Online conversations

December 31, 2010

Hopefully just a quickie, might be a bit boring but I have no intention of going to bed yet so here goes. Tonight a friend of mine from the Agape group let me know about a Jesus Q&A that was happening in an instant messaging format. I am astounded by some apologists, both in the way that they think they know something when they’re completely wrong, and that they just read a book by some hack like Lee Strobel and then spout it as fact, without doing any checking.

There were 3 guys (no girls, I suppose that would go against Paul’s teachings) on video, answering questions put forward through the instant chat. When I logged on they were talking about how many copies of the gospels existed in the 1st century and how they match up with modern copies, as if that were relevant. I asked whether written evidence is enough to establish the truth of a miracle claim. There were quite a few questions but I asked it several times and I think they may have avoided it. One of them then claimed I was talking about Christians killing Jews because I said suicide bombers die for their beliefs just as 1st century Christians died for theirs. I thought he was being deliberately obtuse. I didn’t think they were the apologists they’re commanded to be.

Fortunately another one of the commenters took me up on it, and he did a bit of a bad job too, to be honest. He tried to argue that the gospels must be true because the 4 gospel writers all agreed, and because there were hundreds of eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after he resurrected, and because Jesus fulfilled the OT prophecies. I asked how many of those eyewitnesses he knew the names of, and he said Peter and the gospel writers, as well as the hundreds mentioned by Paul. So that’ll be Peter then. Amazing. I mentioned the other non-canonical gospels that weren’t included, so that there was a publication bias in the Bible, and I also mentioned that only Luke claims to use eyewitness testimony. This apologist then made the laughable claim that Matthew and Mark were Jesus’ disciples, and that they themselves were eyewitnesses. Mark was Peter’s disciple, not Jesus’. “Yes” this guy said, “an eyewitness of an eyewitness” as if he’d got one over on me. Apparently third hand testimony is enough to establish a miracle now.

We briefly mentioned the Old Testament prophecies, he asked if I wanted to see examples, and I said I wasn’t particularly interested because at best it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I said that if you make a load of prophecies you’re bound to get some things right, and that the gospels could have been written with the prophecies in mind to make Jesus fulfil them. The prophecies are also usually very vague and timescales are only applied to them through retrospective interpretation, usually involving codes and the number 7. This was his big example of a prophecy that came true, Isaiah 53. Go ahead and read it. Notice anything? It’s incredibly vague, most if it’s in the past tense so I’m not even sure it counts as a prophecy, the parts that are explicit relate to Christian theology which is based on these prophecies too (Jesus being a sacrificial lamb isn’t something that you get from the gospels but from the later interpretations of them), rather than relating to events. The 4th verse about him being punished by God doesn’t relate to anything I can think of in the gospels, and perhaps most importantly of all it doesn’t say who it’s talking about, or when!

In the last 5 minutes of the session they got into preachy mode about how we don’t live up to God’s moral standard on our own, so of course I mentioned that God’s moral standard is significantly lower than most people’s, and brought up slavery as an example. Tonight was the 2nd time in less than 2 weeks that I’ve been told that slavery was merely a way of having some sort of bankruptcy law, and that slaves had to be released after a period of time. That’s bollocks, those rules only apply to Hebrews and even then you can make a Hebrew a permanent slave by taking his wife and children hostage. God also directly commands the Israelites to take the Midianite virgin women as slaves as plunder from war, for example.

So a good little practice debate. Time for bed, said Zebedee.

The Christadelphians

September 2, 2008

Sorry about the lack of activity around here but I don’t have net access at home at the moment.

On my last night in sunny Wirral I decided to go to a meeting called “Jerusalem, the spark that will set the world on FIRE!!” by the Christadelphians. I’d got a leaflet through my door about it, it was only 5 minutes down the road and I had nothing better to do, so off I went.

The talk was in a tiny little conference room with a screen at the front with a powerpoint presentation on it, so I thought it would be the same as the Edinburgh Creation Group (btw, hopefully they’ll be doing more talks this semester so stay tuned), but really it wasn’t much the same at all. It wasn’t very interesting or illuminating so I’m not going to discuss it much, there are other more interesting things. In any case the second I walked in 20 minutes early, a girl about my own age called Sarah came over and sat next to me, asking me questions (assuming I was a Christian, actually. I can see why these meetings only attract Christians though). She seemed genuinely surprised when I told her I believed in evolution, and asked me the ever-so-common question “so why are humanists moral if they don’t believe in God?” I retorted with the usual “so you’re only a good person because God’s watching you, you wouldn’t be so otherwise?” and when she replied that there wouldn’t be any point, I was flabbergasted. Normally that question puts Christians on the back foot, but her dedication to her position and all that it implies (however scary) was extraordinary.

We also spoke a lot about prophecies in the Bible (something which I gather the Christadelphians are very interested in), and I explained that the prophecies are always so very vague, that you can’t really call it a miracle when it’s fulfilled (particularly because there’s no timescale involved, it literally gives itself eternity for its own prophecies to be fulfilled), and she replied that it’s the way it has to be, otherwise it would be too easy to believe and everyone would do it. Why do Christians have this obsession with making things hard for themselves? Now I appreciate that she’s young and a more experienced Bible reader probably would have answered differently, but it’s still totally the wrong attitude to take. I asked her the question I always ask religious types, why she trusts the Bible as evidence, but not other books like the Q’uran? She replied that the Bible is full of proof and evidence, such as the fulfilled prophecies she’d already mention, and others aren’t. “So how much of the Q’uran have you read?” I asked. As I expected she’d never even opened it, excusing herself because she had so much Bible reading to do. Apparently the Christadelphians assign themselves certain reading schedules each day, so they read the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice each year, analysing it closely. I quickly saw the problem with taking all your authority with one source, as the whole talk was just “this is in the Bible, and it’s true”, with no kind of outside evidence.

Anyway Sarah glimpsed a page out of my ‘loony book’ that I take to all these kinds of meetings to take notes (for some reason I don’t have it with my right now but I’ll check it when I get home to make sure my memory’s reliable from last week), which mentioned the role of women. Ironically enough, in the next minute or so, all the women in the room started covering their heads with veils! I asked her what they were doing, and she said they had to cover their heads and sit in silence so as to not “usurp the authority” of the man! I quickly noticed all the veiled-covered heads were sitting at the back too, and as an explanation of sorts she pulled a passage out of Timothy (she’d referred to her Bible several times during our conversation) which said pretty much exactly what she’d just said. For some reason the version linked is slightly different but it has the same gist. I asked her how any woman could dedicate their life to a sexist organisation like that, and she replied that men and women weren’t being treated unequally, they just had different roles in worshipping God. Nevertheless she contradicted herself later when she spoke about something she’d learned in Bible study about the head of a woman being a man, and the head of a man being God. I was weirded out, to say the least. I hope one day she leaves the Christadelphians because she’s obviously been brainwashed into it.

Anyway, to at least brush on the topic of Israel I’ll mention the talk. Basically the speaker outlined the history of Israel, claimed that the Christadelphians weren’t a pro-Israeli group (just a group interested from a Biblical perspective), and showed how the prophecies had come true. He basically fit his interpretation of the Bible around current events. There was no question and answer session at the end, much to my surprise. At the end I went up to him and asked him in no uncertain terms why the Israelis had any more right to be in Israel than anyone else, and he replied “because the Bible says so. From the start God is very much concerned with the Iraeli people, the descendents of Jacob.” I said that it was kind of self-fulfilling that the Jewish God is going to be concerned with the Jewish people, so why do you believe that and not other self-fulfilling books like the Q’uran? He said the Bible is a book of prophecy (kind of what Sarah said, isn’t it?). I entertained the idea by asking, like what? He said, well, Israel itself is a miracle! “Excuse me? No it’s not. A miracle is something that cannot happen naturally, a supernatural event. Israel reformed because people wanted it to.” “Yes but it hasn’t happened anywhere else in the entire history of humankind!”

After debating that point with him and getting nowhere, I took some of their literature to read and went home, thoroughly deflated. As soon as I’ve read it (one of them is entitled “proof that God exists”, so that should be interesting), I’ll get something about it up here.