Archive for August, 2009

“Established Facts.”

Sun Aug 30, 2009 6:55 am by TheYoungAndRestless

But there are actually three established facts recognized by the majority of New Testament historians today which I believe are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus.

– William Lane Craig

One can imagine the impact on an untutored mind of a phrase as commanding as “established facts’ or the idea that to challenge these facts is to challenge the consensus of historians; one would have to be crazy to go against the mainstream findings of an academic discipline, setting aside Creationism for a moment. Unlike many of the arguments for the existence of God, which are essentially matters of pure philosophy and therefore, while I would prefer to preserve them for the experts, we are all on some level capable to engaging them, the Argument for the Existence of God from the Historicity of the Resurrection requires some skill as an historian to refute and one must have access to substantial library. Offering the Argument for the Existence of God from the Historicity of the Resurrection, however, requires almost no skill as an historian, which is not to suggest that only the unskilled offer it; I am reminded that nonsense is the one of the few things that is harder to destroy than it is to create.

I stopped into a library to see if I could put my hands on a book about the historicity of Jesus, his life, times, death, the near effects of this death, and possibly his resurrection, ‘possibly’ because I can predict that a certain level of skepticism might reject the proposition that history is capable of establishing the existence of a miracle. Charmingly, because it feels like it’s becoming antiquated, the library utilized the Dewey Decimal Classification (it’s no longer a system, as I remember being taught in elementary school) and I made my way to the 232s, putting my finger on The Historical Figure of Jesus by E.P. Sanders. Libraries, I have long believed, are sacred places, mausoleums, on the one hand, and full of life, on the other; it is here, after all, that we store the longest lasting effects of our species’ best minds, and here, inevitably, where we go to better our own. This particular library pleases me: it is small, which means the librarian has to take considerably more care in selected which books which fill the shelves, and, on a personal level, I sat on the committee which hired our current librarian.


“Fundamentalism is always sporadic.”

Sun Aug 30, 2009 1:30 am by TheYoungAndRestless

Recently, there has been a renewed flurry of interest in the date of Jesus’ execution, and I have added an appendix on this topic. Here I wish to comment generally on the mistakes (as I perceive them to be) of the scholars who bring forth extreme proposals on such points, such as that Jesus was executed in 26 or 36. Since the evidence is diverse and hard to reconcile precisely, there is a tendency to seize on one point, to say that is determinative, and then to beat the other pieces of evidence into the necessary shape. That is, there is a danger of sporadic fundamentalism in studying ancient texts – not just the Bible. ‘Fundamentalism’ refers to the notion that some ancient text – or ancient literature in general – tells the precise and unvarnished truth. Fundamentalism, however, is always sporadic: fundamentalists believe that some people never exaggerated, made mistakes or mislaid their notes; or, at least, that some sections of some texts are perfectly reliable. Reading chronological studies on the New Testament reveals a lot of fundamentalism – usually sporadic. A scholar will maintain, for example, that John’s chronology is better than Mark’s and Matthew’s (and thus that theirs is not true.) Next, he or she will accept John on the numerous points where that gospel disagrees with the other three: there were three Passovers during Jesus’ public career rather than one, he was executed on 14 Nisan rather than 15 Nisan, and during his ministry he was in his forties (he was ‘not yet fifty’, John 8.57) rather than in his thirties, as Luke has it. Having dismissed the chronology of Matthew, Mark and Luke, some scholar then seize upon Matthew’s story of the star that stood over Jesus’ birthplace, and they try to match it with the appearance of a comet – apparently not noticing that this particular star, according to our only description of it, did not blaze across the heavens, but rather ‘stopped over the place where the child was’ (Matt. 2.9). Why take the star of Matthew’s story to be a real astral event and ignore what the author says about it? Why pay attention to Matthew’s star anyway, since he was wrong about the date of Jesus’ death (which John got perfectly right)?

“External Sources,’ The Historical Figure of Jesus, p. 55. E. P. Sanders.

The Loneliest Robots

Sat Aug 29, 2009 3:37 pm by AndromedasWake

Spare a thought for Voyager 2.

The spacecraft, which has been in operation for just over 32 years reached a humbling milestone this week; 20 years since the closest approach to Neptune. On August 25th, 1989 it came within 5000 km of the big, blue gas giant, taking spectacularly beautiful ‘close-ups’ that Adams, Galle and Le Verrier could only have dreamt of (see pictures after the jump). Just 5 hours later, it made its closest approach to Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, which is spiraling in slowly to its eventual demise.

Voyager 2 is so far the only probe to have visited Neptune (and Uranus) completing the reconnaissance of our Solar System’s main planets. I was only three years old at the time, but thanks to the achievements of the Voyager programme, I grew up with books containing a complete set of stunning photographs and they inspired me no end. Every time I look through my old books, I remember not to take this for granted. Most of the planets’ discoverers lived long before they were seen up close and it is only through the hard work of many scientists and engineers that in the time I live, we have landed probes on alien worlds (Huygens on Titan, 2005), we’ll soon be exploring dwarf planets (Dawn to Ceres, New Horizons to Pluto) and we’re continuously discovering other Solar Systems of all flavours. I can’t help but wonder how exploration will have improved hundreds of years after I’m gone, and how the distant planets being discovered today might also be seen in close up.



Fri Aug 28, 2009 10:15 pm by TheYoungAndRestless

Most scholars who write about the ancient world feel obliged to warn their readers that our knowledge can be at best partial and that certainty is seldom attained. A book about a first-century Jew who lived in a rather unimportant part of the Roman empire must be prefaced by such a warning. We know about Jesus from books written a few decades after his death, probably by people who were not among his followers during his lifetime. They quote him in Greek, which was not his primary language, and in any case the differences among our sources show that his words and deeds were not perfectly preserved. We have very little information about him apart from the works written to glorify him. Today, we do not have good documentation for such out-of-the-way places as Palestine; nor did the authors of our sources. They had no archives and no official records of any kind. They did not even have access to good maps. These limitations, which were common in the ancient world, result in a good deal of uncertainty.

“Preface,’ The Historical Figure of Jesus. E. P. Sanders.

Why Do We Care?

Mon Aug 24, 2009 7:48 pm by Th1sWasATriumph

One of the most common rebuttals I face, generally from well-meaning friends, is the old chestnut: “Why do you care? What’s wrong with religion if it doesn’t directly affect you? Why can’t you leave people alone?”

This stance neatly condemns any attacks on “soft” theism/deism whilst open-endedly permitting criticism of religion that does directly affect me, or people in general.

I am constantly at pains to sculpt my position with the utmost clarity. I don’t like religion. I don’t like unfounded beliefs that have more in common with delusional fairy tales than a rational response to the universe; similarly I am compelled to wax vitriol against beliefs in the supernatural, in the pseudoscientific. But as far as religion goes, I am restrained.


I know exactly what you’re thinking

Sun Aug 23, 2009 2:58 pm by rabbitpirate

At the weekends I like to get out of the house and go for a long, leisurely walk around the village in which I live. I put on my ipod, call up the latest episode of The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and saunter down the road lost in my own little relaxing world. Only this weekend something strange happened, something that is almost beyond my ability to explain. There I was walking along when all of a sudden this irresistible urge to veer from my normal route overcame me. Forces beyond my control caused me to cross the road and head in a direction I normally would not travel. It was as though my actions were not my own, as if some cosmic force were guiding my every step, propelling me on an unalterable course to a destination known only to the fickle whims of fate. I felt a pull on my non-existent soul drawing me on, across another road and inextricably to the window of our local electronics store where, behind the glass like a gift from a higher power or an ancestral spirit, I found the subject of my next blog post. For before me I read these words:


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Oh goody, the perfect excuse to talk about cold reading.



Gleeful Public Evisceration

Mon Aug 17, 2009 5:46 pm by rabbitpirate

So the other day my free copy of Creation or Evolution, Does It Really Matter What You Believe? arrived on my doormat. As those of you who read the Pharyngula blog (and if you don’t you really should) will no doubt remember PZ was recently complaining about some awful creationist ads that keep appearing along side his posts over at ScienceBlogs. Unable to do anything to get them removed the betenticalled one came up with a cunning plan. He asked that his readers simply take them up on their offer of a completely free 60 page glossy booklet on creation vs evolution, read it and then “all join in a gleeful public evisceration of their crappy little booklet.” If he is going to be forced to give them publicity then “it will be the harshest, nastiest, meanest publicity possible, we will do everything we can to make sure that when someone googles their organization or their booklet, all that comes back is a mountain of snarling contempt.” Well, I thought, sign me up for a bit of that. My copy has now arrived and seeing that there is a PDF version available online you can all read along at home. Let the gleeful public evisceration begin.



TubeGuardian has arrived, have we won?

Thu Aug 13, 2009 3:32 pm by joshTheGoods

As you all probably know by now, the first public release of TubeGuardian has shaken up the votebotting scene, but is this the final blow in what has been an epic battle of morality and reason versus closed minded bigotry and censorship? Not in the least! In this blog, I will introduce everyone to TubeGuardian, answer a few common questions, and explain why this software is only the first step in many to come in the war against freedom and expression.

So, what exactly is TubeGuardian, and how does one acquire and use it?

TubeGuardian is software designed to determine and counteract votebot attacks. It can be downloaded right here at the League of Reason. Instructions for use will be posted in the forum entry for this blog post. If you do not know what votebots are, please see CosmicSporks excellent series of blog posts on the topic here. There are three main functions that TubeGuardian executes: gathering statistical information on videos, determining whether a video is under attack, and quickly disabling ratings on videos it determines are under attack. Let’s take each of those functions one at a time and dig a little deeper into how they work.


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