From: Brian Holtz [brian@holtz.org]
Sent: Friday, June 06, 2003 8:59 AM
To: Bob Norsworthy III
Subject: RE: Jesus
N: I did not include your name or website because that is not whatís important, the subject is the focus. However, to show I am a good sport, I have done so.
I compliment you for your intellectual integrity. However, I note that you did not create an actual hyperlink. Could it be you're trying to subtly discourage your readers from seeing my arguments? (By the way, my ISP may be changing, so the preferred way to link to that page is http://humanknowledge.net/Philosophy/Metaphysics/Theology/Trilemma.html.
N: Additionally, I will be posting our email thread.
I will as well, along with links to what you post. I'll be impressed if you have the courage to reciprocate. :-)
N: Jesusí siblings and parents werenít believers in what, Brian? If Jesus never claimed that He was god, they wouldnít have anything to not believe in.
Fallacy of the excluded middle. Obviously, my choices aren't just that Jesus was either a completely secular carpenter or a self-proclaimed deity. As I say in my book, he was a preacher, faith-healer, and apocalyptic prophet who in the months leading up to his anticipated execution came to believe he was the Jewish Messiah and even the divinely-special savior of mankind.
N: whether they doubted or not, that has no bearing on His divinity or His claims to divinity. Again, they like many others doubted at first but believed in the end
Jesus' family are the best possible witnesses to testify about the validity of his ministry, and their verdict was unanimous that his ministry was not authentic. Only after the trauma of Jesus' execution did they decide to step in front of the parade that Jesus had been leading.
 N: which is only human.
There is very little "human" about virgin conception and angelic annunciations. As I predicted, you did not even try to reconcile the disbelief of Jesus' family with the gospel claims about Joseph's and Mary's knowledge of the divine specialness of Jesus.
N: Again, whether they believed or not is not relevant to His claims or the reality of His divinity. There is no need for Christians to reconcile the disbeliefs of Jesusí relatives.
This is nothing less than abject surrender in the face of the evidence. Your holy text is so inconsistent that you don't even attempt to muster a defense of it.
N: Lots of people were disbelievers, lots of people were believers.
But only one person experienced a virigin conception, and only one couple experienced repeated angelic annunciations about a miraculously conceived child who went on to undertake a messianic ministry. Despite all this, they didn't believe in that ministry. My thesis perfectly explains their disbelief, while you have no explanation whatsoever.
N: If you claim that you have a great website (which you do)
(Thanks.)
and then I say itís not so great, my statement does nothing to diminish the substance of your website.
A specious analogy, since you (yet again) ignore the element of contrarian parents disregarding miraculous conception and annunciation.
N: the miracles were so impressive that 37 separate instances were recorded, several by multiple authors.
Of course the gospel authors tried to make the miracles seem impressive; that's to be expected. What's remarkable -- and what you ignore -- are the verses in which we see traces of the miracles' original unimpressiveness (Mt 11:20, Lk 10:13, Jn 6:66, 10:32, 12:37, 15:24). If the miracles had actually happened, these verses should simply not exist.  Nor would a competent deity been reported as reluctant [Mk 8:12; Lk 11:29, 23:8; Mt 4:7, 12:39, 16:4; Jn 2:18] and limited [Mk 6:5, Mt 13:58, Lk 4:24] concerning his abilities.
N: As far as the post resurrection appearances are concerned: [.. quotes verses vividly describing appearances..] You have exclusively used whatever parts of scripture fit your current topic
In my book I admit that Again, my point in citing just the problematic resurrection passages is that, while we both can explain the vivid passages (I say myth, you say truth), only my thesis explains the problematic ones. If Jesus had competently executed his self-revelation, those problematic passages simply would not exist.
N: which you seem to make a common practice of.
This charge is amusing, given that in my previous email I documented you ignoring scriptural context three times: Mat 9:3, Jn 10:34, and Jn 14:10. You didn't even try to answer these three points.
H: how likely it was that Mary conceived Jesus with some man other than Joseph

N: Again, you contradict yourself. You yourself note passages [regarding angelic annunciation and virgin conception]

(You find these passages useful when you naively propose to take them at face value, but you are defiantly non-responsive above to the obvious inference that their truth should have made Mary and Joseph support Jesus' ministry.)

I of course do not "contradict myself", because my point in quoting these passages is to note that the disbelief of Jesus' family implies that these passages are in fact false.

N: Thus adding to the bibleís clarity that Jesus was ďson of GodĒ.
Jesus indeed called himself a (or possibly the) "Son of God", and that of course is a distinction from Yahweh, not a claim to be Yahweh. Even the alleged direct angelic annunciations forgot to mention that Jesus was identical to Yahweh.
N: However, you have yet to provide any extra-biblical (or biblical for that matter) sources to the contrary.
A hollow assertion, belied by the 100 or so biblical verses I cite in my case against Christianity, as well as these extra-biblical reports: Seneca, Pliny the Elder, Syncellus, Julius Africanus, Thallus, Philo, Celsus, Tertullian, the Barraitha account, the Toledoth Yeshu, and (most damning of all) Josephus.
H: Jesus to Joseph: "You're not my real dad! Yahweh is my real dad!"

N: Again contradicting your other statements that Jesus never claimed to be Son of God.

I have never once (let alone multiply) stated that "Jesus never claimed to be Son of God". However, I do deny that claiming to be son-of-X is the same thing as claiming to be X.
H: how likely it was that Jesus' awareness that Joseph wasn't his father led Jesus to adopt Yahweh as his father

N: your use of the word likely suggests that you are drawing a conclusion.Who is it ďlikelyĒ to? You? Itís not likely to me.

Is this supposed to be an argument? My conclusion is indeed my conclusion. You of course must draw your own conclusions, and you are free to continue ignoring most of the arguments I present for my conclusions.
N: Based on the bible verses you supplied, it seems the people mentioned were informed as to who He was
You cannot seriously think I believe that Mary and Joseph were actually told by angels that Jesus was divinely special.
N: I havenít seen you mention Simeon, Anna or John the Baptist, all of whom also knew exactly who Jesus was even when He was a child.
You here just blithely assume that the gospels are literally true. Even so, your holy texts undermine your claim:
This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' " [Lk 7:17-20]
Thus even in your holy text John the Baptist is recorded as being unsure (or not telling his own disciples) "exactly who Jesus was". This incident is inexplicable if the Baptist really knew all along "exactly who Jesus was".
Just because he realized that he was the Son of God, doesnít mean he denied his mother and stepfather, He simply understood that they were His earthly parents, not His heavenly parent.
Of course the gospels aren't going to say "Jesus resented his parents because of his illegitimacy". My point is that the evidence is consistent both with Jesus being merely a resentful human and with him being an ideosyncratic deity incompetently executing his self-revelation. The former thesis has more explanatory power and economy than the latter.
N: ďSpurningĒ His stepfatherís trade is proof of His illegitimacy?!?! Wow, thatís a leap!
Strawmen arguments usually are. I of course don't say it's "proof" of illegitimacy. I say illigetimatcy is a reasonable inference from a body of biblical evidence, much of which you don't even address:
N: Yes, there were some who thought He was out of His mind, a temporary belief.
"Temporary"?  There isn't a shred of evidence that Jesus' family didn't consider him "out of his mind" [Mk 3:21] for the entire duration of his (miraculously conceived and annunciated!) ministry. If any of Jesus' family had joined his ministry before Good Friday, the gospels would surely have mentioned it.
N: the fact that the bible records only one instance of Jesus saying a kind word to His family is proof of His illegitimacy?!?! Again, thatís a stretch.
"Proof" -- there's your strawman again. I merely say that the body of NT evidence about Jesus' relationship with his family is much more easily explained by Jesus being a resentful illegitimate schizophrenic than by him being God incarnate whose virgin conception was given angelic annunciation and then was ignored by his earthly parents.
H: that the New Testament contains no reliably first-hand testimony to the physical resurrection of Jesus

N: There are several first hand accounts of people interacting with Jesus post resurrection.

Simply false -- look up "first-hand" in a dictionary. You didn't dare address my argument, so I'll repeat: Nobody ever wrote "I John Doe saw Jesus work a miracle." Mark and Luke were not eyewitnesses, and quote none. Matthew was written by an unknown author who later church tradition identified with the apostle Matthew, but the text heavily quotes the non-eyewitness Mark rather than providing an independent eyewitness account. John was written by an unknown author who is ambiguously identified (in the third person: 21:24) with the apostle John only in the final chapter, which is itself an apparent addendum.
N: Empty tomb "could have"resulted. Meaning you aren't sure. Well let me know when you are sure
It's indicative of the level of sophistication of your thesis that you think a lack of dogmatic certainty is a vice and not a virtue. When I get security camera videotapes of the tomb over the Easter weekend, you'll be the first to know. :-) Until then, I challenge you to assign your own numeric probability estimates to the various possible explanations of the gospel evidence.
N: Who moved the two ton-stone blocking the tomb UPHILL, thus breaking the roman seal (a horrific crime)? Oh, and how did they get past the 16 roman soldiers who if they neglected their duties would suffer a painful death (not to mention the fact that they simply had pride in what they were doing and disliked Jews on top of that)? The conspirators even suspected the apostles would take Jesus so Pilate instructed them to use whatever resourced necessary to prevent that.
You again (for the fourth time in your message!) argue the truth of the Bible by assuming the truth of the Bible. All we can reliably infer from the account in Mat 28 is that there must have been a body-theft story in wide circulation that the evangelist thought was important to somehow rebut. Thus Matthew's guarded-tomb rebuttal only strengthens my case, as does all the gospel concern over a possible body-theft conspiracy.
N: Wow. If you believe that Jesus was removed from the tomb by one woman and/or one man, you have much more faith than I do!
It takes only a few neurons -- and zero faith -- to imagine how an executed man's body could be stolen to fake his ascension under circumstances that were first described in writing only decades later -- by people desperate to believe in that ascension.  You blatantly assume the gospels are like contemporanous court transcripts, and then say I have faith. Ironic.
H: how exclusive Jesus was as a practicing Jew preaching to the Jews

N: Are you trying to say Jesus never accepted gentiles?

H: No, I'm saying  Jesus was a Jewish prophet who affirmed Jewish law [Mt 5:17-18; Lk 2:27,39; Jn 10:35], observed the Jewish calendar [Lk 4:16, Mt 24:20], and preached in Jewish synagogues [Mk 1:21, 1:39, 6:2; Mt 4:23, 9:35, 13:54; Lk 4:15, 4:44, 6:6, 13:10, 19:47; Jn 6:59, 18:20] exclusively to Jews [Mt 10:5, Mt 15:24] about the God of Israel [e.g. Mk 12:29].

H: Not sure what this has to do with our discussion.

It shows that Jesus' failed Torah-abiding imminently-apocalyptic Jewish ministry was far different from Paul's successful Torah-transcending vaguely-apocalyptic Gentile ministry.
H: No mention of Herod's massacre or the gospel miracles to make it into the accounts of Josephus, Philo, Seneca, Pliny the Elder, or indeed any writer of the entire first century (other than the New Testament authors). Their silence is deafening.

N: Why re-write what everyone already knew? Iíll give you a reason, to either give their own, differing version of the story or to refute it altogether. Their silence is deafening indeed! Their silence actually confirms that they had no need to rewrite the bible, that they accepted what it said.

It's laughable to suggest that Josephus, Philo, Seneca, or Pliny the Elder was familiar with any writings of the New Testament. Your comment fatally disqualifies you from any serious discussion of the historicity of the gospel accounts.
N: Christianity has the bible as itís [sic] reference.
Christians indeed simply assume the Bible is true -- as you've done four times already in your message.
N: Also, Christians are able to explain apparent inconsistencies in the bible
Like you're "able to explain" why Jesus' family ignored his virgin conception and angelic annunciations?

Sorry, but the OT is so embarrassingly inconsistent that a plurality of Christian intellectuals don't even try to defend its literal truth. The NT is not only riddled with minor inconsistencies, but is crippled by the fatal ones that my book documents. Christian apologists try feebly to explain them away, but their explanations are strained and baroque, and they can't explain how a competent deity could have allowed such prima facie consistencies in the first place.

N: Non-Christians do not have extra biblical texts to contradict the bible and their higher criticism has been answered. Furthermore, absence does not prove your point. Just because these secular writers didnít write what you would have liked, doesnít mean you are correct.
It's absurd to claim that the NT is literally true but that Josephus would completely ignore these miraculous events and barely even mention Jesus in his excruciatingly detailed account of first-century Judea. You are making no argument here, you are merely whistling past the graveyard (in which is buried the shredded remains of your case).
H: [1] Was Doubting Thomas a robot?  [2] Were the witnesses of the Good Friday zombies and earthquake all robots? [3] Were the witnesses of the apostolic miracles in Acts all robots? [4] Were the Israelite beneficiaries of all those ridiculous OT miracles all robots?
The Divine Shyness argument is refuted by Christianity's own texts. El/Yahweh had no compunction about "forcing" belief with all his Old Testament miracles (that were [5] so petulantly primitive and so obviously constrained by ancient pre-scientific imagination). Jesus similarly had no compunction about "forcing" belief with his New Testament miracles (which, happening during a time with far better historical records, were [6] not coincidentally much more modest than the OT's miracles).

Apologists cannot have it both ways. Either first-hand witness of miracles is a forcing of belief, or it is a non-forcing level of evidence whose denial to the rest of us is immoral (given the punishment for non-belief).

N: What you call shyness is actually design. Divine evidence is inversely proportional to the faith required to believe the doctrine. Iím quite sure God has the balance correct.

You quote my six evidentiary claims but don't address a single one of them; you argue by mere assertion. If your faith is so indefensible, then there is little point to our conversation.
H: This Divine Shyness argument is of course is the saddest argument of theists.  I suspect it is quite modern, and that historians will say that it marked the beginning of the end of philosophical theism. The presumably recent vintage of this argument shows that theists have lost much of their confidence in their position since roughly a millennium ago, when they believed they had multiple independent philosophical arguments that absolutely proved God's existence.
N: Christianity is doing quite well today despite your inaccurately gloomy diagnosis and prognostications. Iím sure that many pastors, theologians and seminarians would disagree with your assessments of the state of Christianity.
It's historically illiterate to deny that the truth and intellectual confidence of Christianity has not been under seige in the last few centuries by advances in philosophy and biology and cosmology and physics and biblical scholarship.
N: Also, just because you call it shyness due to a lack of discernment doesnít mean you are correct.
Yet another "nuh-uh" non-argument.
N: You mention the Old Testament which again shows your lack of knowledge regarding Christianity because the OT is not about Christianity, itís about Judaism. Godís relationship to the people in the OT is quite different than in the NT thusly requiring different methodologies.
I agree that the El/Yahweh of the OT is ridiculously different from the Father that Jesus preached, which only proves that neither OT nor NT can be referring to an actual eternal deity, and instead relate the evolving human conception of a mythical Mesopotamian tribal deity.
N: Your statement regarding Jesusí miracles is contradictory. You say that He forced them, and then you say they were modest. So which is it?
The NT miracles were undeniably far more modest than the OT miracles, and yet any miraculous evidence is far more than what has been provided to recent generations (who at last have the communications and science needed to skeptically investigate alleged miracles). There is obviously no contradiction in my position.
N: Also, which miracles were ďforcedĒ on believers? The healings, stilling the storm, raising the dead, feeding the multitudes, walking on water, escaping from a hostile crowd or water into wine? None of those seemed forced to me. They seem more like the work of a caring and personal god.
By "force", I'm quoting the Christian excuse for why Yahweh is lately so non-caring and impersonal that he doesn't provide any miracles for modern humans to witness.
N: Miracles are not forcing belief in regards to spirituality. You can choose to ignore them or not. Forcing would mean that you donít have a choice in the matter, which clearly you do.
Excellent -- you've just destroyed the traditional Christian excuse for why Yahweh doesn't provide any miracles for modern humans to witness.
N: As far as your eternity goes, well, thatís a choice youíll have to live with.
As I've written here: What if I'm wrong, and one or more gods exist? In particular, what if the gods reward and punish humans based on policies significantly different than my humanistic principles?  What if they then allow me to horribly suffer -- or at least to have horrible regrets -- because I did not believe in some revelation about them? In that case, I can only hope that the gods will not have also interfered with my ability to remember and reason, so that I will at least be able reaffirm to myself my current belief that I am ethically superior to any being that would see me horribly suffer just for my sincere and prima facie reasonable beliefs.
H: The beauty of the Christian Divine Shyness doublethink is that it is perfectly unfalsifiable: available evidence for God is evidence for God, and evidence that is missing or contrary is just evidence that we're not being coerced into believing.

N: Hmm. Unfalsifiable. Sounds like you just made my case even more water-tight

You're apparently not familiar with the notion in epistemology that unfalsifiability implies meaninglessness for an empirical theory.
N: You have yet to show evidence to the contrary and missing evidence doesnít prove your point. Sounds to me like your attitude is becoming ďI donít care if itís correct, Iím still not believing in it.Ē Please clarify if I am wrong about your attitude because itís one thing to not comprehend the truth of Christianity, itís another to understand it and reject it still.
It's simply hilarious that you can repeatedly ignore my evidence and arguments, or just baldly disagree with my conclusions while offering no counter-argument, and then here claim that it's me who is doing this instead of you.
N: I have had a reasonable response to every point you have made.
That, sir, is a batantly false statement. Here are some of the points in my emails (never mind my links) that you have completely ignored: Thus I've made a least 15 separate points to which you made no response whatsoever. Your claim to "have had a reasonable response to every point" I've made is simply bizarre.
N: You have not liked some of them. You have summarily dismissed others. But there has not been ONE instance when I have said ďI donít knowĒ or ďI canít explain thatĒ.
You are hallucinating. I just identified FIFTEEN cases where you had nothing to say whatsoever. This doesn't even count e.g. your repeated and defiant unwillingness to explain how the virgin conception and angelic annunciation is consistent with Jesus' family disapproval of his ministry. I defy you to quote a single instance of me responding to a substantive point of yours by "summarily dismissing" it or merely saying I don't "like" it.
N: On the other hand, letís list your current contradictions:
Jesus never claimed to be god, no one confused that he was god-contradicted by
Jesusí family doubted his claim. (his claim to what?)
Claim to be god vs. claim to special sonship of god. No contradiction whatsoever.
N: Jesusí miracles were ďforced on believersĒ-contradicted by jesusí miracles were modest.
No contradiction, as demonstrated above.
N: Please clarify.
My book lists several NT contradictions, and the OT is so embarrassing to Christians that I don't even bother debating it. For our purposes, we can focus on two fatal NT contradictions: the non-belief of Jesus' family, and the failure of Jesus' apocalyptic prophecy. Jesus said [Mt 16:28, Lk 9:27] some "standing here" would live to see "the kingdom of God".  Jesus also said [Mk 13:30, Lk 21:32, Mt 24:34] that "this generation" would not pass away before the "see[ing] the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory" as well as a "distress" "never to be equalled". Jesus' audience of course saw no such "kingdom" or "coming", and no "distress" like e.g. the Black Death or Holocaust.
N: Additionally, this list doesnít include any corrections I have made in your statements.
You have not successfully contradicted a single thing I've said.
H: Christianity indeed markets itself well to those who consider themselves weak -- and then does a good job of keeping them feeling that way

N: Iím curious as to your definition of ďweakĒ.

Mine is the same as Merriam-Webster's.
N: You still have a lot to learn about Christianity.
I know enough to expose its fatal contradictions, its lack of evidence, and its inconsistency with science and rationality and human decency.
N: Are you denying the rationalism of Aquinas, William of Ockham or Montaigne?
No, I'm denying their infallibility.
N: God endowed us with a mind and a will, both of which have been utilized by many Christians such as the ones just mentioned thus negating your theory that He is deliberately withholding knowledge.
Being rational just isn't the same thing as having access to the evidence that e.g. Doubting Thomas had access to. Feel free to continue ignoring this point.
N: Iím glad there are some mysteries because without them, life would be so dull. [..] There are human mysteries, cosmic mysteries and we need God to help us live with them. [..] Weíre not meant to understand everything

H: There are plenty of mysteries already, and some of us would rather face them head-on than resign ourselves to superstitious ignorance by believing that a celestial father-figure has all the answers and is deliberately withholding knowledge from us.

N: These are just a miniscule fragment of Christians who have faced mysteries head on without resignation to superstitious ignorance.

I wasn't responding to their words; I was responding to yours. See the context restored above.
N: Socrates would say being humble enough to admit ignorance is the beginning of knowledge.
I already sent you a link to a list of things I admit we don't know, so here's a list of things I assert we can't know.
N: Actually, defending the bible and Christianity isnít really that hard.
Yes, the way you do it involves essentially no mental effort at all. :-)
N: I anticipate your responses. Note:  I have not had a chance to review your section on the early jewish reaction contradicting the gospels. If you will allow me some time, I will get back to you on that subject.
Take all the time you want. Since this discussion is primarily an excercise in documenting how you ignore so much of my evidence and arguments, I would prefer that you simply take up my challenge, so that readers can compare our arguments side-by-side and see once and for all which arguments you can answer and which you can't