Fact Checking Dan Barker (atheist apologist) on historicity of Jesus

3 Aug

From Dan Wallace’s blog:

Fact Checking Dan Barker: From our Recent Debate June 6, 2015

This is a guest post by Dr. Justin W. Bass regarding his recent debate with well-known atheist, Dan Barker. The debate topic was “Jesus of Nazareth: Lord or Legend?”

“I discovered that there is no evidence for Christianity” –Dan Barker (Losing Faith in Faith, 69).

Dan Barker wrote these words in 1992 in his first book Losing Faith in Faith recounting his de-conversion from a fundamentalist Christian pastor to a promoter of atheism and free-thought.

Dan first came out publicly as an atheist on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1984. Since that time he has been a preacher of atheism and free-thought as a kind of “reverse penance” (Losing Faith, 10), he says, for all the years he proclaimed the gospel.

At 15, he accepted a calling from God to live and preach for Jesus Christ. He was a self-admitted fundamentalist from the beginning believing “every word in the Bible is God-inspired and inerrant” (Losing Faith, 28). He was also taught that liberal and atheist writers were “evil servants of Satan attempting to distract believers from the literal truth of the Bible” (Losing Faith, 29-30). He describes a fundamentalist (himself at the time) this way: “A true fundamentalist should consider the English version of the Bible to be just as inerrant as the original because if we admit that human error was possible in the translation, then it was equally possible in the original writing.” (Losing Faith, 176-77).

Dan ended up attending Azusa Pacific College majoring in Religion. He describes Azusa Bible College as a “glorified Sunday school” (Losing Faith, 22). In the one apologetics class he took, he admits, “I don’t remember that we delved very deeply into the evidences or arguments for or against Christianity” (Losing Faith, 22).

Although Dan states it was the lack of evidence that convinced him Christianity isn’t true, it seems, from his own admission, that he was not exposed to Christianity’s hard “evidences or arguments” before he turned to atheism.

Dan and I debated the topic: “Jesus of Nazareth: Lord or Legend?” on June 6th of 2015 sponsored by The Bible and Beer Consortium. After that 3+ hour debate, reading all of Dan’s books, and watching at least 40 of his other debates, I have come to the conclusion that Dan is still rejecting the same “glorified Sunday school” version of Christianity that he rejected over 30 years ago.

I am grateful to know Dan; I’ve found him to be kind, brilliant, and an experienced articulate speaker. I appreciate his willingness to come to Dallas to debate. We had a great time at dinner together the night before the debate. We asked our waitress who she guessed was the atheist and who was the Christian. She thought Dan was the Christian and I was the atheist!

While I like Dan as a person, for over 30 years he has been fighting against a fundamentalist caricature of Christianity and misrepresenting many of the facts surrounding Jesus of Nazareth and one of the primary purposes of this article is to correct many of those misrepresentations.

Dan’s “glorified Sunday school” version of Christianity is highlighted throughout his arguments in Losing Faith in Faith (1992), Godless (2008) and his most recent book Life Driven Purpose (2015). Just for a moment, let’s consider the sources he cites in these books.

In his discussions of Jesus and Christianity, Dan cites only two scholars who are credentialed and professionally teaching in the field of early Christianity: R. J. Hoffman and Bart Ehrman. In contrast to these two sources, Dan questions Jesus’ existence. He parts ways again with Bart Ehrman, arguing that the Jesus story was cut from the same cloth of pagan religions.

In writing on Jesus and Christianity, Dan cites only these other sources: John Remsburg, J. M. Robertson, W. B. Smith, Barbara Walker, G. A. Wells, Randall Helms, John Allegro, Hugh Schonfield, Earl Doherty, Robert Price and Richard Carrier. A review of their credentials quickly reveal that the majority of them are inadequate sources for Jesus and early Christianity.

Just to give one example: Barbara Walker is included in Dan’s “other scholars” (Godless, 270-72) and is his primary source when arguing in Losing Faith and Godless that the Jesus story is a fanciful patchwork from other pagan religions. Walker though only has a degree in Journalism and publishes other books on knitting. In fact, James White challenged Dan in their debate on using Walker as one of his chief sources on Jesus and Dan agreed he would remove her from later editions of Godless.

That was very honest of Dan to admit that he erred in using Walker as a source, but why did Dan not cite anywhere in his books James Dunn, E. P. Sanders, John P. Meier, N. T. Wright, Paula Fredricksen, Dale Allison, Martin Hengel, Richard Bauckham, or really any of the other 6000+ scholars professionally teaching in relevant subjects of early Christianity?

With sources like the ones Dan relies on, you can see why so many facts get misrepresented in his writings and speaking regarding Jesus and ancient history.

Let me just give 7 examples from our debate where Dan got his facts wrong about Christianity and/or ancient history. I have provided clips below for the relevant exchange for each one of these 7 examples. I recommend watching the exchange first and then reading my comments.

1.) Did Nazareth Exist during the Lifetime of Jesus?

Debate Exchange 1 (1:19:41–1:25:44)

From the beginning of his opening speech, Dan stated that the city of Nazareth did not exist at the time of Jesus, to support his case that Jesus was a legend. Dan also made this argument back in 1992 in Losing Faith in Faith (p. 191) that Nazareth didn’t exist before the second century. However, archaeological discoveries have definitively proven that Nazareth did, in fact, exist at the time of Jesus. Bart Ehrman says, “Many compelling pieces of archaeological evidence indicate that in fact Nazareth did exist in Jesus’ day and that, like other villages and towns in that part of Galilee, it was built on the hillside, near where the later rock-cut kokh tombs were built. For one thing, archaeologists have excavated a farm connected with the village, and it dates to the time of Jesus… Jesus really came from there, as attested in multiple sources” (see morehere and in Did Jesus Exist? 191-97).

The first argument Dan made that Jesus is legend was completely at odds with the facts.

Read the rest

College Tuition is skyrocketing. Why? Administrative costs we know about. But what of federal aid itself?

3 Aug

From the WSJ:

Imagine a scenario in which the federal government helps households pursue the American dream with ultra-loose credit, only to see prices skyrocket and families take on loads of debt they can’t repay.

Yes, it sounds like the housing market of a decade ago, but some say it is also the challenge of today’s higher-education system.

The federal government has boosted aid to families in recent decades to make college more affordable. A new study from the New York Federal Reserve faults these policies for enabling college institutions to aggressively raise tuitions.

The implication is the federal government is fueling a vicious cycle of higher prices and government aid that ultimately could cost taxpayers and price some Americans out of higher education, similar to what some economists contend happened with the housing bubble.

Conservatives have long held that generous federal-aid policies inflate higher-education costs, a viewpoint famously articulated by then-Education Secretary William Bennett in a 1987 column that came to be dubbed the Bennett Hypothesis.

Now, more mainstream economists and academics are adopting that view, or at least some variation. And while college institutions reject the notion that they game the federal student-aid system to jack up prices, many higher-education officials concede there is a pricing problem, and changes are needed.

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How did Christians lose their position in the academy?

29 Jul

From Mathew Tuninga:

Rosaria Butterfield was a professor of women’s studies who specialized in Queer Theory at Syracuse University. A practicing lesbian, she was an activist in the gay and lesbian community until she converted to Christianity in 1999. She is now a Reformed Presbyterian.

Given such a story, you might expect Butterfield to have an interesting perspective on the relationship between Christians and the academy. And you will not be disappointed. Only seven pages into her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Butterfield declares that she maintains her appreciation for the university and her respect for feminism:

Although I live my life now for Christ and Christ alone, I do not find myself in like-minded company when my fellow Christians bemoan the state of the university today. Feminism has a better reputation than Christianity at all major U.S. universities and this fact really bothers (and confuses) many Christians…

But how has the church responded to this truth? Too often the church sets itself up as a victim of this paradigm shift in America, but I think this is dishonest. Here’s what I think happened: Since all major U.S. universities had Christian roots, too many Christians thought that they could rest in Christian tradition, not Christian relevance.

These words accurately capture many Christians’ bewilderment about what has taken place during the past few decades. The academy, leading the culture, has abandoned Christian teaching about gender and sexual ethics wholesale. Not only are sexual promiscuity and divorce widely accepted, not only have traditional gender roles been widely jettisoned, but the very normativity of sexual complementarity has lots its persuasive power. And it has lost persuasive power not only to a few fringe radicals in the academy, mind you, but to the very people who determine the highest law of the land. Christians are not shocked because they do not expect to witness evil in this life. They are shocked because these developments defy what Christians think are the most basic common sense assumptions possible about the differences between male and female.

Butterfield’s words confirm what many Christians are only beginning to realize. Our worldview – our moral paradigm – is not nearly as intuitive or persuasive as we have imagined it to be. The authority of our churches and our sacred texts is nowhere nearly as widely respected as we thought it was. We are quite out of touch. We have not been engaged. We have been resting on the laurels of more than a thousand years of Christendom. As Butterfield puts it,

Too often the church does not know how to interface with university culture because it comes to the table only ready to moralize and not dialogue. There is a core difference between sharing the gospel with the lost and imposing a specific moral standard on the unconverted. Like it or not, in the court of public opinion, feminists and not Bible-believing Christians have won the war of intellectual integrity.

A few points jump out at me from Butterfield’s reflections.

1) Attempting to impose our moral framework on American law is not the same as being engaged in the nation’s moral conversation. We have too often confused political activism with thoughtful engagement. If we can’t even persuade the country to uphold marriage at a civil level, what does that say for our ability to witness to the need for the gospel at a moral and spiritual level?

2) Preaching at people – proclaiming the truth – is not the same thing as communicating. We need to proclaim the gospel, of course, but we have too often confused the bare declaration of various messages found in Scripture with the thoughtful engagement that comes from wrestling with what the word of God has to say in light of what we learn from observing, listening, loving and conversing with our neighbors and fellow citizens. We prefer to imitate the way the apostles confronted the covenant people of God (i.e., Acts 4) rather than the way they witnessed to the Gentiles (i.e., Acts 17). We mimic the way Jesus confronted the Pharisees (Matthew 23) rather than the way he ministered to “tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 14-15). But America is not the covenant people of God and Americans are not – by and large – Pharisees.

3) Our inability to wrestle with the way the word of God speaks to contemporary culture in a thoughtful, humble way communicates a lack of integrity on our part. Why? Because a tendency simply to preach at people as if they share our basic assumptions about life – while ignoring the fact that they don’t – shows that we do not respect them. We do not take them seriously. We are not willing to learn from them, let alone grant them equality in a conversation. What we think is faithfulness looks to the world an awful lot like arrogance. And Christians, of all people, should know that this is a problem. The Christian tradition has a lot to say about the evil of pride.

We have a lot of work to do, and not primarily at the political level. As James Davison Hunter argued several years ago in his book, To Change the World, we need to be less focused on politics and more focused on culture, less focused on power and more focused on people, less focused on winning and more focused on witnessing.

I think our situation is a little bit like that of a husband and wife whose conversation has gradually escalated to the point where they are talking past one another and each is equally frustrated that the other person is not listening – no doubt willfully. It is time to step back, do some real soul-searching, and think about what and how we are communicating. Communication does not simply consist in declaring what you think and feel is true. Communication is a two-way street. Messages must be received and understood, not simply delivered. And that can only happen in contexts of respect, friendship, and trust.

As in a marriage, if we think the fault is all on the other side we are sadly deluded. In that case, the road ahead will be quite rocky indeed.

Does Christianity, particularly reformed theology, imply a kind of conservative social hierarchy or radical liberal democracy?

24 Jul

A subject of much interest to me.  Reformed folks like to credit Reformational theology with playing a major role in the rationale behind and formation of liberal democracy.  But how far?  Does it promote the great leveling revolutions (Rousseau thought it might) or is it more conservative than that (Burke thought it was).

Good exchange here on the subject:

Reformed Christian ethics has taken a social egalitarian turn. Recently, a few Reformed bloggers have criticized Christians for failing to support the “radical and inclusive social ethics” of the New Testament. Matthew Tuininga, in a couple interesting and well-written posts on the Presbyterian role in racial segregation (see here andhere),[1] has condemned the southern Presbyterians for their “communitarian” social ethics and spiritualized,”neo-platonic” understanding of the Gospel. For them, “the spiritual kingdom of God does not take concrete social expression.” He writes,

I would submit that the real problem with the way in which southern Presbyterians used the doctrine of the spirituality of the church was not the insistence that the Church should only proclaim what God’s Word teaches. The real problem was the interpretation of the concept of ‘spirituality’ through the lens of an underrealized eschatology. By stressing that the Gospel does not affect social structures of nation, race, gender and class southern Presbyterians were bound to have a bias towards the status quo, and they were bound to turn to the Old Testament as an alternative source for guidance about the nature of a godly society. They did not have trouble admitting that the Old Testament did not say anything specifically about race because that was not the point. The point was that the Old Testament clearly justified an exclusive kind of politics, a politics that highlighted division over unity and judgment over grace.

Now, I do not dispute that the southern Presbyterians sinned in failing to see or act against the injustice of the South’s racial segregation, but I want to point out, however, that Southern Presbyterians were following a racialized (and unjust) version of the standard Christian (catholic) position on social hierarchy. The ideas that the Gospel does not significantly affect social structures of nation, gender, and class and that social hierarchy isnatural are standard positions in the Christian tradition. Major figures in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Calvinist traditions are in agreement on this.

It is important to recognize that Tuininga’s argument does not merely condemn the racialized hierarchical system of the South, but also, and primarily, the idea of social hierarchy in general. In this, he joins Michael Walzer and Nichols Wolterstorff, who both argue not only that Calvinism was politically radical from the beginning and always has been, but also that it, given its theological principles, ought to be radical. Wolterstorff insists that Calvinism was and is a “world-formative” religion. [2]

This post provides evidence from major figures in the Christian tradition that social hierarchy (though not its racialized form) is a standard position in the Christian tradition. To be clear, I am not defending racial segregation or anything of that sort. I am simply pointing out that Tuininga’s rejection of social hierarchy and a “spiritualized” Gospel is a rejection of a standard position in the Christian tradition.

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The life of abortion provider Bernard Nathanson

24 Jul

From Public Discourse (excerpt)

Few people, if any, did more than Bernard Nathanson to undermine the right to life of unborn children by turning abortion from an unspeakable crime into a constitutionally protected liberty. Someday, when our law is reformed to honor the dignity and protect the right to life of every member of the human family, including children in the womb, historians will observe that few people did more than Bernard Nathanson to achieve that reversal.

Dr. Nathanson, the son of a distinguished medical practitioner and professor who specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, had his first involvement with abortion as a medical student at McGill University in Montreal. Having impregnated a girlfriend, he arranged and paid for her illegal abortion. Many years later, he would mark this episode as his “introductory excursion into the satanic world of abortion.”

“…the edifice of abortion is built on a foundation of lies. Nathanson told those lies; indeed, he helped to invent them. But others witnessed to truth. And when he was exposed to their bold, un-intimidated, self-sacrificial witness, the truth overcame the darkness in Nathanson’s heart and convicted him in the court of his own conscience.”

Full article

We know of right-wing atrocities, but Marxist historian Eugene Genovese famously asked his fellow leftists, “What did you know and when?”

24 Jul

Make no mistake, conservatism has protected and rationalized all sorts of injustices in history. Indeed, the total amount of human suffering that has resulted from a stubborn political and cultural conservatism has perhaps only been eclipsed by the enormous human suffering lying in the wake of radical revolutions marching to the left-wing drums of liberty, equality, fraternity, and scientific progress. Years ago, before a Harvard crowd of left-wing professors, fellow Marxist Eugene Genovese called his colleagues out on it in this scathing speech. In “The Question,” he asks, since right-wing (‘imperial’) injustices are routinely and rightfully castigated, when it comes to the atrocities committed on the left in the name of liberation, equality, and progress, “What did you know and when did you know it?”

Simply a mic-dropping read: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/…/1353953160genovesethequest…

Highlights:

Many of my old comrades and almost all of
those ostensibly independent radicals and
high-minded liberals remain unruffled. After
all, did we not often protest against some
outrage or other in the Soviet Union or China,
signing an indignant petition or open letter? I
know I did. And does not that change
everything? I am afraid not, but I have nothing
to offer as critique other than that which may
be found in Galatians 6:7

Perhaps knowledge of the record of imperialist
atrocities leads our liberal colleagues to
refuse to single us out by asking The Question.
But I am afraid not. After all, they never stop
asking southern whites about their crimes, real
and imagined, against blacks. And let’s face it:
all the combined crimes of white southerners, at least if we restrict ourselves to the period since emancipation, would be worth no more
than a footnote in a casebook that starred us.

A few years ago, there was a successful
effort to get the Organization of American
Historians (OAH) to condemn apartheid in
South Africa. In the OAH and other professional
associations, Professor Wilborne Washburne
resolutely opposed this politicization,
and attempted to expose its hypocrisy by
offering an amendment to condemn the “necklacing”
of black South Africans, including
children, by the militants of the African
National Congress. (For those who have
forgotten, “necklacing” was execution by
burning the victims alive.) The ANC subsequently
repudiated necklacing as not only
wrong but barbarous. The OAH has yet to
endorse that repudiation.
I laughed. Those bloody South African
whites did kill a lot of blacks and ought to
answer for it, but throughout their whole
history they probably never equaled the numbers
we put up in one of our more spirited
month’s work. I laughed even harder when our
liberal colleagues poured out their wrath on the
ghastly racists in South Africa while they
remained silent about the immeasurably greater
slaughters occasioned by the periodic ethnic
cleansing that was—and is—going on in black
Africa and every other part of the globe. The
New York Times recently announced that the
death toll in the latest round of ethnic cleansing
in Burundi has reached 150,000, with the fate
of a half million or so refugees in doubt. The
historical associations have not been heard
from. Nor should anyone expect that they will
be.

No one should be surprised that none of our
leading historical associations have thought it
intellectually challenging to devote sessions at
their enormous annual meetings to frank
discussions of the socialist debacle. We of the
left are regularly invited to give papers on just
about any subject except this one. We are not
asked to assess the achievements as well as the
disasters, the heroism as well as the crimes,
and the lessons we ourselves have learned from
a tragic experience. No one need be surprised
that we have never been called upon to explain
ourselves. The pezzonovanti of our profession
have more important things on their minds.
When they can take time away from their
primary concern (the distribution of jobs,
prizes, and other forms of patronage), they are
immersed in grave condemnations of the
appalling violations of human rights by Christopher
Columbus. I know that it is in bad taste
to laugh, but I laugh anyway. I would rather be
judged boorish than seen throwing up

EEOC just unilaterally decrees LGBTQs a CRA protected class under federal employment law. Get ready religious organizations.

20 Jul

Constitutional designs, democratic processes, legislative procedures, state politics, elections, the rule of law, we are told are too risky, too slow, and not even necessary to advance social movements and revolutions. Just use the courts. But why? Using the courts to create rights and make law is so outdated. With the ever expanding unilateral powers of the executive, this is a lot easier, cheaper, and quicker: bureaucratic fiat.

You might recall during the oral argument before the supreme court, Obama’s Attorney General tried to relieve the fears of Justice Alito.  Alito was concerned if they ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, it would mean that they are making gays and lesbians out to be a protected class in the same way racial minorities and women are.  This would mean that openly gay employees even at religious institutions would be protected (and the principle of religious freedom and/or separation of church and state could not be used by churches and their affiliates to justify their employment decisions).  But the Attorney General reassured him.  He said that he (as Attorney General with enforcement power over federal employment law) would not be using the decision in that way because “there is no federal law generally banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” so “that’s [the states are] where those issues will have to be worked out.”  Oh well, that changed Friday, not by congressional statute or court decision or 50 state laws.  But by 3 unelected bureaucrats in the Labor Dept.

“The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal under federal law, setting the stage for litigation aimed at striking down such practices.

The commission’s ruling, issued this week, hinged on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex in employment settings. In a 3-to-2 vote along party lines, the commission concluded that while the act did not explicitly prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians, “an allegation of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination.”

“If you look at our movement’s success, we are a lot better at litigating than we are at lobbying,” Mr. Almeida said. “We should take the E.E.O.C. decision and run with it by turning to the federal courts to win workplace protections in all 50 states.”

Get ready religious organizations. You are on the chopping block. Religious exemptions, religious freedom, separation of church and state, after all, are so 20th century.

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