Please cite a contrary methodology to understand the divergent theology and history within the canonical gospels that can reliably support your assertion they are the same report from different angles (ummm . . . what day did Jesus die? The one reported in John? Or the one reported in Mark?)

You have yet to further a theory as compelling as Ehrman's to convince me the gospel record is historically valid. If it is not then I can only take the resurrection as a conflation of first century apocalyptic theology in the hope for their desired Son of Man and resurrection of the body.

I await more of your bibliographic arguments. You have yet to produce a cogent theory for your claims. Please stop name-dropping authors and start providing insight.

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