In Case You Noticed All the Recent Comments…

Over the last 18 hours or so, many of my older posts received comments from a blogger called humblesmith. He’s a Christian who believes that the Bible is reliable and was inspired by God. He and I have interacted a number of times over the years, and while we see things very differently, I think we’ve both become impressed with one another’s sincerity.

Several weeks ago, humblesmith emailed me and told me that some time ago I had challenged him to rethink his beliefs and critically examine the evidence against Christianity. So unbeknownst to me, he began researching many of the criticisms that I’ve laid out against it. In his email, he stated that he had come to the end of his study, and he wanted to offer his responses. He was giving me a heads up that he would soon be posting comments on a number of my articles. So that’s what he’s been doing since last night.

I only write this post to make it clear to my regular readers that all these comments are not some kind of spam attack. These are sincere responses from a Christian who had the integrity to consider criticisms I’ve made against his beliefs. I’m going to do my best to pay him the same compliment that he’s paid me by taking his arguments seriously. He and I don’t currently see Christianity the same way, but I do think he’s a good and sincere person. And since he believes that eternity weighs in the balance, I honestly appreciate the care and concern he’s shown for me by offering these arguments. Even if we never ultimately agree, he’s earned my respect.

Of course, I welcome the input of anyone who wants to weigh in on these subjects, but I do hope everyone will treat humblesmith courteously and focus on the arguments, not the individual. Who knows, he may offer some insights we haven’t considered before.

Here is a list of the articles he’s recently commented on:

It’s quite a lot, as you can see. This is part of a response I gave to him in one of those last threads:

Hey humblesmith,

Thanks again for taking the time to dig into all of these. It will probably take me a while to fully answer all the comments you’ve left on the various posts. This just happens to be a really busy time for me work-wise, and I want to make sure I consider your points before just spouting off my initial reactions. But I will eventually get around to all of them.

So it might take me a while to go through all of these. Most of them, I haven’t had a chance to read yet. It’s possible that humblesmith might sound condescending in some of these — I don’t know yet. But if he does, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s not easy to read a whole bunch of criticisms of your worldview and then offer rebuttals without sometimes sounding short or flippant. I do think he’s a sincere individual, and I think his points deserve sincere consideration.

Thanks in advance to any of you who decide to help me look into these.


103 thoughts on “In Case You Noticed All the Recent Comments…”

  1. UnkleE

    I’m not sure if we’ve “met” each other before, but hello to you.

    I don’t think we have, but I’ve read many of your comments over the last couple years when I was reading through Nate’s archives!

    as a christian I get this quite commonly

    You get people telling you that you only pretend to believe in God? I’m sorry, that’s pretty inexcusable dick behavior. I basically agree with your points, though I do think it’s not unreasonable to infer things about a person sometimes. However, it is not a good way to argue with a person if your goal is to persuade them.


    Sometimes, I feel like some of my best points weren’t addressed at all.

    You are not wrong. If he was even responding to anything you wrote at all, it seems like he mainly picked one or two points, re-wrote some standard apologetic response and declared victory. He did not seem to deal with the the tougher problems you raised, or examine whether the standard apologetic rebuttals were themselves well-supported.

    This happens all the time in apologetics. Mention the discrepancy between Jesus birth in Matthew (pre-4 BC) and Luke (6-7 AD), and you’ll get confident explanations that Quirinius served as governor twice (totally unsupported), conspiracy theories about secret hidden letters in Roman coins (the Strobel/Vardaman nonsense), greek word games, and the like. What you won’t get is an acknowledgment that none of these explanations holds any water at all among experts. But apologists love them, because apologetics is all about rationalization. Combine one part “it could have happened!” with one part “the so-called experts are just godless heathens”, and you have the recipe for apologetics!

    I also notice Smith has a propensity to wave away a difficult problem by saying something about how even if we can’t prove one thing true, the cumulative evidence from the rest of the Bible should show that it’s true. Which is a bit like saying, “sure, the suitcase you opened only had a few pennies in it, but I have 99 other suitcases and surely there must be millions of dollars in them! Therefore, you should conclude that I am wealthy because of the cumulative evidence of all these suitcases.” Of course, the cumulative weight of a lot of unverifiable claims is….nothing. And when somebody points out that his claims are not persuasive, he just accuses them of having a closed mind.

    Finally, his defenses tend to be extraordinarily one-sided. He presents the argument for his side, but does not appear to interact at all with the contradictory evidence, the difficulties with his own view, or the arguments against his defense. In fairness, I think it’s pretty likely that he does not know what those criticism are. He seems like the sort of fellow whose exposure to critical material comes mostly from reading his fellow apologists “debunk” them.

    hope you’ll hang around — I’ve enjoyed reading what you have to say.

    I’ve been reading your stuff for quite some time. I’ll try to participate again now and then!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Jon, thanks for your comments to me. I hope you don’t mind if I take up another comment you make here.

    “This happens all the time in apologetics.”

    I agree with you here. I think the starting point has to be the best information available. It will sometimes be wrong, but it’s the best we have. So I agree, for example, that the stories of Jesus’ birth are not considered very historical by most scholars (though obviously he had to be born in some way or other, so some details are probably right).

    I am not defending humblesmith because I haven’t followed through (so far) on anything he has written. But I think it is important to note that non-believers can behave in the same way you have described and therefore also deserve the apparently pejorative description of “apologist”.

    For example, the same historians who say most of the birth stories are legendary also say there is no doubt that Jesus lived a life more or less as described in the gospels as a travelling teacher, healer and prophet, and that he was executed in Jerusalem. (Of course they don’t all say the miracles actually occurred, some do, some don’t, but they do say he was known as a healer.) Yet so many atheists hold to the view that he didn’t exist, or maybe he didn’t, Nazareth wasn’t a village in his day, etc – all contrary to the historical evidence and the consensus of historians.

    It happens in other areas than history too. I have just been involved in a discussion on Nate’s blog where I raised evidence from neuroscientists and psychologists about how religion has beneficial effects on the brain and on the whole person. Again most of the atheists (not all) didn’t want to know about this evidence, laughed at it, denied it, even made libellous claims about the integrity of the scientists who had done the research, but no-one offered any contrary evidence. I guess that makes them all “apologists” too!?

    So I am not disagreeing with you, just pointing out the problem is wider than just christians. I guess I am sensitive because I would see myself in some ways as an apologist, but I don’t see that as a bad thing, and I try to work within the evidence established by science and history.

    Thanks for the opportunity to have this little rant. 🙂


  3. UnkleE, I agree with almost everything you said. I agree that the atheist embrace of mythicism is unfortunate and driven more by what they want to believe than by methods they use for reaching conclusions in other areas. I also agree that this is not simply a Christian problem. It is a human problem that affects all of us, especially when it comes to evaluating things we are deeply invested in. Religion, politics, culture, sports, friends, ourselves.

    When I said I noticed it a lot within apologetics, I didn’t mean to limit it to Christian apologetics. Apologetics just seems to be more common within Chrisfianity. But I wish apologists would read the apologists of other religions in order to understand how they come across to outsiders.

    My only disagreement is with your description of “apologist” as a pejorative. It’s a word they use to describe themselves. I think it can carry some negative connotations when used to accuse a scholar of behaving in a less-than-scholarly manner, but people in the field of apologetics will call themselves apologists.


  4. Hi Jon, thanks for that. It is nice to find agreement with people who may differ on some things. I only reacted to “apologist” because many people seem to use it pejoratively to dismiss scholars they don’t like. Thanks again. I look forward to seeing you around.


  5. Jon/unkleE

    I had thought that the mythicist position on Jesus was absurd. However after listening to, and considering, the arguments in some depth over a period of a year my view is changing.

    I now don’t hold to either the mythicist or historical position, I am leaving both possibilities open in my mind. I am not saying that the mythicist position is correct, rather just saying that their proponents raise some valid issues that should not be dismissed out of hand.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. @Peter

    Care to share what you think are the major issues? I have glossed over this jesus myth position in the past but didn’t think much of it because most people on both sides of the fence I know have dismissed it.

    The interesting thing about any left-field theory is that often the data/facts touted are flat out wrong but you won’t be able to know it unless doing tons of strong study in the field itself. Case in point studies on homeopathic stuff and autism vs vaccines. Both have strong psuedoscience that is hard to differentiate from real science if you didn’t already have good background in science.


  7. Hi Peter, I was going to say something similar to Powell said.

    Critics of the mythicists say that they distort facts, even make things up, as well as lack a historical perspective on which to base assessments. I have read quite widely on Jesus and history, but I don’t think I know enough to always pick this out. One giveaway is when they give very few references (whereas most true scholars give many references), and when they do they are often way out of date (sometimes more than a century old). So I think it is safer to trust the consensus.

    Further, it is easy for sceptics to criticise christians for believing in (say) the stories of Jesus’ birth as being totally true and consistent, when scholars say they are not. Well if we trust the scholars for the one conclusions, surely we ought to trust them for the other also?

    Finally, I wonder what you would say if we were discussing abiogenesis (the first appearance of life) and I said: “I now don’t hold to either the evolutionary or the creationist position, I am leaving both possibilities open in my mind.” I think most non-christians would criticise me, perhaps even mock me. yet there are more genuine peer-reviewed scholars who question abiogenesis (they are still a minority) than question Jesus’ existence.

    So that’s how I see it.


  8. Unk/Powell

    Please bear in mind that my comments here are made on the ‘fly’ so to speak. But I will make a few observations that are worthy of consideration:
    – no contemporary reports of Jesus from sources we might expect – Like Philo;
    – later non Biblical references to ‘Jesus’ tend to be references to followers of Jesus and what they believed, not direct references to Jesus;
    – no actual description of what Jesus looked like;
    – two birth narratives in the Gospels that are virtually irreconcilable (I acknowledge some learned folk do reconcile them, but in as strained way);
    – the earliest Christian writings (from Paul) make basically no reference to Jesus’ earthly ministry. There are three references that require explanation, Philippians 2:7, 1 Corinthians 11 and Galatians 1:19. These can be explained, but it would make this a very lengthy post;
    – the argument that Jesus was a celestial being who was crucified in the the space between earth and heaven;
    – the observation by John Dominic Crossan that the earliest Gospel, Mark, is essentially written as a parable;
    – the numerous geographical errors in Mark, showing a lack of first hand knowledge of Palestine;
    – the fact that the later Gospels copied and amended Mark’s Gospel’
    – the use of Old Testament figures, Moses, Elijah and Elisha as the basis for the Gospel stories of Jesus;
    – the contradictions between the Gospels, especially the trial and crucifixion narrative;
    – the reference in 1 John to the split in that church between those who thought Jesus came in the flesh and those who didn’t;
    – the similarity of the story of Jesus to earlier dying and rising Gods;
    – the fact that Jesus scores a 19 out of 22 on the scale used to determine if a ‘historical’ figure is real or mythical – apparently no figure known to be certainly historical has scored higher than a 10;
    – the clear track record we have of Christians in the early centuries making up stories about Jesus (consider the infancy Gospels of Jesus);
    – our earliest record that Mark’s Gospel was written by the assistant of the Apostle Peter, comes from Papias who reliability is suspect (if you doubt this read what Papias says about the fate of Judas).

    I am discounting the reference in Josephus to Jesus as there is overwhelming evidence that it has been tampered with. This preparedness of Christians to doctor the records means that we may never know the real story.

    These are just some thoughts off the top of my head.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Hi Peter, that’s quite a list and I think it would be silly to try to address it all, but I will make a few comments.

    1. If this was really as impressive as people think, why would virtually all the historians still be confident that jesus was real and we know a lot about him? They aren’t all idiots, so the only explanation could be that there is a christian conspiracy or something. And that is actually what some people claim. But all the prestigious universities? Even scholars like Bart Ehrman, who is no friend of christianity, or the late Maurice Casey, and atheist who vehemently defended himself against such charges? It’s a very unrealistic proposition.

    2. Some of those objections are just plain wrong or not accepted by scholars. Just a few examples …

    *Which contemporary sources would you expect to mention Jesus? Which ones mention other figures like him?

    *Josephus is one of the few, and he does mention him. The fact that there are apparent interpolations doesn’t prevent the majority of scholars concluding that the basic reference is genuine, and there are copies of Josephus in other languages that support this.

    *No actual description? Do you know if many ancient biographies gave physical descriptions? I don’t, but this seems like a unimportant point.

    *There are many more than 3 references to Jesus’s earthly life in Paul.

    The celestial being argument is strange. Scholars say if there was any progression, it was from physical person to legendary stories, not the other way around.

    *The idea that the Jesus story was similar to stories of dying and rising gods was popular more than a century ago, but has been abandoned by scholars long since. I have researched this, and most of the supposed parallels are spurious.

    So that is a few of the more obvious claims that have little substance. A few others are interesting, and it is worth mentioning them.

    *Very few scholars base much on Papias these days, but Richard Bauckham argues against this trend. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but at present, that point of yours is largely irrelevant to the scholarly consensus.

    *Whose scale assesses the historicity of figures? Have you got a reference for that please?

    *I’m not sure why copying among the gospel writers is an issue. There are still multiple independent sources. Luke says that he got his material from several earlier sources, presumably both written and oral, and it turns out that he got about 40% from Mark, a quarter from Matthew and a third from other sources. If a historian today used earlier sources, would we criticise him? And the sceptics try to have it both ways. If the stories disagree, then they are wrong, but if they agree they are copied and not believable. But differences indicate independence, which reinforces the bits they agree on. I think these points strengthen the historical case, not weaken it.

    I think that’s enough. I think there are some interesting matters we could discuss, but i think the majority are not really very accurate or important.


  10. I think the biggest hole in the Christian argument for Jesus being God the Creator is the lack of any mention in the historical record of any Christian venerating or even knowing about the location of the “Empty Tomb” until the fourth century.

    I challenge UnkleE or any other Christian to explain why the location of the alleged greatest event in the history of the world was so quickly forgotten.

    And the claim that since the tomb was empty it was not important is nonsense. The earliest Christians were Jews and it was Jewish custom to venerate holy sites. It is implausible that Christian Jews would not venerate this site.

    There is no mention of a known location for the Empty Tomb until Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem, mentioned it to Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicea…after Constantine had proclaimed he wanted to build three great new churches in the Holy Land.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. @unkleE

    Well if we trust the scholars for the one conclusions, surely we ought to trust them for the other also?

    If we are going this route then it is only proper we apply the same criteria to the Old Testament and notably, the Pentateuch. I am sure you would agree unkleE,yes?

    So, may I ask how you respond to the consensus that the Captivity, Exodus and Conquest of Canaan as described in the bible and the characters involved is simply geo-political myth?

    And how would you explain why Paul genuinely considered Adam an historical figure and Jesus felt the same about Moses?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I just don’t get the appeal to Josephus. He wasn’t a contemporary of Jesus, had never seen Jesus and was born after Jesus would have been executed, and even if that section in his writings wasn’t tampered with, and it was his own words, it’s still hearsay; and opinion not based on observation or first hand experience, but based on the views, feelings and words of others.

    Josephus believed that some people believed that Jesus was a healer/religious leader.

    It would be like saying bigfoot was real because I’ve heard it from someone who knew this other guy who said he saw bigfoot.

    It could be true, but it certainly looses some of its shine.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. You are correct, William. Josephus was NOT a contemporary of Jesus. However, Philo of Alexandria was. Philo gives a number of details about Pontius Pilate and his dealings with the Jews of Palestine…but never once mentions Pilate and his dealings with Jesus of Nazareth. The infamous Jesus’ whose death was marked by multiple earthquakes, sightings of celestial beings, the tearing down the middle of the Temple veil, dead people roaming the streets of Jerusalem, and an unheard of before or since THREE HOUR eclipse of the sun.

    But nope, no mention of Jesus the great miracle worker, prophet, alleged Messiah and God.

    I think Jesus PROBABLY existed but was an insignificant flash in the pan, unnoticed by anyone until, the author of the Gospel of Mark made him into the sensation of the Roman Empire. The same author who most likely invented the Empty Tomb story.

    The reality probably is that the early Christian belief in the Resurrection was simply religious hysteria among a handful of uneducated, Galilean peasants whose apocalyptic rabbi and just been snuffed out, and in their emotional devastation and grief, experienced vivid dreams and trances in which he “appeared” to them…in the same manner that tens of thousands of other dead persons have “appeared” to their grieving loved ones.


    Liked by 2 people

  14. And think about this: Even though Josephus was not a contemporary of Jesus, he did write an extensive history of Judaism and the events in Palestine during the first century. How much did he Josephus about the man whose death was marked by the aforementioned spectacular natural and supernatural wonders: Answer: very, very little.

    Jesus was a worker of miracles.

    That’s about it.

    Get out your telephone book and look up the listings for Pentecostal churches in your area, call them, and every one of them will tell you that their pastor “heals” people of all kinds of illnesses and injuries in the name of God; no different than the claims of Jesus.

    Miracle worker = so what???

    Josephus’ near silence and Philo’s total silence regarding the events in the life of the man Christians claim to be the Creator God, Ruler of the Cosmos, is very telling: The supernatural tales related to Jesus are just as believable as the tales of your local Pentecostal preacher; healing the blind, the lame, and the nearly dead but never with enough convincing proof to convince the medical profession of his claims.

    It’s all superstitious, uneducated, ignorant baloney!

    Let’s not argue with Christians over whether or not a “Jesus the healer” existed. So what if he did! “Healers” come a dime a dozen in human history. Let’s see the evidence for the supernatural claims credited to this man. Guess what: they don’t exist. There is no evidence that anyone in the first three centuries knew of the location of Jesus’ “empty tomb”, the site of the greatest event to ever occur on planet earth. Zero. Let Christians answer that hole in their supernatural tall tale.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. And my response to Habermas’ claim that “seventy-five” percent of NT scholars believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb is this: So what! I will bet that at least 75% of Koran scholars believe the supernatural claims of that ancient holy book.

    My point is this:

    The overwhelming majority of people who chose to dedicate their entire lives to NT scholarship are Christians—people who have already made the decision to base their lives and world view on this ancient tale. And just because Vermes and Lapide and maybe a couple of other Jewish scholars agree with Christians on this claim does not change the fact that there is a strong religious bias involved.

    What do HISTORIANS say about the historicity of the Empty Tomb??? How often is the Empty Tomb mentioned as an established historical fact in public university world history books? Never.

    NT scholarly (which is mostly Christian) opinion is WEAK evidence. It is BIASED evidence. Let’s stop giving any creedence to the value of NT scholarship on this historical issue.


  16. And in case someone asks “Why would Jewish scholars such as Vermes and Lapide agree with the probable historicity of the Empty Tomb?”

    If you read the works of Jewish NT scholars, such as Dr. Magness (can’t remember her first name) you will detect a strong hesitancy to come across as critical of the Christian supernatural claims. I believe that Jewish NT scholars are wary of being labeled a “Jesus-hating Jew” and therefore tread very lightly regarding key Christian theological claims.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. To my knowledge, no one has ever argued that an empty tomb/grave is evidence for Resurrection from the dead and flying into heaven except in the case of Jesus.

    In every other instance of an empty tomb or grave, the evidence is usually only submitted to support there being a missing body, and not to argue that said body must have come back to life and has flown away.

    Even if we all agreed that there was an empty tomb and that it was Jesus’ empty tomb, we’d still be lacking evidence of reanimated flesh and un-mechanically aided flight.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Presuppositional arguments carry no real weight in any genuine discussion of history. People like unkleE should know this, yet still they attempt to present arguments fro likes of Habermas as if they have any genuine historical merit, which of course they do not.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. It kills me when Christians claim that the Resurrection has as much supporting evidence, if not more, than other events in Antiquity. Give me a break.

    –claims of seeing a ghost.
    –an alleged empty tomb.
    –and the conversions of mostly uneducated, lower class individuals joining the newest religious fad that promised social equality and eternal bliss in the after life.


    Liked by 1 person

  20. “Presuppositionalism is the idea that only the Christian worldview can account for logic, morality, science, induction, consciousness itself, and peanut brittle, and that all other worldviews are absurd.” —Rational Wiki


    Liked by 1 person

  21. Peter

    A few quick (possibly redundant) responses to the list of issues you raise about the historicity of Jesus.

    1. We have no contemporary reports of almost anybody in that region in the 1st century. We barely have any written records of Pilate and he was a major political figure! So of course we have no contemporary (during his lifetime) records of a relatively minor apocalyptic preacher. He simply was not a very notable figure until after his death, and probably not until some decades after his death.

    Also, as far as Josephus, one of the references he made to Jesus was absolutely tampered with, but that only affects some of the characterizations, not the underlying reference itself.

    2. However, we do have written references to Jesus within a couple decades of his life. The letters of Paul were probably written about 15-30 years after Jesus was killed. The gospel of Mark, Matthew and Luke were probably written around 70-90 AD (give or take), and while Matthew and Luke obviously copied a great deal from Mark, they do each have some unique material. Regardless of what you think of the accuracy of the stories, they provide fairly early evidence about what people at the time believed and were saying.

    3. As you say, some of the relatively early references to Jesus were not actually references to Jesus but instead to his followers (or to “Christians”). I agree that these do not provide independent attestation of his life, but it does clearly establish the existence of his followers. That’s critical. The most parsimonious explanation for the existence of these “followers” is that there was a leader they were following. It’s far simpler to assume that there was a Jesus who gathered some followers before he was killed by the Romans, then his followers reinterpreted his life and death in order to continue their sociopolitical/religious movement, and the story gradually evolved as the movement grew. That also explains the typology you noted (Moses, Elijah, Elisha, etc). It is far more difficult to imagine a purely “celestial” beginning with no “Jesus” figure that almost immediately invented a fake human to represent him and yet somehow we have no real records of him being a purely mythical figure. We have the docetics, who believed he was purely spiritual and his body only appeared to take the form of flesh, but even they acknowledged that it appeared. In order to find hints of mythicism in early writings, advocates have to force very unusual interpretations onto the text.

    4. Paul’s lack of references to Jesus’ life and activities is interesting, but not necessarily surprising for a couple reasons. First, remember that Paul was not an eyewitness, so he did not necessarily know very much about the life and activities of Jesus. His “gospel” was the message that he got in a revelation, not the sordid physical details that the other apostles knew about Jesus and he reminded people of that all the time. Second, remember that Paul wrote his letters very early, possibly before many of the eventual legendary details about Jesus even arose. So he may not have ever heard much of what was in the gospel.

    5. It is also important to distinguish between the “historical Jesus” and the Jesus of the Gospels. Scholars do not have to account for all of the discrepancies and implausibilities (miracles, for example) in the Gospels, because they do not assume that the historical Jesus necessarily did those things. They are legends that grew about him in many different communities, so of course they differ and of course they seem implausible. The choice is not between “Jesus was exactly as described in the Gospels” and “Jesus was a myth.”

    6. The “dying and rising god” theme is pretty overstated. It’s not as bad as the claims about other “virgin births”, but it is fairly tenuous. That said, I do think there are elements of syncretism within Christianity that drew on greco-roman culture and beliefs and incorporated them into their own stories and theologies.

    7. That “scale used to determine if a ‘historical’ figure is real or mythical”” is the Rank-Raglan scale and it’s just a series of characteristics that the two people (Rank and Raglan, obviously!) proposed. It is an interesting approach, but it does not seem to be a a reliable or methodologically rigorous one.

    Wrapping up: mythicists sometimes make interesting points, but their conclusions are less plausible than the simple assumption that Jesus was real and legends about him grew after his death. His followers maintained the movement they were building by engaging in the kind of imaginative reinterpretation of scripture that was not uncommon in Judaism.

    Richard Carrier has certainly made a run at promoting mythicism, but he seems to have been more successful promoting himself. So far as I can tell, he has not persuaded any working scholars in the relevant fields. As far as other peer reviewed literature, his work (only very dubiously peer reviewed itself) has gone nowhere.


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