The Gospels, Personal Relevance, and A Priori Commitments

The Reconquista Initiative

Presents…

The Gospels, Personal Relevance, and A Priori Commitments

Note:  Please be advised that this essay was inspired by David Marshall’s blog post located here:  http://christthetao.blogspot.ca/2017/01/epic-rap-battle-jesus-vs-alexander.html

When speaking about the gospels, as well as the veracity of all the records for Jesus’s life, unbelievers often point to the fact that there is a great deal of dispute amongst scholars concerning the details of Jesus’s earthly existence—especially when compared to the relative agreement that scholars have concerning the details of the lives of other historical figures—and such unbelievers point out this fact as a means of undermining both the credibility of the gospels and certain Christian claims about Jesus Himself. And so indeed, unbelievers thus bring up this issue as a reason to reject the claim that we can know much about the life of Jesus. However, there is often an ignored reason for why there is such a major dispute concerning the life and times of Jesus and so relatively little dispute about other ancient figures: namely, personal relevance. After all, for the unbeliever, if the gospels are true, then this not only means that his entire worldview is false, but also that, suddenly, he is morally at fault for various things, he is morally responsible for those faults, and there are even potentially everlasting repercussions to his faults if he does not repent of them. Thus, the debate over Jesus is not merely an academic one, as it is in the case of most other historical figures. Rather, it is a debate which affects every single one of us, whether we want it to or not. And in such a case, both motivated reasoning and cognitive biases can flare up to a major level in anyone who wishes to deny the evidence for Christian theism, such as the evidence found in the gospels.

Therefore, the issue of “relevance” concerning the gospels is a point that cannot be overlooked. In fact, it is so important that one wonders whether one should, before having a discussion with a non-believer, ask them whether they would genuinely come to believe that Jesus had caused miracles to occur or that God had resurrected Jesus from the dead even if they had ten eyewitnesses to the events in question as well as video evidence of both Jesus’ miracles as well as his death and subsequent resurrection. Since I doubt that many of them actually would believe in Jesus’s miraculous workings or his resurrection even given such evidence—rather, they would grasp at any naturalistic explanation possible, such as that ‘aliens’ did it or that the video evidence was forged—then it soon becomes reasonable to believe that such unbelievers’s current objections to the gospels are merely objections meant to give more plausibility and apparent legitimacy to their already existent a priori rejection of Christianity and the gospels. In essence, their current objections against the gospels—which, though not without merit, are all-too-often exaggerated and selectively-skeptical—make it easier for them to maintain their intellectual credibility in light of their a priori commitment against theism and Christianity; and such objections certainly make such unbelievers seem more rational than if they outright admitting that no amount of historical evidence would ever convince them to believe in miracle-working Jesus or in his miraculous resurrection from the dead.

And lest you think that I am merely “supposing” that some atheists would react this way, note the following examples.

First, note atheist JJC Smart, when, on page 46 of the 2003 second edition book Atheism & Theism, he states the following:

 [QUOTE] …someone who has naturalistic preconceptions will always in fact find some naturalistic explanation more plausible than a supernatural one… Suppose that I woke up in the night and saw the stars arranged in shapes that spelt out the Apostle’s Creed. I would know that astronomically it is impossible that stars should have changed their position. I don’t know what I would think. Perhaps I would think that I was dreaming or that I had gone mad. What if everyone else seemed to me to be telling me that the same had happened? Then I might not only think that I had gone mad—I would probably go mad. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added]

Second, consider arch-atheist Richard Dawkins, who, in an interview with fellow atheist Peter Boghossian, which can be found on Youtube under the title “Richard Dawkins in conversation with Peter Boghossian”, essentially admits that no evidence can convince him that God exists. Here is a transcript of their conversation between the 12 minute and 30 second mark and the 15 minute and 30 second mark (and please note that I am indebted to the ‘Shadow to Light’ blog for this transcript):

[QUOTE] Boghossian: What would it take for you to believe in God?

Dawkins: I used to say it would be very simple. It would be the Second Coming of Jesus or a great, big, deep, booming, bass voice saying “I am God.” But I was persuaded, mostly by Steve Zara, who is a regular contributor to my website. He more or less persuaded me that even if there was this booming voice in the Second Coming with clouds of glory, the probable explanation is that it is a hallucination or a conjuring trick by David Copperfield. He made the point that a supernatural explanation for anything is incoherent. It doesn’t add up to an explanation for anything. A non-supernatural Second Coming could be aliens from outer space.

[Peter Boghossian begins to speak and is in full agreement with Dawkins, arguing, for example, that if the stars spelled out a message from God, we would first have to rule out alternative explanations, like an alien trickster culture.]

Dawkins then agrees with Boghossian.

Boghossian then asks him: So that [stars aligned into a message] couldn’t be enough. So what would persuade you?

Dawkins: Well, I’m starting to think nothing would, which, in a way, goes against the grain, because I’ve always paid lip service to the view that a scientist should change his mind when evidence is forthcoming. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://youtu.be/qNcC866sm7s%5D

Third, in a Pharyngula blog post which was written on the 9th of October 2010, accessed on the 14th of January 2017, and titled “It’s like he was reading my mind”, atheist PZ Myers—author of the aforementioned popular atheist blog site—also admits that no evidence could convince him that God exists:

[QUOTE] Steve Zara has a nice article at RD.net [Richard Dawkins.net] that is actually saying the same thing I’ve been arguing at recent talks: There is no possibility of evidence to convince us of the existence of a god. … There is no valid god hypothesis, so there can be no god evidence, so let’s stop pretending the believers have a shot at persuading us. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/10/09/its-like-he-was-reading-my-min/%5D

Finally, Steve Zara—mentioned above—in an article on ‘richarddawkins.net’, which was written on the 30th of July 2011, and accessed on 14 January 2017, and titled “There can be no evidence for God (revisited)”, writes:

[QUOTE] …we should challenge the very concept of gods, we should not let believers set the rules of the game with flim-flam about the possible truth of Biblical miracles, or other ways of knowing reality, or necessary beings. We should make it clear that all arguments that lead to gods are wrong because they lead to gods! God is a singular mistake, a philosophical division by zero, a point at which the respectability of arguments break down. God is out of the question, the ultimate wrong answer. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://web.archive.org/web/20140121204114/http://old.richarddawkins.net/discussions/642394-there-can-be-no-evidence-for-god-revisited%5D

In light of the above quotes, is anyone surprised that such unbelievers would vociferously argue that the gospels are not persuasive and that they would use any means necessary to make their objections against the gospels and against any historical record which supported Jesus’s historical nature? Of course not, for doing so is the only way to maintain their intellectual credibility in light of their a priori anti-theistic commitments. In fact, given the above quotes, it is not even shocking that some unbelievers try to outright deny the very existence of Jesus, for doing so makes their dismissal of the gospels that much easier. And so, while points can indeed be made concerning certain weaknesses in the gospels, we cannot lose sight of the fact that objections against the gospels would be made no matter how good the evidence for them was. In fact, funnily enough, Jesus himself tangentially admits as much in a more general way in Luke 16:27-31 when he says that some people would not believe in the miraculous or in Christian theism even if they saw a man raised from the dead, and so Christians should not only not be surprised when people readily deny the evidentiary value of the gospels, but they should actually predict that this will be the case in many instances.

Finally, it should be noted that while Christians are not immune to the same problem as the one identified above, this problem is not necessarily as acute for believers as it is for unbelievers. After all, even if the gospels are deemed to be weak historical evidence, a Christian could nevertheless remain a Christian on purely philosophical grounds, or on the basis of Paul’s writings, or the Christian could even move to fideism or to Reformed Epistemology as the grounds for his faith; or even, the Christian might lose Christianity, but he could remain a religious theist, and so the blow to the Christian would not be nearly as much as it would be to the unbeliever if the unbeliever had to admit that the gospels were powerful historical evidence. Thus, for the Christian, changing his perspective on the gospels would not be nearly as life-changing as such a change would be for the atheist. Thus, a good case could be made that the atheist’s drive to deny the strength of the gospels is greater than is the believer’s drive to affirm their strength.

And so, the long and short of it is this:  as unpleasant as it might be to have to question a person’s motives and worldview commitments when dealing with their arguments concerning the gospels, the fact remains that when it comes to assessing the gospels, a person’s a priori commitments concerning them are highly relevant, and so they simply cannot be ignored. And this is a point that should never be forgotten when discussing the gospels with an unbeliever.

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Anno Domini 2017 01 14

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

 

The Crusades and Your Neighborhood

The Reconquista Initiative

 Presents…

 The Crusades and Your Neighborhood

Many unbelievers point to the Crusades as not only a paradigm example of Christian evil, but also as a clear example of both the hypocrisy and the sinfulness of Christian believers. And while it is certainly true that the actions of individual Crusaders may have been sinful to a very high degree at certain times in the Crusading campaign, it must still be wondered: when the 463-year history of violent Islamic aggression that preceded the Crusades is investigated, were the Crusades still unnecessary in terms of a strategic-level action? In fact, were they even “evil”? Or were they rather a necessary action that any sane person would consider justified?

After all, consider these points:

– 632 A.D.:  Mohammed dies;

– 633 A.D.:  Mesopotamia falls to Muslim invasion, followed by the entire Persian Empire;

– 635 A.D.:  Damascus falls;

– 638 A.D.:  Jerusalem capitulates;

– 643 A.D.:  Alexandria falls;

– 648-649 A.D.:  Cyprus falls;

– 653 A.D.:  Rhodes falls;

– 673 A.D.:  Constantinople attacked;

– 698 A.D.:  All of North Africa is lost;

– 711 A.D.:  Spain invaded;

– 717 A.D.:  Muslims attack Constantinople again;

– 721 A.D.:  Saragossa falls; Muslims aim for southern France;

– 720 A.D.:  Narbonne falls;

– 732 A.D.:  Bordeaux was stormed and its churches burnt down;

– 732 A.D.:  Charles Martel and his men defeat the Muslim invaders;

– 732 A.D.:  Attacks on France continue;

– 734 A.D.:  Avignon captured by a Muslim force;

– 743 A.D.:  Lyons sacked;

– 759 A.D.:  Arabs forced out of Narbonne;

– 838 A.D.:  Marseilles plundered;

– 800 A.D.:  Muslim incursions into Italy begin, with islands being plundered;

– 813 A.D.:  The port of Rome is sacked;

– 826 A.D.:  Crete falls to Muslim forces;

– 827 A.D.:  Muslim forces begin to attack Sicily;

– 837 A.D.:  Naples repels a Muslim attack;

– 838 A.D.:  Marseilles taken;

– 840 A.D.:  Bari falls;

– 842 A.D.:  Messina captured and Strait of Messina controlled by Muslim forces;

– 846 A.D.:  Muslims squadrons arrived at the Tiber River’s mouth, and then sack Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica;

– 846 A.D.:  Taranto in Apulia conquered by Muslim forces;

– 849 A.D.:  Papal forces repel Muslim fleet at the mouth of the Tiber;

– 853–871 A.D.:  Italian coast from Bari down to Reggio Calabria controlled, Muslims terrorize Southern Italy;

– 859 A.D.:  Muslims take control of all Messina;

– 870 A.D.:  Malta captured by the Muslims;

– 870 A.D.:  Bari recaptured from the Muslims by Emperor Louis II;

– 872 A.D.:  Emperor Louis II defeats an invading Saracen fleet off Capua;

– 872 A.D.:  Muslim forces devastate Calabria;

– 878 A.D.:  Syracuse falls after a nine-month siege;

– 879 A.D.:  Pope John VIII forced to pay an annual tribute to the Muslims;

– 880 A.D.:  Byzantine Commanders gain victory over Saracen forces at Naples;

– 881 A.D.:  Muslims capture fortress near Anzio, plunder surrounding countryside with impunity for forty years;

– 887 A.D.:  Muslim armies take Hysela and Amasia, in Asia Minor;

– 889 A.D.:  Toulon captured;

– 902 A.D.:  Muslim fleets sacked and destroyed Demetrias in Thessaly, Central Greece;

– 904 A.D.:  Thessalonica falls to Muslim forces;

– 915 A.D.:  After three months of blockade, Christian forces victorious against Saracens holed-up in their fortresses north of Naples

– 921 A.D.:  English pilgrims to Rome crushed to death under rocks rolled down on them by Saracens in the passes of the Alps;

– 934 A.D.:  Genoa attacked by Muslim forces;

– 935 A.D.:  Genoa taken;

– 972 A.D.:  Saracens finally driven from Faxineto;

– 976 A.D.:  Caliphs of Egypt send fresh Muslim expeditions into southern Italy;

– 977 A.D.:  The Archbishop of Damascus is expelled from his See by Muslims;

– 982 A.D.:  Emperor Otho’s forces ambushed and his army defeated;

– 1003 A.D.:  Muslims from Spain sack Antibes;

– 1003-1009 A.D.:  Marauding bands of Saracens plunder Italian coast from Pisa to Rome from bases on Sardinia;

– 1005 A.D.:  Muslims from Spain sack Pisa;

– 1009 A.D.:  Caliph of Egypt orders destruction of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Tomb of Jesus;

– 1010 A.D.:  Saracens seize Cosenza in southern Italy;

– 1015 A.D.:  All of Sardinia falls;

– 1016 A.D.:  Muslims from Spain again sack Pisa;

– 1017 A.D.:  Fleets of Pisa and Genoa sail for Sardinia and find Saracens crucifying Christians, but drive the Saracen leader out. Saracens try to re-take Sardinia until 1050;

– 1020 A.D.:  Muslims from Spain sack Narbonne;

– 1095 A.D.:  The First Crusade is called.

So, with all these facts—as shocking as they may be— now in mind, it is thus appropriate to reflect on an analogy that all of us can understand and appreciate. Imagine living in a neighborhood or small village, as so many people have done in one way or another since time immemorial. Now imagine that in this neighborhood, there is a small group of individuals that suddenly come on the scene and begin attacking your neighbors and friends. These neighborhood hooligans’ violent forays against your friends are initially small, but soon they begin—due to a lack of physical resistance against them—to expand their attacks. These individuals raid the homes of your neighbors, steal their goods, beat their wives, kidnap their children, and kill some of the neighborhood men, all while demanding tribute from those that they have invaded and conquered within the neighborhood. They are, in essence, a gang. Furthermore, these individuals then begin do these things to your own home. And even worse, they do these things year upon year, spreading further and further across the neighborhood as they do so. They heed no call for an end to the banditry nor do they halt their violence for any real length of time. Indeed, the moment that they see an opening to attack someone, they do so; but when they cannot attack, they make treaties with the neighbors and pretend to want peace.

Now any sane man would see that such individuals are nothing more than thugs, bandits, and villains. And any man would be right to consider them as such. Thus, we must ask ourselves: if we happened to live in such a neighbourhood, would we not, as sane men, finally see that a defensive counter-attack against such a gang would be the only means to ensure the safety for our children, our wives, our homes, and our goods? And would we not actually do such a counter-attack, unless we were cowards or fools? And finally, would we, in our sanity, not only counter-attack such thugs, but drive them from our very neighborhood and our town, so that they would not be left to re-spread their evil? Would we not, as sane men, understand that to truly be rid of them, we must drive them completely out of our neighborhood, and set a never-ending watch of vigilance to save us from their future attempts at violence? Indeed we would! And thus our Christian ancestors eventually did exactly that with the initial Crusades and the Reconquista. And for those who are rather craven concerning violence, just note that Christ Himself drove those moneychangers doing evil out of His Father’s house with violence and anger.

And so, the long and short of it is this: when we, as individuals, realize that we ourselves would essentially do just what the initial Crusaders did, and for good reason, then we should understand that though the Crusaders are not wholly absolved of the certain evils that they themselves committed as individuals during the Crusades, the Crusades themselves (at least the initial ones), as a campaign, were not evil, but were rather a defensive action that any sane man with a spine would have endorsed if placed in a similar situation.

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Anno Domini 2016 12 05

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

The Traditional West is Man’s Best Civilization

The Reconquista Initiative 

Presents…

The Traditional West is Man’s Best Civilization

Today, in some corners of our modern society, denigrating and diminishing the glories of traditional Western Civilization has almost become a cultural past-time. Indeed, in academia, the media, and the entertainment industry, traditional Western Civilization and its history are now routinely portrayed as being something uniquely evil and as being something which Western people should feel overwhelmingly guilty about. But the fact is, the West, its culture, its traditions, and its civilization, is, from a perspective of human achievement and flourishing, the very best civilization that has ever existed in the history of Man. And there is one easy argument that can be made to show that this is the case. So what then is this argument that purports to show that traditional Western culture and civilization—a culture born out of Greco-Roman traditions and institutions, moulded by Christian philosophy and morality, and hardened by humanist ideas—is the best that the world has seen to date?

The argument, ultimately, is as simple as it is common. In fact, we use the reasoning inherent in this argument all the time, such as when we pick the best politician from an undesirable lot or when we choose the best alternative from a group of options. And so the argument is simply this:  for every type of sin that the West is allegedly guilty of—racism, colonialism, war, oppression, and so on—and for every vile act that Western society has committed, every single other culture, both past and present, has done the very same things, and often to a worse degree, as the West has done; and yet, at the same time, no other culture, overall, has given humanity the benefits and gifts that traditional Western civilization has given it.  Therefore, when a relative cultural and civilizational comparison is made as to which culture has been best at the promotion and advancement of general human flourishing in the wide swath of human fields—such as medicine, law, philosophy, technology, economics, liberty, governance, and so on—traditional Western culture is undeniably the best culture that this world has ever been graced with.

After all, and as stated earlier, the fact is that every relatively large non-Western socio-cultural group, regardless of whether it was just a small tribe or a large nation, has historically engaged in brutality, war, discrimination, slavery, racism, murder, exploitation, violence, oppression, and so on, at a scale that was commensurate with its level of sophistication and technological advancement. For example, slave-traders on the African coast received black slaves for purchase from other black Africans. And Arabs and other Middle-Easterners had a thriving slave-trade as bad or worse than that of the West, and there is still on-going de facto slavery in parts of the Middle East today. Or consider that the brutal Mongol hordes that swept over Asia had a world war going on, as well as a colonizing empire of epic proportions, well before the West had started its own imperial march across the globe. And note that the Turkish Ottoman Empire was one of the greatest colonizers and invaders of the past few hundred years, and Turkey still occupies Cyprus to this day. Furthermore, Japanese atrocities against other Asians before and during World War 2 were as horrid as anything that the West had perpetrated, but even the Japanese were matched by the horrors committed by Chinese communists against both their own people and other cultures. Or note that the Indian caste system was and is the height of discrimination and oppression. And never forget that the Indians of the Americas were killing themselves and taking each other as captives long before any European ever arrived on their shores.

Thus, we see that everything deplorable that the West has done, other cultures have done as well. Indeed, the West bears no greater guilt in terms of committing immoral acts than any other culture bears. And so it is utterly clear that the West has absolutely no monopoly on civilizational evil. Furthermore, it also needs to be considered that several of the supposed crimes of the West—such as some of the Crusades or the Reconquista—were, in fact, quite justified strategically defensive actions against centuries of aggression and attack from other cultures and civilizations, and so it is hard to blame the West for them.

But now consider that while the West has done nothing worse than what every other civilization has done, it is also disproportionally traditional Western and European culture that the entire world has to thank for the rise of empiricism and science, the deep use of reason and philosophical reflection in thinking, technological and medicinal achievements that no other culture can match, ethical and humanistic reflections that gave rise to the idea of universal human rights and universal human standards of conduct, the creation and spread of universities and other centers of learning and knowledge, beautiful art and literature, profound saints and mystics, a humanitarian impulse to help other groups and other cultures, the boon that was capitalism, strong and relatively just legal systems and courts, powerful forms of government that protect individual liberties and which created the world’s most prosperous societies, more respect and rights for women and minorities than other cultures, a culture that is self-reflective and self-critical—in fact, overly self-critical—and so on and so forth. This is what the West has given to the whole world! And so, as stated, while the West has given the world no more evil than any other civilization or culture has, it has actually given the world much more than other cultures and civilizations have, at least in terms of human flourishing, independence, and social advancement.

Now we can debate the reason for why all these good things largely came from the West, and we can debate whether the West of today, as it becomes loosened from the traditional foundation that held it aloft, and as its culture becomes infected regressive progressives, will still be a leader in all the aforementioned areas in the years to come, but what we cannot deny is that when it comes to creating a society and a culture that has maximized human flourishing to a level that no other culture has, the West, quite simply, is the best.

Finally, note that I am not saying that Western Civilization could not be improved or that it is somehow perfect. Rather, I am making the perfectly obvious and sensible point that since cultures can be objectively compared as to how they promote general human flourishing, their overall civilizational achievements, their technological advancement, as well as numerous other concrete considerations, then a best culture, as measured by these factors, can emerge, and the West is that culture. Furthermore, note that even if a culture is not great in an ultimate sense—and this is a key point that is all too often missed—it can still be the best overall culture when compared against its cultural rivals, just like an average quarter-back can still be the best one from a poor selection pool. And so the simple fact is that a person can still consider the West to be the best culture that has ever existed even if that same person does not think that the West is necessarily a great culture, or even a good one. For indeed, a culture that is best in comparison to its rivals does not necessarily require that culture to be considered a good one—although I think that it is easy to show that, on balance, the West has been a force for great good in the world.

And so the long and short of it is this:  the traditional West is the best because by almost any objective metric related to human flourishing, human achievement, and moral behavior, traditional Western culture and civilization fares no worse than any other culture, and yet it is, in many respects, substantially better than other cultures. That is why the West is the best, and that is a fact that is hard to dispute. But now let us just hope and pray that the West can right its present regressive course of the last few generations in order to stay the best, for if it does not, then the world will soon become a much darker place.

Anno Domini 2016 11 10

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam.