Tag Archives: History

Guest post: Photograph of early Christian engraving found in Rome

WK: This is a guest post by journalist and blogger Rick Heller, who blogs at TransparentEye.This post is cross-posted here.

I was in Rome a few weeks ago, and took this photo in the entryway of the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the oldest churches in Rome. The engraving is one of a number preserved from an early date, and uses the Chi Rho symbol, which employs the first two Greek letters in “Christ.”

Maximinus in Chi Rho

I’ve been reflecting on the conversion of the Greco-Roman world to Christianity, and contrasting it with the persistence of polytheism in the Hindu world (as an agnostic, I have no stake in any of these religions).

Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire by Constantine in 313, starting a period of toleration that ended when Theodosius prohibited paganism later in the century. Paganism seems to have quickly disappeared. The pagans were apparently unwilling to die for their religion in the way that Christians were for theirs. I’m not an expert in this, but it seems to me that Greco-Roman religion, with its view of Hades, didn’t offer much in the way of an incentive for dying for one’s faith.

Hinduism, by contrast, has survived and prospered, despite the Muslim conquest of India many centuries ago (Indian Buddhism was essentially destroyed). I don’t know how to account for this, but it has been suggested to me that the Hindu belief in reincarnation gave it a strength and resilience that Greco-Roman religion lacked.

I do find engravings like the above moving. It appears to me to have been carved by a non-professional hand–certainly with less regularity than on an official Roman inscription–and thus seems like a personal communication transmitted across the centuries.

Choosing my religion: why I am not a Hindu

I’ve decided to spend some time writing extremely short explanations about why I am an evangelical Protestant Christian instead of anything else.

I have two aims.

First, I want show how an honest person can evaluate rival religions using the laws of logic, scientific evidence and historical evidence. Second, I want people who are not religious to understand that religions are either true or it is false. Religions should not be chosen based where you were born, what your parents believed, or what resonates with you. A religion should be embraced for the same reason as the theory of gravity is embraced: because it reflects the way the world really is.

Why I am not a Hindu

  1. Hindu cosmology teaches that the universe cycles between creation and destruction, through infinite time.
  2. The closest cosmological model conforming to Hindu Scriptures is the eternally “oscillating” model of the universe.
  3. The “oscillating” model requires that the universe exist eternally into the past.
  4. But the evidence today shows the the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.
  5. The “oscillating” model requires that the expansion of the universe reverse into a collapse, (= crunch).
  6. In 1998, the discovery of the year was that the universe would expand forever. There will be no crunch.
  7. Therefore, the oscillating model is disconfirmed by observations.
  8. The oscillating model also faces theoretical problems with the “bounce” mechanism.

So that’s one reason why I am not a Hindu.

(The absolute origin of the universe out of nothing is also incompatible with Buddhism, Mormonism, etc. because they also require an eternally existing universe)

Choosing my religion: why I am not a Muslim

I’ve decided to spend some time writing extremely short explanations about why I am an evangelical Protestant Christian instead of anything else.

I have two aims.

First, I want show how an honest person can evaluate rival religions using the laws of logic, scientific evidence and historical evidence. Second, I want people who are not religious to understand that religions are either true or it is false. Religions should not be chosen based where you were born, what your parents believed, or what resonates with you. A religion should be embraced for the same reason as the theory of gravity is embraced: because it reflects the way the world really is.

Why I am not a Muslim

  1. To be a Muslim, you must believe that the Koran is without error.
  2. The Koran claims that Jesus did not die on a cross. (Qur’an, 4: 157-158)
  3. The crucifixion of Jesus is virtually undisputed among non-Muslim historians, including atheist historians.
  4. Therefore, it is not rational for me to become a Muslim.

The data

Consider some quotes from the (mostly) non-Christian scholars below:

Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.” Gert Lüdemann

“That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”  J.D. Crossan

“The passion of Jesus is part of history.” Geza Vermes

Jesus’ death by crucifixion is “historically certain”. Pinchas Lapide

“The single most solid fact about Jesus’ life is his death: he was executed by the Roman prefect Pilate, on or around Passover, in the manner Rome reserved particularly for political insurrectionists, namely, crucifixion.” Paula Fredriksen

“The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its co-agents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned, and was executed by crucifixion.” L.T. Johnson

“One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Ponitus Pilate.” Bart Ehrman

That’s 7 famous historians: 3 atheists, 3 Jews and 1 moderate Catholic. Ludemann, Crossan and Ehrman have all debated against the resurrection of Jesus with William Lane Craig. The Koran was written in the 7th century. That is why no professional historian accepts the Koran as more authoritative than the many earlier Christian and non-Christian sources for the crucifixion story. Many of the sources for the crucifixion are dated to the 1st century.

So that’s one reason why I am not a Muslim.

What did Reagan do when he inherited a recession?

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan

Here is a piece from Bloomberg from Amity Shlaes. (H/T The Western Experience)

Excerpt:

Double-digit unemployment looms. The country is in a funk. The federal budget deficit is widening to an extent not seen in decades.

This scenario isn’t new. It also describes the U.S. in 1982. Somehow, the 1980s and the 1990s turned out to be pretty good years. So it’s worthwhile to compare current policy to the one followed then.

…Today, taxes are on their way up. Whether it will be abolishing some of the tax deductibility of health care or increasing taxes on soda, President Barack Obama and Congress are clearly signaling the direction in which they want to move. Most tax increases under discussion would make the rich, or companies, the first to pay. The justification offered for this is that the federal government needs the money and may know how to spend it better than the private sector, anyhow.

…In the early 1980s, the view on taxes was the opposite: get them down. The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, enacted by Ronald Reagan, pushed tax rates down for wealthy and non-wealthy alike. The capital gains tax rate dropped to 20 percent. When Reagan signed the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the top marginal rate on income taxes fell to 28 percent.

Is Obama right? Or was Reagan right?

The coming tax increases

The Wall Street Journal reports on some of the new taxes Obama wants to impose.

The [health care] bill’s main financing comes from another tax increase on top of the increase already scheduled for 2011 under Mr. Obama’s budget. The surtax starts at one percentage point for adjusted gross income above $350,000 in 2011, rising to two points in 2013; a 1.5 point surtax at incomes above $500,000, rising to three in 2013; and a whopping 5.4 percentage points in 2011 and beyond on incomes above $1 million.

And what happens when you tax the rich?

House Democrats… claim that this surtax would raise $544 billion in new revenue over 10 years. America’s millionaires aren’t that stupid; far fewer of them will pay these rates for very long, if at all. They will find ways to shelter income, either by investing differently or simply working less. Small businesses that pay at the individual rate will shift to pay the 35% corporate rate. When the revenue doesn’t materialize, Democrats will move to soak the middle class with a European-style value-added tax.

It should be noted that a value-added sales tax disproportionately hurts the poor.

New Scientist: the force of gravity is fine-tuned to permit life

The article from the New Scientist is here. (H/T ECM)

Excerpt:

The feebleness of gravity is something we should be grateful for. If it were a tiny bit stronger, none of us would be here to scoff at its puny nature.

The moment of the universe‘s birth created both matter and an expanding space-time in which this matter could exist. While gravity pulled the matter together, the expansion of space drew particles of matter apart – and the further apart they drifted, the weaker their mutual attraction became.

It turns out that the struggle between these two was balanced on a knife-edge. If the expansion of space had overwhelmed the pull of gravity in the newborn universe, stars, galaxies and humans would never have been able to form. If, on the other hand, gravity had been much stronger, stars and galaxies might have formed, but they would have quickly collapsed in on themselves and each other. What’s more, the gravitational distortion of space-time would have folded up the universe in a big crunch. Our cosmic history could have been over by now.

Only the middle ground, where the expansion and the gravitational strength balance to within 1 part in 1015 at 1 second after the big bang, allows life to form.

I know you guys look at my big list of objective evidence for Christianity, and you think “Wintery! Those evidences are not admitted by the majority of scientists!” I keep trying to tell you – my goal is to give you arguments and evidence that will work in the public square. These are mainstream evidences accepted by most or all non-Christian scientists as fact, and they used in public academic debates.

When I tell you about evidences from the big bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, etc., I am telling you evidence that should compel anyone to deny atheism, so long as they are not irrational and emotional. These are not Christian tricks. They do not address felt needs. They are not there to help you to be happy. They are not optional, depending on how you feel about them.

But there is another way to recommend Christianity to people, which is not rationally compelling, but instead relies on intuitions and experiences.

A different approach to apologetics

Some people offer Christian doctrines to others as a way of interpreting the human condition, etc. And it’s true that the Bible gives you an accurate description of your own inner life, and your rebellious attitude towards God. So these well-meaning Christians try to “persuade” non-Christians to consider whether the words of the Bible “ring true” with their intuitions and experiences.

Consider this quote from G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”:

And now we come to the crucial question which truly concludes the whole matter.  A reasonable agnostic, if he has happened to agree with me so far, may justly turn round and say, “You have found a practical philosophy in the doctrine of the Fall; very well…. If you see clearly the kernel of common-sense in the nut of Christian orthodoxy,why cannot you simply take the kernel and leave the nut? Why cannot you (to use that cant phrase of the newspapers which I, as a highly scholarly agnostic, am a little ashamed of using) why cannot you simply take what is good in Christianity, what you can define as valuable, what you can comprehend, and leave all the rest, all the absolute dogmas that are in their nature incomprehensible?” This is the real question; this is the last question; and it is a pleasure to try to answer it.

The first answer is simply to say that I am a rationalist. I like to have some intellectual justification for my intuitions. If I am treating man as a fallen being it is an intellectual convenience to me to believe that he fell; and I find, for some odd psychological reason, that I can deal better with a man’s exercise of freewill if I believe that he has got it.  But I am in this matter yet more definitely a rationalist.  I do not propose to turn this book into one of ordinary Christian apologetics; I should be glad to meet at any other time the enemies of Christianity in that more obvious arena.  Here I am only giving an account of my own growth in spiritual certainty.  But I may pause to remark that the more I saw of the merely abstract arguments against the Christian cosmology the less I thought of them.  I mean that having found the moral atmosphere of the Incarnation to be common sense, I then looked at the established intellectual arguments against the Incarnation and found them to be common nonsense.  In case the argument should be thought to suffer from the absence of the ordinary apologetic I will here very briefly summarise my own arguments and conclusions on the purely objective or scientific truth of the matter.

If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, “For the same reason that an intelligent agnostic disbelieves in Christianity.”  I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence.  But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts.  The secularist is not to be blamed because his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy; it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind. I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books, than from one book, one battle, one landscape, and one old friend.  The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion.  Now, the non-Christianity of the average educated man to-day is almost always, to do him justice, made up of these loose but living experiences.  I can only say that my evidences for Christianity are of the same vivid but varied kind as his evidences against it.  For when I look at these various anti-Christian truths, I simply discover that none of them are true. I discover that the true tide and force of all the facts flows the other way.

The problem with Chesterton’s view is that it is not rationally compelling. It is apprehended in a subjective way, depending on whether the person likes it or not. This pragmatic approach is popular today because people want to have their felt needs met. But this approach doesn’t allow you to demonstrate the truth of Christianity in the public square, using objective evidence, as Chesterton admits.

This rejection of objective apologetics has marginalized Christianity as subjective. I think we need to emphasize hard evidence. We need to have studied science, analytical philosophy, New Testament and history. We need to offer evidence that is objective, not subjective, like the fine-tuning of the gravitational force, so that our opponents are clear that Christianity is objectively true.

I think that Chesterton is a bad example for Christians to follow. In the Bible, I see Jesus constantly providing physical evidence for this claims by employing  miracles. We can do something similar to Jesus today, by leveraging past miracles, such as the fine-tuning of the gravitational force, in our public debates. We don’t need to invent new ways of evangelizing based on intuitions and experiences.

Further study

You can read more about the fine-tuning of the gravitational force from Robin Collins, who is the best we have on the topic. Collins started a Ph.D in Physics at the University of Texas at Austin, but ended up completing a Ph.D in philosophy at Notre Dame, under Alvin Plantinga, the greatest living philosopher today, in my opinion. I heard Collins speak at the Baylor ID conference in 2000.

Here is a textbook on physics and philosophy for high-schoolers written by David Snoke, a professor of Physics at University of Pittsburgh. He homeschools his own 4 children with this very book. The book contains Bible study and philosophy sections.