Thursday, April 29, 2010


Now, sometimes I find it is necessary to laugh at people. Like when Muslims tell you they're going to kill the South Park creators for, apparently, not showing Muhammad? Oh well, laugh in their face and tell them to go pray for some intelligence or something. At any rate, when people say dumb things you can do one of three things: 1) ignore it, 2) politely correct them, 3) hold them to their words, and either A) laugh at their idiocy, or B) take the necessary precautions and prepare for Armageddon.

Listen to this girl's rant about using Jesus' name in vain... let it soak in... take her words to heart that doing so will be a bad idea, literally a curse which will heap suffering and destruction upon you... as she eludes to your eternal damnation in hell... and the let I Am Matt O'Neil show you a bit of irony in style as he heaps some major PWNAGE onto this poor girl.

In any case, Matt holds this Christian girl to her literal and legalistic principles, and chooses to do #2 and politely corrects her, well, with a certain amount of deserved burlesque aspersion. It helps that the irony makes it so goddamn funny. How's that for literal legalism darling?  

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Matter of Common Sense: William Lane Craig's Cosmological Argument Taken Down Once and for All

A Matter of Common Sense
William Lane Craig's Cosmological Argument Taken Down Once and for All
While reading an older post of Luke's over at Common Sense Atheism, I stumbled across a review Luke wrote about the 2009 god debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens. Luke is quick to criticize atheists like Hitchens for a style he doesn’t agree with but praises Craig for a style he feels best suits the debate arena. Everyone is entitled to their tastes and opinions, but when it comes to making an argument and what qualifies as a good one, I feel that Luke has missed the mark completely. On his comments forum Luke stated about William Lane Craig’s rhetoric that:

I agree that Craig's arguments fail, but at least he presents valid (but unsound) arguments and argues according to the rules of philosophical logic. Hitchens, it appears, has never read a logic textbook. 

…if someone wants to attack Craig's cosmological argument they must realize it is a logically valid argument and then attack the premises, or else attack logic itself.

Okay, I'll bite. I'll take Luke's challenge and tackle Craig's cosmological argument head-on. Luke is a smart guy, but I have to disagree with him here about the validity of Craig's argument. In fact, what I will show here is that Craig’s arguments are frequently not logical, they are logical fallacies. There’s a big difference here which we can’t afford to overlook.

Unlike Luke, I do not see Craig’s cosmological argument as valid or even defensible. Granted Hitchens may need a refresher course in modal logic, Craig could use a refresher course in basic cosmology. Obviously Craig’s entire argument hinges on the excuse that because the universe exits it must have had a Creator, which therefore exists. This is also known as The Kalâm Cosmological Argument first proposed by William Lange Craig in the late 70s, mind you this was a time when the big bang and inflationary model of the universe were still being investigated by bona fide physicists, but Craig’s philosophical position is not a good enough foundation to stand on as it so easily crumples under scrutiny and is crushed by the weight of existing cosmological and scientific knowledge (I've written about this before HERE).

The Kalâm Cosmological Argument is a more contemporary or “updated” version of the cosmological argument which attempts to prove the existence of God by appealing to the principle of universal causality. Similar arguments are found in the theologies of Judaism and Christianity where it is known as the “uncaused cause” or “first cause” argument. But at best this argument, a favorite of theists like Craig, is simply an illusion of explanatory depth. On Craig’s website Reasonable Faith he posits:

1. The Cosmological Argument from Contingency

The cosmological argument comes in a variety of forms. Here’s a simple version of the famous version from contingency:

1.  Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
2.  If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3.  The universe exists.
4.  Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence (from 1, 3).
5.  Therefore, the explanation of the universe’s existence is God (from 2, 4).

Now this is a logically airtight argument. That is to say, if the premises are true, then the conclusion is unavoidable. It doesn’t matter if we don’t like the conclusion. It doesn’t matter if we have other objections to God’s existence. So long as we grant the three premises, we have to accept the conclusion. So the question is this: Which is more plausible—that those premises are true or that they are false?

As the late great Carl Sagan used to say, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Thus far I have seen no genuine evidence presented by Craig, just lame hypothesis, so my answer would be, sorry Bill, without anything to back up such extraordinary claims they are undeniably FALSE. First you have to have a working theory before you can posit that your theory is, in point of fact, unavoidably true (and by theory I mean scientific theory and not a rudimentary hypothesis akin to philosophical conjecture). Notice how Craig just throws in the bandwagon appeal that other objections to God’s existence do not matter, yet only after following from argument 2 that  presupposes God is the cause--again making the inference of a creator being present, or existent, without the proper evidence. Even so, after laying the groundwork for a plausible (which is to say purely hypothetical) cosmological argument, Craig explains the Kalam cosmological argument as thus:

2. The Kalam Cosmological Argument
Based on the Beginning of the Universe

Here’s a different version of the cosmological argument, which I have called the kalam cosmological argument in honor of its medieval Muslim proponents (kalam is the Arabic word for theology):

1.  Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2.  The universe began to exist.
3.  Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Once we reach the conclusion that the universe has a cause, we can then analyze what properties such a cause must have and assess its theological significance.

I agree, the universe exists and so it is at least plausible that it had a cause. Up to this point Craig’s logic is sound. But how come shortly after considering the theological significance of this possibility we find it somehow denotes the necessity for a God? This is, in the words of Spock from Star Trek, “Highly illogical.”

Craig, after throwing all objectivity out the window, then goes on to claim his God hypothesis is backed by genuine science (not likely anyway! Since we must ask based on what empirical evidence can we reach this lofty assumption?), while ironically enough denies that the universe could have caused itself (which is actually a valid scientific theory! There are two current competing models, the Steinhardt-Turok model, or Ekpyrotic "cyclic universe" model, and the Baum-Frampton model), and calls such a notion absurd. Strange, since not only does Craig ignore the modern cosmology but also, in order to posit God’s existence, has to claim the exact same absurdity that God caused himself to exist. This special pleading, if you think about it,  in effect also makes Craig's entire argument absurd. Just saying.

Stranger still is that the only thing Craig finds more offensive than a universe which caused itself is a universe which sprang up from nothing; which as far as we can tell is actually how it might have happened. However, Craig assumes since there is a first cause, this causality denotes intent, which in turn denotes intelligence, therefore the mind of a Creator being. And since causality can’t arise from nothing, Craig dismisses the science in favor of his theological convictions, but this is simply a confirmation bias. All Craig has done is cunningly strung together his unverified theological assumptions and offered them as support for the existence of God, but yet again, this is merely begging the question.  

Once again I must reiterate, the real science suggests the universe came from nothing! (See the well known Physicist Lawrence Krauss explain in detail the reasons for why modern cosmologists believe the universe arose from nothing HERE. And if you ask who is more correct: The philosopher or the expert physicist when it comes to matters of cosmology, I think the answer is plainly obvious).

So don’t let Craig’s over simplifications and bandwagon assertions distract you while he uses dubious smooth talk and subterfuge to dance his way around the issue, Craig’s whole premise is not only predicated on several big fat fallacies, but what’s more, it’s dependent on outmoded and outdated physical and cosmological concepts which Craig refuses to correct.

Victor J. Stenger, a well respected theoretical physicist, reminds us, “The main promulgator of the false notion that the big bang was the origin of time is the Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig, who has been writing about cosmology and theology…” and Stenger puts the issue to rest by letting us know, “I debated Craig in Hawaii in 2003 and pointed out his error, which he has never acknowledged and continues to ignore.” (Victor J. Stenger. The New Atheism, p.170-170)

In actuality, the Kalâm Cosmological Argument only offers a Perseity Loop, i.e. God alone is supposed to be describable as per se esse, that is, existing out of his or her own inner necessity. This form of thinking stems from Thomas Aquinas, who believed that God was ‘quod est per se, simper est prius eo quod est per aliud’—that which is per se is always prior to that which depends upon something else.

Yet, to set the record straight, there are inherent faults to this form of reasoning. The evolutionary psychologist Bruce M. Hood has acknowledged, “A human mind that links events in this way is always in danger of committing the mistake of post hoc, ergo propter hoc: “after this, therefore because of this,” (Bruce M. Hood, Supersense, Kindle Edition: loc. 437-44) which, incidentally, is exactly what Craig has done here with his Kalâm Cosmological Argument whether he realizes it or not. This form of argumentation, however, is an obvious fallacy and even has a proper definition: called faulty causality (to see more on fallacies read my article HERE. The philosopher Quentin Smith also takes issue with the Kalam argument , suggesting that, contrary to what Craig espouses, it actually supports an atheistic worldview. See  Smith's argument in full HERE.)

Needless to say, Craig’s version of the cosmological argument is NOT logical, rather, it is an inadequate premise which reasons wrongly, shrouding itself in sophist language hoping you won’t catch the incorrectness of it, therefore, as I suggested earlier it is a logical fallacy instead. Such reasoning, for me, is not enough to establish the belief in any sort of creator being, let alone a personal God, since all it has done is turn God into a semantic paradox: Creation exists therefore the Creator who created it must exist. But in the end such a fallacy only leads to further circular reasoning; the ill-fated logic fail of the apologist. 

What we can’t say is that the universe exists because of God, or claim that God exists because the universe does, as this is circular reasoning—and it is flawed, not only because it begs the question, but it also is contrary to what the real evidence reveals—i.e. that the universe  appears that it may have come from nothing (See: The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe by Roger Penrose, The Comprehensible Cosmos: Where Do the Laws of Physics Come From? by Victor J. Stenger, and The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene).

The truth of the matter is there is just not enough evidence to claim that God, or some supreme creator being, caused any of it. This is going outside of what the evidence allows for, and it ignores the quidditative knowledge found in modern physics and cosmology, which suggests the universe began creatio ex nihilo, from nothing, everything is made.

With Craig's theory totally falsified, what I think Luke has failed to see between the two debaters is that Hitchens is a strict rationalist while Craig is a desperate harmonist (e.g. Christian apologist). Both are using reason to defend their positions, but just because one may be a better speaker than the other doesn’t mean that his overall argument is the more reasonable of the two. The problem is that Luke is allowing Craig’s smooth sounding rhetoric and philosophical wizardry to blind him to the fact that there is actually NO real argument to be had. Hitchens can only make rhetorical jabs at Craig’s ridiculous hypothesis because that’s all someone in Hitchens position can do to maintain decorum, a straight face, and perhaps manage a few brownie points before driving the point home.

Consequently, this is why Richard Dawkins continues to refuse to debate Craig at all. Dawkins is a strict rationalist, perhaps one of the strictest, and Craig is just a good speaker. And as Dawkins has rightly pointed out, he doesn't have the time to waste arguing with someone who won't even begin to try to see past his own "God delusion." We must understand that from a rationalist's perspective, and from a skeptic who relies upon the scientific method to quantify facts about reality and hopefully derive at a more or less accurate conclusion, Craig's theological conjectures aren't relevant truths so much as philosophical speculations and superstitious suppositions based on irrational faith-based assumptions and misinformed/misconstrued science. And Richard Dawkins is right, there are better things to be investigating than circular what-if arguments based on fallacies and not authentic facts about nature.

I've said it once, and I'll say it again: Reason is not to faith as fact is not to delusion.

Personally having studied Hitchens rhetoric style closely, I can confidently say that while skeptics and other rationalists may get what he’s doing, not everyone will. Hitchens isn’t so much arguing against Craig’s positions—since he can’t very well pretend to argue against a non-argument now, can he?—but what he is attempting to show is other ways of practical thinking besides Craig’s blinkered, ill-founded, unsubstantiated, unverified, and therefore largely null and void ideas which sponsor his overall ideology. Craig’s position is philosophical, sure, but rational it is not. Christopher Hitchens is basically saying, look here, there are these other considerations, substantial ones in fact, which invalidate Craig’s claims. What this means then is that agnosticism becomes the default position, therefore skepticism and asking questions is the best and surest possible way to discovering the answers (not by listening to this guys pseudo-science and moralizing spiritualist hokum), thus onto the question and answer time! Hitchens wants people to engage the material and start thinking about these issues more deeply. Craig, on the other hand, simply wants to spout out deeply philosophical considerations (which may or may not sound logical but ultimately will confuse anyone who thinks about it too deeply) and move onto the next debate. But as I have shown, Craig's arguments are mainly non-arguments to begin with, so what is there to even consider?

Then there is the matter of debating styles. I think many people who can’t keep up with Hitchens’ rapid pace, flurry of references, and abundant asides may get lost in his meandering style. I'm not accusing Luke of this, but again I must disagree with Luke's comment that Hitchens needs better logic. As I've shown, Hitchens can't argue against a non-argument, so the logical thing to do is to attack the faith issue from other angles which don't involve nebulous theological claims rooted in misconceptions about science. Hitchens isn't a scientist, so he's going to address the moral issues, meanwhile most scientists won't even put up with Craig's antics because as Stenger showed, Craig simply ignores their professional advice and stubbornly sticks to his guns, which also validates Dawkin's reasons for not wanting to debate Craig. 

The philosopher Matt McCormick has stated this about the futility of debating William Lane Craig:’s a mistake for serious philosophical atheists to devote too much time and energy to dealing with Craig because he’s a person in this field who seems to be shouting the loudest and the most.  Craig’s arguments have been dealt with at length and with devastating consequences by many people, including myself.  Craig is rarely deterred by any of these critiques, and he is not prone to acknowledge any objection or weakness no matter how clearly it has been illustrated.  But we shouldn’t mistake his pit-bull persistence and rhetorical skill in defending Christianity for something other than what it is.  The unassailability of Christianity in his mind bestows a weird kind of pointlessness to his debates.  As he and his followers see it, debates can only serve to corroborate what they already know is true—Jesus is lord.  If Craig “wins,” which he often does given his skill, then that just vindicates Christian belief once again, if he doesn’t (and few of his supporters would acknowledge that this ever happens), it doesn’t matter because he would never change his mind, and the private, magical, Holy Spirit knowledge he has in his mind makes any consideration of arguments or the evidence irrelevant.  At this point, given what he’s said about the indefeasibilty of Christian belief, I’m not inclined to take anything that Craig or his followers say seriously until I’m convinced that they are playing the same game with the same rules of rationality that the rest of us are.  An essential principle of rationality, as I see it, is that all beliefs are defeasible, and subject to the tribunal of reason. 

I agree, however, that Hitchens tends to be long winded, verbose, and likes the sound of his own voice. This verbosity and narcissism suit him well enough as he is a popular intellectual icon and a charismatic speaker. However, I do see how this pompousness may come off seeming a tad on the arrogant side not to mention immodestly sophist. Meanwhile, Craig puts on an air of intellectualism for his audience, but any intellectual will see right through Craig’s rather strained and puerile arguments.

In the debating arena where larger than life personalities clash and a sense of elitism runs amuck, it’s hard to balance the finer points of truth and reality with pure agenda driven rhetoric, and sometimes information is sacrificed where wit and verve will serve better when trying to bring the audience to your side.

The bottom line is, when making a claim and defending your position the best arguments always have the better content (see my article on how to craft a good argument HERE). The more reliable the content the more unassailable the argument will become, which not only supports the individual’s position (lending it credibility), but also trumps the speakers’ comments no matter how clever they may be. But the same cannot be said about winning a debate in which, more often than not, the most likable, charming, and charismatic speaker will enchant his audience, and like a conjurer, he’ll capture them in his spell and have sway over their opinions and ideas. In the end, all we can hope for is that the person who best presented their position with sound reason and support will be recognized for having made the sturdier case, yet in practice, this seldom is the case. And when it comes to choosing who you think has won I’d bet my bottom dollar that most will choose the clean-cut  prim and proper blue eyed philosopher over the unkempt pudgy chain smoking rambling alcoholic; but this just goes to show there’s no discerning good taste.   

Monday, April 26, 2010

Prognosticators of Progress!

Everyone has certain role models whether they admit to it or not. Whether it's a young person looking up to their favorite NBA player or a middle aged man wishing he could get all the chicks like Tiger Woods, or a friend who overcomes cancer, a family member we look up to, a hero we read about either in history or in mythology, a person who stands up for a just cause, whatever or whoever they may be we all have those who inspire us, and in so doing, gain our admiration and respect. Sometimes they inspire us to follow suit and try to follow in their lofty footsteps. They help us to dream by showing that the impossible can become a reality if only we put our minds to it. 

My personal heroes happen to be those men and women who sponsor the spread of science, prognosticators of progress all, and in their enthusiasm and love for learning, discovering the hidden truths, seeking knowledge, for their courageousness and never ending curiosity I am inspired to no end. To these daring men and women and their noble endeavors, their honesty, and the rigorous investigation, for their faith and rigorous intellectual honesty, with gratitude, I offer my thanks. 

Here are just a few of my personal favorite indefatigable investigators into unknown truths.

1. Dr. Brian Cox, former chart topping British rock star, now head of ATLAS division of the LHC at CERN. Was also a science adviser on the science fiction film "Sunshine" for which the main character was based on his likeness.

2. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and author of numerous popular physics books, such as Physics of the Impossible, is a futurist and is known for popularizing string theory aka "The Theory of Everything."

3. Brian Greene (Theoretical physicist/ Super string theorist. Known for his PBS special "The Elegant Universe," a book by the same name, and The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality.

4. Richard Feynman, one of the all time greats, known for his work on quantum mechanics and the Feynman diagrams and The Feynman Lectures.

5. Neil Degrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and Direcrot of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, Manhattan. Best known as the host of the Nova educational series "Science Now."

6. Lisa Randall, the first tenured woman theoretical physicist at both MIT and Harvard. Known for the Randal-Sundrum model and her popular book Warped Passages.  

7. Carl Sagan, astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist and science educator. Best known for his series of popular science books such as The Pale Blue Dot and The Demon-Haunted World, the television series "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage," and the novel Contact, which was later adapted into a Hollywood blockbuster starring Jodie Foster.

8. Richard Dawkins, promoter of Biology and the theory of Evolution. Known for popularizing correct science in books like Unweaving the Rainbow, the Ancestors Tale, and The Greatest Show on Earth, meanwhile tackling religious issues in his book the God Delusion. Helped push back against a growing religiosity and inadvertently gave rise to the New Atheist movement.

9. Stephen Hawking, known for his work on black holes, but probably better known for the all time best selling science book "A Brief History of Time."

10. Albert Einstein, a man who needs no introduction.

11. Lawrence Krauss, physicist and director of the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University. Known for his popular science books including The Physics of Star Trek and Hiding In the Mirror.

12. Dr. Walter Bishop, the character played by British actor John Noble on the hit television series "Fringe." Portrays a brilliant yet absent minded half-mad-scientist who unlocked the key to a parallel dimension. Has a passion for reciting the chemical properties of his favorite beverages and food recipes and can often be heard answering the question of what is it? or how did it happen? with the reply, "I don't know, but I have a theory! Take it to my lab!"

Friday, April 23, 2010

What Sort of Jew was Jesus? James D. Tabor Interview

In this educational interview the biblical historian James D. Tabor, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, talks about what sort of Jew Jesus was and the importance of keeping the historical questions separate from the theological questions, but at the same time recognizing the importance of good research such as the Mt. Zion dig which Tabor investigates the real archeology of the past. Quite interesting if you want something more than quaint pastoral sermons and want to wet your pallet with some juicy historical trivia!

Watch the interview by clicking HERE.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Biblical Alteration: Discussing the Canon

Biblical Alteration: Discussing the Canon

“Although our New Testament gospels contain historical material, the theological editing is a factor that the discerning reader must constantly keep in mind.” –James D. Tabor (Biblical Historian)

“[N]early 230 million Americans believe that a book showing neither unity of style nor internal consistency was authored by an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent deity. A survey of Hindus, Muslims, and Jews around the world would surely yield similar results, revealing that we, as a species, have grown almost perfectly intoxicated by our myths.” –Sam Harris (Neuroscientist)

It has been my experience that atheists and independent freethinkers walk the road less traveled by because we seek out pearls of truth and wisdom—whereas believers are contented with the assumption that they contain the only truth they will ever need—their faith. Yet time and time again I have made it a point to raise the question, “What is your faith based on?” And for Christians the answer would have to be “The Bible.” Needless to say without the articles of faith there could be no devotional agreement as to the proper convictions a Christian should hold or, for that matter, what the faith should even be about. If you think about it, this is some heavy handed business, because what it all means is that without the Bible then there would be no reason for Christianity—regardless of whether or not Jesus was real.

But as far as I can tell, there was never really a revealed word of God, aka Bible, to being with! In this article I will take you through the history of the canonization of the Bible, what books were selected, by whom, and for what purpose. If you follow the progression backward, in reverse, then you’re logical conclusion will match mine: the Bible is 100% man-made! And what’s more, we have documented it every step of the way from a handful of scrolls and codices to full fledged religious compilations and compendiums. Yet I should warn you, if you are a believer what I am about to share with you will probably test your faith more than anything you've ever experienced before. More than that, it will leave you asking questions and, well, that’s my hope. So don’t say I didn't warn you.

Zealous belief in the Bible as a hallowed text, and the obvious example of how such a doctrine of infallibility can so easily corrupt and override common logic, can be characteristically summed up by suffering to listen to the biblical scholar John William Burgon, who over a century ago, dogmatically declared, “The Bible is none other than the voice of Him that sitteth upon the Throne! Every Book of it, every Chapter of it, ever Verse of it, every word of it, every syllable of it… every letter of it, is the direct utterance of the Most High!”

When debating Evangelical Christians I often get the whole spiel about how the Bible matches all the old documents exactly, that the translations are inerrant, and that there are more copies and fragments of the Bible than any other ancient text! Well after setting the record straight you can inform these uncritical, blinkered, unthinking know-it-alls a thing or two. So as Sister Maria says in The Sound of Music, let’s start at the beginning, since the beginning is often the best place to start.

The Septuagint
The Septuagint, denoted by the symbol LXX, is the Christian Bible (OT) translated from the Hebrew into the Greek. During the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 BCE) legend tells of a massive undertaking in which seventy Jewish scholars in as many days translated the full compendium (hence the LXX).

While there were 2nd century BCE MSS fragments of the LXX among the Dead Sea scrolls (recovered in 1947) what should not be overlooked is that even though the LXX became the Bible of the early Christians, it wasn't without revision. In fact, even as it included some books not in the original Masoretic Hebrew text (e.g. the Apocrypha) other books, such as Jeremiah, were much shorter abbreviated versions of the original.

After all this controversy there were even more repeated revisions and further translations by Aquila, Theodotion, Lucian, and eventually numerous evangelical redactors from the 3rd century onward.

In his brilliant book Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine, the literary critic Harold Bloom brings up the most apparent, and regrettably the most ignored, of Biblical changes which should cause us to immediately doubt the divinity of the text as a whole. Bloom’s acute observations lead the scholar to write (p.47), “The New Testament frequently is a strong misreading of the Hebrew Bible, and certainly it has persuaded multitudes,” and goes on to inform, “The New Testament accomplishes its appropriation by means of its drastic reordering of the Tanakh.”

In his rather telling conclusion of his chapter regarding the futile attempt to find a purely historical Jesus, Bloom states in what might be the most telling and brutally truthful insight in regards to the alteration of Biblical text, relaying:

If the New Testament triumphed in the Roman mode, and it did under Constantine, then the captive led in procession was the Tanakh, reduced to slavery as the Old Testament. All subsequent Jewish history, until the founding more than half a century ago of the State of Israel, testifies to the human consequences of that textual slavery. (Bloom, p. 49)

Bloom reminds us in his book The American Religion, that this human design, since at the very least humans had to assemble the pages and put the book together, is something we must think about when we think of any holy scriptures. To show, that even before Christian history, that early on there were human artificers behind the creation of the supposed word of God, Bloom reflects, “…what we now call the Bible is the result of a complex process of canonization for which the criteria were surprisingly aesthetic, or at least reconcilable with the aesthetic. The Song of Songs is in the Bible because it had enchanted the great Rabbi Akiba…” (Bloom, p. 72)

(See: The American Religion and Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine by Harold Bloom.)

Variant Editions and the Protocanon
If you’ve ever looked at a Protestant Bible and a Roman Catholic Bible you’ll immediately realize that your Protestant version is missing a whole lot of books! Why is a Protestant version different from a Roman Catholic version? Well, to answer that we must look to the past.

The first canon formation stretches back to the two early Councils of Nicaea (325 and 787 respectively). Among Roman Emperor Constantine’s decree of establishing a Christian orthodoxy was also the formulation of both the “Nicene Creed” and the rough draft for the “orthodox canon.” Yet all of this revisionism, editorship, and emendation were just part of a much larger tradition of major rewrites in the history of Biblical canonization.

Before any set canon the Bible would undergo numerous other revisions. The rabbis of the 1st century who taught at Jamnia also finalized the Jewish canon (70 CE) but with the creation of the Septuagint (LXX) the Christian scribes would once again copiously alter the the Jewish canon and fit it to a remodeled Christian version. Not only were the Jewish list of books rearranged, but new additions which were excluded from the Hebrew canon (such as the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, 1 and 2 Maccabees, etc.) were subsequently added into the Christian canon.

The heretic Marcion (c.140 CE) issued his own version of the NT, and later Irenaeus (c.180 CE) would quote from other Hellenistic Christian writings further lending support for the growing popularity of what would come to be known as the Gospels (2nd century onward). Although it is true that some of the Gospels, such as the book of Mark, were written in the latter half of the first century, the earliest mention of it doesn't exist till way into the second century. In fact, the earliest the four Gospels are ever mentioned together is in the Muratorian Fragment, from probably 190 CE, and no earlier. This suggests the other Gospels either came much later, written anywhere from 100 to 150 CE (see my article on the historical framework for dating the Gospels by clicking HERE), which means there couldn't have possibly been eye-witness accounts or personal testimonies. Moreover, internal evidence gained via Higher Criticism suggests the Gospels and much of the New Testament writings are less history than actual imaginative interpolation, redaction, not to forget to mention fictional. 

(For more on the Gospels as works of fiction see: The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man by Robert M. Price, Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? b y Dennis Ronald MacDonald, Lost Christianities, Misquoting Jesus, and Jesus Interrupted by Bart D. Ehrman, and Who Wrote the New Testament?: The Making of the Christian Myth by Burton L. Mack .)

Eusebius (d. 340 CE), on the other hand, devised a threefold classification; noting the accepted, disputed, and rejected books. Eusebius would reluctantly include John’s Revelation, which he considered overtly Gnostic, yet rejected the Didache, Acts of Paul, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the epistle of Barnabas, while the gospels of Peter, Thomas, and Matthias weren’t even considered for inclusion (mainly because they were incomplete. A full copy of the gospel of Thomas wouldn’t be unearthed until the find at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945 CE; over one thousand and six hundred years later!)

Athanasius of Alexandria created a list of twenty-seven NT books in 367 CE, providing the earliest list for a protocanon of fourth century Christendom. Augustine’s criterion followed suit, namely a universal acceptance of Athanasius’ prior listing, and Jerome’s translation of the Vulgate (c.405) from the list of twenty-seven books provided by Athanasius making it the decisive act of establishing the content of the Christian canon. Even so, Jerome admitted the epistle to the Hebrews and Revelation only on the grounds that they had been recognized by the early Church Fathers.

Compounding the issue, the Council of Carthage (397 CE) had forbade the reading of non-canonical books, meaning anything left out couldn't make it back in and no additional works could be amended to the authorized list of twenty-seven books. The provision of the authorized canon was mainly a defense against the perceived heretical movements of Gnosticism and Montanism.

The Canon Finalized
In 1545-47 the first Council of Trent was convened in Northern Italy in the city of Trento. The early Church met not only to decide on what the canonical books of the Bible should be, including protocanonical (first level) books and deuterocanonical (second level) books, but they chose to omit some books (such as 3 and 4 Esdras) while keeping others (e.g. the Apocrypha). The Council of Trent would meet again to rule against Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone, and simultaneously reject the Lutheran and Zwinglian positions on the Eucharist (1551-52). Luther meanwhile would, once again make amendments to his faith, this time by altering the Holy Bible, not only by translating it into German but Luther also relegated all of the deuterocanonical books to an appendix at the end—and eventually would get rid of them altogether. By the third session (1562-63) the Council of Trent would mark the start of the Counter-Reformation by handing all unfinished Protestant transcripts of the Bible over to the Pope to correct and re-translated (yet again) the Bible; this time doing a complete revision of the Vulgate (finally finished in 1592).

Luther, having amended the OT Apocryphal books to an appendix, relegating them as less authoritative, in so doing changed the authority of the Bible more than any revisionist before him. Not only this, but he also de-emphasized the books of James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation therefore causing them to lose precedence among the growing community of Protestants.

New Testament Evolution
Biblical scholars and Historians, using the methods of Higher Criticism, including but not limited to Source, Form, and Redaction criticism have revealed that even the original authors of the NT may have been constantly changing and revising their texts as they wrote. For example, in their book The Masks of Christ Lyn Picknett and Clive Prince show how the original version of Mark depicts a Jesus who is described as being indignant and filled with anger upon having to heal a leper, where the later renditions of the text lighten the tone and changes Jesus’ character not at all in a slight way. Picknett and Prince cite that:

As part of their image damage-limitation, some early manuscripts of Mark have totally transformed ‘moved with anger’ into the much more acceptable ‘filled with compassion’. But while it is easy to see why early Christians changed anger to compassion, it would be very odd to do it the other way round. Nevertheless, many modern translations use the ‘compassion’ version, which is no doubt more comforting for their readers. (p. 97)

Seeing such a blatantly man-made progression with an obvious agenda every step of the way we must ask: are the Gospel accounts even historically reliable? 

Unknown scribes who composed the original Gospels wrote down and pieced together the strands of Christian hearsay half a century or more from the events of the resurrection itself. Most of these writings, including the Gospel accounts, were composed in foreign countries hundreds of miles away from ancient Jerusalem, written in Coptic Greek, a foreign language of a dissimilar culture in a different region of the world decades after the supposed events of the life, death, and resurrection ever took place. Contrary to what the religious might espouse, this sort of “evidence” is the opposite of reliable.  

Professor Price lends his significant insights once more, informing, “The Gospels come under serious suspicion because there is practically nothing in them that does not conform to this “Mythic Hero Archetype,” no “left-over” secular information such as we find with Caesar Augustus and a few others, which serves to tie them into the fabric of history." (Price, p.21)  

Even the early Christian leader Papias claimed that the Gospel texts of Matthew and Mark contained a “word of mouth” style may be grossly inaccurate as it is more likely Papias was mistaken, having quoted an early Ebionite work called the Preachings of Peter—thus confirming that, like the rest of the texts, there has been ongoing misreading and misinterpretations from the beginning to the end of Gospel ascendancy. Robert M. Price once again expounds:

Since we have no text of Papias at all and no manuscript of Irenaeus as old as Eusebius, it becomes reasonable to treat the passages we have quoted from Papias and Irenaeus as no older than Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History. For us, they are no more than apolgetical garnishes to that fourth-century treatise and may be no older. The same holds good for the famous Testimonium Flavium attributed to Josephus: it certainly did not appear in the edition of Josephus read by Origin in the early third century. (Price, p.38)

Other early Christian writings are often cited by apologists in order to bolster the credibility of the historicity of the Bible as well as Christ. Repeatedly I have heard the names from Tacitus (writing in 120 A.D.) to Suetonius (circa 138 A.D.), to Thallus who is only referenced by Julius Africanus some two hundred years later, and Plinly the Younger and so on, but all of them are spurious at best. Why? Mainly because they didn't know who the Gospel writers were anymore than we do, with one big difference, they didn't have the wealth of archaeological  historical, and scientific knowledge to shed light on the matter as modern scholars and historians have, thus their views were largely inadequate, and much of what they *assumed is irrelevant today.
(For more on the historical Jesus see: The Masks of Christ by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, The Secret Gospel According to Mark by Morton Smith, The Passover Plot by Hugh J. Schonfield, and also the work of David Friedrich Strauss, F.C. Baur, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Adolf Harnack, Rudolf Bultmann, W.C. van Manen, etc.)

Continuation of Copious Canonical Change: Perpetual Translations
Today you’ll notice more than a few dozen or so variant translations of the Bible ranging all the way from the Authorized King James Bible (1611) to the evangelist translation of the NIV (1978) to the English Standard Version (2001) all the way to the linguistically interesting paraphrase called The Message by Eugene H. Peterson (2002). The revisionism of the Bible is ongoing as it continues even today!

That said, if you’re wondering what the most accurate and reliable translation of both the Old and New Testament is, I have it on good authority, that the New King James version and the English Standard Version are the best two out there. However, if you are like me and would rather just read the Bible for its literary value, and nothing more, then I suggest you go with the most beautiful and eloquent sounding translation by William Tyndale (1494-1536). Tyndale’s translation forms the basis for the Authorized Version, but for the crime of translating the Bible into English, Tyndale was martyred and burnt at the stake in Antwerp on the charge of heresy (1535). In fact, to read the Bible in English was considered a sin punishable by death.  

Knowing is half the battle, and if you've ever played the phone game with a group of people,  where you whisper something to someone and they pass what you said onto the next person and so on, by the time you get to the end of the line of people the message will come out inexact if not completely garbled. Such is the way of transmission and re-transmission. There is always inevitably going to be data loss. 

Given a certain amount of data loss over a long period of time, this series of interpolations in the message will inevitably lead to miscommunication, and the only thing which is certain is that, the message you think you have is NOT the original message. It’s been changed. 

Now imagine over two thousand consecutive years of the phone game! This is what we find happened with the books of the Bible. Suffice to say, this message is going to be so far removed from the original, so totally dissimilar, that it’s not even wrong. So the next time a Christian tries to tell you that the Bible is the perfect word of God, that it’s inerrant, inspired, and that it has been miraculously preserved throughout antiquity without the slightest alteration or amendment, by all means, feel free to set them straight. 

The bottom line is the Christian Bible is, and has been, the handy work of men.

Notes: Traditionally reference materials such as dictionaries and encyclopedias are not cited in the sources because the information they contain is authoritative, and so is considered to be general knowledge which everyone should know or, at least, have access to. If not then other reference materials are surely available either via your local library or the World Wide Web (i.e. Wikipedia, etc.).

I used the web link to the The Canon of Scripture at the Bible Research page to double check my facts since it's always wise to get a second opinion. This page has excellent comparison sheets and lists. I then cross referenced this with a page from Columbia University which had an easy to follow summary time line of the canonization events. That said, much of the material I share here stems from a series of such sources, including: The Oxford Dictionary of the Bible, The Oxford Dictionary of World Mythology, The Oxford Dictionary of World History, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, and of course The Oxford Dictionary of English. Further references are included within the text. Consult them for more information.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist