Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A rationalist replies

Over at Simon Hutton's blog, an atheist replied to yesterday's post on penal substitution. Here's his reply:
Simon I’ve read his piece and am even less impressed by his logic than some of your musings. Again he fails to acknowledge facts outside of theology. He seems to think because his sacred book can be interpreted by him in a certain way, then it must be true. For example, he seems to be woefully ignorant of the historical premise of scapegoating. Look up Pharmakos (Meaning magic man) such an individual would be a scapegoat, who symbolically took on the sins of a people and was expelled from a city or put to death. Osiris/Dionysis was a sacred Pharmakos, who supposedly like Jesus, died to atone for the worlds sins. The fate of the Pharmakos, was to be insulted, beaten and put to death. These rituals predate christianity and are predated by sheep, goats and lambs suffering the same fate for the sins of a tribe. Now I could just as easily ask you to enter into the framework of these more ancient religions in order to figure out wether Osiris or Dionysis or Attis are in fact moral when being sacrificed for the sins of others? And if there’s an internal logic, would that mean Attis is god? He preceded jesus performing similar feats, healing, turning water into wine, raising on the third day after being executed for the sins of the world, being called the lamb of god. The most salient question posed by a historical evaluation of Jesus’ supposed sacrifice is, why is he plagerising (I’ve used the word correctly) moral frameworks and feats from other religions? Surely he’s god, couldn’t he think of a more original way of forgiving sin?
The gist of Mahmut's reply is that ancient Greek scape-goating concepts pre-date the New Testament, and therefore it is reasonable (or perhaps necessary) to believe that the New Testament authors lifted ("were plagerising [sic]") the concept from ancient Greek religion.

 Apart from committing the chronological fallacy ("X comes earlier, therefore X is the source"), this argument is totally insane. It can be demolished with 3 simple and uncontroversial facts which seem to have bypassed Mahmut:
  • The concept of the transfer of guilt (a scape-goat, if you like), is taught repeatedly in the Hebrew Scriptures, in particular the laws of Moses (the Pentateuch) which I referred to.

  • The New Testament writers everywhere self-consciously and repeatedly claim that when writing about Jesus they are writing the fulfilment of the story of the Hebrew Scriptures. They nowhere point to ancient Greece as an inspiration for their ideas.

  • The Pentateuch pre-dates the existence not just of ancient Greek mythology but ancient Greece itself by several centuries.
In other words, the New Testament says "here's where we got our ideas from", the ideas can indeed be found in the place they claim to have got them from, and those ideas come way, way, way before there even was an ancient Greece. Game, set and match.

It might be reasonable from here to start investigating whether any elements of the ancient Greek concepts of substitution were derived from the Hebrews; but to flatly assert the opposite is totally bonkers - you're out by several centuries. I blogged on this issue in regard to Philip Pullman arguing similarly here. Is Mahmut simply uncritically parroting something he heard from a fellow atheist? Certainly nobody with even a thumbnail idea of what century any given culture existed in could make such a gargantuan blunder - which makes Mahmut's confident declaration that I must be ignorant of anything outside of the field of theology all the more silly. I challenge Mahmut to study the Old Testament Scriptures and acknowledge that they teach the same concept of penal substitution that the New Testament writers took up, and then to abandon his absurd theory.


Dissenter said...

Thanks for this simple and efective refutation, but there is more to be said.

This assertion about penal substitution occuring in various mythologies, and one might add a god who suffers and dies and rises again to save the world existing in various pre-Christian and pagan cultures is one of the oldest of old chestnuts.

C S Lewis was persuaded to some extent of the truth of Christianity partly because of all there pre-Christian examples of the suffering and redeeming saviour myths. He called them 'good dreams' which God had sent to various peoples to prepare them for the coming of the One who was to fulfil them. Many of these peoples also revered pre-marital chastity, beleived in an afterlife and judgment also. Could this be because 'The light of the world has lightened every man' as per John's Gospel?

Of course, Dionysus, Atys, Odin, Osiris and all the rest of them are somewhat lacking in specific fulfilled prophecies, dates and paces of birth, or contemporary follwers.

Its a tragedy that this sort of atheist hand me down mythology masquerading as scholarship is allowed to go unchalleged to the extent that is is. We need an army of Chrsitian activists bloggers of letter writers to point out the fallacious thinking and develop and broadcast better apologetics. Dear old C S Lewis with his background in ancient myth and then coming to Christs from atheism via deism had all these angles covered, perhaps its time for us to rediscover his work and 'translate' it into 21st century media.

Anonymous said...

I'll get back to you soon Mr. Anderson with dates of civilisations and penal sub that predate your old testament. My sources weren't Pullman thaey were Frenke. I enjoyed the dawkins delusion post, mad but quite clever. It fails logically on a number of levels. You've been described as an English Dembski, he too refused to argue coherently when in a court of law defending ID. I realise I digress, maybe a future discussion.


David Anderson said...

Hello Mahmut,

Your other two comments got eaten by the Mothwo cat. Argumentum ad insultum and Argumentum ad Wikipedia are not allowed here. Feel free to repost them in a different form.

Don't bother running after a new story after the old one's debunked - I won't take you seriously. To have a worthy debate you need to show how you respond when a serious error in your thinking is pointed out, not just offer to go and fish for another idea instead.


David Anderson said...


I'm not convinced that the links are any more than superficial.
I don't really agree with Lewis either if that's what he thought, the excellence of Aslan notwithstanding. Paul never said "and he rose again, as hinted out in all the old mythologies" - he just grounded the whole thing in the Scriptures. That's particularly interesting as I'm thinking of 1 Corinthians 15 - if Paul had thought that appeal to Greek ideas had value then that would have been exactly the time to do it, when writing to the Corinthians who loved their Greek wisdom so much (but which Paul rubbishes). Same goes for Mars Hill in Acts 17 - Paul just shows no sympathy for rescuing Greek ideas (though he does quote one Greek poet - but gives it a meaning quite out of context from the original Greek poem), and that's why Mahmut's idea is totally off the wall.

The Bible contains the story of Isaac and his sacrifice/"resurrection" (Hebrews 11 takes it as a kind of resurrection) as early as Genesis 22 - so I'd argue that actually the Hebrews and their Scriptures are the original sources and these others things, if they are related, are the derivatives (and corruptions) - not vice versa.


David Anderson said...

Dear Mahmut,

Please stop sending in new comments. If you choose to send comments accusing me of criminal offences, under the courageous cover of anonymity, then you can either:

1) Prove you're not full of hot air by reporting in to the police and then telling me the case number.


2) Not be surprised if I treat you like someone full of hot air and delete your comments from the moderation queue.