Were the early Christians merely superstitious

“We aren’t talking about rocket science here; we are talking about the ramblings of a primitive Jew.” – Atheist on facebook – name withheld to protect the ignorant.

When you discuss the evidence supporting the New Testament Gospels as an accurate historical record (as we are reviewing with republished articles on our apologiafides site http://apologiafides.wordpress.com), you will often find an answer similar to that above: to wit, that first century Roman society was made up of people who were stupid, or primitive. But, just how primitive were they?

• Hero of Alexandria developed intricate machines using precise timing. Among other things, Hero developed the first known vending machine, the first known automatic door opener, the first animatronics, and the first operational steam engine. In fact, the Roman world almost began an industrial revolution; they likely would have crossed that threshold, if slave labor had not been so cheaply available at the time.

• For a long time, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether Newton or Leibnitz actually discovered calculus. We now know that Archimedes was using principles of calculus more than a thousand years prior to the birth of either of those men.

• The Jews, far from being primitive at the time, developed a highly and widely literate society.

In many senses, numerous moderns assume that technological and intellectual development travel in a straight line. But, this has been proven to be a false assumption. In many respects, the Renaissance was not (as it is often thought to be) a period of new discovery. It was actually a period during which European society rediscovered much that had been forgotten within the Dark Ages; often found in ancient texts.

As in all time periods, of course, the Roman world had its residents who were ignorant, However, one cannot argue that the early church was made up solely of the ignorant and superstitious.
• Luke’s gospel is written by someone who is a historian. As noted in a piece on our technical site (http://apologiafides.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/the-positive-case-for-christ-acts-1-liberals-zip/), the author of Acts and Luke was a historian of the first rank. This indicates that Luke was educated; that he had developed critical thinking skills. As a result, we cannot argue that he was merely superstitious.
• Paul is our other example. Even if we confine ourselves only to those elements of the Pauline corpus which are accepted by the theological left, it is clear that Paul is both educated, and a thinker in his own right.

Therefore, we must conclude that two of the major authors of the New Testament cannot be written off as merely superstitious ramblers. Any thoughts?

16 thoughts on “Were the early Christians merely superstitious

  1. “Therefore, we must conclude that two of the major authors of the New Testament cannot be written off as merely superstitious ramblers. Any thoughts?”

    That smart people are wrong all the time. And that the intelligence of a person in no way serves as evidence for the claims that person makes.

    • This is a knife that cuts both ways. It seems to me those dismissing the gospels as superstition fit your statement better than the gospel writers do.

      I’m countering a fairly specific argument on this piece. Paul claims to have been an eyewitness (1 Cor 15), and to have spoken with other eyewitnesses (Paul’s conversion was within three to six years of the crucifixion). Luke wrote as a historian who spoke with eyewitnesses. Ramsey has proven that he was a highly capable historian, which means he must have weighed the evidence out when interviewed (to use the modern term) the eyewitnesses. Its not merely education and intelligence, they demonstrate care and understanding of the eyewitness testimony in their writings. Check out the piece I linked to on Acts if you are interested, and thanks for reading.

      • “Paul claims to have been an eyewitness”

        And today we have many living people who claim to be eyewitnesses of alien abduction.

        Unless there is more evidence, there’s no good reason to believe them, due to the extraordinary nature of the claim.

      • That’s an illogical basis of rejecting his testimony – I did a sermon, “are atheists as smart as they think they are” on this site dealing with Hume’s argument against miracles (you appear to be using a version of his argument), but suffice it to say, the argument you are working from is an example of begging the question, with a series of non-sequitars added for good measure.

        The comparison to alien abductions is also problematic – Paul didn’t undergo hypnotic regression (a questionable technique), most alien abduction testimony, to my understanding, do involve hypnotic regression. Within the gospels, we have a number of sightings spread over an extended period of time, by people who were both inclined to accept Jesus Messiahship and those who rejected it, such as Paul. By all accounts, there was also an empty tomb – this was even admitted by Jewish authorities, and the Talmud, if memory serves. If the disciples stole the body, it doesn’t explain the conversion of Paul and James; if the disciples did not steal the body, then the evidence of the body would have settled the matter.

      • ” is an example of begging the question”

        I don’t see how that is the case.

        My position is based on evidence. The fact that all you have for evidence is an anecdote, no matter who gives it, is not sufficient to have me believe your claim. That is true both of alien abductees and the gospel writers. Which is why I used them as a comparison.

      • Eyewitness testimony is evidence – it is empirical evidence of what someone has seen; to dismiss it categorically is to be as uncritical as atheists seem to think Christians are. Dismissing it because it doesn’t fit into the philosophical naturalism (a religious position) is begging the question because it allows only for evidence that accepts your religious conclusions.

        I wouldn’t dismiss alien abductions categorically, this would be illogical. However, the use of hypnotic regression is a serious problem in those accounts. Eyewitness testimony like all evidence should be weighed, not simply accepted or rejected on principle. I also noticed you didn’t address the empty tomb.

      • “Eyewitness testimony is evidence”

        I didn’t say it wasn’t.

        It merely isn’t good enough evidence. Not when the claim is “I was abducted by aliens” or “this person rose from the dead and performed miracles”.

        I don’t dismiss it. And I don’t dismiss any claims categorically. I merely acknowledge that anecdotal evidence isn’t sufficient by itself for extraordinary claims. And hopefully you agree that be it alien abductions or rising from the dead, both claims are extraordinary.

        “I also noticed you didn’t address the empty tomb.”

        Because I don’t need to. You claim a tomb existed and that somebody disappeared from it. I see no good evidence presented of any of either of those claims. It is not my responsibility to come up with alternate hypothesis.

        It is the responsibility of the person making the claim to back that claim up with evidence. (Assuming they care about being believed.) That’s how the burden of proof works.

        Asking me to give a ‘better explanation’ implies that you have given a good explanation backed up by good evidence. You have not. You’ve made a claim. A claim is not evidence.

      • Why is eye witness testimony not sufficient to back up an extraordinary claim? that is a rather uncritical statement. Miracles by definition can’t be examined by science (since science is the study of natural phenomenon, it cannot comment on either the existence of non-existence of something outside of natural law, the moment a discussion does so, we have left science for discussions of philosophical versus theological religions). Miracles therefore are a matter for the historian in weighing eyewitness testimony; again, you are arguing from Hume, and Hume is begging the question.

        As I noted, unless you are dismissing the extraordinary claims made about Alexander the Great, etc. you are left without much of a leg to stand on. I’d say your problem is this – Luke has been proven to be a historian of the first rank by archeology. It is rather problematic to assume that his work with his main point (the development of the Early Church) is poorly handled, but he is incredibly careful in the incidental elements. This makes his work with eyewitnesses credible.

      • “Why is eye witness testimony not sufficient to back up an extraordinary claim?”

        Because we have centuries of history of people being mistaken. Because we have studies that show that eye witnesses can be wrong about events that took place minutes before when analyzed using recording equipment.

        And because, if we didn’t think that, we’d accept any old nonsense anyone ever claimed.

        “As I noted, unless you are dismissing the extraordinary claims made about Alexander the Great, etc.”

        What extraordinary claims? I already stated that I don’t accept Caesar was related to Venus. What other extraordinary claims do you have?

        If they are extraordinary, and the only evidence we have is anecdotal, then yes, I do not believe them.

      • This is why I say we weigh eyewitness testimony, we do not dismiss them categorically because the claim is extraordinary. The studies you refer to are generally noting events that happen quickly (like a car accident or a crime), but that is a poor comparison. Among other things, an eyewitness claims to have been a part of a group that spent three hours with Jesus after the resurrection eating a meal; this is a different type of situation than those in the studies you are citing. Since the evidence suggests mass hallucinations don’t exist, that is not a sufficient basis.

        You might be interested in Warren Wallace’s work. Former Atheist, cold case detective who knows how to weigh eyewitness testimony. His examination of the evidence that led him to Christianity was handled largely like a cold case. Its entitled Cold Case Christianity if you are interested.

      • I would also note, that most of history is developed from the same type of evidence. So if unless you are also categorically rejecting the existence of Socrates, Alexander the Great’s conquests, or the Julius Ceasar’s conquests in the Gallic Wars, you are not being intellectually consistent – all of these things are known only from anecdotal evidence (we have no eyewitness testimony on these points), and science can neither prove nor disprove these events either. The Christian faith is rooted in historical events, and therefore the discussion centers on historical studies and methods.

      • “I would also note, that most of history is developed from the same type of evidence.”

        You should note the following:

        We accept that Gaius Julius Caesar exists. We do not accept that Gaius Julius Caesar was actually related to the goddess Venus.

        “you are not being intellectually consistent ”

        Yes I am. The evidence can be good enough to say that someone existed without being good enough to say that the miracles they performed actually happened.

      • You confused my argument of Ceasar with Socrates – we have archeological evidence of Ceasar’s existence, but not that he won the Gallic wars.

        Again, you are arguing from Hume. As I noted, Hume’s argument is based on question begging (more to the point its a circular argument); the idea that the level of evidence is affected by the level of the claim is a questionable one at best; eyewitness testimony should be weighed on its quality irregardless of the nature of the claim it supports. The evidence for the resurrection (Specifically, that eyewitnesses claimed to have seen him alive after His death, and the tomb was documented to be empty).

        Believe it or don’t believe it, that is your choice, but I am suggesting among other things your assumptions of handling historical data are seriously flawed, and perhaps you need to examine them.

      • And I am suggesting that your assumptions for handling historical data are seriously flawed and based on your religious feelings, not the evidence.

      • That is also a knife that cuts both ways. Hume’s argument is a religious one, nor am I an exceptionally emotional person. In fact, a lot of my studies are related to my own questioning of the faith at an earlier juncture of my life.

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