Don’t let the facts get in the way

Posted: June 19, 2011 in Theo/Philo


Found an  interesting article by John Dickson called :Historical facts against atheist schoolyard delusions

which comments on Tamas Pataki’s (philosopher and atheists) recent article Ive highlighted a few extracts below by its worth a read here :

Here are a few extracts from John Dickson:

‘Pataki skirts around the issue when he says that the influence of the Judeo-Christian worldview on Western history has been “exaggerated.” This is itself a flimsy assertion, which he hopes readers will believe on account of the fact that, in other respects, he is a thoughtful writer. But I do not see how any serious ancient or medieval historian could accept that.

Western culture has been shaped decisively by its Hebrew and Christian cultural sources, as many specialists qualified to speak on the subject have shown, including Oxford’s Peter Harrison, Princeton’s Peter Brown, Baylor’s Rodney Stark, Macquarie’s Edwin Judge and others.

The Judeo-Christian shape of Western civilization is hardly discussed in the media, let alone given the opportunity to be “exaggerated.” Sadly, such insights are usually left to the cultural historians and political philosophers. One such expert, the atheist Jurgen Habermas of the Goethe University in Frankfurt, famously conceded:

“Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than a mere precursor or a catalyst. Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love … Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.”‘

‘This is something of a trend in recent atheist literature. Leaving aside the small, pardonable mistakes of those who haven’t felt it necessary to read any Bible since childhood (Dawkins’s placement of the Magi story in Luke’s Gospel, for instance), harder to overlook are the serious misrepresentations of scholarship found in atheist apologetics.

For example, Michel Onfray, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins all suggest that the very existence of Jesus is still in doubt among the historians. Dawkins cites an authority who has made what he describes as a “serious historical case that Jesus never lived at all,” one “Prof. G.A. Wells of the University of London.” But what Dawkins doesn’t say is that Wells is Professor of German Language and Literature at the University of London.

How would he react if someone made an eccentric biological claim and then cited a language professor as the “serious” authority. In reality, the Jesus-never-lived hypothesis is about as marginal in historical scholarship as young-earth-creationism is in biological science. ‘

‘What we got from the Jews and Christians

This revolution in the path to knowledge was the result of the shattering of the Greek worldview by the Judeo-Christian worldview. And we can date it precisely.

In AD 529 the Christian philosopher John Philoponus published his Refutation of Proclus echoing his Refutation of Aristotle. These were a stunning dismantling of the Greek doctrine of the rational, eternal universe in favour of a philosophical defence of the biblical notion of the universe as a created object with a beginning. And this gave us science as we now think of it.

The Oxford Classical Dictionary states things plainly: Philoponus

“influenced subsequent science to Galileo by replacing many of Aristotle’s theories with an account centred on the Christian idea that the universe had an absolute beginning.”‘

‘The breakthrough was immense. If the world is not an eternal, logical system but a creative work of art, we cannot simply think our way to understanding reality.

We must humbly inspect what the Creator, of his own free will, has produced and apply our rational powers of testing to comprehend what He has manufactured. Testing of what is, not rationalizing from first principles, will lead us to the truth about the physical world.

This is precisely the path John Philoponus opened up and it is exactly how the first modern scientists thought about their work. Isaac Newton, John Ray, Galileo, Johannes Kepler, William Harvey, Robert Boyle and the others: they were all inspired by the doctrine that the universe is a work of art from an utterly free Hand, not an eternally rational system.

What was required therefore was not more confident philosophical (or theological) rationalizing about the world but more probing of what is there in front of us, proposing theories about how it might work, testing those theories against other available facts and seeking confirmation from others: in short, the modern scientific method.

The monographs on the origins of science by Oxford’s Peter Harrison bear this out in compelling detail.

Tamas Pataki is totally wrong to suggest that the Greeks gave us the path of testing, experience and appeal to evidence. They gave us logic, for sure. But it was the followers of the Bible who insisted that logic alone cannot establish ultimate reality by deduction.

What is needed is “experience” – criticizing hypothesis from evidence and so verifying what is, not what ought logically to be. They applied this method first to the historical discipline, giving birth to the modern practice of history through research into primary sources (another story worth telling), and then to the physical world, giving birth to the empirical sciences.

What is perfectly clear is that Pataki’s dewy-eyed ode to the wonders of Greek thought and his caricature of the bumbling “soothsaying” of the Jews and Christians owe more to his own dogma than to either evidence or contemporary scholarship on any of the questions he touches upon.’

HT:Mike Bird: http://www.patheos.com/community/euangelion/

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Comments
  1. More classic examples of apologists misrepresenting atheists’ opinions and attacking straw man versions of them.

    Dawkins does not make the claim that Jesus never existed in The God Delusion. What he actually says is that a serious case, “though not widely supported”, can be made that Jesus the person did not exist and cites G A Well’s Did Jesus Exist? as such an example.

    I fail to see what Well’s status as a professor of German Literature has to do with anything. Except for the God Squad who throw the “you have to qualified to criticise religion” when they don’t have any actual arguments.

    Dawkins actually believes that Jesus existed, but obviously not that he was the son of God etc. He actually has rather a soft spot for old JC, as evidenced in his article, “Atheists for Jesus”.

    I am fascinated to note that whenever apologists are hauled up on whether Jesus existed they simple fire off ad homs comparing doubters to Holocaust deniers etc. without actually saying a single word to prove that Jesus existed. QED: I as an atheist am less likely to believe that Jesus existed.

  2. Mike Godfrey says:

    Ed you say:

    ‘I am fascinated to note that whenever apologists are hauled up on whether Jesus existed they simple fire off ad homs comparing doubters to Holocaust deniers etc. ‘

    sounds similar to Dawkins comparing Creationists to Holocaust deniers -what we know for sure is no one like Holocaust deniers ‘

    I fail to see what Well’s status as a professor of German Literature has to do with anything. Except for the God Squad who throw the “you have to qualified to criticise religion” when they don’t have any actual arguments.

    I think John Dickson has explained what Well’s Expertise means for his arguments :

    ‘How would he react if someone made an eccentric biological claim and then cited a language professor as the “serious” authority. In reality, the Jesus-never-lived hypothesis is about as marginal in historical scholarship as young-earth-creationism is in biological science. ‘

    you say ‘Dawkins actually believes that Jesus existed, but obviously not that he was the son of God etc.’ if thats the case and I always thought it was -why did he apparently cite an authority who has made what he describes as a “serious historical case that Jesus never lived at all,” one “Prof. G.A. Wells of the University of London.” But what Dawkins doesn’t say is that Wells is Professor of German Language and Literature at the University of London. ?

  3. I think John Dickson has explained what Well’s Expertise means for his arguments:

    ‘How would he react if someone made an eccentric biological claim and then cited a language professor as the “serious” authority. In reality, the Jesus-never-lived hypothesis is about as marginal in historical scholarship as young-earth-creationism is in biological science.’

    This objection erroneously presupposes that there is something in Biblical “scholarship” to be ignorant about.

    I suggest you read this article from a former believer and Theology first student:

    The essence of theology is neatly summed up in a well known definition given by St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109): fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). In fact, as a theological student, this was the first definition of theology that I was taught. The notion of ‘faith seeking understanding’ demonstrates clearly how intellectually vacuous theology is, and how low its credibility should be as an academic pursuit (…) theology starts with the acceptance of ideas that have no factual basis or for which the evidence is appallingly weak and proudly proclaims acceptance of these ideas on the basis of ‘faith’ as a virtue, and then goes on to attempt to make these a priori beliefs appear intelligible and rational. In other words, the ‘results’ of theology have been arrived at before study to confirm them has taken place.

    Case closed, as Hollywood lawyers but not real life lawyers would say.

    why did [Dawkins] apparently cite an authority who has made what he describes as a “serious historical case that Jesus never lived at all,” [but] doesn’t say is that Wells is Professor of German Language and Literature at the University of London. ?

    Probably because Dawkins examines the merits of the actual arguments rather than feeling that qualifications matter when criticising religion.

    Let’s hear your refutation of why Paul hardly mentions any details about JC’s life when he wrote earlier than the Gospel writers.

    And how much Zeusology have you studied before rejecting Greek mythology?

  4. Mike Godfrey says:

    ‘This objection erroneously presupposes that there is something in Biblical “scholarship” to be ignorant about.’
    Your use of the word ‘erroneously’ presupposes there isn’t something in Biblical scholarship to be ignorant about.-so what ?

    ‘Probably because Dawkins examines the merits of the actual arguments ‘…now there’s an example of faith!

    Regarding Paul’s lack of Biographical data for Jesus -FF Bruce says it better than I can :

    ‘Here, however, we are chiefly concerned with the information we can
    derive from his Epistles. These were not written to record the facts
    of the life and ministry of Jesus; they were addressed to Christians,
    who already knew the Gospel story. Yet in them we can find sufficient
    material to construct an outline of the early apostolic preaching
    about Jesus. While Paul insists on the divine pre-existence of Jesus
    (E.G., Col..1:15 ff.), yet he knows that He was none the less a real
    human being (Gal. 4:4), a descendent of Abraham ( Rom 9:5) and David
    (Rom. 1:3); who lived under the Jewish law (Gal 4:4); who was
    betrayed, and on the night of his betrayal instituted a memorial meal
    of bread and wine (1 Cor. 11:23 ff.); who endured the Roman penalty
    of crucifixion (Phil. 2:8; 1 Cor 1:23), although the responsibility
    for His death is laid at the door of the representatives of the
    Jewish nation (Gal 3:12; 6:14 etc); who was buried, rose the third
    day, and was thereafter seen alive by many eyewitnesses on various
    occasions, including one occasion on which He was so seen by over
    five hundred at once, of whom the majority were alive nearly twenty-
    five years alter (1 Cor 15:4 ff.). In this summary of the evidence
    for the reality of Christ’s resurrection, Paul shows a sound instinct
    for the necessity of marshalling personal testimony in support of
    what might well appear an incredible assertion.

    Paul knows of the Lord’s apostles (Gal 1:17 ff.), of whom Peter and
    John are mentioned by name as ‘pillars’ of the Jerusalem community
    (Gal 2:9), and of His brothers, of whom James is similarly mentioned
    (Gal. 1:19, 2:9). He knows that the Lord’s brothers and apostles,
    including Peter, were married (1 Cor. 9:5)–an incidental agreement
    with the Gospel story of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark
    1:30). He quotes sayings of Jesus on occasion–e.g., His teaching on
    marriage and divorce (1 Cor 7:10 f.), and on the right of the Gospel
    preachers to have their material needs supplied (1 Cor. 9:14; 1 Tim.
    5:18; cf. Lk 10:7); and the words He used at the institution of the
    Lord’s Supper.

    Even when he does not quote the actual sayings of Jesus of Jesus, he
    shows throughout his works how well acquainted he was with them. In
    particular, we ought to compare the ethical section of the Epistle to
    the Romans (12:1 – 15:7), where Paul summarizes the practical
    implication of the gospel for the lives of believers, with the
    Sermon on the Mount, to see how thoroughly imbued the Apostle was
    with the teaching of his Master. Besides, there and elsewhere Paul’s
    chief argument in his ethical instruction is the example of Christ
    Himself. And the character of Christ as understood by Paul is in
    perfect agreement with His character as portrayed in the Gospels.
    When Paul speaks of ‘the meekness and gentleness of Christ’ (2 Cor.
    10:1), we remember our Lord’s own words, “I am meek and lowly in
    heart’ (Matt. 11:29). The self-denying Christ of the gospels is the
    one of whom Paul says, ‘Even Christ pleased not himself’ (Rom. 15:3);
    and just as the Christ of the Gospels called on His followers to deny
    themselves (Mark 8:34), so the apostle insists that, after the
    example of Christ Himself, it is our Christian duty ‘to bear the
    infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves’ (Rom 15:1). He
    who said: ‘I am among you as the servant’ (Luke 22:27), and
    performed the menial task of washing His disciples’ feet (John 13:4
    ff.), is He who, according to Paul, ‘took the form of a slave’ (Phil.
    2:7). In a word, when Paul wishes to commend his readers all those
    moral graces which adorn the Christ of the Gospels he does so in
    language like this: ‘Put on the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom 13:14).

    In short, the outline of the gospel story as we can trace it in the
    writings of Paul agrees with the outline which we find elsewhere in
    the New Testament and in the four Gospels in particular.’

    It seems not unreasonable to assume, given that Paul’s writings are early enough that the story of Jesus was well known to those he was speaking to, as some of the original eye witnesses are still at that time alive.

    ‘And how much Zeusology have you studied before rejecting Greek mythology? ‘
    Probably not as much as you ?

  5. And George Wells phrases matters rather succinctly as well:

    Since, then, these later epistles do give biographical references to Jesus, it cannot be argued that epistle writers were generally disinterested in his biography, and it becomes necessary to explain why only the earlier ones (and not only by Paul) give the historical Jesus such short shrift. The change in manner of referring to him after AD 90 becomes intelligible if we accept his that his earthly life in 1st century Palestine was invented late in the 1st century. But it remains very puzzling if we take his existence for historical fact.

    Not to blow my own trumpet but you should read my disgracefully scholarly piece castigating Richard Bauckham’s pile of claptrap:

    a quick skim through a couple of chapters made my left eyebrow virtually fly off my forehead. If I concocted a story about the exploits of His Noodly Appendage and used the word “witnesses” a lot, challenging readers a few centuries down the line to go out and find them, would that make the story a lot more easy to swallow?

    “‘And how much Zeusology have you studied before rejecting Greek mythology? ‘
    Probably not as much as you ?”

    Exactly, you ignorant, strident a-Zeusist! You are not qualified to pass judgement on the truth of The Odyssey or The Iliad.

  6. Mike Godfrey says:

    isn’t this :

    ‘Since, then, these later epistles do give biographical references to Jesus, it cannot be argued that epistle writers were generally disinterested in his biography, and it becomes necessary to explain why only the earlier ones (and not only by Paul) give the historical Jesus such short shrift. The change in manner of referring to him after AD 90 becomes intelligible if we accept his that his earthly life in 1st century Palestine was invented late in the 1st century. But it remains very puzzling if we take his existence for historical fact.’

    Agreeing with this :

    ‘It seems not unreasonable to assume, given that Paul’s writings are early enough that the story of Jesus was well known to those he was speaking to, as some of the original eye witnesses are still at that time alive.’
    despite your devistating attack on Poor old Richard Bauckham
    It seems to me ‘The change in manner of referring to him after AD 90 becomes intelligible if we accept ‘ that those speaking and writing about Jesus and the events surrounding him were either alive at the time or knew someone how was .

  7. Er, no.

    Wells’ passage is concise and to the point.

    Dickson’s is virtually incomprehensible in its attempts to square the circle of the early Epistle writers neglecting many details about JC’s life.

    As Wells states, “The change in manner of referring to him after AD 90 becomes intelligible if we accept his that his earthly life in 1st century Palestine was invented late in the 1st century. But it remains very puzzling if we take his existence for historical fact.”

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