19 February 2007

Surprise Trolling

Well, well, well, looks like I got my first anonymous drive-by trolling.

In fairness, he didn't just scream "UR GOING TO HELL!! PRAISE JEEBUS!!!" and run off, so I'll give him credit for that. He took serious offense at my screed against the Alpha Course Christmas dinner I went to in December - you see, he teaches, like, THREE Alpha Courses a year, so that makes him like an expert or something, even though the course leaders generally don't have any particular training (my apologies if you, dear anonymous, actually do have scholarly training in such matters). Unlike most trolls, he actually presented an argument, albeit an angry and sarcasm laced one. Unfortunately, he showed up a bit late to the post, ie. the post was in December and it's now February, so in order to address his comments (given here), I'll make a new post now.

In particular, he took much issue with my attack on a quote given in Alpha honcho Nicky Gumbel's Christmas lecture video. The quote was about there being as much evidence for the life and resurrection of Jesus as for any other event in human history, which I quickly demonstrated was a craptacularly false statement. How'd I do this? By contrasting the resurrection with another set of events: WW2. Specifically, I showed how contemporary documents from a variety of sources on many sides, combined with the testimony of still living people, video footage, official military records, etc. show much more proof than that which is available for the resurrection.

Now, how did he attack my argument? Here's how:

1) By stating that I didn't do my homework because there is extrabiblical evidence for Jesus, including the writings of Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius.

2) By claiming that comparing WW2 to Jesus is unfair, since there are people around today who fought in WW2 (he knows 2 personally). The balance is so great, I could equally dismiss Caesar's conquest of Gaul, for example. Also, that by my arguments I'm dumber than CS Lewis.

3) By comparing the weight of evidence between, again, Caesar's Gallic Conquest and the events in the New Testament (NT) and stating that I should have an open mind for something that has over 5000 surviving early Greek copies.

Let's look at these:

1) Okay, okay, I'll admit it. I didn't do my homework. I knew Tacitus and Josephus existed and wrote about Jesus (I'd never heard about Suetonius). In fact, I've never read any of their works, relying purely on secondary sources talking about them. In fact, ditto goes for Caesar's conquest diaries. It's not important for my argument anyway, because I was specifically talking about primary accounts of history in my comparison. Josephus (37 AD-100 AD) was born about when Jesus was to have died and his account of the life and resurrection of Jesus repeats only what he has heard about Christ from Christians. Tacitus (56 AD - 117 AD) was even later, and only mentions Christ as founder of the Christian sect, put to death by Pilate. Suetonius (~69/75 AD - >130 AD) made an ambiguous statement about a Chrestus (probably not Christ) in Rome around 49 AD. Big whoop. None of these are contemporary accounts that corroborate the existence of Jesus. If I wanted to go into full time bible scholarship I probably should read the real accounts, but I'm an engineer, so screw it. I've got more important things to do.

2) It is true that comparing WW2 to the ressurection is like comparing apples to oranges. That was the point. One is well supported, the other is not. Sorry if I threw you by choosing an event that still has eyewitnesses, or even video footage and photographs. The quote from the Alpha video didn't have that whole "No events that still have witnesses" disclaimer when it made its boast about the evidence for Jesus. Also, C.S. Lewis's arguments are generally unconvincing; a guy doing a PhD in theology dropped by and agreed with me ;-)

Ok, to make it fair, fast forward 100 years so as to take away all eyewitness accounts of WW2. Is there still proof? You betcha. A whole lot. And that's the point: in regards to the quote, all the WW2 evidence does outweigh by far the evidence for Jesus. The balance of evidence for WW2 does not mean that Jesus is false; that's not the point. My argument deals with debunking the dumbass Alpha quote, that Jesus is not as well supported as the Alpha guy says, nothing more.

3) Now, on to the other point regarding the historicity of the NT compared to other historic documents. It's funny he mentions Caesar's Gallic War. I remember the first document my wife received from her Alpha Course: a handout photocopied from the course manual talking about the historicity of Jesus. It included a handy table that I fortuitously recalled seeing (speaking of that, if I were religious, I would use that freak remembrance as evidence for God's work in my life; however, seeing as this special occurence is helping me attack religion, I'll put it down as a fluke). As I said, funny he would mention that if he wasn't just regurgitating his Alpha course. Anyway, here it is, sorry for the formatting:

Work, When Written, Earliest Copies, Time Span (yrs), No of Copies

Herodotus, 488-428 BC, 900 AD, 1300, 8
Thucydides, 460-400 BC, 900 AD, 1300, 8
Tacitus, 100 AD, 1100 AD, 1000, 20
Caesar's Gallic War, 58-50 BC, 900 AD, 950, 9-10
Livy's Roman History, 59 BC - 17AD, 900 AD, 950, 20
New Testament, 40-100AD, 130 AD in part 250 AD full, 300, 5000 Greek 10000 Latin, 9300 other

Now, at first glance, I'll admit I was impressed, but something was wrong with this that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Then it hit me: it doesn't matter how many copies exist, how early the copies were made, etc. All that matters is if we can take the writing inside as accurate. No one is disputing that the New Testament was written (I think those numbers above prove very well that it was) but it was written starting at least 6 years after the events described (according to the above table) by people who weren't firsthand witnesses. Likewise, we don't doubt Herodotus wrote his histories, but that doesn't mean the contents are true. In fact, we now think that a substantial portion of his accounts were credulous BS.

Now it comes to the other unsettling part: the huge number of copies of the NT. As the Alpha book suggests, the other entries are considered history, while the bible has skeptics. Alpha presents the huge number of copies suggesting that, if eight copies is history, we'd be foolish to not consider 24300 copies as even better history. I have another query: why does the bible have so many copies when the real histories have so few? Something is amiss, and it's because the NT is pushing a religious agenda, not content to let the facts speak for themselves. In other words, the NT has so many copies because it is not history.

My troll also makes a few other arguments:

He writes, "Anyhow, if the Christians did do a sharp pen job on the New Testament they sure did a crap job. It makes all the apostles look like morons for half the time." But it's not that surprising. Arthur Conan Doyle made Dr. Watson into a complete dolt half the time as well, and he's supposed to be a doctor, not some illiterate fisherman. Why do it? To make your hero smarter and even more impressive, probably.

He classily finishes off with "You however look like your wife has pissed you off, you started popping the happy pills then started typing out of your arsehole!" Thanks for veiling the vulgarity. Now, normally I do get a teenie bit cheesed at my wife when dragged to a church thing, but I do appreciate that, rightly or wrongly, she is concerned about my welfare and, hell, there was food so I wasn't complaining. I was just getting at the arguments presented. You could deal with my arguments instead of strawmen, if you please. Either that or a little reading comprehension would be appreciated.

Did Jesus exist? And, if so, was he resurrected? I say a definite no on the second, but I really don't know for the first. It wouldn't surprise me either way if he was a real itinerant radical rabbi or if he was fictional character, or even if he was parts of both: a real rabbi with fables superimposed. Kinda like Davy Crockett, without the rabbi part.

Please see this FAQ on the historicity of Jesus from Internet Infidels for more.

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At February 20, 2007 11:21 AM, Blogger Zeno said...

Some Christians put a lot of weight on the numbers argument: "We have *so* many copies of New Testament manuscripts!"

Big whoop. Of course there are lots of copies. The Christian sect became very successful, so copies were made and preserved. No one built up a cult around Herodotus (that I know of!).

By the "lots of copies" token, I suppose we could say that People magazine or TV Guide is on its way to being the scriptures of tomorrow.

At May 01, 2007 12:15 PM, Blogger look_an_atheist said...

congrats on your first troll.

And as far as copies that are around- don't forget National Geographic! Think of how many millions of boxes of those things are moldering away in attics/basements across the world.

Seriously, there is something about those mags that makes them riddiculously hard to pitch. Maybe because they are mostly nonfiction. I don't know... Hmmmmmmm

As for Herodotus' numbers and the others, I bet the fundies aren't counting the Barnes & Noble reprints that are done. You can't tell me that there are "only" 8 copies of Herodotus' work in the world, cause if that's true I'm smelling a money making opportunity worth BILLIONS!

At January 11, 2008 5:48 PM, OpenID lagarrettjr said...

point well taken. I believe any religion can be argued intellectually? Here's my question? (Rhetorically) What happends when I die? We can see that the human spectrum of life has spanned for over 6000yrs of written documentation. And to think that at best my existence will be only 120yrs. It's but a vapor and comma of history. That's depressing.

I believe God has put eternity in the hearts of men; A belief that something happends to me when I die. I believe for man to deny this inherent truth, one is truely deceived.

the solution is faith!! Now is up to you to choose which faith to believe.

Here's a statement I heard that changed my perspective on Christ vs religion.

Religion- is mans attempt to reach God

Christianity- is God attempt through Jesus to reach man.

PS I really despise what organized religion has done to christianity. IT's not about methods and rituals...It's about a relationship with the Creator of the Universe.

At October 30, 2008 10:22 PM, Blogger William said...

Zeno is right, but it's worse than that: One reason that so few copies of the works of the great pagan authors exist is that early Christians spent a lot of time destroying them.

At August 16, 2011 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so funny! I enjoyed reading this. I especially liked the comment about the Church thing - 'at least there was food' Such a guy thing, but also my own thought (and I'm not a guy).

Nice arguments, good humor. :0)


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