Science and Other Drugs

….maybe a little less wrong….

You only believe because….

If Constantine had not endorsed Christianity, you would probably not even be believing it.

This statement was made to me in a comment thread here. It’s a fairly straightforward argument: the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine was an essential element in the spread of Christianity as we know it today; therefore, it’s stupid to believe in Christianity.

This is Constantine. Ugly sumbitch, ain’t he? Must have been a bad hair day.

The premise is hard to deny. If it hadn’t been for Constantine’s tolerance and later adoption of Christianity, it certainly wouldn’t be what we know it as today. It may have even been stamped out entirely. But the truth of the premise doesn’t necessarily mean the conclusion follows.

See, this argument conceals a major premise which is not easily defended: If the existence of a belief depends on a particular event in history, then it’s a stupid belief.

But this is a ridiculous premise. Every belief is necessarily dependent on some event. Here are a few examples:

  • If Muhammad’s forces had not won the Battle of Khaybar in 629, leading to the unification of the Arabian Peninsula, Islam would not have become the predominant religion of the Middle East.
  • If Joseph Smith had not grown up in western New York, Mormonism would never have been founded.
  • If Martin Luther had not dropped out of law school, the Reformation would likely not have happened.
  • If the North had not won the American Civil War, the KKK would have never existed.
  • If Karl Marx had not been denied military service, Communism as we know it would not have been created.

History has shaped the world we know; history is the world we know. Every individual’s set of personal beliefs will invariably depend on their place in history, along with an innumerable number of events in history.

The original commenter is apparently trying to argue that the existence of a particular “turning point” for Christianity means that Christianity must be no different from any other religious system Constantine could have chosen. But this argument assumes that Constantine’s choice of Christianity was an accident, disconnected from divine providence….it assumes that Christianity is false.

And even if Constantine’s choice was essentially “accidental” (e.g., he merely chose Christianity because it seemed attractive or because his mother liked it), that doesn’t change anything. There is no reason why an omniscient God could not use “accidents” to bring about the spread of truth.

So, sure: if it hadn’t been for Constantine adopting Christianity, I probably wouldn’t be a Christian. But he did. Good thing, huh?

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103 responses to “You only believe because….

  1. john zande 2013/06/11 at 16:44

    Although there’s a truth in what the poster was saying its impossible to back-up. There was little liklihood of the christ death cult spreading from the northern diaspora and crossing the Bosphorus without the Roman seal.

    • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/11 at 16:58

      Naturally. Any number of events could properly be considered essential to the existence of Christianity. But to presume that this fact somehow invalidates Christianity is just laughable.

      • John Grove 2013/06/12 at 10:41

        Thanks for the strawman. Christianity has other problems and I didn’t mention this to invalidate it but to say you wouldn’t be believing in it. But this just shows how shallow you are at reading

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/12 at 11:13

        As I pointed out, just because a particular event in history was a necessary element that led to a person developing a particular belief doesn’t mean that belief is epistemically flawed.

  2. violetwisp 2013/06/11 at 17:14

    And you only believe because you think Jesus reanimated. Although you seem unable to express how this one supernatural event could validate a rambling book full of nonsense and supernaturally desperate believers clinging to the first religion they stumble across.

    • Mark Hamilton 2013/06/11 at 20:59

      I just want to say that your last comment (“spiritually desperate believers clinging to the first religion they stumble across”) is a little offensive. I know many people who became Christians after growing up with different religious beliefs. I also know people who were hardened atheists who have become Christians. If you’re going to make such a provocative statement, try to make sure it isn’t obviously and demonstrably false.

      • violetwisp 2013/06/12 at 01:45

        Hi Mark, I’m not sure why you find that offensive. We are all supernaturally (I didn’t say spiritually) desperate – looking for answers that we can’t find in the natural world. I think it’s a naturally evolved human trait: nothing insulting about it.

        I suspect Christianity is the dominant religion wherever you are, and therefore there is nothing surprising about people stumbling across it and adopting it to fill their supernatural void. My point was that most people stick with the religion they’re born into and no-one is magically inspired by a deity to become a Hindu, Christian or Muslim, without prior contact from Hindus, Christians or Muslims.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/12 at 09:11

        “I suspect Christianity is the dominant religion wherever you are, and therefore….”

        I really don’t know why people continue to parrot this. There are numerous examples of people who were raised Christian and became atheist, raised atheist and became Christian, raised Muslim and became Jewish….you name it. So the “dominant religion” argument proves nothing.

      • Mark Hamilton 2013/06/12 at 12:59

        I didn’t find the “spiritually desperate” part offensive at all. It was the second part of your statement where I found offense. My point was that you specifically said “clinging to the first religion they stumble across.” I’m talking about people who were born in different cultures and taught to follow religions other than Christianity (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) and then, later in life, became Christians. The fact that these individuals exist shows that your assentation that “spiritually desperate believers” cling to the “first religion they stumble across” is false.

    • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/12 at 09:09

      If Jesus was supernaturally resurrected, doesn’t Ockham’s razor come into play for figuring out why? Dependent probability is always higher than or equal to independent probability.

  3. Arkenaten 2013/06/12 at 04:52

    I love this.
    It reminds of an article about Jimi Hendrix and how he was ‘discovered’ in a New York night club by the then bassist for the Animals, Chas Chandler.
    One could argue if this event had not taken place Hendrix would have remained a virtual non-entity.
    However, a musician as unique and flamboyant as he was it is unlikely he would have not been ‘discovered’ sooner or later.
    Now, with Jesus and Christianity we are talking a whole different ball game and the teensy weensy difference between Hendrix and Jesus is that Hendrix never purported to be the god, God.
    And this raises the awkward question of why on earth a genuine god, who is claimed to be the human embodiment of the Creator of the Universe, would require ANYONE to state his case?
    If the moment of Jesus’s intervention into human affairs was considered crucial the last thing one would expect such a being to do would leave anything to chance, especially to leave the dissemination of his vital message in the hands of an individual such as Constantine.
    It could be argued that this is exactly what Jesus had planned all along and who are we mere mortals to judge the machinations of the Creator of the Universe?
    Seems reasonable if one is prepared to accept everything that followed in the establishment of the bloodiest religion in human history was all part of a benign loving deity.
    Christians obviously do accept.
    Most normal people do not.

    • Arkenaten 2013/06/12 at 05:02

      Actually I meant to write as claimed by his followers. Jesus never claimed to be the god, God.
      Sorry. Must learn to re read more carefully.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/12 at 08:19

        Right, he never claimed to be the “god, God” as you have so eloquently christened him, because your “god, God” title ostensibly references a single individual who is not the same as Jesus.

        Jesus did, however, assert divinity.

    • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/12 at 08:31

      I think you have missed the point of the post.

      “It could be argued that this is exactly what Jesus had planned all along…Christians obviously do accept….most normal people do not.”

      Ignoring the amusing quip about “normal”, this statement demonstrates that you’ve missed the point entirely. We have two options: either Christianity is true, or Christianity is not true.

      If Christianity is true, providential protection should be expected. And so dependence on a single turning point in no way refutes it.

      If Christianity is not true, its growth and spread was an accident of chance. Which we already knew. So it’s pointless.

      • Arkenaten 2013/06/12 at 08:44

        No, I haven’t missed the point, but you obviously believe I have hence your asinine comment.
        Would Chrispyanity have got the kick in the butt it needed without Constantine?

        Unanswerable question as someone else could have come along and said, “Oooh this looks like a bit of fun”.

        However, in all likelihood it would have died a miserable death without the patronage of someone as powerful as Constantine. Life’s a bitch isn’t it?

        Christianity is among us. Therefore it is real. This does not make it true, in the sense that it bears witness to a purported truth of it message/tenets. Which it doesn’t.
        And I reiterate, if this was a god sanctioned event why leave it to the vagaries of a piece of shit like Constantine? Your god knows, right?

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/12 at 09:04

        “Would Chrispyanity have got the kick in the butt it needed without Constantine?”

        Probably not.

        Other historical events that were probably necessary for the existence of Christianity as we know it: the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the Great Fire of Rome, the Edict of Milan….you name it.

        History is full of events which, in retrospect, seem to hinge on slight probabilities. It’s easy to speculate on “how it could have happened” if things were just a little different. What of it?

        But the only way it could have happened differently (and the only way the spread of Christianity could be nothing more pure chance and the vagaries of Constantine) is if the claims of Christianity are false. Which is the thing you’re trying to prove. When your argument depends on your conclusion being already accepted, that’s circularity.

  4. Arkenaten 2013/06/12 at 08:28

    ”Jesus did, however, assert divinity.”
    Smile…you going to lay the I AM thing on us are you. LOL!

    • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/12 at 08:45

      Come now, don’t put words in my mouth, ‘kay? Surely you know better than that. When have I ever done such a thing?

      All four gospels unequivocally portray Jesus as divine. If Jesus really was resurrected, it’s safe to say a higher power was involved; if a higher power capable of resurrecting a human being was involved, it’s safe to say the assertions and portrayals would be to some degree preserved.

      Besides, what does this question even have to do with the post? Both you and John are fond of inserting irrelevant arguments.

      • Arkenaten 2013/06/12 at 08:51

        It has nothing to do with the post. You pulled me up on the ”god, God,” usage and then went on to state that Jesus asserted divinity.
        No he didn’t.
        And please don’t be an ass and merely come back and say he did. There is nowhere in the gospels where he asserted he was divine. And lets’ not wallow in semantics all afternoon either.
        Unless you can provide a first draft of the Nicene Creed in Jesus’ handwriting?
        I might consider this as evidence.Or even a Youtube video.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/12 at 09:05

        If I come back with a quote, you’ll simply argue that the gospels aren’t a reliable witness of what Jesus said and did, so why are you even asking?

  5. Arkenaten 2013/06/12 at 09:16

    The gospels aren’t a reliable witness and thats the bottom line. Go find me a Youtube video.

    ‘….is if the claims of Christianity are false. Which is the thing you’re trying to prove. When your argument depends on your conclusion being already accepted, that’s circularity.’

    The claims of Christianity? Resurrection, Son of God, etc etc is this what you are referring to?

    • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/12 at 09:19

      Exactly. So your statement, “There is nowhere in the gospels where he asserted he was divine,” is disingenuous. No matter what is in the gospels, you won’t accept it.

      “The claims of Christianity? Resurrection, Son of God, etc etc is this what you are referring to?”

      Right. You’re trying to demonstrate that they are untrue. So making an argument that only works if they are already considered untrue is circular.

      • Arkenaten 2013/06/12 at 09:34

        ”exactly. So your statement, “There is nowhere in the gospels where he asserted he was divine,” is disingenuous. No matter what is in the gospels, you won’t accept it.”
        How can this be disingenuous? You are saying he made claims of divinity, I am saying he did not.
        Whether the bible is reliable as a document is irrelevant in this case. You might be able to make a case that what he said meant he was divine but the biblical character of jesus did NOT make such a claim.

        ”Right. You’re trying to demonstrate that they are untrue. So making an argument that only works if they are already considered untrue is circular.”
        They cannot be demonstrated to be true and based on the contradictory nature of the bible the only conclusion one can draw is that such claims are false.

        It is an argument that has continued unabated for 2000 years. If it was cut and dried there would never have been any need for the Nicene Creed and the enforcement of the tenets through the sword. Thus faith: it neatly sidesteps all inconsistencies and does not require proof, merely the suspension of critical thought and, acceptance of biblical claims. Faith and more pertinently, infant inculcation, and cultural indoctrination will fill in the blank spaces.

        If christianity ever had a reasonable case to present it would never have needed the horrendous methods it used to spread its ‘word’. Constantine would have been unnecessary for the spread of a supernatural phenomena.
        Its very human nature refutes all such claims.

        No problem. Just keep it to yourself.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/12 at 10:10

        “How can this be disingenuous? You are saying he made claims of divinity, I am saying he did not.”

        Your argument that he did not is unfalsifiable because you wouldn’t accept the New Testament as a reliable witness of what he said anyway.

        Me: “You’re trying to demonstrate that they are untrue.”
        You: “They cannot be demonstrated to be true….”

        Denying the antecedent, and you’re missing the point again. The problem is circular reasoning.

        “If it was cut and dried there would never have been any need for the Nicene Creed and the enforcement of the tenets through the sword.”

        There are two separate arguments being made here: first, that the Nicene Creed evidences ambiguity in Christianity, and second, that the actions of some who attempted to spread Christianity violently evidence implausibility in Christianity itself. We can’t do both at the same time. Which would you like to pursue?

  6. Arkenaten 2013/06/12 at 10:37

    You see you are doing AGAIN. You refuse to address the statements/questions put to you. It is YOU that resorts to circular reasoning because you cannot refute the statements.
    So let’s keep it simple and if you care to answer please afford me the same courtesy.

    1. Jesus did NOT claim he was divine.( this has nothing to do with whether the gospels are true or false). They could be plainly acknowledged as works of pure fiction but the central character, Jesus, never made such a claim. Period.

    2. The Nicene Creed did evidence ambiguity: it was written primarily because of the threats to the church’s position and due in no small part to the likes of Marcion. If Christianity was so self-evident Marcion would never have tried to usurp the Church.By all accounts he had a large following and posed a serious threat.
    It was as a direct result of the Nicene Creed that the church felt free to attempt to liquidate opposition to its position, and justify its use of the sword to spread this heinous and erroneous belief system across the globe. History demonstrated that this was true.

    • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/12 at 11:12

      “Jesus did NOT claim he was divine.”

      Are you speaking of the historical figure Jesus, or the individual depicted in the gospels?

      “If Christianity was so self-evident Marcion would never have tried to usurp the Church.”

      So any attempted usurpation of a belief system necessarily evidences fundamental and fatal ambiguity?

      “It was as a direct result of the Nicene Creed that the church felt free to attempt to liquidate opposition to its position, and justify its use of the sword.”

      Fallacy of the appeal to consequences.

      • Arkenaten 2013/06/12 at 12:09

        Are you saying the biblical character of jesus DID say he was divine? Really!
        Go for it tiger….

        Christianity was supposed to be man’s salvation. Why would there have been so much dissent if your god was the driving force behind it? This suggests that your god was a blathering idiot!
        And please , let us desist from playing semantics it really is tiresome and I cannot for the life of me work out what point you are trying to win.
        We know what happened; it is a matter of historical record.
        The spread of Christianity and all that it encompassed was either part of your god’s plan or it wasn’t.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/12 at 12:45

        Yes, the gospels absolutely depict the Biblical character of Jesus as claiming divinity. I’m surprised that you’d even question this.

        “Christianity was supposed to be man’s salvation. Why would there have been so much dissent if your god was the driving force behind it?”

        Because people?

        “The spread of Christianity and all that it encompassed was either part of your god’s plan or it wasn’t.”

        This is no different from saying that all events which happen are part of God’s plan because they happen, which doesn’t really tell us anything.

      • Arkenaten 2013/06/12 at 13:33

        Go to hell…I did not say this. I said are you saying the character of jesus said he was divine, not what the bloody writers claim. Stop behaving churlish.

        ”Because people?”
        Stop trying to be smart. It doesn’t suit. If this was the case it only reinforces what I said before, that your god was a blathering idiot.

        ”This is no different from saying that all events which happen are part of God’s plan because they happen, which doesn’t really tell us anything”

        I’m not really arguing that they were or weren’t. I couldn’t care less to be honest, and I have tried to stress this point from the off. What you are failing to acknowledge is that if it was through design then considering what happened it just shows what a shitty god you worship, that’s all,and I believe you you’re a bloody idiot for doing so.
        Besides, this shittiness pretty much squares away with the biblical depiction of this image all along.
        He was callous, despotic, megalomaniacal and vulgar. Not really good attributes for a god. However,If you revere this character, go for it. Just keep it to yourself, as I have asked from day one.
        .

  7. rautakyy 2013/06/13 at 04:45

    If there is something to be learned from the fact that Constantine did greatly affect the spread of Christianity, is that such events (as all the others listed in the topic post) are indistinguishable from mere accidents, so it would be silly to make a claim, that they were divinely ordained.

    We simply do not know, if there was a god directing Constantine, or not, but in all likelyhood as we have no verification of any gods, we could just as well make a claim that a technologically superior alien culture directed Constantine. Both of these ideas are nonsensical, because there is no evidence to back either up. However, in the light of what we DO know, it is much more likelier, that the personal choises Constantine made were by a mere chance. And that tells us tons about how religions emerge, grow and dissappear, because if that chance did not take place, then even a smaller portion of humanity would be favoured by THE one and only god in the afterlife as alledged, but never verified. Perhaps, that god would have been a OK with the prospect? Since, is it even important to that creator of the galaxies, that Christianity is today the biggest religion, when after all, it is only one among many others?

    If that god is not interrested enough to give revelations to other than few chosen people (who presumably did not lose their free will in the process and whose claims of revelations are indistinguishable from the ravings of people with momentary mental disorders), then clearly, that god is not very interrested in the number of people who happen to believe in this stuff.

    Only in hindsight, if we decide to presuppose some special meaning to Christianity, comes Constantines choise even look like it might be a coincidence. And even if we could somehow establish, that we should call it a coincidence and not a mere chance (wich could be interresting in itself) there is still a giant leap of faith from a coincidence to a divine grand plan.

    History is allways being observed with hindsight. We simply do not know what would have happened, if Constantine would not have adopted Christianity. It is a possibility, that a nother emperor would have siezed the religious political lever connected to the growing cult of Christianity. There is little doubt, the political influence was the real motivator for Constantine and not that he was a religious person, or that it could be established that he had visions, nor was actually driven by some invisible hand of the divine.

    At the height of Roman empire, when Christianity was just a nother end-of-the-world cult, people could have easily thought, that obviously the cultural strength and popularity of Juppiter goes to show how Juppiter has laid his great plan to make Rome great and how that proves Juppiter is actually the strongest of all gods. It would have been just as silly as it would be today to assume, that what ever god you worship, the history somehow shows evidence of that particular god being somehow more significant and leading human destinies. Gods come and go and the ones that are worshipped today are as significant to the people today as the ones worshipped by people generations ago were to them.

    Just like gods are significant mostly to people within the culture they are worshipped in. There are people who turn from Islam to Christianity, and from Christianity to Buddhism, but these converts are a very small minority in comparrison to people who simply adopt any religion, that is part of their cultural heritage. If there is a god that requires people to choose one religion from among the thousands of religions, that are and have been throughout human existance, and punishes the ones who happened to choose poorly, that god is an abomination.

    • Arkenaten 2013/06/13 at 05:45

      Excellent points, Raut. I would venture also that such a god is a bloody idiot and for those people not to be able to freely distinguish between such idiocy and a being of genuine empathy, compassion and true love, especially after reading the bible, makes any follower willfully ignorant and just as bloody stupid.

      • rautakyy 2013/06/13 at 06:05

        Thanks Ark. This willfull ignorance you refer to, is a bit the same as a person whose cultural heritage drives them to become criminals. If a person has a view on a more ethical morals than the one he/she has been raised up with, it may still be very difficult to give up the indoctrination of years and cultural inheritance, because our short comings are a part of our identity as persons. We all do have our shortcomings and merely acknowledging them does not automatically lead to giving them up.

        Cultural and religious indoctrination seems to be such a strong part of the process that builds our identities, that it is only such very strong individuals (such as yourself), that are able to overcome it. And even then only on some aspects of negative. But the first step for anyone to heal skewed morals, is to recognize flawed morals. Most people do not read the scriptures of their own religions and the lot that does, is the least likeliest one to find anything wrong with them, because they search for something good from those books.

        It is funny how religious and cultural indoctrination sometimes works even across the board. For example, one would easily enough jump into conclusion, that a western woman has nothing to gain by joining such restrictive religious affiliations. Yet, some of them do. One reason is, that a lot of western women who turn into Islam come from ultra conservative Christian backround.They are often people who have first been disappointed to their own religion, and then tasted the freedom (and responsibilities mirroring that freedom) offered by the western culture, but found it wanting, because they themselves have not been equipped to deal in such an environment and then they have retorted to a second conservative religious culture, with a bit of an exotic touch.

        There is no doubt that these people made a free choise, but it was very much informed by their former indoctrination to a certain kind of pathriarcal culture. Does such a conversion speak anything about the truth value of Islam or Christianity? If there was something that told us about the comparative truth values of these religions, would we be ethically justified in accepting a god condemning the people who in all sincerety made the wrong choise of religions? Saying that a god has a right to judge people on those grounds, would be subscribing to might makes right.

  8. taosah 2013/06/14 at 05:58

    I seem to find myself in the unusual position, from what I can see at least, of being an atheist who agrees with what you say (apart from the idea that Constantine’s support was due to divine intervention).

    Counterfactuals have their uses, but not for saying that ‘you only believe x because y’ (thats just obvious and you could say this about everything anyone does or believes from the grand to the mundane); rather for working out why x happened and happened the way it did.

  9. AdamHazzard 2013/06/14 at 16:28

    From your response to an earlier comment:

    “But the only way it could have happened differently (and the only way the spread of Christianity could be nothing more pure chance and the vagaries of Constantine) is if the claims of Christianity are false.”

    The implication is that the historical events necessary for the creation of modern Christianity were not contingent but were determined. Should we then assume Constantine had no free will in his adoption of Christianity, since it could not have happened differently? Must we conclude that God not only approved of but planned in advance the destruction of the Temple or the burning of Rome?

    • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/14 at 16:34

      I think this gets to the larger question of determinism, free will, and causality, which certainly transcend any questions of Christianity alone.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/14 at 16:43

        It seemed to me you were suggesting that much or most of human history is contingent, but that the events necessary to create and spread the Christian faith were uniquely “providential.” (Though I suspect those who died in the Great Fire, if they could speak to us, would prefer another word.)

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/14 at 16:47

        All events that happen are part of history, right?

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/14 at 16:56

        “All events that happen are part of history, right?”

        Not sure what point you’re trying to make.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/14 at 17:01

        My point is that there’s no intrinsic meaning in singling out any one particular event. Either everything is contingent, or everything is determined. There’s certainly nothing necessarily special about any of these events. They’re just events, that’s all.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/14 at 17:08

        “There’s certainly nothing necessarily special about any of these events. They’re just events, that’s all.”

        In other words, no historical event could have happened differently, “unless the claims of Christianity are false.” But I don’t see how you derive this hard determinism, or even whether you consistently endorse it.

        Unless you mean that all historical events are equally contingent? But in that case, Constantine’s adoption of Christianity could have happened differently, and the history of Christianity could have been prematurely truncated.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/14 at 17:11

        We can play “what might have been” with practically anything, but that doesn’t change the value of any particular truth claim. That’s all.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/14 at 17:25

        Okay, I think I understand what you’re saying. The events necessary for the spread of Christianity were no more or less historically contingent than the events necessary for, say, the spread of Mormonism or Communism, and there is no way to distinguish such events as Constantine’s adoption of Christianity as the work of any special “providence.”

        I don’t disagree.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/14 at 17:31

        The general question of determinism and contingency still remains, but it’s a great deal wider-reaching than something so narrow and specific as the adoption of Christianity by Constantine.

        I suppose it is logically possible that any given event represented some unique instantiations of Providence, and if God exists, then there are probably quite a few such events. But it’s rather fruitless to imagine we can figure out each one.

        At the end of the day, saying “But for X, Christianity could not have existed” tells us very little about whether X was determined or contingent. That’s really all.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/14 at 17:43

        “At the end of the day, saying ‘But for X, Christianity could not have existed’ tells us very little about whether X was determined or contingent.”

        Yes. And the same is true for any X and for any religion.

        However, you did say that “If Christianity is true, providential protection should be expected” — presumably in some way that would not be expected for Mormonism or Communism. Which suggests that for Christianity, X must be more determined than it is for these other belief systems. Is the Christian “X” more determined?

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/14 at 17:53

        X represents the set of all events which are probably necessary for God’s purposes to be fulfilled. It’s fair to say that a significant subset of X are providentially determined (or at least providentially favored); let’s let D represent the set of all events which are providentially determined or favored. But membership in X does not necessitate this status. “Some X are D” does not equal “All X are D”.

        One could even posit a probabilistic determinism, where God adds to the probability of a sufficient number of events so as to achieve his ultimate ends, even if he didn’t directly determine any one event.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/14 at 18:03

        “X represents the set of all events which are probably necessary for God’s purposes to be fulfilled.”

        No, X represents the set of all historical events that were necessary to produce some particular outcome.

        “It’s fair to say that a significant subset of X are providentially determined (or at least providentially favored); let’s let D represent the set of all events which are providentially determined or favored.”

        I’m not at all sure that’s “fair to say.” But let’s assume it provisionally and go on to ask: Were the events necessary to produce modern Christianity more heavily D-weighted than the events necessary to produce modern Hinduism?

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/14 at 20:30

        Of course, this begs the question of whether there are actually any events IN set X, given that any particular outcome could be substantively generated in a number of different ways.

        The original assertion, of course, was that there was something implicitly contradictory about the existence of any X event for Christianity. I don’t see how that case can be made, even if we allow that X-events for Christianity do exist.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/15 at 08:31

        I think you’re right: we should delete the word “necessary,” since “any particular outcome could be substantively generated in a number of different ways.” (Though I cannot help but note that if God chose the Great Fire as a way of spreading Christianity, the problem of evil rears it’s head: was burning children alive really the most benevolent means God could devise to spread the good news, given that “any particular outcome could be substantively generated in a number of different ways?”)

        But let’s say X is simply the set of all historical events that resulted in a certain outcome. Is X for modern Christianity more D-weighted than the X for, say, modern Hinduism?

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/15 at 08:36

        There’s definitely a tie-in to the greater question of evil, but that’s a whole different ball of wax.

        In answer to your question, yes, I think we can say Christian-X is more heavily D-weighted.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/15 at 08:44

        In other words, you claim to know that, absent divine intervention, the events of history would have happened differently. How do you derive this counterfactual?

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/15 at 10:12

        Oh, I certainly don’t claim to know it. It seems likely, but only within the context of preexisting belief.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/15 at 10:59

        You insisted earlier, and I agree, that “any particular [historical] outcome could be substantively generated in a number of different ways”.

        In other words, the existence and particular nature of modern Christianity could have arisen in a number of different ways, the vast majority of them not dependent on divine providence. Correct?

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/15 at 11:03

        I’m not sure we can know whether a path exists which would not have required divine providence.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/15 at 11:08

        Given your uncertainty, neither can we know whether a path exists that does require divine providence.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/15 at 11:10

        Fair enough. At least, not outside of preexisting belief.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/15 at 11:21

        I think we’ve about exhausted the conversation (and I’m grateful for your considerable patience). But I have one more thought about this “pre-existing belief.”

        One may of course have a general pre-existing belief in the divinity of Jesus, or the existence of God, or the reliability of scripture, or the ability of God to intervene in human affairs. But none of these general beliefs mandate a specific belief that the spread of Christianity resulted from divine providence. That particular assertion remains to be established.

        Perhaps you mean a specific pre-existing belief that the spread of Christianity must have been the result of divine providence — but in that case your argument become childishly circular: I belief this belief because I believe this belief.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/15 at 12:23

        Certainly there is no mandate to believe that the spread of Christianity must have resulted from divine providence, though it certainly seems probable within preexisting Christian belief. But I’m not trying to argue that it must be the case; I was merely responding to the claim that X-events-for-Christianity are somehow a defeater to Christianity.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/15 at 15:29

        I wonder if we aren’t missing a larger point? In one sense, you’re entirely correct: Had Constantine not adopted Christianity, and if Christianity had withered on the vine, that would still not be a defeater to the (possible) truth of Christianity, just as the historical demise of Marcionism is not a defeater to the possible truth of Marcionism.

        But, as you admit, it is impossible to rule out a naturalistic explanation for the growth of Christianity. Which suggests the larger point that our religious beliefs may be contingent on some combination of chance and human psychology. Since it is possible that Christianity is, in common with other religions, one such belief, then the original point — that you might now believe rather differently had Constantine not acted as he did — does have a certain cogency.

        Beliefs that are falsifiable or objectively well-evidenced don’t have that problem, since they can in principle be derived apart from the history of their acceptance.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/15 at 19:44

        There’s probably a degree of difficulty (or at least ambiguity) in discussing the “growth” of Christianity as opposed to the origin of Christianity. There’s clearly some overlap. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s impossible to rule out a naturalistic explanation for the origin and existence of Christianity; the only reason I am a Christian is because I think a naturalistic explanation for Christianity’s origin is wildly improbable.

        I’m confused by your mention of falsifiability. Do you think Christianity is unfalsifiable?

        And I disagree on your final point. Plenty of objectively well-evidenced beliefs could not be known without a history of transmission. We would have no way of re-deriving the knowledge that Caesar crossed the Rubicon were it not for the testimony of historians from that time. Nor would we know about certain comets which came and went long before the modern era. There are plenty of events which depend very much on history.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/16 at 09:49

        “[T]he only reason I am a Christian is because I think a naturalistic explanation for Christianity’s origin is wildly improbable.”

        That sounds like an interesting potential discussion.

        “Do you think Christianity is unfalsifiable?”

        I think Christianity is a grab-bag of hundreds if not thousands of distinct claims, each of which may or may not be unfalsifiable. The question needs to be more specific to be meaningful.

        “Plenty of objectively well-evidenced beliefs could not be known without a history of transmission.”

        I said nothing about a “history of transmission.” The claim that Christianity benefited from divine custodial intervention (for example) has many problems, but the fact that it may have been repeated by many individuals is beside the point.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/16 at 09:53

        I’m on my phone right now, but if you glance back over some past posts, you should find one titled “Faith and Falsifiability” in which I outline possible ways Christianity (IMO) could be falsified.

        Related question: I assume you believe the resurrection did not occur. How might this belief be falsified?

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/16 at 10:43

        “I assume you believe the resurrection did not occur. How might this belief be falsified?”

        A belief in the resurrection or a belief that it didn’t occur? In either case, I’m happy if we apply the same reasoning and evidential procedures we apply to any historical claim. If you want to make an exception for specifically Christian historical claims — for instance, by allowing supernatural presumptions we would disallow in any other historical context — that has to be justified before the discussion can even begin.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/16 at 10:59

        The latter. If you object to framing your position as a negative belief, we can modify the question to ask what would convince you that the resurrection did occur.

        By the way, I very much appreciate your reasoned and straightforward approach to this discussion. Much better than what I’m used to dealing with.

        I certainly agree that we should use the exact same evidential approach as with any other historical claims. I’m not sure about making “supernatural” claims a category by themselves, though. I’d prefer using a category like “myth” so we pick up mermaids and unicorns and monopods….stories that aren’t technically supernatural but are dismissed for the same reason.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/16 at 11:07

        I would also like to unpack “the Resurrection,” which itself encompasses a grab-bag of distinct claims. It may include, for instance, the claims that:

        – a historical Jesus existed as a prophet and itinerant rabbi

        – this prophet was actually the son of the God described in the Hebrew Bible

        – this prophet was crucified

        – presumed to be dead, this prophet was later seen alive

        – rather than dying a second time, this prophet ascended to a supernatural realm where he joined the God of the Old Testament.

        Each of these claims is distinct, and each has a rather different evidential burden.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/16 at 11:41

        Eh, I disagree. The only things we need are claims 1, 3, and 4; the other two aren’t immediately necessary.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/16 at 11:55

        So all you’re asking is whether there was a prophet named Jesus, whether he was crucified, and whether some persons claimed he was later seen alive? That’s what you call “the Resurrection?”

        Alas, we have incomplete evidence for the first two statements, so a great deal of doubt and uncertainty must attach to any evaluation of them (though neither are they implausible). The third proposition — that some persons wrote that Jesus was later seen alive — is trivially obvious. If you mean to propose that these accounts are fully reliable, that’s a different question altogether.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/16 at 12:32

        I’m neither proposing that the accounts are fully reliable nor that they merely exist. Rather, I’m proposing that an actual resurrection—that the rabbi Jesus was alive, and then dead, and then alive—is the most plausible and best explanation for the evidence surrounding the New Testament myths.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/16 at 12:36

        “I’m proposing that an actual resurrection—that the rabbi Jesus was alive, and then dead, and then alive—is the most plausible and best explanation for the evidence surrounding the New Testament myths.”

        Yes, you do seem to be making such a proposition.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/16 at 12:47

        Right. That’s the issue. Not whether anyone wrote that they saw him alive, and not that everything written is true.

      • AdamHazzard 2013/06/16 at 12:53

        I have no idea what you mean by “the evidence surrounding the New Testament myths,” especially since you seem to exclude “whether anyone wrote that they saw him alive” as evidence.

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/16 at 13:39

        Evidence like extant manuscripts and our general and supplementary knowledge of that period of history.

  10. Arkenaten 2013/06/15 at 06:26

    Ah, the X factor. Simon Cowell would not be amused and would probably demand backdated royalties. This all largely depends on the god, God being involved: Him giving old Constantine a gentle nudge. One could argue of course that Constantine lied regarding his ‘vision’ merely to push a political agenda and was aided in this endeavor by the church. Considering the capricious nature of Emperors is it too much to beieve he did? I wonder……
    The simplest answer is so often the right one.

      • Arkenaten 2013/06/15 at 08:13

        What truth of christianity are you talking about?

      • Arkenaten 2013/06/15 at 08:50

        What christian claims are true?

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/06/15 at 10:01

        The resurrection, for one.

        An exhaustive listing would take a while.

      • Arkenaten 2013/06/15 at 10:12

        This is becoming circular and I for one tire of this nonsense. You cannot provide evidence that will irrevocably demonstrate the biblical narrative as factual. Yours is merely a philosophical argument based on supposition; and one that requires the assumption of several crucial factors, and suspension of certain scientific facts.
        This argument has raged for millennia.
        It is a dead end, thus one is faced with two choices , believe the biblical tale or do not.
        If it were not for inculcation most people would never turn from a state of non belief to acceptance of christianity. (or any other religion)

        I am afraid this is a pointless exercise. If you have any other example – examples of proof, not wishful thinking, then we can continue. Otherwise,not to put too fine a point on it, you are , as usual, pissing in the wind.

  11. Arkenaten 2013/06/15 at 10:51

    Then list the top five, in order of seniority, and provide the proof.

  12. Arkenaten 2013/06/15 at 11:54

    Think it over!! You mean you don’t have the ‘fact’ to hand?

  13. Pingback: Christianity’s factual claims. Say what? | A Tale Unfolds

  14. Ishaiya 2013/06/16 at 11:12

    So, I’m interested from an unbiassed view point, what would it mean to you if the four gospels were proven to be fake, or forgeries like the Turin shroud was? How would Christ maintain his divinity? (I’m not meaning to debate, just merely interested?)

  15. Amyclae 2013/07/10 at 21:54

    It seems that the comments are flying thick and heavy! Who would’ve thought?

    I’m not sure if I can stomach the smug aftertaste I get when I read through some of the more, shall we say, combative responses. Or perhaps I simply dislike the infringement on my preferred style of commentating? Who knows, I certainly don’t.

    For what it is worth I agree with you. For a viewpoint that prides itself on its ability to come to certain conclusions based from ‘reason,’ which presumably transcends particular historical accidents, there is a tendency towards certain types of determinism–be it historical, evolutionarily or otherwise.

  16. paarsurrey 2013/07/13 at 14:50

    Quoting your words:

    “If Muhammad’s forces had not won the Battle of Khaybar in 629, leading to the unification of the Arabian Peninsula, Islam would not have become the predominant religion of the Middle East.”

    This is just your guess and opinion.

    Islam spread due to its peaceful and truthful teachings. Islam would have spread in any case if Muhammad and his followers had not been opposed in a hostile way by the Jews of Khyber and the non-believers of Mecca.

    • physicsandwhiskey 2013/07/13 at 15:09

      I think you missed the point. There are any number of single events which were arguably necessary for world-changing events. If Muhammad had been killed at Khaybar, Islam would have likely died with him. But such events don’t say anything positive or negative about the veracity of the belief systems.

  17. violetwisp 2013/08/23 at 12:50

    PeW! Where have you gone? Everything okay? I tried luring you back with a post dedicated to you but you’ve just ignored it. John’s been doing some really interesting posts lately and I’d love to see what you think of them. Go on, have a look!
    http://thesuperstitiousnakedape.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/jesus-christ-just-not-worth-a-sheet-of-paper-9/

  18. violetwisp 2013/09/09 at 14:36

    Just in case you are still around, or lurking about as imaginatively named trolls, here’s another post that requires attention:
    http://attaleuntold.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/christianity-the-greatest-fraud-in-history/

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