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SASHA President James Pflug opened tonight’s meeting just after 6 PM. We had a few newcomers tonight, including a student from Mizzou Chi Alpha, who had attended my debate with Brother Jed last Thursday.
We began by discussing the debate, including two points I forgot to mention: In my response to the question of “What is your philosophy?” I neglected to mention utilitarianism as a part of my philosophy concerning moral action. This is not a worldview per se, but it contributes to my worldview. The other part I’m kicking myself for is when Jed asked me where the rules of logic come from, and how I can trust them, since I appeal to them often. I had an answer worked up for that, but Jed caught me somewhat off-guard, since he asked me this during the portion of the cross-examination when I was supposed to be asking him questions – oops!
My answer had to do with different approaches to the answer of the question, “What is knowledge and how can we know what we claim to know?” There are different ways to do this: You can be skeptical, and say that (with the possible exception of one’s own existence – the cogito ergo sum argument) nothing can be known with 100% certainty; you can approach knowledge via empiricism – by saying that evidence lets us inductively build a case toward a conclusion of something we can then claim to know with a degree of confidence; you can approach knowledge via rationalism, and say that we can understand objective reality by using mathematics & logic (which empiricism ultimately does, as well); or you can approach knowledge via faith, divine revelation, and “intuitive knowledge,” which I personally reject as a way to know what is true or not, since there’s no way to test it or measure it, it’s not exclusive to any one view, etc.
We discussed the possibility of hosting another debate in the 2011-2012 school year, and ideas about whom we would like to debate. This year was the second year in a row I have debated Jed, and we talked about next year instead debating someone like the director from Mizzou Chi Alpha, Tom Trask. Our visitor from Chi Alpha invited us to attend the XA meeting at 7 PM, which we decided to do. She said they were having a Q&A in lieu of their usual sermon.
Following this, we held our annual officer elections. Tony Lakey ran unopposed for President, since James will be graduating this spring, and I ran unopposed for Vice President. We will officially begin our new positions once this semester ends (at beginning of the first summer semester). We talked about where and when SASHA will meet over the summer, and discussed the possibility of temporarily merging our meetings with the Columbia Atheists group on Wednesday evenings at 7 PM at Boone Tavern, especially if the bulk of our group will be out of town at various times during the summer. I gave a short campaign speech outlining 3 things on which I would like to focus next year: Improving our attendance, improving our community’s awareness of our group, and getting our finances in order so that we may begin to accept donations and host some larger events. I also mentioned some ideas, like having guest speakers from local Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish groups; an MU SASHA Book Club with monthly selections; some kind of open-to-the public BBQ or potluck, etc.
After elections, we decided to try out some online critical-thinking exercises from a GMAT practice website called PlatinumGMAT. We went over the “Profitable Software” and “Bridge Reinforcement” critical-thinking examples.
This took us to 7 PM, and James officially concluded the meeting, and most of us made a trip down to Jesse Wrench Auditorium in Memorial Union South to attend the Chi Alpha meeting.
At the Chi Alpha Meeting, they were doing a Q&A where attendees could write their questions on [provided] notecards, or alternatively, text their questions anonymously via the free Internet service PollEverywhere.com. For the first hour or so, a worship band played Christian pop music, and the lyrics were displayed on the projector. After some prayers, Tom Trask, the director, led a Q&A panel with several other XA staff, including an art student and a religious-studies student. I asked the question: “How do you know Christianity is true? (Not why you believe or what you believe – what is your reason for believing the claims of Christianity?)” which the panel addressed.
The religious-studies student gave a three-pronged response, firstly saying that the Bible & archaeological evidence verify that Christianity is true, specifically mentioning that cities mentioned in the Bible are real cities that we are physically able to visit today; secondly that the effects of Christianity on practicing Christians verify the truth-claims of Christianity; and thirdly, that faith verifies Christianity. He also said that we should “give it a shot,” pray honestly, and ask God to show himself to us. He said, “What do you got to lose?”
I texted in again and pointed out that his argument that archaeological evidence supports the Bible could be applied to the Qur’an, or for that matter, to Stephen Crane’s fictional Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage. He said that the cities mentioned in the Bible are real cities, and therefore, we should believe that the Biblical stories are true stories. The simple fact that the cities mentioned in the Bible are real cities in no way proves that the *narratives* in the Bible are accurate accounts. He conceded the point, but said that the other two points stand.
He also mentioned that the Dead Sea scrolls verify that the Bible has survived to us more-or-less unaltered and intact. This has very little, if anything, to do with the truth claims of Christianity (my question was, “How do you know Christianity is true?”). The Dead Sea Scrolls contain many books from the Old Testament, but tell us nothing at all about the truth claims of Christianity, which is drawn from the New Testament.
He said that documents dating the to “early 1st century” verify Christianity. I am unaware of ANY documents dating to the early 1st century saying anything at all about Christianity. It is common knowledge among scholars & historians that NOTHING survives mentioning Jesus WHATSOEVER that dates to the time when Jesus was actually alive (~5 BC to AD 30), or even within about 20 years after his lifetime. Paul, writing in the 50s (two decades after Jesus died), is the earliest source we have for any mention of Jesus whatsoever, and he mentions very little about the Jesus familiar to us from the gospels – no mention at all of the Lord’s Prayer, the Transfiguration, the Sermon on the Mount, Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, the  magi, Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, Galilee, Nazareth, Pontius Pilate, Judas Iscariot, Gethsemane, Calvary, the Temptation by Satan, etc. It would appear that those elements of the mythos had yet to enter circulation. Paul never refers to Jesus as the “Son of Man,” one of Jesus’s favorite ways of describing himself. Although 1 Timothy 6:13 does mention Pilate, I might point out according to NT historians, even Christian ones, 1 Timothy wasn’t actually written by Paul. In any case, this is still not early 1st-century. The gospels date to AD 70 to ~95 (Mark coming first and John coming last), which can rightly be called late 1st century – plenty of time for “the telephone game” to do its deed.
If we’re talking extrabiblical sources, the references are even later chronologically, and even more vague and useless in their detail.
The second part of his argument, that Christianity is true because he can see its effects when people follow the religion, is a logical fallacy. This is a textbook case of “appealing to consequences of a belief” – believing x leads to good results, therefore x is true in objective reality. You could make exactly the same argument for any other religion in which someone’s life appears to improve after becoming a believer. This is no way whatsoever demonstrates objective truth in the claims of Christianity. Many Muslims’ or Buddhists’ lives improve after becoming religious; does that mean Islam and Buddhism are also true? It’s a fallacious argument.
The third part of his argument, that faith demonstrates the truth of Christianity, is similarly a logical fallacy. He is arguing that Christianity is true because he believes that it is true. Once again, you could make exactly the same argument for belief in anything. It’s a non-sequitur, and also circular reasoning. He gave the example of knowing that his wife loves him, and made a joke saying that he can’t show this with equations, but it’s still true – there are some major flaws with that thinking. First of all, you CAN empirically measure whether someone loves someone else or not using fMRIs and looking at changes in brain chemistry, specifically levels of adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin. Check out the research of Helen Fisher, Diane Witt, Arthur Arun, and Donatella Marazziti for more hard data about this. Secondly, his arguments of “What do you got to lose?” and “Give it a shot” can be applied just as readily to any other religion – Islam, Hinduism, etc. How can he say that he knows Christianity is true using this argument without having also given “a shot” to every other possible religion?
His whole response was just factual errors and logical fallacies. I would have loved to have talked to him about this in more detail; maybe I will get the chance to do that at some point.
Around 8:50, all of us except for James Pflug went down to Heidelberg to meet SASHA members Seth & Maggie for drinks & dinner. We had some good conversation about the historical NT, the Dead Sea Scrolls, vegetarianism/animal rights, epistemology, and other related topics.
Until next time!
– Dave Muscato
Co-Director of Public Relations
Vice President-Elect, MU SASHA