Link blog: christianity, andrew-wakefield, jesus, ehrman

GMC | Determinations

The General Medical Council ruling on Dr Andrew Wakefield, where you can read why he was actually struck off (via Ben Goldacre).
(tags: medicine mmr uk wakefield andrew-wakefield vaccine vaccination gmc)

Searching for Jesus in the Gospels : The New Yorker

Adam Gopnik writes about the historical Jesus and the Jesus of faith, bringing in people like Bart Ehrman and Philip Pullman. Interesting stuff.
(tags: religion christianity history jesus christ paul bart-ehrman ehrman adam-gopnik philip-pullman)

Failing The Insider Test: The Problem of Hell

One of the reasons I'm not a Christian any more is that I realised the God I was being asked to worship was evil. Jeffrey Amos explains what I mean with great clarity, and also addresses the "ah ha, but how do you know what's evil without God, eh?" argument.
(tags: hell god evil christianity religion morality)

The Swinger « Music Machinery

Turn anything into a jive (well, anything in 4/4 anyway): "The Swinger is a bit of python code that takes any song and makes it swing. It does this be taking each beat and time-stretching the first half of each beat while time-shrinking the second half. It has quite a magical effect."
(tags: music python audio programming software swing jive)

22 thoughts on “Link blog: christianity, andrew-wakefield, jesus, ehrman”

  1. Subject: "Historical Jzus"!?!
    “Historical Jzus”!?!

    The persons using that contra-historical oxymoron (demonstrated by the eminent late Oxford historian, James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue) exposes dependancy upon 4th-century, gentile, Hellenist sources.

    While scholars debate the provenance of the original accounts upon which the earliest extant (4th century, even fragments are post-135 C.E.), Roman gentile, Hellenist-redacted versions were based, there is not one fragment, not even one letter of the NT that derives DIRECTLY from the 1st-century Pharisee Jews who followed the Pharisee Ribi Yehoshua.
    Historians like Parkes, et al., have demonstrated incontestably that 4th-century Roman Christianity was the 180° polar antithesis of 1st-century Judaism of ALL Pharisee Ribis. The earliest (post-135 C.E.) true Christians were viciously antinomian (ANTI-Torah), claiming to supersede and displace Torah, Judaism and (“spiritual) Israel and Jews. In soberest terms, ORIGINAL Christianity was anti-Torah from the start while DSS (viz., 4Q MMT) and ALL other Judaic documentation PROVE that ALL 1st-century Pharisees were PRO-Torah.

    There is a mountain of historical Judaic information Christians have refused to deal with, at: http://www.netzarim.co.il (see, especially, their History Museum pages beginning with “30-99 C.E.”).
    Original Christianity = ANTI-Torah. Ribi Yehoshua and his Netzarim, like all other Pharisees, were PRO-Torah. Intractable contradiction.

    Building a Roman image from Hellenist hearsay accounts, decades after the death of the 1st-century Pharisee Ribi, and after a forcible ouster, by Hellenist Roman gentiles, of his original Jewish followers (135 C.E., documented by Eusebius), based on writings of a Hellenist Jew excised as an apostate by the original Jewish followers (documented by Eusebius) is circular reasoning through gentile-Roman Hellenist lenses.

    What the historical Pharisee Ribi taught is found not in the hearsay accounts of post-135 C.E. Hellenist Romans but, rather, in the Judaic descriptions of Pharisees and Pharisee Ribis of the period… in Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT (see Prof. Elisha Qimron), inter alia.

    To all Christians: The question is, now that you’ve been informed, will you follow the authentic historical Pharisee Ribi? Or continue following the post-135 C.E. Roman-redacted antithesis—an idol?

    1. Subject: Re: "Historical Jzus"!?!
      While scholars debate the provenance of the original accounts upon which the earliest extant (4th century, even fragments are post-135 C.E.), Roman gentile, Hellenist-redacted versions were based

      You appear to assume that, say, Mark’s or Matthew’s gospels were radically altered before our first manuscripts (given that most people date Mark to around 70 and that there are some people who date Matthew similarly or even earlier). That is not an opinion I’ve heard from many NT scholars, even those who are not Christians: for example, Ehrman thinks that scribes did make some alterations, but you appear to go further. What’s your evidence for this claim?

      My impression of Jesus is that he was primarily a Jewish teacher who was later adopted as the mascot of what became Christianity, but I am not convinced that manuscripts of the gospels were altered wholesale: I think the gospel authors, whoever they were, were already doing theology: Matthew is clearly more concerned to show Jesus’s Jewish heritage than, say, Luke or John.

      On the basis that you should read the arguments of people who disagree with you, I’d recommend N.T. Wright (no relation) in What St Paul Really Said, which argues that Paul was not saying what many Christians, and what you also, think he was. There’s a critical review of Wright’s work which you might find interesting.

  2. That does rather assume that God has a choice over whether to send people to Hell or not. If Hell is a logically necessary consequence of free will — and so is eternal existence — then it could be that God simply isn’t able to either end the existence of humans after a certain period post-mortem, or to rescue them from Hell without their acquiescence. In that case God would not be evil because some people end up in Hell, but rather heroic for managing to rescue any.

    S.

    1. That does rather assume that God has a choice over whether to send people to Hell or not

      How could he not have a choice? In the Bible, he’s portrayed as a judge, and a judge certainly has a choice. You say:

      If Hell is a logically necessary consequence of free will — and so is eternal existence

      Why would I think that either Hell or eternal existence were necessary consequences of free will?

      1. But a judge doesn’t have a choice: a judge swears to ‘do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will’. So assuming they know what ‘right’ is, they don’t have a choice as to whether to do it or not. If a law is necessary for the running of society, the judge can’t just decide to set it aside in one case as a favour: that would conflict with their oath. And God, even more than a judge, is constrained by what is logically necessary, because god is dealing with the logically necessary. So if Hell is the logically necessary consequence of free will, then God can either not create beings with free will, or accept that some of them will choose Hell: and in so doing he has only as much choice as a Law Lord when a Bill comes before the house, who can choose whether to not to pass it but, if it is passed, must then, in their capacity as judge and constrained by their oath, live with its consequences.

        As for why eternal existence or Hell would be necessary consequences of free will, well, obviously I’m speculating, but if the temporal universe is deterministic then free will requires some kind of element that is external to temporality, and that element could easily be eternal (in which case it’s not a stretch to think that it could be necessarily eternal); and as for Hell, The Great Divorce provides one way in which it could be a necessary consequence of the exercise of free will (if free will necessarily includes the freedom to be self-centred).

        S.

        1. I’m not sure what you’re arguing here: most Christians I’ve encountered think that God both makes the laws and that he passes sentence, as it were. In that case, God has the same discretion as the legislature and the judiciary.

          Now, if “right” is independent of God, then it may be that he is constrained as you suggest, but again, most Christians I’ve encountered are not comfortable with that idea. Is that what you are suggesting?

          If “right” is independent of God, but God knows and does only what is right, then for God to be sending all these people to Hell, it must be the right thing to do. But I’m pretty sure it isn’t, quite the reverse. If I’m right, then God does evil. [Aside: If I’m wrong, it seems I’m about as wrong as I can be about morality, in the sense that I’m wrong about something very important (assuming I’m even able to judge what’s important, of course, but Christians assume Heaven and Hell are important, too). So, C.S. Lewis is wrong, for a start: I didn’t get a universal moral sense implanted by God. In fact, I ought to be very uncertain about my other moral intuitions. This uncertainty undermines the Moral Argument for God, as Amos (the blogger, not the prophet) has said (and as I’ve previously discussed), since at least in William Lane Craig’s version, a premise is that there are moral absolutes as evidenced by the fact that “I think we all know there are” (Craig got a bit of a kicking when he tried this against some actual moral philosophers, not very surprisingly).]

          So if Hell is the logically necessary consequence of free will, then God can either not create beings with free will, or accept that some of them will choose Hell

          I doubt that anyone would choose Hell: I’m told God chooses for them based on whether they were good or whether they accepted Jesus as their personal saviour, depending on who you ask. What do you mean when you say that someone chooses Hell?

          if the temporal universe is deterministic then free will requires some kind of element that is external to temporality

          Well, unless you’re a compatibilist of some sort. Even if you aren’t, it seems there are incompatibilist theories which aren’t dualistic. But anyway, I don’t see how being limited in time necessarily limits free will, unless free will means being in absolute control of one’s destiny, in which case, none of us are free. Just as I don’t have a choice about obeying the laws of gravity, I don’t have a choice about dying, or at least, not yet.

          1. God is constrained by what is logically possible. He does not have the discretion to do something that makes no sense: He cannot create a three-sided square, a flat triangle with angles that add up to more or less than a half turn, or something that is alive and dead at the same time. So while He both makes and enforces laws (a Law Lord is a good example, then) He cannot make laws — or anything else — that contradict what is logically possible. So claiming that He is evil because He ‘sends’ (not really an accurate verb) people to Hell is to claim that it is possible to create people without the possibility of them ending up in Hell. If Hell is a possibility necessarily inherent in the creation of being with free will — if you can’t have being which possess free will without the possibility of that free will being used in such a way that ends up with the possessor in Hell — then God can hardly be blamed for the fact that some beings do, of their own free will, end up in Hell. Unless your argument is that it would have been better for Him not to create any such beings in the first place. Is that what you’re saying?

            (Do note that I’m not trying to argue that this is the case: I am just, in fine apologetic tradition, pointing that that there is a not-implausible way in which we can escape the conclusion that God is evil. Hoe plausible you find it is of course up to you, but my point is that it is not completely implausible.)

            What do I mean when I say someone chooses Hell? Well, that’s my Arminianism coming out, I’m afraid. I think we get a choice. Controversial, I know.

            It’s not being limited in time that limits free will, it’s being part of the temporal universe — ie, the one we live in, composed of matter and energy and the forces which bind them together in time. That universe seems fairly deterministic, and therefore does not admit free will (I’ve never seen a convincing compatibilist argument: they all seem to be based on redefining ‘free will’ to mean the opposite). Something which has free will, therefore, must have some connection to the eternal reality outside the universe of matter and energy and time. If something has its roots outside this universe, and therefore of necessity outside time (as time is a property of this universe), then it doesn’t seem to much of a stretch to suggest that its existence cannot be bounded. I mean, the very idea of people spending ‘a hundred years in Hell’ is a bizarre one if Hell is extra-temporal!

            S.

            1. So claiming that He is evil because He ‘sends’ (not really an accurate verb) people to Hell is to claim that it is possible to create people without the possibility of them ending up in Hell

              Yes, that’s what I’m claiming. If God creates the rules, he can create laws and sentences which don’t include condemning people to eternal conscious torment, say, but rather to continue to work on them after death, or annihilate them, or allow them to live a longer time, or reincarnate them, or whatever. This is not on a par with creating square circles: it seems perfectly conceivable that God could choose to behave in the way I describe rather than that people die once, are judged and get no second chances.

              But since you believe that “send” is the wrong verb, you seem to be saying that God does not choose the fate of the people in Hell in the way that a judge chooses the sentence of a convict. In that case, what do you think God’s role in people going to Hell is, and on what evidence? The judicial view at least has the Bible going for it, which I’ll admit isn’t much, but it’s something…

              If you’re claiming that people choose Hell, I’d say that seems an odd claim: no-one (bar someone insane, perhaps) would choose torment for all eternity, given the choice. Perhaps your claim is that the choice is hidden, so that people don’t realise they are so choosing. But that seems rather unfair of God: one would expect clearer warnings than some old books and a bunch of people who can’t agree with each other. Even if Hell is a natural hazard rather than somewhere God sends people, it seems he has been negligent under Health and Safety legislation.

              1. But a judge doesn’t choose the sentence of a convict. The law chooses the sentence of a convict. If a judge hands down a sentence which is not the one that the law requires, then a higher court will overturn it. A judge’s hands are bound by the law. You keep claiming that a judge has the choice over, say, whether to send a criminal to jail for five years or ten, or for life, but in fact that is not the judge’s choice. The judge’s role in that circumstance is to correctly apply the law (and the law is a complex thing, which is why judges need experience and intelligence) — not to choose. So if God, as a judge, ‘sends’ people to Hell, that is not God’s choice any more than a judge ‘chooses’ to sentence a murderer to life imprisonment. The life sentence is mandatory, required by the law; Hell is mandatory, required by the logical necessity of existence.

                So, laying that aside, we have the image of God not applying the law as a judge (who has no choice) but making it as a legislator (or a Law Lord in their role as legislator, say). And here the fundamental point is: ‘If God creates the rules, he can create laws and sentences which don’t include condemning people to eternal conscious torment’.

                Well, maybe. But maybe not. Maybe (for the reasons I’ve given) it is not logically possible to have all three of (X has free will), (X’s existence is bounded) and (X cannot end up in Hell) true for the same X. I think it is perfectly conceivable that ‘free will’ is such that these three are logically inconsistent — and all it takes for the objection that God must be evil to fall is that it is plausible that they are logically inconsistent. If it is possible that they are logically inconsistent then we’re into arguing about relative plausibilities, and you don’t in fact have the knock-down argument against Christianity that you think you have.

                (Of course this only works against annihilationism: there’s no logical reason here why God couldn’t ‘continue to work on them after death, […] or allow them to live a longer time, or reincarnate them’. But equally there’s no reason to think that simply giving people a longer time will make their decision any different, especially if their decision is made in eternity. Perhaps one life is all that is needed for people to make up their mind as to where they want to be for eternity.)

                No one would choose torment for all eternity? Well, you might equally claim that no one would choose to be dead rather than red. Some people’s urge for self-determination is very strong. Again in the realm of the conceivable, I think its perfectly conceivable that when presented with the choice (in full knowledge) between bowing to God or turning their back on him (an action which leads to Hell as its logically necessary consequence, not because of any rule God made up and could have made differently) that a not-inconsiderable number of people will choose to cut off their soul to spite their body. (Perhaps no perfectly rational person would choose Hell over submission; when did you last meet a rational person?) People choose greater or lesser avoidable sufferings in this world when they don’t get their way often enough; Hell is simply the biggest possible avoidable suffering chosen when one fails to get one’s way in the biggest possible sense — and I’m sure the people in Hell will insist that it is perfectly fine and that they are having a great time, thank you. Some, perhaps all, of them will even have managed to convince themselves that this is the case.

                When it comes right down to it, free will must include the freedom to ask God to leave them alone; and if God respects that (as He must, or free will means nothing de facto), then that is Hell.

                S.

                1. I admit I’m mostly ignorant of the way real judges work, but, while I accept that there is a way to get it so wrong that an appeal would succeed, I’m sceptical of your apparent claim there is a single right sentence embodied in the law, which everyone will agree on.

                  But in any case, I see no reason to think that, if God sends people to hell, he could not do anything else: it is conceivable that he could, in a way that conceiving of a square circle is not. Many things are possible, but I think we’re fully justified in saying that a God who sends people to Hell is evil, and that this is a strong argument against versions of Christianity which make that claim (since they also make the contradictory claim that God is good). I don’t know what counts as a knock down argument, but I think someone is justified in rejecting those sorts of Christianity on the basis of that argument alone.

                  But I think you believe in C.S. Lewis’s Hungry Ghost Buddhist Hell, where the doors are barred on the inside. I discussed this in my review of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, and discussed it a bit more in this thread and later in this one. I think those two comprehensively cover my objections to the Hungry Ghost version.

                  1. There may not be a ‘single right sentence embedded in the law’ (because the law is so complex and not necessarily consistent), but that’s still a far cry from the judge ‘choosing’ what sentence to hand down. And in some cases there is a single right sentence: in the case of murder, for example, the judge has no choice at all about the sentence (though they must still use their experience to decide upon the correct tariff).

                    Anyhew, that’s by the by now that we’ve left the judge analogy behind. But you’re still claiming that because it is conceivable that God has a choice, then if people end up in Hell we are justified in saying that God must be evil. That’s like saying that because it is conceivable that a rank outsider won the Tour de France because they were using illegal doping, then we are justified in assuming that they must have been doped, and therefore we should disqualify them. But it is also conceivable that they won it because they are just that good at bicycles, and so actually we are justified in concluding nothing of the sort without considering further the relative plausibilities if the situations.

                    As I have presented a conceivable scenario in which God could not have created beings with free will without some of them ending up in Hell, we are not automatically justified in saying that He is evil: with two conceivable scenarios, we must decide which is the more plausible. We cannot simply discount one.

                    Now, I’m not here to argue that the situation I have outlined is more plausible than yours; you’ve already made your mind up on that one, so there’s no point. I’m simply here to present an alternative conceivable scenario, and therefore demonstrate that your scenario is not the only possible one, and therefore that you have not proved that God is evil. You have simply outlined a scenario in which God is evil; it is now up to each of us to decide whether we think that scenario is more plausible than the conceivable alternative in which He is not evil.

                    While Lewis’s depiction of Hell was unlikely to be original (he rarely was, and rarely claimed to be) and I don’t know of its actual source, I don’t think the Buddhist idea quite captures it. The hungry ghosts are (on the basis of that web page) ‘suffer[ing] severely from unfulfilled desires’ due to ‘great craving and attachment to the objects and places of his previous life’. That’s not at all the Hell Lewis depicts: his denizens of Hell aren’t suffering form unfulfilled desires, they simply desire the wrong things. Neither do they have attachments to the objects and places of their previous life; their attachment instead is to themselves, and their self-directed and self-focused feelings and desires (their anger, their envy, their petty grudges, and so on). Fundamentally, the hungry ghosts are focused externally, whereas those in Lewis’s Hell are focused on themselves.

                    (I’m not an expert on Buddhism, but I think this is a rather fundamental difference, as from what I do know of Buddhism I rather suspect that the cure for the hungry ghosts would be to let go of external things and find fulfilment within themselves, whereas on Lewis’s view this would be the worst possible thing for them to do and would end up with them in Hell, for Hell is eternal self-focus; instead, Lewis would say that the hungry ghosts have simply focused on the wrong external object and need to realign their desires to focus on the correct external object, ie God. So actually I think that if you think the ‘hunry ghost’ idea is anything like Lewis’s idea of Hell you have quite spectacularly misread Lewis (or I have quite spectacularly misread the web page and/or misunderstood Buddhism).)

                    S.

                    1. Anyhew, that’s by the by now that we’ve left the judge analogy behind. But you’re still claiming that because it is conceivable that God has a choice, then if people end up in Hell we are justified in saying that God must be evil.

                      No, I’m saying that your claim that because it is merely conceivable that God has no choice, God may be justified in sending people to Hell, therefore we cannot conclude he is evil is a bit like saying that a rank outsider who wins the Tour de France etc. etc. You earlier claimed that expecting God not to send people to hell may be like asking him to produce a square circle, but this doesn’t seem likely: human judges exercise discretion in determining whether a prison sentence is worthwhile, say (or even if they do not, it isn’t clear that if they did, it would be unjust, rather than unlawful, and I assume justice is God’s aim here).

                      we must decide which is the more plausible

                      I don’t think I would take any judge who condemned someone to torture to be just, still less one who passed an infinite sentence. To take just a couple of reasons for that, I’d say such a sentence allows no possibility of reform, and punishes a finite crime to an infinite degree. So I’m pretty happy my argument is more plausible. Much more, in fact. Your argument is that a supposedly omnipotent being somehow had no choice in a matter where humans, much less potent, could justly exercise discretion.

                      On Lewis’s Hell, I’m pretty sure that the Hungry Ghosts are self-centred: they’re interested in their own appetites. But I’m less interested in whether I’ve correctly made an analogy to a Buddhist idea than whether Lewis’s ideas are themselves plausible.

                      I think they aren’t: Lewis and Keller both assume that desires will turn hellish if they are directed towards something other than God, and that in effect, the only options are self-centredness and God-centredness. I see no particular reason to think that’s true: in this life many people lead lives which aren’t Hellish without God, after all. If all Hell means is that the people there direct their desires towards other external objects, like their the company of friends, hobbies and suchlike, then sign me up.

                      Of course, Lewis might further claim that all these good things somehow come from God. I don’t see any reason to think that, either: the pleasure of a friend’s company comes from the friend, as far as I can tell. But even if it is true, I’m not sure why God would remove these good things in the afterlife. Again, he seems mean spirited.

                    2. My interpretation of Lewis is that he’d probably say that if you’re genuinely directing your attention to something other than yourself then you are by definition becoming God-centred, did you but know it. I seem to recall Screwtape castigating Wormwood for allowing his patient to ‘read a book he enjoyed, for no other reason than that he enjoyed it’.

                      I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that these good things won’t exist in the afterlife, either. Certainly not from Lewis.

                    3. The Bible never talks of hell as something that just must logically result from rebellion. It’s something that God actively does as a punishment.

                      Matthew 5:29: “… your whole body to be thrown into hell”. Matthew 18:9: “… and be cast into the fiery hell.” Matthew 10:28 is perhaps the most direct of all: “Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 11:23: “Capernaum … shalt be brought down to hell.” These are all active choices that God is making. I won’t directly lists their repetitions in Mark and Luke.

                      Luke 16’s parable of the rich man hardly fits your model either. Hell sucks, the rich man knows hell sucks, and he wants out. He quickly finds out that he’s stuck. Abraham can’t help him because he deserves to suffer (16:25), and a chasm means they are divided. There is no way to read this and conclude that it’s the rich man’s choices while in hell that prevent him from releasing the lock on the inside.

                      II Peter 2:6: “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell.” The clear implication is that God could have spared them, but chose not to.

                      Revelation 1:18: “I have the keys of death and of Hades.” Therefore, hell is not locked from the outside.

                      There are (at least) three ways to view Hell. Suffering in Hell could be something God actively causes, it could be something God passively allows and could stop (but chooses not to), or it could be something that must necessarily result and that God would stop if he had the power. The Bible’s position is a mix of the first two, and my argument works against both. I’m talking about Christianity, so I don’t care that much about how well it answers the third.

                      >So claiming that He is evil because He ‘sends’ (not really an accurate verb)

                      It’s the perfect verb to use for the biblical hell. Now, it’s certainly possible that I’m misrepresenting your position by supposing you care what the Bible says. If so, please say so.

                      >When it comes right down to it, free will must include the freedom to ask God to leave them alone; and if God respects that (as He must, or free will means nothing de facto), then that is Hell.

                      If we’re talking about the biblical hell, then that is not hell. It might be Lewis-hell, and Lewis-hell may be necessary given some other assumptions about God, but this tells us nothing about the biblical hell. And if you aren’t talking about biblical hell, I see even more reason than usual to suppose your religion is something that you just made up.

                      Jeffrey Amos

    1. That sounds like a more reasonable position to me (assuming it’s a sort of preparatory mouthwash C.S. Lewis style purgatory, rather than more red hot pokers but for a limited duration).

      1. I’d probably say more like pulling a tooth, or resetting a broken bone, than just a mouthwash. In other words, I think it will hurt, but only as part of making it better.

  3. Subject: “Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
    Per the quote: isn’t that evidence that Hell isn’t ever lasting? If your soul and body are destroyed (presumably fairly quickly, assuming time means anythnig in Hell) your torment can’t be eternal.

    1. Subject: Re: “Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
      Yes, there’s evidence: I expect that verse is a popular one among people who believe in annihiliationism. But that’s still a minority view, because there are other verses which indicate that Hell is eternal, and because the idea that it is has a certain amount of historical inertia.

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