The Answers that Atheists Hope No One Has? (Chapter Three)

Introduction

For centuries the Bible has been one of the best-selling and most influential books mankind has ever produced. The sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament come together to form the foundation for nearly all Christian beliefs and doctrines down through more than a thousand years of human history.

Naturally a book like the Bible, a book compiled, translated and edited over the course of thousands of years, has created a lot of controversy and debate. At the heart of it all is there any reason to take Christians seriously when they say the Bible is reliable? Well according to popular Christian apologist Mark Mittelberg, in his book The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers), the answer is a definitive yes.

In the book Mark's main goal is to alleviate the anxieties of Christians who constantly have their faith objected too by giving them some intellectual ammunition with which to fight back. In order to achieve this goal Mark has surveyed one thousand of his fellow Christians in order to see what questions these Christians dread. What objections do skeptics, atheists and non-believers level at modern Christians that leave them stumped? The book is meant to offer Christian answers to the ten most common questions that his survey returned.

In this series of hubs I am attempting to offer my thoughts, as an atheist and skeptic, on Mark's answers. His answers may satisfy curious Christians who have questions about their own faith but would they satisfy the skeptics that so often launch similar inquiries? We're going to find out in this series. Thus far I have been less than convinced by most of what Mark has to say.

As always excerpts from The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers) are credited to Mark Mittelberg and Tyndale House Publishers and are used for the purpose of critique and criticism under Fair Use.

Question 3 - Reliability of the Bible

Thus far in the book Mark has taken us through some of the basic arguments that he believes help establish God as a likely explanation for the origin of the Cosmos and where all the ingredients to create the Universe came from. In chapter two Mark took things a step further giving us what he thought were good reasons to doubt Darwin and to doubt the idea that life could have emerged without supernatural intervention.

Other than a few mentions of Genesis being a good analogue for the Big Bang (which is highly disputable) Mark has, for the most part, only argued for a deistic god of some kind not specifically for the Christian God. He has argued that the God of the First Cause argument would be similar to the Christian conception of God but any number of other gods could easily fit as well.

Chapter three, however, sets aside the more unfocused deism of previous chapters to go straight at the heart of Christianity – the Bible.

In particular Mark's readers have been hearing objections about the Bible's reliability. The question itself can be paraphrased as “Why trust the Bible when it's based on myths, full of mistakes and contradicts itself?”

This is going to be one of the toughest objections yet and I'm anxious to see how Mark is going to answer it and establish that the Bible can be trusted.

The Eye of the Beholder

Mark starts with an anecdote about eye-witness testimony by describing a tragic event in the life of one of his friends. Apparently his friend's Mother had been hit by a bus and tragically killed but two eye-witnesses at the scene both had differing versions of what had happened. Right off the bat it feels like Mark is actually digging himself a hole that he is later going to have to dig himself out of because he makes it seem as if he is acknowledging the flawed nature of eye-witness testimony.

Not so fast, however, as he is actually using the story to illustrate a later point about how both versions of the story can contain the truth. Essentially he ends up arguing that one set of eye-witness testimony, even if it seems to disagree with the testimony of another eye-witness, can still be accurate.

What does Mark make of eye-witness stories of UFOs and alien encounters I wonder...
What does Mark make of eye-witness stories of UFOs and alien encounters I wonder...

The problems with using this anecdote as an analogy to paste onto the Bible are many but it's biggest flaw is in overlooking the glaringly obvious problems with eye-witness testimony in favor of taking stories on faith. We know for a fact that eye-witnesses get things wrong and that eye-witness testimony, especially when years go by and a memory changes, is inaccurate. There's a reason science often relies on technology to do measurements and observations rather than relying on eye-witnesses simply reporting → eye-witness testimony is the weakest form of scientific evidence imaginable.

I certainly hope that Mark intends on addressing the unreliability of eye-witness testimony at a later point in this chapter but something tells me his entire case hinges on the idea that eye-witnesses should always be trusted.


Ye of Little Faith

In Mark's anecdotal analogy two of conflicting eye-witnesses he seems to be suggesting that we should simply accept, on faith, two contradictory stories like his friend Dr. Kantzer did. Now of course he assures us that these two stories, when we investigate and dig deeper, will actually turn out to not be mutually exclusive but be two pieces of the same story. This analogy simply does not track to most of the troubling contradictions presented in the Bible.

Even if we use Mark's technique to eliminate certain discrepancies between the Gospels we are no closer to the real Jesus or the real facts for a simple reason that Mark neglects to mention – the two thousand years separating us from the eye-witnesses that presumably wrote the Gospels. If we piece together a version of Jesus, a version of Gospel events, that we feel fits together nicely there is no way to test the accuracy.

Many scholars who study Jesus and the New Testament aren't confident about what the Gospels got right, who the real Jesus was and a few dispute if Jesus even existed AT ALL.

Mark's analogy is even poorer because it does not involve anything supernatural occurring. There are no extraordinary or miraculous claims when we're talking about a simple traffic accident where someone is hit by a bus.

A more fitting analogy would have been two eye-witnesses, one reporting that an alien was driving the bus and the other reporting that the driver was actually bigfoot. At the end of the story they sit down and find out that, in fact, Bigfoot is an alien, and so all along the stories didn't contradict each other! Except at the end of it all we're left with no reason to except either story – why?

Stories about Miracles

So where else does Mark's analogy fail us utterly? Well first of all in the case of his friend's Mother we have an event that is not in question. This woman existed, there is likely birth certificate, social security data, a death certificate, a headstone, a family we can talk to and a load of other evidence that she was a real person who suffered a very real tragic accidental death. But what of Jesus Christ?

For Jesus ALL WE HAVE ARE THE STORIES. So for Mark's anecdote to make sense we must have two people, one arguing that Bigfoot drove the bus, the other arguing that an alien drove it and all of this while the very existence of the woman who was hit by the bus is actually in doubt. Perhaps there is no record of the woman until well after her death, no birth certificate, no record at all UNTIL the emergence of this story about bigfoot/ an alien.

Unfortunately for Mark most of the evidence that Jesus ever walked the Earth are the very stories that do not agree with each other on what he said and did. Even if we assume that Jesus definitely did exist Mark has to give us a good reason to take seriously stories, presumably written by eye-witnesses, claiming to see Jesus born of a virgin, heal the sick, raise the dead, die AND come back to life miraculously.

All of the stories differ, in some places they differ irreconcilably. In the birth narratives for instance one has Jesus being taken straight to Nazareth after his birth while the other has a flight to Egypt for several years to avoid Herod. The Gospel of Mark has no birth narrative at all apparently having never heard of the virgin birth or ignoring it for reasons unknown.

On a base level the stories themselves are already hard to believe because there is no physical corroborating evidence and many of the events described actually violate some of the most stringently observed laws of physics.

But don't worry, Mark has an answer for the unbelievable nature of miracles.

Miracles are NOT analogous to proven scientific facts...

According to Mark we can accept miracles despite their unbelievable nature because some of our favorite scientific facts also sound pretty unbelievable. After all the Big Bang certainly sounds funny doesn't it? And when you look at scientific descriptions it does tend to hurt one's brain doesn't it? Astounding realities like the Big Bang are just like the magical sounding stories in the Bible right? I mean they both SOUND pretty unbelievable don't they?

Well actually Mark reveals in the very next paragraph where he is confused.

Science v Miracles

Mark admits that the reason we accept realities like the Big Bang is because of the scientific evidence though he seems to think that our trust of what he refers to as “authorities” also has a part to play. In science there are no truly authoritative experts as even the most stalwart and formidable scientists are able to be doubted, questioned.

It is through peer review, through other scientists challenging each others ideas, that the false ideas in science are found out. It is through repetitive testing and continuously updating evidence that we can even establish something as likely to be true in science to begin with. In the case of archeology physical evidence is often key for historians to make any attempt to establish what is likely to have happened in the past.

What evidence is there for these Biblical stories? In most cases myths such as these fly in the face of established scientific facts about reality. If this were not the case, if these stories did not involve supernatural suspensions of the natural order, they wouldn't be called miracles and they wouldn't seem so astonishing. The thing about fantastic seeming scientific facts is that if you do your digging with a skeptical mind you will either find a bed of well established facts, repeatable results and consistent observations OR you will overturn the scientific consensus and scientists will abandon their answer.

Would Mark ever abandon his faith in the Bible? Scientific ideas are designed for obsolesce and revision in accordance with facts. If an idea is disproved or falsified it is discarded. Would Mark discard the absurd claims of Genesis, about Earth being created BEFORE the sun, about three days passing before the sun was created, about plants being put on Earth before the sun?

You might say that his admission to accepting the Big Bang is evidence that he rejects the literal interpretation of the Bible and yet he still brings up Genesis here as if the Big Bang is in anyway an analogue to the tale of magical creation penned in the Bible.

Science works by finding the conclusion that best fits the facts. But thanks to the very nature of religious faith religion establishes it's base claims first and then works backward from the certainty that it is correct toward a forgone conclusion it refuses to ever reject. A miracle is, by it's very definition, the least likely event to occur in any given scenario. Given that scientific facts like the Big Bang are conclusions based on the evidence that are in accordance with natural law they are not analogous in the slightest to claims of miracles.

And I also find it ironic that someone who threw science under the bus as having a strong anti-supernatural bias and who clearly views many scientific ideas, such as evolution, with skepticism, that Mark would not also extend this skepticism to Bible stories.

Mark's anti-science diatribe, from last chapter
Mark's anti-science diatribe, from last chapter

It's a double-standard which tells us to take Bible stories on faith, never mind that they sound fantastic, but tells us to doubt that life could originate naturally – because it sounds too fantastic. Mark is telling us 'relax, sometimes the fantastic seeming turns out to be true, don't discount it because it sounds farfetched' when in the last chapter he was discounting abiogenesis because it seemed too amazing to have happened on its own.

Apparently the rules of science and skeptical inquiry can be thrown away but only where his God and religion need them to be so that he can get a foot in the door.

Who Wrote the Bible?

Thus far I have been jumping all over the place in this chapter mostly because Mark hasn't been addressing the real root of any of the objections I as a skeptic have about the Bible. During this chapter Mark lists, and attempts to answer, eight objections about the Bible that critics might raise but all of them, in one way or another, fail to address the true roots of the many problems with trusting the Bible.

His first objection, for example, is about why we should trust a book written by gullible ignorant people from thousands of years ago. His response is not to answer this objection but to instead point out that some people from back then would be telling the truth and some would be lying and that we have to discern truth ourselves. In order to illustrate this Mark quotes the following verses from 2 Peter:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” 2 Peter 1:16-18 NIV

Mark asks us if this sounds like some gullible fool who has no idea if what he's reporting is true or if it sounds like someone who made sure to verify what they were saying. So because this guy, the author of 2 Peter, says it's not made up and it's not a clever fabricated story, we should believe that he's telling us the truth? I am perfectly fine conceding the idea that the author of 2 Peter believed in Christ with a genuine and sincere belief but the sincerity of his belief has absolutely no relevance or bearing WHATSOEVER on whether the story is itself made up.

And here's the kicker, the painful reality, 2 Peter wasn't even written by the disciple/apostle Peter. Peter, the supposed rock upon which Christ would build his church, isn't even believed to have written either first or second Peter by biblical scholars. What we have here is a pseudepigrapha, which is a fancy scholarly term for an ancient FORGERY. In fact large portions of the New Testament are believed by scholars to be forgeries as the practice was common at the time and there were no laws or customs against it (for the most part) in the ancient world.

So the author of 2 Peter, which is almost certainly not Peter, appears to believe that the Jesus story is true and not made up. Some anonymous Greek speaking scribe from two millennia ago is attesting to the fact that he and other Christians accept these stories about Jesus. Essentially what we are looking at is a piece of internal religious propaganda.

This is no different than if we were to read a missive from Scientology from one faithful Scientologist to another affirming that their dear leader L Ron Hubbard was indeed still alive but simply living in a different body. This may sound harsh but the assurances of someone already deluded into accepting the absurd are not convincing reasons for those outside of the belief system to start believing.

The sincere beliefs that people two thousand years ago had about Jesus do absolutely nothing to assuage the skepticism I have and the objections I have to accepting that those beliefs are based on a real person and real miraculous events.

But what of the parts of the New Testament that are not disputed as forgeries or proven to be such? Well there are a number of Paul's letters that are believed to be authentic by biblical scholars. An interesting thing about Paul's letters is that they almost never focus on or mention Christ's earthly life. When it comes to details of what Christ did and said, beyond the Resurrection and some of the sightings after it, Paul is strangely silent. Paul focuses on the supernatural aspect of Christ and Christ's victory over sin and rarely if ever mentions a physical earthly Jesus at all.

The Gospels

And then there are the canonical Gospels, all of which are authored ANONYMOUSLY with the four names being ascribed to them at a later date based on church traditions that had developed. All four Gospels were written decades after the death of Jesus with Mark (at around 60-70 CE) being the earliest and John (90-100 CE) being the latest. And the thing is in the case of each Gospel we know that legendary additions were being made.

In the case of Mark it is a well known fact among biblical scholars that the end of Mark was added later, even many Christian Bible websites admit this. Verses 9-20 of the final chapter, the portion containing the post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus, are a later addition. The original manuscript of Mark apparently had a cliff-hangar where the women attending to the body of Jesus find him gone and instead are addressed by an unidentified young man in white robes that Jesus has risen just as he said he would. The women scurry out of tomb afraid and tell no one what has happened. That is the original ending to Mark's Gospel written sometime around 60 CE, about three decades after Jesus would have died.

Mittelberg even brings up a few of the discrepancies between accounts of the Resurrection that he addresses in an impossibly lame fashion. When faced with the fact that the Gospel of Mark reports no angels while Matthew reports an earthquake and two angels while Luke reports two men in dazzling clothing Mittelberg's response is to simply say that everyone is telling different parts of the same story. Some parts just have additional details that the other authors left out because they didn't feel them necessary. So Matthew was confident in calling them angels while Luke preferred to just call them two men in robes while the woman Mark interviewed for his Gospel apparently had glaucoma and only saw one man.

It isn't that Mark is leaving out the angels and the earthquake because those are later additions that Matthew decided to make. No the author of Mark knew about those as well but didn't feel like they were needed to get his point across. Either that or the witnesses he talked to didn't feel it important to mention an earthquake and the miraculous descent of an angel.

Apparently the author of the Gospel of Mark also thought we didn't need any of the stuff about Jesus appearing after his Resurrection and directing the Disciples because all of that had to be added to Mark in later editions of his Gospel. It's almost as if adding things in later and changing them up if you thought they were important to the narrative was common practice back then.

Of course Mark (Mittelberg) still hasn't given us a single reason to assume that any of the four Gospels is even an eye-witnesses real account and not just some stellar Jesus fan-fiction. And before anyone says that there was no such thing as Jesus fan-fiction I suggest you look up some of the apocryphal Gospels about Jesus when he was a kid.

There's even one where Jesus strikes another young boy dead. Keep in mind that each of the Disciples was an Aramaic speaking Jew living in an illiterate time and each of the Four Gospels is written in Greek by highly literate Greek speaking scribes who appear to be well-versed in literary tactics and composition.

We know that the Gospels were changed, that stories were added over time, and from the differences of the four endings to the Gospels we know that each author had their different version of events (the Gospel of Mark with it's cliff hangar where the women tell no one for example).

Mark Mittelberg's only answer to this is that the accounts should be pieced together and that that should make all the discrepancies disappear. Of course this only works if we are the guy from the beginning of the chapter who decided to hold two contradictory versions of events in his head and believe them both.

Cognitive Dissonance

What Mark is asking us to do is engage in active cognitive dissonance, to give all Bible stories the benefit of the doubt and take them on faith. It feels like what he's saying is wherever there is a contradiction we can probably smash all the stories together and pretend they're all correct. Of course he doesn't address how these changes can alter the big picture or why most of them don't make any sense whatsoever to leave out.

For example the earthquake that Matthew adds during the Crucifixion that causes the dead saints of Jerusalem to rise and walk through the streets. That's right, look it up, there is an army of zombified Jewish saints in Matthew and guess what – it's not mentioned in any other Gospel.

Now as a former Christian I've been to and seen more versions of the Crucifixion story and Resurrection performed than I can even remember. Not one single adaptation I've ever seen, at my former church or any other church, has ever included the risen Jewish saints. Why do so many fail to piece that part together? Or is it ignored because most people don't know it's in there and those that do don't want their saviors crucifixion to seem like goofy middle-eastern mythology (even though that's what it is).

What Mark (Mittelberg) would have us do here is hold all four accounts as equally valid and true irregardless of where they disagree with each other. Then somehow you'd have to piece them together, no easy feat since even Biblical scholars can't decide on which parts reflect the real Jesus and which are legend or fluff. Cramming the Gospels into one UBER GOSPEL is meant to make all the blemishes disappear?

But of course we can't actually sit down with the authors of the four Gospels and get any clarification like the person in Mark's anecdote. We are two thousand years removed from the folks who wrote the New Testament. Christians have to live with beliefs and stories that contradict each other and no matter how many times Mark attempts in this chapter to make it sound okay it still sounds painfully unconvincing and mentally unhealthy.

Unbelievers Blowing Smoke?

I could go on for literally hours listing contradictions, big and small, that exist in the Bible and go into the minutia, even look into the original Greek and Hebrew being used. There are literally hundreds of examples why the Bible is an unreliable immoral mess of mythology that is best appreciated for what it is - a compilation of myths, fables and historical fiction that details what those ancient people believed when and where it was written. But according to Mark, most unbelievers like myself are just blowing smoke.

A Challenging Message for Mark

I've been pretty harsh on Mark's ideas in this series but hey this is a series about my rebuttal, my opinionated response to his answers so I think that's okay. But here I want to be harsh on Mark himself a bit. I know, perhaps it's mean-spirited of me. Mark is a Christian apologist attempting to equip other evangelicals in going out and converting their friends and family to Christ. For someone like Mark this isn't merely an intellectual endeavor or an attempt at financial gain, it has to be more than that, it's the moral thing to do. He's trying to save souls right?

But what he's telling his Christian audience in that paragraph is that atheists and skeptics don't have any real specific examples of contradictions or things that they object to in the Bible. Nine times out of ten, right, atheists are just avoiding the Bible because they know it will convict their hearts of sin (they will have to face the Bible's CHALLENGING MESSAGES). I have a challenging message for Mark Mittelberg:

You're wrong Mark and you're setting your readers up for abject failure of the most stunning and laughable kind.

I could write a book on what I find self-contradictory and objectionable about the Bible, and if the audience was there for it I'd probably jump at the chance. Most of the skeptics, atheists and non-believers that I know, admire or talk to used to be Christians. This includes people from academia but it also includes the regular old atheists I've encountered. In fact I would bet money that nine out of ten atheists know more about the Bible and Christianity than nine out of ten Christians do.

If you send your readers out there with the attitude that skeptical objections to the Bible are almost never specific or can be easily resolved through cognitive dissonance or smashing two contradictory accounts together you are setting them up for embarrassment. Look I'm not some kind of expert on anything, but currently on the internet there is tons of information about Biblical scholarship and people can actually access and research the Bible in it's original languages right here online.

The Positive Case for the Bible

I definitely ended up rambling a lot in this installment and for that I apologize but I encourage you to read Mark's book for yourself and I think then you will understand. His defense of the Bible in the beginning of this chapter is paper thin and I can only assume the reason why is because it would take quite a few volumes to truly defeat the idea that the Bible contradicts itself. After all there are hundreds of contradictions and Mark doesn't have time to refute every single one of them.

So I'm going to skip ahead to the portion of the chapter that Mark dedicates to making a positive case for the Bible. Here he mentions thirty-nine external non-Biblical sources for Jesus:

Source
Source

External Sources and Mental Shackles

Now he doesn't mention all of the sources by name, we'd have to hunt those down ourselves. Thankfully there is this miracle of technology called the internet. How many contemporary accounts of Jesus are there? That is to say how much evidence of his life and amazing miracles remains from the time he was alive? If you answered none you are absolutely correct.

Even the extra-biblical sources for the supposed life of Jesus that Mark is talking about tend to be written decades, or in some cases longer, after Christ's life ended.

Now we'll go back to L Ron Hubbard and our Scientology analogy. Hubbard was a real human being for which there is all manner of evidence. Now of course Jesus lived two thousand years ago, we can forgive someone who lived that long ago for not leaving behind dental records, photographs, etc because those sorts of things didn't exist. So maybe Jesus, like L Ron Hubbard, really was a real guy.

But now we introduce into this the non-secular sources, the New Testament, the stuff that says this guy Jesus was miraculous, magical, raising the dead, the incarnated son of God. And we're told that the external sources, the ones outside the New Testament - none of which are written during his lifetime and most of which are dubious at best – are evidence that the propaganda put out by the church (the New Testament) that grew up around Jesus and worships him, are also reliable.

How can I possibly believe that someone who worships this guy, Jesus, as the one true son of God, is being honest with me and with him/herself? Keep in mind that many Christians believe if they don't serve and worship Christ they will likely burn in Hell forever. When you are under the weight of those kind of mental shackles I can't simply take your word for it, much less the two thousand year old words of the founders of the cult. And nothing Mark has argued has made the stories sound anymore believable. He hasn't presented a lick of good evidence.

The Church of Shaq?

Let us imagine, for a moment, that one of these external sources about Jesus contained the fact that his middle name was Jeff and that he indeed was the brother of James. Jesus brother of James, there it is plain as day and his middle name was Jeff. Now am I supposed to believe, because this fact confirms the Biblical claim that Jesus was the brother of James, that the person mentioned walked on water, raised the dead, cast out demons, healed the sick and was the living breathing incarnation of the one true and holy God of Abraham who is and ever shall be?

If I read a biography in thirty years time that says that Shaquille O'Neal wore a size twenty-two sneaker should I also take seriously a story that comes out from a recently developed Church of Shaq which claims he once jumped over the moon and dunked a basketball into the rings of Saturn? Now what if the Church of Shaq catches on and in a thousand years time there are billions of Shaq believers. Shall I take them more seriously because there are billions of them? Should I believe the story of how he jumped over the moon? No, of course not.

Proving that a mundane place, event or person from the Bible actually existed does NOTHING to prove the supernatural claims it makes.


Too Early to be Legendary

One of the most common tactics among apologists trying to establish the Gospels as reliable is that they claim the writings of the New Testament contain creeds or beliefs that go back to the earliest days of Christianity. The claim is often that these beliefs, the belief in the empty tomb is one example, go back to within a few years of Christ's death and thus show just how soon after Christ died that stories were told about him being the son of God who rose again. This is all meaningless to a skeptic.

Again we are drawn back into the web of one L Ron Hubbard who had a real life cult of personality around him that reminds me of a more business savvy and self-serving version of Jesus' following (of course Christianity caught on to the business part of it eventually). Hubbard, even while alive, was a cult figure about whom legends were told and when he died he did not merely die but went to another plane of existence. And Hubbard is by no means the only example of people about whom legends, tall tales, and supernatural claims are made WHILE they are still alive and afterward.

Source

Long Island Medium

Another example is the so-called Long Island Medium who claims to talk to the dead. The Long Island Medium manipulates and tricks people, and perhaps herself, into thinking she is talking to their dead relatives and loved ones in order to gain fame and affluence. And the thing is as see-through and bogus as her parlor trick cold-reading is to skeptics it does convince a lot of people and likely after she dies her abilities will be attested to by the people who believed in her.

Now depending on what kind of Christianity Mark believes in he might see Theresa Caputo as a charlatan or as the real thing. Speaking with the dead is mentioned as a real thing in the Bible and you are meant to kill those who do it (it's in Leviticus). My guess is, however, that Mark would not gather up stones to do as the good book says but would instead fall in the camp of people who are skeptical of Caputo's claims.

In other words Mark would disbelieve the supernatural claim of someone who is living and breathing today, someone he could interact with personally. Mark could go and talk to the people who believe in Caputo right now, including some who will likely break down into tears about their experience with Caputo's miraculous abilities.

But make no mistake that what mediums do is nothing more than a trick and this has been known since the days of Houdini going around to spiritualists and mediums and debunking them. The sincerity and earliness of beliefs about someone's extraordinary or miraculous abilities means absolutely NOTHING. Something tells me that both Mark and I would be on the same team when dealing with someone like the Long Island Medium but immediately part ways where the Bible is concerned.

Where's the Beef?

I understand that Mark has ten questions to answer in this book and that his answers are meant as starting points and not intended to be exhaustive however I expected better. At the very least I thought he would better address the difference between a mundane ordinary claim and a miracle claim. Instead he conflates the two telling us that something which has been proven with evidence, the Big Bang, is exactly the same level of believability as some mythological story about a man surviving in a fish or a genocidal God bending a rainbow in the sky to promise his beloved children that he will never commit mass murder using drowning ever again.

There is no substance to his answers here and I can't help but feeling that rather than giving a breezy overview wrought with bad analogies that he should have dug into the meat of a major and serious contradiction. For example he could have tackled the vast differences in moral philosophy between Jesus and the God of the Old Testament.

Jesus tells his followers to turn the other cheek and not resist evil while the God of the Old Testament repeatedly sends out the Israelites to slaughter whole nations down the last child and tells them to stone all sorts of people including their own family members if they decide to serve any other God. You must purge the evil from among you are words that follow after many OT laws, most of which involve stoning people to death.

There are any number of big glaring contradictions in the Bible and all Mark needed to do was pick one, a big one, and really give a good comprehensive answer as an example of how with enough research and knowledge of the text you can make sense of the Bible.

But Mark has nothing new to say. He gives the skeptics his Christian audience are meant to evangelize to absolutely no cause to think any of the stuff about Jesus in the Gospels even approaches the truth. In the end Mark doesn't even give a sufficient reason to think that Christianity and the Bible are more likely to be true than other faiths.

What? Jesus makes the claim that he's the only way to salvation? That's proof positive that Christianity is more likely to be true than any other religion right? After all what sort of religion claims that it has the way to truth, or the path to enlightenment, or the answers to the creation of the Cosmos, or the best way to order society and morality? Oh, that's right, most of the major world religions make claims to do those things. Ah, but the Bible says we are all equally sinners, so it has a generally anti-human theme running through it, very unique indeed.

Conclusion

I know that some who read this might think I am being a bit mean or harsh on Mark but that is not my intention. However I also have no intention of pulling punches or going easy on his ideas. See ultimately even if his book is written for a Christian audience it claims to be designed for them to then take what they learn and use it as a springboard in discussions with skeptics, non-believers, former believers and atheists. Ultimately the tactics and arguments in the book are supposed to come back around to get used on me and people like me by Christians.

Perhaps this means I shouldn't be surprised that thus far Mark's arguments have been very familiar as I'm sure plenty of the Christians I've talked to have read books very much like his and then tried to use those arguments. Here's something that Christian apologists should know by now however, if an argument is ineffective on skeptics and atheists perpetuating that arguments and selling it to other Christians as the ANSWER to a tough objection doesn't help anybody. It annoys the atheists who have to hear the same tired bullshit and it annoys the believer who thought for sure the tactics in the book would convince an unbelieving friend only to have them fail miserably.

The reason I like to read what Christians have to say and debate and discuss with them online is I want to see why they believe and why they think I should believe too. I want to see clever arguments I've never seen. Instead I end up refuting the same tired arguments that apologists continue to pump out year after year, decade after decade.

And this get's us to the fact that, despite what Christian apologists claim, apologetics are tailored to assuage the doubts of those who already have some belief in Christianity or God. Because as an atheist I don't think I've ever been less convinced than I am reading this book.

To illustrate just how pathetic this whole chapter is I'm gonna post another excerpt from the Bible that Mark uses:

Now Mark uses this to show us that the people writing the New Testament were carefully trying to explain the truth to people. That's how this Bible quote he's used sounds to him, that's how it comes off when someone INSIDE THE CULT reads it. But for someone outside the cult, someone who escaped the cult no less and knows what's it's like on both sides → that passage of scripture reads like the ravings of a madman. It sounds like a cult of people all hallucinating and emphatically trying to convince you that they REALLY saw him and really TOUCHED him.

If someone came up to me, or wrote a letter to me, emphatically insisting that they had found the savior of all the world and that they wanted to fellowship with me in his name I would not be open to that at all. It doesn't sound like someone carefully recording truth, it sounds like someone who's stopped taking their meds.

And I don't say that to insult Christians. I'm not saying you have to be crazy to believe these things. I'm saying the beliefs themselves read like any other insane ramblings of hallucinating or delusional people. The beliefs themselves, penned in the Bible, do not strike me, in any sense, like careful recording by sane reasonable people trying to convey some objective facts about reality.

If that is the best possible passage Mark has to try to demonstrate his point about the reliability and truthfulness of the Bible than Mark has just made a point in my favor. No one outside the cult of Christianity who understands how cults, especially those that start around central human figures like Jesus and L Ron Hubbard (and, in the future, Shaq), work can possibly look at that and think it sounds like reasonable accurate reporting from an unbiased source.

If you've made it through this hub you have my thanks, I know these have turned out to be long ones. Well strap yourselves in kids, next week we get to look at Chapter Four when we dive headfirst into a question about the divinity of Jesus.

How that passage in 1 John reads to me:

More by this Author


Comments 13 comments

Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 10 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

Wow, what a long one. I did manage to read the whole hub, but i confess that none of Mark's "answers" convinced me to become a Christian again.

Having read the bible a few times (once as a believer), i am able to look at it with adult eyes and i constantly see the contradictions that once made me question the faith.

And once one is able to see the contrived nature of the bible, one can never go back to blind faith ever again.

It's like once one has fallen for a few con artist tricks, one eventually realizes they have been had. Then the tricks of the con men no longer convince you to buy their ponzi schemes.

With this age of information and scientific discoveries, i have no doubt that religion will eventually fall by the wayside like the legends of Zeus flinging thunderbolts down from the sky.

I just wish more people could understand the freedom of enjoying a natural life without the fear of offending some god or another. Begging for an afterlife is so unbecoming and so useless. Worshipping the distorted ramblings of an ancient book is so ridiculous as to be pitiful.

Grow up people!


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 10 months ago from back in the lab again Author

Thank you Austinstar, I'm glad you made it through! This series has turned out to produce some very long hubs as it tends to take some doing to unpack all the ways Mark Mittelberg is mistaken or confused.

I agree fully, once you stand outside the cult looking in it's impossible to see it with the same naive faithful eyes you once did.

I'm reminded of another hub where some guest user mentioned a "God shaped hole" that we ALL supposedly have. However I am convinced that, while all human beings do indeed search for meaning, once you leave Christianity you quickly learn that you are not nearly as empty as they had you believe.

It's a bit like leaving an abusive relationship where the other person has convinced you that your life will be worthless and unfulfilled if you leave them for good. Sure when you initially walk away you wonder if you're doing the right thing, you feel an initial sense of loss, but after a short while you feel liberated, the weight is off your shoulders and you are free to find your own way.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 10 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

Good analogy. I can also compare it to leaving home for the first time. Your parents/church protected you, and then you discover that the real world isn't as scary as everyone said it was. You learn to be an adult and do adult things. No god needed.


Taopi profile image

Taopi 10 months ago

A strong, coherent and crucial argument on a complex and multi-layered subject that I very, very much enjoyed reading.


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 10 months ago from back in the lab again Author

Thank you Taopi, glad you enjoyed it!


rjbatty profile image

rjbatty 10 months ago from Irvine

It's interesting reading through your chapters and the opinions left behind, there is no firestorm from Christians. I'm sure you've noticed. In most other venues, writing a piece such as this would create a maelstrom, but you generally seem to get positive feedback. I have ideas about what this might mean, but I'd be more interested in hearing your two cents.


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 10 months ago from back in the lab again Author

Thanks for the comment rjbatty.

Well one of the reasons this may not catch the attention of Christians is that it's placed in the Book Review section of hubpages. I debated where to put it, whether to keep it in religion and philosophy, or put it under Christian literature, but ultimately decided that - since it is a book review of sorts - that I'd put it under book reviews. Perhaps that was a mistake I don't know.

Also many of the people who used to show up to my comments section have gotten themselves banned over the years. Either by me removing their comments or getting kicked off hubpages in one way or another.

An example would be Joseph Polanco who, you may see if you visit some of my older hubs, used to get into lengthy discussions. Eventually he got himself banned from my hubs by saying some vile things about gay people that were not even close to true. That, and he defended slavery and genocide in the Bible calling it regulation of labor or some such nonsense. Eventually there was a straw that broke the camels back.

Another believer who used to comment, this one more New Age in his beliefs, got banned for attempting to bully and silence my comment sections by threatening to report our profiles if we talked about them. He seemed to think that addressing him in order to pull apart his beliefs intellectually was in some way harassment and labeled numerous of my hubs as "hate speech" (I always find it amazing when people on the internet play the victim in order to get the system to censor others they disagree with).

Some of the Christians here on hubpages I actually respect quite a lot, such as a user called Lawrence01. There's also a former Christian called DisappearingHead who I've always found to be very reasonable even when he was still a professing Christian.

So it seems that there aren't that many people left who would come and antagonize my ideas, even if they could find them buried in the book reviews section.

Sometimes I reach out to Christians by going to their hubs and disagreeing with them in the comments. I don't do this to be a dick about it, I usually try to be respectful and engage them in a dialogue about where we disagree. A number of times I have seen those self-same hubs be deleted, or the comments on them that I posted be deleted, or the entire profile be deleted by the user. There seems to be a skittishness among some Christians to have someone come in and disagree with them.

Me, I crave disagreement, it's part of the reason I'm reading and writing about this book. I appreciate those who support my hubs and those I can always count to turn up and give me words of encouragement but I also enjoy a great deal when people disagree and start a dialogue. The last thing I need is an echo chamber where everyone is in full agreement, that's generally not intellectually engaging or challenging.


rjbatty profile image

rjbatty 10 months ago from Irvine

I commend your tenacity and I think you've placed your thoughts in the right forum. I've had my confrontations -- usually face-to-face -- and this inevitably leads nowhere. It usually boils down to -- I have faith and you do not or you have faith in things just as invisible as religion. And there it ends. So, it definitely seems worth while to dissect a published book -- and boy, are you tearing Mittelberg to shreds by going after him argument after argument.

It takes a lot of patience to do this, but it must be done, and I'm only glad that you have the perseverance to offer such a detailed rebuttal. I say "it must be done," because religious groups have gained (or retained?) a sense of coercion over our political process. As far as I know there is no atheist coalition donating big bucks to influence our would-be leaders. Religious coalition influence is evident throughout our society, and it must be countered/tempered.

Thus, the leaders in this charge have to be challenged. It's really very serious business, and it's great to see someone (anyone) willing to stand in the front line.

I think your approach is the only one available -- assailing wholesale fallacies point for point. It's tedious, painstaking work, but I don't see any other way of blunting their effect. I give you a lot of credit for having the energy to deflect what appears to be a kind of mass mind control. This is one of the hardest things I can imagine a writer attempting to do -- and you are doing it with tremendous energy and wit.

At the end of it all, you will have amassed enough material to publish your own book -- and I hope you do. I don't know anything about your long-range aspirations, but you are attacking this issue with such ferocity that if if I were forming a debate panel, I'd definitely want to see you on the side of making an argument.

Keep up the excellent work.

I had a lapse in memory about the gigantic stream of comments you received re. one of your earlier works (perhaps posted in a different venue), and the list went on forever. I read a lot of the comments -- mostly those to which you responded, and I was completely exhausted. You have a warrior's (dare I say) spirit, and I can only encourage you to keep fighting the good fight. Someone has to take "believers" to task. It's not just a matter of academics or one upmanship. No, as said before, some of these guys have real influence and even political impact, so we'd be slackards to just let them own the soap box (or whatever they are standing on). Some few (such as yourself) must kick that box out from under their feet and expose them as charlatans/cretins/opportunists/whatever.

You're doing the dirty work, and even seem to enjoy it, so more power to you.


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 10 months ago from back in the lab again Author

Thank you very much for the kind words rjbatty, I'll try not to let it go to my head too much.

I completely agree with you about the way Christianity has embedded itself into our political system. That is how religions maintain their relevance in this day and age, they are embedded in our communities and our politics and often in the minds of people who know and love. So certain aspects of society or people within society become dependent on religion and religious thinking as it embeds itself into every facet of their life from the morals they aspire to to who they vote into office.


lawrence01 profile image

lawrence01 9 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

Titen

I'm about half way through the hu and I'll go back and read the rest after the comment I'm writing here (writing so I don't forget it)

You've made some good points and I've seen the book advertised but not actually read the book, however there are a few things here I'd like to challenge.

1) Are the Gospels reliable? Actually what you say about the 'distance' between the writers and the readers of the gospels was recognised as early as the mid second century and some of the early Christian writers actually did work on harmonizing the accounts. Read Tertullian, Irenaeus, Tatian's Diatessaron and a few others that show they harmonized them. Also it's well known that even if we had NO copies of the gospels from the first two centuries only eleven verses would be argued about as the majority of scholars agree that the gospels are accurate to what was written by the original writers.

2) The supposed people who deny Jesus existed, there were a number in the mid 20th century to thought that, but later archaelogical work showed that they were wrong and the gospels were actually more accurate in what they said than was previously thought, there were a few hubs that named some modern scholars as doubting Jesus existed but when I went to their blogs I found that the hubs were pretty much misrepresenting the truth and the scholars actually did believe in a historical Jesus but not necessarily the same as I do!

3) Science has the answers. I've been reading Quantum physics recently and one thing that stuns me is that science is constantly changing and things we thought were 'set in stone' have actually changed, for example it has been demonstrated that the Speed of light has decayed, that at one point in the very early universe it was ten trillion times what it is today! That time and space itself are 'stretched out' (as Einstein's theory says they would be, and as the Bible said they were!) and it's this 'stretching' that allows for the Quantum particles to pop into and out of our dimensions!!

These are the real things that science has no answers for.

Lawrence Krauss wrote in one of his books that asking "Why?" is a question that science can't answer (he thought we should ban the question as it was unanswerable!).

I'd agree with you that when we look at these things I think whatever we read no matter what it is we'll only see what our views allow us to see!


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 9 months ago from back in the lab again Author

Thanks for the comment Lawrence01,

"Also it's well known that even if we had NO copies of the gospels from the first two centuries only eleven verses would be argued about as the majority of scholars agree that the gospels are accurate to what was written by the original writers."

I'm not sure what you mean by this, there are tons of verses in dispute, way more than eleven. Take, for example, the long ending to the Gospel of Mark that is printed in most Bibles today but was not part of the original. That's twelve verses just on its own (9-20), not to mention other stories and passages believed to have been added later (such as Jesus and the woman taken in adultery, for example).

"but later archaelogical work showed that they were wrong and the gospels were actually more accurate in what they said than was previously thought"

But they were never shown wrong in the sense of hard evidence for Jesus' existence. Look into the work of Dr. Richard Carrier and Robert M Price, some interesting stuff there even if it is hard to prove a negative in this case. But of course my rebuttal doesn't rely on the Mythicist position being true, Jesus may well have existed.

"These are the real things that science has no answers for."

Of course, there are always unexplained mysteries, that's why we (humans) do science, to explore the natural world and seek out those answers and discoveries.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0_YHVFoXkM


lawrence01 profile image

lawrence01 9 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

Titen

The verses in Mark aren't found in any 'gospel' writing before 150 AD but they are found in the writings of the early church fathers (not sure when they first appear but it's around this time and they take them as being authentic!) The other verses that are questioned are in John 8 (the story of the woman caught in adultery). That appears around 170 AD.

The majority of others are the question of the 'variant readings' where writers used slightly different words that changed the meanings and the discussion is on what the meaning might be and how that changes the message!

I got the 'eleven verses' from Bart Eherman who's one claimed to have denied Jesus existed! He does have an interesting view of Jesus and claims the resurrection was a 'vision' but believes the account to be authentic!

I've come across Carrier but not Price so I'll keep my eye open for his writings.


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 9 months ago from back in the lab again Author

Right so that ending is the long form ending in Mark, that isn't in the original Gospel. I really don't care all that much what the Church Fathers thought on the subject, I care what the actual scholarship says. The fact that they (the Church Fathers) think it is authentic is irrelevant.

I know of Ehrman but don't know of that claim, I have been meaning to read his book on the subject of Jesus' existence, I have one of his books about the apocryphal Gospels, some interesting Gospels out there. My favorites are the infancy Gospels that attempt to explain what Jesus was doing as a child, including some stuff that seems right out The Omen. I have seen Ehrman argue against the historical reliability of the Gospels and the New Testament on numerous occasions, its fair to say that he does not see the Gospels as containing reliable history about the real Jesus.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working