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Agnostic or Atheist?

I apparently threw a few people for a loop yesterday when I referred to myself as an atheist. Several readers responded, wanting to know if I had changed my views, since I have publicly stated that I am an agnostic.

I posted on this issue a while back – possibly a long while back – but since I don’t expect everyone to read everything I’ve ever written on this blog (!), I thought maybe I should explain my views again. So – apologies to those of you who have heard this before.

When I became an agnostic – 17 or 18 years ago? I’m not even sure any more – I thought that “agnosticism” and “atheism” were two *degrees* of basically the same thing. My sense is that this is what most people think. According to this idea, an agnostic is someone who says that s/he does not *know* whether God exists, and an atheist is someone who makes a definitive statement that God does *not* exist. Agnostics don’t know and atheists are sure.


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  1. DanielBastian  May 30, 2013

    I like this framework. I’ve never heard agnosticism described in terms of epistemology before. I’ve always simply described myself as a negative atheist. That is, simply an absence of belief, as opposed to a positive atheist who makes a positive disaffirmation of the existence of a deity.

    Given your analysis, I’m inclined to affirm myself as an agnostic negative atheist!

  2. Cygnus_X1  May 30, 2013

    I totally agree. No one knows the truth so how could anyone be a true atheist. I don’t like having any labels applied to me but I like agnostic atheist and I’m going to stick with that.
    Live long and prosper brother Ehrman.

  3. toejam  May 30, 2013

    The problem with the terms is that there are the dictionary / word-origin definitions (atheism = lack of belief, agnosticism = lack of knowledge), and then there’s the “street” understandings (atheism = a positive statement that no God exists, agnosticism = undecided). So which is best to use? Makes no difference I think, provided one is willing to clarifys his/her position if requested beyond simply using the labels (as you’ve done here, LOL). Like all labels, they are a necessary evil. Language couldn’t function if we didn’t categorise things. But where we draw those lines is where the controversy is a lot of the time. Labels such as atheism and agnosticism are convenient in some ways, and inconvenient in others. I call myself an atheist because I lack a belief in a God. If people want to get technical and say I’m really an agnostic, then great. It’s just a word at the end of the day. I’m pretty much in alignment with your assessment over the question of the existence of the Biblical God.

  4. tcc  May 30, 2013

    I’m an agnostic ignostic atheist. I don’t know that there’s not some panentheistic or deist god, I don’t really understand what people mean by the word “god” most of the time (especially theologians), and I don’t believe in any of the concepts I’ve heard. The problem of evil also makes the god concept seem pretty damned trivial–even if some hypothetical entity exists outside time and space, what impact does that have on the kind of shit that happens here and now, and why should I care?

    This “god” stuff can give you a headache. People can believe in some pantheistic or panentheistic “ground of being” or they can believe in Paul’s supernatural magician god who can build spirit bodies. This stuff’s so varied it’s hard to figure out what any of it’s supposed to mean.

  5. toddfrederick  May 30, 2013

    Remember, Pope Francis recently said that atheists who do good will go to Heaven (that’s you my friend)…I guess that includes agnostics as well….but the Catholic doctrinal officials, in response to the Pope, quoted the Churches officially true position: atheists don’t go to Heaven. Sorry (^O^)

    My wife knows very little of the Bible so is attending Bible study at two different churches, but, in our rural area there is nothing more progressive than the Methodist church and even that is fundamentalist/pentecostal.

    So, today she asked me about The Rapture !!! God save me from your followers.

    Do you know of a good DVD (has to be a DVD) that gives a basic Bible study that’s in “The Middle Way?” I’ve tried giving her books but she won’t read them. I get too upset trying to answer those questions calmly.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 31, 2013

      My course on the New Testament (or the Historical Jesus, etc.) for the Great Courses (formerly: the Teaching Company) stake out the typical positions that scholars today hold; almost nothing in the 24 lectures is just my weird opinion, it is mainly consensus stuff. There are also courses on the Old Testament (Amy Jill Levine), archaeology of NT Palestine (Jodi Magness) and lots of others. Just one thing: ALWAYS buy the courses when they are heavily discounted!!

  6. Jim  May 31, 2013

    Whew … glad you cleared that up.
    I was thinking the worst; namely that you had given up drinking beer, wine and scotch.

  7. eppic  May 31, 2013

    Then there’s Deism, which I profess to be. Seems that both agnostics and atheists don’t care much for Deists either. Funny as it was my assumption when I was a Christian that they all got along together and had more respect for each other. The Atheists to Agnostics mentality reminds me of the attitude Vegans have towards Vegetarians.

    • tcc  June 1, 2013

      Where’d you hear that atheists and agnostics don’t like Deists? I’ve never encountered any of that, and Deists like Thomas Paine and Herman Reimarus wrote the closest thing to atheistic literature you could get back in their day (well, them and Spinoza, who was a panentheist). Herman Reimarus was one of the early proponents of the idea that Jesus was basically a failed revolutionary/doomsday prophet.

      One thing I think all these “groups” of people share is that we don’t like religion intruding on people’s rights and liberties. I don’t really care if people think a “god” or some kind of intelligence caused the Universe–nobody could ever prove that, and it seems like that “being” doesn’t affect every day life, so I don’t really care.

      I personally think the infinite Universe has probably always existed, and The Big Bang was the origin of our known Universe–it didn’t need a cause. But whatever.

      • eppic  June 6, 2013

        We get it on our facebook group page from time to time. No big deal as long as we all respect each other’s reasonings.

  8. stephena  May 31, 2013

    Personally, I believe you’re over thinking it, but kudos to you for thinking about it at ALL!

  9. RonaldTaska  May 31, 2013

    Interesting two blogs. I admire your critical examination of crucial questions, your honesty, and your courageous willingness to discuss your views. I agree that there are many problems with the concept of the “Biblical” God. That there is a God makes no sense and that there is not a God make no sense either.

  10. dennis  May 31, 2013

    Pardon my presumption , Bart ,in offering a suggestion to a Phd whose both knowledge and experience vastly exceed my own , but I have to ask if perhaps your ” options for belief ” might be more numerous than you have thus far considered ? Have you considered any of the Process Theology writers such as Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan ( founder of the Reconstruction Movement in Judaism ) or on a more popular level Rabbi Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen To Good People ? I suggest the latter because your writings suggest that Theodicy was the deal breaker for you ( me two ! ) .My understanding is that God is a verb not a noun i.e. It is something we do ( such as establish charitable foundations ) rather than Somebody entirely outside ourselves who we ” believe in “. No doubt I have mangled the description ; Kaplan and Kushner don’t . If I have spoken out of line feel free to delete my comment-simply trying to be helpful .

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 31, 2013

      Yes, I’m familiar with Kaplan, though I haven’t read him. And of course I know Kushner’s book. I used to use it for one of my classes. I heartily disagree with it, but I appreciate it’s candor and honest approach to the question. If you’re interested in my own thoughts on the question of theodicy, they are in my book God’s Problem.

  11. Muzicindi  May 31, 2013

    I thought atheism has more to do with the god of monotheism (the god of Jews, Christians, and moslems); who by the way; happens to be a predominantly western concept of god. You can’t therefore be an atheist as far as a higher power is concerned; because a higher power has got nothing to do with theism necessarily?
    I heard Richard Dawkins say that He does not have any second thoughts regarding the god of Jews, Christians and Moslems — BUT He DOES have second thoughts regarding a higher power.
    This puts you, Richard and myself on the same “box”. My only inspiration comes from THE NOW; this is God for me!
    Thank your for your insights!!!

  12. Xeronimo74  May 31, 2013

    I’m sure that BibleGod does not exist. As for some other ulterior ‘truth’ or existence or whatever … who knows? And even if it does it’s probably totally different from anything we could imagine. So I prefer to focus on this life 😉

  13. samchahal  May 31, 2013

    great analogy, however IMHO one can be an agnostic without the atheist overtone simply because being agnostic is saying I do not believe in religion as being anything but a human invention and I dont believe that there is a “God” who controls everything, however as I am just a primate on this vast planet logic suggests that there are higher powers at work than me ie. energy fields, natural selection, garvity etc etc….
    Therefore, there is no need for the atheist add on in terms, IMO.


  14. JohnBradbury  May 31, 2013

    I think your original idea is OK. There is a spectrum of likelihood about the existence of a god from 100% certainty that a god exists to 100% certainty that a god does not exist. I think agnostics estimate this uncertainty at something between 40% and 60% and choose neither to believe nor disbelieve the existence of a god. Atheists think the likelihood of the existence of a god to be less than 40% and choose not to believe it and some choose to believe the exact opposite. Even most religious people have some uncertainty about the existence of a god, but it’s less than 40%. I describe myself as an atheist but I cannot prove the non-existence of a god any more than I can prove the non-existence of mermaids, fairies and Santa Claus, so I cannot believe in the non-existence of a god. Religious people abstract their beliefs in an effort to make them sound reasonable but fundamentally it is believing in something that we have imagined for which there is no evidence.

  15. Scott F  May 31, 2013

    When I first faced the agnostic/atheist question, I was in the same place you were – unknowable versus non-belief. My solution was two-fold. First I acknowledged that the existence of a higher being was unknowable so we should all be agnostics. But then I tried to imagine what life as an agnostic would be like. It seemed to me that one would either act as if there is a god whose existence makes certain demands on your behavior or one would live as if there is no god and one must be the author of one’s own actions. So I am functionally an atheist even though I acknowledge the agnostics’ philosophical point. My other position on this is that, given the available information, belief in any of the gods posited by the world’s religions is unjustified. Reality just behaves as one would expect if driven wholly by impersonal forces.

  16. talitakum
    talitakum  May 31, 2013

    Then you’re atheist full stop.
    Your definition of “agnostic” is applicable to any situation where something cannot be neither proved nor disproved: since the existence of God falls into this category, then I would be an “agnostic Christian” 😉

  17. maxhirez  May 31, 2013

    I’ve been working through Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and he covers this perceived dichotomy as well, but I have to say I like your take on it as well. Just don’t get a bumper sticker to this effect unless you want your car vandalized.

  18. Wilusa  May 31, 2013

    The way I’ve thought of it for many years is that it’s theists and atheists who are alike: alike in being (IMHO) presumptuous enough to claim they “have all the answers.” I think none of us can actually “know” anything beyond good old *cogito ergo sum*. With everything else, we’re dealing with degrees of probability – for some things, of course, very high degrees of probabiity!

    I consider myself an agnostic because I don’t presume to claim I know the truth about ultimate reality. I have ideas (which some might see as pantheistic), but no certainty. If “atheism” is defined simply as belief that the Judaeo-Christian God doesn’t exist, I’d be an atheist; but I’ve never defined it that way. I think I was taught at some point to think of “atheism” as a rejection of anything beyond the visible, material realm.

  19. bobnaumann  May 31, 2013

    What caused the big bang? A superior being? A cosmic fluctuation? Clearly forces beyond our understanding. I suppose we could call whatever these forces were a Creator God. Does this Ceator God change the laws of nature to intervene in human affairs? if so, I see no convincing evidence other than anecdotal tales in the Bible, so I have to remain skeptical. I supposed this makes me a Deist. However, I do acknowledge some sort of spiritual connection between us human beings that gives us love and empathy for each other and makes feel as part of this marvelous creation. I suppose you could call this the Holy Spirit. And although Jesus may appear to be a failed Messiah, he did bring a unique message for his time of love, forgiveness, tolerance, and acceptance that, if followed, could bring us closer the Kingdom of God his followers expected. So maybe I’m a Trinitarian Deist if such a thing is possible.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 31, 2013

      If I knew what caused the Big Bang I would be very rich indeed!!!

    • JohnBradbury  June 1, 2013

      There is no need for a cause. That is just putting our limited perspective on events needing causes. Even as I write this, quantum fluctuations are creating something from nothing known as virtual particles. There is really no such thing as empty space. These particles occur in matter anti-matter pairs and annihilate after a very short time. However Stephen Hawking has proposed a mathematical model of such a fluctuation being able to create space and energy which could be an explanation for the origin of the universe. The problem is that such a model cannot be scientifically tested so we will probably only ever have untestable hypotheses. But other cosmologists have proposed other hypotheses and, as Laplace said to Napoleon when asked about his pertubation theory of celestial mechanics, there is no need for a god hypothesis. I have far more difficulty with terms such as spirituality and soul. There is no explanation for such terms that I find comprehensible.

  20. NOSFERATU  June 1, 2013

    my understading is there are two kind of agnosticsm … agnostic theis and agnostic atheist
    ag theis is person who belive that there is god but lack of knowledge of that god he believe
    andvice versa

  21. gavm  June 1, 2013

    if there even is a “cause” in the sense as we know it. lets remember cause is temporal (cause first then effect) and seeing as there is no “time” prior to the big bang we have a prob with the traditional idea of cause here

  22. SHELENBERGER  June 1, 2013

    Dr. Ehrman,
    This is off topic. Three days ago I sent you questions under “Contact Bart.” (The questions are about what would it take for you, as a historian, to be able to establish even a single miracle.) How long does it usually take to get questions answered? Now, may be I can just ask those questions here if you’d like.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 1, 2013

      You’d better ask them here. I’m simply unable to keep up this blog *and* answer all the email I get. Not enough hours in the day. So I go with the blog. If I can answer quickly, I’ll respond with a comment. If I choose to make some posts on a question, it’ll be put in the queue. It’s a long queue, so, well, think in terms of weeks rather than hours.

      • SHELENBERGER  June 2, 2013

        Two sets of questions for you, Dr. Ehrman.

        1. In your debates with Bill Craig and Mike Licona, you have argued that no amount of eyewitness testimonies can ever be used by historians to establish miracles because the occurrence of miracles (although possible) is infinitesimally remote—which makes miracles “the least probable of events,” while the task of historians is to establish what probably having happened.

        I get what you say that no amount of eyewitness testimonies will ever be sufficient to establish a miracle. You give the example of somebody walking on lukewarm water in a swimming pool. But if it’s been verified by scientists to have occurred even just once, would you, as a historian, accept that that a miracle has occurred?—That is to say, you are *only* saying: “no matter what—miracles can never be historically established by _eyewitness testimonies_.” Or else, are you so dogmatic in your position that “_no matter what_ miracles can never be historically established”—even if scientists have verified one miracle to have happened?

        2. Again, in your debates with Craig and Licona, you have asserted that history cannot be used to prove the truth-claims of Christianity—like the truth of the resurrection of Jesus—because historians do not have access to God’s acts, and hence they cannot make pronouncements about miraculous occurrences or non-occurrences. Would you not agree that—in establishing that a miracle has happened—people can *combine* philosophy of religion and history? If you say no, then on what basis do you say this? How would you respond if I say—Yes, people merely *as* historians do not have access to God’s acts, but these same people can function *both* as historians *and* philosophers of religion, and hence be able to combine history and philosophy in order to establish miracles?

        Thank you.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  June 3, 2013

          Quick answers. First, yes, if scientists show that certain things can possibly happen in our natural world, then of course they are no longer miracles that require divine intervention. I should stress with regard to your first point that you’re really talking about something hypothetical. We don’t *have* thousands and thousands of eyewitnesses to the miracles of Jesus. IN fact, we don’t have any. So in a sense it is a moot point, and I’m not sure you really need to press the logic too hard for that reason. But if you do press the logic, you need to use logic! Second, of course anyone is welcome to combine history and philosophy — but when they do so, they are no longer doing history but something else. You need to think more broadly. Do historians of WWI do this? Or historians of medieval Europe? How much history have you read? Can you name a respected historian who appeals to miracle to explain why Octavian won the battle of Actium or to explain the demise of Nazi Germany? There’s a good reason historians don’t do that!

          • SHELENBERGER  June 4, 2013

            – – Just clarify, if scientists–at least, in principle–have been able to verify that somebody did in fact walk on water (putting aside that it may or may not have been a divine act), you’d agree that historians can say that in that case a miracle has happened. Correct?

            – – I’m asking for your *basis* or justification as to why can history and philosophy NOT be combined. What is the constraint? Is there any contradiction or anything of that sort? It seems that you are merely asserting–without any good reason–that people who combine the two aren’t really doing history; they’re doing something else. Your answer boils down to this: combining history and philosophy is *just* not being practiced–that’s it. But that does not provide a good justification as to why the two cannot be combined. Further, you must have a philosophy lurking behind your position, and if so, I’d like to find out and understand it.

            Thanks, Dr. Ehrman.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  June 4, 2013

            1) Yes, if something can happen naturally, it is not a miracle.
            2) I’m not saying that you cannot combine your philosophy with history if you choose. I’m saying that if you don’t follow the rules of historiography, you are not doing history. You certainly can combine history with anything you want — literary fiction, ufo-ology, Jewish mysticism, Mormon theology, or anything you choose! It’s a free world! 🙂

          • SHELENBERGER  June 4, 2013

            Dr. Ehrman,

            I’m dropping the second point and sticking with the first.

            You answered: “1) Yes, if something can happen naturally, it is not a miracle.”

            You’re saying that IF walking on water — viewed as a miracle (putting aside whether God did it or not) a “least probable event”) — is proven to have occurred, it is no longer a miracle. Why? Your answer seems to be because it happened naturally, as in — it happened in the natural world?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  June 6, 2013

            I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Do you understand how science works? It can be shown by repeated experiment that humans cannot walk on water. (It doesn’t take a PhD to do it. Try it in your bathtub.) So why are you asking whether I would believe humans could do it if science could show that they could???

  23. philologue  June 1, 2013

    I guess by that definition, everyone on earth is agnostic 😉 No one can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt whether ‘God’ – however they define Him – exists. So I guess that would make me an agnostic Muslim. Or a Muslim agnostic – whichever you prefer 🙂 I do struggle (as most theists, I imagine) to understand atheism though, in the sense that no matter how far back you go in space and time, there had to be an initial, uncreated cause for everything, right? I don’t understand how someone can believe that everything had a cause/creator, i.e. that whatever caused the big bang was caused by something else, and that thing was caused/created by something else, and that thing was caused/created by something else, etc., ad infinitum – at some point that sequence has to stop, right? And where it stops, you must have something that is uncreated/uncaused, right? And that force/being/whatever is what most people would refer to as ‘God’ – whether the Christian/Jewish/Muslim/Hindu/etc definition of ‘God’ or not. Or do atheists have another answer to the cause/effect issue?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 1, 2013

      My sense is that even atheists don’t claim they know everything! Including how it all started. That’s not exactly an argument for the existence of God, though. It’s just a humble plea that we don’t know everything….

      • philologue  June 2, 2013

        I guess I fall into the camp of ‘why or die’. If there isn’t a why, if we and the universe are all here just by random chance, I think I’d be prone to suicide – if life is meaningless, if helping others or hurting them is ultimately meaningless, if once we die, that’s it, nothing more, then I wouldn’t want to bother living. It’s useless. 😛 But if there is a meaning, if there is a ‘why’ behind our existence, if everything goes back to some uncreated Being, then surely that Being would have given us some sort of indication of our ‘why’, of the purpose of our creation, and the destiny of our selves? Somewhere, at some point in history, that Being must have sent something or someone to communicate that purpose to us, tell us something about Itself, something about life after death, if there is one, etc., and it’s simply a case of evaluating the different truth claims out there, and seeing which one is flawless, which one appeals to logic and reason, etc.

        That’s my line of thinking anyways – not trying to convince you in a blog comment or anything 🙂 Although the old cliche stands, that it takes far, far more faith to believe that the mind-boggling complexity and detail of our universe, our solar system, our planet, our bodies, symbiotic organisms, our organs, our cells, the atom, all came about by purely random chance, than it does to believe that some far superior, intelligent Being designed and created it. The old ‘timepiece in the desert’ or ‘lightning striking a junkyard’ analogies as it were. That’s the sort of stuff I’d have to find a satisfactory answer to before I could abandon theism.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  June 3, 2013

          Really? Don’t you enjoy life? If you enjoy it, why would you want it to end? I guess when I was a believer I too thought that giving up faith would lead to nihilism and possibly suicide. But I can’t tell you how wrong I was. Now I enjoy life far more even than before, and want it to go on and on till I can’t enjoy it any more.

    • tcc  June 2, 2013

      Yeah, that’s the sort of cosmological argument that Plato and Thomas Aquinas used–it always seemed like a non-sequitur to me, though (“we call the uncaused cause ‘god!’ And it answers prayers! And impregnated a virgin in first century Palestine with a baby that was him, but also not him!”) And based off the recent work coming out of Physics, when it comes to singularities and space/time expansions, cause ain’t exactly what it used to be.

      I’m just not down with the idea that we should go “I don’t know, therefore God”. That’s just an argument from ignorance. I mean, I know guys like William Lane Craig have built their careers on shoving their god into gaps, but I just don’t think that’s good theology.

    • JohnBradbury  June 2, 2013

      If you accept the infinite regress of something always needing something to create it, then why not stop at the first step and assume the universe was created from nothing? As I said in an earlier post, there is evidence that energy is created from nothing, it just doesn’t last very long. I am an atheist and I accept that it might be possible that something can be created from nothing, so I don’t have any issue with atheism. But let’s not assume our imagination of a god provides an acceptable answer and let’s choose not to believe any hypotheis until we have evidence and be content with not knowing.

  24. raskel  June 1, 2013


    I find the whole atheism/agnosticism movement interesting/ but it seems to me that what we might call in general terms religion/ art/ ethics/ amounts to a certain kind of gesture/ of seeing the world as a certain kind of gesture and responding. We walk along a beach in the sunset/ we see some garbage/ we pick it up. It doesn’t matter whether we pick it up/ or ignore it/ or even litter ourselves. We’ll all be dead and forgotten soon enough/ and the beach doesn’t care if it has one less tin can or dirty diaper on it. When we pick up the garbage/ that is an act of faith.

    Science sees the world as a set of discrete observable things that we can predict and control in accordance with cause and effect. If I look at my son as a gesture/ I see him as a soul/ as a person manifesting in the world with goals and desires. If I look at my son as a scientific specimen/ he is essentially an organic based machine encased in skin. This is the difference between a family portrait and a photograph we might make for a medical photography text book. They are two essentially different ways of seeing/ and both are accessible to the lot of humanity. I don’t think a common way of seeing can be either rational or irrational/ although I imagine that a certain way of seeing and talking might seem strange/ disturbing/ or irrational in the company of people with a different set of cultural assumptions. I am not irrational for having pictures of my son that don’t portray him as merely a slab of meat.

    To see the world as a gesture is essentially connected with religious forms of life. The gesture cannot be explained/ it is not an ingredient/ a thing/ it is expressed in the totality and seems to stem from something beyond the totality (that is to say/ the experience appears to have the character of depth). This is basically what apophatic theology is working with/ as well as what we call art. Of course/ my orientation is descriptive not normative. I am interested in what people do/ in how people see the world/ not how they should see the world. I am not sure what benefit accrues from calling some collective human behavior irrational except as a gesture of cultural dominance.

    But it seems to me that atheism/agnosticism are somewhat confused. God is not an object or an ingredient in the world. God is not a hypothesis. We believe in God/ we don’t regard the existence of God as probable or the most likely explanation for the data. God is not useful for the scientific understanding of nature. Science is about fragmentation/ and about predicting systems of fragmented and isolated things. God is manifest in the unity of all things. God is a concept. All you need to know about a concept is how to use it.

    I can understand how someone can lose faith in God (or in art). But I don’t think it can be said that it is irrational to devote your life to art or to God/ unless you are committed to a sort of philistinism. (I suppose atheism can be a symptom of a sort of intellectual and cultural shallowness in some.) Atheism isn’t a theory about what is/ its a rule about how we should talk. Likewise/ agnosticism has nothing to do with our knowledge: I don’t know that physical objects exist either/ but I know the concept of a physical object and how to use it. If I point to a chair and say “physical object” I don’t know that I’ve proved anything to the idealist/ anymore than if I point to the consecrated Eucharist and say “Jesus Christ.” (Personally/ I find belief in God much easier than say/ believing in justice.) Agnosticism is a kind of existential fragmentation between ourselves and what we do (or what we think we should do). The agnostic goes to church and goes through the motions but can’t feel it in their hearts.

  25. CaseyDayton  June 3, 2013

    For someone who has devoted *their* Life to studying the life of Jesus, does it ever freak you out that you could be wrong?? That maybe the NT Authors were telling the truth, and you’re just a limited man like the rest of us…. That their is a God who does answer prayer, like in the ministry of George Mueller, or Brother Yun in china, or the thousands of people in china as of now; and all over the world. Now of course not every prayer is answered the way we want it to be answered; people suffer, things happen, ( which the bible endorses as well). However that does not mean God does not care or is distracted….. also a common knowledge of the universe shows that it had a beginning and that the universe is in time.The first law of thermodynamics teaches us many complexities that science fails to explain. Now I know that you’re stuck in your ways, you have heard the arguments for and against Yahweh .. But the fact that their exist *intelligent* people who have to show that the universe is somewhat *intelligible* through using our *intelligence* that we have been given, proves to me at least we are not some random accident for me personally. We all know He is there and is not silent, he speaks to our conscience, to our hearts, he cannot be plucked away like all the other mythical gods of the past. We can try to write polemics against Him ( which for me has proved Theism even more so, why not write polemics against fairy tales if that is all it is) …. now we can be like Ivan in * The Brothers of Karamazov * saying no I will not worship this God, or we can say with the late great C.S. Lewis who said clearly and emphatically that while he was an Atheist he knew God was there but * I was also very angry with God for not existing * I am thankful for your scholarship and for making me think… which we need more of!! praying for you Bart… “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” ~ C.S.Lewis

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 3, 2013

      No, I have to admit it doesn’t freak me out. But for those open to being freaked out, I would suggest that committed evangelical Christians have every bit as much reason to be freaked out if they too are wrong. (E.g., what if the Muslims are “right.” Then you’re in just as much trouble as me! As for me, I don’t worry about such things but try to be as good a person as I can….)

    • raskel  June 5, 2013

      There can be no right or wrong here. There can only be faith or unbelief. And if your faith is in a picture/ whether it be the Evangelical picture or the Muslim picture or of anyone else’s picture / then it would probably be better to tear up your picture and eat it.

    • tcc  June 13, 2013

      “We can try to write polemics against Him ( which for me has proved Theism even more so, why not write polemics against fairy tales if that is all it is) ”

      Your post is pretty offensive from top to bottom, but this is definitely the worst part. You can literally use that defense for everything–alien abductions, UFOs, Christian writings against other religions, Christians who deny the existence of other gods like Zeus–and say “AHA! The fact that you have to deny it PROVES my point!”

      What you’re describing is called confirmation bias. And you don’t make a case for anything other than the idea that a lot of believers believe out of fear.

  26. SHELENBERGER  June 4, 2013

    Follow up to my latest inquiry:

    Dr. Ehrman,

    In your debate with Bill Craig you said:
    “What are miracles? Miracles are not impossible. I won’t say they’re impossible. . . No one on the face of this Earth can walk on lukewarm water. What are the chances that one of us could do it? Well, none of us can, so let’s say the chances are one in ten billion. Well, suppose somebody can. Well, given the chances are one in ten billion, but, in fact, none of us can.”

    So, for you, miracles are not impossible. You said that if somebody could walk on water it would be one in 10 billion—that is the reason why it’s a miracle. But yet, according to you, if scientists have proven that somebody *did* walk on water—that would no longer be a miracle because it would have *only* happened naturally. There is something wrong here.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 6, 2013

      I think maybe what is wrong is that you’re interested in twisting words instead of listening to their logic. No one can walk on water. Do you think people *can* walk on water?

      • SHELENBERGER  June 7, 2013

        Dr. Ehrman:
        //I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Do you understand how science works? It can be shown by repeated experiment that humans cannot walk on water. (It doesn’t take a PhD to do it. Try it in your bathtub.) So why are you asking whether I would believe humans could do it if science could show that they could???//

        //I think maybe what is wrong is that you’re interested in twisting words instead of listening to their logic. No one can walk on water. Do you think people *can* walk on water?//

        Btw, is it okay to call you Bart? Sorry if I’m not making myself clear.

        Sir, what I’m trying to understand is the logic of your objection to historically establishing a miracle. You argue that historians try to establish what probably happened in the past, and miracles (like walking on water) are the least probable of events, therefore, historians cannot establish miracles.

        I understand that historians draw from science, and they assume what science had already established. Of course, I understand how science works. Overwhelming majority of things in science are shown to happened over and over again based on repeated observations, but few things in science are shown to have happened JUST ONCE—like the beginning of the first life on earth about 3.5 billion years ago and the beginning of the material universe about 13.5 billion years ago—these are two singularities in nature; by the way, these two are highly improbable events, yet science have been able to establish them.

        Now, let’s look at another highly improbable event: walking on water. No I don’t think people can walk on water because people will sink every time they attempt to do so—this is a regularity in nature.

        But let’s say that in the future, *one person* is shown—scientifically—to have walked on water ONE TIME (not repeatedly), would you then agree that in that case a least probable event has just occurred? I suspect your answer would be “no”—because you think that science will never able to show this because you think that one person’s walking on water is impossible to happen.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  June 7, 2013

          Yes, feel free to call me Bart.

          I’m going to shut down this thread at this point. But as the blog owner, I get the last word. 🙂 I think the problem is that you are trying desperately to hold on to the possibility that miracles have happened in the past, because you believe that Jesus did them. My view as a historian is that there is no way to establish that he did or did not on the basis of the historical sciences. I’m afraid if you don’t see that, it is because your faith commitments have trumped your understanding of how history works, and nothing I say will change your mind. So we had better just bring this particular conversation to a close and move on to other things!

          • SHELENBERGER  June 8, 2013

            No problem.

            But I appreciate you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Bart.

  27. raskel  June 7, 2013

    The historic fact of Jesus’s Resurrection is true with the same certainty as the fact that Greenwich England is at 0 degrees longitude.

    The truth of both these assertions can be readily distinguished from the truth that the human author of Mark relied on an earlier source / Q/ in writing the Gospel. This is an assertion which could be wrong.

    The interesting thing is that no one has yet offered a rational or scientific proof for the fact that Greenwich England is at 0 degrees longitude. Has the location of the Prime Meridian been proven through science? Can’t we imagine a possible world in which the Prime Meridian runs through another location?

    Does this mean that we should doubt the existence of the Prime Meridian and whether it really runs through Greenwich England? Should we cease our belief in the existence of longitude altogether? What could be more superstitious and irrational than describing the location of real things in space with reference to an imaginary line?

  28. seminole
    seminole  July 3, 2013

    As I indicated in my paper letter to you last year (yes, actual cellulose paper via the legendary USPS, remember?) I was an atheist until recently when I decided to dive into a study of the current state of evolution theory (i.e., Darwin’s general theory of organic evolution and the fuzzily defined “neo-Darwinism”) only to find that it is in a complete shambles and has been since the implementation of the electron microscope. The discovery that the structures and processes of a single human cell present greater complexity (many times greater, actually) than the civic infrastructure of Manhattan (NY, not KS) and the identification of irreducible anatomical components blew Chuck Darwin out of the ballpark. Francis Crick himself calculated the odds against the unguided evolution of DNA as greater than the number of particles (neutrons, protons, electrons, quarks, etc.) in the known universe. Now I’m a Deist. I know there’s SOMETHING out there!

  29. seminole
    seminole  July 4, 2013

    Two more quick facts re: the above.
    1. The orthodox community of evolutionary biology experts have failed to come up with anything resembling an explanation for the quandary cited in my post above. Here, in essence, is what they say about it: “There IS an explanation for the hyper complexity of cellular mechanics and for irreducibility. We have not yet found the explanation yet but when we do it will certainly fall neatly under the rubric of Darwinism. Here’s the catch, they have been saying that for nearly a half century.
    2. In truth, they have not even been looking for an explanation. Scour the professional literature for research papers in these specific areas and you will come up empty handed.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 5, 2013

      I’m afraid this is one area where I lack the credentials and wherewithal to evaluate the scientific evidence. But if every biologists in every research university on the entire orb holds to evolution, I really have trouble thinking that they hadn’t realized there was a problem here….

  30. seminole
    seminole  July 4, 2013

    I have just noted that Dr. Ehrman terminated this thread as my writing was posted. I am convinced that he believes I am a far right, lunatic fringe, cool-aid drinking creationist.
    Bart–Dr.Ehrman–whatever you want to be called, lend me your ear: I do not believe that everything was created 5000 years ago by a guy who resembles Charlton Heston! What I do know and, I might add, am in a much better position than you to know, is that (as I so carefully explained in my previous posts) Darwin’s general theory of organic evolution is now in a state of panicked rout and its mendicants utterly immersed in their frantic efforts to conceal that fact from the public! For God’s sake Bart, look into it! Are you not a scholar? Inform yourself from primary sources! In the meanwhile I will leave you alone; you need not fear any more posts from me. Relax and do what you do best. Kindest regards, seminole

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 5, 2013

      I think the thread just died out. I rarely terminate one, and I usually don’t respond to comments unless there is a direct comment. So keep posting! Others will want to hear what you have to say.

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