January 2008

Jesus Tomb?Update: The write-up by the various scholars is now available on the official Princeton university site along with a list of signing scholars here: Symposium on Afterlife and Burial Practices in Second Temple Judaism

Recently TIME Magazine reported on a conference held in Jerusalem to discuss (again) the Talpiot Tomb, aka the "Jesus Tomb". In their story titled Jesus 'Tomb' Controversy Reopened, it implies strongly that the case on the Talpiot Tomb is still open, and that the chances that this really was Jesus' tomb are quite plausible: "After three days of fierce debate, the experts remained deeply divided. Opinion among a panel of five experts ranged from "no way" to "very possible"."

However, a post by the conference participants on the Duke University Religion Department blog (Update: See here also) clears up TIME's muddle significantly for us. Besides citing a few of the reasons already covered ad nauseum that this is highly, highly unlikely (to the point of ridiculousness) to be Jesus' tomb, the blog post also throws a bit more light on TIME's "smoking gun". TIME said:

There was a revelation of sorts. The widow of Joseph Gat, the chief archeologist of the 1980 excavation electrified the conference by saying: "My husband believed that this was Jesus's tomb, but because of his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, he was worried about a backlash of anti-Semitism and he didn't think he could say this."

The scholars reply:

The smoking gun at the conference was the surprise appearance of Ruth Gat, the widow of the archaeologist who excavated the tomb in 1980 and died soon afterwards … However, Joseph Gat lacked the expertise to read the inscriptions. His supervisor and other members of the Israel Antiquities Authority believe that Gat could not have made such a statement in his lifetime since the inscriptions seem to have been deciphered only after he had passed away.

I have already written previously on the so-called Jesus Tomb here: The Jesus Tomb (now moved from a separate HTML page to a proper WP blog page) and another good resource is Gary Habermas' The Lost Tomb of Jesus: A Response to the Discovery-Channel Documentary.

If you really need more information, Habermas also has a new book out on the subject: The Secret of the Talpiot Tomb: Unraveling the Mystery of the Jesus Family Tomb … but personally, I have better ways to spend my time than reading more about this nonsense.

[Thanks to this Christian Post article for the heads-up re the Duke University blog post.]

Perhaps you've never heard of The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement but unlike what people might initially assume from their name, they claim not to be a suicide cult. Well, they don't exactly deny it, rather they skirt the question as asked on their website. (The website certainly seems serious, and even if it is actually intended as parody or less-than-serious, which I doubt, it will still be useful to analyze.)

Essentially, the group espouses that because they say that human beings have overpopulated the earth and are causing it irreparable harm, the human race should voluntarily stop breeding, and eventually end its own existence, ostensibly for the well-being of our planet.

While I am committed to environmentally sound living principles, nonetheless I would ordinarily dismiss such a site as some sort of crackpot environmentalist nonsense. However, since the site makes an attempt to be intelligently written (although quite patronizing in tone) I thought I'd offer a few questions regarding the basis for their argument.

Most notably, on what basis are they concluding that the environmental viability of the Earth is more important than the continued existence of human beings? This seems to be a moral conclusion: The environmental health of the Earth is more important than the human race. This is not stated as a subjective opinion, like the authors happen to like the Earth better than human beings, rather it is (implicitly) claimed as being an objective fact but never proved or explained why we should accept it. Certain facts are stated (such as that 40,000 people die every day from starvation, or that many animal species are becoming extinct) however while I would agree that these are disturbing truths, how do we move from the fact that many are dying to the assertion that all should die?

That word "should" is important: It implies moral responsibility. Why SHOULD we (that is, why do we have a moral responsibility to) care if, for example, the endangered wizzletit moth [fictitious creature for the sake of example] becomes extinct? In the FAQ area of their site, someone poses a similar question:

"I read through your stuff and I realize that you are an intelligent person and not just some internet crackpot so this is surprising. Why should I care about the environment and animal concerns over human needs and wants?"
My perspective is more Earth-centered, so the answer to this question is obvious to me. However, even with a human-centered perspective, we should care about other life because, whether we realize it or not, we are dependent on them for our survival. By reducing biodiversity as we are doing, we are sawing off the limb we stand on.

This response skirts the question by merely restating their particular stance. It is not, to me at least, "obvious" why an Earth-centered perspective would be superior to a human-centered perspective. On what basis could we come to this conclusion?

If the Argument from Morality is correct, objective morality is grounded in God. (Link is to some writing on the subject by Christian philosopher John DePoe.) The argument goes something like this:

  1. There is a universal moral law.
  2. If there is a universal moral law, then there must be a universal moral lawgiver.
  3. Therefore,

  4. There must be God.

Conversely, if there is no God, then it would seem that there is no universal moral law. Michael Onfray, an atheist author with whom I have much disagreement, nevertheless agrees that without God we are free to replace current moral values with our own, whatever those morals may be. Arguments to the effect that evolution explains morality are flawed.

What has compelled the author of VHEMT to create their website and propagate their beliefs? Unlike a certain page on that site (which lists reasons people claim to want to have children and then purports to give you the "real" reason they do so) I won't speculate, and will simply assume that they believe their ideas to be true. But if there is an element of guilt to what is happening to the planet, perhaps people feel guilty because we ARE guilty? The proper response, it seems to me, to the fact that a particular thing causes a problem is not necessarily to attempt to destroy (whether immediately or by a painful suffocation process) that thing, but rather to redeem that thing and have it be used for good, rather than evil. Of course, I base my opinion not by standing in mid-air on what is "obvious" but rather on the firm foundation that God exists and by the moral precepts that follow from that.

Further reading:

  • Animals Are Only Human – "These ideas are the product of a sick human being, ladies and gentlemen. I don't mean mentally sick. I mean morally sick, socially sick, spiritually diseased."
  • Relativists & Sociopaths – What if there are no moral absolutes?

!!!!!Further to my previous post, I've seen several other examples lately of people taking offense when Christians have the audacity to claim that the Gospel is actually true. First we have a commenter on the old Discuss DaVinci Code Blog who was apparently offended that the site claimed that the traditional biblical story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection is actually true. (See also my reply below their comments on that same page.)

Next we have a person's review of the book The Illustrated Guide to World Religions by Dean C Halverson. I have not read the book, but I noticed this particular review as I was browsing Amazon today (as I do FAR too often …) Anyways, here's their review in its entirety:

The goal of this book is to teach about other religions so people can use that knowledge to convert others to Christianity. If that's not your goal, don't bother. I find it very offensive and am throwing it away.

And my reply (posted in reply on Amazon):

Why would you find this offensive? Are you saying all Christians should abandon their own beliefs and believe like you do? If not, what exactly are you suggesting here? As far as I know this book makes no suggestion or approval of coercive techniques of evangelism, so I don't see the problem with attempting to more effectively share the Christian message with others who belong to different faiths.

If the book contains factual inaccuracies, then that is a different matter. But no viewpoint (whether it be Christian, Muslim, pluralist, secularist, whatever) is neutral, so please don't disparage this book merely because it is written from a Christian point of view, because there is no worldview-free book about religion.

Further reading:

O RLY?Over at his blog Fides Quaerens Intellectum Christian philosopher Johnny-Dee writes:

I think the objection goes like this: It is wrong for you to believe that your belief is true because it implies those who adhere to other religious beliefs are wrong. This objection is rife with problems in validity and soundness, but I’d like to ignore all of that for now. Consider what the objector is suggesting: Christians should have a belief that they do not think is true. [Full post]

Sometimes when a person expresses offense when Christians claim that Christianity is true (not just "true for me" but absolutely and objectively true for everyone) they may indeed object because they hold to an incorrect and inappropriate conception of tolerance, as I've commented on previously (see Tolerance and Stating Facts != Hating). But more often they are objecting because of a similar but subtly different reason, namely that they are making what I'll call a category error regarding religious truth claims.

Baskin Robbins Ice CreamWhen some people express offense that a Christian believes Christianity to be really true, they are conceiving of Christianity as being in the realm of personal (relative) opinion rather than objective truth. That is, they see choice of religion as being like choosing your favorite ice cream flavor: A person isn't "wrong" because they prefer vanilla over chocolate. So too, the erroneous argument goes, a person isn't "wrong" because they prefer Baha'i over Christianity. Greg Koukl talks about this using the ice cream / insulin analogy:

There is significant confusion on this point. Americans think of God, religion, and morals like ice cream and not like insulin. They choose religious views according to tastes, according to what they prefer rather than according to what's true. [Full post]

Of course, this raises the question of whether choice of religious belief is really like choosing our favorite ice cream flavor. Hmmm, after adding the picture above I really crave ice cream … Ahem. Like I noted in my article Aren't there many different paths to God? for From Today On (also posted here):

If someone is dying and needs medicine, you need to give them what will heal them, not what they like best. In the same way, Jesus gives us what we need, and ultimately what is best for us. There are many different paths, but they don’t all eventually lead to the top of the same mountain. Some veer off to the left and the right; others climb entirely different mountains! And if God is real, truth about God is not like ice cream; it’s like medicine, and only what is true can heal.

Further reading: Three Tough Questions and Their Answers by philosopher Michael Horner, including "Aren't all religions the same?"