Monthly Archives: August 2012

What Is The Worst Teaching Of Jesus?

This isn't the worst blog post in the world. This is just a tribute.
(This isn’t the worst blog post in the world. This is just a tribute.)

I got the idea for this post from a couple of places.

One, I was reading on Less Wrong a post called The Worst Argument In The World. The gist? The worst argumet, or worst type of argument, has all of the hallmarks of this line of reasoning:

You Conservatives think that Obama is a communits, and communism is bad, right? Well you know who else didn’t like communism? Hitler.

Second, was reading an old post by Richard Carrier about why Jesus shouldn’t be considered a philosopher. The gist is that if Jesus is considered a philosopher, then so should every rabbi in the Talmud; by implication, then, the Talmud itself should become a philosophical tome (in reality it’s more like the meeting minutes of centuries long debates with no set answer). And the arguments that Jesus presents don’t really flow logically. Example:

The example at issue above was this: McFall claims that “Jesus was not suggesting that when a minor element, such as a subordinate ‘satrap’ has gone awry, [then] the whole house folds” but rather that, for example, if “the ‘Parthian king’ is at irreconcilable odds on serious matters with his top Royal Officials, the empire is likely to collapse or be overthrown.” But this misses the point. The problem is this: if that is what Jesus meant, then he didn’t understand the charge against him, and his response completely fails to address it. Thus, McFall’s own point proves my case. The charge was that Jesus was expelling demons because he was carrying out the will of a higher ranking demon (Beelzebul, equivalent to “Baal,” the God of the Philistines). In other words, the claim is that Jesus, like the Parthian King, is expelling or removing his satraps, i.e. exercising the power of Satan, which entailed that Jesus was an agent of Satan. How does Jesus defend himself against that charge?
How can Satan cast out Satan? (Mk. 3:23; Mt. 12:26; cf. Lk. 11:18)

Does that work as a defense? No. He is not accused of expelling Satan. To the contrary, he is accused of being Satan, or otherwise serving Satan’s will (Mk. 3:22; Mt. 12:24; Lk. 11:15), to expell subordinates of Satan. So Jesus tries to end the debate by asking a fallacious question. He never even denies being possessed by or serving Satan! Nor does he present any evidence that he is not, nor does he present any logical reason why he could not be. If this is philosophy, it’s sham philosophy. […]

“Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin,” [which Jesus said] because they were saying “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mk. 3:28-30; Mt. 12:30-32; cf. Lk. 11:23)

So here Jesus ends with a threat! Not only did he present three fallacious arguments-by-innuendo, and never once even deny the charge against him, much less present any evidence or argument in his defense against that charge, but his last word on the subject is to proclaim that his accusers had better shut up, or else they will be damned to hell forever and never gain salvation. In other words, “If you accuse me of serving Satan, I will never forgive you. Therefore, I am not serving Satan.” This is the infamous fallacy ad baculum.

Third, I re-read a post on The Bible and Interpretation by Hector Avalos. This one was about how the majority of Christian academic Biblical scholars almost never mention anything bad that Jesus does. The gist:

Jesus, a perfect example of imperfect ethics

My project actually began with a puzzling experience. If one reads almost any book on Christian ethics written by academic biblical scholars, one finds something extremely peculiar: Jesus never does anything wrong.


This uniformly benign picture of Jesus’ ethics is peculiar because when historians study Alexander the Great or Augustus Caesar, they note the good and the bad aspects of their actions. Even when academic biblical scholars study Moses or David, they might note their flaws. From a purely historical viewpoint, Jesus is a man and not a god. He should have flaws.

So how is it that most Christian academic biblical scholars never see anything that Jesus does as wrong or evil? The answer, of course, is that most Christian biblical scholars, whether in secular academia or in seminaries, still see Jesus as divine, and not as a human being with faults.

Such scholars are still studying Jesus through the confessional lenses of Nicea or Chalcedon rather than through a historical approach we would use with other human beings.

So, what is the worst teaching of Jesus? This is a good question to ask Christians to see if they can think critically about their religion or whether they are an unthinking Christian. There might be a lot of reasons why a committed Christian would be unwilling or unable to answer this question; most probably from some form of Divine Command Theory. But it would be easy to do if we imagined instead of Jesus speaking the words we had some other random person saying them.

As it stands for me, I of course don’t think Jesus — as in, the “historical” Jesus — was a teacher. So reading the gospels from my secular, historical-critical frame of mind, none of the sayings attributed to Jesus are actual sayings of Jesus. They might be sayings that go back to the “earliest traditions” (wherever that is), but this doesn’t necessitate a saying of Jesus. That caveat probably would get me off the hook a bit even if I were still a Christian.

But if the teachings ascribed to the literary character “Jesus” in the gospels of Mark, Matt, Luke, John, (and all other literary versions of Jesus from early Christianity) and even the relatively rare and superficial ones found in Paul are all the creations of a human mind, then they will be fallible moral dictates that will only reflect the culture that produced them; a culture that has some fundamental incompatibilities with our own. So from that point of view, it makes sense to ask this question. It delves into how much differently our two cultures view the world, even on the supposed timelessness of morality. Thus, the question remains:

What’s the worst teaching of Jesus? A teaching that has the same qualities as “the worst argument in the world” and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature?

There are a couple of teachings that might just be at odds with me, and we might class those as differences of opinion. But I wouldn’t consider these “worst”. To me, the worst teaching(s) of Jesus are those moral dictates that are nothing more than thoughtcrime. The most egregious example of thoughtcrime described by Jesus? Matt 5.28:

ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι [αὐτὴν] ἤδη ἐμοίχευσεν αὐτὴν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ.

ego de lego hymin hoti pas ho blepon gynaika pros to epithumesai [auten] hede emoicheusen auten en te kardia autou

(But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.)

This is nothing but mere thoughtcrime. It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of cognitive science. Some thoughts we have absolutely no control over, and will lead to signaling and self-deception. And if you read that post that I just linked to, I think that self-deception is the worst thing about Christianity.

The human sex drive is linked to the most primitive area of our brain, the part we have absolutely no control over. Due to how the human brain is wired, at least for men, lusting after an attractive woman is unconscious and immediate. I can’t even imagine how many countless hours of agony people must have felt when they thought lustful thoughts about someone else against their “will”, because we are strangers to ourselves.

Of course, there’s always a response as to why Jesus didn’t “really mean” what he is attributed to have said above. Again, this sort of response assumes that the character here actually did know how the human brain worked (which would have been impossible/anachronistic) and meant something else; a something else that for one wouldn’t have made sense in a 1st century context and two, I’m thinking is unfalsifiable.


Posted by on August 29, 2012 in cognitive science


Even More Evidence Against Q?

This was posted over on Vridar, which is itself apparently an argument made by Mike Goulder. Regardless of who made the argument or whether he actually said it, it looks like it is a valid observation.

Everyone knows about the metaphor of “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, but this is only one out of 10 such animal allusions in the Gospels. The full list:

Give not what is holy to dogs, and cast not your pearls before swine. (Matt 7.6) *

Or he asks for fish, will he give him a snake? (Matt 7.10) *

Who comes to you in sheep’s clothing, but inward are ravening wolves. (Matt 7.15) *

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests. (Matt 8.20)

I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. (Matt 10.15)

So be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matt 10.16) *

You strain at a gnat but swallow a camel. (Matt 23.24) *

You snakes, you brood of vipers! (Matt 23.33)

As a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. (Matt 23.37)

As a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matt 25.32) *

Notice something here? These are all in Matthew. None of them are in Mark or John. The only other place that they show up in is in Luke. Specifically, the “double tradition” material of Luke.

So there are three explanations for this. One, Matt simply expanded on the animal imagery in Q (like Matt 7.10). However, all of the verses that I put asterisks by are the ones that are only found in Matt; the double tradition only has four out of the 10 listed here as animal imagery.

Another explanation is that Matt invented all of the animal imagery and Luke used Matt as a source. This would explain why all of the animal imagery isn’t found in both Matt and Luke if it was originally from Q. Luke didn’t use Matt in its entirety. This is the one that I favor, obviously, but the previous argument still makes sense. Matt could have just expanded on the animal imagery in Q.

A third possibility is that Luke invented the animal imagery and Matt expanded on Luke. In and of itself, this seems just as likely as Matt expanding on Q. That is, if we didn’t have any other background information, Matt expanding on Q and Matt expanding on Luke seem equally as probable (but we do have background information so it seems slightly less likely that Luke invented the animal imagery).

But it is still a matter of probability. If Q exists, then Matt more than doubled the animal allegories. If Q didn’t exist and Luke is using Matt, then Luke took out more than double the animal imagery. Which is more probable? Adding to stuff, or subtracting stuff? In the Synoptic tradition as a whole, the authors were more likely to add stuff than to subtract stuff. Matt in particular expands on Mark.

So taking the redaction trend of Matt, it would seem more likely that Matt just expanded on the animal allegories in Q instead of Luke using Matt as a source.

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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in early Christianity


Now For Something A Bit Off Topic

So in the many other blogs that I read, the bloggers always have some personal anecdote or have an entire post dedicated to one of their hobbies. I’ve left that sort of stuff out of my own blog because I want to keep it on focus.

But people like that sort of stuff so I thought I’d post something a little different. Here is a heavy metal version of the Final Fantasy Prelude that I played and recorded:

The original version is in C major but I transposed it to A major so that mine is a bit more recognizable. Meaning that to the trained (or intuitive) ear as soon as you hear it you’ll think there’s something a bit different about it. Besides, it also makes it a bit bass-ier.

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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in video games


The Theory Of Revolution

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Posted by on August 15, 2012 in Funny


Euangelion Kata Markon: Does Mark Have Pre-Existent Christology?

Over at Euangelion Kata Markon, a discussion is going on about the Christology of Mark (which bleeds into the other Synoptics). Some arguments:

For many scholars Mark, indeed all the Synoptics, lack an explicit teaching on Christ’s pre-existence that we encounter in the Philippians hymn (Phil 2:6-11) or John’s theologically profound prologue on the Logos. However, one scholar to challenge the consensus is Simon J. Gathercole in The Pre-existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke


•Jesus stands above the Twelve who symbolize Israel (55-56) and angels (Mk 13:37) (56).
•Forgives sins, which is not something priest or prophet could pronounce, nor is it a divine passive for the passage goes on to emphasize that the Son of Man “can” and “has authority” to forgive and one should not read too much into “on earth” as God also acts on earth (57-58).
•Accused of blasphemy for forgiving sins and at the trial for his claim to the heavenly throne (cf. b. Sanhedrin 38b) (59-61).
•Sea miracles as divine acts (Ps 107 [Ps 106 LXX]; Job 9:8 LXX; cf. ego eimi in Mk 6:50) (61-64)
•Jesus “Name” (Matt 28:20; 28:19) and use of ego eimi (I am) (Mk 13:6 par; Matt 7:22; 12:12) (65-67)
•The recipient of obeisance/worship. There is little evidence in Mark though the Leper and rich man fall on their knees and Jairus at Jesus’ feet (Mk 1:40; 10:17; 5:22) (69-70)
•Supernatural knowledge into people’s thoughts (cf. Marcus, Mark 1-8, p. 222) (70-71) •“Why do you call me good” seems to distance Jesus from God, but Jesus goes on to issue a command alongside the divine commandments and thus shares in the divine goodness (74)

Do go read the whole post!

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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in early Christianity


Edward Feser Fails At Reductionism

Now right off the bat, I don’t really have anything to add to this. But I would like posts like these to get wider readership. So here it is.

Feser writes in Concretizing the Abstract:

We abstract when we consider some particular aspect of a concrete thing while bracketing off or ignoring the other aspects of the thing. For example, when you consider a dinner bell or the side of a pyramid exclusively as instances of triangularity, you ignore their color, size, function, and metal or stone composition. Or to borrow an example from a recent post, when aircraft engineers determine how many passengers can be carried on a certain plane, they might focus exclusively on their average weight and ignore not only the passengers’ sex, ethnicity, hair color, dinner service preferences, etc., but even the actual weight of any particular passenger. […]

Abstractions can be very useful, and are of themselves perfectly innocent when we keep in mind that we are abstracting. The trouble comes when we start to think of abstractions as if they were concrete realities themselves — thereby “reifying” them — and especially when we think of the abstractions as somehow more real than the concrete realities from which they have been abstracted. […]

I do not mean to deny that abstractions of the sort in question may have their uses. On the contrary, the mathematical conception of matter is extremely useful, as the astounding technologies that surround us in modern life make obvious. But contrary to what some proponents of scientism suppose, it simply doesn’t follow for a moment that that conception gives us an exhaustive conception of the material world, for reasons I have stated many times (e.g. here). […]

Then there is social science. When we abstract from concrete human beings their purely economic motivations, ignoring everything else and then reifying this abstraction, the result is homo economicus, a strange creature who, unlike real people, is driven by nothing but the desire to maximize utility. Nietzschean analyses of human motivation in terms of the will to power are less susceptible of mathematical modeling (and thus less “scientific”), but are variations on the same sort of error. Evolutionary psychology often combines abstractions of the natural scientific and social scientific sort. Like the neuroscientist, the evolutionary psychologist often treats parts of human beings as if they were substances independent of the whole from which they have been abstracted (”selfish genes,” “memes”), and adds to this reification the abstractions of the economist (e.g. game theory).

As the neuroscientific and sociobiological examples indicate, the Reification Fallacy is often combined with other fallacies. In these cases, parts of a whole substance are first abstracted from it and treated as if they were substances in their own right (e.g. brain hemispheres, genes); and then a second, “Mereological Fallacy” (as Bennett and Hacker call it) is committed, in which what is intelligibly attributed only to the whole is attributed to the parts (e.g. the left hemisphere of the brain is said to “interpret,” and genes are said to be “selfish”). […]

The irony is that while New Atheists and others beholden to scientism pride themselves on being “reality based,” that is precisely what they are not. Actual, concrete reality is extremely complicated. There is far more to material systems than what can be captured in the equations of physics, far more to human beings than can be captured in the categories of neuroscience or economics, and far more to religion than can be captured in the ludicrous straw men peddled by New Atheists. All of these simplifying abstractions (except the last) have their value, but when we treat them as anything more than simplifying abstractions we have left the realm of science and entered that of ideology. The varieties of reductionism, eliminativism, and the “hermeneutics of suspicion” are manifestations of this tendency to replace real things with abstractions. They are all attempts to “conquer the abundance” of reality (as Paul Feyerabend might have put it), to force the world in all its concrete richness into a straightjacket

My first thought when reading this was that Feser was strawmaning “scientism”. But another poster at Less Wrong got his criticism of Feser’s post… well, less wrong:

Feser’s understanding of reductionism is backwards, which is evident by his choice of the verb “abstract” over “reduce.”
We abstract when we consider some particular aspect of a concrete thing while bracketing off or ignoring the other aspects of the thing. For example, when you consider a dinner bell or the side of a pyramid exclusively as instances of triangularity, you ignore their color, size, function, and metal or stone composition.

Abstraction is precisely what Feser says: we find a simple pattern in complicated systems and approximate the system by that pattern. For example, we ignore the motions of every gas molecule in a tank, that’s too many molecules to store even in a computer. Instead, we average that motion and call it heat, now we can describe other properties of the gas, such as average pressure, to some accuracy. We abstract the motion of avogadros of gas molecules into a simple statement about the system as a whole. We started with too many gas molecules to count, now we have a few numbers representing those molecules.

Abstraction fails because our tank has cracks and gas leaks out. The gas slowly loses energy to the tank walls. Some of the gas undergoes radioactive decay and changes the count of molecules in the tank. Feser argues that these problems refute reductionism.

Reductionism is the opposite. To reduce a tank of gas we need to look at every single molecule and record each and every detail about each molecule. The molecule that escapes is recorded. As molecules pound on the tank walls, each one loses some energy, and this is recorded along with the energy increase of the wall. In order to understand the decay we need to reduce even further.

The author doesn’t see the difference.

To put this into programming language talk, Feser is talking about an “object” in OOP. The object, in OOP, isn’t a “reduction” of whatever we instantiate from that object. Reductionism, on the other hand, would be reducing that object in OOP to its individual lines of code (at the least).

Note, that “scientism” is the belief that science is the only means to understanding reality. In reality, I would say that most scientists, and science-minded people, are reductionists. I suppose Feser likes throwing around the word “scientism” because it already has negative connotations that he can exploit.


Posted by on August 9, 2012 in rationality


The Baggage Behind Immorality

What are we saying when we call something “immoral”? If we attempt to play Taboo with immorality what do we get?

“Immorality” is a conflict word between Christians and non-Christians, and is one of the reasons why non-Christians think that Christians are intolerant.

When we say something is immoral, we are not just saying that we disagree with it. We are saying that it is the thing that should not be. If it were practical, everything that we would consider immoral would be punishable in some fashion; and this actually does happen to an extent. Lying is considered immoral. Normally, we don’t have statutes against lying, but in some contexts it is actually a crime to lie such as during a court trial.

On the other hand, there are plenty of things that we disagree with that no sane person would consider enacting legislation against. I disagree that Lost was a good show. However, I’m having a hard time thinking of some context where watching Lost should be a punishable offense. As a matter of fact, anyone who suggested that watching Lost should be a punishable offense would either be accused of hyperbole/joking… or being insane.

And that’s the rub. If you can’t think of any context where what you disagree with should be a punishable offense without descending into absurdity then you can’t claim that it is immoral. On the other hand, things that are immoral are things that a person hates that one would think it could be justifiable in some context to make illegal.

So back to playing taboo with “immoral”. Is there anything that we deem as immoral that we don’t also hate? Murder? Theft? Lying? Pedophilia? Rape? These are all things that most normal people hate and we consider it perfectly rational to have laws against doing them in some context.

Think about the Penn State scandal. Joe Paterno did everything required of him by law. Yet, he is being posthumously crucified by the media for a moral failing. People don’t get character assassinated due to simple disagreement. Something can only be considered immoral if there is disagreement with a large helping of hatred in the mix; I would go even further and say that when you consider something immoral you have to hate it and have a moral obligation to oppose it.

And this is the problem with Christians who consider homosexuality “immoral” yet claim it is only a “disagreement”. They are flip-flopping between to distinct words with distinct definitions to try to rebuff the charge of being intolerant. The problem is that if immorality and disagreement were interchangeable, we wouldn’t get strange looks if someone said that they thought eating at Applebees for dinner instead of Friday’s was immoral.

The fact of the matter is that if you call something immoral, you are implicitly hating it. If you call someone immoral, you are implicitly hating them.

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Posted by on August 7, 2012 in morality

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