Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Penn and Teller Are Full Of It

http://digg.com/links/Pen_and_Telle...CTION_than_fact


The magical duo of the big-loudmouth and the small-silent-guy have a program on Showtime called Bullshit. It's all about debunking various myths and modern movements. They have an episode about recycling, ghost stories, endangered species, Feng Shui, etc. It's a great idea for a show, and generally fun to watch. They track down experts in the fields and grill them, putting advocates for and against the topic in fierce video-snippet battles. (The experts don't actually get to debate each other.)

It seems like a great position to be in when you are calling everyone and everything to the carpet. Being the perfect moderate, one has the power to slam both sides of the political and philosophical spectrum. But the natural problem that none of these social commentators (e.g. Jon Stewart, Southpark, Penn & Teller) address is how they know their position is so strong. Being in the middle only lasts so long; as you paint everyone around you as an idiot your ground becomes smaller and smaller. I think the reason they don't expressly state their positions is because they will then have a target that can be attacked just as easily as they are attacking everyone else. Their strategy in the arena of ideas is to keep their ideas out of the fight; choosing instead to snipe from the bleachers. (A friend told me this is not true, but I can only speak from my experience. I have never heard these commentators say, "We believe X to be true." Or "X is a good thing because…" It's all, "Y is really stupid/over the top/goes too far/is hypocritical, etc.")

So rather than ignore this particular arrow from this particular show, I thought I'd go ahead and polish my shield and defend my ideas. But before I do, I think I'll go ahead and examine the position they are firing from. In this case that's not too hard to do. Their website (http://www.sho.com/site/ptbs/home.do) has a list of episodes and I can see a trend in there that marks the trajectory of their pot-shots clearly. They 'debunk' things like: family values (The "traditional family" is bullshit.) love (the first blush of love is a chemical reaction.) religious heroes (This episode reveals the dark side of the so-called enlightened ones and delves into why we're so susceptible to buying into their bullshit.). They also deal with alien abductions, ghost busting, and ESP. It's pretty easy to see where skeptics are coming from. There IS a lot of B.S. out there. But like I said, as long as you don't put YOUR ideas into the area, how do you know yours stack up so well against everything else? You can say every idea that you don't agree with is kooky and ignorant, but what are your grounds for saying so?

The answer I deduce from these types: Science! Ah yes, the final monument of human endeavor. In most people's minds it has the power to crush all opposition. Once your idea has been proven scientifically inaccurate, you're dead in the water. You have no recourse but to babble about faith, or some such nonsense.

I love logic. I love debate and argument. (When it isn't angry) and I love science. But here is the problem… No one seems to be questioning what science truly is. It is used as a trump card, yet no one seems to care that its current concept came about as a series of questions that were answered in a specific way. Who has gone and examined those questions and answers to determine their validity? How can such a powerful weapon, this magic bullet of debate, be taken for granted like that?

Here are three fundamental problems with our current conception of science:

  1. Science equals truth. Since science is all about finding facts, and checking them exhaustively. We don't have faith that the earth is round. We KNOW it, because it has been proven by science. We KNOW that as matter cools, its molecules slow down. We KNOW that the southwestern part of America was once covered in water. We KNOW that the Brontosaurus was a dinosaur. … Wait a minute… this just in… That scientifically proven fact was NOT true. We KNOW friction is caused by surface roughness… No wait, turns out they’ve figured out friction is a chemical process. Look at the fields of astronomy, medicine, evolution, or just about any other, and you will see a constant stream of revision as new data surfaces. So you are going to run into trouble if you are relying on the constantly shifting facts that science offers. Sure, there is a spectrum of reliability in there. But the fact that any science can be fallible means just that. Any fact you rely on as evidence for your argument can some day be refuted when new data is discovered.
  2. Science can not lower itself to deal with the supernatural. This is the fuel behind the Intelligent Design debate that is raging in so many school boards today. The idea is that anything outside of the realm of hard, physical reality can not be scientific. And that if a subject like that is approached scientifically, it is no longer ‘science’. It becomes a matter of faith. But there is the problem with that assumption. It assumes that hard, physical reality is all that really exists. And when you look at the field of quantum physics, you can see that's an old and stale idea. The more they research physics, the more they realize how little we understand our world. It's no longer the quacks and sci-fi authors who believe in parallel universes, and other dimensions. It's no longer the acid trippers and spiritual nuts who believe our physical world is not what it seems. These ideas are accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community. What this boils down to is that the whole concept of what is considered 'super natural' is crumbling. How can you define what is natural anymore? Is it what scientists have discovered? Is it what gets printed in the science magazines?
  3. Science equals the scientific method. That is the idea that the scientific community puts forward. And what is scientific method besides reason and logic? Therefore, they argue, to question anything they say is to be against reason and logic. What they don't disclose is how much interpretation is involved with crunching all that data and coming to their conclusions. They lead you to believe that it's simply a matter of adding up the facts that lead to one answer to any particular query. But that's not how science works. Many scientists call it an art. It's not a mechanical process that leads to inevitable conclusions. There are judgment calls, second guesses, lucky data or corollary finds, unlucky data or corollary misses, and subjective opinions aplenty. Scientist Charley Dewberry says this: "When I am asked to review a manuscript [for publication in a scientific journal] one question always included with the review instructions is 'Is this paper interesting or significant?' This question screens all manuscripts based on the values of the reviewer. If the paper is not interesting or significant, then it will never be published. Furthermore, reviewers are doing much more than checking the experimental methods, data collection, and the appropriateness of the conclusions, and thus their beliefs and values enter into the process at many points." So when people talk about science - what it has proven or disproved – what they are referring to is not the scientific method, (reason and logic) but rather the aggregate opinions of the scientific community at large. I'm not saying that they are making stuff up out of whole cloth, but rather that when a community generally shares a belief, i.e. "There is no God." that belief will affect the way they perceive, arrange, and interpret data.

These three issues keep me from feeling as though I've been defeated when someone 'disproves' my faith using science. (Which is essentially what this show attempts to do.) But now I need to be very clear, that while I can discount 'science' as a weapon to defeat my ideas, I cannot discount reason and logic. Without these, there is no way to compare ideas or even hold a coherent thought.

What science is or is not is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical one. (Imagine if we left it up to the president to decide what a president is. He could decide that president means he gets to choose any women in the country to be his concubines just like kings of old.) What I'm arguing is not that science is bad or anti-God, but just that it has limits. Science can't tell us good from evil. It can't explain how poetry or music moves us. (Though it can measure our chemical levels when we are.) It can't tell us what happens when we die. It can certainly cough up guesses and opinions on these matters, but when it does so is when it is the weakest. We have come to a point where if there is no science behind an idea, we discount it as irrational. Yet things like love, purpose, emotions, pain, art, and spiritual longings are still very real. Sure, there are aspects of these things that science can speak to. They can measure brain waves and hormone levels that are involved, but to assume that those measurements give them meaning is ridiculous. Just because the brain releases certain chemicals when we are attracted to someone does not mean that love is a chemical reaction. There are obviously other factors involved, and to dismiss them simply because you can't quantify them with numbers is myopic.

What it comes down to is this: to agree with the prevailing idea of what science is you have to believe certain things about the following ideas…

Teleology

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleology

Teleology is the supposition that there is design, purpose, directive principle, or finality in the works and processes of nature, and the philosophical study of that purpose.

Ontology

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontology

It studies being or existence as well as the basic categories thereof—trying to find out what entities and what types of entities exist. Ontology has strong implications for the conceptions of reality.

Scientism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism

Scientism is a synonym of positivism, a common ideology in the 19th and 20th century which places its trust in scientific progress and only in scientific progress.

(I will link to Wikipedia a lot in this essay because it is generally accepted as an unbiased and free resource.)

There are not obvious answers to these things. Yet our concept of what science is, is determined by those answers. To assume that there are single, obvious answers is to be intellectually dishonest with yourself.

So rather than relying on what Scientific American tells us, let's use some old fashioned reason and logic for a bit. I'm going to attempt to defend a belief in what is currently thought of as "the supernatural". I'll go ahead and use the classic questions-of-the-ages to start us off.

First question… Where did we come from? And not just us, but the universe. All this physical matter we experience with our physical senses. Where'd it come from? The big bang? Where did that matter come from? Nothing? Has it always existed? Does either of those concepts exist in natural science? Something-from-nothing was disproved a long time ago. And every scientific thought and endeavor occurs inside of time. So no matter which way you go with that answer you are using a 'supernatural' explanation. Something that has never been observed, or even conceived of, using our 5 senses.

Next question… Why are we here? To a lot of modern minds that seems like a silly question. Like childish nonsense or a primeval need for direction in an inherently directionless universe. That's all well and good until you need to make a moral decision. The second you need to weigh one option against another you are suddenly in a position of imbuing an order of good or bad, right or wrong on an action, or idea. There is just no getting around it. If you have to order things, there has to be a process by which you do so. You are therefore forced to acknowledge a standard, and hopefully one that transcends yourself. (Because if your standards begin and end with you, you have no right to judge what anyone else does. And if you can't do that there is no point in debating anything because there is no way to win or lose. At that point you can't say pedophilia or murder or anything else is wrong, and there can be no attempt at justice.)

If there is a standard above us, that orders our beliefs and informs our actions, where did it come from? The scientific answer is that our moral codes are evolutionary baggage that was needed for our species to survive. That could be true, but it's clearly an attempt to cut anything supernatural out of the picture, and that just resets us to question #1. That's just avoidance. Come on. Be honest and answer question #1.

To adequately answer this question we need to decide if we want to consider the possibility that we were created. If we don't consider that possibility, then the only answer we can come up with is a conceptual construct for purpose. In other words, it's up to us, or someone with more power than us to decide why we are here and what our purpose is. Fortunately for us we live in a time and place where it's unlikely someone else will take that role. So it seems like a pretty empowering idea that we create our own destiny and purpose. But a quick survey of history and even those around us can reveal that it's really a mixed bag. There were great people who carved their names in history, and then there are the Hitlers, Stalins, and Bin Ladens of the world. I'm afraid I just don't have much faith in the ability of humanity to make good choices. And while it's tempting to believe that I'd be much better at determining my purpose than all those other people out there… who am I kidding? Am I really that vain? Are you?

Let's see… We've covered, "Where did we come from?", "Why are we here?", and now let's move on to: "Is there a God?" For the sake of argument I'll define God as “An entity that exists outside of our ability to sense with our natural senses, and holding properties or powers that humans (and their machinery)do not.” Hopefully we all understand that there is no way to prove or disprove the existence of God. (Without some kind of intervention on said God's part.) Christianity has a good reason for this, but there's no need to focus on one belief system now. The important question for this little rebuttal is this: "Can a rational person believe that there is a God?"

As you may have noticed, this is where science falls short. Not because the answer is non-scientific… Fact is fact. Just because we can't use our observational methods to verify or disprove a thing doesn’t change the truth of it. Either there is a God or there is not. As I pointed out in the first question, "Where did we come from" there is no way to explain our existence without an unscientific answer. Either matter came into existence from nothing, or it has always been here. Since science can not speak to this mystery, I think it's safe to discard the premise that we've got it all figured out. Without science we are left with reason and logic. If, logically, our existence is the result of a (technically speaking) supernatural act or concept, is it not logical to assume that there could be other things going on outside of nature? (Or what we currently understand nature to be.) Is it preposterous to think that our origin was the act of a creator? Is it childish to think that we have purpose and meaning imbued by that creator? That is the current thinking in modern science. And if you still believe it, please show me where my logic and reason have failed. I'd love to examine any holes my argument has.

SO… So now, hopefully I've adequately articulated my objection to using science as a club to bash my beliefs with. I've stated why the scientific method and our current conception of science differ. I've stated that I believe reason and logic should not be abandoned. I've shown how a rational person, using reason and logic can reasonably believe in the supernatural; especially in light of new breakthroughs in cutting-edge scientific theory that is redefining what nature is. (And will eventually have to redefine what science is.)

Some of you may agree with, or at least be willing to entertain this so far, and some may not. If not, there's no point in reading any further.

Now I come to a problem inherent in belief in the supernatural. How can I defend my particular beliefs in God and Christianity, while rejecting the B.S. of things like E.S.P., alien abduction, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster? After all, the whole joke behind the FSM is that if you are stupid enough to believe in God, why not believe in some nonsensical beast, right? And yet our current cultural climate says, "No one should judge anyone else or say they are wrong." (Unless they are Christians. **cough, Hollywood, cough**) "Being a good person is all that matters." And, "Truth is relative." I'll start with that one. If truth is relative then your statement that truth is relative can not be true or false. You lose.

Ok, on to the serious issue of discerning truth from falsehood in supernatural things. As I've stated, we can't use science here. But we can use my favorite duo of reason and logic! This is hard for most people to swallow for some reason. Our culture has been so hard-wired with the idea that science is for determining truth, and faith is for making us happy. So a lot of peoples' eyes cross when they think about searching for truth in matters outside of the realm of science. In fact, most people are content to just say they are searching… as a permanent state. I think this shows that they don't really believe there IS a truth to be found. My argument is this: Why not use the same tools you have for determining truth from falsehood in other spheres of life? As Galileo said, "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." Why would you assume that reason and logic can't apply to spiritual matters? Again, I think that comes from the mindset that says that faith's only purpose is to make people happy. The old "opiate of the masses" idea. If that is all you want from faith, so be it. I hope it makes you happy. But if you are discontent with simply placating your emotions, and would like to have a consistent and rationally tenable world view, then I encourage you to evaluate the different belief systems out there using your reasoning ability. But just like every other truth search, you will have to categorize some things as true, and some as false, just as Francesco Redi showed that the idea that flies being spontaneously generated by meat was wrong, we have to say that some ideas and philosophies are wrong.

One thing I've learned is that it's not a matter of black and white all the time. Spiritual beliefs are mixed and nuanced. But if you stop at that point and decide to do the spiritual buffet, taking little bits of whatever religions suit your fancy, you've gone back to the idea that faith is simply for soothing. Being rigorous in your search, and determined to find truth the same way you would research a paper on WWII concentration camps, or drainage systems in ancient Rome, a long and arduous task. It takes time and energy. You have to examine ideas, comparing them to reality and to each other, consider sources and choose authorities. Then, if you were really serious about it, you will change your behavior to line up with the truth you found.

Now to address the show

I think with that foundation and understanding of my beliefs I can finally start addressing the content of Penn and Teller's critique of the Bible.

There are two basic parts to any argument or art form. The content, and the style (or presentation). The message and the medium. I think we can all agree that they affect each other. We are all aware that a book and a movie are two different things. And when one tries to mimic the other is when they are weakest. So I'd like to address the style of this show first, and show how it affects the content, and ultimately the veracity of the arguments that it puts forth.

Education vs. entertainment

Education can be entertaining for those who enjoy the subject. But it's another matter entirely when entertainment tries to be educational. Anyone who has worked on an 'edutainment' product can attest to this. It's an uncomfortable, unnatural mix. Whether Penn and Teller want to admit it or not, the premise of the show is educational. But obviously, if it's not entertaining then it will die. They are fantastic entertainers, and it's obvious that their specialty overrides their desire to educate people. But really, that's not my biggest problem with the show. If they presented arguments in a fair and balanced way, while still being funny I wouldn't have a problem with it. But as the title of the show clearly denotes: they have a point to make. And that is a fine thing. My problem is that the methods they use to make their point are inherently unfair. Effective, yes, but it's not a fair treatment of the subject matter. In other words, the style that they use to convey their message is inappropriate and misleading. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that they are deliberately setting out to deceive anyone. It's clear that they honestly believe that religion is a bad thing, and are doing what they can to counteract it. But their method for doing so is intellectually dishonest. Here is why…

The characters

Homer Simpson, Bevis & Butthead and The Family Guy show us that stupid is funny. So why not have a stupid guy to laugh at in a debate about the authenticity of the Bible? Look at who they chose as advocates for the different positions. The advocate for the Bible is a slovenly looking professor from a no-name university sitting in a cluttered tiny office that looks like it used to be the broom closet. They decide to mock him for wanting to be called a Doctor. Most of his speaking is overlaid with footage from cheesy 20's Hollywood films about the Bible. And his hair is dumb. This is the classic Straw-Man argument:

Wikipedia:

A straw-man argument is the practice of refuting a weaker argument than an opponent actually offers. To "set up a straw man" or "set up a straw-man argument" is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to your opponent. A straw-man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it is also a logical fallacy, since the argument actually presented by your opponent has not been refuted, only a weaker argument.

One can set up a straw man in the following ways:

  1. Present the opponent's argument in weakened form, refute it, and pretend that the original has been refuted.
  2. Present a misrepresentation of the opponent's position, refute it, and pretend that the opponent's actual position has been refuted.
  3. Present someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, refute that person's arguments, and pretend that every upholder of that position, and thus the position itself, has been defeated.

They actually fulfill each of those definitions at various times in the show. But number 3 is the one they do best. This guy is either a fool, or was edited enough to look and sound like one. I could list 10 people off the top of my head who could have presented his position better.

The other problem with choosing this particular guy as an advocate for the dissenting view is that it becomes an ad hominem attack.

Wikipedia:

An ad hominem fallacy consists of asserting that someone's argument is wrong and/or they are wrong to argue at all purely because of something discreditable/not-authoritative about the person or those persons cited by them rather than addressing the soundness of the argument itself.

Editing in debate

Here is another big, big problem with debate as entertainment. There is a finite amount of time, and someone has to edit all the snippets together; cutting, reordering, and eliminating chunks of the arguments. When the one doing the editing is so obviously biased - in this case actively attempting to discredit the Bible – why would you assume they would choose the best arguments from the opposing side? It's just like so many talk-radio shows where the host just turns off the sound of the caller who disagrees with them and is trying to make a point. How many times have you been in an argument, said something pretty stupid, then revised it in the next sentence to something better? Now imagine there was a camera rolling the whole time and an editor whose job it was to make you look bad and your arguments weak. Which line is he going to pick? Another problem is that there are concepts that take time to explain. Concepts that require you to establish multiple theses in order to explain. Well, in order to stay within the time restraints, the establishing stuff usually gets the ax first.

Juxtaposition for humor and as a tool for discrediting

One of the funniest aspects of this show was the addition of really old, crappy Bible movie clips with scenes like Adam and Eve, the parting of the Red Sea, and the resurrection of Jesus, with the subtitle saying, "Actual footage". An undeniably effective gag, but one that also serves to mock what is being said. I think if anyone stops to think about it, they would not equate these cheesy scenes with any actual Christian belief, but the humor angle keeps you from thinking about it. It simply shows something stupid at the same time an argument is being put forth. It's a visual form of Straw Man. It's the same thing political ads do when they show the rival in grainy, black and white footage to make him look sinister. Most people find that tactic sleazy, so why not reject what Penn and Teller are doing here?

Statements from the show, and my rebuttals

These are not in the same order that they appear in the show, but rather grouped to avoid redundancies and to help with the general flow.

"Smart people are very good at rationalizing things they came to believe for non-smart reasons."

That is a very insightful statement. But anyone smart enough to come up with it should know that it's a double-edged sword, and it swings both ways. A Christian can say a smart atheist can rationalize what they came to believe for non-smart reasons just as easily, and their point could be just as valid. The important thing to consider is not if they can, but if they do.

And to determine how smart our reasons are, we have to determine what constitutes intelligence. I would argue that ignoring the spiritual, intuitive and mysterious side of life is categorically unintelligent. I think that rejecting concepts that have been with mankind since the beginning simply because they can't be scientifically quantified is foolish.

"If you're religious and you believe the Bible is real because of faith, we can't touch you. It's an automatic tie. No one can bust you. Bible nuts pride themselves on believing in things that are hard to believe in. They think God will bless them for that."

Here is what the Bible says about that:

Proverbs 14:15 A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.

Matthew 10:16 …be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

1st Thessalonians 5:21 Test everything. Hold on to the good.

Lamentation 3:40 Let us examine our ways and test them…

If I believed in a God that wanted me to believe lies or nonsense I expect there would be far fewer exhortations in the Bible to be introspective, seeking wisdom and understanding. You see, God's not asking us to believe in things that are impossible. He's not saying we have to believe that the sky is red, or the moon is made of cheese, the earth is flat, or two plus two equals five. He gave us our ability to think and reason. The modern trend is to use that ability only inside a naturalistic box that we don't let ourselves out of. And because this thinking is new, we assume its better. Well, not all new things are better.

"It's an article of faith. It's part of a religious belief system that really doesn’t fit the way we think when we think scientifically. And we live in the age of science where we're supposed to ask for evidence and challenge beliefs."

Sure. Ask and challenge all you want. But are you are looking for proof? The word 'faith' would not exist if any particular belief system could be proven. I'm not trying to prove to anyone that Jesus rose from the dead and is the only way to paradise. But I will certainly be glad to show that rational attacks on my faith fall short. Not due to my immutable faith, but under the scrutiny of their own standards. In other words, I would like to simply prove that what I believe is possible. The rest is between you and God.

So asking for evidence is a fine thing to do. But what kind of evidence are you looking for? Obviously, the farther you go back in history, the less proof you can expect. We don’t hold historical fact proving to the same standards we hold current fact proving. There are plenty of accepted historical figures and account that have only one or two bits of writing about them. So if you are waiting for proof of Jesus’ resurrection based on today’s standards, then you obviously aren’t going to get it. Sorry, it wasn’t video taped. (Although we do use witness accounts to find people guilty or innocent in our courts, and there are plenty of witness statements that confirm the miracle…) My point is this: if you will not even consider the possibility that the resurrection of Jesus happened due to lack of proof -which you know there can never be- than you are categorically close-minded. You have made up your mind about it before even entertaining the thought.

And let's not forget that everyone has faith in something. Our modern world of technology is made possible by thousands of theories that we put our faith in. But for some reason we find it easier to believe in stuff when it is articulated in a scientific manner rather than a philosophical one. No matter how speculative it is, once an idea has been wrapped in the holy robes of science we have no hesitation to bow before it and put our faith in it.

And yet, how many aspects of our lives are dependant on faith? Well, one we are all familiar with is love. Love after all, fundamentally requires putting faith in another person. Because there is no way to prove that they won’t rip your heart out somewhere down the line. But very few people refuse to love because of this fact. How about your finances? The fact that we don’t live in underground bunkers and spend every extra dollar on survival gear shows that we are putting faith in the economic and political system we live in. If you have a savings account it means you put faith in the bank, and beyond that, the government’s ability to maintain and insure your money. If you bought a house that is far away from natural resources you are putting faith in your area’s infrastructure and its ability to provide you with the things you need to survive. But those are all forward looking issues of faith. What about the institutions and traditions from our past that we put faith in? Things like marriage. We do it because history has shown us it’s a stabilizing force in society, and on a personal level, it demonstrates commitment. Our justice system, as flawed as it is, is still the best humans have come up with, and most of us don’t fear for our lives from criminals or the government. That lack of fear comes from our faith in the system that grew out of thousands of years of tradition. We believe that going to collage will benefit us. Our educational system is derived from some great traditions of the past. The fact is: faith is all around you and you are saturated with it. Just because it is tradition or human institutions does not change the fact that it is faith.

We don’t demand proof for all of these things before we put our faith in them. In fact, there are demonstrable reasons not to believe in them. Marriages break, economic depressions happen, catastrophes destroy infrastructure, college grads work at Denny’s, etc. But despite these issues, we are still convinced. We would not be able to function without that faith. (or it would be “Back to the bunker!”) We recognize that when people give up on love because of past hurts, that is an unhealthy thing, and we encourage them to renew their faith in it. I submit that when we give up on finding truth in spiritual matters it is equally unhealthy.

"The more we learn about archeology and history of biblical times, the more we realize that most of the stuff in the bible is fiction"

How about some evidence? I've read about many, many archeological finds that substantiate people, places and events in the Bible. A sweeping claim like that is obviously subject to which archeologists and historians you talk to. These fields are constantly evolving as new data is discovered, and that data is subject to interpretation and the biases of those collecting it.

"Archaeology consists of two components: the excavation of ancient artifacts, and the interpretation of those artifacts. While the excavation component is more of a mechanical skill, the interpretive component is very subjective. Presented with the same artifact, two world-class archaeologists will often come to different conclusions -- particularly when ego, politics and religious beliefs enter the equation.

In the subjective field of Biblical Archaeology, anyone making a definitive statement like "archaeology has proven..." has probably chosen to take sides and is not presenting the whole picture."

"This thin archeological record means that any conclusions are based on speculation and projection. Archeology can only prove the existence of artifacts unearthed, not disprove that which hasn't been found. Lack of evidence... is no evidence of lack.

Yet that has not stopped some archeologists from making bold assertions. In the 1950s, world-renowned archeologist Kathleen Kenyon dug in one small section of Jericho, looking for remnants of inhabitation at the time of Joshua's conquest of the land in 1272 BCE. She found no evidence, and concluded on that basis that the Bible was false.

The problem is that Kenyon dug only one small section of Jericho, and based her conclusion on that limited information. Today, though the controversy lingers, many archeologists claim there is indeed clear evidence of inhabitation in Jericho from the time of Joshua."

~ Rabbi Ken Spiro http://www.aish.com/societyWork/sciencenature/Archaeology_and_the_Exodus.asp

"It's mythic story telling and nothing more."

"There were lots of Messiahs."

Penn uses the movie The Life of Brian as an example of this idea. Central to the humor of The Life of Brian is a historical philosophy which states that people don't determine history, but rather, history determines people. An example would be: if Hitler was killed as a child, the political and sociological climate of Germany preceding WWII would have produced another similar man who would have carried out the same evil. This would be a sort of Zeitgeist predetermination. (I'm sure there is an official term for this school of thought but I don't know what it is.)

The milieu that Jesus was born into certainly did present fertile ground for Him and what He did. There was a lot of unrest and a small repressed minority under Roman rule looking for the salvation that their scriptures foretold. And just like the Bible illustrates time and time again, they totally missed the point. They were looking for a political figure to overthrow the Romans and return them to their former glory. So in a way, yes, there were several would-be messiahs who had aspirations along those lines. And there was an expectation for that to come about. The thing that Penn and The Life of Brian totally miss is that fact that Jesus defied all those expectations. He made no political speeches. He told the Jews to pay their taxes. He told them to turn the other cheek. He said if a Roman soldier forced you to carry his gear a mile, carry it two. When He came into Jerusalem He specifically rode in on a lowly donkey instead of a war horse. He didn't carry on with politicians or rulers, but prostitutes and fishermen. That is NOT what the Jewish community was hoping for. Jesus was NOT a product of communal wish fulfillment. And none of the other would-be messiahs (Which were really resistance fighters) did any of the things Jesus did.

The specific example that they bring up on the show was Apollonius of Tyana. They make it sound like he was a contemporary of Jesus, but he wasn't. (He lived in the second half of the first century.) The list of similarities between Jesus and Apollonius they rattle off makes it sound like it's an open-and-shut case. What with all the healing and coming back from the dead. But they leave a very few important details out. Namely, the fact that the vast majority of the information we have about him is a set of books written about him about 200 years after Jesus' time, by some dude( http://www.livius.org/phi-php/philostratus/philostratus.htm ) who had never met Apollonius and who was for all intents and purposes more minstrel than scribe. This Philostratus fellow was paid to write a biography about Apollonius. And this brings us to the difference between folklore and historical writing. Here are a few details about Philostratus' Life of Apollonius: (http://www.livius.org/ap-ark/apollonius/apollonius_life.html )

  1. Various accounts are given of his death, the circumstances of which are obscure.
  2. At Damis' request, he describes his nocturnal meeting with the ghost of Achilles.
  3. He rescues the latter's pupil Menippus from the claws of a female vampire.
  4. He drives away a hobgoblin.
  5. He asserts that they (The rulers of India.) have certain jars full of rains and winds, with which in time of drought they are able to water the country."

Here are a few key differences between the writings about Apollonius and those about Jesus.

  1. There are four separate accounts of Jesus’ life by four people who actually knew Jesus and lived with him. There are enough differences in style, form, and details to show legitimately different perspectives, but close enough to form a coherent view of Jesus and His words.
  2. None of Jesus' miracles include fantasy creatures. (Jesus rolls a +5 against the Ice Dragon!)
  3. The form of the writings about Jesus were journalistic in nature, not mythic or epic. (Which does not necessarily make it true; it simply makes it more likely to be true.)
  4. Jesus never made claims (about the natural world) that were scientifically inaccurate.
  5. There is no question as to the historicity of His death, as it is substantiated by other historical documents. And the witnesses to His resurrection bear as much weight as any other historical event, but since the claim is so radical this is often dismissed.
  6. There are historically inaccurate stories about Apollonius such as his observation of the Colossus when it had been destroyed hundreds of years before his life. Whereas most of the details that are recorded in the Bible about Jesus' life have been confirmed by extra-biblical sources, and no (uncontestable) contradictory evidence has been found.
  7. Either the disciples of Jesus were incredibly dull and uncreative, or they really wanted to report just the facts. They could have gone all Jason and the Argonauts, but they didn't. The stories of Jesus are quite mundane when compared to writings of the time that were meant to elicit awe, respect and wonderment. I mean, couldn't Jesus have slain at least one Ice Dragon?

I couldn't find the claims that Apollonius was crucified or rose again, but if those claims were made, it was long after the spread of Christianity in the region, and there were political motivations for competing with the rapidly growing religion. So it's quite likely that Philostratus was 'inspired' by the story of Jesus.

The fact that there were magicians and charlatans all over the place throughout all of history is not proof that Jesus was one. Comparing Jesus and Apollonius is like saying the Model T and the Space shuttle are the same because they both have wheels, an engine, and black paint on them.

The Elvis analogy

Penn draws some comparisons between Jesus and Elvis, pointing out that if people can believe that Elvis is alive, than we should not give any more credence to people who believe Jesus is alive. He goes a couple steps further, saying that we have many advantages in proving Elvis' death due to the fact that he lived in modern times where most people are literate, and that there are reliable records of his death. So if you can get some yokels to believe -despite all the overwhelming evidence- that Elvis is alive, how can anyone take the word of yokels from 2,000 years ago? Well, I guess the answer can be found in the yokels. So let's compare these groups and observe their similarities and differences. Both groups lost someone very dear to them that they admired greatly. Both claim they saw their hero after he was reported to have died.

I'm no Elvis expert here,(so I going out on a limb here) but I'm guessing that none of Elvis' entourage, his closest friends -his 'disciples'- are claiming that he is still alive. I'm also going to go out on a limb here and say that if given the choice between recanting their belief in a living Elvis, or a painful, public execution, very few Elvis fanatics would go to their death. But most of the writer's of the New Testament did just that. They weren't having a wish-fulfillment moment when their heads were being chopped off and they were being crucified upside down. The popular idea that these people just wanted the movement Jesus started to live on doesn’t make sense. They had nothing to gain by it. No fame, no money, no political freedom. All they got was persecution and excruciating death.

Let's also consider the credentials and writings of the apostles compared with those of the Elvis-is-alive crowd. How many of those who actually knew Elvis and traveled with him believe he is alive? Probably none. Yet all of those who traveled with Jesus and wrote about it testified to the fact that they saw Him after his death. These are the people who ate with Him daily, traveled with Him, and watched Him die.

Now let's look at the evidence that Elvis fans put forward to show that he is alive. Well, sightings. Just like Jesus. But they are missing a crucial piece of evidence… an empty grave. At any point Elvis' body could be exhumed and a DNA test done to prove that he is really dead. The fact that we can't do that with Jesus' grave does not prove He is alive, but it means it can't be disproved either.

Then there is the example of the two contradicting fried chicken recipes in two different books about Elvis' favorite foods. If we can't get the details of something so simple from 30 or 40 years ago right, how can we trust details of Jesus' life written 2,000 years ago? Actually, the answer is written right into the Bible. We have four different accounts written by four different people. And there are many details that do NOT line up. Was there one demon possessed guy with broken chains or two? Exactly which women discovered Jesus' grave empty? Were the death wraps Jesus was in on the ground or tossed to the side? Was there one angel at the tomb or two? The gospel accounts vary in ways that you would expect four different people with four different perspectives to vary. You would think that if the folks who put the Bible together were really the edit-happy political pawns that Bible critics make them out to be, they would have smoothed over these little inconsistencies. The fact that they did not do that shows that they had a great deal of respect for the texts they were compiling.

I'll bet if there was a fried chicken recipe in the gospels it would have been different in each of them. But then, Christian doctrine doesn't come from those kinds of details. Jesus cast a legion of demons out of a guy. It doesn’t matter if it was one or two guys. It doesn’t matter if it was Mary the mother of Jesus, or Mary Magdalene who first saw the empty tomb. And these discrepancies don't invalidate the truth of the story any more than any other account by four people about any other historical occurrence. Imagine if you were reading an account of the travels of Lewis and Clark. One written by Lewis, one by Clark, one by a native helper, and one by the cook. You wouldn't claim the trip never happened if the cook said they had 20 chickens on the trip, but Lewis only mentions 15. What would cause some doubt would be if the cook said they started in 1804, but Lewis said they returned in 1802. Or if Clark said all the natives had glowing red eyes. You get the point. There are obviously details that don't matter and details that do. And the doctrine forming details in the Bible all line up.

"These are two different creation stories."

"Genesis 1-10 is a synopsis"

Their first argument is probably the weakest one on the show. They point out what they call an inconsistency in the account of the creation. In the first chapter God makes everything, including Adam, then He rests on the seventh day. Then in chapter two it says God made Eve. It's painfully obvious that the first chapter is an overview, and the second chapter starts detailing the story. I could write an autobiography that says, "I was born in 1975, grew up, got married, then had some kids." In the first paragraph. Then in the second paragraph I could say, "Soon after my marriage I went to the Art Institute of Seattle, and got a degree in Industrial Design." No one reading my autobiography would accuse me of fraud because I didn't enter all the facts in a strictly chronological order. It doesn’t mean there were two different accounts of my life, like they say about Genesis. I'm honestly baffled that they included this as an argument against the Bible.

"Probably they did not cross the … Red Sea, they crossed the Reed Sea."

"Once you buy the Red/Reed thing well, they walked across a low tide mash on a windy day. …. Maier, you're peeing on your own feet."

That is absolutely true. Either God is capable of miracles or He isn't. So…. Why did they pick this guy as an advocate for the Bible? Oh right… to make a better straw-man argument.

Noah's ark

Here are two arguments stated concerning the plausibility of the story of the flood.

  1. No way to fit 10 billion species on the boat.
  2. No way for the distribution of animals after the flood to occur.

There are two ways a person of faith can approach this problem. First, they could say God can do anything. That's the point of miracles. God could have shrunk the animals, put them in suspended animation, teleported them, whatever was necessary to get the job done. I don't personally subscribe to that approach. Not because I believe God couldn't do it, but because when He does those kinds of miracles, they are recorded in the story. What makes sense is to assume that what happened was exactly what was written. What doesn't make sense is to assume that at the time of the writing people knew the earth was round or had any idea of its size. Sure, God could have told the author, but that's not the point of the story. If a flood that wipes out all known people happens, it's fair to say that the "earth was flooded". Now consider the amount of animals in the region, excluding insects, birds, and marine life, and you have a more reasonable number. Also consider the massive climate and ocean level changes that have happened during the earth's history. If you can believe that a God created the world, and that He can do miracles… if you believe the archeological evidence that that earth has gone through many massive temperature shifts… there is nothing more outlandish about the story of the flood than any other Bible account.

"Sometimes the Bible is literal and sometimes it's simply symbolic."

"Here's a big problem with using the Bible as a guide for moral behavior and moral thought. Which parts are you going to use, and which parts aren’t you going to use?"

"Corinthians 11:14" ~ Long hair is shameful.

If you are reading the Bible looking for rules you are bound to find plenty. However, you are also missing the point of the Bible. It would be like reading Shakespeare hoping to find new insights into cooking. As was mentioned in the show, the Bible is a collection of stories, poems, prophecies, erotic prose, historical accounts, lineage records, memoirs, letters to churches and other types of writings. When a Christian says that they take the Bible literally, it does not mean that they interpret poems or parables as actual events or rules. (When the Bible refers to Jesus as "The Lion of the Tribe of Judah" we all know it is meant symbolically.)

Furthermore, there are recommendations about all sorts of things that applied specifically to first-century Mediterranean society. Most of the things concerning living in appropriate ways - like no long hair on men - are in letters that were circulated around the churches of the time. A modern corollary would be an open letter from a Christian leader urging pastors not to buy expensive cars because it makes them look bad. It doesn’t mean that owning a nice car is a sin, and in 2,000 years the specific concept of owning a nice car could be completely different. But the spirit behind the appeal is the same. "Don't act prideful." 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, a man with long hair was sending specific signals about their behavior and beliefs. Paul was urging those Christians to stop sending mixed signals. So while the specific action is not a rule that modern Christians follow, we do see the sense behind the spirit of the idea. So very few of us get tattoos of swastikas on our foreheads. Very few…

So how do we separate timeless mandates from the context specific ones? There are three basic categories of law in the Bible: moral, ceremonial, and civil. Civil laws such as forgiving everyone's debt every 7 years, punishment for crime, and regulations on trade were very time-specific. Ceremonial laws about animal sacrifices and who was supposed to be priests were symbolic for the coming of Jesus, and His sacrifice put an end to the need to follow those laws. Moral laws like the 10 commandments are timeless because they are God's way of telling us how to do well in life. A lot of people mistakenly see them as the arbitrary rules of an angry God who is just waiting for us to break them so He can smite us. In fact, they reveal His love for us in that people are just happier when they follow them. That's the way God built us, it's woven into the fabric of existence. Cheat on your wife, steal pants from Sears, or spend time wishing you had your neighbor's car, and you will be miserable. Not because God hates you and is punishing you, but because ultimately acts of immorality destroy us from within. There is a 'heart' to these commandments, and Jesus showed it time and time again when the religious leaders kept trying to trick Him into saying something they could use to turn the people against Him. Once, they asked if it was right to heal on the Sabbath. (That's the holy day where Jews were not allowed to do anything but rest.) He said, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." In other words, "Dude! It's not about keeping a set of rules. It's about finding the heart of God – which is love – and doing it!"

So in the same way a toddler doesn't understand or like the 'don't run into the road' rule, it's clearly a law based in love. When mom's back is turned the kid could run out there and get ran over, and that result would not come from the parent, but from the nature of the road.

Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, "12"Everything is permissible for me"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"—but I will not be mastered by anything." The idea here is that we choose moral behavior because we love God. Rather than the inaccurate view that we have to behave morally so God won't squash us. It's not about top-down rules that we are forced to follow. It's motivated by love, from the inside working its self out in our actions. If one truly loves God and those around them, they will keep His commands because it's the natural state of a close relationship with God.

"It's all about that little list called the ten commandments."

Wrong. The Old Testament laws served their purpose, which was to show us that God's standards are far above us and we humans are incapable of keeping them. Christians who focus on rules and regulations are being sidetracked and ignoring a great deal of the New Testament which is very clear and specific about our inability to earn spiritual credit.

Here is the basic division of the Old and New Covenants:

Romans 13:9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Don not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Matthew 22:37 Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Christianity is not Judaism. When Penn says we can't pick parts of the Bible to believe and throw the rest away he is showing his ignorance of the basic tenants of Christianity. The first and most important being its greatest distinguishing characteristic: it is not a set of rules to follow to get to heaven. There is nothing contradictory about a Christian following any commandment that comes from love, and disregarding the Old Testament rules about purification, animal sacrifice, and treatment of cattle.

New Testament writers make it clear that the old covenant, (i.e. animal sacrifices and other Jewish customs) was done away with. It served its purpose, which was to demonstrate that people can't live up to God's standards of perfection. He demonstrated that by choosing a particular people-group at a particular time in history and blessed them, guided them, and gave them His rules. If you don't understand the problem, you won't understand the solution. Our inability to earn our way to God is the problem (As the nation of Israel demonstrated), Jesus is the solution. He became what the animal sacrifices were symbolizing. We can't do anything to earn salvation.

And that is a problem that every other religion faces. It is so ingrained in the human psyche that most Christians don't fully understand it. (And thus fall into legalism and make poor examples of their gospel.)

"The Bible has written all over it the fact that it was a human edited, socially constructed collection of books over many, many centuries."

"Obviously it's an edited volume."

Abso-freaking-lutly the Bible was edited. If you mean stuff was left out. I'm not sure how they see that as a pejorative. No Christian believes that God's hand came out of the clouds and wrote a word-by-word copy of "The Bible" from which springs all of our doctrine. Is the assumption that leaving inaccurate things out diminishes the truth of a text? The Bible is a collection of manuscripts that we believe were inspired by God. (And it leaves out the ones that weren't.) And God-inspired doesn’t mean He sat on an author's shoulder and said, "In" and the guy wrote 'In', and God said, "the", and the guy wrote 'the', and God said "Beginning", etc. Each author has a pretty distinctive voice and personality. What brings the Bible together is an over-arching story. A revelation of who God is and how He has chosen to reveal Himself to us and relate with us. When Penn says there is "No real story" he couldn't be more wrong. He's not seeing the forest for the trees. This meta-story is one of the most remarkable evidences for the truth proclaimed in the Bible, and also the hardest to lay out in a short argument. But the prophecies of the Old Testament fulfilled in the New, the themes repeated throughout, the systematically revealed nature of God, and the fact that His plan is the exact opposite of every other religion out there point to something beyond a "socially constructed collection of books".

So what about the manuscripts that "the committee" left out? It's quite simple. Mutation happens in any movement. The Enlightenment paved the way for both capitalism and socialism. Gritty old-school punk somehow morphed into suburban, middle-school, crappy pop-punk. The civil rights movement gave birth to the Black Panthers. Yet anyone can see a marked difference between the words of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. In the same way, Christianity had versions of it that splintered off as it grew and was adapted into the cultures around it. Gnosticism and Hellenism influenced a lot of early Christian churches and people in those churches wrote about it. And guess what? Those manuscripts weren't included in the Bible. They were so side-tracked by their influences that they missed the boat. They didn't get the point of Christ; who He was and why he came. That's it. No cover-up conspiracy like the DaVinci Code claims. If historians were to compile the works of Martin Luther King and what he stood for, they wouldn't include the diatribes of Malcolm X. It's an obviously different message and spirit. They wouldn't be accused of bias or social construction. They would be doing their job as editors, leaving out things that don't fit the message of the work. When rock journalists write about the emergence of punk in the late 70's they aren't 'suppressing the voice' of Blink 182 by not including their material.

After several hundred years, the church had to define exactly what it was that they believed. There were all sorts of 'Blink 182s' and 'Malcolm Xs' floating around, diluting or misinterpreting the core message of Christianity. So they put together a council to determine a Bible of the texts that spoke to that core message. (Which had already been established for a hundred years or so.) It takes exactly 0% more faith to believe that God inspired that council in exactly the same way He inspired the writers of the works they were compiling.

Another interesting note about the special nature of the Bible:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textual_criticism

The New Testament has been preserved in more manuscripts than any other ancient work, having over 5,300 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Ethiopic and Armenian. This compares to less than 700 manuscripts for Homer's Iliad, the next most well-documented work from antiquity.

Also, they have manuscripts that are hundreds of years closer to the originals than any other ancient text.

"…unlike the New Testament where the earliest witnesses are within 200 years of the original, the earliest existing manuscripts of most classical texts were written about a millennium after their composition."

So if you are going to throw out the Bible because it's historically unsound, and you want to be consistent in your logic, you also have to say that Alexander the Great and Plato may not have existed. In fact, there is far, far less proof that they did.

Here is a link with an argument for the historically reliability of the New Testament

http://www.apologetics.com/default.jsp?bodycontent=/articles/historical_apologetics/habermas-nt.html

"They're making the mistake of linking their belief and faith and their religion to actual factual tenets."

And from where does the skeptic derive his actual factual tenets? Including spiritual beliefs as an organizing directive for your worldview makes good, practical sense. It accounts for all those concepts that the skeptic has no way to account for. They look down their nose at a person of faith because we can't prove scientifically that our outlook is true, yet they don't even try to integrate love, music and morality into their science based worldview because science does not hold answers to those issues. They mistake their lack of framework for subjectivity, yet this is anything but subjective. The skeptic has the same amount of faith that I have, but places it in himself, mankind, science, or some other construct.

"God works in mysterious, inefficient, and breathtakingly cruel ways."

"What kind of loving God does that, kills innocent children…?"

Here are a few questions for you… Why are you assuming God's idea of cruelty is the same as yours? If there is a God, who is to say that He is bound to your concept of love? If there is a God, and an afterlife, and if God is loving, how do you know that the suffering you have in this life isn't completely washed away or compensated for in the next? What if God was like one of those ancient tribal gods who demands virgin sacrifices and such? If there is a God then there is no reason why He couldn't be that way. The fact that you don't like something doesn't make it untrue. If there is a God, neither you or I have a right to define what that God is like.

I'm personally very grateful that God is not like the tribal gods. I'm glad His revelation is the "good news", not the bad news. It is wonderful that He doesn’t demand perfect behavior in return for rewards. It was mind-bogglingly gracious of Him to kill Himself in my place so that I could spend eternity with Him by simply choosing to believe. Knowing that aspect of His character leads me to believe that what we humans perceive as mysterious, inefficient, and breathtakingly cruel, could in fact be the perfect way. And that justice is a matter of waiting for time to be done away with.

This is a very flawed analogy, but think of a baby being born. It is comfortable and happy in the womb, then all of a sudden it loses its warm fluid bath, gets squished through a tiny tube, get’s suction tube rammed up it’s nose, and experiences great discomfort in the process. From that infant's perspective the whole ordeal must seem mysterious, inefficient, and breathtakingly cruel. But no adult views it that way. We have a bigger picture available to us. In the same way, God is outside of time. He is aware of our suffering, He could miraculously stop it if He so desired, but He knows about a process that we don't understand. From what I know of God, if he kills a child, or a billion children, His love and justice will prevail in the next world even though we don't understand it.

Now I know some of you will get really scared right now because you think that a Christian could use that logic to justify all sorts of horrible things. "Kill 'em now and let God sort 'em out!" Well there are two reasons a Christian can not justify immorality based on some kind of ‘directive from God’. First, we are not God. We don't have His knowledge of all things. Second, He commanded us to love one another, love our neighbor as ourselves, love our enemies, etc. So anyone who is cruel or unloving and claims they act that way because God told them to are simply wrong. (And blasphemous.)

"The characters are painfully one-dimensional."

While it may seem silly to spend time refuting this particular attack, (since it seems to be merely a literary critique) I believe it warrants attention because its untruth is another factor that adds to the authenticity of the Bible. One would expect a book written by people about spiritual heroes to be full of balderdash, exaggerations, and white-washing of its characters, effectively making them one-dimensional caricatures or archetypes. Such is the case with Apollonius of Tyana. Such is the case with most religious texts. But that is not the case with the Bible. Almost every single person recorded in the Bible has a litany of flaws and bad behavior. David had a man killed so he could marry a woman he was watching take a bath. Moses was a coward at first, and lost his temper repeatedly. Samson was a slut and a fool. Peter denied he knew Jesus when admitting it would endanger his life. (Those are the 'good guys'.) And consider the Israelites: God's chosen people. If they were creating a mythic history for their nation to glorify themselves as has been suggested, they did a really crappy job. Over and over and over again, they make really foolish decisions and leave God's protection and suffer horrible consequences. Time and time again, God forgives them and bails them out. No glory goes to the nation or the individuals in charge. All the glory goes to God, His mercy and His provision.

Now look at the kind of people that are featured in other religious or mythical texts or and you will see a marked difference. The people recorded in the Bible are not rendered through rose-colored glasses. Their personalities are nuanced and they lived gritty, real lives because they were real. Not icons for a morality tale as most people seem to assume. If that were the case all the baggage would have been edited out.

The only person in the Bible you could possibly claim was white-washed was Jesus Himself because He was sinless. However, you certainly can't claim He is the one-dimensional placid caricature that has been painted in the modern psyche by those crappy Jesus movies, Sunday school felt figures, and Bible book-store trinkets. Jesus experiences loss, betrayal, extreme anger, (manifested in a violent act) deep pity, etc. He hangs out with prostitutes and tax collectors. To call Him one-dimensional is to display great ignorance of what the Bible actually says, and makes me seriously question the truth of Penn and Teller's claim that they read the whole thing.

"It (The Bible) advocates prejudice, cruelty, superstition and murder."

Again, there is a vast difference between the Old and New covenants. All the examples of "advocacy" of prejudice, cruelty, superstition and murder that they gave were out of the Old Testament. These were specific commands given to a specific group of people to demonstrate specific attributes of God and His will for His people. Stoning witches, sacrificing animals, sacking Philistine cities… All of that is superseded by the New Covenant that Jesus brought about.

And the superstition thing… Well, I gather from their assumptions that any belief in the supernatural is 'superstitious' to them. So I'd have to point back to Question of the Ages #1 again to address that.

Let's look at these accusations and see what the Bible says about them.

Prejudice:

Luke 10:25-37 The parable of the good Samaritan. (An example Jesus gave of how someone showed incredible kindness and generosity to one of a despised race.)

Matthew 7:31… Jesus said to them (the religious authorities) "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.

The number times recorded in the life of Jesus where He ignored all the societal prejudices of the day including racial, political, physical, and mental, are too numerous to list.

Cruelty:

Matthew 5:39 … If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5:42 … Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:44 … Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

Matthew 7:12 … Do unto others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Superstition:

Matthew 6:25-27 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink: about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

Isaiah 8:12 "Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. 13 The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy

Murder:

1 John 3:15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.

John 18:10-11 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting of his right ear. Jesus commanded Peter, "Put your sword away!"

Exodus 20:13 "You shall not murder."

Implicit objections to Christianity that are expressed in the show

Most religions say pretty much the same thing and echo similar stories. This shows that they are a creation of humans.

If God made people, and made them in order to have a relationship with Him as Christianity proclaims, than it would be surprising if we didn't see many similarities in people's spiritual yearnings and output. He would build in a mechanism for recognizing Him and His truth. Different religions have different degrees of success in this process. If there is a difficult math equation that one hundred people attempt to solve, and 99 of them get it mostly right while one gets it correct, do you say the correct answer is no longer correct because a bunch of people had similar, but different answers? No. The similarities in the wrong answers point towards the correct answer, not away from it.

So if all the answers are so close, why not just accept a broad, blurry view of spiritual truth that takes everything together? (Back to the spiritual buffet.) Well, first of all, we need to realize that there are very big fundamental differences between religions. Just because they share some surface qualities does not mean they are identical.

So why would it be important to accept one authority over your life rather than picking elements from many sources? I can think of two reasons; that probably come back to the same source. First of all, it shows submission and respect. We do this when we get married. I didn't partially marry one woman for looks, another for her cooking, another for her skill in bed, and another for her birthing hips. Instead, we lay aside all the other people in the world in return for an intangible thing called love. We submit our will to have whatever we want, whenever we want, because our marriage vow supersedes those desires. That shows respect to our spouse. In the same way, submitting our will to a single source of truth shows that we are not putting ourselves first, but rather, the Truth. When you pick and choose different bits from different religions or belief systems you are disrespecting them all in the same way sleeping around to fulfill yourself disrespects your spouse.

The other reason to submit to one authority is that it is an acknowledgement that our finite experience, wisdom, intelligence and strength is not sufficient to make a decision that determines our eternal destiny. There is a parallel to this in constitutional governments. We base our politics on a constitution. In fact, we bind ourselves to it. There is a reason for this. We recognize that the whims of people come and go, and that if we change or make up laws arbitrarily we lose the stability and character of our nation. I'm not saying that a constitutional democracy is comparable to Christianity, only that they appeal to the same innate knowledge that individuals make a lot of bad choices, and without a higher authority in their lives they don't do too well. Human history proves this time and time again. A quick survey of yourself and those around you will reiterate it.

I can't stand the 'religious right'. They are a bunch of hypocrites who want to force everyone else to follow their rules.

When you picture a member of 'the religious right', what do you see? The image I've had created for me is a red-faced, Bible-waving, screaming white guy with a southern accent. Is that what you see too? That's certainly what Penn wants you to see. The "God Hates Fags" fringe. I honestly don't have a good answer for you concerning 'the religious right'. There is a broad spectrum of opinions among us Christians concerning our role in the political sphere. I can tell you that if a Christian has the goal of gaining power to force a moral code on people he is completely missing the heart of God. God doesn't care how moral you are, He simply wants to be in a relationship with you. You can act great on the outside, pay your taxes, never look at porn, not spit on the sidewalk, etc. but still have a dark heart that hates God.

So is there any truth to the 'religious right' stereotype that has been imprinted on the public consciousness? Sure. There are plenty of fools out there who care more about rules than people. Are they really Christians then? I can't say, but I can tell you that most of the right wing Christians that I know understand the love thing. They simply want our country to prosper and do well. Our lives bear testimony to the fact that following God's precepts brings goodness, (and no, I'm not talking about money.) so we are obviously going to bring that concept to any political activity we partake in. If that sounds ominous and scary to you, think about where left-wingers and moderates derive their beliefs. You may have more faith in mankind and its' ideas than you do in God's word, but it is still faith you are relying on.

Life is far too complicated to prove which side brings goodness and which side brings badness. So please don't assume that our belief in a God Who transcends our will automatically equals repression of freedom. Go ahead and list all the Christian nations with totalitarian dictatorships. Oh wait, all those governments are either atheist/humanist or Muslim. Yet 33% of the planet is Christian. http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html (Although I honestly believe the number of people who actually have a relationship with God is much, much smaller.) So why do you suppose all these Christians haven't risen up and taken over their respective governments, then instituted a crushing moral code? I would suggest that it has something to do with the basic premise of Christianity being at odds with that sort of thing. There have been plenty of governments in the past that called themselves "Christian" and oppressed or killed in the name of Christianity. I won't deny that. But I'd say that the small percentage of them that weren't using the popular religion of the day to gain power and wealth (if that doesn't account for all of them), were just like the screaming hot-heads that are currently portrayed in Hollywood and on the news today. People have always used religion, and always will use it because it pulls at the heart. But that doesn’t mean religion is a bad thing. People use emotion for the same reason and you don't see anyone saying that we should stop using our emotions.

Ultimately, Christianity is not a culture or a political ideology. I have an uncle who is a part-time missionary and pastor. He also dislikes republicans. So please don't confuse Christianity with some American social-political movement, or assume that believing in Jesus means you have to vote a certain way, look a certain way, or talk a certain way.

So you know some Christians who are jerks? Well I know some atheists who are jerks too.

Now concerning hypocrisy… I would venture to say that the only people in the world who are not hypocrites are infants and Satanists. Infants, because they never claim to serve anyone but themselves, and Satanists… well, for the same reason. The moment you adhere to any moral code or constrain yourself based on a set of rules, you have become a hypocrite. I don't care how minimal those rules are, or how saintly you are; you will, at some point, put your own selfish desires before those rules. Most Environmentalists still drive cars and produce garbage. The band, Rage Against The Machine made millions of dollars in a capitalist system. Atheists follow laws that are based on moral codes derived from religious beliefs. Christians sin. People not living up to their own standards is one of those unifying facts of life, right up there with 'everybody poops'.

So why are Christians always mocked when they screw up? Well, the perception from less-religious people is that Christians are self-appointed morals police, ready to judge people and force their will on you if they get a chance. The irony of a moralist getting caught in immorality is timeless and appropriate. But the problem with pinning this caricature on a Christian is that, as I've pointed out at least one thousand times here, Christianity is not about morality or keeping rules to earn your way to heaven. That's what almost every other religion boils down to. Go ahead and make fun of them when they can't follow their own standards… right after you loosen up and make fun of yourself for the same thing. A real Christian will not claim to be better than you because they follow more or better rules then you do. The kind of person who would do that would replace whatever religion happened to be on hand to build their little moralistic soapbox. If they were born in Saudi Arabia they would be Muslim legalists. If they were born in India they would be Hindu legalists. If they were born in China they would be Buddhist legalists. But since they were born in America they get to be "Christian" legalists. But as I've said one thousand and one times now… Christianity is not a set of rules to be followed. Anyone who believes this is probably not a Christian. In fact, if you ever find yourself being harassed by a Christian for being imperfect, feel free to say, "Romans 3:23 and Matthew 7:3!". That should shut them up if they have a clue about their faith.

Romans 3:

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Matthew 7:

3 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"

One more time: God does not want a bunch of little moral automatons. If He did, He would not have given us free will.

“I’m a good person. It’s insulting that you say I’m going to hell just because I don’t believe exactly what you say I need to.”

For the one-thousand and second time: it doesn’t matter how good you are. You can never be perfect. If God is perfect, and you are not, there is no way for you to be with Him after you die. The Christian position is that a belief and acceptance of Jesus as a substitute for your imperfection is the only way to be able to join God. Belief and acceptance is not something you can earn, prove, or buy. Either God gives it to you or He doesn’t. The good news is that if you care about it, it’s because He is giving you a chance to accept that belief. If you still don’t care, God will keep working on you until you do.