Friday, March 31, 2017

Ancient Historical Writing as an Atheist's Inerrant Scripture

One of my projects this week has been an examination of claims by one of the supposedly better-educated atheist critics out there. I'm finding that, as usual, even when they have degrees, the education these folks have pretty much stops at the tip of their own noses.

One of the arguments made by this character is that the Gospels don't deserve our trust because they lack certain features of what they take to be reliable histories. For example, they quote the following from Dionysius of Halicarnassus:

For perhaps readers who are already familiar with Hieronymus, Timaeus,
Polybius, or any other historian that I mentioned a short while ago as being careless in their works, when they do not find many things in my own writings that are mentioned in theirs, will suspect me of fabricating them, and will want to know where I learned of such things. Lest anyone should hold such an opinion of me, it seems better that I should state in advance what narratives and records I have used as sources.

According to this critic, the Gospels would have a lot more credibility if they included stuff like this where the authors discuss their sources.

Yeah, right. If you believe for one minute that any atheist would suddenly give the Gospels more credibility if only Matthew or Luke or whoever had gone on some skein like the one above, I have some land here in Florida to sell you. It's a great deal, you just have to evict the giant mouse living there right now.

That's the most obvious problem, but here are a few more. The first is that this amounts to a ridiculous argument that no author has e.g., made use of sources unless they say something like the above. The second is that while an author like Dionysius had plenty of scratch available to publish their works, the authors of the Gospels generally did not -- especially because they were publishing for a mass audience, whereas Dionysus was publishing for a small group of like-minded peers. I have yet to see an atheist critic take any serious accounting of the fact that this wasn't a world where you could pop down to Office Depot and buy a ream of paper for $5.59. This was a world where paper (or parchment or whatever) was an expensive luxury. Yet they have a fit when the Gospel authors don't expend their limited resources to lay out what amounts to methodological window dressing.

The last problem I'll note, though, is the most significant one, and it indicates a blind spot in atheist critics that is as serious as that of a KJV-Only fundamentalist. Basically, atheist critics often take a profession of critical examination (like the one above by Dionysius) and turn it into a citation from inerrant Scripture. You've seen it before: For example, all Carl Sagan had to do was babble, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and suddenly he became a deity who could say and do no wrong, not even when it comes to his screwed-up history of the Library of Alexandria.

What escapes such critics is that a statement like the above is anything but a profession of objectivity and careful source-filtering. Basically, here's what it is really for: Dionysius is covering his backside in case he is called a liar. He is concerned about his personal honor, which was the primo #1 concern of members of honor-shame societies. What the critic takes to be an explanation by Dionysius of historical rigor is actually little more than an extended pre-emptive exercise in covering his own posterior and protecting his honor rating, and that undoubtedly from peers all too willing to savage it in a context where honor was seen as a zero-sum game.

There were plenty of other motives for Dionysius to say stuff like this, and a cynic who treated his work like the critics treat the Gospels might be apt to pull those out also. The basic description of Dionysius' work indicates that Dionysius "states that his objects in writing history were to please lovers of noble deeds and to repay the benefits he had enjoyed in Rome." Read that through the lens of that social world, and it amounts to him writing as a way to repay the favor shown to him by his patrons or others from whom he had received benefits. Put in a nutshell, his history was a work of quid pro quo.

The standard description also says that one of Dionysius' purposes was to "reconcile Greeks to Roman rule." That sure sounds like an objective measure, doesn't it? Sort of like, a 19th century slave owner writing tales of how happy all the slaves were as a way to "reconcile" their chattel to slavery. Yes, using that logic, we definitely have someone here who was writing the A-1 Steak Sauce Objective History of Rome, don't we?

In light of all that, it's more than a little laughable when critics downgrade the Gospels for being documents meant to encourage faith in Christ. Dionysius was writing for people who wanted to hear things they wanted to hear; a cynic might argue that he was under what amounted to a censor's control and that his history was therefore to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Therefore, it could be argued, his work is entirely untrustworthy. If anything, if we follow this logic to the end, the Gospels are clearly more objective histories than those of Dionysius, because at least the authors don't fill their text with a lot of self-serving descriptions of how gloriously competent they were, and they also at least were not in the pay of some patron who wanted them to make the local home team smell like a rose garden in order to placate the guys who were being compelled to spade the manure.

I'm not actually arguing that, of course. But I am pointing out just how easy it is to allow your ideology to govern the discussion. And that's exactly what atheist critics do when they complain that the Gospels deserve an F because e.g., they don't imitate Dionysius' self-serving rhetoric.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Banana: Proof God Does Not Exist!

I'm kind of busy this week, so I asked our recurring fundy atheist punching bag, I. M. Skeptical, to write me a post about the best argument for atheism he could come up with. Here's what he gave me.


There was once a slimy, snotty Christian apologist who made the argument that the banana is an “atheist’s worst nightmare” because it has so many great design features. I used to love that argument when I was a stupid, blind fundy, and now as an intellectually fulfilled atheist I think it is really stupid! In fact, I want to argue now that if anything, the banana proves that God does not exist, or that if he does, he is evil, malevolent, and really snotty! Here’s why:

The banana has a slippery peel which can be thrown on the ground, causing innocent people to slip and fall. The banana has been used for endless, cruel practical jokes (especially on me, and I have the bruises on my butt to prove it!) and this would only be a feature designed by a malevolent creator, or else it would have evolved in a godless, uncaring universe. If there was a God, he would have created trash cans everywhere with targeting vacuum suctions to keep people from using banana peels for practical jokes.

The banana comes in bunches, making it an especially vulnerable target for shoplifters. With many fruits, you can only steal one at a time, but bananas have been an unusual burden on the merchants of the world because they can be grabbed in large bunches. (I know that grapes and cherries, for example, are even worse; but these are yet more proof of either a malevolent creator or a godless universe.)

The banana has an unusual shape which makes it a special target for filthy double entendres. To put it bluntly, the banana is a pornographic fruit! Only a god who was a disgusting pervert could design a piece of fruit this way. The banana also encourages violence because you can hide it under your coat and pretend it is a handgun; or in Australia, you can use it as a boomerang. The banana is a fruit for perverts and criminals.

Bananas have an ugly yellow color and turn an even uglier brown or black when they spoil. What’s worse, they smell terrible when they go bad, and get all squishy and disgusting! That they turn brown or black when they go bad has also undoubtedly contributed to the problem of racism in this country.

“Banana” is spelled real stupid. You can’t keep track of how many “nas” to add, and it’s a real pain in the butt! A loving god would make sure there’d be no confusion, or wasted ink and paper, as a result of adding to many “nas.”

So as you can see, if anything, the banana is prime evidence that if any God exists, he is a mean, nasty, disgusting, stupid, and pathetic moron! And if you don’t agree, you’re a snotty idiot and I don’t want to hear it!

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Cockroach Dance

Here in Florida, we have a lot of cockroaches. They're so prevalent that they've been made the state bird (almost). If you're a native like me, you learn to cope with these beasts in unique ways. You can't just step on the darned things; they apparently have some kind of special sense that makes them able to feel the breeze your foot makes on the way down, so they can scurry out of the way. You have to learn to anticipate and stomp (or smack) where they're going to be a  millisecond later.

I was reminded of this part of my heritage this week because we had a fundy atheist show up on my YouTube channel who goes by "Golf Mania." He turned out to be a specialist in what I called the Cockroach Dance. What I mean is, he'd raise up some standard fundy atheist objection; for example, the old "most prison inmates are Christians" routine. I'd slap that down with an answer. Then he'd ignore what I said in answer and haul out some other standard canard from the fundy atheist arsenal. Not once did he ever so much as try to answer anything I presented in reply to him.

What does it mean when someone does the Cockroach Dance? More than anything else, it suggests an unmitigated arrogance. The fundy atheist (or whoever) who does the Cockroach Dance expects his or her opponents to be unable to answer their points, and to immediately shut up or succumb. They don't have any sort of second line of defense prepared because they haven't anticipated any answers. That, in turn, is because they simply accepted that argument themselves completely uncritically and didn't bother checking it for flaws.

It's really no surprise that this kind of thing happens on YouTube; it's just what to expect given the class of fundy atheist that does business there. In this case, Golf Mania happens to be a followers of one of the biggest Cockroach Dancers on YouTube, a guy who called himself DarkMatter2525. Dark makes decent computer-animated videos, but you need only watch a few of his vids to see that he's ultimately shallow, never does serious research, and is more interested in making jokes at the expense of the Biblical narrative (or of fundamentalism) than he is arriving at the truth of a matter. I once challenged Dark to take a test to see how well he understood Christian scholarship. He found excuses not to do so.

Golf Mania made a big deal of the fact that Dark's vids have hundreds of thousands of views. As I said in reply, and to which Golf had no do vids on how the moon landings were faked.

Friday, March 3, 2017

It Couldn't Have Happened to a Nicer Store

One morning this week, Mrs. H asked me to check on something she'd heard on the radio. Apparently, Family Bookstores (formerly Zondervan) were closing their doors.

Let me first say that there's a terrible aspect any time any legitimate business has to shutter itself. Thousands of workers will now be without jobs. Our economy is currently in a state where many will be able to find new jobs quickly. Others won't be affected much because their job with Family Bookstores was only a sidelight. But that won't erase the fact that some of the laid off workers will undergo significant stress in the coming months.

That said, the cynical side of me wants to say that Family Bookstores has only itself to blame for whatever suffering its workers endure because of the store closings. They sure didn't do much to earn the right to stay open, and that's where the sting of this post will begin.

I have one of these stores not a mile from where I live. I have never ceased to be amazed by how petty much of the stock is. I don't just mean the endless supply of Precious Moments figurines, useless trinkets, and Testamints. I also mean row upon row of useless garbage on the bookshelves. Christian romance novels. Self-help books. End times fiction, most of it badly written. (There was once a time when they had several rows with nothing but Left Behind material.)

You needed a shovel and a telescope to find anything that would disciple Christians in this mess. (No, Joyce Meyer doesn't count, sorry.) Apologetics books in particular were scarce, and they were mixed in with end times speculation works. You had a few of the usual unqualified popular preachers doing their thing, but overall, you may as well have discipled yourself with Disney cartoons.

Oh, of course, there were Bibles in plenty. One to suit every need. My poodle Cocoa approves of the Playful Puppies Bible in particular. Family Bookstores, however, otherwise fed us a steady diet of spiritual junk food, so it's no shock that they couldn't keep the business going. Junk food diets don't lead to return customers, because part of that allure is always looking for new types of junk food to stave off boredom with the old types of junk food.

There's broader forces at work here, too, such as the inevitable move to e-books which has people so attached to their Kindles that they wouldn't recognize a print copy of something if it bit them on the nose. ("What is that thing? Some sort of butterfly?") But in the end, most of the blame lies at the feet of those who worked so hard to make Family Bookstores "relevant" that they treated "thou shalt be relevant" as one of the Ten Commandments.

And my cynical side says, it couldn't have happened to a nicer store.