RSS

Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Dragon In The Garage of Historical Jesus Studies

I recently read a response that James McGrath wrote to Earl Doherty about Paul's silence about the historical Jesus. I'll say right off the bat that I'm not convinced by Earl's hypothesis (I really haven't read it all that indepthly, but the crucifixion in heaven deal sounds a bit too bizzare for my ametur mind), but if James' response represents the mainstream's position about Paul's silence, then I am horribly unimpressed. As a matter of fact, it makes me think less of the field as a whole. Because James' response is nothing short of ad hoc apologetics. It is almost a dictionary definition of the term “ad hoc”; an excuse made up literally just for a single purpose.

Before I get into why this irks me so, here is a snippet of an interview of Eliezer Yudkowsky:

let’s say someone tells you that they have a dragon in their garage. And you say, “OK, let’s go look at the dragon.” They say, “It’s an invisible dragon.”

You say, “OK, let’s go and listen to the dragon.” And they say, “It’s an inaudible dragon.” And you say, “Well I’d like to toss a bag of flour in the air and see if the dragon’s invisible form is outlined within the flour.” And they say, “Well the dragon is permeable to flour.”

Now, when Carl Sagan originally told this story, he was telling it to say, if your beliefs have no effect on the real world than you’re allowed to have them but please keep them out of my politics. Or you can tell the story to emphasize the idea that false hypotheses need to do sort of fast footwork and complicate themselves to avoid falsification.

But when I tell that story, I tell it with the moral that, this person who says they have a dragon in their garage, clearly has a good model of the world hidden somewhere in their brain. Because they can anticipate, in advance, exactly which experiences they’ll need to come up with excuses for. He’ll know in advance that when you look into his garage you’re not going to see a dragon there. And the moral I take from that is: don’t ask what facts do I believe? Ask: what experiences do I anticipate?

The silence of Paul (and other pre-gospel epistle writers) about any details of the earthly Jesus is a real problem. It's an anomaly. So let's come up with some possible reasons why Paul (and other writers) did not write any significant details about the historical Jesus:

1. They didn't know any

2. They didn't care

3. They were embarrassed by them

4. The stories were too well known to repeat

5. There was no historical Jesus so the stories hadn't been invented yet

The first three put serious doubt on the traditional gospel story. The fourth is basically confirming the traditional gospel story; that Jesus was an insanely popular rockstar during his one (or three) year ministry so everyone already knew everything. But it's phrased in a way to account for the invisible dragon in the garage. They already know that the epistle writers should have written some things that would point us to a historical figure (not a legendary figure, which phrases like “born of the seed of King David according to the flesh” sound like), and they anticipate that experience and have come up with an idea to account for the lack of that anticipated experience. The fifth is basically Earl's position, and is really the first option taken to its end. James' position is that Paul didn't write any details about Jesus because he's writing off-hand letters and cannot waste ink and parchment on recounting things that his audience is well acquainted with:

What [mythicists] do is readily discuss the letters of Paul as though it is possible to determine from them whether Paul and the movement he was a part of thought Jesus was a real person. What they hope you will not notice up their sleeve is this: In your average letter, written to someone you know or who can safely be assumed to share important major assumptions with you, you are incredibly unlikely to emphasize that a person you refer to actually existed. But in the case of mythicism, the lack of repeated clear statements of Jesus' status as a historical figure is highlighted as though it were evidence for mythicism, and no mention is made of the fact that this could simply represent a failure to state the obvious.

In your average letter, you would expect to see some anecdotes about a person you have in common with the recipient. Especially if the person you know in common is an authority over both of you on a given subject. No one would write in an offhand letter “hey, and President Obama is a real person”. They would write something like “…and according to President Obama, the economy is going to recover. Tim met him at the convention at Facebook last week where he asked about the economy during the Q and A.”. If I had access to correspondence between two members of the Branch Davidians I'm sure they would have anecdotes like that. An example of something that agnostics like me would expect in Paul's letters would be something like what later Church Fathers did. Take Irenaeus:

For the apostles, who were commissioned to find out the wanderers, and to be for sight to those who saw not, and medicine to the weak, certainly did not address them in accordance with their opinion at the time, but according to revealed truth. For no persons of any kind would act properly, if they should advise blind men, just about to fall over a precipice, to continue their most dangerous path, as if it were the right one, and as if they might go on in safety. Or what medical man, anxious to heal a sick person, would prescribe in accordance with the patient's whims, and not according to the requisite medicine? But that the Lord came as the physician of the sick, He does Himself declare saying, “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5.31-32) How then shall the sick be strengthened, or how shall sinners come to repentance? Is it by persevering in the very same courses? Or, on the contrary, is it by undergoing a great change and reversal of their former mode of living, by which they have brought upon themselves no slight amount of sickness, and many sins?

A pretty simple quote of Jesus, used to correct a false belief.

Now, what sort of evidence would we anticipate if Paul (and other writers) really were pressed for ink? They wouldn't write any anecdotes about people, themes, and ideas that their audience is already familiar with. In other words, for this explanation to not be an ad hoc explanation (in the philosophical sense, not the pejorative sense), it should account for more than just one specific problem we're trying to explain (away). We should look for a potential falsification of its general idea.

In My Wild and Reckless Youth, Eliezer writes about going beyond just mere falsification:

As a Traditional Rationalist, the young Eliezer was careful to ensure that his Mysterious Answer made a bold prediction of future experience.  Namely, I expected future neurologists to discover that neurons were exploiting quantum gravity, a la Sir Roger Penrose.  This required neurons to maintain a certain degree of quantum coherence, which was something you could look for, and find or not find.  Either you observe that or you don’t, right?

But my hypothesis made no retrospective predictions.  According to Traditional Science, retrospective predictions don’t count – so why bother making them?  To a Bayesian, on the other hand, if a hypothesis does not today have a favorable likelihood ratio over “I don’t know”, it raises the question of why you today believe anything more complicated than “I don’t know”.  But I knew not the Way of Bayes, so I was not thinking about likelihood ratios or focusing probability density.  I had Made a Falsifiable Prediction; was this not the Law?

In other words, our explanations or our “anticipations” should not only predict things, but they should retrodict things. This is especially true in history, where everything is in the past.

Now, does the general rule “early epistle writers didn't write about things their audience was already familiar with” hold up? Or was this rule invented to apply only to a specific problem? I would say that if Paul quotes the LXX, then this rule prima facie doesn't stand up to scrutiny. If Paul describes the actions of a character or major events in the LXX, then this rule most certainly doesn't apply.

1 Corinthians 10.1-10 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food 4and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

Here Paul is writing about a situation that he presumes his audience is already intimately familiar with: the Exodus. So it seems we have one example of Paul wasting ink relating a story that his readers already know about.  But it gets worse. Paul quotes the LXX (again, which we should assume his audience is already familiar with) instead of quoting Jesus:

Matt 5:39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also

Romans 12:17-21 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” (Deut. 32.35) says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Prov. 25:21,22 ) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Similarly in Jude:

Jude 1.14-15 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.

Why is Jude quoting the apocalyptic speech of Enoch instead of one of the apocalyptic speeches of Jesus (like say Matt 25.31-46)?

So the general rule does not seem to apply. I would not anticipate Paul wasting ink talking about the Exodus, and I most certainly wouldn't anticipate Paul wasting ink to go out of his way to not quote Jesus. HJ scholars will have to either come up with further ad hoc reasons for the silence, or admit that Paul's (and other early epistle writers') silence is a legitimate problem. But what really irks me is that it seems I'm reading nothing more than apologetics, since James continues to attack this strawman:

If texts cannot provide a basis for drawing conclusions about the historicity of a figure they mention, then there was no need for any of this discussion of details of Paul's letters that mythicists engage in without objection.

He's been corrected, over and over again, that no one actually holds this view; the view that there has to be evidence “other than texts” to solidify the existence of Jesus. But since he ignores the corrections and continues to knock down that strawman, he seems to be engaging in the type of behavior I regularly see reading the works of conservative apologists. I really wish he would correct himself when pointed out, but it seems his aim is to defeat mythicism at all costs, not by actually engaging in its arguments. I guess I'll have to go elsewhere to read some good critiques of mythicism.

And so I close with another of Eliezer's posts – Avoiding Your Belief’s Real Weak Points:

Modern Orthodox Judaism is like no other religion I have ever heard of, and I don’t know how to describe it to anyone who hasn’t been forced to study Mishna and Gemara.  There is a tradition of questioning, but the kind of questioning…  It would not be at all surprising to hear a rabbi, in his weekly sermon, point out the conflict between the seven days of creation and the 13.7 billion years since the Big Bang – because he thought he had a really clever explanation for it, involving three other Biblical references, a Midrash, and a half-understood article inScientific American. In Orthodox Judaism you’re allowed to notice inconsistencies and contradictions, but only for purposes of explaining them away, and whoever comes up with the most complicated explanation gets a prize.

There is a tradition of inquiry.  But you only attack targets for purposes of defending them.  You only attack targets you know you can defend.

In Modern Orthodox Judaism I have not heard much emphasis of the virtues of blind faith.  You’re allowed to doubt.  You’re just not allowed to successfully doubt.

…The reason that educated religious people stay religious, I suspect, is that when they doubt, they are subconsciously very careful to attack their own beliefs only at the strongest points – places where they know they can defend.  Moreover, places where rehearsing the standard defense will feel strengthening.

It probably feels really good, for example, to rehearse one’s prescripted defense for “Doesn’t Science say that the universe is just meaningless atoms bopping around?”, because it confirms the meaning of the universe and how it flows from God, etc..  Much more comfortable to think about than an illiterate Egyptian mother wailing over the crib of her slaughtered son.  Anyone who spontaneously thinks about the latter, when questioning their faith in Judaism, is really questioning it, and is probably not going to stay Jewish much longer.

…To do better:  When you’re doubting one of your most cherished beliefs, close your eyes, empty your mind, grit your teeth, and deliberately think about whatever hurts the most.  Don’t rehearse standard objections whose standard counters would make you feel better.  Ask yourself what smart people who disagree would say to your first reply, and your second reply.  Whenever you catch yourself flinching away from an objection you fleetingly thought of, drag it out into the forefront of your mind.  Punch yourself in the solar plexus.  Stick a knife in your heart, and wiggle to widen the hole.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on April 26, 2011 in jesus myth

 

Joseph And An Issue With "Q"

Here is the probable content of Q:
 
Sayings/Episodes
Luke
Matthew
I: The Preparation
A. John's Preaching of repentence
B. The Temptation of Jesus

3:7-9
4:1-13

3:7-10
4:1-11
II: The Sayings
A. Beautitudes
B. Love to One's Enemies
C. Judging
D. Hearer and Doers of the Word

6:20-23
6:27-36
6:37-42
6:47-49

5:3,4,6,11,12
5:39-42,44-48,7:12
7:1-5;10:24;15:14
7:24-27
III. Narratives
A. The Centurion's Servant
B. The Baptist's Questions
C. Christ's Answer

7:1-10
7:18-20
7:22-35

7:28;8:5-10,13
11:2-3
11:4-19
IV. Discipleship
A. On the Cost of Discipleship
B. The Mission Charge
C. Christ's Thanksgiving to the Father

9:57-60
10:2-16
10:21-24

8:19-22
9:37-38;10:9-15;11:21-23
11:25-27;13:16-17
V. Various Sayings
A. The Pattern Prayer
B. An Answer to Prayer
C. The Beelzebub Discussion and Its Sequel
D. Sign of the Prophet Jonah
E. About Light

11:2-4
11:9-13
11:14-23
11:29-32
11:33-36

6:9-13
7:7-11
12:22-30
12:38-42
5:15;6:22-23
VI. Discourse Against the Pharisees
A. Against the Pharisees

11:37-12:1

Chapter 23
VII. Sayings
A. About Fearless Confession
B. On Cares About Earthly Things
C. On Faithfulness
D. On Signs for This Age
E. On Agreeing with One's Adversaries

12:2-12
12:22-34
12:39-46
12:51-56
12:57-59

10:19,26-33;12:32
6:19-21,25-33
24:43-51
10:34-36;16:2-3
5:25-26
VIII. Parables
A. On the Mustard Seed and Leaven

13:18-21

13:31-33
IX. Other Sayings
A. Condemnation of Israel
B. Lament Over Jerusalem
C. The Wedding Feast
D. Cost of Discipleship
E. On Serving Two Masters
F. On Law and Divorce
G. On Offence, Forgiveness and Faith
H. The Day of the Son of Man

13:23-30
13:34-35
14:15-24
14:26-35
6:13
16:16-18
17:1-6
17:23-27,33-37

7:13,14,22,23;8:11-12
23:37-39
22:2-14
10:37-39;5:13
6:24
11:12-13;15:18,32
18:6,7,15,20-22
24:17-18,26-28,37-41
 
There's something very strange with how scholars have defined Q. In Mark, the father of Jesus is never presented. In Luke and Matthew, Jesus' “earthly” father is Joseph. But how could there be agreement with the name of the father of Jesus if Luke and Matt's source – Q – does not explicate who Jesus' “earthly” father is? Joseph never shows up in Q and is absent in Mark. So where did they get that name from?
 
Either they got it from the black hole of tradition, or one is using the other as a source.
 
Joseph makes one appearance in Luke outside of the birth narrative. This is the pericope where Jesus is rejected in his hometown; it has a peculiar evolution in the Synoptic tradition.
 
Mark 6.1-3: Jesus left there, and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked “Isn't this the carpenter?”
 
Matthew 13.53-55: When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked “Isn't this the carpenter's son?”
 
Luke 14-22: Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn't this Joseph's son?” they asked.
 
Why would Luke, who we all know used Mark as a source, render Mark's “Isn't this the carpenter?” pericope as “Isn't this Joseph's son?”, which depends on Matthew's reinterpretation of Mark? In other words, if the only source that presents Jesus as a “carpenter's son” instead of the carpenter himself is Matthew, where else would Luke get that idea from?
It's like the “unknown” variables in Matt and Mark were filled in by concrete nouns by Luke. Originally in Mark, Jesus' hometown was a bit ambiguous. In Matt it's only implied that it's Nazareth (I think that Matt invented this) in this pericope. Luke removes the ambiguity and firmly establishes that Nazareth was Jesus' hometown. This evolution makes sense if Luke first used Mark and then used Matt.
 
Q solves a lot of problems, but it also creates some that wouldn't exist otherwise…
 
Comments Off on Joseph And An Issue With "Q"

Posted by on April 25, 2011 in synoptic problem

 

Low-Hanging Fruit and the Historical/Mythical Jesus Debate

I recently read a post by The Incredible Hulk The Uncredible Hallq where he points out the problem with the absence of “low-hanging fruit” in philosophy and Historical Jesus research. That post had a link to a post on the blog of awesome, “Less Wrong”: Some Heuristics for Evaluating the Soundness of the Academic Mainstream in Unfamiliar Fields. Here are some of the heuristics that the poster feels can tell you if you’re dealing with a field that has run out of research space, so to say, and is now kinda just making stuff up to “sound cool” (or worse).

Low-hanging fruit heuristic

As the first heuristic, we should ask if there is a lot of low-hanging fruit available in the given area, in the sense of research goals that are both interesting and doable. If yes, this means that there are clear paths to quality work open for reasonably smart people with an adequate level of knowledge and resources, which makes it unnecessary to invent clever-looking nonsense instead. In this situation, smart and capable people can just state a sound and honest plan of work on their grant applications and proceed with it.

In contrast, if a research area has reached a dead end and further progress is impossible except perhaps if some extraordinary path-breaking genius shows the way, or in an area that has never even had a viable and sound approach to begin with, it’s unrealistic to expect that members of the academic establishment will openly admit this situation and decide it’s time for a career change. What will likely happen instead is that they’ll continue producing output that will have all the superficial trappings of science and sound scholarship, but will in fact be increasingly pointless and detached from reality.

Is this a problem for Historical Jesus research? How many books about the “real” historical Jesus are there out there? The evidence for him hasn't changed since the books of the NT were written… what else can be said? It seems as though all of the low-hanging fruit has been taken.

Ideological/venal interest heuristic

Bad as they might be, the problems that occur when clear research directions are lacking pale in comparison with what happens when things under discussion are ideologically charged or a matter in which powerful interest groups have a stake. As Hobbes remarked, people agree about theorems of geometry not because their proofs are solid, but because “men care not in that subject what be truth, as a thing that crosses no man’s ambition, profit, or lust.” [3]

One example is the cluster of research areas encompassing intelligence research, sociobiology, and behavioral genetics, which touches on a lot of highly ideologically charged questions. These pass the low-hanging fruit heuristic easily: the existing literature is full of proposals for interesting studies waiting to be done. Yet, because of their striking ideological implications, these areas are full of work clearly aimed at advancing the authors’ non-scientific agenda, and even after a lot of reading one is left in confusion over whom to believe, if anyone. It doesn’t even matter whose side one supports in these controversies: whichever side is right (if any one is), it’s simply impossible that there isn’t a whole lot of nonsense published in prestigious academic venues and under august academic titles.

Is this a problem for Historical Jesus research? Especially Christian scholarship's reaction to the idea that Jesus didn't exist? This is a thought I touched on in a previous post. How could a committed Christian investigate the actual historicity of their religious leader without any bias? Are they a Christian first and a scholar second? How could they allow themselves to produce any scholarship that would be damaging to the Christian cultural hegemony? The only safe way to ensure this heuristic is passed is by looking at Historical Jesus research done by non-believers. Ones who have an emotionally disinterested scholarly interest in the Historical Jesus. I for one don't care whether Jesus existed or not. I'm not sure I can say the same for any committed Christian.

Exception? EXCEPTION!:

Exceptions

Finally, what are the evident exceptions to these trends?

I can think of some exceptions to the low-hanging fruit heuristic. One is in historical linguistics, whose standard well-substantiated methods have had great success in identifying the structure of the world’s language family trees, but give no answer at all to the fascinating question of how far back into the past the nodes of these trees reach (except of course when we have written evidence). Nobody has any good idea how to make progress there, and the questions are tantalizing. Now, there are all sorts of plausible-looking but fundamentally unsound methods that purport to answer these questions, and papers using them occasionally get published in prestigious non-linguistic journals, but the actual historical linguists firmly dismiss them as unsound, even though they have no answers of their own to offer instead.

Is this a quality that Historical Jesus research has? One where its “standard well-substantiated methods have had great success[es]”? I'm not sure how you can qualify or quantify “success” in historical Jesus research. As far as I know, as historical Jesus research progresses it has produced a Jesus with a million faces. In other words, we get less certain about the historical Jesus and not more as time goes on.

These heuristics, to me, explain the visceral reaction that proponents of an ahistorical Jesus face from the cultural hegemony. I kinda think there was a historical Jesus, but not for any really academically sound reason.

 
Comments Off on Low-Hanging Fruit and the Historical/Mythical Jesus Debate

Posted by on April 21, 2011 in historical jesus, jesus myth

 

Logical Possibility

If there was one phrase that I feel gets overly abused in discussions between theists and atheists, it is the phrase “…it is logically possible that…”.
 
What does it mean for something to be “logically possible”? Is “logic” a function of ontology, or a function of epistemology?
 
I'm leaning on the latter. Since I am no philologist, I'll have to resort to my rudimentary undergrad philosophy courses.
 
When I think of logic, I think of modes of inference, deduction, induction, necessary conclusions, etc. So for instance, this following syllogism is an instance of “logic”:
 
1. All fish live in the ocean
2. Dolphins live in the ocean
C. Dolphins are fish
 
This syllogism is valid, but not sound. That is, if the premises and conclusion were [ontologically] true, then this would help us understand something about our world. It would add to our epistemic framework. If we didn't know that dolphins, by definition, are not fish this would establish that dolphins being fish is “logically possible”. But notice all of the words that I used to describe logic: “modes of inference”, “necessary conclusions”. These are not categories of ontology. They are epistemic qualifiers. They are traffic signals on the road to learning.
 
Now, what we are learning completely depends on our initial premises, or our initial axioms. It is logically possible that in the next Superman comic I read, Superman can get his ass kicked by a powered up Lex Luthor after Lex kidnaps Lois Lane. What does this have to do with the ontological status of Superman, Lex Luthor, or Lois Lane? They don't “exist” in the real world; this is only a mental exercise. Thus the “logic” in logically possible.
 
If something is logical, it only means that we can follow the deductive (or inductive) steps that lead to a given conclusion. Jesus' virgin birth is just as “logically possible” as Spiderman's radioactive spider bite. Jesus' resurrection from the dead is just as “logically possible” as Superman's resurrection from the dead. That is, given some initial axioms that we accept, we can follow the logical steps that lead to those conclusions. According to the logic of the Wonder Woman universe, Wonder Woman can fly around in an invisible plane. Just like according to the logic of the Christian universe, Jesus can walk on water. Neither of these, though, make any ontological statement about our world.
 
Logic is just a guide for comprehension and understanding. I can encounter something that is incomprehensible or something that doesn't make sense to me, but this does not preclude its ontological status. A lot of quantum physics is “logically impossible”, but quantum physics is still “real”. I think when people speak about “logical possibility” they really should be saying “ontological possibility”.
 
Comments Off on Logical Possibility

Posted by on April 13, 2011 in apologetics

 

"Evil Doesn’t Worry About Not Being Good"

In the video game Dragon Age: Origins, the character Leliana is a former assassin who is trying to turn her life around by joining the Chantry (the video game universe's equivalent of the Catholic Church). In the game, she flees from a country called Orlais to Ferelden, where the hero of the game lives. During their journy together, Leliana reveals that she had been framed by her former assassin mentor named Marjolaine and jailed, certain for execution and burial in an unmarkd grave. When the opportunity presented itself, she escaped from her imprisonment and fled to Ferelden.
 
After revealing this part of her past, she and the hero encounter a band of mercenaries hired to kill her. She infers that it was her old friend and mentor Marjolaine who sent them, and asks the hero to help her confront Marjolaine. At the encounter, the hero (who is controlled by the player) has the option to encourage Leliana to kill Marjolaine or to let her go. If you have Leliana kill her, then Leliana gets depressed and questions her morals.
 
During one of the dialogues with Leliana, she mentions how she enjoyed killing Marjolaine, recalling that during the enconter with Marjolaine, she said that Leliana was only good at espionage and assassinations because she truly enjoyed it. Having dedicated herself to the Maker (i.e. God) and the Chantry since fleeing Orlais, she sees this as proof that she really is an evil person and that her faith is false.
 
At this point in the dialogue, you have the option to tell her “Evil doesn't worry about not being good” which convinces her that she truly is a good person at heart, and not the cold blooded killer that Marjolaine insisted she was.
 
What does this have to do with anything? Well, it reminds me of a post that Luke at Common Sense Atheism quoted a couple of days ago, by Dr. Yudkowski:
 

Fake Morality exposes divine command ethics:

Suppose Omega makes a credible threat that if you ever step inside a bathroom between 7AM and 10AM in the morning, he'll kill you. Would you be panicked by the prospect of Omega withdrawing his threat?  Would you cower in existential terror and cry:  “If Omega withdraws his threat, then what's to keep me from going to the bathroom?”  No; you'd probably be quite relieved at your increased opportunity to, ahem, relieve yourself.

Which is to say:  The very fact that a religious person would be afraid of God withdrawing Its threat to punish them for committing murder, shows that they have a revulsion of murder which is independent of whether God punishes murder or not.  If they had no sense that murder was wrong independently of divine retribution, the prospect of God not punishing murder would be no more existentially horrifying than the prospect of God not punishing sneezing.

[To religious readers: ] it may be that you will someday lose your faith: and on that day, you will not lose all sense of moral direction.  For if you fear the prospect of God not punishing some deed, that is a moral compass.  You can plug that compass directly into your decision system and steer by it.  You can simply not do whatever you are afraid God may not punish you for doing.  The fear of losing a moral compass is itself a moral compass.  Indeed, I suspect you are steering by that compass, and that you always have been.

 
In other words, people who worry about becoming pedophiles and murderers if their god was truly shown to not exist already demonstrate their moral compass by having that worry in the first place. The writers of Dragon Age: Origin are correct — evil would never worry about not being good. Someone who worries about not being good is proven to be good by having that worry.
 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 1, 2011 in apologetics, video games

 
 
NeuroLogica Blog

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

Slate Star Codex

NꙮW WITH MꙮRE MULTIꙮCULAR ꙮ

Κέλσος

Matthew Ferguson Blogs

The Wandering Scientist

Just another WordPress.com site

NT Blog

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

Euangelion Kata Markon

A blog dedicated to the academic study of the "Gospel According to Mark"

PsyPost

Behavior, cognition and society

PsyBlog

Understand your mind with the science of psychology -

Vridar

Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

Maximum Entropy

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

atheist, polyamorous skeptics

Criticism is not uncivil

Say..

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

Research Digest

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

Disrupting Dinner Parties

Feminism is for everyone!

My ὑπομνήματα about religion

The New Oxonian

Religion and Culture for the Intellectually Impatient

The Musings of Thomas Verenna

A Biblioblog about imitation, the Biblical Narratives, and the figure of Jesus