Top 5 Silly Statements I was Told in College

Professor_CatIf you ever want a good laugh, just visit a college campus and listen in on some random conversations. The weirdest topics are discussed. Let’s face it. Lots of dumb things are heard on college campuses. Most come from the mouths of arrogant undergrad students who think they know everything, but they’re not the only ones…Sometimes professors take the cake! Especially when it comes to religion, theology, and philosophy. Why is it that professors who know little to nothing about religion, theology, and philosophy like to make bold assertions about religion, theology, and philosophy? I’ve heard my fair share of ridiculous allegations made in the name of academics and I’ve decided to list the top 5 here.

5. The census recorded in Luke 2 is obviously made up. Why would Caesar call everyone to their hometown in order to count them? Imagine if Obama wanted to count the population and ordered everyone to return to their hometown! Imagine the chaos that would ensue!

Of course! Because we always determine the historicity of an event in Antiquity by imagining how viable it would be if enacted in the 21st century! Great historical methodology!

The census recorded in Luke 2 that claimed everyone was ordered to return to their hometown in order to be counted cannot have been an actual event because we could not fathom Obama issuing such a command today. By using that line of reasoning we would have to throw out everything we know about history! The Egyptian Pharaohs and the Roman Emperors never viewed themselves as divine figures because President Obama would never do such a thing today. Ancient civilizations never utilized chariots as a primary means of transportation because Western society today would never resort to chariots because we have slightly more efficient modes of transportation in automobiles and planes (although I contend that chariots are much cooler).

4. The Gospels were written 200 years after Jesus’ death.

I’ve yet to encounter any scholar of Antiquity who believes that. Even the most liberal dating of the New Testament puts the composition of the Gospels towards the end of the 1st century.

Mark: 70 AD

Matthew: 80 AD

Luke: 90 AD

John: 100 AD

These are rough dates and they are closer to those proposed by liberal scholars. The dating of the Gospels is tricky. There are several veins of scholarship that all have differing opinions, but mainstream New Testament scholarship is in agreement with regard to the Gospels being written before the 2nd century.

3. The cosmological argument falls very easily. Proponents of the cosmological argument don’t realize that there is a huge problem with the idea of a “cause” for the universe. They don’t realize that the cause has to be natural.

Then he just stopped there, as if the case was settled.

You might be just as confused as I was.

That’s it? That’s the big crescendo? That’s the mighty defeater of the cosmological argument?

If the universe has a cause then the cause must be natural? Why? Moreover, if nature is defined as all matter, energy, time, and space and if all nature came into existence at the start of the universe with the Big Bang, then how can the cause of all of nature be natural?

2. There is no non-Biblical source that mentions Jesus.

If by “no source” you mean 33 sources within 150 years of Jesus’ life comprised of 20 Christian sources, 4 Gnostic sources, and 9 secular sources, then you are correct!

Secular Sources that mention Jesus: Josephus (Jewish historian), Tacitus (Roman historian), Pliny the Younger (Roman politician), Phlegon (freed slave who wrote histories), Lucian of Samosata (Greek satirist), Celsus (Roman philosopher), Mara Bar Serapion (prisoner awaiting execution), Suetonius (Roman historian), and Thallus(1).

1. Darwin contributed much. We know there is no God because we now understand evolution.

1. Darwin gave us a mechanism by which we can understand how higher life forms evolved from lower life forms.

2. Therefore, God does not exist.

Either there are a load of implicit premises that need to be drawn out in order for this argument to work or this is simply logically fallacious (and quite silly).

The conclusion does not follow. Not by a long shot. How does evolution show that there is no God? There is absolutely no connection between the two. Evolution is simply an explanation for variation and similarity among and between species. It tells us how we evolved. It does nothing to make a case against the existence of God. Not at all.

 

There you have it. Silly statements made by those who profess intellectual honesty and rigor in presenting opposing views fairly and without mischaracterizations. This is essentially pseudo-intellectual drivel seeking to discredit Theism without having a solid understanding of the arguments and ideologies that are being objected to. Misrepresenting your opponent’s position and arguing against it without taking the time to properly research it lead to amateur objections and easily-refuted arguments. So much for our bright beacons of academia…

 

1. Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2004, p. 233.

 

 

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About Paul Rezkalla

Paul graduated from NYU with degrees in Religious Studies and History. He has recently completed a MA in Philosophy from the University of Birmingham in England and is now pursuing a second MA in Theology. His interests are too many to list and too varied to make sense of.

  • Lion_IRC

    Those extra-biblical corroborations for Jesus all need to be excluded also.

    Josephus? Um. Hello! Jewish. The bible is too closely related to the Jews for any Jewish historian to be credible.

    Tacitus? He was Roman. Rome was too closely involved in socio-political issues in Palestine for him to be credible. The bible mentions Roman Guards and Roman Procurators. Nope. I’m sorry. I’m not happy for ANY Roman citizen to speak in historical terms about Jesus.

    Pliny? Another untrustworthy Roman. Probably part of the (totally logical) conspiracy theory laid out by Joseph Atwill – the theory which makes it SO OBVIOUS that the Romans themselves forged and circulated all the backdated `gospels’ as part of some brilliant counter, counter-espionage plot to defeat the Jews at last. (Since Romes military might clearly wasn’t adequate.)

    Lucian of Samosata. Nope. He’s out. Sorry. Greek. And as everyone knows, the Jewish aristocracy was essentially Hellenistic. Motive, motive, motive!!! Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom. No Greek writer of Jewish history is going to be impartial. I might accept Greek references to Jesus if Greece was a small island off the coast of Australia and if Lucian was a devout atheist who couldn’t speak Aramaic.

    I want extra-biblical, independent, personally signed, personally dated, witnessed by a Justice of the Peace, veridical, historical corroboration of Jesus, free from opinion or bias written by;

    – a multi-lingual, literate, articulate, person who has a good geographical knowledge of Asia Minor (but free from cultural bias/baggage of having lived there.)

    – an atheist / non-believer,

    – preferably an open-minded skeptic who never witnessed a miracle (because that would affect their impartiality.)

    – with no political connections to Jerusalem or Rome or Greece or any country in the middle east for that matter.

    – who scrupulously applies the scientific method to all the data

    – who doesn’t derive any income or benefit from publication of their work.

    • Lion_IRC

      When atheists/skeptics demand extra-biblical history,
      the first thing I want to ask them is….
      “Were the New Testament accounts part of the bible when they were written?”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rezkalla/1623271472 Paul Rezkalla

      These made me chuckle! Well-written!

      • Lion_IRC

        LOL. That sarcastic post would be considered deliberate trolling on many/most of the atheist discussion forums (fora) which I visit.
        Props to you and thanks for the great article Paul Rezkalla.

  • http://twitter.com/TimothyBeirne Timothy Beirne

    Good article, thanks. Minor typo. “These are rough dates and they air closer to those proposed by liberal scholars.” I think you meant “err”, as in “To err is human.”

    • Lion_IRC

      I read it as…”and they [are] closer to…”

      In any case, you don’t find disputation in the history/bible scholarship community over the probable dates being cited as the main reason skeptics reject Jesus’ Resurrection.

      Suppose evidence came to light that all of the manuscripts were written <40AD. How many non-believers are suddenly going then to change their view of the Gospel content?

      They aren’t skeptics simply because of an academic argument about the pin-point accuracy within a range of +/- 50 years?

      No, it’s the actual event they reject as impossible which is the sticking point with most unbelievers. The Resurrection didn’t happen because God can’t do miracles, and the reason He can’t is because He doesn’t exist.

      Luke 16:31 comes to mind whenever I encounter strict, committed naturalists and their…’’give me anything as long as it’s not God”

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rezkalla/1623271472 Paul Rezkalla

        I meant to write “are”…thanks!

        • Lion_IRC

          Yeppers. Nothing to get hung up about.
          Dont want to miss the big picture. (gnats/camels)
          Thanks again for the article. Please write more!

  • staircaseghost

    Jesus is as well-attested to, in terms of secular sources, as the Roman emperor Tiberius.

    I’m sorry, but you’ve been scammed. This claim is as wildly untrue as it is possible to be:

    http://celsus.blog.com/2012/10/14/ten-reasons-to-reject-the-apologetic-1042-source-slogan/

    I hope you saved your receipt for that Habermas book. You deserve your money back.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rezkalla/1623271472 Paul Rezkalla

      Thanks for the link. Here is a good defense of those 9 secular sources:

      http://thedevineevidence.com/jesus_history.html

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rezkalla/1623271472 Paul Rezkalla

      Here is a good defense of those 9 secular sources and the objections posed in your link:

      http://thedevineevidence.com/jesus_history.html

      • staircaseghost

        By “secular”, of course, you don’t mean “secular”, but “pagan”.



        And while some of those nine require some real leaps of imagination, that is not my interest here. My interest is in seeing how apologists behave when one of their claims is demonstrated to be patently untrue.



        Do you see how “[t]here are 10 sources that mention Tiberius within 150 years of his life” and “Jesus is as well-attested to, in terms of secular [read: pagan] sources, as the Roman emperor Tiberius” are demonstrably false? That Habermas & Licona pulled a Schindler and the ammunition they gave you was a dud?

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rezkalla/1623271472 Paul Rezkalla

          By ‘secular’, I mean ‘not having a vested interest in the spread/growth of the Jesus Movement’.

          After further research, I think you might be right about that. I checked some Classics archives and it seems that there are more references to Tiberius than are mentioned by Habermas and Licona. Although, I’m not sure what criteria they used to determine whether or not source counts for Tiberius. A lot of these references are vague and debatable. But I’ll take down that statement as I think it is misleading.

          Thanks for pointing it out.

    • LamberthG

      staircaseghost, of course! Faith, no matter how defined, doth that to people!

  • LamberthG

    The Romans recorded no such census, and Quirinius did not have his post twice, and other nonsense comes forth in that fable.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rezkalla/1623271472 Paul Rezkalla

      My goal here was not to provide a defense of the historicity of Luke 2, but simply to point out a specific error in reasoning.

  • bpqa

    The objection to the census in Luke may be silly, but nowhere near as silly as the census itself. Why on earth would anyone (whether Obama or Caesar) order everyone back to the home of their ancestors just for a census? Can you imagine the disruption to society, especially back when travel was very slow and hotels as such did not exist? And the confusion–do I go to my father’s hometown? Grandfather’s? (Why would it be so important to go to my ancestor’s hometown just to be counted, especially when such a venture would cost the economy enormous amounts of money in employment absences alone?)

    You can’t find a single historical example of an ancestor-hometown based census, outside of Luke.

    Could Luke possibly have invented the story? Well, everyone knew that Jesus was from Nazareth, but the prophecy was that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. Sure, Luke didn’t have any motivation to invent a story placing Jesus in Bethlehem at the time of his birth…

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rezkalla/1623271472 Paul Rezkalla

      In 104 CE, Gaius Vibius Maximus, Roman Prefect in Egypt gave this decree (now known as the Edict of Gaius Vibius Maximus) in which he tells the citizens to return to their homes in order to register and be counted.

      http://www.kchanson.com/ancdocs/greek/census.html

      • bpqa

        That’s some pretty cool archaeology, Paul. But I never doubted that the Romans occasionally performed censuses, and it makes sense that they would want travelers or seasonal field workers to come back home so they can be counted too. But Luke strongly implies that Joseph went to Bethlehem not because he was personally from there, but because his ancestors were from there. Luke is pretty clear that Joseph and his family live in Nazareth.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rezkalla/1623271472 Paul Rezkalla

          Luke simply says that Joseph was in Nazareth at the time the decree was issued. Then he went to Bethlehem.

          • bpqa

            Um, Luke certainly gives more than simply the sequence of events; he gives the reason Joseph goes to Bethlehem: because Joseph is of the house of David, and David was born in Bethlehem. Hence the implication that people had to return to the home town of their ancestors for the purposes of the census, which observation was the basis of your ridicule with Point #5 in the first place. So I’m pretty sure you know that Luke says more than simply that Joseph was in Nazareth and then went to Bethlehem.

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rezkalla/1623271472 Paul Rezkalla

              Of course! I thought I made that clear by presenting the Edict of GVB. Luke says that Joseph went to his hometown to be counted in the census. And we have corroborating evidence from GVB that shows that Roman censuses sometimes required entire households to travel to their home-towns to be registered.

              • bpqa

                Okay, I guess I didn’t understand the import of your previous comment. But as I understand the edict of GVB, it’s asking residents who are away to return to their home (“return to their own hearths”) in order that they may be counted in the census, not asking people to return to the place they are from. Much less the place their ancestors are from, as Luke implies Joseph had to do.

                • bpqa

                  (Luke is pretty clear that Joseph and his family live in Nazareth–was that what you meant by your previous comment, that Luke only says that Joseph was in Nazareth at the time of the decree?)

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rezkalla/1623271472 Paul Rezkalla

                  The Edict of GVB says that everyone must return to their ‘nome’. Nomes were Egyptian city-state entities. In order to register for the census, you were required to return to your nome. The very idea of returning anywhere in order to be registered corroborates the Luke 2 narrative. The people could not be counted by registering simply where they were living at the time; they had to ‘return’.

                  The Gospel of Luke, alone, does not tell us how long Joseph stayed in Bethlehem, but the Gospel of Matthew gives some information that leads us to believe that he was in Bethlehem for a very short period of time–maybe 40 days or so.

                  • bpqa

                    The upshot of GVB, that people were required to return to their homes (their own hearths, which were presumably in their own nomes) means that yes, the idea of a government asking its people to return somewhere would be plausible to a 1st century audience. It still seems to me, though, that Luke is stretching the concept by having Joseph return for the census not to his own hearth, not his own “administrative district”, but to the one where he was from (or as Luke implies, where not necessarily Joseph himself but his ancestors were from). Luke, after all, has strong motivations for placing Jesus in Bethlehem at the time of his birth.

                    As for Matthew, that’s a novel interpretation for me! Doesn’t Matthew tell us that Bethlehem was Joseph’s home before he fled to Egypt?

                    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rezkalla/1623271472 Paul Rezkalla

                      Why are you assuming that Luke is ‘stretching’ the narrative? We already have evidence of edicts ordering people to return to certain places in order to be counted–meaning that the idea of people moving around during Roman censuses is attested to, historically and archaeologically. Unless you have evidence that no such order was given, I think the extent evidence lies in favor of the Lukan thesis.

                      Luke records that Joseph and Mary were in Nazareth then moved to Bethlehem. Matthew records that Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem for some time, but neither Gospel gives us lengths of time for these periods. There is no contradiction.

                    • bpqa

                      Well, because all the edict of GVB establishes is that for purposes of a census, people were asked to return to their own homes. It doesn’t establish that people were asked to return to the towns that they were born in, much less the towns their ancestors were born in. The edict of GVB is sensible; of course you aren’t going to get an accurate count if people are out in the fields or traveling. But the edict attested by Luke seems much more silly–I mean, that’s the basis of the ridicule that you ridicule in point #5 in the first place. What purpose would be served by counting people at their birthplace (or their ancestor’s birthplace!) that couldn’t be accomplished by counting people at their residences?

                      You’re right, of course, that we can’t know everything about ancient societies and perhaps it was more expedient somehow to do a census that way. But it seems poor scholarship to take Luke at his word on a claim that goes against common sense when there is no historical evidence that such a census had any precedent, and when Luke clearly had motivation to stretch the practice of “return home” edicts in order to give Jesus an alibi for being in Bethlehem at birth.

                      There may be no explicit contradiction between Matthew and Luke as to the place of residence of Joseph and his family, but it’s very easy to see that Luke has the family living in Nazareth and Matthew has them living in Bethlehem. Not only does all the action in Matthew preceding the birth of Jesus happen in Bethlehem with no indication that there was a journey, but when Joseph is returning from Egypt, Matthew goes out of his way to mention that Joseph wanted to return to Bethlehem but chose to emigrate to Galilee instead because of Herod’s son. Even if Matthew never says in so many words, “Joseph and his family were residents of Bethlehem”, it’s clear that he wanted his readers to presume so.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Rezkalla/1623271472 Paul Rezkalla

                      It’s clear that you’re starting off with the presupposition that unless an event is clearly, explicitly corroborated by other sources, the biblical narrative must be false.

                      You’re reasoning goes something like this.

                      1. Luke tells us that Caesar ordered people back to their hometowns to be counted.
                      2. The Edict of GVB tells us that Caesar ordered people to return to their ‘nomes’.
                      3. The Edict of GVB does not explicitly say that people were ordered to return to their hometowns, in so many words.
                      4. Therefore, the account in Luke is unreliable.

                      The conclusion does not follow from those premises. The burden of proof is on you to show why the Lukan account is unreliable with regard to the edict ordering people to return to their hometowns to be registered.

                    • bpqa

                      Not at all, Paul. I claimed that the census in Luke had no historical precedent; you cited the edict of GVB as proof of historical precedent; and I replied, “not really”. The edict of GVB requiring people to return to their homes is no more historical precedent for Luke’s census requiring people to return to their ancestor’s homes than a curfew law requiring minors to be in their parents’ house by 10pm is legal precedent for a law requiring minors to be in their grandparents’ house by 10pm.

                      But if you want to get at my presuppositions, here you go. It’s not that I that I believe than an event in a historical document [in this case, Luke’s census] is false unless clearly, explicitly corroborated by other historical sources. It’s that I believe you shouldn’t take every historical document at face value. (“Don’t believe everything you read”, in other words.)

                      In particular, if a historical document makes a claim that:

                      1. doesn’t make sense (what would be gained by counting people in their ancestors’ towns that couldn’t be accomplishing by counting them in their own towns?)
                      2. is unprecedented, and

                      3. is not a neutral claim, but a claim for which the author had a strong motive for falsifying,

                      …you should consider it suspect. Do you disagree with this reasoning?

                      I would agree with your original statement, way up above, that reason #1 alone shouldn’t be sufficient to discredit a historical claim. But when combined with other reasons to doubt, considering it unreliable seems like the only reasonable conclusion.

                      I haven’t even gone into a reason #4, which is that not only does Luke have a motive for falsifying the supposed census (or accepting false stories about the census, whichever), but either he or Matthew or both of them did in fact produce false stories about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. It’s not just the question of whether Joseph and has family were living in Nazareth or Bethlehem to begin with; the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke are so wildly divergent that it’d be virtually impossible for them both to be true. So, since we already know that 1st century Christian authors were susceptible to publishing unreliable stories about Jesus’ birth, reason #4 is actually the strongest one to cast aspersions on Luke’s unusual census.