Internet Infidels Newsletter
After taking almost a one-year vacation, the Internet Infidels Newsletter is back. This issue will attempt to bring you up-to-date on some of the major issues and events affecting Internet Infidels and the Secular Web.
In our next newsletter, we plan to tell you about our application to the IRS for tax-exempt status, as well as the Secular Web's discussion boards, Freethought Families Project, and Activists' Corner.
Henry H. Smith
In a bold move aimed at suppressing dissident Jehovah's Witnesses, the Watchtower Society's New York headquarters has filed charges with the police against ex-members Kent Steinhaug and Jan Haugland of Norway. Steinhaug reported for questioning on March 4, 1997 to the police station in Skien, his home town.
Both men are accused of violating copyright laws by posting copies of a secret elder's manual on the Internet. The manual--"Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock"--tells local elders how to conduct closed-door trials and other actions controlling the personal lives of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Among the rules enforced through the manual are forced shunning of family members who leave the sect, and the requirement that Witnesses refuse blood transfusions regardless of the consequences in loss of life.
The charges filed against Steinhaug and Haugland allege that they have made the secret manual available to rank-and-file members and to the general public, in violation of a copyright held by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Only Witness elders are allowed to read the book, and an elder must surrender his personal copy if he loses his position in the Organization.
Although Steinhaug's Web site--The Watchtower Observer--features none of the offending secret material, visitors find links to Web sites where the secret book is still displayed. This, too, is a subject of the Watchtower Society's complaint, which implies a worldwide conspiracy spearheaded by the two Norwegians.
Such aggressive court action against dissident ex-members is unprecedented in the recent history of the Jehovah's Witnesses, a sect that commonly portrays itself as persecuted by unfriendly governments.
A Watchtower victory could have a chilling effect on Internet freedom of speech, as well as on the counter-cult movement world wide. On the other hand, a lengthy court battle could focus public scrutiny on the Witnesses' secretive "judicial committees" mandated by the elder's manual to put members on trial behind closed doors--and on hundreds of deaths resulting from the sect's ban on blood transfusions.
Kent Steinhaug can be reached for interviews in Skien, Norway via e-mail at <Tele Mark>
Information is also available at Steinhaug's page--http://www.nano.no/~telemark/att/complaint.html [see, also, http://www.xjw.com/litigate.html]--devoted to the legal charges filed by the Watchtower Society.
[Henry H. Smith may be reached at H. Smith.]
Jeffery Jay Lowder
In the June 1996 Internet Infidels Newsletter, I reported that William Lane Craig would only allow Internet publication of his debate on the existence of God with Corey Washington if the transcript was published on a Christian web site. I'm pleased to report that Craig has since then changed his position. Craig has allowed the publication of both the Craig-Washington Debate and the Jesseph-Craig Debate, with Craig's portions residing on his web page at Leadership University and with the atheist portions residing on the Secular Web.
Jeffery Jay Lowder
Leadership University (www.leaderu.com) apparently is unwilling to link to rebuttals to their material. They posted an article entitled, "Why the Burden of Proof is on the Atheist" at http://www.leaderu.com/truth/1truth11.html. The Internet Infidels in turn posted a reply by Keith Parsons at http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_parsons/mcinerny.html, but Leadership University apparently refuses to acknowledge it, much less link to it. I emphasize the word "apparently" because they are not even answering my private e-mails.
We view this as rather unfortunate, because the Internet Infidels had enjoyed such a positive working relationship with LU in the past, working on projects like the Craig-Washington Debate and the Jesseph-Craig Debate. We hope that LU will reconsider its position and add a link to Parsons' essay.
The Internet Infidels' policy has always been to link to published rebuttals of our material.
Michael Martin and Tyler Wunder
A debate on the Resurrection of Jesus took place on 18 September at Boston College in front of a large crowd that consisted mostly of college students. Dr. William Lane Craig, the well-known Christian apologist, defended the reality of the Resurrection while Dr. Gerd Lüdemann, Professor of New Testament Studies and Director of the Institute of Early Christian Studies at the University of Göttingen, although believing in God, argued against its reality. Professor Pheme Perkins was the Moderator.
The Contrasting Styles
Craig is a professional debater and Christian apologist. He is smooth, confident and articulate. He makes his points in rapid fire style. He has dozens of arguments and counter arguments for everything, and uses many quotations from authorities -- including people on the other side of the issue--that tend to support the particular point he is making at the moment. He gives the impression of being thoroughly prepared.
Lüdemann is not a professional debater. His speech is slower paced than Craig's and he has a thick German accent that makes it difficult to understand him. He uses fewer arguments and does not give the impression of being thoroughly prepared. Indeed, he said in his opening statement that he would discard his prepared statement and speak extemporaneously. Because of this his presentation tended to lack organization and coherence.
Craig's Main Arguments
Craig's main argument was that any adequate historical hypothesis would have to account for four facts that Craig claimed are recognized by the majority of Biblical scholars: the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea, the empty tomb, the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, and the continuation of Jesus' disciples to preach Jesus' message after his death. Craig maintained that the most adequate hypothesis to explain these facts is that the Resurrection really happened.
Craig argued against other hypotheses by maintaining that they did not meet standard tests of adequacy such as explanatory scope, explanatory power, plausibility, not being ad hoc, and being in accord with accepted beliefs as well as did the Resurrection theory. For example, he criticized the hallucination theory, a variant of which he attributed to Lüdemann, for not being able to explain the empty tomb. Craig also maintained that such a theory is implausible since it is fantastic that so many people in different places could suffer from the same hallucination. He rejected the hypothesis that Jesus was buried in a dishonorable grave as not being able to explain why Jewish critics did not point to the burial plot in order to refute the claim that Jesus had risen. In particular, Craig found particularly implausible what he called the collective amnesia theory that is attributed to Lüdemann. According to Craig, Lüdemann claimed that Jewish critics "forgot" where Jesus was buried and this is why they did not point to his body. Craig dismissed the legend hypothesis as not being able to account for the novelty of Christian belief in the resurrection (which ran counter to Jewish doctrines) and as not being able to account for the story of the women at the empty tomb story (since in those days women's testimony was considered worthless). Moreover, since the empty tomb story was told in several independent sources such as Matthew, John, and Acts, the legend theory is implausible. He admitted that Joseph of Arimathea was seen in a more positive way as the time passed and also admitted that Joseph was not a friend of Jesus. However, Craig insisted that these admissions do not entail that Joseph did not bury Jesus.
Craig also implied that Lüdemann's unwarranted bias against miracles adversely affected his interpretation of the Resurrection. Maintaining that Lüdemann's reliance on Hume's and Kant's argument against miracles cannot be supported, Craig argued that Lüdemann as well as many other skeptics evoke Hume and Kant without saying specifically why miracles should be rejected a priori. Although Craig admitted that on methodological grounds explanations in terms of miracles should be used be only as a last resort, he maintained that a miracle explanation is needed in the case of the Resurrection.
Lüdemann's Main Arguments
Lüdemann maintained that one has to evaluate the Resurrection in terms of naturalistic and scientific worldviews and our background knowledge of the unreliability of the Bible. Given this background the Resurrection is implausible.
Lüdemann said that a very important question that Craig must answer is where Jesus went after his time on earth. He implied that the traditional answer that he ascended to Heaven was unacceptable in terms of our scientific worldview. Lüdemann also suggested at one point that Jesus' failed prediction concerning his second coming cast doubt on the Resurrection account.
Although this was not developed in any detail in the debate Lüdemann said Jesus was probably buried by his enemies. He suggested that the empty tomb story was a legend that developed over the years. As the legend developed Jesus' burial and death came more and more to be considered in a positive way. Lüdemann also maintained that as the legend was embellished that Joseph of Arimathea was also seen more positively. Another reason he proffered for his legend theory was that Paul did not mention the empty tomb in 1 Corinthians 15. Since Paul was dealing with people who might be skeptical of the resurrection, Lüdemann maintained that Paul would have mentioned the empty tomb had he known about it. Although he did not develop this point in detail, Lüdemann suggested that the origin of the belief in Resurrection was a vision of Jesus that generated other visions. These visions reinforced the legend of the Resurrection in peoples' minds.
In this debate Lüdemann did not give a well-articulated explanation of why Jewish leaders did not try to expose Christians by pointing to Jesus' body. Although Lüdemann briefly mentioned that it was 50 days before Christians went public with the empty tomb story he did not use the plausible explanation suggested by Robert Price: after 50 days of baking in a hot tomb Jesus' body would not have been recognizable. Lüdemann attempted to counter Craig's critique of hallucination by pointing out that there were reports of multiple and widespread reappearances of Jesus at later times that were clearly hallucinations. These were an embarrassment to the Church and had to be suppressed. He also drew a parallel between the many appearances of the Virgin Mary and the postmortem appearances of Jesus. Both sets of appearance, he suggested, were based on people's desires and not reality.
Some Points in the Rebuttals
Many detailed points were raised in the rebuttals that it is impossible to mention here. In general it is fair to say that Craig made an attempt to answer all of Lüdemann's arguments whereas Lüdemann was much more selective. However, three points will be noted. There was a great deal of discussion of exactly how one should understand 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 concerning what one can infer about Paul's knowledge about the empty tomb. Craig pressed the thesis that one can infer that Paul did know while Lüdemann denied that any such inference was plausible. In addition, toward the end of the debate Craig got around to answering Lüdemann's question of what happened to the resurrected Jesus. According to Craig, Jesus left the four dimension space-time universe and went into a different dimension. Craig assured the audience that there is nothing absurd about the supposition and that this was compatible with relativity theory. Lüdemann did not present any detailed theory of hallucination. However, Craig criticized the particular version of this theory that is supposedly presented in Lüdemann's writings by arguing that Lüdemann uses psychoanalysis to reconstruct the psychological motives of Peter and Paul and that such reconstruction is unreliable. According to Craig Lüdemann maintains that Peter's and Paul's hallucinations were based on guilt. Craig argued that there is no evidence for this hypothesis. Lüdemann offered little defense against this point and admitted that psychoanalytic reconstructions are difficult. Lüdemann did say that the Gospel appearances of Jesus must be read with Paul as only eyewitness. He said that Paul uses the same verb to describe Jesus' appearance to himself as he did to describe Jesus' appearances to others suggesting all of the appearances were of the same kind. Since Jesus' appearance to Paul is not usually interpreted as physical but as spiritual, one assumes that Lüdemann believes that Jesus' appearances to the others mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15 were also nonphysical. On the other hand, Craig maintained that Paul's purpose was not to convince the Corinthians of the resurrection of a physical body but simply to convince them of the bare fact of the resurrection.
Jeffery Jay Lowder
Each month, Internet Infidels receives numerous requests for Robert M. Price's Beyond Born Again in book format. Unfortunately, to our knowledge, it was only published once in 1992 by an obscure publisher and is now out of print. I have spoken with Price about the possibility of issuing a revised edition of Beyond Born Again for print publication. I suggested that, since Price wrote Beyond Born Again while he still considered himself a Christian, that he keep the original text intact but supplement it so that it explains why he has now chosen to reject Christianity. Price was extremely receptive to the idea.
The only problem is that the full text of Beyond Born Again is available on the Secular Web and, based on past discussions with Prometheus Books Editor-in-Chief Stephen L. Mitchell, Prometheus Books needs convincing that they can make money off a book even though most or all of the book is available on the Internet. I have stated to Mitchell that reading a book on a computer monitor or printing a book out on a printer is not the same thing as buying the book, but I don't think I convinced him.
That's where you come in. We'd like to start a letter-writing campaign to Prometheus Books to convince them that, in spite of Beyond Born Again's availability on the Secular Web, print publication of this book would be profitable for Prometheus Books. If you agree with us, please write a short note to Mr. Mitchell at the following address:
Mr. Stephen L. Mitchell,
Be sure to reference "a revised edition of Beyond Born Again" by Robert M. Price when contacting Mr. Mitchell.
American Atheists, Inc. recently returned a check for US $50 to the North Texas Church of Freethought (NTCOF) after sitting on it for more than two months, according to Tim Gorski, the pastoral director of the NTCOF. The money was donated in response to a request by American Atheists for contributions to help fund an ad published in USA Today on September 26, 1997, defending church-state separation.
American Atheists' solicitation for funds asked prospective donors to declare their support for "First Amendment Rights" and "Freedom FROM Religious Superstition."
Yet NTCOF's check was returned by American Atheists President Ellen Johnson, on the grounds that donations from churches -- even secular "churches" like the NTCOF -- were not welcome. According to Johnson, "The ad [was] intended to be an example of Atheist empowerment and the rejection of intellectual and physical submission to theological ideas. We think that churches and church organizations are incompatible with those aims."
Since our last Newsletter, Internet Infidels has formed a partnership with Amazon.com Books, a respected bookstore which offers over 1 million titles. The partnership has allowed Internet Infidels to effectively create an on-line bookstore, in which the titles are selected by Internet Infidels but order processing and shipping are handled by Amazon. Internet Infidels, in turn, gets a small commission (averaging 10%) for the sale of each book.
As the bookstore is one of the few ways Internet Infidels are able to generate revenue to stay on-line, we hope that you will please consider buying books from the II Bookstore. We have created easily over 20 distinct categories of books (with more planned in the future), and we sincerely hope that all freethinkers will find something that interests them. If, however, you wish to purchase a book not available in the II Bookstore but you wish II to get the commission for your purchase anyway, you may do so by going to the following URL:
where "INSERT_ISBN13_HERE" is the ISBN (please use the new ISBN-13 numbers_ of the book without any spaces or dashes.
[The address of the II Bookstore is http://www.infidels.org/infidels/products/books/.]
The Freethought Ring is a totally free service offered to the freethought community. We are a quickly growing collection of homepages from all over the World who are committed to creating a new kind of Web community.
A "ring" is a way to group together sites with similar content (or any pages at all, if one so desires) by linking them together in a circle, or ring.
The idea is that once you are at one site in the webring, you can click on a "Next" or "Previous" link to go to adjacent sites in the ring and--if you do it long enough--end up where you started.
This is actually something you can do without the Freethought Ring system by simply having each page owner link their site to the next. However, when somebody wants to join the ring, someone has to edit their page to point to the new page and--when the ring gets big enough--it becomes more and more difficult to keep the ring "intact" when pages disappear and servers go down.
The Freethought Ring provides a solution to all of these problems, as well as numerous enhancements. When you join the Freethought Ring, the HTML code on your homepage never changes. Links point to a special CGI script at webring.org that will send people to the next (or previous) site in the ring. Because the central ring database is located in one location, sites can be added and removed quickly and easily, and because the Webring CGI allows you go continue past sites that are unreachable, you will always be able to continue around the loop.
The Freethought Ring will do quite a few tricks, actually. People can travel a ring in either direction, either jumping to (or skipping) the next site or previous site, list the next five sites in the ring, jump to a random site in the ring, or simply get a list of all pages in the loop. And, best of all, the Freethought Ring is entirely free!
For more information or to join the Freethought Ring, go to http://www.infidels.org/electronic/ring/.
The main page of the Secular Web now has a "quote of the minute" feature available, thanks to the work of systems programmer and Internet Infidel David McFadzean. David McFadzean wrote the script which displays a different quotation from the Internet Infidels' Quotations File every minute. Check it out! The address is http://www.infidels.org/index.html#quote
The opinions expressed in the Internet Infidels Newsletter are not necessarily those of the Internet Infidels.
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