Quote of the day

"Re-examine all you have been told... dismiss whatever insults your soul."

Walt Whitman, American poet


  1. Reminds me of the good old "Test all things, hold fast to what is good". The problem being that most places which use that verse have a very firm idea of what you should accept as "good".

    I like the Walt Whitman quote.

  2. I'm stealing that one :)

  3. Your website insults my soul and my intelligence

    1. I thought christadelphians didn't believe in the soul??

    2. Hi, "Unknown",
      May I please ask what you understand your "soul" to be, and what happens to it when it gets insulted? Where is it lodged within you?
      Do you think it is just part of the brain not yet discovered by Neurologists?

    3. My soul resides in the same place as my consciousness. As many philosophers have noted that materialism cannot adequately explain consciousness that does not get you very far does it? If there is no consciousness there is only artificial intelligence. It cannot be explained by the firing of neurons or chemical processes so materialism (Darwinism if you will) has no answers. Man will not be able to produce a machine that has "consciousness" it will be intelligent but not have a "soul". Evolution can explain many natural processes but not everything. Science does not have all the answers -it is a false god. One day people will look back at this age of learning and scientific advancement and they will marvel at how truly simplistic (and partial) some of our explanations were. We do not even know what light is "let there be light" - a quantum particle or a wave? Or both? How does it chose to be one or the other? Is it influenced by the observer? (Schroedingers cat). Maybe we are all living inside a hologram and light carries information (data) that collapses to a probability??? We know very little and yet we have no humility.

    4. Your right, we know very little. That's why science is trying to work it out...

      We create gods because we know so little...thousands of them!

  4. Science will never work it out. Try this experiment...draw a stick man on a sheet of paper. Place a pencil upright on the same sheet and draw around the end of the pencil. The two-dimensional stick man can only "see" the outline of the bottom of the pencil. The stick man cannot see the 3-D pencil! As far as he is concerned it does not exist. How many dimension are there? No one knows. We only "see" what we are allowed to see. Yes, people have invented "gods" -every society has -even primitive ones. It appears that it is embedded in our consciousness to seek the "other" it is part of our make up. What "evolutionary" impulse or "survival mechanism" is advanced by such an esoteric trait? It is a bit like advanced mathematics which is not necessary for survival (animals do not have it). Yet even people from primitive tribes can practice advanced mathematics and abstract reasoning. From an evolutionary perspective it is a useless trait and cannot be explained as "piggy-backing" (i.e. an accidental offshoot of something else). What function does it perform? It allows us to try to understand our universe. Humans are the only "animals" that can do this - similarly we have the inbuilt desire to "seek the other".....which explains your "gods"....but that does not discount the existence of a higher power.

    1. Sure, but if the stick man claimed to see a fairy in the sky, you might have good grounds to be sceptical and ask for evidence...and when that evidence is not provided you might decide not to believe them...

      I want to know how you think you know there is a higher power. You so confidently state that science will never figure it out. Well sure, but then how did *you* figure it out?

      No one is discounting the existence of a higher power any more than the existence of unicorns or the flying spaghetti monster. The time to believe in any of these things is after they've been demonstrated, and not before.

      Your objection to human abilities seemingly being unnecessary according to evolution is noted, but I don't think, "we don't know exactly how X evolved" is the same as saying "X didn't evolve". The latter does not follow from the former (actually that's just argument from incredulity, a logical fallacy).

      One of the leading theories is that we developed big brains through culture and language. It was our social abilities that set us apart from the other great apes and other human species. We were better able to work together. Follow the social trajectory and we needed to be able to work in very complex social networks (not the modern kind) and that requires more brain power. It's a complicated subject that cannot be dismissed so glibly. Pretending our brains were created for the express purposes we happen to use them for today is just hubristic and narcissistic. Even the slightest look at history will prove that idea naive at best.

      If you actually want to know the answer, I think you know where to look. But will you?

    2. Food for thought:


      Note that over the past 10,000 years human brain size has been decreasing.


    3. Are you suggesting that our brains do not confer any survival advantage over other species? Really?

      Also consider that humans also killed other humans and sometimes survival meant competing with our own neighbours, relatively speaking. That competition also involved climbing the social ladder and building strong social connections throughout societies. Bigger brains turn out to be better at that sort of thing. That sounds like a survival and reproductive advantage to me.

    4. Very amusing. One could argue that our larger brains are a distinct disadvantage. We are, after all the species that is destroying the earth. Think here of pollution, climate change and nuclear war (among many other injustices etc). I cannot blame my dog for any of those things. So called "intelligence" is our downfall. We are at the cusp of our own self-made extinction event caused by "cleverness". You had better hope that God does exist - if not we are all doomed.

    5. It's true that we face many threats to our survival as a species, and many of them are our fault.

      I don't think hoping a god exists is either a useful or responsible strategy. How has this worked out in the past?

      If anything the belief that there is some cosmic genie who will clean up our mess is preventing people from taking the situation seriously. The political parties that tend to be most religious (or bent on ideologies ) also tend to deny climate change and stock up on weapons. No doubt there are exceptions.

      Whether there is a god or not, we all bear the responsibility of looking after the planet for future generations. Hoping for a cosmic fairy to come and wave their wand and fix everything is infantile and irresponsible, in my opinion.

    6. Unknown, I must apologise for misinterpreting your original comment above, regarding the evolution of belief in gods. Somehow I thought you meant that human intelligence was too great for it to have evolved. However on closer reading it appears you meant that belief in gods would confer no evolutionary advantage.

      There are answers to this question however, so my original suggestion of searching for your answer online still applies. If your question is genuine, you know where to look.

      "It is believed that humans evolved agent detection as a survival strategy. In situations where one is unsure of the presence of an intelligent agent (such as an enemy or a predator), there is survival value in assuming its presence so that precautions can be taken. For example, if a human came across an indentation in the ground that might be a lion's footprint, it is advantageous to err on the side of caution and assume that the lion is present."

      "Some scientists believe that the belief in creator gods is an evolutionary by-product of agent detection. A spandrel is a non-adaptive trait formed as a side effect of an adaptive trait. The psychological trait in question is "if you hear a twig snap in the forest, some sentient force is probably behind it". This trait helps to prevent the primate from being murdered or eaten as food. However this hypothetical trait could remain in modern humans: thus some evolutionary psychologists theorize that "even if the snapping was caused by the wind, modern humans are still inclined to attribute the sound to a sentient agent; they call this person a god"."

      It's not the full story, as the Wikipedia article goes on to explain, but it is one contributing factor.

      Also see:

      Other causes of belief in gods are perhaps more related to cultural evolution than biological. It's likely the early religions were animistic and in some sense our earliest attempts to understand the earth and our place in it. People sacrificed to spirits and believed in rituals to appease the gods long before any modern religion was born. We now understand that many of the phenomena previously attributed to gods (even in the bible) are simply due to natural processes.

      Any claim that one particular religion is true while all others are false carries the burden of proof, otherwise it is just special pleading.

      In addition, if you insist that a benevolent being exists and wants us to know it exists and understand its message, you also need to explain the state of the world's religions and their numbers of devotees. Christadelphians have an especially difficult task on their hands here. Their view that the most intelligent and powerful being in the universe could achieve no better than 60,000 followers while other (apparently man-made) religions number into the billions, is quite simply absurd. Blaming it all on human inadequacy or malice won't suffice either, because (a) God apparently created us this way, (b) saw it coming, and (c) apparently had the power to change it, but didn't ...

    7. Cultural-sociological evolutionary explanations are etiological "just so stories" that hold no water. The NT describes a "great multitude" this runs counter any group that claims exclusivity. No single group has the power to decide. Finally, we were created with freewill -so the way "things turned out" is entirely our fault. And God has the power to change it and did - Jesus Christ.

    8. In your original comment you asked:
      "What "evolutionary" impulse or "survival mechanism" is advanced by such an esoteric trait?"

      I provided examples of survival mechanisms as well as evolutionary explanations. You then dismissed these as "just so stories that hold no water" without any justification of your own. I understand that you may not like the explanations I gave, and they may disagree with your world view, but the explanations I gave are demonstrable.

      I linked to an article that also provided further evidence:
      "Studies have also demonstrated that HADD is more likely to be triggered when a stimulus is ambiguous – therefore it tends to be our default assumption – an object is an agent until we are sure it’s just an object. Also, in situations where we have less control our HADD becomes more active still."

      We may never know how the first religious stories originated, but we can verify the existence of hyperactive agency detection in humans, and this has been borne out in several studies.

      Here's another article that covers some of them:

      I wonder what kind of evidence or explanation you were looking for when you first posed the question. Were you actually genuinely looking for an answer?

    9. Unknown,

      Regarding the other comments you made...

      "The NT describes a "great multitude" this runs counter any group that claims exclusivity."

      This is an ex-Christadelphian website. Are you familiar with Christadelphian teachings?

      In any case:
      * How many people is a "great multitude" ? 20K? 100K? millions? billions? trillions? It's rather subjective, is it not?
      * Christadelphians point to other verses to claim that only a few will be saved, such as Matthew 22:14 "many are called, but few are chosen", Matthew 7:14 "the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.", or Luke 18:8 "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

      You said:
      "Finally, we were created with freewill -so the way "things turned out" is entirely our fault."


      For a start, it's debatable whether we even have free will. Several discoveries in modern times cast doubt on this.

      Your comment actually seems to suggest we have total control over our environment and destiny, which is obviously false. If you accept that people are heavily influenced by their environment, peers, culture, or the country/society they were born in, then you must also concede that none of us is entirely individually responsible for the situation we end up in, nor the external factors that influenced our current beliefs. We merely do our best with what we have, but both our "best" and "what we have" is different for everyone, and sometimes radically so.

      When 99% of people follow in the religion of their parents, do you honestly think they all made rational choices of their own free will?

      Rather, our cognitive biases and shortcomings have been well documented: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

      Given the fact that none of us is completely rational (far from it!), on what basis could we be judged for believing the wrong things or reaching the wrong conclusions?

      Or conversely, if beliefs are so important, why weren't we given better reasoning capabilities?

      It just makes no sense.

      And finally:
      "God has the power to change it and did - Jesus Christ."

      I think you're being a tad over-confident, and perhaps even intentionally misleading. Less than 30% of the world's population are Christian. You were responding to comments I made regarding Christadelphians, but I don't think a 30% acceptance rate is anything to celebrate either. It makes your all-powerful, all-knowing god look like quite the under-achiever.

      In any case, how many of those Christians agree with each other? How many even chose to become Christian (rather than inheriting the religion from their parents/society/country)?

      Out of interest, have you any idea why people don't share your beliefs?
      What was your intent in posting here?

  5. Unknown, the context of your "great multitude" quotation is Revelation, which has much debate about how to interpret it. But just a few questions:
    1. When Revelation starts off by saying it describes things that will "soon take place", how soon do you think that was? Has Revelation already been fulfilled, and if not, why not?

    2. The "great multitude" quote comes immediately after the sealing of 144,000 Israelites. What does this number mean, and how does it relate to the "great multitude"?

    3. Jesus talked about the way to life being through a narrow gate, so that few will find it. How do you reconcile this with your "great multitude"? (because that is a verse some Christadelphians use to say you should expect to find "the Truth" in a small group).

  6. There is a new commentary on Revelation and Daniel that answers your questions...the website has just been released and I gather that the website is still under construction. It has two short articles that offer an introduction of Rev (9 pages)and Dan (4 pages). To answer your question....the Apocalypse was pre-70. I know that you probably do not have the desire or time to look into anything "religious" but I think you will find it interesting. URL is www.biblaridion.info

    1. How do your views align with those of critical NT scholars?

    2. Well, I've read both the papers linked, and I don't think they really answer any of my questions (though they make a stab at the first one). They don't even reference the great multitude / 144,000, they don't say anything about how it might link to Matthew. As far as the "soon" question, its patterns approach seems to be trying to have the best of both worlds: A couple of events that were patterns happened before and after Revelation was written, but they point forward to some later event which has not yet happened (2,000 years later - which I find hard to call soon).

  7. I am aware of OT and NT biblical criticism. Some have useful insights and analyze the texts more thoroughly than many so called "bible students". There is no such thing as consensus within NT scholarship with some denying the reality of a "historical Jesus" and believing it is a myth and the other extreme literalness. As far as NT scholarship I find the arguments presented by J.A.T. Robinson for dating the whole NT pre-70 compelling and cogent and I have supplemented (and confirmed) his findings with my own.

    1. I wouldn't say there is no consensus within NT scholarship. A consensus doesn't mean all scholars need to agree, just the overwhelming majority, or at least all of the most qualified scholars. Sometimes that is difficult to ascertain though.

      I think a broad consensus does exist on things such as the crucifixion, baptism and definitely the existence of Jesus.

      Mythicism is really just a fringe view held only by a handful of scholars at most. I don't find it compelling, but don't have much else to say about it.

      To be clear, consensus doesn't (necessarily) equal truth and the lack of support for something like Mythicism doesn't automatically mean it is false. However, given that I am not in any way an expert on the NT, it is most intellectually honest for me to defer to the consensus where one exists, or otherwise hold only tentative opinions subject to change pending new information. It's the best I can do. Pretending I know better, having precisely none of the requisite qualifications, would just be a demonstration of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

      I have not heard of J.A.T. Robinson but I do believe that dating the whole NT pre-70 is a minority position, or at least not one held by many critical scholars (I'm less interested in scholars who do not use critical methods - especially fundamentalists).

      The problem I have is that it's easy for any individual to come up with their own unique interpretation of the Bible and spend their lifetime marketing it to people, most of whom are not experts themselves. I am never impressed when people take their views directly to the public rather than debate them with other experts in the field. If the majority of other scholars who are far more educated on the NT and first century history all disagree with this minority view, on what grounds could I, as a layperson, accept it? It might be correct, but the only honest way I could find out would be to do the research required to become a scholar myself... and frankly I don't have the desire nor the time.

      At this point all I'd be interested in is a scholarly critique of these views by other leading scholars in relevant fields. I doubt there's any use in discussing anything directly, since as I said I'm not an expert and I'd simply have to defer to those who are. I tend to refuse to engage in a source war because I don't find those productive at all.

  8. Hello,
    Well you sound fairly open minded regarding examining the different views etc. You are right about "consensus" (I have actually written an article on this) - and scholarship goes thru cycles just like the fashion industry (flavor of the season). Robinson is a well regarded (Anglican bishop deceased) scholar who conducted a survey on NT critical scholarship and presented a strong case for pre-70 dating. He points out that the window for dating has consistently been revised DOWNWARDS by critical scholars (it used to be ca 170-200 now about 60-130). Anyway, his book is recommended and can be found on the above mentioned website (as a PDF on the resources page). As far as experts are concerned it is always good to examine the evidence and make up your own mind.

  9. As far as the OT is concerned among the many books that I read are:
    Richard E. Friedman: Who wrote the Bible?
    Robert Lane Fox: The Unathorized Version

    Freidman's book is thought provoking and scholarly - Fox's book is more of a hack job (he is a historian) debunking the OT as historical myth.

    These two books would destroy "faith" in the OT (for many people), however, over the last 30 years (and much reading and contemplation) I have answered (to my own satisfaction) many of the dilemma's raised by the above authors -but I have also taken on board some (not all)of the critical analysis without it causing "cognitive dissonance". Experience has taught me that solutions to problems often appear after many years- so if there is something I do not understand I file it away for future reference.
    I did the same with Richard Dawkins books - who (in my opinion) has become a "fundamentalist" himself. We must learn to exercise humility- we do not have all the answers - nobody has.

    1. I've heard many good reviews of Friedman's book and may get to reading it someday. I've listened to a talk he gave on the Exodus and found it fascinating.

      It's interesting that you speak in terms of "finding solutions to dilemmas". I started out that way for many years but eventually decided that wasn't a reliable approach. My problem with it is that anyone can find interesting solutions to any biblical contradiction or conflict. I still have documents I wrote several years ago where I listed potential failed prophecies in the Bible and then gave ad-hoc, contrived explanations without a shred of evidence to back them up! Humans are exceptional at resolving cognitive dissonance, and such resolutions are usually limited only by one's imagination. It doesn't mean there actually is no conflict - it just means the person has found a way around it - whether true or not! At best you'll end up with a somewhat self-consistent worldview, but possibly without any connection to actual reality.

      I've seen so many believers approach issues with the Bible (and the natural world) by looking only for plausibility, and assuming that so long as there is no undeniable evidence AGAINST their beliefs, then their beliefs may as well be true (meanwhile all evidence is of course deniable if you just imagine a plausible alternative interpretation). So long as there is enough wiggle room for what they want to believe, they will happily go on believing it. It's such a low standard to meet, with very little regard for what is actually true. I don't know why people stick to this methodology when it is so easy to demonstrate how unreliable it is. I suspect the reason is that most people aren't actually that concerned with truth - and most of them probably live much happier lives than I do!

      When it comes to what is actually true, or most likely to be true, I prefer a different approach. I'm not interested in clever explanations to resolve conflicts, or ad-hoc answers to difficult questions. I want to know what is most likely true, and if there's no way to know - I will admit that and move on. What I won't do is adhere to some random explanation for something with nothing more than plausibility to back it up. I want evidence, or I'll remain agnostic.

      I accept that absolute certainty is impossible to obtain except in extremely rare cases (like mathematics for example). My knowledge will therefore always be incomplete and tentative. I am not content with faith - since it is demonstrably unreliable and there is nothing a person could not believe using faith. If possible, I want to know - and to the best of my ability. I prefer to look for testability, or ask what is the most probable answer (and how was it determined?), or "how could we find out?" If we have no way to know it, then I'll admit that and remain agnostic. But if there is evidence that all points to a certain conclusion, then I will tentatively accept that conclusion pending further evidence. All "truth" obtained via this method is provisional, but each piece of information leads closer to what is true.

      An objection I keep hearing over and over is that there are some things that cannot be known via this method. I agree, but those things usually cannot be known via any method, and thus there is no reason to believe them. The fact that there are things we can't know does not mean we can just insert whatever fairy tale most appeals to us. That's just self-delusion. There are many more ways to be wrong than to be right.

      Lol - I keep hearing that Dawkins is a fundamentalist, but what fundamentals does he follow?

    2. Unknown,

      I have two questions I'd be interested in your answer to. Nothing complicated - and certainly not trick questions. They are questions I ask myself often.

      1. If your core beliefs happened to be wrong, how likely do you think it is that you would find out?

      2. If you did find out your core beliefs were wrong, would you live differently?

  10. Unknown, as Thom did, I wondered why you were interested in a Christadelphian website when your whole approach to Bible study is different to the standard Christadelphian approach. Then I noticed a reference to Harry Whittaker in the Revelation paper you pointed me to. So it looks like Biblaridion is associated with the eJournal of Biblical Interpretation, which I'm aware of as one of the isolated pockets of "scholarly" interest in Christadelphia. Is your personal interest with the "scholarly" side of Christadelphia? Because I would consider it a minority party in a tiny denomination, and nothing whatever to do with a "great multitude". I'm not sure it's very well represented in the commenters on this site either.

    So, while for my part I don't have a problem with you commenting on this site, I can't see it as likely to achieve anything. Our aims and experiences are so different that we are likely to be talking past each other.

    1. I missed one more general point I wanted to make about the scholarly approach. I have gone some way down this path in the past, though I am not expert. However, what I noticed was this: Scholarly approaches required more effort to understand and refute, but in my opinion they gave me no more reason to believe, because I did not find them supporting the fundamentals I had come to doubt (stuff like belief in God and the resurrection of Jesus). A more nuanced understanding of a particular passage or book of the Bible can be interesting from an academic point of view, and I still sometimes read stuff in the area. But it does nothing without those fundamentals.

      It got worse, though: it was often not just a matter of understanding a scholarly interpretation, but determining which of a number of competing scholarly interpretations were valid. Often the explanation of why an alternate interpretation was wrong was much more compelling than the explanation of why their interpretation was right.

      For all those reasons, I am now happy to reject scholarly works unread, particularly if they seem to, as Thom said, be promoting a minority view rather than a broad consensus. Yes, I may risk missing the one interpretation that has "the Truth", but past experience shows that that is unlikely. With limited time available to me I don't need absolute certainty - all I need is to follow the interpretation that seems to me to best fit the facts. And careful scholarly interpretations of a collection of books that I don't have good reason to believe contain truth just gets in the way.

  11. OK, finally I'll move onto a more general comment about the papers you linked, which don't fill me with confidence. I have seen many interpretations of Revelation (even within the standard Christadelphian "continuous historic" interpretation there is a degree of variation). Many have come to me and said they have the one true interpretation (either of Revelation or of the Bible generally). As a result, I take all such claims with a grain of salt. When I was a believer, I had faith that there was truly an answer, I just had to keep looking to find it. Now I see the many contradictory interpretations as an indication that the message isn't as true and obvious as it once appeared, most probably because it doesn't exist. Nothing in that article seems to me more compelling than other interpretations I've seen: it's just trying to build different patterns from the same raw material.

    The article does follow a pattern I have seen before, which is just to make assertion after assertion in the apparent hope that people will stop noticing the outrageous nature of those assertions and accept that the author must know what they are talking about. Perhaps the full comentary contains support for these assertions, but if so I'm not sure I would find it any more convincing. But I guess I'll never find out: Since I don't believe Revelation has a true hidden meaning that I should be hunting for, I won't be reading the commentary in an attempt to find that meaning.

    Much of the effort of the article is focused on interpreting 666. I am familiar with Hebrew gematria and its Greek equivalent, and perhaps it would be a possibility. But I do find it implausible that the "true meaning" of a Greek text would be found in the Hebrew transliteration of names from that text. And none of the rest of the article building up how well Bar Kokba and Nero fit the prophecy does anything to address the implausibility of that step.

    So, just a couple of examples of what I view as bold assertions:
    "The pronouncements of Christ in the Fourth Gospel and in the Apocalypse are so prophetically accurate that it is tempting to evaluate first century arguments as ex eventu prophecy – as belonging to a later era (after the Kochba revolt). However, the woof-and-weave of the Apocalypse is embedded throughout the NT and this would necessitate pushing the dating of the whole NT beyond 150, a position that is unsustainable."

    I don't think it is "so prophetically accurate", and I am quite skeptical of an interpretation of Revelation that relies on sources we can't even be sure the author of Revelation had access to (like other parts of the NT). Let alone that it is intricately woven into the text of the NT: It is a separate book, written in a different style and genre from the other books in the NT. I do not doubt that connections can be made, since I have seen many connections being made between all different parts of the Bible, but I very much doubt the plausibility of those connections.

    "it is undeniable that the Apocalypse was delivered to the first century church (before the fall of the temple in 70)."

    It's quite surprising how many people have managed to deny this "undeniable" truth.

  12. (continued)
    If an explanation fits well it could be because it was written after the event. Or it could be because it was prophecy. But there is a third option: The seeker is a motivated reasoner who knows the pattern they are looking for and searches to find something to match, discarding or adjusting options that don't match. Since they know what they are trying to match, it is not surprising that the final solution matches closely (at least in their telling of it). Revelation is a book filled with dramatic imagery, and as a result it lends itself to many varying interpretations.

    I think you would find that Christadelphians say exactly the same about how clearly the prophecy of Revelation is fulfilled in their continuous-historic view. It's a pattern, yes, but a very different pattern. So what's it to be? Is one of them the result of motivated reasoning and pattern seeking and the other the true, prophetically accurate meaning? Or are both of them just a result of pattern seeking?

  13. You make a judgement on a 695 page commentary on the basis of a 9 page introduction? Well I suppose that you readily admit that you are happy to leave scholars "unread" so the basis of your assessment must be your unsubstantiated opinions -the very things you call out in your opponents. Yes, people do find unrelated patterns. It is called apophenia (the face of the man in the moon LOL) and the commentary discusses this phenomenon.

    However, the weight of cumulative evidence (yes, I use the word evidence) derived using intertextual methodologies confirms this. But then again you are happy to leave scholars like Beale "unread" who employs intertextuality to demonstrate the influence of Daniel on the Apocalypse - the connections are undeniable. The FACT is that 666 and 616 equate to bar Kochba in the HEBREW (not as a transliteration)....but I suppose that is serendipity? As to my

    core beliefs I could give "Paschal's wager" as an answer, but will not as it is essentially a faithless position. I know that God exists but cannot prove it to you and neither can you prove the opposite. Prof Jordan Peterson recently answered the question, "Do you believe in God" by deconstructing the question and stating that "belief" and "God" were loaded terms - meaning different things to different people and he refused to be labeled - his answer was "I act like God exists". Not believing in God does not mean that people turn into raving psychopaths....alternatively there are many "believers" who are psychopaths. Belief should make someone a better person but often does not.

    However, unbelief does emphasize existential pointlessness and philosophical nihilism. A bit like the quote from Vincent (Tom Cruise) in the movie Collateral Damage: "Get with it. Millions of galaxies of hundreds of millions of stars, in a speck on one in a blink. That's us, lost in space. The cop, you, me... Who notices?". Finally, I wish to remain "unknown" and will seek truth where ever it may be found - therefore I use material from different denominations. I am going to have to fare thee well now and cease communication as I am very busy. I wish you all the best and ask you to keep an open mind. Ultimately, the path you have chosen (despite your bad past experiences) will bring you no joy.

    1. Unknown,

      Thanks for stopping by. Your earlier responses seemed quite fair and conversational, but your closing response is more in line with what I've sadly come to expect from believers ("I know I'm right - and the reason you don't agree is because of some failing on your part" - often followed by some threat of being eventually proven wrong by God and punished for it). An unfair generalisation perhaps. I'm not sure. However, I will at least say that your interest in scholarship and history is commendable. I disagree with your views, and more importantly your methods by which you appear to have arrived at them.

      I would suggest spending more time looking for disconfirming evidence, rather than trying to construct a case for defending your existing views. That approach in itself is more likely to lead to truth than anything you've described so far.

      I hope I'm not too unfair in saying it seems you were more willing to preach than to discuss, given your advertisement of a lengthy document pushing a minority viewpoint, and also your consistent name-dropping of various scholars as though a few individuals could be accepted up-front as some kind of authority. What did you expect when you posted here? Should we have uncritically accepted your view? What if we had read your 695-page document in full, only to come back with a list of objections? Would that have led to any agreement between us? Would any of our views have been enriched? I have my doubts. Given your response after Jon dared to raise doubts about the truthfulness of a 9-page document, I am not confident a full critique of the longer one would have been worth our time. But perhaps again I am being unfair - we'll never know.

      In your above response you criticised Jon for leaving scholars "unread". This criticism could be made against every person alive, since none of us has the time to read every scholar. We read what we find interesting, and what we think will be of benefit. Frankly, the book(s) you recommended are in neither category for me. Like I said earlier, if a scholarly consensus forms around some view, I'll check it out. Otherwise for any individual viewpoint, there are likely far more scholars who disagree with it than those who agree, so on what grounds could I as a layperson accept it?

      I take issue with your suggestion of reading them all and making up my own mind. In one sense we have no choice but to form our own opinions, but I don't think that's what you meant. My objection is that without the relevant knowledge and qualifications, any opinion I might form based on my limited reading and study as a layperson is likely to be wrong. How would I know whether I had even understood the subject well enough to form a valid opinion on it? Overconfidence is far easier to achieve than real competence! Without becoming a scholar myself, I'd only be deluding myself if I thought I had grounds to accept a minority viewpoint with the confidence required to base my entire life on it. That seems like a recipe for self-delusion to me.

      Rather, what I am left with instead is a world where I see a consensus on some things (which I generally accept), or otherwise a plurality of views, some of which I find more likely than others, but none of which I have sufficient reason to fully believe at the exclusion of all others. What am I to do with this information? I have no idea.

    2. As to your other points:

      "However, the weight of cumulative evidence (yes, I use the word evidence) derived using intertextual methodologies confirms this"

      If you say so. Should we take your word for it? As Jon indicated, if it is so undeniable, why haven't the majority of critical scholars accepted your views? Why should we listen to you and not them? If there is no agreement and no consensus, what is a layperson like me to do? Flip a coin?

      "The FACT is that 666 and 616 equate to bar Kochba in the HEBREW"

      I just know that when someone puts the word "FACT" in all-caps, the words that follow will always turn out to be true. Sarcasm aside, I've heard many such interpretations and at this point I'm not sure which (if any) is likely to be most accurate. Meanwhile your feeling of certainty is not an indicator of truth.

      "As to my core beliefs I could give "Paschal's wager" as an answer, but will not"

      Then why mention it? Why do so many believers find this compelling, given that the wager itself was never designed to lead to truth (and if you read it in full it was never intended the way believers assume)? For a start, the wager first asserts that God could not be known in any way, and that one must make a choice in the absence of any evidence. Further, that choice is made only according to the benefit received to the chooser, and without any regard for what is true. Finally, it presents a false dichotomy, and can be rejected on this point alone.

      Aside from apparently not giving "Pascal's wager" as an answer, you then didn't appear to answer either of my questions, as far as I could tell. No matter - you were free to ignore them.

      I do especially take issue with your closing paragraph.

      "However, unbelief does emphasize existential pointlessness and philosophical nihilism"

      According to who? It is true that unbelief may appear pointless or nihilistic to a believer, but unbelievers rarely report those sentiments. My life may well be pointless from a cosmic perspective, but it's incredibly meaningful to me - because I make it so. In fact the only meaning and purpose that could possibly matter to me are that which I create.

      Is it not the same for everyone? Think about it. If your holy book stated that your ordained purpose in life was to live in abject poverty and die by starvation, would you embrace it? Would you adopt this as your sole purpose and encourage others to do the same? Or would you reject it in search of something more desirable? Something of your own choosing perhaps? What about your career, family, friends, interests? How do you spend your weekends? Would it not be fair to say that your life is full of meaning and short-term purpose(s) that you create for yourself? The fact that you interpret your life as meaningful to some external agent does not mean others cannot interpret their lives as meaningful to themselves and those around them. Besides, all religious people make the same claims about their various gods providing them with meaning and purpose, but they can't all be right. However, they could all be projecting their own subjective meaning and purpose onto the divine agents they each believe exists.

      Small wonder then that believers tend to always believe in a god that agrees with them. It is said that if a triangle believed in a god, that god would have 3 sides. Perhaps your sense of meaning and purpose are a little more subjective than you realise. Acknowledging the subjectivity does not make one's life any less meaningful or purposeful.

    3. (continued - sorry for the long reply. I had much to say)

      "That's us, lost in space."

      Well, if it's true - then why not just accept it? What is to be gained by believing falsehoods?

      "Ultimately, the path you have chosen (despite your bad past experiences) will bring you no joy."

      And here is the threat. You just couldn't help yourself. Who do you think you are, to claim that we experience no joy? How dare you?

      As impossible as it may sound to you, I do happen to experience my share of joy, as do many other non-believers. Unbelievers tend to feel more personal agency in their lives, rather than believe that events they experience may be dictated by a cosmic judge. When life gets tough, sometimes it's just bad luck, or perhaps we can take steps to improve our situation. We don't need to plead for mercy from a wrathful deity, or feel like we've been blessed from above while wondering why our neighbours were less fortunate.

      You appear to display some ignorance about those with whom you disagree. We may see the world differently, but we are still human, and perfectly capable of experiencing all the same human emotions as you are.

      Good luck with your truth-seeking. How will you know when you find it? Is it the feeling of certainty? Why then do people of other religions feel the same feelings? Is it the amount of supporting evidence? Don't others do the same? They may even use the same "evidence" as you do!

      What if there was a way to test your beliefs in order to determine which ones were true and which were not? Would you do it? Would you want to know?

  14. And fare thee well to you, Unknown, and thanks for passing by. Your last few sentences make it sound as if you are in a spaceship orbiting earth, and you must now zoom off, to who knows where, to further your search for truth, and joy.

    1. It is a bit final.

      Unknown, if you should happen to be on a spaceship trip, I hope you enjoy it. Let us know if you happen to come across the throne of God as you zoom through the heavens. Since we have telescopes precise coordinates would be really helpful.

  15. Unknown, let's just retrace how we got here. You made a reference to Revelation's "great multitude" to make an anti-exclusivist point, a reference that I did not think took into account the context of the passage. As I noted, there is considerable disagreement about how to interpret Revelation. I showed absolutely no interest in reading a commentary about Revelation or coming to an understanding somehow better than the many Revelation points I have picked up over the years.

    You then presented me with a 9 page summary which you said would answer all my questions. I was curious, so I read it. It didn't answer my questions, and it had problems, so I critiqued it and described some of the problems.

    And somehow now it is my fault for critiquing a paper that was presented as stand-alone without reading the 600 page book associated with the paper - a book which I never at any stage expressed interest in. Yes, I made firm judgements based on that 9 page paper, but those judgements do not come out of thin air - they are based on the fact that it uses similar approaches to those I have seen in other interpretations, but comes to a different conclusion. And seeing those problems I saw were at the core of the 9 page paper, it seems reasonable to assume they will also be at the core of the 600 page book. Given all that, what basis do I have for accepting any one of those conclusions over the others based on similar reasoning? Just because the commentary discusses apophenia does not mean that it is not itself guilty of it.

    I'm not quite sure why you talked about Daniel, since I didn't deny the inter-textual links between Revelation and Daniel. In fact, I'm almost certain the author of Revelation had access to Daniel. The NT is a different case: according to your thesis it was all being written in a narrow timeframe and yet had some of the books written within that timeframe being available to the author of Revelation. I don't see any reason to believe that.

    You object to me using the word "transliteration", but I was just drawing on the article, which used exactly that word.
    "Scholars have noted that the Greek form of Neron Caesar transliterated into Hebrew characters is equivalent to 666 and the Latin form of Nero Caesar transliterated into Hebrew script is equivalent to the variant 616."

    Yes, that's Nero, not Bar Kochba, but my point remains: Revelation is written in Greek. There is a method for turning Greek names into numbers. It seems implausible that these instructions given in Greek actually refer to Hebrew names, particularly where (in the case of Nero) it is relying on a transliteration from Greek/Latin into Hebrew.

  16. Much of the rest has been well covered by Thom, but I'll just make some extra points:
    1. WRT Jordan Peterson's point, that is actually why I use the label "atheist": on a practical level I see no evidence of God and live life as if God doesn't exist. I have been framing my arguments in terms of probabilities, not certainties, so it is entirely irrelevant that I can't prove God doesn't exist. In my opinion the probabilities point strongly in that direction, so that is how I live my life.

    2. On an open mind, I don't think I can do better than quoting Rob Hyndman: "the charge of needing a more open mind is bizarre. It is not possible to change one’s entire worldview without being prepared to step back, think carefully and keep an open mind. Unfortunately, those people asking me to have an open mind do not seem prepared to follow the advice themselves."

    3. On my choice of which sources to read, this is yet another probabilistic thing: I am open to the possibility that I'm wrong. However, there are thousands of sources of knowledge that may make me more correct. With limited time, I must choose which of those sources to explore based on my assessment of the probability of any particular source improving my understanding.

    4. You state my path will bring me no joy. I endorse all Thom has said about building meaning, but in addition there is one point you have missed: I already know that my former beliefs did not bring me joy. The dissonance between what I theoretically believed and the world that I saw around me caused incredible pain and confusion. I am considerably happier now than I was then, and that is an objective fact which suggests to me I'm on the right track. I cannot tell whether this will remain true in 5, 10, or 20 years, but that's not the point. Right now I'll take my lived experience over your unsubstantiated assertion.

    5. Finally, am I biased? Absolutely I am, and I'm not alone in that.
    What I reject is any implication that my bias is somehow worse because I try to understand it, describe it, and consciously base it on my personal experiences. My life experience means that I don't start evaluating every claim from ground zero, and that's a good thing, because, once again, the time available is very limited and the world is full of claims to explore.

  17. Something Unknown mentioned in an earlier comment bothered me (although I didn't address it above), and today I realised why.

    Here is the comment:
    "Experience has taught me that solutions to problems often appear after many years- so if there is something I do not understand I file it away for future reference."

    In case you think this is a reasonable thing to do, ask yourself whether those who disagree with you but find themselves unable to answer your questions, should follow the same advice.

    I can see two major problems with it:

    1. If taken to extremes it leads to the ultimate denial of reality, where one's whole life is lived being aware that their beliefs contradict reality, but holding onto those erroneous beliefs in the hope that some solution will be offered later. How long should they wait?

    2. It makes the assumption that because in the past some solutions have arisen to prior challenges to one's beliefs, this will continue in the future. Is this assumption justified?

    In my response to Unknown above, I asked the following question, which gets to the heart of why the above approach is not practical:
    "If your core beliefs happened to be wrong, how likely do you think it is that you would find out?"

    In other words, if you were wrong - how would you know?

    It's often useful to imagine ways in which our beliefs might be wrong, and then actually look for evidence that would show our beliefs to be wrong. If we don't find it - great. But if we do - then we have some further investigation to do.


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