Saturday, August 23, 2008

Davis, Beversluis, and the higher critical objection to the MBG argument

There are two general lines of objection to Lewis's argument. One of them is the Higher Critical objection and the other the Sincere Mistake objection.

Stephen Davis's challenge to the higher critical objection is that even if you go as far with higher criticism as the Jesus Seminar goes, (which means, for example, things like "Before Abraham was, I am (YHWH) would be excluded as products of the early church), there are passages rated at least pink (Jesus probably said something like this) like

"But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you." (Luke 11: 20)

This clearly means that Jesus actually thought he was exercising God's eschatological power in exorcisms.

OR "Listen to me all of you, and understand, there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. (Mk 7: 14-15).

So Jesus claims the authority to say that we are not defiled by eating the wrong foods? And he's telling this to observant Jews? Who does he think he is?

or "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath." Mk 2: 27-28.,

Lord over the Sabbath?? Is he saying he made the Sabbath the Sabbath, and can set it aside if necessary? Again, who does he think he is?

These sayings are rated as likely to have actually been said by the Jesus Seminar.

It's also important to realize that the Jewish leaders reacted just as we would expect them to react to (to their mind) inappropriate divine claim. In response to Jesus' claim to forgive sins, The Jewish leaders don't say "No one can get their sins forgiven except by going to the temple," they say "No one can forgive sins but God alone." These sayings are rated as likely to have actually been said by the Jesus Seminar.

And notice the other problem. Suppose you think that a purely naturalistic Jesus has to be found. The cartoon image I have in my mind is some kind of first-century hippie guru who teaches peace and love, told good stories, and didn't claim any kind of supernatural prerogatives. It was his followers dragged in all the supernatural stuff and made a religion out of this simple leader's teaching (especially that jerk Paul). So everything is inauthentic that can't be fitted in nicely with philosophical naturalism.

But I have no idea how to peel the onion back so that we can get a historical Jesus who fits nicely with naturalism, and then throw the rest out as a product of the early church. Is there anything in the text that actually supports that kind of reading? Second, if we go that way with respect to Jesus, why would anyone bother to crucify him?

Beversluis's effort is a creditable one from the critical side. But Davis's essay from the Oxford Press anthology on the Incarnation, is an extremely important one, and although Beversluis responds Davis at one point in the essay, he doesn't deal at all with Davis's argument against the Higher Critical objection, which I have given only a small part of here.

I'm linking to the book where Davis's essay appears.

21 comments:

seleucus said...

I just drop by to say hi. I've found this blog by chance. I am completing my Ph.D. in Barcelona about Lewis and Aristotle.

Best regards!

Doctor Logic said...

The naturalistic alternatives are fairly straightforward.

Imagine a first century Benny Hinn who is performing faith healing and the like. When Benny Hinn dupes his audiences with cheap parlor tricks, most don't come away doubting miracles occurred. And there are hundreds of witnesses to his "miracles". Given the political and economic roles of religion at the time, this kind of ministry would create a potentially powerful political faction. Many of those around the charismatic leader would be true believers, while others might be cynical power-seekers, but they all expect their movement will usher in a new revolution.

So the Jewish establishment of the day has to put a stop to the new movement, or risk losing its own political power. The leader of the movement is crucified by the Romans under the direction of the Jewish establishment. The crucifixion leaves the ministry's followers in disarray. One of the followers claims that a guy he met on the street was Jesus risen (even though he looked different). Since many in the faction are under the influence of religious hysteria (something we see today), others in the movement soon start to see their own visions of the deceased leader (either in the form of other people or in familiar form). As the new movement of Christians begins to spread, it attracts once again a blend of true believers and cynics, etc., etc.

It doesn't really matter. Of billions of humans, none have ever been resurrected (nor conveniently whooshed up to heaven). (I'm discounting vampire stories here.)

So resurrection is really improbable. Like 1 in 10 billion. Now, if a person were resurrected today under controlled conditions, we could use video cameras and scientific instruments to confirm it to 1 part in 10 billion. For example, the odds of 50 independently-controlled cameras and instruments observing the resurrection all failing at once is probably of that order.

However, there's no evidence for the resurrection of Jesus except for the stories told by those with religious motivations. So even if you think the odds of the New Testament stories being wrong is a 1000 to 1 long-shot, you're still down by 7 orders of magnitude in your probability estimate. Sure, Jesus may have been resurrected, but it's at least 10 million to 1 against (after accounting for the unlikelihood of their tale), and one would be irrational to believe it probable that Jesus actually was resurrected.

Steven Carr said...

One difficulty is that Lewis aimed his arguments against people who claimed Jesus was a great moral teacher.

Clearly, somebody who taught that we would all be salted with fire was not a great moral teacher.

Steven Carr said...

Did Jesus really claim to have spoken to Satan in the desert?

And Lewis thinks there is no evidence that Jesus was insane?

Anonymous said...

"The naturalistic alternatives are fairly straightforward."

And then follows the tortured, awkward reasoning, complete with the Miracles of Ex Nihilo Odds Calculation. It's 10 billion to 1! Also 1 million to 1! And these numbers I yanked out are clearly large, therefore your belief is irrational!

Also, did you know our universe had no beginning? Think about it - in all of recorded history, no one has ever seen a universe begin. So let's put the odds of a universe beginning at, say... 1 in 21 billion. By those odds, it's completely irrational to believe the universe began.

And there's no evidence for a universe beginning either. No credible witnesses to such an event, and the only people who claim to have evidence are those with professional motivations or worse. How much money, how much praise, has been heaped upon these so-called "scientists" in pursuit of their crazy 'the universe had a beginning' theory? Not to mention the entire concept resonates with many religious people, which is even more repugnant!

Doctor Logic, you're Doctor Full-Of-Crap. You're an embarrassment to atheists and naturalists both, no small accomplishment considering the sort of standard-bearers those "intellectual" positions have nowadays. Please be quiet and defer to Steven Carr, who is just as bad at it but at least he has seniority gained from showing up on every popular to backwater blog to provided the ever-important equal time for guys obsessed with religious topics.

Steve Lovell said...

Doctor Logic,

You state: "However, there's no evidence for the resurrection of Jesus except for the stories told by those with religious motivations."

Let's suppose the disciples and/or apostles did have experiential evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. It's natural that they should therefore become fairly passionate about Christianity. Is it really legitimate to say that this natural consequence of their well evidenced belief prevents us from taking their testimony seriously?

Seems like you're doing what William James said would be irrational. Willaim James said, " a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there would be an irrational rule".

Steven Carr,

So we meet again! Suppose I believe you are about to be run over by a big truck and that you'll die a horribly painful death as a result. How, in that situation would it cast my moral standing into any doubt if I attempted to warn you about the truck?

Now you might say that Hell doesn't exist. You might object to it on the grounds that a good God wouldn't send anyone there. But you aren't making that objection. You are objecting to Jesus being a great moral teacher on the grounds that He attempted to warn people about a fate which, if real, they would most certainly want to avoid. Seems a poor objection to me.

Steve

Tom Gilson said...

doctor(logic)

"Imagine a first century Benny Hinn who is performing faith healing and the like. When Benny Hinn dupes his audiences with cheap parlor tricks, most don't come away doubting miracles occurred. And there are hundreds of witnesses to his "miracles".

You can't strip the theological/sociological aspect from the events. Jesus' miracles were intensely connected to his claims about himself and about his Kingdom, and these were highly contrary to Jews' understanding of God and the Kingdom of God.

I've been to a Benny Hinn event, and I've heard a man stand up and say "I've been healed of AIDS, but the devil is holding up the test results." In other words I don't think much of Hinn's "miracles." From experience there and elsewhere I can assure you that the audience is highly disposed in advance to expect and to agree with what HInn says and does. The same was not the case with Jesus. They were shocked at how he taught on his own authority.

Jesus' miracles stood the test of validation, by the way. The people he healed came back and gave reports in many cases. A man born blind (John 9) not only could see, but he stood up to a serious grilling about it from people who said there was something wrong with him for it.

So this analogy fails seriously.

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

It's natural that they should therefore become fairly passionate about Christianity. Is it really legitimate to say that this natural consequence of their well evidenced belief prevents us from taking their testimony seriously?

Yes, but I'm not making a special case for the first Christians. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

If I perform millions of different experiments, and X is always false, how should I treat the new claim that an experiment was done yielding X = true?

Well, I ought to be extremely skeptical, but I'm not falling prey to William James' maxim.

My skepticism can easily be overcome by repeating the experiment with high statistics.

But if the claimant says the experiment cannot ever be repeated (or keeps his work secret), then the claim won't be persuasive to rational believers. Furthermore, if false claims of that type are relatively commonplace, we can see that it is far more likely the claimant is making a false claim (e.g., through self-delusion) than that the claimant is telling the truth.

In other words, if Jesus wanted to convince us rationally that he was a god, he ought to let the whole world keep killing him over and over until we amass sufficient evidence that we're not being tricked. (Of course, we would be much more humane on subsequent attempts.)


I'll give two other examples.

We know that energy is conserved in this universe from millions of other experiments. Yet many inventors have claimed they invented a perpetual motion machine. Most of those cases have been proven false. However, some inventors are secretive (perhaps for economic reasons). Should we believe them?

No.

And it's not a case of our minds being closed. A PMM would be a boon, and we want to believe in them. We just cannot until we are given the machine, can check it for errors and do scientific testing on it. The whole point about science is that it aims to remove bias and (self-)deception. To argue we should accept extraordinary claims without extraordinary (scientific) evidence is to argue for bias and self-deception.

Take the Bigfoot claims as a similar example. First of all, should we be skeptical about claims of a large, undiscovered mammal roaming the Pacific Northwest? Yes, because that area has been explored extensively, and we should at least expect to find remains. Still, there are claims from Bigfoot fanatics that they have seen Bigfoot, and one might expect someone who has seen Bigfoot to be a Bigfoot fanatic (at least if they are the type to go public with their claim). Should we therefore accept the claim that Bigfoot exists?

The problem is that have been very many claims of the paranormal and every one that has been investigated has been false (many more have not even been investigated). It is therefore likely that, generally, any given claim of the paranormal is false. If the only evidence of Bigfoot comes from fanatics, we cannot rationally believe in Bigfoot. The Bigfoot claims are not random samples. First, we're failing to sample those who can't find Bigfoot (or have never seen him), and second, we know that humans are subject to delusions at a rate that accounts for the number of Bigfoot believers.

And as in the case of Jesus, there are lots of things that might have happened that would change this. We could capture a family of Bigfoot, find Bigfoot camps, find their trace in the ecosystem, X-ray them to see that they are not humans in gorilla suits, etc.

Humans are not ultra-reliable. We're probably statistically reliable to a part in 100 tops. If a claim is more improbable than this, you need scientific controls. Neither Jesus claims nor Bigfoot claims have scientific controls. These paranormal stories rely solely on the biases of the witnesses.

Steven Carr said...

As can be seen from my article Miracles and the Book of Mormon , the NT miracle stories are as much literary creations as those in the Book of Mormon and the Koran.

Lewis, being an 'expert' on literature, didn't have a clue about any of this.

He didn't have a clue what he was talking about.

Which is why sceptics tend to regard him as a pretty trivial figure , when it comes to the Bible.

Steven Carr said...

LOVELL
Suppose I believe you are about to be run over by a big truck and that you'll die a horribly painful death as a result. How, in that situation would it cast my moral standing into any doubt if I attempted to warn you about the truck?

CARR
Jesus would have been a nutcase if he had warned people about trucks which did not exist in 1st century times.

As he warned people about Hell, he was clearly a nutcase.

There is no evidence for Hell.

Steven Carr said...

'These sayings are rated as likely to have actually been said by the Jesus Seminar.'

An argument from non-authority?

That is even more fallacious than an argument from authority.

What is the evidence for this 'likely to have actually been said'?

Has one single named person ever been found who heard Jesus say anything?

Doctor Logic said...

Tom,

You describe your justified skepticism about Hinn's claims. And maybe there were skeptics like you at Jesus's rallies. But those skeptics didn't write the New Testament. Imagine Hinn's testament being written by his own inner circle. Do you think Hinn has no answer to his critics? Hinn claims that doctors have vouched for his acts of healing.

If the Hinn Testament was written by his organization, it would say that "Doctors were amazed that the child's disease was healed."

I think you are overestimating the skeptical machinery of the day. In fact, you're overestimating the skeptical machinery of our day! Look at the Scientologists. They have a plainly fabricated religion, and yet they attract thousands (millions?) of followers. Even in the presence of skeptical evaluations, people still join the religion. So how can you argue that the New Testament is a skeptically vetted document? You only have the New Testament's word on that. I'm sure Hinn would say his testament was skeptically vetted too.

Doctor Logic said...

Steven Carr,

Please avoid posting multiple comments in a row. It destroys the readability of the thread. Maybe compile them into a single comment when you can.

Steve Lovell said...

Steven Carr,

You say "As he [Jesus] warned people about Hell, he was clearly a nutcase. There is no evidence for Hell."

So your objection to the trilemma that Jesus was not a great moral teacher actually collapses into your objection that Jesus was insane. You also label any other believer in Hell insane. Well it's the madhouse for me then. I remain strangley unconvinced.

Doctor Logic,

You say: "if Jesus wanted to convince us rationally that he was a god, he ought to let the whole world keep killing him over and over until we amass sufficient evidence that we're not being tricked."

This is wrongheaded. I thought your last post nearer the mark. Obviously if the "experiment" is repeated with the same "resurrection" result each time you'll conclude that dead people don't stay dead, and that no miracle is occurring. What you need is not more instances but a larger amount of evidence about the single instance. This is the point of anonymous (3:01) post. The origin of the universe is clearly a "one off" event, but if we have lots of pieces of evidence pointing to a one off it becomes, at some point, rational to accept that it occurred. Now one of the pieces of evidence we might have about such events is testimony. You earlier rejected the testimony available in the case of the resurrection on the peculiar grounds that the people giving the testimony believed the testimony and it's consequences. I agree that we need more evidence for miracles than for more commonplace events, even that we need quite a lot more. I can understand people saying there isn't enough evidence, but to discount the evidence we do have on the grounds you are suggesting seems wrong.

None of the above is a direct defence of the trilemma or of miracles. It's more just clearing the way for a defence (which admittedly might not be forthcoming).

Steve

Victor Reppert said...

Steven: So liar, lunatic or lord is not a set of false alternatives for you. Lewis was right, and Beversluis and others are wrong in suggesting that these are the three plausible options.

Fascinating.

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

This is wrongheaded. I thought your last post nearer the mark. Obviously if the "experiment" is repeated with the same "resurrection" result each time you'll conclude that dead people don't stay dead, and that no miracle is occurring. What you need is not more instances but a larger amount of evidence about the single instance.

More evidence from the single instance requires lots of independent and skeptical eyes. It requires science to remove bias. But it was the first century, and so it simply wasn't possible to do the kinds of independent testing and recording that could satisfy a rational believer. Even today it would be challenging and would require advance warning of the event.

Given this fact, a miracle-performer before the modern age needs repetition.

Note that such repetition wouldn't show that resurrection is not miraculous, only that it is not miraculous for the performer.

Suppose I want to convince you that I am not bound by the laws of physics. What's the best way for me to go about that? Should I perform a one-time miracle that is only observed by those in my fan club? And if I rewarded people for belief in such a miracle, wouldn't I be rewarding irrationality?

The origin of the universe is clearly a "one off" event, but if we have lots of pieces of evidence pointing to a one off it becomes, at some point, rational to accept that it occurred.

I assume that by "one off" you mean historical. I don't think there's any problem with historical inferences, and I think they are generally scientific. You can say that the laws of physics dictate present conditions depending whether an event did or didn't happen. The problem with the resurrection is that there are no traces of the resurrection today, apart from biased witness accounts, and those biased witness accounts are predicted as noise (because lots of fringe groups make claims to witnessing the paranormal).

The Big Bang is a historical event that has profound implications for modern experiments (e.g., the microwave background, abundance of Hydrogen and Helium, redshifts, etc.). That's the basis for the inference. There's no analogy between this and the Resurrection.

Victor Reppert said...

Oops. I meant these are not the three plausible options.

Steve Lovell said...

Doctor Logic,

I think you are exaggerating the difference between our positions.

I see no difference in principle between establishing the occurrence of the resurrection and establishing the occurrence of the big bang. I don't think you do either. The difference is in the amount and quality of the evidential traces which each (putative) event has left behind.

I refer to the big bang as a "one-off" not because it is historical but because it is necessarily unique. Any universe can only start the once, you're never going to be able to repeat it in a laboratory.

I think you agree with all this. For that reason, I don't think you have an "in principle" objection to the resurrection being well evidenced, you just think that it isn't. I on the other hand, think it is well evidenced or at least that it's well evidenced enough. But this isn't the place for discussing that topic.

Steve

Steve Lovell said...

Doctor Logic,

Sorry for double posting. I thought I'd finished, then I re-read your post again and decided I hadn't.

Having just said that I don't want to get into an evaluation of the actual evidence for miracles ... You wrote:

Suppose I want to convince you that I am not bound by the laws of physics. What's the best way for me to go about that? Should I perform a one-time miracle that is only observed by those in my fan club? And if I rewarded people for belief in such a miracle, wouldn't I be rewarding irrationality?

But Christians don't claim that Jesus only performed one miracle. They say he performed many. He even outraged some of those who weren't in his "fan club" by performing such miracles at "inappropriate" times and in "inappropriate" ways.

You also wrote:

More evidence from the single instance requires lots of independent and skeptical eyes. It requires science to remove bias. But it was the first century, and so it simply wasn't possible to do the kinds of independent testing and recording that could satisfy a rational believer.

Are you claiming that it would have been impossible for anyone in the first century to form a justified belief that a miracle had occurred? Suppose that it really was a virgin birth, couldn't Mary have known she was a virgin and known that she gave birth? I think you are setting unreasonably high standards for acceptance of a miracle.

Also: aren't we going a little off topic?

Steve

Doctor Logic said...

Steve Lovell,

I don't see that it's off topic. The OP is trying to figure out the story behind the story of the NT, and suggests that naturalism has no plausible answer.

Well, I gave a plausible answer, and explained why belief in a resurrection requires extraordinary evidence that isn't available (and almost certainly won't be). No reading of the NT is going to validate the Resurrection. The NT has neither the statistics nor the independence to make paranormal claims. So all this fuss over the finer points of the Resurrection is, frankly, inane.

But Christians don't claim that Jesus only performed one miracle. They say he performed many. He even outraged some of those who weren't in his "fan club" by performing such miracles at "inappropriate" times and in "inappropriate" ways.

Just like Benny Hinn, who has purportedly performed hundreds of miracles. And he too has outraged some Christians with his shameless shenanigans.

Suppose Hinn has a heart attack. Days after being pronounced dead and being autopsied, Hinn's dead body goes missing. Later, members of Hinn's inner circle (including people who believed his "miracles") claim to have seen Hinn alive, but before scientists can take a looksie at the risen Hinn, his supporters claim Hinn has been whisked off to the next world. Are we gonna believe their story too?

No!

So why are we discussing this inane Resurrection story as if it were even remotely probable?!!

Victor Reppert said...

This is a related issue, but my comment was specifically addressed to the "higher critical objection," an objection that attempts to go between the horns of the trilemma argument by saying that Jesus did not make the claims that he is supposed to have made; that whatever might have been said by Jesus that suggests that he claimed to be God was either a product of the early church of misinterpreted and is not a genuine divine claim.

Now you can object in other ways. One of the ways you can object is to say that Jesus was sincerely mistaken when he said made statements that implicied that he was God. That is an objection I have discussed here at other times, but not one that I was addressing in this post.

I'm going to cover Doctor Logic's issue in another post. If someone wants to defend the higher critical objection, this is the post to do it on.