Monthly Archives: October 2011

Existential Angst

I read this post a while ago, but I read it again and something jumped out at me. It was his comment about how according to theists, atheist have no purpose in life. Of course he counters it by saying that atheists feel the same about the “big questions” that everyone else does: 
Finally, Gutting is correct that many people need convincing that atheists can have fulfilling lives… but then treats that like it should be a grand philosophical project, which is bizarre. A more natural approach is to find some atheists who can say, “Hey! Over here! I have a fulfilling life!” Luke Muehlhauser is excellent on this: 
When I was a Christian, I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like be an atheist. From what my parents and pastors told me, I imagined it would feel like an aching hole in my stomach, a purposeless sadness in my chest, and a taste of cardboard in my mouth. Of course, I was asking the wrong people. I should have asked some atheists what it felt like. 
The truth is that atheists feel pretty much the same as everybody else. We feel happy and sad, excited and bored, nervous and peaceful, ashamed and proud, lonely and connected, horny and disgusted, transcendent and confused and small and breathless. 
This reminds me of something I wrote in a journal about four years ago. I titled it “existential angst”. That musing of mine I can honestly say was a precursor to my more recent post God Has No Reason For His Existence. Here it is in total, with my profound profanity and all (redacted to hide personal names though): 
So I've been thinking… about my thinking. Meta-thinking, to coin a neologism. My thinking, most of which before I started this journal, the thinking that kept (and keeps) me up at night besides my daily troubles are thoughts about existence. Excogitating just why… the… FUCK… there is something rather than nothing.

Not believing in god, existence is simply an axiom. It is THE fundamental axiom. And if I believed in a god, the question of existence, and therefore that fundamental axiom, would simply be pushed back one peg. In other words, all of this existential pondering equally applies to a theistic or atheistic universe. Even though existence is axiomatic (whether it's the universe's or god's), axioms should still be questioned… but I'm starting to think that the questioning of some axioms is an exercise in insanity. For instance, what happens when you start to question why 1 + 1 = 2? There are some fundamental axioms that everyone accepts when they read that.

“Of course 1 with another 1 will give you 2. What the fuck are you on about?!” Well what do you mean by “1”? What do you mean by “+”? What do you mean by “=”? What do you mean by “2”? We assume that we're talking about first grade math, and not binary… so therefore, 1 + 1 = 2 would be wrong in a binary paradigm. 1 + 1 in binary is 10. What about if it were in a programing language? While the answer is the same, the methodology arrived at is different. 1 + 1 = 2 basically says that “1 + 1 contains 2”.

In the military, my first deeply existential excogitational exegesis [ed. this isn't supposed to make sense, 'tis just alliteration for alliteration's sake] was “Who made it law that one plus one equals two?” It's a nonsense question, but basically the answer to that question is the answer to whether the universe was created or not. I mulled over that for a while before finally solidifying my “atheism” (Einsteinian pantheism). But what about the rest of it? What about what happened after 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang? The universe is fucking HUGE. What the fuck; driving from here to Virginia Beach seems like a long time when I'm speeding at like 80 mph, but if it were possible for me to travel at the speed of light (3 * 108 meters / sec, or 186,000 miles per second) it would take me:

  1. 8 minutes to get to the sun
  2. 4 years to get to the nearest star
  3. A couple million years to get to the other side of the galaxy (did you know that “gala” is greek for milk?)
  4. A couple BILLION years to go from one part of the visible universe to the other.
Imagine how long it would take me to drive to the sun only going a measly 80 mph. In other words, like I said before, the universe is goddamn HUGE.

What is all of this space for? It ain't for life, because 99.9% of the universe is hostile to life. There's a whole sea of quantum potentiality in space, none of it affords the possibility of life any time soon. So we're in this sandbox, that stretches for miles and miles as far as the eye can see, and it's only us in it. What the fuck, man. Running with the “sand” analogy, if the Earth were a GRAIN of sand – just ONE GRAIN of sand – the Solar System would be like the Pacific ocean.

Imagine that.

And what about “life” anyway? What's the point? Even if god exists, Christianity is true and Jesus and Satan are having a poker match over our souls… so what? Still – what's the point? We play the holier-enough game to get into heaven and spend trillionstrillions of years singing kumbaya and […]. What was the point of it all? Like I said before, putting a “god” in the equation does nothing for the answer – it only pushes the question back further.

Why do we live? We eat, sleep, fuck, and die. This has been getting to me more and more as “globalization” keeps happening. You see more stories of people getting fucked over and/or dying at an alarmingly random rate. I get older and my inexorable mortality comes into my mind more and more. I could finish writing this post and then a meteor hits me in the head as I leave my house to go out drinking and die. What will the purpose of my life have been? What, when I'm a grain of sand on a grain of sand? WTF mate.

So that's my problem. I understand the vastness of the universe and my place in it. “Insignificant, am I?” to quote Nevermore. This is existential angst, and not some teenage angst about […]. I not only see the forest instead of the trees, I see the surrounding areas and cities, the construction trucks coming to plow down the forest because some rich tycoon overseas wants his little piece of the pie to inflate his ego. He's inflating his ego and fattening up his wallet so that he'll have enough money to run for the most powerful position in the world to be able to wage his own personal war on some other country that has what he wants. But wouldn't it be nice to just ignore all that for a second, look at the forest for what it is – a whole bunch of trees – select an awesome tree like “Hey, this tree is fucking awesome, I'm gonna take a nap under it” and just chill for a spill?

That's why, I think, I occupy myself with other things. Dancing. Drinking. Playing guitar. Writing music. Listening to music. Working out. […]. Randomly searching the internet for more information on just whateverthefuck I happen to land on. These little things don't matter in the grand scheme of the universe, just like that tree doesn't matter at all to something like the War on Terror, or the fact that in 5 billion years the sun is gonna run out of its hydrogen fuel and swell up like a big fat pimple on prom night, searing away the Earth's atmosphere destroying all life on the planet… but… where was I?

Oh yeah, the little things in life. It's the little things in life that we have to carry on about. Kinda like the Principle of Mathematical Induction. A whole bunch of little things can take on (maybe) the one big thing. Make it all bearable. An axiom of mine – whenever I get asked “what's the purpose of life” the answer has always been simple. The purpose of life is to live. It's an axiom, just like existence is an axiom. 1 + 1 = 2 isn't itself an axiom, but it's about as basic a mathematical axiom as it gets. Don't let Godel hear about that, though.

The purpose of life is to live. It's both insanely profound and incredibly simplistic, while at the same time answering nothing. Tautological. “Existence Precedes Essense” to quote some motherfuckers older than me. But… critical thinking, folks – what does it mean to live, in that axiom? The fuck do I know – that's up to you. It's like life is a 10 billion dollar check you find on the street made out to you personally (nevermind that this analogy about life presupposes that you live… but whatever). What do you do with your 10 billion dollars?

I dunno, but fuck it – I'm gonna go take a nap under that tree. In other words, it's 9 pm, Thursday, and I'm gonna go out drinking and dancing… maybe see [S].

It's probably not the answer tha atheists look for when trying to rebut the Christian claim of feeling meaninglessness in an atheistic worldview, but here it is. Of course, I think Christians also cleave to a meaningless existence when the entire purpose of their lives seems to be following a god who cannot have any meaning for its existence, as I argue in that previous post. Like I said, we're in the same boat. So we should probably choose the life and worldview that will give us the most joy and fulfillment in this life while minimizing as many empty promises as possible.

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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in atheism


The Hyperbolic, Yet Parabolic, History of the Diabolic

As you might have been able to tell from the title of this post (and the title of my blog), “dia” in Greek is a prefix, just like “para” and “hyper”. This means that the root word “-bolic” must mean the same thing. Our basic English has some examples that show us what the prefixes “hyper” and “para” mean (like paranormal contrasted with the normal, or a hypothesis contrasted with a thesis; paralegal, parallel, paramilitary, paraphyly; hypertention, hypergamy, hyperinflation, hypergyny).
If you happened to be a music major or have studied music theory a bit, you might be familiar with the term diatonic. In music theory, there is something called a diatonic scale. This comes from the Greek word διατονικός::diatonikos meaning [passing] through tones. As such, “dia” means “through” (in this instance). Then again, if you knew music theory you would already know that diapente means “through five”.
Now that we know what “dia” means, what does “-bolic” derive from? The word “-βολος” is the noun form of the Greek verb βαλλω::ballo which means to throw. For example, Jesus literally “throws out” demons when he exorcises them in the gospel narratives:
Matthew 12.27
και ει εγω εν βεελζεβουλ εκ βαλλω τα δαιμονια οι υιοι υμων εν τινι εκ βαλλουσιν δια τουτο αυτοι κριται εσονται υμων
And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.
So hyperbolic could be superficially translated as “over-throw”, parabolic to “throw-next-to” and diabolic to “throw-through”. Now we arrive at a seeming connundrum: How did the modern usage of “diabolic” come from its original Greek meaning of “throw-through”? Let's look at some examples of “throw-through” or “diabolic” being used in antiquity:
Plato, Seventh Epistle:
On my arrival — I must not be tedious — I found Dionysius's kingdom all full of civil strife and of slanderous stories brought to the court concerning Dion
ἐλθὼν δέ — οὐ γὰρ δεῖ μηκύνειν — ηὗρον στάσεως τὰ περὶ Διονύσιον μεστὰ σύμπαντα καὶ διαβολῶν πρὸς τὴν τυραννίδα Δίωνος πέρι:
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 17.146: But Herod now fell into a distemper, and made his will, and bequeathed his kingdom to [Antipas], his youngest son; and this out of that hatred to Archclaus and Philip, which the calumnies of Antipater (των Αντιπατρου διαβολων:: ton Antipatrou diabolon) had raised against them.
Plutarch, Caius Marcius Coriolanus 16: For they surely will not say that they are getting these as a grateful return for the military services which they omitted, and the secessions by which they renounced their country, and the calumnies (των διαβολων) against the senate which they have countenanced
So if διάβoλος means “throw-through”, how did it come to mean lies or slander? That's actually pretty easy if we think of certain turns of phrases in modern English. We can talk about hurling accusations against someone; this concept of hurling accusations has a long history and goes back at least to the time of Plato, as shown above. It comes from ancient courtroom dramas where the prosecution would “throw accusations through” the courtroom. 
So how did it become that a word that simply meant lies or slander transformed into the devil? It just so happens that the Hebrew word “satan” means the same thing that the Greek word “diabol[os]” means. Look at a sort of courtroom setup in Zechariah 3.1:
English: And he showed me Jesus the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him
Greek: και εδειξεν μοι ιησουν τον ιερεα τον μεγαν εστωτα προ προσωπου αγγελου κυριου και ο διαβολος ειστηκει εκ δεξιων αυτου του αντικεισθαι αυτω
Hebrew: וַיַּרְאֵנִי, אֶת-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ הַכֹּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל, עֹמֵד, לִפְנֵי מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה; וְהַשָּׂטָן עֹמֵד עַל-יְמִינוֹ, לְשִׂטְנוֹ.
In this case, in Hebrew, we have both the personification “Satan” and the verb form “accuse him”. There are earlier examples of the Hebrew “accuser”. Look at Job 1.6:
English: Now it fell upon a day, that the sons of God came to present themselves before [the Lord] (YHWH), and [the] Satan came also among them.
Hebrew: וַיְהִי הַיּוֹם–וַיָּבֹאוּ בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים, לְהִתְיַצֵּב עַל (יְהוָה); וַיָּבוֹא גַם הַשָּׂטָן, בְּתוֹכָם.
Greek: και ως εγενετο η ημερα αυτη και ιδου ηλθον οι αγγελοι* του θεου παραστηναι ενωπιον [του κυριου] και ο διαβολος ηλθεν μετ' αυτων
As can be seen reading Job, “the accuser” had a responsibility in YHWH's service: to test people to see how worthy they are. As time progressed and Judaism comes into more influence from the Greeks, this accusing angel morphs into gods enemy. This can be seen in the NT, where the authors talk about Satan but spelling it Σατανας::Satanas in Greek; changing the Hebrew word into a Greek proper name. However, the Greek form of diabolos was still in common use among the Greeks. This word was ported over into Latin by way of Jerome's Latin Vulgate, where he translated “sons of belial” (many think this means lawless men or uncircumcised men; the LXX translates sons of belial to υιοι παρανόμων::huioi paranomon, literally sons of 'those besides the law') to “filiis diaboli”.
*While the English and Hebrew say “sons of god” (b'nei elohim), the Greek says “angels/messengers of god”.
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Posted by on October 28, 2011 in greek


Dating The Gospel of Mark

This blog post goes over the myriad of interpretations of the internal evidence for dating when the gospel of Mark was written. I am of course partial to Mark being written in Rome sometime after 70 CE. Here is a snippet: 
Joel Marcus (Sitz Im Leben), in contrast to Hengel’s claim that Mark had no actual familiarity with what transpired during the Jewish War but heard the news from afar (i.e. Rome), argues Mark was written from one of the Transjodan Hellenistic cities attacked at the beginning of the War (461-62).  Mark protests that the temple had become the house of revolutionary bandits (lēstēs) (cf. Josephus J.W. 4.3.7-8; 5.1.2; for Zealots used for revolutionaries in general see J.W. 2.17.9; 4.9.10) had taken over the temple under Elezar son of Simon.  This explains the abomination as Eleazar’s occupation of the temple in 67-68 CE, Mark’s openess to Gentiles and protest in the Court of Gentiles in the Temple (the Zealots wanted to cleanse it of foreign influence), the persecutions as the Zealots held mock trials, and Mark’s triumphal entry as the anti-type of the messianic entry of Simon bar Giora in April-May 69  (448-59).  Mark is writing in hindsight and sees the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE as punishment for closing the door on Gentiles and turning the place into the seat of revolutionary violence (461-62).
Like I said, this is only a snippet. But this one paragraph seems close enough to my interpretation. But do go read the whole thing for your own edification!
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Posted by on October 25, 2011 in early Christianity


The Existence of the Supernatural

I do not believe in the existence of the supernatural. Of course, I can't say with 100% certainty that the supernatural doesn't exist, but there is a high probability that the supernatural doesn't exist. So while I don't quite claim to be a philosophical or ontological naturalist, I think I might best fall under the category of epistemic naturalist. Meaning, that I think the only things we can know to a reasonable degree are things that exist naturally. This would be a step up from methodological naturalism, which is the process for doing science, yet a step below full blown ontological naturalism.
I'm also trying to think more like a Bayesian, so, again, because I talk about the probability of the supernatural, this is a claim about epistemic certainty and not ontological certainty (if that even makes sense). 
My biggest beef with the supernatural is that appealing to it never helps anyone understand any phenomenon any better than they did before positing the supernatural. Appealing to the supernatural is a horrible explanation for just about anything you can imagine.
What Makes A Good Explanation?
Have you ever sat down and tried to come up with what exactly constitutes a good explanation for something? For example from my own line of work in software engineering: Let's say some user contacts me and claims that there is a problem with the software I'm in charge of. Surely, the “correct” answer for why there is a problem with the software is “there is something wrong with the code”. But this is a superficial explanation. Again, even if it is the correct answer, it is still not a very good explanation of the problem.
So the first thing I do is try to reproduce the problem. So when explaining to my management what the cause of the problem is, it would be a pretty good start for explaining it if I can reproduce the problem (and further ahead when I can test the solution).

Can supernatural explanations be repeated or reproduced? Or even tested? Of course not.
Next, when explaining to my management the solution, I should be able to explain the mechanism for what caused the problem. Again, superficially, the “mechanism” would be “there is something wrong with the code”. But for it to be a good explanation, it should have a detailed description of what parts of code are interacting (or not interacting) with other parts of the code to cause the problem. So the good explanation would be something like “function getDLL() is calling the xyz.dll in Windows to do process abc yet this dll only exists in Windows Vista and not in Windows XP”.
Can you do the same with supernatural explanations? Of course not.
A good explanation should also fit with our background knowledge. As programmers, we know that things can go kaput if some code you wrote can only function if the components of the operating system you're coding on are actually on the box it's running on. It's happened before, and chances are it can happen again. Do supernatural explanations fit our background knowledge? You might think “well yeah, because the vast majority of humanity has claimed interactions with the supernatural” but this doesn't count as “background knowledge”. This would fit more under the rubric of old wives tales or traditions. No, actual knowledge in this case would be tried and true rigorous knowledge.
Due to entropy and other laws of thermodynamics, the existence of supernatural beings goes completely against our more rigorous background knowledge. For example, just sitting in your chair thinking and reading this blog post, you are using energy. Moreover, you are releasing the “waste” of used energy in the form of heat. Any living being that thinks or any object that moves around in any fashion – any being that uses energy – will emit some heat as the result of using energy. This means, that if supernatural beings are moving around and interacting with our world (using energy), we should see their heat signatures as they interact with our world. This does not happen, so there must be some sort of disconnect. As it stands now, supernatural beings break every law of thermodynamics. Which is especially pernicious since they are supposed to be beings of pure energy. We have no explanation for where they get their energy from and where their “unusable” energy is emitted to.

Basically, all supernatural beings as they are currently conceived are perpetual motion machines. Do perpetual motion machines fit with our background knowledge? Of course not.
Since supernatural beings, as they are currently described, are perpetual motion machines, you would have to posit some other hypothesis that accounts for them breaking all laws of thermodynamics. And this brings us to another hallmark of good (or very bad) explanations. Good explanations appeal to less amounts of untested hypotheses than bad explanations. So for my code troubleshooting example, if I posited some sort of wacky ghost-in-the-machine sort of problem for what's causing the software to malfunction, and then to support the ghost-in-the-machine I posited another hypothetical, this would be less likely to be true than not appealing to those hypothetical explanations altogether.
In order to believe that your supernatural encounter actually occured to the exception of any other explanation for the experience, there are a whole bunch of other assumptions that need to be true on order to validate the existence of the supernatural. Each one of these hypotheses has not been tested, so they remain hypothetical. Because of this, the more hypotheticals you use to undergrid your belief, the less likely it is that your initial belief is correct.
As an example, we can use a fair coin toss. What is the probability of getting a heads on the first flip of a coin? 50%. What about flipping two heads in a row? This then becomes 50% * 50% which is 25%. Three heads in a row? 50%*50%*50%, which is 12.5%. As you continue to add uncertainties to undergrid previous uncertainties, the less likely it is that your original hypothetical is true.

For the supernatural, you would have to posit some other mechanism or laws of physics to account for describing supernatural beings like perpetual motion machines. So, for supernatural explanations, we might start off fair with a probability of the existence of perpetual motions machines to be 50%, just like a fair coin. Again, to be fair, maybe this second hypothesis of other laws of physics has a 50% chance of being correct. This means that your initial supernatural explanation now has a 25% chance of being correct since both hypotheses have to be true. But then you have to explain why this second set of laws of physics don't interact with our own world to the exception of supernatural beings. Now we might stack another 50% likelihood to explain this one. Now your original contention about the supernatural is at 12.5%.
Of course, once you get more specific about your definition of the supernatural, adding more caveats, you keep stacking hypotheses. This subjects your initial explanation to the law of diminishing returns. Just three unfounded hypotheses – when each individually has a 50% chance of being correct – will make the original hypothesis with the original 50% chance of being correct now only have a 12.5% chance of being correct. This is because all three have to be correct in order for the original one to be correct. Much like flipping a coin three times in a row and getting heads depends on the first two flips being “true”. The coin toss example brings us back to the testing criterion. Unless we can test some hypothesis, it can never go beyond its initial uncertainty. But we can test a coin flip.

So does appealing to the supernatural make less use of as of yet unconfirmed hypotheses? Nope.
There are more examples of what constitudes a good explanation for something. See Luke's post on Common Sense Atheism. I think that appealing to the supernatural fails all of the indicators listed on Luke's blog, and I'm pretty sure that there can be more criteria for what constitutes a good explanation for something. I do know one thing, though… if I explained things in my job the way that those who appeal to the supernatural do, I would quickly be out of one. This is why I cannot accept the existence of the supernatural; at least until supernatural explanations start fulfilling more of these criteria for what makes a good explanation.

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Posted by on October 20, 2011 in Bayes


There’s No Evidence That The Garden of Eden Was Meant Literally

Some liberal Christians continue to embarrass themselves by not knowing the history of their own scriptures, the mindset of its authors, or even the traditions of their forefathers. Similar to how fundamentalists think that the Bible dropped down from the sky completely intact without a history, some liberal Christians think that the Bible was composed and originally interpreted by peoples who had the same deal of skepticism that we have today in our modern world; an abject, unsophisticated anachronism. Even though they do it for other reasons, they too read their Bible without appreciating its history similar to their fundamentalist bretheren. Take this one nugget of myopia right here
There’s no evidence that the Garden of Eden was always regarded as figurative? Really? Has Coyne read the fucking thing? I defy anyone with a brain (or who hasn’t had his brain turned off by fundamentalism) to think it’s meant literally. It’s obviously meant metaphorically. It screams parable.
Unfortunately, Andrew Sullian shamelessly displays his naked ignorance with these mental gymnastics (γυμνος::gymnos, where we get the word gymnastics, is Greek for naked). To think that the A&E tale was always regarded as figurative, we would have to assume that every single human that has read the TNK (OT) and NT — even the ones who composed its books — have had the same culture, epistemic priors, and life experiences that we currently have (especially a culture that has the same degree of skepticism that we currently have). This is demonstrably false; Paul's own letters attest to a belief in a heaven structure that has at least three tiers or levels that exist separately that can be traveled (2 Cor 12.1-4). Paul didn't qualify this statement with “either allegorically or physically I do not know”, he qualified it with “in the body or out I do not know” (see also the Ascension of Isaiah).
So, this post will act as a compendium of all of the Christians who came before Mr. Sullivan who actually took the A&E tale literally (barring the obvious Luke 3.23-37).
Justin Martyr, writing c. 150 CE: 
Dialog 19.
Justin: It is this about which we are at a loss, and with reason, because, while you endure such things, you do not observe all the other customs which we are now discussing.
This circumcision is not, however, necessary for all men, but for you alone, in order that, as I have already said, you may suffer these things which you now justly suffer. Nor do we receive that useless baptism of cisterns, for it has nothing to do with this baptism of life. Wherefore also God has announced that you have forsaken Him, the living fountain, and dug for yourselves broken cisterns which can hold no water. Even you, who are the circumcised according to the flesh, have need of our circumcision; but we, having the latter, do not require the former. For if it were necessary, as you suppose, God would not have made Adam uncircumcised; would not have had respect to the gifts of Abel when, being uncircumcised, he offered sacrifice and would not have been pleased with the uncircumcision of Enoch, who was not found, because God had translated him. Lot, being uncircumcised, was saved from Sodom, the angels themselves and the Lord sending him out. Noah was the beginning of our race; yet, uncircumcised, along with his children he went into the ark. Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High, was uncircumcised; to whom also Abraham the first who received circumcision after the flesh, gave tithes, and he blessed him: after whose order God declared, by the mouth of David, that He would establish the everlasting priest. Therefore to you alone this circumcision was necessary, in order that the people may be no people, and the nation no nation.
In other words, the god of the Jews made all of these people uncircumcised, yet they were righteous. People who were thought to have never existed would not be used as an argument against circumcision.
Ibid. 84.
Moreover, the prophecy, 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,' was uttered respecting Him. For if He to whom Isaiah referred was not to be begotten of a virgin, of whom did the Holy Spirit declare, 'Behold, the Lord Himself shall give us a sign: behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son?' For if He also were to be begotten of sexual intercourse, like all other first-born sons, why did God say that He would give a sign which is not common to all the first-born sons? But that which is truly a sign, and which was to be made trustworthy to mankind—namely, that the first-begotten of all creation should become incarnate by the Virgin's womb, and be a child—this he anticipated by the Spirit of prophecy, and predicted it, as I have repeated to you, in various ways; in order that, when the event should take place, it might be known as the operation of the power and will of the Maker of all things; just as Eve was made from one of Adam's ribs, and as all living beings were created in the beginning by the word of God.
Justin contrasts the virgin birth with the power that the god of the Jews had to create Eve from Adam's rib. 
Ibid. 88.
Now, we know that he did not go to the river because He stood in need of baptism, or of the descent of the Spirit like a dove; even as He submitted to be born and to be crucified, not because He needed such things, but because of the human race, which from Adam had fallen under the power of death and the guile of the serpent, and each one of which had committed personal transgression. For God, wishing both angels and men, who were endowed with free-will, and at their own disposal, to do whatever He had strengthened each to do, made them so, that if they chose the things acceptable to Himself, He would keep them free from death and from punishment; but that if they did evil, He would punish each as He sees fit.
Ibid. 100.
[Jesus] said then that He was the Son of man, either because of His birth by the Virgin, who was, as I said, of the family of David and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham; or because Adam was the father both of Himself and of those who have been first enumerated from whom Mary derives her descent. For we know that the fathers of women are the fathers likewise of those children whom their daughters bear.
Again… there is no hint here that Justin viewed the A&E tale figuratively, at least, not any more or less figurative than Jesus being born and crucified.
Ibid. 103
For 'Sata' in the Jewish and Syrian tongue means apostate; and 'Nas' is the word from which he is called by interpretation the serpent, i.e., according to the interpretation of the Hebrew term, from both of which there arises the single word Satanas. For this devil, when [Jesus] went up from the river Jordan, at the time when the voice spoke to Him, 'You are my Son: this day have I begotten You,' is recorded in the memoirs of the apostles to have come to Him and tempted Him, even so far as to say to Him, 'Worship me;' and Christ answered him, 'Get behind me, Satan: you shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.' For as he had deceived Adam, so he hoped that he might contrive some mischief against Christ also.
A mistaken etymology that Justin uses to prove that the Greek word Satanas is actually a compound of the Hebrew words for apostate and serpent (which isn't true). Again, Justin doesn't see any difference between Satan attempting to deceive Jesus at Matt 4.9-10 and the serpent (i.e. Satan) deceiving Adam. 
Ibid. 124.
…I said, You are gods, and are all children of the Most High. But you die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God! judge the earth, for You shall inherit all nations.' But in the version of the Seventy it is written, 'Behold, you die like men, and fall like one of the princes,' in order to manifest the disobedience of men—I mean of Adam and Eve—and the fall of one of the princes, i.e., of him who was called the serpent, who fell with a great overthrow, because he deceived Eve. But as my discourse is not intended to touch on this point, but to prove to you that the Holy Ghost reproaches men because they were made like God, free from suffering and death, provided that they kept His commandments, and were deemed deserving of the name of His sons, and yet they, becoming like Adam and Eve, work out death for themselves; let the interpretation of the Psalm be held just as you wish, yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming gods, and of having power to become sons of the Highest; and shall be each by himself judged and condemned like Adam and Eve. Now I have proved at length that Christ is called God.
Again, no inclination that the A&E tale is meant as a metaphor. 
Ibid. 132
and of these it seems good to me now to speak of another, for it conduces to your hereby knowing Jesus, whom we also know to have been Christ the Son of God, who was crucified, and rose again, and ascended to heaven, and will come again to judge all men, even up to Adam himself.
Justin asserts that Jesus will return and judge all people, even Adam. Surely Justin didn't think the very real Jesus would return to judge an allegorical person.
Irenaeus of Lyons, writing c. 180 CE:
Against Heresies 1.9.3.
Learn then, you foolish men, that Jesus who suffered for us, and who dwelt among us, is Himself the Word of God. For if any other of the Aeons had become flesh for our salvation, it would have been probable that the apostle spoke of another. But if the Word of the Father who descended is the same also that ascended, He, namely, the Only-begotten Son of the only God, who, according to the good pleasure of the Father, became flesh for the sake of men, the apostle certainly does not speak regarding any other, or concerning any Ogdoad, but respecting our Lord Jesus Christ. For, according to them, the Word did not originally become flesh. For they maintain that the Saviour assumed an animal body, formed in accordance with a special dispensation by an unspeakable providence, so as to become visible and palpable. But flesh is that which was of old formed for Adam by God out of the dust, and it is this that John has declared the Word of God became [my emphasis]. Thus is their primary and first-begotten Ogdoad brought to nought. For, since Logos [Word], and Monogenes [Only-begotten], and Zoe [Life], and Phos [Light], and Soter [Savior], and Christus, and the Son of God, and He who became incarnate for us, have been proved to be one and the same, the Ogdoad which they have built up at once falls to pieces. And when this is destroyed, their whole system sinks into ruin—a system which they falsely dream into existence, and thus inflict injury on the Scriptures, while they build up their own hypothesis.
Irenaeus argues, with no hint that he is arguing against the heretics only in metaphor, that Adam was the only being made into flesh and it was this same flesh that Jesus was made out of.
Ibid. 1.28.1
But [Tatian's] denial of Adam's salvation was an opinion due entirely to himself.
Here Irenaeus intimates that Adam will be saved due to Jesus' sacrifice, claiming that Tatian created a doctrine wherein Adam would not be saved. If Adam didn't really die, then I'm not sure how he could be saved or even bodily resurrected once Jesus returns. This is also relevant to Justin Martyr since Tatian was Justin's student (ibid.). Irenaeus thus implies that since Tatian created this dogma of Adam's damnation on his own, Justin probably thought that Adam would be saved. 
Ibid. 1.30.7
But Ialdabaoth, feeling envious at this, was pleased to form the design of again emptying man by means of woman, and produced a woman from his own enthymesis, whom that Prunicus [above mentioned] laying hold of, imperceptibly emptied her of power. But the others coming and admiring her beauty, named her Eve, and falling in love with her, begot sons by her, whom they also declare to be the angels. But their mother (Sophia) cunningly devised a scheme to seduce Eve and Adam, by means of the serpent, to transgress the command of Ialdabaoth. Eve listened to this as if it had proceeded from a son of God, and yielded an easy belief. She also persuaded Adam to eat of the tree regarding which God had said that they should not eat of it. They then declare that, on their thus eating, they attained to the knowledge of that power which is above all, and departed from those who had created them. When Prunicus perceived that the powers were thus baffled by their own creature, she greatly rejoiced, and again cried out, that since the father was incorruptible, he (Ialdabaoth) who formerly called himself the father was a liar; and that, while Anthropos and the first woman (the Spirit) existed previously, this one (Eve) sinned by committing adultery.
Here Irenaeus is describing the beliefs of the Gnostic Ophites (derived from the Greek word for snake [οφις::ofis]) who worship the snake at Eden because it was in reality Sophia and granted knowledge (i.e. gnosis) to A&E. Many Gnostics took the A&E tale literally because they literally believed that their flesh was a prison created by a defective, self-righteous, and ignorant god, and that their true form was not flesh, basically. Gnostic beliefs diverge wildly from this main point. We can probably add the myriad of Gnostics to the ancient Christians who literally believed the A&E tale, since it was their reinterpretation of this story that forms a point of departure from the Christians who would become Catholics. 
Ibid. 3.11.8
It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the pillar and ground of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. […] For the living creatures are quadriform, and the Gospel is quadriform, as is also the course followed by the Lord. For this reason were four principal covenants given to the human race: one, prior to the deluge, under Adam; the second, that after the deluge, under Noah; the third, the giving of the law, under Moses; the fourth, that which renovates man, and sums up all things in itself by means of the Gospel, raising and bearing men upon its wings into the heavenly kingdom.
Irenaeus' argument for why there should be only four gospels; inherent in his argument is the existence of Adam, and of a covenant after him (i.e. the fall). Irenaeus moves through all four covenants without a hint that some were figurative covenants while others were literal.
Ibid. 3.18.1-2
For I have shown that the Son of God did not then begin to exist, being with the Father from the beginning; but when He became incarnate, and was made man, He commenced afresh the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam— namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God— that we might recover in Christ Jesus. For as it was not possible that the man who had once for all been conquered, and who had been destroyed through disobedience, could reform himself, and obtain the prize of victory; and as it was also impossible that he could attain to salvation who had fallen under the power of sin—the Son effected both these things…
Irenaeus goes over the reason for Jesus' death, linking it to Adam's disobedience. Irenaeus doesn't offer us any reason why he took Adam's actions figuratively so the plain reading would be the one where we do not add to nor subtract from Irenaeus' words. Irenaeus butress' his argument by quoting Paul (Rom 5.14; 10.6-7, 9) which also presupposes a literal Adam since death reigned from Adam to Moses.
Ibid. 3.21.10
For as by one man's disobedience sin entered, and death obtained [a place] through sin; so also by the obedience of one man, righteousness having been introduced, shall cause life to fructify in those persons who in times past were dead. And as the protoplast himself Adam, had his substance from untilled and as yet virgin soil (for God had not yet sent rain, and man had not tilled the ground), and was formed by the hand of God, that is, by the Word of God, for all things were made by Him, and the Lord took dust from the earth and formed man; so did He who is the Word, recapitulating Adam in Himself, rightly receive a birth, enabling Him to gather up Adam [into Himself], from Mary, who was as yet a virgin. If, then, the first Adam had a man for his father, and was born of human seed, it were reasonable to say that the second Adam was begotten of Joseph. But if the former was taken from the dust, and God was his Maker, it was incumbent that the latter also, making a recapitulation in Himself, should be formed as man by God, to have an analogy with the former as respects His origin. Why, then, did not God again take dust, but wrought so that the formation should be made of Mary? It was that there might not be another formation called into being, nor any other which should [require to] be saved, but that the very same formation should be summed up [in Christ as had existed in Adam], the analogy having been preserved.
Irenaeus, in similar manner to Justin, explains why Jesus had to be born from a virgin and not from Joseph. If Adam had been born from human parents, then Jesus would have had to have been born from human parents. But since Adam was formed directly by the god of the Jews and not normal human generation, so was Jesus.
This post will probably get pretty long, so I will continue to add to it as I get time. But this extremely small review of early Christian literature is probably good enough to start pointing in the right direction, and good enough to post for the time being. Surely, we in the 21st century can take the A&E tale allegorically, but this says nothing about its original author(s) or those who based the doctrines on its literalness; doctrines that the vast majority of lay Christians have inherited.

Posted by on October 12, 2011 in apologetics


Maybe They Just Made A Mistake

I've been on vacation for the past week, so I haven't been doing much blogging or catching up with the latest drama bombs exploding in my own blogosphere. Upon catching up, I noticed a few posts (that are, obviously, a couple days old) going on again about the Adam and Eve or Original Sin deal. Again, the scientists smack down the sophisitaced theologians and their convoluted arguments.
What I don't get is why can't these theologians simply admit that Genesis is simply mistaken? Intellectual honesty demands that we disregard bad ideas, not reinterperet them so that we can keep our failed hypotheses. Speaking of theologians and intellectual honesty, here is an exerpt from Bart Ehrman's “Misquoting Jesus”:

A turning point came in my second semester, in a course I was taking with a much revered and pious professor named Cullen Story. The course was on the exegesis of the Gospel of Mark, at the time (and still) my favorite Gospel. For this course we needed to be able to read the Gospel of Mark completely in Greek (I memorized the entire Greek vocabulary of the Gospel the week before the semester began); we were to keep an exegetical notebook on our reflections on the interpretation of key passages; we discussed problems in the interpretation of the text; and we had to write a final term paper on an interpretive crux of our own choosing.

I chose a passage in Mark 2, where Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees because his disciples had been walking through a grain field, eating the grain on the Sabbath. Jesus wants to show the Pharisees that “Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath” and so reminds them of what the great King David had done when he and his men were hungry, how they went into the Temple “when Abiathar was the high priest” and ate the show bread, which was only for the priests to eat.

One of the well-known problems of the passage is that when one looks at the Old Testament passage that Jesus is citing (1 Sam. 21:16), it turns out that David did this not when Abiathar was the high priest, but, in fact, when Abiathar’s father Ahimelech was. In other words, this is one of those passages that have been pointed to in order to show that the Bible is not inerrant at all but contains mistakes.

In my paper for Professor Story, I developed a long and complicated argument to the effect that even though Mark indicates this happened “when Abiathar was the high priest,” it doesn’t really mean that Abiathar was the high priest, but that the event took place in the part of the scriptural text that has Abiathar as one of the main characters. My argument was based on the meaning of the Greek words involved and was a bit convoluted.

I was pretty sure Professor Story would appreciate the argument, since I knew him as a good Christian scholar who obviously (like me) would never think there could be anything like a genuine error in the Bible. But at the end of my paper he made a simple one-line comment that for some reason went straight through me.

He wrote: “Maybe Mark just made a mistake.”

I started thinking about it, considering all the work I had put into the paper, realizing that I had had to do some pretty fancy exegetical footwork to get around the problem, and that my solution was in fact a bit of a stretch.

I finally concluded, “Hmm … maybe Mark did make a mistake.”

Once I made that admission, the floodgates opened …

Notice what happened here. Ehrman went into this assignment with the presupposition that Mark was 100% correct. In order to maintain that premise, he had to construct a highly speculative and convoluted argument to maintain his prior that Mark was 100% correct. In actuality, the simplest explanation (also the more likely explanation) was that Mark just made a mistake. Intellectual honesty is what made Ehrman go with the simpler conclusion “maybe Mark did make a mistake.”.
Why go through the tortured exegesis to turn what the majority of historical and modern laymen Christians took and take as literal into a meaningless allegory? Why not just say “Ok, the story in Genesis is just wrong”? It's because, no matter how sophisticated these theologians are, they are still stuck on the hook of having the Genesis story be “true” in some sense. They are undercover inerrantists. They may not proclaim inerrancy openly, but their obdurate refusal to allow Genesis to be a product of its enviroment and not a document that has any relevance to the 21st century humanity is the same sort of misues that all open inerrantists commit.
Claiming that it's allegory does not hide the abuse. Maybe the writers of Genesis just made a mistake.
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Posted by on October 11, 2011 in apologetics


A New Oldest Christian Inscription?

As far as we know, the oldest Christian inscription is Marcionite and dates to c. 313 CE. However, there might be one that dates almost 200 years earlier, and is Valentinian:
Here is a CBS Live article on an old Christian inscription found in Rome in the 1953, NCE 156. Gregory Snyder has recently published a updated analysis of it in the Journal of Early Christianity in which he argues for a 2nd century date and Valentinian provenance. His translation is as follows: 

To my bath, the brothers of the bridal chamber carry the torches,

[here] in our halls, they hunger for the [true] banquets,
even while praising the Father and glorifying the Son.
There [with the Father and the Son] is the only spring and source of truth.

Synder, according to CBS, thinks that it is the oldest Christian object we possess.
Coolness! The heretic Valentinus is more than likely also the earliest Christian to quote and use the gospel of John, and is possibly also the earliest Christian to use a trinitarian formula for the Christian god.

Posted by on October 3, 2011 in early Christianity, marcion

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