Four items appear below:
The God Delusion 125                               Rogers
Response to Rogers on Dawkins 126     Potter
The Bob Delusion 128                               Rogers
Inappropriate Title 129                               Williams

The God Delusion

Kevin Rogers

(Investigator 125, 2009 March)


In the Skeptic volume 26, No 4 Rob Hardy wrote “Against Belief”, which was a review of “The God Delusion”, by Richard Dawkins. Rob Hardy “highly recommended this book to anyone of any religious belief”. Well, I read it.


I have previously read “The Blind Watchmaker”. The two books have the same conclusion but use a different argument. On page 1 of The Blind Watchmaker Dawkins states, “Physics is the study of simple things that do not tempt us to invoke design”. For the remainder of the book he argues that neo-Darwinian evolution happens by random mutations and natural selection without recourse to design. No design in biology means that there is no God.

In chapter 3 he describes his own “EVOLUTION” computer program. He starts with a dot, generates random lines, manually selects the survivors (to simulate natural selection) and demonstrates how he can evolve static shapes such as ants or spiders in about 40 steps. However, he seems blind to the fact that he unwittingly presented a good argument for theistic evolution. Was the computer a random piece of hardware or was it developed by intelligent beings? Was the program a random collection of bytes? Even so, how long will he need to run his program before it can generate animated figures, let alone living ones? The answer is “never”, because the program does not contain the necessary design or intelligence. The laws of physics are far smarter than his program.

In The God Delusion, Dawkins changed his approach. He has become aware of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle (ACP) or the “Goldilocks Effect”. I.e., the form of the laws of physics, the fine-tuning of their values and the initial conditions in the Big-Bang are all “just right” to support life and do indeed tempt us to invoke design.

However, Dawkins’ answer to ACP is that Darwinism is so successful at closing God gaps that its principles can be extrapolated to cosmology. He believes that one day scientists will discover some principle that explains the fine-tuning. He provides no evidence. He suggests an infinite number of universes, but I am not sure how scientific or speculative this theory is (it is certainly not testable) and I suspect that Dawkins doesn’t have much idea either. His confidence in the power of Darwinism is a belief statement. He does not have any evidence that Darwinism can be applied to cosmology, there is no logical reason for it, and all the current evidence is against it.

Also, because of his principle of infinite regression, it does not matter how much evidence you provide for design, he will not accept it because he has faith that it will be explained one day in the future. In The Blind Watchmaker his argument was that lack of design indicated no God. However, he does not accept the reverse argument. “Heads I win, tails you lose”.

Many things could be said about The God Delusion, but, for the sake of brevity, I will write on one small section. I studied Dawkins’ points in more detail in the section on “The Argument from Scripture” in pages 92 to 97. I won’t discuss his debatable assertions but only list some of his factual errors or misleading statements.

He argues that biblical scholarship has shown that the gospels are not reliable, but which “scholars” does he quote? The only real scholar that he refers to is Bart Erhardt. The rest are populist authors. For example, he quotes A.N. Wilson and G.A. Wells. Wilson dropped out of his theology course after 1st year. G.A. Wells is a professor in German. Wilson and Wells are not biblical or historical scholars. They do not publish in relevant peer reviewed journals and their views deviate significantly from mainstream scholarship. I could easily quote populist writers that claim evolution is bollocks, but what would that prove?

Furthermore, Dawkins even suggests that Jesus may not have existed based on “Did Jesus Exist?” (1986) by “Professor G.A. Wells of the University of London” (he omitted the German bit). However, in pages 49 to 50 of “Can We Trust the New Testament?” (2004), Wells writes, “In my first books on Jesus, I argued that the gospel Jesus is an entirely mythical expansion of the Jesus of the early epistles. The summary of the argument of ‘The Jesus Legend’ (1996) and ‘The Jesus Myth’ (1999a) given in this section of the present work makes it clear that I no longer maintain this position…”

In other words, Dawkins quoted the view of an author who has since changed his mind.

Dawkins claims that the 4 gospels were arbitrarily selected for inclusion in the canon. However, the 4 gospels were written between 50 and 90 AD and were widely recognised as unique by the Christian community by the mid-second century, over 200 years before the canon was finalised. For example, in about 170 AD Justin Martyr wrote his Apologies and quotes extensively from the 4 gospels. At about the same time Tatian wrote the Diatessaron, which is a harmonisation of the 4 gospels. Both of these writings indicate that the 4 gospels were uniquely recognised as authoritative by that time.

The stories about weird miracles of Jesus when he was a child are not in the “Gospel of Thomas” (as Dawkins claims), but in the “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas”.

The Gospel of Thomas is an alleged collection of sayings of Jesus that was discovered at Nag Hammadi and was written sometime between 50 and 140 AD.  The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is an entirely different book and was written near the end of the 2nd century, over 100 years after the canonical gospels. This is obvious to anyone who is familiar with the texts. Dawkins has obviously misinterpreted hearsay. To assert that the Infancy Gospel of Thomas has equivalent claim to historicity as the canonical gospels is absurd. Likewise, the other alternate gospels that he cites were written much later than the canonical gospels.

Dawkins suggests that there was only one source for biographical information on Jesus. In fact scholars have identified 7 independent sources of historical information about Jesus underlying the New Testament books (Mark, (Q)uelle, M, L, Signs, Paul and James).

Dawkins states that Paul’s epistles mention almost none of the alleged facts of Jesus’ life. Paul’s letters were written early and 5 of the 13 Pauline epistles (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians and 1 Thessalonians) are universally recognised by scholars as genuine writings of Paul. Many scholars believe he wrote all of them. His letters were written to encourage churches and thus they do not contain much direct historical narrative about Jesus. Paul only mentions the tip of the iceberg regarding historical information because of shared understanding with his readers. However, he does provide significant information. As this is mentioned incidentally, this increases its credibility, as Paul is not recording these statements for 21st century readers. Paul provides many incidental clues, including the earliest resurrection account and list of witnesses in 1 Cor 15. Paul’s writings also contain a well developed theology of Jesus’ humanity and divine nature, illustrating that this could not have been a later development.

Dawkins describes the issues surrounding the dating of the governorship of Quirinius and of the census related to Jesus’ estimated date of birth. The birth narratives are indeed in scholars’ eyes the least historically credible parts of the gospels. Most scholars believe that Luke got it wrong in this instance, although this is still not certain. However, Dawkins provides no indication of the number of times that Luke gets it right. Luke has left behind a large number of descriptions of people, places and events that can now be checked. In the overwhelming number of cases Luke has been shown to be correct. Hence in this case, Dawkins is faithful to scholarly opinion on the census issue, but he provides a misleading impression by being selective in his evidence.

Where there is smoke there is fire. Something happened in 1st century Palestine that requires explanation. Real scholars scour all of the information sources to try and find out what actually happened. Dawkins approach is radically different. His agenda is to assert that it is a fairy tale, so he can ignore the evidence. At the end of this chapter, Dawkins dismisses the most scrutinised texts on the planet as fiction and decides not to consider the Bible as evidence for deity for the rest of the book. However, Dawkins’ small contribution on this subject contains numerous errors and flawed arguments. He is far less reliable than Luke. Shouldn’t the rest of The God Delusion be dismissed instead?

It would take a book to evaluate all of Dawkins’ arguments. Indeed, at least one already has been written (“The Dawkins Delusion” by Alistair McGrath).

My general observations are that The God Delusion contains a lot of factual errors and uses evidence in a biased way. It is rhetoric rather than a balanced scholarly presentation. He is not interested in finding or communicating the truth. His agenda is to throw mud and hope that some of it sticks. The God Delusion has little science in it and the majority of the material is outside Dawkins’ area of expertise. On the other hand, The God Delusion is well-written and I found it an interesting read. At times he shows good grace. He bemoans biblical ignorance and acknowledges the contribution of the bible to our culture and language.

The God Delusion will please those who agree with him and I expect it will affect some people’s beliefs. However, I find it interesting that the Skeptics are so ready to provide uncritical affirmation. Two of the Skeptic’s core values are to test and to doubt, but that is a two-edged sword. Shouldn’t testing and doubting be applied to all views, whether you like them or not? Religious people are not the only ones who suffer from wishful thinking.
 


REPONSE TO ROGERS ON DAWKINS (#125)

Bob Potter

(Investigator 126, 2009 May)


Pleasing to note that Kevin Rogers has been reading books by Richard Dawkins; but perhaps he should study them more carefully before writing a critique. (Investigator 125)!?    

Rogers reports that in The Blind Watchmaker Dawkins claims, on the first page, “Physics is the study of simple things that do not tempt us to invoke design and for the remainder of the book argues that neo-Darwinian evolution happens by random mutations and natural selection without recourse to design”. There is no excuse for this ‘misrepresentation’ of Dawkins. Rogers makes no mention of the paragraphs that follow, where the author explains his ‘shorthand’ for science overall and his expectation that evolutionary theory will provide provisional explanations “all over the universe wherever life may be found” (on the second page). The underlining is mine – highlighting the inappropriateness of Rogers’ gibe at Dawkins – there being “no evidence … Darwinism can be applied to cosmology”.

Had Rogers continued carefully reading as far as the third page of The Blind Watchmaker, he would have discovered one of the major tasks Dawkins had set himself in the writing of the book:
“Since living complexity embodies the very antithesis of chance, if you think Darwinism is tantamount to chance you’ll obviously find it easy to refute Darwinism! One of my tasks will be to destroy this eagerly believed myth that Darwinism is a theory of ‘chance’.” 
That Rogers has failed to understand this basic point, stated so clearly by Dawkins, is evidenced by his asking rhetorical questions “Was the computer a random piece of hardware or was it developed by intelligent beings? Was the program a random collection of bytes?”


Throwing the New Testament together!

Most of Rogers’ contribution relates to The God Delusion. Investigator readers will remember I offered my own assessment soon after publication of the book. I thought it the least impressive of Dawkins’ work. However, Rogers’ implication that we should view the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as ‘unique’ (and widely accepted) requires a little further comment, especially in the light of his nitpicking of Dawkins’ reference to ‘Gospel of Thomas’ rather than as the ‘Infancy Gospel of Thomas’. He continues by misleadingly referring to seven ‘independent’ New Testament sources, failing to mention that probably the largest of these (Q) we can only guess at, while ignoring the very limited information we have regarding the initial selection of the ‘Greek’ Christian scriptures. 

There would have been scores of ‘gospels’ in existence at the end of the second century. Only a couple of dozen (at most) have been preserved in part or whole, and only four of them were accepted by the Nicene Council of 318 bishops under the Chair of Emperor Constantine in 325 AD. In his Age of Reason, Tom Paine described how the ‘church’ collected together the scores of manuscripts in their possession and by vote (show of hands) decided which books were ‘inspired’, and hence to be ‘included’, which books were doubtful (Apocrypha) and those condemned as ‘heresy’ — and were, in the main, destroyed. We have little or no information as to the identity and qualifications of these bishops. There is a ‘hostile’ account of the Council proceedings, where the decisions were made (from Pappus, in his Synodicun to that Council):
“…having promiscuously put all the books that were referred to the Council for deliberation under the communion table in a church, they besought the Lord that that the inspired writings might get on the table, while the spurious ones remained underneath; and that it happened accordingly!”]
Whatever the procedure for Gospel selection, the three ‘synoptic’ gospels were presumably selected because they are basically ‘the same’ — indeed whoever constructed Matthew and Luke probably had the earlier text of Mark before them as they wrote...and plagiarized much from it. Of the 661 verses in Mark, the subject matter of only 65 of them is absent from Matthew. Two thirds of the verses in Mark can be found in BOTH Matthew and Luke. (Catholics disagree with most Bible scholars by claiming Matthew to be the earlier gospel. This decision of their Biblical Commission in 1912 is an alternative view that doesn’t seriously damage my point.) In a very real sense, of the numerous texts available to the early church, only two of the many versions were selected, the ‘synoptic three’, (which is meaningfully only one of the versions), and the totally different account provided by the author of the fourth gospel, known as ‘John’.

I am NOT trying to imply anything sinister about the plagiarism — Luke tells us how he went about compiling his gospel, in his initial verses! I am simply suggesting this informs us these gospels tell the ‘version of the Christ story’ fitting the views of the church elders at the time the books were assembled. Supernatural causation was a routine part of life, accepted without question and divine or spiritual visitants were not unexpected — when Matthew describes corpses rising from their tombs and being seen walking about the city by numerous witnesses, he expects his readers to believe him. Today if you report seeing long-dead people walking around, people would simply not believe you!

Therefore, the obvious plagiarisms are useful, they tell us through the common ‘outlook’ of the three synoptic gospels, the central beliefs among the congregations at that time. The majority of today’s competent New Testament scholars would agree that, if today we met the historical Jesus, we would find an individual convinced the arrival of John the Baptist (and his self-perception as John’s successor), meant the process of the kingdom of God had been set in motion. He would expect within his lifetime or the lifetime of some of his contemporaries, the course of history to an end and the Son of Man to appear in glory with his holy angels to judge the universe. (Just as it is envisaged in the surviving, contemporary Jewish apocalyptic writings. That's EXACTLY what the word Messiah means: 'the inaugurator of the end'!)

This is the picture of Jesus that emerges from the three synoptic gospels; the ‘time is very short’ before the ‘day of judgment’ is upon humanity, an apocalyptic view that finds reflection in Mark 9: “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.” Like today’s Jehovah's Witnesses, the philosophy of THESE gospels is the shortage of time.

That’s the ‘mode of thought’ of the compilers of these texts — that’s why there was just NO TIME TO SPARE to bury the dead and/or to say farewell to houseguests (Matt 8:22; Luke 9:59-62). [Note, I am NOT taking isolated Biblical verses ‘out of context’; rather, the whole context leads to the central message for which these ‘gospels’ were devised!]

Kevin Rogers concludes by stating The God Delusion contains “a lot of factual errors” and “uses evidence in a biased way…not a balanced scholarly presentation”. In fact Dawkins makes it quite clear he is not undertaking a critical textual analysis of any of the sacred books associated with any of the world’s religions — the book is directed at all Gods not just the Christian/Jewish Jehovah!. Indeed, it is the absurdity of belief in supernatural forces, per se, upon which Dawkins rightly focuses. He has probably read little critical Bible scholarship; however, I have done so. In earlier paragraphs, I suggest how ‘modern scholars’ would perceive the personality/character of Jesus as depicted by the synoptic gospels. If Kevin thinks I’ve ‘got it wrong’, perhaps he’ll come back in a further Investigator essay, referring to the ‘authorities’ he has in mind?

Perhaps, the basic point that needs to be made to Kevin Rogers relates to the important question touched upon by Dawkins and himself: “Did Jesus exist?” Put bluntly, the question is easily answered by any rational and informed individual. The name ‘Jesus’ (or Joshua) was (and is) a common name – so, in a general sense, there were no doubt hundreds of lads called Jesus, many perhaps were carpenters, many perhaps were in trouble with the authorities, even put to death.  In that sense, of course there is no problem answering the question.

But if you ask the question differently, if you ask was there a person who was born of a virgin, turned water into wine, talked with devils, cured blind people, walked on water, raised dead people, himself was seen walking around after his death, etc. – then “No” that is the stuff of mythology. This mythological person never existed.    

 


The Bob Delusion

Kevin Rogers

(Investigator 128, 2009 September)


My review of The Blind Watchmaker and The God Delusion (both by Richard Dawkins) was published in Investigator #125 and Bob Potter’s “Response to Rogers” in #127. I have since had the pleasure of having lunch and spending the afternoon with Bob at his home in Brighton, England. He is a really nice bloke and Ann and I had a pleasant time with Bob and Marigold.

However, I strongly disagree with some of his statements.

My main thesis was, “The God Delusion contains a lot of factual errors and uses evidence in a selective and biased way. It is rhetoric rather than a balanced scholarly presentation.” On this Bob and I agree somewhat. Bob has previously written in Investigator that The God Delusion is Dawkins’ least impressive work.

On page 1 Dawkins stated, “Physics is the study of simple things that do not tempt us to invoke design”. For the remainder of the book he argues that neo-Darwinian evolution happens by random mutations and natural selection without recourse to design. No design in biology means that there is no God.

Bob rebuked me for misrepresenting Dawkins, as Dawkins stated that Darwinism is not a theory of chance. However, Dawkins is stating that Darwinism is not a theory of chance only with reference to natural selection. Random mutations are definitely chance events. Likewise, natural selection is not applicable to the serendipitous nature of the laws of physics. The only resource that the atheist can call on is good luck.

Dawkins trivialised the laws of physics in The Blind Watchmaker. With all that has since been written on the Goldilocks Effect (the fine tuning in the laws of physics), Dawkins’ original assertion is now evident as ridiculous. In The God Delusion Dawkins gives muted acknowledgement of the Goldilocks Effect and admits he has no answer. In The Blind Watchmaker
Dawkins argued that the lack of need for a designer made God unnecessary. In The God Delusion he argued that the presence of design made God improbable. God can’t win.

The remainder of Bob’s arguments about Darwinism and design are somewhat confusing, so I will move on to his arguments about the New Testament. Anonymous has already addressed some of Bob’s claims (#127) and so I will only supplement his remarks.

Bob’s main arguments about the New Testament (NT) were:
1.    I overstated the independence of the NT sources,
2.    The content of (Q)uelle is uncertain,
3.    The four canonical gospels were arbitrarily selected at the Council of Nicaea, and
4.    Jesus is a mythological figure.
Bob claimed that I “misleading referred to 7 independent New Testament sources failing to mention that probably the largest of these (Q) we can only guess at.”

Q is short for Quelle, which is German for “source”. Matthew and Luke apparently used both Q and Mark (as well as their own individual independent sources). Q is defined to be that which is common to Matthew and Luke but not present in Mark. Q is relatively easy to derive. I started doing it myself and it is an enlightening exercise. Some parts of Q are well defined where Matthew and Luke match virtually word for word. Bob is partly right. We cannot know the full content of Q, just as we could not derive the full content of Mark from Matthew and Luke. For instance, we cannot identify parts of Q that were not used by both Matthew and Luke or those bits that overlapped with Mark. So we can be reasonably certain about some parts of Q but not others.

Q is not the largest source of historical information about Jesus. Q contains some historical narrative about Jesus, but largely consists of Jesus’ sayings, such as the beatitudes. Mark and John contain far more narrative and historical information. We don’t know the full content of Q but we do know some; and so my original statement still stands that Q is one of a number of independent sources that were used within the New Testament to derive historical information about Jesus.

Bob mentions that there were scores of gospels in existence at the end of the 2nd century. This is true. However, most of these extraneous gospels were 2nd century inventions developed by splinter groups to support their causes. They were written much later than the canonical gospels and have no historical value regarding Jesus (as they were written too late), even though they tell us a great deal about the religious movements in existence at that time. They are no secret; you can read most of them on the Early Christian WritingsGospel of Thomas; and this mainly consists of sayings.

Christianity has always had to contend with opposition both from within and without. The fact that the early church had to approve some writings and reject others is hardly a great surprise. Bob listed 23 “suppressed gospels”. Many of these are not gospels and were not suppressed. For example 1 and 2 Clement are letters, very much like Paul’s letters. 1 Clement was written in about 96 AD. It is quite orthodox and is a letter of encouragement and provides no information that contradicts the canonical gospels. The same can be said for many of the other entries in Bob’s list.

In my original article I briefly explained why the canonical gospels were widely recognised as authoritative at least 150 years before the Council of Nicaea, arguments which Bob ignored. I mentioned the quotations by Justin Martyr and the harmonisation of the four gospels in the Diatessaron. Anonymous mentioned other patristic quotations and canonical lists. The 4th century Councils simply provided formal recognition of previous informal lists. Most of the non-canonical documents are freely available on the Early Christian Writings

In his last section Bob discussed the issue of whether Jesus existed. He gives us two choices. Either Jesus was the God incarnate miracle worker or else he was a mythological figure. Since Bob rejects Jesus as God incarnate, therefore Jesus must be mythological. However, there is a third option.

In general, sceptical scholars believe that there was an actual man called Jesus from Nazareth who is the basis of the gospel narratives and of the Christian Church. For example the Jesus Seminar is a group of sceptical biblical scholars. They have debated what percentage of gospel sayings can actually be attributed to Jesus. However, there are no debates on Jesus’ actual existence. That is already established. As I stated in my original article, the sceptical writer G.A. Wells used to be the main proponent of the mythological view of Jesus. However, even he changed his mind and admitted that Jesus was a historical figure.
web-site. It is easy to see why they were rejected. Apart from the NT documents, the only other “gospel” used by scholars for historical information about Jesus is the website. I encourage readers to have a look at these competing documents. It will become apparent that the selection of the New Testament canon was not a difficult choice.



INAPPROPRIATE TITLE

(Investigator 129, 2009 November)

John H Williams

I disagree with Kevin’s title “The Bob Delusion” in #128.

Fair enough, he disagreed with Bob’s Response To Rogers in #126 (given incorrectly as #127), but I found Bob’s piece an excellent exposé of untruths presented in the Gospels. I’ve re-read it in the light of Kevin’s response and it looks to be the work of a sane, well-read realist, rather than one who is deluded. If Bob is delusional, “holding a belief in the face of evidence to the contrary, that is resistant to all reason” (Collins Concise), I’ve not seen it in twelve years of reading his work.

Given the lack of unequivocal evidence for “God”, and the role of faith in sustaining religious beliefs, it seems reasonable for Richard Dawkins to use The God Delusion as a book title, and to name his chapter 4 ‘Why there almost certainly is no God’. “God can’t win” (Rogers, p55, #128) is due to God probably not existing at all. For Kevin to word-play Dawkins’ use of “Delusion” in the title of his critique was inappropriate and inaccurate, even if not intended literally.

Over the years I’ve debunked irrational beliefs held by some Investigator writers who believe:
•    An anthropomorphic deity listens to prayer and apparently answers;
•    When believers die, some go to somewhere called Heaven and live there with angels and saints for eternity;
•    Someone named Yesu’a was born of a virgin, fathered by a deity, died then lived again, and is one third of the deity.

Many inhabitants of our world have delusional beliefs, but there is a substantial minority, of which Bob Potter is an able representative, who see no evidence for the supernatural.

Bob may be wrong (though I doubt it), but deluded, no!

Disclosure: I helped introduce Kevin to The Investigator and to Bob, and have had a fruitful email correspondence with both. I regard them as friends.



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