I recently read (or listened to anyhow) a book called The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance by Anthony Gottlieb. Now I am not that interested in ancient philosophy and philosophers, or at least wasn’t before this book. My general point of view is (was?) that we owe ancient philosophers a huge debt of gratitude for their dream of using reason to understand the world. But I also believe that their theories were all just shy of 100% hogwash and no rational person today (thanks to our scientific knowledge) would ever choose to be ‘an Aristotelian’ or some other follower of one of the ancient schools – unless they were doing it for purely religious reasons. (I tend to give people a pass if they are doing it for religious reasons.)
I’m probably wrong in this opinion, since there are many very smart and sincere philosopher’s today that are Aristotelians. But, given my bad attitude, I’m not likely to give them the time of day to convince me otherwise.
With this attitude, is it really that surprising that I have made little effort to study philosophy? But here I think I’ve erred. For after reading a book like The Dream of Reason, I can see that there is immense value in understanding the historical problems that these philosophers were grappling with and to look, with 20/20 hindsight, at what their graspings eventually led to.
And one of the key lessons of the book, if I were to pick one and call it the main theme, is that no matter how wrong you are, if you at least try to use reason, you are probably on the right track. In short, the book screamed to me “Stick your neck out and be wrong! Only the Rejectionists (i.e. people that point out all the problems of other’s beliefs but advance none of their own) truly fail in the realm of Reason!”
In a past post I talked about Joe Geisner’s short review (in a comment) of Heinrich Paulus’ book where he tries to come up with ways to explain way the miracles of Jesus.
All of this reminded me of a news report I once saw on the evening news. I wish I had a clip of it. I can’t even remember for sure if it was Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings. I’m thinking it was Peter Jennings.
At best as I can remember from memory, here is what he said:
Well, we recently did two news reports that might be important for Christians. One was a news report that scholars have found the Gospel of Judas, complete with it’s very different take on the teachings of Jesus, and another was about a scholar that had discovered that sometimes the Sea of Galillee freezes, perhaps explaining how Jesus walked across it.
Given these recent news stories, we wouldn’t blame people if their faith was shaken. Good night.
Not long ago I did a reprint of a Mormon Matters post where I asked people if they would regularly study inspired fiction. The overwhelming answer was “no.” But in the choir of voices, there was one particularly interesting response that I think is worthy of sharing.
Now this commenter did not believe the Book of Mormon is in any way historical. In fact, when he took my question to the group, he rewrote it like this:
Did coming to
believe realize The Book of Mormon was only inspired fiction not a literal history cause you to reduce your efforts to study it in any way?
His response was then:
I’ve known this since my teenage years, so a before/after comparison is impossible. All of my adult study of the Book of Mormon has been informed by my understanding that it is not a literal history.
His biggest concern with my original post was that:
I think the terms “fiction” and “fictional” are loaded words that break the spiritual mood. To keep a religious feeling, it’s probably better to say “parable” or “inspired stories” or simply “scripture,” with the understanding that scripture is not history and vice versa.
My concern with his rewording was that just saying “parable” failed to get to the heart of my real question, which was how do you explain the plates. Joseph Smith carted them around and many many people touched them under a cloth.
Then an amazing thing happened, he actually gave an tentative answer to this question. Outside of this one time, I never seen nor heard of any person in favor of an “inspired fiction” view of the Book of Mormon actually make an attempt to explain how such a thing is possible! (See also Mike Parker’s article on this subject.)
Blogger Joe Geisner once reported on a book he was reading called The Life of Jesus. The author, Heinrich Paulus, reviews the miracles of Jesus in a ‘scholarly study’ (Joe’s words not mine) and addresses non-miraculous means for each of them:
In this book Paulus tries to explain the miracles from a natural point of view. When it comes to the loaves of bread and fish Paulus points out that Jesus has the disciples organize the congregation into small groups and also has the disciples get him the fish and loaves, when the people see this they realized it was time to eat and opened up their own baskets of food. By doing this there was plenty of food with baskets of food left over.
For the walking on water Paulus writes that because of the storm and it being night it caused the disciples not to realize that they had not travel much off shore. Jesus really walked in ankle deep water and Peter didn’t realize that they were in such shallow water, he panicked and Jesus had to lift him up so that he could get his composure.
The raising of the dead is much more complicated but he comes from a medical point of view for the time. What is interesting is Paulus also makes an argument for the rising of Jesus from the dead as being a explainable natural occurrence. There actually is accounts from antiquity of people surviving the crucifixion though the Romans thought they were dead.
This quote explains well my main concern with Rejectionist philosophies. Think about all the miracles in the New Testament subscribed to Jesus and then think about ‘natural explanations’ for each of them. Then here is my question for you. Just how rational is Paulus’ point of view?
Another reprint from Mormon Matters. The following article, despite appearances, is not about whether or not Jesus existed. I accept that He did exist as an article of faith. This article is actually about a certain flawed way of thinking that we all sometimes fall into. As such, I admit up front that I know next to nothing about the historicity of Jesus. If you think you’re going to learn a lot about this subject by reading my post, you’re wrong. All that I know on this subject I got off Wikipedia from this article. Go read it yourself and draw your own conclusions. Maybe someday I’ll get serious about the historicity of Jesus and actually make a real attempt to study it. But in the mean time, bear in mind that this article has nothing to do with whether or not Jesus existed.
Not long ago I came across someone on the internet on Yahoo Answers asking for evidence that Jesus even existed. Several decent answers were posted pointing to the non-Biblical sources that refer to, or seem to refer to, Jesus. These are: