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Description of Episode
- Full Title: Unbelievable? 22 Dec 2007 - Did Christians steal Christmas? - 22 December 2007 -- Did Christians steal Christmas?
Justin is joined by atheist Robert Stovold who claims that Christians stole Christmas! He says the Gospel stories are nothing more that a re-hashing of similar pagan legends. Doug Harris of the Reachout Trust says that's ridiculous and will be going head to head with Robert to defend the Christmas story. Guests Ken Humphreys and Anthony McRoy also join the fray.
- Justin Brierley - Christian Moderator
- Doug Harris - Christian
- Robert Stovold - Atheist
Justin - In the Christmas story, it isn't stated how many wise men, and they don't go to the stable. So is this Christmas story cobbled together from other pagan stories, other myths? Are Matthew and Luke simply drawing on these other religions?
Robert - They may not have been taking from them directly, but using the "currency of the time" to tell their story, and these sorts of stories were around. Robert doesn't know if they were presented as fact (as Christians often claim today). We don't know what the earliest Christians believed. Keep in mind that the earliest Gospel (i.e. Mark) and the earliest Christian writings (i.e. Paul) don't mention the Nativity.
Doug - Some of these Pagan myths were written after the Gospels, some of them had many stories and weren't coherent. "Where is the evidence that Matthew and Mark borrowed from them?" Luke actually claims to be using eye witnesses. Why would he suddenly bring in myth and legend?
A very quick answer to the last one is that Luke claims to be bringing in using eye witnesses, which could easily be to make his account seem more credible. It certainly works for Christian apologists!
Doug - Either it all came from legend or none of it came from legend. The virgin birth is not an isolated, incoherent event in the story. It is tied to his life work, to the Resurrection, etc... There is no legend that has all of these components.
That's a very silly argument, because even Paul doesn't include any of these components - he doesn't mention the virgin birth, or kings, or censuses. He doesn't mention Resurrection stories, only appearances. The Iliad and Odyssey both include real places, even if much of the story is legend and myth.
Robert - "How do you establish the virgin birth from eyewitnesses?" You can't! Luke didn't have to be making things up, he could simply be writing what other people told him, which he believed.
Robert - Most people don't think that Adam and Eve really existed, because then you run into problems with archaeology, cosmology, etc... yet Luke has a genealogy of Jesus that goes back to Adam. You then have to take the Adam and Eve story seriously if you want to take the Luke story seriously.
Robert - People should be under no illusions that what they are doing is simply "picking and mixing" in the Bible.
I entirely agree here, and I really like the idea of tying Luke's genealogy to the story of Adam, because it makes clear one of the (many) reasons we don't trust these sources. As for "picking and mixing", it was Matt Dillahunty who said that "the Bible is a giant book of multiple choice". You can read out of it any message that you want to, because it contains either contradictory statements, or statements that can be read either way. You agree with slavery? There are verses for that! You are opposed to slavery? There are verses for that!
Doug - Comments on the so-called mistranslation of virgin by Matthew, pointing out that the Greek word for maiden already was being used in the context of virgin at Matthew's time, and thus is not a mistranslation as is typically claimed by atheists.
I believe this is correct, also stated by Robert Price. It is one of the cases of a traditional atheist argument that is unfounded when you look at the data.
Doug - Where is the evidence that these stories either are legends or are borrowed from legends? Just because they may be similar, does not mean that they are in fact legends or borrowed from those legends.
Robert - The burden of proof lies with the one making the extraordinary claim (e.g. virgin birth, star of Bethlehem, etc...), like claims for unicorns.
Doug - If you didn't have the "naturalistic presupposition" against miracles, you wouldn't be so skeptical.
This canard really gets my goat. As Robert Price says, you don't have to believe miracles to be impossible to not believe that every miracle claim is true. Miracles, by their nature, must be rare so one would need particularly good evidence for one, even if you believe they are possible. There are no contemporary accounts of any of the events related in the nativity story, from the star, to the slaughter of the innocents, to the three kings, to the particulars of the census. Even if there was a miracle, this is not convincing evidence for it.