Thursday, January 05, 2006

The confutation of Atheism-13

Jason Engwer has responded to Dave Wave see comments in: http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/01/confutation-of-atheism-9.html

I am reproducing the text here:

Steve and Gene have responded well to this latest post from Dave, and I won't be addressing some of the subjects they've already covered. See http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/01/confutation-of-atheism-11.html and http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/01/confutation-of-atheism-12.html.

Dave writes:


"Justin also grounds the parallels in the pre-Jesus activity of demons, who
created the parallels retroactively through pagan poets, so when Jesus came
along, he'd look no more special than any other god man."

Justin repeatedly comments that Jesus is "more special", and he explains that Christians have evidence for their claims about Jesus, whereas pagans don't have evidence for their mythology. Justin mentions some vague parallels, mentions some differences, and distinguishes between Christian evidence and an absence of evidence for pagan mythology. See my documentation at http://ntrminblog.blogspot.com/2006/01/pagan-parallels-and-church-fathers.html.

Dave goes on:


"Sure, and I never said Jesus was a perfect mirror image of the pagans, either."

It's not just that Jesus isn't "a perfect mirror image". It's that there are many differences along with some vague parallels, and those parallels don't compel us to the conclusion that Christianity was derived from paganism. The New Testament is highly Jewish and highly anti-paganism. The earliest church fathers aren't as Jewish, but are highly anti-paganism. These background characteristics of early Christianity make Dave's theory initially unlikely. Again, see the documentation in my blog article linked above.

Dave writes:


"Common ground that includes specific parallels such as sons of gods being born
in unique fashion, virgin births, resurrections and ascensions."

You're being too vague. Birth is a significant event for all humans. The fact that religious figures would commonly be referred to as having a birth in some sort of "unique fashion" isn't specific enough to warrant the conclusion that one religion was derived from another. As I, Steve, and Gene have explained to you repeatedly, you have yet to document a pagan virgin birth account predating Christianity. The pattern we see in pagan mythology is birth by means of sex, which is the opposite of the Christian account. Opposites are not parallels. And what "resurrections" do you have in mind? Pagans not only didn't believe in the Jewish concept of resurrection, but even were repulsed by it and criticized it (Acts 17:32). The Christian message was "to Gentiles foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:23). N.T. Wright comments:


"Christianity was born into a world where its central claim was known to be
false. Many believed that the dead were non-existent; outside Judaism, nobody
believed in resurrection....Lots of things could happen to the dead in the
beliefs of pagan antiquity, but resurrection was not among the available
options." (The Resurrection of the Son of God [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress
Press, 2003], pp. 35, 38)

As far as "ascensions" are concerned, you're again being too vague. The concept of a figure departing from the earth is common and vague. The departure has to occur by means of the figure moving in some manner from one location to another. Nobody would need to get such a vague concept from another belief system. It's not specific enough to warrant an assumption of borrowing.

Dave continues:

"You can't just say it's mere coincidence that pre-Christian Greeks thought
Perseus was born of a virgin. Do you agree that virgin-birth was nothing unique
to Christianity, yes or no?"
Steve and Gene have already explained that you're wrong to claim that Perseus was born of a virgin. But even if you had been right, why would the existence of a prior virgin birth account prove borrowing? It wouldn't. A birth occurs either through sex or without it. If one group claims a virgin birth, then another group claims one, the second claim could be derived from the first, but not necessarily. And, as Steve explained, even if we were to assume that the New Testament account was influenced by a pre-Christian source, how do you know that the source was a pagan myth rather than the Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 7, for example? You're claiming to know things you can't possibly know. Where your theory lacks evidence, you substitute assertions.

Dave continues:

"The fact that Justin admits that there is no virgin-birth known in the race
of Abraham is irrelevant to the cites of virgin-births coming from the race of
the Greeks."
You haven't documented a single case, yet you're using the plural.

Dave writes:


"Irrelevant, the chances of two different savior gods being said to be born of
virgins, by sheer chance and without any borrowing from one to the other, given
Christianity's existence in the middle of such paganism, are almost zero."

You haven't documented any pagan virgin birth accounts. But even if you had documented one, why should we think that it would prove borrowing? You do realize that virginity is a common theme that wouldn't require borrowing from one source to another, don't you? You do realize that myth accounts often changed over time, don't you? Where's your documentation of a pagan account involving a virgin birth, your documentation that the account contained the virgin birth before New Testament times, and your documentation that the New Testament authors had to have borrowed from this pagan source? Why should we think that any borrowing would be necessary? And if it was necessary, why not consider the Septuagint version of Isaiah 7 a more likely source?

Dave goes on:

"Second, the whole idea of gods impregnating woman was known before
Christianity, and therefore, whether God the Father became flesh and took away
Mary's virginity so as to concieve Jesus, or some other way which left her
viginity intact, god's impregnating woman were a common motif."
A "common motif" doesn't require borrowing. People are born either naturally or supernaturally. The fact that both pagan mythology and the New Testament are in that second category doesn't prove that the New Testament accounts were derived from pagan mythology.

Dave continues:

"No coincidence...the gospel authors were making use of a commonly accepted
expectation of what a god-man would do, to make Jesus more palatable to
their first-century pagan audiences, born out absolutely perfectly by Justin
Martyr doing exactly that."

You haven't shown any pre-Christian pagan examples of virgin birth, nor have you given us any reason to think that paganism would have more of an influence on a Jewish religion than Jewish thought would.

Dave writes:

"again, it's either geneaological, or, sheer chance, that the Christians
propound a virgin born god-man in the middle of a historical context full of
virgin-born god men."
You're telling us that there was "a historical context full of virgin-born god men". Yet, as Richard Swinburne said in my earlier citation of him, pagans didn't believe in an incarnation of God, and you haven't given us even one example of a pagan virgin birth account. What we do see often is a being less powerful than God being born by means of sex. But since concepts such as birth and virginity are common to all humans, how could you assume borrowing from one religion to another even if the pagan accounts involved the virgin birth of God? You'd still have to examine the historical evidence surrounding the Christian claim.

Dave writes:

"Jews wouldn't, Greeks would"
And the earliest Christians were Jews living in Israel. Matthew's gospel, which reports the virgin birth, is written by a Jew and is highly Jewish in its content. Regarding Luke, Ben Witherington writes:


“The fact that Luke 1-2 abounds in Hebraisms in contrast to the classical Greek
prologue in Luke 1:1-4 speaks for the use of a Semitic narrative source(s) of
considerable proportions at least up to Luke 2:40 (Farris; see Languages of
Palestine
)." (in Joel B. Green, et al., editors, Dictionary of Jesus and the
Gospels
[Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992], p. 61)
On issues of naturalism and historical evidence, Dave has again been incoherent and inconsistent. What he says in one post isn't consistent with what he's said elsewhere, and he sometimes argues for multiple views within a single post. You get the impression that he's trying to maintain the appearance of having a case without having one.

# posted by Jason Engwer : 1/05/2006 8:47 PM

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