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Tuesday, April 23, 2002                                                                                       View Comments



The following was posted on your website, but I thought that I would send it as an email as well!

I just want to say that I am sorry for the junk you have copped from some individuals in the Church. There is a lot of crap in the Church because the problem with it is that it's full of humans, not perfect angels - though some pretend to be so! I have known Christians who try to force God and speaking in tongues on people before - that shows an insecurity and need to control on people. That is not what Christianity is about! The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who does the work of convincing. We're just called to be His witnesses that is all and to avoid foolish arguements, trying to live peaceably with everyone, but giving an answer to the hope that is in us when asked to.

Again, I say a big huge, "SORRY!" to you for any pestering from individuals in the Church. Those individuals don't represent us all though! Just like yourself, they are human and make mistakes. There are some harsh Christians out there, just as there are some harsh Atheists and some harsh Muslims! Some people take a different view to their own badly and others take it well - no matter what you believe! I found your Anti-Testimony very interesting! That is not to say that I agree with all the conclusions made, but it was interesting! I was glad that I read it. A lot of people I know leave the Church because they have been hurt by someone there or because they feel like they have been controlled by someone or other. I would say this though (having been hurt by someone in the Church myself)that no matter where you go in life, there is the possibility of getting hurt. It is not the fault of the organization or place, it is a problem that that individual who hurt you had. That is life. To those people, have you considered that maybe God is crying with you?
As someone who has experienced someone trying to control me in the past, are you going to let that person deny you of the right to choose an idea for yourself in your attempt to find freedom? In saying, "I don't want that because they are forcing it on me!" You are denying yourself the possibility that that thing might be good, it is just that it was forced on you. Is the issue, that that thing was bad, or that it was forced on you? If it is the former, by all means, don't go for it! However, if it is the latter, maybe rejecting the thing that was forced on you is not the answer, but maybe escaping the influence of that person's control is the answer. There are more than just one way of doing that! Anyhoo, seeing as it is now 2:30 in the morning, and my eyes are starting to see double, I am heading to sleep!

Michelle Ingram


You said,

"It can't be said that there are no historical records outside of the Bible that Jesus existed because that isn't true! Roman historians and Greek Satrists have written about Him as well as a Jewish pharisee/historian. I know that Atheists and Jesus skeptics have their excuses about those too, but it does make you wonder!"

Josephus is the Jewish historian to which you refer. Even conservative fudamentalist scholars admit that the statement in Josephus was a latter addition that was not part of the original. Please quote even one other place, outside the bible, that directly witnesses that Christ exisited. You will find a few references to Christians, but never to Christ, except as the man that Christians say they worship. And even those historical allusions are many years after the man-god supposedly rose from the dead.

Your logic that no one can prove the non-existence of god is not a good argument. I have forwarded the article below by Richard Carrie to you concerning the fallicious nature of that argument.

FInally, I appreciate your apology on the behalf of Christendom, but I expect a direct apology from Christ himself. It is he who said he is building HIS CHURCH. It is not the fault of the pot if the potter is bad at his work.


Dave VanAllen

It's remarkable how many people insist I am not an atheist. It seems pretty obvious to me that I don't believe any god exists, and that pretty much makes me an atheist. Nevertheless, here these people are, so insistent that I cannot possibly be an atheist. "You're too nice," they say, or "you really believe, you just don't know it" (how's that again?). Sometimes I hear something like "You believe in something, and that is really god" or "you are still looking, but you'll find Him" (he's invited to stop by my house at any time). When I have the time to converse with these people, however, it usually comes down to this: I'm really an agnostic, they say, because I am willing to admit that I don't know there isn't any god. It is apparently so important for people to believe that I'm "really just an agnostic" that I find this to be a haunting sign of the hold religion has on people. It is tragic that the mere thought of a good friend or relative being an actual, avowed atheist is so horrible that it must be denied.

Sometimes I have the chance to explain that I am an atheist not because I know there isn't a god, but because I don't believe there is. If someone insisted that their pet fish could talk, I really couldn't say I knew it didn't, especially if I could not go and see for myself, but it would still be fair for me to say that there are no talking fish. The relevance of this is that I do not believe god exists any more than I believe fish can talk. Certainly, I have not examined all species of fish, nor every single fish for that matter, nor could I ever accomplish such a feat, but the claim that they exist is so contrary to my own personal experience and reliable facts that I simply will not believe it unless very definitive proof is provided. Of course, if I visit someone's pet fish and it talks to me, I am still wiser to test the possibilities of trickery or insanity before believing it can really talk. But if I found many fish that talked, trustworthy people confirmed it, scientists published carefully researched papers about them, and newspaper headlines read "INCREDIBLE DISCOVERY: TALKING FISH!" then it would be more than reasonable to believe they existed. No one really disputes such common sense, until it is applied to religion.
I've never seen or talked to a god, nor seen a god do anything unmistakably godlike. People insist they know one exists, but most of them really say they only feel it, and don't offer any other proof. Indeed, it is odd that those few who honestly offer the more genuine proof of actually hearing god talk are branded insane even by the believers. Believers are probably right about that, but their own "feeling" that a god exists isn't any more convincing to me. Anyone might "feel" that fish could talk, but that wouldn't mean it was so, nor would that be a very reliable way to know it was true even if it was. People still say there are billions of witnesses to god's existence, but since the vast majority of them only "feel" that god exists, even trillions of witnesses wouldn't count for much. I am astonished how many people think that if the Earth stopped rotating we would all fall off into space--they just "feel" intuitively that this is true, even though the exact opposite would happen (people at the equator would actually gain a few pounds). I agree that billions of people "feel" god exists, but feelings are only evidence of what lies in our hearts and dreams. Feelings do not tell us much about reality outside of ourselves.

People also say that the bible says a god exists. The bible also says a guy lived inside the belly of a giant fish for three days, somehow failing to be digested in its stomach acids; and that a flood "so great" that it covered all the mountains with water occurred to fulfill a genocidal whim of an apparently uncreative god (why not just make everyone vanish instantly and save the world's people and animals the suffering of being drowned?). Since these all sound like tall tales to me, I think god is probably a tall tale, too. Basically, if the bible said there were talking fish, I wouldn't believe it until I saw one myself (the bible does fittingly claim the existence of a talking ass). Likewise, the bible may say a god exists, but I still won't believe it until I see one myself.

Most people I meet, however, don't realize that I am first and foremost a freethinker, and only an atheist as a result of applying freethought to the evidence available to me. The reasons I have for being a freethinker are actually rather different from the reasons I have for not believing in a god. I sometimes wear a shirt that says, "we all need humanity, not religion; reason, not faith." This has sometimes triggered interesting conversations about why I am a freethinker. "That's pretty harsh," some who read that shirt say. I ask why. It seems reasonable to me that if religion vanished from the earth, but was replaced by the entire human race working humanely together, nothing would be lost, and everything gained. Thus, we need humanity--that is, our own humanity, as well as the entirety of the human species. But we do not need religion--it offers nothing that cannot be gained through other means.

It also seems reasonable to me that if people lived by reason instead of faith, a great many tragedies would be averted, and an equal number of advances would be made, especially in human behavior. I do not claim this as a recipe for utopia, only for significant improvement. How many times do we find ourselves saying of a criminal or a politician, "They are just so stupid! Any rational person would have acted entirely differently." A criminal or politician can have all the faith we want them to, but they will still do stupid things--and that's the problem. Thus, we only need people to act intelligently. We can do without faith. In fact, the "faith" of Islamic suicide bombers and abortion clinic murderers is actually a real threat to humanity, as was the "faith" of Red Party members in their belief that communism would lead to utopia. People can do without faith. They can't do without reason.

It is usually argued, of course, that we need religion in order to get humanity to behave and work together. All evidence is to the contrary. Religion has not notably improved human behavior. The pagan Romans were far kinder than the Inquisition Christians. Nor has religion united Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, or Jews. It has quite unmistakably divided them. In fact, religion will never unite them, because a religion requires that they all share the same beliefs, without offering any reliable evidence that their ideas are more correct than anyone else's. Reason, on the other hand, is the only thing that can actually unite people of diverse opinions. Reason, by definition, bases its decisions on evidence available to everyone, and allows people to disagree when this evidence is lacking. Religion will never do that, and that is the problem with it.

It is also often argued that we need faith just as much as we need reason. Usually, this claim is based on a very loose definition of "faith." Many have said that atheists have faith like everyone else, and that no one can do without having faith in something. However, this is misleading. If you mean by "faith" nothing more than "belief" then you can dispense with the word altogether. In reality, faith is usually employed to describe a particular justification for believing something, rather than to simply say you believe it. If I say I believe there are no talking fish, it isn't very productive to say that this proves I have "faith" that fish don't talk, because I don't believe it on faith. I believe it because of the evidence of my senses and the evidence presented by people employing a reasonable method of getting at the truth about things. However, to say you have "faith" that god exists means more than just saying you believe it. It means that you believe god exists because you have faith that he does. It is this meaning of faith that reason stands opposite to. I do not believe anything on faith. I only believe things because I have good evidence to support them. And that is what reason means: basing all beliefs on the evidence of the senses, and on nothing else.

Of course, some try to take issue with this. For one, they say that I have only replaced faith in god with faith in reason, but I only believe in reason because the evidence of my senses has always confirmed that reason is reliable. I do not believe in it on faith. People also say that I actually do believe in things that I have never seen demonstrated, like the existence of uranium or that my friends would defend me in a life-or-death situation. And this, they say, proves I do have faith in some things. But even these beliefs are not really based on faith. The evidence of my senses has so far proven that certain sources are reliable enough to believe without direct evidence to the contrary. Science, responsible journalism, and people I know who honestly use tried and tested methods, have all proved themselves reliable to me through my own senses. If their claims suddenly widely contradicted my personal experiences, I would cease believing in their claims. The claims of the bible obviously fall into the 'unbelievable' category. That is why I think the existence of uranium is far more likely than the existence of a god. I do not believe this way because of my faith in science, but because the evidence of my senses tells me that science gets things right far more often than the bible. Even more than that, science much more quickly admits an error than any religion will. Likewise, my faith in friends is also based on prior experience. The evidence of my senses proves so far that honest, compassionate, mature people will defend their friends. Thus, all my beliefs are rooted in evidence, and not in faith.

Why do I think this way? It seems almost silly to ask such a question. Does it really make sense to base your beliefs on things for which you have no good evidence? "Faith in god" is not the same as faith in science or friends or even everyday assumptions like "a fish did not write this essay." Faith in god means faith that something astoundingly incredible, that is both unproven and unprovable, is true. That is simply not reasonable to me. I will never base my beliefs on such stretches of imagination, because it so easily leads to error and self-deception. Though my heart may tell me many useful things about me, only my mind has anything useful to say about the outside world. And it tells me that god, like talking fish, is the grandest of fictions.

I suspect that many people think they need to believe in a god for life to have meaning, and this may very well be the only reason they believe in god. More than a suspicion, this theory has been confirmed several times by the open admission of believers I have spoken with. However, it is not rational to believe in something only because you need to, especially when it stands a good chance of not being true. It is unwise to build an emotional investment in any idea that could be wrong, lest you bind yourself to a bad idea that can mire you in error and misery. We can all easily see that a compulsive gambler "needs" to believe he'll win in order to keep placing his bet, but that need has no correspondence with the truth. If the odds are 10 to 1 against, no matter what a gambler needs, he is not likely to be right about winning the bet.

Since I have always lived my life with meaning and joy, without needing a belief in god or an afterlife, I know that such beliefs are unnecessary. And I have also personally encountered hundreds of other people who find ample meaning in life without needing to believe in god or heaven, so I know I am not just a fluke of nature. So when anyone asks me why I am a freethinker, I usually start off with the short answer: it is not necessary or reasonable to think any other way. And as a freethinker, if any believer tries to argue that you cannot prove a god does not exist, simply ask them to prove this essay was not written by a fish. Maybe then they will begin to understand.

Richard Carrier

Mate, I am so sorry if you thought that by posting messages on your website, that I was wanting to rumble because that is not my intention. I am just concerned when I see generalisation, bitterness, misunderstanding of people's heart motives, and scriptures taken out of context. It hurts to see that - not because it threatens my beliefs and therefore me. I can hear the hurt in there, and that makes me sad. You can bag me as much as you like for that, but that won't change the truth - I am saying these things because I care. If you say that it is different, then you're talking about something that you don't know, and it will most likely be that bitterness talking.

It is one thing for you to just not believe that there is a God of any kind. It is another thing for you to generalize and bitterly twist meanings of stuff. If I see something that I don't agree with, just like in any open discussion, I am going to say something. I am quite open to see where I am wrong because as far as I see it, I don't have anything to lose. I am not living my life all shut up in a religious order, not seeing the world around me. I am living my life, so if I die and there is no God, then I lose nothing. I lived a good life! I can not prove to you that God does exist, and He is not one to perform like a trained animal for someone that says, "Do something for us - a little trick maybe! Prove Yourself!" Neither can you by any scientific experiment prove that God doesn't exist! If you come up with something, heck, let me know and I'll ring all the TV stations so that we can all watch you do it!

Of course, you have heard of Cornelius Tacitus - the Roman historian and Lucian - the Greek satirist who wrote about Christ - yes Christ, not just the Christians. Of course, you have heard all about Seutonius too - another Roman historian who mentioned Christ! You have heard countless times about how the geneologies in the gospels would have been easily verifiable by any skeptic back then. Actually, you probably put forth the two geneologies as just another bible inaccuracy! The truth is that nothing anyone can say to you is going to change your mind - nothing! So, I am not trying to change your mind about the existence of a God. If you want to believe what you are believing, that is up to you mate! However, if I do see stuff that I believe is twisted about the Bible or about the Church, then I will say something! By having a message board, you must expect that! However, once again, I do not want to rumble with you alright! These things just go around and around and around etc... simply because we are both looking at it from different perspectives! They can get really petty too! I don't want that! That's not necessary!

You can blast me as much as you like for my beliefs or for any other reason you choose to come up with, but in the end, it really only makes me more sure of my faith - just to let you know - plus, it only makes you look as bad as some of the people you're bagging! I do have to say to you that the stuff that you've been saying hasn't rattled my faith #1 because it is stuff that I have heard before #2 because I can see logical answers to all the problems you're putting forward #3 because I can hear bitterness talking and #4 because I have experienced (yes there is that word) in rubber meets the road type situations the God that I believe in - I was a missionary in Communist China where they arrest you for that sort of thing having to trust Him for my monthly income and everything! I even had all my money for the month along with VISA card stolen, and I didn't go without! That was freaky at first!

I am a thinking person, and I don't just accept something because it sounds good! Even with the ones standing behind the pulpit, I check out what they say too! I can't just accept something! I can't - that's not me! So, it was a thinking person along with many others who have gone before me (thinking people - even atheist scientists!) that accepted Christ as Lord. Anyhoo, just wanted to let you know that I got your email! If you want to use this to make Christians and Christ look bad in some way, what the heck - as if I could stop you! However, it is a sad way to be! Man - enough arguing! Geez! I don't know about you, but I am sick of that crap!

Anyhoo, thank you for your reply to my email, and catch ya later mate!


You mentioned the names of three men of old. Cornelius Tacitus - the Roman historian and Lucian - the Greek satirist and Seutonius :

There is inconclusive evidence that Tacitus had independent sources. The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, writing in 115 CE, explicitly states that Nero prosecuted the Christians in order to draw attention away from himself for Rome's devastating fire of 64 CE:

But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.[82]

Scholarly debate surrounding this passage has been mainly concerned with Tacitus' sources and not with the authorship of the passage (e.g., whether it is an interpolation) or its reliability.[83] Various scenarios have been proposed to explain how Tacitus got his information. One possibility is that Tacitus learned the information from another historian he trusted (e.g., Josephus). Another possibility (suggested by Harris) is that he obtained the information from Pliny the Younger. According to Harris, "Tacitus was an intimate friend and correspondent of the younger Pliny and was therefore probably acquainted with the problems Pliny encountered with the Christians during his governorship in Bithynia - Pontus (c. A.D. 110-112)."[84] (Defenders of this position may note that Tacitus was also governing in Asia in the very same years as Pliny's encounters with Christians [112-113], making communication between them on the event very likely.)[85] Norman Perrin and Dennis C. Duling mention a related possibility; they state that Tacitus' information "is probably based on the police interrogation of Christians."[86] Yet another possibility (suggested by Habermas and defended by McDowell and Wilson) is that Tacitus obtained the information from official documents.[87] (I shall say more about this possibility below.) It is also possible that the information was common knowledge. Finally, there is the view (defended by Wells, France, and Sanders) that Tacitus simply repeated what Christians at the time were saying.[88] The bottom line is this: given that Tacitus did not identify his source(s), we simply don't know how Tacitus obtained his information. Holding himself admits, "Truthfully, there is no way to tell" where Tacitus obtained his information about Jesus.[89] Therefore, we can't use Annals XV.47 as independent confirmation of the historicity of Jesus.

Lucian is not an independent witness to Jesus. Lucian of Samosata (c.125-180 CE), was a Greek satirist best known for his dialogues (Dialogues of the Gods, Dialogues of the Dead, The Sale of Lives) ridiculing Greek mythology and philosophy; he also authored a work entitled True History. McDowell cites the following statement by Lucian written around 170 CE:

... the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.... Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws.[144]

In a previous version of this essay, quoting Michael Grant, I questioned whether Lucian was concerned with historical accuracy.[145] I misinterpreted Grant; elsewhere Grant makes it clear that Lucian was concerned with historical accuracy. According to Grant, Lucian felt it important to separate instruction from entertainment.[146] Grant notes that Lucian felt a historian should be "stateless;" in other words, Lucian thought the historian should try to remain impartial when recording events concerning the historian's own nation.[147] Moreover, Lucian "denounced fraudulent biography" and said that "it was the sole duty of the historian to ... say exactly how things happened."[148]

Nevertheless, given that Lucian's statement was written near the end of the second century, it seems rather unlikely that he had independent sources of information concerning the historicity of Jesus. Lucian may have relied upon Christian sources, common knowledge, or even an earlier pagan reference (e.g., Tacitus); since Lucian does not specify his sources, we will never know. Just as is the case with Tacitus, it is quite plausible that Lucian would have simply accepted the Christian claim that their founder had been crucified. There is simply no evidence that Lucian ever doubted the historicity of Jesus. Therefore, Lucian's concern for historical accuracy is not even relevant as Lucian would have had no motive for investigating the matter.[149]

It is unclear that Suetonius knew of Jesus. Suetonius, the Roman historian and biographer formerly known as Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, wrote several works, including his Lives of the Twelve Caesars, which is an account of the lives of the first twelve Roman emperors. In his Life of Claudius, he writes:

As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.[109]

In order to use this as a reference to Jesus, McDowell must assume that this 'Chrestus' was Jesus. Thus, in He Walked Among Us, we find McDowell and Wilson declaring that "Chrestus was probably a misspelling of 'Christ' (Greek 'Christus')."[110] Quoting France, McDowell and Wilson argue that 'Chrestus' is a misspelling of 'Christus' because (i) 'Chrestus' is a Greek name; and (ii) the meaning of 'Christus' would be unfamiliar to a Gentile audience. Furthermore, McDowell and Wilson argue (iii) that Christian witnessing to the Jews in AD 49 (similar to that recorded in Acts 18) "probably resulted in the hostilities which led to the expulsion of all Jews from Rome." This, they argue, would have led to the writing of a Roman "police report" which in turn would have attributed the violence to 'Chrestus' (a familiar name).[111]

I find these arguments unconvincing. Indeed, while stating that it is possible that this passage is a misspelled reference to Jesus, France nevertheless dismisses (i) and (ii). According to France, the claim that 'Chrestus' is a misspelling of 'Christus' "can never be more than a guess, and the fact that Suetonius can elsewhere speak of 'Christians' as members of a new cult (without any reference to Jews) surely makes it rather unlikely that he could make such a mistake."[112] McDowell and Wilson never offer any reasons for rejecting France's argument on this point. As for (iii), this is so speculative as to be laughable. There is no evidence of such a police report and there is no evidence that Christian preaching to the Jews led to hostilities which in turn led to the Jews' expulsion from Rome. In sum, then, McDowell and Wilson have been unable to show that this passage even refers to Jesus.

McDowell also quotes Lives of the Caesars--where Suetonius mentions Nero's punishment of Christians--though his reference is incorrect. (McDowell lists the passage as originating in 26.2; the passage is actually found in 16.2.[113]) The passage reads as follows:

Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.

McDowell and Wilson think this "verifies" that Christians were "being put to death" for their Christian beliefs.[114]

However, Suetonius "verifies" nothing of the sort. Suetonius only says that Christians were punished, not that they were "put to death." Moreover, Suetonius does not say that the Christians were punished simply for being Christians; indeed, Suetonius does not specify their crime at all. As the Christian New Testament scholar R.T. France, who McDowell quotes repeatedly in his 1988 work, notes

The great fire of AD 64 is not mentioned in this connection, and indeed the punishment of Christians is included in that part of the book (up to section 19) which deals with Nero's good acts, before he turned to vice and crime. (The fire is not reported until section 38, where it is unconditionally blamed on Nero himself.) Nor does Suetonius even so much as mention the 'Christus' from whom their name derived.[115]

In short, this passage is not independent confirmation of the historicity of Jesus. As Wells argues, this passage "tells us nothing more than what we already know about this from Tacitus and nothing about Jesus himself."[116]

I reject Christ for the same reason I reject UFOs. Please prove to me there are no UFO's landing on the Earth. Prove to me that there are no aliens doing experiments on humans. Get on TV and prove it if you can, and I will watch. When you prove to me that UFO's do not exist, though many people believe they do, then I will prove to you that GOD does not exist. It is illogical to demand that someone prove that something does not exist. Prove that there is no life on other planets. Prove that there are no faires at the bottom of my pond. My point is obvious. If you enjoy talking to your invisible friend, please enjoy. I gave up my invisible friend. I also gave up sucking my thumb.

Dave VanAllen

Thanks mate! You just confirmed my theory that you are just wanting to rumble! I am not interested in arguing with you! I am not trying to prove anything to you! I am just trying to present a different point of view to the claims you are putting forward, so that people can have a choice! Are you against choice?

Catch ya later mate! I will not be responding to anymore emails as I really don't want to fight with you!