Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Estranged Notions: Do Catholics Know Their Theology is Correct?: A Response

Vogt responds to Dillon:

Do Catholics Know Their Theology is Correct?: A Response

Not much here: theologians generally agree on the stuff that they would get marginalized, expelled or excommunicated (or in past centuries, executed) for disagreeing with; “natural theology” (as if people didn't read their preconceptions of God into what they find in nature); etc.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Estranged Notions Omnibus: Dating Jesus' Birth

Conveniently, the posts over the past week have been on a single topic, so I'll collect them together in one thread here:

The 100-Year Old Mistake About the Birth of Jesus

Jesus’ Birth and when Herod the Great *Really* Died

What Year Was Jesus Born? The Answer May Surprise You

Does Luke Contradict Himself on When Jesus Was Born?

The overall summary for these could be phrased as: “any secular source is invalidated by the slightest inconsistency, while any apparent inconsistencies in Christian sources must be explained, regardless of how improbable the source text or the explanation is”.

The fact is, as both secular and many Christian historians would agree, that even assuming Jesus did exist there is simply no reliable evidence for his birth year. The infancy narratives are late, ahistorical, and contradictory (both with each other and with external evidence); the earliest known writers who wrote on the subject are another century later and had no better sources to work from. The most reliable dating evidence is the association with Pilate (whose prefecture ran 26-36 AD), and the fact that Jesus is nowhere portrayed as notably young or old. This easily gives a window of at least 12 years around 1 BC as the likely range, with no strong reason to prefer any specific year over others.

Edited to add: almost all of Akin's claims are comprehensively rebutted in Carrier's article The Date of the Nativity in Luke. H/t to MichaelNewsham in the comments for the reminder.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Scheduling note

I have no idea what schedule, if any, SN will be keeping over the holiday, but I have my own family commitments; so posts may be delayed. (Personally, I mark the winter holiday season as starting on the solstice and ending at perihelion...)

Friday, 5 December 2014

Estranged Notions: Do the “Infancy Narratives” of Matthew and Luke Contradict Each Other?

Oh dear, looks like today is “frantically try and paper over the awkward bits in the Bible” day:

Do the “Infancy Narratives” of Matthew and Luke Contradict Each Other?

This one is so bad it could have come from AIG; Staples' tries to reconcile the question of where Joseph and Mary lived (Luke says Nazareth, with a visit to Bethlehem for the census; Matthew implies they lived at Bethlehem until forced to flee) by arguing that Matthew doesn't actually say that the house where the Magi visited Jesus was in Bethlehem rather than Nazareth. He chooses to ignore:

  • that had Jesus already been living in Nazareth at that time, there would have been no cause to flee to Egypt
  • that on returning from Egypt, Joseph and Mary's first reported intent was to return to Judea, not Galilee, and they have to be warned off that idea
  • when Nazareth is finally mentioned, the context is “he made his home in a town called Nazareth”, using the Greek word κατῴκησεν, ‘settle in’, ‘colonize’

All in all it's absolutely clear that the author of GMatthew did not believe that Jesus and his family had been anywhere but Bethlehem before their flight. (It's also absolutely clear that he cares nothing about facts, since every single step in this story is explicitly stated to “fulfill what had been spoken” in various scraps of Jewish scripture.)

To claim as Staples does that the author of Matthew simply chose not to mention Nazareth earlier is to do violence to the text as written; a classic example of reading into a text something which is not there, with no justification.

Also, of course, this one point barely scratches the surface of the contradictions between Matthew and Luke, the contradictions between both and actual history, and the contradictions between Matthew and Luke's infancy stories and Mark's portrayal of Jesus' family.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Estranged Notions: Debunking One of the Worst Argument Against Atheism

Today's post:

Debunking One of the Worst Argument Against Atheism

While I encourage the idea of theists (or indeed atheists) criticizing the poor arguments of their own side, this particular effort is quite weak. Not because the argument is in fact strong, but because the criticism fails to expose its true weakness.

The argument in question is: in order to know that there is no God, you would have to know everything, i.e. be omniscient yourself.

The true flaw in this argument is this: it mistakes a universal claim for an existential claim. To know with certainty that no black swan exists, you would have to examine every swan in the universe; the negation of the existential claim "there exists a black swan" is the universal claim "all swans are not black". But no statement concerning an omni-attributed god can be simply existential; the claim "there exists an omni-present God" also means "for all places, God is present there" – a universal claim nested inside the existential one.

Accordingly, one does not need to survey the whole of spacetime to disprove an omni-present God; it suffices to show one single place which lacks a God (according to the theist's definition of God). Similarly, an omni-benevolent God is refuted by a single unnecessary evil.

Beaumont's argument is that we can refute the existential claim with logic, which is fine as far as it goes, but notice that this results in devaluing the significance of the evidence against God. Beaumont is obviously a Rationalist in the sense I attack in Against Rationalism; he apparently hasn't considered that we can have strong inductive evidence against the nested universal claim, even if we have no deductive proof of impossibility.