Hi and welcome back! The never-ending fever-dream of 2021 continues apace. This past week, the world lost a comic genius when Jessica Walter passed away at 80 years of age. The actress long ago embedded herself in America’s consciousness with her iconic turns in Arrested Development and the animated series Archer — playing a classy, strong-willed, patently-dishonest, beyond-irreverent, catastrophically-dysfunctional mother of adult children in each show. So when we recently checked out yet another belligerent Christian’s claims, her characters kept intruding on my thoughts. Today, I’ll give those characters free rein to respond to those claims. Join me as we grade evangelists’ claims (with Jessica Walter GIFs)!
(Today, we use the term “evidence” in scare quotes.)
Terms of Endearment: “Evidence.”
When folks talk about evidence, we usually mean compelling and credible evidence that actually supports the claim being made. But not everyone uses the term the same way.
Christians’ bar for evidence tends to be abysmally low. They happily accept low-tier pseudo-evidence for their religion that they would never accept about anything that matters (like what schools and daycares their kids will attend, what cars they’ll drive, even what brand of ice cream they’ll eat).
For truly important stuff, they research decisions the same way everyone else does. They scour reviews, price-check listings, scan ingredients, all that stuff.
But when it comes to their religion, they insist that anecdotes and logical fallacy-riddled sophistry totally count as PROOF YES PROOF that their claims about their religion are totally true and for realsies. And then get mad at those rejecting them for not accepting their childish nonsense (like this cringeworthy apologist and her followers did over that post).
That said, when we wander into the more toxic flavors of the religion that already dropped-out-of-sight bar takes a nose-dive into the Marianas Trench. Just like life itself looks very, very strange indeed in that extreme environment, evidence starts looking ridiculously bad among those Christians.
I can think of no better way of mocking those Christians’ ideas than deploying Jessica Walters GIFs in response to them. Nobody weaponized scorn like she did.
Offered Evidence 1: Jesus Totally Rose from the Dead.
James Choi, a professor of finance with Yale School of Management, feels completely qualified to speak about classical Near Eastern history, Christianity’s earliest history, and human biology. He offers us a post on his faculty site titled “Why I am a Christian (even though I don’t believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy).” In it, he begins by telling us that “Christianity is falsifiable.” (LOL no, it is not.) Then, he proceeds to tell us that he believes Christianity’s overall package of nonsense because of the pseudo-evidence around Jesus’ death and resurrection. He writes (emphases from original, as always):
CHRISTIANITY IS DIFFERENT
It makes a claim that an event happened in space and time: Jesus Christ died and then was raised from the dead. And it says, if this didn’t happen, you should dismiss the entire religion.
To be fair, Christians lean hard on this exact line of reasoning. I heard it myself when I was a Christian. Every Christian seems to internalize this reasoning. And like all their other pseudo-evidence, this claim (it is not evidence) sets believers up on a collision course with reality. Here are the stakes: they must never doubt that Jesus was for realsies murdered by Jews and/or Romans on trumped-up charges and then resurrected by magic after a bad half-weekend in Hell.
If they ever realize that tale can’t possibly be historically true, then heck, they might as well not be Christian at all. And disbelief puts them at risk of Hell, in and of itself. So just entering the arena of questioning this claim, they put themselves at risk of eternal torture.
And James Choi is nowhere near emotionally prepared to seriously question this nearly-universal Christian claim. He offers the usual blahblah about it — handwaving away our total lack of contemporary corroboration for a single detail of Jesus’ supposed life and leaning very hard on that tired apologetics chestnut (and strawman) about nobody dying for a lie.
He insists that Christians have always thought XYZ about Jesus, and so that must be true. That is his “evidence.”
Grading Jesus’ Supposed Death and Resurrection.
In reality, we don’t know anything solid about Jesus’ life. And neither did early Christians. We have the carefully-curated early writings of Christian leaders about him, of course culminating in a brutal 4th-century lockdown on information as Catholicism got rolling.
Unfortunately for James Choi, he is utterly incorrect about how stable and consistent beliefs really were among early Christians. Catholics had to clamp down very hard indeed to streamline all those competing ideas into one creed.
Heresies arose about Jesus’ nature almost immediately after someone formalized the religion’s underpinnings. For example, the Gnostics became a serious problem around the 2nd century CE. They’re still around! Betcha Arians are, too.
No contemporary accounts of Jesus exist. (For more info, head here). Nobody has ever even found contemporary letters remarking on the Jewish zombies wandering the city in the wake of Jesus’ death. Nobody talks about the sun stopping or going dark for a while, earthquakes erupting, temple veils tearing, nothing.
As far as the years 30-35CE care, Jesus exists solely in the Gospels.
By the way, discovering that fact set my feet on the road to deconversion. As for the crazy proliferation of early competing beliefs? That fact became my walking-staff.
Christians’ absolute inability to cope with those two truths about their religion’s origins speaks volumes about this claim’s legitimacy as “evidence.”
GRADE: 0/10. Not persuasive at all. Not credible at all.
Offered Evidence 2: MEERKULS, Y’ALL!
But don’t worry! If Jesus’ totally for realsies resurrection didn’t grab you, Christians always have miracles to offer!
And I can see why. A real live god who does real live stuff in the real live world must, absolutely must, leave footprints behind of that activity. If miracles were real, then yes, Christians would be presenting us with quite an interesting situation to consider.
Catholic dude Raymond de Souza offers us a 2016 post titled, “Why Be a Christian? Why Not Moslem [sic], Buddhist, Hindu?” And de Souza’s very first answer to that question-nobody-asked is miracles. He thinks his god works real live miracles at least sometimes for some people under some conditions, unlike those heathens’ fakey-fake gods, which means that all of his other religious claims must be true as well.
(If you’re wondering, his #2 reason is a long string of if-then statements about the authenticity of the Gospels. #3 is another if-then regarding Jesus’ supposed foretelling of his own death, which — again — appears nowhere else but in the Gospels, which means it is a claim and not evidence supporting the claim. De Souza likes this third reason in particular so much that he declares that it renders non-believers “out of excuses.” It’s a shame that he’s this huffed up on his own imagined superiority, yet never learned about circular reasoning.)
The reasoning goes thusly: if the miracle is actually true and for realsies, then whoever worked or revealed the miracle must be claiming true things about the miracle’s source. Therefore, one must accept the miracle as evidence of the claim.
First of all, Christianity’s miracle claims aren’t unique at all. Amazingly, de Souza doesn’t appear to know that other religions do, indeed, boast miracle claims exactly like his religion’s.
- Muslim miracle claims
- Buddhist miracle claims (heck, Buddhists consider the entire Dalai Lama thing a miracle in and of itself)
- Hinduism miracle claims
- Also: I don’t have a link for this, but I can for sure and 100% tell you that modern pagans claim miracles constantly (source: I was one for many years)
Second, other explanations always exist for the supposed miracle. The bleeding relic? Duck blood. The magical healing? Super-modern medical advancement or regression to the mean or something similar. Or a flat-out lie. Reaching for goddidit is not only poor reasoning, it’s been proven false every time it’s been investigated.
In fact, there’s never been a single so-called “miracle” investigated and found to be an actual inexplicable mystery. And you’d think Catholics would know that. After all, they actually do investigate and reject a lot of miracle claims!
And lastly, even if Christians could credibly verify their miracle claims, other agents might easily be behind them. De Souza wrote a follow-up that declared this fact “as silly as it is improbable,” as if saying it made it so. He offered a lot of dishonest hand-waving to try (unsuccessfully) to defeat it. However, it remains a perfectly valid objection. I’ve never seen a Christian successfully explain why a verified miracle would be PROOF YES PROOF of Christianity, and not of, say, Sol Invictus.
GRADE: 0/10. Ridiculously childish reasoning. Not persuasive at all.
Offered Evidence 3: The Gospels and Epistles Themselves.
Many Christians mistake the Gospels themselves as evidence that their Christianity’s package of claims must be true. Like, they yammer about all those supposed witnesses who saw Jesus after his resurrection. Lee Strobel really likes this one!
1 Corinthians 15:3-8 explains:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. And last of all He appeared to me also, as to one of untimely birth.
And if it appeared anywhere else but in the book making those claims in the first place, they might have something. But none of these witnesses wrote a single thing about their experiences at the time, and the usual person people think wrote the Epistles, Paul, very obviously never actually met Jesus while he supposedly lived.
Others think that the sheer number of Gospel scraps and fragments PROVES YES PROVES that the Bible’s account of Jesus’ life must be true. The sheer amount of apologetics flowing from this idea could — and likely has — filled many Christians’ home libraries.
Grading the Gospels.
Archaeologists have, indeed, discovered a great many of these scraps and fragments. Unfortunately, very few of them actually contain exactly the same information. For example, a couple of weeks ago archaeologists discovered one such scrap. It was likely a cherished family heirloom scroll. Some anonymous Jewish family stashed it in a Dead Sea cave centuries ago, along with other stuff.
And, uh, the verse translated so far, Zechariah 8:16, is actually different from the usual text. It’s not a huge difference — it says “streets” instead of “gates.” For Christians who get totally hung up on the original Greek and Hebrew of Bible verses, though, this could — and really should — change their understanding of the verse.
That’s really how things go with these Bible fragments. Yes, we have a lot of them. But they almost never agree with each other when they contain the same verses at all.
I’ll say this, too. This argument is yet another collision-course in the making. When I was Christian, I yearned to discover the Bible’s earliest history. Alas! The more I found out about it, the less I trusted it as the inerrant, divine expression of a real live god. There’s nothing about the making of the Bible that supports such an idea.
Grade: -10/10. Hilariously misguided attempt. Backfires hard at the slightest amount of critical research.
The Cruel Dilemma.
I’ve mentioned a collision course with reality a few times now. That’s not accidental.
All of these attempts backfire when they’re examined critically. But all of them are positioned as making-or-breaking faith. Rejecting them, therefore, becomes dangerous both to believers and everything they hold dear. So there’s not really a way for Christians to honestly examine any of their own attempts at evidence.
The Christians who push these ideas as evidence accept, in the most dogmatic of ways, that these attempts are true because they must be true, because the alternative is just unthinkable.
In the past, Christian leaders could set this collision course up with perfect serenity. They knew their followers would be too frightened to get too close to the ledge of critical thinking. They’d veer aside from that collision. And once they’d veered aside, a number of cognitive quirks would make them drill down all the harder on their erroneous thinking.
But in the past 30-40 years, it’s become much safer to reject Christianity. And more and more believers are indeed coming up to that ledge — and moving into that terrifying expanse of doubt, and discovering they can walk across it after all.
Amusingly enough, however, these three offerings of pseudo-evidence aren’t actually anywhere close to the gold mine of real evidence that Christians could offer their prospective recruits if their religion’s claims were true. They’re actually downright irrelevant, when one gets down to it, just as ridiculous a bunch of red herrings as Creationism is. But we’ll head there tomorrow!
NEXT UP: Soon, we’ll be checking out that new survey from Gallup about church membership dropping below majority. There are some interesting things about it that I’m not sure are getting enough love — namely, exactly how Gallup gathered that information. But first, I want to show you the claims Christians make that they absolutely do not want us to evaluate or grade. See you tomorrow!
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