Christianity in a Nut Shell

There’s no independent evidence supporting Christian claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem.

Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus can now readily be explained using our current knowledge of temporal lobe epilepsy.

The existence of the New Testament Gospels can now readily be explained without resorting to divine interventions.

The orthodox model of Christianity is therefore a load of bollocks, and the sooner we all grow up and accept this fact the better.

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You Ripped Me Off!

The Christianity Myth has been available via most of the usual online book retailers for about four years now, and during that period, several disgruntled customers have accused me of ripping them off. I agree the book is overpriced, but unfortunately, the set asking price is outside of my control. I tried on several occasions to get the price reduced, but to no avail. This was the main reason I eventually decided to “republish” this book as a blog, thus making it available to read online, totally free of charge, albeit to a limited audience.

The book documents my intellectual journey from slightly informed church going agnostic to better informed church going atheist. I had hoped those finding the book interesting would flag it up to others who may share their view, thus widening its appeal, but so far there’s little evidence of this happening. So, either the book is failing to spark any interest, which is a distinct possibility, or the book requires more than the usual short attention span, a definite certainty, or I’m attracting too many “blogging ghosts”, those people who just descend, devour & move on, leaving no trace of their visit & no indication of their reaction to what’s being offered.

 

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A Critique of Gary Habermas’ Fatally Flawed Argument

Gary Habermas is a Christian scholar, leading Christian apologist and he also stars in several U-Tube videos, including one called the resurrection evidence that changed current scholarship.

Habermas takes it for granted that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem and he spends an hour trying to convince us he’s right. His argument is based on the following events.

Event 1:     Jesus is resurrected in Jerusalem c 30 AD

Event 2:     Paul meets the resurrected Jesus c 32-33 AD

Event 3:     Paul visits Peter & James c 35-36 AD

Event 4:     Paul visits Peter, James & John c 49-50 AD

Event 5:     Paul writes Galatians c 54 AD

Event 6:     Paul writes 1-Corinthians c 55 AD

Event 7:     Mark’s gospel appears c 70 AD

Event 8:     Matthew’s gospel appears c 80 AD

Event 9:     Luke’s gospel appears c 85 AD

Event 10:    Acts of the Apostles appears c 90 AD

Event 11:    John’s gospel appears c 95 AD

All the above consensus dates are well established and well documented, based in part on evidence provided by Paul in Galatians and 1-Corinthians. In Galatians 1: 11-24 Paul tells us about his first meeting with other apostles c 35-36 AD, and in Galatians 2: 1-10 Paul tells us about his second meeting with other apostles fourteen years later. In 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9 Paul tells us what he learned from other apostles during his first visit to Jerusalem. Habermas claims that Galatians 2: 6 proves all the apostles, including Paul, were preaching the same gospel. Habermas also tells us that expert scholars now believe the basic gospel elements [simple creedal statements characterizes as deity, death & resurrection] could have been in circulation only six months after the alleged resurrection of Jesus c 30 AD.

Having now summarised Habermas’ argument [see video for details], let’s have a closer look at what he claims.

First he claims Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem c 30 AD. There is some scant independent evidence which suggests a historical Jesus was probably crucified in Jerusalem c 30 AD, but the only evidence for the alleged Jerusalem resurrection is that found in the New Testament itself. This NT evidence consists of three gospel accounts, all proclaiming the resurrected Jesus was  seen by numerous alleged eye witnesses [Mark doesn’t qualify because it was amended later for consistency]. Also, we have Paul’s testimony to this resurrection in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9 which states:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God”.

Now it’s a forgone conclusion that the late dating of the gospels [c 70-95 AD], more or less proves that the resurrection accounts found in these gospels must be second-hand hearsay accounts, based entirely on Paul’s above claims which he obviously made many times whilst establishing his many early “christian communities”[see also section below dealing with gospel dates].

The total lack of credible independent evidence does not bothered Christians. They claim the very existence of the gospels proves Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem, because their existence cannot be explained any other way. This claim has held true for centuries, despite numerous efforts to discredit it, but it is no longer a valid claim, because  the existence of these gospels no longer proves conclusively that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. For more details on this topic see earlier blogs called Why you cannot prove Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem and Was Jesus Resurrected in Jerusalem?.

Second he claims Paul met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus c 32-33 AD. There’s no doubting Paul genuinely believed he met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. However, unlike Paul 2000 years ago, we now fully understand the true nature of Paul’s conversion experience and today we can explain it in a simple & rational manner. Today’s medical literature is full of similar conversion experiences, all of which, we now know are caused by psychotic hallucinations triggered by temporal lobe epilepsy. I’ve already dealt with this issue in greater detail in an earlier blog called Religiosity-Biology or Brain washing? Given today’s medical & scientific evidence, I think we can now safely assume that Paul did not meet the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, not that Christians will ever agree of course.

Third he claims Paul visits Peter & James c 35-36 AD. Our knowledge of this first meeting comes from Galatians 1: 11-24, and in Galatians 1:18-19 Paul specifically says:

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother [This wording is taken from the N.I.V Bible].

So, having told us when & where this meeting happened, Paul tells us he stayed with Peter for 15 days & he also tells us that, at some point during this stay, he also met James. Paul doesn’t indicate when & how long James was present, and he says absolutely nothing about what actually transpired at this meeting. We have to infer what transpired at this first meeting, and today we now accept the obvious conclusion, namely that, at this meeting, Paul told Peter & James about his meeting with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus c 35-36 AD, and Peter & James, in turn, told Paul about how they had witnessed the alleged resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem c 30 AD.

So Paul entered Jerusalem c 35-36 AD believing Jesus had been resurrected on the road to Damascus for his own personal benefit, and 15 days later, he left Jerusalem believing Jesus had also been resurrected in Jerusalem for the benefit of the apostles. Habermas works hard to suggest Paul deliberately visited Peter & James, to check out this Jerusalem resurrection. However, it’s doubtful Paul knew anything about this Jerusalem resurrection before he arrived in Jerusalem, and it’s thus reasonable to assume that Paul just accepted  Peter & James’ hearsay claims at face value. This would be a perfectly reasonable thing for Paul to do, given his own personal experience on the road to Damascus, and given the status of both Peter & James.

However, if we assume that Paul just accepted these hearsay claims at face value, we must address another significant problem, one that Habermas again fails to address. Paul specifically states in Galatians 1: 19 that he saw nobody else during his 15 day stay with Peter, so how do we now verify Peter & James’ 2000 year old hearsay claims? The answer is simple – we don’t, because we can’t.

Therefore, we are forced to accept that Peter & James’ claims about an alleged resurrection in Jerusalem are, at best, unverified & unverifiable claims, and at worst, they may be just downright lies. Why, you might ask, would Peter & possibly James [see next paragraph] deliberately choose to lie to Paul about an alleged Jerusalem resurrection that never happened? Well, if you read The Christianity Myth you’ll find out.

Galatians 1: 19 also raises another issue not addressed by Habermas. In this verse, Paul specifically says he saw none of the other apostles, only James, the Lord’s brother. Now given the alleged circumstances surrounding this 15 day stay with Peter, Paul’s claims seem very unusual. we know the alleged resurrection occurred only 5-6 years earlier, and we know it was allegedly witnessed by over 600 people, most of whom were presumably still living in Jerusalem, and many of whom were now probably members of the alleged early Jerusalem church allegedly led by Peter & by James. Under these circumstances, it seems incredible that Paul saw none of the other apostles & none of the many alleged witnesses. However, if the alleged resurrection never actually happened, then this state of affairs would be perfectly acceptable. One is then left wondering whether Paul really did meet James at this meeting. The belated reference to James could so easily be just a simple interpolation, added later to obviate any suggestion that Paul met only Peter at this first meeting. A simple 1:1 meeting without any witnesses would weaken the orthodox model of Christianity significantly.

Now according to  Wikipedia, the earliest reasonably complete version of Galatians dates to approximately 200 AD, approximately 150 years after the original was presumably drafted. This papyrus is fragmented in a few areas, causing some of the original text to be missing but according to the Wikipedia entry, scholars can be rather certain about what the original text probably said. This state of affairs leaves plenty of scope for somebody to add this potential interpolation sometime during that first 150 years. The motive is obvious. Without this belated reference to James, this meeting becomes a simple 1:1 meeting with no other witnesses. In which case, it’s not unreasonable to consider a scenario in which there was no resurrection, no eye witnesses and no James to worry about. In this alternative scenario, Paul would still meet with Peter, but there would be no other witnesses, and verse 19 would simply say “I saw none of the other apostles“. Purely speculative of course but it would make more sense. However, I’m not expecting the Christian mindset to pursue this possibility any time soon.

Fourth he claims Paul visits Peter, James & John c 49-50 AD. Galatians 2: 1-10 deals with Paul’s second encounter with other apostles, and it confirms that this time Paul met with Peter, James & John. Habermas claims Galatians 2: 6 also proves all four apostles were preaching exactly the same gospel. The N.I.V version of Galatians 2: 6 states:

As for those who seemed to be important —whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message“.

In this short verse, Paul is effectively saying “As for those who seemed to be important – all probably Jews but I don’t care – those men added nothing to my message”. Habermas maintains the phrase “those men added nothing to my message” [he actually uses the phrase “they added nothing to me”] means that Peter, James & John had nothing new to add to Paul’s message. However, Habermas’ interpretation totally ignores the tensions existing between Paul and the other apostles. These tensions, all centred round the relevance of circumcision and the Jewish law, are a common theme found in Paul’s epistles.

For example, in Galatians 2:14-16 Paul says

“When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas [Peter] in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”

And later, in Galatians 5:2-6, Paul also says

 “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”.

 [Being justified refers to the state of being alright in God’s eyes]

And in Philippians 3: 1-3 Paul warns:

“Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh”.

Other instances confirming these tensions between Paul & the other apostles, include Galatians 2: 1-5, Galatians 3: 1-5, Galatians 3: 11-13, Galatians 3: 23-25, Galatians 5: 11, Galatians 6: 11-15, 1-Corinthians 7: 17-20, Romans 2: 25-27, Titus 1: 10-11 and Titus 3: 8-11. [Titus was one of Paul’s cohorts & Titus is not one of the seven genuine Pauline epistles].

These tensions all point to the existence of essential differences between Paul’s message & the message being preached by the other apostles. Paul had a universal message, which he aimed at Jews & Gentiles alike, and Paul believed Jesus was the son of God, sent to save mankind. The other apostles believed Jesus was the long awaited Jewish Messiah, sent by a Jewish God to save the Jewish people. According to these other Apostles, only circumcised Jews, and those prepared to be circumcised and become Jews, could be saved, and then only if they obeyed the Jewish law.

Again Habermas totally ignores these obvious tensions, and he does so because he wants to interpret the phrase “they added nothing to me” as meaning Peter, James & John had nothing new to add to Paul’s message. However, in the light of these tensions between Paul & the other apostles, a more logical interpretation of “they added nothing to me” would be Peter, James & John had nothing relevant to add to Paul’s message. Habermas is thus cherry picking his data to prove what he wants to prove, & he seems blind to this more rational interpretation of Galatians 2:6. This is not really surprising, because apologists are renowned for their habit of letting their own emotional needs cloud their intellectual objectivity.

Claims 5-11 – Dating of Canonical Gospels & Relevant Epistles. The dating of the Gospels indicates that all resurrection accounts found in these Gospel must be second hand hearsay accounts based on Paul’s earlier claims in 1-Corithians 15: 3-9. This assertion explains why all Gospels portray the resurrection as a near invisible event noticed only by a handful of Jews, despite the fact it allegedly happened in a city teeming with Jews. Most Christians seem totally oblivious of this point, but then most Christians know little or nothing about the origins of their faith.

If we accept the gospel resurrection claims are based on Paul’s claims in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-9, then we must also accept that these same gospels claims are based entirely on Peter’s [& possibly James’] unverified hearsay claims, made in Jerusalem some 5-6 years after the alleged resurrection. As indicated earlier [see section dealing with Habermas’ third point], at best, this means the resurrection claims found in the gospels are based on unverifiable claims, and at worst, it means these resurrection claims could be based on downright lies.

Christianity also fails to explain the existence of the gospel gap, a problem that has plagued Christianity for centuries. The gospel gap is the 40-65 year gap between the alleged resurrection c 30 AD and the appearance of the four canonical gospels c 70-95 AD. Scholars & apologists readily acknowledge the existence of this gospel gap, but so far none have successfully explained its existence.

Given the above weaknesses of the orthodox model of Christianity, and its abject failure to answer many other obvious questions, perhaps the time has now come to discard the old orthodox model and embrace a new revised model that rectifies most, if not all, of these problems. Christians will never do this of course, because it means accepting a very unwelcome truth about the alleged resurrection, and for Christians at least, this is definitely a bridge too far . However, for those able to bring a little more objectivity to the table, my revised model of first century Christianity may prove more satisfying intellectually.

Details of this revised model can be found in an earlier blog called The Christianity Myth. I would also recommend reading Professor Taboo’s excellent in depth examination of Paul’s pivotal role in the development of early Christianity, especially his section called “The Gospel Jesus v The Jewish Jesus” which can be found in Saul the Apostate Intro to Part 2.

And finally, a few comments triggered by Habermas’ closing comments about a very early “deity, death, resurrection” gospel message, and his claim that this gospel message was being preached by all apostles more or less immediately after the alleged resurrection. My understanding is that the alleged “true nature of Jesus”, the one now portrayed in Nicene Christianity, took some considerable time to evolve. The fluidity of early ideas about Jesus’ true nature manifests itself in the four canonical gospels which were only adopted sometime after the first Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Mark’s gospel c 70 AD portrays Jesus as a simple envoy sent to warn of the impending apocalypse. Matthew’s gospel c 80 AD & Luke’s gospel c 85 AD both upgrade Jesus to the son of God, born of a virgin, and John’s gospel c 95 AD elevates Jesus to God, the word made flesh. How all this ties in with Habermas’ claims eludes me.

10 More Atheist YouTube Videos

A nice U-Tube collection selected by TheClosetAtheist

The Closet Atheist

Hello! You may or may not know that I am, and always have been, a big fan of YouTubers. Last January, I shared with you fifteen of my husband’s and my favorite atheist YouTube videos in order to take a break from all my coming-out horror stories. Well, I’m not having any coming-out drama anymore, but I’ve gotten back into watching lots of atheist YouTube again after taking a short break, so I’m taking this chance to keep you updated on what some of my recent favorites have been.

1. I’m an Atheist Activist in the Closet – Genetically Modified Skeptic

So I was slightly disgruntled that this video was published less than a month after I posted my list of my favorite YouTube videos last time… because this would have been #1. I highly recommend that you check out Drew’s video on hiding his beliefs—and his entire YouTube channel—from…

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I’m So Lucky

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told how lucky I am to be still fit & active in my late seventies, with no signs [as yet] of any of the many debilitating physical diseases and mental illnesses that seem to afflict most people of my age. And yes, people who say I’m lucky are right. I really am lucky. Lucky that I can ignore my early morning aches & pains and force myself to do my little routine workout before getting ready for the day. And very lucky in deed, that come rain or shine, I can force myself to go out everyday [well almost] for a brisk three mile walk. And whilst out on these walks, I’m amazed at how lucky I am to be able to walk on pass those two eating establishments offering reasonably priced all day breakfasts consisting of bacon, eggs, sausages chips & baked beans. Well lucky on most days anyway. Occasionally my luck runs out, and I find myself having to endure one of those delectable brunches.

Most of the time, however, my luck holds and I return home ready to force myself to eat more sensible food. But don’t get me wrong. I’m no veggie. I like meat & junk food as well as any man, but because I’m so lucky, I’m usually able to resist the temptations to snack all day on crisps & chocolate etc and lucky enough to be able to force myself to eat a more healthy diet. And come the evening, whilst relaxing in front of the goggle box or listening to Classic FM, my luck prevails and I’m able to force myself to reach for my mini dumbbells, ready for an upper torso work out whilst enjoying the entertainment.

So yes, when all is said and done, I really do feel very very lucky. But my two luckiest breaks both occurred back in 1983 when I got married & settled down. Both of these lucky breaks resulted in dramatic changes to my lifestyle. Lucky break number one occurred when I finally managed to quit smoking [some 30-40 a day for over 25 years]. Lucky break number two followed shortly afterwards, when I managed to give up my serious drinking habit [some 6 pints a day on weekdays and 10 pints a day at weekends]. I say lucky enough to give up serious drinking deliberately, because I still enjoy a couple of pints every now & then. But the funny thing is, neither of these lucky breaks left me feeling any better off financially. Guess that’s married life for you.

So, although none of us can escape the fact that we are all basically products of chosen lifestyles that dictate what we do/don’t do & dictate what we eat/don’t eat, only we lucky ones seem able to make the right choices. The rest, the unlucky ones who seem to live on junk food diets and adopt sedentary lifestyles, have to accept the inevitable consequences. If you just slob around and eat nothing but shit most of the time, be prepared to look shit & feel shit in later life,.

Life really is so unfair.

 

The Firebrand — via Rdxdave’s Weblog

The last paragraph of Rdxdave’s blog says it all.

//We shouldn’t disrespect people just because they think differently than us. We can disrespect the ideas, but purposely attacking their person just because of their ideas? No. Fight the idea because ideas can be changed as rare as that is//

 

Getting more involved in an atheist/skeptic group has reawakened some of the harder disparities within a single movement. While everyone seems to have the same general goal, the method of getting there seems to always be in dispute. This is quite important because how you get to a place will no doubt speak to the […]

via The Firebrand — Rdxdave’s Weblog

7 Tips for Closeted Atheist Teenagers

The Closet Atheist

Over the years, I have received a lot of emails and messages from other closeted atheists asking for advice. Most of these messages have been from atheists in high school, wondering what to do in regards to having this secret among Christian friends, parents, and church members. Thanks to a tweet from Godless Iowan, I decided that compiling my advice together could hopefully prove helpful for at least one of my younger readers.

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Religiosity v Objectivity

Just a couple of quick points following on from the religiosity spectrum concept introduced in my last blog 

First point. I think it’s fair to say most people can be classified either as needy theists, passive theists or non theists. Needy theists are those with a strong intrinsic need to believe what they do believe & they often have great difficulty understanding why others do not share their beliefs. Passive theists are those who blithely follow where their parents lead, and they seem happy to just accept what they are told without too much questioning. Passive theists presumably tailor the extent of their belief & the depth of their belief  to match their own intrinsic needs. Non theists have a natural immunity to all religious influences, & eventually they come to view all religions with sceptical disbelief. They often have great difficulty understanding why others believe what they do believe.

Second, and slightly more contentious, point. I think it’s fair to say that needy theists with strong intrinsic needs to believe cannot possibly remain objective when assessing the veracity of the available evidence. They will automatically classify “evidence” as relevant/true or irrelevant/untrue according to how it fits in with their intrinsic needs. More often than not, they will do this completely unconsciously. Therefore, needy theists will  always end up finding the evidence/proof they so desperately need. Only non theists who are immune/indifferent to religious influences can hope to assess the evidence in a realistic & objective manner. They alone have no emotional baggage invested in the final outcome. They alone have no interest in preserving the status quo.

My apologies to those who think this smacks of grandmothers & eggs but there are still some people out there who just don’t get it.

 

Religiosity-Biology or Brain-Washing?

In this blog I’m going to suggest that the extent of our eventual adult religiosity is more or less predetermined by the way our temporal lobes are “wired”.  Most people accept that their own religious beliefs, if any, are influenced by the religious beliefs of their parents. They also accept these beliefs are also influenced, to a greater or lesser extent, by the prevailing cultural values of those around them.

Many people simply adsorb the religious culture of their parents. These people are just the product of effective brain washing by their parents, whilst they were still young & vulnerable, as this short video illustrates so succinctly.

Cultural propagation of beliefs from one generation to the next is particularly effective where Islam is concerned. Every Muslim is brain washed from birth to believe Allah is the one true god, & to believe Muhammad is both his prophet and the ideal Muslim. All critical thought, and all opposition to Islam, is crushed at a very early age, and all Muslim apostates are threatened with punishment & often killed. If you think my assessment of Islam is an outrageous over simplification, then I suggest you’re either a Muslim yourself, or a non-Muslim who knows nothing whatsoever about real Islam.

However, early parental brain washing is only one factor influencing our eventual religiosity. Many do just stick with the faith imposed on them as children, and then repeat the process with the next generation. Most people in this category are, I would suggest, just nominal, unquestioning believers, who simply accept what they are told. A few people discard their early belief system & adopt a new one when they get older. Yet others simply grow up & eventually grow out of it. And yet others grow up without any religious influences whatsoever.

So what really decides what we chose to believe as we get older? Why do some of us appear to have an intrinsic need to believe, whilst others are left wondering why anyone would believe what they seem to believe? What other factors are at play that can either reinforce early-established beliefs or lead us to completely reject such beliefs? Obviously we are all defined by our own unique blend of nature & nurture, but in this blog I’m going raise a very contentious issue, and suggest that ardent religiosity, & the complete lack of it, are both more a question of nature and less a question of nurture.

I now believe that our potential religiosity is just another facet of our humanity, and like all such facets, both physical & non physical, there exists a spectrum of potential responses, ranging from total vulnerability to religion at one end to absolute indifference to it at the other end. We all fit somewhere on this religiosity spectrum, & where we fit more or less determines how we respond to religion & religious influences. The controlling factor determining where we actually fit on this religiosity spectrum seems to be the “wiring” in the temporal lobe region of our brains. It is becoming increasingly clear that both ardent religiosity at one end of this spectrum, and the complete lack of it at the other end, seem to be far more dependent on nature , and far less dependent on nurture.

Now I fully appreciate that this idea/suggestion is not going to be well received by ardent theists, but I do think the facts now speak for themselves. I openly admit I neither understand nor fully appreciate the finer points of the intricate physiology involved, but this lack of understanding of the details does not stop me appreciating the implications of a new branch of neurology called neurotheology. This new discipline specifically studies how our brains, most notably our temporal lobes, influence our religiosity. These studies are helping us to understand why some people are more religious than others, and helping us to explain why those with temporal lobe sensitivity can often have hallucinatory spiritual experiences, which leave them totally convinced they are real experiences. Trying to convince these people that their experiences are just hallucinatory experiences triggered by temporal lobe epilepsy [TLE] is extremely difficult, such is their conviction that their experiences are real. To those who remain unconvinced & sceptical about TLE induced religiosity and TLE induced religious conversions I simply say this; those with open minds who are prepared to look will find more than enough information/evidence to satisfy even the most sceptical person.

Perhaps the most iconic example of hallucinatory experiences triggered by TLE is the conversion of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul claims he met Jesus who he knew was dead, but  his various “conversion symptoms” are all classic  symptoms of TLE. Landsborough in 1987 [1] and Brorson & Brewer in 1988 [2], both suggested that Paul may have just hallucinated on the road to Damascus as a result of temporal lobe epilepsy, and both papers state that focal epileptic seizures starting in the temporal lobes are fairly common occurrences, and potentially at least, anyone could have a single epileptic seizure at some point in their life.Most of these epileptic seizures follow a pattern very similar to that experienced by Paul. That is, they happen suddenly, without any warning, last only a relatively short period of time, and then just stop by themselves.

The other iconic example of hallucinatory experiences triggered by TLE is the prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam. Muhammad claims he received many verbal messages from God, revealed to him through the angel Gabriel, and again the various symptoms exhibited by Muhammad whilst “receiving” these messages are all classic symptoms of TLE. These symptoms have now been well documented, notably by Ali Sina [3], by M. A. Sherlock [4] and by F. W. Burleigh [5]. Looking back at history, it is now possible to see many other such instances that probably resulted from similar experiences, notably Joan of Arc’ visions in 1429 and possibly John Wesley’s Aldergate experience in 1738.

Many other lesser examples of TLE induced religiosity can now be found in the scientific/medical literature. In 1970, Dewhurst and Beard published a paper in the British Journal of Psychiatry [6] called “Sudden religious conversions in temporal lobe epilepsy”. This very comprehensive review paper, demonstrated that religiosity of the epileptic was a recognised medical phenomenon, even as far back as the mid 19th century. Dewhurst and Beard’s review paper summarises many scientific reports mentioning religious experiences triggered by epilepsy, many of which were published well before the advent of sophisticated brain imaging techniques. In 1872/73, Howden [7] reported a conversion experience in which the patient believed that he was in Heaven. In 1899, Mabille [8] discussed religious hallucinations associated with epilepsy. In 1919, Boven [9] stressed the intensified piety of the epileptic after a severe seizure, and mentioned a 14 year-old boy who, after a seizure, saw God and the angels, and heard a celestial fanfare of music. In 1955, Karagulla and Robertson [10] discussed four temporal lobe epileptics with visual hallucinations. One of them had a seizure pattern which included a vision of Christ coming down from the sky.

More recent reports listed by Dewhurst and Bear include the following. In 1963, Beard [11] reported the conversion experience of a man who considered that he had received a message from God to mend his ways and help others, and the fact that he had been singled out in this way meant that he was God’s chosen instrument. The man completely believed in the validity of everything he had seen and heard during the acute phase, and specifically rejected the idea that the experience could have been the product of a disordered mind. In 1963, Slater and Beard [12] reported that mystical delusional experiences were remarkably common, and that patients were convinced of the reality and validity of their religious experiences. In 1963, Christensen [13] reported on the religious conversions of 22 men, all professionally engaged in the field of religion. Christensen also defined conversion, as an acute hallucinatory experience, occurring within the framework of religious belief, and characterized by its subjective intensity, apparent suddenness of onset, brief duration and observable changes in the subsequent behaviour of the convert. Finally, in 1966, Sedman [14] mentioned states of ecstasy, in which the victim sees the Heaven open, hears God speaking, and feels himself transfigured, and even believes that he is God.

Such, apparently, is the power of one’s mind to deceive one’s senses. I was particularly struck by obvious similarities with Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. In particular, the conversion experience of a man who considered that he had received a message from God to mend his ways and help others, and the fact that he had been singled out in this way meant that he was God’s chosen instrument. The man completely believed in the validity of everything he had seen and heard during the acute phase, and specifically rejected the idea that the experience could have been the product of a disordered mind” as reported by Beard [11].

Also, Christensen’s definition of conversion [13] as an acute hallucinatory experience occurring within the framework of religious belief and characterized by its subjective intensity, apparent suddenness of onset, brief duration and observable changes in the subsequent behaviour of the convert” could have been describing Paul himself. I also thought that Slater and Beard’s report [12] that mystical delusional experiences were remarkably common and that patients were convinced of the reality and validity of their religious experiences” was also highly relevant.

Since the publication of Dewhurst and Beard’s 1970 review paper [6], medical understanding of temporal lobe epilepsy has come on in leaps and bounds, thanks in part, to the development of more and more sophisticated brain imaging techniques. More recently, scientist like Dr Michael Persinger, Ph.D., professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at Laurentian University in Canada, and like Dr Vilayanur Ramachandran, Ph.D., director of the Brain and Perception Laboratory at the University of California at San Diego, have regularly reported on, and/or lectured on, new developments in this new field of brain science called neurotheology viz. the cognitive neuroscience of religious experience and spirituality.

In 2009 Dr Persinger [15], working at Laurentian University, reported that 80% of normal people felt a sensed presence within the room, when their temporal lobes were stimulated with magnetic fields. He also found that very religious people, with temporal lobe sensitivity, had a religious experience when their temporal lobes were stimulated with magnetic fields. Working in parallel, at the University of California, Dr Ramachandran and his team studied the brains of people with temporal lobe epilepsy, and found that the extent of a person’s religious belief, may depend on how enhanced is this part of the brain’s electrical circuitry. Perhaps the most sensational headline in this scientific field occurred back in 1997, when Dr Ramachandran’s team of neuroscientists first announced the discovery of the god spot or “God Module” in the brain. This announcement was widely reported in the world media e.g. by Steve Connor (LA Times) [16] and by Robert Lee Hotz (Seattle Times) [17].

Dr Ramachandran’s findings, back in 1997, pointed to a region of the brain [temporal lobes], that when stimulated, creates hallucinations that are interpreted as mystical or spiritual experiences. It was claimed, that this “God module” may be responsible for man’s evolutionary instinct to believe in religion. This god spot is affected by epilepsy, and it is often stimulated naturally during meditation and prayer. It can also be affected by externally applied electromagnetic fields. Those who responded to this external stimulation, tended to explain their hallucination experiences in terms that were related to their own personal beliefs. Typical examples include visits from angels, visits from lost loved ones, an extraterrestrial encounter, a higher plane of consciousness and even visits from God.

It is now widely thought, that hallucinations occurring as the result of temporal lobe epilepsy, may be the real cause of mystical, spiritual and paranormal experiences, such as out-of-body experiences, and feelings of a presence in the room. It was suggested, that such experiences may explain why so many epileptics become obsessed with religion. However, most scientists today, including Ramachandran, think the idea of a single God module in the brain is far too simplistic. Nevertheless, it is now possible to routinely induce epileptic-like religious experiences in perfectly normal people. Obviously, those with strong emotional needs to maintain the religious status quo will have great difficulty accepting the implications of these new studies, but for the rest of us, they offer a chance to look anew at the origins of religions.

Having now offered some food for thought, I’m hoping those with anything resembling an open mind will now accept that both ardent religiosity & complete indifference to religion may indeed be just biological responses to biological needs triggered by biological stimuli. I’ll thus finish this blog by asking a very simple personal question. Where do you fit on this religiosity spectrum? Are you simply someone in the middle who follows blithely in your parents footsteps? Or does your temporal lobe “wiring” make you a needy religious person who has great difficulty understanding why some of us have no need for religion. Or perhaps like me, your temporal lobe “wiring” makes you impervious to all religious influences and leaves you wondering what all the fuss is about.

References

[1] Landsborough D, St Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1987 Jun; 50(6):659-64.

[2] Brorson J R & Brewer K, St Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy, J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1988 Jun; 51(6):886-7.

[3] Ali Sina, Muhammad and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE)

[4] M. A. Sherlock, Did the ‘Prophet’ Muhammad Suffer from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy?

[5] F. W. Burleigh, Was Muhammad an Epileptic?

[6] Dewhurst K & Beard A W, Sudden religious conversions in temporal lobe epilepsy, British Journal of Psychiatry 1970: 117: 497–507.

[7] Howden J C, The religious sentiments in epileptic, J Ment Sci 1872; 18: 491–7.

[8] Mabille H, Hallucinations religieuses et d_elire religieux transitore dan l’epilepsie. Ann M_edicopsychol 1899: 9–10: 76–81.

[9] Boven W, Religiosite et _epilepsie. Schweiz Arch f Neurol u Psychiat 1919: 4: 153–69.

[10] Karagulla S & Robertson E E, Physical phenomena in temporal lobe epilepsy and the psychoses. Brit Med J 1955: 748–52.

[11] Beard A W, The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy. Brit J Psychiat 1963: 109: 113–29.

[12] Slater E & Beard A W, The schizophrenia-like psychoses of epilepsy. Brit J Psychiat 1963:109: 5–112 & 143–50.

[13] Christensen C, Religious conversion. Arch Gen Psychiat 1963: 9: 207–16.

[14] Sedman G, Being an epileptic: a phenomenological study of epileptic experiences. Psychiat Neurol 1966: 152:1–16.

[15] Persinger M, 2009, Are our brains structured to avoid refutations of belief in God? An experimental study. Religion, 39(1): 34-42].

[16] Steve Connor, Los Angeles Times, Wednesday 29 October 1997

[17] Robert Lee Hotz, via Seattle Times, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1997

Six Reasons Why I’m Not a Christian

I did think my blogging days were well & truly over. I’d said all I wanted to say about Christianity and its dubious origins, and I’d relegated myself to a casual blog reader who left occasional comments. However, recent unprovoked abusive comments from a certain blogger [see here and here] have caused me to saddle up and respond to this unwarranted & totally unprovoked abuse [see below for a flavour of these comments]

if you and s****** want my vote for most profoundly ignorant bloggers on WordPress”

“don’t have time to endlessly entertain your silliness”

reduces your credibility to less than worthless”

you seem more like an angry lunatic

“Sorry, Ken but you are a dime a dozen internet atheist and not worth the time”

I’ll start this blog by clarifying the central issue causing all this animosity. Christians claim Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem 2000 years ago & then resurrected from the dead. I’m happy to accept Jesus was crucified as claimed, but I do not accept he was then resurrected. I reject the Christian resurrection claims for the following six reasons.

  1. The resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Anyone who actually looks closely at Christianity soon realises that the only evidence for the resurrection claims is the evidence found in the New Testament Gospels. There is no other credible evidence available. This does not bothered Christians. They claim the very existence of these Gospels proves Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem, because their existence cannot be explained any other way. This simple argument has held true for centuries, despite numerous efforts to discredit it. However, as I’ve already demonstrated in an earlier blog, the existence of these Gospels does not prove conclusively that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem.

  1. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.

The New Testament portrays this conversion as a divine encounter with “a resurrected Jesus” and Christians reject totally all suggestions that this was just a sensory hallucinatory experience triggered by TLE. We can’t blame Paul for thinking it was a divine encounter, because back then they knew nothing about TLE, but today there is a growing mountain of medical evidence that enables us to explain Paul’s so called divine experience in a simple & rational manner. Christians, however, still prefer to stick to their 2000 year old supernatural interpretation, of what we now know is a fairly common occurrence. See “Resurrection! What Resurrection?” in The Christianity Myth for more details on this topic.

  1. Claims made by Peter & by Paul.

Christians accept that Paul never met Jesus whilst he was alive. They also accept Paul’s knowledge of events in Jerusalem came directly from Peter when they first met, some three years after Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Paul summarised what he learned from Peter in 1-Corinthians 15: 3-9. He later relays this second-hand hearsay information to his early Christian communities. Established Christian apologists like Habermas do not dispute this chain of events. On the contrary, many of today’s Christian scholars believe it strengthens their resurrection argument, because it links the resurrection claims found in the Gospels directly to a reliable & reputable eye witness, namely Peter. I address the veracity of Peter’s claims in section 5.

  1. New Testament Chronology.

Professor Taboo’s excellent table in the section called “The Gospel Jesus v The Jewish Jesus” provides us with an excellent up to date summary of the relevant chronology. The dating of the Gospels indicates that all resurrection accounts found in these Gospel must be second hand hearsay accounts based on Paul’s earlier claims in 1-Corithians 15: 3-9. This assertion explains why all four Gospels portray the resurrection as a near invisible event noticed only by a handful of Jews, despite the fact it allegedly happened in a city teeming with Jews. Most Christians seem oblivious of this point.

  1. Veracity of Gospel resurrection claims.

Given the chronology involved [see point 4], I think we can safely assume that all four resurrection accounts found in the New Testament Gospels are based entirely on Peter’s original claims, which Paul later passed on to his early Christian communities. This simple chain of events highlights Christianity’s Achilles heel [see my earlier blog for more details]. Because Christians automatically assume the alleged resurrection actually happened, they never stop to question the veracity of Peter’s original claims. They just tacitly assume he told the truth, & then hope nobody notices. Who knows, maybe they just do it unconsciously. However, Peter’s claims are in fact, just uncorroborated & unsubstantiated claims. Therefore, I think we can say with some certainty, that all four Gospel resurrection claims are based entirely on unsubstantiated & uncorroborated claims made 2000 years ago by a peasant fisherman from Galilee. Christians have no choice but to just ignore this awkward fact and again hope no one notices [again I’ve dealt with this issue in more detail in an earlier blog ].

  1. The Gospel gap.

There is a 40-60 year gap between the alleged resurrection of Jesus c 30 AD and the appearance of the four canonical gospels c 70-90 AD. Explaining this gap has always been a thorny issue for Christians, because their starting point must be “the resurrection actually happened”. Therefore, logic dictates that someone somewhere should have recorded the alleged event whilst eye witnesses were still around. But they didn’t, and Christian scholars still struggle to explain why several adult generations passed by before the Gospels finally appeared.

But if you change the starting-point to “the resurrection never happened” and then divide this awkward gap into two separate periods, a pre gospel period [c 30-70 AD] and a gospel period [c 70-90 AD], there is no problem explaining the dating of the gospels. No gospels were written in the Pre-Gospel Period [c 30-70 AD] because there was no resurrection to write about. There was just Paul going round the pagan world establishing his early Christian communities. He established these nascent Christian communities because he genuinely believed Peter’s claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. Paul tells these communities about the death & resurrection of Jesus, but he tells them absolutely nothing about Jesus’ life prior to his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Later, after the death of all concerned, it was inevitable that Paul’s newly converted pagans would eventually want to know more about Jesus’ life prior to his death. Cue the Gospel Period [c 70-90 AD] and the appearance of the gospels, all of which appeared when they did in response to growing demands to know more about Jesus. This simple rational explanation yet again challenges Christian assertions that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem [see Pre-Gospel Period & Gospel-Period in The Christianity Myth for more details].

All six points listed above are totally compatible with the evidence as I understand it. The various weaknesses I’ve identified in the orthodox version of events are only weaknesses for those insisting that Jesus was resurrected. If you assume Jesus wasn’t resurrected, as I do, then all these weaknesses just disappear, and you end up with a simpler and more pragmatic explanation of all the know facts and, as a bonus, no divine interventions are needed to make this simpler explanation work.

Thus there are now two alternatives to chose from.

The orthodox Christian version requires acceptance of two divine interventions, one in Jerusalem and one on the road to Damascus. It also requires acceptance of the fact that all resurrection claims found in the Gospels are based entirely on Peter’s original uncorroborated and unsubstantiated claims.

My simpler alternative version requires acceptance that Paul’s conversion experience was a simple hallucinatory experience triggered by a common medical condition call temporal lobe epilepsy, and acceptance that Peter just lied to Paul about this Jerusalem resurrection. [I’ve already dealt with all this stuff in much greater detail in my book The Christianity Myth which can be read here free of charge]

So in effect I’m challenging the credibility of the orthodox version of events & offering instead an alternative explanation which I personally think better explains the known facts. Christians of course can choose to reject any or all of the above six points and continue to stick to their current position. That’s not a problem. What is a problem is the unwarranted abuse from certain Christian bloggers. If you insist on claiming I’m just some idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, then I’m going to insist you put your money where your mouth is. I’ve now made it as easy as I can for you to respond. I’ve set out my store, and I’ve lined up all my ducks in a row. Feel free to drop by anytime and point out where you think I’m going wrong. My comment section is there, ready, willing & waiting. Feel free to refute any or all of the weaknesses I’ve highlighted. Prove me wrong & you’ll have my eternal gratitude. Those who feel their necessary response is too substantial for my comment section, can leave a heads up in the comments section, together with a relevant link.

Ignoring this challenge will be taken both as an apology, and as an admission that there are no absolutes where religion is concerned. All world views are just personal choices. We all chose to believe what we want/need to believe, based on the evidence we chose to accept/reject. These personal choices are invariably conditioned/influenced by prevailing cultural values, as this video on Professor Taboo ‘s blog demonstrates so succinctly. Some of us may not like to admit this awkward truth, but both the questions posed in this video and the claims made in this video are abundantly self evident. The time has come to stop hurling childish abuse, to stop making facetious claims & spouting empty rhetoric and to start behaving like adults. If the relevant Christians want to draw a line under their unwarranted animosity, then fine, all you have to do is admit none of us possess knowledge of the absolute truth & accept that some of us prefer to let the evidence dictate our world view, whilst others prefer to let their world view dictate the evidence.

Post Scripts

Hope Professor Taboo doesn’t mind my plagiarizing some of his material. I discovered his blog a few days ago, after he dropped by and left some favourable comments. Having read his material I think we complement each other quite well. He seems to relish details. I on the other hand prefer to stand back and look at the bigger picture.

The Isaiah 53:5 Project recently posted a very good blog pointing out the dangers of confirmational bias. I even commented positively, saying I wished I’d written it. In this blog, he rightly says

// Despite our best intentions, it’s easy to unconsciously buy into beliefs that feel right in our hearts, even though they are objectively false. But it’s precisely when we’re sure that we’ve cornered the truth that we should take a step back, breathe deeply, and open our minds as far as we can//

Given these words of wisdom, I find it difficult to understand his abject hostility, both to me personally & to my blog. He seems to simply characterise evidence in one of two ways. If it affirms his world view he calls it evidence. If it conflicts with his world view he calls it rubbish. It’s ironic but he appears to be doing the very thing he so rightly warns us about.