Wednesday, December 30, 2009

TF - Chapter 3 part 1

Chapter 3 is entitled "He Has Spoken". I want to point out the title and the purpose of this book because Colson follows neither of these here. Instead he continues his Quixote-esque crusade against the army of straw men he constructs. He employs a plethora of logical fallacies, old arguments and make believe to destroy these straw men. Let's just dig right into it all.

Colson starts off with the story of a man named Speratus. There is great detail about how Speratus lived and interacted with his family and community. What he dreamed and hoped of for the future. Finally his brave efforts in preserving part of what we would call the New Testament. This is all just part of Colson's make believe world. Colson is trying to reference the Scillitan Martyrs. The thing is, all we have of what happened to them is what is the equivalent of a court transcript. We know nothing of their lives except there response to being told to "Swear by the genius of our Lord the Emperor." To which they refused. Speratus did quote Paul's letter to Timothy and did have a satchel containing letters of Paul. What they were being asked to do was to swear loyalty to the Empire, they were not asked to renounce their faith. They were put to death as traitors to the Empire. The actions of the government seems very similar to the right-wing 9/12 project and tea party movement going on in America right now, which Colson is a part of (see the Manhattan Declaration). Speratus and his fellow Christians died for being un-American un-Roman. I find it amusing that Colson, who has called people un-American, is hoisting these men up.

Colson talks about the house churches of China in the 70's. He makes it as if these people are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, which is true for the time period he choose. That time period was a ten year period between 1966 and 1976, when even registered churches were being closed. Currently, if the church is registered with the government it can continue operation, albeit with some influence from government officials. Churches have never been officially outlawed in China. Colson never says that people were martyred for their belief but implies it. From what I have read the common punishment for underground unsanctioned churches is heavy fines and sentencing to forced labor camps. I do not advocate these things and I think they should be allowed to worship how they please, but this is not execution.

Wang Mingdao is mentioned specifically by Colson. It is never mentioned why Mingdao was arrested but again Colson implies it has to do with his Christianity. In actuality, Mingdao was arrested for speaking out against the government and not registering his church with the government. I think it was wrong that he was imprisoned and I believe in the right to free speech, but this man was not arrested for his beliefs. He was arrested for being un-American un-Chinese.

Even if both of these groups died for Christianity, that does nothing to prove that Christianity is true. I can cite martyrs from every major religion. Martyrs just show that some followers are willing to give their life for what they believe to be true. Notice the word believe in that last sentence, that is the important part. Martyrdom is not a statement of truth but a statement of belief. Every Christian in the world could die for their beliefs and it would not prove whether Christianity was the truth or not.

Colson writes all this so he can pull the Christian persecution card. He equates the persecution people face in the Middle East for being Christian (which is punishable by death in some Muslim countries) with The Da Vinci Code being printed in America.

Just as in ancient North Africa, Christianity today in North Korea, much of the Muslim world, and elsewhere risk violent punishment for even possessing the Scriptures. Pakistani Christians must hide their bibles or endure severe attacks by imams and roving gangs.

In America and elsewhere in the West, the Bible continues to be attacked, if more subtly. Every Christmas and Easter the media runs programs with titles like "Who was Jesus?" Their advertising suggests that new scholarly discoveries transcend the narrow confines of faith and provide a greater truth devoid of the supernatural. Conspiracy theory books like The Da Vinci Code and articles related the publication of ancient Gnostic texts like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas abound.

That first paragraph was the entirety of the paragraph. The second paragraph continues on. Colson shows that he is more concerned with what is happening in America than with what is going on elsewhere in the world. He is just using the first paragraph, the one of actual persecution, to make it seem like American Christians are being just as persecuted as all the other Christians around the world. My response is to quote a book:

The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished. - Proverbs 16:5

Colson continues on for another 2 paragraphs about how Christians are persecuted in America. How people make fun of them for saying they believe in Jesus and so forth. I personally have never seen this where I live. Instead people ostracize you if say you don't believe in Jesus. I have heard it is different on the East Coast but that is not all of America. Last I checked the most populous religion in America was Christianity. There have been a few non-Christian presidents but only early in American history (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe come quickly to mind). A list of the presidents and their religious affiliations can be found here. In recent polls, it seems that the last person most Americans would vote for is an atheist ( Gallup poll, and yes the percentage is changing but it is slow). Colson's claims of persecution, especially after listing real persecution, is just ridiculous. I don't see him going to jail or being beaten to death for writing and publishing this book.

The next section of Chapter 3 is the claim that the Holy Spirit helped write the Bible. Colson makes the statement that the New Testament was decided to be written by the apostles and they started writing about Jesus' life 20 years after Jesus' death. He provides no evidence to back this up. What we do know is that the earliest of the Gospels, Mark, was written around 70 CE, that would be close to 40 years after Jesus died. The purpose of the writing was not to create the New Testament, but to convert Greeks to Christianity and strengthen the beliefs of current Greek followers. It was a Chick tract, albeit much better than anything Jack Chick has ever thought about printing. Paul's letters started appearing around 40 to 60 CE but they say very little about the life of Jesus.

This book was written for believers, so I will grant some slack when Colson takes the Bible as exact history. Personally, I would want secondary evidence backing up the stories presented in the Bible. Especially things like the day of Pentecost and the resurrection of 500 on the day Jesus was crucified.

Next, Colson covers his version of the canonization of the New Testament. I say his version because he cites no references for his claims and I have never seen anyone seriously make the claims he does. Let me quote:

The young Church first embraced the written records from Paul's careful explication of Jesus' teaching. Paul's letters to individual churches were copied and exchanged among all church communities. Not long after his death in AD 66 or 67 every new center of the Church had a set of the most recognized letters of Paul. In the same way, manuscripts with the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, circulated and were copied by the churches and were quickly accepted as authoritative.7

Notice the reference note. Here is the end note:

7. The differences in the four Gospels were duly noted. The early Church Fathers could see that the evangelists present the life of Christ in different chronological orders. They also represent Jesus' teachings from different angles with a particular audience in mind. Rather than being disturbed by this, scholars int he early Church understood that the different accounts broaden and enrich our understanding of Christ's life. They also served as proof against the one-sided interpretations that characterized false teachings in that day - and ours as well.

In other words, Colson is pulling this garbage out of his ass. Then he adds an end note to make it look he referenced a real scholar, but it turns out to be more apologetics pulled directly from his ass. I am so glad that Colson has mind reading powers that can actually travel back in time. Instead of doing things like, I don't know, listing the letters and documents where the "early Church Fathers" talked about this. Things that would give his story some credibility.

I might also take back that part where Colson is writing for believers. Unless he believes his believing readers are completely retarded, which would explain some things, then there is no reason to mention what books the Gospels are. I know for a fact that this is beaten into children in Sunday school as soon as they can understand words. Of course, this would imply that Colson is writing to the straw man atheist that has never heard of Jesus or Christianity also. I notice a lot of fundamentalist writers do this, just go back and check out any of those Chick tracts. It is a weird idea that atheists are only atheists because they haven't really looked at Christianity. Most atheists I know, not all, grew up in Christian households. Even the ones that didn't, especially the Americans, still hear about Christianity because it is the world's largest religion.

Colson next claims that Archeology proves the Bible is flawless. He uses the Hittites as an example. For a long time the only evidence that these people existed was in the Bible. So many scholars believed them to be imaginary. Well absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and in recent years there have been some findings of these people. The Hittites were real. This in no way means that every story in the Bible is real, it just means that it wrote about a real group of people called the Hittites. By Colson's logic, and the logic of many other fundamentalist evangelicals, this means that Spiderman and every Marvel comic is real. I have an X-men comic with the character Rogue blowing a kiss to President Reagan as he flies by in Air Force 1. Since Reagan and Air Force 1 are real that must mean that Rogue is real also.

Shortly after admonishing scholars for dismissing the Hittites because of a lack of evidence, Colson writes this:

The Book of Mormon, for example, talks about a civilization in North America in 400-600 BC. Not a single artifact of that civilization has ever been discovered.

Hello, Pot, this is Kettle speaking, you are black. Again absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There are many other reasons to not believe the claims of the Mormons. Just like there are many reasons not to believe the claims of Genesis, Exodus and Judges, besides an absence of evidence. A lot of it has to do with evidence we have of other cultures in the area. Egyptian culture has no break or mention of there ever being a mass of Jewish slaves or their escape. There is an absence of evidence of any movement of the Jews across the desert for forty years. The land of Canaan did not fall in the matter of a few years by a conquering force. Instead archeological evidence shows that it fell from internal revolt or peasant uprisings. (Watch this show from the NOVA series on PBS).

So from what I am seeing the Bible's stories are shown to be based on real countries, but the archeological evidence is showing that in the very least a few of these stories are made up and I am not even talking about the obvious made up stories of Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel and 7 day creation. (There is just so much wrong with the Noah story, languages evolved separately in different places, and the earth with all its life formed over a period of 4.54 billion years.)

Colson's only real claim in this section is:

Then there is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls revealed that Psalm 22, which predicted Christ's crucifixion, was indeed dated well before the Maccabean era. For several generations, Bible scholars had believed Psalm 22 could not have been written before the Maccabean era because the practice of crucifixion, which it had referred to, had not been invented.

Now here is a real claim, that could prove the Bible. Apparently Psalm 22 talks about crucifixion of Jesus before crucifixion had been in invented. If this is true it gives the Bible some real evidence.

So first let's look into the history of crucifixion. Crucifixion started around the 6th century BCE, 600 to 501 BCE. Herodotus describes a crucifixion taking place in 479 BCE, in his Histories, Book IX, as "they nailed him to a plank and hung him up...this Artacytus who suffered death by crucifixion." So that gives a rough lower limit to how long crucifixion has been going on.

Next, here is Psalm 22:16-18 (the main verses dealing with the crucifixion prophecy, verse 1 is quoted also in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34):

Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.

I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me.

They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.

Okay the first stanza is supposed to be the actual crucifixion. The word crucifixion is not used there, just they have pierced my hands and feet. The second verse is supposed to mean that his bones weren't broken. The third verse is about the guards betting on Jesus' clothes.

Now, let's look at when the Maccabean era was. The Maccabees ruled from 164 BCE to 63 BCE.

Finally, let's see the date of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls generally date between 150 BCE to 70 CE.

Now putting everything together, starting with the claim: Psalm 22 predicts Christ's death by crucifixion and predates crucifixion which was invented in the Maccabean era.

Crucifixion was started in the 6th century BCE, which is well before the Maccabean era and well before the Dead Sea Scrolls. So the last two claims are easily found to be false. The Dead Sea Scrolls do not date well before the Maccabean era. They date around the same time and after. So that claim is false also. The final claim is that Psalm 22 predicts Christs death by crucifixion. I will quote Chuck Colson:

But remember, Jesus and His disciples were well versed in and abided by the Old Testament.

So the early Christians knew the Old Testament or the Tanakh. Then some 30 to 70 plus years after Jesus lived, they wrote stories about his life. Is it so hard to fathom that these writers, who had learned the Tanakh, wrote their stories to fulfill messianic prophecies? I could write a story about my friend Steve that fulfills all the "prophecies" also. Especially if I can set the story 30 years before and considering the technological level of the time, there would have been no way to prove it didn't happen. Considering the average life expectancy in the first century was 49 to 62 years old, would mean that most of your eye witnesses would have died by then too.

Once again, Colson is fractally wrong.


ExPatMatt said...

So is there anything of substance in this book then? It looks like a whole load of waffle to me.

Fair play to you for trudging though it all!

BeamStalk said...

So far it is just waffle and old apologetics. Every now then it seems like he takes his poo and throws it at the paper, that is somewhat interesting.

Propaganda's Antimatter said...

'Every now then it seems like he takes his poo and throws it at the paper, that is somewhat interesting."
those damn abstract artists!