Saturday, July 30, 2005

Some interesting develops in the land of the Jesus Myth.

Richard Carrier, the closest that the Internet Infidels have to a resident scholar, has announced his conversion to mythicism. Exactly why remains unclear but it is related to the old canard that you can reconstruct the New Testament with the Old Testament and thus there is no need to posit any underlying historical facts in the Gospels. While there is undoubtedly a lot of OT influence in the Gospels, I find the idea that Mark's artless and rather poorly executed hodge-podge of episodes is actually a devilishly clever retelling of many different bits of the OT rather unconvincing. Mark's Gospel reads like the recollection of lots of stories that the author has heard, thrown together into something approaching a narrative, which is exactly what church tradition says it is. Mark as the literary and creative genius just won't wash in the face of a text that was patently not written by anyone of the kind.

On the other hand, GakuseiDon has written a telling critique of Doherty's use of second century Christian apologists. Doherty likes to claim that many of these writers didn't believe in a historical Jesus and thus the idea that Jesus never existed was accepted in parts of the early church. GakuseiDon analyses the relevant texts and refutes Doherty's suggestion. But is it fatal to Doherty's entire thesis? Probably not. The dividing line that he can always point to (assuming he does retreat from his second century examples) is the Jewish revolt ending in 70AD. Aside from Paul, getting back before that is always hard (although Hebrews is a big help here), and the only way to kill mythicism is to prove that Paul knew of a historical Jesus. Given almost all scholars (all until Carrier's so far unexplained conversion) already think this is proven, the argument is unlikely to develop. What we need is someone very good at Greek to carefully analyse the relevant Pauline passages with all the critical apparatus that is available. Then we will see where we are. I suppose the advent of computerised texts does make this much easier, though.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Sometimes things happen that are so outrageous they beggar belief. Last year a terminally ill man won a court case in London that would mean that doctors would not be allowed to starve him to death if he lost the power of speech. Amazingly, the doctors appealed and even more amazingly, today they won. And the Appeal Court refused the right of appeal. I know the medical profession think they are gods, but this is ridiculous. We recently had the case of Professor Roy Meadows who was happy to let women rot in jail rather than admit he had made a mistake. Incredibly, even after he was struck off, his colleagues leapt to his defence. And the UK government say they won't cut the abortion age limit from 24 weeks because doctors haven't asked them too. And let's not forget Dr Harold Shipman who murdered dozens of his patients and used the aura of his profession to get a way with it for years.

I wonder what gets into the heads of these people but it is time the medical profession learnt so humility.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Today at noon we observed a two minute silence for the victims of last Thursday's bombings in London. My wife ensured that I stopped tapping my keyboard for the requisite period and we watched the shots of a silent crowd at St Andrews where the Open Golf is being played.

Not long ago the only silence we kept was for the Fallen of the Great War and Second World War. That was after church on Remembrance Sunday. Recently, the silence for the Fallen has moved back to 11am on 11th November as it used to be before I was born. Then, during the hysteria over Diana in 1997 we kept a silence for her. Also, it seems that all sporting events are now required to begin with a silent tribute to whomsoever has died that week. We have had the silence for the terror attacks on New York, Madrid and now London. Finally, there was the three minutes silence for the very many victims of the Asian Tsunami at the start of the year.

There has certainly been silence inflation but the reason for it is not hard to find. Once upon a time, we as a nation, could join together in prayer. The words of the Lord's Prayer were known by all and we could say Amen in assent at the end of whichever words were spoken. Now, to be inclusive, we are silent. In theory, we could still be praying but we do it alone and not together. A corporate silence may still be a powerful thing, especially in today's world of mass distraction. But it still seems to me a poor substitute for a common voice.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The police are now telling us that the terrorists who bombed London were British and probably suicide bombers. However depressing this is, it is most interesting to note what the terrorists were not. They were not poor, they were not oppressed, they were not ill-educated. These young British lads were turned into mass killers by ideology. So please could we have an end to the benighted idiots claiming that the bombers were driven to act because of the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan or the leftie cause of the moment.

What makes ideologies so dangerous is that we have quite ditched them ourselves. Our politics is simply a question of who can best manage the country. Anyone fired by ideological Marxism, Christianity, atheism or whatever is derided as a nutter who should do more shopping. The only great cause is environmentalism which suffers from being all pain and no gain (ideological tree huggers are not preaching a new nirvana but a return to the the stone age). Thus when a really bad ideology turns up, we have nothing with which to counter it, no big ideas of our own. Just a vacuous celebrity cult and retail therapy.

If you want to find a cause of European militant Islam, then the best candidate is Bosnia (for which the European right can fairly be blamed). But if you want to fight militant Islam, I suggest you need more than multi-cultural out-reach programs or a sprinkling of knighthoods. Rather we need to robustly stand up for our traditions, celebrate them and refuse to let our politicians dismantle our liberties. Some hope.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Church of England has today taken a major step towards enthroning women as bishops. I have found the whole issue faintly depressing, not because I feel all that strongly about it, but because the arguments made in the media are so poor.

In the Times today, Christina Odone launched into an uncharacteristic rant against evangelicals. She seemed to think that there was no argument about women being bishops and that the evangelicals were a deadly threat to the church. All this is doubly odd because Odone is a Catholic. In fact, the evangelicals are the fastest growing, most vibrant and most financially generous part of the Church of England. Indeed, they pretty much bank roll the liberal wing. I see no problem with them putting their wallet where their beliefs are and would suggest doing otherwise would be hypocrisy.

Conservatives object to women priests and bishops for real theological and biblical reasons. They might well be wrong in their reasoning. The church has frequently had to develop its thinking on many topics and Christianity's ability to evolve and adapt is one of its greatest strengths. Personally, I know women priests and think they do a fine job. I am sure they would make fine bishops. But those arguing for change have got to accept that they need to win the argument rather than simply call their opponents bigots. For this reason, I find myself instinctively sympathetic to the conservatives despite having no strong feelings against women priests myself. The Church of England has got to realise that aping modern society is the way to lose members and its moral voice. The argument for women priests is winnable but no one seems to be willing to try and win it. Perhaps we should blame the media but journalists like Odone should know better.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

JP Holding has put up a new page on the various bogus quotes that float around the internet, including the one on Calvin I mentioned last week. Anyone with suggestions for this page should contact JP so that it can grow into a really useful resource.

Also, thank you to everyone who wrote in to check we were OK after the bombs in London on Thursday. King's Cross is the station for Cambridge and the British Library, so I use it a lot. However, my wife, daughter and I were all safe down in Cornwall for a few days break (without internet access). Plenty of other people still need our prayers, especially those who don't know what has happened to their loved ones.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Two books I've read recently, Hooykaas's Religion and the Rise of Modern Science and McGrath's Twilight of Atheism, both point out yet another myth in the science and religion debate.

Calvin is often quoted as saying "Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus over that of the Holy Spirit?". This appears in White (see last post), Russell's History of Western Philosophy and many other anti-Christian tracts. But it seems that Calvin never said it or anything else about Copernicus. His theory of accommodation between nature and scripture, outlined in the Commentary on Genesis, insisted that the Bible was not a text to be read scientifically so it is doubtful he would have said much on the subject anyway. It turns out the famous quote first appeared in FW Farrar's History of Interpretation (1886). Oddly enough, the quotation is given in the forward and it flatly contradicts Farrar's otherwise masterful analysis of Calvin's thought. The whole thing is most odd.

The moral of this tale: if anyone produces a quotation, ask for a primary source and if one is not forthcoming, don't believe it.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.
The list of harmful books I posted a couple of weeks ago generated some heated debate but no suggestions. Certainly, I don't think we can say that no books are harmful or dangerous even if we don't actually want to ban them. I'm going to duck out of that argument and suggest a few books that have been harmful to the proper understanding of the history of science and religion. As this is my own subject, I feel better qualified to come up with some books than in the more general debate.
  1. Edward Gibbon - Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The best man at my wedding likes to tease me that I'm the only person who has actually read this from cover to cover. I doubt that's the case because it is riveting stuff. It is also almost completely wrong. So many anti-Christian myths began here. Christian's destroying the library of Alexandria, Eusebius's dishonesty, Christianity causing the 'Dark Ages' etc. etc. Gibbon has a lot to answer for. The combination of his enormous erudition, beautiful style, biting wit and enlightenment agenda are a potent combination.
  2. Auguste Comte - Cours de Philosophie Positive. You know the story of this book already. Mankind started off fearing nature so worshipped it. Then we invented a multitude of gods which were eventually whittled down to just one. Now, we are assured, rationalism and science have replaced even that god in providing answers to our questions about nature. This leads inevitably to atheism, the final goal of religious progress. Utter tosh but so appealing to atheists as it makes them think that everything was leading to them and the rest of us are stuck somewhere in history.
  3. Andrew Dickson White - The Warfare of Science and Theology. This book perfected the great myth that religion and science are in conflict. White is actually careful to aim his fire at dogmatic theology but succeeds in tarring all Christianity with his considerable brush. Most of the 'facts' in this massive work are now known to be fantasy but are still believed by many if not most people. Enjoying a new lease of life on the internet and an object lesson on how to mislead with footnotes.
  4. Sir James Fraser - The Golden Bough. A considerable effort to boil all religion down to some sociological archetypes. I haven't read all of this because it is so unfeasibly enormous. Volume after volume of completely misunderstood case studies of religious belief and practice all twisted into Fraser's grand scheme. The style is again wonderful (and wonderfully politically incorrect) which leads many to believe it, including by best man!
  5. Thomas Kuhn - The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Until about 1990 every North American history student read this book. Now they have all grown up they continue to carry it around so that the scientific revolution, another great historical myth, is the single best known event in the history of science. Meanwhile, Kuhn's next paradigm shift is eagerly awaited by every crackpot on the planet.
So, there you have it. Five books that no history student should be allowed to read ;).

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.