Κέλσος Has Moved to WordPress!

After multiple problems with the commenting system, the server going down nearly every other day, and a number of other glitches, I have decided to move this blog to WordPress. I have set up the new blog at the following URL:


The new blog has all of the same posts as this one (in addition to future ones you will have to go there to see). The only thing I couldn’t move over there was the previous reader comments. Nevertheless, I will keep this site up both to preserve the earlier discussion threads and to not break any links anyone has to this older site. That being said, if you do have a link to this older version of the blog, feel free to (and please) update your links with the URL’s on the new blog.

Thanks to everyone who has been patient with the awful commenting system on this old site. The new one is infinitely easier to comment on! I’ll be posting just as frequently over there, so update your bookmarks and follow Κέλσος now on WordPress!

-Matthew Ferguson

Let’s Presuppose That Miracles Happen: The Gospel Resurrection Stories Are Still Unworthy Of Belief

Time and time again apologists will accuse skeptics of not believing in miracles solely because of “naturalist presuppositions.” Repeatedly I have patiently explained that my skepticism towards miracle is not some a priori prejudice, but rather a conclusion reached a posteriori upon investigating the world that we live in. Did we all as children abandon our belief in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy because we presupposed one day on our couch that such persons cannot exist? Or rather, was it upon growing up and investing the world that we realized that these characters are simply incompatible with the realm of all experience?

Apologists will not have it, however. They either cannot grasp (or refuse to grasp) how skepticism towards miracles is not due to some stubborn bias, but rather due to the incredible unlikelihood of miracles given the evidence of the world that we live in. Remarkably, apologists exercise the exact same skepticism towards miracle claims outside of their own religion, yet they appear to have an almost intentional blind spot when it comes to the miracles of their faith. Nevertheless, I have still offered immense intellectual charity in my article History, Probability, and Miracles, where I provide apologists with a set of criteria by which they could overcome my skepticism towards miracles and offer evidence that would change my background knowledge and increase my probability estimates about one occurring in the past. So far there have only been two responses: 1) apologists provide a bunch of remarkable but still not miraculous events (e.g. sick people healing in unlikely but still not impossible circumstances), or 2) continue the game about presuppositions and cover their ears when I explain that that my skepticism is not an a priori presupposition. I appreciate the effort of those in the first category who at least attempt to provide evidence, but unfortunately they are unable to do so sufficiently. For the second category, however, the apologist is merely intentionally committing a straw man about my position. A person makes a straw man argument when they are unable to respond to the actual person’s argument and merely want to gain a superficial rhetorical advantage. Such is the case when apologists accuse skeptics of naturalist presuppositions.

I think that part of their blind spot is the fact that apologists themselves must rely on so many presuppositions to ever reach their bizarre conclusions, finely tailored to their exact religious faith, that they actually come to the delusion that everyone’s worldview operates that way. Did Einstein just sit on his couch and “presuppose” that E=MC^2, or was it through a posteriori investigation that he came to that conclusion? Apologists will likewise try to throw out a bunch of arguments about how disbelief cannot be rationally justified: “You have to know how everything in the entire universe works to know that the miracles of my religion aren’t true!” The flaws in such arguments are obvious: “Do I have to know everything in the entire universe to rationally believe that there is no evidence of unicorns or leprechauns? Do you know absolutely everything in the world when you doubt the miracles of Mormonism or Scientology?” Blank out.

Apologists likewise fail to grasp the origin of the skepticism: “Well, miracles really aren’t violations of the rules of nature! they just make use of other rules that we can’t use but a creator can!” That’s not the problem. Maybe the rules of nature are violated sometimes; I only ask for evidence that doesn’t rely on thousand-year-old religious texts, but instead makes use of the incredible equipment that we would have to confirm a violation of nature today. But let’s also take the route that there are different rules of nature that miracle agents can make use of. I ask only for evidence of these different rules and a detailed explanation of how they operate in performing miracles. The apologists have no answer. Whenever the “presupposition” smokescreen is dissolved, it is they who are backed into a corner with an incredible impotence to provide any evidence, making all of the presuppositions that they accuse naturalists of.

Nevertheless, I will grant further intellectual charity. I don’t need presuppositions for my skepticism, but I will make, for the sake of argument, apologetic presuppositions to show how the passion scene and resurrection of Jesus in the Gospels are still unbelievable events, even if miracles do happen. In contrast, if the apologists will only grant the presupposition that witchcraft is real (recorded in their own Bible), then there is an incredible case to be made, based on a mountain of better historical evidence than the Gospels, that there were witches and witchcraft in Salem in the late 17th century. When apologetic arguments employed honestly lead more to the justification of witch hunts than belief in their own resurrected messiah, we really need to consider the ramifications for standing back and letting these arguments hijack the field of History.

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Bible Contradictions: Why Are They There? What Do They Entail?

The day was December 22, 69 CE. It was no ordinary day, at least not for the people of ancient Rome, and it was certainly not a quiet one. The previous year had seen the overthrow and suicide of the scandalous emperor Nero and the final collapse of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Earlier this year, the Roman empire had been divided and fought over by three successive, short-lived emperors. The first, Galba, had been assassinated by an angry mob in January, the second, Otho, had committed suicide in April, and now the third, Aulus Vitellius, was about to breathe his last.

After a series of military confrontations between Vitellius and the fourth and final claimant to the throne, Titus Vespasian, things had not gone well for the Vitellian faction. His last hopes frustrated, Vitellius had not been able to flee the city and broken a previous treaty for peace and even murdered Vespasian’s brother. The man had no hope left as he hid in a janitor’s closet and awaited his final hour. Finally, after the foremost of Vespasian’s forces had invaded the city and entered the palace, Vitellius was caught and identified. The miserable man was then led down the Sacred Way like a common criminal, the crowd yelled and pelted him with filth, his statues were torn down before him, and the savage mob reveled in the collapse of his regime. Finally, Vitellius was brought to the Gemonian Stairs, a site were the bodies of executed criminals were exposed, where he was then tortured and executed.

What happened next? Our sources disagree. The biographer Suetonius Tranquillus (Vit. 17.2) records the following:

“At last on the Stairs of Wailing he was tortured for a long time and then despatched and dragged off with a hook to the Tiber.”

However, the historian Cassius Dio (64.21.2-22.1) writes:

“At that the soldiers became enraged and led him to the Stairway, where they struck him down. Then they cut off his head and carried it about all over the city. His wife later saw to his burial.”

Wait! What happened to Vitellius’ body? Was his body thrown into the Tiber like a condemend criminal or did his wife have the opportunity to bury his body? 

This was the subject of a graduate paper that I wrote during my Classics M.A. program at the University of Arizona. The two sources clearly contradict each other. Why is this and what does it entail?

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Christian Street Preacher Shouts “You Deserve Rape” at College Students

Sadly, I know this kid. He started pulling stunts like this my last year at UofA. Originally people couldn’t figure out whether he was serious or not. A few people even speculated at first that he might be doing some sort of bizarre theatre project. Dean Fredrick Saxton IV, however, has become increasingly vitriolic and has sought increasingly offensive ways to get attention, culminating in this:

In the last couple of days he has brought worldwide infamy upon my home campus, catching the attention of the local Arizona Daily Wildcat, the national Huffington Post, and  the international Daily Mail. In fact, you can simply Google search “You Deserve Rape” to see what a wave of outrage this kid has stirred up.

I posted earlier this month about Clarence “Bro” Cope, whom I regard as the craziest xian I have ever met. I actually met Clarence through Dean, when Clarence was repeatedly encouraging Dean to engage in this kind of behavior. In fact, not long after the terrorist attacks in Brussels last year, Clarence encouraged Dean to preach against Muslims and even told him that getting arrested overseas would be “good for his character.” What’s worse is that I know that the University of Arizona is partially funding this kid’s education. Although Dean frequently parrots right wing complaints about “government handouts,” he is wasting public funds to make a jack ass out of himself at UofA.

Now, many believers will say that Dean is not being a “true Christian” when he spawns slogans like “You Deserve Rape.” Once more, however, I think most believers are better people than the tribal barbarians who wrote their sacred scriptures. Consider just one verse from the “good book”:

“If a man is caught in town having sex with an engaged woman who isn’t screaming for help, they both must be put to death. The man is guilty of having sex with a married woman. And the woman is guilty because she didn’t call for help, even though she was inside a town and people were nearby. Take them both to the town gate and stone them to death. You must get rid of the evil they brought into your community” -Deuteronomy 22:23-24

That’s great, so if the woman doesn’t scream then she not only deserves the rape, but also to be stoned to death along with the rapist. Clearly, she deserved rape. Of course, an apologist at this point will no doubt try to defend the disgusting verse by arguing that the women wasn’t really being raped, because she didn’t scream. Sure, because a woman can never be raped unless she is screaming… Would any other book allow us to cling to such barbaric attitudes in modern times?

I think Dean would fit in quite well among a group of ancient Israelite marauders stoning, raping, and pillaging “heathens” and their enemies. Fortunately, the vast vast vast majority of believers are better than their holy book, and, when that is the case, we really need to re-examine where human decency comes from, because it certainly does not come from the Judeo-Christian Bible.

-Matthew Ferguson

The God Box

As a sequel to my first blog, God Mode, I want to comment on a common gap that underlies most, if not all, apologetic arguments. Frequently apologists will argue that there is certain evidence or circumstances that are better explained by theism than naturalism (normally, even if these arguments were true, they would just point to some abstract god, but nevertheless they use the same arguments for their highly specific deity and religious creeds). Fair enough: 1) What does god explain? and 2) How does he explain it? Theists will provide all sorts of examples for the first question: miracles, reason, morality, math, life, existence itself, etc. The second question is virtually never addressed: “Okay, how does god make or cause any of these things and why is a deity absolutely necessary to explain them?” The common unstated assumption simply seems to be that, since god is omnipotent, he can do or explain anything that would allegedly be impossible under natural circumstances. Problem solved. But the problem persists: “How does god explain these things?” Blank out.

What I have observed is an inexplicable “God Box” that virtually every argument for theism must pass through.

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Clarence “Bro” Cope: The Craziest Xian I Have Ever Met

I grew up among only believers and have known very many of them throughout my life. Most are well meaning people, some are brainwashed, some are zealous, and a number struggle to rationalize it all. The Christian Bible includes some pretty horrendous things (e.g. Exodus 11:4-7; Deuteronomy 22:13-21; Numbers 31:13-18Joshua 8:24-291 Samuel 15:1-3Psalm 137:9) that serve as embarrassing reminders of the barbaric and uninspired authors who wrote it. Many good natured believers attempt to loosely reinterpret these verses, while some apologists have reluctantly defended child slaughter and genocide. Nevertheless, to any rational and unbiased person I think it is quite clear that, if he were tried under the same principles as those used by the Nuremberg Tribunal, god would be found guilty as a war criminal.

Many believers are embarrassed by this, and so they try to rationalize it. But only recently did I encounter one, who not only defends genocide and torture, but actually fully and eagerly embraces it. That is, I encountered an xian who fully celebrates torture, expresses that he will take pleasure in inflicting it on the day of judgement, and has discussed how he not only supports genocide, but plans to organize and carry it out.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Clarence “Bro” Cope. I met Clarence about a year ago on facebook, where he informed me that he has been raptured to heaven twice, has killed hundreds of people by praying for natural disasters, and also claims to have put a killing curse on my friend Michael Torri (we are both still waiting for it to kick in). Clarence also promised me that he will one day physically and bodily drag me and throw me into Hell, while laughing. Too hard to believe? Well, I can show you all of it.

Last November Clarence came to my old campus, the University of Arizona, and my friend Michael Torri videotaped multiple dialogues with him. Michael recorded five video exchanges between him and Clarence: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part4; Part 5. I particularly recommend that people watch part 4 (the sections at 7:35 and 14:25 are especially entertaining):

Now, many believers will respond that Clarence does not represent “true Christianity.” I ask people to go back up and read the Bible links I posted. In my opinion, Clarence’s beliefs are very consistent with the god of the Bible: a god who murders children, commands genocide, plans to destroy the world, and will send billions of people to eternal suffering. In this way I think that Clarence is truer to his sacred scriptures that most believers out there.

Fortunately, I instead think that most believers are better people than the god they worship. It is unfortunate when diverging from one’s sacred texts becomes a virtue, but that is a necessary consequence for those who still choose to believe in an ancient superstition while remaining civilized. Ironically, I agree with a number of religious leaders who preach that most xians today are hypocritical in being lukewarm and not living up to their religion. Where I differ is in realizing that this reluctance is actually something that makes the world a much more pleasant and decent place.

-Matthew Ferguson

Debate on the Don Johnson Show

Last Friday I had an informal, but quite interesting debate on the Don Johnson Show. The debate was rather long (approximately 2 1/2 hours), but it flew by quite quickly for me. Below are the two sections of the debate:

Part One

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Part Two

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Overall, I feel good about how things went. My only apology is that my voice is lower than Don’s in a number of places, since I was not as used to speaking in front of a microphone. Nevertheless, everything is audible, so just turn up your computer volume as needed.

Having listened to the playback of the debate, I feel that everything was covered well, so I don’t think there is need for too much of a follow up. Here is a list of the issues we discussed:

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Mike Licona Acknowledges Mistakes in the 10/42 Apologetic

I just saw via his website that apologist Mike Licona has respectfully acknowledged the errors in the 10/42 apologetic. Here is what Licona has written:

“Humble Pie

I want to make a correction to what Gary and I wrote in “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” (p. 128).

We say,

“Tiberius Caesar was the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus’ ministry and execution. Tiberius is mentioned by ten sources within 150 years of his death: Tacitus, Suetonius, Velleius Paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Seneca, Valerius Maximus, Josephus, and Luke. Compare that to Jesus’ forty-two total sources in the same length of time. That’s more than four times the number of total sources who mention the Roman emperor during roughly the same period. If we only considered the number of secular non-Christian sources who mention Jesus and Tiberius within 150 years of their lives, we arrive at a tie of nine each.”

It has recently been brought to my attention that a graduate student has written an article revealing several other sources for Tiberius: http://celsus.blog.com/2012/10/14/ten-reasons-to-reject-the-apologetic-1042-source-slogan/.

I’ve only been able to skim the article and have not checked anything said in it. However, from what I saw, it appears that I was mistaken when writing this bit in The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. I say that I’m mistaken, because this part of the book was written by me and not Gary Habermas. So, I assume full responsibility for the error. I’m embarrassed by the mistake. I had just started my doctoral program at the time and simply did not check into this with the care with which I should have.

I have made a similar error with a different example I’ve been using more recently. I’ve been saying there are 6 chief sources historians use for Augustus. I have acknowledged there are more who mention him but have said there are 6 major sources. I have just recently learned of an additional 4 extant sources, raising the number to 10. And that does not include any sources that have since been lost. Of course, I did not include any sources on Jesus that have been lost.

I make mistakes. And I will make more in the future. But I’m happy to acknowledge them when I see them and to learn to be more careful going forward.”

I have revised the article to point out that one of the original authors of the book has acknowledged the error and I have also removed some of my harsher criticisms of them in my blog. I would furthermore like to thank Dr. Licona for his sincerity in acknowledging this mistake.

-Matthew Ferguson

History, Probability, and Miracles

One of the most common misconceptions about history is the idea that history is our past. This misconception is understandable, since when we are taught “history” in high school or even in college the courses provide an overview and summary of different periods in humankind’s past on Earth. The historiographical method, however, which enables us to discover what happened in the past, interpret what it means, and choose how to represent it in a narrative, is often discussed only briefly or not at all. Just as science is not the same thing as nature, but the method that we use to investigate nature, history is not the same thing as the past, but rather a method that we use in the present to investigate the past.

Herodotus, who is considered to be the “father of history,” had been told many stories about past events in the Greek and Persian world. Being the first historian, however, Herodotus wanted to figure out which of these stories were true, which were false, how do we know these stories, and what really happened in these past events. In the opening of his work, Herodotus tells his readers that he is performing a ἱστορία (“inquiry”) into human events. His goal, just as when one investigates nature through scientific observation, was to investigate the past by gathering evidence, traveling to different lands, interviewing witnesses, inspecting inscriptions and remains, and ultimately getting to the bottom of what had really taken place.

The difference between history and science, however, is that the past is not repeatable, nor does one rely on direct observation, but rather on indirect observation to investigate it. Often times the sources one consults will be biased, vague, misinformed, speculative, or simply outright liars. In short: history sucks as a method, but it is the best we have got to figure out what took place in an otherwise long gone human past.

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Neither Paganism Nor Christianity Was Responsible for Science

Christianity of all denominations (though mostly Protestant) is responsible for why the majority of the American public does not believe in evolutionary science today. Martin Luther, citing Joshua 10:13, refused to believe in a Heliocentric solar system. Millions of Americans today, thanks to groups like Answer in Genesis, adhere to Young Earth creationism and reject the findings of astronomical science. Even apologists who try to harmonize religion and science and take a, so called, “Old Earth” creationist stance fight desperately to keep the gaps of science in the dark: they oppose theories about abiogenesis, the multiverse, and anything else that might close the gaps and eliminate the need for a god. There must always be a gap of ignorance to find room for their dependence on an ancient superstition.

The list above is short and I could go much further. The evidence is clear to any honest and educated person who has studied scientific trends since the Renaissance: Christians relying on the Bible as their guide for the universe have been an enemy of modern science for centuries. The cause is quite simple: when someone adheres to a set of scriptures as inerrant, they must oppose, deny, or desperately attempt to harmonize any evidence that contradicts it.

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