bookmark_borderBlogging Through Augustine/Martin’s Anthology “The Myth Of An Afterlife” Part 5

 Anthology co-editor Keith Augustine has kindly provided a response to the Hasker review I mentioned previously.  He writes:

 Incidentally, Hasker is interestingly wrong about some 
things. For example, he writes: “However, they [my coauthor of chapter 10 
& I] go well beyond the dependence thesis, arguing that brain function is 
not merely a necessary condition but in fact is a sufficient cause for 
experience, thus rendering an immaterial soul otiose.”In fact, all my coauthor and I argue is that brain functioning is 
necessary for human mental life, although we indicate that we suspect that 
the right kind of brain functioning is probably sufficient, too. (That 
brain function is “sufficient” for human mental life is rendered false by 
the fact that there’s still some brain functioning going on in unconscious 
patients–it’s got to be the right kind of brain functioning.)

First, by simply saying that “having a functioning brain is a necessary 
condition for having conscious experiences,” as Hasker quotes us saying, 
we avoid having to speculate exactly what kind of brain functioning is 
necessary, which is an issue for neuroscientists to resolve. The point is 
that you’re not going to have mental life in the absence of brain 
functioning altogether–which is all that’s needed to rule out a 
(dualistic) afterlife.

Second, even if interactionist substance dualism were true, it could still 
be the case that “having a functioning brain is a necessary condition for 
having conscious experiences,” in which case there’s no conscious 
existence and thus no afterlife. We’re quite explicit about this in the 
final section of chapter 10 before the Conclusion, titled “The Dualist’s 
Dilemma: Reject Science, or Reject Personal Survival” (pp. 271-276), where 
the whole section is specifically about the fact that the neuroscientific 
evidence would rule out dualistic survival if even dualism were true. So 
it’s odd for Hasker to say what he does, given the existence of a whole 
section specifically on this.

  • Hasker’s criticism relies on Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN), which in turn presumes what Plantinga calls  “content epiphenomenalism,” the idea that the mental content of a belief can play no role in causing behavior, and therefore cannot enhance evolutionary fitness. But the thing is: why accept content epiphenomenalism? I’ve seen no good argument that the idea that  supernatural forces do not intervene into nature (i.e., metaphysical naturalism) requires content epiphenomenalism. If a naturalist can reject content epiphenomenalism without contradicting himself, then the whole house of cards of Plantinga’s EAAN falls.

My Thoughts:

What I’m going to try and show here is the physiological base for our approach to Being as what something is and how it is, and how this is to be expected under the naturalism and evolutionary paradigm

Clearly, Plantinga’s model follows a certain reading of Descartes, but ignores Plato on the idea of the Beautiful in the Phaedrus.  What something is intimately connected to physiological delight and schematizing rather than just knowing, just as how something is refers to our physiology and manner of perceiving.

For the ancient Greeks, there was a distinction between parestios, the one in the warmth and sphere of the hearth fire, and deinon/apolis, the restlessness of the human being.  So, a person may be satiated in a rainy cottage reading a book, but in an irritable state of cabin fever if there is nothing to do.  Aristotle said isolation is delighted in only by lower animals and gods (Politics, Book I, 1253a.27), and the philosophical life is a kind of athanatizein or deathlessness/godliness.

It is out of this basic distinction we can interpret the Greek inquiry into Being, which is the basic problem of Philosophy.  Since ancient times, Being has been divided into what something is, its essentia, and how or the manner in which something is, its existentia. 

Essence (whatness, broadly understood), such as being a car, is normally a matter of indifference to us.  However, for the Greeks, it was obviously dependent on us physiologically, since it was connected to the presencing of the Beautiful.  So, the brain delights in the presencing of the idea “House” through the mansion (now that’s a house! “House” incarnate), to less of a degree with the average dwelling, and hardly at all with the run down shack.  This is subjective, since what you see as shack may be presencing quite quaintly to the next person.  Homer expressed this by saying the gods don’t appear to everyone in their fulness (enargeis) to characterize the goddess appearing as beauty incarnate through a woman to Odysseus, though the man beside her didn’t see her in this way.  We can see this schematizing (what Nietzsche called will to power) as how the mind built up our understanding of the world in evolution.  For instance, picture hearing a living thing at your feet in the woods, just to look down to see you mis-took rustling dead leaves to be the category living thing presencing.  The mind is actively trying to impose order, and self corrects when it fails to do this in a useful manner.  Nietzsche writes: “Not ‘to know‘ but to schematize—to impose upon chaos as much regularity and as many forms as our practical needs require.” (WP #516)

As for the other distinction, existentia or “how” something appears, we may say the white board is poorly positioned.  This doesn’t refer to what the white board is, but rather how it is.  So, the white board may seem poorly positioned in the corner of the lecture hall during a talk, but well positioned in the corner of the stadium during the game.  Existentia doesn’t refer to what something is, but is somehow in the middle between perceiver and perceived.  For instance, boringness may seem to me to be a real trait of the book, though the next person may not experience the boringness at all.  Analogously, the radio broadcast may be “what” I am listening to, but the broadcast may be appearing in an annoying manner if I have a stomach or headache: so my physiology is implicated in a being’s existentia.  Likewise, the equipmentality of the hammer doesn’t refer to what the hammer is, since a large rock can serve the same purpose as a hammer but is not regarded as essentially equipment, but rather indicates the hammer to be something playing a role in the context of hammering the nail, and that in turn pointing to the place of this procedure in the carpenter’s making of a table, and that in turn in the context of a workshop, and that as the carpenter takes a stance on his Being.

So, as our whole physiology (Nietzsche distinguishes between the brain and our body as a whole) delights in the presencing of ideas incarnate (Now that’s a painting!), and less so on down the line, as Nietzsche said what is principally going on in our world is not primarily knowing but schematizing.  The Greeks had an intimate connection between the essence and existence encountered in life, and how this was in unison with the eros of the individual. 

As I mentioned above,  A human is parestios, the one in the sphere of the warmth of the hearth fire in eros – but thought in relation to deinon/apolis – restlessness/homelessness (Sophocles’ Antigone).  Plato compared the constancy of the stars with man’s own erratic, restless and disorderly thoughts, and believed that people should aspire to the regularity of the heavenly bodies (Healy, 1984). This is why in the Nicomachean Ethics theoria is the highest form of human life for Aristotle.  Heidegger cites Aristotle that the life of theoria [contemplation] which exceeds phronesis [practical wisdom], is a kind of godly life, an athanatizein, to be immortal- [whereby athanatizein is formed like hellenizein, to be Greek], that implies that in theoria we comport ourselves like immortals. In theoria mortals reach up to the life of the gods (see Heidegger, HS, 111).  Both humans and gods were immortal for the Greeks, just that the gods were eternally in the fire and absorption of youth.

A concept is felt as what did not originate in time, and what will not pass away in time, has no future or past, but simply is, as though the concept is in a kind of extended now that never began and will never end.  Aristotle compares wisdom to a healthy individual: For instance, Circumspection (insight) is that which can restore a person to health. But what is even better is an individual that is already healthy, for he “is healthy without further ado, ie., he simply is what he is (Heidegger, PS, 1 17).” Wisdom is to be thought of in this way, it is the proper state of our well being. Wisdom, peace and satiety as tarrying along with that which is felt as everlasting is considered by Aristotle to be the highest possibility of human life, and yet since man has all kinds of other needs and desires, he cannot perpetually exercise his highest possibility. Nonetheless, as wisdom is the pure onlooking upon that which never changes, then the looking itself bears no alteration, “the possibility of a pure tarrying, which has nothing of the unrest of seeking (Heidegger, Plato’s Sophist, 120).” For the Greek thinkers, according to the nature of their existence, it was the general unrest of life that was misery and so the opposite of it, the absence of unrest, was therefore the highest good.

So, with the Greeks there was a connection between the satiety of the soul and ideas, and so ideas were valorized the more constancy and order they could bring to the flux of life.  And,  man must always have Being in view by the mind’s eye. Hence, we could not have the experience of beings that we do unless we had in view such things as variation/equality by the mind’s eye in order to encounter various things; a view of sameness/contrariety to encounter ourselves as self-same in each case;  a view of symmetry and harmoniousness allow us to arrange and construct things; etc.  

Similarly, an idea of “grapes” allows me to go to the grocery store and return successfully – even if I can’t “define” grapes.  There is a movement (phusis) of seeing that sees past the particular thing to its Being that then returns to give the particular thing its sense and constancy.  Similarly, the ideas are what are what are felt as “re-collected,” so to speak,  since, for instance, learning about Justice doesn’t mean inventing the idea of Justice out of whole cloth, but dis-closing (a-letheia) to oneself what Justice always was and is, just that we didn’t see it as such before learning (un-hiding Justice, “a-letheia”). 

Aristotle said that there are determinations that do not pertain to any being in its peculiarity, but none the less to all beings in general, such as unity, otherness, difference and opposition. This, for the scholastics, meant the non-sensuous, since the sensuous gives only what is individuated and dispersed and hence not completely determined. The determinations reached by the intellect are non-sensuous and universal, are not given by the senses, but are understood as belonging to beings as beings {on he on for Aristotle, ens qua ens for Thomas), “the determinations that are always already and necessarily co-present in them, such as, for example, unum, multa, potentia, actus and suchlike,” (Heidegger, FCM, 48) in other words, the categories.   

Exploring this, for Aristotle, the judgement is not so much an agreement of the judgement with the thing, but a letting be seen (“a-letheia”) and a counter-phenomenon of deceptive seeing, distortion.  Antisthenes, Aristotle says (cf Metaphysics, V, chapter 28, 1024b32f ), believed only in addressing a being in the logos proper to it because he did not distinguish between addressing the thing in itself and addressing the thing ‘as’ something. For Antisthenes, a definition was not possible because it did not, following what was said above, address the thing, and hence a tautology, positing one and the same thing in relation to itself, was the only proper logos. Hence, the addressing of something as something (else) is excluded in Antisthenes doctrine.  Plato, in the Sophist, called Antisthenes doctrine “the most laughable, katagelastotata (252b8),” because it denied that something was to be understood by appealing to something beyond the thing itself, while Antisthenes himself tacitly adopted a whole slew of ontological structures even in mere naming that go beyond the mere entity at hand, such as einai Being, choris, separate from, ton allown, the others, and kath auto, in itself.  

All these things clearly represent evolutionary naturalism as, through trial and error, the mind developed useful strategies for operating in the world, which is why we can still see the connection between what-being, how-being, and delight.


For the reader who is following along and thinking about dualism and epiphenomenalism, I found this short explanatory video that may be helpful: . I think part of the difficulty here is dualists seem to draw an exaggerated distinction between mental events and the world. For instance, I could find the characteristics of the tv show I enjoy to be those of the plot, character development, setting, and that it appears as being funnily presented and enacted. Funniness is experienced as a characteristic of the show, like plot and characters, but at the same time it is not because the next person may not find the tv show funny at all. The funniness of the tv show is a way my mind projects itself onto what is not me, the tv show (the other), that then affects me “as though” it was a property of the show I was encountering, analogous to the boringness of the book. Continental Philosophy moved beyond Cartesian dualism to analyze these predicate that are between person and world, especially in Nietzsche and Heidegger with analysis of this “Being-in-the-World.”


bookmark_borderBlogging Through Augustine/Martin’s Anthology “The Myth Of An Afterlife” Part 4

I wanted to share a helpful review of The Myth of an Afterlife by William Hasker here:

There is a lot to chew on here, but I just wanted to address a couple points:


  • Perhaps even more striking is the omission of any consideration of theism as a serious option. This omission is impor­tant because theism and belief in an afterlife provide important support for each other. Theism needs an afterlife in which injustices can be remedied and suffering assuaged; without this, there is a massive, perhaps insoluble, problem of evil. And on the other hand belief in an afterlife is far more plausible if theism is accepted. This is not merely because God is needed, on many views, in order to secure personal survival. Beyond this, there is need of something like divine agency to insure that conditions in an afterlife are morally benign. This applies even to the belief in reincarna­tion, in spite of the fact that reincarnation is affirmed by some non-theistic religions. Some morally perceptive agency is required to see to it that the conditions of a being’s rebirth correspond with its karmic status, something that can hardly be left to the impersonal laws of nature to bring about.[4] If atheism is the default assumption, as it appears to be in these essays, that seriously biases the overall case that is being made (Hasker).

To the contrary, atheism is the default position, and, for instance, is not in itself in need of a defense to claim one is an atheist when it comes to Zeus, for instance.  Most theists are atheists in relation to most of the Gods proposed today and throughout history.  The theist is making the existential claim, and so the responsibility is on them to martial the evidence.


  • Now, here is the crucial point: If premise (1) is true, that is, if causal closure obtains, then evolutionary epistemology cannot be the explanation for human rationality. The reasoning is simple and compelling. If causal closure is true, then everything that happens in the brain has its complete explanation in prior physical events, no doubt mainly earlier brain-events. But this means that prior mental events play no role in determining the state of a person’s brain — and therefore, they play no role in the organism’s behavior. It follows, furthermore, that mental events and processes are irrelevant to behavior and are thus invisible to natural selection, which can only operate on physical structures and physical behavior. So natural selection cannot select for superior mental processes, nor can it play any role in explaining the effectiveness of the mental processes we actually employ in getting to know the world. This enormously important fact — that we are able to reason about the world and gain know­ledge of it — is left completely unexplained. I predict, furthermore, that within the generally naturalistic framework that is presupposed in this discussion, it will not be possible to find a promising alternative explanation (Hasker).

Nietzsche said we don’t know, we schematize in as many useful ways as needed.  Heidegger talks of hearing a living thing (the category Living Thing) at your feet in the forest, only to look down and see you mis-took rustling dead leaves as a living thing: Will to Power as imposing form. 

So, the traditional understanding of Being is as essentia (whatness) and existentia (howness).  The white board may be tall and hard in terms of what it is, and badly positioned in terms of how it is.  Whatness admits to degrees of appearing, and so a car may appear as carness incarnate to you if it is a lamborghini countach, normally if it is average, and hardly at all if it’s a worn out rusted jalopy.  Similarly, the howness of a being refers to its place within its context.  So, the white board may be poorly positioned in the corner, against the wall, in the lecture hall during a class, and by contrast well positioned in the corner, against the wall, in the arena during a match.  Modern philosophy often ignores the existentia question, how or the manner in which something appears, and so thinking philosophy only aims at essence thus creates no end of problems and mischief for itself.  So, for instance, they try to apply “equipment” as a whatness predicate to a hammer, when it is in fact existential, which is why a large rock can serve the exact same purpose as a hammer but is not in itself considered as equipment. 

In fact, we know a great deal about our relationship to the world and how we understand it if we get our assumptions in order. 

bookmark_borderWhy This Skeptic is Secular Blogging — It’s a (Fairly) Long Story

Why This Skeptic is Secular Blogging – It’s a (Fairly) Long Story

My religious history that led to yours truly becoming a skeptical intellect doing research and commentary is complex. And rather interesting. Not my father’s side of our (rather dysfunctional) nuclear family. Indiana Hoosier from corn country, a Cold War United Methodist Republican to whom atheism was Godless Bolshevism. Yawn. To his credit when he found out I was an atheist in 2002 he was not happy, but did not make too much of a fuss, and did not reraise the subject prior to his death a few years ago at 94. 

Ye Olden Times

It was over on my mother’s side is where it was very interesting. Some of her folk where associates of the Joseph Smith who concocted Mormonism, one being a body guard, they made the trek to Utah, and had multiple wives (check out, it’s pretty cool). Ah the good old days. My grandmother Zella who I knew very well, and was a quietly devout believer, was born in a central Utah desert town out of the old west and lived to 2002. She wrote an account of her life in which she as a teen she longed to be married in the Temple – very important in Latter Day Saint theology. She may have come close to doing so, gleaning from her autobio and what she told a relation she almost married a churchly distant (via polygamy) cousin, but he suddenly died in the Great Flu Pandemic. Then for reasons obscure she married a man who was never especially observant – I suspect my grandfather was not into paying that critical 10% per year tithe – and they never had that Temple ceremony. None of their five offspring remained in the church. My teen mother became something of a wild child in Salt Lake City during the world war, she was drinking and smoking heavily then and would only stop the former at fifty because her alternative was death. After both my parents ended up in the Virginia burbs of DC because of the war, in the late 40s they married and had two sons. 

Most of the below is based on my memories which like that of most humans is not highly reliable – I started a daily journal three decades ago and I am often shocked at how what I recalled happened during a certain incident is significantly out of whack with what I wrote at the time, I am no Marilu Henner. 

The Wonder Years

The result of all that was an incoherent religious upbringing. Until I was 9 we regularly attended the Alexandria ward grandmother went to. Why my father was into that I do not know – Mormonism is extremely heretical relative to Christianity, he probably did not know. He was considering joining until his smoking prevented that, but he did not reconsider after he quit soon after. I hated church like Tom Sawyer (I was a much better behaved kid though). Boring. I was baptized at 7 in a water dunking ceremony that meant nothing to me. I believed in God there being no alternative that I knew of. I looked down on other churches from what an old friend much later told me. But problems arose. In a Sunday school class the young female teacher informed me I was wrong about the existence of the dinosaurs I already adored. What the…. Did not believe such a stupid thing for a second. She was an idiot, all the more so because LDS dogma has nothing to say about dinosaurs and deep time, they being matters of choice what one thinks about them, and a number of competent paleozoologists and geologists are active LDS. 

Those of us kids who were science oriented in the early 60s all remember a set of short films that were repeatedly played in classrooms on a film projector always run by the nerdy boy in the class who knew how to operate the clacking devices, the classic Bell System Science Series. One of which starred WW2 hero Eddie Albert of future Green Acresfame. They were wonderful and I loved them. What I did not know until recently is that the first set were produced by Frank Capra of Mr. Smith Goes to Washingtonand A Wonderful Life, who being a devout Catholic ladled those Bell episodes with overt religious themes that may at that time have caused naïve me to imagine the Two Magisteria were compatible. But sometime later I saw another, lower budget cartoon science film at school that in a manner that would not be allowed in these politically correct times portrayed prehistoric creation myths and other superstitions as silly old stories overturned by modern science. The film did not go after ongoing religions, but I remember it having a strong impact upon my thinking regarding any claims about facts that was not scientific likely being bogus. 

And in my preteens and into my teens I was learning about prehistoric beasts and humans from the likes of the cheap How and Why Wonder Books and lavishly illustrated Golden Books for children (for an account of my paleo upbringing see As a matter of course they casually discussed an item called evolution discovered by Darwin. Made sense to me. After all, we were living in a new and exciting age of science, driving in autos when my grandmother had rode horses and buggies as a child, jetliners for long range travel, able to talk remotely via telephones, watching the new wonder of TV (The Flintstones!, Star Trek!The Avengers!), antibiotics. I sort of noticed they were not the supernatural wonders of some remote gods, they were the worldly human result of science. 

It is logically common for those who are deep into deep time astronomical and earthly, and bioevolution, to become atheists if not already raised that way. With a scientific explanation of the origins of the universe and us on hand supernatural alternatives become at best redundant and flippant. Evolutionary scientists and paleozoologists who have become prominent atheists (as I define below) include Thomas (Darwin’s Bulldog) Huxley (who also proposed a later verified link between dinosaurs and birds, one of my areas of research), Louis Leakey, Stephen Gould, and Richard Dawkins. So my course is not unusual. 

Sunday June 21st1964 was my day of sweet freedom. From church. Continuing the white privilege flight of the time made possible by the automobile, we moved further out in the burbs, to just beyond the then new DC beltway. There were no nearby wards, none of the rest of the extended family except Zella were LDS churchgoers, my mom probably reeked of embarrassing smoke smell when attending, my dad was not churchly, and we stopped going in June. Freedom! 

I spent some summers with relations in the Salt Lake Valley. Loved it. The big skies, the snow-capped Rockies, the dinosaurs. My Great Aunt Laurel. An artist-naturalist who when I think about it showed no signs of being religious, she encouraged my interests, including prehistoric. When I was 13 a 11 year old distant cousin took a shine to me. Awww. She really liked my dinosaur drawings. I do not remember exactly why the subject came up, but at her place we were chatting and casually I mentioned how humans evolved from apes. Suddenly her eyes widened, she started backing away saying her parents had told her that was not true, and the rest of the day she would flee a room when I entered it. Apparently I was under the influence of that rebel against god Satan. I was amused. And theism was going downhill. Fast.

Back in the Church – Sort of

Things got more complicated. As I was turning 14 Brother Evans dropped by. A hyper evangelical Mormon (and as I later learned a beater of his sons), his trying to recruit me back into the church was going nowhere until he said the magic words. Boy Scouts. So I was a sort of LDS church attending slacker during my teens. I took none of it at all seriously. When early on I said a curse word in front of one of the Evans sons his silly warning that I could be struck by lightning did not help my theism. But I had fun camping et al.

Next summer was another in Utah, and by then I was an de facto atheist. When one of my nonLDS cousins discussed his interest in the occult I rolled my rationalist eyes. 

My mother who – though proud of her office management skills had no major life interest other than being a housewife; she told me that — read the daily horoscope. Because of that so did I. About the same time increasingly knowledgeable rationalist me whose opinion of my mother’s intellect was declining realized that the position of objects in space has nothing to do with the course of personal lives here on earth. It’s a notion as silly as it is ancient. For reasons that do not make sense lots of people imagine that if something was practiced by folks back in the olden times when it was not known that stars are remote fusion reactors that means it was a form of deep wisdom that we modernists need to respect. Those were the same people who practiced traditional medicines and appeals to deities that failed to stop half the kids from dying off. Why are we supposed to be paying serious attention to their obsolete notions and potions? 

Then something very important happened. 

Although they were both intelligent – entering the army dad scored an IQ of 140 in 1944 – my parents were intellectually vacuous. All my father really cared about was making it big in business which he would fail to do. He subscribed to pulp magazines like Argosyand True Tales. They featured articles on alien visitations. I took those seriously – with their detailed descriptions of events that appeared inexplicable by earthly standards they seemed scientific, and of course adults would not publish items that were demonstrably untrue. Right? I loved the TV SciFi drama Voyage to the Bottom of the Seawhich I would later realize was an example of the clunky boiler plate SciFi pablum offered up by cheap skate Irwin Allen. A first season episode featured the Sea Viewencountering a flying saucer!!!! I was thrilled. Of course they would not do that unless it had been okayed by the authorities. Right? At the same time the likes of Frank Drake and Carl Sagan were saying that extraterrestrial were statistically probable. Yet they were denying aliens visiting earth. Hmmm.

The Book

First time in the high school library I saw on the shelf a book titled UFO’s Explained. Like wow! Finallya big grown up book that would settle the question, maybe showing that extraterrestrials were the real deal after all. Checked it out and read it. Written by aviation expert Philip Klass, it is renowned as the first skeptics book. Case by case Klass debunked every classic UFO story up to that date. I got it. That is how scientific analysis is done. Cold, hard, objective, rational yet flexible and nondogmatic examination of the available data. Go where the data goes, not on what your opinion favors. Have been a skeptic ever since. 

Including of the gods. Religion is not as is often claimed a search for the truth, or to be moral or altruistic. It is looking for boons supernatural – nearly if not all theists are expecting stuff from divine powers, and/or fellow faith members, in return for adherence. It’s the prefect recipe for waving away awkward counter evidence. Science is the most objective way to figure out what is really going down. 

Another incident. An aunt mentioned that she had visited a place where gravity is distorted. I was not yet scientifically savvy enough to know that such violates the physics of the universe. A little later I was touring Carolina Appalachia with my mom and her BF when 15 year old me spotted a sign for a where-gravity-is-wacky location. Like way cool! Interesting my mother was not interested, but I went with her BF. As soon as I saw the little tilted cabin I was way pissed, it obviously was all a crude visual trick. The bored girl that gave the tour/demonstration obviously knew it was a brazen commercial scam that leached of most folks not knowing how gravity works. The working class BF was partly skeptical but still thought there was something to it, sigh. A lesson learned. 

About the same time my father had a friend that we visited a few times. The friend’s son proved to be something rare back in those days, an atheist. We had a good time panning the best known evangelical of the time, Billy Graham and rolling our eyes at those gullible followers of the high living preachers. Nonsophisticate dad gave me a book to read, by J. Edgar Hoover who had used blackmail to ensconce himself as head of the FBI for his life (my dad met him in the late 40s – the former has been an army detective on the then famous Hesse jewelry heist case that also involved the FBI, my father did not think much of Hoover). The book backfired, the not very bright Cold War theist blowhard droned on and on about God and morality without ever getting around to explaining what one had to do with the other, and my interest in the deities only declined further. Thanks dad! 

I went along on a LDS trip from Northern Virginia to upstate New York to visit where Joseph Smith had found the Golden Plates that he did not find. An excuse for camping on my part. Our group was about to depart Palmyra when a little crisis came up. Two baseball bats were missing! What to do?! The solution was simple enough. Brother Evans had or conclave conduct a little prayer asking God to please help us find the bats. Sure enough one of them was found! One, not both. This was taken as sufficient confirming evidence of the reality of the deity – had none been found that would not be taken as a divine disproof. was thinking how childish it was that grownups could be into this. It did not help that once when visiting the Evan’s he beat the living daylights out of his two oldest, mid-teen sons over a trivial item. Then there was how when an elder was trying to edify us lads on properly repressive LDS sexual behavior he could not manage to get out the word masturbation – again, these are adults? Really? 

There was nothing dramatic or agonizing about my going science-based, it was fun knowing that most folks were being absurd in believing in matters magical. (I have seen former dedicated theists break down in tears over their loss of belief.) I did not have much in the way of deep discussions with my parents who while they had their positives – including being largely supportive of my science interests and art — were too dysfunctional and nonintellectual for me to admire, seek their approval, or care what they thought. Moderate-liberal suburban northern Virginia was not especially churchly like the SE tidewater Virginia where and aunt and uncle lived, and this was before the rise of the religious right, creationism that SCOTUS had just banned from public schools was not yet much of an issue. So casual theo chat was not all that common. Somehow the God subject came up with a young substitute teacher I think in art class. She and another student derided my nontheism, the teacher demanding I offer up a single great thinker who was an atheist. Could not come up with one – this was long before the atheist flourishing of more recent times – awkward. And I did not think to come up names like Clarke, Asimov, Leakey. Did not change my mind though. Senior year in English the apparently nontheist teacher was for reasons I do not recall discussing issues non/godly. The student counter arguing happened to be the daughter of the ward bishop. Because of that I kept my mouth shut. As she was being shot down – at one point she was queried as to the physical condition old people would be in in heaven — she looked to fellow Vienna ward attendee me (but not a friend) with a facial appeal for support which I was not about to deliver. With the Boy Scouts thing winding down, the Evans having moved away, my interest in Mormonism still nil, LDS services as always excruciatinglydull – stay away from them for your own sake — and the ward bishop pressuring me to tithe while warning me to stay away from the atheist University of Utah I was toying with attending, I eased myself out. 

When I moved at 20 I was careful to not let the church know my new address. I got a call from a church official at the work number I had earlier gave them silly me. They use the insidious techniques of salespeople. Start out nice and if that does not work ramp up the pressure until the too polite to hand up or shut the door mark caves just to stop the unpleasant situation. When the manipulative ass realized I was holding my ground he got nasty and threatened excommunication. Like I cared. This century one of my uncles deliberately got excommunicated to stop LDS operatives from pestering him. Another uncle had converted to the Greek Orthodoxy of his wife – those are the fun people I visit when in Utah;) Aside from a couple of missionaries who thought it cool I had ancestors who knew Smith while politely deriding their faith, I have not had contact with an active Mormon for decades. Yay!  

The Book II

At 20 another book had a big and conclusive impact. A personal life item was going so well I imagined it must show the favor of a deity – classic theogullible superficial grade thinking mistake. When that situation did not work out I thought it discreditable to now abandon the belief – another classic theogullible superficial grade thinking mistake. I do not recall how I learned about it, but I purchased a copy of Mark Twain’s theonotorious Letters from the Earthto see what he had to say about the God thing. Like most Christians I had never read the damn Bible (I did much later as a research project — I survived the odious project). Twain was the first person to with his brilliant literary wit tell me the appalling truth about the book of horrors and its barbaric god, while attending to its cruelty to humanity. Here is a brief sample. 

The human being is a machine. An automatic machine. It is composed of thousands of complex and delicate mechanisms, which perform their functions harmoniously…. For each one of these thousands of mechanisms the Creator has planned an enemy whose job it is to harass it, pester it, persecute it, damage it, afflict it with pains, and miseries, and ultimate destruction. Not one has been overlooked….  It is the Creator’s Grand Army, and he is the Commander-in-Chief. Along its battlefront its grisly banners wave their legends in the face of the sun: Disaster, Diseases and the rest…. It is wonderful the thorough and comprehensive study which the Creator devoted to the great work of making man miserable…. All of the Creator’s specially deadly disease-producers are invisible.  It is an ingenious idea. For thousands of years it kept man from getting to the root of his maladies, and defeated his attempts to master them. It is only recently that science has succeeded in exposing some of these treacheries. 

(I strongly recommend LFTE to all — be cautioned that a lot of the book is criticism of literature by the inventor of modern non/fictional literature Clemens, not that that is a problem.)

I realized that I had been lied to by the churches. I hatebeing lied to, propaganda is vile and I try to avoid deceiving others. By the time I finished the sections on theism I said “I get it Twain,” and I have never had reason to modify my atheism since. 

What is Rattling Around Between My Ears

So what is my atheism? I am not a theist, a person who has a belief in one or more deities/gods. Broadly and correctly etymologically defined, a-theism is the lack of theism, ergo I am an atheist. I am not an absolute atheist who is completely certain there are not any gods because that cannot be entirely proven – such absolutists are rare, a hot Hopkins undergrad I knew back in the day who was quite ticked when I denied absolute disproof of deities is the only one I have met. In that sense I am an agnostic as defined by the person who coined the term Thomas Huxley. So by his own statements so is Dawkins, we are both agnostic atheists. My position is based entirely on data analysis. I always follow the data as best I can, and if it supported the probability or certainty of some form of deity or deities being around and about I would opt for that and would not be writing this – as I will discuss in a later blog, if god/s existed there are many circumstances in which it would be obvious and not a matter of debate. As it is the evidence for the presence of anything supernatural is pathetic, and the possibility of their existence is about as close to zero as one can get without quite getting there. 

Although the basic existence of a god and many other items supernatural/paranormal cannot be entirely disproven, the existence of a decent, loving, benign moral creator that has the best interests of his human creations can be scientifically tested. I am the person who literally has done the most to prove that a Good God simply cannot exist because of the deadly nature of our planet to children. And that worshipping a creator god in search of boons is inherently immoral. I am also the leading researcher when correlating the relationship between levels of popular a/theism and socioeconomic conditions, which leaves no statistical doubt that the more atheistic democracies are, the better off are their citizens, and for inherent reasons it is not possible for highly religious societies to be highly successful. I am therefore anti-theism, similar to say Dawkins. As such I am not like many atheists tolerant of religion and belief, it is bad idea in terms of truth and for societies. That does not mean atheism cannot have its own downsides as I shall discuss in these blogs. I try to be fair and objective, and am often vexed when other atheists are not that. Or well informed. I am often aghast at the limited knowledge base of attendees at atheist groups. Lots of them don’t know that our planet is 4.5 billion years old. Sheesh. 

I am an equal opportunity skeptic. Our society is deeply, cynically hypocritical, that being true of most of the majority who are theists here and abroad. Belief in supernatural deities for which evidence of their existence is extremely weak and their goodness is readily disprovable is widely seen as normal if not noble, while a host of other paranormal beliefs that are no better founded are commonly derided and condemned as baseless and mere superstitions. These days I have people asking this dinosaurologist if it is really true that aliens killed off the dinosaurs to pave the way for humanity, an item they picked up from cable and online “documentaries.” That outlandish notion lacks any actual evidence, but it is no more or less plausible than the conceit that a transcendent entity created our universe and planet. I am not a hypocrite when it comes to matters paranormal godly and secular, they are all bogus as far as can be determined. Faith is not truth, it is sheer opinion. 

Going Progressive

My parents were conservative Republicans. The only people I knew who voted for Goldwater. Although culturally liberal – what’s wrong with sex outside of marriage for instance? I was a big Laugh Infan — I was a foreign policy and economic moderate conservative. As per the Communist Bloc was a nasty force hell bent on defeating the Free World for their insidious purposes. 

But there were problems. Take the Free World thing. The supposedly democracy loving Chinese Nationalists had fled to Taiwan to avoid liquidation by the cruel commies. But why were the original residents of the island protesting the dictatorial Nationalist government? Why were the elections in the South Vietnam we were fighting to keep safe for democracy rigged? Things were not right, I was seriously unsettled. 

It was my ongoing interest in military affairs that did the most to kill off my conservatism. By the 60s when I was a kid combat aircraft were sophisticated machines capable of up to and over Mach 2 and firing air-to-air missiles – I fondly remember the F-101 Voodoo that screamed by at low altitude and a few hundred out over the Chesapeake Bay as tyke me stood jaw dropping on the beach. In those days I would read books and articles talking about how the sheer, colossal size of the Red Air Force, way beyond what they needed for defensive purposes, showed they were ready to pounce upon hapless western Europe which lacked the conventional numbers to defend itself. Made sense to me. Obviously it was conservative patriots who cared enough to try to warn the nation about the need to be armed to the teeth to deter and if need be defeat a Soviet assault. Down with the slack liberals. 

Then I noticed something. Rather suspicious. Going into the 70s the line of the military industrial complex Ike had warned about began to shift. Reading Aviation and Space Technologyand so forth they started talking about how back in the 50s and 60s Warsaw Pact aircraft were defensive in nature because the likes of Mig 19s and 21s and Su-7s had short range and carried small bomb loads. Say what? Just a few years before the same pundits were going on about the invidious offensive nature of the Reds. They then explained that the new generation of Soviet strike air craft, you know their swing wing Mig 23s and Su-17s, were long range, high bomb capacity planes and that could only mean that the Ruuskies were going onto an offensive orientation. Excuse me? I was being insulted. I knew that the USNs and USAF’s F-105s, F-4s we had started flying in the late 50s and early 6os were themselves long range, big bomb load planes, the new F-111 even more so. Did that mean that we were an offensive force, and if not why get after the Soviets for doing what we had a decade earlier? The manipulative hypocrisy was becoming all to plain to see. 

As part of the military-industrial complex propaganda campaign, it was noted that the Warsaw pact was building something like 500 military aircraft each year – it’s been awhile so the numbers are vague – while our poor underfunded USAF was able to acquire only a mere 150 poor dears. If defense spending was not boosted soon and a lot the commies would over run Europe in not time, oh my! Do you get the insidious numerical sleight of hand? If the USA and WP went to war, then would not the US Navy not also be in on the action, with its fleet of carriers packed with planes? And when you think about it, if the entire WP is involved, then obviously it would be NATO and other American allies against the Reds. Add up total NATO military aviation output and it was around 400 planes a year. Not as much as them, but it was widely acknowledged that western planes were more sophisticated and capable. 

Did I mention I hate being lied to? And being treated as though I am stupid gullible? I realized that conservatives were not as I had been imagining for no sound reason good and dedicated Americans who only wanted what was best to the nation. They had their self-aggrandizing agendas, including getting more taxpayers funds directed to corporate entities. By the time Nixon resigned I was fed up with him because he had lied about not being involved in the Watergate coverup. In 76 I voted for Ford because I was in the process of doing the right to left wing switch, and because that devout born again Southern Baptist Carter with his heavy Georgia accent came across as weird. It was during the Carter years that the link between social and economic conservatism came into the fore, with the pseudoscientific BS that is creationism thrown into the mix. The great aim of the religious right is to use government power to try to recapture the culture and reconvert America into the dour repressed society it has been before the cultural revolutions of the 1900s. By the time Reagan ran and won I had flipped to the secular progressive side. 

Becoming an Atheosecular Researcher

Having meme evolved into a strongly convinced but not absolutist agnostic atheist by 20 and not having seen anything close to suggesting I should change my mind since, I spent the mid 70s to the mid 90s focusing on my paleozoological research and art. Including doing the primary design work for the Tyrannosaurus in Jurassic Park (do not blame me for the flawed appearance of the rest of the JP dinos, and the original King Kongis a way better dinosaurs and other monsters on an island movie, albeit typically racist per the times). Although not the very first I was among the very few illustrating smaller dinosaurs with feathers and fuzz which would be verified in the 90s, was the first to note that some dinosaurs might also be secondarily flightless birds, was the first to calculate that the bigger flying pterosaurs were massive monsters weighing as much as lions and tigers and bears, and named a number of dinosaur groups and genus-species (some of which remain in force) – you can check out my paleo work and art at Being an iconoclastic polymath is my thing. Did little about the nonreligion and progressive things even as I was appalled by the anti-scientific religious right and its perverted consort creationism in its alliance with socioeconomic conservatism. 

Back in those days the atheist heroes were the likes of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, E. O. (Sociobiology) Wilson, Richard (Selfish Gene) Dawkins, Stephen J. Gould (who published m fist commercial dinosaur art with one of his then immensely popular Natural Historycolumns), Christopher (Missionary Position) Hitchens, and Carl Sagan who actually dared to say that God probably did not exist in his 1980 Cosmos series as we all dropped our jaws at rte heady audacity – you can say that on PBS? Gould would later go on to irritate the rationalist community with his silly notion that science and religion were each equivalent Magisteria, but no nontheist is perfect. 

In the mid 90s I started attending local atheosecular groups, partly for social reasons. On the positive side of matters in those days of post cold war optimism I was pleased to see the poll data indicating that the USA was in fact becoming increasingly irreligious, as I documented in my first atheism themed article in a 2002 Free Inquiry

But I was a very frustrated fellow. About the scientific investigation of the societal impacts of religion and nontheism. In order to understand that and many other things you have to have the comparative stats on hand. Duh. Lots of people were claiming mass deity belief is critical for societies to be well run, others denied it. But where were the objective, large scale statistical comparisons needed to test who was right? When I realized the correlations had not been produced which was an enormous failure of the sociological community, I went ahead and did them my little self, establishing a new field of research without really trying in the process. I was being innovative in this arena as I had in paleo. It was a fairly extensive project, but there was plenty of data available and the results were fascinating. I published them in the peer reviewed J Religion & Societyand Evolutionary Psychology(, as well chapters in academic books. The research – which has never been refuted because it is objectively not possible to do so — got a fair amount of media attention. Including being labeled the church’s public enemy #1 by MSNBC ( which I am quite proud of, and an appearance on FoxNews which I parried the sleazy right wing reporter fairly well. The work, bolstered by the efforts of others, has done a fair amount to shift the public discourse more towards the favor of atheism. The same results that discredit the socioeconomic efficacy of mass theism also show that conservative and economic libertarian polices produce inferior results, and I have produced an article on that for Skeptic( 

In a statistics tell us a lot about morality parallel line of analysis, I had known since reading the first sentences of Arthur C. Clarke’s book version of 2001 A Space Odysseythat around 100 billion people had been born. I also knew that juvenile mortality rates are around 50%, so that meant some 50 billion children had been tormented to death by the diseases as outlined by Twain, and even greater numbers have miscarried. This was another ground breaking look at the old problem of how a perfect God and our imperfect planet do not go along with one another. I published an analysis in Philosophy and Theology( – no other atheists have scored the coup of publishing anti-theistic works in mainstream religious journals – that was the first publication to ever present the number of deceased children, and showed how theologians have bent over backward to evade the problem for ages that because mass death of youngsters directly refutes the belief that God is Good and deserves admiring worship, and that such is not at all noble. Very frustrating is that my efforts to get media attention for the core refutation of religion, and a response from the theists who have no means of producing a plausible counterargument, went nowhere. In order to tale another shot and that while updating the analysis I have published a two-parter on the subject in Essays on the Philosophy of Humanism(; So far that has not been more successful at getting wide attention, with Religion News Service cynically rejecting my press release the theocads (my 2ndattempt worked, I retoned the PR to make it more theopalatable;   

A major achievement was in 2011. I kept sending op-eds to major venues without success. Then it occurred to me to do one on the chronic discrimination against atheists, and do it in association with others. That worked, the Washington Postcarried it ( and/or The piece garnered 1500 comments before those were timed out, and 80,000 likes. Nice. But that was the end of such major consideration of my work in the mainstream media and press. Dozens of efforts to place pieces in mainstream opinion venues have gone nowhere. And it is not just me. A big running problem is the stunning lack of attention paid to atheists by the mainstream news media, my next blog will be on that issue.

My atheo frustrations do not end there. Fact is that institutional atheosecularism has not been as effective as it needs to be. Basic means for promoting a world view include setting up think tanks to generate data driven information, and a news service to help distribute it. For reasons obscure to me this has not yet happened, despite my and others efforts to get such going. The lack of financial support had severely hindered the research and analysis by myself and others that would likely improve the situation for atheists around the globe – that is a reason I have not been able to put in the greater effort needed to generate an upgraded follow up to the socioeconomic work of a dozen years ago. More about that later on this site.

Starting in 2017 I have had a regular column in Free Inquiry. That’s a major audience, but one can read my tomes only if one subscribes to the magazine which I suggest people do, and only nontheists subscribe. Last year I started blogging on the Secular Outpost. Shortly afterwards that was taken out of operation because of changes to the host site. So here I am on the new Secular Frontier, the last part of the name being my suggestion. Because I had posted only three articles on SO, I am restarting from the beginning here on SF. This blog expands the audience for my popular articles beyond FI. Also, those columns are limited to something over 1000 words, which is too short to fully address many issues. Things are complicated. One of the reasons why we are in the global discourse pickle we are in is because many pieces are more propaganda presentations than well thought out arguments backed up by solid data. 

Coming Features

I will be covering a lot of cool topics. How the failure to develop fusion power has greatly slowed down the decline of theism and bettering the global economy – the former is dependent on the latter — while aiding theoradicalism. How the giant New Zealand moas and elephant birds of Madagascar disprove the contention of William Lane Craig that the good God has to allow predators to mug and chow down on other creatures – don’t get me started on how theists say animals do not really suffer because they are too dumb. Why the scandalous failure of nontheists to vote at the same per capita rate as theoconservatives is why the religious right minority is still a major political power in this country. How about how conservative Christianity is backing the right wing autocratic forces of Europe. Then there is how Dwight Eisenhower was the president who initiated modern government promotion of religion. Did you know that Yosemite Valley is one of the best disproofs of the Biblical creation story, and why – think granite. Here’s a goodie. Few realize that the establishment of the national parks was to a great extent an effort to promote god belief among White Americans at the expense of the Original Peoples, that’s a reason why park ranger uniforms are based on old US Army garb. Bet you did not know that. You may know that the antiabortion movement is really an effort to return the nation to its godly traditional ways of the 1950s, but if not I shall explain. 

What virtually no one knows is that it was the Catholic Church that did more than anything else to put Hitler into power, largely to ensure the stream of tax revenue they still enjoy. Everyone knows about the pedophile scandals that have rocked and damaged the church, but not about the incredible links between the Vatican and mob elements that used to generate international headlines and inspired the Godfather III, but have been shunted aside. Do not forget how the Manifest Destiny that drove the ethnic cleansing of the America’s was a Godly project made possible by the diseases of Twain’s God liquidated most of the population.

Ever wonder why the American religious right is all for fossil fuels oil especially? I’ll explain that one. And don’t you believe that nonsense that while Jesus was probably not divine, he was a man of peace. He was not. If he existed. 

And there’s a lot more. 

Since I got into active atheism the good news has been how theism has been declining way faster in the USA than even I hoped, with nonreligion soaring by an astonishing 10% of the population each decade, and atheists as broadly defined now making up perhaps a fifth or a quarter of nation (for the stats see Gallup found church membership was at 70% in 2000, now is only 50%. On the disappointing side the atheist movement is not expanding in tune with the population dynamics, perhaps because of the general decline is social organizations. On the very bad side theoconservatism has, despite losing some demographic ground – even white Republicans are less religious than they used to be – retained a much more powerful grip on much of the government than I predicted. And in their fury to maintain their power are going increasingly bizarro world toxic and autocratic here and abroad. To the point that we have a war raging in Europe, the invasion being backed by the Russian Orthodox Church. Meanwhile other versions of paranormal thinking are doing all too well, especially concerning alien visitors and even flat-earthism which is a religious movement if you don’t know. But don’t blame everything on the theists. The virulent Chinese government is atheist. 

Hope you find my coming pontifications of interest, and even better of use. 

bookmark_borderWashed In The Blood Of Christ

The idea of being washed by the blood of Jesus is popular among conservative Christians who adhere to the “paying our sin debt” interpretation of Jesus’s death.  Recently, Jessica Brodie (mostly from sources outside Paul or the 4 Gospels) summarized it this way:

  • In fact, it was the shedding of Jesus’ blood, his “blood sacrifice,” that paid the price of our own sin-debt forever in the eyes of God. The Bible tells us the blood spilled as a sacrifice by Jesus ensures we are forgiven and redeemed from our sins (Ephesians 1:7). That blood reconciles us to God (Colossians 1:20) and gives us direct access to God, the “Most Holy Place” (Hebrews 10:19) without need for an intermediary priest. As the apostle Peter wrote to the early church, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Jesus’s blood was the sacrifice that established a new covenant between God and the people, all who believe. He told the disciples as much at the Last Supper, when He took bread and wine, blessed it, and told them it was His body and blood. Giving a cup to the disciples to drink, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:23), and we still do this ritual of Holy Communion today in remembrance of this divine arrangement.
  • Being “washed in the blood” or “cleansed by the blood” describes the act of one accepting the free gift of salvation offered in Jesus. In Revelation 1:5, we’re reminded we are freed from our sins by the blood of Christ. Later in Revelation, the writer sees a great multitude standing before the Lord’s throne wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. He is told, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). In 1 John 1:7, we’re told the blood of Jesus “purifies” us from all sin. Other translations use the word “cleanses” or “washes.”
  • The Book of Hebrews describes this in full, summarizing, “19 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:19-23). The holiness of Christ’s blood, then, washes us clean. See

Dr. James McGrath has pointed out the flaw in this methodology where a few “apparently sin debt  friendly” passages are taken as the core of what the New Testament writers are saying, and everything else, however awkwardly, are interpreted through their lenses.  McGrath writes:

  • But penal substitution is also problematic when it is presented as though it were “what the Bible says.” The Bible as a whole, and the New Testament more specifically, uses a range of images and metaphors related to sin and atonement. I will not try to argue that penal and/or substitutionary imagery is never used. But the case can be made that it is not central either to the Bible as a whole or to the theology of specific authors.
  • For instance, the Levitical background to Hebrews (as clarified by Gordon Wenham) helps us understand that the imagery there is of purification of the sanctuary so that God can dwell in the midst of a sinful people. In Paul’s writings, many different images are used (including sacrifice and reconciliation), but main his focus is on being “in Christ” and participation with him in his death and resurrection. According to Paul, through our union with Jesus we are not spared a death that we deserve, but we die so that we can also live through our union with him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

In Leviticus, 2 animals are involved: the sacrificed animal, and the scapegoat that the sins are placed upon. One animal is killed, and the other one, the scapegoat, is released into the wilderness. In other words, the death of the one animal is not what is responsible for the removal of sins.

So, I take as my inquiry question when Paul cites the Corinthian creed/poetry “Christ died for our sins,” does this mean Christ died to pay our sin debt, or rather Christ died to make our hidden sinful nature conspicuous as a catalyst for repentance?  Coleman Glenn nicely sums up the problem with penal substitution:

  • The problem, though, is that even though the logic of it is sound if you accept the propositions, and even though you can find some evidence for each of those propositions, the propositions themselves are deeply flawed and out of line with the Bible’s overall message about who God is, starting with the very first one. God’s justice does NOT demand punishment for the past sin of someone who has repented – Ezekiel 33, for example, says this:

So, Jeremiah 31:31-33 offered the new prophecy that the law will be written on the hearts of the Jews, whereas Paul seems to expand this to the idea that the law is already written on the hearts of Jews and gentiles, but needs the blood of Christ to wash away the satanic influence and sinful inclinations from the heart, and can then be grown through love and Christ in you, the spirit or resisting Satan’s temptations.

Long before the penal substitution interpretation of the cross, St. Augustine wrote to explain the Satan Ransom theory.  Ransom atonement is to view it as a cosmic victory of Jesus over Satan and his kingdom. Passages like Hebrews 2:14 (“14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil”) tell us that when Christ died on the cross, He destroyed the power of the evil one (also Colossians 2:15).

  • The Redeemer came and the deceiver was overcome. What did our Redeemer do to our Captor? In payment for us He set the trap, His Cross, with His blood for bait. He [Satan] could indeed shed that blood; but he deserved not to drink it. By shedding the blood of One who was not his debtor, he was forced to release his debtors— Doctrine of the Atonement, Catholic Encyclopedia

“Redeeming” in this case literally means “buying back,” and the ransoming of war captives from slavery was a common practice in the era. The theory was also based in part on Mark 10:45 and 1 Timothy 2:5-6, where Jesus and the forger of Paul mentioned the word “ransom” in the context of atonement.  The one holding man hostage here is not God, but Satan, since scripture is clear a person can’t ransom another person from God:

  • 7 Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, (Psalm 49:7)

That man can be ransomed from Satan doesn’t put Satan on the same level as God, because man can’t pay a ransom to God. Jesus’ life was the price that needed to be paid to break Satan’s spell/free hostage humanity.   Jesus, if you believe he was the specially chosen one by God meant to restore the Davidic throne, has, through his death, the power to break the spell of Satan over us.  We read:

  • 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; 11 put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, 12 for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Satan the accuser in the Old Testament incited David to take a census of Israel, and Incited God to move against Job without cause (Job 2:3), but in the New Testament we hear things like how he went into Judas (Luke 22:3, John 13:27), and once Judas realized what he did, he hung himself. Revelation thus says Satan is the deceiver of all humans and humanity’s accuser (Revelation 12:9–10), he creates guiltiness in man even though it’s something Satan himself, not man, is responsible for.  In Acts 5:3 Peter talks about how “Satan filled your heart.” Satan is identified as the source of sin:

  • 44 You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)

The blood redeems us, breaking the stranglehold of Satan and his minions who were behind the puppet human leaders of this evil world (the demons who Paul calls the archons of this aion).  It is the blood of Christ that overcomes Satan (Revelation 12:11, 1 John 3:8). From 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”  The blood of Christ cleanses, washes away.  In what sense?

One Conservative Commenter points out:

  • Throughout the New Testament, the term unclean spirits (akathartos in the Greek language) is mentioned over twenty times. Throughout those passages we read that unclean spirits can possess people and cause them sickness and harm (Matthew 10:1; 12:43; Mark 1:26; Luke 4:36; 6:18; Acts 5:16; 8:7), that they are searching for someone to possess if they are not currently possessing someone (Matthew 12:43), that some are more unclean or evil than others (Luke 11:26), that unclean spirits can interact with one another (Mark 5:1–20; Matthew 12:45), and that unclean spirits are under God’s authority and must submit to Him (Mark 1:27; 3:11; 5:8, 13).
  • An unclean spirit or demon is “unclean” in that it is wicked. Evil spirits are not only wicked themselves, but they delight in wickedness and promote wickedness in humans. They are spiritually polluted and impure, and they seek to contaminate all of God’s creation with their filth. Their foul, putrid nature is in direct contrast to the purity and incorruption of the Holy Spirit’s nature. When a person is defiled by an unclean spirit, he takes pleasure in corrupt thoughts and actions; when a person is filled with the Holy Spirit, his thoughts and actions are heavenly.

What is the logic of the lamb’s blood? Jesus was wrongly killed by the satanically enraged crowd, corrupt religious elite, and crowd placating indifferent to justice Pilate “in all of us.”  Believing him to be God’s specially chosen one makes this conspicuous for us and is a catalyst for repentance.  His great words and works are meant to testify to who he was. Specifically, believing he was innocent and yet died to show us our sinful and satanic ground inspires repentance.  Historically, such an event is referred to with the “turning the mirror” metaphor.  The blood of Christ washes away the satanic and sinful grime off the law written on our hearts that Paul identifies (Romans 2:15), and that heart can then mature and grow through Jesus’ teachings, especially of the redefinition of love/agape to include love of enemy.  Hence, on the cross Jesus says “forgive them, they know not what they do.”

To see other articles in this series on penal substitution and justified lying, see the gathering post here:

bookmark_borderKreeft’s Case for the Divinity of Jesus – Part 6: Quotes from the Gospel of John


For the sake of being able to evaluate the second DILEMMA in Kreeft and Tacelli’s series of four dilemmas, I am going to temporarily set aside the serious problem of the historical UNRELIABILITY of the Gospel of John, and pretend (assume for the sake of argument) that the historical Jesus actually spoke the words attributed to Jesus in quotations from the Gospel of John presented by Kreeft and Tacelli in support of the view that Jesus claimed to be God.

The question at issue concerning our evaluation of the second DILEMMA is thus whether Jesus meant these statements LITERALLY, and whether in making them he was LITERALLY claiming to be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

Here are the six verses from the Gospel of John that Kreeft and Tacelli quote in the opening pages of Chapter 7 of their Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA):

  • John 8:12
  • John 8:46
  • John 8:58
  • John 10:30
  • John 11:25
  • John 14:9

According to Kreeft and Tacelli, the statements Jesus makes in these passages imply that Jesus is claiming to LITERALLY be God, that is, claiming to LITERALLY be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.


12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

(John 8:12, New Revised Standard Version, updated edition)

First of all, this is clearly NOT a statement that Jesus meant LITERALLY. Jesus did NOT claim to LITERALLY be light, nor to LITERALLY be the SUN, the star that provides light to the planet Earth. Jesus was NOT claiming to be visible electromagnetic radiation, nor was he claiming to be a massive ball of plasma that is located at the center of our solar system about 93 million miles from the Earth. It would be IDIOTIC to take this quotation LITERALLY. Obviously, Jesus is speaking metaphorically here, as Jesus frequently does in the Gospel of John.

The next question is whether this metaphorical statement was intended to mean that Jesus was LITERALLY God, that Jesus is the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. There is no hint here that Jesus is claiming any of this about himself. He is NOT claiming to be the creator of the universe here. He is NOT claiming to be the omnipotent ruler of the universe. He is NOT claiming to be perfectly good or omniscient. Therefore, Jesus is NOT claiming to LITERALLY be God in this quote.

Light is obviously a metaphor representing truth or knowledge or wisdom. In this statement, Jesus is claiming to be a source of important truths or knowledge or wisdom. Since Jesus was a devout Jew who had followers who were devout Jews, and since Jesus often taught about God and about being morally good, fair, and kind to others, he was probably claiming to be a source of theological and ethical truths or knowledge or wisdom.

Jesus believed that he was a prophet of the God of Israel, and that God communicated important theological and ethical truths to him, as he indicates in the same Chapter of the Gospel of John that the quotation above comes from:

…but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. …

(John 8:40, New Revised Standard Version, updated edition)

In claiming to be “The light of the world”, Jesus was probably claiming to be a source of important theological and ethical truth, truth that he believed came from God. But being a prophet is just being a messenger for God, bringing messages from God to other people. Being a messenger for God does NOT imply that a prophet IS God. Therefore, in claiming to be a source of theological and ethical truth, and in claiming to be a prophet of God, Jesus was NOT claiming to BE God.

This quote was obviously not meant LITERALLY by Jesus. This first piece of evidence clearly and obviously FAILS to show that Jesus said something that IF TAKEN LITERALLY would mean that he was the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. Furthermore, the meaning of this statement is basically that Jesus claimed to be a prophet of God, which in no way implies that Jesus claimed to LITERALLY be God.


Here is how Kreeft and Tacelli present the next quotation of Jesus:

He also claimed to be sinless: “Which of you can convict me of sin?”

(HCA, p.150)

This quote from the Gospel of John (Chapter 8, verse 46) clearly FAILS to show that Jesus LITERALLY claimed to be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

First, in this quote Jesus does NOT claim to be “sinless”. Jesus doesn’t make ANY EXPLICIT CLAIM at all in this quote. He asks a QUESTION. However, the question does seem to be a rhetorical one, so we can reasonably infer the following implication from this question:

You people cannot convict me of sin.

Jesus is implying that the people who he was speaking to on that occasion were not able to PROVE that Jesus had committed a specific sin.

But that is completely compatible with it being the case that Jesus had in fact sinned. For example, Jesus believed that a man who looks at a woman with lust in his heart commits a sin whether or not the man acts on that sexual desire (Matthew 5:28). Thus, if Jesus was aware that he had looked at a woman with lust in his heart, he would view that as being a sin, even if he never acted on that sexual desire. But if a man does not act on such a desire, then only that man (and God, if God exists) would KNOW that the man had sinned in that way. Therefore, Jesus was fully aware that some sins are hidden from the view of other people, and thus Jesus was aware that the fact that no one could PROVE that he had committed a specific sin does NOT mean that Jesus had never sinned.

It should also be noted that this conversation took place in public in Jerusalem (John 8:20). But much of Jesus’ life and ministry took place in Galilee, several days’ journey north of Jerusalem. Thus, the people to whom Jesus was speaking were likely residents of Jerusalem who would only have first-hand knowledge of what Jesus had said and done in public in Jerusalem, and would be unlikely to have first-hand knowledge of what Jesus had said and done in public in Galilee, and very unlikely to have first-hand knowledge of what Jesus had said and done in private situations in Galilee. In other words, Jesus knew (or believed) that the people to whom he was speaking on this occasion were people who had first-hand knowledge of only his public words and actions in Jerusalem.

Thus, any sins that Jesus was aware of having committed either in public or in private in Galilee (or in private in Jerusalem) would likely be outside of the first-hand knowledge of the people to whom he was speaking on this particular occasion. So, Jesus would be aware that the INABILITY of those particular people to PROVE that Jesus had committed a specific sin would NOT mean that Jesus had never sinned.

So, not only did Jesus NOT EXPLICITLY CLAIM to be “sinless”, but his rhetorical question does NOT imply that he was “sinless”, nor that he believed himself to be “sinless”.

Second, being “sinless” does NOT imply that one is the creator of the universe, nor does it imply that one is the ruler of the universe. It does NOT imply that Jesus was omnipotent, nor does it imply that Jesus was omniscient.

Furthermore, being “sinless” does NOT imply that Jesus possessed the divine attribute of being perfectly good. Being “sinless” means that one has not yet committed a “sin” or done something that is morally wrong. But that is only one part of being perfectly good. A person who is paralyzed from head to toe might never commit a sin, but might also never do anything particularly good or loving or heroic or beneficial for someone else. Being perfectly good requires one to be perfectly loving and perfectly kind and perfectly generous to others. That requires positive actions that benefit other people and animals. Therefore, a person who is “sinless” might well NOT be a perfectly good person. So, even if Jesus DID claim to be “sinless” that would still NOT imply that Jesus possessed ANY of the basic divine attributes.

This second quote from the Gospel of John clearly FAILS to show that Jesus made a statement that IF TAKEN LITERALLY implies that he is the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. Furthermore, this quote clearly FAILS to show that Jesus LITERALLY claimed to be God, that Jesus LITERALLY claimed to be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.


Here is the next quote of Jesus from the Gospel of John:

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” 

(John 8:58, New Revised Standard Version, updated edition)

Kreeft and Tacelli write an entire paragraph about this verse:

Most clearly and shockingly of all, he invited crucifixion (or stoning) by saying, “Very truly, I tell you (i.e. I am not exaggerating or speaking symbolically here; take this in all its force) before Abraham was, I am.” (Jn 8:58). He spoke and claimed the sacred name that God revealed to Moses, the name God used to name himself (Ex 3:14). If he was not God, no one in history ever said anything more blasphemous than this; by Jewish law, no one ever deserved to be crucified more than Jesus.

(HCA, p.151)

First of all, Kreeft and Tacelli assert an interpretation of the phrase “Very truly, I tell you…”, and that interpretation is clearly FALSE. They imply that this phrase means “I am not exaggerating or speaking symbolically here…”. However, there are at least seven other passages in the Gospel of John where Jesus prefaces a statement with the same phrase “Very truly, I tell you…” but where it is CLEAR that the statement that follows this phrase is NOT meant LITERALLY, but is meant SYMBOLICALLY or METAPHORICALLY:

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

(John 3:3-6, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.

(John 6:32, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

(John 6:53, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.

(John 10:1, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edtion)

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.

(John 10:7, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.

(John 12:24, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

(John 21:18, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edtion)

The second “birth” that Jesus mentions in Chapter 3 of the Gospel of John is NOT a LITERAL birth. Jesus is speaking SYMBOLICALLY or METAPHORICALLY there. The “true bread from heaven” that Jesus mentions in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John is NOT LITERAL bread. Jesus is speaking SYMBOLICALLY or METAPHORICALLY there. The eating of the “flesh” and drinking the “blood” of the Son of Man (i.e. Jesus) mentioned by Jesus in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John is NOT talking about LITERALLY eating his flesh or LITERALLY drinking his blood. Jesus is speaking SYMBOLICALLY or METAPHORICALLY there. A “thief” climbing into the “sheepfold” mentioned by Jesus in Chapter 10 of the Gospel of John is NOT about a LITERAL sheepfold or a LITERAL thief. When in the same chapter Jesus calls himself a “gate for the sheep” he does NOT mean that he is LITERALLY a gate. When in Chapter 12 of the Gospel of John Jesus talks about a “grain of wheat” falling into the earth and dying, and then bearing fruit, he is NOT making a point about LITERAL grains of wheat. When Jesus tells Peter in Chapter 21 of the Gospel of John that one day someone “will fasten a belt around you” Jesus is NOT talking about a LITERAL belt being placed on Peter (this is understood to be a prophecy by Jesus about Peter dying a martyr’s death).

The phrase “Very truly, I tell you” when used by Jesus in the Gospel of John, does NOT mean “I am not speaking symbolically here”. In making this OBVIOUSLY FALSE claim about this phrase, Kreeft and Tacelli demonstrate that they have no clue how to intelligently interpret the Gospel of John, or else that they have never bothered to actually READ the Gospel of John.

If nothing else, anyone who has actually read the Gospel of John should notice these two things: (1) Jesus very frequently speaks SYBOLICALLY or METAPHORICALLY in the Gospel of John, and (2) Jesus very often prefaces his statements with the phrase “Very truly, I tell you…” in the Gospel of John (twenty-five times, to be exact). So, it doesn’t take a genius to conclude (or at least suspect) that sometimes in the Gospel of John Jesus prefaces a SYMBOLIC or METAPHORICAL statement with the phrase “Very truly, I tell you…”. It only took me a couple of minutes to verify this was in fact the case. So, this FALSE claim made by Kreeft and Tacelli shows that they have no clue how to intelligently interpret passages from the Gospel of John.

Second of all, Kreeft and Tacelli FAIL to mention that the English translation of this verse is subject to serious doubt. Specifically, the phrase “I am” might well be an incorrect translation. In the GREEK text of the Gospel of John, the words translated as “I am” are “ego eimi”:

The exact same Greek phrase occurs in other passages of the Gospel of John, as well as in some other gospels, but it is NOT translated as “I am” in those other passages. It is usually translated as “I am he”:

Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

(John 4:26, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edtion)

I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.”

(John 8:24, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edtion)

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me.

(John 8:28, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am he.”

(John 9:9, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe that I am he.

(John 13:19, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.

(John 18:5, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground.

(John 18:6, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these people go.”

(John 18:8, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Because the GREEK phrase ego eimini is usually translated as “I am he”, in the Gospel of John, the decision to translate this phrase as “I am” in John 8:58 is questionable. The translation of this phrase in John 8:58 might well be an incorrect translation.

This is another reason to doubt the ability of Kreeft and Tacelli to intelligently interpret passages from the Gospel of John. Do they not know that the Gospel of John was originally written in GREEK? Do they not know that one should examine the GREEK text of a passage from John in order to make sure that a specific translation and interpretation of that passage is correct? Do they not know that the GREEK phrase ego eimini occurs in other passages of the Gospel of John and that it is NOT translated as “I am” in those other passages? It seems clear that Kreeft and Tacelli are either ignorant about the interpretation of the Gospel of John or they are being dishonest in hiding the fact that there is good reason to doubt the correctness of this translation of this verse.

Third of all, the phrase “I am he” is strongly associated with the claim that a specific person is the “Messiah”, the great King or leader of Israel that the Jews believed God would send them so that they would be able to live in a righteous and just kingdom where they would rule themselves and other nations, instead of being governed and oppressed by pagan nations.

For example, in the 4th Chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus has a conversation with a Samaritan woman, and at the end of the conversation this is what they say:

25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

(John 4:25-26, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

In the GREEK text Jesus tells her ego eimini which is translated (as it usually is) as “I am he”, and what this means in this context is clearly “I am the Messiah”. It does NOT mean “I am God”, and Jesus is NOT claiming “the sacred name of God” here.

In Chapter 14 of the Gospel of Mark, at the trial of Jesus before the Jewish leaders, the high priest directly asks if Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus responds “I am” (GREEK: ego eimini):

61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 Jesus said, “I am, and

‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’ ”

(Mark 14:61-62, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Jesus here uses this phrase to claim to be the “Messiah”. Jesus is NOT claiming to be God in this passage. Jesus is NOT claiming “the sacred name of God” here.

In both Mark and Luke, Jesus speaks of the end of the world and how as the end approaches many people will say “I am he”:

Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.

(Mark 13:6, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray, for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

(Luke 21:8, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

What is it that these people are claiming? The author of the Gospel of Matthew provides the answer to this question by re-wording the phrase “I am he”:

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray.

(Matthew 24:3-5, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

The author of the Gospel of Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as his source for this passage, but clarifies the meaning of the phrase “I am he” (GREEK: ego eimini) by substituting the phrase “I am the Messiah!”. So, the author of the Gospel of Matthew understood the phrase “I am he” in Mark to be a way to claim to be the Messiah. This interpretation of the phrase “I am he” by the author of the Gospel of Matthew is confirmed by Jesus’ concluding remarks about the end times in the Gospel of Mark:

21 And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’—do not believe it. 22 False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 

(Mark 13:21-22, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

So, in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, when Jesus uses the phrase “I am he” (GREEK: ego eimini), he is talking about a claim to be the Messiah, and he is NOT talking about a claim to be God. And as we saw above, in the first passage where Jesus uses the phrase “I am he” (GREEK: ego eimini) in the Gospel of John (John 4:25-26), he clearly uses this phrase to make the claim that he is the Messiah, and does NOT use this phrase to claim to be God.

Furthermore, there is a passage in Acts where John the Baptist denies that he is the Messiah by asserting “I am not he”, the opposite of the phrase “I am he”:

21 Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. 22 When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’ 23 Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised; 24 before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his work, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the strap of the sandals on his feet.’

(Act 13:25, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

It is clear that John the Baptist was NOT denying that he was God. Nobody thought John the Baptist was God, so there was no need for him to deny that. The reference to Jesus as the “promised” savior of Israel, and as “posterity” of King David clearly indicates that the phrase “I am not he” is used by John the Baptist to deny that he (John the Baptist) was the promised Messiah. This is so clear that several translations of this passage have John the Baptist assert “I am not the Messiah” or “I am not the Christ” or have him deny being “the Promised One”:

And as John was finishing his course [of ministry], he kept saying, ‘What or who do you think that I am? I am not He [the Christ]; but be aware, One is coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie [even as His slave]!’
As John was finishing his ministry he asked, ‘Do you think I am the Messiah? No, I am not! But he is coming soon—and I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the sandals on his feet.’
But John, towards the end of his career, repeatedly asked the people, “‘What do you suppose me to be? I am not the Christ. But there is One coming after me whose sandal I am not worthy to unfasten.’
When John was finishing his work, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I’m not the Messiah. No, but he is coming after me, and I’m not worthy to untie the sandals on his feet.’
Then, when John’s work was almost done, he said, “Who do you people think I am? Do you think I am the Promised One? He will come later, and I am not good enough to untie his sandals.”
But as John was finishing his course, he said, Whom do ye suppose me to be? I am not the Messiah. But, behold! he is coming after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose.

In the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke, Jesus uses the phrase “I am he” to mean “I am the Messiah”. In the first passage of the Gospel of John where Jesus uses the phrase “I am he” it is clear that what he means is “I am the Messiah”. In Acts, when the story is told about John the Baptist denying that he was the Messiah, John the Baptist is said to have asserted “I am not he”. Therefore, it is quite reasonable to interpret the same phrase (GREEK: ego eimini) in John 8:58 to be a claim by Jesus to be the Messiah, and NOT as a claim by Jesus to be God.

Fourth of all, Jesus appears to be claiming to have existed prior to Abraham, who lived thousands of years before Jesus was born. This is taken by some Christians to mean that Jesus was claiming to be God. But this inference is wrong for a couple of reasons. First of all, Jesus existing before Abraham clearly does NOT imply that Jesus is God.

Noah existed before Abraham, but Noah is NOT God. Noah is NOT the eternal creator of the universe. Noah is NOT the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. Adam existed before Abraham. But Adam is NOT God. Adam is NOT the eternal creator of the universe. Adam is NOT the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. Michael the Archangel existed before Abraham. But Michael is NOT God. Michael is NOT the eternal creator of the universe. Michael is NOT the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe. Satan existed before Abraham. But Satan is NOT God. Satan is NOT the eternal creator of the universe. Satan is NOT the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

So, even if Jesus claimed to have existed before Abraham, that would NOT imply that Jesus was God, nor that he believed himself to be God. That would NOT be a claim by Jesus to LITERALLY be the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

Another problem here is that it is NOT clear that Jesus was in fact claiming to have existed before the time of Abraham. Here is something else that Jesus says in Chapter 8 of the Gospel of John about his relationship to Abraham:

Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.”

(John 8:56, New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition)

Abraham lived and died thousands of years before Jesus was born. So how could it be the case that Abraham “saw it”, that is, saw “my day”, that is, saw the day Jesus would walk the earth?

There are two main interpretations of the phrase “he saw it” given by bible commentators. First, there is the view that Abraham foresaw the coming of Jesus the Messiah through prophecy or divine revelation. Alternatively, some commentators think that Jesus is talking about Abraham experiencing or learning about Jesus’ life and ministry in the afterlife, thousands of years after Abraham had died. Jesus believed that people can be conscious and aware of earthly events even after they die.

Here are some examples of these two common interpretations of John 8:56:


Benson Commentary
And he saw it, and was glad — His faith was equivalent to seeing. By the favour of a particular revelation, Abraham had a distinct foresight of these things, and was exceedingly transported with the prospect.
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible
He saw it – See Hebrews 11:13; “These all died in faith, not having received (obtained the fulfillment of) the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them,” etc. Though Abraham was not permitted to live to see the times of the Messiah, yet he was permitted to have a prophetic view of him…
Matthew Poole’s Commentary
This father of yours foresaw my coming into the world, and my dying upon the cross. He saw it by the eye of faith, in the promise which was made to him, That in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. He saw it in the type of Isaac’s being offered, then receiving him in a figure, Hebrews 11:19. He saw it in the light of Divine revelation.
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
and he saw it and was glad; he saw it with an eye of faith, he saw it in the promise, that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed; …he saw also Christ and his day, his sufferings, death, and resurrection from the dead, in a figure; in the binding of Isaac, in the sacrifice of the ram, and in the receiving of Isaac, as from the dead;


Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
And he saw it, and was glad.—This is the historic fulfilment of the joy which looked forward to the day of Christ. Our Lord reveals here a truth of the unseen world that is beyond human knowledge or explanation. From that world Abraham was cognisant of the fact of the Incarnation, and saw in it the accomplishment of the promise…The truth comes as a ray of light across the abyss which separates the saints in heaven from saints on earth. As in the parable, where Lazarus is in Abraham’s bosom, the rich man is represented as knowing and caring for his brethren on earth, so here the great Patriarch is spoken of as knowing and rejoicing in the fact of the Incarnation.
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
and he saw it, and was glad] A very important passage with regard to the intermediate state, shewing that the soul does not, as some maintain, remain unconscious between death and the Day of Judgment. The Old Testament saints in Paradise were allowed to know that the Messiah had come. How this was revealed to them we are not told; but here is a plain statement of the fact. The word for ‘was glad’ expresses a calmer, less emotional joy than the word for ‘rejoiced,’ and therefore both are appropriate: ‘exulted’ while still on earth; ‘was glad’ in Hades.
Pulpit Commentary
The proper sense was, doubtless, that, since the Lord became incarnate, Abraham’s exulting hope has been realized; that which he desired and rejoiced in anticipation to see has now dawned upon him. This becomes an emphatic revelation by our Lord in one palmary case, and therefore presumably in other instances as well, of the relation and communion between the glorified life of the saints, and the events and progress of the kingdom of God upon earth. A great consensus of commentators confirms this in terpretation – Origen, Lampe, Lucke, De Wette, Godet, Meyer, Stier, Alford, Lange, Watkins, Thoma. …Abraham rejoiced at the advent of Christ. He has seen it, and been gladdened.

On either of these two common interpretations of John 8:56, there is no implication that Jesus actually existed before Abraham existed. Abraham could have foreseen the day that Jesus would walk the earth through divine revelation (Jesus believed in prophecy and divine revelation), or Abraham could be aware of Jesus walking the earth at the time that Jesus walked the earth even though Abraham had died thousands of years before this occurred (Jesus believed that people can experience or be aware of events on earth in the afterlife).

In keeping with these two common interpretations of John 8:56, we could reasonably interpret John 8:58 as follows:

Before Abraham existed, God had a plan for me (Jesus) to come into existence (thousands of years after Abraham) and be the Messiah of the Jews and the savior of humankind.

On this interpretation, Jesus would NOT be claiming to have actually existed before Abraham existed.

Let me summarize the key points that I have made about John 8:58:

  1. Kreeft and Tacelli claim that the phrase “Very truly, I say to you…” in the Gospel of John means that the statement following that phrase is not meant SYMBOLICALLY, but this claim is clearly and obviously FALSE.
  2. Kreeft and Tacelli FAIL to mention that the GREEK phrase ego eimini is usually translated as “I am he”, elsewhere in the Gospel of John, so the translation of this phrase as “I am” in John 8:58 is questionable and might well be incorrect.
  3. In the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke, the phrase “I am he” (ego eimini) is clearly used to mean “I am the Messiah”, and the author of the Gospel of Matthew understands the phrase “I am he” in the Gospel of Mark to mean “I am the Messiah”, and in Acts, John the Baptist says “I am not he” in order to deny being the Messiah, and finally in the first instance where Jesus says “I am he” in the Gospel of John, he clearly means “I am the Messiah”.
  4. The idea that Jesus is claiming to be God by claiming to have existed before Abraham existed is mistaken because: (a) existing before Abraham does NOT imply that one is the eternal creator of the universe or the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe, and (b) it is UNCLEAR that Jesus was in fact claiming to have existed before Abraham existed.

For these reasons, the words attributed to Jesus in John 8:58 do NOT show that Jesus was claiming to LITERALLY be God. This passage does NOT show that Jesus implied that he was LITERALLY the eternal creator of the universe and the omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good ruler of the universe.

bookmark_borderBlogging Through Augustine/Martin’s Anthology “The Myth Of An Afterlife” Part 3

No Mental Life after Brain Death: The Argument from the Neural Localization of Mental Functions

Gualtiero Piccinini and Sonya Bahar 

(Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

For today’s post on The Myth of an Afterlife, I wanted to unpack some thoughts from Piccinini and Bahar’s chapter regarding the physical grounding of mystical experience.  They comment:

In 1983 Michael Persinger suggested that religious and mystical experiences in general might be artifacts of temporal lobe microseizures (Persinger, 1983). More recently, a wealth of brain imaging studies have complemented the early EEG studies, confirming the temporal localization of such events (Hansen & Brodtkorb, 2003). Other studies suggest that mystical experiences are not solely localized to the temporal lobe, however, and that they may involve a large and complex network of activations in the brain. Cosimo Urgesi, Salvatore M. Aglioti, Miran Skrap, and Franco Fabbro (2010) found that lesions in the inferior posterior parietal regions led to a feeling of “self-transcendence” in patients.

Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

That mystical experiences are simply brain based and not an indicator of the soul makes good sense of what we know of how the person transcends themselves, being ek-static or outside of oneself.

We encounter the issue of soul/brain dualism in the Transpersonal Psychology tradition following a certain interpretation of Jung, which made a big deal out of transcendence in the mystical and alchemical traditions.  So for instance, etymologically, the language originally used to describe the self originally came from nature (eg., I’m boiling mad).   Nietzsche clarified this that we are outside of ourselves in the sense that we bodily schematize experience, and so for instance when we have a stomach ache, beings appear in an irritating manner, so it isn’t just an activity of the mind-ish soul, but a general physiological point.

On the idea of our ek-static nature or being outside of ourselves, here’s a recent post I did on the Heidegger Circle discussion group:

 Heidegger points out that since Plato, anything that ‘is’ can be differentiated into two realms, the aistheton and the noeton, that which is apprehended by the senses and that which can be experienced by nous, the mind’s eye. The noeton is that which truly is for Plato (see below) because it is not subject to the changeability of the things of the senses, and hence are constant. The particular house shows the essence, house as such, but only in a limited way, and hence is me on, not simply nothing, ouk on, but deficient with respect to what truly is, the primary image, the paradeigma (cf Heidegger, Holderlin’s Hymn The Ister, 24).  But, this needs to be thought in a Greek way, since for instance under Homer’s understanding with beings as eonta, Homer applies the term eonta to “the Achaean’s encampment before Troy, the god’s wrath, the plague’s fury, funeral pyres, [and] the perplexity of the leaders’. Man too belongs to eonta.”  So, the beings that are sensed are not simply thought of as mind independent substances with properties, but in terms of presencing, since man is grounded in eros, is parestios, the one in the sphere of the warmth of the hearth fire who nourishes on Being.  How?

There is one idea (house) despite the many incarnations of house.  So, thought of verbally as the event of presencing, the idea “house” may be presencing powerfully to the observer through the beautiful mansion, comparatively plainly and weaker through the average dwelling, and hardly at all through the run down cottage. But, Heidegger stresses here that Homer says the gods don’t appear to everyone enargeis (Odyssey, 16, 161), Odysseus experiencing the radiant presencing of the goddess as Beauty incarnate, though the next person beside him wasn’t experiencing the woman in that lustrous way.  So, the rustic cottage you find presencing as shoddy may be presencing as quite charming and quaint to the next person:  Heidegger thinks enargeis in the sense of argos, radiant, the same word Plato uses in the Phaedrus (250d) to indicate the presencing, radiant shining of the Beautiful (McNeill, 332).  The idea is the oneness and constancy that presences through all beings: alteration and change meaning basically non-being for Plato. Why?

For Plato the soul nourishes itself (trephetai) on Being.  A human is parestios, the one in the sphere of the warmth of the hearth fire in eros – but thought in relation to deinon/apolis – restlessness/homelessness (Sophocles’ Antigone).  Plato compared the constancy of the stars with man’s own erratic, disorderly and restless thoughts, and believed that people should aspire to the regularity of the heavenly bodies (Healy, 1984). This is why in the Nicomachean Ethics theoria is the highest form of human life for Aristotle.  Heidegger cites Aristotle that the life of theoria [contemplation] which exceeds phronesis [practical wisdom], is a kind of godly life, an athanatizein, to be immortal- [whereby athanatizein is formed like hellenizein, to be Greek], that implies that in theoria we comport ourselves like immortals. In theoria mortals reach up to the life of the gods (see Heidegger, Heraclitus Seminar, 111).  For the Greeks both gods and humans were immortal, but the deathlessness of the gods meant the blessedness of their manner of existing, forever in the fire and absorption of youth.

This positive, comparative, and superlative presencing of the universal (eg House) means the idea of the beautiful is what shines through the various levels of appearing (Now that’s a house!):  “What is most longed for in eros, and therefore the Idea that is brought into fundamental relation, is what at the same time appears and radiates most brilliantly.  The erasmiotaton, which at the same time is ekphanestaton, proves to be the idea tou kalou, the Idea of the beautiful, beauty (Heidegger, ‘Nietzsche [1991],’ 167).”

Holderlin points to verbalization of predicates: the sky is usually nice and “blueing,” but especially when the sky “blues” after a storm.  Similarly, the house always “yellows,” but especially so when you turn down a strange street you’ve never been on before looking for the yellow house, when suddenly yellowness leaps at you!

Heidegger thus says more original than “perceiving-perceived substance with properties” understanding of the person perceiving beings is the ancient Greek notion of “ek-statikon” or “being-in-the-world.”  So for instance, in perceiving something as boring or sexy, the predicates are not simply fully perceiver or perceived, but in the middle as event: the way the being is presencing (eg the tv show appears or is showing itself in a boring manner to me, boringness is felt as a characteristic of the show, the other, though the next person may not experience this boringness at all).  Likewise, Dreyfus pointed to predicates like “equipment,” which both do and don’t belong to the hammer, since a large rock can perform the same function as a hammer but isn’t essentially viewed as equipment.

Understanding something as a thing in terms of a substance with properties requires schematizing it as a temporal snapshot.  The sun has been a “substance,” a thing with properties, much longer than any substance on earth, but in reality this “substance sun” is only a moment in the process of an event that is the birth and death of this star, and that event in turn is itself simply a moment in further events “in-process.”

Of course, the mystical and alchemical traditions of being outside of ourselves (supposedly in union with Nature and God) are not evidence of a soul as many transpersonalists hold any more than is an out of body experience, but are just extreme cases of our normal Being-In-The-World, our being ek-statik or outside of ourselves.  I have a professor friend who is an adamant transpersonal psychologist who takes a good solid empirical foundation and then turns it into ridiculousness by inferring all kinds of theological nonsense.  For instance, psychologists  know that one of the fundamental human abilities/instincts is mirroring, like the way the infant mirrors the expressions of the mother.  This is the mechanism that allows us to mirror nature (eg I’m boiling mad), and so nature-self referential language cross culturally is analogous because the environment is analogous world wide.  So, since there are similarities in the world wherever you go, human self-understanding, grounded in this mirroring, is going to be similar.  This is the transpersonal understanding of the Jungian archetypes (the sophisticated transpersonalists anyway).  And so, for instance, historically, for the medieval alchemists the turning of something into gold represented the perfecting of the mirroring soul.  Where the whole valorization of mythicism thing by transpersonalists becomes absurd is when the transpersonalists start inferring divine stuff from this perfectly naturalistic and reasonable foundation.  My friend and I have argued about this many times.  It’s silly.  For instance, there are meditative traditions where you can cultivate a feeling of the dissolving of the self into Being, but this in no way implies the existence of God, contact with God, or that you have become part of God.  It’s just an unusual feeling/experience.  These are simply interesting tricks of the brain.  Psychadelic drugs can also invoke such altered states of consciousness.

The cross cultural question is interesting.  The mirroring that creates an understanding of self, either of mother by child, or environment by person (eg.. I’m boiling mad), or understanding oneself through one’s culture (eg, your are probably Muslim if born in certain countries), etc., understandably are cross cultural because we all share similar brains, instincts and environments worldwide.  And so, for instance, mysticism where the practitioner thinks they are unifying with God is to be expected on the atheist account.  Just as being marginalized and belittled causes negative little-ing (feeling negatively small), the positive companion phenomenon of being dwarfed causes serenity.  So just as you might feel dwarfed at the expanse when looking out over the ocean, or as a child in the protective embrace of a parent, or as a student by the genius of Aristotle, so too in some meditative traditions can the practitioner latch on to how my self is received from the other (via mirroring) and cultivate/grow the feeling of being dwarfed by that Other to such a point that the self feels effaced and the only experience left is this expanse (what some traditional mysticism theologizes as the mystical union with God).  There is nothing supernatural or mysterious, here and is exactly what one would expect on a secular account.

And so, since this being-outside-oneself in mirroring seems to be a perfectly natural activity of our physiology, it would make sense that animals would have these types of  transcendent experiences too.  So Jennifer Viegas reports that:

Animals (not just people) likely have spiritual experiences, according to a prominent neurologist who has analyzed the processes of spiritual sensation for over three decades.

           Research suggests that spiritual experiences originate deep within primitive areas of the                 human brain — areas shared by other animals with brain structures like our own.

The trick, of course, lies in proving animals’ experiences.

“Since only humans are capable of language that can communicate the richness of spiritual experience, it is unlikely we will ever know with certainty what an animal subjectively experiences,” Kevin Nelson, a professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky, told Discovery News.

“Despite this limitation, it is still reasonable to conclude that since the most primitive areas of our brain happen to be the spiritual, then we can expect that animals are also capable of spiritual experiences,” added Nelson, author of the book “The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain,” which will be published in January 2011.

The finding is an extension of his research on humans, which has been published in many peer-reviewed journals. A Neurology journal study, for example, determined that out-of-body experiences in humans are likely caused by the brain’s arousal system, which regulates different states of consciousness.

“In humans, we know that if we disrupt the (brain) region where vision, sense of motion, orientation in the Earth’s gravitational field, and knowing the position of our body all come together, then out-of-body experiences can be caused literally by the flip of a switch,” he said. “There is absolutely no reason to believe it is any different for a dog, cat, or primate’s brain.”

Other mammals also probably have near-death experiences comparable to those reported by certain humans, he believes. Such people often say they saw a light and felt as though they were moving down a tunnel.

The tunnel phenomenon “is caused by the eye’s susceptibility to the low blood flow that occurs with fainting or cardiac arrest,” he said. “As blood flow diminishes, vision fails peripherally first. There is no reason to believe that other animals are any different from us.”

Nelson added, “What they make of the tunnel is another matter.”

The light aspect of near-death experiences can be explained by how the visual system defines REM (rapid eye movement) consciousness, he believes.

“In fact,” he said, “the link between REM and the physiological crises causing near-death experience are most strongly linked in animals, like cats and rats, which we can study in the laboratory.”

Mystical experiences —  moments that inspire a sense of mystery and wonderment —  arise within the limbic system, he said. When specific parts of this system are removed from animal brains, mind-altering drugs like LSD have no effect.

Since other animals, such as non-human primates, horses, cats and dogs, also possess similar brain structures, it is possible that they too experience mystical moments, and may even have a sense of spiritual oneness, according to Nelson.

Marc Bekoff, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, also believes animals have spiritual experiences, which he defines as experiences that are nonmaterial, intangible, introspective and comparable to what humans have.

Both he and primatologist Jane Goodall have observed chimpanzees dancing with total abandon at waterfalls that emerge after heavy rains. Some of the chimps even appear to dance themselves into a trance-like state, as some humans do during religious and cultural rituals.

Goodall wondered, “Is it not possible that these (chimpanzee) performances are stimulated by feelings akin to wonder and awe? After a waterfall display the performer may sit on a rock, his eyes following the falling water. What is it, this water?”

“Perhaps numerous animals engage in these rituals, but we haven’t been lucky enough to see them,” Bekoff wrote in a Psychology Today report.

“For now, let’s keep the door open to the idea that animals can be spiritual beings and let’s consider the evidence for such a claim,” he added.

“Meager as it is, available evidence says, ‘Yes, animals can have spiritual experiences,’ and we need to conduct further research and engage in interdisciplinary discussions before we say that animals cannot and do not experience spirituality.”

The responsibility would seem to be on the brain/soul dualists to mount the argument in favor of the soul because they are going beyond what is immediately given in the evidence, like it would be the responsibility of the schizophrenic to provide evidence of actual alien involvement for her genuinely felt experience that aliens are controlling her brain.

It seems that to conclude from experiences of bodily transcendence such as in NDEs or certain meditative experience that (i) this is evidence an immaterial soul exists and (ii) evidence of what this soul is like, is an egregious paralogism. Heidegger showed being ek-static is our basic human stance, and the transcendence experienced by mystics is simply and extreme form of this general being-outside-ourselves.  Arguing for brain/soul dualism is analogous to someone who is experiencing phantom limb syndrome after an arm amputation and reasoning that not only (i) The soul does exist, but also (ii) The soul has an arm, four fingers and a thumb.

bookmark_borderBlogging Through Augustine/Martin’s Anthology “The Myth Of An Afterlife” Part 2

Today I wanted to think a little about the difference between the kinds of lenses theological hypotheses provide in comparison with secular lenses in science and even literature.  In his introduction to the book, Augustine points out that regarding the secular framework for viewing death:

“Because we are built from the same flesh and blood and DNA that forms nonhuman animals, and share their evolutionary origins, their mortality implies our mortality.”

– Martin, Michael; Augustine, Keith. The Myth of an Afterlife . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition. 

Theistic explanations of reality are indifferent to the reality they are trying to color.  In response to horrific animal and human suffering, the theist responds “God promises justice in the next life, not this one.”  This means through the theist lens the world looks exactly as it would if there was no omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.  Similarly, in response to empirical scientific experiments that show the ineffectiveness of prayer, the theist responds “God always answers prayer, just sometimes the answer is no.”  Again, the theistic explanatory framework sees a world that would look exactly the same way if there was no God.  And with “miraculous healing,” while it may be unlikely that you would undergo a medically highly unlikely recovery of health, given a planet of billions it is to be expected some would unusually recover health: for the same reason that while it is ridiculously unlikely you would win the lottery, it is not unlikely at all that someone will win – and someone usually does.  Similarly, Carrier responds to the theist fine tuning argument of the cosmos that actually the universe is optimally configured to generate black holes and be hostile to life, which is exactly what you would predict if there was no God.  

Far from being a rigorous scientific level colored lens for viewing reality, the theistic colored lens certainly is not, and is not even at the level of a literary colored lens.  If I told a student who has never encountered Shakespeare that Romeo and Juliet is a tragic love story, they can use that lens to generally predict what they will find in the text and actively confirm by reading.  Making and confirming predictions is a good meaning making strategy.  The religious lens makes predictions only because it is so broad and vague that it is unfalsifiable.  

And really, as Heidegger points out, the issue of mind is not so much the question of consciousness as the question of awareness, because one can be unconscious and yet very aware and absorbed in an unfolding dream.  The key seems to be that conscious and unconscious awareness is grounded in the way the mind creates the experience of the stretching out of time as a foundation for allowing experience, since by contrast under general anesthetic the patient goes to sleep and wakes up an hour later in what feels like an instant.  When we chemically interrupt the mind creating time as a scaffold for experience we really experience the nothingness that will be death, specifically when even the nothing is not experienced. 

bookmark_borderThe Law Written On Our Hearts

It is sometimes said that the only difference between Paul and the Jerusalem bunch on Jesus is that Paul didn’t think gentile converts needed to be circumcised (become fully Jewish).  This hardly makes Paul historically interesting, and seems to miss a key distinction.

In previous posts I talked about Jeremiah’s prophecy that the law would be written on people’s hearts, which seemed to have been fulfilled in Jesus who redefined love from Greek eros (Honor seeking Achilles) to Christian agape (love of enemy).  The key event post-Jesus was the realization of God’s chosen one being horribly tortured and killed by the sins of the enraged crowd, corrupt religious elite, and crowd placating, indifferent to justice Pilate, which were also the sins in all of us.  This slap in the face of his beloved followers was a catalyst to realize how corrupt we and the system were and inspire change, which was particularly important because the end of the age and hence judgment was imminent.  The law thus written on the hearts by Jesus was a Jewish fulfilled prophecy for Jews, and if gentiles wanted to participate they had to become Jews.

The apocalyptic Paul had a novel take on this.  For him, the important thing is that God’s specially chosen Davidic heir was crucified, and so the law already written on the hearts of Jews and Gentiles was made conspicuous as the heart was circumcised.  Then, what was important in battling Satan is that Christ possessed and empowered you.  In this regard, Jesus’ entire ministry and teaching was unimportant to Paul.  What mattered was the accomplishment of the cross, which is why Paul said “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:2).” 

 So, we have a difference between James/Peter in the meaning of Christ’s death, and Paul’s.  This is hard to see because Paul influenced Mark, but we can make some inferences.  If the main element for Jesus’ life was writing the law on Jewish people’s hearts, his wrongful death as God’s specially chosen one stamped this law as a disc-closure of the corruptness of the world.  Paul, on the other hand, argued, the law was already written on the hearts of Jews and gentiles and the corrupt, fleshly natures of those hearts just needed to be circumcised away through the cross.  Paul, who was from the birthplace of the stoic enlightenment, had infused stoicism into the Jeremiah prophesy with the idea that for Christ’s death to convict us (the enraged crowd, corrupt religious elite, and the placating, indifferent to Justice Pilate in all of us), an inner principle of Justice must already lie dormant within all humanity.  When Mark and Luke both emphasize the transformation of the Roman soldier at the cross (Truly this is God’s son; an innocent Man), this is pure Pauline influence arguing against the Jewish exclusivity of the Jeremiah prophecy Jesus, James and Peter ascribed to.  For Peter and James, Jesus’s wrongful death was a horror to the Jewish Christians, as he was thought to restore the Davidic line, and was family and friend to them.  For Paul, the offence was against our very humanity, the specially chosen one of God condemned to the cross as an affront to both Jews and Gentiles equally.  Troels Engberg-Pedersen comments in a somewhat different context:

  • In Stoicism grasping the good takes the form of what may best be called a “conversion”: a sudden insight that changes all one’s previous perceptions and leads to right action. And that is exactly what we find in Paul too, where the “grasp of the good” (i.e. of the Christ event and its meaning) is something suddenly believed (in faith, pistis) and understood (through the pneuma).

Paul is not thinking of Christ dying for our sins as paying our sin debt instead of us, but rather Christ died so all have died (1 Cor 5:14), specifically we are crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20) in that the real ones who should be subject to justice is not Jesus, but the crowd, religious elite, and Pilate in all of us. And to believe that we have crucified the special chosen son of God is to see the malignancy at our core and desire to reject/destroy it – repentance that will enable God to forgive, since there can be no true forgiveness without repentance.

Jesus’ words from the cross in Luke are really informative: “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” So (i) the one point is that the issue is about forgiving sins rather than punishing them. And (ii) the other point is that the people can’t see that they are sinful, so the veils over their eyes need to be lifted so they can truly see themselves for what they are and repent. Forgiveness is powerless without repentance, like a wife who continually forgives a spouse who won’t stop cheating. That’s basically what I’m trying to argue against the penal substitution interpretation.


Stoicism in early Christianity: The Apostle Paul and the Evangelist John as Stoics. Authored by: Troels Engberg-Pedersen in The Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition

bookmark_borderSeptuagint Isaiah 53:4 and Matthew 8:17 (reflecting with Mako Nagasawa)

One of the topics I explore in my penal substitution essay is the question of Isaiah 53 influencing the New Testament writers. One topic I didn’t include in the Isaiah 53 section of the essay is Matthew and Isaiah 53:4 of the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures the NT writers used)

Matthew, though appearing first in the bible, was written after Mark and incorporates a great deal of Mark into itself. It shows itself to be a Judaizing of the gentile gospel of Mark, so it is notoriously difficult to trace material back from Matthew’s narrative to the historical Jesus. It seems to incorporate early material, the hypothetical Q source, which is the material common to Matthew and Luke that didn’t come from Mark.

In my penal substitution essay, I try to show that Conservative Christians are wrong to think the NT writers used Isaiah 53 to suggest penal substitution, the idea Christ suffered/died in our place to pay our sin debt. Today I am going to look at Mako Nagasawa’s arguments why Matthew 8:17, which cites Septuagint Isaiah 53:4, does not align with penal substitution.

Nagasawa points out it is in his sinful nature that Jesus identifies with the rest of humanity. Consider how this relates to the question of the circumcised heart I talked about in my last Secular Frontier post:

  • But on the deepest level, Jesus suffered humanity’s internal condition which made the exile from Eden necessary in the first place.  That is, he shared in the corruption of sin within human nature, the common human condition since the fall.  Jesus really did struggle against the flesh, especially in the wilderness (Mt.4:1 – 11) and at Gethsemane (Mt.26:36 – 75).  Those two episodes bracket his public life and ministry... This parallel means that Jesus, throughout his life, and even at the Sermon on the Mount, was receiving the Father’s writing of His law on the tablet of his human heart, so that Jesus might be able to share his own heart by his Spirit with others.  He was condemning sin in his own sinful flesh (Rom.8:3), to put to death the old self (Rom.6:6), and produce the heart circumcised by the Spirit (Rom.2:28 – 29), making him out to be the true Israelite, the one restored from exile (Dt.30:6).  Paul understood this act to embody Israel’s true vocation under the law (Rom.7:14 – 8:4).  If Jesus embodied Israel in himself, he therefore embodied that very vocation:  to return his human nature back to God circumcised of heart.  This involved for Jesus an intense suffering which we can only existentially understand through the hardest moments of our own temptations and choices to faithfully grow in obedience with him, by his Spirit.  The author of Hebrews notes, ‘In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.  Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.’ (Heb.5:7 – 8)

Matthew quotes Isaiah 53:4 to parallel Jesus’ life with early Israel. Then regarding the heart and Jeremiah’s prophesy I talked about in my last Secular Frontier blog post, Nagasawa comments that:

  • Following the Sermon on the Mount, which are commandments directed towards the human heart in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s new covenant prophecy (Jer.31:31 – 34), Jesus gives ‘ten commandments’ in Matthew 8:1 – 9:38 by his word… Matthew is clearly grouping these miracles together to present a sustained reflection on the Sermon on the Mount.  The two sections in Matthew, 5:1 – 7:28 and 8:1 – 9:38, are mutually interpreting.  That is, the heart commandments and the verbal-healing commands are literary reflections on each other.

How is Jesus to be understood in connection to early Israel? In non-penal-substitution fashion, Nagasawa comments that:

  • Matthew begins his Gospel by speaking of Jesus saving ‘his people from their sins’ (Mt.1:21).  Not their punishment, which is already unfolding through the exile, but their sins.  Matthew is saying that Jesus shares in the diseased human nature of all humanity.  He shows this through Jesus’ baptism, in that Jesus confesses sin through his baptism:  not sins of action or thought that he had actually committed, but the sinfulness of his flesh (Mt.3:13 – 17).  His wilderness temptation and trial reflects his struggle against the sinfulness in his flesh (Mt.4:1 – 11), otherwise, there would be no temptation or struggle at all.  But whereas at Mount Sinai, God had discourse with Moses alone, when Jesus speaks from the top of a mountain, giving the Sermon on the Mount, he is opening up face to face contact with Israel, represented by his disciples.  And this is further portrayed as Matthew as a ‘ten commandments’ delivering people from diseases and demons… [In Matthew] Jesus, by stretching out his hand, is liberating people from disease, demons, and death.  These acts are outward pictures of Jesus liberating people from the even deeper problem of human sin, evil, and separation from God.  Jesus is restoring humanity to what God meant us to be.  The three lessons on discipleship woven into the ten miracles suggest that Jesus’ call for disciples to follow him should be understood as his way of healing us.

As I said in my previous post, this all has to do with circumcising the heart and the twofold play of disclosing the law written on our hearts and Jesus reshaping our hearts. Nagasaw concludes:

  • In effect, Matthew’s parallel extends to even before the Exodus and the Ten Commandments.  That is because the Ten Commandments and the ten plagues from Exodus were already referring to the ten declarations in the Genesis creation narrative (Gen.1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28).  God was making Israel into his new humanity, who lived in a garden land like the original humanity.  Ten utterances from God bring forth new life; they inaugurate a covenant; they set free and liberate; they order and declare.  They demonstrate God’s power to do all these things.  Thus, when we listen to Jesus’ teaching on our hearts, we must receive his word with the understanding that his word contains his power to change us.  Jesus brings forth new life in us; he liberates us from our own sinfulness; his word orders and declares a new spiritual reality in human nature.  This is possible because Jesus himself is touching corrupted human nature in his own person.  His healing of the leper, the paralytic, etc. are external pictures of a singular, deeper, internal reality at work within the person of Jesus… It is puzzling for penal substitution advocates to claim that Isaiah 53 supports them, because Matthew himself does not understand Isaiah 53 that way when he explicitly quotes it.  He does not quote it in a legal-penal context, but in a healing-ontological context, and in a literary unit that asks us to situate Isaiah 53 itself in the framework of ontological substitution (the heart of Christus Victor), not penal substitution.


Atonement in Scripture: Isaiah 53, Part 2, Mako Nagasawa – blog post,

bookmark_borderI Get Interviewed On Freethinker Podcast About Mythicism, Atonement, and Gnosticism

  • Inquiry Question: “If Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet predicting the soon end of the age, why the major emphasis on personal and societal growth and transformation?”

“meretrix pudicam:” “The harlot rebuketh the chaste.” (proverb referenced by Athenagoras of Athens)

Here is an abridged transcript of the interview:

Q1 – Why do you think that Luke goes against the standard model of the atonement (or penal substitutionary model)?

I tend to think Luke is actually the most conspicuous case of what is generally going on in Mark and Paul.  Ehrman writes:

  • It is easy to see Luke’s own distinctive view by considering what he has to say in the book of Acts, where the apostles give a number of speeches in order to convert others to the faith. What is striking is that in none of these instances (look, e.g., in chapters 3, 4, 13), do the apostles indicate that Jesus’ death brings atonement for sins. It is not that Jesus’ death is unimportant. It’s extremely important for Luke. But not as an atonement. Instead, Jesus death is what makes people realize their guilt before God (since he died even though he was innocent). Once people recognize their guilt, they turn to God in repentance, and then he forgives their sins. (Ehrman, 2017)

I think this is ultimately what we also see with Paul and Mark.  Just as Luke has the transformation with the soldier saying of the crucified Jesus “This was an innocent man,” Mark has the soldier say “truly, this was God’s son,” which according to my reading is the soldier giving Jesus respect for voluntarily being wrongly horribly tortured and executed to show us our inner corrupt nature and inspire repentance – the enraged crowd, corrupt religious elite, and indifferent to justice Pilate in all of us who killed God’s specially chosen son who God sent to restore the Davidic throne (though God’s real plan was the death and resurrection). [1]

Penal substitution makes no sense as an interpretation of the cross: how does it serve justice to punish an innocent child in Africa for the crimes of a felon in Chicago?  If something is obviously senseless to us, we should be wary about believing the original Christians ascribed to it.  This is also part of the reason I disagree with the mythicism of Price, Carrier, etc, because if Christ was crucified in outer space by demons and was never on earth, the central point of the transformative nature of the cross evaporates.  How does such a death inspire my self-realization and repentance?

Basically what I’m arguing is that I think Jesus’ words from the cross in Luke are really informative: “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).” So, from that quote, (i) the one point is that the issue is about forgiving sins rather than punishing them. And, (ii) the other point is that the people can’t see that they are sinful, so the veils over their eyes need to be lifted so they can truly see themselves for what they are and repent. [2] Forgiveness is powerless without repentance, like a wife who continually forgives a spouse who won’t stop cheating. This is basically what I’m trying to argue against the penal substitution interpretation of the cross that says Jesus died in our place to pay our sin debt.

Q2 –  Do you think that the real Jesus would have approved of The Council of Jerusalem’s decision to take circumcision’s off the ‘to do list’ in order to become a Christian (even Paul had to think about what the Judaisers were saying and later meet with the Apostles ?

Q3-  Do you think the Gnostic movement began in the 1st Century?

I’ll answer these together.  Paul felt he had a gospel that was appropriated from the Jerusalem bunch (Corinthian Creed), but also was uniquely his.  Paul writes:

  • 25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to “my gospel” and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen (Romans 16:25)

The “my gospel” of Paul seems to be that the Christ’s death awakened the law written on our hearts on our hearts, Jews and Gentiles (see Romans 2:14-15):

When gentiles, who do not possess the law, by nature do what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, as their own conscience also bears witness

To understand this, we need to go back to Jeremiah.  Jeremiah’s prophecy is to the Jews in exile.  This was a prophecy to the Jews, but Paul expanded it with the law written on the hearts of the gentiles:

  • 31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will “write it on their hearts,” and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  34 No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.  (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

Notice how the last line isn’t about people being made to pay for their sins, but rather God forgiving.  So, Paul took this idea but expanded it saying it was not just a prophecy for the Jews that Jesus fulfilled, but a covenant with all people who always had the law written on their hearts dormantly, so there was no need for the difficult transition for gentiles to become circumcised Jews to become Christians.  The death of Christ awoke the law written on our hearts because we wrongfully killed him, and so inspired repentance – what Paul called a circumcision of the heart.   This fits in nicely with the argument that Mark was using Paul (the idea of the transformation of the Roman soldier in Mark and Luke / for Carrier on Marks use of Paul see 

For the other question, Gnosticism is the idea that besides other ways, salvation most properly comes through gnosis or secret knowledge.  This is what Paul taught, that what was at issue was a mystery hidden since the beginning of the world (1 Cor. 4:1, Rom. 16:25,26).  The mystery is that God wrote the law on the hearts of Jews and gentiles, and this was a true test of your heart because the crucifixion of God’s specially chosen one Jesus activated this inner divine spark, and so your response to Christ determined whether you had been crucified with Christ in that your heart was circumcised.  This notion of special knowledge is also conspicuous in Mark who has Jesus say even the disciples didn’t completely have it:

  • 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything comes in parables, 12 in order that ‘they may indeed look but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ ” 13 And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? (Mark 4:11-12)

I think this is good evidence that the salvation through the cross and resurrection was not even on Jesus’ radar during his lifetime, as the disciples wouldn’t have gotten violent at the arrest of Jesus if the crucifixion/resurrection was ever part of the plan.  McGrath makes the point that the writers wouldn’t have invented the idea of the disciples being violent at the arrest.  You see the writers inserting ideas about Jesus predicting his death and resurrection, which is fun apologetics but hardly historical.

I don’t think the historical Jesus would have thought of himself as anything other than a failed messianic claimant.  The disciples wouldn’t have gotten violent at Jesus’ arrest if the plan was for Jesus to die.  The cross/resurrection theology was invented after Jesus died, and I think Jeremiah 31:33-34 I mentioned before is probably a pretty good window into what James, Peter, and the Jerusalem bunch were advocating, and where Paul appropriated from them, yet diverged.  Jesus fulfilled the Law by teaching it’s essence as love of God and neighbor, and redefined love to emphasize love of enemies and those who persecute you (Matt 5:43-48).  This reversed the Greek notion of love with Achilles and the love/eros of endlessly seeking honor and glory.  Love does not pursue so as to temporarily satisfy, but rather bestows value, so that even those some might find undesirable are loved: the ground of care for widow, orphan, stranger, and enemy.  This is a law written on the heart, a transformed heart.

Of course, the idea of awakening the divine spark within through Christ’s death certainly resonates with  Gnosticism.  Great Gnostic scholar Elaine Pagels  says:

  • Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says, “My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.” Learn the sources of sorrow:, joy, love, hate . . . If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself

Ecclesiastes 3:11 declares that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men.” In Luke 17:21, Jesus proclaims, depending on how you translate it, that “The kingdom of God is within you,” and “all flesh will see the salvation of God.”

Regarding the death of Socrates and thanking Asclepius for the poison because of the transformative effect Socrates’ death would have on society (we no longer execute people for being a nuisance/gadfly), this phenomenon had led some (e.g., St. Ambrose) to conclude that Plato had actually heard the prophet Jeremiah when in Egypt:  Conversely, Gmirkin argues for a late date for Jeremiah and that the Platonic/Socratic flavor of Jeremiah as the Deuteronomistic literary stereotype of the persecuted prophet in Jeremiah draws on Greek antecedents, notably the portrait of Socrates in Plato’s writings.

There is sometimes a dispute over what it means for Jesus to be a sacrifice.  If we look at the Leviticus 16 background for the sacrifice imagery in the Letter to the Hebrews, we see there are two animals involved.  The blood of the sacrificed animal doesn’t provide vicarious atonement, but rather sanctifies and allows God to dwell amongst a sinful people.  On the other hand, the sins of the people are put on the other animal, the scapegoat, and it is released into the wilderness.  Obviously, Jesus is the sacrificed animal, not the scapegoat.  The idea with the law in people’s hearts is Christ’s sacrifice provides the occasion to awaken the law written on your heart and inspire repentance.  Recall the passage from Jeremiah about the new covenant law being written on people’s hearts.  *** God is powerless to forgive unless the people repent.  Otherwise, it’s like a wife who is forever forgiving and giving second, third, etc chances to a cheating spouse who won’t stop cheating.

Similarly, James McGrath points out the gospel of John is interesting because when John says Jesus takes away the sin of the world, he doesn’t call him a scapegoat, but a lamb, specifically a Passover lamb.  There doesn’t seem to be a connection between atonement for someone’s sins and the Passover sacrifice, but if we see it as a collective with sin enslaving the Jews in Egypt Christ’s death points to transformation from being in bondage/enslaved by sin.  It has nothing to do with Christ dying in our place to pay God our sin debt – as though we had ever done anything (the vast majority of us) that warrants capital punishment! Lambs never take away sins as a purging sacrifice in the Jewish tradition. Perhaps what is being referred to is God’s prerogative to forgive completely apart from the sacrificial system. In John, Jesus is the ultimate Passover Lamb because he provides an exodus for the entire cosmos, but takes away sins in the sense that he represents God and God has that prerogative to forgive aside from sacrifice. In his upcoming book, prof Andrew Rillera is going to argue that phrase in John doesn’t occur in LXX but it appears with ἀφαιρέω. Rillera thinks it’s referring to the divine prerogative to eliminate sins w/o sacrifice in Exod 34:7, 9; Num 14:18; Isa 27:9; Sir 47:11.


[1] See:

[2] There has been question by a few as to whether the forgiveness prayer of Luke 23:34 was originally in Luke, or rather if it was inserted by a later scribe, because it is missing from some ancient manuscripts. Ehrman provides a convincing argument that the prayer was authentic to Luke. Ehrman comments:

  • The verse (found only in Luke) coincides perfectly with Luke’s own portrayal of Jesus as calm and in control in the face of his death, more concerned with the fate of others than himself; it shows Jesus in prayer, a distinctive emphasis of Luke, long recognized; the prayer itself embodies the motif of “ignorance”, a notion used throughout Luke-Acts to account for Jesus’ unlawful execution. (This preceding argument is meant to show that it is likely that Luke himself wrote the verse, that it did not originate with a scribe inserting it into the text.) see

For further analysis, see my two peer reviewed essays

(A) The Justified Lie by the Johannine Jesus in its Greco-Roman-Jewish Context:


(B) A Critique of the Penal Substitution Interpretation of the Cross of Christ:

Also, for the other 4 blog posts in this series, see

On Matthew and Isaiah 53:

And on The Law Written On Our Hearts:

And on being Washed In The Blood of Christ:

On Christology and John the Baptist:

For further analysis, a discussion about these issues in relation to a critique of the Christ Myth Theory are being held at the Internet Infidels Discussion Board thread here:

Finally, for the connection between the cross of Paul and that of Mark, see this post on the Roman Soldier at the cross in Mark: