Friday, May 15, 2015

Alexander the Great vs. Jesus

As you guys already know, I've already written extensively on how there is simply no extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus. It just doesn't exist. What we have instead are a bunch of obviously edited documents, or documents written by people living hundreds of years after the fact. The sort of “evidence” we do have is what historians call “interesting, but not indicative”. There's enough noise there to maybe justify a belief that there might have been some mortal man who, over time, got turned into the Jesus myth, but no evidence whatsoever that turns this speculative opinion into a fact.

No evidence at all.

Anyway, there are a lot of Christians out there that try to cover up the fact that they are believing in a fairy tale by shifting attention away from the lack of support for Jesus and onto other historical figures. They claim that, if we cannot rely on the post-chronicle exegiesis of Jesus, then we cannot establish an actual historical foundation of historical figures like Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, Napoloeon Bonaparte, or even George Washington. Hell, I once saw someone try this trick with Thomas Edison of all people, despite the fact that Edison is a 20th Century figure of whom we have a mountain of photographic, film, and recording evidence.

This sort of claim is the height of dishonesty, and to be honest its insulting to actual historians.

The point being that there is a vast, canyon-like difference between these historical figures and Jesus. In the case of all of these people, we have physical artifacts confirming their existence. We have their writings in their own hands. We have eyewitness accounts for these people from people who saw, met, talked to, and knew them during their lives.

We have nothing like this for Jesus.

So why do Christians think they can get away with this bullshit? Actually its pretty simple: they're making assumptions. Take Alexander the Great, for example. The Christians are assuming that since Alexander lived so long ago (he lived from 356 BCE to 323 BCE) that there just couldn't be any written primary sources about Alexander that survived to the present day, especially given the lack of contemporary writings for Jesus (who, remember, the Christians see as a much more important person than some jumped up Macedonian king).

Thing is, this assumption is incorrect. We have, for one thing, the Babylonian Royal Diary a book that was kept for millennia, to the point that there are several copies that survive to this day. All of the copies mention Alexander. In fact, it is the fact that all the copies we have say the same exact thing (something that cannot be said about all the copies of the Bible... nearly all the copies of the ancient Biblical text we possess show clear evidence of alteration and editing) are why we believe the Diary is authentic in its accounts. The diary records Alexander's birth into the household of his father, King Phillip II of Macedon, and records the precise date of Alexander's death (which the Diary calls “the day the King died”).

The Diary is an almost day-to-day account of the historical events that happened in and around Babylon. It is not a narrative story (like the Bible) but reads more like a timeline of history. On this day, this thing happened. On that day, that thing happened. It is not fictionalized at all. And it talks about “The King, Alexander” at great length.

There is also an administrative document from Bactria, written in Aramaic, that records the day and date of Alexander's arrival in Bactria in pursuit of the main assassin of Darius III, an usurper and self-proclaimed “king” who is known as both Artaxerxes and Bessus. In fact, this same document also records the day and date that Artaxerxes arrived in Bactria, for that matter.

But even better, while very few documents written by the man himself have survived, do not for a moment imagine that “very few” means “none at all”. We have treaties and diplomatic letters signed by Alexander's own hand, bearing his name and his own words and statements. Alexander's letter to Chios, a Greek city whose leaders tried to get out from under Alexander's rule by allying with his Persian enemies, is even written in first person and signed with Alexander's name, not his seal of office.

We have letters from Alexander to his teacher Aristotle. We have letters from Alexander to his mother. We have letters from Alexander to allied kings. And all of them were written by the man himself, and bear the man's own name signed in his own hand. These sources are all indisputable in their authenticity. Unlike Jesus, we really do have direct evidence demonstrating his existence.

But even if there wasn't any direct, first-hand evidence, there is a literal mountain of secondary-source evidence. There exist over two dozen cities founded by Alexander and named after him stretching from Egypt to India. We have coins bearing his name and likeness, all of which date back to the period of his reign. We have inscriptions on walls and temples bearing his name and likeness that date to the time of his reign. We have the accounts of his generals, many of whom would go on to become kings in their own right and found important dynasties of their own. We have the fact that Greek culture was spread throughout the Middle East and Near Asia, leaving a host of archeological evidence as a direct result of Alexander's conquests. The amount of secondary-source evidence supporting Alexander's existence is simply overwhelming.

And here is where it really does get fun. You see, even the teriary and quadriary evidence (that is, the stuff that is basically “heard it from a guy, non-contemporary, non-direct” evidence... which is basically where the Bible would be were there any source outside of the Bible supporting it) is more historically convincing than the Bible when it comes to historical support.

Let's play a game real quick. Let's take any one of the gospels – or all four of them for that matter – and compare it to Arrian's history of Alexander the Great's campaigns. For the record, Arrian of Nicodemia was a Greek historian who lived from some time around 86 CE to some time around 160 CE (we don't have specific dates, but we know he was alive and writing during this period). This means his history of Alexander's empire was written some 400 years after the fact.

Ordinarily, this would be enough to toss the history out the window as useless. But – and this is mildly important – Arrian's methods of historiography are so superior to the methods used by the authors of the gospels (if they used any at all) that the two are barely comparable. For example, Arrian compares his sources, which consisted of eyewitness written accounts from Alexander's generals, and cites his sources by name and page. He tells us why he is choosing one written account of a certain event over another. He tells us why they hold more weight, in his opinion. All of which are practices used by modern historians.

Even better, many of his sources are cited by other historians in other words. Its not just Arrian, for example, citing Ptolemy's account; references to Ptolemy are found all over the place, and they all refer to the exact same statements using the exact same words. If we had this sort of evidence for Jesus, there would be no question at all that the man actually existed. No question at all.

Robert C. Webb, one of my constant antagonists in this argument, has pointed out to me that we shouldn't expect the same level of evidence for Jesus as we do for Alexander, because (Webb argues) Alexander was a great ruler while Jesus was just an itinerant rabbi.

While this is true, it raises the question of why anyone would attempt to compare the two in the first place.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Oh, I Triggered You? Too Fucking Bad!

I've had a long, hard life.

Sometimes that long hard life has been soul-crushingly hard.

Things have happened to me that I don't wish on my enemies.

I've been the victim of abuse, both as a child at the hands of my parents, and as an adult by a woman I thought I could trust.  I've been raped, and then treated as a joke by the authorities I tried to report this crime to. I've suffered broken bones, and lacerations. I've contracted bubonic plague, a disease you only read about in stories. I've seen friends die bloodily in front of me in accidents. I've had my life all but destroyed by people I trusted with everything.

So its safe to say that I know what "trauma" means. Trauma is some form of horrible, damaging experience that usually involves some sort of peril or loss that left a lasting scar, either physically or psychologically. And personally, I deal with my own trauma by talking to people. By writing this blog. By sharing my experience with others.

According to a certain young lady, my entire understanding of what trauma is and is not is completely and utterly mistaken. Apparently, trauma is now defined as "anything that makes you upset". And the way to prevent forcing someone to relive "trauma" is to issue "trigger warnings". That is, a warning that certain material might contain words, themes, or ideas that trigger "traumatic memories" in people who were once upset by something. Its a way for people to avoid that which bothers them rather than having to face it and deal with it. She explained, thoroughly, that a person should be able to expect a "safe environment" where nothing 'triggers" their "trauma".

It was the stupidest thing I've heard in months.

You know, I feel for people who really went through traumatic experiences, but my empathy ends when these people demand that society change to suit their personal desire to permanently avoid ever experiencing bad memories. Its like no one ever told these crybabies that they have no right to expect that they will never, ever be reminded of a bad experience ever for the rest of their lives.

And don't think I'm making an exception for myself. I have problems. There are things that make me flash back to bad times, too. You know what, though? I'll deal. I'm a fucking grown-up, and part of being a grown-up is dealing with the pain of your life. I have never demanded that women in elevators leave so that I can ride with the men, just because the thought of being alone in an elevator with a woman terrifies me. I've never mentioned to anyone how seeing a broomstick in the hands of a woman makes my legs shaky. I do not need to get a "trigger warning" because some TV show is running a storyline dealing with domestic abuse.

You know, my grandparents generation fought the worst, most damaging, most horrific war in the history of our species. When they were done, they came home and built this country into the land of opportunity that it was for the longest time. And they didn't do this by walking around as if the boogeyman was going to jump out at them at every turn. They didn't demand other people change to protect their tender sensibilities. They just dealt with it and lived their lives.

If these people are so psychologically fragile that they fall to pieces over the merest mention of something vaguely related to their "trauma", especially if their trauma wasn't actually all that traumatic in the first place, they need to seek out serious professional psychiatric assistance. They belong in a mental ward, not in a college.

And they certainly have no place dictating what other people can think, say, and do.

How self-entitled do you have to be to think that you have some sort of right to dictate to other people how they run their lives? To expect everyone around you to cater to your own psychological problems?

Seriously, how narcissistic do you have to be?

So again, if your past bothers you so much that you feel the need to complain about what other people are doing or saying, then get help. See a psychiatrist. Get over it.

Don't try to tell other people what to do.

Just grow up.


Because that's how real grown-ups handle life.

Monday, May 11, 2015

It's Simple: Intelligent Design Is Not A Scientific Idea. Period.

Intelligent Design (ID) is not a scientific idea.  Its just not.  And if you think otherwise, then you need to actually learn what "science" is, because right now you're demonstrating that you know less than nothing about it.

Part of the problem is that the terminology used in "design theory" aren't actually defined.  The way that the ID movement uses the word "design", for example, has nothing to do with the definition of "design" as it is normally understood.  "Design" is defined in terms of some intelligent agent actively and purposefully arranging something.  The IDers, on the other hand, define "design" by pointing out what "design" isn't (known regularity and chance), therefore making their definition of "intelligent design" the product of an argument from incredulity.

In engineering, a solution to a problem must address the parameters of the problem, or else the "solution" is no solution at all.  Any theory about design must, therefore, address the agent and the purpose, or else its not really about design.  No proponent of Intelligent Design has ever included the agent or the purpose in any attempt at a "scientific" theory of design, and some absolutely come right out and say that these two factors cannot and  should not be included.  Thus, even if the ID crowd were to somehow prove that the universe was purposefully put together, this proof would be practically meaningless.  And it would certainly say nothing about the design in the usual sense of the word.

The idea of "irreducible complexity" also isn't scientific because it, too, is an example of an Argument from Incredulity fallacy.  "I think this is too complex to come about naturally, therefore it must have been created."  Anyone paying attention should recognize how utterly subjective this is.  Whenever one person can think something "too complex to be natural", but another person can say, "No, its still not complex enough... its still natural", the idea behind it isn't science.  Science is either true, or its not.  There's no "might be true" in science.

Lastly, at its core, intelligent design just makes no damned sense at all.  Take spider webs, for example.  Intelligent design says that, because spider webs are complex acts of engineering, the spiders that make them must be intelligent.

And by "intelligent", they mean the spiders must be as smart as people.

Or, it might be that the spiders aren't the intelligent ones, but rather its the spider's designer who instilled into the spider the ability to create heavily complex webs.  The problem being that it could just as easily be argued that the spider's designer isn't intelligent... its just that the spider designer was himself instilled with the ability to create complexity, and was designed that way.

So the question would then become "who designed the designer?"  Or was the designer's designer merely designed?

Such infinitely regressive nonsense gets us nowhere.

But anyway, last and certainly not least, its been admitted by several of its proponents that the entire "Intelligent Design" thing has nothing to do with science and everything to do with sneaking religion into our science classrooms in a way intended to avoid the First Amendment non-establishment clause.

Friday, May 1, 2015

No Evidence For Jesus. No Evidence At All.

I keep having to post this.

On Facebook, I'm active in several different groups dealing with atheism and Christianity. And being so active, I have found I have to repeatedly refute certain claims regarding extra-Biblical proof of the existence of Jesus.

At one point, I had to post this three times, to three different people, over the space of three days. I am disgusted that Creationists just do not seem to learn, and I'm tired of it. So if there are any creationists out there, I'm about to give you an ass-whipping you deserve.

Kevin Jones said, “There is more solid evidence for Jesus Christ than there is for any other historical figure.

If you really believe this, let me just get this out of the way: you're an idiot, and you're wrong.

And here is why.

First, we have no contemporary sources that mention Jesus Christ. None. Absolutely none. And no, none of the sources Christiants usually name were contemporary. "Contemporary", since you apparently cannot understand the concept, means "occurring at the same time."

Second, quite often, when they make claims about “historical evidence”, what they are actually trying to do is use the Bible as evidence for the Bible. Even if this weren't easily dismissed as a logical fallacy (go look up “circular reasoning”, folks), it still wouldn't work. Let me tell you about the Bible, folks. The Bible has been demonstratably proven beyond any possible doubt to have been changed, edited, and rewritten to suit the religious and political dogma of men who lived *centuries* after the supposed lifetime of Christ.

And when I say "changed, edited, and rewritten copies", I would like to point out that sometimes those changes, edits, and rewrites are substantial.

In addition, careful study of the Pauline epistles in the New Testament have shown that while all of the Epistles are supposedly written by Paul, at least fifteen of them (1 Peter, 2 Peter, James, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Hebrews, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philipians, Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians) were absolutely not written by Paul at all. Most of these were, in fact, written between 150 and 250 years after Paul supposedly was martyred in Rome.

The remaining Epistles (Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Romans) have been thrown into doubt as to their authenticity to the point that its entirely possible that Paul didn't write any of them.

At the very least, later parties took Paul's original words and heavily edited and rewrote them. We know this through careful examination of the vocabulary and the grammar used, and their relationship to the known timeline of the life of Paul (to put it bluntly, at least two of the epistles turn out to be happening at the same time, meaning that Paul was in two places at once -- and these places are hundreds of miles from each other).

Despite the fact that Biblical literalists like to claim otherwise, we know that the Gospels were not written by the men whose names are on them (indeed, outside of the Bible, there's not a lot of evidence that these four men even existed). Mark did not write Mark, John did not write John, and so on. So who did write the Bible? We don't have the first damned clue.

We don't even have original copies. What we have are copies of copies of copies. So we really have no idea what the sources for these documents, which remember the literalists thing are historically authoritative, really are.

And this goes for the apocryphal gospels and epistles also. We don't have the originals, we don't know when they were written, and most of them aren't old enough to be contemporary.

The New Testament canon wasn't assembled until three hundred years after the alleged death of Jesus. The Bible as we know it right now didn't exist until the Fourth Century CE. The reason why the New Testament looks the way it looks is because a man named Athanasius pretty much unilaterally declared it would look like it does.

But for the sake of argument, let's look at some of the usual suspects, the people Christians often claim can be counted as “extra-Biblical evidence” for the existence of Jesus.Publius Cornelius Tacitus: Tacitus was a Roman senator and historian. He was born in 64 CE, and he didn't write "Annals" (the history that Christians like to cite as if it proves something) until 109 CE. That's a century after the fact, young man. A century. Trying to claim that Tacitus is contemporary with the supposed life of Christ is like me claiming to be contemporary of Ulysses S. Grant. After all, I was alive in the 1960s and he was alive in the 1860s, right?

In any case, Tacitus doesn't mention Jesus, he mentions "the followers of a certain man named Christus" and gives no source for his information. What he's writing about in Annals is information that he heard from a guy who heard it from a guy who heard it from a guy, a hundred years after the fact. That's hearsay, and absolutely has no value.Thallus. The problem with Thallus is that we don't actually have anything from anyone named Thallus that makes any mention of anything that could be considered close to Jesus. What we have is a 9th Century Byzantine priest named George Syncellus writing that a 3rd Century priest named Sextus Julius Africanus wrote about some unknown writer named Thallus who supposedly wrote a contemporary description of a solar eclipse at Jesus's crucifixion.

Even worse, we don't even have the document from Africanus that talks about Thallus. All we have is Syncellus claiming that Africanus says something about Thallus saying something. More hearsay. No evidence.

Now, there is note from that notorious liar, con-man, and forger Eusebius of Caesaria who claims that Josephus also wrote about this Thallus account, but that's still one guy talking about what a second guy who got it from a third guy. Even worse, at this point no historian worth his PhD would accept the word of Eusebius of Caesaria if he said the sky was blue because he's been shown to be, as I mentioned, a fraud.

Clement of Rome: Born sometime between 90 and 100 CE. Not contemporary.

Ignatius: Born sometime between 55 and 65 CE. Not contemporary.

Polycarp: Born in 69 CE. Not contemporary.

Barnabas: There's no actual evidence this person was real. Traditionally, this is the Barnabas mentioned in the Bible, and several works have been ascribed to him, but most of these works actually date to long after the man's supposed martyrdom (for which he don't have any evidence, either) some time around 80 CE. The best account we have of Barnabas is the journal of Anthemios, Archbishop of Constantia, who claimed to have been visited by Barnabas in a dream.

So yeah, the evidence we have for Barnabas even existing is a dream.

Papias: He wrote his "fragments" between 95 and 120 CE. Not contemporary.

Justin Martyr: He was born until 100 CE. A century after the supposed life of Christ. Not contemporary.

Aristides the Athenian: He suffers the same problem as Thallus. All we have of his work is Eusebius the Liar describing how Aristides said thus and so. We don't actually have copies of his work, so its all hearsay, and thus no evidence at all.

Athenagoras the Athenian: He wasn't born until 133 CE. Not contemporary.

Theophilus: Wasn't born until 165 CE. Not contemporary.

Quadratus of Athens: Also known as Quadratus the Martyr: Yet another religious figure we have no evidence actually existed other than the well-known lying word of Eusebius of Caesaria. Again, we have no copies of his works, just Eusebius telling us what the man supposedly said.

Aristo of Pella: We can put Eristo in the "Eusebius probably made him up" club, as the only mention we have of him or his work is Mr. "Lying for the Holy Mother Church is a Virtue" himself.

Melito of Sardis: We don't actually know when Melito of Sardis was born. But we do know when he died: 195 CE. Now, seeing as its highly doubtful that the man was over 200 years old when he died, its entirely reasonable to say that he, too, was not a contemporary of Jesus.

The Didache: The Didache was first mentioned by our favorite Christian con-man, Eusebius. There is absolutely no evidence for it being older than the 2nd Century, and all the evidence we do have for its origins show that it was actually written by Eusebius himself. Like most of his writings, the Didache claims to be a contemporary account (specifically, of the actions and teachings of the twelve apostles), but no credible scholar actually believes this.

The Epistle of Dignetus: This document was written by an unknown someone sometime between 130 CE and 200 CE, based on the language and other textual evidence. Thus, it is not a contemporary document.

Josephus Flavius: Josephus, the Jewish historian, was born in 37 CE. His "Antiquities" wasn't even written until 93 CE, after the first gospels got written. Therefore, even if his accounts about Jesus came from his hand, his information could only serve as hearsay. In addition, despite the best wishes of believers and the lies of Christian apologists, the account found in "Antiquities" has been definitively proven to be a forgery written by, you guessed it, Eusebius of Caesaria. So thoroughly has this passage been debunked that no credible Biblical scholar ever mentions Josephus except to use it as an example of a Christian forgery and hoax.

Pliny the Younger: Pliny was born in 62 C.E. Not contemporary. Also, his letter about the Christians only shows that he got his information from Christian believers themselves.  Lastly, the earliest versions of the manuscript do not have that account. That likely means that the account in Pliny the Younger's work was added later by Christians.

Phlegon of Tralles: Wrote his histories in 137 CE. Not contemporary.

Lucian: Born in 125 CE. Not contemporary.

Celsus: According to Origen, Celsus wrote "The True Word", his attack on Christianity, in 177 CE. We don't have any surviving copies, but the fact that Origin places it nearly 200 years after the supposed life of Christ means he's not contemporary either.

Mara bar Serapion: Dates to 73 CE. Not contemporary.

Suetonius: Seutonius has two problems. First, he was born in 69 CE and thus isn't contemporary. Second, he doesn't mention Jesus at all. He mentions a criminal named "Chrestus," which was a common name at the time ("Christ" is a title, not a name). His account is only about Jesus if you squint, tilt your head, and pretend.

So to say there is no authentic historical evidence that Jesus Christ walked the earth is simply to be utterly factual and in accordance with modern Biblical scholarship.

Thus endeth the lesson.