Following is the discussion today between me and atheist writer John Loftus at Debunking Christianity in the comments section of a post in which he says, "Anyone who looks into the historical evidence for Yahweh, Satan, hell, virgin births, incarnations and resurrections will see these beliefs come from the ancient mythological past. The best way to kill such barbaric and utterly ignorant beliefs is to look at their mythological origins, and no appeal to the genetic fallacy can help the honest believer here." I will update this post with any additional discussion.
Martin Cothran • 2 days ago
I realize this post is meant to just refer the reader on to books that delve into this more deeply, but (not having immediate access to the sources referred to here) I'm wondering what basic form the argument "linking it [any miraculous religious belief?] to the mythological past would take. Could you give a simple example of this?
John W. Loftus Mod Martin Cothran • 7 hours ago
Hi Martin, I offered an example in Jaco Gericke's chapter. Here are a few more. Before looking into the coherence of the incarnation, let's see how many virgin births of gods there were in the same era. Before looking at how hell is compatible with a good God, let's first look into the history of hell to find it was accepted by others in the mythological past. Before looking at the coherence of a being who rebelled against God named Satan, let's see his history among the other cultures of that same era.
Martin Cothran • 6 hours ago
So is your argument that a miracle claim can be disproven merely by pointing out that other miracle claims have been made?
John W. Loftus • 5 hours ago
Not disproven. But why were so many other famous people believed to be virgin born semi-gods or divine?
Martin Cothran • 5 hours ago
I'm trying to think of what the logical structure of this argument would be, and particularly what major premise one would have to employ in order to make it work. Here's a stab at it:
No claim of the truth of an historical event can be considered true if there are other, similar claims made asserting other, similar historical events.
A miracle is a historical claim to a historical event similar to other claims about similar historical events.
Therefore, a miracle claim cannot be considered true.If the major premise I have provided is not the one you would employ, I would be curious to know what it should be.
John W. Loftus • 5 hours ago
No disproof is intended. If I were to structure a probabalistic argumemt though, it would go like this: if so many essential features of a religion look like they are culturally generated then the religion itself is probably culturally generated. Or, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck it probabally is a duck.
Martin Cothran • 2 hours ago
Okay. I get that. So it's sort of an intuitive point, a rhetorical, rather than a logical, one? But does the point have any rhetorical force with the people for whose ears it is intended? In fact aren't you using the term "probabalistic" in a very analogous sense? You don't, for example, have statistical evidence of what percentage of miracle claims are true, since that is the very point in question. Does this argument have any force outside the body of unbelievers who already have a prejudice against the possibility of the miraculous? Why should those who have the opposite prejudice find this point intuitively appealing?
And why is this point any more intuitively obvious than the point made by thinkers such as C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton, who maintained that, to quote Chesterton, "If the Christian God really made the human race, would not the human race tend to rumours and perversions of the Christian God? If the center of our life is a certain fact, would not people far from the center have a muddled version of that fact?"
In fact, Chesterton makes an observation that seems to me to get to the heart of the problem with this line of argumentation: that what this position "really amounts to is this: that because a certain thing has impressed millions of different people as likely or necessary therefore it cannot be true."
John W. Loftus • 2 hours ago
No one is saying it cannot be true, so CS Lewis is wide of the mark. No one is saying this will convince everyone either. For it is possible that all Christian theology was borrowed or stolen from ancient superstitious cultures and still true. One cannot precisely calculate the odds. It's just extremely strange to many of us that Christian theology looked indistinguishable from ancient pagan cultures in its inception.
Martin Cothran • 15 minutes ago
And it would seem strange to some others of us that the beliefs of many pagans WOULDN'T look similar to Christian theology if Christian theology really reflected the nature of reality--a reality that man has had access to since the beginning of thought. That was my main point, but I don't think you contest that.
One other relevant belief of the thinkers I mentioned was that the main problem with paganism was not that it was wrong, but that it was incomplete. This is why the main stream of Christian theological and philosophical thought did not reject paganism wholesale, but accepted and incorporated many of its beliefs and modes of thought. That went for the meaning it saw expressed in their mythologies (which appealed to human imagination) as well as the truth expressed by their philosophers (which appealed to the intellect)--two streams of thought (the imaginative and the rational) that Christianity fused together.
In fact, this was the whole reason C. S. Lewis became a believer: His belief that the mythologies were meaningful but false, and history true but without meaning, was reconciled by Tolkien's thesis that Christianity was a myth that had entered actual history. This line of thought is explained in Chesterton's "Everlasting Man."
UPDATE: 3:16 p.m.
And it would seem strange to some others of us that the beliefs of many pagans WOULDN'T look similar to Christian theology if Christian theology really reflected the nature of reality--a reality that man has had access to since the beginning of thought.Perhaps, but what if the nature being expressed isn't what you think it is? For example, what if any similarities that there are between Christian and pagan beliefs aren't due to an underlying truth about the reality of the universe, but rather a truth about how humans see and perceive the wo rld around us. Under such circumstances, the similarities between Christian and pagan beliefs don't necessarily reflect a truth about the existence of any sort of supernaturalism or the true nature of the universe, it merely reflects a truth about human psychology.
Without good evidence suggesting that the supernatural is real, how do you presume to know that the supernatural assertions of the religious are not merely a product of human psychology? And how do you arrive at the conclusion that paganism is just incomplete?
UPDATE: 3:45 p.m
Martin Cothran • a few seconds ago
I have no particular comment on your "what if" hypothetical scenario in your second paragraph. Yes, if Christianity and paganism (where they overlap) don't accurately reflect the nature of reality, then they don't reflect the nature of reality. But then, that is sort of tautological, isn't it?
As for your third paragraph, if there were no good evidence that the supernatural is real, then, again, they may, in fact, be the product of human psychology. Your conditional statement is likely true. But one would have to affirm your antecedent--that, in fact, there is no good evidence for it. If ~P, then Q, ~P, therefore Q. But I have no good reason to accept ~P, and accept what seems to me good evidence for P (that the supernatural is real).
As to your last question, all I was referring to is that Christianity accepted many of the Greek and Roman beliefs. There is a great amount of overlap between the meaning expressed in many of the myths and truths expressed by many of the philosophers on the one hand, and the theology later developed by the early Christian fathers and the medieval theologians and philosophers. Christianity took that and ran with it. For example, the Greeks and Romans figured out the four cardinal virtues,(prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice), which are completed with the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity); and Plato and Aristotle figured out the basic metaphysical structure of the world, which was built on and transformed by St. Thomas Aquinas. That sort of thing.
UPDATE: 10:55 p.m
Doubting Thomas • 7 hours ago
Reality is reflected in religion. The reality is that humans made them up. All of them. As for C.S. Lewis, why wouldn't paganism be true and Christianity just one more false religion that points toward the truth?
Martin Cothran • 6 hours ago
Those are very bold definitive statements. I would be interested in seeing an argument for them. As to your question, again, I don't make strict dichotomy between paganism (either in its mythological or rational form) and Christianity. There is actually a lot of overlap. I could certainly conceive of a state of affairs where what you suggest might be true. The only problem is that I have no reason or evidence that convinces me that it is.
Phasespace • 6 hours ago
As for your third paragraph, if there were no good evidence that the supernatural is real, then, again, they may, in fact, be the product of human psychology. Your conditional statement is likely true. But one would have to affirm your antecedent--that, in fact, there is no good evidence for it. If ~P, then Q, ~P, therefore Q. But I have no good reason to accept ~P, and accept what seems to me good evidence for P (that the supernatural is real).I think this is the meat of the issue. I don't think it falls under the rubric of deductive logic, it falls under logical inference and probability. I have no good reason to accept the assertions of supernaturalism if psychology sufficiently explains human behavior with respect to religion (which I think it does), and the evidence in favor supernaturalism is at best sketchy, open to multiple interpretations, and adds additional complications that don't seem to be necessary, when psychology does so sufficiently and efficiently. The law of parsimony wins the day in my book.
Note: This doesn't disprove supernatural belief, but it does leave me wondering about its applicability to many of the issues that it concerns itself with.
Martin Cothran • an hour ago
Again, my main point here was not to prove Christianity, but to point out that the whole mythological argument is not very convincing. But as to your point about the evidence for supernaturalism being "at best sketchy," are you saying you do not believe in entities or forces beyond the physical? And what makes materialism or the disbelief in the supernatural the default position?