Friday, November 30, 2018

Evil Christianity, Again

I respond to five familiar points from a poster on Unbelievable: 

* 1. "Christianity perpetuated slavery for centuries."

Slavery didn't need to be "perpetuated:" it was a money-making operation.  Slavery existed in most ancient civilizations and continues today in some Muslim countries.  It was Christianity that inspired the world-wide liberation of slaves, however.  

The poster could more accurately have said, 

"While the teachings and example of Jesus inspired some early Christians to express doubts about slavery, and undermined the cruelty and ruthlessness which is needed to treat other humans as mere instruments at every turn, slavery didn't die out for several centuries after Christianity took power, and was then revived with a vengeance by people who ignored imprecations against slave-trading (including in the Bible), until zealous Bible-thumpers let a world-wide movement against the institution."

Hmmm.  I do see the beauty of the poster's version, from a skeptical point of view. 

* 2. "Christianity held women back for centuries. Women gained rights despite what the Bible says. Women had to fight Bible thumpers to gain their rights."

Again one needs to tweak this claim slightly to bring it more into accord with the facts.  Let's see, maybe something like this: 

"Women have been placed in a subservient position in most civilizations at most times, as can be seen in much of the literature of the Middle East: Sumer, Egypt, Greece, Rome.  Indeed, one can barely find a heroic personality in any Egyptian literature.  All this changed dramatically with the Old Testament, which features dozens of heroic women, giving sage advice, engaging in enterprise, even leading armies and nations.  An even greater revolution occurred with the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, who treated women with startling, unprecedented compassion and respect, healing, protecting, praising, saving from death.  Nothing transformed the status of women around the world over the next two thousand years more than Jesus' life and teaching, liberating billions of women around the world."

"However, some post-Christian thinkers, both feminists and anti-feminists, proved that men (and women) are still mad about sex, and undermined this revolution of love at every turn with their daft ideas, from Schopenhauer to Mill to De Beauvoir.  The battle still rages on."

"300 page book to follow proving every point above and much more in copious detail."  
I can see this poster and I are going to agree a lot!  Like, one should treat women nicely!  I hope he does that.  Most modern young men need to learn from Jesus how to treat women.  

3. "Atheism has done a lot of good by promoting free thinking as opposed the Christian anti-science/magical thinking."

Just a few adjustments here: 

"Aside from the perhaps 95% of atheists who have been enamored of God-hating cultists like Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Kims I, II and III, Ho, Pott, Ayn Rand, Sigmund Fraud, etc, etc, and practically destroyed human civilization a few year ago, along with killing tens of millions of people.  Other than that, LOTS of good.  And don't hang out in an elevator with a New Atheist.  

"As for "free thinking," I haven't noticed many atheists yet who seem free to engage in that activity in a very open manner, but I have come across two or three, who seem 'not far from the Kingdom' at times, however." 

* (4) "There is no quality about atheism that led despots to murder millions of people. There are other reasons why those regimes were so deadly."

Slight tweaking again:

"Marx and Engels said communism 'abolishes all religion, all morality, all eternal truth.'  As David Aikman proved in his doctoral dissertation on Atheism in the Marxist tradition, the relationship between rejection of God (whether or not one calls it atheism) and death and destruction was intimate, deep, and multi-variant.  As I showed in Jesus and the Religions of Man, however, self-worship in atheism was ultimately only one pernicious form of idolatry that flows across religious boundaries.  It was not merely that atheists rejected God which led to mayhem: it was that they crowned themselves gods in his place, as atheists so often do today as well."  

But we agree on the poster's second sentence.  Atheism was a deeply important factor in all that death and destruction, but it wasn't the only factor, and in some ways, disbelief in God might even have been a front.   

* (5) "The happiest, most successful countries in the world today have high atheist populations."

I answered this argument briefly in my debate with Phil Zuckerman.  (Zuckerman is the Pitzer College sociologist who has popularized it.)  I also answered it in detail on this site.  

First of all, surveys that claim Scandinavia is the happiest part of the world are usually rather slippery: they don't actually measure happiness, but other social goods.  

Second, Scandinavians themselves say their moral values come from the Gospel: Zuckerman himself often cites them saying that. 

Third, the Bible predicts that when things go well, people will fall away.  Jesus predicts it.  Why should Jesus being right again, be an argument against Jesus?

Fourth, Zuckerman worries about the future of post-Christian Scandinavia, because of too few babies.  (And maybe too many Muslim immigrants.)

Fifth, Scandinavian-Americans are more religious and also seem pretty well-off.  

Sixth, secularism didn't make Scandinavia prosperous.  It became prosperous first, then secularized.  

Our friend the poster managed to overlook a few facts, it seems!

But I expect all of these facts will have little effect on the consciousness of this poster.  Like many atheists, he praises "free thinking," but does not seem free to recognize how the Gospel of Jesus revolutionized life on this planet, even though he is no doubt its beneficiary in many ways.     

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Resurrection vs. Book of Mormon

Look!  A Book! Reformed Egyptian, I'd say!
One of my Facebook friends asked the following question:

"The Mormons have around eight eyewitness testimony accounts. Some even left the church, but held firmly to what they saw. Curious if any apologist have used Bayes Theorem for the Mormon evidence. Do any of you believe the eyewitness testimony from less than 200 years ago?"

His idea is that Christian bias aside, the evidence for Mormonism is much better than that for Christianity.  After all, we apparently have eight pretty recent eyewitness testimonies to something -- not sure what -- which proves Mormon beliefs -- somehow -- but just scattered accounts in allegedly anonymous gospels from Heaven knows whom to back up Christianity.

I asked in response: 

"Do you think the evidence for Mormonism is good? If so, are you planning to become a Mormon? If not, why not? And why do you bring it up? 

Oddly, the questioner then admitted evidence for Mormonism was "crap."  So he apparently has intuitive reasons for rejecting this wonderful recent Mormon evidence, which he either won't or can't express.  But the comparison is not infrequently made.  Maybe it's good to explain why the evidence for the Gospel account is not only not inferior to that for the Book of Mormon, calling the gospels "exponentially" more credible than the Book of Mormon would be far too modest.  "Astronomically" is probably. 

As with any historical question, the credibility of either event is some combination of prior probability conjoined with the weight of the evidence.  Let's begin with the prior probability of the two claims, that Jesus rose from the dead, and that Joseph Smith was telling the truth about the Book of Mormon. 

This will be a preliminary sketch, fit in before and after work.

I. Prior Probability of the Resurrection vs. Joseph Smith's story

Here's my article on the prior probability of the Resurrection.  Let's first compare the facts I describe there to the story of Joseph Smith and the tables. 

The prior probability of Jesus' being raised would seem to be a function of three issues: (1) Does God exist? (2) How likely would  he be, even while keeping the laws of Nature generally in effect, as He obviously does, raise one person dramatically from the dead? (3) How likely would it be that that person be Jesus? 

Of course I think Christianity is vastly superior in theology to the confused and shifting anthropomorphism of Mormonism, in which God starts out traditional in the Book of Mormon, then turns into a glorified man later on.  But let us assume that the two faiths are equal on (1), the existence of God.

We'll also assume the probability that God would reveal Himself by raising someone from the dead, or by sending golden plates, is equal (2).  (I certainly don't think it favors the golden plates, though that being given a holy book, or a talisman of gold, is a common motif in some folk religions, even in ancient Greek and modern English fiction.)

But for prior probability, let us ignore those superiorities of Christian orthodoxy, and focus on (3), the differences between Jesus of Nazareth and Joseph Smith and the stories told about or by them.

(1) Isaiah spoke of a Suffering Servant dying, yet then "seeing the Light of Life." Might not this and other passages in the OT be a signal pointing to God's intention not just in general, but specifically related to Jesus?   Even so perceptive a man as Blaise Pascal have found many messianic expectations in the Old Testament that seemed to come true in Jesus, more than in the life of any other man or woman.  All in all, the diffuse and complex web of Messianic expectations that seem to focus on Jesus (Pascal explains some of the reasons why), do seem to make it far more likely that he would be the one whom God raises.  

As far as I know, no such clear prophecies from hundreds of years before about Joseph Smith finding golden plates have been uncovered.  Feel free to demonstrate otherwise.   

(2) The ancient Hindus wrote of God (Prajapati) sacrificing himself for the world. There are parallels in China and in other cultures (see my previous post), and mythological "dying and rising gods."

Again, some of these show remarkable parallels to the person and story of Jesus. If God were to intend his act as a sign not just to Israel, but to the whole world -- and the entire Old Testament underlines the universal character of God's redemptive plans -- then does not the fulfillment of such types in the life of Jesus greatly increase the chance that He would be the One prepared for all mankind -- and that God might give humanity a sign of hope and redemption in one such fell, miraculous deed?  

There are folk stories of people finding books, but never (so far as I know) made of gold and in Reformed Egyptian.  As Don Richardson records in Eternity In Their Hearts, some of those stories were indeed seemed to prepare locals for the coming of missionaries with Holy Bibles, as among several tribes in Burma.  

The resurrection motifs fit Jesus better than any historical figure.  The "found book" motif fits Christianity just as well as Mormonism, if not better.  

(3) Lin Yutang, the great Chinese philosopher and man of letters, who compiled an anthology of Chinese and Indian literature, said that "no man has taught as Jesus taught." Many others on a similar intellectual plane concur. Is it not more likely that God would choose arguably the world's greatest teacher to make His point?

Mark Twain, the early contemporary of Lin, famously called the Book of Mormon "chloroform in print."  I have tried to read the book myself, and understand what he meant.  If Joseph Smith offered any great original new moral teachings or prophetic call against sin, I have not seen them yet.  Why would God bother?  

(4) Jesus was, as I show in The Truth Behind the New Atheism and elsewhere, at the center of many of the greatest reforms in history -- inspiring them, setting an example, more so than anyone. Is it not likely God would choose to raise such a person, to set an example for the human raise, and thus endorse that example of revolutionary and prophetic kindness?  (Leading to important reforms around the world?) 

No doubt conversion to Mormonism has brought positive changes to some lives, as has conversion to the Nation of Islam and even Jim Jones' cult.  I am not aware of any more universal reforms, however, aside from the fall back into polygamy among many leaders of all three sects.  The best one might say about Mormonism is that towns in Utah are generally well-kept.  That is a long ways from the startling reforms observers  like the Durants, Rodney Stark, Vishal Mangalwadi, and many others, have noted that Christianity ushered in.  

If there is a God, it is easy to see his hand upon Jesus and his movement, much harder on Joseph Smith and the Utah church.  

(5) Jesus was murdered by tyrants, backed by the Roman Empire, in a particularly savage way. If God is (as Lao Zi said of the Dao) on the side of the weak against powerful oppressors, would not raising him from the dead be a particularly good way of showing that?

Joseph Smith died in a shoot-out which was not elevating on either side.  People were angry because he was stealing wives and lying about it, then attacking non-Mormons who told the truth.  God seemed satisfied to leave the man dead, and so, perhaps, should we.  

There five elements have to do with the prior probability of the resurrection.  I haven't introduced any specificially Christian theology into this argument so far. If God exists, and if He wanted to do something dramatic in human history, that would change the world, give us hope, and show that he stands on the side of the righteous and oppressed, Jesus seems a far more plausible vehicle for such an act than Joseph Smith, to put it mildly.    

II.  Evidence for the Event

The Christian account of Jesus resurrecting is also far more credible as a story, than is the tale Joseph Smith's followers told of the Golden Tablets.  

(6) A person you have known for years, and traveled with constantly and looked to as your guru, is easily recognizable.  Gold plates may not be.  One can take copper for gold in murky light, for instance.

(7) That Jesus was alive was verified by three senses: sight, hearing, and touch, and reportedly by hundreds of people.

That the writing on these "gold" plates was reformed Egyptian, or that it contained the words of the Book of Mormon, was not verifiable by anyone.

These two points alone make the claim that the Mormon evidence is superior to the Christian evidence, absurd.  It would be hard to convince Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the whole Kennedy family that you are JFK, come back to life, I bet.  But I can show most Americans a random book in Chinese, and tell them it's a Tibetan holy book, and probably convince many of them.

In fact, Smith's eyewitnesses saw nothing supernatural at all.  How can the claim that they saw a shiny book be construed as in any way confirming the truth of Mormonism?  

Meeting your best friend after he died is something entirely different.

(8) Jesus was, at least, the greatest moral teacher in history.  Joseph Smith was a con man, a liar (even to his wife, about his other wives), a gold-digger in the literal sense, and an all-around creep.  And you have to ask me why the story told by the former's disciples is more credible than that told (vaguely) by the latter?  

(9) More than a hundred facts recounted by Luke in Acts have been confirmed from other sources, while only a relatively few have been credibly questioned.  The proportions seem reversed in the case of the Book of Mormon.  Acts and the gospels are clearly very early sources for the life of Jesus and the early Church.  By stark contrast, The Book of Mormon has nothing whatsoever to do with ancient Meso-American civilization, except by accidence.

(10) DNA studies show that Native Americans are not closely related to Jews.  That ruins the whole Book of Mormon story.  The New Testament suffers no such disconfirmation.

(11) We have four gospels, which overlap some, but also preserve a strong measure of independence ("Q," "M," "L," John).  The Book of Mormon comes as a single book, with no evidence of independence. 

How much stronger is a story with four (largely) independent sources than a story with just one?  As with many other points in this summary, the answer is "exponentially."  Multiply all the exponents together, and you get "astronomically."  

(12) The gospels describe events which occurred within living memory; the Book of Mormon, ancient events.  Historical claims from people who were alive when the events happened, are many orders of magnitude more credible than claims from people who lived  a thousand years later, with no intervening sources, all things being equal. 

(13) The gospels were written in Greek with some Aramaic phrases scattered through them, both languages spoken in the Eastern Mediterranean where the events they record allegedly occurred.  Jesus himself certainly spoke Aramaic, quite likely Greek as well.  Many texts have been discovered in these languages, especially Greek.  No confirming "reformed Egyptian" texts have been discovered from the Americas.  (Or from anywhere else, though of course languages all evolve.)  

(14) And of course MMLJ were much closer in culture as well as time and space to the events they record, than Joseph Smith was.

(15) The Book of Mormon is written (or "translated") in(to) 19th Century Faux-King James American English.  The New Testament was written in common marketplace Greek of the 1st Century.  Forgive historians for finding the latter far more credible as records of 1st Century Palestine than the former is of Aztec or Mayan country, on linguistic grounds alone.

One could go on beating this poor tortured horse till the cows come home.  In Jesus is No Myth: The Fingerprints of God on the Gospels, I described 30 traits that the gospels share, which make them credible sources.  One could call them "Hallmarks of Historicity."  Probably another 20-24 of which I haven't mentioned yet, which would further support the historicity of the gospels over that of the Book of Mormon. 

But multiply fifteen exponents of this sort, and we already have exponential superiority for the gospels as historical accounts, over the Book of Mormon.  

As for the Resurrection itself, see this wonderful piece by Tim & Lydia McGrew.

Skeptics are free to disbelieve that Jesus rose from the dead, despite all the arguments in its favor.  But let's not engage in frivolity.  If you claim that the Book of Mormon has superior evidence to the gospels, because eight people claim to have seen shiny flat surfaces with funny writing on them, you're saying more about your own silly state of mind than about any other facet of reality.