My Defense of the Term “Agnostic”

Often on Twitter and even in this blog I have been questioned and/or criticized for my use or definition of the term “agnostic” and “agnosticism.” Some atheists read that I am agnostic and they think that I am “one step away” from becoming an atheist. Others believe atheism and agnosticism are one in the same. The final group states that agnosticism is about knowledge, where as atheism is a conclusion.

Regardless of which group one falls in to they are often dissatisfied with my definition or use of the term agnostic. They question my credibility or intelligence because of my inability to use a dictionary and they argue that I cannot make up my own definition. There is an example of this here in this blog where I am talking about my transformation story…

https://stern255.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/how-i-went-from-atheist-to-agnostic/

People point me to a dictionary and explain etymology the word “agnostic…”

“ Agnostic (from Ancient Greek ἀ- (a-), meaning ‘without’, and γνῶσις (gnōsis), meaning ‘knowledge’)…”-Wikipedia

They also use dictionary definitions, but the problem with that is they the definitions vary…

Agnostic-

a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.-Google

a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.-Dictionary.com

a person who does not have a definite belief about whether God exists or not-merriam-webster.com

Even if one uses a dictionary definition, they have to actively choose which dictionary or which definition they are going to use and why.

They also point out agnosticism is about knowledge and show me pictures like this one…

Agnostic v Gnostic v Atheist v Theist

Besides the fact that the Merriam-Webster definition says NOTHING about “knowledge,” who created this picture and what makes it an authority? Is it simply accepted because a lot of people post it on Twitter?

Either way I am questioned and criticized about my use of the term for the reasons above. The final thing they say is that I cannot make up my own definition for words, there is a reason we have language. Actually I can and people do all the time. The key is providing of the details and reasoning behind a working definition.

When I am criticized for the reasons above, people are actually showing their shallow knowledge of the topic. I have studied religion, atheism, philosophy, and science and based my definitions and opinions on that. The people criticizing me demonstrate that their knowledge is limited to Googling the definition of a word or passing pictures around twitter. Let me explain why this makes their knowledge on the term shallow. Using only Wikipedia, I can show their lack of ability to look up the history of a term.

Above I quoted something from Wikipedia…

“Agnostic (from Ancient Greek ἀ- (a-), meaning ‘without’, and γνῶσις (gnōsis), meaning ‘knowledge’)…”-Wikipedia

This is actually the entire quote…

“Agnostic (from Ancient Greek ἀ- (a-), meaning ‘without’, and γνῶσις (gnōsis), meaning ‘knowledge’) was used by Thomas Henry Huxley in a speech at a meeting of the Metaphysical Society in 1869 to describe his philosophy, which rejects all claims of spiritual or mystical knowledge.”-Wikipedia

If we go to the top of the page, it explains this…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism

“Thomas Henry Huxley, an English biologist, coined the word agnostic in 1869. However, earlier thinkers have written works that promoted agnostic points of view. “
See, the term was coined by Thomas Henry Huxley, who created his own definition for the term. His definition is the definition I go by because he is the person that coined the term. The question is, what exactly did he say about the term?

To keep it simple, here is some of the stuff from the Wikipedia link above…
Agnostic views are as old as philosophical skepticism, but the terms agnostic and agnosticism were created by Huxley to sum up his thoughts on contemporary developments of metaphysics about the “unconditioned” (William Hamilton) and the “unknowable” (Herbert Spencer). Though Huxley began to use the term “agnostic” in 1869, his opinions had taken shape some time before that date. In a letter of September 23, 1860, to Charles Kingsley, Huxley discussed his views extensively…

“I neither affirm nor deny the immortality of man. I see no reason for believing it, but, on the other hand, I have no means of disproving it. I have no a priori objections to the doctrine. No man who has to deal daily and hourly with nature can trouble himself about a priori difficulties. Give me such evidence as would justify me in believing in anything else, and I will believe that. Why should I not? It is not half so wonderful as the conservation of force or the indestructibility of matter …”

Of the origin of the name agnostic to describe this attitude, Huxley gave the following account:

“When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain “gnosis”–had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. And, with Hume and Kant on my side, I could not think myself presumptuous in holding fast by that opinion …

So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of “agnostic”. It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the “gnostic” of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant. … To my great satisfaction the term took.”

Bertrand Russell even agrees with my definition…

In his 1953 essay, What Is An Agnostic? Russell states:

“An agnostic thinks it impossible to know the truth in matters such as God and the future life with which Christianity and other religions are concerned. Or, if not impossible, at least impossible at the present time.”

My final quote comes from the intro on the Wikipedia page…

“According to the philosopher William L. Rowe, in the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of God, whereas a theist and an atheist believe and disbelieve, respectively.”

I know about Huxley because I studied the history and philosophy of science but my transformation, which I speak about in that blog, was written (not posted) BEFORE I ever read anything Huxley wrote (other than his short definition which was mentioned in a class), oddly enough, our stories are very similar and we come to many of the same conclusions. Like Huxley, the more I learned the more I evolved and the more I realized how much we do not know. I went from being an atheist to growing to the point of understanding that we cannot know the big answer. We both also noticed the “gnosis” in atheists claims. They fight tooth and nail and play semantic games, but many atheists certainly APPEAR to be making a truth claim. Agnosticism is not the same as atheism and Rowe (in the quote above) explains this. Both Huxley and I read much of the same arguments and philosophers, made the same observations, and came to the same conclusion. This is due to my studies in the area and observations of engagements with atheists.

I often hear the term “agnostic atheist,” and I too have used it to describe myself. The important part to that is that I state the “atheist” part is simply my opinion if I were forced to make a guess. It is not based on science. However, I personally do not like the term and I feel the terms are contradictory or redundant when used together.

They are contradictory because agnostic is about not knowing and not being able to know where atheism is essentially making a truth claim. It is literally saying “I don’t know if there is a god or not and I do not believe there is a god. If one does not know, there is no reason to attach the disclaimer that one does not believe. The reason the term agnostic atheist is used is because adding “I do not know” allows atheists to avoid providing evidence for their claim.

Huxley intended, and made clear, that atheism and agnosticism are different. When I say I am agnostic, I do not need to attach another label to the end. I do not need to specify that I do not believe in a god because I have already stated I do not believe we can know. Agnostic is also not the “transition” to becoming an atheist when I reach “enlightenment,” it is actually the opposite.

To suggest that I am making up a definition or using the definition incorrectly is ignorant. It is not that I lack the ability to look at a picture or use a dictionary, simply that I actually understand the origin and meaning of the term as opposed to having abilities limited to looking at a picture or looking up a definition. Use the term as you choose and give it the definition you desire, but do not suggest that my definition is less correct than yours or that I somehow lack your amazing intellect.

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A Response to Atheism and Belief

I came across this blog and I felt like it was worth posting here. I am posting this because I have heard this argument more than once. It is in regards to atheism being a belief. Here is a link to the entire blog…

http://whatisatheism.blogspot.com/2014/09/is-atheism-belief.html

I am going to post the entire blog post here along with my response…

Is Atheism A Belief?

Is atheism a belief? If you are an open atheist on social media, you have probably come across this question more than once. I have personally been told that “you believe that there is no god, so therefore it is a belief.” This is incorrect. I have disbelief in a god or gods, which is a subtle, but important difference.

Let’s take a look at this. Here are the definitions from dictionary.com.

Belief:

    noun

1.

something believedan opinion or conviction:

a belief that the earth is flat.

2.

confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediatelysusceptible to rigorous proof:

a statement unworthy of belief.

3.

confidence; faith; trust:

a child’s belief in his parents.

4.

a religious tenet or tenets; religious creed or faith:

the Christian belief.

Disbelief:

noun

1.

the inability or refusal to believe or to accept something as true.

2.

amazement; astonishment:

We stared at the Taj Mahal in disbelief.

Not only does the word disbelief fit the description better, but the term “belief in no god” is in and of itself contradictory. I think “no belief in god” would be more accurate, but still is still a bit clunky.

You might ask yourself why I have taken the time to even write this post. The answer is simple. There are many theists out there that are trying to prove that atheism is a religion based on the idea that if they can manipulate words, they can prove their point. This is idiotic and goes to show how desperate they are becoming to try and prove that they are right.
If you come across someone spouting this nonsense, feel free to post this link. It will save you a bit of trouble.
Here is my response to their blog post…
Part 1
Hello there. I too am an atheist. Oddly enough, I double majored in History and Religious Studies (if you do not know what this is, I suggest Googling it, because it is not the same as theology, it is the scholarly study of religion.) I look forward to reading the blog and wanted to comment on this topic.To start, and I think this post shows it, atheists are afraid of the word “belief.” They see it as something negative, it is not. To not have a belief is the same as not being able to coherently reason their way through an issue.

You use a definition from dictionary.com which I believe still supports my argument, but here are some definitions from Merriam-webster.com…

be•lief
noun \bə-ˈlēf\
: a feeling of being sure that someone or something exists or that something is true
: a feeling that something is good, right, or valuable
: a feeling of trust in the worth or ability of someone

I believe a lot of things, such as evolution, because of the overwhelming scientific evidence. I am often corrected that I “accept” evolution. Here is the problem with that statement…

Here is a definition of the word “accept…”
ac•cept
əkˈsept/
verb
1.
consent to receive (a thing offered).
“he accepted a pen as a present”

2.
believe or come to recognize (an opinion, explanation, etc.) as valid or correct.
be•lieve
verb \bə-ˈlēv\
: to accept or regard (something) as true
: to accept the truth of what is said by (someone)
: to have (a specified opinion)

We can cherry-pick definitions and play a semantics game, but many definitions of “believe,” “belief,” and “accept” mean the same thing and have the “opposing” words in their definitions. There is not harm in believing something, it is not a negative thing. What is important is WHY you believe something. I believe things because of science and history, while others believe things based on faith.

Part 2
To your second point, you state that theists argue this point to show that atheism is a religion. This is not a pathetic attempt by theists. Though most atheists are clearly not religious, SOME are clearly religious or portray the traits of a religion. The most militant atheists are the more religious ones, those such as the New Atheists.The reason they are being called religious is not because they “believe” something, it is because how scholars of religion define religion. Contrary to popular belief, religion is not define as “believing something” or “belief in a god.” In the scholarly world, there is no universally accepted definition of religion, but most scholars of religion have a working definition that is not so narrow. One of the top scholars of religion, Stephen Prothero, defines religion as displaying the four Cs…

“ ‘Religion is now widely defined, by scholars and judges alike, in functional rather than substantive terms. Instead of focusing on some creedal criterion such as belief in God, we look for family resemblances’ (p. 324). Members of the family of religions typically exhibit Four Cs: creed (statements of beliefs and values), cultus (ritual activities), code (standards for ethical conduct), and community (institutions).”

In his book, God is Not One, he makes the argument that SOME atheists display the characteristics of religion. This is not the “theist view” this is the SCHOLARLY VIEW, which atheists get butt-hurt about. Atheists always point to the scholars and experts but they tend to want to ignore them when it does not support their previously held opinion-dogma. We see dogma in many atheists. Richard Dawkins, a biologist, for example, states that religion is like a virus or disease. This is not a scientific statement. This argument dates back to Freud, nearly a century ago. It was not science then and is not science now. Freud believe in Lamarckian evolution for Christ sake…When you present claims that are clearly not supported by scientific evidence as fact, and cannot change an opinion on the topic, it is a dogmatic belief.

I am an atheist, this is not a manipulation of words, this is the opinion of scholars. Atheists are much better at manipulating words, “believers” just use the word “faith” to make their arguments. This entire argument is a semantic battle. There is nothing wrong with believing something. There are two things atheists need to do…

1. Realize you are arguing apples vs. oranges
2. Focus on what beliefs can be scientifically supportedEvolution can be scientifically supported, Genesis cannot. There are also questions we cannot answer in a lab, such as, WHY/HOW the Big Bang and the origin of life. Though there is no reason to suggest “God did it,” it does leave the question open to debate.

I hope this reply helps atheists and theists a like and adds to your blog.
-Kevin

I will update this post with any response or reaction they have. Thanks for reading!

America’s Ignorance and Stupidity When it Comes to Muslim Countries

Once again we have Bill Maher saying stupid stuff about religion. Though I am a fan and find him correct most of the time, he keeps sticking his foot in his mouth about religion. I do not understand why he refuses to listen to the experts on this topic. This time though, it was not just Bill Maher, but our liberal media. Both sides, liberal and conservative, seem to be equally ignorant or stupid about the topic of religion, Islam, and the Middle East. I have spoken about this issue before but I wanted to do a blog dedicated to the topic because it really needs it. Religion, especially Islam, is very misunderstood in this country and for whatever reason, no one cares to listen to the experts.

The thing that made me feel the need to type this up was Reza Aslan’s interview on CNN. Before I show the video, I want to give his credentials…

Aslan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in religions from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies degree from Harvard Divinity School, and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, where he was named the Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction. Aslan also received a Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology, focusing in the history of religion, from the University of California, Santa Barbara.[7][8][9] His dissertation was titled “Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework.”-Wikipedia

If anyone is confused about Religious Studies I would suggest either Googling it or reading my blog about it before you continue because it is more than reading the Bible or “studying God.”

Here is the interview.

http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/bestoftv/2014/09/30/cnn-tonight-reza-aslan-bill-maher.cnn&video_referrer=http%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FNgRGButZCG

I expect that kind of crap from Bill Maher when it comes to religion but CNN shows the larger problem. “Muslim countries,” “Muslim countries,” Muslim countries,” he really hits the nail on the head with everything he said. To keep saying “Muslim countries” as if they are all the same is stupid. It is more than ignorant because he is there educating them on the topic and they ignore him. That is stupid. He is pointing out the fact that not all Muslim countries are the same and Americans appear to be completely clueless to this. Before I get into Muslim countries, let me do the exact same thing with America…
Do you believe these pictures accurately represent America?

fergusonferg (1)

ferg (2)ferg (3)

ferg (4)ferg (5)

ferguson-missouri-9racist (1)

racist (2)racist (3)

racist (4)racist

guns (2)guns (3)

guns (5)guns (6)

guns (1)guns (4)

guns

Would you be offended if I said those pictures accurately represented most, or the average, American(s)? If you do not believe that is fair, why is it fair to do that to the Muslim world? Do you simply not realize the way we portray Muslims is not representative? The way we portray Muslims is the minority of Muslims, this is the point Reza was trying to make.

Contrary to popular belief, Religion is not the biggest driving factor in people’s actions, culture and society is. In Religious Studies we look at religion from all the different angles including sociological and anthropological (cultural) and it is painfully obvious that these issues are due to culture or society and not religion. The Sunni-Shia rift is a CULTURAL argument. We know culture and society are the driving factors because they both SHAPE religion. Religion can shape culture and society but culture and society are the bigger force. We know this because different cultures and societies with the same religion are very different. Also, if religion was the driving force, why are there so many denominations? The reason is people do not agree. Whether that disagreement is societal or personal, it is more powerful than religion because religion was changed because of that.

This is exactly what Reza was talking about. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is an AFRICAN problem. Here are a few maps of FGM and Religion. Click on the pics to enlarge them

FGMR (3)FGMR (1)
FGMRFGMR (2)

It is certainly a problem in a very specific part of the world, mostly Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It does certainly appear to be in areas that are Muslim, but Christian majority countries in Africa also have an issue with it. One map echoes what Reza was saying about Ethiopia. Ethiopia has around 75% of women experiencing FGM and they are a Christian majority…

According to the 2007 National Census, Christians make up 62.8% of the country’s population (43.5% Ethiopian Orthodox, 19.3% other denominations), Muslims 33.9%, practitioners of traditional faiths 2.6%, and other religions 0.6%

If this were strictly a Muslim issue we would expect to see around 1/3rd, not 3/4th. This shows it is clearly a cultural thing, not a religious thing. You may want to point out that the Arabian Peninsula is not Africa. Actually it is, in a cultural sense. If we trace culture backwards we will see that Arabs are a Semitic speaking peoples, and the Semitic language originated in Africa. Here is a map…

23871-004-B3513FEE

You will notice that only a few pockets of people in Iran are Semitic peoples. That is because the Iranian peoples are Indo-European peoples. This is the nature of the Sunni-Shia rift, the culture, not religion.

indo recortado

Besides FGM, how do we typically portray Muslims? Radical terrorists that treat women worse than dogs? As Reza says, that is certainly representative of certain countries, such as Saudi Arabia. No one is debating that the way SA treats their women is primitive and barbaric or that their beheading of people is alright. The problem is this is not representative of all Muslim countries. Would a Muslim country that saw women as inferior elect one as their head of state? As Reza mentions, seven women have been elected head of state in majority Muslim nations, another one was appointed…

Tansu Çiller, elected prime minister of Turkey, 1993-1996
Benazir Bhutto, elected prime minister of Pakistan 1988-1990, 1993-1996
Mame Madior Boye, appointed prime minister of Senegal, 2001-2002.
Megawati Sukarnoputri, elected president of Indonesia, 2001-2004
Khaleda Zia, elected prime minister of Bangladesh, 1991-1996 and 2001-2006
Sheikh Hasina, elected prime minister of Bangladesh 2009-
Roza Otunbayeva, president of Kyrgyzstan, 2010- 2011
Atifete Jahjaga, elected president of Kosovo 2011-

And actually throughout the history of Islam women have been leaders or held positions of power…

http://www.guide2womenleaders.com/Muslim_Leaders.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_female_political_leaders

Like Reza asks, how many female leaders have we had here in the US?

Many Muslim nations are very secular. Take Turkey for example.

Turkey has been a secular state since it was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1923. He introduced the secularization of the state in the Turkish Constitution of 1924, alongside Atatürk’s Reforms. These were in accordance with the Kemalist Ideology, with a strict appliance of laicite in the constitution. Atatürk saw headscarves as backward-looking[original research?] and an obstacle to his campaign to secularize and modernize the new Turkish Republic. The issue of the headscarf debate has been very intense and controversial since it was banned.[1] Turkey is a secular country and over 95% of its people are Muslims.[2] It has resulted in a clash between those favouring the secular principles of the state, such as the Turkish Army,[3] and those who are more conservative with their religious beliefs.-Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headscarf_controversy_in_Turkey

The United States needs to grow some secular balls and ban the headscarves! Seriously, I am not for that, but look at a Muslim country our secularizing the United States, impressive for a primitive and oppressive, conservative religious people. *Sarcasm*

I can point out leaders and point out facts. I can tell you about my experience with Muslims in the Religious Studies department at the University of Minnesota. I can tell you about my classes in Middle Eastern studies and Islam, but I have a more effective method. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will save on the typing and post some pictures.

While in the Air Force I spent time in two Muslim countries. The first was Kyrgyzstan…

Islam is the dominant religion of Kyrgyzstan: 80% of the population is Muslim while 17% follow Russian Orthodoxy and 3% other religions.[70] A 2009 Pew Research Center report indicates a higher percentage of Muslims, with 86.3% of Kyrgyzstan’s population adhering to Islam.[71] The majority of Muslims are non-denominational Muslims at 64% while roughly 23% are Sunni, adhering to the Hanafi school of thought.[72] There are a few Ahmadiyya Muslims, though unrecognised by the country.-Wikipedia

The second was the United Arab Emirates…

Islam is the largest and the official state religion of the UAE. The government follows a policy of tolerance toward other religions and rarely interferes in the activities of non-Muslims.[77] By the same token, non-Muslims are expected to avoid interfering in Islamic religious matters or the Islamic upbringing of Muslims.

The government imposes restrictions on spreading other religions through any form of media as it is considered a form of proselytizing. There are approximately 31 churches throughout the country, one Hindu temple in the region of Bur Dubai,[172] one Sikh Gurudwara in Jebel Ali and also a Buddhist temple in Al Garhoud.

Based on the Ministry of Economy census in 2005, 76% of the total population was Muslim, 9% Christian, and 15% other (mainly Hindu).[77] Census figures do not take into account the many “temporary” visitors and workers while also counting Baha’is and Druze as Muslim.[77] Among Emirati citizens, 85% are Sunni Muslim, while Shi’a Muslims are 15%, mostly concentrated in the emirates of Sharjah and Dubai.[77] Omani immigrants are mostly Ibadi, while Sufi influences exist too.[173]

People of all faiths or no faith are given equal protection under the country’s constitution and laws.-Wikipedia

While we were deployed, we had a shared folder of pictures taken while on our trips. That is where most of these pictures were taken from. The only purpose of these pictures is to show how the women dress and their freedom. Click on the pictures to enlarge them

Here are a few pictures from Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan has a mixed population of Russians and Kyrgyz. They have a heavy Russian influence and 64% of their Muslims are non-denominational Muslims. It is safe to assume that in these pictures the white people are Russian Orthodox (the Kyrgyz look more Asian) and not Muslim but the point is how WOMEN are treated in a Muslim country.

Here is a picture from a typical market place. The women here are dressed the same way you would find them dressed in Europe or America. They are also out there by themselves, no men needed.

Here is a picture from what I believe is a class trip. If it were not for the background you might assume this was a group of American kids.

P1000578

The next three pictures are of the two lovely women that worked with us in linen exchange at Manas Air Base. They are there by themselves, no men. You will notice me in a picture with one of them and I am certainly not related to her.

DVC00002IMG_7477

lodging 038

On to the UAE. This was a fun trip. The people were so diverse. You have very conservative Muslims with the women covered from head to toe all the way to what we typically see here in America. The pictures that truly show how oppressed women are is best illustrated at a water park. Here are pictures taken from the shared file of a trip to the water park. Keep a close eye on what people are wearing and who they are with.

DSC01281Picture 286

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Picture 337Picture 338

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Picture 292Picture 316

Picture 319

I want you to focus specifically on these two pictures. Notice that in the back ground there is a woman with a hijab with her face shown an in another it appears her face may be completely covered.

Picture 303Picture 342

The range of diversity rivals and probably surpasses the United States. They have very conservative to very secular or liberal. I know recently on the news they showed a picture of a female UAE pilot, which Fox News thought was appropriate to make fun of, calling it “boobs on the ground” and saying she would have problems parking the plane. So apparently in America the idea of a female pilot is something to joke about but in the UAE women have the right to be one and their armed forces see them as just as capable as a man to do the job. It really makes me wonder which country has the problem with women being equal, Muslim UAE, or Christian America. Here is the picture of that woman and also a picture of other female pilots in the UAE Air Force. Notice that half of the women have their head covered and the other half, do not.

Mariam HassanEtihad - women pilots-thumb-450x299-47232

Is this what you thought a Muslim country looked like? This is exactly what Reza Aslan was saying. Not all Muslims countries are the same and vary greatly with how conservative or secular they are. Some Muslims countries surpass the United States when it comes to the equality of women. Some are more secular than the United States. I would argue that some run their countries better. Take UAE for example. They have billions, possibly trillions, from their oil. Instead of letting it sit in banks accounts, like we do here in the United States, they have been putting it back into the country to build infrastructure and some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. They have turned it into a tourist destination. They have a ski resort inside of a mall. Like Reza says, to say “Muslim countries” to suggest that all Muslim countries are like Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or Afghanistan is STUPID.

I leave you with some pictures of the UAE and what they have done with their oil money. I ask that you think about what billionaires have built for America recently…
dubai-in-20-years-700x700
130411155624-lamborghini-dubai-police-4-horizontal-galleryAbu Dhabi 19

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dusit-thani-dubai_exteriorElia-Locardi-Travel-Photography-Towering-Dreams-Dubai-UAE-900-WM

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The Existence of Socrates vs Jesus

There are a large number of atheists that try to make the argument that we have no evidence that Jesus existed and go to great lengths to try and prove it. I argue that if one is to deny the existence of Jesus their burden of proof is so high that we should argue that Socrates did not exist. Of course this really irks people, except that this was a legitimate question in the scholarly arena.

Here is a brief bit on Wikipedia about the Socratic Problem (it actually has a name)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_problem

Even with this problem, very few, if any credible scholars will actually try to make the argument that Socrates did not exist. (Save this part for future quote mining.) Before we look at what the scholars actually say, there is something else I wanted to address.

When reading these anti-Jesus articles I notice three common themes. The first is simply quote mining and taking the words of scholars out of context, second is addressing issues that are mostly irrelevant. The third, and most important issue, is the complete lack of understanding of what historians do and how they work. I wanted to start by addressing this.

The first problem is that the anti-Jesus (AJ) people completely disregard any Christian source because of bias. This is completely the wrong approach. Christian sources should be considered but should not be placed above other sources. All texts and artifacts should we held on level ground and to exclude Christian sources would be the sign one does not understand how to do history.

Whenever we have a historical document we compare them with other historical documents to determine their validity. For example, many Christians claim the Bible is like a history book. We have actually tested this against other material, non Biblical material. Some of it fairs better than other parts.

We take the story of the Exodus for example. Some people believe it is a myth, others believe it is actually true. When looking at Egyptian records there is not a shred of evidence to support this claim. There is no record of an exodus or a large group of people leaving. Besides the fact that losing their entire work force would cripple the economy, there is not a single record to support the Exodus. Egyptians wrote down EVERYTHING. They recorded every single person that crossed their borders. If anyone wrote anything down, it would have been the Egyptians, but there is nothing. Based on the facts we cannot conclude that the Exodus was a historical event.

Other parts are more accurate with outside sources. We know from Egyptian sources that there were people called Israelites and we can date that to right around 1,200 BCE. Archaeological evidence also shows this was around the time when Canaanite communities started displaying characteristics we attribute to the Israelites. 1,200 BCE is also right around the time the Bible puts David and Solomon, and the Dividic Kingdom is mentioned outside of Israelite sources. Because of this we can be fairly confident, at least make a good argument, that David and Solomon existed.

Other examples are much easier to verify. The Babylonian exile is just one example. The Bible can also be used to verify non-Jewish, non-Biblical historical accounts because the Bible is just another historical document. The Bible is a book of myths but this does not mean it does not hold historical value or that everything in it is a myth. It shares clear historical facts, such as the Edict of Cyrus from Cyrus the Great of Persia. It all comes down to evaluating a specific claim with outside evidence. The wrong thing to do is throw out all of the texts and evidence on one side because that side is bias.

Using this type of analysis, how do Socrates and Jesus match up?

Let’s try the AJ approach first…Let’s eliminate the bias sources. That would be the Greek sources for Socrates and the Christian ones for Jesus.

Non-Greek sources for Socrates…none. If we exclude the Greek sources, no one in the world ever spoke of Socrates. Without any outside validation the stories of Socrates have as much validation as the Exodus.

If we allow the Greek sources in, which historians do, a number of important people spoke about Socrates, such as Plato, Aristophanes, Aristotle and Xenophon.

As it points out in the link at the beginning of this bit, we know that Plato voiced his own opinion under the name of Socrates in some cases. There is also the problem that the accounts are contradictory of each other. Because of these problems we cannot claim to know much about Socrates the person, how he was and his views.

Even with the problems of no outside evidence and contradictory statements about him, virtually every credible scholar agree that he existed based on the amount of evidence by his contemporaries.

For the bit on Jesus I will simply defer to Bart Ehrman…

Bart D. Ehrman (born 5 October 1955) is an American New Testamentscholar, currently the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a leading scholar in his field, having written and edited over 25 books, including three college textbooks, and has also achieved acclaim at the popular level, authoring five New York Times bestsellers. Ehrman’s work focuses on textual criticism of the New Testament, the historical Jesus, and the development of early Christianity.

For people who care Ehrman’s religion is none: atheist, humanist, agnostic.
Here is the link to a larger bit, but I will provide the relevant details…

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2012/06/07/bart-ehrman-on-did-jesus-exist-part-three/

“It is obviously important for a historian to look at all the evidence. To most modern people, it is surprising to learn just how little evidence there is for Jesus outside the Christian sources. He is not mentioned in any Roman (or Greek, or Syriac, or… whatever – any pagan [i.e., non-Jewish, non-Christian]) source of the entire first century. Never. That strikes people as surprising. He is mentioned a couple of times within about 80 years of his life by two Roman sources (Pliny and Tacitus; I’m not sure Suetonius can be used). And he is almost certainly referred to twice in the Jewish historian Josephus, once in an entire paragraph. But that’s it for the non-Christian sources for the first hundred years after his death. It’s not much. But it’s something, and since these are not sources that based their views on the Gospels (since these authors hadn’t read the Gospels), it shows that Jesus was indeed known to exist in pagan and Jewish circles within a century of his life.

Ehrman on non-Christian sources for Jesus within a hundred years of his crucifixion in his book The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings…

“three pagan authors mention Jesus within one hundred years of his death. The first reference to Jesus in pagan literature is in a letter written by the governor Pliny to the emperor Trajan in 112 c.e. Pliny discusses the practices of the Christians in his province and, thus, gives us no information about the historical Jesus. The second (possible) reference to Jesus is by the historian Suetonius. Suetonius mentions a riot among Jews that was initiated by a man named “Chrestus.” Some scholars believe this is a misspelling of “Christ.” If, in fact, Suetonius is referring to Jesus, his narrative gives us information about later followers, not about Jesus himself. The only helpful information from pagan literature about Jesus’ life that dates within one hundred years of Jesus’ death is from another historian, Tacitus. Tacitus says that Pontius Pilate executed Jesus during the reign of Tiberius. Although not all of Tacitus’s information is correct (he says that Pilate was a procurator), he does corroborate information found in Christian sources. Looking beyond these three pagan sources, Jesus is mentioned twice in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, a first-century Jewish text. One reference indicates that Jesus’ brother James was killed by the high priest Ananus. In the other reference, Josephus gives more information: he says that Jesus was a teacher and a “doer of startling deeds” who had Jewish and Gentile followers. Josephus continues, reporting that the Jewish leaders accused Jesus and Pilate condemned him to the cross. In this passage, Josephus also states that Jesus was the messiah. Because Josephus never converted to Christianity, and because his works were copied and transmitted by Christians, we can be relatively sure that this “confession” was a later Christian insertion.”

http://www.oup.com/us/companion.websites/9780195322590/student_resources/chap14/?view=usa

Right there we already have Socrates beat. We have non Christian sources which match up with Christian sources. That is as good as it comes when we are talking about ancient history. Ehrman goes on…

“The really compelling evidence, though, comes in the Christian sources. Mythicists write these sources off because they are Christian and therefore biased, but that is not a historically solid way to proceed. Christian sources do indeed have to be treated gingerly, but they are sources every bit as much as pagan and Jewish sources are. What I show in Did Jesus Exist? is that there are so many Christian sources that can be used by historians that there is really no doubt at all that Jesus at least existed. Just to give an example (so as not to repeat my entire book here): by any credible dating, the apostle Paul must have converted to believe in Jesus within two or three years of the traditional date of Jesus’ death. And Paul knew some facts about Jesus’ life; he knew some of his teachings; he knew his closest disciple Peter; and he knew his brother James. Personally! If Jesus didn’t exist, you would think that his brother would know about it. The historian cannot simply ignore what Paul has to say since he was a Christian. Taking his biases into account, we can use his letters for information about Jesus. And among other things, they show beyond a doubt that Jesus existed as a Jewish teacher in Palestine in the 20s CE. Otherwise we cannot explain Paul or his letters. That’s just one important piece of evidence for the existence of Jesus. I’ll discuss more in some of my later answers.”

Besides that, we have this…

While discussing the “striking” fact that “we don’t have any Roman records, of any kind, that attest to the existence of Jesus,” Ehrman dismisses claims that this means Jesus never existed, saying, “He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on clear and certain evidence.” B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of God ISBN 978-0-06-207863-6. page 285

While discussing the “striking” fact that “we don’t have any Roman records, of any kind, that attest to the existence of Jesus,” Ehrman dismisses claims that this means Jesus never existed, saying, “He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on clear and certain evidence.” B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of God ISBN 978-0-06-207863-6. page 285

Michael Grant (a classicist) states that “In recent years, ‘no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus’ or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.” in Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels by Michael Grant 2004ISBN 1898799881 page 200

Richard A. Burridge states: “There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more.” in Jesus Now and Then by Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould (Apr 1, 2004) ISBN 0802809774 page 34

Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. p. 145. ISBN 0-06-061662-8. “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus … agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”

Whenever I point this out people cherry-pick and quote mine. I have talked about that here…
https://stern255.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/atheists-use-quote-mining-also/

Here is my new favorite link for why Jesus did not exist (it’s a fairly long read) …
http://www.nobeliefs.com/exist.htm

I wanted to address some points in this bit. First, look at the website. I thought atheists were in the business of using non biased sources. Second, and most important, who the hell is Jim Walker? Jim Walker is apparently the author of this article but nowhere does it say anything about Jim Walker. Who is he? What does he have a degree in? Does he even have a degree? Not only am I apparently more qualified to talk about this topic than he is (you can read my about me where I explain exactly what I studied at a university,) but I have directly quoted Ph.D.s that say this guy is wrong. They go one step further and say the no credible scholar denies that Jesus existed. To believe anything this guy says requiring blind faith that he is trust worthy and/or knowledgeable.
But he provides quotes!

Yes, he cherry picked a lot of unrelated quotes. Here is the thing with his quotes and sources…I am familiar with a hand full of them. He quotes from books I have read or that were required for classes. Elaine Pagels, Michael Coogan, and David Noel Freedman, just to name a few. I have two of the Pagels books sitting on my bookshelf and he relies very heavily on her.

Oddly enough, even with the heavy reliance on Pagels, at the bottom of the article called “quotes from a few scholars,” he never quotes Pagels saying that Jesus did not exist. In fact the only quote that says Jesus did not exist is this one…

“Jesus is a mythical figure in the tradition of pagan mythology and almost nothing in all of ancient literature would lead one to believe otherwise. Anyone wanting to believe Jesus lived and walked as a real live human being must do so despite the evidence, not because of it.”

C. Dennis McKinsey, Bible critic (The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy)
Dennis McKinsey is an atheist and Bible critic with a BA in philosophy and a MA in social sciences. This is what we would call a bias non-expert. All the people he quoted and this is the only one. Earl Doherty gets close, but I will get to him in a bit.

One of the major flaws in this article is that it completely avoids the point. There are arguments about how the Gospels contradict each other and how they were written after Jesus died and that the people that wrote them did not actually know Jesus. A lot of scholars are pointed to for points like this and scholars agree. No one in the scholarly field is going against this point, in fact, they are the ones making it. This is exactly the same as our Socrates example in that we do not really know what he said or what he was like as a person. It is also true that those that spoke of Socrates contradicted each other.

People constantly make this argument as if it somehow makes Jesus not a real person. All it says is that we do not know anything about his teachings or historical Jesus, and that they are very possibly entirely made-up.

That leads to another point where Jim Walker is either trying to be deceptive or is simply ignorant. The term is “historical Jesus.” Historical Jesus can be used in a few different ways which makes it confusing right off the bat. Historical Jesus generally refers to the details of Jesus’ life, not that a man name Jesus existed. When someone says they do not believe in historical Jesus they are generally saying they do not believe in the stuff one might see on the History Channel where they do a documentary on his life. Virtually every scholar admits we know virtually nothing about the life of Jesus or if his teachings are attributed to him.

My favorite part is when he is criticizing the non-Christian sources. He completely dismisses every one of them without a single citation. This means we are take Walkers opinion on blind faith and it makes it worse that we know nothing about him. One would think he would use his big long list of scholars to provide a single quote validating a single thing he said. He then goes on to say this…

“Christian apologists mostly use the above sources for their “evidence” of Jesus because they believe they represent the best outside sources.”

“As you can see, apologist Christians embarrass themselves when they unwittingly or deceptively violate the rules of historiography by using after-the-event writings as evidence for the event itself. Not one of these writers gives a source or backs up his claims with evidential material about Jesus.”

By Christian apologists he must mean atheist scholars because Ehrman (and every other scholar) finds this as valid evidence. For someone with no degree in history and goes against virtually every scholar in the world, it is a pretty strong statement to mention the rules of historiography. It is also rather impressive that he calls out someone not using sources when he failed to provide a single one.

People make the argument that the evidence for Socrates is better because people actually talked about him during his life. That point is brought up in this article extensively and asks why no one in his day wrote about him. This again shows complete ignorance of history and the context of the situation.

I will provide a little historical context to the world at that time. For the last 500 years the Jews have been waiting for their Messiah. There have been hundreds of people thought or claimed to be the Messiah. This claim, if he actually claimed it, was nothing out of the ordinary. Also, if one is half way familiar with the Old Testament they will notice it is very different than the New Testament. That is because the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament are completely different than the Jewish religion. He was a heretic creating a radically different sect or religion. He is not talked about much in Jewish tradition for the same reason Prophet Muhammad or Joseph Smith are not talked about by Christian sources even though they came out of Christianity. They were crazy heretics that were going against the normal religion. There was a reason he was not talked about.

Besides the fact that most people during that day were illiterate, and Jesus followers would have been, what is the one moment in Christianity that is the most important? The Resurrection. The alleged resurrection would have taken place AFTER he had already died. Why did people not talk about him during his life? Because he was just another insignificant crazy person. Socrates was apparently an intellectual, or very influential, which is why he was important while he was living. His death is not what made him popular. This was also the case with Muhammad and Joseph Smith. Muhammad was waging wars and Joseph Smith was gathering a following. Both were more important during their lives, Jesus was standing around babbling parables.

If one simply understood the context of the situation they would not be overly surprised that there is not a ton of stuff from his life, they would more expect it.
One final point before I wrap it up. Walker cites this guy…

“In the book The Jesus Puzzle, the biblical scholar, Earl Doherty…”
He also quotes him…

“Before the Gospels were adopted as history, no record exists that he was ever in the city of Jerusalem at all– or anywhere else on earth.”

-Earl Doherty, “The Jesus Puzzle,” p.141

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Doherty

“Doherty has stated he has a bachelor’s degree in Ancient History and Classical Languages,[2] but no completed advanced degrees.”

Walker called this guy a Biblical Scholar? Is he ignorant or being deceptive? A BA in history does not someone a Biblical Scholar unless you are really stretching. I majored in History (Ancient Near East/Middle East) and Religious Studies (The Abrahamic religions) with a minor in Jewish Studies and I do not consider myself a Biblical Scholar. One should have a Ph.D. in the area, or at least a masters…But let’s see what a Ph.D. in the area has to say about Doherty…

“Bart Ehrman, an expert on textual criticism of the NT and Early Christianity, has dismissed Jesus, Neither God nor Man as “filled with so many unguarded and undocumented statements and claims, and so many misstatements of fact, that it would take a 2,400-page book to deal with all the problems… Not a single early Christian source supports Doherty’s claim that Paul and those before him thought of Jesus as a spiritual, not a human being, who was executed in the spiritual, not the earthly realm.” “

“In a book criticizing the Christ myth theory, New Testament scholar Maurice Casey describes Doherty as “perhaps the most influential of all the mythicists”,[21] but one who is unable to understand the ancient texts he uses in his arguments”.[22]

My final words about this article will be pointing out this bit of it…

“FAKES, FRAUDS, AND FICTIONS
Because the religious mind relies on belief and faith, the religious person can inherit a dependence on any information that supports a belief and that includes fraudulent stories, rumors, unreliable data, and fictions, without the need to check sources, or to investigate the reliability of the information.”

That ladies and gentlemen perfectly describes this article…

So back to the beginning. Virtually no one in the scholarly world doubts either the existence of Socrates or Jesus as actual people. The same criticisms can be made for both. The one thing that people hang on to is that no one that lived at the time of Jesus spoke of him…except Paul did. But this is not good enough because it is a Christian source. So I can argue that Socrates did not exist because the people that spoke of him were Greek. For all we know he is just some mythical character the Greeks created. After all, he is not mentioned outside of Greek sources, where as Jesus is mentioned outside of Christian sources. The whole point is that the burden of proof being held to Jesus is unrealistic when compared to other figures we claim we know existed.

Macro-evolution and Micro-evolution in Biological Science

Constantly I hear people talking about Macro-evolution and Micro-evolution. Creationists often say that they believe in micro-evolution, but not macro-evolution. I explain that they are exactly the same thing, a change in allele frequency in a population and that the difference between micro and macro is the time scale. Micro-evolution and macro-evolution are not an actual thing in biology and are not talked about in biology text books because they are the same thing. This should be obvious if someone simply used Wikipedia…

“Macroevolution is evolution on a scale of separated gene pools.[1] Macroevolutionary studies focus on change that occurs at or above the level of species, in contrast with microevolution,[2] which refers to smaller evolutionary changes (typically described as changes in allele frequencies) within a species or population.[3] Contrary to claims by creationists, macro and microevolution describe fundamentally identical processes on different time scales.[1][4]”

“Microevolution is the change in allele frequencies that occur over time within a population.[1] This change is due to four different processes: mutation, selection (natural and artificial), gene flow, and genetic drift.

Microevolution over time may lead to speciation or the appearance of novel structure, sometimes classified as macroevolution.[2] Contrary to claims by creationists however, macro and microevolution describe fundamentally identical processes on different time scales.[2][3]”

Instead of making people rely on Wikipedia (even though it provides the sources) I thought I would demonstrate my point with an intro to biology text book. Here is the book…

scan0005

It is a slightly older edition (2005), but it what I had laying around. The book is Biological Science by Scott Freeman. This book is used at many universities and colleges in intro to biology and genetics courses.

I first wanted to show you what the intro page on evolution says…

scan0001

Let’s zoom in on the Key Concepts…

key concepts

There is my definition for evolution almost word for word.

But what does the book say about micro and macro evolution? Let’s look the terms up in our index…

scan0002

The term Macroevolution or Macro Evolution should be found at the beginning, and Microevolution or Micro Evolution should be found towards the end…but neither word is in there…

Maybe it is under “evolution…”

scan0004

Not there either. The terms micro-evolution and macro-evolution are not found in the entire biology book. That is because it is not an actual thing. It is a time scale that shows changes in a short period of time or over millions of years, but they are exactly the same thing. When I claim that people do not have a basic understanding of biology, this is why, this is an intro level book…but Wikipedia could have told you this…

Atheists Use Quote Mining Also!

Surprise, atheists use quote mining also! What is quote mining? Here is what rationalwiki has to say…

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Quote_mining

“Quote mining is the deceitful tactic of taking quotes out of context in order to make them seemingly agree with the quote miner’s viewpoint or to make the comments of an opponent seem more extreme or hold positions they don’t in order to make their positions easier to refute or demonize.[1] It’s a way of lying. This tactic is widely used among Young Earth Creationists in an attempt to discredit evolution.”

My issue started with the picture of the quote by Bart Ehrman, which was taken out of context. Here is the quote…

“In the entire first Christian century Jesus is not mentioned by a single Greek or Roman historian, religion scholar, politician, philosopher, or poet. His name never occurs in a single inscription, and it is never found in a single piece of private correspondence. Zero! Zip references.”

ehrman2

ehrman

Obviously the quote is used to dismiss the idea that Jesus ever existed. When I mentioned that the quote was taken out of context, and that the vast majority of scholars believe Jesus existed, I was attacked on both claims. Let start with the quote by Erhman…

While discussing the “striking” fact that “we don’t have any Roman records, of any kind, that attest to the existence of Jesus,” Ehrman dismisses claims that this means Jesus never existed, saying, “He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on clear and certain evidence.” B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of God ISBN 978-0-06-207863-6. page 285

There is also a larger bit on this topic in which Erhman clears up his view and expands on the question of Jesus’ existence…

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2012/06/07/bart-ehrman-on-did-jesus-exist-part-three/

“It is obviously important for a historian to look at all the evidence. To most modern people, it is surprising to learn just how little evidence there is for Jesus outside the Christian sources. He is not mentioned in any Roman (or Greek, or Syriac, or… whatever – any pagan [i.e., non-Jewish, non-Christian]) source of the entire first century. Never. That strikes people as surprising. He is mentioned a couple of times within about 80 years of his life by two Roman sources (Pliny and Tacitus; I’m not sure Suetonius can be used). And he is almost certainly referred to twice in the Jewish historian Josephus, once in an entire paragraph. But that’s it for the non-Christian sources for the first hundred years after his death. It’s not much. But it’s something, and since these are not sources that based their views on the Gospels (since these authors hadn’t read the Gospels), it shows that Jesus was indeed known to exist in pagan and Jewish circles within a century of his life.

The really compelling evidence, though, comes in the Christian sources. Mythicists write these sources off because they are Christian and therefore biased, but that is not a historically solid way to proceed. Christian sources do indeed have to be treated gingerly, but they are sources every bit as much as pagan and Jewish sources are. What I show in Did Jesus Exist? is that there are so many Christian sources that can be used by historians that there is really no doubt at all that Jesus at least existed. Just to give an example (so as not to repeat my entire book here): by any credible dating, the apostle Paul must have converted to believe in Jesus within two or three years of the traditional date of Jesus’ death. And Paul knew some facts about Jesus’ life; he knew some of his teachings; he knew his closest disciple Peter; and he knew his brother James. Personally! If Jesus didn’t exist, you would think that his brother would know about it. The historian cannot simply ignore what Paul has to say since he was a Christian. Taking his biases into account, we can use his letters for information about Jesus. And among other things, they show beyond a doubt that Jesus existed as a Jewish teacher in Palestine in the 20s CE. Otherwise we cannot explain Paul or his letters. That’s just one important piece of evidence for the existence of Jesus. I’ll discuss more in some of my later answers.”

Ehrman on non-Christian sources for Jesus within a hundred years of his crucifixion in his book The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings…

“three pagan authors mention Jesus within one hundred years of his death. The first reference to Jesus in pagan literature is in a letter written by the governor Pliny to the emperor Trajan in 112 c.e. Pliny discusses the practices of the Christians in his province and, thus, gives us no information about the historical Jesus. The second (possible) reference to Jesus is by the historian Suetonius. Suetonius mentions a riot among Jews that was initiated by a man named “Chrestus.” Some scholars believe this is a misspelling of “Christ.” If, in fact, Suetonius is referring to Jesus, his narrative gives us information about later followers, not about Jesus himself. The only helpful information from pagan literature about Jesus’ life that dates within one hundred years of Jesus’ death is from another historian, Tacitus. Tacitus says that Pontius Pilate executed Jesus during the reign of Tiberius. Although not all of Tacitus’s information is correct (he says that Pilate was a procurator), he does corroborate information found in Christian sources. Looking beyond these three pagan sources, Jesus is mentioned twice in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, a first-century Jewish text. One reference indicates that Jesus’ brother James was killed by the high priest Ananus. In the other reference, Josephus gives more information: he says that Jesus was a teacher and a “doer of startling deeds” who had Jewish and Gentile followers. Josephus continues, reporting that the Jewish leaders accused Jesus and Pilate condemned him to the cross. In this passage, Josephus also states that Jesus was the messiah. Because Josephus never converted to Christianity, and because his works were copied and transmitted by Christians, we can be relatively sure that this “confession” was a later Christian insertion.” http://www.oup.com/us/companion.websites/9780195322590/student_resources/chap14/?view=usa

Posting that picture or that quote, Tweeting it, Retweeting it, or Favoriting it are obvious examples of quote mining.

Quote mining is the deceitful tactic of taking quotes out of context in order to make them seemingly agree with the quote miner’s viewpoint or to make the comments of an opponent seem more extreme or hold positions they don’t in order to make their positions easier to refute or demonize.[1] It’s a way of lying. This tactic is widely used among Young Earth Creationists in an attempt to discredit evolution.

Atheists that are using this quote to argue that Jesus did not exist are using the same methods creationists are. It is also possible they are just too ignorant to know any better.

The other assertion, that the view above is not the majority scholarly opinion, is also wrong and I was provided links to articles of people that disagree with Ehrman, but here are what scholars have to say…

While discussing the “striking” fact that “we don’t have any Roman records, of any kind, that attest to the existence of Jesus,” Ehrman dismisses claims that this means Jesus never existed, saying, “He certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees, based on clear and certain evidence.” B. Ehrman, 2011 Forged : writing in the name of God ISBN 978-0-06-207863-6. page 285

Michael Grant (a classicist) states that “In recent years, ‘no serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non historicity of Jesus’ or at any rate very few, and they have not succeeded in disposing of the much stronger, indeed very abundant, evidence to the contrary.” in Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels by Michael Grant 2004ISBN 1898799881 page 200

Richard A. Burridge states: “There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more.” in Jesus Now and Then by Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould (Apr 1, 2004) ISBN 0802809774 page 34

Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. p. 145. ISBN 0-06-061662-8. “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus … agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.”

Now let me direct you to a link an atheist provided me with suggesting I am not in the majority…

http://www.alternet.org/belief/5-reasons-suspect-jesus-never-existed

“The notion that Jesus never existed is a minority position. Of course it is! says David Fitzgerald”

In that article they make some good points and some not so good points. They break down the problem with the Gospels and the New Testament, which I agree with, but is a small part of it.

But what this article is is cherry-picking.

“Cherry picking, when used figuratively, refers to selective extraction of points in an argument in order to refute or affirm them while ignoring others which will not support the point(s) being made. It derives from the obvious reluctance to harvest unripe, or overripe, fruit and to select only those which will make profit (or pie).
Often, cherry-picked factoids or references will be over-extrapolated and oversold to give the impression that they are representative, when they are not.”

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Cherry_picking

The question of whether or not a man named Jesus ever existed is YES according to the vast majority of scholars in the area. This does not mean you will not find a handful of scholars that will disagree. What they are doing is specifically looking for the ones that say what you want to hear. People do this all the time. You want a list of scientists that deny evolution?

http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=660
Is that a biased source? Of course it is but can you deny every single person that has signed this?

Also about 97% of scientists agree that climate change is happening and is man-made, which means I can find the 3% that do not agree and give you a link to what they say.

Does this say that we should legitimately question evolution or man-made climate change? OF COURSE NOT! Just because I can find someone, or even a handful of people, that disagree with the majority does not change the majority opinion.

If you want to deny the existence of Jesus because of what David Fitzgerald says, go for it. But I will tell you that he is in the minority of scholars, and that is a fact. But be sure I will call you out if you take Bart Erhman, the most well-known scholars in the area, out of context. Quote mining is what Creationists do.

Bill Maher Is Wrong About Religion

Most people would not question Bill Maher’s stance on religion, but I am not one of those people. I think Bill (I call him Bill because I think of him as a friend, though I have never met him) is a brilliant guy and I agree with him 99 percent of the time. He typically does his research and gets his facts, but when it comes to religion, he is very biased. He is like Richard Dawkins in the way he ignores experts and makes unscientific claims. He is a hypocrite on the matter of religion. I own his movie Religulous, and enjoy it, for the most part, but he is untruthful about one thing…He keeps saying “I don’t know!” For someone that doesn’t know, one way or another, he makes very bold claims about believers.

This blog was inspired by his debate on Real Time with Brian Levin. Here is a bit about Brian Levin…

http://criminaljustice.csusb.edu/facultystaff/levin.htm

Brian Levin

Criminologist and civil rights attorney Brian Levin is a professor of criminal justice and Director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino where he specializes in analysis of hate crime, terrorism and legal issues. 

Previously, Professor Levin served as Associate Director-Legal Affairs of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Klanwatch/Militia Task Force in Montgomery, Alabama; Legal Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnic and Racial Violence in Newport Beach, Ca. and as a corporate litigator for the law firm of Irell & Manella. He was also a New York City Police Officer in the Harlem and Washington Heights sections of Manhattan during the crack wars of the 1980s.

Prof. Levin began his academic career as an associate professor at Stockton College in New Jersey in 1996. Mr. Levin is a graduate of Stanford Law School, where he was awarded the Block Civil Liberties Award for his work on hate crime. He is a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States and the state of California. 

He is the author or co-author and editor of books, scholarly articles, training manuals and studies on extremism and hate crime. He was also the author of briefs in the Supreme Court case of Wisconsin v. Mitchell in 1992-3, where he analyzed criminological data establishing hate crime’s severity. His book, the Limits of Dissent is about the Constitution and domestic terrorism. His research has been cited by The California Court of Appeals and in numerous scholarly journals and major law reviews.

Prof. Levin has testified before both houses of Congress, the US Commission on Civil Rights and various state legislatures on hate and terrorism. He has presented instruction and/or advised the Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Treasury Dept., U.S. Customs, American Bar Association, American Prosecutor’s Research Institute, National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, National Bar Association, National College of District Attorneys, National District Attorneys Association, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, International Association of Chiefs of Police and numerous police departments, colleges, universities and human rights organizations.

Mr. Levin is a court certified expert on extremism in the United States and England. He has appeared on every network and cable television evening news broadcast and various network magazine shows on the subjects of extremism, civil rights and criminal law. He has also appeared in every major American newspaper, newsmagazine and wire service as well as four other continents.

In 2003, Professor Levin was selected to research terrorism for both a Hispanic Serving Institution fellowship from the United States Department of Agriculture and as a Visiting Scholar with the FBI Academy’s Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia. Professor Levin was named Outstanding Faculty member by the College of Extended Learning and wa co-recipient of the University’s Diversity Award in 2005. In 2005 Professor Levin was invited by the Metropolitan Police to make a presentation on hate crime in London and by the National Academies to make a presentation on terrorism at an international conference in Helsinki. 

The thing that really got me was when Bill said his facts are simply wrong. Being a Religious Studies scholar, I tend to side with Mr. Levin. I also find it ironic that Bill full-heartedly accepts scholars on climate change, but not on religion. Why do you assume you know more Bill?

Following, I will respond to the key points of their discussion…

Bill claims that not all religion is a like. Nothing is ever perfectly analogous, but for the most part, I find religion very similar. Islam is no different than Christianity. What Bill forgets is that culture and society play a role. The topic of religion is complex and not black and white, as Bill assumes. Culture and society are often the driving forces and cannot be separated from religion. This is especially true with Islam. Their culture and religion is blended together and cannot be separated. Bill totally ignores the cultural aspect and simply focuses on the religion, which ignores the bigger picture.

Bill admits there are good Muslims but suggests that Mr. Levin is wrong about his facts. No, Levin is perfectly correct…Muslim extremists are a fringe group. There are 1.4 Billion Muslims in the world and the vast majority are good people just trying to live a good life. Muslims will admit that 10% are the fundamentalist Muslims that follow the Qu’ran to a T. They are the terrorists and want to see non-believers killed. Whether they act on this is another story. What we are ignoring is the simple math…These Muslims are only 10%, a minority…but 10% of 1.4 Billion people is 140 million, a very significant group. The point is that there are a lot of these fundamentalists Muslims, that are the extremists that Bill speaks of, but they are a minority and do not represent Islam as a whole. The vast majority of Muslims, like Christians, are good people.

Bill claims that this religion (Islam) behaves differently. He admits that at other points in history, Christianity was the problem, but now, Islam is the problem. No, religion is religion. What is different is the other major driving factor…culture.

As is mentioned, religion or ideology can be used as an excuse but is not a bad thing in itself. (To the fact that religion and ideology itself is not a bad thing, Bill responded with “really? Interesting…”) The real issues dates back to the Crusades, but more strongly relates to Imperialism. The West took advantage of the Muslim world, deprived them of resources and wealth, and placed boarders that were meant to cause conflict. This is the root of their dislike for the West. It is a political and economic issue that is disguised as religion. Religion is the excuse, not the cause. Politics and economics are the cause of the clash…though in Muslim countries; law, culture, and religion cannot be totally separated. They are not like the United States.

When Mr. Levin is discussing reasons that people do crazy things, he does mention religion and ideology, in which Bill responds “so you admit religion is in there?” That statement proves that Bill thinks religion is a bad thing.  

What Bill does not realize is that Religion provides a lot of good things. Religion contains things such as Karma, the Golden Rule, the teachings of Buddha, the teachings of Jesus, the teachings of Gandhi, Submission, Peace, and Charity. Churches are the largest community contributor.  No one donated more money to hurricane Katrina than Churches did. Religion also gives people the strength to live and to live a good life. It gives them hope and something to look forward to. Even if you disagree, you are wrong to say it does not make a difference.

Even groups here in the US, that many people would consider crazy, provide great lifestyles. Obviously there are crazies like the FLDS, but most Mormons live a very happy and healthy life that has no negative side effects. We also have Jehovah’s Witnesses’ come to the door on a regular basis. They are friendly, non-pushy, and provide us with a lot of reading material. Their intentions are good, not malicious.

The fact is, Bill, Religion does provide more good than harm. You attacked the comparison of Martin Luther King Jr. to terrorists, but the fact of the matter is that they both use(d) religion seriously and make a difference because of it. Religion can be used for good or bad. You, like Richard Dawkins, see it as a disease. I tend to see it as an evolutionary cause. I think it did, and still does, hold a purpose in human existence, and will never disappear.

Bill, for some reason, ignores the scholarship done on religion and ignores the scientific benefits. I love you Bill…but you are wrong on religion. You are not an Islamaphobe, you are a religionaphobe…hopefully you will grow some more and overcome this…

I feel I will expand on this topic in the future…