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Old 04-18-2001, 09:48 PM   #1
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Post Common Scpetic Myths

I have noticed a number of recurring myths commonly believed by sceptics on discussion boards, and thought it might be a good idea to list them so that when someone new comes along and wants to talk about any of these particular fallacies, we could have a single thread to which we could refer them, saving a lot of time and unnecessary repetition. I will list a few of my own personal favorites, and invite others to add to the list.

1. Myth: Nazareth is an invention of the Gospels, and never actually existed until Constantine had the town built in the 4th Century AD.

Truth: I don’t know where this one got started, but it is a remarkably persistent myth. Archeological discovers have already debunked it.

"Despite Nazareth's obscurity (which had led some critics to suggest that it was a relatively recent foundation), archeology indicates that the village has been occupied since the 7th century B.C., although it may have experienced a 'refounding' in the 2d century b.c. "
( John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew--Rethinking the Historical Jesus, (vol 1), p.300-301...cites Meyers and Strange, Archeology, the Rabbis, and Early Christianity, Abingdon:1981. pp.56-57)

"Despite the Hellenization of the general region and the probability that Greek was known to many people it seems likely that Nazareth remained a conservative Jewish village. After the Jewish war with the Romans from AD 66-70 it was necessary to re-settle Jewish priests and their families. Such groups would only settle in unmixed towns, that is towns without Gentile inhabitants. According to an inscription discovered in 1962 in Caesarea Maritima the priests of the order of Elkalir made their home in Nazareth. This, by the way, is the sole known reference to Nazareth in antiquity, apart from written Christian sources...
Some scholars had even believed that Nazareth was a fictitious invention of the early Christians; the inscription from Caesarea Maritima proves otherwise."
( Paul Barnett, Behind the Scenes of the New Testament, p.42)


2. Myth: Christians burned down the Great Library in Alexandria in 415AD. This one got its start apparently from Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Truth: The Great Library of Alexandria no longer existed by the end of the 4th Century, and could not possibly have ever been burned down by the Christians, ever. Debunking this particular myth has been a pet project of our very own Bede, and I refer readers to his wonderful essay on the subject found at The Mysterious Fate of the Great Library of Alexandria

3. Myth: Josephus’ references to Jesus in his work “Antiquities” are both Christian inventions, and therefore should be rejected in toto.

Truth: One of the two references contains what is generally believed to be “interpolations” by Christians, but neither are considered to be complete forgeries (except by a very radical Jesus Myth fringe). Proof that Josephus refers to Jesus before it could have been permanently altered by Christians comes from two 3rd Century references by Origen (long before Christians could have changed all of the copies that would have been in circulation).

Origen quoting Josephus

"And to so great a reputation among the people for righteousness did this James rise, that Flavius Josephus, who wrote the "Antiquities of the Jews" in twenty books, when wishing to exhibit the cause why the people suffered so great misfortunes that even the temple was razed to the ground, said, that these things happened to them in accordance with the wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had
dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ.
And the wonderful thing is, that, though he did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great; and he says that the people thought that they had suffered these things because of James."
Origen - Matthew X, XVII

"For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising
purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless-being, although against his will, not far from the truth-that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just,
who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ),-the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice."
Origen, - Against Celsus I, XLVII


The actual references themselves are:

The Testimonimum Flavius (probably interpolated, but referenced by Origen before such redactions could credibly take place, and widely accepted as containing a legitimate reference to Jesus)
“Now about this time there happened to be Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is right to call him a man. For he was a doer of amazing deeds and a teacher of men who were pleased to receive the truth. He attracted many Jews and many Hellenists. He was the Messiah [Christos]. When Pilate condemned him to the cross on an accusation from prominent men among us, those who were first drawn to him did not quit. For he appeared to them on the third day as again having life. These wonders and a thousand others were told about him by God's prophets. And up till now the clan of "Christians," so-named after him, still did not give up.”
Josephus, Antiquities 18.63-64

Stoning of James, the Brother of Jesus [62 CE] (Accepted as being original)
Hanan (II) the younger---who was appointed to the high-priesthood [in 62 CE]...---was rash in temper and exceptionally daring. He followed the sect of the Sadducees, who are in fact more harsh than all the (other) Jews in judicial matters.. This Hanan thought that he had an hour of grace, because Festus [the Roman procurator] had died and (his successor) Albinus was just beginning his journey to Jerusalem. So he convened the Sanhedrin of judges and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus, the reputed Messiah, and some others. He accused them of having transgressed the Torah and delivered them up to be stoned. Now those who seem to be the most fair of those in the city---those who were strict in keeping the Torah [= the Pharisees]---were deeply shocked by this and sent (a messenger) to king [Agrippa II], to call on (Hanan II) not to do such things. For he was not right in the first thing he had done.
Josephus, Antiquities 20.199-201


4. Myth: There were dozens/hundreds/lots of messiah claimants running around Palestine at the time of Jesus.

Truth: Actually, there were no individuals claiming to be the Messiah for at least a hundred years before or after Jesus (i.e. 100BC-100AD), although the expectation that one would arrive at this time was widespread (see the DSS at the Qumran community as an example).

Since the "Messiah" issue will appear in the discussion to follow, some fictions need to be laid to rest. One encounters the affirmation that there were many would-be messiahs in Palestine at this time. In fact there is no evidence that and Jew claimed or was said to be the Messiah before Jesus of Nazareth (or until a centry after his death). Thus one must offer an explanation for the unanimity attested in the NT that Jesus was the Christ (Messiah). As Witherington, Jesus Quest, points out, very important scholars posit an affirmation or confession of messiahship during Jesus' lifetime: M. de Jonge, Jesus, the Servant Messiah (New Haven: Yale, 1991); J.D.G. Dunn, in The Messiah, ed. J.H. Charlesworth (Minneapolis: A/F, 1992), 365-81; P. Sctuhlmacher, Jesus of Nazareth-Christ of Faith (Peabody, MA: Hendrikson, 1993); N.T. Wright, Who was Jesus? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), and his other books on Jesus.
(Raymond E. Brown, Introduction to the New Testament, [Doubleday, New York, 1994], pg. 820, n. 6).


I have found the four myths listed above to be among the most commonly put forward by sceptics. Has anyone found any others?

Nomad

[This message has been edited by Nomad (edited April 19, 2001).]
 
Old 04-19-2001, 06:16 AM   #2
Bede
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This is fun.

Myth:
That Christianity delayed the advance of science.

Truth:
As well argued by our very own Michael here, the conditions for modern science did not exist before the late Renaisance which was when science appeared.

Myth:
That there was a proto holocaust of pagans
after Rome turned Christian.

Truth:
According to modern historians like Ramsey MacMullen, Imperial policy remained virtually unchanged after Christianity and the vast majority of pagans converted for economic and social reasons. Violence was rare although the rare occasions it happened well publicised.

Myth:
That millions were killed by the Inquisition/Witch hunts/Crusades.

Truth:
The Spanish Inquisition killed 2,000 or so over 400 hundred years (Michael Kamen, the Spanish Inquisition). Witch hunts are more porblematical but the numbers were very large - tens of thousands. The figures given by neo pagans to try and compare their suffering to that of the Jews, are massive exaggerations. In the crusades, nothing much happened which wasn't par for the course during the period. Certainly they were pretty tame compared to the Mongols...

Myth:
That Galileo was put on trial for saying the earth isn't flat.

Truth:
He was put on trial for satirising the pope and making theological claims about science. One of these claims was that Copernicus contradicted the bible and was right. This is half true.

Myth:
That Hitler was a Christian.

Truth:
We've been through this a million times and never has a scholar of nazism been produced who'll even give this madness the time of day. Hitler used Christianity and conned a lot of Christians who should have known and behaved better.

Myth:
That reading the Blind Watchmaker makes you an expert on evolution.

Truth:
It won't. Try John Maynard Smith's 'Theory of Evolution' instead. Dawkins wrote the forward to this, at least.

Myth:
That Carl Sagan was a great scientist.

Truth:
He was a jobbing astronomer who was a great communicator and had a gift for self publicity.

Oh dear. I should stop now.

Yours

Bede

Bede's Library - faith and reason
 
Old 04-19-2001, 06:41 AM   #3
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I have an even better myth: Jesus died and rose from the dead.

Michael
 
Old 04-19-2001, 07:29 AM   #4
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by turtonm:
I have an even better myth: Jesus died and rose from the dead.

Michael
</font>
Don't forget Adam and Eve, talking snakes, a worldwide flood, fiery serpents killing thousands of people, parting seas, angels, Satan, and virgin births.

 
Old 04-19-2001, 08:06 AM   #5
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Hey, nobody said we were critical thinkers (or that we could spell, ).

B
 
Old 04-19-2001, 08:14 AM   #6
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
Myth:
That millions were killed by the Inquisition/Witch hunts/Crusades.

Truth:
The Spanish Inquisition killed 2,000 or so over 400 hundred years (Michael Kamen, the Spanish Inquisition). Witch hunts are more porblematical but the numbers were very large - tens of thousands. The figures given by neo pagans to try and compare their suffering to that of the Jews, are massive exaggerations. In the crusades, nothing much happened which wasn't par for the course during the period. Certainly they were pretty tame compared to the Mongols...
</font>
Ohhh...so only tens of thousands of innocent people were killed in the name of the almighty lord. Well then, I suppose your religion isn't that bad after all.

In case you can't tell, I'm being sarcastic.

[edited for bolding]

[This message has been edited by TollHouse (edited April 19, 2001).]
 
Old 04-19-2001, 08:59 AM   #7
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Another one of my favorite Christian myths:

God is perfectly just.

Of course, Nomad knows how well that discussion will go, having tried to defend God's law on a rape victim having to marry her rapist (btw, we're still waiting for your response to some excellent questions put upon you there).

http://www.infidels.org/electronic/f...ML/000332.html
 
Old 04-19-2001, 09:30 AM   #8
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Nomad:

2. Myth: Christians burned down the Great Library in Alexandria in 415AD. This one got its start apparently from Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. </font>
This is a seriously disputed point about which reasonable people disagree rather strongly.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
4. Myth: There were dozens/hundreds/lots of messiah claimants running around Palestine at the time of Jesus. </font>
This is also a seriously disputed point on several grounds. First, there is real doubt about whether Jesus himself claimed to be a Messiah, or whether this was a later interpolation. Second, there is little doubt that man people contemporaneously with Jesus were claiming to perform miracles and that their followers claimed that they were resurrected and formed the basis of cults -- whether this counts as a Messiah or not, it certainly rivals the Jesus myth. Third, I'm certainly that convinced that there weren't some Messiah claimants out there.

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Old 04-19-2001, 09:59 AM   #9
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Myth:
That Christianity delayed the advance of science. </font>
This is very hotly disputed and, as you know well, not very succeptible to easy proof or disproof. The fact that science did not take off until pagan ideas were reintroduced into popular culture certain makes a strong case for Christianity as a factor that delayed the advance of science.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Myth:
That there was a proto holocaust of pagans
after Rome turned Christian. </font>
There is well documented evidence that the Roman empire ordered the persecution of pagans and the seizure of pagan property. The Roman empire made a decisive shift from a policy not unlike the 1st amendment under Constantine, to a policy of active suppression of paganism later in the Empire.

To the extent that this is a myth, it is a myth because the Empire went after heretical Christians and pagans alike, not just pagans, thus establishing what became accepted Christian beliefs with the sword rather than reason.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
Myth:
That millions were killed by the Inquisition/Witch hunts/Crusades. </font>
I have some doubts about undercounting in the Inquisition, since this count doesn't include lnchings and the like not formally sanctioned, but resulting from the Inquisition. Second, you admit that lots of people where killed by the inquisition. Third, the Crusades did kill a lot of people and are are expectional in the history of war, not so much because they were bloodier than the average war, as because they were intentional acts of aggression against people with whom the Crusaders had no real disputes. The Levant had done nothing to harm Europe when all the sudden, on several successive occassions they were invaded by Europeans for no apparent reason except that this was the "Holy Land" that their ancestors religion was invested in (and never popular in) a millenia ago. The Crusades, in other words, stand out as a massive campaign of war instigated almost purely for religious reasons.

Also there is every reason to believe that a large percentage of Jews and unorthodox Christians were killed in repeated pogroms and other acts of violence prior to the Holocaust which were not discouraged by the Church and which were faciliated by attitudes the Church fostered, even if not by the Inquisition itself (which was focused as much on heretics as non-believers). You've also left out in addition to the Pogroms, the intentional biological warfare in the Carribean by Christians that wiped out a large percentage of this population. Not to mention the millions killed in wars with a mix of religious and political motives, like the Hundred Year's War, centuries of warfare in Ireland, and the Crusades to clear Spain and the Balkans of Muslims in Europe.

Those killed by Christians in the name of Christianity greatly outnumber those who have been Martyrs for the faith.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
Myth:
That Galileo was put on trial for saying the earth isn't flat. </font>
Close enough. Anyway, this is a strawman. Most would say that Galileo was put on trial for claiming a heliocentric theory, not for saying that the Earth was not flat. Also, this so called "myth" covers up the fact that the Papacy spent a considerable degree of effort defending the doctrine that the Earth was flat before it gave up, even if not particularly in this trial.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
Myth:
That Hitler was a Christian. </font>
Come on. Hitler was raised Christian, quoted Christian scripture, and entered into agreements with the Vatican. He saw some version of Christianity as part of his ideal society. You have to have a religious right extremely narrow definition of Christianity to say that these things don't make him a Christian. In his time and place, everyone who was baptised and did not renounce Christianity or convert to another religion was considered Christian.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">
Myth:
That Carl Sagan was a great scientist.

Truth:
He was a jobbing astronomer who was a great communicator and had a gift for self publicity. </font>
I think that you have proven your myth true. Science isn't just about inventing great theories. Bringing an understanding of science to the mass of the population, as no one else has, makes you a great scientist. A scientist who come up with a theory, but can't get anyone else to believe it, has not necessarily succeeded. Sagan, is for example, personally responsible for bringing an awareness of nuclear winter possiblities to policy makers, something others who knew about the possibility failed to do.



[This message has been edited by ohwilleke (edited April 19, 2001).]
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Old 04-19-2001, 10:17 AM   #10
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> There is well documented evidence that the Roman empire ordered the persecution of pagans and the seizure of pagan property. The Roman empire made a decisive shift from a policy not unlike the 1st amendment under Constantine, to a policy of active suppression of paganism later in the Empire. </font>
Shift away from the first amendment? Egads Man, the Emperor was a god! The Cult of the Emperor? Many Christians died or were tortured for refusing to offer him sacrifices.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Come on. Hitler was raised Christian, quoted Christian scripture, and entered into agreements with the Vatican. He saw some version of Christianity as part of his ideal society. You have to have a religious right extremely narrow definition of Christianity to say that these things don't make him a Christian. In his time and place, everyone
who was baptised and did not renounce Christianity or convert to another religion was considered Christian. </font>
Newsflash: Most countries still have "entered into agreements with the Vatican." They are a political sovereign as well as the head of the world's largest religion.

But, through special pleading, you can claim that anyone was a Christian. But Hitler saw Christianity as a tool to be manipulated. But he saw it as a religion for the weak and he certainly did not try to establish a Christian state.
 
 

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