The God who wasn’t there

Dette er en dokumentar af Brian Flemming, hvor han tager på en personlig tur ind i bibelens narrative fremstilling af Jesus; kort sagt en personlig ‘quest’ på en historisk Jesus og den første tid i den kristne epoke. Men derudover kigger Flemming også på kristendommens indflydelse på historien og på den nutidige situation i ‘guds eget land’. God fornøjelse:

Videoen er desværre ikke længere tilgængelig.

~ af sorensvendsen på august 26, 2008.

12 kommentarer to “The God who wasn’t there”

  1. According to relativity, the Earth revolves around the sun and the sun revolves around the Earth, depending on your perspective. It is wrong to say that the Sun revolved around the Earth until we learned that it did not. What we learned was that the Ptolemaic System (invented by a Greek pagan based on strictly scientific evidence, not a Christian based on the Bible) was not correct.

    You might find the book “Copernican Revolution” by Thomas Kuhn to be interesting. It shows that Galileo’s system was actually inferior to the ptolemaic system, because Galileo assumed the orbits of the planets were circular, which they are not. The ptolemaic system, while it is incorrect, was more accurate in its astronomical predictions that Galileo’s system. Only Kepler’s work was able to surpass that of Ptolemy and his followers. But interestingly, Kepler never got in trouble with the Church.

    Whether or not one chooses to believe in Christianity is one thing. But let’s not make the decision based on absurd distortions of history.

  2. Please the Earth revolves around the Sun, not vice versa, despite any “relativity”. I don’t think the video is stating that it was christians who build geocentric worldview. It just stated that the christian catholic church was pretty hardheaded concerning overtrowing a very central doctrine for them; that the Earth was the center. It was as far as our historical sources, is concerned, nothing to do about precision. But about the doctrine of what the Earth should be as.

  3. The second problem he runs into is his distortion of the facts around the Bible.

    There is not a gap between the life of Jesus and the gospels. The writer of the documentary forgot about the book of Acts, which was written by Luke, and documents the events immediately following Jesus’ life, well into the ministry of Paul. In fact, almost all of what we know about the historical details of Paul’s own life we don’t read about in Paul; we read about in Acts, which was not written by Paul.

    Also, there are problems with his claim that Paul did not “know” the facts about Jesus’ life, based on that fact that Paul did not include them in his letters. One might as well say that Paul did not know the historical details of his own ministry, because he did not write them in his own books. His own books were not histories; they were letters instructing people how to live. It is absurd to conclude that he did not know the details of Jesus’ life because he failed to write history in letters that were not intended as histories.

    There is also a problem with his comparison to Ragnar — namely this: Ragnar actually existed.

    The arguments in this video should be embarrassing to atheists, because they obviously false.

  4. >Please the Earth revolves around the Sun, not vice versa, despite any “relativity”.

    My friend, it does not; if you are on the sun, the Earth revolves around you. If you are on the Earth, the sun revolves around you. If you are on mars, the sun revolves around you, and the Earth revolves around the sun.

    >I don’t think the video is stating that it was christians who build geocentric
    >worldview. It just stated that the christian catholic church was pretty hardheaded
    >concerning overtrowing a very central doctrine for them; that the Earth was the
    >center.

    What is interesting, however, is that geocentricity was not a central Christian doctrine; it was a scientific/mathematical model developed based on scientific observation of a Greek pagan. And that model, with all its complex calculations, was superior in its predictive abilities to galileo’s, because Galileo assumed the orbits of the planets were circular. The Church’s rejection was partially based on dogmatic exception of one pagan scientific idea; but it was also based on the easily observed fact that Galileo’s math was not as good as Ptolemy’s.

  5. “My friend, it does not; if you are on the sun, the Earth revolves around you. If you are on the Earth, the sun revolves around you. If you are on mars, the sun revolves around you, and the Earth revolves around the sun.”

    – my friend, this is completely not interesting in the overall scientific interest. Here the Earth revolves the Sun and not the other way around. The “relativistic” FEELING is not of interest!

    And the geocentric worldview was a quite central aspect of the middle age church. There’s no reason denying that. Many people, christians or not, believed that at the time.

    “There is not a gap between the life of Jesus and the gospels. The writer of the documentary forgot about the book of Acts, which was written by Luke, and documents the events immediately following Jesus’ life, well into the ministry of Paul. In fact, almost all of what we know about the historical details of Paul’s own life we don’t read about in Paul; we read about in Acts, which was not written by Paul.”

    – and most scholars consider the acts to be from, at the earliest 70-100 A.D. Therefore nothing wrong in this.

    “Also, there are problems with his claim that Paul did not “know” the facts about Jesus’ life, based on that fact that Paul did not include them in his letters. One might as well say that Paul did not know the historical details of his own ministry, because he did not write them in his own books. His own books were not histories; they were letters instructing people how to live. It is absurd to conclude that he did not know the details of Jesus’ life because he failed to write history in letters that were not intended as histories.”

    – yes it’s not conclusive, but it’s not absurd to make the logic argument. The fact that Paul don’t record much of what the gospels record could be because they did not happen. Now this is in the area of “negative argument”, ie. the argument from non-existens. As said it’s not conclusive, but can be argued to be an indication. Wether it points one or the other way must rely on other matters. What we have though is little to work on. We have different early sects having quite different complete doctrines. For instans one that did not believe that there had been a person, Jesus, living on Earth.

    “There is also a problem with his comparison to Ragnar — namely this: Ragnar actually existed.”

    – hmm and this is a problem why?

    “The arguments in this video should be embarrassing to atheists, because they obviously false.”

    – of course if the arguments was false, it would be stupid. But so far non of the examples you have pointed at is truely ‘false’. They are actually right. The acts of Luke is considered written after 70 A.D., ie. still making the gap. The letters of Paul is lacking lot of information on the life of Jesus which the later written gospels are telling; in this case it’s not conclusive, but it can be argued to be an indication. Concerning the revolution of planets and the Sun I will not start to argue wether the the christian bible, in my opinion, adhere to an geocentric or heliocentric worldview. The matter was what the church held to be in line with their beliefs at the time, ie. a geocentric view.

    Best wishes

  6. — My friend, it does not; if you are on the sun, the Earth revolves around you. If you are on the Earth, the sun revolves around you. If you are on mars, the sun revolves around you, and the Earth revolves around the sun.”
    – my friend, this is completely not interesting in the overall scientific interest. Here the Earth revolves the Sun and not the other way around. The “relativistic” FEELING is not of interest!

    According to General Relativity, physics can only be described from a reference frame, and there exists no “special” or “privileged” reference frame. That is to say, mathematically, the Earth can be described as revolving around the Sun and vice versa, and neither one is “right.” We select reference frames based on what is most useful to us.

    That is the point of General Relativity — and that relativity extends even further than mere motion — the time itself. Thus if I am moving at one speed, time “goes” more slowly for me than the outside world that is going a different speed. This has been proven with satellites which go at a higher speed than us on Earth, and whose clocks operate at a different rate than ours on the surface.

    Relativity is not about our feelings — it is about our description of motion in the universe. And there really is no “right” reference frame — only the one we choose because it is useful.

    Now that’s not to say that the geocentrism of ptolemy was correct — in fact, it was not. But not because it assumed the Earth was the center of the universe. It was wrong because its description of the relationship between the Earth, sun, moon, other planets, and stars was not correct. Ptolemy theorized that there were different “layers” in the heavens, and heavenly bodies moved in different planes. Thus the sun moved in one plane around us, venus in a different plane moving a different direction, the moon in a different plane, etc. This was not correct, because in fact the objects in the solar system (and outside) move in complex relationships to each other, based on laws of gravitation that ptolemy did not know.

    – And the geocentric worldview was a quite central aspect of the middle age church. There’s no reason denying that. Many people, christians or not, believed that at the time.

    Perhaps it was, but if the church was guilty of anything, it was guilty of accepting “science” too dogmatically. The ptolemaic system was science. The Church grabbed hold of it, and would not let it go. But Christianity has nothing to say about whether the universe is arranged ptolemaically or otherwise. Jewish and Christian writers used simple, down-to-earth phrases that we use today — like “sunrise” and “sunset” — and churchmen unwilling to let go of outdated science used those phrases to defend bad science.

    But the most important thing of all is to remember that the churchmen did not only oppose galileo on a religious basis. They also opposed him on a scientific basis, because his calculations were inferior to those of ptolemaic astronomy. Not until Kepler determined that the velocity of the planets changed as they approached the sun was heliocentric modeling superior to ptolemaic. And nobody but him on trial:).

    — “There is not a gap between the life of Jesus and the gospels. The writer of the documentary forgot about the book of Acts, which was written by Luke, and documents the events immediately following Jesus’ life, well into the ministry of Paul. In fact, almost all of what we know about the historical details of Paul’s own life we don’t read about in Paul; we read about in Acts, which was not written by Paul.”
    – and most scholars consider the acts to be from, at the earliest 70-100 A.D. Therefore nothing wrong in this.

    Even if one grants that Acts was written much later (an unfalsifiable conclusion), the writer of the documentary said, in essence that we don’t know anything about what happened immediately after the life of Jesus.

    Specifically, he said that “These documents [Paul’s writing] represent almost all we know about the history of Christianity during this decades long gap.” That’s simply not true. The book of Acts picks up the history of Christianity well before Paul. Paul doesn’t show up until well into that book. And that book wasn’t written by Paul. Paul didn’t write any history books. He wrote epistles — letters telling people how they ought to live.

    In other words, it is not true that we learn almost all we know about the history of the early church from Paul. We learn it from the author of Acts, who actually wrote a history book. And there is no gap in our knowledge of how the early Church spread. We gain that knowledge from Acts, and our knowledge begins immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Acts may be a forgery or fiction. But there is certainly no gap, and the book certainly does not fit any allegorical literary genres.

    – yes it’s not conclusive, but it’s not absurd to make the logic argument [that Paul didn’t know anything about Jesus’ life].

    The writer of the documentary states it as conclusive. He states “If Jesus was a human who had recently lived, nobody told Paul. Paul never heard of Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, etc.” He states it as fact, when this assertion of lack of knowledge is mere argument from silence — an extremely weak argument, particularly when you’re dealing with a non-historical genre. Like arguing that Paul “never heard” the circumstances of his own birth, because he never mentions it in his sermons.

    –“There is also a problem with his comparison to Ragnar — namely this: Ragnar actually existed.”
    – hmm and this is a problem why?

    The writer is arguing that Jesus did not exist, and instead that the gospels were symbolic fictions. In support of his argument, he compares the “hero myth” of Jesus to the “hero myth” of Ragnar. The implication is that fictional hero myths are common, and that the story of Jesus is one of them. But Ragnar really existed. Why then should Jesus not also have existed?

    Best wishes to you also.

  7. “According to General Relativity, physics can only be described from a reference frame, and there exists no “special” or “privileged” reference frame. That is to say, mathematically, the Earth can be described as revolving around the Sun and vice versa, and neither one is “right.” We select reference frames based on what is most useful to us.

    based on laws of gravitation that ptolemy did not know.”

    – you are taking the general relativity quite out of reach here.

    “Acts may be a forgery or fiction. But there is certainly no gap, and the book certainly does not fit any allegorical literary genres”

    – there’s the gap because it is written in later. That constitute the gap.

    “He states it as fact, when this assertion of lack of knowledge is mere argument from silence — an extremely weak argument, particularly when you’re dealing with a non-historical genre. Like arguing that Paul “never heard” the circumstances of his own birth, because he never mentions it in his sermons.”

    – true, but it is nevertheless valid to make the point.

    “The writer is arguing that Jesus did not exist, and instead that the gospels were symbolic fictions. In support of his argument, he compares the “hero myth” of Jesus to the “hero myth” of Ragnar. The implication is that fictional hero myths are common, and that the story of Jesus is one of them. But Ragnar really existed. Why then should Jesus not also have existed?”

    – personally I haven’t made my own mind concerning wheter there have been an actually source for the scriptures, ie. that there have been a person named Jesus, or just a person preaching. But the argument put forward in the documentary is valid enough. Wether you feel that the gospels and the acts is sufficient sources you can decide for yourself. Jesus might have existed, or a person later called Jesus or the like or he might not have existed. The evidences is not conclusive in either direction.

  8. – you are taking the general relativity quite out of reach here.

    I’m sorry — I do not understand. Was I not clear in what I said? I apologize that I cannot speak your language, and I appreciate your communicating with me in mine. The simple way to put it is this: According to general relativity, there is no “objective” way to describe motion or time. Thus it is equally correct to say “The Earth revolves around the sun from the sun’s frame of reference” as to say “The Sun revolves around the Earth from the Earth’s frame of reference.” It is not a matter of feelings. It is a matter of mathematics and science. The same principle applies to time. It is equally correct to say “time on Earth goes at X rate from my frame of reference on the Earth” as to say “time on Earth goes at Y rate from the satellite’s frame of reference in orbit.” There is no “right answer.” Everything exists relative to something else. That was Einstein’s stroke of genius. I hope I have been clearer.

    -“Acts may be a forgery or fiction. But there is certainly no gap, and the book certainly does not fit any allegorical literary genres”
    – there’s the gap because it is written in later. That constitute the gap.

    If that is the gap, then the documentary is wrong when it says that we know virtually nothing about that gap except what we learn from Paul. We learn virtually nothing from Paul. We learn a great deal from Acts. We also have Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Hermas, Polycarp and Papias, as well as the unknown authors of the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle of Diognetus, 2 Clement, and the Didache. Jesus was a historical figure among contemporary Romans and Jews, and later Muslims — even though they do not believe he was God. The documentary is badly distorting the facts when it claims we know very little about the “gap” except what we learn from Paul.

    – true, but it is nevertheless valid to make the point.

    It is definitely an interesting observation. I scanned through Paul’s writings tonight with that in mind, and noticed — he really DOESN’T say anything about Jesus’ life. Very interesting. And for that, I thank you for posting the video.

    – personally I haven’t made my own mind concerning wheter there have been an actually source for the scriptures, ie. that there have been a person named Jesus, or just a person preaching. But the argument put forward in the documentary is valid enough. Wether you feel that the gospels and the acts is sufficient sources you can decide for yourself. Jesus might have existed, or a person later called Jesus

    I agree with you — we are dependent on the credibility we choose to give the writings. I only object to the clearly false arguments made by the documentary — claiming things as “facts” that clearly are not, and making extremely weak arguments as though they were dispositive. Atheism is a very respectable intellectual position — but this documentary makes it look very poor.

  9. “I’m sorry — I do not understand. Was I not clear in what I said? I apologize that I cannot speak your language, and I appreciate your communicating with me in mine. The simple way to put it is this: According to general relativity, there is no “objective” way to describe motion or time. Thus it is equally correct to say “The Earth revolves around the sun from the sun’s frame of reference” as to say “The Sun revolves around the Earth from the Earth’s frame of reference.” It is not a matter of feelings. It is a matter of mathematics and science. The same principle applies to time. It is equally correct to say “time on Earth goes at X rate from my frame of reference on the Earth” as to say “time on Earth goes at Y rate from the satellite’s frame of reference in orbit.” There is no “right answer.” Everything exists relative to something else. That was Einstein’s stroke of genius. I hope I have been clearer.”

    – well it’s a matter of perspective, and in that way I would also say ‘feeling’. Nevertheless I did re-update my knowledge of the general relativity, and in that context the ‘reference of frame’ makes, as you say is valid in general relativity. Nevertheless, again (🙂 ), it’s seem to me rather a philosophical matter. Yes you can do the math and science to prove either case, but as you also pointed out the issue is that if you want to include more than just the two-model case of Earth and Sun, the case becomes more distinctive. In that matter is it valid to say that the Earth revovles around the Sun and not vice versa. After reading up on this I thought if this is really an issue within the physics-community there must be something more rich on the specific matter, and I found for instans this Does the Earth “really” go around the Sun? and this Does the Earth move around the Sun?.

    But thanks for giving me the push

  10. “If that is the gap, then the documentary is wrong when it says that we know virtually nothing about that gap except what we learn from Paul. We learn virtually nothing from Paul. We learn a great deal from Acts. We also have Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Hermas, Polycarp and Papias, as well as the unknown authors of the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle of Diognetus, 2 Clement, and the Didache”

    – allright I see what you are arguing. What Flemming is saying is that Paul’s letters is “almost all we have on the history of christianity during this decades long gap”. I understand this to be that Flemming is argueing that these documents from Paul is “almost all” of contemporary sources we have in the 4 decade “silent” period. Granted he does not mention the acts, but in Flemmings view they get the same ‘status’ as the gospels, ie. that they (that being Mark first) were at the earliest written after 70 A.D “and probably much later”. The dating of the gospels is of course not conclusive either. The other sources is from this point of view just not reliable.

    “Jesus was a historical figure among contemporary Romans and Jews, and later Muslims — even though they do not believe he was God. The documentary is badly distorting the facts when it claims we know very little about the “gap” except what we learn from Paul.”

    – yes and much written work on the historical Jesus is highly spurious. We have for instans clear different opinion concerning what actually happened concerning Maria Magdalena and Judas to mention the more popular examples. Now the conclusion could either be that the different versions constitute different sects based on real events or that the different versions constitute a fabricated event. As what the muslims consider of Jesus I have less ‘respect’. Their ‘historical’ notions of Jesus is derived from fabrications which is from the earliest 2. or 3. century or even later (fx the story of the child Jesus making birds of clay, the story of babyjesus and Mary under the tree). And the most central aspect is that the qur’an in no way is contemporary with Jesus lifetime.

    We have early stories on Jesus and stories about the early groups of christians. We even have stories about some early christians who did not believed that there had been a human person called Jesus. We have all sorts of more or less contemporary christians. What does this all mean? In the same vain we have contemporary stories from people surviving a storm on the ocean; some being saved by a god or godess, others by an angel or a st. ‘something’. The power of legends and myth and the the possibility of an explosive evolution of suchs, is a issue that one has take into account. Again this does not make the case, in my opinion, conclusive in either direction concerning the historicity of Jesus or a person being the source of the legends.

  11. Regarding relativity:

    I agree with you — the question is very nuanced, and (to me) fascinating. Much more nuanced, I think, than the documentary’s claim that “the sun used to revolve around the Earth; but now, the Earth revolves around the sun.” The implication (common among people who cite the example of Galileo) is that the move from geocentrism to heliocentrism was a move from religion to science. In fact, it was a move from science to better science.

    The reason for this is simple: Galileo’s science was inferior to Ptolemy’s. Ptolemaic astronomy in Galileo’s day better described the observable facts of the sky’s than Galileo’s. Only Kepler’s model was superior to ptolemy’s (and ultimately replaced it without resistence), because Kepler accounted for changes in velocity and the fact that planetary orbits are elliptical.

    Interestingly, Kepler met with no resistence from the Church at all. This although Galileo and Kepler were contemporaries. Kepler’s astronomy book was the most widely used during his lifetime. And he never met an inquisition. Perhaps this was because Kepler actually did science and math, while Galileo’s arguments for heliocentrism were not scientific, but instead were aesthetic. Galileo (and Copernicus before him) believed it was more “fitting” for the sun (“in all its greatness”) to be at the center of the universe, rather than the Earth. Kepler actually did science. He revolutionized our understanding of the universe. And nobody in the Church bothered him.

    – allright I see what you are arguing. What Flemming is saying is that Paul’s letters is “almost all we have on the history of christianity during this decades long gap”. I understand this to be that Flemming is argueing that these documents from Paul is “almost all” of contemporary sources we have in the 4 decade “silent” period.

    I understand. If he intended what you understood, he is certainly correct, but his wording was very loose. “All we know about the period” is very different from “the only sources we have that were written during the period.” But if he meant to say what you understood, he’s correct.

    Even so, as a historian, does it seem unusual to you for it to take 30-40 years for a history to be written about an event, particularly in ancient times? Doesn’t it take some time to 1) realize that the events were significant enough to warrant a history and 2) realize that if a history is not written, the generation who knows of the events will die, leaving no reliable record? Weren’t the earliest Greek histories written hundreds of years after the earliest recorded events? While that leaves them subject to criticism and questions about reliability (and rightly so), does the delay in writing history seem so unusual as to suggest that the events written about were mere fiction?

    >Again this does make the case, in my opinion, conclusive in
    >either direction concerning the historicity of Jesus or a person
    >being the source of the legends.

    I appreciate your objectivity on the matter. I have heard many people overstate the case one way or the other, and I appreciate your nuanced view. I have enjoyed our conversation very much, and you have taught me a great deal.

  12. “Even so, as a historian, does it seem unusual to you for it to take 30-40 years for a history to be written about an event, particularly in ancient times?”

    – sure it could take time to write down the story, but at the same time the more time that elapsed the more skeptic a historian should be of the content.

    “1) realize that the events were significant enough to warrant a history”

    – if this concerned people who truly believed that they had witnessed a “son of god” one should think that they would realize that the events were pretty significant🙂 But of course one should consider that a lot of events did not get recorded when they happened or shortly after (at least if we consider the sources extant). One could also imagine that other people had written something down and that later writings is build upon those earlier texts. This was not unussual.

    “2) realize that if a history is not written, the generation who knows of the events will die, leaving no reliable record?”

    – of course. But again also consider the importance of the event.

    “Weren’t the earliest Greek histories written hundreds of years after the earliest recorded events?”

    – many of them and historians also consider that they should be read with a skeptical mind, not taking the word as sure witness, but that we might be able to extract something reliable from them.

    “While that leaves them subject to criticism and questions about reliability (and rightly so), does the delay in writing history seem so unusual as to suggest that the events written about were mere fiction?”

    – As said no it’s not unusual, but nevertheless the content must be subject to skeptical criticism. Now as you know this has constituted several different opinions on the matter of a historical Jesus, and the following decades and centuries.

    The reliability of historical sources is a subject of continuing debate among modern historians; and some historians reject some sources as completely unreliable. But most historians judge most text as conveying at least something wich can be used to reconstruct the historical events. What an historian like the most is an exact contemporary archaeological source (inscriptions (though dating can be tough), coins, monuments, buildings) or contemporary texts.

    “I have enjoyed our conversation very much, and you have taught me a great deal.”

    – likewise and it’s allways good to practice my english🙂

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