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Refuting the Myth that Jesus Never Existed
January 9, 2006 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Did Jesus Really Exist? Also some notes on the doubtful existence of Hannibal.
posted by brownpau (122 comments total)

 
If Hannibal doesn't exist, then who ate the census taker's liver and who drank all my Cianti?
posted by keswick at 3:58 PM on January 9, 2006


Not Chianti, kee-an-tee.
posted by iron chef morimoto at 4:03 PM on January 9, 2006


Ok. I am now convinced. There was a guy whose name was Jesus....and does that mean.....what? Was there a guy named Moses? and did he come down from some mountaintop with ten comandments? Saying someone existed does not mean that everything later said about that person is historically accurate or true.
posted by Postroad at 4:07 PM on January 9, 2006


I think I've seen this page before. Regardless, it is not really that interesting.
posted by delmoi at 4:08 PM on January 9, 2006


That page is crap. I don't like the writing at all.
posted by teece at 4:21 PM on January 9, 2006


With this is in mind I present "Bede's Guide to the Production of a Best-seller that Undermines the Roots of Christianity". With this I can guarantee that you will be able to find all the parallels you like between paganism and Christianity or indeed, properly adapted, between any other two unrelated subjects that you care to name.

As we all know, Christianity sprang fully-formed from Mary's vagina, and had nothing to do with anything that preceded it.
posted by brundlefly at 4:24 PM on January 9, 2006


Furthermore, the thesis that Jesus never existed requires selective scepticism about which sources are reliable and how others are interpreted.

You can't prove me wrong, so I must be right!!
posted by sellout at 4:35 PM on January 9, 2006


Luigi Cascioli is suing an Italian priest and the Catholic Church, demanding that they prove Jesus exists:
Cascioli says Righi, and by extension the whole Church, broke two Italian laws. The first is "Abuso di Credulita Popolare" (Abuse of Popular Belief) meant to protect people against being swindled or conned. The second crime, he says, is "Sostituzione di Persona," or impersonation.
Cascioli, believes that:
"The Church constructed Christ upon the personality of John of Gamala," Cascioli claimed, referring to the 1st century Jew who fought against the Roman army.
as shown in his book.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 4:37 PM on January 9, 2006


Postroad: As I read the not-very-well-written diatribe on the linked site, I don't think it's trying to make the case that Jesus was who Christians claim he was. It appears to be solely intended to debunk non-Christian claims that there was never any such a person as Jesus, divine or not.

It makes a good point that, at the time that Jesus was allegedly alive, what he was allegedly doing would not have been particularly noteworthy to the historians of the time, and would probably not, therefore, have been recorded in any non-Christian histories. Does it prove anything? All it proves is that a lack of evidence is not, itself, evidence.

Sure, the article's nothing to write home about, but it's not entirely kooky.

As for "You can't prove me wrong, so I must be right!!"

I read it more as "You can't prove me wrong, so stop telling me you can prove I'm wrong."
posted by JekPorkins at 4:38 PM on January 9, 2006


To be honest, I don't really care whether Jesus really existed or not. When you rationally discard the claims of miracles Jesus sounds like a fairly dull fellow. And we all know religion isn't directly related to historicity.
posted by Citizen Premier at 4:40 PM on January 9, 2006


Jesus was the promised Messiah, which was of the seed of David. Matthew 1 gives the genealogical proof that Jesus was a direct descendant of Abraham, and David through Joseph, Jesus' legal father.

Me no understand. Not a descendent of King David by blood? Or is this something more that is being argued?
posted by Jikido at 4:40 PM on January 9, 2006


Pagan origins of the Christ myth is a bit more convincing regarding the pagan connection. Bane of Monotheism has some alternative theories about who or what Jesus might have been. The most comprehensive site is probably Earl Doherty's Historical Jesus or Jesus Myth. Yikes.
posted by Adamchik at 4:42 PM on January 9, 2006


This is fantastic. I can't wait to send the site to my mom to convince her that atheism is best.
posted by 6550 at 4:44 PM on January 9, 2006


It's not an atheist argument, 6650.
posted by interrobang at 4:49 PM on January 9, 2006


It's also not fantatic.
posted by 6550 at 4:51 PM on January 9, 2006


I just watched The God Who Wasn't There (hint: you can find it on bittorrent) and the filmmaker does a reasonable job illustrating some of the problems with Jesus - his pagan connections, similar "Christ-like" figures through history, problems with the early gospels, etc. Not great, but worth the download.
posted by wfrgms at 4:52 PM on January 9, 2006


It's also "6550", sorry.
posted by interrobang at 4:52 PM on January 9, 2006


That was about as well-written as the Beast trailer. And that's not something to brag about. I'm more than a little skeptical about the whole king of the Jews thing, but nothing made me more so than reading the letters of Pliny the younger, who wrote missives talking about the troublesome Judeans, with their 'Kings'.

His opinion was (paraphrased and probably bastardized) "what can you do with a people so stubborn they insist theirs is the only god, and Roman gods are nothing, even when threatened with death? Killing them is a mercy, because they lack common sense of survival."
posted by Busithoth at 4:57 PM on January 9, 2006


MetaFilter: You can't prove me wrong, so stop telling me you can prove I'm wrong
posted by davejay at 5:02 PM on January 9, 2006


If Jesus didn't exist then he couldn't have smoked up. Make up your minds which kind of revisionism you want.
posted by jfuller at 5:04 PM on January 9, 2006


I don't get it... why would you waste time refuting this? Is the argument really that Jesus didn't exist?

I mean, I'm an atheist and all, but even I'm not going to try to take the man's life away... just his divinity.

Anybody want to read my refutation of Hannibal's divinity? Here's a sample:

The thesis that Hannibal wasn't the Son of God has hovered around the fringes of research into the Second Punic War for centuries but never been able to become an accepted theory. This is for good reason, as it is simply a bad hypothesis based on arguments from silence, special pleading and an awful lot of wishful thinking.

posted by cosmonaught at 5:14 PM on January 9, 2006


Josephus mentions Jesus, as well as many other messiah-types who were running around around the time of the descrution of the temple. He tells us more about some of the others than about Jesus. As far as I can see, this has zero religious relevance.
posted by solobrus at 5:22 PM on January 9, 2006


*"around around" should be "around," obviously.
posted by solobrus at 5:22 PM on January 9, 2006


Within the very limited context of what this essay was about, namely poking holes in the theories of those who deny that Jesus ever existed as a man, I found this essay interesting, despite the lackluster prose. I've heard people make this claim and never really knew whether it was legit or not.
posted by Falconetti at 5:31 PM on January 9, 2006


Not only did I exist, but I continue to exist and am willing to prove it, in person, to anyone willing to drive out to San Diego.

Now fucking worship me already.
posted by iron chef morimoto at 5:35 PM on January 9, 2006


to anyone willing to drive out to San Diego.

A test of faith, eh? What is it with religon always acting like you have to do something in order to have truth revealed?

But you kinda have to hand it to Jesus, whether he exists or not: What he allegedly preached really is the recipe for happiness and peace. Now if we could just get the people who say they believe in him to actually follow his teachings, that would be a good trick.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:42 PM on January 9, 2006


Now if we could just get the people who say they believe in him to actually follow his teachings, that would be a good trick.
Sorry, they're too busy thanking God that they're not like the Pharisees.
posted by verb at 5:46 PM on January 9, 2006


For goodness sake do not mention the things that really made the pagan mysteries interesting. After all your work of showing that Jesus and Bacchus are one and the same, you will lose everything if you let on that Bacchus was the god of drunkenness and his worship involved getting plastered and having sex with anything in sight (goats being a particular favourite). In fact, keep sex out of it altogether. Yes, sex was the central feature of an awful lot of these pagan rituals but that is not the point your are trying to make.

Just one thing to add... all of the revisionist religious history books that I've read actually play up the drunken orgyness of the early Christian church (hell, you can read The DaVinci Code and come away with that)... They've in fact made it a centerpiece of their narrative... the sex thing being stomped out by the evil, patriarchal Church of Rome later on.

Not saying I agree with those books (I don't know enough about the subject one way or another... they make great reads), but this seems like a pretty big straw man to me. Actually, this whole section scuttles the entire article for me. Like cosmonaught I have no problem believing Jesus existed, despite my atheism. I would have been OK with this article if it had simply rebutted those who say otherwise, but to characterize Christianity as completely "unrelated" to Pagan belief is ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as interpreting the book of Genesis literally.

Paging bevets.
posted by brundlefly at 5:48 PM on January 9, 2006


Dude,

Meet me in Montana.

XOXO Jesus (H. Christ)

posted by ijoshua at 5:51 PM on January 9, 2006


You know what this thread needs? Unintentionally homoerotic Christian wallpaper. No need to thank me. I'm here for you.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:20 PM on January 9, 2006


Can I thank you anyway, Hildegarde? Here's my favorite picture of our Lord and Saviour. Wouldn't it be great if he had a corncob pipe in his mouth? It'd have to be a big pipe, though.
posted by brundlefly at 6:37 PM on January 9, 2006


"What he allegedly preached really is the recipe for happiness and peace. Now if we could just get the people who say they believe in him to actually follow his teachings, that would be a good trick."

You don't need to look 2,000 years into the past to know that being nice to other people is a good thing.
posted by Citizen Premier at 6:46 PM on January 9, 2006


It is ironic that atheists will buy into this idea and leave all their pretensions of critical thinking behind.

Certainly, but it is equally ironic that Christians will reserve their pretensions of critical thinking solely for trying to disprove things like this, that most atheists don't believe anyway. This article is saying that believing something just because it fits what you want to believe, in the face of evidence, is wrong. I agree.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 6:47 PM on January 9, 2006


Jesus was Caesar - On the Julian Origin of Christianity
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 7:01 PM on January 9, 2006


AskMe, which is where Josephus was brought up recently.
posted by dhartung at 7:29 PM on January 9, 2006


Nobody fucks with the Jesus.
posted by pmbuko at 7:50 PM on January 9, 2006


Did Jesus Really Exist?

I sure hope so as I am calling in some chits with him tonight. I need all the strength he can give me.
posted by caddis at 7:52 PM on January 9, 2006


Jesus is only in your head.
posted by pmbuko at 7:56 PM on January 9, 2006


Now I'm a believer. Thank you red sentence man!
posted by Devils Slide at 7:56 PM on January 9, 2006


John 10.37 "If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father."
posted by bevets at 8:17 PM on January 9, 2006


Oh, I have no doubts that there was a historic person who lived in Palestine at the core of Christian mythology. There is also by the same standard evidence that Gautama Buddha really lived in Nepal and Northern India. What I lack faith in, is the claims that the former was born in line of David as the son of God as explained by the angel of the annunciation. Along with claims that the latter was conceived in the form of a white elephant entering his mother through the armpit as she dreamed.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:22 PM on January 9, 2006


bevets! I've missed you oh so much.
posted by pmbuko at 8:29 PM on January 9, 2006


Damn. I've just been slapped with a PWI....
posted by pmbuko at 8:30 PM on January 9, 2006


Has anyone else read Elaine Pagels' Beyond Belief? She addresses the veracity of many of the claims made about Jesus, mostly by contrasting the gospels of John and Thomas. Really compelling reading, FWIW.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:30 PM on January 9, 2006


Ah, bevets! You got my page, I see. We were hoping you could shed some light on this issue. Please, sir. Do us that service!
posted by brundlefly at 9:06 PM on January 9, 2006


Does he EXIST? What has he been telling you guys?
Of course he exists! That crumblebum owes me five hundred bucks!
You'd think with all his 'friends in high places', they would tell him not to raise on a pair.
posted by Balisong at 9:06 PM on January 9, 2006


"Along with claims that the latter was conceived in the form of a white elephant entering his mother through the armpit as she dreamed."

Shit, man, that happened to my cousin. Her kid didn't look a damn thing like her boyfriend...
posted by klangklangston at 9:28 PM on January 9, 2006


So, um, who hacked brownpau's account?
posted by knave at 9:33 PM on January 9, 2006


You know who I don't think existed?

Buddy Hackett.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:28 PM on January 9, 2006


Ugh, The God Who Wasn't There is one of the worst documentaries I've ever seen. Right from the start, our man gives his bias away - dating Matthew at 70CE at the earliest, because he "mentions the destruction of the Temple." A) It's debatable whether the passage in question actually references the historical even of the destruction, and B) even if it does, it could be a later interpolation on an older text. But within 10 minutes, the movie plows forward based on this "fact" that the Gospels are from much later. (I think they probably are, but it's deceptive and bad form to act as if that's a fact.)
posted by Banky_Edwards at 10:29 PM on January 9, 2006


Oh come on! Everyone knows Jesus lived in India. They're even making a movie about it.
posted by vacapinta at 11:57 PM on January 9, 2006


monkeysaltednuts, thanks for that link.
I've always found it more than a little convenient about the timeline of what was happening in the Roman Empire and the birth of Christ.

and to the atheists - I find it as much an act of faith to believe in no god as to believe in one.

agnosticism is a welcoming place to reason.
it is a little harder to be a zealot over, though.

I just love that people quote a bible that's been translated untold times from the original language. If Islam's got any leg up on Christianity, it's using the original text. Granted, it's 700 years younger, so that might account for something.
posted by Busithoth at 12:11 AM on January 10, 2006


I find it as much an act of faith to believe in no god as to believe in one.

Yeah? So? What of it? Seeing as how one cannot disprove the existence of a god, it seems kind of obvious. Let's just say that if there is a god, I will be incredibly disappointed (with the universe, I mean).
posted by brundlefly at 12:46 AM on January 10, 2006


I find it as much an act of faith to believe in no god as to believe in one.

Not much faith too it, really. Just a conclusion drawn from the huge lack of evidence.
posted by moonbiter at 1:34 AM on January 10, 2006


Hey, there is a considerable body of evidence that L. Ron. Hubbard existed, better all run off and become Scientologists..
posted by zog at 1:47 AM on January 10, 2006


Busithoth: and to the atheists - I find it as much an act of faith to believe in no god as to believe in one.

I really should create a boilerplate text for this old myth that keeps popping up. The prefix a- does not signify the negative, rather it signifies absence.

an-aerobic: lacking air
a-political: lacking politics
a-theism: lacking belief in god

Most atheistic writing over the last century has been less focused on "there is no god" and more on, "the lack of evidence for god does not justify belief."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:13 AM on January 10, 2006


kirk, I guess that still applies, then.
So agnosticism and atheism are synonyms?
I always thought of them as different points on a linear scale. I guess I never got around to reading most atheistic writing in the last century, I must've stopped at 1900.

Conviction that there is no god is as much a point of faith as that there is, seeing as how you're still dealing with an incredible lack of evidence.
posted by Busithoth at 6:45 AM on January 10, 2006


Busithoth: AFAIK, agnosticism goes a small step beyond weak atheism ("I don't know if there's a god"), stating that the question of the existence of god is not possibly solvable. More like "I don't know if there's a god, you don't know, and no one will ever know, so eat your vegetables".
posted by qvantamon at 7:09 AM on January 10, 2006


"the lack of evidence for god does not justify belief."

I guess that makes me simultaneously an atheist and someone who strongly believes in God, since I agree that the lack of evidence for god does not justify belief, and that belief must be based on something other than empirical "scientific" evidence.

To believe in God is not stupid. To believe that God's existence can be empirically proved without faith is extremely stupid. But I also think it's quite arrogant of anyone to suggest that another person does not know if God exists.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:27 AM on January 10, 2006


In my case, agnosticism means "I just don't care if there is a god or not."

In this way, I am also agryanseacrest.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:51 AM on January 10, 2006


I have no doubt that there were numerous rabbis at that time who preached some of the same things as in your "New Testament" and who were crucified as disruptive looneys. Some of their names could probably even be translated (poorly) as "Jesus."
posted by bshock at 9:01 AM on January 10, 2006


As for this old nonsense about atheism being an equally irrational belief:

"Belief" in the sense of "religious belief" is basically acceptance of information based on authority (unless of course you're hearing voices in your head that give you these ideas, in which case I strongly urge you to visit the nearest hospital's emergency room without delay). The authorities in this case may be your family, clergy, or anyone you respect.

However, there are several recognized sources for acceptance of information in addition to authority -- observation, deduction, experimentation, corroboration, etc. To function optimally, a human mind needs to choose the proportion of each information-acceptance method that yields the best demonstrable results.

Which is to say that those who look at the question of belief as true-or-false probably do very poorly on multiple-choice tests.
posted by bshock at 9:13 AM on January 10, 2006


If I believe Spongebob lives in my bedroom closet, I'd probably lose friends and my job eventually.

Belief in a skygod is roughly equivalent in terms of evidence, but socially acceptable, if not mandatory in some parts of America.

If there is a god, he/she/it is a sick, twisted creature dangling scraps of hope over a general landscape of human misery. Morality begins with acknowledging that humans need to take care of themselves and each other, and that no magic deity exists to help them out and look after them.

Meh. I'm tired of apologizing for my atheism. Simply put, I think religious belief causes more problems than it solves. I also love reading Kierkegaard, so maybe I'll wake up and smell the coffee one day--but I've taken enough absurd leaps to know that they're usually not pretty.
posted by bardic at 9:45 AM on January 10, 2006


(and quoting Jerry Springer was unintentional. But funny.)
posted by bardic at 9:46 AM on January 10, 2006


bshock: I think that's an excellent summary.

On the topic of the original post re: whether Jesus existed, you state that preaching the things in the New Testament could conceivably get someone crucified as a "disruptive loony."

Which of Christ's alleged teachings in the New Testament do you think was disruptive enough to get him, or anyone else, crucified? Seems to me that the one that got him in trouble with the law was the claim of divine sonship. Do you really think there were lots of rabbis claiming divine sonship?

and bardic:

Morality begins with acknowledging that humans need to take care of themselves and each other, and that no magic deity exists to help them out and look after them.

I fail to see how one thing has anything to do with the other. After all, the very essence of Christ's alleged teachings is that humans need to take care of themselves and each other. That's the whole point of christianity (aside from the whole world domination by any means part that's accompanied the doctrine).

And I think it's quite arrogant of you to make assumptions of what evidence people other than yourself may be relying on for their belief. It's easy to make belief in God look dumb when you start with dumb assumptions about the nature of the God you purport not to believe in. But why assume that God, if he does exist, must by definition be constantly intervening in all human affairs and controlling everything in the world?
posted by JekPorkins at 9:52 AM on January 10, 2006


JekPorkins, umm, you're wrong. The whole point of Jesus' teaching was ultimately to accept him as the Messiah/Christos. I find a lot of his teachings to be incredibly profound--to cast aside wealth, to care for the poorest and/or most troubled among us. I'm a big fan of "secular Jesus," if that phrase can be used without snark. But ultimately the gospels (the "good news") are not just a life-affirming new way of understanding how to treat others and deal with authority--it comes down to accepting his status as the savior come back to earth. John 3:16, miracles, etc. That's the "leap" I read into Kierkegaard--if Jesus was just a nice and/or brilliant, kind, caring man, he's be rare but hardly alone, and his death would be just another (far too common) tragedy of the time.

As for my assertion that true morality has nothing to do with belief in deities, yes, you're absolutely correct. I'd go a step further--people who believe do so often not to help others, but to find metaphysical excuses and exculpations for their own bad behavior.

And if I'm making belief in skygods look "dumb," that's your own projection. I laid my cards on the table and have done so before--if my atheism bothers a skygod believer so much, they should take a good look at themselves. Why does it bother you? Especially if you're a Christian, you should try to convert me (I'll save you the work--no thank you) and rest assured that you have your place in heaven.

As for God/It/Goddess not intervening constantly, well, to put it bluntly, he/she/it is a very sick fuck, no? A psychologist would call him a sociopath--someone who acts with little regard for the well-being of others. If he/she/it is omnipotent, he/she/it has a lot to answer for. Whether it causes cancer, car crashes, genocide, sexual abuse or stands back and allows it to happen, there's a lot to answer for. (Bertrand Russell makes this point much better than I do, but I guess you can see where this goes.) If this being exists, it's hardly worthy of worship. I'll also try to unpretentiously mention Hegel--religion is something human society needs to get over, the sooner the better.
posted by bardic at 10:23 AM on January 10, 2006


bardic:

My point was, or should have been, that while I am a firm believer in God, I also share your belief that the "skygod" of which you write is nonexistent.

When you say that God "acts with little regard for the well-being of others," I wonder what acts you're referring to. How do you purport to know what acts are those of a deity and what acts are not? I, personally, do not believe that the cancer, car crashes, genocide, sexual abuse, etc of which you refer are acts of God. One would certainly be a sociopath to suggest that the genocidal acts of humanity's worst actors were actually not the acts of humans, but were caused by God.

As for your indictment of God for allowing bad things to happen, I think it all goes back to what assumptions you make about the nature of God while you're deciding not to believe in him. If you assume that God a) is capable of interfering with free will, b) that interfering with free will is part of whatever God's ultimate design might be, or that c) God is somehow ethically bound to interfere with free will and nature in order to impose constant happiness on mankind, then clearly the evidence is against the existence of such a God. I assume that when you refer to "skygod," those or similar traits are attributed to that fictional deity.

I, for one, do not assign any of those assumptions to God. I don't think he is capable of interfering with man's free will. I don't think he's omnipotent (since omnipotence itself is logically impossible), and I don't think that forcing good behavior and ideal environmental conditions on us is part of the plan.

Basically, I think that you and I really agree on about 99% of this stuff. I'm definitely not a skygod believer, as you so eloquently put it, and I really do appreciate (and agree with) most of your analysis.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:57 AM on January 10, 2006


Bardic,

The issue of why God doesn't interfere more than He does is a complicated question and this forum is ill suited to answer it. If you are sincerely interested in a good treatment of the question by a Christian philosopher, I'd suggest C. S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain.
posted by walljm at 11:10 AM on January 10, 2006


JekPorkins, so if there is a god, what is he/she/it good for? That sounds snarky I realize, but it's a shorter form of what I'd consider to be a fairly solid argument for atheism. If it's some wishy-washy spirit or ghost that we sometimes look to to feel better about ourselves, I'd recommend voluntering in a soup-kitchen, making a donation to a reputable charity, or some exercise. Yes, this is utterly "what's in it for me" I realize, but I think that applies to most humans. As current evidence stands, I'd make the historical argument that belief in gods, skygods, idols, Intelligent Designers, what have you, causes more problems than it solves. Why bother? (I'd also defend the rights of people to worship as they please, as long as their mythologies don't interfere with the rights of others to be left alone by their superstitions and bugaboos, especially when it comes to shaping public policy).

walljm, I've read it and find it to be pretty weak. I see his point, but in a larger context find apologies (in the true sense of the term) for the creator's behavior to be strange, it not downright silly. If he causes and/or allows suffering, he/she/it is a bastard. If he/she/it doesn't have the power to cause and/or prevent suffering, why bother?
posted by bardic at 11:22 AM on January 10, 2006


If it's some wishy-washy spirit or ghost that we sometimes look to to feel better about ourselves, I'd recommend voluntering in a soup-kitchen . . .

So, the "fairly solid argument for atheism," in your mind, is that if God isn't exactly what you think he should be, then that's somehow proof that he doesn't exist? That if you deem Deity's nature to be "downright silly" or if you are unable to understand what the nature of Deity is, then a fortiori he does not even exist at all?

You say "If he/she/it doesn't have the power to cause and/or prevent suffering, why bother?" The fact that you can't understand why bother with anything that you don't understand or that doesn't fit your expectation for what that thing should be or do is not evidence for that things nonexistence.

You have really gone a long way toward confirming my long standing belief regarding atheism, though: That it's not really about not believing in God. It's really about setting up an unrealistic expectation for what God should or must be, and then rejecting that straw God as illogical or impossible.

You think Lewis' conception of God is nonsense? Maybe you're right. Lewis is probably wrong about God. But that doesn't mean God doesn't exist. That just means Lewis doesn't understand God.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:32 AM on January 10, 2006


and to the atheists - I find it as much an act of faith to believe in no god as to believe in one.
posted by Busithoth at 12:11 AM PST on January 10


I should just make this a keyboard macro: lacking belief in a god or gods is fundamentally different from believing that no gods exist; further, if you cannot distinguish between these two, even after being told a billion fucking times, maybe you should not talk about it ever again because you are too stupid to live.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:56 AM on January 10, 2006


lacking belief in a god or gods is fundamentally different from believing that no gods exist

Atheist: one who believes that there is no deity
Agnostic: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and prob. unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god

Maybe there should be a macro for that, too.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:01 PM on January 10, 2006


One would certainly be a sociopath to suggest that the genocidal acts of humanity's worst actors were actually not the acts of humans, but were caused by God.

The bacterium Yersinia pestis killed about 35 million people in the 14th century; does God's respect for free will extend to our single-celled friends as well?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:04 PM on January 10, 2006


The whole point of Jesus' teaching was ultimately to accept him as the Messiah/Christos.... But ultimately the gospels (the "good news") are not just a life-affirming new way of understanding how to treat others and deal with authority--it comes down to accepting his status as the savior come back to earth. John 3:16, miracles, etc.

I'll see your John 3:16 and raise you a Matthew 25:31-46.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:26 PM on January 10, 2006


JekPorkins: From the infidels.org into to Atheism - which I recommend you read before going further,

It is important, however, to note the difference between the strong and weak atheist positions. "Weak atheism" is simple scepticism; disbelief in the existence of God. "Strong atheism" is an explicitly held belief that God does not exist. Please do not fall into the trap of assuming that all atheists are "strong atheists". There is a qualitative difference in the "strong" and "weak" positions; it's not just a matter of degree.

This has all been hashed out a millions times before. Some definitions you pulled out of your information suppository hold little water :-) In any event, it behooves us all to be on the same page definitionally so that we can discuss without being at cross purposes.
posted by Sparx at 1:04 PM on January 10, 2006


My typo count was heavenly in that last post - apologies.
posted by Sparx at 1:16 PM on January 10, 2006


JekPorkins: So God is like a really complicated calculus problem with no real-world application? OK. I'm more of an atheist than ever then, and more convinced that people who believe in allah/yaweh/god/Shiva/Spaghetti Monster are at best wasting our time, and worse, letting their religiously justified egos continue to make things more miserable on earth.

There are many mysteries in the world, no doubt, but to chalk them up to some anthropomorphic and (according to you, apparently) male entity is simply primitive thinking. It's what children do when they're lonely and make up imaginary friends. It's not necessarily reprehensible behavior, but it's something adults grow out of. (In the case of the suicide bomber or the Spanish priests who baptised a group of Indians before having them burnt alive, I'd say the imaginary voice is actually quite problematic).

If it's more like some demi-urge that is beyond human comprehension then, well, I have better things to do than worry about the inscrutable (many of them purely selfish like having kids some day and doing better in my career, many of them more selfless, like trying to be good and more thoughtful and less judgemental--Again, my admiration for the person and teachings of Jesus should be clear. I just don't see a connection between him and organized Christianity as it exists today). If there is a creator being that does have the power to alleviate suffering, then, once again, he/she/it is a sick bastard unworthy of any worship on the part of humans.
posted by bardic at 1:31 PM on January 10, 2006


The bacterium Yersinia pestis killed about 35 million people in the 14th century

What reason is there to believe that God caused the bacterium to do that? I certainly don't believe he did.

And, Sparx, my 'information suppository' for those two definitions was Merriam-Webster online. I agree that we need to use uniform definitions for terms.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:31 PM on January 10, 2006


While we're on the topic, I'm not so sure that Wigglethorp Snoozlibum really existed. Think about it. Have you ever even heard of Wigglethorp Snoozlibum?
posted by squarehead at 2:19 PM on January 10, 2006


What reason is there to believe that God caused the bacterium to do that?

Omniscience and omnipotence. He knew when he created the universe thatY. pestis would, billions of years later (or 7500 years later if you're one of those folks), kill tens of millions of people, each with his or her own dreams and desires and plans. He killed the wicked and the pure, the penitent and the arrogant, all indiscriminantly. He could have prevented it and chose not to.

Assuming that a god exists, of course.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:22 PM on January 10, 2006


Assuming that a god exists, of course.

And assuming that he's onmiscient and omnipotent. But why would you assume he's either of those things, aside from setting up an easy strawman god to knock down.

I have a firm belief in God, but I don't think he's omnicient or omnipotent.

But even assuming, as you do, that if God exists he exists according to the way that you've defined him, are you truly incapable of conceiving of a reason why a sentient, all-knowing all-powerful creator would allow his creation to include stuff that kills each other? As an example, assuming you think human technological & cultural progress is a good thing, how much human progress do you think there would be if there were no challenges to try and overcome?

Assuming that one of the goals of the hypothetical diety is to teach people to take care of and love one another, wouldn't removing adversity from the world sort of defeat that goal?

It just all goes back to the fact that those who say they don't believe in God are really saying that they don't believe in the specific concept of God that they've constructed for the sole purpose of disbelieving.

So the hypothetical omnicient & omnipotent being doesn't act in a way that a non-omnicient, non-omnipotent being can comprehend. Is that surprising?
posted by JekPorkins at 2:33 PM on January 10, 2006


And assuming that he's onmiscient and omnipotent. But why would you assume he's either of those things, aside from setting up an easy strawman god to knock down.

Here are some religions in which God is omniscient and omnipotent: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. So at least 3.1 billion people, worldwide, and at least 90% percent of my countrymen, believe that God is both of those things. Hardly a strawman.

I have a firm belief in God, but I don't think he's omnicient or omnipotent.

Then you're going to have to give me some details about your god, because otherwise how can we talk about him?

Assuming that one of the goals of the hypothetical diety is to teach people to take care of and love one another, wouldn't removing adversity from the world sort of defeat that goal?

I can think of better ways to teach those lessons than filling streets full of corpses and having babies suckling at a dead mother's breast, yes.

It just all goes back to the fact that those who say they don't believe in God are really saying that they don't believe in the specific concept of God that they've constructed for the sole purpose of disbelieving.

Not really. I actively believe that the gods envisioned by Jews, Christians, and Muslims do not exist. I also actively believe that the belief systems of Buddhists and Zoroastrians and Scientologists are false. I do not, however, say that all gods are impossible. Perhaps your description of your unomnipotent, watered down god will be very compelling.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:48 PM on January 10, 2006


Busithoth: Points on different scales. You can make arguments for agnostic theism as well. Two primary examples are James' Will to Believe, and Pascal's Wager, both of which start with the premise that one may not know about god, but one should believe just in case belief offers some benefits.

Conviction that there is no god is as much a point of faith as that there is, seeing as how you're still dealing with an incredible lack of evidence.

Well, there are generally two different claims made within atheism. Strong atheists argue that god can't exist. Weak atheists argue that until there is evidence for the existence of god, there is no point in committing to belief.

JekPorkins: To believe in God is not stupid. To believe that God's existence can be empirically proved without faith is extremely stupid. But I also think it's quite arrogant of anyone to suggest that another person does not know if God exists.

Utterly irrelevant. Certainly, someone out there might know if Tyr exists. But until that hypothetical someone offers evidence we can both agree is compelling as to the existence of Tyr, I'm not obligated to believe that Tyr chained the Wolf of Winter.

JekPorkins: I, for one, do not assign any of those assumptions to God. I don't think he is capable of interfering with man's free will. I don't think he's omnipotent (since omnipotence itself is logically impossible), and I don't think that forcing good behavior and ideal environmental conditions on us is part of the plan

In which case, I find the Epicurean argument to be more compelling. If God is not good, omnipotent, or concerned with human affairs, then why should we call such an entity "God" as something worthy of worship? I'll certainly grant that an Einstein-Spinoza god could exist, I just don't find them to be worth worrying about, either as an object of fear or worship.

JekPorkins: And, Sparx, my 'information suppository' for those two definitions was Merriam-Webster online. I agree that we need to use uniform definitions for terms.

I'd say that wading into an philosophical argument armed with only a Merriam-Webster is a fairly good sign of sophomoric wankery. At the very least you could do a bit better and cite the AHED or the OED. Let's just say that the MW's historic publication requirements to pack the maximum number of definitions into the minimum number of pages make it unworthy as the alpha and omega for discussion of religious, political, or philosophical positions.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:01 PM on January 10, 2006


Then you're going to have to give me some details about your god, because otherwise how can we talk about him?

That's a big part of my point. Send me an email. I'd be happy to discuss my conception of God, incomplete as it is, off the board.

I consider myself a Christian. I don't know where you get the idea that Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that God is omnipotent and omnicient.

So, since you reject Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and some others based on your understanding of their beliefs, but you do not reject the possibility of the existence of God, what do you consider yourself?
posted by JekPorkins at 3:01 PM on January 10, 2006


I'd say that wading into an philosophical argument armed with only a Merriam-Webster is a fairly good sign of sophomoric wankery.

I would, too. Good thing I didn't do that.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:04 PM on January 10, 2006


JekPorkins: I appreciate your comments and desire to discourse, and really don't want to add to the pile-on. But:

I don't know where you get the idea that Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that God is omnipotent and omnicient.

This statement makes me question much of what you have typed previously. Please consider this statement again--OC is correct to point out that these three traditions have more in common than many would like to admit, i.e., monotheistic religions based on the power of Yahweh, God, and Allah over previous, inconsequential cults and idols. If you can't accept this sort of bedrock statement, we really can't carry this much further.
posted by bardic at 3:11 PM on January 10, 2006


(Of course there is heterodoxy within each of the three traditions. But any mainstream understanding of each begins with an acknowledgement of an omnipotent creator.)
posted by bardic at 3:13 PM on January 10, 2006


I consider myself a Christian. I don't know where you get the idea that Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that God is omnipotent and omnicient.

lol what
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:18 PM on January 10, 2006


Please consider this statement again--OC is correct to point out that these three traditions have more in common than many would like to admit, i.e., monotheistic religions based on the power of Yahweh, God, and Allah over previous, inconsequential cults and idols.

I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. I would add that I know lots of very smart people who are part of each of those world religions, and none of them believes that God is "omnipotent," since the very idea of omnipotence is a logical impossibility. They do all believe that their God is the only real one, though, and that's definitely in line with the "power . . . over previous . . . cults and idols" part, since by their estimation all other "gods" are nonexistent and, by definition, less powerful than one that actually exists.

I also know a lot of dumb people who believe that God is omnipotent, but I suspect that they haven't really thought about it much.

As far as "bedrock statements" go, I like to stick with more accurate ones, rather than broad sweeping generalizations about the varied beliefs of millions, if not billions, of people. I also really hate the term "mainstream," since it seems like it's usually a way to justify an unfair generalization or to characterize something intentionally as outside the mainstream. But that's just one of my quirks.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:22 PM on January 10, 2006


JekPorkins: It just all goes back to the fact that those who say they don't believe in God are really saying that they don't believe in the specific concept of God that they've constructed for the sole purpose of disbelieving

Not really. How am I supposed to believe in something that I've never encountered? The number of things I could possibly believe is infinite. Since I don't have infinite time, infinite attention, or infinite energy, it makes sense to believe in only those things for which I have seen sufficient evidence to justify belief.

Perhaps it's because I married into a family that loves to tell tall tales, but I've found it to be a reasonably safe position to withhold belief unless the claims are trivially plausible, or made with abundant evidence.

If I'm told by a doctor that I need surgery, I'm going withhold belief until I get a second opinion. If I'm told by a financial advisor that a fund or stock is good, I'm going to withhold belief until I see financial reports and plans. If I'm told that a research methodology or theory is good, I'm going to withhold belief until I read some more studies. So why is it irrational for me to withhold belief in regards to religious claims?

JekPorkins: I would, too. Good thing I didn't do that.

It looks that way to me. Throughout this argument, you have been insisting on a straw man definition of atheism with only the Merriam-Webster in your arsenal. At this point you could be honest and admit that your definitions of atheism are not authoritative and your criticisms only apply to a subset of atheist thought, or you can insist on arguing against a definition of atheism that many atheists find limiting.

JekPorkins: As far as "bedrock statements" go, I like to stick with more accurate ones, rather than broad sweeping generalizations about the varied beliefs of millions, if not billions, of people.

And yet you have no problem with broad sweeping generalizations about the varied beliefs of millions of atheists?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:24 PM on January 10, 2006


Mecca, Rome, and Jerusalem disagree with you JekPorkins.
posted by bardic at 3:29 PM on January 10, 2006


How am I supposed to believe in something that I've never encountered?

Again, not believing in something and believing in its nonexistence are two distinct things. Apparently both exist within the category of "Atheist." But I suspect you believe in a great many things that you've never encountered.

Throughout this argument, you have been insisting on a straw man definition of atheism

I have done no such thing. I haven't insisted on any definition of atheism. I did post a pair of definitions quite late in the discussion, since it was apparent that the discussion did not contain mutually agreed upon definitions.

And yet you have no problem with broad sweeping generalizations about the varied beliefs of millions of atheists?

I certainly have a problem with broad sweeping generalizations about the varied beliefs of millions of atheists, to the extent that those generalizations are not uniformly and definitionally true.

What do you propose we use as our definition of "atheist?" I'm happy to go with it.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:30 PM on January 10, 2006


I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. I would add that I know lots of very smart people who are part of each of those world religions, and none of them believes that God is "omnipotent,"

I don't know what it's like on Bizarro World, but here on Earth I have never met a Christian who does not believe that god is all-powerful. You would be the first. Please describe his limitations to me, in some detail.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:31 PM on January 10, 2006


JekPorkins: What do you propose we use as our definition of "atheist?" I'm happy to go with it.

Well, I'm more fond of the AHED: "One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods." This incorporates both the lack of belief, and the belief in nonexistence.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:34 PM on January 10, 2006


but here on Earth I have never met a Christian who does not believe that god is all-powerful.

Well, now you have. If we ever meet in person, I can introduce you to lots of others like me.

Please describe his limitations to me, in some detail.

Since I'm not omniscient, I'm not aware of all of his limitations. I do believe, as an example, that he is limited by the laws of physics -- though man's understanding of the laws of physics is obviously insufficient to determine exactly what those limitations are. For example, assuming that man is correct in the determination that matter cannot be created or destroyed, that law also applies to God. Of course, assuming that man has a perfect understanding of anything is a pretty dumb assumption.

I'm also pretty sure he can't create a rock so heavy that he can't lift it, and he can't eat 50 eggs (nobody can).
posted by JekPorkins at 3:41 PM on January 10, 2006


I do believe, as an example, that he is limited by the laws of physics

why
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:44 PM on January 10, 2006


JekPorkins: Ever heard of Genesis? Newtonian physics it ain't.
posted by bardic at 3:46 PM on January 10, 2006


Why is he limited, or why do I believe he is limited?

I suspect that I believe he is limited for many of the same reasons that atheists (using KirkJobSluder's definition) don't believe he exists at all.

If you, for example, believe that the existence of an omnipotent being is impossible or improbable, then you'll understand why I agree with you on that point.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:49 PM on January 10, 2006


Ever heard of Genesis? Newtonian physics it ain't.

Ever heard of metaphor? Anyone who thinks that Genesis is a literal account, or that the english terms used in the various translations capture the intended meaning of the text is naive, IMHO. No disrespect to them, of course.

Of course, Newtonian physics ain't exactly infallible, either.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:52 PM on January 10, 2006


How can you believe he is limited by the laws of physics when he himself is not bound by entropy?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:54 PM on January 10, 2006


when he himself is not bound by entropy?

Says who? Why do you believe that he is bound by entropy?
posted by JekPorkins at 3:56 PM on January 10, 2006


Sorry -- should have said: why do you believe that he is not bound by entropy?
posted by JekPorkins at 3:56 PM on January 10, 2006


why do you believe that he is not bound by entropy?

Because he is immortal.

And if you don't think he's immortal then I just really don't know what's going on with your theology.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:59 PM on January 10, 2006


Why would immortality necessarily mean that a being is not bound by entropy?

I do believe that God is immortal, but I wonder if you and I mean the same thing when we say "immortal."

Again, it all goes back to the idea that saying that one "doesn't believe in God" makes assumptions as to what the word "God" means in the context of their unbelief.

But really, why do you think that an immortal being must not be bound by entropy?
posted by JekPorkins at 4:04 PM on January 10, 2006


Wow. JekPorkins, you are a unique Christian, to say the least. But I do have the feeling that 99% of self-professed Christians would definitely not consider you a member of their camp.
posted by bardic at 4:07 PM on January 10, 2006


99% of self-professed Christians would definitely not consider you a member of their camp.

That's probably true. But I'm not going to let a little thing like me thinking that 99% of Christians have it wrong stop me from believing in God in my own way.

Just because I see what I think are flaws in another person's concept of God doesn't necessarily mean that God doesn't exist, or even cause me to doubt what I believe. Some people believe that the Grateful Dead were a really good band. I couldn't disagree more with them, but I still accept that the Grateful Dead had a few good moments. And I apologize to God for comparing him to that band. No offense intended (to Him or to deadheads).
posted by JekPorkins at 4:14 PM on January 10, 2006


Well, this has been fun. But I have to wonder why you bother with the Christian stuff if you don't seem to agree with much of it. If I was a theist, it's probably the last institution I'd want to be considered a part of.
posted by bardic at 4:24 PM on January 10, 2006


I'm not to proud to be associated with mainstream Christianity, but since I believe in Christ, I'm sort of stuck with the throng of misguided groupies. For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure they don't consider me a part of their group.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:25 PM on January 10, 2006


Why would immortality necessarily mean that a being is not bound by entropy?

All closed systems tend towards disorder. God, being a complex being, would do the same, resulting in death, unless he can harness infinite amounts of energy. If he can harness infinite amounts of energy, he is omnipotent. You claim that he is bound by the laws of physics and not omnipotent yet also claim that he is immortal. Your statements are in direct contradiction.

They also contradict God's very own statements in your Bible, but I won't get into that.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:44 PM on January 10, 2006


You claim that he is bound by the laws of physics and not omnipotent yet also claim that he is immortal.

I also claim that man doesn't understand the laws of physics. Only an idiot would pretend that mankind's understanding of physics is good enough to allow an analysis of what is or is not possible where God is concerned.

Perhaps entropy doesn't work the way that you and I think it does. Do all closed systems tend towards disorder? Is there any way around that, within the bounds of reality? Who the hell knows?

But let's go back to your allegation that I claim that God is "immortal." First off, when did I claim that? Second, what do you mean by "immortal?"

I propose, again, that we take this to email. I'm curious to see what you think "my" Bible is, and what parts of it you think are "God's very own statements," not to mention how you think my statements have contradicted them (or why it would matter if they did).
posted by JekPorkins at 6:11 PM on January 10, 2006


But let's go back to your allegation that I claim that God is "immortal." First off, when did I claim that? Second, what do you mean by "immortal?"

Gee, probably when you said "I do believe that God is immortal, but I wonder if you and I mean the same thing when we say "immortal."" You speak a very different language from everyone else in this thread, theist, agnostic, or atheist.

I'm not going to waste time debunking a half-assed theology you haven't even finished formulating with words you haven't even bothered defining.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:26 PM on January 10, 2006


That wasn't very nice; I apologize.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:28 PM on January 10, 2006


Good, because your logic's a non sequitor on the "omnipotent" argument; you're attempting to define a contradiction where there isn't one. Requiring an infinite amount of energy does not mean that something is omnipotent; it means that it requires an infinite amount of energy. It's easy to design something that requires an infinite amount of energy. Take, for instance, a perpetual motion machine.
(Again, we're back to a fundamental tautology: perpetual motion machines don't work because of the entropic principle of thermodynamics.)
And that's where you find the kernel of your disbelief— the transubstantiation of the infinite. Not in the semantic jiggery pokery of omnipotence.
posted by klangklangston at 9:13 PM on January 10, 2006


Klangy, I know you love to follow me around like a retarded puppy, but you're way off base here. Any sentient being, organic or not, that can harness infinite amounts of energy is essentially omnipotent; nothing is beyond its reach.

Your critique of my logic doesn't address any specific point at all. You just bring up perpetual motion machines and assume that it's something special.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:45 PM on January 10, 2006


essentially omnipotent and actually omnipotent are two different things, in my estimation. Just sayin'
posted by JekPorkins at 11:27 PM on January 10, 2006


All closed systems tend towards disorder. God, being a complex being, would do the same, resulting in death

The Second Law of Thermodynamics does not preclude immortality. It may require that the metabolic processes of an immortal being become slower and slower over time, asymptotically approaching zero, but it does not imply that any living thing must inevitably die.

Not to mention that entropy has little to do with life and death. A living, breathing human being contributes more to the increase in entropy than a mummified corpse, for example. Nor does the process of death itself significantly increase entropy, certainly no more than continued living does. A non-preserved, decaying corpse possibly involves a greater increase in entropy, but keep in mind that such decay is brought about by the action of living microorganisms.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:45 AM on January 11, 2006


It may require that the metabolic processes of an immortal being become slower and slower over time, asymptotically approaching zero, but it does not imply that any living thing must inevitably die.

But such a being, no longer having godlike power, would no longer be a god.

essentially omnipotent and actually omnipotent are two different things, in my estimation. Just sayin'
posted by JekPorkins at 11:27 PM PST on January 10


The reason I make the distinction is because only a god could have the will to shape that power properly. If you gave me infinite power I don't think I'd quite know what to do with it. I'd probably accidentally destroy much more than I created, simply by accident.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:02 AM on January 11, 2006


"Any sentient being, organic or not, that can harness infinite amounts of energy is essentially omnipotent; nothing is beyond its reach."

Not at all. The being would also have to be able to expend that energy for something other than self-preservation to be truly omnipotent.
It's not that I follow you, it's that you send up flares of stupidity with your comments, begging for an intelligent rescue. If you weren't so aggressively wrong so often, you wouldn't see me chastising you nearly as much.
posted by klangklangston at 6:36 AM on January 11, 2006


klang, look up
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:47 AM on January 11, 2006


But such a being, no longer having godlike power, would no longer be a god.

No disagreement there. My point was that an immortal being is not necessarily inconsistent with the laws of physics; immortality in and of itself does not imply godhood. In other words, I agree with your assertion that a being bound by natural laws is not a god; I disagree with your claim that an immortal being violates the laws of physics and is therefore a god.

Upon further reflection, I'm not sure my claim that the rate of metabolic processes of an immortal being would asymptotically approach zero is correct. It might be true in a universe of fixed volume, which would have a fixed maximum possible entropy. But given that the universe is expanding, the maximum possible entropy of the universe is also constantly increasing. The maximum possible entropy of a closed system is dependent upon the volume of the system, among many other factors. Thus, in an expanding universe, an immortal being might have metabolic processes proceeding at a constant rate without violating the Second Law. Although these "metabolic processes" would be have to be very different than those we know from life on earth.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:00 AM on January 11, 2006


Your user name is appropriate, DA.

"I disagree with your claim that an immortal being violates the laws of physics and is therefore a god."

That may very well be true. My conjectures are based on my knowledge of physical reality and aren't neccessarily reflective of ultimate truth. I find my arguments are much stronger, however, than those that posit a god with shifting attributes not based on evidence.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:26 AM on January 11, 2006


klang, your stalking is uninteresting. Take off your trucker hat and pop a valium, why don't you.
posted by bardic at 9:28 AM on January 11, 2006


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