Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Atom (and God)

Book Review: God and the Atom. Victor J. Stenger. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books (2013).
We’re into books with blue
covers around here.

Dr. Stenger was kind enough to look over a book I co-authored with our mutual friend Robert M. Price, and he wound up writing a nice blurb for it. So, full disclosure: I owe him one, and admire his work. Though my reviewing the work of this accomplished particle physicist and prolific author is a bit like a sign painter sizing up the brush strokes on the Mona Lisa, I will say right up front that I like this book, too.

God and the Atom is not overbearing on either of its headline topics. It is more about atoms than God, really, and I would readily recommend it to my Christian friends who are interested in science. Stenger expresses his atheistic views clearly and without apology in other works such as God: The Failed Hypothesis and Quantum Gods. But in this particular book, atheism is an undercurrent, almost something to be taken for granted as he takes the reader on a tour through the history of thought about elementary particles and the material substance of everything around us.

Stenger’s story begins with the Greek philosophers Leucippus and Democritus. As he points out, these guys had some amazingly accurate ideas about particle physics. They correctly understood that vision, hearing, smell, and touch are all the result of interactions between various parts of our bodies and particles in, or emanating from, objects of the outside world (pp. 25-26). He provides some illuminating quotes from Lucretius that talk about the chance movements of atoms, the material nature of our bodies and everything else. I’m in no position to judge one way or another, but Stenger seems to be an able curator of ancient thought on his chosen topic, showcasing (on p. 39) amazing passages like this one (reformatted here):

Thus clearly there are particles

of wind you cannot spy

That sweep the ocean and the land

and clouds up in the sky.

While discussing these ancients, Stenger makes the atheism connection by noting how their view is based on everything being material, all the way down. No intervention by any deities was considered necessary or even useful, it seems. And, he notes, their views about human mortality is clearly not one involving any afterlife. Here is the first stanza of a passage from Lucretius that Stenger particularly enjoys, quoted on p. 36 of his book:

So when our mortal frame shall be disjoin’d

The lifeless lump uncoupled from the mind,

From sense of grief and pain we shall be free;

We shall not feel, because we will not be.

In The Tell-Tale Brain, the neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran notes that our conscious selves emerge “from the mindless agitations of atoms and molecules” in our brains. Those brains are made up of a hundred billion neurons, he says, each making “from one thousand to ten thousand contacts with other neurons.” This knowledge of ourselves, much of it gained within living memory of the current generation of scientists, is staggering. And, more than 2,000 years after Lucretius wrote them, the barren wisdom of his words stands: We shall not feel, because we will not be.

If it ain’t tabbed or highlighted, it ain’t been read. Not with a book this informative.

Stenger artfully continues his history lesson forward through the centuries, presenting scientific and historical facts with his subdued atheistic theme holding things together. It doesn’t seem at all preachy or overbearing. Even when I was a Christian, the science and history probably would have kept me engaged without the book’s low-key atheism turning me off too much. The way Stenger patiently shows (not just says) how little God figures into our scientific understanding is a refreshing change of pace, and may be more powerful an approach for the godless than the explicit reverse evangelism of books like Hitchens’s God is Not Great or Dawkins’s The God Delusion.

I did much of my reading of the book on a beautiful sunny day, sitting out on the deck. After taking in one of the many profound little nuggets in Stenger’s well-crafted text, I would pause to look up at the big trees that surround my home. The “universe is not fine-tuned for us; we are fine-tuned to the universe” (p. 146), the words would ring out in my mind, as I noted the height of those trees, evolved to strain upwards above their green rivals in a greedy quest for photons to feed the long-captive chloroplasts in their needles. Stenger has explained what those are, too: massless, dimensionless particles of light that act like waves, not individually, but when moving together in beams (pp. 154-55), in countless, unfathomable numbers.

All that structure, all those organic compounds are formed from tiny clumps of proton and neutron (which themselves are made of quarks that can never be isolated), surrounded by statistical clouds of negative charge—dimensionless particles that can’t be pinned down to a single point, which we call electrons (p. 151). The carbon atoms in those trees have six electrons, not individual little balls whizzing around but probabilities of position layered into two shells. And those atoms are almost always fused with other atoms, and other shells.

Frost on pine needles: It’s all atoms.  [Flickr page]

Stenger explains what’s behind all this: quantum indeterminacy and the Pauli exclusion principle. Without that principle keeping them from overcrowding orbitals, “the electrons in every atom would settle down to the ground state and we would have no complex chemical structures” (p. 164). Not the pine needles, not the crooked-dumbbell shaped water molecules that stream into them and provide raw material for photosynthesis, not the rods and cones in my eyes that alternate from Stenger’s words to the greenery.

It’s exhilarating to have even a dim comprehension of all this hidden splendor beneath the beauty that stands before me, and within me. What about God, the unseen force to whom I’ve given credit (and blame!) for all of this during most of my life thus far? Nowhere to be found, apparently. “In today’s science,” Stenger writes as he draws to a conclusion, “we find no evidence for any ingredient in nature other than matter. If some other immaterial substance exists, such as what is usually referred to as spirit, it has no effect on our senses or instruments that we can verify scientifically” (p. 263).

Stenger, 78 years old and apparently very comfortable in his own material and mortal skin of atomic particles, seems quite unperturbed by this godless universe he describes so well. He shrugs his shoulders about the appeal to theism, the very human need to find some agency behind it all. Bah humbug, Stenger says to any search for spirit or qi or, of course, God. In “what sense can we say immaterial objects exist if they have no measurable effects on the material objects we do observe?” (p. 264).

God and the Atom goes on for a few more pages from that jarring question, but there is no metaphysical soft landing to comfort those who, like me, cannot quite seem to embrace an existence based solely on nothing more than four fundamental particles. That is the only part of the book that seemed uneven to me. It isn’t necessarily a shortcoming of Stenger’s writing, but of this reader’s emotional yearning for something more than what writer and reader alike have concluded, intellectually, just isn’t there. I look up from the trees—my exultation in understanding their evolution and the wondrous bits of physics that Stenger writes about turning to a pang of sadness as I look to the empty sky—and say with the writer of Isaiah 45:15, “Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.”

See the Prometheus website for more information. Get the book from in hardcover or for the Kindle, or for the Barnes & Noble Nook.

Friday, June 21, 2013


While looking through some old papers the other day, I found a poem I’d written on a piece of scrap paper nearly twenty years ago.

Snowfall  [Flickr page]

The memory is still vivid: I’d been sitting at a table in the cafeteria where I worked, next to a big wall of glass that looked out onto a pleasant Pacific Northwest landscape. Big wet snowflakes filled the air, a stunning array of outrageous white puffs slowly tumbling downward in unison. As I watched, taking it all in, I saw a fellow employee, dressed in his overcoat and carrying a briefcase, emerge from the building and look up.

Looking up at the Snow  [Flickr page]

The snowflakes tumble down lazily.

It’s plenty cold enough.

There is no hurry.

A man walks out the lobby door,

looks around, and his face lights up

with the eager anticipation of a child

at a snowy morning window.

But then

he casts a backward glance

at the watching office windows,

thinks better of himself,

and trudges off,

a businessman again.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Apparently, if people cannot find satisfactory social contacts in a small group, they attempt to compensate by forming pseudo-contacts with celebrities, who have been converted into super-optimal stimuli by the visual magic of television.
—Paul R. Ehrlich, Human Natures: Genes, Cultures and the Human Prospect

Except for some teenage rebellion and a few lapses duly confessed and absolved, I didn’t start watching TV or movies until recently. My old church isn’t just opposed to R rated movies; everything dramatized is off-limits. If there is acting going on, and it’s not just some historical reenactment in a documentary or something, then it’s probably not suitable material for a child of God.

Even now, over a year after leaving the religion in a very public way, I still don’t have any live connection—no antenna, no cable. Just Netflix and iTunes. Wasting brain cells watching commercials, slanted “news” coverage, or pointless gladiator matches between overpaid sweaty men is not something I’m ever likely to do.

James Gandolfini, aka Tony Soprano, in 2011.

But drama fascinated me, and still does. With a lot of catching up to do on my pop culture, I consulted Google for lists of the best dramatic TV shows. One of the tops in the search results was some mafia show called The Sopranos, and I bought an episode on iTunes.

There were ducks in a swimming pool, a creepy overweight mafia don who looked uncomfortably similar to a certain relative of mine, and a shrink’s round office. Weird stuff, I thought, but let’s give it a chance.

Another episode. Now I started getting into it, appreciating the subplots, the characters, the wry humor. Fine, I said to iTunes, go ahead and “complete my season”—the first one, over ten years after it first aired.

Then another season, and another. I savored each episode of every one of those six seasons (except for the disjointed and maddening finale. The mob violence wasn’t pretty, but as the star of the show remarked about his subject matter in an interview, “These aren’t nice people.”

Brief light before darkness [Flickr page]

That star, James Gandolfini, is now dead at age 51. It feels odd to be feeling sad and reflective about the loss of a person I’ve never met, who never knew of my existence, who made a fortune from his appearances on my iPad screen and millions of TV screens around the country. I’m certainly not alone in feeling this way; Gandolfini’s death is headline news, and you don’t have to look far on the Internet to find eulogies by devoted Sopranos fans. The fact is that many of us have spent more time in the virtual presence of this man, as mob boss Tony Soprano, than with our next-door neighbors or the parents of our kids’ friends.

Avoiding this artificial, one-way social situation is one thing that my old church gets right. Its rejection of dramatized video keeps members from taking the easy way out. Instead of just filling their hours with images and sounds of story people, they interact with real ones across the coffee table or living room. Their spouses and kids are usually friends with each other’s spouses and kids, too.

It is a closed little society, self-assured and self-contained, but for many there, it works. And when it is working for you—with the right network of siblings and cousins, shared interests, willingness to toe the party line about religion and politics—it can seem like there is no better place on earth to be.

Photo of Gandolfini by Gordon Correll. Regarding the Sopranos finale, see the Wikipedia article on the series. Regarding the LLC’s rejection of dramatized video (now widely ignored by everyday members), see An Examination of the Pearl, §4.6.1 – Entertainment.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Don’t Spy on Me

Dedicated to the Public Domain. Copy and share. Please.

I composed this in 20 minutes with the GIMP editing software, based on a free image of the Gadsden Flag from Wikipedia. I hereby dedicate this composition to the Public Domain. It’s yours to do with what you wish.

Don’t tread on me, that flag said. Brave men died for this principle, and founded a nation.

Will you do so much as copy and share this image, and make the calls to your representative and senators? Do it now. That is, unless you don’t really much appreciate the rights that are being eroded with this transgression on the Constitution.

Here is another picture, the all-seeing eye of the President who shrugs this all off as a “modest privacy encroachment.” I composed it with the GIMP from public domain sources and dedicated to the public domain. It’s dimensioned to be the perfect size for a nice creepy Facebook cover image.

Obama hears you and sees you. Public domain.
September 24, 2014: Edward Snowden has won the 2014 Right Livelihood Award, a well-deserved honor.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Getting Personal

“AS AN ENGINEER who spent forty years as a fundamentalist Christian, I pretty much ignored the problem of human origins and evolution.

“The science of radio waves and electronics was very real for me, but so was Genesis: My wife and I had eleven children as a result of following God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. So whenever I came across some article about a million-year-old fossil or the dreaded word “evolution,” I would hastily skip over it.”


Thus begins my guest post that appeared yesterday on Hemant Mehta’s popular blog The Friendly Atheist. The post is reaching thousands of readers, and that exposure brings some trepidation, even for a big mouth like me. It feels a bit personal for some parts of my story to be read so widely. I write about this huge, Laestadian-sized family of mine and my early evolution-inspired doubts regarding the faith into which I was born. And then there’s this conclusion to the post that still looks jarring to me when I see it sitting there in cold print:

I was raised a fundamentalist and spent four decades living as one; I’m still not ready to call myself an atheist. But after co-authoring [Evolving out of Eden], I just can’t see where there’s any room for a god.

But it’s a story that deserves to be told, and there’s no way to do so without getting personal about it.

A slight modification of the book’s cover graphic.

I’ve been experiencing—and yes, facilitating—this public disclosure of my private life for a while now. Last month, I did a post on extoots about it. A week ago, a gracious, intellectually honest Christian did a post on his God of Evolution site. Last September, I told the story of my deconversion in an interview on one of my favorite podcasts, A Matter of Doubt—an episode that’s been downloaded some 14,000 times.

The Introduction to my first book, An Examination of the Pearl, got pretty personal, too. I wrote about my doubts, social rejection within the church, and my emotional reactions to difficulties with church elders. Besides the 150 or so copies sitting on bookshelves and e-readers, that part of the book has been read by over a thousand people online.1 And Google searches about general theological topics are landing people among the online version’s hundred thousand or so words. Here are some examples from this month:

• the forgiveness of sins according to martin luther
• zwingli real presence
• luther 3 key conversions

Two evolved organisms  [Flickr page]

Thus, more and more people are learning about this “odd little sect of Lutheranism” that has been such an important part of my life for so much of it thus far. And a lot of what they are reading in An Examination of the Pearl is in Laestadianism’s own words, with my extensive quotations of its sermons, newsletter articles, and books. Ironically, this apostate has probably done more for exposure of “God’s Kingdom” to the “World” than the Kingdom itself ever has.2

Now Evolving out of Eden is bringing my writing to a wider audience. Accompanying the disclosure found in the book itself is the promotional content that is part of a “real” publishing effort, undertaken by Tellectual Press, a company I founded to actually sell the books written by me and others. As the company’s first press release makes clear, I’ve come a long ways from silently fuming about problems with sermons after church on Sundays:

“When we first started on this book, I was a struggling Christian,” Suominen said. “I had accepted the reality of evolution, but could not see a way to resolve the conflict between science and my inherited faith. And now that the last page is written, I know that there isn’t one.”

“There are a lot of books and web sites that try to reassure the faithful that they can safely disregard or reinterpret scientific findings,” Suominen said. “But it just doesn’t work. Genetics is real, and Genesis isn’t. It pained me to finally acknowledge this, but there is no deliberate design of humans or any other forms of life.”

I’ve had my fifteen minutes of fame already (just Google suominen bluetooth), and certainly don’t view it as anything but a means to an end, at best. There’s no big payoff to what I’m doing now; writing and publishing books isn’t a lucrative occupation. Sales of any new book, even from a major publisher, are more likely to be in the hundreds than the thousands.

For that modest return, a steep personal price must be paid when you’re writing about these delicate topics. It’s awkward for friends in my former circles to continue associating with someone who is being called, in all seriousness, a “tool of the devil.” In describing the tendency of fundamentalists to limit their exposure to troubling facts, Evolving out of Eden says this of me and my old church:

Few of its members would openly confess to reading this book or his previous one about the group’s history and doctrines (Suominen 2012), and some friends have found themselves being cautioned against even social contact with such a notorious apostate. [p. 305]

So why have I done it? Why am I still doing it—editing a book from another writer, putting out these blog posts, pitching Evolving out of Eden every chance I get? The response would be the same, I suppose, as the one I gave in the Epilogue to An Examination of the Pearl regarding this warning from the elders of my church: “Once this manuscript is distributed, it cannot be recalled. Are you really sure that is what you want to do?”

Yes, with the same sense of grim conviction that motivated the Gnostic monks of Nag Hammadi to bury their library of irreplaceable works out of reach from the heresy hunters’ torches. Knowledge for its own sake, come what may. Yes.

And you know what? Regardless of the costs, a clear mind and free voice is a delicious and wonderful thing to have.


  1. Not being the NSA or a privacy-peddling corporation, the most detail I get (or want!) about visitors to the site is the city of their ISP. But that information is quite telling: Many of them are from the dozen or so regions of North America where the Kingdom of God (that’s what my former sect privately deems itself) has its congregations in North America. There also have been quite a few readers in Finland, where more than ten times as many members reside. 

  2. The elders aren’t happy with this development, of course. They discourage people from reading the book, though I’m pretty sure many of them have secretly read it themselves. Why be so concerned about the Truth of “God’s Word” standing out when it’s presented fairly, alongside the critiques of one lone author? They’ve never offered a single substantive point of rebuttal about the book, unless you count these silly insults from some guy with a prominent position in the SRK. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Green and Golden Days

Ah, these green and golden days
in the deep and dusky wood...

Where the time till sunset
is long, and warm, and good.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Myth, Method and the Will to Believe

I do not promote the Christ-Myth theory as a dogma; I merely prefer it as the best reading of the evidence. Even so, I have committed professional suicide by advocating the theory, so let no one think I am gaining anything by it. As far as I know, my conscience is clear on the matter. I retain from my Christian period the desire to understand the Bible as best I can, without cheating and making it say what I want it to say.
—Robert M. Price, “Myth, Method, and the Will to Believe”
The (Gideon) Bible Geek, reading Psalm 23 during a break in our work on Evolving out of Eden

When I learned about evolution and realized that that my church was wrong about Adam and Eve, Original Sin, and all the dogma based on it, I was seized by the separate and conflicting drives to learn the truth about my religion and also to salvage my faith in it. I voraciously read books, blogs, and discussion forums, and listened to podcasts, about religion. One of those podcasts was the very entertaining and informative The Bible Geek by Robert M. Price, an ex-Christian theologian with dual PhDs, in New Testament and systematic theology.

After receiving nothing but unsatisfying non-answers to my questions from my church brethren, I contacted Dr. Price and asked if he could act as a sort of theological counselor. He graciously agreed, and served as a reasonable and sympathetic partner for intelligent discussion of these vexing issues.1 Over time, we became good friends. He reviewed and wrote a foreword for my first book, a critical examination of my church (which I’ve since left, along with Christianity), and then co-authored a book with me about the original issue that had begun my long journey out of fundamentalism.

Adapted (obviously) from Kramskoi’s Christ in the Desert

One of the signature issues of Dr. Price’s scholarship is the question of a historical Jesus. Setting aside the obviously faith-based claim that Jesus was the Son of God (and even the writer of Mark didn’t seem too sure about that), did such a person even exist? Or was he a mythical figure constructed in hindsight based on archetypes borrowed from the other hero savior and dying-and-rising god cults of that time and place? This is the Christ Myth viewpoint, which is championed by Dr. Price along with Dr. Richard Carrier, Frank Zindler, Earl Doherty, D.M. Murdock, René Salm, and David Fitzgerald, among others.

An Apologetic Ex-Apologist

Bob’s scholarship about the absence of a historical Jesus is not motivated by a desire to debunk the figure revered by over two billion Christians, but the honest result of his attempts to vindicate him. In a speech he recently presented to the Warren Christian Apologetics Center, he explains how he “came to find the historical arguments on his behalf bitterly disappointing and entirely unpersuasive.” The whole proposition seemed to become arbitrary. His speech in the lion’s den of an apologetics conference was not, he said, to make a pitch for a position to which he wanted to convert his former brethren, but merely to account for his own present status.

Bob offered a preview of his prepared remarks to his Bible Geek audience on the May 7, 2013 episode. It’s well worth a listen if you’re intrigued by the intellectual challenges of Christianity or the Historical Jesus question. The Warren Center has posted some video; Bob starts at the 01:33:30 mark, and the camera occasionally provides interesting views of his not-thrilled Christian audience. They will also be publishing of book and DVD of his speech along with the others at the event (all Christian apologists) and with responses, rejoinders, and questions and answers that followed the talks.2 The quotations that follow are all from the essay, “Myth, Method, and the Will to Believe.”

The speech defines three fundamental misunderstandings that Dr. Price believes “underlie the historical defense of the Jesus character.” The first one concerns the Principle of Analogy. Apologists “have incessantly, and falsely, accused biblical critics of allowing a ‘naturalistic presupposition’ or ‘philosophical presupposition against the miraculous’ to skew their results.” But Bob notes that “historical criticism presupposes no particular worldview. It makes no demands of the historian that he or she disdain a belief in the supernatural. It just refuses to confuse those distinct realms of discourse.” The apologist’s real concern, by contrast, is not to find out what happened, “but to defend what he thinks he already knows happened, at least in the case of Jesus” (emphasis added).

Next we have the matter of Ideal Types, “a kind of textbook definition collecting significant features held in common among various similar-seeming phenomena. Apologists and their allies seek to head off dangerous comparisons between features of the New Testament and alleged parallels to ancient mythology.” They fear any “comprehensive comparison between scriptural features and others in other religions or mythologies,” threatening claims about the Bible being unique. Since “the other religions are deemed to be false, their miracle stories, etc., must also be deemed lying wonders, or rather lies about wonders” (emphasis added).

The Jesus story just isn’t that distinct from what was being said by Pagans about their heroes at the time. The only reason we aren’t seeing Attis or Osiris apologists saying the same thing about their guys is that their religions are long gone. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be hard to picture a rival apologist from the First Church of Attis touting the uniqueness of that Attis’ resurrection story or the scandal of the savior castrating himself and bleeding to death, like Jesus apologists now point to the supposed scandal of the Son of God being executed in a humiliating, painful way as “proof” that the crucifixion really must have happened.

Then there is the issue of Speculation versus Documentation. Some prominent defenders of the Historical Jesus argue “that the gospels must be historically accurate because too few decades separate their composition from the underlying events.”3 But there were “other messiahs and miracle-workers, the growth of whose legends could be tracked during a shorter period.” And this “whole approach substituted what might have happened (some scenario convenient for apologists) for what must have happened (which we do not know).” If “the question is whether the Jesus figure has not merely been adorned with glittering legend, but was actually created whole out of mythic cloth of gold, it is useless to talk about how quickly legends do or do not develop.”

Bob has “come to think it likely that the Jesus character emerged from the prevalent redeemer myths of the Mediterranean world, perhaps from the ancient cult of Yahweh himself as a dying and rising god like Marduk. And there’s no telling when that would have happened.”

He suggests “that the stories of Jesus bear the marks of derivation from Old Testament stories and from Jewish and Hellenistic genre conventions, and that once these are peeled away, there’s not much left to call a historical Jesus.” And the historical figures mentioned in the stories of Jesus (Herod the Great, Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate) “serve to anchor Jesus in contemporary history just as the legend-laden Caesar Augustus was nonetheless stitched into the fabric of his times.”

In their zealous attempts to defend the faith (that’s what “apologetics” means), apologists crank out one creative rationalization after another to get God and the Bible off the hook. But, as Bob explains in the essay, the

more difficulties you have to try to explain with the gospels, the greater the degree of implausibility you are admitting marks their narrative. And then you are having to do apologetics for your apologetics—which hints at the largely ritual nature of the whole exercise. Finally the pegs come loose, and the historical Jesus is in danger of floating away into the mythic atmosphere along with the other mythic heroes, like so many parade balloons having slipped their tenuous moorings.

Post-Game Perorations

I asked Bob how this speech was received, given that he was preaching against the choir, criticizing apologetics at a conference of apologists. Here’s what he said.


The “adversarial dialogue” hosted by the Church of Christ’s Thomas B. Warren Apologetics Center in West Virginia was actually more of a trialogue, as I had to deal with two opponents. One was Roy Abraham Varghese, whose name you may recall as the near-posthumous collaborator with the failing and confused Antony Flew on “his” final book in which he embraced Deism (or something). The other was named Ralph Gilmore. The organizer was the wonderfully friendly Charles Pugh. I could not help liking Varghese, who would give me an eye-twinkling grin as he stepped away from the podium after trashing my views. Gilmore, on the other hand, struck me as very much like William Lane Craig, presenting a cordial front when he wasn’t caricaturing my arguments in a seemingly disingenuous manner. I may add that all the attendees to whom I spoke were the nicest people I could hope to meet. And it was a great plus that the yummy sandwiches they provided for lunch were not pre-polluted with condiments. As a dry sandwich man, I appreciate the consideration!

One of the finest books I’ve ever read

Dr. Varghese’s paper, though he did not have time to read these comments, was a bit off-putting, to put it mildly, as he grouped Christ Myth theorists with paranoids who deny the Holocaust and the moon-landing, and actually relegated Mythicism to a type of schizophrenia and recommended psychiatric treatment. I had the feeling he had not really imagined he would have to answer for these remarks in the presence of a live opponent. His major argument, as I remember, was that one must take a “wholistic approach,” using the growth of Christianity and the subjective experiences of Christians as evidence relevant to the historical existence of Jesus. Anyone but an apologist can readily see what a stacking of the deck this is.

Gilmore, also a young earth creationist (as one quip revealed), appealed to the great number of extant New Testament manuscripts as evidence for a historical Jesus, a total non-sequitur. He complained that I was not taking the position I was billed as taking, this because I explained that I did not believe it was provable that Jesus never existed, just that it seemed to me the best reading of the evidence. He accused me of waffling, since it was announced I would be defending the proposition that there was definitely no historical Jesus (or so he inferred). I replied that I assumed the organizers had read my books and were aware of the nuances of my position and wanted me to present that. He apologized for the confusion, then kept repeating the accusation!

Similarly, as regards the Mythic Hero Archetype, I had already pointed out that, though there were examples of real historical figures who had been mythologized, we cannot be sure Jesus was one of them, not pure myth, since his story is not intertwined with the secular history of the times, like Augustus Caesar’s was. Gilmore made the same distinction (as between “Buddha and Beowulf”) as if I had not, then challenged me to decide which Jesus was.

He misread my books as saying we can use the Talmud to date the gospels (somehow) and sought to refute me with quotes (one from Jacob Neusner) about the lateness and unreliability of the Talmud. I pointed out in response that Neusner himself had pronounced my “New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash” to be henceforth the standard work on the subject. Gilmore responded, “So he’s your friend,” as if to imply Neusner’s opinion, so authoritative when Gilmore thought he could smite me with it, was irrelevant.

There was more, but you can check it out for yourself when the organizers publish a book containing the texts of our three statements (plus one by yet a third apologist who listened to the debate), plus a DVD of the event. I can only say I had to shake my head at the shabby and even stupid character of the arguments to which my “adversaries in dialogue” were reduced. In my mind the words of Albert Schweitzer kept flashing in neon lights: He said it was his love for Christianity that made him despise the crooked and fragile thinking of Christian apologetics.

My hosts and opponents bade me, “Dr. Price, come back to Jesus.” They said it light-heartedly and with a real sense of humor, but I could tell they meant it, desirous of adding my notch alongside Flew’s on their gun belt. Let me tell you, arguments for the faith such as I heard that day only thrust me in the opposite direction. With defenders like these, who needs attackers?



  1. If you are immersed in a similar struggle, and your concerns involve theology or the Bible, I’d recommend contacting him. Just be aware that Bob isn’t a licensed therapist, and doesn’t provide any sort of mental health or other professional counseling services. 

  2. The book is now available on With a sales rank in the millions as of this footnote (March 2014), Bob’s essay deserves a lot more press than it’s getting as part of the book. 

  3. E.g., Bart Ehrman, F.F. Bruce, John Warwick Montgomery, J.N.D. Anderson.