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Adjudicating on the origin of the universe: why the Christian God is the best option

August 21, 2014

How do we best adjudicate on the origin of the universe? 

My last post on the Unbelievable debate between Matt Dillahunty and David Robertson stimulated a lot of discussion. I realise that there are some who are unconvinced that there are just three logical options to explain the origin of the universe. Yet no convincing extra alternatives have been presented. Until convincing extra options can be presented, I’ll go with my original three options (based on standard logical conventions) for the origin of the universe:

(1) The universe did not begin i.e. the universe is eternal

(2) The universe did began. i.e the universe had a beginning

Option two then presents two further options (I’ll rephrase this thanks to some helpful comments)

(2a) The universe was self-creating.

(2b) The universe was not self-creating. i.e. there was a creator

In option 2b we need to explain what best explains ‘creation’. Given the usual conventions of causation we would suggest that a creation implies a ‘creator’. If there is no creator, then the universe would be self-creating, hence we revert to option 2a.  

So these are the three options: (1) An eternal universe (2) A self-creating universe and (3) A universe created by a creator.

So how do we adjudicate on these? Which of these options should we choose?

We could say, ‘I don’t know’ and remain genuinely agnostic, Yet I am unconvinced that this can be a completely satisfactory position to hold. The main reason for this is because there is evidence to help adjudicate this question (which I’ll outline below). Given the presence of this evidence, remaining completely agnostic has two difficulties:

1. Agnosticism in this case fails to let the evidence speak. There is evidence in this area which helps us make a decision hence we have to be careful that our presuppositions don’t prejudice our decision. Thus if the evidence points away from our philosophically held positions, we need to ask why we refuse to let the evidence speak to us.

2. Agnosticism in the face of evidence is not a position of epistemic humility, instead it is epistemic arrogance. It is arrogant to suggest that no convincing evidence exists, when in fact some convincing evidence does exist. Hence to remain agnostic in this case is not to remain humble but ignores the evidence and holds a position in spite of the evidence! (ironically this is the very thing that Dawkins accuses Christians i.e. to hold a position contrary to the evidence.)

So I accept that ‘I don’t know’ is a valid ‘choice’ of option. Yet given that there is evidence in this area, I think it is a very poor ‘choice’.

So what is the evidence?

How do we adjudicate on this question? What is the evidence.

Option 1 (the universe is eternal) is unlikely and contrary to recent scientific discoveries. Recent scientific evidence points to the universe having a ‘beginning’ (around 13.7 billion years ago). There are many points of evidence which can be raised here, but one of the most convincing in my mind is the existence of entropy, i.e. the energy in the universe is running down. If the energy in the universe is running down, then it’s hard to see how it could have been here for eternity.

The scientific evidence for a beginning to the universe about 13.7 billion years ago is fairly well established and most scientists tend to work with this conclusion. In fact I’ve never read a modern scientific text which proposes an eternal universe. Hence I think it is reasonable to rule out option (1), the eternal universe

So this leaves us with the remaining two options 2a or 2b.

So which is it?

Option 2a (the universe was self-creating) seems extremely unlikely and is contrary to logic and reason. It is very unclear how ‘stuff’ can spontaneously emerge from absolutely nothing. It’s important to distinguish between ‘nothing’ in the absolutely nothing sense and a ‘quantum vacuum’ which some recent thinkers propose. The obvious problem with proposing a ‘quantum vacuum’ is the prior question, ‘where did the quantum vacuum come from’?  

Similarly the presence of the laws of gravity, which Hawking seems to propose, not create anything either. The laws of physics don’t create anything just as the laws of mathematics don’t put any extra money in my bank account!

Hence the option 2b (that the universe was created) seems the most plausible option. This then raises a further question, who or what created the universe?

At this point agnosticism is actually a viable option. We may legitimately say that I don’t know what caused the start of the universe I.e. a creator. Yet I would also suggest that ‘god’ is also an extremely viable option. ‘God’ as creator is a possible conclusion, but from natural theology alone, it is impossible to be certain.

I will now outline some reasons why I believe ‘god’ is the best explanation for the origin of the universe and also why this ‘god’ is the Christian God.

Why is god the best option to explain the origin of the universe?

To create something like a universe would require something or someone who is incredibly powerful. Moreover they would likely be something ‘eternal’ for we would then require an explanation of the origin of this creator and so on. Hence it seems likely that this ‘creator’ could indeed be a god.

This perspective gained from natural theology is confirmed by the Christian Scriptures. God is described as ‘eternal’ (e.g. Gen 21:33, Deut 33:27, Psalm 90:1-4) and incredibly powerful (e.g. Gen 1) who created the world. All of these themes are captured in Isaiah 40:28, ‘Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no one can fathom’.

So the god described in the Scriptures could be an explanation for the origin of the universe. Yet, the natural question arises at this point, Why should we trust the Scriptures?

A full answer is beyond the scope of this blog post, but essentially I propose we can trust the Scriptures because Jesus trusted them. The reason Jesus is worth trusting is because he was the God of the Scriptures incarnate as a man. This is no doubt a controversial claim, but the logic works, If Jesus was God then he can be trusted.

What I am effectively saying is that what natural theology points to – revelation completes.

So the key claim I need to demonstrate is ‘was Jesus God?’

There are good reasons to believe Jesus was god (I can justify these more fully and will do in future posts, but for the sake of brevity I’ll outline them briefly here).

1. Jesus self understanding: Jesus claimed the place of God. Jesus understood himself to be God. He made indirect, but clear claims to be God. For example consider the ‘Son of Man’ sayings in Mark’s Gospel, especially Mark 2:1-12. Here he claims the authority to forgive sins – something which only God has authority – he was assuming God’s placeCS Lewis recognised the significance of this: 

One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic… In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history. (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Jesus was claiming to be God. He exercised the functions of God with the authority of God.

Now it’s true that there are others who have claimed to be god, but this claim is less frequent than might be supposed. For example other major religious leaders like Buddha and Muhammad never claimed to be god incarnate. So Jesus’ view is somewhat unusual.

2. Jesus’ actions were consistent with his self understanding. Even if someone does claim to be god, how do they demonstrate it? Their actions must be consistent with their claim.

The things Jesus says and does in the accounts of him are things consistent with a powerful god. Consider Mark 2:1-12: he performs miracles (healing a paralytic), and he knows the thoughts of those standing nearby. Yet he does so many other amazing things. People were constantly amazed at what he did. He was the wisest of teachers, he was good and even death posed no barrier to Jesus.

Other modern day ‘God’ characters fail to live this life consistent with a good god e.g. curing paralytics, profound teaching and raising the dead. Most of these other ‘god’ characters lead selfish, indulgent lives. Yet Jesus’ life was consistent with his claims to divinity.

3. Jesus claimed to be God in the tradition of the Jewish Old Testament (to monotheistic Jews). This is a most astonishing fact and is often overlooked in assessing the divine claims of Jesus. Other characters in the Ancient world who claimed to be divine (most notably Roman Emperors) did so in the context of polytheism. Whereas Jesus claimed to be God in the tradition of strict Jewish monotheism. This strict monotheism precludes the possibility of Jesus’ followers ‘inventing’ Jesus to be God, Jews were not in the habit of ‘inventing’ gods.

Jesus’ claims are more significant when seen in the context of a ‘divine identity’ Christology. Richard Bauckham suggests these divine functions are intrinsic to who God is – the ‘divine identity’ – consonant with Jewish categories of thought. New Testament Christology includes Jesus in the unique divine identity by attributing these same functions to Jesus, hence ‘the highest Christology was present from the beginning’ and ‘the NT writers did not see their Jewish monotheistic heritage as an obstacle to the inclusion of Jesus in the divine identity.’ Thus monotheism was redefined as ‘christological monotheism’.

4. Through his divine nature Jesus makes the correct prediction about the origin of the universe hence revealing the identity of the ‘creator’. If Jesus were god we would expect him to know something of what happened ‘in the beginning’. Jesus makes the correct prediction (confirmed by modern science) i.e. that there was a beginning, in spite of strong contrary prevailing scientific opinion. Jesus affirms a creation e.g. Matthew 19:4, ‘from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female”. Furthermore Jesus was also assumed to be the creator e.g. Col 1:15, ‘By him all things were created’ (more evidence of divine identity Christology)

Jesus’ prediction of a creation came against the prevailing philosophy of the time i.e. Aristotle’s view. Aristotle asserted an eternal universe and he demonstrated it via several methods, including matter and motion. For example, “If, then, time is the number of motion or itself a kind of motion, it follows that, if there is always time, motion must also be eternal.” (Aristotle, Physics VIII, 1)

Furthermore Jesus’ claim of a creation was not simply what all religions believed. For example Hinduism along with Aristotileanism also proposed that matter was eternal. Hindu thought asserted that material nature and the living entities should be understood to be beginningless. Their transformations and the modes of matter are products of material nature, ‘both material nature and the living entity are eternal.’ Bhagavad Gita 13.20

Summary 

Jesus reveals the truth about the origin of the universe because he is God himself. Hence this revelation from and by Jesus concerning the origin of the universe help us adjudicate the question on the origin of the universe. The evidence from Jesus confirms Option 2b, that the universe was created by a creator, and that creator is the Christian God.

This also answers the question raised by a commenter who asked “I agree with AM, but even if I agreed with the article and conceded the universe must have been created by a god, the theist still has to show why their 5 headed elephant god, resurrecting carpenter etc are the correct god”

This is answered by Jesus. Jesus being God incarnate reveals this god to us and through his testimony and witness we can know the identity of the god who created the universe.

This then makes ‘I don’t know’ a less viable option because we have been told the answer. It all comes down to then whether we can trust Jesus. If he is trustworthy and reliable, then we can accept the Christian God as the explanation for the origin of the universe.

Note I have now shifted the locus of the argument away from natural theology and philosophical speculation about the cause of the universe. Instead I have plugged the ‘uncertain’ gap about the identity of the creator with reference to Jesus by virtue of his revelation to us.

This argument is illustrated by a walk in the country. I walk through the countryside and discover a silver globe on the ground, I instinctively ask, where did it come from? I ask a series of philosophical questions, was it always there, was it self creating or was it made by someone? We can reasonably conclude from science, philosophy and reasoning that it was created, but by whom or what? Natural theology can’t tell us, we have to conclude ‘I don’t know’. Yet if the creator of the globe comes and tells us i.e. reveals the answer to us, then we can know. What was unclear by philosophy is made clear through revelation. The key question remaining is, will you trust the one claiming to reveal the correct answer?

Jesus helps us adjudicate the origin of the universe and he proposes that it was created by God.

 

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono, at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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From → Jesus, Philosophy, Science

26 Comments
  1. Ed Atkinson permalink

    The “origin of the universe” needs clarification. I think you must mean our universe, so the processes that generated it are not “the universe”. I will use this meaning.

    It is my understanding that the scientists in the field of the “origin of the universe” use models based on maths which incorporate aspects of quantum theory and relativity etc. These models show how a Big Bang may arise and the properties of the universe thus generated. The hope is that a model will eventually be found that fits the observed data perfectly. Currently progress is promising. I am a layman on this and please correct me where this account is dodgy.

    The account based on models does not fit option (2b) “The universe was not self-creating. i.e. there was a creator” but where else should it go? As Matt Dillahunty suggested, we need more options.

    • I’m intrigued. Can you please point me to some of these models? (I’m also a layman on this topic). But I still don’t understand how these models add another option to the three I outlined?

      • Ed Atkinson permalink

        I only know of the models from chatting to someone at the Unbelievable conference, a BBC4 documentary of a few years ago and Lawrence Kraus (spelling guessed) being interviewed. A quick look in Wikipedia gave this for starters:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_cosmology

        On the extra option, it is a result of defining the universe as our own universe. The Big Bang rules out option 1. The theory rules out 2a, while 2b is a creator and there is no creator in this account. So we need new options 2b(i) created by god 2b(ii) generated by prior conditions. Remember that our language is inadequate when discussing ’causes’ for the big bang, so all this is highly suspect.

    • John Hudson permalink

      Hi Ed,

      When you say that “currently progress is promising”, what do base that on? My understanding is that the vast majority of cosmologists are exposing Krauss’ argument as pure speculation based on zero evidence (e.g. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/a-universe-from-nothing-by-lawrence-m-krauss.html).

      Krauss would certainly say that he is advocating option 2(b), but most of his critics are pointing out that when he says “a universe from nothing”, he actually means a universe from pre-existing quantum gravity, hence he is really advocating option 1.

  2. Ed Atkinson permalink

    “the key claim I need to demonstrate is ‘was Jesus God?’”. Your argument on Jesus is based on the gospels, but there is plenty of evidence to treat the gospels as unreliable. All you have proved is that some people thought he was God.

    An especially weak point is “Jesus makes the correct prediction about the origin of the universe hence revealing the identity of the ‘creator’.” Jesus merely accepted the view of the culture he grew up in. Even if he did study Aristotle, the idea that his rejection of Aristotle’s cosmology shows that he was God is, to put it mildly, not justified.

    • Sure, in terms of the unreliability of the Gospels. Can you give me five instances where they are demonstrably unreliable against contemporary history?

      • Steven Carr permalink

        Provide evidence that Judas existed. I will accept any document from the 1st century where a Christian names himself as having heard of Judas.

        Provide evidence that Thomas existed. I will accept as proof any document from the 1st century where a Christian names himself as having heard of Thomas.

        Jesus talks about a flood. There was no flood.

        The Gospels claim in Matthew 10 that the disciples were given the power to raise the dead.

        No they weren’t.

        The Gospels claim Moses returned from the dead to speak to Jesus.

        No he didn’t..

      • Many of these are arguments from silence. How do you know Judas or Thomas didn’t exist?

      • Steven Carr permalink

        You have to provide evidence they did exist.

        Simply saying they are in the Bible doesn’t cut it.

        Not one Christian in the first century was prepared to put his name on a document claiming he had even heard of Judas or Thomas.

        They only appear in anonymous, unprovenanced works which plagiarise each other and the Old Testament.

        Judas and Thomas don’t behave like real people – or at least, those real people who have been given the power to raise the dead (Matthew 10:8) and know that Moses has returned from the grave to speak to Jesus.

        They have less faith than you. Your own faith is a powerful testimony to the falsity of the Gospels.

        You can’t raise the dead, and yet you have more faith than the disciples, despite their allegedly having met Jesus in person.

        The Gospels also contain rather strange things.

        For example, it is claimed that Peter could swim fully clothed (John 21:7), outpacing a boat and also in Matthew 14 that Peter couldn’t swim.

      • You misunderstand the objection. I asked for 5 instances of where the Gospels were unreliable compared to external history. Describing a character only recorded in the Gospels does not constitute an inconsistency.

      • Steven Carr permalink

        So you don’t want to know where the Gospels are unreliable? Give 5 instances where Aesop’s Fables contradict recorded history.

      • Ed Atkinson permalink

        “Can you give me five instances where they are demonstrably unreliable against contemporary history? ” This could be a new thread. You would need to set up the logic of your position on how silence or not from contemporary history demonstrates the reliability of the gospels and also give a list of historic details that have the potential to be denied.

        I can think of 1 straight off: the census in Luke is incorrect. Also the Crucifixion darkness is not known otherwise, but this is not a full denial.

        Now your comment was a diversion from the points I was making

        1. All you have proved is that some people thought Jesus was God.
        2. Jesus merely accepted the view of his culture on the origin of the universe, that proves nothing.

        Anything to say on those?

  3. Steven Carr permalink

    Let us take the state of affairs that existed when this hypothetical god was supposed to be the only thing that existed.

    Is this a necessary state of affairs?

    No, because it does not exist now.

    So it is a contingent state of affairs.

    So what created the state of affairs when only this hypothetical god was supposed to exist?

    Obviously a god.

    But then what created the contingent state of affairs when only that hypothetical god was supposed to exist?

    Or are Christians now reduced to claiming that a contingent state of affairs (the state of affairs when only Jesus existed) does not need anything to create it?

    Matthew 19:4, ‘from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female”.

    Are you serious in claiming that Jesus was a great scientist to know there had been male and females ‘from the beginning’ of time?

  4. Steven Carr permalink

    ‘Jesus claimed to be God in the tradition of the Jewish Old Testament’

    If he had done so,any followers of his would have been stoned to death before you can say ‘blasphemous idolator’

    Even Paul in 1 Corinthians 8 clearly distinguishes between his god and Jesus.

    It would have been tremendously controversial to say that Jesus was God, but Paul in Galatians 6 knows that what Christians are persecuted on is the issue of circumcision.

  5. Steven Carr permalink

    ‘He was the wisest of teachers,…’

    Mark 9

    If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, here

    “‘the worms that eat them do not die,
    and the fire is not quenched.’
    Everyone will be salted with fire.

    “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

    This is not wise teaching.

    It is just rambling.

  6. Rob,

    1. “Eternal” – I am no physicist, but my understanding of the Big Bang Theory is that it has NOT blown the possibility of the universe having always existed right out of the water. But it may be that we have to have a different understanding of “universe” and “existence”. There comes a point when try to go back to the moment of the BB where all our existing models for space, time and the laws of physics simply break down, so what scientists mean when they say that the universe began is that the space and time *as we understand them* started from then. I believe it’s called “Planck time”. The Singularity which became our universe may well have existed before then, but we cannot (at present, anyway) say anything meaningful about it.
    There is also the the possibility that an expanding/contracting universe has existed for all eternity. There is some support for this amongst physicists.
    As I say, I’m no physicist so this is all subject to that caveat. If there are any scientists amongst your followers, then I would be pleased to be put right where I’ve gone wrong. But I think the claim that we can just discount option 1 (eternal universe) is a bit hasty.

    2. Jesus Claimed the Place of God – Your authority for saying this is the NT, a series of documents whose reliability is exactly what that atheist doesn’t accept. So relying on any part of the NT to prove God’s existence seems to me to be begging the question. Big time.

    3. Jesus’ behaviour was God-like – I do not consider the following to be God-like:
    a) cursing a fig tree for not bearing fruit, even though it is not the season
    b) using mud made with saliva to cure blindness
    c) claiming that he would return during the lifetime of some of his audience
    d) saying that he had come to bring a sword not peace and that he put a rift between children and their parents.

    That’s just a few off the top of my head.

    4. Jesus claimed to be God against a background of Monotheism – Only significant if you accept he did claim to be God. See above.

    5. Jesus knew about the origin of the universe – He said what was believed by everyone at the time, that God had made the first people. He says nothing about the origin of the universe. Now, if he had said “3.7 billion years ago space and time as we now it began to exist. There was a huge expansion from a tiny condensed ball of matter and everything we see around us now began to exist” that would be impressive. I wouldn’t be able to explain that. Jesus believing in Adam and Eve though is exactly what I would expect from a 1st C Jew.
    Even more usefully Jesus could have said something about germs causing disease, rather than sin/devils/witchcraft. Just think of the lives that could have been saved if he’d done that.

    • Good thoughtful comments there. I think some further thinking by both of us would be helpful on the origin of the universe. If you have any credible research there, that would really help. Thanks.

      In terms of the reliability of the NT. Yes, it is based on that assumption, but as I said, I didn’t have time to fully articulate my position (in many ways, this piece is the starting place for a longer series of posts and even a book!). Just one question though, what would convince you that the Gospels were trustworthy?

      Just one final comment, I think you underestimate the significance of Jesus’ claiming to be God. He was a Jew in a monotheistic culture, Jews were not in the habit of ‘inventing’ new gods. Hence this requires explanation and Lewis’ paradigm ‘Liar, Lunatic or Lord’ is helpful. Hence disagreeing with my assessment requires a choice of who Jesus was, i.e. Liar, Lunatic, Lord?

  7. The origin of the universe is a concept that will and can never be fully understood even for millions of generations to come. Every attempt will always just be an attempt….. the concept is so vast and eternally beyond our human capability. It is silly, i think, to even attempt to know it, and even more foolish to believe that one day we’ll get the facts right…… awe… respect… care… love… our concept of the universe should revolve around these words…. anything beyond is just meant for an excellent conversation among students and teachers, or among peers over beer!

  8. Hi,

    Here is one item I found which not only confirms that physicists do not interpret the BB to mean that the universe had a beginning, but also covers the latest theory about a pre-existing universe.
    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/critical-opalescence/2014/04/03/gravitational-waves-reveal-the-universe-before-the-big-bang-an-interview-with-physicist-gabriele-veneziano/

    What would convince me that the gospels were trustworthy?
    First, if there were no significant contradictions between them.
    Second if we could find non-Christian contemporary sources which backed up some of the controversial claims. For instance any non-Christian writers who record that at the Passover time people who were known to have died were reported being seen walking around the town. If we could get a contemporary report from a non-Christian who claimed actually to have seen one of the resurrected people that would be especially valuable.
    Third, if we could find the first documents, the ones from which all the copies were made AND could attribute an author to them that might assist AND could establish that the author was an eye-witness or was directly connected to an eye-witness. Having said all that, eye-witness testimony is notoriously unreliable so it wouldn’t take us that far but it would help.

    To Lewis’ famous trilemma, I would just respond:”misquoted, misunderstood or myth”. It’s another thing that you will only be able advance once you’ve established the reliability of the gospels. If I’ve understood you correctly, those posts are planned, in which case I look forward to reading what you have to say.

    Thank you for running such a friendly and open site.

    • Ed Atkinson permalink

      Hi fjanusz2 . Just taking up the points in both your recent posts regarding the cosmological argument ….. it seems clear that an aspect of the universe IS eternal. Even if it is the processes that allow Big Bangs to happen that is ‘something’ which exists outside time and so is eternal for the purposes of Rob’s 3 categories. To say otherwise is to just assume that the current scientific work in this area will fail. That would be an act of faith to prove the faith.

      So the theistic argument in this area boils down to this: “why should anything exist?”. This, I think , science may never touch. It would mean finding physical universe-making laws which somehow show that they must apply in all possible realities. I can’t see such ‘laws’ ever being discovered.

      So let’s assume “why should anything exist?”. Now a theist can say ‘God did it’ with no danger of a retort claiming it’s just a God-of-the-gaps. So I take this question seriously. It would be good for Rob to have a go on this one with a new thread. As an atheist I don’t have a positive answer, instead I have to challenge the question itself or stay content with “I don’t know”.

    • Thanks for the comment (is it Francis?)

      I was halfway through responding and I lost the comment. So I’m sorry if this is a little briefer than what I intended.

      I’ll have a look at your paper and digest and think it through. I’m also watching the WLC vs Sean Carroll debate which has more food for thought in this area. It seems that there is a lot of debate in this area of cosmology. I might read and respond to some of Carroll’s thinking.

      Regarding the reliability of the Gospels, I think this is a crucial area and Christians need to demonstrate that the Gospels are in some way trustworthy. I think you raise some good points, but I’ll probably need to respond in more detailed posts.

      In terms of your first comment about contradictions. How significant is significant? Because all the Gospels agree about fairly significant details of Jesus’ life and ministry.

      In terms of non Christian sources – it’s an interesting question, but we also need to be realistic about what we should expect in the ancient world. Also, it would seem a little odd for someone who wanted to write about the amazing deeds of Jesus and yet not want to follow him. In many ways the amazing deeds led to belief. So we do have records from people who saw them and this testimony forms the basis of the Gospels.

      I also think you might have an overly optimistic view of what is realistic to uncover in terms of textual evidence. Manuscripts just wear out and textual scholars can be pretty certain in reconstructing the text.

      Thanks so much for your comment about me running a friendly and open site. That is certainly my intention. I think these questions are important enough that we can discuss them intelligently without resorting to ridicule or name calling? It’s intelligent thinkers like yourself whom I’m particularly keen to engage with on this site. So thanks for commenting and dropping by!

  9. Hi Rob,

    It’s Frances (with an “e”, the female version of the name).

    As you are going to be dealing with reliability of the gospels in more detail later, I’ll try and keep my responses fairly brief for now.

    I regard the differences between the accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection given in all 4 gospels as significant. Especially the fact that the earliest and most authentic versions of Mark leave out any mention of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. The fact that as that gospel was handed down, it was added to, to make good a perceived deficiency, is by itself a reason to treat every gospel as highly suspicious. This was the mindset of the early Christians: where a text didn’t read quite as it “should” – just change it or add to it until it said what you thought it should say.

    If Matthew were reliable when he says that at the moment of Jesus death tombs opened up and the dead emerged, walked around town and were seen by many, that’s something you would expect (I think) people to have commented on at the time. They wouldn’t necessarily connect it with Jesus. They might never have heard of Jesus or that he’d been executed. But you would think that they would definitely be aware of dead people emerging from their tombs.

    I realise that it is unrealistic to expect to find the original manuscripts, let alone identify an author. But then I think we’re back to this “I don’t know” answer as being the best we have. The fact that we understand why we can’t have the evidence we might be looking for doesn’t somehow mean that we treat weak evidence as strong evidence because it’s the best we can ever get. If the best we can ever get is not good enough, then that’s what we’ve got: evidence that isn’t good enough.

    Losing your comment half-way though: ouch! I feel your pain! That’s happened to me so many times that now, unless I know I’m going to write something really short, I save it on another document then cut & paste. (How sad am I?)

  10. Hi Rob,

    Some great points here, and plenty of good food for thought. Thanks for posting it.

    Several of the points, such as the claims of Jesus, rely on acceptance of other points, such as the broad historical reliability of the Gospels. But I note that this is true of all the evidentiary claims: the age of the universe is reliant on a specific set of observations and mathematical models, in believing that the universe started off in an expansion from a singularity, we are accepting certain assumptions.

    I don’t mention this as a criticism, I think it’s entirely appropriate. There is not the space in a single post to deal with all the attendant assumptions. I also note that, as a rule, no single individual is an expert in all these fields, so we all rely on the diligence and integrity of experts in other fields to “quality test” the information.

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  1. Are my reflections on the cosmological argument ‘circular logic at its finest’? | Atheist Forum
  2. Did the universe have a beginning? | Atheist Forum

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