Monday, April 30, 2012

Did Napoleon Exist? A satirical reply to Hume on miracles

A redated post.

By 19th Century philosopher Richard Whately. Say, does Richard Dawkins exist? I've never met him.

252 comments:

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Mark said...

That was a fun read, but I don't think Hume would've felt very challenged by this essay. He'd never agree that we should be absolutely skeptical about all events of which we have problematic testimony.

Anonymous said...

But who says absolutely skeptical of all events? We can just do it with particular ones. Like Napoleon. Or merely be skeptical enough.

It still leads to an interesting situation.

Mark said...

I'm not sure what you mean. The essay only works as a satire of Hume if Hume's case against miracles can be just as easily applied as a case against Napoleon. But Hume's case against miracles did not amount to just saying, "Miracle reports are problematic, and we shouldn't trust problematic testimony." Since this is the inference pattern the essay is satirizing via pointing to problematic reports of Napoleon, the essay fails as a criticism of Hume. Maybe it succeeds in other ways; I don't know.

Steven Carr said...

Oh dear.

There are contemporary newspaper accounts of Bonaparte.

And Napoleon was never claimed to have told people how to find money by looking in the mouth of a fish.

Mark said...

By the way, Hume did a much better job of "satirizing" himself by giving the example of the tropical (I think?) prince who disbelieves travelers' stories of water freezing at low temperatures. But then he went to argue that his account accommodated the prince's belief revision once the testimony reached a sufficient threshold.

Blaise Pascal said...

Great! I love the writings of Whately. I especially enjoyed and still enjoy his "Introductory Lessons on Morals". This work really had a profound influence on me. Also, his "Elements of Logic" is arguably the best classical (pre-formal-logic) introduction into aristotelian logic. This was one of the major works that revived the interest in logic in 19th century Britain. It certainly influenced De Morgan and Boole. The part that deals with fallacies is still valuable today. It contains a complete and systematic classification of all fallacies. Some other quite interesting works from him are "Elements of Rhetoric" and "Introductory Lessons on Mind".

Another good critique of Hume but not easy to read is from William Paley at beginning of his "Evidences of Christianity". There he utterly destroys Humes argument.

All these works are available at Google Books or archive.org

mattghg said...

Say, does Richard Dawkins exist? I've never met him.

You're not the only one to doubt his existence...

Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks Mark you make great points.

Alphonsus said...

Here's another Napoleon satire, this one mocking "Jesus was a Myth" theories:
http://www.tektonics.org/lp/nappy.html

Blaise Pascal said...

I dont think that this was the point of the essay. One of the points is that Hume defined a miracle merely as an improbable event. When Hume dismissed the possibility that human testimony of miracles can be believed, by his definition of miracle, he dissmissed implicitly any testimony of an improbable event. Now, what Whately successfully shows is that Napoleons story is very improbable. Therefore, on Humes principles we should suspend our judgement on it.

Blaise Pascal said...

My last post was at Mark.

Mark said...

No, Hume's wasn't an argument against improbable events. Crucial to his case was the idea of having uniform testimony for the existence of a natural regularity. When such testimony is available, he says we have a "proof" of that regularity, against which we are to weigh the lower-quality testimony of the alleged miracle. In the Napoleon case, we have no uniform testimony that the laws of nature forbid Corsicans from conquering Western Europe or whatever. Moreover, in the second part of his essay, Hume expounds on special problems with miracle reports not shared by other kinds of testimony. Probably this is why he thinks miracle reports cannot typically amount to more than mere "probability" against the "proof" at hand for natural regularities.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic,

DOES GOD EXIST? IS HE PERSONAL? DOES HE REALLY "CARE?" CAN YOU HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH HIM?

Please prove to everyone all of the above, using examples from the Bible and nature.

But PLEASE keep in mind the difference between, say, you and I having a conversation as we have had many times on the internet,

and

the "conversations" that people claim to have with "God" via reading a collection of writings over 2000 years old written by human beings, and which each Christian interprets via "orthodox theological" understandings, and via a host of supplementary materials from history, science, linguistics, etc.

I do not consider the latter to be a genuine "conversation."

Blaise Pascal said...

Mark: This was pretty good addressed in the essay:

Accordingly, in the TENTH ESSAY, his use of the term miracle," after having called it a "transgression of a law of * nature," plainly shows that he meant to include human nature: * "no testimony," says he, "is sufficient to establlsh a miracle, * unless the testimony be of such a nature that its falsehood * would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to * establish." The term "prodigy" also (which he all along employs * as synonymous with "miracle") is applied to testimony, in the * same manner, immediately after: "In the foregoing reasoning we * have supposed...that the falsehood of that testimony would he a * kind of prodigy." Now had he meant to confine the meaning of * "mlracle," and "prodigy," to a violation of the laws of matter, * the epithet "miraculous," applied even thus hypothetically, to * false testimony, would be as unmeaning as the epithets "green" * or "square;" the only possible sense in which we can apply to * it, even in imagination, the term "miraculous," is that of * "highly improbable," "contrary to those laws of nature which * respect human conduct;" and in this sense accordingly he uses * the word in the very next sentence: "When any one tells me that * he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with * myself whether it be more probable that this person should * either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact which he * relates should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle * against the other." Hume's ESSAY ON MIRACLES. * * See also a passage above quoted from the same ESSAY, where * he speaks of "the miraculous accounts of travellers;" evidently * using the word in thls sense. * * Perhaps it was superfluous to cite authority for applying * the term "miracle" to "whatever is "highly improbable;" but it * is important to the students of Hume, to be fully aware that he * uses those two expressions as synonymous, since otherwise they * would mistake the meaning of that passage which he justly calls * "a general maxim worthy of our attention."

Mark said...

I'm not sure what essay you're quoting from, or why you're choosing to quote from it. Hume doesn't just mean "improbable" when he says "miracle." He means, as your own passage attests (although it then goes on to contradict itself about this), "transgression of the (understood) laws of nature." Certainly Hume thinks miracles thus understood are improbable - far more improbable, in fact, than our best testimony in their favor is trustworthy - but it doesn't follow that he thinks miracles = improbabilities simpliciter. There are obviously tons of improbabilities that aren't miracles (e.g., this particular arrangement of words into an English sentence).

Mark said...

Oh, LOL, somehow I didn't recognize the quote from the Victor's link. I've been awake for far too long. At any rate, Whately has misread Hume.

Blaise Pascal said...

Then how do you explain then this passage from Hume?

"When any one tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact which he relates should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other."

Blaise Pascal said...

When Hume speaks about the laws of nature, he doesnt mean any inherent laws of nature, which you cannot ascertain on his epistemology. What he is speaking of is the observed regularity in nature. But this amounts to nothing more than probability. The more often you observe that certain phenomena follow other phenomena, the more propable is your "law of nature".

Mark said...

Hume thinks that the only testimony sufficient to establish a miracle would be one whose falsehood would be even more miraculous, i.e., where we have "proof" both for a natural regularity and for an instance of its violation. When this occurs, we can only adjudicate between our conflicting "proofs" by weighing their probabilities against each other. He's illustrating this in your passage by hypothetically counting testimony in favor of a resurrection as a "proof" and asking what we should believe then. (His answer: whichever "proof" is more probable.) He makes the hypothetical nature of this supposition explicit in the beginning of Part II by saying, "In the foregoing reasoning we have supposed, that the testimony, upon which a miracle is founded, may possibly amount to an entire proof, and that the falsehood of that testimony would be a real prodigy." But the point of his argument is to show that in practice, it's not miraculous for miracle testimony to be mistaken, even if it's improbable. This is because by its nature, miracle testimony typically can only generate "probability," as something opposed to "proof."

How do you account for the fact that he explicitly says just before that passage, "There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation?" Do you think Hume believes we have uniform experience against every improbable event, e.g., the results of a given lottery drawing?

Blaise Pascal said...

What is a "proof for natural regularity" according to Hume? If something is constantly observed in certain circumstances without exception, then this is according to Hume a law of nature. Sext X, Part 1, §87

He defines a miracle as a violation of the laws of nature. This means on his view that a miracle is something that has never been observed. "But it is a
miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in
any age or country."

But this means that a miracle is merely a extremely highly improbable event.

According to Humes principles it would be a miracle if a hundred dices are thrown in the air and they all land on the same side. Because this is something that has never been observed. If Hume were right, we should never believe any testimony of such an event.

The case is similiar with Napoleon. Napoleons story contains many thing which were unheard of before. Then apply the principles of Part 2 of Chapter X and you basically get Whatelys essay.

Mark said...

He defines a miracle as a violation of the laws of nature. This means on his view that a miracle is something that has never been observed.

No! "Contrary to uniform experience" is not synonymous with "never been observed," even for Hume. I've never observed anyone named "Steven Quincy Reichenbach," but obviously Hume wouldn't say the existence of such a person is miraculous.

"But it is a
miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country.

But this means that a miracle is merely a extremely highly improbable event.


You keep repeating this inference, but it continues not to make sense. Miracles are supposed to be epistemically improbable because they violate regularities which we have strong and "uniform" experiential reason to believe obtain; but it doesn't follow from this that "miracle" is synonymous with "improbability." I ask you again: do you think Hume believes we have uniform experience against the lottery drawing producing the number 1682463, since this particular number (like any other) is improbable?

Mark said...

I should also add that while he does say, "But it is a
miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country," he makes it clear that "has never been observed in any age or country" is just shorthand here for "contrary to the uniform experience we have of the regularity of dead men rotting rather than rising from their graves." It's not the case that he literally thinks everything that hasn't yet been observed counts as improbable.

Shackleman said...

Why is resurrection considered miraculous, whereas being born alive in the first place isn't?

Life, to me, is positively miraculous in every way.

If I can be born once, I see no reason I cannot be twice. Once seems already to be an impossibility, yet here I am.

I am contingent upon my parents meeting and then conceiving me. Had my Dad never lived, I would not exist. Had my grandfather not had a 7th child, I would not exist. If my greatgrandfather's great grandfather to the 1000 power had been sterile, I would not exist. If the primate that was not yet human, which gave rise to my grandfather^1002, died before producing offspring, I would not exist. If the single-celled organism, which eventually gave rise to the creature that was not quite yet human, which gave rise to my grandfather^1002 which gave rise to my father had died before producing offspring, I would not exist.

Yet, here I am.

Seems absurdly unlikely that I exist----so unlikely it seems that it's impossible.

Yet, here I am. Seems pretty miraculous to me.

If I could beat *those* kinds of odds once....impossible odds, then perhaps I could beat them again. Maybe not in *this* life, constrained by *these* laws physics. But still, maybe....

Blaise Pascal said...

Define "uniform experience".

Mark said...

That's hard, and the difficulty in doing so charitably is central to the so-called circularity objection. If Hume's argument is to succeed, it clearly can't just refer to the set of all experience/testimony we've ever encountered, since then the miracle reports would render our experience of the natural regularities in question non-uniform. Probably it means something more like, "The vast majority of our experience, which is highly detailed, systematic, internally unproblematic and not very vulnerable to vitiating psychological influence."

Blaise Pascal said...

Hm. Would you say that it is the vast majority of our experience that the number 1682463 is not drawn?

Mark said...

Yes, but probably Hume wouldn't say that observing such a number being drawn is strictly "contrary" to our uniform experience, even though it's not a part of it. Rather, he'd say that we have uniform experience of there being no noticeable regularity to the lottery drawings, or something like that. All he has to do is distinguish between regularities that are probabilistically compatible with chance, and regularities which aren't.

Blaise Pascal said...

"Yes,"

If uniform experience means the vast majority of our experience and if it is the vast majority of our experience that the number 1682463 is not drawn, then clearly it is a uniform experience that the number 1682463 is not drawn.

The drawing of the number 1682463 is directly opposite to that, i.e. contrary to uniform experience and therefore is a miracle, according to your definition of uniform experience and Humes definition of miracle.


"Rather, he'd say that we have uniform experience of there being no noticeable regularity to the lottery drawings, or something like that."

Really? It is not a regularity that the number 1682463 is not drawn? I think this is highly regular.

"All he has to do is distinguish between regularities that are probabilistically compatible with chance, and regularities which aren't."

Can you give an example of a regularity that is not probabilistically compatible with chance and one which is? What do you mean by probabilistically compatible?

Mark said...

Here's what I'd say if I were Hume (I don't know what Hume would actually say): Say a regularity R regarding a type of phenomenon T is "accidental" iff, given that T-phenomena are governed by random chance, we would expect all of our experiences thus far to conform to R. Thus, the regularity of never having observed the lotto draw 1682463 is accidental, since if the lotto were random, we'd expect not to have thus far observed it in our relatively small number of lotto drawings. Then we can say that an observation is "contrary to uniform experience" iff uniform experience testifies to some non-accidental regularity R such that the observation contradicts R. Then our non-observation of drawing 1682463 is not contrary to uniform experience, since it's only contrary to the merely accidental regularity of never having observed 1682463. Similarly, given this understanding, observing someone named "Steven Quincy Reichenbach" is not contrary to uniform experience, nor is Napoleon's conquest of Europe. Maybe you can poke holes in this principle via counterexamples; I haven't thought carefully about it. But I think something in its vicinity may well be viable.

Mark said...

Then our non-observation of drawing 1682463 is not contrary to uniform experience

Oops, that should read, "Then our drawing of 1682463 is not contrary to uniform experience..."

Blaise Pascal said...

I think you have left the bounds of Humes epistemology.

How do you ascertain that "T-phenomena are governed by random chance"?

For example: Suppose you are living in a time when modern astronomy is unknown. Everytime you look into the sky, you see a sun. But once in a hundred years you will see a solar eclipse.

Is this an accidental or non-accidental regularity? Is seeing a sun governed by random chance?

Now suppose we play the lottery game again. But instead of seeing the numbers, every time when a number different from 1682463 is drawn, you will see a picture with a sun, and when the number 1682463 is drawn you will see a picture with a solar eclipse.

Is this an accidental or non-accidental regularity? Is seeing a picture of a sun governed by random chance?

Mark said...

Nothing I said required that we "ascertain" whether a process is governed by random chance. Under my scheme, a regularity is accidental if our experiences would likely conform to it if the underlying phenomena behaved randomly, i.e., with the possible results being equiprobable. The point is that while never seeing 1682463 drawn conforms to the regularity "never seeing 1682463 drawn," it also conforms to the regularity "the lottery numbers are drawn at random."

Blaise Pascal said...

And how do we know whether "the underlying phenomena behaved randomly"? What is the mark of when the underlying phenomena behaving randomly?

Suppose you are locked up in a room. The only thing you see is a computer screen. There is camera standing outside the room connected to the screen. Everyday it shoots a picture. With every shoot you will see a sun, but once in a hundred years you will see a solar eclipse.

But suppose there is no camera, but a random number generator. Everyday it generates a number. If it is not the number 1682463, you will see a sun on the screen, but if it is the 1682463 then you will see a solar eclipse.

There is no sure criterion by which you can determine whether "the underlying phenomena behaved randomly" or not. It is a worthless concept.

But if you cannot make your distinction in accidental and non-accidental we are left with the absurd conclusion that on Humes principles and your definition of uniform expirience the drawing of the number 1682463 is a miracle.

Mark said...

Nothing I've said requires us to be able to identify when phenomena are behaving randomly. My definition involved looking at probabilities if we simply assume that all outcomes are equally likely.

Blaise Pascal said...

I still dont see by which criterion you determine whether a regularity is accidental or not. Does it depend on a merely arbritrary assumption? Then it is still a worthless criterion.

Test your criteria with the last example i have given. Remember, it is supposed, that you are locked up in the room. The only think you see is a screen. You do not know how the phenomena are generated. I dont see how you can determine whether this is a a accidental or non-accidental regularity you see there in the room.

It should be remembered that chance is no agent that can "govern" any phenomena. Propability can mean two things: either it means the certainty of a judgement, or the frequency ( times of occurences) of some events. There is nothing inherently random or probable in nature. This is why it is futile to distinguish regular occuring events into accidental or non-accidental. If we had enough computer power and knew all the initial conditions of a lottery drawing, we could with full certainty predict every single drawing. But since do not have these, we can only make probable judgments. It is clear, that propability is only relative.

----

That Humes principles are really that absurd as shown above is clear from this:

"The inhabitants of Sumatra have always seen water fluid in their own climate, and the freezing of their rivers ought to be deemed a prodigy" Hume, An enqueriy Conerning Human Undertanding, Sect X, Part 1, §89, Note

Suppose that there is a sea in Sumatra under which there is a huge refrigerator installed. And no one in Sumatra knows about this. Further assume that this refrigerator is turned on once and only once. According to Hume the freezing of the sea would rightly be deemed a miracle (prodigy), which could not be attested by human testimony. There might be even a random number generator attached to the refrigerator, so that this is an enterily random but rare event.

Its clear that Hume makes no distinction between accidental or non-accidental.

But we can even apply his principles to natural events and come to the absurd conclusion that they are miracles. A full solar eclipse is a extreme rare event. It occurs only every 140 years at a given place. In an age where the only means of transmissing knowledge is oral tradition, such an event could not be attested to have happened somewhere in the past, since if it happend, it would be, according to Hume, rightly deemed a miracle. What should we think of principles, that lead to superstition and hamper the progress of knowledge?

Mark said...

I still dont see by which criterion you determine whether a regularity is accidental or not. Does it depend on a merely arbritrary assumption? Then it is still a worthless criterion.

You'll have to study my definition for yourself until you understand why this response is wrong-headed.

Propability can mean two things: either it means the certainty of a judgement, or the frequency ( times of occurences) of some events. There is nothing inherently random or probable in nature.

Extremely controversial. Anyway, my definition doesn't depend on this, so it doesn't matter.

Suppose that there is a sea in Sumatra under which there is a huge refrigerator installed. And no one in Sumatra knows about this. Further assume that this refrigerator is turned on once and only once. According to Hume the freezing of the sea would rightly be deemed a miracle (prodigy), which could not be attested by human testimony.

That you think Hume believes no miracle can be attested (or even made believable) by human testimony suggests you've misunderstood the argument at a deep level. Anyway, I don't see what's wrong with Sumatrans finding reports of their rivers anomalously freezing over miraculous and therefore highly incredible. That is, unless they know about the possibility of refrigerators of this kind.


But we can even apply his principles to natural events and come to the absurd conclusion that they are miracles. A full solar eclipse is a extreme rare event. It occurs only every 140 years at a given place. In an age where the only means of transmissing knowledge is oral tradition, such an event could not be attested to have happened somewhere in the past, since if it happend, it would be, according to Hume, rightly deemed a miracle. What should we think of principles, that lead to superstition and hamper the progress of knowledge?


It will depend on the kind of testimony involved, how much of our knowledge depends on it, etc.

Blaise Pascal said...

Mark: "Extremely controversial. Anyway, my definition doesn't depend on this, so it doesn't matter."

Please, Mark, apply your definition to the test case I mentioned. Show how you distinguish which of these case is accidental or non-accidental. I say, you cannot do this.

Mark:"That you think Hume believes no miracle can be attested (or even made believable) by human testimony suggests you've misunderstood the argument at a deep level."

Have I?

"and therefore we may establish it as a maxim, that no human
testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle, and make it a just foundation for
any such system of religion." (Sect. 10, Part 2, §98)

Mark said...

Please, Mark, apply your definition to the test case I mentioned. Show how you distinguish which of these case is accidental or non-accidental. I say, you cannot do this.

I can't, because your request that I produce a critereon by which we can empirically determine whether a process is truly random or not is nonsensical. For the last time, here's what my definition means:

"An observed regularity R governing T-phenomena is accidental iff the probability of our observations conforming to R is high under a uniform probability distribution on the set of all possible outcomes of our actual observation attempts."

If you still insist that this definition commits me to being able to say when it's actually reasonable to assign uniform probability distributions to outcomes of events, then I can't really think of what to say to you.

"and therefore we may establish it as a maxim, that no human
testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle, and make it a just foundation for
any such system of religion." (Sect. 10, Part 2, §98)


What do you think the word "such" refers to there? Read the sentence just before that one! He says, "But according to the principle here explained, this subtraction, with regard to all popular religions, amounts to an entire annihilation." He's talking about actual religions and actual miracle testimonies here.

On the other hand, in section 1, Hume states: "The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention), 'that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavors to establish."

Blaise Pascal said...

If you cannot distinguish accidental from non-accidental regularities, as you call them, then this shows, that your definition is useless in practice. This is what i said.

"What do you think the word "such" refers to there?"

I marked the part to which "such" refers:

"and therefore we may establish it as a maxim, that no human
testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle, and make it a just foundation for
any such system of religion." (Sect. 10, Part 2, §98)

"On the other hand, in section 1, Hume states: "

Right, this is the assumption under which he worked in Part 1, but in Part 2 he labors to show that this assumption cannot be made in practise:

"IN the foregoing reasoning we have supposed, that the testimony, upon which a miracle is founded, may possibly amount to an entire proof, and that the falsehood of that testimony would be a real prodigy: but it is easy to shew, that we have been a great deal too liberal in our concession, and that there never was a miraculous event established on so full an evidence."

Mark said...

If you cannot distinguish accidental from non-accidental regularities, as you call them, then this shows, that your definition is useless in practice. This is what i said.

I gave it my best shot. Clearly we're at an impasse here. Guess it's time to move on.


Right, this is the assumption under which he worked in Part 1, but in Part 2 he labors to show that this assumption cannot be made in practise:

No kidding. In practice, no miracle testimony has ever been strong enough to establish its conclusion. This is a far cry from saying Hume thinks it's impossible for testimony to establish the existence of miracles. Look at these sentences from part 2, which come immediately after the section you quoted:

"I beg the limitations here made may be remarked, when I say, that a miracle can never be proved, so as to be the foundation of a system of religion. For I own, that otherwise, there may possibly be miracles, or violations of the usual course of nature, of such a kind as to admit of proof from human testimony; though, perhaps, it will be impossible to find any such in all the records of history."

Still not convinced?

Tim said...

Mark writes:

*****
No kidding. In practice, no miracle testimony has ever been strong enough to establish its conclusion. This is a far cry from saying Hume thinks it's impossible for testimony to establish the existence of miracles. Look at these sentences from part 2, which come immediately after the section you quoted:

"I beg the limitations here made may be remarked, when I say, that a miracle can never be proved, so as to be the foundation of a system of religion. For I own, that otherwise, there may possibly be miracles, or violations of the usual course of nature, of such a kind as to admit of proof from human testimony; though, perhaps, it will be impossible to find any such in all the records of history."

Still not convinced?
*****

Well, no. Just look at the way that Hume goes on:

Thus, suppose, all authors, in all languages, agree, that, from the first of JANUARY 1600, there was a total darkness over the whole earth for eight days: Suppose that the tradition of this extraordinary event is still strong and lively among the people: That all travellers, who return from foreign countries, bring us accounts of the same tradition, without the least variation or contradiction: It is evident, that our present philosophers, instead of doubting the fact, ought to receive it as certain, and ought to search for the causes whence it might be derived.

The closing reference to ‘causes’ can scarcely be taken to mean anything but natural causes, and the ‘philosophers’ are natural philosophers, that is, scientists. This choice of words warns the reader that under the circumstances Hume would consider the period of darkness to be, not in the strict sense a miracle, that is, a violation of the laws of nature, but rather a violation of its usual course. He goes on to note that the ‘decay, corruption, and dissolution of nature’ is rendered so probable by many analogies that it ‘comes within the reach of human testimony, if that testimony be very extensive and uniform’. The event, in short, is a marvel rather than a miracle; Hume has taken back with the left hand what he appeared to concede with the right.

Steven Carr said...

The London Times had edition 70,000 yesterday.

There are newspaper reports of Napoleon in the earliest editions.

No person with an IQ more than 40 would be unable to produce evidence that Napoleon existed.

We even have his body.

On the other hand, not one Christian in the first century ever put his name on a document saying he had heard of Judas, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, Bartimaeus, Thomas, Joanna, salome, Barabbas, Jairus.

These people are as well-attested as the second gunman show shot JFK or the Golden Plates of Mormonism.

Tim said...

Stephen,

Why be so shy? You're missing out. Imagine the fun you could you could have if you approached Napoleon the way you approach Jesus. I'll illustrate, using the sort of reasoning that you've displayed over the years, just to get you started.

* You have Napoleon's body? Hah. All you have is some body or other.

* Napoleon really existed? Show us his birth certificate. You can't.

* We have not a single photograph of Napoleon. Not. One. Of course, Napoleon apologists will argue that Napoleon died in 1821, whereas the camera was not invented until 1839. That just shows you the desperate lengths to which they will go to explain away the lack of evidence.

* Supposedly we have Napoleon's autograph. But there are about a dozen wildly different ways that he supposedly signed his name, and even those who believe Napoleon existed will concede that most of the signatures purporting to be his are outright forgeries.

* The accounts of the exploits of Napoleon are wildly inconsistent. Just try to reconcile them. It can't be done.

* Even apart from the contradictions, the feats ascribed to Napoleon are wildly improbable; and it is a well-known fact that the more marvellous anything is the less likely is it to be true.

* It was in the interest of the British government to promote national unity at the time. What better way to do so than to invent a figure to play the "good part" of a common enemy against whom the gullible populace might be rallied?

* Supposed memorabilia of Napoleon fetch high prices at auctions. An encrusted sword with no documentation will fetch $30,000; Henry Wellcome even purchased a gold-plated toothbrush that supposedly belonged to Napoleon. The Napoleon myth is good business.

See how easy this is?

The one about the birth certificate illustrates a particularly useful trick that you will want to study closely and imitate as often as you can. No matter what the actual evidence is, you can always find something that isn't available. Fasten on that as if its absence were of crushing significance. If your interlocutors point out that it wasn't to be expected, at this point in time, that we should have every sort of ancillary evidence we might think up, deride them as ignorant and delusional. If they try to turn the discussion to the actual positive evidence for their primary contention, just shout louder about the absence of the thing you demand. It makes you seem like a serious historian.

Shackleman said...

Back in Feb Mark said: I've never observed anyone named "Steven Quincy Reichenbach," but obviously Hume wouldn't say the existence of such a person is miraculous."

I still want to know why anyone would think the birth of Steven Quincy Reichenbach isn't miraculous.

I don't think I described the scenario very well last time so I'll try again.

If "Steven Reichenbach" (like all of us) is *exactly* *only* a product of a long chain of evolution, then if we go backwards in his family tree far enough, eventually, we *necessarily* must get to a great great great great...grandfather which is a primate. Not even yet a human. Reverse the evolutionary clock of "Steven" even further back---eons---and eventually we get to a single celled creature. An ameoba of some kind. So, for "Steven" to exist, every single organisim that ever existed within the evolutionary causal chain that eventually gave rise to "Steven" must have survived and successfully produced offspring. Had any single one of those creatures ever NOT existed, for whatever reason, then "Steven" would not have been born.

Fascinating to contemplate for "someone else". But apply this thought to *oneself* and one should be awestruck at the utter miraculousness of one's own birth.

YOU are a single amoebic procreative event away from NEVER EXISTING.

If evolution as it is currently understood is true, this is necessarily true. At the least that should creep people out. At best, it should be a clue that something else must be missing from this equation in order for oneself to have come into existence.

Steven Carr said...

I see that Tim has no idea about how sceptic arguments actually work, hence his making a fool of himself, by broadcasting his ignorance of them.

There is nothing wrong with being ignorant. Nobody thinks it shameful to have to go to school to learn things. Ignorance is not a character defect.

Read sceptical arguments and come back when your eyes are opened to the power of them.

Steven Carr said...

REPPERT
does Richard Dawkins exist? I've never met him.

CARR
If Richard Dawkins didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him.

If we look at the letters written in the first 30 years of the existence of the Richard Dawkins Fan Club, we see that they never mention his books or his wife or his being at Oxford.

This, of course, is because everybody knew Richard Dawkins wrote books , was married, and was at Oxford so none of the Richard Dawkins Fan Club needed to explain that when writing to each other.

The first Wikipedia entry on Dawkins appeared some 30 years after his death, was anonymous and mentioned his being famous for tap-dancing, which members of his Fan Club had never mentioned up to then.

It has been suggested that Wikipedia entries are biased, but then all historians are biased in some way, aren't they?

Victor Reppert said...

Steven: Your reply to Tim contains no real arguments. You just assert that he doesn't understand the power of skeptical arguments.

Gosh. I wish I could get away with stuff like that.

Jake Elwood XVI said...

Mr Carr
I always find your statements interesting, interesting from the sense that they involve insults and ridicule. Now, while you do catch more flies with shit then sugar, I am not sure your methods are really winsome. Or maybe this lack of compassion is just developed from the continual frustration of having to put up with unreasoned theistic twerps. Thanks for putting up with us.

Mr Carr I have no formal training in these areas so I don't know how this method work in academic field when you present your ideas and arguments. I am just browsing sites like this to see how academics in these areas relate, and argue. Is this just a blogging persona? Are you more refrained in your academic work?

Thanks with putting up with us theist and for continually presenting your arguments. I think it shows you care.

Steven Carr said...

Tim should learn that if you are going to satire sceptical arguments, there has to be an element of truth in your satire.

Or else his arguments sail past their intended target.

As they did!

If Tim wants to be more effective , he needs to study sceptical arguments more, rather then leaving his education in sceptical arguments at a couple of viewings of Monty Python's 'Argument' sketch.

Then he will not be firing so many blanks.

I see Victor has no answer to my parody of sceptical arguments, which were a lot more accurate than Tim's.

TIM
Napoleon really existed? Show us his birth certificate. You can't.

CARR
It appears Tim is confusing sceptics with members of the Teabag Party, denying that Obama is an American citizen.

An easy mistake to make,if you think atheists are usually rabid conservative Bible-believing fundamentalists.

Sceptics tend to produce photographic documented evidence that the Gospels contain the same kinds of frauds and lies that the Book of Mormon and the Koran contain, even if sceptics can only admire Joseph Smith for coming up with ways of lying that never occurred to the Gospel writers.

Jake Elwood XVI said...

"It appears Tim is confusing sceptics with members of the Teabag Party, denying that Obama is an American citizen.

An easy mistake to make,if you think atheists are usually rabid conservative Bible-believing fundamentalists." - Mr Carr

Surely this level of arguing and ridicule, belittles your academic work? I am sure you could not argue like that there? It seems far too childish. Maybe things occur differently in this field nowadays?

My mother (who did minor level studies in this area, unfortunately not completing her phd before her ill health) always gave the impression that academics in this field were pleasant even when disagreeing. Maybe that was just in Australia and perhaps the UK?


"Gosh. I wish I could get away with stuff like that." - Dr Reppert

So does Mr Carr get way with this stuff in his academic work?

regards
Jake

Tim said...

Steven,

It was not skeptical arguments Überhaupt that I was satirizing. It was yours. The transparent unfairness of these arguments against the existence of Napoleon is simply a mirror of the transparent unfairness of the arguments you use on the internet almost daily. You're the only one in this conversation who can't recognize yourself.

Thanks for the additional laughs in your link to the page of "photographic documented evidence." This is your own attempt at satire, right? Taking a few words in a row as proof of borrowing?

Golly, what a wide field for further research that one provides.

I open my copy of The House at Pooh Corner at random -- it happened to fall open at p. 87 -- and the second line reads "... until he came to the place ..." What do you want to bet that we can find a close match for this in the Bible? Hey, how about Luke 23:33: "When they came to the place ..." And in fact, Luke is talking about the crucifixion of Jesus -- whom Christians identify as the Man of Sorrows -- while The House at Pooh Corner is talking about Eeyore ("... when he came to the place where Eeyore was ..."), who is also a man of sorrows! Yes, that clinches it: Milne is definitely borrowing from Luke. Or maybe Luke is borrowing from Milne. Or maybe picking out a few words in a row and claiming that it is "photographic documented evidence" that one document is borrowed from another is bonkers.

Shackleman said...

Wow. That link on the "photographic documented evidence" was the single biggest piece of trash I've seen linked to on this blog in all the years I've been reading it. And I've seen some pretty big pieces of trash here over the years.

I haven't ever taken Carr too seriously, but always allowed for a bit of room to give him the benefit of the doubt. That link though pretty much seals the deal for me in exposing him as a total fraud.

Steven Carr said...

Another Christian calls the evidence of his own eyes 'trash'...

Just because the Gospellers were caught with a smoking gun and a body lying on the floor!

Tim said...

An "argument" for conscious borrowing in the service of mythmaking that can be replicated in 90 seconds with a copy of a Winnie the Pooh book in one hand and a copy of the Bible in the other is, to borrow a phrase from Hume, more properly a subject of derision than of argument. It belongs in the same pile with The Bible Code -- which, come to think of it, it rather resembles.

J said...

The believers are overlooking Hume's central point on the "uniformity of experience" in regard to alleged miracles, and why that makes the testimony of the New Testament (indeed entire Bible) problematic. Proving Napoleon existed is hardly equal to proving Jesus existed (obviously historical proximity an issue as well...), but more like prove Napoleon existed, and Nap. also brought a dead person back to life, cooked up a fish fry for thousands from a can of tuna, etc. We might grant a man named Jesus existed (in a charitable mood...Gibbon was not completely convinced). Did he wave his hands, Gandalf-like and H20 became cabernet, etc.? Does a Jezebel ride a 10 headed beast?? Unlikely.

That's why Hume says it's inadmissable as evidence (tho' he was not saying it was completely irrelevant in terms of metaphorical power). Were someone testifying in court to refer to chupacabras on the witness stand, Judge Culacurcio waves his hands, removes the comments from the record.

QE f-ing D.

Tim said...

J,

This has already been discussed above. Hume does use "miracle" and "extreme improbability" interchangeably sometimes, e.g. here:

"When any one tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact which he relates should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other." [Emphasis added]

On the epistemic side, extreme improbability is all we have to work with.

Whately's point is that the alleged events of Napoleon's career are wildly improbable. It is therefore fair game for the application of Hume's maxim.

By the way, there's a cookie for you if you can find a passage from Gibbon expressing doubt regarding the existence of Jesus. And no, the famous passage from Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ch. 15 doesn't help you; that has to do with Jesus' reported miracles, not with his existence. (It's a lousy argument anyway, but that issue is being discussed in the thread on arguments from silence.)

J said...

No, the analogy or comparison is not relevant. Hume meant he weighs the improbability of...a dead man coming back to life vs. alternative explanations (mistaken testimony? hoax? mentally ill person reporting?,etc), and he will always (though he does not say miracles are logically impossible) choose the alternative explanation--similarly for..Loch Ness monster, UFOs, chupacabras, astrology, etc.; which is to say the presumption favors the uniformity of experience.

The naive or gullible person hears of Chupacabras in the news and thinks ..supernatural, demonic, etc. until she's told it's a coyote with rabies, etc. Now, were you to see a chupie (or the dead coming back to life), you'd probably revise your belief system. And Hume doesn't disagree with that. Were some Gandalf-like person--or JC like person-- to wave his hands and make agua into chianti, I'd probably revise my views re miracles. But that doesn't necessarily prove monotheism either.

Tim said...

J,

All the work is being done by improbability. Hume sets up his argument from universal testimony in order to support his claim that a miracle is wildly improbable. That's why the comparison is fair game. You're free to argue that the aspects of the (reported) career of Napoleon cited by Whately aren't actually all that improbable. But that would require that you actually read Whately -- and judging from your comments so far, this is something that you haven't bothered to do.

J said...

No, you don't quite understand the like basic Fratboy-o-sopher point that it's an irrelevant analogy. Napoleon's existence is not controversial: the preponderance of the evidence shows he existed, far more than likely (though, in a verificationist sense...some might concede it's not necessarily true Nappy existed. Then, a fortiori, neither is scripture as a historical text, or any history).

The same method (ie Hume's Fork, er) applied to...Jesus would be far more problematic (first reports in roman history show up in Tacitus, around 90-100 AD..where JC's consider the leader of a fanatical sect).

Then to complicate matters, the reports of miracles--Hume's concern. When a normal person reads of an alleged holy man (or Gandalf), he-- as opposed to indoctrinated fundie--would probably view the reports as fantastic, or erroneous, or symbolic, just as a judge would dismiss evidence when hearing the testimony of someone claiming to have seen a ghost. And..for that matter, why not the miracles of hindus,muslims, pagans? All of them inadmissable says Hume.

You don't quite understand Humean tactics either. He wanted to undercut the supposed inerrancy of scripture, ie theocracy, like as a basis for law. And that he does, uh did.

Tim said...

J,

No, you don't quite understand the like basic Fratboy-o-sopher point that it's an irrelevant analogy.

Perhaps that’s because, unlike you, I don’t do fratboy-o-sophy.

Napoleon's existence is not controversial

Neither is the existence of Jesus, except among the lunatic fringe. Good grief, even Bart Ehrman gets this.

Hume’s argument against miracles is that there is universal testimony against them. He isn’t even consistent, since elsewhere in the same piece he admits that miracle reports abound in all of history. But waive that. The argument from universal testimony to the contrary, if it were any good, would apply equally well to spontaneous proton decay. Yet we accept that testimony would be perfectly competent to confirm such an event. Hume’s argument, applied consistently, would truly be a science stopper.

You don't quite understand Humean tactics either. He wanted to undercut the supposed inerrancy of scripture, ie theocracy, like as a basis for law. And that he does, uh did.

Hume’s tactics and his motives would be two separate matters. But never mind that; your description is so far off from what Hume actually says that it is really rather bizarre. Hume’s critique of miracles has nothing to say about theocracy. You are simply jumbling together standard skeptical complaints that have nothing to do with one another in a sort of verbal salad. This may be standard fare in fratboy-o-sophy. But it is not reasoning.

J said...

Alright, fine. The biblical miracles are wildly improbable, and other explanations could hold.

Napoleon's existence isn't improbable, even if some details of his life can't be established. It's really a false analogy. He's merely pointing out that you can't necessarily prove Napoleon existed either. But it's hardly the same burden of proof to show that Napoleon existed versus the supernatural events of the New Testament a...virgin birth, the supposed miracle of the loaves and fish, Resurrection, events of the Book of Revelation, etc. Spinoza also said much the same as Hume (as did other writers) in the 17th century, and suggested all biblical miracles could be accounted for by natural science.

Now, ultimately there may be a sort of Pascalian point to miracles and scripture itself. Believe or don't (whatever belief is). But don't demand that others believe in the dogma as well. Hume was aware of that issue: he objects to supernatural testimony being used as a basis for jurisprudence (as fundamentalists still demand...including the fundies on the SCOTUS.

J said...

There's another point to miracles which many biblical literalists overlook: let's say...miracles do actually occur. Like the Fatima-light show. Impressive. Even sublime-- Holy Maria in rays of light, etc. But... it was over in a half hour or so. She did not step down to shake anyone's hands, or pass out gold, or even make it rain say a fine Porto. Just appears, and then....off back into Hebbin'.

Yet a few years later, ..panzer divisions are rolling. And Stalinist tanks rolling as well. Putsches and purges. Millions being killed (not just soldiers, but innocent bystanders, collateral damage as they say). Donde esta Maria, there Timmy? No Maria, no angels, no Jeezus.

So any G*d who could perform miracles but chooses not to during war, disease, famine, etc would seem to be extraordinarily stingy with them; ergo, it makes G*d seem even more..sinister, thus unlikely. The fundies don't care for problem of evil stuff in any form but that's a definite consideration (actually a priest, Kellner I believe made that argument).

Tim said...

J,

You are apparently under the misimpression that, just because you are finally starting to understand Hume’s reasoning in Hume’s own terms, you can assert without argument that his reasoning is cogent. Maybe on the atheist blogs – but not here.

However, we aren’t even quite there yet. Let’s take this one step at a time.

Whether the biblical miracles are wildly improbable depends on two factors; the prior probability that something like the Judeo-Christian God exists, and the strength of the total evidence for the biblical miracle claims. Vic has repeatedly pointed out that estimates of the former vary from person to person. Every sensible Christian acknowledges that the evidence for some particular biblical miracle claims is better than for others.

Napoleon's existence isn't improbable, even if some details of his life can't be established. It's really a false analogy. He's merely pointing out that you can't necessarily prove Napoleon existed either.

You seem to be treating ‘Napoleon’ as a rigid designator. As a good neo-Russellian, I’m not obligated to let you get away with it. ‘Napoleon’ denotes someone who did at least approximately the things attributed to him in the historical accounts we have. These are quite astonishing and improbable, some of them quite unprecedented. That is all that is required for Whately’s satire to hit home. I suggest that you take the time actually to read Whately’s satire before you say again that it is a false analogy.

Spinoza also said much the same as Hume (as did other writers) in the 17th century, and suggested all biblical miracles could be accounted for by natural science.

This claim is half right, half wrong. The half that is right is that Spinoza did suggest that the root of belief in the biblical miracles was ignorance of natural causes. But the other half is wrong. Spinoza’s argument against miracles is completely different from Hume’s argument, and Hume does not suggest that the biblical miracles were just misunderstood natural phenomena.

If you think the apparitions of Mary are even remotely akin to the resurrection, then you have not read the gospels through even once with attention. The use of the misspelling “Hebbin’” as a derogatory term may make you feel that you are better educated than those with whom you disagree, but that feeling, I regret to inform you, is an illusion, and the affectation is childish.

If it were any part of the Christian faith that the resurrection of Jesus would end all war and suffering, then the occurrence of these things might have a point. But it isn’t, so the only relevance of these remarks is that they direct attention to the general problem of evil, which has of course been discussed at great length by Christian authors. Incidentally, using the diminutive form of someone’s name does not increase the cogency of your argument. Nor does the spelling “Jeezus” magically transform your opponents into hapless rednecks.

I have no clear sense of what you mean by a “fundamentalist,” but there are certainly many Christians who believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead who have written serious works grappling with the problem of evil. If you are aware of these works but are going to disqualify the authors from being “fundamentalists” because many of the authors are well-published professional philosophers with graduate degrees, then why are you even commenting about fundamentalism here? Is it because you don’t realize that Vic and several of his commentators have earned doctorates and have been teaching and writing philosophy longer than you have been alive? If, on the other hand, you are not familiar with the literature of Christian philosophers addressing the problem of evil, perhaps you should read up on the topic a bit before you stride into Vic’s comboxes with your cape fluttering behind you.

J said...

Unlike you, who has yet to understand Hume's fairly obvious point . Hume's not my guru anyway, and it's questionable whether he was an strong atheist (more like agnostic, or possibly deist). His writing's a bit quaint, though still eloquent. And he's opposed to theocracy.

Many religious folks view Hume as a sort of non-theist whipping boy. It's mostly ad hominem, not really argument (ie, Spinoza says nearly the same--maybe insult him too)--he was sort of decadent, overweight at times, and may give off a Hannibal Lector-like vibe to some. That doesn't negate the force of his arguments.

Reason doesn't change either, whether it's a believer, non-believer or agnostic blog--just in terms of standard statistics-- via frequentism, which Hume understood to some degree (unlike say the usual Rev Hagee follower)--miracles ARE wildly improbable. That there were a few supposed eye-witnesses doesn't change that. The gospels are inconsistent as well.

For that matter, Lyell and Darwin pretty much demolished the inerrant view of Scripture what circa 1840 or so. Radio-carbon dating confirmed the very old-world views (not 4000 BC or whatever judeo-christian tradition held).

Indeed the historical view of the Gospels arguably misses the point anyway. It's not Herodotus or Tacitus, but more like....ethics...and poetry. Consider the lilies of the field. etc. Jeeezuss was a William Blake type, man. Or the Grateful Dead, on a good night.

J said...

Really, Tim, you're one of the most unchristian persons I've seen yet on DI. Perhaps a Calvinist, I wager. Or Bill Craig follower, sort of official used-car salesman for the Almighty.

You're not really making an argument either. Hume does say the biblical miracles--if taken literally--are wildly improbable, and can be, via his Fork accounted for by alternative explanations--mistaken/exaggerated testimony, for one.

Perhaps Hume re miracles seems troubling or unpleasant to believers, but hardly radical or comparable to saying Napoleon never existed, except maybe in Texass seminaries. And in a sense Hume's skepticism re inerrancy was confirmed a few decades later via the evolutionists, fossil record and then R-C dating.

Tim said...

J,

You persist in assuming that understanding Hume’s point and agreeing with it are the same thing. This requires argument – which you have yet to provide. We’re also waiting on you to provide any reference to “theocracy” in Hume’s writings.

As I already mentioned, Spinoza’s argument against the credibility of the biblical miracle reports is completely different from Hume’s. But I’m beginning to realize that you are working from a hazy recollection of someone else's talking points and have never actually read either author for yourself.

Hume’s grasp of the mathematics of probable reasoning was minimal. Have a look at John Earman’s discussion of the subject in Hume’s Abject Failure. As for inconsistencies in the gospels, suppose it to be true in some ancillary matters; how would this render the main outlines of the history incredible?

... 4000 BC or whatever judeo-christian tradition held

By the late 18th century, before either Darwin or Lyell was born, the majority position among Protestant theologians was that the earth is extremely old and that the chronologies worked out by Bishop Ussher and other well-intentioned scholars were based on a faulty understanding of the biblical narrative.

Indeed the historical view of the Gospels arguably misses the point anyway. It's not Herodotus or Tacitus, but more like....ethics...and poetry. Consider the lilies of the field. etc. Jeeezuss was a William Blake type, man. Or the Grateful Dead, on a good night.

Cherry picking some inspirational quotations from Jesus’ teaching will not substantiate the claim that the genre of the Gospels is not history. Please try to do at least a little reading on the subject before you say silly things like this. You might start here.

You also seem to need reminding again that saying "Jeeezuss" does not give you gravitas.

Tim said...

J,

If that were a real wager, you’d be paying me money right now. Pointing out that you are a clueless internet hack is not, per se, unchristian. Think of it as compassionate intervention.

The only things I’ve been concerned to argue about here are your repeated and pervasive misconceptions regarding Whately, Hume, Spinoza, and the New Testament. It took me a while to realize that you haven’t read any of them. There is no shame in this; many otherwise fine people have not read them. But for someone who pretends to know all about them, a lack of firsthand acquaintance with these works must surely be an inconvenience.

J said...

No, you haven't provided an argument.

You say that proving Napoleon existed poses the exact same difficulties as does establishing the veracity of biblical miracles. That is not the case. Anyway even if we granted that the supposed fact of Napoleon existing cannot be necessarily proven, that in no way means that the new testament has any more credibility; indeed it would have less, if you take a purely empirical approach to the text as a historical document.

Most fundamentalists want biblical scholarship both ways: they want to say it's valid as history, BUT at the same time, has some special status where humans cannot just say it's not established fact, or mention to V-word (verification). Are the miracles /omens associated with Caesar's death true too? The Buddha supposedly ascended in a cloud of butterflies or something.... Why are the biblical miracles true yet not all the other claims (the problem of other faiths another obvious point biblethumpers overlook daily).

J said...

Now you're lying, Timmy. In fact Im the one who mentioned the key point on the "uniformity of experience." Unlike you, or anyone on the thread. Or is Hume wrong on that too? So pigs fly. Fine, you can believe that. Just don't ask others to believe

And Im pretty well aquainted with zee klassix, say Kant, Timmy.IK hisself didn't accept any of the trad. arguments for G*d. Heathen. Are you? Not to say Darwin, Popper, SJ Gould. infidels.

Tim said...

J,

Can you read? I mean, at all? I just said that the only thing I’ve been concerned to argue about is your misreading of just about everybody. Now it appears that you can’t even be bothered to read what I write. It does rather diminsh the interest of having a conversation.

You say that proving Napoleon existed poses the exact same difficulties as does establishing the veracity of biblical miracles.

Actually, I didn’t say that; I said that the nub of the problem is extreme improbability in both cases. There are, of course, various disanalogies, some of which tell in favor of the accounts of Napoleon’s exploits and some of which tell in the other direction.

In everything I have ever written on the subject, I have consistently maintained that the only legitimate way to deal with these issues is by straightforward historical scholarship. The reason to believe in the resurrection but not in the supposed miracles of other religions or even of later ecclesiastical history is simply that the evidence for the resurrection is many orders of magnitude stronger than the evidence for those other claims. If you really think that Christians are unaware of the issue of other religious miracle claims, I can only surmise that you have been hiding in a cave for the past 400 years or so.

J said...

No, you're misreading, puto, and in error, not to say mocking the principles of the Founding fathers and First Amendment, who follow Hume in rejecting inerrant views of scripture, or theocracy of any type even if they disagreed with him on other views. Jefferson himself did not accept biblical miracles as genuine.

Maybe forget the philosophizing and try the First Amendment.

Tim said...

J,

Actually, Hume is wrong on the uniformity of experience claim, since miracles other than the resurrection have occasionally occurred. And even if he weren't wrong, in this context, it would be begging the question to make that claim. But there's another claim in the neighborhood that is true, namely, that outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition, there are no well-attested miracle reports. We can charitably read him as really meaning that.

What on earth the First Amendment has to so with any of this is completely obscure. No one is abridging your freedom of speech, even though you are making a complete fool of yourself.

You were indeed the first one to use the phrase "uniformity of experience" in this thread. Why you think that shows me to be lying is a mystery. It's right up there with your juvenile fascination with the diminutive form of my name. Whatever.

You're "pretty well acquainted with zee klassix" because you are aware of a fact about Kant that can be read off of the Wikipedia article on him? Well, I'm convinced.

And you still think Hume was talking about theocracy. I've asked you a couple of times to provide a reference for this, but to no avail. It seems like providing evidence to back up your assertions isn't your strong suit.

On the other hand, you do show some elementary facility with vulgar insults, like the Spanish word for a male prostitute. Your upbringing apparently left out some basic training in manners, but trust me: it's considered impolite.

Victor Reppert said...

And it's going to stop, J, or my kind permission to let you continue posting here, which I know I withdrew from you under another name once before, will also stop. I don't know what your academic credentials are, but if they are the equal of Dr. McGrew's or myself, I'll be surprised. As much as I hate flaunting academic credentials, I do think they are of some significance, and if you doubt me on that, try getting a doctoral dissertation past a committee.

I like having a "free speech zone" and am reluctant to ban people, as you know, even allowing the two people I have banned back after a period of exile. (Note to Tim: you have already guessed right). Normally, I figure I can ignore people who don't deserve a response. But once in awhile, the atmosphere gets poisoned and I have to do something.

J said...

--you're just chanting the same thing you've chanted throughout this thread--that's Foolishness itself. And you simply don't understand Hume's rather obvious point re weighing evidence (ie supposed miracles vs alternative explanations, mistaken testimony, given the presumption of the uniformity of experience etc), since you cannot bear to think the dogma might not hold (ie, you uphold scriptural inerrancy notwithstanding the scientific disproof.).

The same method, ie Fork, would apply to Napoleon and obviously the EVIDENCE would strongly favor his historical existence (indeed could probably be quantified in a sense), unlike the scant and/or non-existent evidence which would demonstrate a literal Resurrection (or say the bizarre happenings in the Book of Revelation..unless maybe you have a pic of the Blood Red HEIFER!?). Then evidentialism does not generally please dogmatists of any sort.

(You also misread the First Amendment's separation clause as well, related to the inerrancy problem).

But chant and rant away--sort of the sunday schooler's raison d'etre

J said...

I don't accept McGrew's credentials or really that of any fundamentalist religious thinker, Doc VR, and in fact that's Ad auctoritas. But maybe we can link to his old site Right Reason and point his unwavering support for Bush, the war, the "WMDS", Annie Coulter, neo-cons and other good xtians.

He simply refuses to accept Hume's skewering of inerrancy and dogma because it's far too troubling to his biblethumping views. And in a sense, that refusal to question dogma or even admit that it could be falsified (even though it has...via R-C dating) shows that's he's not engaging in a rational discussion, but...merely biblethumping.

Tim said...

J,

You are seriously delusional and probably need professional help. It is a trial of patience simply to respond to all of the palpable falsehoods you continue to spew out. Just so that you cannot with any show of plausibility claim that my silence gave color to your claims, here are responses to ten of them:

I never blogged at Right Reason. I am not a Calvinist. I did not favor going into the war in Iraq. I have never defended or even discussed the claim that there were WMDs there. To the best of my recollection, I have never discussed Ann Coulter on the internet (though I once did tell a reporter that I thought she was over the top). I have no objection to carbon-14 dating when used within the limits of its range (i.e. up to about 60K years BP). Widespread Christian belief in an indefinitely old earth and cosmos predated Lyell and Darwin. The First Amendment is not about inerrancy. No one in this conversation is trying to infringe your First Amendment rights. My criticisms of Hume are very nearly identical to those of John Earman, a well-respected philosopher of science at the University of Pittsburgh; Earman is not a religious believer of any stripe.

Enough.

Victor Reppert said...

I wasn't using the argument from authority, which would have been that somehow you have to accept Dr. McGrew's or my conclusions because of our degrees. I was just asking you to address us with a little more respect than we have received so far. I've been saying things about Bush since I started blogging, and none of them are nice. Your disregard for facts is remarkable.

So, I am going to go back to deleting your posts.

Shackleman said...

I've learned an awful lot by reading this thread, and my interest in a number of philo/religious topics has been raised by it . Even if the catalyst for the discussion was a bit of poison being spewed by "J", the responses from Dr. McGrew were very informing and educational.

It may have tried your patience, Dr. McGrew, but I, for one, appreciated your time very much and your effort was helpful to me. Thank you.

Tim said...

Shackleman, you're most welcome.

Anonymous said...

I'm going back to have you pink slipped from ASU, or UA or whereever you swindle your students' cash Rev. Reppert.. Best to head back to Peoria ASAP

Paul Manata said...

Thank you, Dr. McGrew. I also benefited from your responses to both Carr and J. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed, or to waste.

Tim said...

Paul,

You're very welcome. I hear you're just up the road -- drop me an email note some time.

Tony Hoffman said...

I remember reading an article (the Atlantic?) a few years after Clinton's impeachment, discussing the evolving notion of character as viewed in the public square. The point I remember was a discussion of Washington and the founding fathers, and the sense those men had of "playing" public characters, similar to playing roles. Washington, in particular, left some letters behind that revealed a sense of self-awareness that he was, as a person, playing a role that had its precedents in historical figures like Cincinnatus, and that his performance would be evaluated along a similar continuum.

What interested me was the sense that these men had of divorcing their personal lives from the roles they sought or were assigned to them. And it made me wonder if those in our not-so distant past better understand some aspects of history better than we do.

My point is that there is a literalness to Christian demands on history, and in particular ancient history, that most educated people have outgrown for at least the last 250 years. The past is in many ways unknowable -- there is no such thing as 100% historical certainty, certainly not with regards to the kind of claims that Christians would like to nail down before moving the discussion forward. As Mark Twain once said, "History may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme." And rhyming is all we will ever have.

Tim said...

"My point is that there is a literalness to Christian demands on history, and in particular ancient history, that most educated people have outgrown for at least the last 250 years. The past is in many ways unknowable -- there is no such thing as 100% historical certainty, certainly not with regards to the kind of claims that Christians would like to nail down before moving the discussion forward."

There's the assertion. Where's the argument?

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "There's the assertion. Where's the argument?"

There are a lot of assertions in that paragraph. Which one did you find objectionable?

Tim said...

Tony,

You're right: it's a whole bunch of unargued assertions tangled up in a ball.

Let's start with the implicit equation of "unknowable" with "less than 100% certain." I'm less than 100% certain, as I type this comment, that I have hands -- a Cartesian scenario is always logically possible. However, I lose no sleep about the matter. Similarly, you're less than 100% certain (if we want to get picky about it) that you and I are having an exchange online. What of it?

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "However, I lose no sleep about the matter. Similarly, you're less than 100% certain (if we want to get picky about it) that you and I are having an exchange online. What of it?"

Good, you and I pretty much agree there. That's why I didn't think it needed much argument. If you don't find that objectionable, then what about it do you need from me in need of argument. In other words, do you really need me to argue the point that we can't be 100% sure about anything? And if not, let's move on to the assertion in my paragraph that you needs some support.

Tim said...

Tony,

The trouble is, you seem to be conflating "not 100% certain" with "unknowable." We all know lots of things that are not 100% certain. What the moderns called "moral certainty" is quite enough. And Cartesian skepticism notwithstanding, there is no difficulty in providing perfectly satisfactory evidence for "the kind of claims that Christians would like to nail down before moving the discussion forward."

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "...there is no difficulty in providing perfectly satisfactory evidence for "the kind of claims that Christians would like to nail down before moving the discussion forward."

Well, that is probably at the crux of the point I was trying to make. Witness the small Internet explosion over the last week regarding the possibility that a Jesus of Nazareth may not have existed. This is a debatable point for a number of reasons (but at least partly because similar mythic narratives in the past are seen as primarily literary creations), but among Christians the possibility is seen as somehow impossible or unworthy of consideration. I guess that this is because for many Christians, the existence of a real (non-mythical) Jesus is axiomatic -- it is the premise upon which all other information is processed and filtered.

But, of course, no historical "fact" is absolutely beyond question, and some are so uncertain that they should not rightly be considered "facts." Historical facts (widely accepted occurrences in the past) are things that historical explanations are about; because it could be a historical fact that the stories described in the NT are literary / mythical, and because that fact allows for so many good historical explanations and simplifications, it can never be deemed beneath consideration.

But if your point is only that you feel that a Jesus of Nazareth most likely existed, I have no problem with that assessment. If, however, you take a position that consideration of Jesus as mythical narrative is beneath consideration, then I think I would disagree with you.

rank sophist said...

Well, that is probably at the crux of the point I was trying to make. Witness the small Internet explosion over the last week regarding the possibility that a Jesus of Nazareth may not have existed. This is a debatable point for a number of reasons (but at least partly because similar mythic narratives in the past are seen as primarily literary creations), but among Christians the possibility is seen as somehow impossible or unworthy of consideration. I guess that this is because for many Christians, the existence of a real (non-mythical) Jesus is axiomatic -- it is the premise upon which all other information is processed and filtered.

Tony, the claim that Jesus never lived is not new. In fact, it is hundreds of years old, if not more. People dismiss the cranks who propose it because their methods violate every principle of historical research. If one took their work seriously, propositions such as "Richard Carrier does not exist" would become plausible, as the recent post linked on this blog demonstrated.

Tony Hoffman said...

RS: "People dismiss the cranks who propose it because their methods violate every principle of historical research."

I'm sure there are some cranks among the mythicists. But I know many who are not.

I am, however, wondering what sacrosanct principle of historical research is violated by positing that Jesus is a myth. Which principle are you thinking of?

Tony Hoffman said...

Btw, this is what I'm talking about. The refusal to even consider the option that the Jesus story could be explained as a myth, and that only a deluded individual could contemplate it, is why the comparison with other scenarios seems so empty to me.

Another way to look at it is to acknowledge that if Napoleon were shown to be a myth, it would call into question a great deal about the practice of History, but we could accommodate that information and continue with our modified methods. If Jesus were shown to be a myth, I don't think the practice of History would change whatsoever.

Do you see the difference?

Tim said...

Tony,

Rank beat me to it. But you ask: "I am, however, wondering what sacrosanct principle of historical research is violated by positing that Jesus is a myth. Which principle are you thinking of?"

I'd say, the principle of following all of the evidence wherever it leads.

Tim said...

Tony,

I've spent thousands of hours studying the historical context of first century Palestine and the place of Jesus and early Christianity. Please understand that, whatever your feelings may be about the matter, mythicism looks as crazy as, or crazier than, flat-earthism or holocaust denial to most scholars who have thought about the matter. The fact that there are a few nutters like Price, Carrier, and Doherty out there doesn't really change this, and those of us who have plowed through some of their work have developed permanent palm-shaped indentations in our foreheads.

I realize that it doesn't look that way to you. But our reaction isn't just visceral distaste for something challenging to one's faith. It's the mother of all historical and methodological facepalms.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "I'd say, the principle of following all of the evidence wherever it leads."

Well, that principle isn't violated by those who propose that Jesus is best explained as a myth, so I don't follow you there. The evidence includes a complete lack of independent attestation, contradictions and ahistorical components and conflicts within the text, events described based on apparent mis-readings of OT prophecies, and, oh, yeah, magic. Soooo, you may want to sweep that evidence under the rug, but it needs to be explained somehow.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "The fact that there are a few nutters like Price, Carrier, and Doherty out there doesn't really change this, and those of us who have plowed through some of their work have developed permanent palm-shaped indentations in our foreheads."

Can you please provide a citation of Carrier's work that has forced you to plant your palm in your face?

Tim said...

Tony,


"Well, that principle isn't violated by those who propose that Jesus is best explained as a myth, so I don't follow you there."

Let's see.

"The evidence includes a complete lack of independent attestation,..."

No it doesn't. There's attestation from as many independent sources as we have any reason to expect, given how little material of any kind has survived from the middle of the first century.

"... contradictions ..."

Even granting this -- and we would have to get down to examples -- what follows? Josephus contradicts himself in his description of several episodes; does it follow that he is not a generally reliable source, or that (say) Mariamne never existed?

"... and ahistorical components ..."

Like what?

"... and conflicts within the text, ..."

Is this just redundant for "contradictions," or do you have something else in mind?

"... events described based on apparent mis-readings of OT prophecies, ..."

Surely you realize that this is a controversial claim. You might want to have a look at Michael Brown's 5-volume work on Jewish objections to Jesus, where all of the contested passages are discussed with sensitivity to Jewish hermeneutics in the second Temple period.

"... and, oh, yeah, magic."

No, miracles. There is a very important difference between γοητεία and τέρας.

Tim said...

Tony,

You ask:

"Can you please provide a citation of Carrier's work that has forced you to plant your palm in your face?"

http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2011/01/richard-carrier-on-bayes-theorem.html

Tim said...

Or this:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/indef/4d.html

Tim said...

Or the material on Zalmoxis (to name just one thing) here:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/improbable/resurrection.html

Morrison said...

Does John Loftus exist?

By that I mean, does the John Loftus who claims to have "deconverted"
from Christianity exist?

After all, he won't give us the names and contact info of the eyewitnessed to this event.

His reasons are contradictory.

His reasons serve his theological construct.

So I want to know if the Historical Lofutus is the "Deconverted" Loftus.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim, I don't have the time to look into the Bayes thing on Carrier but I agree that it he appears sloppy there. He's also charting a new kind of territory there, so I do cut him some slack and support the effort -- I think it's the start of an interesting exercise. And I think Carrier does stride a fine line between intellectual adventurousness and hubris -- I've seen him go both ways on that one as well.

I was mostly interested in what in particular about exactly what you think his blunders are with regard to the historical Jesus question. What does he fundamentally get wrong regarding that question?

I am also busy and traveling over the next 3 days -- something odd about my reaction to a high volume work schedule has me tapping away on a blog like this as a kind of quick respite. Probably not the best planning on my part.

Cheers.

Tim said...

Tony,

"He's also charting a new kind of territory there, so I do cut him some slack and support the effort -- I think it's the start of an interesting exercise."

He's not really much of a path breaker there. I've contributed to the use of Bayesian methods on matters like this myself:

http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/Resurrectionarticlesinglefile.pdf

As of last year, Richard was still fumbling with this subject:

http://lydiaswebpage.blogspot.com/2011/01/odds-form-of-bayess-theorem.html

Regarding Zalmoxis, Carrier has misread Herodotus's account of Zalmoxis in a way that creates a "parallel" that isn't there in Herodotus. I encourage you to read Herodotus for yourself to see this.

Regarding his critique of Newman, Get a copy of Newman's essay and you will discover an enormous, embarrassing blunder in Carrier's reading of Newman. (Hint: Try to find the word "inland" in Newman.)

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim,

I don't want to get into a discussion about the historical evidence for Jesus. What I was more interested in is the issue of whether or not it should be considered illegitimate to ask the question, "Do we have good reason to consider the existence of Jesus of Nazareth to be a historical fact?" In other words, when is it okay to assume, for instance, that Heracles did not exist, or Robin Hood, or Dionysus, and when are we required to consider the existence of Alexander, or Hannibal, or Socrates? It seems to me that historians spend little time explaining their heuristics here, and I think that's partly because the question of a person's existence has little to do with the person per se, and more about their effects; Socrates arguments are what is important, not that there was man with a beard who must have existed otherwise his arguments would have never been conceived.

And that is what I think is odd about the religious reaction to historical accounts, because not only is there the Humean problem, but also there is a requirement to stipulate a person's existence where historians, in my experience, are more agnostic about some people's existence.

That being said, I also don't want to ignore your replies, so I'll just respond quickly here in the next comment.

Tony Hoffman said...

Me: "The evidence includes a complete lack of independent attestation,..."

Tim: "No it doesn't. There's attestation from as many independent sources as we have any reason to expect, given how little material of any kind has survived from the middle of the first century."

This seems like you're saying that because we can't expect any independent attestation we therefore have independent attestation. This appears circular to me.

Tim: "Even granting [contradictions] -- and we would have to get down to examples -- what follows? Josephus contradicts himself in his description of several episodes; does it follow that he is not a generally reliable source, or that (say) Mariamne never existed?"

A contradiction is a contradiction. I would assume that the wherever Josephus contradicts himself he is not reliable on that question, and the more often he does it the less reliable I would consider his accounts where they cannot be verified. This seems fairly uncontroversial to me.

Me: "... and ahistorical components ..."

Tim: "Like what?"

Like Mary and Joseph returning to Bethlehem for a census that we have no other record of, and for a census practice (those born returning to their city to be counted) for which we have no other record.

Me: "... and conflicts within the text, ..."

Tim: "Is this just redundant for "contradictions," or do you have something else in mind?"

I was thinking more like Joseph of Arimathea appearing, having multiple roles -- bascially, all of the deus ex machina moments. Also, things like going off the rails in a supposed biography and writing about what Herod was thinking, etc.

Me: "... events described based on apparent mis-readings of OT prophecies, ..."

Tim: "Surely you realize that this is a controversial claim. You might want to have a look at Michael Brown's 5-volume work on Jewish objections to Jesus, where all of the contested passages are discussed with sensitivity to Jewish hermeneutics in the second Temple period."

If it's controversial, as you admit, then you allow that the question has merit. And this is my point -- that Christians seem to avoid the questions altogether by too often waving their hands and declaring the questions resolved and relegated to the work of fringe figures and cranks.

Me; "... and, oh, yeah, magic."

Tim: "No, miracles. There is a very important difference between γοητεία and τέρας."

I have always found the distinction to be one of semantics. That's because calling it a miracle suspends that which history studies -- facts and regularities. Both appear to be absent in miracle accounts, of which there are many in the NT.

Tim said...

Tony,

You write:

“This seems like you're saying that because we can't expect any independent attestation we therefore have independent attestation. This appears circular to me.”

How so? Bookends a foot apart would enclose all of the documentary remains from the middle decades of the first century AD, and in most of those works we would not expect any mention of Jesus. We have the attestation of Josephus in the Antiquities (twice – both almost certainly authentic, despite what the myther community says) and the attestation of Tacitus in Annals 15.44; that is as much as we have any right to expect in the way of recognition by non-Christians for the founder of a fringe offshoot of Judaism. And we have four memoirs or bioi, two attributed to his immediate disciples and two to their companions and contemporaries. To demand more evidence is to show a lack of understanding about the way that historical documentation works.

“A contradiction is a contradiction. I would assume that the wherever Josephus contradicts himself he is not reliable on that question, and the more often he does it the less reliable I would consider his accounts where they cannot be verified.”

First, by my estimation (I’ve looked at hundreds of these alleged contradictions), about 98% of the claimed contradictions among the Gospels are obviously the product of misreadings or ignoring context. Second, Josephus is not only generally reliable about the doings of the Herods, he is considered to be far and away our best source for things like the death of Mariamne. The fact that some of the details are apparently divergent in his two accounts is not a big deal; the main points of the story are all concordant. Making mountains out of molehills just won’t fly in Josephus scholarship. Why should it fly in New Testament scholarship?

”Like Mary and Joseph returning to Bethlehem for a census that we have no other record of, and for a census practice (those born returning to their city to be counted) for which we have no other record.”

Argument from silence: you need to show why we should expect to have such evidence if the enrollment took place. There is actually a suggestive passage in Josephus, Antiquities 17, that would be consistent with the enrollment in about 6 BC. As for practices, have you not heard of the Roman census edict for Egypt?

Tim said...

Explicating your comment about "contflicts in the text," you write:

”I was thinking more like Joseph of Arimathea appearing, having multiple roles -- bascially, all of the deus ex machina moments.”

I don’t see any conflict in the text regarding Joseph of Arimathea.

“Also, things like going off the rails in a supposed biography …”

Such as what? Have you made any study of Greco-Roman bioi to give a baseline for comparison? If not, you may want to read Richard Burridge’s book What are the Gospels? A Comparison with Greco-Roman Biography.

“… and writing about what Herod was thinking, etc.”

In passages like Matthew 14:1ff? Tell me why you think this is a problem.

Regarding the use of the OT in the NT, you write:

”If it's controversial, as you admit, then you allow that the question has merit. And this is my point -- that Christians seem to avoid the questions altogether …”

I would not grant the inference that because something is a subject of controversy, it has merit. It’s a little odd that you should accuse Christians of avoiding the questions altogether when I just pointed you to a five-volume work on the subject.

Regarding the distinction between miracles and magic, you write:

”I have always found the distinction to be one of semantics. That's because calling it a miracle suspends that which history studies -- facts and regularities”

For those who study the history of magic, it’s a very important distinction indeed. And why should the identification of something as a miracle remove it from the realm of facts? Regularities are not the only things that history studies.

B. Prokop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B. Prokop said...

"A contradiction is a contradiction. I would assume that the wherever Josephus contradicts himself he is not reliable on that question".

Au contraire. My brother-in-law is a cop. He informs me that a degree of contradiction between eyewitness testimonies is evidence of their reliability. Criminal investigators dislike nothing so much as supposedly independent sources that are too much in agreement.

Tony Hoffman said...

Apologies on my brevity and lack of regular involvement in advance. I'll start from the beginning:

Me: "“This seems like you're saying that because we can't expect any independent attestation we therefore have independent attestation. This appears circular to me.”
Tim: "How so? Bookends a foot apart would enclose all of the documentary remains from the middle decades of the first century AD, and in most of those works we would not expect any mention of Jesus."

I don't care if you have an explanation for the absence of independent attestation; I am just pointing out that you appear to be saying that because we should not expect any independent attestation, we have it. This is clearly circular.

And even if I allow that Josephus mentions Christians, as it appears Tacitus does, this is not independent attestation for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth; it is independent attestation for the existence of Christians.

As an aside, please don't tell me that you think the patently interpolated section in Josephus is authentic. If you do, I have to say I have no interest in discussing this topic with you, as I believe you are beyond rational discussion on the topic.

Tony Hoffman said...

Bob: "He informs me that a degree of contradiction between eyewitness testimonies is evidence of their reliability."

Ha. Trying telling that to the jury when you ask them to determine which contradiction they should trust. I do, however, love the fact that you think you've resolved a paradox so easily; they're both telling the truth, because they disagree!

Walter said...

In law enforcement having two separate witnesses give "independent" testimonies that match almost word for word is an indication that their stories have likely been rehearsed--probably to cover some wrong doing on their part. Eyewitnesses get lots of incidental details wrong. I think what Bob is saying is that witnesses got the gist of the story (resurrection) right while fumbling on the incidental details.

B. Prokop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthony Fleming said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B. Prokop said...

"I do, however, love the fact that you think you've resolved a paradox so easily; they're both telling the truth, because they disagree!"

Maybe so, but consider for a moment the following commonly used arguments one sees coming from skeptics:

Skeptic: "You can't believe the Gospels because they contradict each other."

Or: "The Gospels are not independent testimonies because they're too much in agreement."

Classic case of "Heads I win, Tails you lose".

Zach said...

"Please understand that, whatever your feelings may be about the matter, mythicism looks as crazy as, or crazier than, flat-earthism or holocaust denial to most scholars who have thought about the matter."

No? Don't compare it to Holocaust denial. That has just stripped you of any credibility I previously gave you. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to find the 500 reasons it is ridiculous to say it is "as crazy" as Holocaust denial.

Zach said...

That may be the worst overstatement I have ever seen in these discussions. I frankly find it vile and disingenuous.

Zach said...

If they agree on things, that is great. If they do not agree on things, that is great too.

Popper, where are you?

The crazy confabulations you people go through sometimes make me wonder why I am a Christian.

Tim said...

Zach,

I wasn't writing for your approval. If you're that crazy, I'm glad I don't have it.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "First, by my estimation (I’ve looked at hundreds of these alleged contradictions), about 98% of the claimed contradictions among the Gospels are obviously the product of misreadings or ignoring context."

Even were that true, there are (by your own admission) come contradictions in the Gospels that cannot be so easily explained away. Reports that are inconsistent with reality are hard enough to believe; contradictory reports are, by their definition, impossible to simultaneously believe.

Tim: "Argument from silence: you need to show why we should expect to have such evidence if the enrollment took place."

Well, there is evidence of other censuses. And this one appears not just unique, but entirely non-sensical; do you really think that a census is supposed to count where people were born instead of where they live? Seriously, have you ever thought about what the purpose of such a thing would be? In what world do you imagine that this kind of thing would be a good use of societal resources?

Tim: "There is actually a suggestive passage in Josephus, Antiquities 17, that would be consistent with the enrollment in about 6 BC. As for practices, have you not heard of the Roman census edict for Egypt?"

Feel free to cite the passage from Josephus. As for the link you provide to the Roman Census edict, did you notice the part where a) the edict wanted people who lived outside the city back at their homes so their work lives would not be disrupted, and b) so that they could be counted at their residence? So I think your link shows that the story of returning to Bethlehem is, again, entirely inconsistent with what we know of Roman census taking -- go back to where you live, and don't disrupt your productivity.

Tim said...

Tony: Even were that true, there are (by your own admission) come contradictions in the Gospels that cannot be so easily explained away.

Right: the other 2% actually take a little historical or linguistic knowledge.

*****

Tim: "Argument from silence: you need to show why we should expect to have such evidence if the enrollment took place."

Tony: Well, there is evidence of other censuses. And this one appears not just unique, but entirely non-sensical; do you really think that a census is supposed to count where people were born instead of where they live? Seriously, have you ever thought about what the purpose of such a thing would be? In what world do you imagine that this kind of thing would be a good use of societal resources?

The Jews, before the disastrous war of AD 66-70, kept extensive genalogical registries. What is nonsensical about sending people to the appropriate place where their identity can be checked against an existing list?

Besides, asking this sort of rhetorical question is a poor way to do history. What could have been the benefit to Herod the Great of having all of the chief men of Judea killed in the hour of his own death? How absurd to think that he would concoct such a plan! Yet he did.

Aside from this, you still have not addressed the fundamental problem with the argument from silence.

*****

Tony: Feel free to cite the passage from Josephus.

Antiquities 16.9.3 (Loeb #290): πάλαι χρώμενος αὐτῷ φίλῳ νῦν ὑπηκόῳ χρήσεται. One of the perquisites of being a client king in good standing with the Romans was the right to tax people as one saw fit. Herod is here being told that, whereas he has been treated as a friend heretofore, now he will be treated as a subject.

*****

Tony: As for the link you provide to the Roman Census edict, did you notice the part where a) the edict wanted people who lived outside the city back at their homes so their work lives would not be disrupted,

Actually, the word is not home but nome, a Greek term for an administrative district. So the burden of the first point is: if you’re not in your district, get back to it for the registration.

Tony, continued: . . . and b) so that they could be counted at their residence?

They were going to be counted in the administrative districts to which they properly belonged, unless they had an overriding reason to be elsewhere. That’s all.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "Right: the other 2% [of seeming Biblical contradictions] actually take a little historical or linguistic knowledge."

Let's be clear here; are you an inerrantist? Because if you are, it seems that you have excluded yourself from the subject of Historical study (under accepted methods of scholarship) of the NT.

Tim: "The Jews, before the disastrous war of AD 66-70, kept extensive genalogical registries. What is nonsensical about sending people to the appropriate place where their identity can be checked against an existing list?"

The census would be a Roman requirement. Romans cared about taxes -- that's what made the Empire run. Jews certainly cared about lineage, but a census would have been to make sure that those who were living and producing were contributing to revenue of the Empire. A census that presumes to be checking for lineage shows little understanding of the practical requirements behind those practices we see from the time.

Tim: "Besides, asking this sort of rhetorical question is a poor way to do history. What could have been the benefit to Herod the Great of having all of the chief men of Judea killed in the hour of his own death? How absurd to think that he would concoct such a plan! Yet he did."

Actually, that's exactly how one does History. Admittedly, crazy stuff just does happen sometime (the Great Tulip panic, etc.), but that doesn't mean we read historical documents with total credulousness. I have to ask -- what History have you studied outside the time of the NT? Because it seems that you are unfamiliar with the concept of reading some historical accounts with a degree of skepticism based on familiarity with predictable biases, motivations, etc. Honestly, what you have written makes it appear that you have not studied much of any History outside of the NT, at least not at a college level where it's required that one take courses on a prescribed number of periods outside of one's concentration. And if you are trying to portray yourself as an expert on the History around the time of the NT, you also need to show some kind of familiarity with how the field of History approaches historical accounts like those we have from this period.

Tim: "Aside from this, you still have not addressed the fundamental problem with the argument from silence."

And if I were making a deductive argument perhaps you'd have something there. But I am not. I am only making the entirely reasonable observation that we do not see what we would hope to see were the events of the NT to have happened as described. This may be explainable (as you have indicated by pointing out how we do not have an abundance of documentation from this period), but the fact of your reply indicates that you understand this requires an explanation. In other words, you can't have it both ways; an explanation is required (as you have given), or it is not (in which case there is no fundamental problem with my making the observation).

Regarding the Josephus citation, I was looking for a link or the passage. I am not sure what you are saying in the paragraph in which you referred to Herod and taxation.

Tim: "Actually, the word is not home but nome, a Greek term for an administrative district. So the burden of the first point is: if you’re not in your district, get back to it for the registration. They were going to be counted in the administrative districts to which they properly belonged, unless they had an overriding reason to be elsewhere. That’s all."

Right. And that is my point. It does not say, "go back to where you were born." It clearly indicates that people were to go back to where they lived and worked (where they belonged), and the reason for so doing. This is another reason to suspect that the census for which Joseph and Mary were to return to Behtlehem is ahistorical; thanks for pointing it out to me.

Tim said...

Tony: Let's be clear here; are you an inerrantist?

This has nothing to do with inerrancy or even inspiration. I’m speaking simply from my study of the various challenges that I’ve seen leveled against the Gospels. You can find out more about my position from the various videos of my lectures on YouTube.

Tim: "The Jews, before the disastrous war of AD 66-70, kept extensive genalogical registries. What is nonsensical about sending people to the appropriate place where their identity can be checked against an existing list?"

Tony: The census would be a Roman requirement. Romans cared about taxes -- that's what made the Empire run. Jews certainly cared about lineage, but a census would have been to make sure that those who were living and producing were contributing to revenue of the Empire. A census that presumes to be checking for lineage shows little understanding of the practical requirements behind those practices we see from the time.

You’re missing the point: a registration for the purposes of taxation needs to make sure that it’s getting all of the relevant inhabitants registered; otherwise, some people will escape taxation. Therefore, people have to be registered wherever it can be certified that all of the relevant people are being counted. The method of certification depends on the practices of the people of the country in question. Rome would require that they travel to that appropriate location, wherever that might be in the given locale.

Tim: "Besides, asking this sort of rhetorical question is a poor way to do history. What could have been the benefit to Herod the Great of having all of the chief men of Judea killed in the hour of his own death? How absurd to think that he would concoct such a plan! Yet he did."

Tony: Actually, that's exactly how one does History. Admittedly, crazy stuff just does happen sometime (the Great Tulip panic, etc.), but that doesn't mean we read historical documents with total credulousness.

I have never advocated total credulousness. I have advocated not making up challenges based on half-assed ignorance and pretending that they matter. Also, it helps if you get your head out of the internet myther swamps and read what real historians say about the Testimonium Flavianum.

Tony: I have to ask -- what History have you studied outside the time of the NT? Because it seems that you are unfamiliar with the concept of reading some historical accounts with a degree of skepticism based on familiarity with predictable biases, motivations, etc.

You can find my CV online.

Tim said...

Tim: "Aside from this, you still have not addressed the fundamental problem with the argument from silence."

Tony: And if I were making a deductive argument perhaps you'd have something there. But I am not.

My challenge is precisely to the probabilistic use of the argument from silence.

Tony: I am only making the entirely reasonable observation that we do not see what we would hope to see were the events of the NT to have happened as described.

Hope has nothing to do with it. What you need is a rational expectation, not a hope.

Tony: Regarding the Josephus citation, I was looking for a link or the passage. I am not sure what you are saying in the paragraph in which you referred to Herod and taxation.

It is a reasonable inference from this passage that Augustus was telling Herod the Great that Rome would conduct a registration and tax, taking that prerogative out of his hands. However, if you keep reading, you’ll find that Herod managed to get back into Augustus’s good graces. This would explain both the enrollment and the fact that it was not subsequently made use of until after Archelaus was deposed for mismanagement.

Tim: "Actually, the word is not home but nome, a Greek term for an administrative district. So the burden of the first point is: if you’re not in your district, get back to it for the registration. They were going to be counted in the administrative districts to which they properly belonged, unless they had an overriding reason to be elsewhere. That’s all."

Tony: Right. And that is my point. It does not say, "go back to where you were born." It clearly indicates that people were to go back to where they lived and worked (where they belonged), and the reason for so doing. This is another reason to suspect that the census for which Joseph and Mary were to return to Behtlehem is ahistorical; thanks for pointing it out to me.

Again, you’re missing the point: The Egyptian census decree tells the people to go to the place where the appropriate records are kept. In Egypt, this was their nomes, and typically that is where they lived as well. But Palestine was not divided according to nomes, and the Jewish method of keeping records was not, in all probability, the same as the Egyptian. That is one of the things that Rome (sensibly enough) left to its client kingdoms when they passed under its rule without being conquered. Where, in all of this, is the slightest ground for doubting the account in Luke 2?

Tim said...

In considering the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, I am making no assumptions about the inerrancy or inspiration of the New Testament documents.

Tim: "You’re missing the point: a registration for the purposes of taxation needs to make sure that it’s getting all of the relevant inhabitants registered; otherwise, some people will escape taxation."

Tony: Agreed. Why does it need to account for where a person was born, as opposed to where they lived and worked?

It needs to take account of the place where the records are. The people need to go where the records about them are kept. If that’s where they live, great. If not, then they need to go there.

Tony: [T]here's no reason why birthplace records should have anything to do with the question of residency and livelihood.

Not necessarily birthplace: it’s where the records of the individuals are kept. If they are kept by tribe and lineage, then you may have to go where the records of your tribe are kept – which needn’t be either where you live and work or where you were born.

Tony: What do you think the (not interpolated) Testimonium Flavium has to say about the existence of Jesus of Nazareth? I'm just not following what you think is so important in that document, and what real and non-real historians have to say about it.

Flavianum. Because you wrote: “Please don't tell me that you think the patently interpolated section in Josephus is authentic. If you do, I have to say I have no interest in discussing this topic with you, as I believe you are beyond rational discussion on the topic.”

This comment shows that you haven’t the faintest idea about the real state of historical scholarship on this point. I’m just driving that home, and I’m documenting my claims by giving you multiple scholarly sources in which you can read all about it.

Tony: "I have to ask -- what History have you studied outside the time of the NT? Because it seems that you are unfamiliar with the concept of reading some historical accounts with a degree of skepticism based on familiarity with predictable biases, motivations, etc."

Tim: "You can find my CV online."

Tony: Or you could just answer the question. If not, it's customary to introduce yourself, or provide a link as a way of introduction so that I don't have to guess so much and possibly make some bad assumptions.

If I demand that you take my word for something, I’ll provide relevant documentation of my expertise. But I haven’t; and aside from that case, the question is a mere distraction.

BeingItself said...

Is there anything more embarrassing apologetics? Reason and common sense pushed hindmost. The bible is True!

Tim said...

BI,

What's the value in pointless insults like that? If you want to put yourself forward as a champion of reason and common sense, say something reasonable or sensible.

BeingItself said...

It's not a pointless insult. I'm making and observation that has a point. I never cease to be amazed how obviously bright people use their intellects in such degrading ways.

It is blindingly obvious that you start with the premise "the bible is true", and then jump through any hoop, no matter how contrived or ridiculous, in order to maintain that premise. It's intellectually bankrupt.

Tony Hoffman said...

I am now testing the fact that my comments are not being displayed. I'm just wondering if this will show up.

Tony Hoffman said...

Here's what I wrote earlier, and Tim respond to. I'm breaking it into two parts, hoping that will help it get through.


Me: "Let's be clear here; are you an inerrantist?"
Tim: "This has nothing to do with inerrancy or even inspiration. I’m speaking simply from my study of the various challenges that I’ve seen leveled against the Gospels. You can find out more about my position from the various videos of my lectures on YouTube."

You didn't answer the question. And it is relevant to the question of how you are considering historical evidence for Jesus, and if you are asking for special privilege for the documents of the NT.

Are you an inerrantist?

Tim: "You’re missing the point: a registration for the purposes of taxation needs to make sure that it’s getting all of the relevant inhabitants registered; otherwise, some people will escape taxation."

Agreed. But why does it need to account for where a person was born, as opposed to where they live and work? This doesn't seem to make much practical sense to me.

Tim: "Therefore, people have to be registered wherever it can be certified that all of the relevant people are being counted."

I think you should clarify what you mean by this. Relevant for the purposes of census taking seems like it should be: 1) alive, and b) where one is being productive (can be taxed). And what about the problems this introduces, where Bethlehem's records would need to be transported back to Nazareth, and all the other places from which those born there came from?

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "The method of certification depends on the practices of the people of the country in question. Rome would require that they travel to that appropriate location, wherever that might be in the given locale."

I am not disputing that Rome allowed some local control, and that should include something like the methods used for taking a census. But admitting this does nothing to avoid the issue -- that the document you referenced indicated that not disrupting (taxable) productivity was a principle consideration. Clearly, asking people to travel back to a place where they were born in order to be counted is not consistent with this consideration. (I'm not saying it's impossible, just unlikely.)

Tim: "I have never advocated total credulousness. I have advocated not making up challenges based on half-assed ignorance and pretending that they matter."

Way to take the high ground when it comes to criticism of your analysis. Classy.

Tim: "Also, it helps if you get your head out of the internet myther swamps and read what real historians say about the Testimonium Flavianum."

I have. Here's what Louis H. Feldman has to say in "Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity" about Josephus: "In summary, the essays included in this volume would give Josephus mixed grades so far as his reliability as a historian is concerned....[Lists those things for which he seems reliable.] However, he seems to be mistaken in many details, such as those in connection with the episode describing Pilate's introduction of the emperor's standards into Jersualsem, [etc.]" In other words, about what we'd expect from a chronicler of the period, and not someone who's work avoids any scrutiny or questioning.

Me: "I have to ask -- what History have you studied outside the time of the NT? Because it seems that you are unfamiliar with the concept of reading some historical accounts with a degree of skepticism based on familiarity with predictable biases, motivations, etc."

Tim: "You can find my CV online."

Or you could just answer the question. If not, it's customary to at least provide a link to said CV as a way of introduction so that I don't have to guess so much and possibly make some bad assumptions. Your ID here says "Tim," and your Blogger profile provides says that you have been a member since May 2011, and that your page profile has 175 views.

Tim said...

BI,

Since you're dead wrong, I suggest that you might want to get your obvious-o-meter recalibrated.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "In considering the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, I am making no assumptions about the inerrancy or inspiration of the New Testament documents."

Great. Then what, for instance, do you think may not be an entirely accurate account in the NT? In what ways do you see the biases or perspective of the writers coloring their accounts? From the perspective of a historian, with all you know from other sources, I am curious what you would point out to the reader.

Bobcat said...

Hi Tony,

"Tim" is Tim McGrew, and his CV is here:

http://homepages.wmich.edu/~mcgrew/cv.htm

I didn't notice any evidence of historical training that would satisfy you, Tony, but I glanced very quickly at Tim's CV. That said, I'm not sure I understand why you're insistent on knowing what Tim's historical credentials are, or whether he's an inerrantist. If I were to give a philosophical argument, and then you responded, and I asked you how much philosophical training you had, it wouldn't seem to me to be very relevant. If you said, "why does it matter whether I have a Ph.D., M.A., or B.A. in philosophy? Why not just respond to my arguments?", I should think that would be a perfectly fine response (at least in many cases I can think of).

So, I'm not sure why you want to know Tim's take on other periods of history; I gather you want to say something like this, "because Tim just restricts himself to NT history [I don't know if this assumption is right, but let's grant it for a second], we have good reason to believe that he doesn't know general historical methodology. But if he doesn't know general historical methodology, that means that I no longer have to respond to his claims about the NT." IF that is what you're saying -- and I don't know whether it is -- then that seems to me to be pretty weird.

Tim said...

Tony,

I gave you three sources on Josephus and the Testimonium, any one of which would have corrected your ideas on it. For you to cite that as an effort on my part to get you to take something on trust is ... odd.

If you want to talk professional publication and specialization, I have published both in the history of science and on the history of modern philosophy. You can find the citations on the CV. I would ask for your credentials if I thought it made any difference. But credentials are only a secondary marker for competence. If you want to have a discussion let's argue about the evidence, shall we?

Tony Hoffman said...

Okay, I see that my comments aren't taking. Trying again by splitting this one up.


Bobcat: "That said, I'm not sure I understand why you're insistent on knowing what Tim's historical credentials are, or whether he's an inerrantist."

Yes, and earlier Tim had written this: "If I demand that you take my word for something, I’ll provide relevant documentation of my expertise. But I haven’t; and aside from that case, the question is a mere distraction."

To be clear, I did not originally raise the issue of Tim's authority on this subject; he did. Tim has provided some evidence for his assertions (and I thank him for that), but he also seemed to speak as an authority on how History is conducted and what the consensus of Historians have concluded about the sources from the 1st Century. It's the second part that makes my question about his expertise legitimate -- one can't expect to speak as an authority on this matter without at least having someone question exactly what those credentials and background are.

Here are some examples from Tim's comments where he seems to speak on behalf of Historians of the period.

Tim: "Please understand that, whatever your feelings may be about the matter, mythicism looks as crazy as, or crazier than, flat-earthism or holocaust denial to most scholars who have thought about the matter."

Tim: "Besides, asking this sort of rhetorical question is a poor way to do history."

Tim: "Also, it helps if you get your head out of the internet myther swamps and read what real historians say about the Testimonium Flavianum."

Tim: "This comment shows that you haven’t the faintest idea about the real state of historical scholarship on this point. I’m just driving that home, and I’m documenting my claims by giving you multiple scholarly sources in which you can read all about it."

And when asked what his background was that enabled him to make these assessments, he told me:

Tim: "Tim: "You can find my CV online."

Tony Hoffman said...

And cont'd:


So, it's not like I'm trying to make Tim's expertise the issue (I don't believe it should be); But I believe that he has, throughout his comments here with me, made his expertise on both the proper practice of History and the Historicity of this period to be admitted as evidence when assessing the historical Jesus. In those cases, it's customary to assess that evidence, and that is why I asked.

Also, if Tim cannot answer my last question to him, then I think he has obviously excluded himself from being able to assess, from a Historians' perspective, the documents of the NT. If he cannot, for instance, dispassionately point out the probable biases of the NT writers, then he will be demonstrating that he cannot view the documents of the NT as Historians do all other ancient documents.

Thank you for the link and the information, by the way -- I suspected as much, but I truly wasn't sure.

Anthony Fleming said...

TH: "If he cannot, for instance, dispassionately point out the probable biases of the NT writers, then he will be demonstrating that he cannot view the documents of the NT as Historians do all other ancient documents. "

So, what level of bias should one attribute to the NT writers in order to be considered as providing an objective historical view?

Being an inerrantist does not mean one cannot admit a certain bias with the NT writers. In fact, that is obvious when one considers that they do not hide their own interpretations. It also does not mean the bible, as we have it, is perfect.

Anthony Fleming said...

Tony, one last thing,

You don't think Tim's answer to your question will weaken his arguments right?

Ok, back to work for the day. Have to finish 3 sites by the end of this week.

BeingItself said...

I could not find any reference to McGrew's "Library of Historical Apologetics" on his CV. Wonder why.

http://historicalapologetics.org/about-us/people/

Anthony Fleming said...

Being, what's your point? Dr. McGrew has shared on that library on radio shows and written articles, at least one of which Victor Posted on last year.

BeingItself said...

Two points. I was providing it for Tony. Also, I genuinely wonder why it's not on his CV.

Tim said...

BI,

It isn't hard: I didn't put it on my CV because it is a public service, not a publication.

BeingItself said...

Not everything listed on your CV is a publication. Guess you better fix that. It seems to me "Christian Apologetics" would fit nicely under Areas of Specialization or Other Areas of Competence or Other Professional Activities.

Tim said...

BI,

It's not a conference presentation either. If you're insinuating that material on this subject is absent from the CV, however, you might want to have a look at the contribution to The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.

Now go troll somewhere else.

BeingItself said...

What is your problem? I asked a question, you answered it unsatisfactorily. I'm aware that your CV is lousy with apologetics.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "I gave you three sources on Josephus and the Testimonium, any one of which would have corrected your ideas on it. For you to cite that as an effort on my part to get you to take something on trust is ... odd."

Let's be clear: are you declaring that all, some, or none of the Testimonium is original to Josephus? I am not sure of your position, still. And as I mentioned before, I would be somewhat speechless to hear that you are endorsing the full Testimonium as likely original to Josephus.

Tim: "If you want to talk professional publication and specialization, I have published both in the history of science and on the history of modern philosophy. You can find the citations on the CV. I would ask for your credentials if I thought it made any difference. But credentials are only a secondary marker for competence. If you want to have a discussion let's argue about the evidence, shall we?"

Ha. As I pointed out earlier, I am not the one who has brought the historical consensus up with regard to the question of whether or not Jesus of Nazareth need have existed, nor my CV. And yes, I would much rather talk about the evidence -- I think that relying on this historian's assessment versus that historians' assessment seems almost juvenile. But, by the same token, I suppose it's occasionally necessary when we're talking about something that, for some reason, a large number of people don't seem to agree on (the study of History).

So, my question (as you may recall), is, What are the likely biases and perspectives of the NT writers that, given our background knowledge of the time and of humans throughout history, we should consider when reading the documents of the NT. Said another way, what are just a couple of things that are probably not 100% accurate as recorded in the NT, and what are your reasons for thinking so?

Hiero5ant said...

"What are the likely biases and perspectives of the NT writers that, given our background knowledge of the time and of humans throughout history, we should consider when reading the documents of the NT. Said another way, what are just a couple of things that are probably not 100% accurate as recorded in the NT, and what are your reasons for thinking so?"

This reader is also very interested in a direct, non-dissembling response to this question.

Tim said...

Tony: Let's be clear: are you declaring that all, some, or none of the Testimonium is original to Josephus? I am not sure of your position, still.

I wrote, above: “The solid consensus of modern historians is that Antiquities 18.3.3 (Loeb #63-63-64) was originally written by Josephus. Most scholars believe that the passage suffered some Christian interpolations early on but that the original form is more or less what we find in the Arabic text of Agapius published by Shlomo Pines about 40 years ago.” I’m not sure what you find unclear about this.

Tony: And as I mentioned before, I would be somewhat speechless to hear that you are endorsing the full Testimonium as likely original to Josephus.

No, that’s not what you “mentioned before.” Let’s review the history . . .

You wrote: If, however, you take a position that consideration of Jesus as mythical narrative is beneath consideration, then I think I would disagree with you, adding, I'm sure there are some cranks among the mythicists. But I know many who are not. I disagreed and, in answer to your question, I said that the myther literature violates the principle of following all of the evidence wherever it leads.

Your response included this line:

The evidence includes a complete lack of independent attestation, . . . [emphasis added]

In following this up, you wrote:

And even if I allow that Josephus mentions Christians, as it appears Tacitus does, this is not independent attestation for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth; it is independent attestation for the existence of Christians.

As an aside, please don't tell me that you think the patently interpolated section in Josephus is authentic. If you do, I have to say I have no interest in discussing this topic with you, as I believe you are beyond rational discussion on the topic.
[emphasis added]

There are multiple things wrong here. First, you appear to think that Tacitus doesn’t mention Jesus. But he does, in Annals 15.44:

“Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, . . .”

Second, you appear to think that it is a concession on your part to allow that Josephus mentions Christians, let alone Jesus. But the famous passage in Antiquities 18.3.3. (Loeb #64) mentions both, and Jesus is again mentioned in Antiquities 20.9.1 (Loeb #200):

“Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he [Ananus] assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: . . .” (emphasis added)

Tim said...

According to Louis Feldman, arguably the most respected living Josephus scholar, “That, indeed, Josephus did say something about Jesus is indicated, above all, by the passage—the authenticity of which has been almost universally acknowledged—about James, who is termed (A XX, 200) the brother of “the aforementioned Christ.” (Josephus, Judaism and Christianity (Brill, 1997), p. 56.)

Third, you refer to “the patently interpolated section in Josephus” in the course of the discussion of the extent of the independent attestation for the existence of Jesus. And to sustain your charge that the position “Jesus is best explained as a myth” is supported, inter alia, by “a complete lack of independent attestation,” you need the entire passage to be interpolated. But here is how the Agapian version reads:

“At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have reported wonders.”

This version lacks or qualifies the phrases that, in the Greek text, seem most likely to be Christian interpolations: “... if indeed one ought to call him a man ...,” “... He was the Messiah ...,” “... he appeared to them on the third day restored to life ...”

In sum, it looks like, at the beginning of this discussion, you were badly misinformed about the actual texts bearing on the question of the existence of Jesus, and now you’re trying to backtrack and make it look like you were not. If you could get away with it, you would succeed in making my correction of your blunders look like a mere misunderstanding. But you’ve said too much already in this thread to make that work.

Anthony Fleming said...

^ Wow, I didn't know a few of those things. Very interesting.

That pesky James the brother of Jesus seems to keep emerging.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim, I'm about to go through your responses here, but the first thing I did was check to see what I had missed and I can't find your first quote. You wrote:

Tim: "I wrote, above: “The solid consensus of modern historians is that Antiquities 18.3.3 (Loeb #63-63-64) was originally written by Josephus. Most scholars believe that the passage suffered some Christian interpolations early on but that the original form is more or less what we find in the Arabic text of Agapius published by Shlomo Pines about 40 years ago.” I’m not sure what you find unclear about this."

Except I did a find on this page and didn't see that quote above -- I tried "Shlomo" and "The solid" but neither found a match. I have been trouble getting some of my posts to take hold, so maybe that happened to you, or maybe I'm just not using my find feature right. Where did you write your quote earlier?

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "There are multiple things wrong here. First, you appear to think that Tacitus doesn’t mention Jesus. But he does, in Annals 15.44:"

I consider independent attestation from a man born 25 or more years after Jesus of Nazareth as being impossible. I would have thought this was obvious. Clearly, we should agree on what the term independent attestation means before further arguing the evidence.

Tim said...

Tony,

Well, that's frustrating. I posted the note with the references on May 04, 2012 7:22 AM, and it showed up here in the feed as well as in my email. Apparently since that point it has been eaten by the system.

My apologies for assuming that you had read it.

I'll recapitulate that note in parts for you here.

*****Part 1*****
Tony,

You write:

“I don't care if you have an explanation for the absence of independent attestation; I am just pointing out that you appear to be saying that because we should not expect any independent attestation, we have it. This is clearly circular.”

No, it isn’t. You are trying to argue that the relative sparseness of early attestation for Jesus outside of the New Testament is evidence against the existence of Jesus; I am countering that if he existed, we wouldn’t expect much anyway. If I am right, your argument fails. I have substantiated my position by pointing out how little we have from that period altogether.

“As an aside, please don't tell me that you think the patently interpolated section in Josephus is authentic. If you do, I have to say I have no interest in discussing this topic with you, as I believe you are beyond rational discussion on the topic.”

The solid consensus of modern historians is that Antiquities 18.3.3 (Loeb #63-64) was originally written by Josephus. Most scholars believe that the passage suffered some Christian interpolations early on but that the original form is more or less what we find in the Arabic text of Agapius published by Shlomo Pines about 40 years ago. On this topic, see, for example:

Shlomo Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its Implications (Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1971)

Louis H. Feldman, “Flavius Josephus Revisited: The Man, his Writings and his Significance,” In Temporini and Haase, eds., Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt, Part 2. (De Gruyter, 1990), pp. 763–771

Alice Whealey, Josephus on Jesus: The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Late Antiquity to Modern Times (Peter Lang, 2003)

Only in the fever swamps of internet mythicism does the contrary position hold sway. Contrary to Dan Barker and Victor Stenger, who claim that no early manuscript of Josephus’s Antiquities has the passage, every manuscript we now possess that contains book 18 of the Antiquities has the Testimonium Flavianum.
*****End of Part 1*****

Tim said...

*****Part 2*****
The other passage in Josephus that mentions Jesus (not just “Christians”) is Antiquities 20.9.1 (Loeb #200). Virtually every modern scholar considers this passage to be authentic.

It does not bother me that you feel strongly about your beliefs. But we have no hope of a rational, evidence-based discussion of these issues if you are not willing to acknowledge and deal with the public evidence.
*****End of Part 2*****

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "In sum, it looks like, at the beginning of this discussion, you were badly misinformed about the actual texts bearing on the question of the existence of Jesus, and now you’re trying to backtrack and make it look like you were not. If you could get away with it, you would succeed in making my correction of your blunders look like a mere misunderstanding. But you’ve said too much already in this thread to make that work."

Ha. Easy big fella. As I just mentioned, I think that Tacitus and Josephus being born a generation or more after Jesus's death make it hard for them to provide the kind of independent attestation we'd like for the existence of a historical Jesus. I think that a lot of the discussions about interpolations, etc. too often lose sight of this basic fact. (I originally asked you about the interpolated section in Josephus because I wanted to get a quick understanding of which attestation you ascribed to, and by that also what level of critical analysis you were probably applying to your sources.)

Do you have an answer to my question upthread, the one that Hiero5ant also mentioned he'd like to see you answer?

Tim said...

Regarding Tacitus, I was responding to this line from you: "And even if I allow that Josephus mentions Christians, as it appears Tacitus does, ..."

But Tacitus mentions not only Christians but Christus.

As for his dates, yes, let's decide what counts as "independent attestation."

Every book of the New Testament refers to Jesus -- count the authors how you will (traditionally, 9 authors; if you deny traditional ascriptions of authorship, that number probably goes up) that's a lot of attestations. I am assuming that by "independent" here you mean, at a minimum, "not from the New Testament," though I will add that it seems to me to be quite a strange thing to ask for the testimony of people who were not intimately involved in the founding and growth of the early church when you have that testimony for the asking. The suggestion that these people were in some invidious sense "biased" in favor of Jesus' existence is as absurd as ... well, as the suggestion that people who actually knew Napoleon are not good sources for the question of whether he ever lived.

The first epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians is probably a first century work; as one would expect, it refers to Jesus Christ from the very first verse. The epistle of Polycarp and the seven epistles of Ignatius date most probably from the first decade of the second century -- still within living memory of the apostles. Are you also going to demand that the sources not be Christians at all? Why demand a thing like that?

Tacitus's evidence dates from the second decade of the second century, but it refers to events that transpired in Rome when he was about seven or eight years old and about which he must have heard much both as they transpired and as he was growing up there. Why should his evidence not be taken seriously here?

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "You are trying to argue that the relative sparseness of early attestation for Jesus outside of the New Testament is evidence against the existence of Jesus; I am countering that if he existed, we wouldn’t expect much anyway. If I am right, your argument fails. I have substantiated my position by pointing out how little we have from that period altogether."

My claims are, I think, more modest. I am trying to say that one of many reasons it's not crazy to ask the question of whether or not a Jesus of Nazareth actually existed is that (among other things), we don't have what would help us quickly dismiss that claim; independent attestation. And because we don't have (what I consider) independent attestation, I think we have to look elsewhere for reasons to dismiss the idea that Jesus of Nazareth may not have existed. That's all.

Tim: "Only in the fever swamps of internet mythicism does the contrary position hold sway."

I have to say that it seems you are resorting to an argument from authority again. I disagree with your assessment about 18.3.3, not just based on other historians who agree with me, but on the fact that the passage is clearly (even to a lay reader) incongruent with the text and style, and more importantly that no other early church champions seems to have been aware of it. We could get into an airing of this, but as I said before, I think we'd only mostly succeed in giving Christians enough to continue to believe and non-believers enough reason to conclude forgery. But as I said before, I don't consider Josephus as being able to provide the kind of independent attestation that could truly put talk of a mythical Jesus to rest without much further consideration.

Tim said...

Tony,

1. Antiquities 18.3.3 isn't the only passage in which Josephus refers to Jesus; there's also 20.9.1.

2. If you demand attestation from people who were living at the time Jesus lived, then I'm going to take my stand on Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, and Jude.

And yes, I'm familiar with all of the arguments in Bart Ehrman's book Forged. To hear what I think about his treatment of the authorship of the Gospels, you can start here.

Tim said...

You write:

"I disagree with your assessment about 18.3.3, not just based on other historians who agree with me, but on the fact that the passage is clearly (even to a lay reader) incongruent with the text and style, and more importantly that no other early church champions seems to have been aware of it."

1. Which employed, credentialed, living historians agree with you?

2. I've read the passage both in English and in Greek, and I do not find it incongruous either in text or in style.

3. There is no reason for early Church fathers to have mentioned it, so their failure to do so is no argument that they were unaware of it or (a fortiori) that it did not exist.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim, I really don't care to discuss Josephus for the reasons that I've mentioned throughout. Still, I'll answer your questions again on this topic, and hope that you'll at least see this as my reasoning.

Tim: "1. Which employed, credentialed, living historians agree with you?"

Well, in some ways that's a trick question. The Josephus quote has a long history, such a long history that it was thoroughly debunked by scholars from about 200 to 100 years ago, after which it became basically a forgotten embarrassment. Living historians even bother with it only when the issue is raised again, and I don't think it has any life outside apologetics. I believe that is all true from my casual interest in the topic, and I understand that you disagree. I would suggest that anyone who disagrees with my assessment or yours do their own research.

Tim: "2. I've read the passage both in English and in Greek, and I do not find it incongruous either in text or in style."

As I recall, it is the only time Josephus uses the first person (we) in his accounts, and the story is inserted between two sections about (and now I'm fuzzier) battles or something. I consider that incongruence in style and in text.

3. There is no reason for early Church fathers to have mentioned it, so their failure to do so is no argument that they were unaware of it or (a fortiori) that it did not exist.

I believe (as I think most people do) that independent attestation for not just a man but a supernatural man named Jesus would be a powerful tool for evangelizers. Saying that there is no reason for the early church fathers to not take note and use any (supposed) historical, independent attestation seems a tad disingenuous from someone who runs a apologetics library online in order to serve exactly this purpose.

Tony Hoffman said...

I have a feeling that is is petering out, so I'm going to ask you answer this question one more time:

What are the likely biases and perspectives of the NT writers that, given our background knowledge of the time and of humans throughout history, we should consider when reading the documents of the NT. Said another way, what are just a couple of things that are probably not 100% accurate as recorded in the NT, and what are your reasons for thinking so?

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...

Tony: Well, in some ways that's a trick question.

Not really. There are very, very few living, relevantly credentialed, academically employed scholars who deny that Josephus wrote a version of Antiquities 18.3.3 that was more or less what the Agapian text says. Since that time, there haven't been more than a handful, and most of them have retired now. Ken Olson is the only name that comes to mind offhand.

Tony: The Josephus quote has a long history, such a long history that it was thoroughly debunked by scholars from about 200 to 100 years ago, after which it became basically a forgotten embarrassment.

Actually, it continued to be contested right up to recent times, when the discovery of the Agapian text persuaded a solid majority of scholars that Josephus really did mention Jesus there.

Tony: Living historians even bother with it only when the issue is raised again, and I don't think it has any life outside apologetics.

This is false. Alice Whealey's book has no apologetic content or (so far as I can determine) motivation; it is simply a scholarly study of the history of the dispute through modern times.

Tony: "As I recall, it is the only time Josephus uses the first person (we) in his accounts, ..."

Most scholars today consider that particular use of the first person to be an artifact of one of the interpolations: "... at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us ..." does not occur in the Agapian text. However, you are misinformed about Josephus's characteristic language. He uses the first person plural elsewhere in the Antiquities and even in that same chapter, e.g. 18.3.1: "... whereas our law forbids us the very making of images ..."

Tony: "... and the story is inserted between two sections about (and now I'm fuzzier) battles or something. I consider that incongruence in style and in text."

No need to stay fuzzy: let's look it up.

Antiquities 18.3.1 Pilate brings the army to Jerusalem and brings some Roman images into the city, causing an uproar. Eventually, Pilate backs down.

Antiquities 18.3.2 Pilate takes some of the sacred money to finance a scheme for diverting water to Jerusalem. The Jews raise a clamor against them, and he puts them down brutally, having his soldiers beat them with clubs. The soldiers get a little too enthusiastic and kill many of them. The rebellion is quashed.

Antiquities 18.3.3 Pilate condemns Jesus, a just man, to death on the cross. His disciples maintain that he came back to life on the third day. The Christians are still around at the time Josephus is writing.

Antiquities 18.3.4 A virtuous woman in Rome is fooled by a mischievous trick into spending a night with a scoundrel. Tiberius banishes the scoundrel and has some of the other parties to the trick crucified; he also destroys the temple of Isis, which was used for carrying out the scam.

Antiquities 18.3.5 A wicked expatriate Jew living in Rome fools a virtuous woman who had converted to Judaism into sending valuable goods to Jerusalem; but he and his three confederates confiscate the goods for themselves and squander the money. When Tiberius learns about it, he banishes the Jews from Rome. Thus, on account of the wickedness of four men, misfortune fell upon all of the Jews who were then living at Rome.

Antiquities 18.4.1 The Samaritans also had their share of troubles. ...

etc.

So your information about this passage of Josephus is completely wrong in every respect.

B. Prokop said...

Tony,

What are your reasons for asking this question? The NT writers' perspectives are well known. Being 1st Century inhabitants of the Roman Empire is one. Being (mostly, if one assumes Luke is Greek) Jewish is of course another. Being witnesses to Christ's Resurrection (or being in contact with those who were) is yet a third.

But your statement, "Said another way, what are just a couple of things that are probably not 100% accurate as recorded in the NT" strikes me as rather odd. How is that putting the question another way? Biases and perspectives do not in every case equate to inaccuracies. for instance, I would not consider a book about baseball as being necessarily inaccurate simply on the grounds that it was written by a baseball player.

Tim said...

Tony: What are the likely biases and perspectives of the NT writers that, given our background knowledge of the time and of humans throughout history, we should consider when reading the documents of the NT.

I have not found anything of consequence that I think the Gospel writers obviously or even probably got wrong. I'm perfectly well aware of lots of disputes about particular passages, and I do not claim to have answers to every question that even I can raise about them. But I am persuaded by the internal and external evidence that the Gospel authors, their different perspectives and purposes notwithstanding, give us a substantially accurate history of what was said and done.

As for the different purposes of the authors, these are pretty obvious, particularly in Matthew and in John. Matthew wants to convince his readers that Jesus is the promised Messiah; John wants to show them that Jesus is the Divine Logos.

Yet if you compare the passages in Matthew where he invokes the prophets to the parallel passages in Mark, you will discover something interesting: Matthew hasn't rewritten the events to make them match the prophecies. And if you look at John's portrayal of the reactions of the Jews to Jesus, you will discover that he has not made his preoccupation into theirs; they are all concerned with the quite different question of whether Jesus is the Messiah. So in the two cases where the authors' agendas are most clearly visible, they appear to have kept the record of facts remarkably free from distortion by those agendas. That is a rather remarkable fact and one that deserves more serious consideration than it generally receives.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "So your information about this passage of Josephus is completely wrong in every respect."

You know, I think you brought up some valid points here, but it's hard to know what to do with absolutist conclusions like the one above. No, my information about Josephus is not completely wrong in every respect. You have listed a number of criticisms that would incline me to re-consider, modify or re-form my position slightly, but your conclusion above is just silly.

I could go through your recent criticism point by point again and acknowledge where your points are valid and where I think your replies have not addressed a better form of my argument, but I feel like this has become a merry-go-round of Josephus historiography. And I keep on trying to explain that I don't think Josephus could even provide us with the kind of independent attestation that would put claims of a non-historical Jesus to rest

With all the continued talk of this majority of scholars and such, I think it's helpful to just look at the evidence in this case.

1. Josephus wrote around the Antiquities around 95 AD. This is at least two generations after the death of Jesus, and at the absolute fringes what would be an exceptionally long-lived person who could have seen a living Jesus.

2. No Christian mentions Josephus's writing about Jesus for at least 200 years after the Antiquities were originally penned.

3. The passage in Josephus that was preserved for centuries by Christians is admittedly heavily interpolated - a fancy word for a forgery.

4. The Agapian version dates to the 10th Century, providing centuries of prior copyists the opportunity to do what was known to have been done at least once to the 18.3.3 passage.

These are just the facts. You can add to them as you like, you can explain them as you like, but I don't believe you can change them (not that you have) nor, more importantly, do I think it's reasonable to exclude as beyond consideration the notion that Jesus of Nazareth need not have existed based on the facts above.

Now you may be correct (and I'm now inclined to agree with you now, but only to a slightly higher than even probability) that Josephus probably did, at some point, make mention that previous generations believed there was a Jesus of Nazareth. But given the facts above, I don't see how there can ever be any great certainty that Josephus really did originally mention a living Jesus, and even if he did such would not be able, per se, of putting to rest the conjecture that Jesus of Nazareth may not have existed.

Also, still busy so I don't have time right now to address your last post. I'll try to do so sometime later.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "I'm perfectly well aware of lots of disputes about particular passages, and I do not claim to have answers to every question that even I can raise about them. But I am persuaded by the internal and external evidence that the Gospel authors, their different perspectives and purposes notwithstanding, give us a substantially accurate history of what was said and done."

Thanks -- and this seems like a more reasonable response than I expected.

Tim: "As for the different purposes of the authors, these are pretty obvious, particularly in Matthew and in John. Matthew wants to convince his readers that Jesus is the promised Messiah; John wants to show them that Jesus is the Divine Logos."

Well, I was mostly wondering what from the accounts of the Gospels we might want to consider with at least a grain of salt. What, based on our study of history of this and all other periods, are the kinds of things we should consider when reading the Gospels? I would add these to your list, for starters:

- Writers from the era are prone to attribute supernatural intervention to what we now explain through natural processes. Why should the Gospel writers be excluded from this tendency?
- The writers of the Gospels are evangelizers. Evangelizers are known to be prone to lies and exaggerations in the service of that for which they are evangelizing.
- Gaining religious converts is a desirable outcome -- greater conversion provides social support, access to human needs, provides a hierarchical means of command, etc.; religious proselytizing is not an activity without benefits, and the writers would be under some pressure to make their accounts more credible and attractive (or suffer from obscurity and worse).
- The writers of the Gospels are anonymous. Historians tend to believe that anonymous writers are less credible than attributed writers for reasons that should be obvious.
- Writers from the era tend to exaggerate numbers -- in particular, they seem terrible at crowd estimates. (I base this on archaeological studies of battle sites and cities, and the know human tendency to exaggerate in crowd estimates.)
- The Gospel writers make changes that are consistent with narrative intent (which you mention), meaning that where the Gospels differ on their accounts they tend to differ along the lines that are consistent with their narrative intent. Meaning that we should consider less credible disparities among the Gospels that accord with the writers perceived intent.
- The Gospels could be the result of a kind of survivorship bias, where those who defeated competing claims obscured their rivals and preserved and modified those stories that contributed to their hegemony.

In other words, there are valid reasons, from the starter list above based on what we know of accounts from this period and throughout study of other periods, why no single part of the Gospel accounts should be considered highly credible.

Hiero5ant said...

@Tim thank you for your reply on the topic of inerrancy, although a few issues involved appear problematic to me.

You say you are not aware of any errors "of consequence", and that you find the narratives to be "substantially" accurate. Why the hedging verbiage? After all, it is "substantially accurate" to say the Civil War was fought to free the slaves, but the there are innumerable ways that statement requires qualification and exception. Likewise, while I'm familiar with the apologists' maneuver of papering over divisions with other denominations by saying things like "yes, I disagree with YECs over the age of the earth, but this is not a difference of 'core' doctrine - it is not 'of consequence'." But this is a rather subjective arena. One man's jots and tittles are another man's cue to start burning people at the stake.

And so I'm a little bummed that you elected to address only the first phrasing of Tony's question -- notably, the one that permitted you to speak in generalities rather than offering specifics. So we still have no idea of any claim in the NT you believe, if not outright false, at least somewhat less likely to be true than other claims, on the hypothesis that the authors' theological and political agendas may have trumped their "journalistic ethics", as it were.

For example, do you think it at all likely that the Day of Passover/Day of Preparation contradiction between John and the synoptics can plausibly be attributed to the former author's theological agenda of identifying Jesus with the sacrificial lamb?

Or to take another example, do you agree with Licona (no internet atheist from the mythicist fever swaps, I assure you) that an analysis of the (human) perspectives and motivation of the (human) author of Matthew make it plausible to claim that the zombie saints episode probably didn't literally... what's the word I'm looking for here... happen?

Tony Hoffman said...

Hier5ant: "And so I'm a little bummed that you elected to address only the first phrasing of Tony's question..."

I was a little disappointed as well, but I was heartened to see that Tim seems reasonable in espousing a method that includes internal consistency and appears to also include consistency with the real world. This seems like a reasonable method for evaluating history. (I compare this with some Christians who state that they review all historical occurrences first in relation to the fact of Jesus's resurrection.)

Tim said...

Tony,

I’ll address your points in order.

“1. Josephus wrote around the Antiquities around 95 AD. This is at least two generations after the death of Jesus, and at the absolute fringes what would be an exceptionally long-lived person who could have seen a living Jesus.”

In keeping with Jewish customs, the disciples were probably teenagers during Jesus’ public ministry. If John was born in, say, 15, he would turn 80 in the year 95. Such lifespans, though longer than usual, were known in those times.

“2. No Christian mentions Josephus's writing about Jesus for at least 200 years after the Antiquities were originally penned.”

This claim requires restatement: “No Christian author in a work that has survived to our time ... etc.” That fact would be significant if you could show the conjunction of two key claims to be highly probable: first, that had Josephus written Antiquities 18.3.3, some Christian writer or writers must have noted the fact in their works; and second, that had they done so, at least one such work must have survived to our time. Given that about 85% of the work that we know was written in the second century has been lost, I think you are going to have a very difficult time making this case.

“3. The passage in Josephus that was preserved for centuries by Christians is admittedly heavily interpolated - a fancy word for a forgery.”

That is not what the word “interpolated” means. It means that phrases were inserted into the passage – not that the passage has been fabricated wholesale. And that is the scholarly consensus today.

“4. The Agapian version dates to the 10th Century, providing centuries of prior copyists the opportunity to do what was known to have been done at least once to the 18.3.3 passage.”

I do not see the relevance of this observation. The Agapian version is in an Arabic manuscript; Pines argues, and many scholars concur, that this version represents the Greek text before it was interpolated.

“These are just the facts. You can add to them as you like, you can explain them as you like, but I don't believe you can change them (not that you have) nor, more importantly, do I think it's reasonable to exclude as beyond consideration the notion that Jesus of Nazareth need not have existed based on the facts above.”

Some of them are facts, some are misstatements, and some are irrelevant. None of them justifies mythicism or even serious skepticism regarding Josephus’s mentioning of Jesus, which is also something he does in Antiquities 20.9.1 (#200). And they are, of course, nothing like the full range of facts, which includes much earlier and more direct evidence regarding Jesus’ life and teachings.

“Now you may be correct (and I'm now inclined to agree with you now, but only to a slightly higher than even probability) that Josephus probably did, at some point, make mention that previous generations believed there was a Jesus of Nazareth.”

Josephus never refers to the belief of previous generations in the existence of Jesus; he doesn’t speak indirectly about him. He straightforwardly tells the story of his teaching and good character, his death under Pilate, and the report of his resurrection; he later mentions him in connection with the unlawful death of his brother James.

“But given the facts above, I don't see how there can ever be any great certainty that Josephus really did originally mention a living Jesus, and even if he did such would not be able, per se, of putting to rest the conjecture that Jesus of Nazareth may not have existed.”

I think you are plainly wrong on both counts, for all of the reasons I have given here and above.

Tim said...

Tony,

I am going to insert numbers in your list of sources of possible bias and then address them seriatim.

“[1]- Writers from the era are prone to attribute supernatural intervention to what we now explain through natural processes. Why should the Gospel writers be excluded from this tendency?”

Because that tendency is balanced by the danger that Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 15 – vivid to any devout Jew – of bearing false witness against God.

“[2]- The writers of the Gospels are evangelizers. Evangelizers are known to be prone to lies and exaggerations in the service of that for which they are evangelizing.”

All of them? Human motivations of greed and lust for power certainly can come into play, but I think we need to make a distinction between Jimmy Swaggart and the Apostle John. These cases are not parallel.

“[3]- Gaining religious converts is a desirable outcome -- greater conversion provides social support, access to human needs, provides a hierarchical means of command, etc.; religious proselytizing is not an activity without benefits, and the writers would be under some pressure to make their accounts more credible and attractive (or suffer from obscurity and worse).”

There is satisfactory evidence that many people who professed to be witnesses of the risen Jesus passed their lives in labors, dangers, and sufferings, voluntarily undertaken in attestation of the accounts they delivered, and solely in virtue of their belief of those accounts, and that from the same motives they submitted themselves to new rules of conduct. I will not say that such a life is without its enjoyments. But the enjoyments spring from sincerity.

“[4]- The writers of the Gospels are anonymous. Historians tend to believe that anonymous writers are less credible than attributed writers for reasons that should be obvious.”

Here, I am quite willing to defy the Zeitgeist: the Gospels are no more anonymous than the Anabasis of Xenophon or Caesar’s Commentaries. The arguments on the skeptical side do not hold up to sober scrutiny. You can find a very brief presentation of my reasons for saying this here.

Tim said...

“[5]- Writers from the era tend to exaggerate numbers -- in particular, they seem terrible at crowd estimates. (I base this on archaeological studies of battle sites and cities, and the know human tendency to exaggerate in crowd estimates.)”

When we have a particular reason to doubt the numbers given, we can discuss it.

“[6]- The Gospel writers make changes that are consistent with narrative intent (which you mention), meaning that where the Gospels differ on their accounts they tend to differ along the lines that are consistent with their narrative intent. Meaning that we should consider less credible disparities among the Gospels that accord with the writers perceived intent.”

What I have pointed out above is that the narrative intent does not seem to have induced them to falsify the facts. That is interesting. Most of the arguments regarding the writers’ perceived intent strike me as literary conjecture of the most tenuous sort. I am quite willing to discuss specifics if you would like to bring up particular passages. Keep in mind that neither “Memorex accuracy” in quotation nor strict chronological order was the intention of the Evangelists – though I should add that when they are giving direct address, the degree of verbal similarity among the Synoptic authors is much greater than when they are giving narrative material.

“[7]- The Gospels could be the result of a kind of survivorship bias, where those who defeated competing claims obscured their rivals and preserved and modified those stories that contributed to their hegemony.”

I think that the efforts of Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman to revive the Walter Bauer thesis is hopeless. The four canonical Gospels were not works eventually selected because a power struggle worked out in a particular way. They were the only Gospels written by men with apostolic authority and recognized by all of the churches from the time of their publication.

Tim said...

Hiero5ant,

You write:

“You say you are not aware of any errors ‘of consequence’, and that you find the narratives to be ‘substantially’ accurate. Why the hedging verbiage?”

I have concentrated my study on the points where a difference would matter, so I have not investigated in any detail places where, if there were some trifling discrepancy, absolutely nothing would ride on it. I do not pretend to be the Bible Answer Man; I’m not even a seminary graduate. ;) I do not say this to grant that there are such – I’m just telling you frankly that, as an historian, I don’t find that game worth the candle.

“For example, do you think it at all likely that the Day of Passover/Day of Preparation contradiction between John and the synoptics can plausibly be attributed to the former author's theological agenda of identifying Jesus with the sacrificial lamb?”

No. I believe that John intends to say exactly the same thing that the Synoptic evangelists do regarding the date of the passover. The impression to the contrary is based on a plausible misreading of passages in John 13, 18, and 19.

“Or to take another example, do you agree with Licona (no internet atheist from the mythicist fever swaps, I assure you) that an analysis of the (human) perspectives and motivation of the (human) author of Matthew make it plausible to claim that the zombie saints episode probably didn't literally... what's the word I'm looking for here... happen?”

Mike is a good friend of mine, and we discussed this matter before his book ever came out. If he were right, the point would be that this is what Matthew intended for his readers to understand – that this was apocalyptic imagery and not intended to be taken literally. I believe that Mike is sincerely convinced on this point, but I do not find his arguments compelling.

BeingItself said...

OK, so McGrew buys the zombies lurching about Jerusalem story. It's in the bible, so McGrew believes it.

What's his stand on Noah's Ark?

Tony Hoffman said...

Me: "Writers from the era are prone to attribute supernatural intervention to what we now explain through natural processes. Why should the Gospel writers be excluded from this tendency?”

Tim: "Because that tendency is balanced by the danger that Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 15 – vivid to any devout Jew – of bearing false witness against God."

Seriously?

Tim said...

Yes, seriously.

B. Prokop said...

Heiro5ant and Beingitself,

Once again you guys demean yourselves by the use of infantile, schoolyard taunts and snarky language by use of words such as "zombie". You may think you're sticking it to believers, but all you accomplish is to make yourselves look foolish, and degrade the whole level of your discourse until no one can take you seriously.

There were no "zombies" involved in Matthew. There were living human beings, raised by Christ to life, in the same manner in which He will raise all of us at the Last Day. Why is that so hard to understand?

As to why such a thing would have been done, just think about John's use of the word "sign" when speaking of Christ's miracles. The (most likely temporary) resurrection of a selected few in Jerusalem was, like the water into wine at Cana, the calming of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, or the feeding of the multitude, a tangible, physical sign of Christ's divinity.

Walter said...

There were no "zombies" involved in Matthew. There were living human beings, raised by Christ to life, in the same manner in which He will raise all of us at the Last Day. Why is that so hard to understand?

For one thing, if they were raised to life like you will supposedly be one day, then they will still be alive somewhere even today (they wouldn't die again). What happened to them? Considering that no one else seemed to notice these saints I think that it is safe to say that the event likely never happened.

Tim said...

Walter,

1. Who said they were raised to life eternal? How 'bout that guy Lazarus?

2. There is no warrant for saying that no one else noticed them; in fact, Matthew says they were seen by many. The only inference to be drawn from the silence of the other New Testament writers is that if they were aware of the phenomenon, they chose not to say anything about it. John 12:10 gives us one reason they might have made that decision.

B. Prokop said...

My point is there is no reason to single out this event as either more or less likely than any other miraculous account in the Gospels. Now if you have closed your mind to any and all possibility of miracles, then you would place this story in the same category as walking on water or healing the blind and the lame. If you are open to the idea of God intervening in creation, then it is no less probable than Christ's own Resurrection.

As to their being still alive today, there is a huge difference between foreshadowing and the Main Event. To insist they would have to still be around is like saying that since Jesus calmed the storm, it can never again rain in Galilee. Doesn't follow.

Walter said...

My point is there is no reason to single out this event as either more or less likely than any other miraculous account in the Gospels

Of course.

The difference between us is that everything that you read in the New Testament is true unless proven false, but if you read a passage like this in some ancient Chinese text your first reaction would be that it did not truly happen--in other words, you would consider it false until proven true. I keep the same standards for both. I don't accept the underlying assumption that the canonical Christian texts are an inerrant revelation from the Creator of the universe. I accept them as the words of fallible men and men alone.

B. Prokop said...

"everything that you read in the New Testament is true unless proven false"

Sounds like a fair example of Lewis's definition of Faith. My brother tells me something, for instance. A lifetime of knowing him assures me that I'd better have a damn good reason for doubting his word. I can count on his truthfulness, because he's demonstrated it time and again. After he's proven himself I can safely assume a person is not being deceptive or just making things up (the "after" is crucial here). After a while, to continue to doubt as a default position becomes a character flaw.

I think the NT has more than met the same standard for trust. I agree that one shouldn't just take the word of some ancient text without first determining its bona fides and establishing its trustworthiness. I've done that with the NT. It was a years-long and honestly approached process, impossible to summarize in anything shorter than a book-length explanation. But once satisfied, there is no good reason to cover the same ground over and over again. You can "move along".

Tim said...

Walter,

I don't think that's true. I am inclined to accept Matthew's testimony to this admittedly strange event, not because his writing has been incorporated into the New Testament, but because I think there is strong cumulative evidence that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. That's a game changer: if Jesus rose from the dead, there is less warrant for skepticism about miraculous events in the vicinity.

You disagree on the primary point. Fine. But you should not pretend that the disagreement is a function of a lack of evenhandedness on our part. The charge could with much more justice be retorted. The evidence for the genuineness of the Gospels is orders of magnitude better than the evidence for the genuineness of most works of the same time period. We take that seriously; Bart Ehrman (to pick just one example) does not.

B. Prokop said...

"I don't accept the underlying assumption that the canonical Christian texts are an inerrant revelation from the Creator of the universe."

Neither do I. I do not believe in inerrancy.

Tony Hoffman said...

Me: "Writers from the era are prone to attribute supernatural intervention to what we now explain through natural processes. Why should the Gospel writers be excluded from this tendency?”
Tim: "Because that tendency is balanced by the danger that Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 15 – vivid to any devout Jew – of bearing false witness against God."

I just don't know where to start. I honestly don't know how to interpret this charitably in a way that isn't still obviously ridiculous. If you could maybe explicate your reasoning here a little more fully maybe I'll understand how this addresses the problem I mentioned.

Tim: "if Jesus rose from the dead, there is less warrant for skepticism about miraculous events in the vicinity."

Sure. And if reading tea leaves were a better way to predict the weather than reviewing historical data and using computer models, then there would be less skepticism for using tea leaves instead of historical data and computer models to predict the weather. But there's nothing about the NT documents that can't be explained through mundane historical methods. Confusion, deceit, misperception, superstition, misrepresentation, revisionism, gullibility, etc., are all far more common to our experiences and historical reporting than the one explanation for which we have no other precedent and is not consistent with our real world experiences. Your approach appears so patently silly I am not even sure I should respond to it.

I would guess that your basic methodological problem is that you are confusing sound practices of parsimony with an unsound decision to selectively eliminate all the additional data that is relevant to your analysis. One does not have to agree with every part of Hume to understand that our real world experience, and our understanding of how history unfolded from this and similar past periods, are all part of the data with which we read the documents of the NT. And, as you admitted above, we have so little information from this period, and so many other sound, mundane explanations (that I started listing in the paragraph above) for the little that we do have, that I am pretty much speechless that anyone would consider a historical case for the resurrection to be anything but a rhetorical device.

Tim said...

"But there's nothing about the NT documents that can't be explained through mundane historical methods. Confusion, deceit, misperception, superstition, misrepresentation, revisionism, gullibility, etc., are all far more common to our experiences and historical reporting than the one explanation for which we have no other precedent and is not consistent with our real world experiences."

But they don't do a good job explaining the data we actually have.

If you'd like to see a more detailed articulation of the argument on this point, go here.

For a discussion of the problems with Hume's punt to such mechanisms, you might start with the sources here.

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "If you'd like to see a more detailed articulation of the argument on this point, go here."

Yes, I actually read most or all of this a few months ago. As I recall, you spend some time listing the events that you later feel are best explained supernaturally, when it's blindingly obvious that all these are more easily explained through the mundane, as I listed -- confusion, deceit, misperception, superstition, misrepresentation, revisionism, gullibility, et al.

I am truly shocked that you seem to be making a mistake that children don't make -- just because someone writes something down and distributes it doesn't make it true.

In your study of history, have you never come across propaganda accounts? Have you never read an account whose veracity you doubt not because the writer was probably lying but because they were probably mistaken or credulous? Are you truly unfamiliar with revisionism? I doubt very much these have eluded you in your studies, but your argument here makes it seem as if they have.

Walter said...

I am inclined to accept Matthew's testimony to this admittedly strange event, not because his writing has been incorporated into the New Testament, but because I think there is strong cumulative evidence that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.

I don't see one following from the other. Even if I believed that a supernatural resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of the events that birthed the Christian faith, I don't see how that lends credibility to Matthew's account? He could still be embellishing several stories even if Jesus did rise from the dead.

Walter said...

"I don't accept the underlying assumption that the canonical Christian texts are an inerrant revelation from the Creator of the universe."

Neither do I. I do not believe in inerrancy.


The inerrancy part was not relevant; I don't believe that these texts come from anything other than the minds of very human and fallible authors.

B. Prokop said...

"Your approach appears so patently silly I am not even sure I should respond to it."

Hmmm... I also am not sure how to respond to the above. Perhaps I should take a cue from the same posting and just say, "I just don't know where to start. I honestly don't know how to interpret this charitably in a way that isn't still obviously ridiculous."

Tony, all you've done is to define the terms of discussion so as to rule out all possible outcomes except the one you came in with! go ahead and "reason" that way if such is your wish, but please don't call it reasoning, 'cause it ain't. Once again, I think you yourself expressed it best: "Your approach appears so patently silly I am not even sure I should respond to it."

Tony Hoffman said...

Bob, you have declared that you view all historical occurrences first to see if they are consistent with the fact of Jesus's resurrection. As I have explained that theological discussions don't interest me, and you have made it clear that your worldview is theological, I don't know why you should choose to engage with my comments at all.

Tony Hoffman said...

Bob, I also can't resist pointing out the irony that you should accuse me of defining the terms so as to rule out all possible outcomes in a comment thread where Christians like yourself are seeking to rule out the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth need not have existed.

B. Prokop said...

Were not "ruling it out". We're demonstrating that, after honest examination, the proposition is untenable. Big difference. "Jesus existed" was never the going-in position - it was the conclusion. But your treatment of the possibility of the miraculous is to rule them out by definition from the beginning. Even bigger difference.

B. Prokop said...

... and I choose to respond to your comments because error must be countered wherever it is found. Otherwise, there is always the chance that some unsuspecting soul might chance upon it, not see it refuted, and walk away mistaking it for truth.

Tim said...

"[I]t's blindingly obvious that all these are more easily explained through the mundane, as I listed -- confusion, deceit, misperception, superstition, misrepresentation, revisionism, gullibility, et al."

Well, we know where we disagree, and I've published a substantial paper arguing my case. Where's your argument?

Hiero5ant said...

@Tim thanks again for the reply but I think an objective observer would find it hard to avoid suspecting you're starting to play coy here. I'm not seeing any specific examples of 1) what constitutes "a difference that would matter", an error "of consequence" etc. or 2) what claims -- qua historian -- you find to be probably true, but even marginally less probable than some other claims.

Re #1 it remains a live possibility to me that you either explicitly or implicitly use the theologian's criterion to determine whether some putative error, discrepancy, absurdity, ambiguity etc. is "of doctrinal consequence" -- whether nothing doctrinal would "ride on it". This is the methodology of the sectarian pitch-man, not the sober historian.

(For example, have you ever tried to get an OEC to explain why YECs are entitled to any intellectual respect whatsoever given the latters' invincible ignorance and contempt for basic scientific facts? The response is typically: "Well, the true message of the Bible is really about salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, so the fact that they are literally off by 7 orders of magnitude about the age of the universe is not a 'core doctrine' on which 'anything important rides'." Now, for all I know, qua theology this is a perfectly reasonable stance to take. As a nonmember, I have no dog in that fight. But qua historian or qua scientist, it sure as heck "makes a difference" whether the world is 6,000 years old or 12 billion, or whether the zombie saints were or weren't, following Licona, simply a poetic expression of apocalyptic imagery!)

[cont'd]

Hiero5ant said...

[cont'd]

Re #2 I'm not interested in litigating any given alleged error (although of course I find your treatment of the examples I gave quite silly) because I don't want to go down that rabbit hole. I brought them up not to challenge you on them, but to prompt you to give some specific example of something, anything in the NT you take (qua historian) to be even ever so slightly less likely to be true than some other thing.

I might estimate that the NT claims {A, B, C... Z} have probabilities {%80, %0.002, %93... %51}, and I expect your evaluations would be much higher (at least for your "core doctrines" or whatever), perhaps {%99.9999, %83, %97... %94}.

That's fine! The point here isn't to make some elementary point about how "we all have our biases." Qua secular, scientific historians engaging in dialectic in the spirit of free inquiry, it is the differences that make it so exciting! ("Why do you think that one is only %49? Because when you look at this other evidence here it really seems quite plausible." etc. etc.)

But if your spread looks like {%100, %100, %100... %100} then you have a real problem. Because whatever you're doing, you are not doing history. If you want to say you accept as a doctrine of faith that the [core of the?] NT is inerrant, then of course I still disagree with you, but engaging you in historical argument is by definition pointless for all parties involved, since you can always retreat to your position of faith, ignoring any result of the evidence-based conversation.

There's a reason I've been careful to use verbiage like "less likely to be true" than "false". Even if your probabilities are by my lights wildly unreasonably high, we can still do history together, as long as that is the enterprise you are in fact engaged in. What I'm afraid you still haven't provided is even a single example of something you think is true, just even slightly less likely to be true than some other NT claims. Even if you believe the zombie saints episode or temptation in the desert are, not just "more likely true than not", but actually "so well-confirmed that withholding assent is unreasonable", surely there must be some sort of curve here? Surely you must think -- qua historian -- that while cleansing the temple is %98 likely to have occurred, the zombie saints business is, maybe, just maybe, only %97 likely to have occurred? And that you can say this because as an historian you have of course taken into account the political and theological agendas of the author, the human tendencies for mistake, fraud etc.?

Tony Hoffman said...

Tim: "Well, we know where we disagree, and I've published a substantial paper arguing my case. Where's your argument?"

Said simply, your paper suffers from the "Sh_t in, sh_t out" problem.

You appear confused about the reliability of historical accounts, and the basic fact that it is far easier to convince someone that something highly improbable occurred than it is for something highly improbably to occur.

Which is more likely? That I can convince some people that I once flipped a coin and it landed 30 consecutive times on heads, or that I actually flip a coin and have it land 30 consecutive times on heads? If you think the second is easier, I believe you are deluded. And if you think the first is easier, I think you should be able to then find the intrinsic problem with your paper, and why all that math was a wasted exercise.

Hiero5ant said...

Since some commenters apparently have the text of Josephus ready to hand, and since he is given such credence as an accurate recorder of events in 1st century Palestine, perhaps we can ask him whether Tim is correct that the illiterate peasants of the day scrupulously avoided false miracle claims like a collective "C.S.I.C.O.P.: Jerusalem" out of fear of "bearing false witness".

According to Josephus in book 2 of The Wars of the Jews, there were "such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration, but were for procuring innovations and changes of the government; and these prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty"; and also that "there was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a prophet also, and got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place; and if he could but once conquer the Roman garrison and the people, he intended to domineer over them by the assistance of those guards of his that were to break into the city with him."

Look, if you're going to claim the Die For A Lie (or whatever) Apologetic or something else shows the canonical NT miracle claims to be actually rather plausible, then fine. But you are the verge of dynamiting your credibility as an historian if you're serious about your average fishmonger walking around like the James Randi of the Middle East.

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