Thursday, July 08, 2010

The McGrews defend the Resurrection

A redated post.

This is a chapter in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology also includes

 my essay on the argument from reason. Tim is a master-strength chessplayer who had the Gambit Cartel column in Chess Cafe for between 2002 and 2005.

30 comments:

Andrew T. said...

I realize it's difficult to add something truly new to the debate over theism, but this reads as if it was cribbed from William Lane Craig's notecards from his debate with Bart Ehrman, right down to the Bayesian probability calculations.

Perhaps this is a failure of my imagination, but I can't see how you can even conceptually calculate something like Pr(R/B) -- the probability of a resurrection given our background knowledge. Until I'm convinced that isn't the logical equivalent of dividing by zero, I don't think I'll be convinced that probabilistic reasoning is the right tool to evaluate the likelihood of a supernatural event. Doubly so (and yes, pun intended) when the form of the argument posits the supernatural event as the default hypothesis, as the McGrews do (cf. page 13): "It is now almost universally acknowledged by New Testament scholars that Jesus died on the cross. The swoon theory, which attracted Schleiermacher, is intrinsically highly improbable."

Matthew said...

Actually, I think it was quite good.

Nathaniel said...

Andrew,

Your charge regarding "the default hypothesis" is very odd. The quotation you give doesn't even remotely suggest that this is what the McGrews are doing, and anyone who actually reads the paper can see that this is in fact not what they are doing.

Bayesian probability makes a brief appearance in the Craig-Ehrman debate for the analysis of "Bart's Blunder," and it is extensively employed in this paper by the McGrews. This is not a good reason to suppose that the latter cribbed from the former. Anyone who has a passing acquaintance with probability, is familiar with Craig's work, and reads this paper will see at once that this is not true.

Bayesian probability is used widely in the philosophical analysis of scientific reasoning and has been applied to the analysis of arguments in the philosophy of religion by both defenders (e.g. Swinburne, Holder) and opponents (e.g. Dawid & Gillies, Owen, Martin, Sobel) of Christianity.

I may simply be inattentive, but I can find no place in the entire paper where the McGrews make any use of P(R|B). Their discussion on p. 2 makes it doubtful that they would have need of this, since they are considering differential likelihoods and not attempting to calculate an absolute probability for R, T, or C.

Steven Carr said...

i like McGrew's claim that because some miracle accounts in Mark are similar to miracle accounts in Tacitus, that Mark's Gospel must have been published before Vespasian arrived in Alexandria in AD 69.

It just illustrates the depths that people will sink to in order to defend their religion's miracle stories while scoffing at other miracle stories in history.

And that Blackwell have published a book that adds nothing to human knowledge.

MCGREW(s)
Is anyone stoned, crucified, or killed with the sword for
claiming that he has been given a tour of a space ship?

CARR
And can they name a single Christian in the first two centuries AD who was ever charged with a crime of seeing a resurrection?

Can they name ONE person who wrote a document saying that he had seen an empty tomb ,or a flesh and bone body of Jesus?

Same old rubbish, different cover on the book.

Matthew said...

Same old rubbish Steve? Are you claiming that you still don't get this argument?

Perezoso said...

Given a hypothesis of "dead people can come back to life", then Bayes theorem actually suggests the hypothesis to be highly unlikely, given only one incident (though perhaps a few others--zombies, mummies, ghost reports, etc), and centuries without confirmed reports of ReAnimators.

Really Bayesian methods can be used (er, misused) to establish the mere possibility (though not truth) of about any strange occurence, or supposedly supernatural event, if one allows anecdotal reports and hearsay to be included as evidence. So for centuries people have claimed astrology works, and in many cases, there might be some coincidence between the soothsayer's prediction and someone's life. With enough gullible peasants saying the gypsy woman cast their fortune correctly, the hypothesis has been confirmed!

While Xtianity is not exactly astrology, I suspect the early church did have a relation to mystery cults, soothsaying, etc. The re-birth motif is known in other myths as well (and funny, Easter is near to spring equinox). It's a powerful metaphor and image, but not to be taken literally.

Andrew T. said...

Nathaniel: Are we reading the same paper? The one Victor links to explicitly requires one to calculate Pr(R/B) -- although the McGrews label it slightly differently -- beginning on page 2:

------------
"That the resurrection is positively relevant to theism on [1] ordinary background evidence should be obvious. To state the matter modestly and slightly loosely, the probability that God exists is higher if there is significant independent evidence that Jesus rose from the dead than if there is no such evidence, and this is true because the [2] probability that the resurrection took place is virtually nil if there is no God and higher if there is. [3] On any plausible background assumptions, if Jesus of Nazareth died and then rose again bodily three days later, the probability of T is approximately equal to 1.
-----------

(emphases and numbering added)

That's three uses of Pr(R/B) in a single paragraph!

I apologize if my attempt at humor made it seem as though my primary point is to accuse the McGrews of cribbing; that's not really my point at all. What I'm getting at is that all of the apologists who use this sort of approach -- and I think they're all borrowing from Gary Habermas' 'Minimal Facts' model, if you want to assess who's cribbing -- commit the same type of category error that I describe with respect to Pr(R/B).

Nathaniel said...

Andrew writes:

Nathaniel: Are we reading the same paper?

Apparently not. Let’s see:

The one Victor links to explicitly requires one to calculate Pr(R/B) [emphasis added] -- although the McGrews label it slightly differently -- beginning on page 2:

------------
[Now quoting the McGrews:] "That the resurrection is positively relevant to theism on [1] ordinary background evidence should be obvious. To state the matter modestly and slightly loosely, the probability that God exists is higher if there is significant independent evidence that Jesus rose from the dead than if there is no such evidence, ...

Strike one. This is the claim that P(T|R&B) > P(T|~R&B). The inequality can hold for any assignment to P(R|B) in the interval (0,1).

[Again quoting the McGrews:] ... and this is true because the [2] probability that the resurrection took place is virtually nil if there is no God and higher if there is.

Strike two. This is the claim that P(R|T&B)/P(R|~T&B) >> 1. Again, the inequality places no restrictions on P(R|B) except that it be non-zero. No calculation of a specific value for P(R|B) is required or even suggested by the inequality.

[Again quoting the McGrews:][3] On any plausible background assumptions, if Jesus of Nazareth died and then rose again bodily three days later, the probability of T is approximately equal to 1.

Strike three. This is the claim that P(T|R&B) is close to 1. This is compatible with any assignment to P(R|B) in the interval (0,1).

Andrew, if you do not understand probability theory, that’s ok. But in that case, you should refrain from criticizing other people’s use of it.

Perezoso said...

You don't understand probability theory, Matti, or even science for that matter (or Hume's points contra-miracles). The McGrews start by begging the question: i.e. accepting ancient Scriptural accounts (hardly objective history) of the Resurrection, as if the apostles--assuming they existed--were like witnesses, and at the same time denying all other religious or supernatural accounts (why not, the Buddha levitated? just as preposterous): given inconsistent/conflicting evidence (different religions), then, arguably, the claim is defeated.

Hume's point on uniformity of experience still holds anyway: the abundance of anecdotal evidence (which is hardly reliable anyways) does not really count as data. The laws of nature simply preclude the dead coming back to life (or virgin births, the beast of the Revelation, etc), at least until one captures a genuine miracle or extraordinary event on camera, and it's legit (un f-n likely).

And accepting the dogma-free hypothesis, "dead people come back to life", Bayes theorem actually suggests the Rez. to be highly unlikely: as each century that passes, the slight likelihood (less than 1%) going down.

(for that matter , some of us recall the McGrew's calvinist conservative schtick from Right Reason. They are about as xtian as like Dick Cheney. )

Andrew T. said...

Nathaniel: Particularly when you're tilting at windmills, you might want to dial down your dosage of snarky condescension.

My central claim is that any argument that depends upon Pr(R/B) is inherently flawed because Pr(R/B) is conceptually incoherent, like dividing by zero. I've said this three times now, so I'm pretty sure your continued misrepresentations are deliberate.

Then, in your "three strikes" response (how cute!), you concede the following:

"...Again, the inequality places no restrictions on P(R|B) except that it be non-zero. No calculation of a specific value for P(R|B) is required or even suggested by the inequality." (emphasis added)

This concedes my argument.

Nathaniel said...

Andrew,

You claimed that the paper "explicitly requires one to calculate Pr(R/B)." It doesn't. Hence your three strikes.

But since you want to shift your ground now, fine.

If you have an argument that P(R|B) is equal to zero, feel free to present it.

If you have an argument that the notion of P(R|B) is conceptually incoherent, feel free to present that. Be sure to apply it equally to the reasoning of any atheist who has used Bayesian probability in an argument in criticism of Christianity.

So far, all we have are your unargued assertions -- and a bit of snarky condescension.

Perezoso said...

The believer runs into other issues (semantic, really) before he can even tabulate the results via the Bayesian baby equation: even granting the dogmatists their premise that scripture counts as a type of evidence (hardly ordinary evidence), the best Bayes as applied to the Rez. shows is that "there are some reports indicating a supposed extraordinary event occurred." Proceeding from "there are numerous anecdotal reports" (ie no real "data") to "those reports necessarily establish an extraordinary event occurred" is not logic, or science, but a grand leap of faith. The reports are not agreed upon by scholars, other than the faithful.

And again, the history of the time (including Tacitus) makes very few references to Christians, until like 70 AD or so, and they were considered a rebel jewish sect; and the roman scribes were not exactly approving (that said, life under the bad emperors was certainly miserable and brutal for many, not only xtians).

In terms of verification (at least as important as the quasi-statistical approach) the events of the New Testament are rather conjectural. The Church--and churchly dogma-- doesn't even really congeal until about the time of Constantine.

Ah Lydia: there's a nice romanish name. Lydia Maximass

Matthew said...

Perezoso, please don't tell me that you are a Jesus-myther.

Perezoso said...

Non sequitur.

You seem unaware of any skepticism, even of the tame Founding Father's sort. Like many neo-fundamentalists, you seem to forget America itself was started by freethinkers, doubters, and people fleeing theocracy. Jefferson for one denied scriptural infallibility (and thus scriptural dogma). Madison's Remonstrance also reveals the anti-religious sentiment of the founders.

For that matter, read Nietzsche's comments on the New Testament. A wise man aka Jesus of Nazareth may have existed. Whether the events of the gospels have any bearing to the life of Jesus is an entirely different matter.

Really, the theo/atheo debate has reached the point of saturation and nausea. It's an endless and futile argument, on both sides, though the fundies are the ones clinging deperately to dogma.

Rob G said...

"The Church--and churchly dogma-- doesn't even really congeal until about the time of Constantine"

Please. Whose church history have you been reading? Elaine Pagels?

"You seem unaware of any skepticism, even of the tame Founding Father's sort. Like many neo-fundamentalists, you seem to forget America itself was started by freethinkers, doubters, and people fleeing theocracy."

I didn't think anyone still believed this rubbish. The Founders varied widely in their degree of religious belief and/or unbelief. Some were Deists, some were a sort of Stoical Calvinist, some were nearly Evangelical, and the rest were everything in between. The idea that they were all Deists and skeptics should have been put to rest years ago.

"though the fundies are the ones clinging deperately to dogma."

LOL. This simple statement betrays a profound ignorance of both fundies and dogma.

I for one don't put much stock in the 'resurrection as proof of theism' argument, largely because it seems to evidence a certain mistrust of metaphysics, which is what traditional Christian apologetics is based on. Still, if anyone wants to go over to the What's Wrong With the World blog and discuss it with Ms. McGrew herself, I'm sure she wouldn't mind.

Perezoso said...

How about Darwin, Lyell, the fossil record, and radiocarbon dating confirming the old earth, and dis-confirming the creation myths of the Old Testament dogma: is that rubbish too? Or maybe we go back to the traditional judeo-xtian sources arguing for 5000bc or so...

That's what's great about dogma: no matter what type of evidence anyone presents, the dogma can't be defeated! (as Popper pointed out decades ago)

So why bother arguing at all, given your acceptance of the dogma, regardless of shaky evidence, Hume's points against miracles, Darwin, founding fathers, Popper, etc?? Just put forth a good ol Calvinist tautology: it's true cuz God said it, and if God said it, it's true, goldang it.

Rob G said...

I have never been either a young-Earther or a Calvinist. Try again.

Frankly, I don't think you even know what dogma IS. Your use of the word positively vents misapprehension.

Perezoso said...

Frankly, I don't think you understand what an argument is.

What's amazing is how the calvinist zombie-crew now seem to fancy themselves the upholders of logic and rationality. Like the triabloggers, quoting the Book of Revelation as some perfectly reasonable document. Yes, a woman rides the beast, dearies: now time for the thorazine...

Perezoso said...

In other words, the subtle theological disputation of a William Lane Craig, the McGrews, or Bill Vallicelli et al does not represent mainstream American religion. A Rev. Hagee does (or perhaps a Cardinal Mahoney, in Ellay).

Hagee or Rev. Wright does not refer to thomistic syllogisms, modal logic, Bayes theorem, Hegel, etc.; he refers to his favorite sections of the Book of Revelation: A Woman rides the Beast, y'all. (the founders called the Hagees of the time "enthusiasts").

philip m said...

Perezoso,

You'll have to remember that the New Testament is simply a collection of various manuscripts that were circulated in Churches from the 1st century, until their eventual aggregation into one formal work known as "The New Testament."

The two main groups, the Gospels and Epistles, are tremendously useful for attempting to determine what happened during the life of Jesus. This is because it is reasonable to think that Paul does accurately portray his autobiography, and he alludes to many things which we can then assume people knew offhand in the time he was writing.

With regards to the Gospels, it is not unlikely that the people writing them were also members of the community of people who were responsible for the early spread of the Church, and thus who knew the traditions that were in circulation because of the disciples whom are named in the Gospels themselves. Since the message of Jesus began to be uniformly spread by the disciples, and the circulation of immediate disciples or "ministers of the word" throughout churches in the region, the Gospels also serve to help us determine what happened during the lifetime of Jesus.

All of this is available to the secular historian, as data from which he can try to glean certain facts. However, of course it matters what sort of background assessments we bring to the text. If we come to the text with a low estimate of the probability that a God of the Abrahamic tradition exists, then we will need a significant amount of evidence for it to be sufficiently apparent that Jesus rose from the dead. However, if we come to the documents with a high estimate that God exists, we will not need as much testimony that Jesus rose from the dead, since it is in fact not improbable in that case that Jesus rose from the dead.

There is even more background information that affects our judgment of the case. For instance, we do not need as much evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, if Jesus lived the sort of life - that is, a morally perfect one - that God would want to raise. Furthermore, we don't need as much evidence if there is a reason why God would want to raise Jesus from the dead. And so on.

Even if you disagree with the specific conclusions of parts of the argument - i.e. the nature of the gospels, that God is probable on the background evidence - there is nothing wrong with the structure of the argument itself. I'm really just hoping to clarify, you just think that the New Testament is silly, or something like that? The structure of the argument is actually quite useful.

Anonymous said...

Resurrection? Probably not.

Rob G said...

"...quoting the Book of Revelation as some perfectly reasonable document. Yes, a woman rides the beast, dearies: now time for the thorazine..."

Crikey, what a clown. Do you have big shoes and a lapel flower that squirts water? Your comments here show absolutely no understanding of church history, historical theology, ancient literature, the process by which the NT was canonized, etc.

By the way, I won't speak for anyone else here, but I reject completely both the Triabloggers and the Hagee crowd.

Nathaniel said...

Anon,

McCormick's analogy is so wide of the mark that it has no bearing on the issue of the textual transmission of the gospels. One major disanalogy (and this is by no means all that is wrong with the argument) is that the money in McCormick's analogy is transferred in a single lump from hand to hand. The gospels were copied out multiple times, quoted in different contexts, translated into different languages, and sent off in different directions, all much earlier than the first complete manuscripts we now have. Anyone inserting or deleting or innocently fumbling material in this branching tree of transmission can affect only those copies that are downstream from his acts.

Today, when we have thousands of manuscripts and versions and quotations to compare, we can use them to detect significant alterations, rather like your computer uses checksums to verify packet transmission. What we discover when we do the "checksums" is that there are lots of tiny, insignificant variations -- equivalent to spelling errors or innocuous paraphrases -- and a few larger chunks. (Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11 are the only ones of substantial length.) But the very fact that we can detect such insertions is what gives us confidence that we have, in all essential respects, a text with high fidelity to the original.

Steven Carr said...

We have a text with high fidelity to the original?

So we know that Christians would add passages to Luke to make it seem more convincing?

Take Luke 24:12, which reads 'But Peter, rising up, ran to the tomb; and stooping down he saw the linen cloths alone, and he returned home marvelling at what had happened'.

This was just after Luke writes that the disciples did not believe the women , whose words seemed nonsense to them. This verse is missing from Codex Bezae and some Old Latin manuscripts. The text varies in other manuscripts. Why would this verse be dropped from Codex Bezae by a scribe, especially given the reluctance of scribes to delete anything from the text? There are far more than insertions than deletions, especially in the Codex Bezae, which is notorious for adding stuff, not subtracting stuff.


Was Luke 24:12 added by a scribe in the second century so that it could be shown that somebody found the witnesses to the resurrection to be credible? If it was not added, then some scribes must have chosen to delete it. Why on earth would they do that?

The verse is very similar to Peter's rushing to the tomb in John 20:3-10. The word for the linen cloths in Luke 24:12 (othonia) is not the word that Luke has just used in Luke 23:53 (sindoni), but it is the word used in John 20:5.

This one verse (Luke 24:12) has 3 words or phrases used nowhere else in Luke or Acts. It also uses an 'historic present', which Luke shuns elsewhere, - for example of the 93 historic presents in the Markan verses that Luke used, no less than 92 were changed by him.

By this, I mean that Luke uses 'he sees', when everything else in Chapter 24 is in the past tense. Notice that the NIV translates that as 'he saw'. Even they recognise that writers do not suddenly change tense for no good reason.

Luke 24:12 uses words for 'stooping down', 'the linen clothes', 'went away home' , which are never used elsewhere in Luke or Acts.

Exactly those words in Luke 24:12 which are not otherwise in Luke-Acts, are in John 20, with John 20:5 being very close indeed!


Clearly, a scribe has added in the verse. It is missing from important manuscripts, it has many non-Lukan features, but features which resemble John's Gospel and it is impossible to see why a scribe would ever have wanted to delete the verse. Nobody has ever come up with such a reason.

So we know that Christian scribes had no scruples about changing the texts of the resurrection...

Perezoso said...

Thomas Jefferson's abridged New Testament offers a pragmatic alternative to dogma, or to complete rejection:

The Jefferson Bible begins with an account of Jesus’s birth without references to angels, genealogy, or prophecy. Miracles, references to the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, and Jesus' resurrection are also absent from the Jefferson Bible.

Nip it in the Bud. IMagine TJ's bible applied: for instance, Krystal Kathedral services severely modified. Father, no angels on guy wires this year, or the JC ghost with dry ice.
Halleloojah

Nathaniel said...

Steven,

High fidelity does not mean perfect fidelity. The insertion of of one verse in the Lukan resurrection narrative, if it could indeed be shown that the verse had been inserted, would not significantly undermine the fidelity of the entire narrative. But in any event you miss my point, which is that by comparing copies, quotations, and versions in other languages we can in general determine how the original text read.

If you were right about this particular instance, it would be a case in point where we can determine the original text by comparisons. However, in the case of Luke 24:12, the weight of the evidence comes down in favor of the authenticity of the passage. Taking the Western text family as definitive would be lunacy; virtually all scholars now acknowledge that, by comparison with the other major text families, the Western text is highly interpolated and edited. All else being equal, one would expect additions rather than deletions. But this is not a criterion that should be applied mechanically, particularly when it comes to the Western non-interpolations. Redactionsgeschichte can cut both ways.

In the days of Westcott and Hort, there was more reason for taking these omissions seriously. But with the acquisition of the Bodmer papyri, the testimony for the Alexandrian text type has been carried back all the way to the second century, allowing us to get an independent check on the fidelity of copying and recopying between p75 and codex Vaticanus. See Metzger's discussion of the whole issue in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament.

Steven Carr said...

So Nathaniel agrees there is a dispute about the original text.

He is disputing my arguments, while claiming that the original text is not in dispute.

Of course, when I say Nathaniel is disputing my arguments, he was unable to answer a single one of them.

Not a single one....


NATHANIEL
All else being equal, one would expect additions rather than deletions.

CARR
So the DELETION of Luke 24:12 is not something we should expect.

It therefore becomes significant, even on Nathaniel's admission that it is not expected that there should be deletions.

Metzger was, of course, unable to come up with any reason why the verse would be deleted.

And, of course, p75 changes nothing, as it was expected there would be such manuscripts.

And, of course, there is much more than 1 verse that was changed in Luke.

Nathaniel said...

Steven,

Obviously there are disputes about the text. These arise in marginal cases where there are some considerations on both sides. That does not, however, mean that every example is equally marginal. Nor does it mean that we are at a loss for reconstructing the text with high fidelity. Your example, if it worked, would not undermine this point.

Your vocabulary argument regarding Luke 24:12 is weak since the description is of an unusual situation. There is no particular reason to expect the terms to occur elsewhere in Luke and Acts; therefore, their absence is not significant evidence against the authenticity of the verse.

Your grammatical argument amounts to the fact that βλέπει is present tense, whereas Luke only occasionally uses the historic present. This is mildly interesting, but it hardly provides grounds for throwing out the verse.

Your textual argument amounts to the fact that the worst, most heavily edited, weirdest text family we have omits this verse. But there are many omissions in the Western text: nine of them are specially marked by Westcott and Hort themselves, and there are at least eighteen others. Seven of the primary omissions appear in the Western text's reading of Luke 24. So when you say that

There are far more than insertions than deletions, especially in the Codex Bezae, which is notorious for adding stuff, not subtracting stuff

the first part of what you say is quite correct, but the second part is simply wrong: Codex Bezae, the best representative of the Western Text, is notorious for both additions and omissions (not to mention paraphrases and glosses), especially in Luke, and most glaringly in Luke 24.

Metzger's supposed "inability" to provide a reason for someone's dropping a verse is no argument at all. There is no burden on him to explain how a completely mangled Greek text of Luke 24 dating from the fifth century -- the only Greek manuscript that omits these verses, one that is opposed at these very points by the fullest and earliest manuscripts we possess -- got into its sorry shape.

Given the atrocious state of Luke 24 in Codex Bezae, "the dog ate my original manuscript and I reconstructed it from memory" would explain a lot. An alternative explanation, reflecting less adversely on the scribe, would be that the text (particularly in Luke 24) has been cobbled together from loose quotations and paraphrases in the early fathers, and omissions represent places where there were gaps in the fathers' quotations of these passages. Such practices are not unknown: think of Erasmus's reconstruction of the last six verses of Revelation, for which he lacked a Greek text, by translating back into Greek from the Latin of the Vulgate.

Edward T. Babinski said...

@Vic Reppert

Defends?

1) If the truth of bodily resurrection and of Jesus's bodily resurrection in particular was knowledge that was available to all, and if you didn't believe it you went to hell, then wouldn't God have made the case so strong in its favor that it would need no "defense?"

2) What do the "defenders" of the resurrection really think of people who continue to ask quesitons concerning the NT stories? That they are being not only stupid but damned stupid? That they are blinded by Satan? If the "defenders" of the resurrection picture non-believers in any other fashion that's simply to admit it's a "matter of faith," but if it DOES come down to faith they also must admit that many people simply don't have "saving faith." But why? Why don't they?

Blaise Pascal said...

This is a very interesting read. Thank you.