Friday, August 06, 2010

Frauds, UFOs and the Gospels

Chris Hallquist's book, UFOs, Ghosts, and a Rising God, is a nice compendium of skeptical responses to Christian historical apologetics. One of its central general theses is that if we were to use the methods people use today to discover the legitimacy of anything from UFO claims, to paranormal claims such as levitation, spoonbending or Mesmerism, to false prophets like Nostradamus, Jean Dixon, or Edgar Cayce, we would find the Christian claims severely wanting.

In his first chapter called "A Brief History of (de)Bunk(ing), Hallquist gives a number of accounts of debunked claims, but I notice that all of them involve some kind of deliberate fraud or other. He talks about the prophet Alexander, from ancient times, who was exposed as a fraud, and Mesmer, and the Fox sisters, etc.  In the case of the Resurrection, however, Hallquist appeals to deliberate fraud on the part of the early Christians, at most, as a possibility. With respect to the premortem miracles of Jesus, Hallquist claims that Jesus was scientifically ignorant, and sincerely thought he was healing people, even though his healings were in fact psychosomatic. (Can you cure blindness psychosomatically?)

There are two reasons, I think, why skeptics in general have mostly avoided deliberate fraud hypotheses. The first has to do with the moral character of Christ. It is not that the moral character of Christ is above possible criticism, and there are "hard sayings" which on the face of things can be objected to on moral grounds, and yet there seems to be a fundamental difference in character between Christ and the leaders of the Heaven's Gate community, Warren Jeffs, David Koresh, Jim Jones, and even Joseph Smith. I think Christ's parable of the Good Samaritan is the most brilliant piece of moral philosophy in the history of the world, but then I suppose that reflects my Christian bias.

The second is that not only Jesus, but other founding figures of the Christian church. particularly James, are known to have been martyred. We should expect people involved in a hoax or fraud to head for the exits if the continuation of the fraud were to be a threat to their own life.

The skeptical responses Hallquist does provide are, of course, hallucinations for the appearances, and he thinks the empty tomb stories were probably legendary. Indeed, his general strategy is remarkably similar to the one mapped out by Keith Parsons in his 1998 debate with William Lane Craig. The audio is linked to here, and Jeff Lowder's summary is here. Parsons also brings up UFOs and alien abductions.

If the founding of Christianity could be dismissed as some kind of deliberate fraud, the skeptic's case would be a good deal easier than it is. Further, while we are farther removed from the events than we are from, say, the frauds of, say, Peter Popoff/Steve Martin (see the movie Leap of Faith), the impact of these events on history is undeniable.

In the case of Christianity, we seem to have several people who put their own lives at severe risk and even who were in fact martyred, as a result of their refusal to renounce their belief that they had seen the resurrected Jesus. Now, as Jenkin was quoted as pointing out on p.32 of the McGrews' essay on the argument from miracles, while the mere fact of martyrdoms doesn't prove anything more than sincere belief, the martyrdom of witnesses is another matter entirely.

89 comments:

David said...

True to your word in your last set of comments you took on Chris Hallquist next.

Walter said...

In the case of Christianity, we seem to have several people who put their own lives at severe risk and even who were in fact martyred, as a result of their refusal to renounce their belief that they had seen the resurrected Jesus

Do we know for sure that Peter, James, or any other primary witnesses were executed because of their belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus? Could they have been executed for another reason? Were they given the option of recanting? Is it possible that they were not executed at all and it is simply propaganda of the early Church? The historical evidence on the twelve disciples seems even flimsier than what evidence we have for Jesus.

Cole said...

I liked how Mcgrew showed that there is no “Principle of Dwindling Probabilities” that shows
the historical argument for Christianity or for the resurrection to be weak as Plantinga once believed. This is also mentioned in a book called "Did the Resurction Happen?" edited by David Baggett where he discusses objections to the resurrection under the section "Dwindling probabilities" in the chapter "Resurrection Matters."

In that chapter he mentions how Plantinga has backed off some of his earlier anti-evidentialism and acknowledged that some historical arguments for tents of the Christian faith are quite impressive. Habermas's among them.

Steven Carr said...

'The second is that not only Jesus, but other founding figures of the Christian church. particularly James, are known to have been martyred.'

I see.

So Madoff could not have been a fraud, because he was jailed.

If the authorities punish people, that is all the proof anybody could want that they were not criminals.

In the real world, not one Christian was ever charged with the 'crime' of preaching a resurrection.

Of course,Paul says in Galatians that Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision, and asks rhetorically why he is still being persecuted if he is supposed to have compromised on the issue of circumcision.

The only point of contention about resurrection, according to Paul, was that Christian converts were scoffing at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

He reminds them that Jesus became a spirit.

Steven Carr said...

James, of course, wrote not one single word saying he had seen a resurrected Jesus of flesh and blood.

It is like the Sherlock Holmes story of the dog in the night.

What is the curious thing about the witness of Peter and James?

They never spoke about seeing a resurrected Jesus.

That is the curious thing.

Doctor Logic said...

Walter and Steven raise some good points, but let's suppose for sake of argument that the founders of Christianity were martyred.

What about the possibility that the founders were the type of people were likely to be martyrs before the crucifixion of Jesus?

I've raised this before, but never seen a good answer.

Martyrdom was considered a noble thing in the culture of the time. In the Jewish-Roman war, the people fought to the death. The martyrdom of the founders could have been incidental. The NT describes the founders as following Jesus around before Jesus came to Jerusalem. Were they oblivious to the danger they were exposing themselves to?

I don't think we should take their self descriptions at face value. They wanted to make themselves sound average and reasonable before seeing Jesus resurrected.

So, here's the picture. Imagine a first century Benny Hinn with an entourage made up of martyr wannabes with a predilection for religious hysteria. (Benny Hinn would have been seen as a great healer and prophet back in the first century.) Hinn gets the chop, and his entourage have a big religious hysteria session. Then they go out and get martyred. If they wrote their own story, it would look much like the NT.

Resurrection is a 1 in a billion. Even if you think my just-so story is improbable, it's not 1 in a billion improbable. It's not even 1 in a million improbable.

David B. Ellis said...

Chris Hallquist's book, UFOs, Ghosts, and a Rising God, is a nice compendium of skeptical responses to Christian historical apologetics.

I wasn't familiar with that book. I'll have to look for it (especially since I was employing much the same argument in the comments to the last post).

Tim said...

David,

My comment about your not having studied historical arguments in any detail was simply an inference based on your own statements. I did ask you what train of reasoning had led you to your conclusion, and your response was, in essence, “It’s just obvious,” which does not exactly indicate serious engagement with the arguments. Your claim that alien abduction stories have “a similar sort of evidence being relied on to that used by the apologists employing historical arguments” rather undermines your claim to be “quite familiar with the historical arguments used by Christian apologetics.”

But I may simply be wrong here. So let me just ask openly: what have you read on this subject? What works, historical, apologetic, or otherwise, have you studied, from which you have gained your understanding of historical arguments?

You write:

First person testimony is better than hearsay. Many claiming to have seen/experienced something is better than a few.

That is the answer I was wondering whether you would give. And since you conclude that apologists are “willing to be convinced on far less testimonial evidence for their religion than they would for other extraordinary claims,” it does seem that either (a) these are the only criteria you are allowing to be employed in the evaluation of testimony, or (b) you believe that in all other relevant respects, the testimonial evidence for alien abductions is as good as that for the resurrection.

Is that disjunction correct? And if so, which alternative ((a) or (b)) would you endorse?

David B. Ellis said...


I did ask you what train of reasoning had led you to your conclusion, and your response was, in essence, “It’s just obvious,” which does not exactly indicate serious engagement with the arguments.


What you are doing above is a not very subtle bit of well-poisoning---not to mention misrepresenting what I said:

I didn't just say it was obvious and leave it at that. I presented my comparison to the alien abduction claims as an example of the fact that, when it's not their own cherished beliefs at issue, Christians think much the same way I do about the sort of criteria employed in the historical arguments.


But I may simply be wrong here. So let me just ask openly: what have you read on this subject? What works, historical, apologetic, or otherwise, have you studied, from which you have gained your understanding of historical arguments?


Again with the well-poisoning suggestion that your debate opponent is not well-studied enough on the arguments to comment on them. Anyone could google the subject and present an impressive list of works they've never read. It would prove nothing and I'm not going to waste time jumping through hoops for you.

Back to discussing the actual arguments:

And since you conclude that apologists are “willing to be convinced on far less testimonial evidence for their religion than they would for other extraordinary claims,” it does seem that either (a) these are the only criteria you are allowing to be employed in the evaluation of testimony and (b) you believe that in all other relevant respects, the testimonial evidence for alien abductions is as good as that for the resurrection.

Obviously, there are all sorts of details one could go into regarding the specifics of how to evaluate testimony.

I think we have more and better evidence to support alien abduction than to support the resurrection (adding, of course, that I think alien abduction still falls vastly short of having sufficient evidence to rationally warrant belief).

Do you have in mind a careful picking apart of the evidence for alien abduction? That would be an interesting choice---given that you've carefully avoided actually addressing the historical argument for the resurrection---even refusing, so far, to present a basic outline of the criteria that you think would both provide sufficient grounds for believing a paranormal/supernatural/extraordinary claim on historical evidence and be passed by the historical evidence for the miracles and resurrection of Jesus.

Tim said...

David,

I’m sorry you think that I’m poisoning the well. I don’t think I am, but I can understand why you would be unhappy if you believe that.

You’ve made some pretty sweeping claims about how historical arguments go and how poorly they stack up to the (poor) evidence for alien abductions. I’d like to probe that issue with you, but it does make it difficult when you refuse either to explain how you believe the historical arguments go or to name anything that you’ve read that illustrates your conception of such arguments. The mere comparison to alien abduction arguments doesn’t, I’m afraid, do much on this score. Though you’re right that someone could simply Google it and lie, I would in fact be prima facie inclined to take your word for it if you would simply name even some of what you have read.

You say:

I think we have more and better evidence to support alien abduction than to support the resurrection (adding, of course, that I think alien abduction still falls vastly short of having sufficient evidence to rationally warrant belief).

You also say that “there are all sorts of details one could go into regarding the specifics of how to evaluate testimony,” and I agree. I’d be very interested to find out why you think that those details do not turn out to swing the balance the other way in your comparison. Is this conclusion of yours the result of some line of reasoning? If so, would you be willing to share it with us?

You write:

[Y]ou've carefully avoided actually addressing the historical argument for the resurrection---even refusing, so far, to present a basic outline of the criteria that you think would both provide sufficient grounds for believing a paranormal/supernatural/extraordinary claim on historical evidence and be passed by the historical evidence for the miracles and resurrection of Jesus.

I was unaware that you had asked me for my position; you may be confusing me with someone else, or I may have just missed it on that 150+ comment thread. But in answer to your direct question, I am not averse to laying my own cards on the table. You can find a presentation of one line of historical argumentation -- probabilistic, not criterion based -- that I find persuasive here.

Steven Carr said...

'Our argument will proceed on the assumption that we have a substantially accurate text of the four gospels, Acts, and several of the undisputed Pauline epistles (most significantly
Galatians and I Corinthians); that the gospels were written, if not by the authors whose names they now bear, at least by disciples of Jesus or people who knew those disciples'

In other words, the McGrews assume too much, and have no idea how to do history.

Nor are they bothered with what sceptics might have to say, as they are just going to assume it all happened.

Steven Carr said...

And the McGrews claim Matthew's Gospel was the first to be written, and what we see today is a translation.....

The McGrews take church fathers claims for this at face value, without even opening the work to see if it is true, just like Mormons take claims as true by Mormon leaders that Joseph Smith translated Golden Plates.

They are just Mormons in disguise as Christians. Same stuff, different religion.

Tim said...

Steven,

You write:

And the McGrews claim Matthew's Gospel was the first to be written, and what we see today is a translation.....

From p. 10:

"The point here is not that every one of these claims must be true; the question of whether Matthew first wrote his gospel in Aramaic, for example, is notoriously problematic. But the widespread agreement of early sources on a number of points is remarkable and cannot be brushed aside, particularly since discrepancies among these sources regarding other points strongly suggest that they are not, for the most part, simply copying one another."

Did you miss this part? Or were you just assuming that no one would bother to check on the accuracy of your summary?

David B. Ellis said...


I’d be very interested to find out why you think that those details do not turn out to swing the balance the other way in your comparison.


This is turning into what would have to be a very long diversion into the evidence for alien abduction and I don't think it's worth spending that sort of time on.

Suffice it to say (since that was the point of the example) that I don't think a criteria that the New Testament accounts passes and which does not arbitrarily exclude non-Christian claims could avoid also passing all manner of claims hardly any Christian using the argument takes seriously.

So, again, I ask, what criteria should we use in deciding when we're justified in believing an extraordinary claim (particularly one in the past)?

To which question you said:


But in answer to your direct question, I am not averse to laying my own cards on the table. You can find a presentation of one line of historical argumentation -- probabilistic, not criterion based -- that I find persuasive here.


Thank you for that link to a 75 page paper. I'll be happy to read it. But do you not realize that a probabilistic argument still employs criteria by which it judges the probability? So, again, I ask:

what are the criteria by which you think an extraordinary claim from the past can be judged to be PROBABLY true?

If you don't think you can do that then please explain how an argument for the probability of X can avoid using criteria by which it judges the probabilities involved? I'd be most interested in hearing that.

steve said...

To judge by Reppert's summary, Hallquist is attempting to discredit Biblical miracles by an argument from analogy with the paranormal.

Of course, that cuts both ways. Does Hallquist directly engage more reputable researchers on the paranormal like Stephen Braude, Michael Sudduth, and Rupert Sheldrake? Likewise, has he conducted interviews with, say, Catholic and Anglican exorcists?

Or did he make things easy on himself by targeting Dial-A-Psychic types?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor still pushing the ridiculous view that strong belief, even to the point of martyrdom, suggests the legitimacy of the cause? David Koresh obviously was spouting the truth then.

On miracles: Benny Hinn recently healed a blind woman. See video here. I guess because it happend ~2000 years ago, and has been transmitted by extremely biased and powerful superstitious groups (you know, they types that would burn Giordano Bruno alive), we should give more credence to cases of Jesus healing the blind.

I feel as if I witness a powerful narcotic at work in these threads sometimes, turning otherwise intelligent people gullible.

David B. Ellis said...

Steve, the point of the book (so far as I can judge by reviews and summaries) is that the criteria used to judge the Bible's extraordinary claims true would also pass extraordinary claims nearly all Christians using those arguments would reject.

So I don't see how you're point is relevant....it's the low bar set by Christian historical apologetic arguments that's at issue. If there were parapsychologists with solid evidence for the paranormal (not that I agree that there is) it wouldn't change Hallquist's point. Those would be things with evidence far beyond what we have for the supernatural claims in the Bible.

steve said...

Blue Devil Knight said...

"On miracles: Benny Hinn recently healed a blind woman."

How is that supposed to discredit miracles in general? When a scientist is caught in scientific fraud, does that discredit science in general?

"I guess because it happend ~2000 years ago, and has been transmitted by extremely biased and powerful superstitious groups..."

Were 1C Christians "extremely powerful?"

And to call them "superstitious" begs the very question at issue. The charge of "extreme bias" is also ironic considering the the fact that your own extreme bias is coming through loud and clear.

"(you know, they types that would burn Giordano Bruno alive)..."

Not to mention the Maoist purges, the Stalinist purges, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, &c.

Tim said...

David,

You write:

Suffice it to say (since that was the point of the example) that I don't think a criteria that the New Testament accounts passes and which does not arbitrarily exclude non-Christian claims could avoid also passing all manner of claims hardly any Christian using the argument takes seriously.

I do understand that this is your assertion.

You continue:

what are the criteria by which you think an extraordinary claim from the past can be judged to be PROBABLY true?

The simplest answer to your question is: a ratio of composite Bayes factors that overcomes the unfavorable ratio of the priors. Or, to put it less technically, the evidence, taken as a whole, is so much more likely to have obtained if the claim were true than if it were false that it more than balances out the antecedent presumption against the event.

This method of inquiry cannot be shoehorned into criteriological approaches, though the standard criteria for authenticity (embarrassment, multiple independent attestation, etc.) do play a role in the assignment of conditional probabilities.

For further explication, I suggest that you read the paper, keeping in mind that it is, necessarily, a very brief summary that touches on only a few of the lines of argument. If you'd like to know where to find more evidence, feel free to ask.

steve said...

David B. Ellis said...

"Steve, the point of the book (so far as I can judge by reviews and summaries) is that the criteria used to judge the Bible's extraordinary claims true would also pass extraordinary claims nearly all Christians using those arguments would reject."

Well, that's a nice fact-free assertion. What concrete examples did you have in mind? And what makes you think they're representative?

"So I don't see how you're point is relevant....it's the low bar set by Christian historical apologetic arguments that's at issue. If there were parapsychologists with solid evidence for the paranormal (not that I agree that there is) it wouldn't change Hallquist's point."

According to Reppert's summary, he's not speaking in purely theoretical terms. Rather, Hallquist cites specific examples, which he treats as paradigm-cases, to establish his presumption. So why should we disregard the quality of his sampling?

"Those would be things with evidence far beyond what we have for the supernatural claims in the Bible."

That's another fact-free comparison. That's the nice thing about being a secular rationalist. You can talk about evidence in the abstract, but content yourself with vagaries in the concrete.

Tim said...

BDK,

You write:

"Victor still pushing the ridiculous view that strong belief, even to the point of martyrdom, suggests the legitimacy of the cause?"

You're missing the point of the Jenkin passage, which is precisely that this line of criticism by comparison leaves out something critical.

Eric said...

"Victor still pushing the ridiculous view that strong belief, even to the point of martyrdom, suggests the legitimacy of the cause?"

BDK, I would of course agree that "strong belief to the point of martyrdom" doesn't entail legitimacy, but surely it's evidence for (that is, it does in fact minimally 'suggest') legitimacy.

Take two self proclaimed eyewitnesses to two different events, one who succumbs to threats of torture and death and recants his testimony, and the other who goes to his death without recanting. Now suppose that this is the only fact you're aware of concerning these two events. Couldn't you reasonably conclude that it's more plausibly the case that the latter individual's testimony was more reliable than that of the former?

Now we must examine other relevant factors too in such cases, but it seems to me as if this sort of data can be used as part of an overall case for legitimacy.

I think we recognize this in cases were emotional commitments are not as strong as they are in the theism/atheism debate. For example, consider the weight we give to deathbed testimony vis-a-vis hearsay in a case at law.

Now you may say that all we can reliably conclude in such cases is that the person truly believes his testimony to be true. I agree: given this one bit of data, that's all we can reliably conclude. But the fact that the person did believe to his core, to the point of martyrdom, that his experience was veridical is, I think, evidence that he wasn't involved in a hoax, and such evidence can be used in a larger cumulative case for legitimacy. This, I think, is Victor's fundamental point.

Victor Reppert said...

Martyrdom, by itself, tends to show the sincerity of the person's commitment to the cause in question. Of course, there were plenty of martyrdoms for many contradictory causes, but, for example, it would be absurd to suppose that any of the 9/11 hijackers were not devout Wahhabi Muslims who believed deeply in the al-Qaeda cause, but were instead secret Freemasons.

In response to Doctor Logic, it seems clear to me that even in an age where martyrdom was prized, it would be done only by people who believed sincerely and strongly in the causes for which they died.

I've also introduced the term martyrdom risk behavior, rather than martyrdom as the key to what shows sincere belief. Yes, a fraud can get exectued for engaging in fraud, but did they engage in martyrdom risk behavior, or did they do what they thought they could get away with, and got caught. Joseph Smith was sitting in jail when the angry mob killed him.

But when Peter, in Acts 2:36, says "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." He's testifying to something he claims to have experienced, and he is prepared to die for this claim. You are not in a position to have to explain how it is that he acquired a firm belief that Jesus was resurrected.

The claim of the original post was simply this: While comparing the resurrection evidence to evidence for and against other paranormal events might have some value, all of the cases Hallquist mentions in his first chapter (such as the
Amityville horror) involve deliberate fraud, and we have at least some reasons to reject deliberate fraud as a explanation for the founding of Christianity.

David B. Ellis said...


The simplest answer to your question is: a ratio of composite Bayes factors that overcomes the unfavorable ratio of the priors.


Also as vague an answer as possible. Congratulations, you've yet again managed to avoid to having to commit yourself to anything that can be criticized in any specific way.

I'm going to leave you to it. It's clear by now you're uninterested in any substantive discussion.

Tim said...

DL,

You write:

"What about the possibility that the founders were the type of people were likely to be martyrs before the crucifixion of Jesus?"

1. It's hugely implausible even for one individual, not to mention for a group.

2. It flies in the face of the 1st century evidence we have about them, which shows them to be about average in braggadocio (Matthew 26:35) and completely typical in the event (Luke 22:57; John 20:19).

3. The documents simply don't read like careful forgeries designed to "present the disciples as average guys."

I think you severely underestimate the improbability of your hypothesis given these considerations.

Paul Manata said...

David,

"Also as vague an answer as possible. Congratulations, you've yet again managed to avoid to having to commit yourself to anything that can be criticized in any specific way."

Can you explain how his answer was vague, and how it was "as vague as possible?

From where I'm sitting it looks like he gave you a detailed answer to a question of yours via a lenghty paper. You floated some initial worry about his paper regarding the criteria by which he thinks an extraordinary claim from the past can be judged to be PROBABLY true. To which he responded that the simplest answer is that using Bayesianism, an "extraordinary" claim from the past can be judged to be probably true via "the evidence, taken as a whole, is so much more likely to have obtained if the claim were true than if it were false that it more than balances out the antecedent presumption against the event."

That seems perfectly sensible as an initial "simple" answer to your question, and seemes far from "vague."

Tim said...

David,

I'm sorry that you're unwilling to have a discussion. I've told you where I stand, answered your questions to me as clearly as the technical nature of the material allows, and given you a link to a more detailed discussion for you to read at leisure.

You've told us where you stand, refused to answer a number of requests for clarification, and now apparently you're unwilling to engage even with a moderately detailed presentation of the case.

It's a free country, and Vic runs a remarkably lenient combox. Nobody's going to force you to have a discussion if you don't want one, and that's as it should be. But under the circumstances, I don't see why you should think that your unargued opinion should be of interest to anyone -- except maybe with that brain-damaged chimp who compares favorably, or so you intimated in the previous thread, with those who disagree with you.

David B. Ellis said...


Well, that's a nice fact-free assertion. What concrete examples did you have in mind?


Let's first be specific about the historical evidence for the resurrection.

What are the key historical evidences, to your mind, that are sufficient reasons for being convinced it's at least more likely than not that Jesus rose from the dead?

Let's hear them and then let's see if other supernatural, miraculous and paranormal claims can offer as much or more in their support.

Tim said...

David,

What are the key historical evidences, to your mind, that are sufficient reasons for being convinced it's at least more likely than not that Jesus rose from the dead?

A number of them (by no means all) are discussed in that paper, together with the relevant background information to give them proper weight. See pp. 13-25 and 28-39.

David B. Ellis said...


From where I'm sitting it looks like he gave you a detailed answer to a question of yours via a lenghty paper.


Posting a link to a 75 page paper does not constitute answering a question asked in a conversation. It's evasion by overload. A common rhetorical tactic which anyone who's engaged in much internet debate should be familiar with.

He's welcome, as are you to answer my previous question directed at Steve:

What are the key historical evidences, to your mind, that are sufficient reasons for being convinced it's at least more likely than not that Jesus rose from the dead?

Let's hear them and then let's see if other supernatural, miraculous and paranormal claims can offer as much or more in their support.

David B. Ellis said...

Are you unable to even state your own opinions? Saying "go read these 20+ pages of text" does not constitute participating in a discussion.

I'm wasting no further time on you.

Paul Manata said...

David B. Ellis said:

"Posting a link to a 75 page paper does not constitute answering a question asked in a conversation. It's evasion by overload. A common rhetorical tactic which anyone who's engaged in much internet debate should be familiar with.

David B Ellis said:

"He's welcome, as are you to answer my previous question directed at Steve:

What are the key historical evidences, to your mind, that are sufficient reasons for being convinced it's at least more likely than not that Jesus rose from the dead?


But if there's a lot of evidences, then that's "evasion by overload." Apparently linking to a paper isn't savvy, would you rather we take up the next 50 comment boxes and lay them out here, or were you not really serious about getting "key historical evidences" that are "sufficient reasons" for being convinced? Or did you just want one or two lines of evidence, implicitly denying the nature a cumulative case plays in answering your question about "probability" and "likelyhood"?

Tim said...

David,

I'm sorry that you find the suggestion that you do even a small amount of reading on the subject to be an undue burden. The argument is cumulative, comprising numerous details, and therefore difficult to compress into a combox; that is why I pointed you to an exposition where at least some of the relevant qualifications are spelled out.

But if it will help you to get the ball rolling, here are three features of the evidence for the resurrection that give it strength, all drawn from the paper where they are discussed at some length:

1. The very first reported witnesses, according to all four Gospels, were women -- that is, persons whose testimony in court was deprecated in Judaism. If the story of the resurrection were simply invented, such witnesses would not have been chosen, particularly when there were men available whose testimony would not have been open to such prejudice and cavil.

2. The people who first proclaimed the resurrection faced, and must have known that they faced, the almost certain prospect of brutal physical persecution by the combined civil and ecclesiastical authorities, who had just united to crucify their Master.

3. One of the most vigorous proclaimers of the resurrection was a man of considerable learning and mental vigor who, initially, fervently hated the new movement and had dedicated himself to its extermination.

Is it your position that there are parallels to these facts in the case of alien abductions? If so, please do give us some references so that we can read up on the matter.

Steven Carr said...

TIM
"The point here is not that every one of these claims must be true; the question of whether Matthew first wrote his gospel in Aramaic, for example, is notoriously problematic.

CARR
So?

You think you have caught me out by quoting a bit of the McGrews claiming that nobody should believe that what they just said was accurate?

The McGrews here concede that not even they can expect people to swallow what they are saying, and call it 'problematic'.

So the McGrews issue a warning that what they say is not to be taken seriously by people with brains.

How does that help save the reputation of the McGrews, when they themselves claim that what they say is going way too far, and is , ahem, 'problematic'?


I already know that this 'testimony' is , shall we say 'problematic'.

So 'problematic' that even the McGrews have to bite the bullet and concede that their evidence is 'problematic'.

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR
Martyrdom, by itself, tends to show the sincerity of the person's commitment to the cause in question.

CARR
SO Madoff really believed in his Ponzi schemes or why else would he go to jail for them?

In the real world, Paul said Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumsion.


It remains a fact that there is not ONE word from any Peter, James or Paul saying there was an empty tomb or a flesh and blood resurrected Jesus.

Not ONE word.

There is not even testimony, until 'Mark' wrote his anonymous, unsourced, unprovenanced Novel full of people that history cannot find like Judas, Joseph of Arimathea, Joanna, Salome - people that not even Christians had ever spoken about until then.

No wonder Victor has to rely on the imaginary testimony of people like Peter, who never even testified to an empty tomb.

Steven Carr said...

TIM
The people who first proclaimed the resurrection faced, and must have known that they faced,

CARR
Tim has not read the Bible, where Paul says Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision.

And Paul faced ridicule from Christian converts who scoffed at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

Paul tells them that their Jesus became a spirit.

Tim said...

Steven,

You missed your path in life. You should have been the king's jester and earned your bread, and stripes too.

Other people can read the things that you purport to summarize. And when they do, they invariably find that you are constitutionally incapable of making a fair representation of anything you disagree with on this topic.

That is one of the many excellent reasons why no one takes you seriously.

You could do us all a favor, and considerably raise the average level of intelligence in this discussion, by going away.

Paul Manata said...

Steven Carr said:

"CARR
Tim has not read the Bible, where Paul says Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision.


Apart from the logical blunder of assuming that if S is persecuted for X, this means that S cannot also be persecuted for Y, Z, etc., Steven Carr has not read his Bible:

Read Acts 4:1-20

1The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

...

And read Acts ch. 23, e.g.:

" 6Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." 7When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8(The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)"

And also Acts 17, where Paul is ridiculed by the intellectuals for preaching the resurrection.


So, Steven, you might want to read the Bible before you claim other people haven't. But it's your "rep," I guess.

Steven Carr said...

ACTS 23
"My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead."

CARR
'Hope'?

'Hope'?

You mean Paul hoped that the dead would be resurrected?

He had no evidence of resurrection, just 'hope'?

Of course, Acts 23 is late and secondary, and is not evidence.



People who were actually there, like Paul, claimed Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision.

But Christians trash history whenever they can, and demand that primary sources be rejected, and secondary sources be used instead.



MORMON-MCGREW
The early Mormon fathers are unanimous in claiming that Joseph Smith translated Reformed Eygptian , but this is problematic.

Nevertheless, this unanimity is impressive.

CHRISTIAN-MCGREW
The early Christian fathers are unanimous in claiming that the Gospel of Matthew was translated from Hebrew or Aramaic, but this is problematic.


Nevertheless, this unanimity is impressive.

CARR
Vive la difference!

There is no difference between Mormon-McGrew and Christian-McGrew.

They both use the same rubbish logic.

Steven Carr said...

ACTS 17
And also Acts 17, where Paul is ridiculed by the intellectuals for preaching the resurrection.

CARR
'Ridicule'?

You mean they didn't kill him?

Of course, Christians converts scoffed at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.


So these people who scoffed at the resurrection convered to Christianity....

1 Corinthians 15:12
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

Paul tells them they are fools for dicussing how bodies come back, and reminds them that Jesus became a spirit.

mattghg said...

You mean Paul hoped that the dead would be resurrected?

He had no evidence of resurrection, just 'hope'?


Uh, 1 Corinthians 15?

That's not what hope means, and you know it. Sheesh.

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR
In the case of Christianity, we seem to have several people who put their own lives at severe risk and even who were in fact martyred, as a result of their refusal to renounce their belief that they had seen the resurrected Jesus.

CARR
There is not a shred of evidence for this.

Even Acts doesn't go this far!

As soon as you get anywhere near official letters in Acts, the resurrection of a corpse disappears.

I see that Matt is claiming that when Paul allegedly said he had hope in the resurrection of the dead, in Acts 23, he was proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, but somehow totally forgetting to mention Jesus in that chapter.

Paul was so determined to proclaim the resurrection of the corpse of Jesus, that Christians claim he was martyred for that belief, and point as support to passages where Jesus is not even mentioned!

Unbelievable!

Victor states that Paul was killed for refusing to deny Jesus was resurrected, and Manata points to a passage where Paul keeps deathly quiet about Jesus and claims he hopes the dead are resurrected.

Such brave testimony! Telling people you hope the dead are resurrected, and refusing to claim you have seen a resurrected person.

Of course, Acts then goes on to claim that Paul had a vision of the Lord, unless Manata wants to claim that a physical Jesus got into the prison to speak to Paul.

So even Acts claims Paul would speak to visions and Paul refused to testify that he had seen a flesh and blood Jesus, preferring to state that he hoped the dead were resurrected.

Steven Carr said...

MANATA
Apart from the logical blunder of assuming that if S is persecuted for X, this means that S cannot also be persecuted for Y, Z, etc.

CARR
So Manata thinks it is a logical blunder to point out what Paul says Christians were persecuted on, instead of being logically correct and believing what Manata says Christians were persecuted on.

In Manata's world, 'logical blunder' means 'not taking Manatas beliefs as laws of the universe,preferring instead to point out facts, rather than believing a Manata fantasy'

Even Acts claims that when Paul says he saw a light and heard a vision, the Romans declared that there was nothing wrong in that.

Doctor Logic said...

Tim,

1. [A desire for martyrdom is] hugely implausible even for one individual, not to mention for a group.

Like al-qaeda? Or a significant fraction of the population of Gaza? Or Hamas? Or Hezbollah? Or Tibetan monks?

We're talking about a subjugated population in the Middle East. I don't see what's implausible about it.

If you deny (1), then do you think they were oblivious to the risk they were taking before Jesus was apprehended?

2. It flies in the face of the 1st century evidence we have about them, which shows them to be about average in braggadocio (Matthew 26:35) and completely typical in the event (Luke 22:57; John 20:19).

How can you say this with a straight face? This "1st century evidence" is their own self- description!

3. The documents simply don't read like careful forgeries designed to "present the disciples as average guys."

They had 30 years to work on the stories before they wrote them down. They tested the stories on people for decades before they were finally committed to text. And don't you think Bernie Madoff sounded convincing in his prospectus?

If you had to put probability factors on these items, what values would you give them? Would you say that it was a 1 in 100 shot that they were martyr wannabes before the crucifixion? 1 in 100 shot that they were not as they described themselves to be?

Doctor Logic said...

Tim,

1. The very first reported witnesses, according to all four Gospels, were women -- that is, persons whose testimony in court was deprecated in Judaism....

2. The people who first proclaimed the resurrection faced, and must have known that they faced, the almost certain prospect of brutal physical persecution by the combined civil and ecclesiastical authorities, who had just united to crucify their Master.

3. One of the most vigorous proclaimers of the resurrection was a man of considerable learning and mental vigor who, initially, fervently hated the new movement and had dedicated himself to its extermination.


How unlikely are these events?

And compare this with claims by Joseph Smith. Suppose Joseph Smith had been allowed to write his own story, and then the government had adopted his religion as the exclusive faith, suppressing all others. Wouldn't some aspects of his story seem peculiar for the time in which it was written?

BTW, the Mormons see Smith's story and the story of the early church as very similar to the founding of Christianity.

I don't think the peculiarities you cite are peculiar enough to validate a resurrection. Resurrections are a 1 in a billion at best. The story isn't that peculiar.

Steven Carr said...

TIM
The very first reported witnesses, according to all four Gospels, were women -- that is, persons whose testimony in court was deprecated in Judaism

CARR
And allegedly Christians had been battered for 30 years with allegations of grave-robbing, and the first Gospel then claimed that the Jesus followers planned to access the body at some time when nobody could be expected to be there.

Clearly there had been no allegations of grave-robbing.

The last Gospel even claimed the women were so stupid they thought somebody had moved the body.

This is a bare-faced attempt to try to discredit the stories which had appeared ever since 'Mark' wrote his Novel, and which 'Mark' had obviously never heard of.

GearHedEd said...

Doctor Logic said,

"...Resurrections are a 1 in a billion at best."

Don't be shy, just say it: Resurrection is IMPOSSIBLE.

If it were 1 in 1,000,000,000, we should expect to see roughly 30 bona fide cases of resurrection from the 20th century ALONE.

David B. Ellis said...

The very idea of applying probabilities to things we don't have good grounds for thinking are even possible is problematic to say the least.

David B. Ellis said...

Of course, Doc Logic did say one in a billion AT BEST.

David B. Ellis said...

It seems that, in all this discussion about historical evidence for the resurrection no one has actually stated a general outline of what that evidence is.

I'll get the ball rolling:

---We have four documents claiming to tell the story of the life of Jesus all of which are generally acknowledged, even by Christians, to be anonymous and which were, at best, written decades after the time is supposed to have lived.

---We have a few other documents, also write decades later, some of uncertain authorship, most that we do know the authorship of being by Paul---a late convert who never knew Jesus. And most of these documents being more theological than historical in content anyway.

And that's it for the primary evidence.

It isn't much. We probably have more evidence than that for fairies. I'm sure a little searching would turn up lots of first hand accounts of visits from the wee folk.

So what am I missing? By what alchemy does having a few written stories claiming an event occurred turn into sound reason to believe the resurrection more likely than not to be historical fact?

Tim said...

DL,

My first claim is not that “a desire for martyrdom” in the abstract is implausible: it’s that your hypothesis that “the founders were the type of people [who] were likely to be martyrs before the crucifixion of Jesus” is hugely implausible.

The comparisons to al Qaeda and Hamas actually undermine your case, because these people are in a physical struggle and the key to their martyrdom is to die killing kaffirs, preferably Jews -- conditions that everyone knows did not hold for early Christianity. Tibetan monks are not dying to testify to something that they have seen with their eyes and their hands have handled.

If you deny (1), then do you think they were oblivious to the risk they were taking before Jesus was apprehended?

The risk wasn’t that great until Jesus decided to take them all as a group down to Jerusalem and started talking about his coming death.

It flies in the face of the 1st century evidence we have about them, which shows them to be about average in braggadocio (Matthew 26:35) and completely typical in the event (Luke 22:57; John 20:19).

How can you say this with a straight face? This "1st century evidence" is their own self- description!

Among other reasons, (a) it is exactly what we should, antecedently, have expected, (b) it was circulated at a time when, if it were false, living witnesses could and would have cried foul, (c) there is no trace of any report of comparable antiquity to the contrary, (d) the details of the independent narratives corroborate each other in a manner that cannot plausibly be attributed to connivance or forgery, and (e) these reports were accepted both by early heretics and by inveterate enemies of Christianity.

3. The documents simply don't read like careful forgeries designed to "present the disciples as average guys."

They had 30 years to work on the stories before they wrote them down. They tested the stories on people for decades before they were finally committed to text.

A gap of 30 years between events and writing is really very good, by historical standards, as it allows the circulation of the text among people who lived through the events. And both the narrative in Acts and the descriptions in Paul’s letters -- which dovetail together remarkably well -- show us both the strengths and the weaknesses of the apostles with remarkable candor.

If you had to put probability factors on these items, what values would you give them? Would you say that it was a 1 in 100 shot that they were martyr wannabes before the crucifixion?

For any one of them, given what we know, I’d put it at rather less than 1 in a million. For a dozen of them, even given an order of magnitude dependency factor for each one beyond the first, put it somewhere in the zone of 10 ^-63.

1. The very first reported witnesses, according to all four Gospels, were women -- that is, persons whose testimony in court was deprecated in Judaism....

2. The people who first proclaimed the resurrection faced, and must have known that they faced, the almost certain prospect of brutal physical persecution by the combined civil and ecclesiastical authorities, who had just united to crucify their Master.

3. One of the most vigorous proclaimers of the resurrection was a man of considerable learning and mental vigor who, initially, fervently hated the new movement and had dedicated himself to its extermination.


How unlikely are these events?”

See the discussion in the paper linked above.

If you’d like to compare and contrast the evidence for the resurrection and that for the founding of Mormonism, I’m willing to do that. It’s no contest.

Tim said...

David,

It seems that, in all this discussion about historical evidence for the resurrection no one has actually stated a general outline of what that evidence is.

We've provided you with a link to a paper that gives an outline of this evidence. You just won't read it. So your complaint rings hollow.

I'm still waiting for your "alien abduction" parallels to the three points I listed above.

You write:

We have four documents claiming to tell the story of the life of Jesus all of which are generally acknowledged, even by Christians, to be anonymous

They are not "anonymous" in the sense that we don't know who wrote them, only in the sense that the authors did not sign them, which was not the general custom for that sort of writing at the time. There is ample evidence for their authorship of such variety and strength as would leave no doubt if the subject matter were not religious.

The earliest sources for the New Testament documents, however, are neither the Gospels nor the epistles but rather the early creeds embedded in Acts and the epistles of Paul and Peter. Scholarly estimates for the creed embedded in 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 range from a few months to eight years after the crucifixion.

Mark said...

Hi Tim. Forgive me if I'm dog-piling you along with yet more comments to respond to.

1. It's hugely implausible even for one individual, not to mention for a group.

It's hugely implausible for a randomly selected person/group to be the martyr-type. But there's a selection effect here; close disciples of radical/messianic counter-cultural figures undergoing religious crisis cannot be treated like a random sample.

2. It flies in the face of the 1st century evidence we have about them, which shows them to be about average in braggadocio (Matthew 26:35) and completely typical in the event (Luke 22:57; John 20:19).

A few passing lines like these from an ancient document hardly serve as a convincing personality profile.


A gap of 30 years between events and writing is really very good, by historical standards, as it allows the circulation of the text among people who lived through the events.


We don't have a very clear idea about who wrote them, much less who read them. The hypothesis that living witnesses carefully fact-checked the documents, and would've coerced the authors to circulate corrected documents, is pure guesswork. That's not to say it may not be probable, but that the probability isn't much higher than 50%. I also realize that you think we do know who wrote them, but for their names; however, this is another case where I feel our clues, while perhaps favoring some hypotheses, don't favor them very strongly.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David B. Ellis said...

Linking to a 75 page paper is not akin to giving an outline of the evidence.

If you aren't willing to put a thought into your own words it's pretty easy to find quotes from prominent Christian apologists summarizing their historical arguments. For example the following from William Lane Craig:


But I want to list five reasons why I think we ought to assume that the gospels are reliable until proven wrong:

1. There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts. The interval of time between the events themselves and recording of them in the gospels is too short to have allowed the memory of what had or had not actually happened to be erased.

2. The gospels are not analogous to folk tales or contemporary "urban legends." Tales like those of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill or contemporary urban legends like the "vanishing hitchhiker" rarely concern actual historical individuals and are thus not analogous to the gospel narratives.

3. The Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was highly developed and reliable. In an oral culture like that of first century Palestine the ability to memorize and retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age children in the home, elementary school, and the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus.

4. There were significant restraints on the embellishment of traditions about Jesus, such as the presence of eyewitnesses and the apostles’ supervision. Since those who had seen and heard Jesus continued to live and the tradition about Jesus remained under the supervision of the apostles, these factors would act as a natural check on tendencies to elaborate the facts in a direction contrary to that preserved by those who had known Jesus.

5. The Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability.

I don’t have enough time to talk about all of these. So let me say something about the first and the last points.


And he goes on to give more detail in the essay:

http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/rediscover2.html

See. That wasn't so hard was it?

Tim said...

Mark,

Forgive me if I'm dog-piling you along with yet more comments to respond to.

Not a problem. If I get too busy, I’ll just fall silent for a while. ;)

1. It's hugely implausible even for one individual, not to mention for a group.

It's hugely implausible for a randomly selected person/group to be the martyr-type. But there's a selection effect here; close disciples of radical/messianic counter-cultural figures undergoing religious crisis cannot be treated like a random sample.

I don’t think that affects the probabilities in the way that you seem to think it does. Calling Jesus “radical” is somewhat misleading: he’s not radical the way that Osama bin Laden is radical, for example, and the disciples were nothing like the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Nor was their crisis particularly religious: it was very secular, brought on by the crucifixion of their Rabbi.

2. It flies in the face of the 1st century evidence we have about them, which shows them to be about average in braggadocio (Matthew 26:35) and completely typical in the event (Luke 22:57; John 20:19).

A few passing lines like these from an ancient document hardly serve as a convincing personality profile.

If what they told us was far out of line with what we would expect in the nature of the case, then we might reasonably ask for more evidence than usual. But in fact, it’s not: it’s exactly what we would expect. Under those circumstances, the fact that multiple documents that are, in these places, independent of each other all give us basically the same picture is really very good evidence.

A gap of 30 years between events and writing is really very good, by historical standards, as it allows the circulation of the text among people who lived through the events.

We don't have a very clear idea about who wrote them, much less who read them. The hypothesis that living witnesses carefully fact-checked the documents, and would've coerced the authors to circulate corrected documents, is pure guesswork. That's not to say it may not be probable, but that the probability isn't much higher than 50%. I also realize that you think we do know who wrote them, but for their names; however, this is another case where I feel our clues, while perhaps favoring some hypotheses, don't favor them very strongly.

I do think we have satisfactory evidence not only as to who their authors were but also as to the general circumstances of their writing these works. Certainly I would put the probabilities much closer to .99 than to .50. But I’m always willing to hear thoughtful arguments to the contrary. What line of reasoning persuades you that the evidence for the traditional authorship of the Gospels isn’t very strong?

Tim said...

David,

You write:

Linking to a 75 page paper is not akin to giving an outline of the evidence.

I guess it depends on your standards. This is a subject where a full treatment of the evidence would fill many large volumes. Now, a few thousand pages would have been a bit much to write off as a summary. But you wouldn't even read two dozen pages.

Bill Craig is a wonderful guy, but his argument is designed primarily for oral debates where time is limited, and it has the limitations you might expect of such an argument. It's true that it compresses rather better than the approach I favor. That's what it's designed to do.

Mark said...

I don’t think that affects the probabilities in the way that you seem to think it does. Calling Jesus “radical” is somewhat misleading: he’s not radical the way that Osama bin Laden is radical, for example, and the disciples were nothing like the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

He calls upon his followers to give up all their worldly possessions and (to some extent) family, entreats them to endure all punishment without retribution and promises them an exalted place after an imminent apocalypse reverses men's fortunes (the meek inheriting the Earth, etc.) if they believe in him. Do you disagree that these are all psychologically extreme factors of Jesus' ministry and liable to attract/keep mostly those with a high tolerance for zeal and self-abnegation?

If what they told us was far out of line with what we would expect in the nature of the case, then we might reasonably ask for more evidence than usual. But in fact, it’s not: it’s exactly what we would expect. Under those circumstances, the fact that multiple documents that are, in these places, independent of each other all give us basically the same picture is really very good evidence.

What I'm saying is that what the Gospels say about the disciples isn't far in or out of line with any psychological profile. At least, that's the case with the verses you named.

I do think we have satisfactory evidence not only as to who their authors were but also as to the general circumstances of their writing these works. Certainly I would put the probabilities much closer to .99 than to .50. But I’m always willing to hear thoughtful arguments to the contrary. What line of reasoning persuades you that the evidence for the traditional authorship of the Gospels isn’t very strong?

Uh, I don't know. I guess I just haven't seen any evidence I feel is all that knock-down - and certainly not for the traditional authorship (which I didn't realize you accepted). I know there are scholarly arguments against traditional authorship, but I don't have a well-developed opinion on their soundness.

Paul Manata said...

David Ellis,

"Linking to a 75 page paper is not akin to giving an outline of the evidence.

If you aren't willing to put a thought into your own words it's pretty easy to find quotes from prominent Christian apologists summarizing their historical arguments. For example the following from William Lane Craig:"


I'm afraid this rings hallow considering that Tim did give you a brief outline of evidences; indeed, his outline was shorter than Craig's!

I think where we're at right now is waiting for you to offer the evidences for UFOs that are relevantly similar to those Tim cited for the resurrection.

Victor Reppert said...

Steven Carr: The fact that I haven't banned you doesn't mean that I think your comments are worthwhile, or worthy of a response. Your methodology has been refuted numerous times, and no one here is under any obligation to take you seriously.

Paul Manata said...

Mark,

"He calls upon his followers to give up all their worldly possessions and (to some extent) family, entreats them to endure all punishment without retribution and promises them an exalted place after an imminent apocalypse reverses men's fortunes (the meek inheriting the Earth, etc.) if they believe in him. Do you disagree that these are all psychologically extreme factors of Jesus' ministry and liable to attract/keep mostly those with a high tolerance for zeal and self-abnegation?"

I'm still note sure this gets you to isomorphism between Jesus' disciples and Bin Laden's. Apart from that, the Gospels indicate that even the most dedicated and committed disciples did not understand Jesus's "radical" claims, what he said was highly confusing to them. Moreover, when their leader asked them to stay up and pray with him, they couldn't even do that. After Jesus died, one quickly denied him, and others went into hiding, dejected. And this is apart from your interpretation of those passages, which I think are off. Most commentators recognize that Jesus isn't asking anyone to literally give up all they own, or literally deny their family (cf. Bock, Luke). He using the traditional style of making a point of contrast by appeal to hyperbole.

David B. Ellis said...


I'm afraid this rings hallow considering that Tim did give you a brief outline of evidences;


He listed 3 points used in some historical arguments---2 of which were very minor ones. That's far from what I asked for: an outline of the KEY points of one's historical argument.

What would YOU consider the key points of the best version of the argument that you've seen?

David B. Ellis said...


I think where we're at right now is waiting for you to offer the evidences for UFOs that are relevantly similar to those Tim cited for the resurrection.


I never suggested that they would have anything like a one to one correspondence on such minor details (or even major details). I said that a criteria which the resurrection would pass would almost certainly pass claims Christians almost all reject.

When I talk about criteria I'm talking about things like:

Is the testimony of one witness enough?

If testimony alone is enough but one won't do then how many reliable witnesses would it take?

Would second hand or anonymous testimony be sufficient?

Is physical evidence necessary to be reasonably convinced?

That sort of thing.

Paul Manata said...

David Ellis,

He listed 3 points used in some historical arguments---2 of which were very minor ones. That's far from what I asked for: an outline of the KEY points of one's historical argument.

We've been over this. You have more points, but you complain that they're too much. When we give you less points, you complain it's too little.

Jake Elwood XVI said...

By the time Mr Ellis is through with not 'wasting [any] further time on [Tim]', it seems he could have read all 75* pages of the link for argument that Tim finds persuasive.

*Really the last 6 pages are just a bibliography.

Mark said...

I'm still note sure this gets you to isomorphism between Jesus' disciples and Bin Laden's.

I never mentioned Bin Laden. The comparison to suicide terrorists is surely a straw man.

Apart from that, the Gospels indicate that even the most dedicated and committed disciples did not understand Jesus's "radical" claims, what he said was highly confusing to them.

Which passages do you have in mind? There are places where they badly fail to apprehend who Jesus really is, but this isn't really relevant. There are places where they misunderstand Jesus' teaching, but not in a way that damages my point (e.g., Matthew 18). I'm wondering which you're thinking of, or if you think some I find undamaging really are damaging.

Moreover, when their leader asked them to stay up and pray with him, they couldn't even do that.

I really don't think this is strong evidence. The disciples incompetently fell asleep late one night when Jesus cryptically told them to stay awake and pray. This hardly means they wouldn't have been willing to go to extreme lengths for their faith.

After Jesus died, one quickly denied him, and others went into hiding, dejected.

Assuming we accept these parts of the story as historical, they still don't make your case very well. Their master had just died an ignominious and unexpected death; their world must have felt like it was ending. Whatever their psychology, it's not surprising that they should have been terrified, confused and dejected - at least for a time.

And this is apart from your interpretation of those passages, which I think are off. Most commentators recognize that Jesus isn't asking anyone to literally give up all they own, or literally deny their family (cf. Bock, Luke). He using the traditional style of making a point of contrast by appeal to hyperbole.

I think it's extremely difficult to know precisely what Jesus really means throughout much of the Gospels. However, it seems pretty clear to me that he found material wealth and family ties liabilities rather than assets, and that his disciples should be organizing their lives around him and his special religious mission. That's all I really need for my case.

Tim said...

Mark,

You write:

He calls upon his followers to give up all their worldly possessions and (to some extent) family, entreats them to endure all punishment without retribution and promises them an exalted place after an imminent apocalypse reverses men's fortunes (the meek inheriting the Earth, etc.) if they believe in him. Do you disagree that these are all psychologically extreme factors of Jesus' ministry and liable to attract/keep mostly those with a high tolerance for zeal and self-abnegation?

I think they are interesting, but again, I don’t think they have quite the significance that you do. Self-abnegation is one thing, though something they seemed not very good at until after the resurrection (vide Mark 10:37, etc.). But a zest for getting oneself killed is something entirely different. Any aspirations to being great in the kingdom had to do with earthly power, and it is both obvious and completely understandable that these were crushed by the crucifixion (John 20:19). (In fact, the disciples are still confused about this even after the resurrection (vide Acts 1:6).) So if there had been any decision-theoretic argument for risking one’s life in order to take a position of rulership in the kingdom, that could not be what was in play after the crucifixion.

Uh, I don't know. I guess I just haven't seen any evidence I feel is all that knock-down - and certainly not for the traditional authorship (which I didn't realize you accepted). I know there are scholarly arguments against traditional authorship, but I don't have a well-developed opinion on their soundness.

Fair enough. Maybe it would help to start with a secular example and see how far the analogy can be pressed. Do you think that we have adequate reason to believe -- seriously and firmly believe -- that Virgil wrote the Aeneid?

Mark said...

I think they are interesting, but again, I don’t think they have quite the significance that you do. Self-abnegation is one thing, though something they seemed not very good at until after the resurrection (vide Mark 10:37, etc.). But a zest for getting oneself killed is something entirely different.

No one's saying that the disciples had a zest for martyrdom; this is why the comparison with Al-Aqsa et al. is inapt. More likely they simply would've been willing to risk imperiling themselves for the sake of their fledgling religious sect/community. If there is a comparison with suicidal terrorist cells, it's that the disciples very well could've come to adopt one another as fictive kin, profoundly strengthening each other's dedication to the core dogma and rendering apostasy an unthinkable act of treachery to one's family. And if that's the case, then the improbability of their becoming martyrs might not be so great after all. Lots of people willingly choose hardship and death over betraying their communities.

Any aspirations to being great in the kingdom had to do with earthly power, and it is both obvious and completely understandable that these were crushed by the crucifixion (John 20:19).

1. I'm not sure what difference this makes. My point was just that the disciples clearly had grandiose fantasies about an upcoming massive power shift which would place them at the top of the heap after the dust settled. Crushed or not, I feel it indicates that the disciples could very well have been "psychologically extreme." 2. If the disciples believed in Jesus' glorious return, they would've been able to maintain the belief in their own political ascension after the crucifixion.

(In fact, the disciples are still confused about this even after the resurrection (vide Acts 1:6).)

Unsurprisingly, I don't think that post-resurrection conversations with Jesus were particularly historical.


Fair enough. Maybe it would help to start with a secular example and see how far the analogy can be pressed. Do you think that we have adequate reason to believe -- seriously and firmly believe -- that Virgil wrote the Aeneid?


Hmm. Not knowing the evidence we have for Virgil's authorship of the Aeneid, I can't say for certain. Certainly I think the preponderance of classicists renders Virgilian authorship more likely than not.

Tim said...

Mark,

Sorry: I guess I just misunderstood your initial comment ("...to be the martyr-type").

My principal problem with your scenario is that it seems to me the cart is pulling the horse. The members of the fledgling community were drawn together by one thing: their belief that Jesus had risen from the dead. The earliest sources for the New Testament documents are creeds studded through the history and the epistles, and they are all about this fact -- not just 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, but others like Romans 4:25, Romans 10:9-10, and Acts 2:22-24. These creeds, as Oscar Cullman and others have shown, predate both the Gospels and the Pauline epistles.

I am persuaded -- and I think that this is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence we have -- that those who professed to be the first witnesses of the Christian miracles underwent labors, dangers, and sufferings voluntarily in attestation of the truth of the accounts they delivered. Their willingness to endure such hardships has Easter faith, not as its effect, but as its cause.

Paul Manata said...

Mark,

"I think it's extremely difficult to know precisely what Jesus really means throughout much of the Gospels. However, it seems pretty clear to me that he found material wealth and family ties liabilities rather than assets, and that his disciples should be organizing their lives around him and his special religious mission. That's all I really need for my case."

I'll disregard the other things you said since you say the above is "all [you] really need for your case." Can you tell me what exegetes you're following in your interpretation of these texts, or supply the exegesis yourself for the conclusion that "Jesus found material wealth and familial ties per se to be liabilities?

I feel kind of bad for asking this since it could be a distraction, but it is your only proof for casting Jesus' followers as wild-eyed zealots akin to martyrs.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Victor, it may yet come to the necessity of banning Steven Carr, but I rather hope not. You see, I believe that Steven desperately wants to convert to Christianity, but is being held back by an immense, unstated emotional issue that he hasn't dealt with. I give him credit for going public with such a personal struggle. He is probable closer to the Kingdom of God than he realizes. (This does not mean we need to "go easy" on him. On the contrary, he is in great need of "tough love" to shake his present insanity out of him.)

I don't know Steven (curse the internet!), but I wonder whether his issues have something to do with Mormonism, since he references it so often. I know from personal experience that ex-Mormons can be pretty messed up people.

But, whatever the cause of his present unenviable state, he is trolling Christian-related websites and posting to them for a reason. He hates his life, and deep down knows that the answers to what is tormenting him can be found in what he is so rabidly attacking.

Victor Reppert said...

I suspect that something similar can be said of John Loftus.

mattghg said...

Wow, Bob, you gathered all that from reading Steven Carr's comments on blog posts?

Steven, is it true that you hate your life? I'm sorry if that's true.

Squat said...

In my experience of those that leave the faith, they often do so because they feel wronged in some way by their church or their Christian community. They get angry at this and turn to arguing for atheism as a means to get back at their Christian friends for what they have done: "You're all stupid anyway! Don't you know that Christianity isn't true?"

I suspect the same psychology is at work in Carr and Loftus.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, can I play uncharitable amateur psychologist on my interlocutors, too? Why do Christian apologists (e.g. Reppert and the McGrews) argue so stridently against non-Christian views? I suspect they're fighting cognitive dissonance for a view that, deep down, they know is false. Yay! I win.

Anonymous said...

Bob prokop writing:

Unfortunatly, "Anonymous", this is no game. And those with an attitude as flippant as yours have already lost something far more serious than any game.

Anonymous said...

That sort of begs the whole question that the beliefs y'all are purveying are true, which of course was the point in my parodic comment (a point apparently lost on you).

Blue Devil Knight said...

Bob he was doing a parody of Squat, who offered a silly psychological analysis of nonbelievers.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Someone earlier said that calling the early Christians "superstitious" begs the question. That is ridiculous. I wasn't talking about their views on Christianity, but everything. Weather, mental illness, geology, birth, death, etc.. People used to be a lot more credulous.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Back to the martyr arguments.

Giordano Bruno's weird philosophy isn't confirmed by his martyrdom, but as Victor points out the fact that he believed in something strongly is probably established (I say 'probably' because he could have been suicidal or had a mental disorder).

I agree that this consideration might block a small subset of skeptical views of the origins of Christianity that say they didn't truly believe the consequences of believing what they were saying were important. I say 'consequences of believing', rather than 'believing' because it is possible to martyr oneself for a cause even while saying things you are not sure are factually true, but the consequences are worth dying for (e.g., I would gladly lie, and (frankly not gladly) die if it meant preventing another 9/11).

At any rate, clearly martyrdom implies strong belief in something. Jim Jones' followers believed something strongly. Not sure what, but many were willing to die for it. They also witnessed miracles that he putatively performed and I'm sure they really believed it. The followers of Benny Hinn have witnessed his miracles, healing the blind, the crippled, etc.. I bet if he wanted, he could convince many of his followers to die.

The Robert Jenkin quote Tim offers is fun historically, but doesn't actually offer anything new to the discussion. He points out that the existence of false zealots doesn't imply all those with zeal are wrong. Fine. But that puts the burden back on resources independent of the existence of zealots. The existence of strong believers establishes nothing, as it is orthogonal to truth. It is not evidence for anything except strong belief.

In sum I take it that the existence of martyrs blocks a very small subset of stories of the origins of Christianity: those in which people actively tried to deceive others, didn't believe any of it, and also importantly didn't believe strongly in the consequences of having people believe.

Does that describe any real skeptic? Does it describe Hallq or Carrier? Has anyone argued that the early founders were making a casual lie with little to nothing to gain from people accepting the lie?

Finally, priors play such a huge role here, it is clear that these arguments from the apologists are for those with nonnegligible priors about miracles and gods. For instance, Tim calls the 'twin brother' theory of Jesus 'bizarre' (p 32 of the cited bit). Which is more bizarre, someone coming back from the dead or someone having a twin?

I know that Tim would say that the twin theory is bizarre because of the complete lack of evidence, but it does betray a lack of appreciation of just how incredible and unbelievable it is for people with the naturalist's priors that someone was resurrected. They need really good evidence.

Basically, I'll need to see it with my own eyes. More than once. The person will need to live for a week or so, we'll do the DNA test, I'll get others to confirm that I am not hallucinating. I'd need a whole lot of evidence to believe it now, much less as recorded from sources almost 2000 years old with much weakers standards for belief.

There is an insurmountable wall here that logic will not cross. That is a weakness of the Christian view, as if logic could cross it, I would cross. I would be a Christian. If the evidence compelled it, I would be a Christian.

Clearly there is more to becoming a Christian than logic and evidence. I'm not sure what that implies about trying to use the available evidence and logic to convert people. I think it implies that such things are only part of the equation. My hunch is, they are a rather trivial part of most people's conversion experience, that conversion is much more a matter of inspiration, an opening of the heart to the light and glory of God, an undeniable experience of His presence and Goodness, than to picayune historical and logical points.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Finally, it is strange that people act as if a 'hallucination' theory is the only plausible explanation of people incorrectly believing they observed something. We know there are many ways to acquire a false belief that you observed something in the past. Eyewitnesses are often earnestly wrong, but rarely is the explanation that they hallucinated. Much more likely is retroactive memory distortion.

Note this assumes that putative eyewitnesses did actually martyr themselves, that this is a historical fact. I'm not a historian of Christianity, so am willing to play along with such assumptions.

Squat said...

"he was doing a parody of Squat, who offered a silly psychological analysis of nonbelievers."

Not true. I offered a psychological analysis of Carr and Loftus, not all unbelievers.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Squat, maybe in your mind, but you said you were describing your "experience of those that leave the faith", not just two people.

Squat said...

"but you said you were describing your "experience of those that leave the faith", not just two people."

Yes, the model I suggested worked well in the cases of those I knew who left the faith. I didn't claim that it would generalize to all apostates. But the sort of behavior the apostates I knew exhibited is very similar to the sort of behavior exhibited by Carr and Loftus. The apostates I knew perceived themselves to have been wronged, so I'm guessing something similar holds in the case of Loftus and Carr.

That's all. No need to call me Sigmund.

Victor Reppert said...

I would not make psychological generalizations about nonbelievers as a group. However, the really strident ones, who engage in "no-concession" anti-apologetics and seem obsessed with Christianity, I wonder about those guys.

Victor Reppert said...

Carr is not an ex-Christian.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Note also the shoe is on the other foot, we could imagine a strongly committed Christian saying:
-------------
There is an insurmountable wall here that logic will not cross. That is a weakness of the atheist's view, because if logic could pull me across, I would follow. I would be an atheist. If the evidence compelled it, I would be an atheist. Clearly there is more to becoming an atheist than logic and evidence.
----------------
While it does read strangely to me now, from this perspective, I'm pretty sure many Christians here would agree with that sentiment.

And I'd have to agree I have no knock-down argument that Christianity or theism are false.

What personally pulled toward generic theistic nonChristianity after being a Christian my whole life was not logic or evidence. It was when Christians (IVCF) at college asked me to search inside and see that I knew in my heart that Christ was resurrected. I was a Freshman at the time. When I did that, I realized I didn't actually believe it at all! It was an instant deconversion experience, I stopped identifying myself as a Christian, and began identifying as a generic theist and eventually agnostic after more study.

My hunch is that if I had been approached, as a Christian, by Christians using logic and evidence (and that came off reasonable not kooky and cultish, which has always turned me off), that likely would have solidified my belief in Christ. A hunch anyway.

So getting back to priors, it seems perhaps these apologists are giving reasons/evidence that are probably most convincing for the less educated believer (as I was when a Freshman in college), not the long-term rather established nonbeliever (as I am). Once someone is entrenched enough in either camp, logic and evidence won't be enough to pull them in your direction, as the issues simply can't be settled by such considerations.

Steven Carr said...

BOB PROKOP
You see, I believe that Steven desperately wants to convert to Christianity, but is being held back by an immense, unstated emotional issue that he hasn't dealt with.

CARR
Can't Christians at least attempt to live in the real world?


I have utterly given up on them trying to produce evidence that Judas, Thomas,Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea actually existed, but they should be able to understand the present, even if they cannot get to grips with the past.

Victor seems to think I am an ex-Mormon, when all I do is point out that his Holy Book is full of the same undocumented people that he points out that the Mormon's Holy Book is also filled with.

But, just like Mormons, Victor is totally unconcerned that his Holy Gospels are filled with people who don't exist outside his Holy Book.

This is why John Loftus asks Christians to examine their Holy Books the way outsiders examine the Holy Books of Mormons.

Victor Reppert said...

I never said you were an ex-Mormon, Steven. Bob thought maybe you had some background with the Mormon Church.

Believe it or not, I actually think the evidence base is a whole lot better for the New Testament than for the Mormon writings.