Friday, October 31, 2008

Continuing the exchange...

This is my second response to James. His words are in italics.

I'd like to point out an irony. Your approach to the historical evidence is to ask "But couldn't this have been made up?" rather than to ask what conclusions most naturally from the evidence.

That is not my approach. I said once before on your blog: If the Jesus-myth theory is to succeed it must explain the evidence better than historicism. I am not yet completely sure if it does that, which is the reason I wanted to discuss this with you. I am open to anything you may point out which sinks the mythicist position.

[I]f you claim that the earliest Christians did not believe that Jesus was a historical flesh-and-blood individual, then how could he have had a brother who was the leader of Jewish Christianity and connected with Paul's opponents?

Please allow me to give you a quote from Origen:

250 CE. Origen Contra Cels. lib. i. p. 35, 36.

"Now this James was he whom that genuine disciple of Jesus, Paul, said he had seen as the Lord’s brother; [Gal. i. 19.] which relation implies not so much nearness of blood, or the sameness of education, as it does the agreement of manners and preaching. If therefore he says the desolation of Jerusalem befell the Jews for the sake of James, with how much greater reason might he have said, that it happened for the sake of Jesus."

Although by this point I think the Christians had taken to believing in a historical Jesus, I think this is a vestige of the belief in a cosmic christ (they had passed down the knowledge that James was only a spiritual brother of Christ). I must also point out that Paul simply calls James "the Lord's brother", not "Jesus' brother", which I think is more naturally interpreted as a spiritual relationship.

Second, why would Christians claim (or more accurately acknowledge with some reluctance) that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist? Is the latter merely a mythical figure from the heavenly realm too?

No, I happen to be quite convinced that John the Baptist existed.

To get to the point: I don't understand what would make you think that Christians were reluctant to accept Jesus' baptism. It is in the earliest gospel Mark, so it is practically advertised. This would have been written many years after John's death, so I don't understand why anyone would be cornering the Christians into admitting this. In fact, was there anyone cornering them into admitting it? Secondly, what is the signifigance of baptism? Remission of sins, of course. According to the gospels, Jesus did not sin, and so it baffles me to think why this was recorded. Was it supposed to be an example for what the Christians were to do? That's what I suspect. Of course, you could say that it fulfills the criteria of embarassment (why would Jesus do it if he hadn't sinned). Then again, why would the Christians record it unless there was a good reason, such as to set an example for Christians?

By the way, I just wanted to link to an article on the gospels as allegorical fiction. It is very interesting and represents my views well.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jesus: Man or Myth?

James McGrath, Associate Professor of Religion at Butler University, left a comment on my blog post discussing Richard Carrier's upcoming work, On the Historicity of Jesus Christ. Anyway, we have sort of got ourselves into a debate over whether Jesus existed or not. I am agnostic on Jesus' existence, but I will argue in favor of the mythicist position because so far I believe it is at least plausible.

Let me spell out the current Jesus Myth thesis, similar to what Earl Doherty argues:

The earliest Christians did not really believe Jesus was a historical flesh-and-blood person, but rather, a supernatural cosmic entity who was crucified at the hands of demons and Satanic forces. They believed that this was revealed to them through mystical visions and through finding secret meanings in Old Testament Scripture.

Alright, so now that we have got that out of the way: James argues that no one would really make up a saviour who was crucified at the hands of Roman officials. It would have been too humiliating and unbecoming of the messiah to be cast this way, so there obviously was a historical Jesus. Shrouded in myth, maybe. But there.

At first this seems like a knock-out argument for historicism. But let's go back to the mythicist position:

Early Christians believed that this was revealed to them through mystical visions and through finding secret meanings in Old Testament Scripture.

Let's look at Psalms 22:
"Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced [a] my hands and my feet."

What would 'pierced hands and feet' have meant to a jew living in a province occupied by Romans? Crucifixion!

The next point that James made that I would like to address is this: If Jesus were based on the 'dying and rising' saviour gods of the time, wouldn't Paul have tried to find common ground with them rather than telling them to give up their idols?

No. Christianity "budded off" from Judaism, and it ended up inheriting the concept of monotheism, even though it clearly retained some pagan characteristics. I would also like to add that I am not so sure that the early Christians were aware of the fact that they were influenced. Their own religion, Judaism, along with the religions of the surrounding cultures (this includes the Romans, who occupied Judea at the time) was all that they had ever known. Let me ask you something: Do you consider musicians to be original? I mean, do you think rock stars purposefully try to copy one another? Most of them do not. But here's something to think about: When you are listening to the radio, do you often find that listening to a song for so much as thirty seconds enables you to figure out whether it was written in the 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s? Where all the artists in the 60s copying one another? Of course not. But they did, consciously or unconsciously, influence one another.

Another point which McGrath makes is that early Christians would not invent a messiah which did not fulfill messianic expectations (by being crucified or by not being a political leader), or who was supposed to have lived just years ago. My reply is three-fold: First, that the gospels were written as allegorical fiction. Listen to what Sallustius wrote:

"We may well inquire, then, why the ancients forsook these doctrines and made use of myths. There is this first benefit from myths, that we have to search and do not have our minds idle.

That the myths are divine can be seen from those who have used them. Myths have been used by inspired poets, by the best of philosophers, by those who established the mysteries, and by the Gods themselves in oracles. But why the myths are divine it is the duty of philosophy to inquire. Since all existing things rejoice in that which is like them and reject that which is unlike, the stories about the Gods ought to be like the Gods, so that they may both be worthy of the divine essence and make the Gods well disposed to those who speak of them: which could only be done by means of myths.

Now the myths represent the Gods themselves and the goodness of the Gods - subject always to the distinction of the speakable and the unspeakable, the revealed and the unrevealed, that which is clear and that which is hidden: since, just as the Gods have made the goods of sense common to all, but those of intellect only to the wise, so the myths state the existence of Gods to all, but who and what they are only to those who can understand.

They also represent the activities of the Gods. For one may call the world a myth, in which bodies and things are visible, but souls and minds hidden. Besides, to wish to teach the whole truth about the Gods to all produces contempt in the foolish, because they cannot understand, and lack of zeal in the good, whereas to conceal the truth by myths prevents the contempt of the foolish, and compels the good to practice philosophy."

If Christianity was a mystery cult, or something heavily influenced by the mystery cults of the time (and I believe we can show this is the case) then it makes perfect sense of why the Christians would create a narrative.

On the second coming: This is a very persuasive argument - but only at first. The phrase "second coming" is not found once in the New Testament (Via a look through my Strong's Exhaustive Concordance and a search on Biblegateway). Is the concept of a second coming in the new testament? As far as I have found, the NT only talks of a "coming" (See 1 Thess. 4:13-18). There is no indication that this was the second time for Jesus to come.

I am planning on writing more to support some of my assertions as time goes on.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


A really good write-up of a new bird fossil - Along with stunning pics - May be found here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

"On the Historicity of Jesus Christ"

Richard Carrier is writing a book titled "On the Historicity of Jesus Christ". Richard Carrier has a PhD in Ancient History and a Bachelors in History (minor Classical Civ). He is a very prolific writer:

Back in April he asked that people interested in seeing his work on Jesus completed donate so that he would be able to stay afloat financially:

Anyway, I think this is a project that is worth contributing to and I have donated, will be donating more, and will be encouraging others to donate, even if it is only a few dollars. You may donate via Paypal sent to rcarrier AT

Friday, October 24, 2008

New Dino-Bird

Yep. Another link in the evolutionary chain from birds to dinosaurs has officially been found. It will be a nice and exotic addition to the other transitional fossils discovered in this lineage.

Something you'd never expect

You must watch this... It is too much!!!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

In the news

The first deals with some new findings in a very old experiment: The Miller-Urey set up. Apparently, Stanley Miller tried a second version of his experiment in which he injected steam into the sparks he sent into the apparatus (to simulate lagoons and tidal pools around volcanoes). A former student of Miller's, Jeffrey Bada, examined some very ancient vials left over from this experiment and was surprised to find that 22 amino acids were present (More than any other Miller-type experiment has produced)! The article also states that:

Although scientists no longer think that the early atmosphere resembled the gases Dr. Miller used, the gases released by volcanic eruptions do have similar properties. The scientists hypothesize that the sparks split apart water molecules in the steam, enabling a wider range of chemical reactions to take place.

Eat your heart out, Jonathan Wells. On a side note, some of you may remember that only a few months ago Discover published an article on another fascinating origin of life experiment conducted by Dr. Miller.

One more thing in the news: Blogger Halfway There has caught the ICR in a very embarrassing error. Read it here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Stem Cell Research

Most of my readers will be know that I almost always focus on debunking creationism or presenting the evidence for evolution. However, I'm going to focus on something different for this post: An example of how creationism is dangerous.

AiG recently uploaded a video on cloning and stem cell reseach. As you can see, the man in the video (Mark Riddle) considers a dividing patch of cells to be "baby" and killing these cells to be "abortion". But let's think about this rationally: Men have billions of sperm which they will never use. Collectively, womankind hosts billions of eggs which will never be fertilized. Why not take these cells, put 'em together, and allow them to divide for a few days? It offers us the potential to cure many nasty illnesses, and we will not be harming any conscious agents in the process (the embryos used are not anywhere near even developing brains!). Riddle's reason is that God said not to: Thou Shall not kill. Human beings have souls.

Riddle also claims that adult stem cells are just as good as embryonic stem cells. He does not cite a reference for this. However, my own google research has pulled up two websites which say different (Both of which are reputable). Riddle only holds "a degree in mathematics and a graduate degree in education". Decide for yourself who you will trust.

In the meantime, here is something to think on: Creationism threatens to stand in the way of promising research which will cure horrible diseases which inflict pain and misery on fully conscious human beings, not just embryos.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dealing with Creationism in Astronomy

Excellent webiste may be accessed here:


Thursday, October 16, 2008

How the Turtle got its Shell

As time goes on, it seems that another gap has been filled in the fossil record.

I once recall Answers in Genesis using the lack of transitional turtle fossils as an argument against evolution. It now looks as though this argument has been thoroughly puctured, for a fossil was discovered recently which fits the bill. Of course, AiG tries to slide out of this by claiming that the fossil was poorly preserved, but this just won't do: The evidence that this is a transitional fossil comes from the parts which were preserved well.

[T]he key, Joyce said, was an intact series of three neck spines, a small piece of the belly shell, and a fragment of the back shell with ribs attached.
"That's what really gave it away," Joyce said of the final piece. "You can see that the ribs are not fused to the shell."
Covered in dermal armor, the ancient turtle probably looked a lot like an
ankylosaur, though the two species are unrelated. It couldn't yet retract its neck or feet, and its shell was thinner than a modern turtle's, but Chinlechelys tenertesta was bristled with sharp spines along its neck and tail.
"This is very clear evidence that the shell is a composite structure," James Parham of the Field Museum in Chicago said. "It is a missing link. This is one of the most important turtle fossils ever found, I think."

This is a crazy!!

A senator filed a lawsuit against God. No kiddin'. Read all about it here.

In other, more rational news, Sciencedaily has published an article detailing the fish to amphibian transition.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Manatees: Darwin's new mascots

The Best Example of Macro-Evolution: ManateesExcellent video can be watched here. Once you watch the video, be sure and check out some of the arguments which I anticipate creationists will make in reguards to this evidence:

1. The Vestigial hip sockets in manatees probably serve a good purpose. How many times have evolutionists been wrong about these "useless" features.

This is one of the most misunderstood issues in evolutionary biology. Vestigial organs are not totally useless (this is not even what the word means). A vestigial organ is a remnant of something which is specified for another function. An example is the ostrich's wing: Wings are specified for flying, but the ostrich simply uses its wings for a lesser function (balance). A vestigial organ is sort of like using an old van as a clubhouse: It works, but the car definitely was not originally built for that purpose, just as the manatees' hipsocket was not originally evolved for the functions (if any) it may have now.

2. Homology is evidence of common design.

I have addressed this argument at a more general level here. But let me just give a simple answer: Is the arrangement of bones and muscles in the manatee's flipper the most optimal for what it does? If it does just as good a job as any other arrangement, then why did God choose that pattern over all the others? Be sure to give a detailed, falsifiable and testable answer.

3. You can't prove those fossil manatees are the ancestors of modern day manatees!

No, I cannot prove that the fossils found even belonged to the species which evolved into modern manatees. But creationists are missing the point: Evolution predicts that fossils showing intermediate characteristics must be found in the fossil record if evolution did in fact take place. Sure enough, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to transitional fossils. Creationism, on the other hand, predicts that animals must have been created in distinct and separate 'kinds' and therefore nothing that even appears intermediate should be found. Even if one admits that manatees did evolve from land mammals and wants to call them the same 'kind' they must acknowledge that homological and vestigial structures are very distinct causes of evolution. You must be consistent and accept the homological/vestigial structures that all living things have and acknowledge common descent.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

'Ants from Mars' ruin the creationists' picnic

One of my fellow bloggers (named Evan) wrote a very devastating piece about the latest ant species to be discovered and AiG's reaction to it. You see, genetics indicates that this ant branched off from the ant family tree, oh, about 120 million years ago. Evan summed the magnitude of this creationist problem (the words in italics are quotes from 'Answers in Genesis'):

[W]hile it is clear that this ant is quite different from many other ants, we don’t buy the logic that difference proves something about evolution. For one thing, the different structures of this ant explain why its DNA is so different; for another, its differences show it has adapted well to its environment.

Yet AiG does NOT use this argument when it suits them. When DNA is different, AiG decides that this is due to different structures. Yet when DNA is similar, like in chimps and humans, AiG believes this is due to common design. The facts are that multiple lines of evidence show that modern ants have been descended from a common ancestor who arose around 120 MYBP. The DNA evidence that this ant is a representative of an unrelated branch of this lineage that branched off very early from the original common ancestor of ants is extremely compelling. There is anatomic, physiologic and DNA evidence to support this. But AiG uses one of its arguments that can never be wrong.

This is because God created the original ant kind—or a larger kind from which ants, wasps, and bees have all devolved—with enough information to adapt to numerous environments.


I mean, really?

Is it the position of AiG that all extant wasp, bee and ant species descended from ONE common ancestor who was on Noah's ark? Is it really their contention that bees evolved from this ancestor within 2000 years of the ark's landing, so that Palestine could be a land flowing with milk and honey? Do they really want to back that up?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Creationists take another kick in the shins with the advance of science

One of the major arguments against dinosaur to bird evolution goes something like this:

"[S]cientists believe that birds descended from theropod dinosaurs. But theropod dinosaurs have lost digits IV and V from a primitively five-fingered hand, leaving them with digits I, II, and III. Birds, on the other hand, have digits II, III, and IV, having lost digits I and V. It is almost impossible for the two groups to be closely related with such a significant anatomical difference."

Biologist P.Z. Myers wrote an excellent article about this a while back and answered this criticism thusly:

"Anatomists initially assigned digit numbers I, II, and III to bird limbs on the basis of their form, but later had to revise that to II, III, and IV on the basis of embryology. Dinosaur digits are assigned numbers I, II, and III on the basis of their adult form (which is admittedly much less ambiguous than adult bird digits!)…but what about their embryology? If we had access to information about expression of molecular markers and early condensations in the dinosaur limb, would we have to revise their digit numbers?"

He goes on to talk about the hypothesis that dinosaur fingers 2,3, and 4 began devoloping as digits 1,2, and 3 due to a mutation in the genes that control development. This was scoffed at by creationists as being a "baseless speculation to try to save the dino to bird theory from reality". Well, now creationists are once again the ones who need saving from reality. Scientists have been doing some work on the gene expression in the alligator (the closest living relative of birds) and have found that a a gene called "Hox D-11" is not expressed in digit 1 of mice and alligators and is also not expressed in the second digit of birds. This means... Dah-dah-dah-dah! The digit 2 in birds is really just digit 1 developing as digit 2. Just what the "baseless speculation" mentioned earlier predicts.

Dino/Bird Transitional Fossils:

The Classic: Archaeopteryx

Sinosauropteryx: The Dino with Protofeathers**

T. Rex Cousin Had Feathers

A Giant Turkey-Like Dinosaur

The '7 Foot Turkey'

Velociraptor Had Feathers

Microraptor: The Four Winged Dinosaur

NOVA: The Four Winged Dinosaur

Bird Fossil Transitions

** I have addressed a criticism of the Sinosauropteryx fossil here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Great Resurrection Debate

I'm not going to make this blog all about religion, but I think I can indulge myself in a post or two from time to time.

Soooo, I have been looking into the evidence for the existence of Jesus as well as the evidence for the resurrection. Here are two debates (one is still going on, the other is complete) which I think are helpful for understanding this issue:

Carrier vs. O'Connell: Did Paul Believe in a Physical Resurrection?

Bart Ehrman vs. William Lane Craig: Is there historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus?

Two books I am looking forward to reading (which have not been released yet):

The Jesus Puzzle (Second Edition) by Earl Doherty

On the Historicity of Jesus Christ by Richard Carrier

Feel free to leave a comment on what you think of these resources and any resources you find helpful for researching this issue (for or against Christianity).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Charlie's Playhouse

Here is a site with toys and games inspired by Darwin:

Funny site

Next time you hear a creationist say, "There are no transitional fossils!" try sending them to this site:


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Two things...

I know I have been slow to update the blog lately, its just that I've been working and also that I haven't seen much to write about. Anyway, here are two awesome articles I found today:

New fossil that shows dinosaurs and birds breathed alike

Cells coordinate gene activity with FM bursts