I became engaged in a thread on Facebook (). I'm sharing it here for general edification. I've changed one name to "X" since I don't know whether he'd be put off by my attaching his name to his words being repeated here on this blog.

This thread concerns "Religion & Science: Haught, Dennett, & Wilson": http://www.youtube.com/user/TomUsherRLCC#grid/user/C98DF2A26E993F54: John Haught, David Sloan Wilson, and Daniel Dennett as a panel discuss religion and science in 8 parts.

Andrew Cornelius started it off by putting a link to part one on Andrew's Facebook Wall:

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

Rich, white, male westerners discuss stuff!

Seriously though, I appreciate Haught's contributions in particular. I don't think I'll ever be able to swallow Daniel's strict materialism. Not only rationally but even on a basic intuitive level, it just doesn't seem to provide a complete or full account of ultimate reality. Nonetheless, conversations like these are worthwhile, informative, and thought provoking.
Daniel Dennett & John Haught & David Sloan Wilson on Religion part 1/8
For my blog, CLICK ME: http://ihateallreligion.blogspot.com/ Daniel Clement Dennett (born March 28, 1942 in Boston, Massachusetts) is an American philosopher whose research centers on philosophy of mind, ...
Sat at 2:09pm · Comment · Like · Share

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

brought to you by "IHateAllReligion"
Sat at 2:10pm

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

"If you want empirical evidence, it's called shopping."
Sat at 2:24pm

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

"We've gone beyond [New Testament] morality," claims Daniel. What? I think he should read the sermon on the mount and reassess his logic. In light of climate change, militarism, nationalism, and so forth, I fail to see how his point stands on one, let alone two, feet.
Sat at 10:30pm

X wrote:

I really enjoy Dennet and I watched this discussion a while back. Somewhere toward the end, Dennet makes a very good critique of Haught's view of what he calls "scientism". I completely agree with Dennet on that one issue. Andrew, I've heard that same argument from you (haught's straw man view of science). Haught didn't really respond. Can you provide an example of this so called "scientism"?
Sun at 5:58am

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

I don't use the term myself but there are plenty of people who seem to only want to believe something that can be empirically demonstrable. They also try to conform all their views to what modern science has to say, even though it is obviously incomplete and could be wrong on various matters. For example, if one were to have based his/her worldview exclusively on scientific observations and theories three-hundred years ago, false claims would have been held as true. Likewise, I don't think today's science has it all figured out despite many thinking they can only believe that which it has "proven." Now, I realize you and Dan would agree science doesn't have everything sorted out. However, I bet you two have faith that it can, in principle, explain just about everything. All we need is more time (similar to a naturalist argument concerning the origin of life). Scientism, imo, is placing faith in science as ultimately authoritative (and in an exclusive way). Haught, in his writings, does a good job showing why this is overreaching and doesn't speak to many questions we human beings ask. As for Dennett, I think you would enjoy his works (and you may have read many of them already). It seems as if you ought to devote more time to reading books by proponents of materialist naturalism than by Bible scholars and "liberal" Christians.
Sun at 10:39am

X wrote:

I don't have faith in science. I, like every actual scientist (which I'm not), have to simply test and accept what the tests suggest. That is not some kind of dogmatic faith. Science itself is not wrong unless a scientist stops dealing in facts and speculates, but then it is no longer science, it is superstition.

As I've said, naturalism is completely compatible with christianity. In my view, it's the most lucid lens to view the story of Christ.
Sun at 11:13am

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

Not only do I disagree with that (the compatibility of naturalism with Christianity), but Daniel Dennett and most every naturalist scientist does too. You call me "extreme," but I think what you're saying here is considered "extreme" by both the majority of Christians AND scientists.
Sun at 11:18am

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

But your lens doesn't allow you to really read the story of Christ. You have to take the story and put it through a modern refining process. You purge it of all "supernatural" elements and likewise distort the importance of Jesus' theism in terms of his motivation and passion. The resurrection is ultimately rejected out of hand. That in turn makes explaining the early Nazarene movement, Saul and James' conversions, his restored disciples, etc. quite difficult.
Sun at 12:16pm

X wrote:

Of course I'll argue that you can't "really read" the story because you are obsessed with the story as a historical account and can't fully embrace the symbolism its authors intended. I'm not reading it through a modern lens (one that needs it to have actually happened in order to have value). I'd prefer to read it as a materialist, a view that does not impose superstitions onto the text and lets the full depth of symbolism speak.

I don't "reject the resurrection out of hand". By recognizing it as a literary allegorical scene, I can embrace all the nuance intended by the authors who crafted it. It makes understanding the early movement and the subsequent legends 100% logical and exactly what we would expect to find. In fact we do find the same techniques all around the world in other myths. I'm fully embracing it, rather than making it some kind of magic trick.

You are left with a difficult move that tries to apply the modern need for proving it happened onto stories that would never had been used to "prove" historical events the way a modernist would like to do.

Sun at 12:40pm

X wrote:

What makes christianity incompatible with materialism/naturalism? Are you going to exclude me from Christianity because I'm not willing to state certainty in any claims of superstitions or supernatural events? People like Dennett make the same mistakes that you seem to make by selling the Christian message short and boiling it all down to metaphysical claims.
Sun at 12:48pm

Tom Usher wrote:

I created a playlist: http://www.youtube.com/user/TomUsherRLCC#grid/user/C98DF2A26E993F54 and added the following description:

Intelligent Design is not exclusive to the self-styled Fundamentalists. Theistic evolution is not inconsistent with figurative interpretations of scripture. The underlying mechanics of Darwinian selection is a design. There are those who choose to insist that there can be no intelligence there. The atheist versus the agnostic is arguing from arrogance concerning this matter. Christian professors come in many stripes. Some have never had what they deem a metaphysical experience. The scientist can always say that there is hidden material technology behind all happenings. Otherwise, they don't "know" it. They simply believe it.

Scientism is exactly what Daniel Dennett practices. He repeated that he subjects all of John Haught's "hypotheses" to the scientific method as he, Dennett, defines that method. I say as he defines it because he includes in the "sciences" the social sciences in which he also includes psychology, although many psychologist would take umbrage with that notion that their system is not founded now at least on the "hard" sciences. He does apply it to all issues. It is his ideology whether he calls that fact nonsense or not.

The fact is that there is no possibility for me to speak to Daniel Dennett in any meaningful way since everything I say speaks right past him. He wants signs and wonders upon demand or he won't believe. That's exactly the point of separation of which Jesus spoke when he said to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and what Jesus meant when he said we aren't to test or tempt God. Those who insist upon it are precluded in the end. The proof is the outcome. We shall see.

At least David Wilson admitted to how religiosity can be applied to scientism. Of course, science is faith-based. It has no choice. Its faith is in itself. Whatever can be revealed, will be reveal via scientific methodology they think and believe. There is no revelation coming from spirit because they haven't scientifically (as they use the terms science, facts, knowledge, and the like) in their view, shown the spirit.

Haught's quote of Dawkins concerning scientism also refuted Dennett. Wilson said that Darwinism is the framework for investigating theology. Those aren't the exact terms he used, but they nevertheless apply. He doesn't allow for the opposite where scripture is used to evaluate Darwinism (not as Darwin applied it but as many scientists are nevertheless applying it as the end-all-be-all of truth and knowledge - not seeing it as even possibly a closed-looped).

I think science has gone down hill in that when I was young, the best scientists would never speak in absolutist terms but always remain open to discovering whole new ways of seeing. To me, there has been a great dumbing in that regard.
Sun at 4:24pm ·

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

It matters little to me how you define yourself. If you like the label Christian, feel free to use it.

I am not obsessed with the stories about Jesus as historical accounts but it is obvious that there are historical ELEMENTS to those stories. This is very important to note. This also applies to the resurrection which was clearly regarded as a historical events by Jesus' disciples, his brother James, Paul, and so on. To act as if everything is just a fictional narrative generated by first-century Jews is convenient but not very persuasive.

What is the "difficult move" exactly? Are you claiming Saul, James, et al. committed their lives to Christ because of some nice story that has little to no grounding in historical events? The NT authors, especially Paul, intended for the resurrection of Jesus to be taken as an actual event and regarded Jesus as a living reality. The authors did not approach this as you postulate or would have it as a modern materialist deriving some kind of timeless ethic from a misguided man two-thousand years ago.
Sun at 10:11pm

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

I don't boil it all down to metaphysical claims. How one lives is extremely important, but of course how we live directly corresponds to how we see the cosmos, whether there is a greater purpose, and so on. You never did explain why your ethic of anti-imperialism through nonviolence is evident from the evolutionary process and what you glean from the scientific method. Your morality doesn't seem to make sense within a naturalistic framework and I have yet to see you demonstrate why people should buy into it. As a materialist, what, by chance, do you believe the purpose of human life is (or is there purpose beyond what we ourselves would manufacture)?
Sun at 11:10pm

Tom Usher wrote:

Andrew, you're very lenient toward X. I'm completely prepared to tell X that he is not a Christian most certainly because for one, he rejects the spirit.

Where in the world do you, X, think that the fiction of Jesus began? Which member or members of the early Church fabricated Jesus? Were the disciples also a fabrication? Was Polycarp a fabrication? Were those who wrote of, and knew, Polycarp also fabrications? When did real human beings actually begin and the fiction leave off?

I'm amazed at your position. I've never heard anything quite so preposterous. I don't say it with the intention of hurting your feelings. I'm just being as direct and honest about how it strikes me as I'm able. You really should reevaluate from a historical position.

Why would you "believe" such dishonest people? One would have to think that you have esoteric knowledge that no one else has ever attained, or do you know others you hold with your view?

I've heard people express that the Gospel's are fiction or myth but none maintaining he or she is really Christian. I've heard Bill Moyers speak in ways that suggests he might agree with you. John Shelby Spong would agree, but does he even call himself a Christian anymore? I don't think of him as Christian.

Oh well, I hope God the spirit will move you to spirit.

Yesterday at 12:07am ·

X wrote:

Yes, Bill Moyers, John Shelby Song, and myself all have slightly different views, but all three of us are Christians. Why? Because we follow Jesus. I have no clue what Moyers thinks on the issue of dualism/materialsm.

In your view, are particular claims about metaphysics required for being Christian? If so, which claims? Must one believe God is an alien being with a flesh and blood body? How about a ghost? Which view does Christianity require? Must one believe in transubstantiation, 6 day creation, a 40 day flood, a virgin birth? How far does it go?

Tom, You seem to have an either/or fact of lie mentality. Did George Lucus "lie" when he made Star Wars. If someone comes along later and tries to claim the story was historical fact, does that claim then make Lucas a liar?

I love the Biblical stories. They changed everything about my life. I continue to draw inspiration from the stories. That does not mean I need to reinterpret them as factual historical accounts. The authors of scripture were not "dishonest". They simple did the same things to the stories of Jesus as the Romans did to the myths of Caesar. The stories honor Jesus. Only modern desire for "history over poetry" would superimpose your kind of "fact or lie" test to the texts.

We don't know precisely when "fictions" of Jesus began, but I think pretty soon after his death. So far, all we can claim with certainty is that we have these stories written some decades after his death (and that is not 100% guaranteed). I have faith in the meanings of those stories and the "historicity" of the events is irrelevant to the deeper meanings.

If you've "never heard anything quite so preposterous" then you have not studied the detailed development of Christian theology and a the scriptures themselves. This is a 1800 year old conversation and there has been as much written from my view (probably much more since the institutional church stopped controlling the debate and silencing other voices). If you claim this view is surprising then you've had a sheltered exposure to theology.

Please explain how I "reject[s] the spirit". On the contrary, I accept the spirit of the texts. I only reject the superstitious claims attached to the texts.
Yesterday at 6:36am

X wrote:


You asked...

"Are you claiming Saul, James, et al. committed their lives to Christ because of some nice story that has little to no grounding in historical events?"

Yes (but it's much more than a nice story). It's a life changing story. It's the gospel. More importantly, the ideas behind Jesus' story is so powerful that these people thought enough about it to actually create a myth to preserve and glorify the ideals. In the world of the 1st and second century, the best compliment you could give a person was to mythologize their life. These are not "fictions", they are myths. To mythologize Jesus meant that since Caesar had these same mythical stories, Jesus deserves them also. They are not lies. They are competitive counter protests to the stories about Caesar.

Are you in turn implying that a non-historical story is incapable of motivating people (even millions of people) to do dramatic world changing things? If so, does that exclude every other myth of every other culture? Is Muhammad the really the one true prophet of God? Or is it possible that the historicity of a story is not a necessary ingredient for millions of people to act and even give their lives?
Yesterday at 7:38am

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

So did Jesus even exist? Yes, I do believe Jesus' immediate followers, Saul, and his brother James carried on because of a real, historical individual who was vindicated by God. They would not have been martyred for a nice story, and I really do wish to hear why anti-imperialism through nonviolence makes sense within a naturalistic framework. As for Christianity, I agree with Tom in that you're missing a crucial piece of the puzzle— the origins of the movement, including Pentecost and later Saul's conversion experience (not to mention Jesus' appearances to his disciples and others). At least Dale Allison, a scholar who is skeptical about the resurrection, recognizes these people were convinced of Jesus' resurrection having happened (historically).
Yesterday at 1:42pm

X wrote:


I tend to think Jesus existed, but I can't try to claim it beyond what the evidence supports. It's not enough evidence to claim certainty. Either way, the story changed my life.

I never said that later followers didn't become convinced the legends were "history". It's obvious that at some point they did, right? But that is true of nearly every religion. I'm sure you could find plenty of Roman citizens who really thought Augusta Caesar was the son of god. A Roman kid grows up reading that on their money, and it's bound to set in. That's one point of the myths.

Your claim here is that people would not have followed the way of Jesus if the stories were not historically accurate. To make that claim, you need to establish 1) that millions of people only ever follow religious claims if those religious claims are historical accurate. 2) Some Christians were killed for their metaphysical views (that they were killed because they believed resurrections and healing were possible). 3) that being Christian necessarily meant changing from one metaphysical view of the universe to another.

I can't see evidence of any of these 3. Can you provide any evidence?

In the bible or early church, who changed their metaphysical views as a result of Christianity? Who didn't believe in literal demons, but then did? Who understood the germ theory of disease the way we do, then decided that miraculous hearings were possible? Who denied the possibility of afterlife, then decided they might live forever if converting to Christianity? These people already believed the possibilities of all these things. Their "conversion" was a conversion to a political and social allegiance, not metaphysics.

You've taken Tom Wrights error in logic when you say "They would not have been martyred for a nice story".

If you claim that, then you have to claim that the thousands of non-christians who were killed by the Romans were also killed because of their metaphysical beliefs. Rome did not do this at all. Wright's error is that in realty, there is no evidence that suggests one single Christian was ever killed because of their metaphysical beliefs. It is simply bad history to suggest otherwise. Any Christian could have said they believe in vampires or talking frogs and the Romans would have left them alone as long as that vampire didn't threaten to over throw Caesar or stop paying taxes. There were plenty of believers with bizarre claims who went without execution. It was not the Christian metaphysical beliefs in resurrections or spirits that caused their martyrdom. It was their political insubordination and talk of a coming king to over throw Caesar. It was that they dared to create myths poking fun at Caesar and saying that Jesus was their new messiah coming to rule these people in Caesar's place. Metaphysics was not part of the original Christian equation. In fact, the original message did not seem to ask people to change their metaphysical views. In contrast, each group took the story and worked it around their existing metaphysical views. The afterlife view is so prevalent because Paul, already a pharisee with belief in afterlife, wrote much of the story. He didn't shift metaphysics. He just shifted allegiance and read Jesus into the his existing metaphysical views of a Pharisee.
Yesterday at 2:37pm

Tom Usher wrote:


I wrote this before Andrew's reply to you after my first comment here.

Of course there is a range of interpretation. There was a range of interpretation right within the group closest to the historical Jesus, whom you believe was actual but just later mythologized by those very disciples. Why was he actual rather than entirely myth, as so many hold him out to have been? Absolutely, the spirit (and not the spirit versus the letter) leads one to itself: the metaphysical. This is the "faith." The faith is not in the purely material but also in the manifest. The spirit is manifest but is more. John and the others didn't write in a way that accepts that before material Creation there was the material. There's no proving it to you, but there is speaking the word to you that you are stretching Christianity to atheism. There is no God the spirit, immaterial in your system. There is only exactly what Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al., say there is with your superimposing a particular connotation of "spirit" that isn't the spirit of which the whole of Christianity was founded upon. You say you follow Jesus, but you follow a myth devoid of the immaterial spirit that the whole "myth," as you claim, leads one to believe. The convolutions in that remain astounding.

You ask me how far particular belief in immaterial spirit goes before one is Christian. That's an illogical question. It's not the "particulars" but rather the first principle of immateriality. You reject that metaphysical, ergo you are not a Christian. Once one is beyond that huge gap, then and only then do the other questions arise over which you have rightly claimed there has been much historical debate.

Let me answer some things here though. "Must one believe God is an alien being with a flesh and blood body?" God is spirit, as I've said and as Jesus is recorded as having said, which statement I believe he made as I dispute the notion that the disciples were laying down a myth. More to your question though is that God manifested and manifest. As for "alien," God is not an alien in his own. "How about a ghost?" The spirit is ghost. "Must one believe in transubstantiation"? I am not a Roman Catholic for many reasons. "...6 day creation...."? Define "day." If your point is that figurativeness and literalness are mutually exclusive, than I say your comprehension is blocked. It is not an either/or but where, when, who, what, why. In addition, there is a line between the Old and New Testaments even while there is continuity. The Fundamentalists don't have a lock on the spiritual. Each of the matters you raised is a matter of individual belief, but my point concerning the metaphysical still stands.

When George Lucus created his work of fiction, he didn't hold it out as fact. With the exception of the mentally unstable, no one wrote about or otherwise dealt with that fiction as representing actual events accept in the most abstract sense, since Lucus was making social commentary. That's what fiction does. There is though non-fiction history that also makes social commentary. The Gospels are mostly that. They are far from devoid of the figurative. You want them entirely figurative, but you can't have it your way. It's not going to happen.

The New Testament holds out the metaphysical as true and not myth. You do everything in your mind to reject that. Will you be with God and Jesus in Heaven after your flesh gives up the ghost? Will your immaterial soul be anywhere? What allegorical good is there in your position?

Did Rome level Jerusalem? Did the Babylonians lay waste? Those aren't myths. There is also figurative language in the scriptures about them.

How are you physically healed by God? Is it all Darwinian to you? Is Dawkin's science your thing? The "myth" says that hypocrisy and disbelief retards the miracles. How do you love that if you believe it's false? I say you're twisted up in your talk.

"The authors of scripture were not "dishonest". They simple did the same things to the stories of Jesus as the Romans did to the myths of Caesar."

The myths of Caesar were deliberate lies designed to dupe the masses, or do you dispute that. If your view is that such willfully deceptive devices are advantageous for revealing truth, again, I find that convoluted, twisted up, and a block. No one in the real early Church is recorded as having said here's a myth in that way. It is not honor to Jesus for anyone to mythologize him. It's a dishonoring of what he said and did that includes what most "scientists" today claim couldn't have happened. The whole point of the Good News is the gap where the believers are separated from those who disbelieve all sorts of things but clearly also the metaphysical.

"I have faith in the meanings of those stories and the "historicity" of the events is irrelevant to the deeper meanings."

The faith is in the spirit and its power to do the transcendent. It's the whole point. Without that, you don't have Christ. That's part of the deeper meaning. The shallow is the material-only. You will die and go into nonexistence if there is no spirit beyond the flesh. If you want to expand your notion of cosmos to include God the spirit, that's one connotation. If you want to exclude God the immaterial, God over matter, I won't be seeing you in the Highest Heaven. I don't say you'll be falling eternally into the bottomless pit, but where and when you'll be will be separated out. You'll be in a different mansion in the house of existence.

"If you've 'never heard anything quite so preposterous' then you have not studied the detailed development of Christian theology and a the scriptures themselves. This is a 1800 year old conversation and there has been as much written from my view (probably much more since the institutional church stopped controlling the debate and silencing other voices). If you claim this view is surprising then you've had a sheltered exposure to theology."

Hardly. I'm aware of the debates. You missed my point. My point was on the preposterousness and not about sheer numbers or with opening the floodgates of the atheists, for you are an atheist not believing in the Holy Spirit transcendent of all material - not confined within Sagan's cosmic vision. I don't believe you are using a different vision of the cosmos from Sagan, whose vision definitely excluded the spiritual God of Jesus.

You call the feeding of the five thousand "superstitious." You want to love the scripture that says with faith all things are possible with God the immaterial spirit while you want to say that, that God doesn't exist for sure.

You call the myth a life-changing myth. How is it life-changing beyond anything any atheist could take away from it? Daniel Dennett wouldn't cede anything there. His view is that the good comes out from his methodology founded upon his belief that the flesh and culture control without God the immaterial even seen let alone given a scrap of credit.

What your position does is retard the spirit. It misleads souls to stop prematurely. You are as the dog barking in the manger. You can't eat, so you are telling others they don't need to. God withholds exactly on account of your position. This is what Jesus taught and still teaches through the story you claim to so love and claim has changed your life. Let it change it more. Ask God and Jesus to speak to you spiritually — out from the immaterial. Let them manifest to you in ways that you will know that they are not bound by Daniel Dennett's imagination.
Yesterday at 2:57pm ·

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

I'm not primarily referencing "later" followers.

"There is no evidence that suggests one single Christian was ever killed because of their metaphysical beliefs."
Are you aware of the circumstances surrounding the death of James? Moreover, while they are "legendary," it's likely most, if not all, of the apostles were martyred for their commitment to a LIVING Christ.
Yesterday at 3:03pm

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

And I don't think I'm going to keep answering questions until you explain the following:
1. How is anti-imperialism through nonviolence supported or evident from the evolutionary process? How does naturalism imply or promote such an ethic?
2. If Jesus is not a living reality and was not raised from the dead, how do you "follow" Jesus? You already said we are not to emulate him in many respects (such as maintaining his framework of theism). So, what aspects of his practice and outlook do you apply? How do you live out your "anti-imperialism"?
3. What is the purpose of human life within a naturalistic worldview? Why should we embrace nonviolence? Why (you never truly answered this) should we resist empire? Why not live it up and enjoy ourselves to the fullest? Also, does your support of Obama demonstrate anti-imperialism or conformity? Are you "extreme" like Jesus was? And why should we lay down our own lives and take up our cross when there is no God, no afterlife, no consciousness apart from biological emergence, no objective good and evil, no cosmic teleology, etc.?
Yesterday at 3:12pm

Tom Usher wrote:


I suppose Andrew is working up a response. He and I may be somewhat redundant here as our postings cross.

You ask for evidence but won't take the Gospel text as such. What's the point in replying to you? Do we need a time machine to satisfy you?

You say, "Their "conversion" was a conversion to a political and social allegiance, not metaphysics." You are agreeing here that all the earliest Christians were metaphysicians. In addition, let me point out that the political and social were transcendent while they were manifest at the same time.

The Christians were killed because of their particular metaphysical beliefs and all of their political and social actions or desires that followed from those metaphysical beliefs. You are also apparently unaware that Jesus was a direct threat to the Caesar-as-god concept. Jesus was the one and only gate and way, per his followers statements for which they were most certainly murdered. He became a direct metaphysical and manifest threat in the eyes of the Romans.
Yesterday at 3:17pm ·

X wrote:


We don't have the words of any contemporaries. The closest would be Paul, but he never met Jesus. But regardless of that, for the sake of argument, I'll allow you the assumption that these were contemporaries. Even then, which of them was killed for their metaphysical claims or beliefs. You have some highly mythical stories in Acts which is far from the 1st person accounts of Paul's actual experience and even contradicts Paul at times.

I think you dodged the question. How can you say James or any of the other followers were killed because their metaphysical beliefs didn't line up with the Romans or allowed for resurrections or ascensions? In fact, those were common beliefs and line up well with Greco/Roman metaphysics. If they killed people for believing in resurrections and ascensions, they'd have been killing Roman citizens day and night. Rome didn't interfere with religious beliefs. As long as you didn't stir up a revolt and paid your taxes, you were a good Roman citizen no matter your metaphysics. They could have said their dog or cat was coming to over throw Caesar and if they had a reasonable following, they'd be dead just as fast. You'll have to prove the correlation between metaphysics and martyrdom as separate from political revolt if you want to use it the way N.T. Wright does.

You still have all 3 of my points to address.

How did James or any follower view metaphysics differently after "accepting Jesus"?

I'll address your last comment when I have more time. I'll try to be more specific. Your questions are very good.


You have the same case to make and I've presented 3 points you can directly address to make that case. I'm very open to evidence on these points. It's a case that could be made. We don't need a time machine, but we do need something to point to and consider. Otherwise we would be talking about what we "want" history to say, rather than what it says.
Yesterday at 3:27pm

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

What do you know about James' execution?

Paul knew Peter, James, and so on so it's not like he was this independent guy making stuff up about Jesus even though you rightly point out he hadn't been one of the disciples.

Rome didn't interfere with religious beliefs?
I beg to differ, and above Tom went into detail as to why such a claim doesn't hold up. It wasn't simply Christians believing in the resurrection *only*. More radically, they also claimed Jesus is a living reality and is lord (not Caesar). Their "unseen" king rivaled the cult of Caesar, and it very much did matter to them that this king truly exists and is not simply a fictional "myth."
Yesterday at 3:33pm

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

Most scholars accept Josephus' account.
Yesterday at 3:38pm

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

Anyhow, it was the Jewish elite who killed James, not the Romans. And Saul persecuted the Nazarenes prior to his conversion— it wasn't Roman persecution. And what, by chance, was the common reason for this? It of course wasn't that they believed in the general resurrection, etc. as you addressed above. It was the belief in Jesus as lord, as one raised and exalted by God, and the lifestyle that followed from their metaphysical conviction.
Yesterday at 3:41pm

Tom Usher wrote:


No X, I don't have the same case to make. You need to re-read my points, which you are apparently completely missing.

I'm not interested in continuing a dialogue with someone who after having it being thoroughly explained to him still claims to be Christian but rejects the metaphysical. You are simply part of the blind following the blind. So be it. That's you. I'm not going there.

You are not a Christian in my book. You are an atheist. I'm not lighting the fire to burn you though. That's the other spirit.

You still need directly to ask God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit (one).

Yesterday at 3:45pm ·

X wrote:

Ok, Tom. It was nice meeting you. Thanks for your opinion. Since you are not interested in dialog, I won't respond to your comments.
Yesterday at 4:43pm

X wrote:


"It of course wasn't that they believed in the general resurrection, etc. as you addressed above. It was the belief in Jesus as lord, as one raised and exalted by God, and the lifestyle that followed from their metaphysical conviction."

Do you then agree it was the resulting lifestyle and anti-imperial language and protest that caused their persecution and death? Do you agree that there were other mystical religions and other supernatural beliefs that were not persecuted in the empire? Do you agree it is only because those who believed felt a need to protest that they were persecuted? Keep in mind that people who didn't believe the same things were killed when they resisted, and people who believed the same things, but didn't protest were not killed. All Peter had to do was deny being part of the revolt (not an associate of Jesus). He didn't have to state disbelief or renounce any metaphysical claims. There is not "disbelieve or die" mandate. Simply a "bow and pay your taxes".

The Jewish persecution of christians was not simply that they disagreed theologically. It was that the Jews running Jerusalem, we no longer in agreement with the scriptural mandate for justice and equality. Those leaders running Jerusalem had been appointed by and were in support of Rome. Dissenting leaders were already long dead over a century earlier. Only Roman sympathizers were allowed to remain in rule in Jerusalem. Their sympathy with the Roman tax system and oppression of the peasants was what Jesus was there to protest, not their metaphysics. They likely agreed 100% in metaphysics. The religious leaders were persecuting Christians because they upset the political order and threatened to cause rome to come down hard on the whole Jewish community (which is exactly what did eventually happen 30 years later when various revolts became out of hand).

Your case is that metaphysical beliefs are the defining element (fundamentals if you prefer) of christianity. That's the claim you are making against me (that I can't be christian if I have different metaphysical views or even if I'm just agnostic about them). I know you say there are additional responsibilities. But you clearly state that I'm not Christian, even though I completely agree with you on the actions we should take. So the only difference here is that I don't try to claim certainty (belief) in claims that I can't prove. I"m not willing to state it on speculation I'm agnostic about things I can't prove. I consider that to be a proper confidence.

I'll leave that part of the debate for now. I'll let you have the last word if you like. I'll turn to your questions about evolution and materialsim.
Yesterday at 5:08pm

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

"All Peter had to do was deny being part of the revolt (not an associate of Jesus). He didn't have to state disbelief or renounce any metaphysical claims."
Where do you read an account of Peter's death? How do you know what transpired?

You didn't respond about James, among other things. How can you say they would have agreed with other Jews 100% in metaphysics? The Nazarene sect was persecuted and was despised primarily for its emphasis on the risen Yeshua. This single issue was HUGE. And what you're saying is part of what I am saying too— of course allegiance to Jesus has political and social ramifications. However, the relationship with Jesus was living, active, and far exceeded faith in a "myth." Are you claiming other Jews didn't mind all this talk about Yeshua? They didn't mind some Jews claiming him as Messiah, etc.? Today we witness "heretical" groups that are despised for their beliefs, not simply because they can get the greater group in hot water.
Yesterday at 5:34pm

X wrote:

1. How is anti-imperialism through nonviolence supported or evident from the evolutionary process? How does naturalism imply or promote such an ethic?

It doesn't. I don't claim it does. I have no idea what that question means to produce. I find nonviolence in the story of Jesus. That's they "way" I found it and why I chose it. I suspect the reason someone like Dennet doesn't support non-violence is that he doesn't believe in Jesus. I do.

2. If Jesus is not a living reality and was not raised from the dead, how do you "follow" Jesus?

The same way I would (and you do) if I did believe those things. If I did believe jesus was physically raised, the answer would be the same. The "way" to follow Jesus is to live out his character, values, goals, and mission (i.e. to be filled with his spirit). That's why I say the historicity is irrelevant. It is the application (incarnation) of his values that makes a christian a christian. Without his spirit (embodying his spirit), there is no faith.

2b. You already said we are not to emulate him in many respects (such as maintaining his framework of theism).

No, I said, believing in Jesus does not mean we adopt everything he (a first century man) would understand about the universe. Do you think being Christian means to agree with Jesus (or Paul) about nuclear fission, germ theory of disease, shape of the earth, extent of the solar system, modes of transportation, type of underwear, etc? Why pick out one or 2 of their views about afterlife or superstitions and try to preserve them as "essential" to following Jesus?

2c. So, what aspects of his practice and outlook do you apply? How do you live out your "anti-imperialism"?

I follow Jesus by applying the symbolic truths of his story and his mission to my life.

3. What is the purpose of human life within a naturalistic worldview? Why should we embrace nonviolence? Why (you never truly answered this) should we resist empire? Why not live it up and enjoy ourselves to the fullest?

We should only embrace nonviolence if it is truly a productive method. If it fails, we shouldn't do it. I think the rare times it has been used, it has proven to work. We shouldn't do it because any religion says to do it. We should do it because it works, period. I think the reason the NT promotes non-violent protest is because they saw the alternatives failing all around them. They wrote the myths to convey what they thought would work (i.e. forgiveness, mercy, love, justice).

We should resist empire because, as we see repetitively in the bible's myths and also in modern history, that the cycle of imperialism and retributive violence does not work. That is the best reason to follow Jesus and implement non-violent means of peace through justice. The story of Jesus is one of the best inspirational, poetic, prophetic, stories to convey that message. "living it up" fails. We've seen up close in the last decade what unregulated greed and disregard for community produces. We don't need a supernatural explanation to see how that continues to fail humanity. We do however benefit from some wonderful mythical stories that drive the point home and make it easier to understand. That is what art does. It inspires us to action. It makes us aware of things and we see more clearly when we have a story to open our eyes. This is why even today, people continue to make social statements through stories.
Yesterday at 5:34pm

X wrote:

The reference to Peter was his "denial" scene after Jesus death, not his own death. He simply had to deny being part of the group (the non-violent revolt that Jesus began with his public protest in the temple that got him killed). He didn't have to state disbelief or make a anti-metaphysical creed to clear himself and avoid capture.

The accounts of James death and several elements in the book of acts are part of a growing anti-Jewish sentiment that I think is much later (and non factual). I don't want to start a rabbit trail. I've said all I want about the historicity. I've answered your questions about materialism now, so I won't respond any more on this other topic until you directly address the 3 points I made earlier that you need to address. If you want to associate Christian martyrdom with metaphysical beliefs rather than political resistance, you need to answer those questions.
Yesterday at 5:43pm

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

Ah, I appreciate this— it helps immensely. You argue for nonviolence on pragmatic grounds. I don't, however, think Jesus did. It actually pertained to how he perceived the nature and will of God. But because there is no such God within your worldview, nonviolence cannot be sacrificial to like degree. There would be no reason, as it were, to allow oneself to be killed, let alone pray for enemies/persecutors while suffocating on a cross.

What do you mean you "believe in" Jesus? Since Jesus' commitment to nonviolence did not share your modern rationale, it falls apart when materialism is imposed. As such, Jesus becomes misguided and irrelevant. Dennett's conclusion, then, makes much more sense; I find him more consistent and logical.

I don't believe we should emulate Jesus in all respects either, but neither did the Apostle Paul or the early movement.

How can you say resorting to nonviolence in resisting empire "works"? It did for Gandhi, yes, but did it work for Jesus? It got him killed. It got many of his followers killed. It got anabaptists killed. I really think there is a serious flaw in your approach, that is, trying to reconcile materialism with a first-century Jew's ethics.
Yesterday at 5:48pm

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

I never said it's exclusively about metaphysics. For someone who has criticized me for black and white thinking, you're really pushing it here. As aforementioned, the metaphysics and political resistance (or alternative society) go hand-in-hand.

I addressed your questions. If you require more information then I guess we can finally move on. We're not going to bridge this gulf anyhow. The end of Dale Allison's book concerning the resurrection speaks well to our dilemma here. I'm not going to see things your way because I am not a materialist, nor do I believe naturalism is compatible with Christianity or even the way of Christ.
Yesterday at 5:54pm

X wrote:

" I never said it's exclusively about metaphysics."

Yes you did. You said that one thing (my non-belief or agnosticism about the supernatural) excludes me, right? so you make this the one issue a "fundamental" and reject me based on that one thing, right?

If metaphysics is not the most important thing, then why reject my faith?

"But because there is no such God within your worldview, nonviolence cannot be sacrificial to like degree. There would be no reason, as it were, to allow oneself to be killed, let alone pray for enemies/persecutors while suffocating on a cross."

But there is a God in my worldview. God is justice! Christ is peace (salvation) through justice! The reason to not respond with vengeance is the rational recognition that the endless cycle of revenge does not work. It is rational given the data we have (much more now that we can analyze the 20th century) that violence doesn't work.

"What do you mean you 'believe in' Jesus? "

To believe in a person is to agree with their methods, character, mission, etc? Believing in a person doesn't mean to belief they existed. It never has. I believe in my wife and by that I mean I share her dreams and visions and support them faithfully.

"Since Jesus' commitment to nonviolence did not share your modern rationale, it falls apart when materialism is imposed"

How? I don't hold a "modern rationale". I prefer a post-modern view that does not evaluate stories based on modern "fact or lie" tests. I try to place stories in context of their setting and genre and evaluate them for their meanings rather than insisting they fit a modern historical or scientific application in order to have value.

"How can you say resorting to nonviolence in resisting empire "works"? It did for Gandhi, yes, but did it work for Jesus? It got him killed. It got many of his followers killed. It got anabaptists killed."

Non-violence has worked. Gandhi is a good example (maybe one of the best). Since the authors had Jesus crucified (i actually think the historicity is somewhat plausible but we can't be positive) I think they were presenting the horrors of empire and its inevitable outcome. We've seen it play out again and again, but our stories are making the claim that their actions won't prevail. God vindicated Jesus in the story, right? That was the authors making sense of how they go on living in a world that then had no temple, no Jewish real nation, and little hope. We have real historical examples from non-religious texts showing Jewish peasants (maybe those following jesus) staging non-violent protests against the empire. It is possible they were following Jesus' instructions. Either way, it proves that non-violence was one of the options seen by some. Non-violence was not the final choice for Israel. It may still be suffering from that choice.

We don't have many examples of non-violence working because it hasn't been used much. But I have countless examples of the alternative failing. On that evidence, I chose non-violence and justice (the way of Jesus) as "the way". The lack of other great examples is why I lean heavily on Jesus. That's why I'm Christian. I've seen what Jesus' spirit in the hands of a Ghandi incarnating him can accomplish.
Yesterday at 6:26pm

X wrote:

These were the items you didn't address...

Your claim here is that people would not have followed the way of Jesus if the stories were not historically accurate. To make that claim, you need to establish 1) that millions of people only ever follow religious claims if those religious claims are historical accurate. 2) Some Christians were killed for their metaphysical views (that they were killed because they believed resurrections and healing were possible). 3) that being Christian necessarily meant changing from one metaphysical view of the universe to another.
Yesterday at 6:26pm

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

I didn't say you were "excluded." I just don't think your worldview makes sense. Now, however, I get why you appeal to Jesus in that you're after an example of nonviolence and anti-imperialism. Yet I would think, given your statements concerning pragmatic nonviolence, the myth of Gandhi would be more pertinent and useful to you. His nonviolent efforts were much more productive and effective than Jesus'. As a result, I think you should chose his narrative instead and "believe in" Gandhi.

God is just. Justice isn't God.

So if we're done, we're done. Thank you for your contributions.
Yesterday at 6:38pm

X wrote:


The Jesus story is Gandhi's myth. It was tolstoy's retelling of the Jesus story titled, "the kingdom of God is within you", that inspired Gandhi. Believing in Gandhi (which I do) is believing in Jesus. They are the same story because the core meaning of their myths are the same - to stand in non-violent opposition to the injustice of empire.

I can't choose between Gandhi and Jesus, I can only choose to side with them or with empire. They both stand with God (justice).

Jesus' narrative continues to be productive. I'm not sure why you think it failed or why you think it can't work. Jesus is alive. He lives! His narrative lives in us as it lived through Gandhi and MLK, and many others. Gandhi heard the Gospel of Jesus through Tolstoy and responded by taking on the spirit of Christ and incarnating it in his own life and the lives of millions. So unlike Tom's accusations, I accept the spirit of Christ when I seek to take on the attitude, character, mission, and methods of Jesus.

Do you still claim that people would not have followed the way of Jesus if the stories were not historically accurate? If so, i really would like you to specifically address those 3 items to support your argument.

Are you no longer insisting that being Christian requires a supernatural view about metaphysics? Are you going to retract your statement that Christianity is incompatible with a naturalistic view and therefore I'm not a Christian?
Yesterday at 7:15pm

Tom Usher wrote:


You tried.

"Then saith he to Thomas, 'Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.' And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. Jesus saith unto him, 'Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.' And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." (John 20:27-31)

"...be not faithless, but believing."
Yesterday at 9:41pm ·

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

I've met materialist Quakers so such a position doesn't shock me. I can't say that I find such worldviews sensical. Still, I don't know why my opinion is so important as if my approval were a huge deal. I'm just a young guy in Oregon. I don't lead a church and I don't define "Christian" or "Christianity" for everyone else. Like I said above, people can choose to be called what they want. It's of little concern to me.
Yesterday at 11:42pm

Tom Usher wrote:

Hey Andrew,

You have more influence than you think. You're well-read. You're young, but you appear to be up-and-coming. You're able to write and are only going to improve at it. You can defend your views with backup. You don't come off as scatterbrained. People are going to want you on their side.

Peace to you,

Yesterday at 11:53pm ·

X wrote:

You guys might enjoy this podcast that explains a wonder way to bridge the gap...

7 hours ago

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

Thanks, Tom. I am considering enrolling in seminary. I probably ought to and more fully commit my life to serving God.
about an hour ago

Andrew Cornelius wrote:

(not that pursuing a degree equates to serving God— I simply mean continue to develop my intellect, will, etc. for the will of God and way of Christ)
about an hour ago

Tom Usher wrote:

X is worldly only. He's boiling it down to people who were believers in the metaphysical and protesting while calling themselves followers of Jesus (believers but not all necessarily yet imbued with the Holy Spirit of Pentecost), not insisting that fellow "Nazarenes" also hold with the metaphysical. Of course, few protested in the sense that, that term is commonly used today. Most just refused to deny but went on being as Christ-like as possible. X is selling the view that worldly considerations come out from the worldly rather than that Christians receive the word out from that which is not worldly. Obviously, he's never had an experience or has forgotten. He's redefining, reframing, "the way of Jesus" so it is strictly worldly.

X is concerned that historicity not be required at all so that the Gospel's may become pure fiction and simply on the order of Aesop where we say, "...and the moral of the story is...." Thomas Jefferson read the Gospels that way. He rewrote the Bible to that end. Of course, he self-licensed to all sorts of iniquitous behaviors that I know follow on from such an undertaking for much the reasons you, Andrew, more than imply with your questions about Empire and materialism and morals, etc.

Clearly, becoming Christian meant either changing from materialism to metaphysics (beyond the limits of the worldly physical) of Christ or changing from anti-Jesus metaphysics to pro-Jesus metaphysics.

X has mostly used "metaphysical" here in the nondenominational sense. He's positioned the argument in a different place from the Christian position. The Pharisees certainly believed in the metaphysical. They did not though convert en masse to being disciples of Jesus. They held onto the Law of Moses necessarily including doing those things Jesus clearly and plainly showed them were hypocritical. They rejected Jesus's enhancement of the understanding of God, who is metaphysical but of course able to manifest. X wants to have it that shifting from one understanding to another does not preclude materialism in Christianity. He does this by rendering the Gospel as being fiction where the worldly limits of morality are all that there has ever been, are, or will be, which view completely dismisses the "good" in crediting God the metaphysical with your very existence and opportunity to do just that and so much more beyond the limits set by experimentation (tempting God) as the end-all-be-all, which it is in the so-called hard and soft sciences (a misnomer) of Dennett, Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and others of their anti-Christ ilk.

We read of Jesus showing that the metaphysical line between good and evil is not where the Pharisees and others had been placing and maintaining it.

Contrary to X's assertion, we do have the words of Jesus's contemporaries. The Gospels were not made up out of whole cloth decades after Jesus's physical and spiritual ascension — physical and spiritual at once. The Gospels were repeated over and over and over all along. It was written. Jesus said and did things that were not recorded. The telling was all over the map depending upon a whole host of circumstances. The Pharisees certainly weren't telling the version John was spreading. The canonical Gospels are so similar that it becomes clear to me as to what spirit is to dwell within.

The difference between adhering to the spiritless letter of Mosaic observances versus the real metaphysics of Christ is huge. Saving and healing on the Sabbath was forbidden in the false metaphysics of the Pharisees. They were required in the real metaphysics of Christ. The points of contention between the competing views are infinite. They are the difference between missing or hitting the mark.

The unclean spirits didn't build up immunity to the power of God coming out through Jesus. The strictly material approach isn't bringing forth. In fact, it's causing a cascade of problems each worse then its predecessor when we look at the aggregate of human affairs. So-called modern, sicentific healing is only as good as the spirit out from which it flows. Those calling themselves Christian vary in spirit. The whole of them don't have a singular lock on the right way. However, the materialists have no lock on it at all. Their system lacks prerequisites one of which is credit to the metaphysical. That crediting mind-set is required for bringing forth the other things. The materialists are locked into inherent failure. They may not believe in the radical, metaphysical Satanic spirit, but they also can't change their metaphysical path to the radical, metaphysical Godly spirit.

X's use of the term "justice" is a partial-truth use. His is the mundane use. He doesn't see the justice in full credit going to the metaphysical God of Jesus's Christ.

Of course Peter disavowed the real metaphysical when he denied Christ. His flesh was weak. He finally repented and greatly atoned when he stood his ground before the Sanhedrin and told them in no uncertain terms that they were not following God but working against God and for Satan, just as Jesus had said. X doesn't want to see this as a metaphysical issue just because it, as always, has mundane consequences.

X believes that he agrees on the actions humanity should take. He stops on all the mundane actions concerning which all atheists and Deists, etc., could also agree short of acknowledging even the existence of God. X has only a semantic issue with his fellow atheist over "justice" and other mundane levels of understanding.

You see the word "prove" used when testing is required to satisfy and where testing God is prohibited by God. Daniel Dennett wants that to be a red warning-flag to all unbelievers. It is a point of separation that occurs well before the difference between Pharisee and Christian.

Where does X agree? He doesn't agree with prostrating himself before the metaphysical Holy Spirit of real justice on the order of the real bread of Christ relative to the manna to ask for forgiveness and to do all the other things. How far is he able to walk through the strait gate and along the narrow way? He hasn't entered through that gate. He's still outside denying God is over all physical matter. He is not believing that God exists before the material cosmos in X's limited Sagan-type cosmos. He needs exactly what Jesus said was a sign of wickedness: proof beyond the Good News itself. X is not certain. I am.

The prophets heard from God. Did they always hear with perfect understanding? They heard from within their limits. We read that Enoch was taken up and shown the ways the host handled the material world. Jesus said he was returning to out from where he came. Why assume that Jesus didn't see what can't yet be seen by Dennett's science about reality? Why assume that when God spoke to Jesus that God limited the revelation to what Jesus related? Jesus spoke in parables, which X should like since they can be taken as truth-laded fiction. However, the disciple still wanted greater revelation. Jesus elaborated but was still confined to the language that was the residue of the hardness of the disciples' hearts. Did those disciples ever hear the whole of what God revealed to Jesus? I don't say they did in the mundane, specific sense other than they were given enough (the summation that is the New Commandment understood in all the words and deeds of God and Christ) to continue on. It's a reconcilable paradox for me. I have no problem with it. I say they heard plenty and plenty more than X.

Now, all that having been said, it is still better than not that X is not out machine gunning people.

Lastly and concerning your statement, Andrew, that "...people can choose to be called what they want. It's of little concern to me," let me say that I'm concerned because I don't like it when people give God and Jesus a bad reputation. When the hyper-violent, rabid, Christian Zionists, for instance, not only excuse all manner of war crimes, etc., but actually go on to call for heightening the violence in the name of God and Jesus, I'm concerned to speak out that their "brand" of Christianity isn't real Christianity at all and that X is closer to certain of the truth than are they.


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  • Tom Usher

    About Tom Usher

    Employment: 2008 – present, website developer and writer. 2015 – present, insurance broker.

    Education: Arizona State University, Bachelor of Science in Political Science. City University of Seattle, graduate studies in Public Administration.

    Volunteerism: 2007 – present, president of the Real Liberal Christian Church and Christian Commons Project.

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