Sunday, June 27, 2010

Reply to Hallquist on historical evidence

My claim is that there is more to explain for Christianity than for Mormonism or Islam. Unlike Craig or McDowell, I don’t say that the only rational conclusion is that Christianity is true. The “verdict” that the evidence demands depends on your antecedent probability. Still, I think you have some facts that are more likely to have occurred if Christianity is true than if Christianity is not true.




A critical point is that Luke, who also wrote his gospel and Acts, (both of which contain miracle claims throughout) has been shown to be exceedingly accurate about governmental systems before whom Paul appeared. This may seem trivial, but it makes it implausible that a long time passed between Paul’s journey’s and Luke’s writing. And his is not the first gospel written, Mark’s was. Maybe the miracles didn’t happen, but the journeys almost certainly did. So you have it written down within a third of a century of the crucifixion, if that.



You don’t have maybe one or two central miracles claimed, (the Qu’ran or the gold plates) you have a lot of them, and they are placed in public places. And there is no argument against them saying “We never heard of this guy.” In fact, the early Jewish anti-Christian polemic attempts to explain an empty tomb, not deny it. You have people engaging in very high-risk behavior on behalf of this upstart Jewish cult. You have them meeting on a day not the Sabbath, you have them saying the Jewish God was incarnate, and you have them getting martyred at least as far back as James the brother of Jesus (if not the stoning of Stephen–do skeptics think that that was fiction?). Something has happened to these people, and all I am claiming is that it takes a lot more explaining to figure that out than to explain the growth of the Mormon church.



I had someone on my site, Ken Pulliam, agree with me that the case for Christianity is better than the case for Islam or Mormonism historically, but that he found it more reasonable to suppose that Christianity was also not true.



So I guess I differ from Craig and McDowell in that I set the bar a whole lot lower for myself than they do. But I think I did clear it (or perhaps, can do so with a bit more explanation).

35 comments:

Walter said...

Bart Ehrman's 9 minute rebuttal to any historical argument for the resurrection.

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=9832

One thing that bothers me is why there was no tomb veneration for several centuries after Jesus' death? Bill Craig claims that because the tomb was empty no one was interested in venerating the spot. I find this hard to believe. People would have been making all kinds of pilgrimages to the spot where Jesus overcame death. I say there was no veneration because no one knew where the man was buried.

Walter said...

As far as the argument about Christian martyrs, do we really know exactly which disciples were killed and for what exact reason? Were they allowed to recant or not? If they were killed for following Jesus, what was the exact charge against them? Did the earliest Jewish Christians believe that Jesus was God or just the divinely approved agent of God?

It is my belief that the earliest Jewish Christians held to a much lower Christology than modern trinitarians do. It would not have been blasphemy to consider Jesus a messianic contender; it would have been blasphemy to consider him to be Yahweh.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

The veneration of places was a later development in Christianity and in my understanding a mistaken concept. But the later record is the Romans built a temple of Aphrodite over the spot, which would tend to discourage pilgrimages there.

Pliny the Younger(one of the earlier of the Roman persecutors) and Lucian (who was poking fun at Christians) both accuse them of regarding Jesus as God. It seems to be an early idea.

Steven Carr said...

'Maybe the miracles didn’t happen, but the journeys almost certainly did.'

And maybe the journeys of the Mormons to Utah also happened....

That must mean that the Book of Mormon is true.

Victor Reppert said...

I didn't say that the truth of Christianity follows from the occurrence of the missionary journeys, did I?

And the early journeys of the Mormons, was anyone brought back from either death of near-death?

Steven Carr said...

' In fact, the early Jewish anti-Christian polemic attempts to explain an empty tomb, not deny it.'


Gosh, the first Novel claims the body was just lying around for the followers of Jesus to access if only some big strong men could be found to roll away the stone.

If Christians had been hammered for decades with charges of grave-robbing the first Novel would never have naively stated that the followers of Jesus were planning to access the body, but when they got there they found an open door and the body gone.

This is like going into court and claiming you didn't steal the money from the bank.

You just wanted to get in and have a look at the money , but when you got there you found the vault open and the money gone.

After 30 years of being charged with bank-robbery, that is your best defense?



Clearly, Mark's empty tomb story was the first mention of it, and later Novels had to react to the inevitable charges of grave-robbing that that story would have provoked.

Paul has no empty tomb story, despite having to argue with Christian converts who were scoffing at the whole concept of their god choosing to raise corpses.

Steven Carr said...

'And the early journeys of the Mormons, was anyone brought back from either death of near-death?'

So?

Are you claiming that if somebody knows where Malta is, we can trust them to not tell lies about people being stoned to the point of death and then walking away.

Victor scoffs at the swoon theory against the resurrection and then demands that sceptics accept that Paul only seemed to be dead in Acts, but got up and walked away.

If the swoon theory is ludicrous and ridiculous, why does Victor claim that it is a fact if Acts proposes a very similar swoon theory to account for Paul not being killed?

And by the way, it is a gross exaggeration to say that Luke got all his forms of government right.

Not even F.F.Bruce claimed he could confirm that. All he did was say that Luke got some of them right, so he must have got the others right, even if that cannot be confirmed.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

"If Christians had been hammered for decades with charges of grave-robbing the first Novel would never have naively stated that the followers of Jesus were planning to access the body, but when they got there they found an open door and the body gone."

They would if it was what actually happened. This is exactly the kind of story that someone would tell in spite of the fact it was incriminating because it happened. As for Paul could it be he never mentions the empty tomb because no one questioned it. The issue was not whether the tomb was empty but how it came to be empty. As for the gospels being "novels", this is preposterous. Are we to believe that people so confused fiction with fact over a period of about thirty years they were willing to die for it in the Neronian persecution.

Steven Carr said...

Eric claims 'Mark' told it just how it happened.

I guess sheer honesty compelled him to omit all mentions of the guards that prevented any grave-robbing.

Matthew 28
'After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.'

I guess sheer honesty compelled Mark to say that the women went not just to look at the tomb, but to get inside it and access the body.

Mark told it just like it happened, leaving out the guards and putting in the motives of the followers of Jesus.

Making it obvious that grave-robbing would have been easy.

No wonder later Christians had to start putting in guards that sheer honesty had forced Mark to omit all mention of.....

' As for Paul could it be he never mentions the empty tomb because no one questioned it. '

Yes, all those Christian converts scoffing at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses all accepted that the tomb was empty.

I think Erich needs to look at Chris Hallquist's article.

Victor Reppert said...

Oh come on, Steven. I was talking about Eutychus, not Paul. Furthermore, sure, some people can appear dead or not. But dead, buried in a tomb with grave clothes, in a tomb with a huge rock in front of it that it took three men to lift and a Roman guard guarding it, now that is another matter.

Steven Carr said...

MIKE
Are we to believe that people so confused fiction with fact over a period of about thirty years they were willing to die for it in the Neronian persecution.

CARR
Wow, Luke died in the Neronian persecution!

And so did Mark!

And were then revived to write their Gospels.

Not one Christian was ever charged with preaching a resurrection.

According to Acts, the Romans didn't even know they were supposed to be following a crucified criminal that they claimed had somehow escaped death.

I like the idea of Nero letting Christians go if they 'recanted'.

Yes, tyrannical mad despots looking for political scapegoats are always willing to let their victims go free.

Nero was famous for his sense of justice.

All Christians had to do was admit that the whole thing was a fraud and a hoax, and they could have walked free.

Just like Bernie Madoff walked free after he admitted it was all a hoax.

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR
But dead, buried in a tomb with grave clothes, in a tomb with a huge rock in front of it that it took three men to lift and a Roman guard guarding it, now that is another matter.

CARR
But Eric has pointed out that Mark was scrupulously honest and admitted that the followers of Jesus knew they could access the body , if only some big strong men (fishermen?) could be found to move the stone.

And Mark was so honest that he had no mention of any guards.

In reality, the empty tomb story started with Mark, because his Novel left Christians so wide open to charges of grave-robbing that later Christians had to add stories of guards.

By the way Victor, how are you getting on with finding evidence of Judas, Thomas, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Lazarus etc?

Are they as hard to find as the Angel Moroni?

How come not one Christian in the first century ever put his name to a document saying they existed?

The cast of Gospel characters only appear in unsourced, unprovenanced , anonymous Novels which are full of the same lies and frauds as the Book of Mormon.

And they all disappear from Acts as quickly as the Angel Moroni disappears from Mormon history....

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

I know that what I'm about to say is trivial compared to the Resurrection (which is what is being discussed in this thread), but would someone please, please tell Steven Carr that "novels" did not exist until the eleventh century at the very earliest. To quote myself from elsewhere on this website: "Literary historians are generally agreed that the first ever novel was The Tale of Genjii by Muasaki Shikibu, written in Japan the 11th Century. In the West, the novel did not make its appearance until Cervantes’ Don Quixote, finished in 1615".

So to Steven: use the word "fiction" if you are so inclined, but to keep using the word "novel" just makes you look stupid.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

Mr. Carr,

"I guess sheer honesty compelled him to omit all mentions of the guards that prevented any grave-robbing."

Again we have the mark of an honest witness. A thief would not failed to have mentioned the guards. Someone writing long after the fact who could have said whatever he wanted to, would not have wrote the story that way at all.
Paul was not arguing against people who said the tomb was not empty but who said there was no physical resurrection. Not the same issue.
Nero put to death multitudes of Christians. After the first ones the rest could have escaped abandoning their faith and vanishing into the woodwork. They did not.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Steven Carr is using the “heads I win, tails you lose” style of argumentation when he complains there is no mention of the Roman guard in Mark. But a careful reading of Mark shows that the author was not very interested in the Roman contribution to the action being recounted. His account of the appearance before the governor is the shortest of all the gospels, and for very good reason. It obviously not a case of Mark not knowing about these details, but simply that they are not particularly relevant to his version of the events.

There is, after all, a very good reason that the four gospels are not carbon copies of each other. It is because they are four INDEPENDENT accounts, each written with a specific purpose and audience in mind. We would rightly be suspicious of four gospels that were stupefyingly identical (and why have four at all in that case?), just as any judge and jury would today doubt the word of four witnesses to a crime whose details matched precisely. (One would assume they got together beforehand to make sure their stories matched.) No, the very discrepancies and variations in detail actually bolster the case for the gospels’ historical authenticity. It shows that the early church was quite scrupulous in recording the facts, and not engaging in spin.

Walter said...

Hi Bob,

I do not think the case can be made that the canonical gospels represent independent accounts, since all later gospels show a clear literary dependence on Mark's original tale.

Walter said...

No, the very discrepancies and variations in detail actually bolster the case for the gospels’ historical authenticity. It shows that the early church was quite scrupulous in recording the facts, and not engaging in spin.

Actually, the gospels are evidence of legendary embellishment becoming more pronounced over time. Jesus goes from being a human adopted by Yahweh in Mark, to the preexisting Logos in John. Jesus is silent and afraid heading to his execution in Mark, while John's Jesus is in complete control heading towards his "destiny". There a several more examples of the story become more "incredible" over time beginning with Mark. Read the gospels with Mark as the oldest and John as the latest, and you will see the legendary progression.

Steven Carr said...

Anybody who thinks the Gospels are independent accounts should not be allowed to talk about them, for fear of bringing Christianity into disrepute.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

"Not be allowed to talk"????

I've always held that the inevitable end result of atheism is Stalinism. Such an attitude by one of this website's atheist contributors only bolsters my case.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop witing:

I would hope there was some deepening understanding of what the Apostles experienced as the years progressed. Of course the later Gospels display a far deeper theological sophistication than the earlier ones. There would be something seriously wrong were that not the case. But deepening appreciation for the significance of what one has witnessed is in no way evidence of its falsity – quite the contrary. It is evidence for its veracity. For instance, I was married almost 35 years ago, but over the years my understanding of what be married was all about has continually grown. Also, I served in the Army in the 1970s, but how I understand the that experience has developed in nuance over the years.

Similarly John, writing (presumably) near the end of his life, brings a lifetime of pondering to his account. While remaining scrupulously accurate as to the factual narrative, he is able to express his response to those events in the context of decades of insight unavailable to the earlier Gospel writers.

Likewise, Matthew, Mark, and Luke each bring their unique perspectives to their individual narratives. Mark for instance was probably the only living witness to Christ’s solitary prayer (while the Apostles slept) in the garden prior to His arrest. (The evangelist is almost certainly the unnamed man mentioned in Mark 14:51-52.) Luke, for his part, most likely had a personal acquaintance with Mary, as evidenced by his recounting of details that could only have been known by her. (In fact, the early church was unanimous in its opinion that Luke actually lived with Mary as a lodger for several years.) Matthew’s preoccupation with legalism, and his greater emphasis on the Roman role in the events surrounding Christ’s life, come from his experience working within the Roman beaurocracy as a tax collector.

These differing perspectives STRENGTHEN the likelihood that the Gospel accounts are accurate. I’m repeating myself here, but if they were all alike, all that would show is that some unnamed hand brushed over any awkward discrepancies in order to create a false appearance of unanimity. The fact that the early church faithfully preserved the differing accounts shows conclusively that it was more interested in what actually happened, and not in “legendary progression”.

Oh, and by the way, to "Walter": I've read all four Gospels countless times (probably more than a hundred times each, but I never kept count.) And I was famous, back in the old Joe Sheffer days, for arguing that it was best to read them in the order they were written. (Joe, for his part, objected strenuously, saying the NT order was there for a reason.)

Walter said...

Bob,

I think that your acceptance of the traditional authorship of the gospels is a little credulous. I believe the authors took the first gospel (let's go ahead and call it Mark) and they redacted it to suit their own theological beliefs. So it is not the differing perspectives of eyewitnesses, it is a difference of beliefs driving the changes to the later gospels.


I encourage you to copy and paste this link in your browser to hear Dr. Ehrman's words on this subject.

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=9832

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

I have no objection to being called "credulous". The word doesn't hurt. But rest assured, I have read LIBRARIES of sceptical books about the New Testament over the years, and they have yet to convince me that they are anything other than professional scholars desperate to make their mark and keep their tenure with something original, and fearful of being labled "credulous". (See the liberal churchman in Lewis' Great Divorce.) I am minded of the literary scholar who made a career out of asserting that the plays of Shakespeare were not written by the Bard, but by someone else with the same name!

Some of the sceptical commentators on this website are fond of chanting "show me the evidence!". Well, there has never been a shred of credible evidence to prove that the Gospels were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

When I was in my 20's, the timespan between the Resurrection and the writing of the Gospels seemed a long, long time. Now that I am closing in on 60, and can visualize what 30 or 40 years really is from personal experience, it poses zero problem for me (see my earlier posting on this subject).

The Uncredible Hallq said...

Vic, why is this post titled "Reply to Hallquist"? You didn't address anything I wrote.

My comment about Josh McDowell wasn't a reference to his level of confidence in the resurrection. It was a reference to the way he constantly announces that this or that is a fact just because the Bible says it, and expects this to convince skeptics.

I would call some of the things you say dishonest, if not for the fact that you really seem to not understand the problem. For example, when people unfamiliar with the issues here you make confident proclamations about what the the nature of early anti-Christian polemic, they're going to assume we actually know what this polemic said--and not just what one particular Christian writer said it said. Do you really not get this problem?

Steven Carr said...

Notice that even Bruce could not confirm what Luke wrote ‘The magistrates of Philippi, which was a Roman colony, are called ‘praetors’ in Acts, and they are attended by ‘lictors’ (the ’serjeants’ of the AV), by whose rods Paul and Silas had so many stripes inflicted on them (Acts xvi. 12, 20 ff., 35 ff.). The strict title of these colonial magistrates was ‘duumvirs’; but they affected the more grandiloquent title of praetors” like the magistrates of another Roman colony, Capua, of whom Cicero says: ‘Although they are called duumvirs in the other colonies, these men wished to be called praetors.”‘

So Bruce admits that it was a DIFFERENT colony where ‘these men wished to be called praetors’, and Luke was just plain wrong when he described another colony as having ‘praetors’.

Sorry, if you want to be ’strict’, the ’strict’ title was ‘duumvirs’, but who wants to be so ’strict’ about accuracy…

The main thing is that Luke was always right, unless you want to be a stickler for accuracy, and even then he would have been right if he had been talking about Capua.

I wonder if ‘Luke’ could read Cicero,like FF Bruce could….

Gosh, where could Luke have got his information from, information confirmed by Cicero, if not from Paul himself?

Luke must have got his information from Paul, because the information is
confirmed by Cicero….

Steven Carr said...

‘Similarly the governors of Achaia and Asia are proconsuls, as both these provinces were senatorial. Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia (Acts xviii. 12), is known to us the brother of Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher and tutor of Nero.’

Luke got right , wait for it, the tutor of Nero and brother of Seneca.

How could he have known that? That would be like me knowing which of the Kennedy brothers became President. I could only know that if I lived in America in the 1960s.

Steven Carr said...

Look what else Luke got right!

‘The city of Ephesus itself is given the title Neokoros, ‘Warden of the Temple’ of Artemis (Acts xix. 35). This word literally means ‘temple-sweeper’, but came to be given as a title of honor, first to individuals, and then to cities as well. (Similarly in our own day, the George Cross, instituted as an honor for individuals, has been conferred on the island of Malta.)

Luke’s ascription of the title to Ephesus is corroborated by a Greek inscription which describes this city as’TempleWarden of Artemis’.’

The best analogy is , wait for it, Malta getting the George Cross.

I could I know that Malta got the George Cross, apart from the films about it , and TV history programmes?

I know Malta got the George Cross,which proves I was alive in 1945.

After all, if Luke knew about something analogous to Malta getting the George Cross, proving Luke was just after, then me knowing Malta got the George Cross proves I was alive then.

Steven Carr said...

Bruce claims that if Luke got something right, then he was amazingly accurate.

And if the other NT authors say something different to Luke, then they must be amazingly accurate as well!

‘Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee in the time of our Lord, seems to have. been given the courtesy title of ‘king’ by his Galilaan subjects (cf. Mt. xiv. 9; Mk. vi. 14), but unlike his father Herod the Great and hi’ nephew Herod Agrippa I he was not promoted to royal status by the emperor, and had to be content with the lesser title ‘tetrarch’. Luke therefore never calls him king, but always tetrarch (e.g. Lk. iii r, 19).’

So if Luke never calls him king, because that was wrong, then why was Luke using inaccurate sources?

Why could Matthew and Mark use the title ‘king’, when that was so wrong that Luke never used it?

Is it because they….. made a mistake?

A mistake in the Gospels? Of course not!

Matthew and Mark used the title king because that was accurate, but Luke never used the title king because tetrach was accurate, not king.

Can you imagine Victor'scomments if Mormons tried to use such reasoning about the Book of Mormon?

Walter said...

Well, there has never been a shred of credible evidence to prove that the Gospels were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Nor a shred of actual evidence that these documents were penned by these people. Irenaeus was the first to attribute names to our anonymous gospels circa 180 CE. It was nothing but speculation.

There is no good evidence that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses at all. You can toe the traditional, conservative party line if you wish; I will stick with the findings of historical-criticism.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Walter, you have it completely backwards. There is plenty of evidence that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts in the writings themselves. For instance, in numerous places in John, we have words such as these: "He who says it has borne witness, and he knows that he tells the truth". Also, I have already indicated (in an earlier posting) Mark 14:51-52, which can only be explained as an eyewitness account. But in general, the sceptic has far, far more difficulty in accounting for these narratives as fiction. All the scenarios I have seen end up as houses of cards, knocked over by the most trivial facts. When all is said and done, it takes a determined will and a very closed mind to reject out of hand the historicity of the NT narratives.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Walter, there is plenty of evidence that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts in the writings themselves. For instance, in numerous places in John, we have words such as these: "He who says it has borne witness, and he knows that he tells the truth". Also, I have already indicated (in an earlier posting) Mark 14:51-52, which can only be explained as an eyewitness account. But in general, the sceptic has far, far more difficulty in accounting for these narratives as fiction. All the scenarios I have seen end up as houses of cards, knocked over by the most trivial facts. When all is said and done, it takes a determined will and a very closed mind to reject out of hand the historicity of the NT narratives.

Walter said...

Bob,

I will have to take Dr. Ehrman's opinions over yours in these matters. As far as the accusation of having a closed mind, I will say this: I was raised as a "convinced" Protestant fundamentalist, and I changed my mind after examining the evidence as best I could. I will continue to follow the evidence regardless of the opinions of others.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Sorry for the double posting. My entry didn't show up for several minutes, so I figured I had done something wrong, and re-entered it. Oh, well.

As for using the "Argument From Authority" in prefering Doctor Ehrman's opinion over mine (which is fine with me), I will trump the good Doctor with Jerome, Augustine, St. Francis, St. Dominic, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Cardinal Newman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, etc., etc. Two can play at that game, and you will lose, I guarantee it.

Walter said...

Perhaps in your mind I will "lose",not in mine. This is not a competition. I am trying to follow the evidence where it leads me. And in my humble opinion, the evidence has lead me away from the same conclusions that you find convincing.

So be it.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Agreed. So be it.

See you in a future thread.

debater said...

Victor wrote: "Something has happened to these people, and all I am claiming is that it takes a lot more explaining to figure that out than to explain the growth of the Mormon church."

I agree with the first part of the sentence (before the comma). The second part of the sentence (after the comma) is a conclusion that needs an argument in support. I do not find such an argument in your post.