Saturday, December 16, 2006

John Loftus Vs. Richard Carrier

"According to Luke’s own genealogy (3:23-38) David had lived 42 generations earlier. Why should everyone have had to register for a census in the town of one of his ancestors forty-two generations earlier? There would be millions of ancestors by that time, and the whole empire would have been uprooted. Why 42 generations and not 35, or 16? If it was just required of the lineage of King David to register for the census, what was Augustus thinking when he ordered it? He had a King, Herod. 'Under no circumstances could the reason for Joseph’s journey be, as Luke says, that he was ‘of the house and lineage of David,’ because that was of no interest to the Romans in this context.' [Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things, (p.10)]. The fact is, even if there was a worldwide Roman census that included Galilee at this specific time, there is evidence that Census takers taxed people based upon the land they owned, so they traveled to where people lived." (John Loftus)

"Some have pounced on Luke's description of the census as being inauthentic and therefore false. There are two problems with such an argument: first, an author who knew Jesus was born during a particular census could still err in describing that census, so such errors would not discredit the entire account.[1.1.5] Second, Luke's errors are not that grievous to begin with....The second 'mistake' lies in supposing that people would be called back to ancestral towns to be counted, rather than be counted in the actual towns they were in. This charge has been formulated a dozen ways, but none of them really carry much force. Though Jesus' family appears to have resided outside Judaea in Nazareth, there could easily be any number of reasons why an ancestral connection with Bethlehem would require them to journey there for a census of Judaea (so much as a tiny plot of ancestral land would be enough, and Judaic law made it unusually difficult to get rid of such properties), though it does seem oddly unnecessary to take a woman on the verge of labor on such a dangerous trip (as all journeys were in such regions). We do know that censuses could have such requirements for travel, not only from papyri [1.3] but also from common sense: it is a well known fact that even Roman citizens had to enroll in one of several tribes to be counted, and getting provincials to organize according to locally-established tribal associations would be practical (see also Endnote 8 in my essay Luke and Josephus; and also [1.3.5]). Finally, even if Luke were making this up, he would sooner make something up that sounded plausible: in other words, such procedures were probably followed in at least one census within the author's memory, and we have no way to disprove the use of such a practice in previous provincial assessments." (Richard Carrier)

12 comments:

  1. No, actually, it's Richard Carrier vs E. P. Sanders, from whom I summarized his material. Besides, my whole point is that history is a very slender reed from which to base a faith upon anyway, since it's fraught with so many problems.

    Anyone who reads what both Carrier and I wrote will see so many agreements against what you believe that I wonder why you even bothered to tell your readers where they could go to read more of what we each wrote.

    Thanks!

    Do it again. ;-)

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  2. John Loftus said:

    "No, actually, it's Richard Carrier vs E. P. Sanders, from whom I summarized his material."

    You didn't just cite Sanders. You also cited Uta Ranke-Heinemann in the section I was referring to. You began the section by saying "Consider the other problems inherent with the story". Did you cite multiple sources advocating a view you disagreed with? If so, why? If you agreed with them, then "John Loftus Vs. Richard Carrier" is an accurate description of the disagreement between Carrier and the views of the scholars you cited.

    You write:

    "Besides, my whole point is that history is a very slender reed from which to base a faith upon anyway, since it's fraught with so many problems."

    All of us make judgments every day based on the past, based on history. Whether history is a "very slender reed" varies from case to case. Do you think that the historicity of the Holocaust is "a very slender reed"? Many historians, not just Christians, think that they can reach thousands of confident conclusions about ancient history. Are they wrong? If we only have "a very slender reed" for Biblical history, then why do you and your fellow bloggers spend so much time writing about the subject and often refer to how your conclusions supposedly are highly probable?

    In the article we're discussing, you quote Uta Ranke-Heinemann referring to how Luke's account "under no circumstances" could be true. You cite Robin Lane Fox referring to how something in Luke's gospel is "impossible" and how he can "easily" explain how Luke erred, and he refers to how Luke's account contains "impossible fiction". You quote E.P. Sanders referring to what Luke's source for the Bethlehem birthplace "almost certainly" was. Why is it that you approvingly cite sources who speak of their historical conclusions as "easy", "almost certain", etc. and dismiss opposing views as true "under no circumstances", "impossible", etc., yet you tell us that we can't have much confidence in our conclusions?

    You write:

    "Anyone who reads what both Carrier and I wrote will see so many agreements against what you believe that I wonder why you even bothered to tell your readers where they could go to read more of what we each wrote."

    I've read the entirety of Carrier's article. Have you? If you did read the whole thing, then why did you make an argument in your article that Carrier refutes? I've repeatedly cited Carrier's article before today, and I've cited multiple responses to it by other people, in addition to adding some comments of my own.

    As far as your material is concerned, I frequently link to your articles when I write responses to them. I want people to compare your material to our responses.

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  3. Would I be correct in my recollection that Nazareth had only been recently re-settled at the time of Christ's birth?

    All the reeds we have in this life are slender, Mr. Loftus. It is in the nature of reeds to be slender and brittle. Remember, your faith is built upon your intellect, your mind. And that is a most slender reed, most easily broken.

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  4. Oh, that wasn't a threat, just an observation. I just read it and realised it sounded sinister.

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  5. Do you think that the historicity of the Holocaust is "a very slender reed"?

    Well to be very truthful here, I would not die for my belief that the Holocaust happened the way I understand it to have happened in all of its details. Would you? There are probably millions of people, including most of the Muslim population of over a billion people who would disagree with your (and my) views on the Holocaust.

    And yet you would be willing to die for your particular historical understandings of things like the virgin birth, wouldn't you? I find that strangely interesting. I would never be willing to die for practically any particular historical conclusion, but as a Christian you are.

    Many historians, not just Christians, think that they can reach thousands of confident conclusions about ancient history. Are they wrong?

    One school of historical thought headed up by Leopold Von Ranke actually sought to write history “free from prejudices,” and in so doing write the events of the past “as they actually happened.” But probably all modern professional historians think this is impossible to do.

    Some thinkers like Carl Becker have gone so far as to deny that we can know the past with any objectivity at all—that historical facts only exist in the mind, and they advocate a historical relativism with regard to the events of the past. [“What are Historical Facts?” in The Philosophy of History in Our Time, ed. H. Meyerhoff (Doubleday, 1959), pp. 120-39].

    How can our eternal destiny be at stake if it is based upon historical knowledge? Let’s say, for instance, that in order to gain an eternal reward in heaven you must know what the primary cause was for the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, or whether or not II Peter was actually written by the apostle Peter, or why America lost the “war” in Vietnam, or whether or not Michael Jackson is a pedophile. These are all historical questions. I suppose, if our eternal destinies were at stake then we’d certainly study such things out, as much as possible, because our lives would be at stake. However, even if this were the eternal threat, there would still be people who disagreed with each other on these issues. The main reason isn’t because we wouldn’t want to know the truth for fear of a lifestyle change, because we would be desperate to know the truth. It would be because we have different ways of looking at the facts. We have different presuppositions about what is even considered a fact. That’s the nature of human understanding, and that is the nature of historical investigation.

    If we only have "a very slender reed" for Biblical history, then why do you and your fellow bloggers spend so much time writing about the subject and often refer to how your conclusions supposedly are highly probable?

    Because it's easier to smell a rotten egg than it is to lay a good one. Translation: It's more probable that something didn't happen the way we undertsand it, than it is that it did. We simply say it's more probable you're wrong than that you're right, since being right demands being right about everything.

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  6. John Loftus writes:

    "Well to be very truthful here, I would not die for my belief that the Holocaust happened the way I understand it to have happened in all of its details. Would you?"

    I didn't ask about "all of its details", and Christians don't claim to know "all of the details" about the events of Biblical times.

    You write:

    "There are probably millions of people, including most of the Muslim population of over a billion people who would disagree with your (and my) views on the Holocaust."

    I didn't ask what Muslims believe. I asked what you believe. And your claim about what Muslims have believed is itself a historical claim. Is it a "very slender reed" that we can't have much confidence about?

    You write:

    "I would never be willing to die for practically any particular historical conclusion, but as a Christian you are."

    What does "practically any" mean? Are you acknowledging that there are some historical conclusions you would die for?

    You risk your life for historical conclusions on a regular basis. We all frequently make historical judgments about the reliability of the companies that produce the food we eat, whether we can trust a doctor who will be performing surgery on us, whether we can trust that a bridge will hold up if we drive over it, etc.

    Regardless, the fact that John Loftus isn't willing to die for something doesn't prove that it's based on "a very slender reed". If you consider something like the historicity of the Holocaust "a very slender reed", then that puts your original comments in a significantly different light.

    And Christians don't just claim "any particular historical conclusion". Rather, they claim a series of historical conclusions spanning long periods of time and involving many people and many lines of evidence.

    You write:

    "Some thinkers like Carl Becker have gone so far as to deny that we can know the past with any objectivity at all—that historical facts only exist in the mind, and they advocate a historical relativism with regard to the events of the past."

    Do you agree with him? If not, then why mention his views? If you do agree with him, then should we apply his claims to your historical arguments and the historical arguments of your fellow bloggers at Debunking Christianity?

    You write:

    "How can our eternal destiny be at stake if it is based upon historical knowledge? Let’s say, for instance, that in order to gain an eternal reward in heaven"

    I didn't say that "our eternal destiny is at stake" in the sense of salvation, if you're including salvation in the category of "an eternal reward in heaven". (On the other hand, if you're just referring to rewards within Heaven rather than entrance to Heaven, then why should we think that the "threat" of not getting such rewards is as significant as you suggest?) Historical arguments are only one element of Christianity. They aren't the entirety of Christian apologetics or the entirety of the means by which God works in people's lives.

    You write:

    "Because it's easier to smell a rotten egg than it is to lay a good one. Translation: It's more probable that something didn't happen the way we undertsand it, than it is that it did. We simply say it's more probable you're wrong than that you're right, since being right demands being right about everything."

    I don't have to be right about everything in order for Christianity to be credible. The fact that humans err doesn't logically lead to the conclusion that the Bible probably errs. If the Bible is Divinely inspired, then humans aren't the only entities involved. Even if only humans were involved, the fact that they sometimes err wouldn't lead to the conclusion that they probably erred when writing the particular part of the Bible that you're criticizing in a given article. For example, how does human fallibility lead us to the conclusion that the Biblical authors probably erred about Jesus' birthplace?

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  7. Doesn't John use the *history* of his life as a former professing Christian as an argument against Christianity? Doesn't he use the *history* of his "crisis" in which he cheated on his wife and then God aparently wasn't there to pick up the pieces for John? So John threw a temper tantrum and "rebelled" against God.

    John, why base your "debunking" abilities on slender reeds?

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  8. That's an excellent point, John. It's pretty easy to imagine history being recorded and understood incorrectly. I think I see the seeds of it in my own lifetime, and perhaps even Jason could agree.

    Politically I'm conservative. Like a lot of conservatives I think Ronald Reagen was perhaps the greatest President of this century. Maybe you'd think I'm crazy for saying that, but that's my opinion based upon what I know. I might be right. I can also imagine history recording things differently. Like I said, I see the seeds of it even now. If that happens, people in the future really won't understand what Reagen accomplished correctly. If that can happen in the age of modernity, how much moreso would that be the case of ancient history. Slender reed is an appropriate description.

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  9. so Jon's belief that Reagen was one of the greatest presidents of this century is based upon a slender reed.

    Is Jon and John's belief about them existing more than 5 minutes ago based upon a slender reed?

    Yes, pretty good point, John. Here here!

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  10. One of the three claims by Holocaust deniers is that there was no extermination policy toward the Jews. It was the unsanitary conditions that caused most of the deaths. Then the bodies were just burned.

    This is not just a detail. It's very important.

    I'm not so convinced of my view that I would die for the belief I have otherwise.

    I find it strange that you would, though.

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  11. If Ronald Reagan was the greatest president of the century, then he probably deserves to have his name spelled correctly. ;-)

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  12. John,

    you're not so convinced, okay, but is your belief that the holocaust happened based upon a "slender reed?"

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