Thursday, 23 March 2017

Routed in Testimony

So, the subject of last night's youth/young adult service at Churchill Baptist last night was on the subject of testimony. One form of testimony mentioned was testimony of the way God has worked in our lives. Well, I thought I would list the ways in which God has worked in my life. However, I will start two generations back with my mother's mother. My grandmother survived two near-death encounters. In one case, her family decided against heading to the bomb shelter during an air raid during WWII and instead hid under the dining room table and layered mattresses around the edges. Well, a bomb struck nearby and shattered the glass in the windows... which were blown inwards and tore through the mattresses. Yet, these shards either failed to penetrate all of the way and/or missed the people hiding under the table. The second incident occurred when my great-grandfather had moved his family to Wales (again, during and just after WWII) and lived as a farmer. Well, one time, the farm's sow had recently given birth... in the middle of the only road to their farm. My great-grandfather and the other men were debating on how to handle the situation, since sows are notoriously aggressive after giving birth towards any perceived threat. Well, my grandmother didn't understand why the men were so apprehensive about trying to move the sow, and so walked right up to her and started poking the sow with a stick. However, instead of attacking my grandmother, the sow got up, and took her piglets with her. 

My grandmother also went to Kenya and Lebanon on mission trips later on in her life. Well, this was during the end of the Lebanese civil war. My grandmother was with some Lebanese people when they were stopped by an individual whom my grandmother was informed was a member of the 'Syrian secret police'. Anyway, the locals were terrified of this man, and he demanded my grandmother's passport. She acquiesced, and the man, apparently satisfied, let them on their way. However, he pocketed the passport... which led to my grandmother to demand, very vocally, for her passport back (much to the horror of the locals she was with). However, he just gave the passport back and went on his way, much to the amazement of the locals. Whilst in Kenya, she was at an event where local Kenyans were being asked to step forward for prayer. A man stepped forward to my grandmother for prayer. When asked what was wrong, he simply told her that his 'eyes hurt'. After praying for this man, the fellow burst into tears. When my grandmother asked him what was wrong, he answered: "I can see!" The man had been blind, previously, yet now could see. Lastly, when at a prayer meeting in London, my grandmother began speaking in a language she could not understand. A woman nearby, however, understood what she was saying and informed her it was an obscure Russian dialect and that she had been praising God. 

Both of my parents have survived near-death incidents. My mother was on a school trip somewhere, and the students were standing near a steep drop. The teacher, however, tripped and, as he fell, grabbed my mother's neck to break his fall. However, instead of falling off the edge with him, she successfully broke his fall. My mother also survived being thrown from a horse as a teenager. My father survived falling down a small cliff he had tried to climb as a child. My cousin, who was born a month after me, had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck as she was being born. My grandmother was outside where my aunt was giving birth, praying. She heard an audible sound of angels wings, and my cousin was born without incident. I myself survived several near-death incidents. When I was 2, my father had taken my cousin and I to a park. As he was putting my cousin in a swing set I had become distracted by some model boats being piloted down a nearby river. I, for some reason, got it into my head that I wanted to ride one of the boats and so jumped in the river. By the time my dad noticed I was gone, he turned to see me already mid-dive into the river. Fortunately, a fellow nearby who saw me dive in was able to pull me out before I could drown.

I also survived cracking my skull open on a concrete step as a toddler, and have had several times where I was almost struck by motor vehicles, only to notice and jump backwards at the last possible second. When I was a child, I was prayed for at a Bible camp I attended regarding my asthma. Since then, I have never had to use an inhaler. When I attended middle school, I was bullied relentlessly by my history teacher, who had a profound hatred of children with special needs (I have Asperger's Syndrome and Dyspraxia). However, my interest in history was rekindled during high school. When I was in college (which, in the UK, in in between high school and regular university - since we finish mandatory schooling at 16), I came into contact with a number of dreadfully awful videos. First was the Richard Dawkins TV series 'The Root of All Evil?', then there was the abysmal and hopelessly inaccurate 'Zeitgeist', and then finally there was the historically illiterate 'The God who Wasn't There'. During this time I also befriended a girl in London who had recently returned to Christian faith, and who I would discuss these movies with. 

Anyway, so, I decided I was going to write a book taking down the so-called 'New Atheists', and said friend suggested meeting up in London and going to the British Library to do research. However, afterwards, said 'friend' basically cut off all contact with me and accused me of 'stalking' etc., which led me to become rather depressed. It was also around this time that my dad had introduced me to the apologetics ministry of JP Holding, 'Tektonics Apologetics'. Well, JP Holding was a member of a theology forum called TheologyWeb, which I joined. At college, I had studied IT and then opted to study music instead of going to university right away. After my London venture fell through, I discovered that the University of Chichester offered a joint honours degree in Music and History. I applied and received an unconditional offer to become a student there. I did my dissertation on the resurrection of Jesus, and also went on to do my MA in Cultural History there. Anyway, during my study I did all the research for my 'book', which ended up becoming three books (all of which I have self-published finally on Amazon), and, during that time, I met my wife through TWeb and am now living in the United States as a legal permanent resident, where I am becoming involved in the youth ministry of a church here. So, a series of seemingly unrelated, disparate events led me to meeting my wife and moving to not just a new country, but a new continent, whilst simultaneously building up my apologetics skills and scholarly ability.

But wait, there's more! I have been struggling for years with a particular problem, as well as with depression and, more recently, extreme anxiety. Well, the youth pastor at the church I go has gotten me started on my way to recovery through said problems and my involvement in the church's youth services has greatly reduced my depression and anxiety. Moreover, one of the friends I made on TWeb is the son-in-law of Christian historian and apologist, Mike Licona. He invited my wife and I to their home in Georgia where I got to meet not just Mike himself, but his friends Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig. Moreover, said friend also introduced me to Gary Habermas' material on emotional doubt, which has also been instrumental in helping me get through my depression and anxiety. Incidentally, my battle with anxiety and depression has spurred me to go through a large number of books on certain subjects which has inspired one of my future book projects (amongst other things). This is where I am at now, so goodness knows what amazing things God has in store for me. Moreover, one of the key lessons I have learned is that God IS with us during our times of suffering and He IS subverting the evil of suffering and turning it to suit His will and purpose and, in turn, to strengthen us. 

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Attention Leftist Millennials: You're the Reason Trump Won

I'm a 27 year old migrant from the UK currently living in Texas. I have Asperger's Syndrome and Dyspraxia, and have been diagnosed in recent years with major depression and even more recently with generalised anxiety disorder. I used practically most of my savings to get here, and despite the fact that my wife works full-time as an assistant manager at Domino's Pizza, we are broke and currently in debt. I received my LPR (legal permanent resident) card not too recently, but am still waiting on my SSN (social security number) and so can't legally work yet and so am jobless. To top it off, I can't drive, and we're too broke to afford a second car anyway. Moreover, despite having good qualifications, my former zone of habitation (the Isle of Wight) was a jobless, economic cesspool (it has thrice the average national unemployment figures, and twice the regional average last time I checked) and so my job history isn't exactly spectacular. I managed a two month stint at a telecommunications company before being made redundant, a 13-week temporary contract with a supermarket chain, a one-month stint at McDonalds before being let go for apparently 'not being enthusiastic enough' despite being the only person who seemed happy to be working, and a whole slew of voluntary jobs and work placements of varying lengths.

Yet, wealthy, middle-class millennials who presumably have never had to work a day in their life and live off mummy and daddy are staging whinge-fests across America because their feelings are hurt. Why are their feelings hurt? Because Donald Trump was elected president of the United States (and also more generally because people disagree with them). Moreover, in a breathtaking display of irony and lack of self-awareness, they are doing everything they attacked or accused their political opponents of. When people said they thought Texas should secede and wanted to end the electoral college, the left labelled them 'racist neo-confederates'. Now the same people are calling for the abolition of the electoral college and want California to secede. The left said that Trump supporters would be angry and running riot through the streets should Trump lose. Now those same people are the ones running riot through the streets because Trump won (and also, it seems, because they don't understand the voting system of their own country). Yet despite living the most insulated and privileged lives imaginable, and despite wanting to destroy people who disagree with them, they are painting themselves as the victim. Law students at Berkeley are having hurt-feeling stress relief sessions where they are playing with lego and playdough. Because their political candidate lost the presidential election. If these people even had a tenth of my problems, they'd probably commit suicide. Heck, they'd probably do the same if they had one percent of my problems.

What do these people know about hardships? Indeed, wealthy, middle-class liberals (who have no idea what conditions actual poor and working class people have to go through) claim to 'love' the poor, all whilst advocating policies that enrich the political class at the expense of the poor. These same liberals, of course, being those who are responsible for eight years of Obama. And what did that get you? Indeed, the US now has $20 trillion in debt. Deficit spending, TARP programs, quantitative easing, artificially low interest rates, the assassination of international and American citizens without trial or due process, the expansion of domestic and foreign spying programs. Did you imbeciles even think to yourselves that, 'hmm, maybe, what we need is LESS government and NOT more.' But no, you morons looked the other way, all for the 'greater good' of the ideology and the party, because die partei hat immer recht (the party is always right). When people, fed up with their living conditions deteriorating and the cost of living going up, dared criticise your insane policies, you labelled the racists, sexists, homophobes, and all manner of vile abuse that, aside from being manifestly untrue, actually describes the left. And instead of stopping to think, 'hey, let's have a dialogue and find some solutions for these problems' you just stuck your fingers in your ears and kept shouting the other side down.

Well, that's how your side lost, you mountebanks. People got fed up with being shouted at, and got fed up with the snake oil your BS-merchant politicians were selling. Did you imbeciles not pay attention to what happened in the UK? This is why the left lost the remain argument in the Brexit debate. But instead of paying attention and taking note, you made the same mistakes again. The DNC conspired with Hillary Clinton's campaign to give her the Democratic party nomination, when instead they could have given it to Bernie Sanders who, despite being economically illiterate, could have at least beaten Trump. When WikiLeaks kept exposing the depths of Clinton's depravity, you guys just stuck your fingers in your ears once more and tried blaming it on 'Russian Hackers'. Do you even possess more than half a brain? Do you understand any of the laws of logic, or any of the rules of logical inference? Did William Tyndale burn at the stake in 1536 for the cause of vernacular English so that infantilised 20-somethings could write cry-baby slogans on signs? In 1439, when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, could he ever have foreseen the nightmare scenario where one-day a significant portion of modern millennials would be advocating the banning of literature that disagrees with them? They have all the benefits of modernity, but the minds of the young plateau in their childhoods. Lifes joys consist of meaningless social highs instead of intellectual or academic pursuits.

Of course, I am probably wasting my time. The total failure of every leftist policy in the history of the world, the collapse of every nation founded on purely leftist principles, etc. wasn't enough to rouse the left from their echo chamber induced delusion. No, instead they just continued to guffaw clouds of inexpensive beer and wine, and kept themselves firmly and fully inculcated in their life-destroying myths. So, even though their ideology has been dealt two more crippling blows in the form of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, I doubt they're going to suddenly start realising the merits of libertarianism and limited government any time soon. I apologise for being so dramatic and using strong language, but most of us have REAL problems, and the majority of those real problems are the result of leftism. Get a grip, and learn to accept reality. Moreover, reading a book by someone who disagrees with you won't kill you. You should try it sometime. Learn how to think. Learn how to utilise the rules of logical inference. Stop being emotional children. That's what lost you the argument. That's what lost you the Brexit referendum. That's what lost you the US presidential election. Stop fearmongering, stop name calling and actually engage in dialogue with those with whom you disagree.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Emotional Doubt is Dumb and Annoying

Have you ever had a time when, despite having a good deal of evidence that something is true, you've nevertheless felt like you could be wrong? There is no reason to feel this way; as I said, the evidence clearly favours the position you worry might be wrong. Yet, you have these negative emotions at the back of your mind: 'what if you're wrong? That would be terrible!' If you've ever had this kind of experience, then you've experienced emotional doubt. Once you start entertaining 'what ifs' that have no substance and start thinking 'that would be terrible', you've entered the domain of emotional doubt. This is something that I have unfortunately had to deal with over the years. For the most part, I've kept it in check by simply going over the hard evidence for my position in my head. However, I have Asperger's Syndrome, which means I experience emotions much more intensely. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but I've been experiencing extreme depression and anxiety for the past 7-8 years on and off. More recently it has come back with a vengeance, the worst I've ever experienced in my entire life. So, understandably, my ability to counter such emotionalism with the facts has been seriously hampered. It's taken me several weeks to reach a point where I'm somewhat comfortable and stable. To give you an example of how stupid and annoying this is, I'll describe the first such emotional doubt I ever had.

When I was a child, I saw a documentary about cosmology narrated by Sam Neill (of Jurassic Park fame) and was discussing hypothetical situations. One episode they discussed what it would be like if a black hole approached earth. After watching it, I was scared of earth being annihilated by a black hole... even though the nearest black hole is millions, if not billions of light years away. All emotional doubts are similarly irrational, although they sometimes masquerade as intellectual doubts. Of course, being familiar with emotional doubt, it allows me to spot it in others. A lot of the reasons people give for either not believing in God or believing in Christianity fall into the category of emotional doubt. The most obvious of these is the so-called problem of evil. Even though there is no logical inconsistency between the existence of God and the occurrence of evil, pain, suffering, etc. this has not stopped people from trying to argue that evil, pain, and suffering are somehow inconsistent with the existence of God. The first problem is that in order to argue that evil exists in the world, you have to assume that there exists objective moral values and duties in order to distinguish between good and evil. However, if you assume that there are objective moral values and duties, you have to postulate an adequate ontological source for objective moral values and duties. In order to objective, it cannot depend upon subjective things, such as our personal or collective beliefs. One problem for naturalists is that there is no way of grounding moral facts in nature. This has been dubbed the 'is/ought' problem after David Hume's discussion on the subject in his work 'A Treatise of Human Nature'.

Essentially, facts about the natural world are 'is' statements, whereas moral facts are 'ought' statements. The essence of the problem is that there is no obvious connection between facts about the natural world and moral facts. This has also been expressed in terms of the naturalistic fallacy, a term coined by philosopher G. E. Moore in his 1903 work Principia Ethica. Whilst Moore held to the belief that 'goodness' must be non-natural, there is simply no basis for such a belief. Moore himself held to a form of moral intuitionism, where he held that our moral intuitions, which can be described as properly basic beliefs, could provide us with moral knowledge. However, this does not solve the problem of moral ontology, and Moore himself made no argument for why the basis of moral facts must be natural. Of course, one could dispense with naturalism and still remain an atheist by appealing to Platonism, and hold that abstract objects are the basis of moral facts. There are numerous problems with this view: first, it makes no sense to suggest that abstractions can exist apart from particular objects; second, if moral facts are ontologically grounded in abstract objects, then there is no obvious connection between our moral intuitions and the abstract realm. The only remaining option is to ontologically ground moral facts in a mind. However, we cannot ground moral facts in the minds of finite creatures such as human beings, since that would result in moral subjectivism. The only possible source of moral facts is a maximally great being, i.e. God. Otherwise, we would have to assume that there are no moral facts, which would totally undercut the problem of evil. The existence of evil in this world actually supports the existence of God.

There are other problems with the 'problem' of evil too. For instance, it ignores the fact that evil is only perpetrated by moral agents, i.e. people, and human beings have free will. However, the biggest problem is that such a response simply assumes the motives of God. It begs the question by assuming that God has no possible reason for allowing evil to occur. Another area where people experience emotional doubt is the Old Testament. Certain atheists complain that the Old Testament is full of moral atrocities, either ordered, carried out, or ordained by God. The problem with such complaints is that they rest entirely on knee-jerk emotional reactions to the text without bothering to place them in their proper context. Consider the purpose of the 613 laws of the Old Testament. There are some very general points to make about it that render all accusations against them completely meaningless. First, it was meant specifically and solely for the Ancient Israelites. In other words, they aren't meant for all peoples for all times. Jesus explicitly stated that His coming had fulfilled the terms of the Old Covenant, and to institute a New Covenant that superseded the OT laws. As a side note, you will actually get mountebanks who will try and argue that Jesus said that the OT laws are still in effect, but this relies on wilfully twisting the meaning of what Jesus actually said. Secondly, the OT laws were not meant to be perfect. Again, they were tailored for a specific period and for a specific culture. Those who suppose that such laws are inconsistent with the character of God commit the same fallacy employed in the 'problem' of evil argument; it fallaciously assumes the motives of God. Namely, it assumes that God would have no valid reason for permitting such an imperfect legal code.

This leads me to another point, whilst obviously not as advanced as more modern legal codes, the 613 OT laws were more advanced than other legal codes of the same era. The Bible portrayal of God is of a being who seeks to gradually reform humanity over time and also communicates via means that those He communicates with can understand. Aside from these general points about the nature of the laws, another thing to note is how these laws are formally notated. Some gripe about the frequent mandate of the death penalty, but this does not take into account that in such ancient legal codes, such penalties were not exhaustive or mandated for every instance of the crime they are linked with. Ancient legal codes were far more interpretative. The death penalty was reserved only for extreme cases, i.e. those who refused correction. That might not make sense to us, but that is because we aren't used to that system or culture. In ancient cultures such as the 2nd millennium BC Near East, that was simply how ancient legal codes were. So, whilst it might say that the penalty for x was stoning, it was not necessarily the case that every instance of x merited the death penalty according to the law. Regarding the laws themselves, there are some that seem unusual or strange, but they all revolve around the survival of the Israelites as a corporate whole, and it took a lot more to survive in ancient times than today. Social cohesion and protection of the whole was paramount. Aside from these considerations, there two other things to take note of.

Atheists kick up a fuss over the fact that the OT laws regulate 'slavery'. The problem here, however, is that the 'slavery' described in the OT laws is not what we would consider slavery. The model of slavery described in the Old Testament is what we would call 'indentured servitude'. People could voluntarily enter into to pay off debts, or if they were simply too poor. It was also a means to integrate POWs into society. Such a model was employed as recently as the 19th century where settlers moving to America would enter into such service in order to cover the costs for their travel expenses. It was a world apart from the kind of brutal slavery employed against Africans in the Atlantic slave trade. It also worth noting that this model of indentured servitude was also worlds apart from the slavery of surrounding nations who would engage in practices closer to modern slavery (although it varied between nations). Some criticise the New Testament for not explicitly condemning slavery, but it did implicitly lay the path down for abolition as it argued that slaves and slave owners were of equal footing and equal standing and so slaves should be treated as brothers. Indeed, the NT and the Christian ideal led to the breaking down of gender, class, and racial barriers. Atheists also like to claim that the OT records instances of genocide and the murder of noncombatants explicitly ordered by God. The problem here, of course, is that the OT is using hyperbolic language. Such language was a common feature of ancient cultures. Indeed, Jesus often used hyperbole in his teachings to make things more memorable. The short answer is that God did not order genocide or the murder of noncombatants.

Such arguments are preferred by two kinds of people: emotional people who don't care much for facts or logic, and the wilfully dishonest seeking to dupe the uninformed. If you've been taken in by such emotionalism or appeals to emotion, then don't be embarrassed. Just make sure to educate yourself and learn how to think rationally and logically. Of course, as discussed in a previous blogpost, some people don't want to be corrected. They'd much rather prefer to keep holding onto their myths because they don't want to be wrong, or don't want the 'other side' to be right, or a combination of both. This usually happens when people become invested in a certain position. Whilst a lot of religious people do this, there are lots of atheists who are simply dyed-in-the-wool naturalists who refuse to accept all evidence that goes against their belief. The moral of the story is that emotions are transient and thus an insufficient basis for reasoning. This should be one of the first things one learns as an adult, but, sadly, a lot of adults don't appear to have learned this lesson.

Monday, 19 September 2016

How Many People Actually Know What They're Talking About?

The Internet is full of brazen keyboard warriors who are only too quick to make bold pronouncement on a whole slew of different topics. Of course, as the Kruger-Dunning has shown, the tendency of stupid people to severely overestimate their own intellectual capabilities essentially means that the stupider someone is, the more confident they are in their abilities. Thinking of the good 'ol 'religion'/theism-atheism debate in general, and the Christianity-atheism debate in particular, you get plenty of self-described 'experts' making all sorts of bare assertions which they have clearly never researched.

"Some readers who agree with my first point about eyewitness miracle claims, with which I think disagreement will be difficult, may well demur from the second point that some of these claims are best explained by supernatural causation. I recognise at the outset that some traditional scholars (and perhaps some reviewers) will dismiss the latter claim even without reading or considering the evidence I offer. I believe that such a dismissal might actually illustrate the point that an inherited approach, originally appealing to the alleged lack of evidence that could support a contrary approach, is often used to dismiss uncritically and without examination any evidence subsequently offered." - Craig Keener, Miracles, Baker Academic, (2011), Introduction
"Nevertheless, some modern approaches appear to continue equating critical thinking with dismissing what is essentially other societies' worldviews. They dismiss these views in favour of many Enlightenment traditions without even evaluating the bases for the different approach. Some critics may thus immediately dismiss out of hand challenges to examine their worldview (hence may dismiss also the secondary argument of this book), but I suspect that many of these critics do so on the basis of historically conditioned a prioris that they have never seriously examined and that some hold inflexibly. If those who move exclusively in circles where purportedly supernatural experiences are unknown or even ridiculed charge with bias those who take such claims seriously, those in whose circles or cultures such occurrences are believed to occur will be no less apt to return the charge. Such an impasse of dogmatic assumptions and mutual disrespect (and sometimes unarticulated division) undercuts any basis for cross-cultural and cross-philosophic dialogue." - Craig Keener, Miracles, Baker Academic, (2011), Chapter Four 
It is the sign of an educated mind to be capable of entertaining a thought without accepting it. In my previous blog post, we looked at explanatory power; how epistemically probable the evidence is under a certain hypothesis. The problem is that the majority of people have no idea what terms such as explanatory power and plausibility really mean. Indeed, for most sceptics, plausibility is used as a synonym for what they find personal credulous/incredulous. Part of this, I think, has to do with a profound and monumental philosophical illiteracy amongst so-called sceptics. Craig Keener has delivered numerous lectures based on the findings of his research that went into his book, Miracles. In these, he highlights the best examples of miracle claims from reliable witnesses, and/or with medical documentation. Some of the examples were those of individuals with broken bones who were instantaneously healed, and had before and after X-Rays. Despite the evidence, some individual in the comments section claimed that it was merely a misdiagnosis, and argued that the x-rays only showed fractures that were 'likely' caused by nerves or blood vessels. The problem with this is that this hypothesis was totally incongruent with what the x-ray evidence actually showed. Indeed, one person had large sections of some of their bones completely missing, and yet later x-rays showed complete regeneration. Some instances, of course, are even harder to dismiss. For instance, people with incurable lifelong ailments suddenly being found miraculously well after prayer. One individual suffered from an eye-condition that made them ultra-sensitive to light to such a degree that it gave them migraines, and they required special glasses. Their condition also made it so that they were not permitted to obtain a driver's license. After prayer, this condition left them instantly, and they were able to get a doctor to certify that they no longer had the condition (they required said certification to be able to get their driver's license).

Of course, even when it comes to matters that are relatively non-controversial, it is not hard to find a multitude of so-called and self-described 'free-thinkers' who will obstinately refuse to accept the most accepted of facts if it contradicts their delusional fantasies. Perhaps the most common myth accepted wholeheartedly, and without the slightest shred of question or critical analysis, is the conspiracy theory that Jesus never existed, and was based on pagan myth. I like to describe it as the Young Earth Creationism of atheism. For this belief is to the discipline of history as Young Earth Creationism is to the discipline of science. For in order to seriously entertain the idea that Jesus never existed and was based on paganism, you have to ignore virtually the entire written record, the rules of historical investigation, and the rules of logic themselves. Indeed, atheists and sceptics seem to be totally intoxicated in a whole array of myths. They falsely believe that there was such a period in history called 'the Dark Ages' and that Christianity caused such a thing, even though Christianity preserved learning throughout the early Medieval period and beyond. They falsely believe that most conflicts are religious ones, even though religion only accounts for 6.98% of all conflicts in human history, and that atheist regimes have been the most bloodthirsty in history. I've seen atheists that try and deny aspects of the standard big bang model, such as the expansion of space, because it implied things that undercut their beliefs (the beginning of the universe).

I'm not ashamed to admit that I once held to some similarly indefensible views. I once thought that evolution was false and that there was a conspiracy within the scientific community to ignore data that contradicted evolution. Of course, I was about 14 years old. Of course, this was mostly cemented by interactions I had with atheists who largely didn't know much if anything at all about evolution and/or those who simply preferred to scoff in lieu of argument. It wasn't until I encountered more reasonable atheists, as well as Christians who understood evolution too, until my questions were answered and I was able to see that evolution was not some anti-religious conspiracy. I should also add that I still held to a rather wooden interpretation of the creation account of Genesis too. I just accepted that evolution was compatible with the creation account because it did not specify whether God 'poofed' things into being out of nothing, or used the matter He had created to make things within the universe. I later changed my interpretation of the creation account of Genesis afterwards, not because I now accepted evolutionary theory, but because I was presented with evidence that suggested that the interpretation I held to was not the 'literal' one, and that correct interpretation was somewhat different. I similarly modified my view of the flood of Noah, again later, and again through the presentation of evidence. I also used to be sceptical of the big bang theory and the scientific estimates of the age of the earth and universe. Now I have no problem with either. However, not only have I not abandoned my religious beliefs, they are stronger than ever. Why? Because I have made a conscious effort to seek out evidence and understand it. This involves self-directed study as well as speaking with others, particularly those who are well-versed in their subject matter.

Regarding my political beliefs, I went from being a left-leaning statist who viewed socialism/communism sympathetically to a libertarian who views anarchism sympathetically (when I say anarchism, I mean voluntarism/anarcho-capitalism, not logically incoherent leftist ideologies who have appropriated the term.) Why? Because I have studied the evidence and sought to understand it. Of course, despite having my mind fairly concretely made up, and despite being almost entirely sure that I am right, I do not just assume that I am right. I am open to the possibility of being wrong. The problem is that, in debates, atheists and sceptics in particular tend to just assume their position and not make coherent arguments. It's not just atheists and sceptics, though. When it comes to theological debates, Christians and plenty guilty of this too. I think Calvinists have been among the most obstinate of people I have tried to have discussions with. It depends on the person. Most people just seem to be singularly incapable of civil discussion and rational debate. Most people also largely seem to have no idea what they are talking about, since they just assume their own position without considering alternative positions. For instance, I have seen avowed Calvinists arguing against Middle Knowledge for no other reason than because it part of Molinist theology, even though middle knowledge is potentially compatible with Calvinism. Indeed, there are even Calvinists who deny human freedom entirely.

Of course, ridiculous arguments aren't limited to the regular joes you find in the wild whilst browsing the Internet. Unfortunately, too often you will find academics who should really know better engaging in similar nincompoopery. I've even seen individuals willfully misrepresent facts from their own discipline. Perhaps the most common one is when you hear scientists claim that science has shown that something can come from 'nothing'. Except when they say 'nothing', they really mean, 'the quantum vacuum'. Which is not nothing, but a fluctuating sea of energy that pervades all of space. Another hilarious example was when Lawrence Krauss actually tried to argue in a debate against William Lane Craig that 2+2 can equal 5 if we used 'very large quantities of two'. The problem is that when you say 'very large quantity of two', you're not referring to just two anymore. You're changing the amounts in the sum but trying to use the labels for the previous quantities fallacious. Two and a half does not magically become two just because we refer to it by the label 'two'. Of course, as bad as being hideously misinformed is, it's even worse when the misinformed refuse correction, and refuse to even check out sources you recommend. For instance, some fellow kept demanding I summarise a 44 minute YouTube video on the subject of philosophy on Twitter, a platform with a 140 character limit. I recently watched a YouTube video by William Lane Craig dissecting a hilarious conversation between Sam Harris and Jerry Coyne where they criticise a slew of groups whilst managing to commit every single fault they find in others themselves. For instance, complaining about religion on the grounds that 'only science can tell us anything about reality' whilst simultaneously making non-scientific claims about reality, such as moral claims, metaphysical claims about the nature of reality, and epistemological claims about reality, etc.

Harris and Coyne betrayed fundamental ignorance about almost every subject they discussed, as Craig noted, yet frequently made references to their view as the 'right' or 'correct' view that 'smart people' should believe. Well, unfortunately, their views are hopelessly mistaken, and rest on total, fundamental ignorance. They repeatedly promulgated logically inconsistent and incoherent statements that unwittingly undermined prior statements and the entirety of their worldview. For instance, denying the freedom of the will, a belief that cannot be rationally inferred since it undercuts the rationality of belief in determinism. If a belief is determined and not dependent upon our reasoning, then it follows logically and inescapably that said belief cannot be affirmed rationally. However, this would therefore apply to belief in determinism. Much like, in the same way, belief in naturalism undercuts the rationality of belief in naturalism, since it entails that beliefs aren't the result of mental deliberation (since naturalism denies that mental deliberation is even real). Moreover, their belief in determinism and naturalism undermines their belief in moral realism. Yet they act as if they are rational whilst relying on incredibly vacuous arguments that are often fallacious and ignore arguments against their own positions. Coyne himself in the conversation Craig is commenting on in his video literally says he thinks that human beings are robots without moral responsibilities despite earlier saying he felt that 'enlightenment' values should be adopted over religions values (ignoring the fact that the enlightenment borrowed its values almost entirely from Christianity). Atheists often condemn people like myself and William Lane Craig for being stupid, etc. yet whilst we seem to do our best to understand opposing viewpoints and deal with them seriously, the same simply cannot be said for the vast majority of people in general, and atheists in particular.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

What Would the New Testament Accounts Be Like if They Were Really False?

I recently watched an episode of the sci-fi show Andromeda where the captain of the Andromeda, Dylan Hunt, had undertaken a mission to help the planet Savion, who believe a planet eating creature called the Cetus is due to visit and devour their planet. People of the planet Savion believe that the creature returns every 6,270 years, and that it will return soon to finish off the planet. The crew of the Andromeda all regard the creature as a myth and those who stay behind on the Andromeda as the captain leaves for the planet in a shuttle chortle about the 'unsophisticated' planet that still relies on combustion engines, etc. However, Hunt arrives at the planet to find deep, scar-like crevices on the planet's surface. Analysis determines that they were not caused by seismic activity, and that each crevice was created 6,720 years apart. The captain rightly concludes that perhaps the Cetus is real and, sure enough, it appears and swallows up the Andromeda, with the rest of the episode revolving around both the captain aboard his shuttle, and the crew on board the Andromeda trapped inside the Cetus, both trying to find a way to save the Andromeda and deal with the Cetus. The main point here is that the evidence strongly implied the existence of this Cetus creature.

For those who don't know or who need a reminder, the criteria for assessing the best explanation are as follows:
  1. The hypothesis, together with other statements, must imply further statements describing present, observable data.
  2. The hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope (that is, imply a greater variety of observable data) than rival hypotheses.
  3. The hypothesis must have greater explanatory power (that is, make the observable data more probable) than rival hypotheses.
  4. The hypothesis must be more plausible (that is, be implied by a greater variety of accepted truths, and its negation implied by fewer accepted truths) than rival hypotheses.
  5. The hypothesis must be less ad hoc (that is, include fewer new suppositions about the past not already implied by existing knowledge) than rival hypotheses. 
  6. The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs (that is, when conjoined with accepted truths, imply fewer false statements) than rival hypotheses.
  7. The hypothesis must so exceed its rivals in fulfilling conditions (2)-(6) that there is little chance of a rival hypothesis, after further investigation, exceeding these conditions. 
What particularly interests me is the criterion of explanatory power, which is how probable the observable evidence is on a certain hypothesis. In other words: is the evidence that we observe what we would expect if the hypothesis were true? Having spent some time studying the history of early Christianity, the New Testament, and the socio-cultural values of the 1st century Near East and Mediterranean, I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection hypothesis is the most plausibly true over rival hypotheses, based on the evidence, and utilising critical historical methodological criteria for determining the best explanation. It seems to me as if critics have either never considered or only entertained such ideas in the most minimal way. I say this because the alternate hypotheses are simply incongruent with what we'd expect under such hypotheses, some vastly so. Let's start by recounting the observable data, and the facts we can know with good certainty. The primary data we have: 
  1. The Gospel of Matthew
  2. The Gospel of Mark
  3. The Gospel of Luke
  4. The Gospel of John
  5. The Acts of the Apostles
  6. The Pauline Epistles (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon).
  7. The General Epistles (Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude.
  8. The Book of Revelation
The minimal facts are as follows (although they are sometimes phrased/numbered differently):
  1. Jesus' radical self-understanding: He declared Himself to be messiah, as well as divine, and predicted His own death and resurrection.
  2. Jesus was crucified.
  3. Jesus was buried.
  4. Jesus' tomb was found empty.
  5. Jesus' disciples had experiences they took to be appearances of the risen Jesus despite not expecting Jesus to rise from the dead.
  6. Jesus' sceptical half-brother James and the church persecutor Paul both converted to Christianity.
  7. Christianity spread amongst both Jews and Gentiles, despite Christianity violating multiple socio-cultural taboos, and despite social and state-sponsored persecution.
The crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and the conversion of James and Paul are the most universally recognised by scholars, with Jesus' divine claims and the discovery of the empty tomb having slightly less support, but still a majority consensus of scholars accept these two things. I find it hilarious how sceptics claim that the reason these 'facts' are accepted is either due to bias and/or scholars lying to avoid being ousted. Gary Habermas, one of the pioneers of the 'minimal facts' approach', however, noted that when he studied at university in the 1970s, virtually nobody accepted the resurrection appearances, let alone the empty tomb. Anybody who claims that New Testament studies is hopelessly biased in favour of Christianity is simply naive and ignorant of the history of the discipline. Many of those who doubted the veracity of the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances were liberal Christian theologians and scholars. Even today, there are liberal Christians such as John Dominic Crossan, who are oft appealed to by sceptics. There are also sceptical scholars such as Bart Ehrman who openly attacks aspects of Christianity, and yet we are supposed to believe that he is afraid of being ousted by Evangelical scholars? 

Let's go through how we arrive at these minimal facts. Now, pretty much everybody accepts that Paul wrote at least seven of the epistles ascribed to him: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Even amongst hardcore sceptics, even those who deny that Jesus existed, will usually agree that Paul wrote these epistles. This is important because whilst sceptics will attack the Gospels and their authorship, they almost all accept these Pauline epistles as authentic (although a majority of critical scholars now accept Markan and Lukan authorship, and Matthean and Johannine authorship are now considered more respectable positions than they once were). This is also important because Paul's writings are generally held by scholars as being earlier than the Gospels. Well, Paul's writings contain various oral formulae, such as creeds, confessions, traditions, etc. These oral formulae have origins that are earlier than the texts that contain them. Perhaps the most important of these is the oral formula in 1 Corinthians 15: 
"1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you-unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time." - 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, Inc., (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1569
First Corinthians is universally regarded as having been written around 55 AD, which is a mere 25 years or so after Jesus' crucifixion. Paul states here that he is preaching the gospel that he first preached to them. This visit to Corinth is dated by critical scholars to between 51-51AD, based on textual and archaeological evidence. However, the oral formulae predates Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. In Paul's own words, he is delivering an oral formulae he himself first received. Well, Paul recounts where he received this tradition in his epistle to the Galatians:
"15But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, 16to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. 19But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother. 20(Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.) 21Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. 23But they were hearing only, "He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy." 24And they glorified God in me. 
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. 2And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. 3Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), 5to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. 6But from those who seemed to be something - whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favouritism to no man - for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. 7But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter 8(for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), 9and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do." - Galatians 1:15-2:10, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, Inc., (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1589-1590
According to Paul, after he had his experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he spent three years in Arabia. After these three years, he went to Jerusalem and spent 15 days with Peter, and also mentions that he saw the apostle James, the formerly sceptical half-brother of Jesus. Then, 14 years later, he returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus, and convened with the apostles there again to verify that the Gospel they were preaching was the same and, in Paul's own words, they added nothing. Now, Paul says he spent 15 days with Peter, and also met James at Jerusalem, and dates this event as occurring three years after his conversion. Paul's conversion is dated between 1-3 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Meaning, Paul's reception of at least the core proclamation of the 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 creed occurred 4-6 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. However, this is merely Paul's reception of this creedal material. Conservative estimates place the formalisation of this creed occurring between 6 months to 1 year after Jesus' crucifixion, with more sceptical critical scholars, such as Bart Ehrman, placing this event at between 1-2 years after the crucifixion. Moreover, note who Paul says he got the material from: from Peter and James (and when he later returns to Jerusalem 14 years later, he also meets and speaks with John). The Greek word Paul uses when describing his meeting with Peter is historeo, the root word of which being histor, from which we get the English word 'history'. From word studies on this word, it essentially has connotations of investigation, like that of a reporter. The connotations are that Paul essentially questioned Peter.

As far as ancient accounts go, this is almost unparalleled in terms of its closeness to the events. For instance, the biographies of Alexander the Great date centuries after his lifetime. Whilst we do have a contemporary reference to Tiberius Caesar, it is the least useful out of all the sources on Tiberius. The most reliable sources, Tacitus and Suetonius date 85 years after Tiberius' lifetime, with Dio Cassius' account dating 180 years after Tiberius' lifetime. Whereas the Gospels, oft derided by critics, date between 35-65 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Incidentally, 35 years is roughly the distance between the present day and the Vietnam War, and 65 years is roughly the distance between the present day and the Second World War. However, Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians dates 25 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, his reception of the creedal material in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 occurred 4-6 years after the crucifixion, and the formulation of that creedal material occurred between 6 months-2 years after the crucifixion. It is for this reason that critical scholars unanimously agree that belief in the risen Jesus originated with the earliest Church. We know that the basic message of Christianity is traceable to eyewitnesses, and we know that Paul and the other disciples agreed on what that message was. So, let's explore that message some more.

Virtually nobody in academia doubts that Jesus was crucified. This is one of the best attested facts of ancient history. Aside from the death of Jesus being directly traceable to eyewitness testimony, and is mentioned in multiple sources, including extra-Biblical and non-Christian sources such as Tacitus' Annals, etc. Aside from this, nobody would have made up the crucifixion of Jesus had it not happened. The reason for this is because Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean societies revolved around honour and shame, and crucifixion wasn't just the most brutal death available, but also the most shameful death available. It was a status degradation ritual that signalled the loss of power of the condemned meant to showcase the power of the state, and led to humiliating things such as self-defecating as a result of loss of movement, etc. Pagan authors such as Celsus and Lucian note with malicious glee the shamefulness of Jesus' death. Christian authors admitted the shamefulness of Jesus' crucifixion. The apostle Paul states this also:
"23but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness," - 1 Corinthians 1:23, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, Inc., (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1553
Paul even notes that being crucified was considered a curse from God in Judaism:
"13Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree")," - Galatians 3:13, New Testament Text: New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, Inc., (1982), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p1592
The passage in the OT Paul is quoting from:
"22Now if a man committed a crime under the sentence of death, and he is put to death, and you hand him on a tree, 23his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that dat; for he who is hanged on a tree is accursed of God; that you do not defile the land that the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance." Deuteronomy 21:22-23, Old Testament Text: St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint, (2008), from The Orthodox Study Bible, St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, (2008), p237-238
Likewise, the overwhelming majority of scholars agree that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, although some debate the exact nature of said burial. The debate regarding the nature of the burial is regarding whether Joseph of Arimathea was a secret follower/sympathiser of Jesus or not, and whether Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea's own tomb, or in a tomb reserved for criminals, etc. However, the scholarly consensus is that Jesus was buried, and not simply left to rot or thrown into a ditch or some kind of mass grave. First of all, we know from various sources that the Romans sometimes permitted the burial of crucifixion victims. The pertinent question here is: why would the Romans allow the burial of Jesus? Moreover, according to the Gospel accounts, it was Joseph of Arimathea (the Gospel of John also mentions that Joseph was aided by Nicodemus), a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, that buried Jesus, so why would a Sanhedrin member bury Jesus? The answer to the first question is answered easily if we suppose that it was the Sanhedrin or some of their members who petitioned for Jesus' body, so the real issue is the second one. Whilst the exact answer to this second question is debated amongst scholars, it is nevertheless agreed that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea.

For starters, Jesus' burial is multiply attested, and is traceable via the 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 creed to eyewitness testimony. The second thing to note is that if the event were a fabrication, it is highly unlikely that the authors would have picked someone like Joseph of Arimathea who, aside from not being mentioned elsewhere, was a member of the Sanhedrin. Now, the Gospel accounts claim that Joseph was a secret disciple of Jesus, and the Gospel of John also mentions Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish sanhedrin depicted elsewhere as being sympathetic with Jesus and His message. If this account were fictional, it would have been far simpler to simply claim that the disciples themselves buried Jesus. However, instead the Gospel account state that the disciples had fled. So, instead of being buried by Jesus' closest disciples, Jesus is buried by a member of the Sanhedrin. Whilst some question whether Joseph was really a secret disciple of Jesus or not, the consensus is that Jesus was buried. Some doubt that Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple, and was merely doing his duty as a member of the Sanhedrin to ensure that Jesus' body did not violate the command in the Old Testament not to let bodies hang up from objects overnight. Of course, in either case, Jesus' burial would have been seen as dishonourable. Purposeful burial away from a family tomb and denial of public mourners were measures that were put in place to further shame criminals in death. We know from Jewish tradition that criminals were not buried in family tombs on purpose in order to shame them. Denial of public mourning would have been achieved by placing a guard at the tomb. Whether we accept that Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea's own tomb or in a tomb reserved for criminals, the fact remains is that Jesus' burial would have been considered dishonourable, and thus meets the criterion of embarrassment.

The discovery of the empty tomb, whilst still accepted as a fact by the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars, it does have less support than the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Whilst the first two are unanimously accepted by all critical scholars (with the exception of a few fringe authors, whom I can pretty much count on a single hand), the discovery of the empty tomb has support amongst roughly 75% of critical scholarship (although from what I have read, that might have gone up slightly over recent years). The reason why some dispute the historicity of the empty tomb is because it is not explicitly mentioned in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed. Of course, the problem with this reasoning is that it is an argument from silence. The 1st century was a high context society, where lots of stuff was left unsaid because it was assumed everybody would know already. The 1 Corinthians 15 creed, after all, is a very condensed version of the basic Gospel message. That said, the historicity of the burial of Jesus implies the historicity of the empty tomb. If the tomb were not discovered empty, then this mean that Jesus' body would still have lain in the grave. If Jesus' body had still lain in His grave, then the authorities would have produced a body. However, a body was NOT produced. Rather, the disciples' were accused of stealing the body.

Of course, some could object that the Gospels' simply made up the claim that the disciples' were accused of stealing the body. However, this is nonsensical for two reasons: first, why on earth would the disciples include an argument directed against themselves that was never made? If the body was not missing from the grave, then the relevant authorities would have produced it, and this report would have been spread. Some argue that the authorities would not have cared about showing Jesus' body, but these patently false. Since Jesus was crucified, we know that the official charge would have been sedition. Whilst the Jewish authorities wanted Jesus dead for blasphemy, in order to get Him executed, they would have had to have accused Jesus of a crime serious enough to merit death in the eyes of the Romans, and sedition was the ultimate crime in the eyes of the Romans that merited the ultimate punishment, crucifixion. There is no indication in the written record of a report of a body being produced. However, there is indication that a report of the disciples stealing the body being circulated. Apart from being in every Gospel, such an argument was used by critics of Christianity, such as the pagan author Celsus. If Jesus' body still laid in the tomb, it would have been produced, and claims that the disciples would not have circulated. Of course, some have claimed that Jesus' body would have been too decomposed for people to recognise, but this seems very unlikely. Plus, in Jewish custom, once a body had been decomposed, family members would collect their bones and place them in an ossuary (a 'bone box'). Jewish custom also implies that Jews were able to mark and identify bodies after decomposition in some way.

Now, aside from these considerations, the Gospel accounts all specifically cite the role women played in the discovery of the empty tomb. This is important since, in Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean culture, women were considered untrustworthy, and their testimony was considered in low esteem by men. Women were considered emotional and prone to hysteria and were generally treated as second class citizens. In 1st century Judaism, women were not even allowed to speak to men in public unless their husbands were present. So, by citing women as the first witnesses of the empty tomb, the Gospel authors are admitting something that would have been considered embarrassing from their cultural standpoint. Some have tried claiming that the women visited the wrong tomb, however, this prospect seems particularly dubious. We would then have to assume that neither the women nor the male disciples would have realised they were at the wrong tomb, and that, once again, the authorities would not have corrected the disciples' report of resurrection by producing Jesus' body. The discovery of the empty tomb can thus be rather reasonably regarded as historical.

What then of the disciples' having experiences that they took to be the risen Jesus? It is important here to point out that we are merely defending the historicity of the disciples' experiences, rather than the content or nature of those experiences. That the disciples' had experiences they interpreted to be the risen Jesus is almost as well-accepted as Jesus' death and crucifixion, and probably more accepted than the discovery of the empty tomb. Of course, some have argued that the accounts are simply made up, and some, of course, still claim that the accounts of Jesus' resurrection appearances are 'legendary embellishments'. Of course, the earliness of the 1 Corinthians 13 creed and its traceability to eyewitness testimony precludes legendary embellishment. This therefore only leaves fraud as the only alternate option. Fraud is precluded for a number reasons: it's hard to imagine how conspiracy could account for the sheer quantity of appearance reports. From what the New Testament documents describe, we have reports of the following resurrection appearances:
-An appearance to Mary Magdalene in Matthew, Luke, and John
-Multiple appearances to the 12 disciples in Matthew, Luke, and John, and recorded in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed, and also recounted in the Book of Acts.
-An appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke.
-An appearance to '500 of the brethren at once' is mentioned in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed.
-An appearance to James, the brother of Jesus, is mentioned in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed.
-A group appearance to 'all of the apostles' is mentioned in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed.
-An appearance to Paul is mentioned in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed, and recounted in the Book of Acts.

The problem with the fraud conspiracy is that you have a vast group of people, including a former sceptic, James, and a former enemy/persecutor of Christianity, Paul. Paul himself specifically claims that many of the 500 were still alive as of his writing of 1 Corinthians, implying that were thus able to be interviewed still. One problem that critics of Christianity routinely overlook is the fact that people minded each others businesses in the 1st century. In a world where relatively little ever escaped notice, are we to assume that nobody sought these witnesses out? Indeed, if the 500, et al. were made up, people would have found out and propagated this fact to counter Christianity. Another factor that counts against fraud is the fact that Christianity massively violated just about every social taboo of the Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean world, and got its followers persecuted and killed. The Ancient Near East and Mediterranean were honour-shame societies, and trying to start a religion based on a crucified man would have been utterly preposterous. People would have thought you were insane. Claiming that said crucified man was God would have been considered similarly insane. How could God or a god allow Himself or themselves to be killed in such a shameful fashion?

Jesus' social standing would have also been problematic, since he was a carpenter (manual labourers were of low social standing) from Nazareth (a city of low reputation). Indeed, in the Gospel accounts, we see this following exchange between Philip and Nathanael:
"45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. 46 Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."" - John 1:45-46, ESV, Crossway, (2001), p887
Nathanael noticeably questions Jesus' home town of Nazareth. This is because a small city of no importance would have been considered out of standing with a Messianic figure. Jesus also associated with social outcasts, such as tax collectors, and prostitutes, as well as people of low social standing, such as fishermen. Jesus' teachings also made strict moral demands on believers that would have been simply unattractive to most people. Most pagan cults and religious fraudsters attracted people by appealing to people's baser instincts, such as sex, etc. Jesus taught denial of worldly pleasures. He also taught that it was acceptable to break family ties in order to follow Him, which would have been utterly unthinkable in such a culture where family and one's extended kinship group were everything. Then when we add in the intense social and later state sponsored persecution directed against Christianity, the idea that it was simply made up is completely absurd. We can therefore reliably take the disciples' at their word when they claim to have had experiences, which they interpreted to be the risen Jesus. It is the nature of those experiences that is the subject of debate.

However, one thing to consider is the content of those experiences: there are some who have made the claim that the disciples merely had visions of Jesus in heaven, rather than witnessing what they believed to be bodily appearances of the resurrected Jesus. The problem with this is that it requires us to ignore the reports of these appearances, and to practically butcher the meaning of the texts. Of course, proponents of such a view will also claim that the passages in the Gospels that say that Jesus ate, etc. were retroactively inserted to combat heretical views that denied the humanity of Christ. One of the obvious problems with this view is that it makes zero sense for Christianity to transition from Jesus being alive as a spirit in heaven to Jesus being bodily resurrected. This is because believing that Jesus was alive as a spirit in heaven after death would have been a fairly uncontroversial claim. Whereas resurrection was a very specific Jewish belief in the return from death to life. Your body was raised and transformed into an imperishable form. This was believed by Jews to occur to all the righteous dead at the end of the time. Moreover, certain sects, such as the Sadducees, denied the possibility of resurrection. Why would the disciples have picked resurrection as opposed to claiming Jesus had been returned to life in His regular human body, or had had His body assumed and translated into heaven? Moreover, belief in resurrection was not attractive to pagans. Those who held to a belief in some form of afterlife believed that the ideal afterlife was existence as a disembodied spirit. Such a belief would have been more palatable to Greeks and Romans than belief in resurrection. Indeed, there is indication in Paul's epistles that some pagan converts were dubious about resurrection, since Paul has to state that Jesus was resurrected and that they will be too.

From Paul's epistles, we know that Paul considered his own experience of the risen Jesus to be of the same kind as the appearances experienced by the others listed in the creed. Paul also describes resurrection in one of his epistles, detailing what resurrection bodies are like. He is very specific that we will have bodies, albeit ones that have been gloriously transformed. Some try to twist the meaning of Paul's words to imply that Paul was referring to a 'spiritual resurrection', but the words Paul uses are very clear that he has resurrection in mind, which was very physical, and not simply life after death as a spirit. Paul specifically uses the Greek word that means body. So, the claim that the disciples had visions of a heavenly/spirit Jesus and that the Gospel accounts were doctored after the fact to make them physical appearances of Jesus is highly problematic on these two fronts. The source material is very clear: the disciples, including Paul, believed that they had experienced bodily appearances of the physically resurrected Jesus. Moreover, if the disciples had merely had visions of Jesus alive as a spirit in heaven, then it makes the mention of the burial of Jesus puzzling. Why would the fate of Jesus' body matter if He was alive in heaven as a spirit? We would also have to assume the discovery of the empty tomb is made up, when we have seen that there are good reasons for considering the discovery of the empty tomb as a historical fact. If the Gospel accounts of the appearances of Jesus were invented then we would expect something less bizarre/unpalatable, and if the accounts were altered at a later date, we would expect a transition to something more palatable, not less. So, we can accept that the disciples' believed that they had witnessed bodily appearances of a physically resurrected Jesus, and not visions of Jesus as a spirit in heaven, and also that they weren't making their experiences up either.

It is also worth noting that the main disciples, Peter and the group referred to as 'the twelve', are reported as having fled Jesus upon His arrest in despair, with Peter publically denying Jesus three times. They were also routinely depicted as being baffled by Jesus' passion predictions, given that they expected a triumphal political messiah who would free Israel from Roman occupation. If the Gospels were fraudulent accounts, why would they have depicted the disciples' so negatively? Yet, after their experiences, they became bold proclaimers of the risen Jesus. The conversion of both James and Paul is a relatively uncontroversial claim that virtually nobody denies. James and Jesus' other siblings are described as being sceptical of Jesus' claims and ministries. James had grown up with Jesus, and despite previously disbelieving in his brother's claims, James was nevertheless transformed into a believer in the risen Jesus. Paul was a former Pharisee who was trained under Gamaliel who was instrumental in the persecution of earliest Christianity, a fact that he freely admits in his own epistles. Nevertheless, he had an experience on the roadside on the way to Damascus that he believed to be the risen Jesus. He also then spoke to Peter and James to confirm that what he had seen was in accord with what they had seen, and then later met Peter, James, and John to again make sure that they were all in accord. The subsequent spread of Christianity to Jews and Gentiles alike is something that not even Jesus mythicists deny, although there are certain historical illiterates who deny the persecution of Christians, when the evidence is unmistakeable. That Christianity offended 1st century Near Eastern and Mediterranean socio-cultural values and was subjected to persecution is simply undeniable historical fact.

The only fact in our list left is Jesus' self-understanding and passion predictions. Understandably, this is the one that is the most disputed. That Jesus understood Himself as the messiah and as divine is the easiest part to demonstrate. The main problem with supposing that Jesus made no messianic pretensions or divine self-claims is that is becomes inexplicable why there were no non-messianic variants of the Jesus movement. Aside from this, if Jesus made no messianic pretensions, then Jesus' crucifixion becomes completely nonsensical. It was a death reserved for seditionists, and claiming to be the messiah would have counted as sedition. Indeed, whilst critical scholars claim that Jesus' hesitation to be publicly identified as the messiah is an invention of the Gospel authors, to be publicly identified as the messiah early on in Jesus' ministry would have drawn the attention of Rome, which would have interfered with His ministry and mission. The reason why claiming to be the messiah would have been considered sedition was because the messiah was described to be Israel's new king, and since Israel was under Roman occupation, they chose who became king. So, someone else claiming to be king would have been a challenge to Roman rule, which the Romans did not take lightly. We know Jesus was crucified by the Romans, but, in order for that to have happened, Jesus would need to have been charged with sedition. Thus, this points to messianic claims on Jesus' part, otherwise the Romans would never had executed Him.

That Jesus considered Himself divine can be shown in the following ways: Jesus shares honours due to God, Jesus shares the attributes of God, Jesus shares the names of God, Jesus shares the deeds of God, and Jesus shares the seat of God. Whilst there are many examples, the best example is Jesus' use of the term 'the Son of Man'. The title Jesus most commonly used to describe Himself, was the term 'the Son of Man', which even the most critical scholars agree can be attributed to Jesus Himself, since such a term is not used by Christians or the Church. This is important, because the term 'the Son of Man' is a direct reference Old Testament prophecies regarding the messiah. Specifically, Daniel 7:13-14, which says:
"13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven
 there came one like a son of man,
 and he came to the Ancient of Days
 and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion
 and glory and a kingdom,
 that all peoples, nations, and languages
 should serve him; 
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
 which shall not pass away,
 and his kingdom one
 that shall not be destroyed." - Daniel 7:13-14, ESV, Crossway, (2001), p745
When Jesus is questioned before the Sanhedrin, Jesus specifically cites this verse, leading the chief priest to accuse Jesus of blasphemy. Why? Because by claiming to be the one sitting at the right hand of God and coming on the clouds of glory, Jesus is claiming He shares in the divine authority and power of God. As far as the Pharisees were concerned, Jesus was just a man, and by claiming to be the son of man in Daniel's vision, they considered this blasphemy. Aside from this, as with the case of Jesus' claims to be messiah, why was there form of the Jesus movement where Jesus was not divine? Moreover, why would monotheistic Jews regard a human being as being God?

As far as Jesus' passion predictions are concerned, the last supper recorded in the Gospels is simultaneously recorded in an oral formula contained in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Much the like oral formula that recounts the passion narratives, this is a creed that is dateable to the earliest church.
 "23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to You, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way he also took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." - 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, ESV, Crossway, (2001), p958-959
Of importance here, however, is the use of the phrase 'I received from the Lord'. Paul is passing on tradition that is traceable to the historical Jesus Himself. Some have tried casting doubt in the historicity of the last supper by saying such meals were common. However, this argument backfires: such meals were indeed common, but this one was singled out for mention in the Gospels and was preserved in an oral tradition that was the source of the oral formula in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. Moreover, like the 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 creed, the 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 creed predates Paul's writings. Now, Paul's writings are held as being the earliest in the NT, typically dated by critical scholars to the 50s AD. However, these creedal formulae go back to before Paul was even a Christian, and Paul himself states that the 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 creed is traceable to Jesus Himself. Now, the last supper is important because it is a meal of remembrance. Whilst the Gospel narratives are more explicit, since they are biographical accounts and the creedal formula is highly condensed, nevertheless, the fact that the creedal formula states that it was a meal of remembrance directly implies that Jesus knew of His impending death. The authenticity of a number of messianic and divine claims, as well as passion predictions, on the part of Jesus lie in their satisfaction of numerous criteria. For instance, Jesus' passion predictions are met with bewilderment in the disciples, as they expected a political messiah who would overthrow Rome. Indeed, when Peter says to Jesus that such things should not happen, Jesus rebukes him by saying: 'Get behind me, Satan!' Were these accounts fictional, why would they depict the disciples so negatively? Indeed, when we look at actual pseudepigraphal works, such as the 3rd century 'Gospel of Judas', Judas is portrayed as understanding what Jesus meant and betraying Jesus on Jesus' orders.

Any sufficient hypothesis of Christianity's origins must account for these facts, and we already have reviewed the criteria for the best explanation. We must now review the various hypotheses that explain these facts. One popular claim that circles on the Internet is the claim that Jesus never existed, and that the Gospel accounts are plagiarised from pagan myths. It is worth noting that no critical scholar alive thinks that this is so. Aside from the vast amount of documentary and even archaeological evidence that shows that Jesus was a historical person, including non-Christian pagan and Jewish sources, there simply are no similarities between Christianity and pagan religion or pagan deities, (as a side note, some deities are from cultures that had no contact with 1st century Judea, and some deities were simply made up and are from no cultures at all). Aside from the fact that Jews were utterly opposed to paganism and syncretism, pagans were similarly disdainful of Judaism and Jewish beliefs. Jews were regarded as spiteful and superstitious people. Moreover, Christianity was utterly offensive to 1st century socio-cultural values. For example, a deity being crucified would have been unthinkable, and claiming that a mere man was God would have been blasphemy to Jews and idiocy to pagans. Whilst in pagan religions, there existed demigods, these aren't comparable to the incarnation of Christ. Demigods were either the mortal offspring between gods and humans, and/or were humans who had been raised to the level of deity. As the second person of the divine Trinity, Jesus existed as the eternal Word of God. In taking on human flesh, He was fully man and fully God, and when He was resurrected, He retained His human flesh, albeit He now had an immortal body. In pagan religion, the gods were not composed of flesh, as matter was considered evil, and it was the goal of humans to escape the flesh and live as immortal spirits.

It is worth noting that certain pagan cults actually copied Christianity in later centuries as Christianity grew in influence. For instance, the cult of Attis and Cybele began incorporating elements from Christianity to try and draw people away from the new religion. It is also worth noting that there are significant parallels between the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and the sinking of the fictional ship, Titan, in the 1898 Morgan Robertson novel Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan. Both ships had very similar names, were said to be 'unsinkable', both ships had half of the lifeboats, both ships had 3,000 passengers, both ships sank at night in April in the Atlantic after being struck by an iceberg on the starboard side, and when both ships sank, nearly half of the passengers died. There are also significant parallels between the sinking of the Mignonette in 1884 and the sinking of a ship in the 1834 Edgar Allen Poe novel The Narrative of Arthur Pym of Nantucket. In both situations, the survivors resort to cannibalism by eating a 17-year-old cabin boy named Richard Parker. There are also significant parallels between US presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Lincoln was elected to congress in 1846, Kennedy was elected to congress in 1986. Lincoln was elected president in 1860, Kennedy was elected president in 1960. Both Lincoln and Kennedy were assassinated by southerners and succeeded by southerners. Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born 1808. Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908. John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839, Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939. The myth hypothesis, whilst appealing to hyper sceptics and other enemies of Christianity, is simply far too vastly incongruent with the data, and satisfies virtually none of the criteria whatsoever. Moreover, the Gospels are very clearly and very obviously Greco-Roman bioi, or biographies.

The claim that the supernatural elements of the Gospels are simply legendary embellishments are falsified by the fact that the core supernatural component of Christianity, Jesus' resurrection, is traceable to eyewitness testimony. Moreover, as historian Craig Keener has shown in his work, Miracles, eyewitnesses regularly claim to have witnessed supernatural events in history and in the present. Indeed, according to data sampled by Keener roughly 200-300 million people claim to have personally witnessed miraculous healings and other supernatural occurrences in 10 countries alone. This does not make them all true, of course, it just means that eyewitness testimony CAN and often DOES reference what the witness believes to be supernatural occurrences. Whilst certainly more plausible than the myth hypothesis, the legend hypothesis is similarly too incongruent with the data and satisfies virtually none of the criteria for the best explanation. Perhaps the least plausible of the remaining alternative hypotheses is the 'evil twin' hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, there was a doppelganger of Jesus who exploited the situation by convincing Jesus' disciples that he was in fact the risen Jesus. The problems with this hypothesis are vast and insurmountable. First we have to suppose that such an individual existed, although that isn't too problematic. What IS problematic is that we would need to suppose that this individual somehow escaped notice until Jesus' crucifixion, and then disappeared afterwards. For if the individual were known beforehand, why would nobody have at least entertained the possibility it was this doppelganger the disciples saw? And had they not disappeared afterwards, how did he evade attention? For there is no mention in the written record of such an individual. Moreover, why would the disciples assume such a person was Jesus resurrected? Why not merely suppose that Jesus had been raised back to ordinary human existence as opposed to being raised and then transformed into a glorious, immortal form? Thus, this hypothesis fails just as spectacularly as the previous two.

The next hypothesis we shall consider is the 'apparent death' hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, Jesus didn't die on the cross, regained consciousness in His tomb, and then somehow persuaded His disciples that He had been resurrected. The first problem with this hypothesis is that it seriously underestimates the brutality of crucifixion and the competency of Roman soldiers to ascertain if someone were dead. First, crucifixion victims were flogged from head head toe. They were maimed and scourged beforehand. Second, the effect of crucifixion itself was primarily a combination of hypovolemic shock and asphyxiation, and also included dehydration, heart failure, etc. Moreover, the Roman soldiers who attended and oversaw the execution could only leave once the victim were dead, which they would sometimes hasten either by breaking the legs of the victim or lighting a fire at the foot of the cross. They would check to see if the person were dead via a spear thrust into the side, much like what is described in the Gospels. If they left and the victim were still alive, they would have been punished severely. However, it gets even worse. As a criminal, Jesus would have been denied an honourable burial, which meant purposeful burial away from a family tomb, and denial of public mourning. This was achieved by placing a guard at the tomb. People who claim that the authorities would not have cared what happened to Jesus' body are gravely mistaken. For if Jesus' body were stolen, then it could be given an honourable burial, i.e. burial by friends and family, and public mourning. Moreover, the stones that were placed in front of tombs such as these weighed roughly a ton. So, even if we assume that Jesus survived, we would also need to assume that He somehow rolled the stone away Himself and bypassed the guards. We we would then need to suppose that a half-dead Jesus somehow was able to persuade the disciples that He was not merely risen from the dead, but resurrected into a glorious, immortal form. So, this hypothesis fails just as badly as the previous three.

The next hypothesis we shall consider is the wrong tomb hypothesis. According, to this hypothesis, the women visited the wrong tomb by mistake. The first problem is that we need to suppose that the tomb of Jesus was unknown, that the women never realised mistake, and/or that the male disciples never realised the women's mistake. The second problem is that we then have to suppose that the authorities, who did know where Jesus was buried, did nothing to correct the proclamation of Jesus' resurrection and never produced Jesus' body. The third problem is that this hypothesis only explains the discovery of the empty tomb. It does not explain the resurrection appearances, or the conversion of James and Paul, or the spread and success of Christianity despite its offensiveness to 1st century socio-cultural values. Meaning we would have to conjoin this hypothesis with other hypotheses in order to explain all the data. Now, some have suggested that Jesus was only buried temporarily and relocated to a different site a few days after his burial, but there is no evidence that this was a practice. The closest thing to this was when the bones were collected roughly a year later to be put into an ossuary.  The next hypothesis we shall consider is the theft hypothesis. According to this hypothesis either the disciples or some third party stole Jesus' body. This is probably the second most plausible naturalistic alternative to the resurrection hypothesis. The problem with suggesting that the disciples stole the body is that they went willingly to their deaths and were subject to intense persecution socially and eventually by the state. Peter and Paul were very likely executed on Nero's orders personally. So, if we are supposing that the body of Jesus were stolen, a third party is the most plausible option.

The Jewish and Roman authorities are clearly unsuitable candidates, since they would have wanted to ensure that Jesus stayed buried and that the movement He founded was stamped out. So, we have to assume some unknown group. The most plausible sounding choice would be grave robbers, but even here there are problems. Even if we suppose they were able to overcome the tomb guard, roll away the stone, and enter the tomb, why would they steal a body? Grave robbers were interested in stealing grave goods, not bodies. Moreover, bodies were heavy and difficult to transport. Jesus, being buried as a criminal, would have had no material possessions in the tomb with Him, and, so it would not have even made sense for grave robbers to target such a tomb, assuming that such grave robbers existed in that time and location. Some have suggested that 'necromancers' or cannibals stole Jesus' body, but there is zero documentary or archaeological evidence for either group in 1st century Judea. As with the previous hypothesis, this also does not account for the resurrection appearances, etc. meaning we have to conjoin this hypothesis with others in order to explain all of the data. The last hypothesis we shall consider is probably the most plausible naturalistic alternative to the resurrection hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, the disciples merely hallucinated the risen Jesus. Whilst certainly sounding very plausible, the failings of this hypothesis begin to become apparent when we consider the data. First of all, hallucinations can never be shared, since they are private, mental events. Whilst sometimes you will hear claims of 'mass hallucinations', they simply do not happen. In the few resources that do discuss the possibility of mass hallucinations, medical professionals agree that no two people will have exactly the same hallucination.

In cases where multiple people claim to have seen something that wasn't there, each person will typically have differing experiences, with others present seeing nothing at all. Another key aspect of hallucinations in group settings is expectation. Moreover, in a similar vein, hallucinations will only ever encompass things familiar to the people experiencing them. So, if a person were to hallucinate their dead relatives, they would do so in a manner that cohered to their expectations. This is important because the resurrection of Jesus did not fit into the disciples expectations at all. Aside from this, the resurrection appearances in the New Testament are simply too detailed to be hallucinations. They involve multiple appearances to individuals and groups over an extended period of time, and involved physically interaction with the object being perceived. You also have the problem of explaining James and Peter. It might be easy enough to suppose that the disciples had hallucinations, induced by grief or somesuch, but how do you explain James and Paul? Of course, even if you with the grief hallucination theory, such phenomena have been studied and the experiences of the disciples are simply incongruent with documented cases of such phenomena. When people are grieving experience what they believe to be their dead relatives, it always conveys to them a sense that their relatives are deceased. Moreover, in cases where the individual has a visual hallucination, the image always dissipated when they tried to interact with it apart from a few cases. In a few cases, people tried touching the image, but in every such case, it produced extremely negative feelings and emotions and dissipation.

Lastly, this hypothesis does nothing to explain the empty tomb, etc. and so would have to be conjoined with other hypotheses to explain all of the data. Another similar hypothesis that the disciples were suffering from cognitive dissonance and so invented the whole story to cope. The problem with this hypothesis is that it fails to explain the empty tomb, and the conversion of James and Paul, etc. Moreover, it is simply incongruent with real examples of cognitive dissonance. In cases of cognitive dissonance, when people invent beliefs to make sense of two conflicting beliefs, the new claim is coherent with their existing ideology. People don't invent things that are alien to their existing ideology. So, we can see that all of the rival hypotheses to the resurrection hypothesis are fraught with insurmountable problems. The resurrection hypothesis, on the other hand, explains all of the data and is much more coherent with the data than rival hypotheses. The only thing we have to suppose is that 'miraculous' or 'supernatural' events are at least possible. In Craig Keener's work, Miracles, not only has he shown that many tens and hundreds of millions of people claim to have personally witnessed miraculous/supernatural events, but many thousands are from reliable witnesses, including medical professionals, and some even have corroborating medical documentation. Moreover, philosophical arguments have convincingly made the case that the existence of God is overwhelming more probable than atheism. With the historical evidence here, it seems very likely that the resurrection hypothesis is in fact true, and so it seems very probable indeed that Jesus was in fact risen from the dead.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Battling With Anxiety and Depression as an Aspergian

So, I have Asperger's syndrome, which is a developmental disorder characterised by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours and interests. People with the condition are typically extremely shy and introverted, form obsessive habits and interests, and typically suffer from low emotional maturity. I also have dyspraxia, which is a chronic neurological disorder that negatively affects the planning of movement and coordination as a result of brain messages not being accurately sent to the body. Understandably, this makes life just a tad bit harder than everybody elses. Despite being particularly well understood conditions, being 'invisible disabilities' leaves them susceptible to what I like to call 'con artists', i.e. people who claim to have to it. This leads to people who think you're faking it. Then there are the well-meaning buffoons who think you can do everything non-Aspergians can do, etc. It's quite annoying.

One problem with having Asperger's is that it leaves you particularly vulnerable to depression and anxiety. Because of difficulties in nonverbal communication, people with Asperger's might not necessarily appear depressed, and so it is usually not until the condition is sufficiently well-developed that it starts to become more obvious, i.e. total withdrawal, refusal to leave the home, go to work, go to college, etc. Sometimes even aggression, paranoia, and alcoholism may manifest also. Depression is common in individuals with Asperger's, and tends to be frequently connected to feelings of isolation from the world around them, and also loneliness, bereavement, loss, extreme anxiety levels, a growing sense of failure, etc. Most individuals with Asperger's typically report feelings of depression when leaving home, going to college, etc. and refer to instances such as attempts to make friends. Childhood experiences such as bullying and abuse also lead to depression. I have battled with both depression and extreme anxiety for a long time now.

The symptoms of depression: poor concentration, poor memory, thoughts of death/suicide, physical tardiness, agitation, tiredness/lack of energy, sleep problems, disturbed appetite, low mood, loss of interest, loss of pleasure, feelings of hopelessness, feelings of helplessness, withdrawal, bizarre beliefs and periods of mania. Aside from depression, people with Asperger's are particularly prone to extreme anxiety, due to the social demands placed on them. In fact, 84.1% of children with developmental disorders (such as Asperger's) meet the full criteria for at least one anxiety disorder. Such feelings of intense anxiety don't go away either, with such feelings actually getting worse in adolescence and young adulthood.

According to the World Health Organisation, 50% of all mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, actually begin to manifest around age 14. This is relatively unsurprising me. Being continually forced to attend public (i.e. state) school was easily one of the worst experiences in my entire life. It really is hard to impress just what an abject, unrelenting cesspool of absolute and unremitting misery public school is. Obviously, as a means of actually educating children, such institutions fail spectacularly. The effects of placing education in the hands of the government is rising costs (which are paid through taxes and so are hidden costs), shortages, and lowering quality. Public schooling exists solely as a means to instill conformity into children; compulsory state education is the model of the totalitarian state.

Uniform teaching based on a set curriculum is a failure because it does not conform to the educational needs and requirements of every child. Those at the top will be held back by those at the bottom, those at the bottom will struggle to keep up with those further ahead. I remember being made to re-do certain essays and assignments for being 'too good'. One teacher said it literally wasn't fair on the other children. Being punished for success rather understandably did not send me very good messages. Another problem I had was that when it came time for GCSEs in high school, I was not allowed to use a computer for my exams despite having dyspraxia, which makes handwriting particularly difficult. So, yeah, needless to say I didn't too well in exams. Which makes the fact I did so well in college and university the more amusing. One delicious irony is that my BA and MA degrees are in history, when my Middle School history teacher was Satan incarnate.

Aside from all this, it was just the sheer constant bullying from my intellectual inferiors, but also the constant stream of psychological abuse from teachers. One teacher in particular, my middle school History Teacher to be exact, literally hated me. I'm not exaggerating, she specifically hated all children with special needs, particularly me. She was one of the ones who made me re-do essays all the time for being too good. Incidentally, she tended to get some basic facts about European history wrong too, like claiming that Henry VIII founded protestantism when he was only responsible for the creation of Anglicanism. As a side note, whilst the individual most directly responsible for the Protestant reformation was Martin Luther it's kind of silly to say it was founded by any one person. I hated public school so much, I frequently tried to escape. I ran away more times than I cared to remember. Other times I would fake illness to avoid specific classes, or so I could stay at home. I was ecstatic every time I got genuinely ill. I think the best two weeks of my time at school was the time I the muscles in my ribcage got infected following a bout of flu. Another occasion I was able to get out of an entire year of PE as I had an ingrown toenail, and had the sides of that nail removed. If all else failed, I just hid somewhere and hoped nobody found me.

Aside from the sheer unadulterated horrors of compulsory state education, there were other things that contributed to my ever deteriorating mental state. My mum and dad took it upon themselves to raise my cousin, whose behaviour was utterly atrocious during that time, and my parents later divorcing. Of course, the main thing that really set my depression off was when a close friend of mine brutally stabbed me in the back, by randomly and out of nowhere cutting me off completely. This was somebody I had been friend with for years, and all of sudden they had deleted me from all social media. I emailed them a few times asking if they were okay and if I had done something but got no reply. After sinking into a depression, I got a reply a year later basically accusing me of being a stalker. So, yeah, I learned the hard way that even trusted friends are capable of betrayal. When I left home to go to university, I became more acutely aware of how ill-equipped to handle adult life I was. I still can't cook, and despite having numerous people promise to me they would try and teach me, nobody has ever made good on their offer. I have tried cooking myself, but to call such efforts an abysmal failure would be an understatement. I still can't butter bread of make sandwiches properly without destroying the bread despite years of trying (that would be the dyspraxia).

Despite being disadvantaged and largely incapable of doing lots of things people take for granted, I think the worst part is people frequently claiming that I can do such things if only I practiced. Well, fuck you, I've tried and still can't so show me how to do it, do it for me, or shut your mouth. Another thing that pisses me off is how pretty much every lies to you claiming that going to college and university is enough to get you a good job. Well, I'm 27 and have an MA, and have managed to land: one job where I got made redundant after 6 weeks, a temporary 13 week contract at Tescos that was not renewed, a one month stint at McDonalds where I basically failed the probationary period, and a bunch of unpaid job placements and voluntary work. Of course, part of that does have to do with the fact that the Isle of Wight is an economic cesspit that has three times the unemployment figures as the UK national average.

Luckily, I am fortunate in that I escaping this festering offal pit of a country for San Antonio, Texas, where I can finally be with my wife despite having already been married for three years. Ah, good old government efficiency! I'm hoping my symptoms alleviate when I get to 'Murica, since I don't want to have to go back onto medication again. So, I'm going to try and brave it out until I get there. Ironically, it the stress of having to move to America and deal with literally everything myself that is causing my anxiety and depression to go into overdrive. That and the realisation that life would be infinitely more easy if it weren't for all the stupid shit government does. If government wasn't continually subverting market processes, I might actually be employed right now.