Sunday, August 15, 2010

Reply to Loftus on my historical evidence project

Vic, you've got it wrong here and you don't realize what you're doing.



On the one hand you find the philosophical arguments against the probability of miracles to be weak (note, probability not possibility).

Yes, of course Hume's argument is an argument against the probability, not the possibility of miracles, though he slips at one point in the essay and talks about the absolute impossibility of miracles. My claim is that we cannot normatively establish that all rational persons must begin their investigations of the miraculous presuming the probability of the miraculous to be vanishingly low. There is no objective, non-objectionable method that can establish that it must be vanishingly low. That is the conclusion of my work on Bayes' theorem and miracles, which was done under the direction of atheist philosopher of science Patrick Maher, and it is also the conclusion of University of Pittsburgh philosopher of science John Earman, also an atheist.

What I do not claim to have shown is that no one should have vanishing priors for miracles. In my posts recently, I have been bracketing the question of prior probabilities. I have been trying to show that there is a surprising amount of evidence in support of miracles like the Resurrection. Whether you find it sufficient or insufficient will depend on your priors.

On the other hand you dive right into the arguments for the resurrection without first looking at the Bible as a whole. Once you look at what biblical scholarship as a whole you will learn not to trust the Bible just because something is stated in the Bible.

For the sake of debate concerning Christian origins, I don't need modern scholarship to keep me from doing that. The simple logic of not begging the question will do that. If I could argue "It says in the Bible that Christ was resurrected, therefore he was resurrected," then there wouldn't even be a debate, would there? No, what the Bible provides is preserved testimony to certain events. We have to talk about how close to the events the testimony is, whether it comes from eyewitnesses or people who spoke to eyewitnesses, etc.

I mean, what is "biblical scholarship as a whole?" It includes, I should think the Bible faculties of evangelical seminaries like Talbot and Trinity. But suppose your marginalize them. Are you going to marginalize Roman Catholics like Fitzmeyer and Brown and Luke Timothy Johnson? There's a considerable group of moderates like Joachim Jeremias and Oscar Cullman, Richard Bauckham and Anthony Thistleton. Are they marginal? And N. T. Wright, where does he fit in? Is he too "evangelical" to be a real biblical scholar? Was F. F. Bruce a real biblical scholar? Are they all people who haven't looked at biblical scholarship as a whole, while you, John Loftus, have looked at it as a whole? I smell the "no true Scotsman" fallacy once again.




Apart from my own WIBA I highly recommend you read Thom Stark's book when it comes out (I don't know when). In my opinion when it comes to understanding biblical scholarship the phrase "educated evangelical" is an oxymoron.

Yeah, if those danged evangelicals would just read the right books they'd come out with their hands up waving a white flag. Sounds like the young evangelicals who think that if their skeptical friends will just read Josh McDowell, Francis Schaeffer, and C. S. Lewis, they'll all get down on their knees forthwith and pray the sinner's prayer.

If Tim McGrew is right, skeptics need to read some books of 18th and 19th Century apologists, who in some ways defend the reliability of the NT with greater sophistication even than those from the 20th and 21st Centuries. So maybe the McGrew Challenge can be a response to the Debunking Christianity challenge. I mean, we can go on with dueling challenges all day long until somebody gets tired.


Until then what Bob Price said applies to what you're attempting to do lately.

Well, here's what Bob Price said.

"What evangelical apologists are still trying to show...is that their version of the resurrection was the most compatible with accepting all the details of the gospel Easter narratives as true and non-negotiable...[D]efenders of the resurrection assume that their opponents agree with them that all the details are true, that only the punch line is in question. What they somehow do not see is that to argue thus is like arguing that the Emerald City of Oz must actually exist since, otherwise, where would the Yellow Brick Road lead?....We simply have no reason to assume that anything an ancient narrative tells us is true." The Case Against the Case for Christ, (pp. 209-210).

Nonsense on stilts. Of course these people agree that you have to start from the presupposition that what we have is ancient human testimony to miraculous (and non-miraculous) events. Apologists sometimes slip and presume something like inerrancy, but the proper method is to look at these texts as ancient evidence. How good? Well, I would argue that in the Gospels we have four books written by people who at worst were in a position to talk to those who had seen and known Jesus, and who claimed to have seen him resurrected. They may have had theological aims, but they did their work with a concern to correctly preserve the facts  concerning the life, death and resurrection of Christ. There are, of course, four such records, and as such if they agree with one another that something happened, that is at least some evidence that it indeed did happen. Evidence, mind you, that we might end up having to reject, but evidence nonetheless. Of course, the idea that the Gospels represented an attempt to get things right, as opposed to being a record of some out-of-control legends, will have to be argued for, but it is a conclusion I think is supported by the evidence.

The idea a piece of testimony becomes worthless once it becomes part of Scripture strikes me as just bizarre. Unless this is the Kooks and Quacks argument all over again, where you dismiss everything because of the time period it comes from. (As if there are no kooks and quacks today). Testimony to an event, all things being equal, is more likely to occur if the event occurred than if the event didn't occur. Therefore, by Bayes' theorem, it is evidence for the event. It may not be good enough evidence, but it is evidence. The claim that there is no evidence for the Resurrection strikes me as nonsense, and based on a misunderstanding of the very idea of evidence. And yes, I do think there is evidence for alien abductions. That doesn't mean I believe that anyone was abducted by aliens, I would not use the "no evidence" mantra for alien abductions either.

These founding events of Christianity brought about a massive change in the religious landscape of the Roman Empire, a change that resulted in Christianity becoming the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. For this to happen, a lot of people have to do a lot of surprising things. How do we explain it. My claim is that the founding of Christianity involves a set of events that are strange and difficult to explain unless Christ rose from the dead. What you do with that conclusion once I get you to draw it is up to you.







99 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I appreciate these posts on the evidence for the resurrection. John doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to these issues. He needs to let the hurt and bitterness go.

Dustin Crummett said...

I thought Earman was an agnostic?

Victor Reppert said...

I'm agnostic about that. I had heard he was an atheist.

Dustin Crummett said...

Craig seems to think he's an agnostic. I don't know, perhaps his views are difficult to classify.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Price clarified what he meant at DC:
"And when I say we cannot assume anything said in an ancient narrative is true, I am not saying we know it is not true. It is just, as in any history, we must be able to corroborate the assertion from some other evidence, and in Mark's case (with Joseph, etc.) we cannot. Therefore we have no right to set these elements of the story forth as facts upon which we may proceed to base other assertions. I am not trying to prove the resurrection did not occur; rather, merely to show we cannot prove it did, as apologists claim."

That seems reasonable.

Victor Reppert said...

But apologists know perfectly well that the reliability of Scripture is a point at issue, not something that can be assumed. One the other hand, testimony that finds its way into Scripture is still recorded testimony. It does not become less credible because it is in the Bible.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic: One the other hand, testimony that finds its way into Scripture is still recorded testimony.

And we know this because the Bible says this is real testimony of a real event? Would someone PLEASE help me understand why this is not viciously circular?

Vic: It does not become less credible because it is in the Bible.

It does because historical writing as such (rather than propaganda) had not yet arisen in the ancient world.

It does additionally because it is a book with many claims of extraordinary events in it, for instance, at Jesus's death the tombs were opened and the dead saint came to life, that there was a Pool of Siloam that healed people when an angel stirred the waters, that people had evil eyes that could hurt other just by looking at them, that mandrakes can increase one's flock of sheep, that magicians can turn water into blood and a staff into a snake, that someone can actually call fire down from the sky, that a person can be lifted up into the sky, that people can speak in foreign unlearned languages, that a fish can swallow a man who lives to tell about it, that a woman was turned into a pillar of salt, that a man can walk on the water, and so on and so on and so on. These things are the stuff of legend, myths, and ancient fables.

Tim said...

"historical writing as such (rather than propaganda) had not yet arisen in the ancient world"

(cough) ... Herodotus ... Thucydides ... Xenophon ... Polybius ... Varro ... Cornelius Nepos ... Nicolaus of Damascus ... Livy ... Diodorus Siculus ... Sallust ... Caesar ... Velleius Paterculus ... (cough)

John W. Loftus said...

So, Tim, Herodotus is known as the father of historical writing. Do you believe him when he writes that a whole town of people saw some cooked fish resurrected before their eyes?

Historical writing was budding, okay, but even a cursory glance of Christian historical writing in the first millennium refutes any claim they were writing something even close to the past as it happened.

Tim said...

John,

1. Your comment was simply false. Historical writing as such had been known in the Greco-Roman world for over four centuries. The fact that there are things reported in all of these histories at which modern historians would demur does not disqualify them from belonging to the genre of history.

2. We're not talking about the whole of the first millennium here: we're talking about the Gospels and Acts. Widen the field by an order of magnitude -- widen it by even a couple of centuries -- and you can find plenty of crackpots and pious frauds. But anyone who cannot see that Luke is writing a historical memoir that falls within the genre of ancient biography either cannot read or is in the grip of a strong ideology.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, it's really difficult to respond to a non-credentialed anonymous hack like you. Anonymous people like you are a dime a dozen throwing around claims without any support to them. Or, you could come up to the adult world of discourse and tell us who you are and why I should listen to what you have to say.

In any case, just because, prove my comment false. Tell us when the rise of a historical consciousness took place where historians qua historians adopted a methodological naturalism approach to doing history who were no longer at the mercy of every claim that statue of Mary wept, or Werewolves romped the night, or witches flew threw the night to have orgies with the devil? When was that Tim? Was it around the time of Ernst Troeltsch, or just shortly before?

You are gripped by your theological box. I cannot expect you to see differently. When we approach ancient histories we have to excise the fanciful from what is acceptable and that means being critical of these works unless independently corroborated especially when it comes to extraordinary claims. Herodotus was exonerated in recent years when it was discovered their probably was indeed a tribe of Amazon warrior women who conquered over men, but without such corroboration there is no reason to have accepted that claim.

Tim said...

[I]t's really difficult to respond to a non-credentialed anonymous hack like you.

You might try using reason and argument and leave personal abuse aside. That makes responding a lot easier.

But since you've raised the issue: You've now laid it down as an axiom that "the phrase 'educated evangelical' is an oxymoron." Inquiring minds want to know: does this axiom apply to your own academic credentials?

Tell us when the rise of a historical consciousness took place where historians qua historians adopted a methodological naturalism approach to doing history ...

Ahh, thanks for explaining to us what you mean by "historical writing."

R O'Brien said...

"Inquiring minds want to know: does this axiom apply to your own academic credentials?"

LOL. Mr. Loftus likes to tout his background in analytic philosophy but from what I have observed, it does not keep him from being a pez dispenser of ridiculous claims. Mr. Loftus gloms on to any kook (e.g., Price), soft "scientist" (e.g., Eller, Tarico), or fraud (e.g., Avalos) who disparages Christianity.

The fact of the matter is that Professor Reppert's claim is not remotely circular. That the NT contains testimony re: Jesus is a completely uncontroversial claim to those of us who inhabit the rational world. Note that Professor Reppert did not claim that the testimony is true just because the NT says it is true, which would be circular; he merely claimed it deserves to considered as evidence.

John W. Loftus said...

It's interesting to me that one person, the same one, can comment so many times on a topic and make it appear that different people are commenting. Norm Geisler said he doesn't respond to anonymous people on the web. Maybe I shouldn't either. It's these kind of people that can give a false sense of what people are really thinking.

Nonetheless, if Vic does not claim the Biblical testimony is true just because the NT says it is true, then what evidence is there fore the resurrection? I mean really? Where is it?

Here's a thought experiment for you. Throw out the NT and what evidence do you have left.

Oh, nevermind, you just don't get it and a brief comment like this will not change your minds. It requires a book. But then that would require too much.

R O'Brien said...

Mr. Loftus,

I am not a sock puppet, if that is what you are suggesting. The sixth rate "scholar" Hector Avalos should be able to confirm that for you, since I have communicated my disdain to him via email.

Shackleman said...

Slightly OT:

Over the last few weeks, this blog has reminded me of a sort of eerie living example of the Screwtape Letters.

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"Tim, it's really difficult to respond to a non-credentialed anonymous hack like you."

What are Ed Babinski's credentials to write about ANE cosmography? What are Paul Tobin's credentials to write about the Bible and the state of biblical scholarship?

Paul Manata said...

John W. Loftus said...

"Tim, it's really difficult to respond to a non-credentialed anonymous hack like you."

*******

What are Thom Stark's credentials? He diesn't even have his MA yet (according to his about page). Why are you bowing down to him and treating everything he says as golden? Is he a "credentialed" expert. Hey, for all you know, "Tim" has his BA too. LOL.

Tim said...

Paul,

I think it requires an advanced degree in methodologically naturalistic sock-puppetry to settle difficult questions like this.

Does someone here have such a degree, preferably from a non-Evangelical school?

R O'Brien said...

To be fair, many internet atheists have earned online degrees in atheology, memetics, and chamchagiri.

Paul Manata said...

Tim, you either need a degree from a non-evangelical university, or you need to be an atheist. According to The Christian Delusion, studies show that non-religious have higher intelligence quotients than do religious. That's why Loftus can "talk" to non-credentialed people like Babinski, Tobin, and Stark, and all the teenage atheists in the Debunking Christianity comboxes.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Blog comments are testing grounds for ideas, not credentials. When a conversation turns to who has what letters after their name, we have lost the spirit of the intellectual wild west that is the blogosphere.

I have personally found Tim to be quite logical, patient, and knowledgeable.

Loftus stooping to that level is frankly sickening to me. If Tim were a jerkoff blowhard know-it-all, maybe a little rough-and-tumble skewering would be called for. In this case, such ad hominem are uncalled for; counterproductive red herrings.

Respond to the arguments, John. The ad hominem you are spewing are really sickening, and not really justified...where's your PhD?

John W. Loftus said...

BDK, if the word sickening applies to my complaining about the anonymous comments from people I do not know who think they can hide behind the curtain of anonymity and take pot shots at me that they would not have the courage to do so if they had to use their real names, then please tell us all what word you would use to describe the tragedy in Pakistan right now? I'm just curious for comparison purposes. And you might want to put your choice of words on some sort of scale from mildly disappointed to horrified so we can judge where the word sickening come in.

I do not know who these people are, you see, and from the way they argue I don't think much of what they have said.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I do not know who these people are

Then stop assuming they have no credentials.

Victor Reppert said...

I am left wondering if John realizes that Tim is Dr. Timothy McGrew, professor of philosophy at Western Michigan University and chair of the department. His philosophical work is in the area of Bayesian probability theory (among other specializations), which is directly relevant to the issues here. He, along with his wife Lydia, authored the essay on the Argument from Miracles in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. He also runs the Library of Historical Apologetics and is probably the world's foremost expert on 18th and 19th Century apologetics. His knowledge of these issues is much superior to mine. (He's also a master-rank chessplayer, which means if we were to play chess I would probably get my rear end kicked).

If we are going to identify a non-credentialed hack between the two of you, you would have to be it, not him.

If you want to avoid conversation with people who don't have proper credentials, start by getting a doctorate. Three master's degrees is NOT the equivalent, since it does NOT involve getting a dissertation past a doctoral committee.

Then, stay out of the blogosphere. Write for publication in scholarly journals.

Otherwise, leave the Credentials Card in your pocket. You don't help your case by playing it.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Note usually I avoid getting into silly discussions about civility in blog comment sections. They are as much a red herring as the original comments. I have a policy of "ignore" for stupid comments, and meta-commentary on civility. I suppose I broke my usual rule because the topic of the thread himself acts in this manner, derailing his own thread.

John: Tim's questions were reasonable. Just because the standards and methods of historians have changed over time, that doesn't mean that history was never written before the modern standards were developed.

Your point is a good one that standards used to be much more relaxed, credulous, etc.. Not sure why you had to pull out the ad hominem, as that only obscured your point and would make people less likely to even read your point because they will just notice you being douchey.

John W. Loftus said...

Okay, now lookee here, I am now being faulted for not knowing who Tim is.

Is there anything left?

Sheesh.

I'm just tired of anonymous posters, that's all. Why can't I think this way? Here I am. Why can't others do the same?

John W. Loftus said...

Okay, then, since I know who it is I'm speaking with and respect his scholarship. Here goes once again (this time with more respect):

Tim, you critiqued my first statement but how about this?:

It does additionally because it is a book with many claims of extraordinary events in it, for instance, at Jesus's death the tombs were opened and the dead saint came to life, that there was a Pool of Siloam that healed people when an angel stirred the waters, that people had evil eyes that could hurt other just by looking at them, that mandrakes can increase one's flock of sheep, that magicians can turn water into blood and a staff into a snake, that someone can actually call fire down from the sky, that a person can be lifted up into the sky, that people can speak in foreign unlearned languages, that a fish can swallow a man who lives to tell about it, that a woman was turned into a pillar of salt, that a man can walk on the water, and so on and so on and so on. These things are the stuff of legend, myths, and ancient fables.

Shackleman said...

I know quoting Scripture is despised by some, but it's so uncanny I feel compelled to share.

Today's "Mana from the Net" from biblica.com is:

"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:1-3"

I must say, I don't recall Dr. McGrew posting much before this year. But I'm so very glad he's decided to be active on this blog recently. His posts have been exactly as Paul instructs--they've been cogent, enriching, careful, patient and scholarly responses to the Wormwoods around here of late.

Thank you, Dr. Tim for your grace under fire, and your careful patience in responding to the challenges presented (some careful and serious, others hyperbolic).

John W. Loftus said...

Sorry to get off on the wrong foot, Tim.

Still, please tell us when the rise of a historical consciousness took place where historians qua historians adopted a methodological naturalism approach to doing history who were no longer at the mercy of every claim that a statue of Mary wept, or that werewolves romped through the night, or witches flew through the night to have orgies with the devil? When was that Tim? Was it around the time of Ernst Troeltsch, or just shortly before?

Please, let me know. And would you say that to the degree that an ancient historian was a skeptic of sorts about religious claims he was a good chronicler of events? Again, what do you think since I'm interested to know.

When we approach ancient histories we have to excise the fanciful from what is acceptable and that means being critical of these works unless independently corroborated especially when it comes to extraordinary claims.

So, Tim, Herodotus is known as the father of historical writing. Do you believe him when he writes that a whole town of people saw some cooked fish resurrected before their eyes?

Anonymous said...

(note this is totally off-topic in the sense that this is not an argument intended to strengthen or weaken any conclusions involved in debates over facts of history or OT/NT veracity-status).

It is well known, in the circles I run with and the people I know, that people become irrational sometimes when the topic at hand involves what some might call emotional issues or 'sensitive' issues. I know perfectly rational people who seem to stop using logical reasoning when politics becomes the topic at issue, for instance (e.g., where they wouldn't give much credence to generalizations from a small number of cases, they start to).

It astonishes me that someone as smart as Loftus cannot recognize this fact... or cannot recognize that EVEN IF a "quack" (read: an insane-lunatic who spins crazy tales all day and night)uses reason IT STILL WILL WORK FOR HIM OR HER.

One final note: All "credentialed" people were once "non-credentialed" and frankly, I could care less about "credentials" because one can, to use an analogy (hopefully not too dis-analogous), have a black belt and SUCK AT FIGHTING (and you don't even need one to fight at all). So too, being reasonable and credentialed does not mean one is using the full-resources implicit in said qualifications.

Victor Reppert said...

Look, John, that's the blogosphere. It's where you and I have chosen to do business. You can have a strong moderating policy if you want to. You can set your own rules about who's a troll. You can get so selective about who you dialogue with that, like my good friend Bill Vallicella, have severe limits on discussion.

But whatever you do, you have to realize that the Credentials Card doesn't trump much of anything here. It is of very limited value.

Victor Reppert said...

So, what you are saying, John is that that ancient testimony to miracles becomes less credible if it appears in the Bible, since the Bible also contains other miracle reports.

Sounds like a circular argument to me.

R O'Brien said...

I'd like to note (in case he feels ganged up on) that I don't dislike Mr. Loftus (unlike some of the people with whom he associates); I just don't think much of what he posts re: Christianity and theism.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, okay my friend, but you are not me. There are many more Christian wannabe apologists on the web than atheists and the atheists on the web usually move on to other sites than mine after leaving the fold because my goal is to change the world one person at a time and I (*ahem* usually) have the patience to do this on a daily basis (but not always). Many of these Christians take personal swipes at me all of the time. Just critically read through these comments and ask yourself if much of anything applies to much of anything I've said. I won't wast my time showing you this, because you can see it for yourself.

It's utterly pathetic on an hourly basis. Usually I don't meet up with a scholar online who prefers to be anonymous so this was unexpected.

Big deal. Ya got me. But it gains you nothing. It just tells you what it's like to be me and why I am constantly motivated hourly with every single personal attack to go for the jugular of the faith that inspires such things.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks O'Brien, I needed that!

Paul Manata said...

Oh, so Tim does have a BA. :-)

steve said...

At the risk of stating the obvious, Loftus used to have some cobloggers at DC who concealed their true identity while they took pot-shots at Christianity.

Or does his persecution-complex justify the double standard?

Tim said...

Paul,

The diploma is around here somewhere. Probably rolled up and stuck into an old boot in the basement ... ;)

Tim said...

John,

To your other questions:

Still, please tell us when the rise of a historical consciousness took place

I don’t think there’s any strict cutoff here; ancient people exhibited skepticism about various things at various times, including the miraculous. Juvenal (1st century) is skeptical about Herodotus’s account of a canal cut across the Athos by Xerxes -- wrongly, as it turns out, since modern archaeology reveals that Herodotus was telling nothing less than the sober truth.

Examples of this sort, which could be multiplied almost endlessly, show up a problem with Robert Price’s insistence that every ancient historical claim has to be independently verified in order to be believable. That principle makes short work of the first report of anything. But in cases where later evidence has come in, we can see, in retrospect, that we would have gone wrong -- missed out on the truth -- in following Price's principle more often than we would have gone right. We need a better set of tools to get at the truth than this principle affords.

... where historians qua historians adopted a methodological naturalism approach to doing history ...

That, too, has been going on for a long time, certainly as far back as Hume. So we can go back a good deal further than Troeltsch, or Bradley, or Strauss, or even Paulus.

who were no longer at the mercy of every claim that a statue of Mary wept, or that werewolves romped through the night, or witches flew through the night to have orgies with the devil?

It didn’t take modern skepticism to produce scholars who were happy to separate the historical wheat from the superstitious chaff. Stillingfleet, Leslie, Adams, Campbell, Douglas, and Warfield all did valuable work on this subject.

And would you say that to the degree that an ancient historian was a skeptic of sorts about religious claims he was a good chronicler of events?

There may be some mild correlation here, but it is not very tight. Credulity is only one of the faults of an historian. Suetonius is not particularly credulous, but he is also not a particularly good historian. Dio Cassius gets himself fuddled trying to distinguish one Herod from another. Livy recounts a lot of tall tales about the founding of Rome, but as his narrative comes closer to events in his own time, he is much more trustworthy.

When we approach ancient histories we have to excise the fanciful from what is acceptable and that means being critical of these works unless independently corroborated especially when it comes to extraordinary claims.

I agree that we must exercise critical judgment; I just disagree with the claim that that independent corroboration -- which is of course desirable when we can have it -- is always necessary for reasonable belief.

So, Tim, Herodotus is known as the father of historical writing. Do you believe him when he writes that a whole town of people saw some cooked fish resurrected before their eyes?

It would help to focus discussion if you could provide references for such claims. I take it that the story in question is the one here, but if so, then the description you’ve given is misleading in three ways: (1) not a whole town, just a few people standing around; (2) not resurrected, just flopping a bit while being cooked; (3) not endorsed by Herodotus, but attributed to the report of the Chersonetans. You might want to be a little more skeptical of your sources next time.

Did the fish flop around a little when placed on the grill? I don’t know. Could be.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Tim, see that was easy. I do not expect to have the last word on anything, and to be quite frank, at least for today, I have run out of steam. Maybe tomorrow.

Cheers.

Tim said...

For the sake of those who haven't looked up the passage of Herodotus: the fish were supposed to be dead and preserved -- "corned" is the word Taylor uses in this translation -- but all that is said of them is that "the fish as they lay over the fire quivered and palpitated, as if just caught."

Herodotus did apparently set some stock in portents; in the Histories, 7.57, he reports in all seriousness that after Xerxes had crossed the Hellespont, a horse gave birth to a hare -- which portent, Herodotus tells us, Xerxes paid no mind to. There are no further details about the event.

Tim said...

Shackleman,

I'm very humbled by your generous words. They give me something to try to live up to.

Anonymous said...

" These things are the stuff of legend, myths, and ancient fables."


2 Peter 1:16

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, May I ask where you obtained the Price quotation? Price explains quite a lot more about history and miracles in his book, as do many other biblical scholars besides him. If you haven't studied the subject and what biblical scholars have written on such topics, try Dale Allison (well known an respected in the realm of biblical scholarship). He remains quite open to supernaturalism, but that doesn't help him in determining for sure what allegedly happened after Jesus died. And he explains why. Allison's coming out with a new large book on the historical Jesus but his book on the resurrection and his smaller book on the topic from earlier this year are also worth reading. Neither is Price dismissive of miracles. He says we don't know, and we don't have any definitive agreed upon historical yardstick for comparing such things as miracles.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, here's to a new day.

I see we don't live far away from each other (I'm in Indiana). Perhaps we'll meet someday. I have many Christian philosopher friends and am about ready to start co-writing a book with one of them this month. I see you're also a chess player. I haven't done that in a while after I realized the opening part of the game demanded little but sheer memory leaving the Middle and End games to exponentially increasing mental ability. I'm sure you're much better at the game than I. I just decided I didn't want to memorize so much in order to show I had the better I.Q. than my opponent (understand?).

I see also that you're specialty is in "epistemology, history and philosophy of science (with a particular interest in astronomy and dynamics), probability, and increasingly the intersection of all of the above with philosophy of religion."

That's an interesting "speciality." I specialize in the Big Picture. This is true and it's no joke. I gather as much of the relevant material as a mortal can possibly muster and try to make sense of it. Confound it though, all of the Big Picture specialists are gone. ;-)

I know as much about the Big Picture (i.e., the forest) as you do about any one of the trees (or a species of tree in that forest.

Do you understand this? Do you think this could make me more dangerous that any given specialist when it comes to the Christian faith, since I'm a Big Picture Specialist about all things Christian?

John W. Loftus said...

Tim when it comes to the cooked fish in Herodotus it looks as if I overstated what had happened if the text you linked to is the one Carrier refers to in TCD. But then there is this word "prodigy" in the text. I tried unsuccessfully to see what Greek word was used there but I venture a guess that it's the word for "miracle," and Herodotus does indeed say that's what took place, a miracle (I can't copy and paste the text and I don't want to bother typing it in here).

I see you also didn't attempt a stab at the second point I made here. The longest chapter in my book, WIBA, deals with what I introduced to you (which Vic doesn't think he needs to read even though it's getting some pretty high praise. Disagree they will, but why not read what some consider the best case against what you're trying to defend (Vic won't 'cause his mind is made up it contains nothing he hasn't heard before, although I did browbeat him into borrowing a copy of The Christian Delusion from the library).

Lastly, you are not a biblical scholar, so no wonder Bill Craig tapped a philosopher to write a defense of the resurrection. I doubt very much you have the needed specialty to tell us what the Bible (OT and NT) is all about in order to defend the resurrection. Biblical scholars eventually turn liberal and dominate the Society of Biblical Literature--no, no, this is not a plot to infiltrate the SBL--they just gravitate to the liberal side of the fence the more they study, just like denominations, seminaries, and publishing houses do as the decades come and go.

Tim said...

John,

I certainly have no objection to someone's being interested in a broad area. I tend to do that myself.

The word used by Herodotus is simply τέρας -- "a wonder."

I see you also didn't attempt a stab at the second point I made here.

I'm sorry; I tried to answer your post line by line. What was your second point?

The longest chapter in my book, WIBA, deals with what I introduced to you ...

I'm not sure what you think you have introduced to me. I have read chapter 20 of WIBA, "Did Jesus Bodily Rise from the Dead?"

I know as much about the Big Picture (i.e., the forest) as you do about any one of the trees (or a species of tree in that forest. . . .

Lastly, you are not a biblical scholar, so no wonder Bill Craig tapped a philosopher to write a defense of the resurrection. I doubt very much you have the needed specialty to tell us what the Bible (OT and NT) is all about in order to defend the resurrection.


Must we go back to comparing credentials again? Can't we drop that game and just concentrate on the arguments?

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Tim for the Greek word in Herodotus. The same one is used here:

John 4:48

48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders (τέρας), you simply will not believe.”

Acts 6:8

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders (τέρας) and signs among the people.

Acts 15:12

12 All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were arelating what signs and wonders (τέρας) God had done through them among the Gentiles.

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, all I'm saying is that when it comes to biblical scholarship the phrase "educated evangelical" is an oxymoron.

You are not a biblical scholar. Of course neither am I, but biblical scholars repeatedly talk about what they call "standard unobjectionable scholarship," like Bart Ehrman, John Collins, etc, and they are not talking about evangelicalism.

Thanks for reading chapter 20. You do know of course that that chapter is placed into a context, one which separates into the proper presumption and the evidences themselves, right? In more than half of the book I laid out why the presumption of skepticism is preferable than faith. Did you read through the first half of the book? You should.

John W. Loftus said...

Look Tim, here's what can make a huge difference in how you approach the canonical biblical texts and make you an educated biblical scholar (i.e., a non-evangelical).

Simply agree with me about this. The texts of the Bible were written and canonized during definitive periods in the ancient Jewish/Christian past. Okay so far? That's "definitive periods in the Jewish/Christian past."

We can talk about when these texts were written, but the JEDP theory approaches what is much more likely than that Moses ever wrote the Torah. Only evangelical scholars who teach for evangelical colleges who must sign doctrinal statements each year think differently (why the need for this if the evidence for evangelical scholarship is there in the first place, right?).

But back to my main point. These texts have a context. And they were written and accepted during certain periods of time in the ancient past. Again, okay so far?

John W. Loftus said...

Tim, I'll assume you agree.

Now think on this. We can easily compare these texts with the texts from surrounding cultures. There are OT Parallels such that it's at least understandable why someone would write a whole book called The Secret Origins of the Bible.

But there is even more than this to grasp and understand. There is something called Intertestamental Literature, the period of about 400+ years between the testaments. And with recent discoveries there are discoveries about other Christianities and their documents, which Bart Ehrman has written about.

Now here's what you should do if you want to be what can be called an educated biblical scholar (rather than a backwoods evangelical). Read this comparative literature. Do you think the ideas in the Bible are new and revealed from heaven? Read this literature. Do you think there is a smooth transition between the OT and NT such that the ideas in the OT were seeds that blossomed in the NT. Read the intertestamental literature. Do you really want to know what the earliest Christians thought about their Christianity? Read the early Christian literature.

You see, Christians take the biblical texts as if they are a divine history of their faith for the first millennium or more without attempting to discern the context for these documents. There is a discernable development to their intellectual history and it looks completely like the evolution of a faith not a divinely revealed one.

Here's a meager comparison. It would be like reading a history of the United States that was partially written during the Revolutionary War without referring to why early Americans revolted in the first place (i.e., the context), and partially written during the Stock Market Crash by a rich barron, without any context as to what caused the crash in the first place or how other people apart from the people that the author hangs around with think about the crash.

Their is a complete lack of historical perspective in the periodically written texts of the Bible. Add to that the extraordinary claims or "wonders" and there simply is not good reason to believe them.

They say the key to buying a home or a business is "location. Location. Location. Well, the key to understanding the origins of the Judaic-Christian faith is Context. Context. Context.

Now, I'll publish this to see if I wrote it well, hope so! ;-)

Tim said...

John,

Of course the word τέρας appears in the Gospels -- no one suggested otherwise.

I have read most of your book, including chapters 1-9.

Of course the Biblical texts were written at "definitive periods" in the past. This is not news, unless you are trying to pack something tendentious into those two words.

But there is even more than this to grasp and understand. There is something called Intertestamental Literature, the period of about 400+ years between the testaments. And with recent discoveries there are discoveries about other Christianities and their documents, which Bart Ehrman has written about.

Now here's what you should do if you want to be what can be called an educated biblical scholar .... Read this comparative literature. ... Read this literature. ... Read the intertestamental literature. ... Read the early Christian literature.


John, I don't want to seem rude, but you're simply uninformed about what I have and have not read, and your last few comments in this thread sound as patronizing as they are impertinent.

I am quite familiar with Bart Ehrman's works; I have a couple of them within arm's reach, and I had the pleasure of discussing some of the earlier ones with Bart's dissertation director, the late lamented Bruce Metzger. I am also familiar with the wider context of the discussion and the manner in which Ehrman is attempting to revive Walter Bauer's thesis from the mid 1930s.

If you would like to discuss his arguments, I'm sure we'd all be open to that. And I'm all in favor of giving pertinent references to support particular points in such a discussion. But things will go more smoothly if each of us refrains from assuming that the other knows nothing about scholarship in these areas or that our disagreements can always be traced to bare ignorance on one side or the other.

John W. Loftus said...

Okay, Tim, you're right, we each think the other person is deluded (at least, I'll acknowledge that's what I think of you). So it's not helpful to express what we each think but to stick with the arguments.

However, when it comes to the arguments if you have read my book then I doubt very very much anything else I could say here would change your mind.

Sorry if I was the one rude.

Cheers.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Tim asks for specifics about the intertestamental texts, and John leaves? It would have been nice to see something specific.

John seems unable to engage in cogent arguments. Some people are better at just writing their personal revelations I guess, not as good at defending them.

How frustrating for me, I was hoping for a good exchange between two people who know a lot more than me about the history. Boo, Loftus!

John W. Loftus said...

BDK, boo yourself. Tim knows the relevant texts. Was I writing for you? I offered you something to read. Did you see the links? Have you already read them?

What would you like for me to do, BDK? Do you want me to do your research for you? Sorry, I have better things to do.

BDK: "John seems unable to engage in cogent arguments."

Such idiocy. Why do I bother at all?

Victor Reppert said...

Academics have a bad habit of acting as if there is a consensus of scholarship because there is consensus within their own in-group. People will say "everybody is a materialist," and then when you point out people who aren't, it is assumed that those people are somehow marginal. It's the Anybody Who Is Anybody Fallacy. There's no principled way of deciding who to marginalize.

The same thing seems to happen amongst biblical scholars, but it doesn't mean much of anything. I asked a question in my response to John earlier which he didn't answer. If you marginalize all the evangelicals, who else are you going to marginalize? Brown? Fitzmeyer? Metzger? Wright? Bauckham? C. H. Dodd? Joachim Jeremias? Eta Linneamann? Luke Timothy Johnson? Why them and not Robert Price, who seems as marginal on the left as conservative scholars are on the right?

Further, if being a credentialed Bible scholar is so important, why are you and Richard Carrier speaking about these subjects at all. Neither of you are credentialed Bible scholars.

Many of the issues in biblical scholarship are philosophical, and not simply matters of biblical study. The problem of the antecedent probability of the miraculous is an important issue for scholarship, and yet I attended a conference of philosophers and biblical scholars in which one biblical scholar confessed complete ignorance of the debate on the subject, and who admitted that he followed Bultmann blindly on the subject. (Bultmann's electric light bulb argument against miracles is one of the worst arguments I have ever heard). Craig's debate with Ehrman did show that Ehrman had no understanding of the relevant philosophical issues either.

Blue Devil Knight said...

John: I am familiar with the work on who wrote the Hebrew Bible. We are talking about the New Testament. Where are the links to discussion of the intertestamental texts? That sounded very interesting.

steve said...

i) Assuming that Dr. McGrew isn't qualified to evaluate Biblical claims since he's "not a Bible scholar," how does that observation help Loftus make his case?

After all, if McGrew labors under the double handicap of being both incompetent and mistaken, then it should be child's play to prove him wrong.

ii) Regarding Bible scholars, let's take John Collins. Yes, he's a real Bible scholar. Very erudite.

But that also raises the question of what methods and assumptions he brings to the text. Is his view of historical methodology controlled by methodological naturalism? What does he think of miracles? How does he assign the burden of proof in historical claims and counterclaims?

These are essentially *philosophical* questions.

Paul King said...

Take a look at http://lron.hubbard.org/pg008.html

It is copyright 2004-2005, describing events that supposedly took place in 1945-1949, and so within living memory at the time of writing (If the 2004 date is taken to be too late, I have seen a report of similar claims dated back to 1974, quoted in a book published in 1987.)

Do you believe that L Ron Hubbard was admitted to Oak Knoll Hospital "...partially blind with injured optic nerves and lame from hip and back injuries..." and that he managed to "overcome" these injuries through his ideas, the ideas that would later become Dianetics and Scientology, as it says ?

There is a risk in believing only partisan accounts, especially when dealing with strong religious (or ideological) beliefs. Can such accounts be considered sufficient evidence to believe in a miracle. I don't think so.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Paul King of course is right. I find it very strange that people are so nonchalant about accepting miracle claims from ancient holy texts. They sometimes act as if it is just as reasonable as being extremely suspicious of such claims. It's madness!

John W. Loftus said...

Vic wrote:

Many of the issues in biblical scholarship are philosophical, and not simply matters of biblical study. The problem of the antecedent probability of the miraculous is an important issue for scholarship, and yet I attended a conference of philosophers and biblical scholars in which one biblical scholar confessed complete ignorance of the debate on the subject, and who admitted that he followed Bultmann blindly on the subject. (Bultmann's electric light bulb argument against miracles is one of the worst arguments I have ever heard). Craig's debate with Ehrman did show that Ehrman had no understanding of the relevant philosophical issues either.

Yep, that's where I come in. I'm neither a biblical scholar nor a philosopher in many ways. I focus on the big picture. I know enough about biblical scholarship to help philosophers like you understand better what Ehrman and Collins are doing. And I know enough about the philosophy of religion to help show philosophers like you and Tim that what Ehrman and Collins are doing is the reasonable thing to do.

Now, don't go off on me that Tim read my book and is still unpersuaded. Who says that in order to make a strong reasonable case a book must be convincing to the ones who are the most indoctrinated?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, as far as whom to marginalize goes, we agree to marginalize the scholarship of JW's, Mormon's, Muslims and Hindu's. So why shouldn't we agree to marginalize all Christian scholarship too? Oh, that's right you are one of them.

So let me take another stab at this (fearing my first stab missed the mark because you moved). Let's agree to marginalize anyone who does not approach religious history critically. Will that work?

Jon D. Levenson, Professor at Harvard Divinity School in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and Civilizations, offered a great definition of what a critical scholar is when he wrote they “are prepared to interpret the text against their own preferences and traditions, in the interest of intellectual honesty.” See page 3 of his book "The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son."

RD Miksa said...

Not that I am adding too much to the discussion, but there is a delicious bit of comparison here, concerning Mr. Loftus' statements, that seem to be worth adding (and have already been implicitly mentionned).

If, reference biblical scholarship, Mr. Loftus can so easily and flippantly state that the term "educated evangelical" is an oxymoron, then it is possible to just as easily and flippantly state that, reference biblical scholarship, the term "objective atheist (in the naturalist/materialist sense)" is an oxymoron. This is clearly the case, as such an atheist must by definition and due to pre-suppositions, exclude any and all miracle accounts in the biblical texts (or other texts for that matter), no matter how strong the evidence for them is. And thus, such an atheist, as a biblical scholar, cannot be trusted as objective, and can therefore be dismissed--using Mr. Loftus' very own standards.

The irony of course, is that this means a large portion of Mr. Loftus' 'The Christian Delusion' can be immediately ignored and dismissed as unobjective and in no way trustworthy as objective scholarship.

The theist biblical scholar, by contrast, who can accept miracles as possible, but not necessarily certain, is thus more objective and trustworthy as a biblical scholar than such an atheist. The reason, of course, is that the theist can actually be led by the evidence wherever it leads, not like the atheist, who must force the evidence to go where he wants it, and needs it, to go.

So Mr. Loftus, by his own standards, has, essentially, given us an excellent reason to dismiss large aspects of his own work.

Perhaps Mr. Loftus should, just as I did, apply his Outsider Test to atheist biblical scholarship and then he would arrive at the same result as I have concerning it, as this is the natural outcome when his own standards are applied.

Take care,

RD Miksa

John W. Loftus said...

Again Vic, a critical scholar is "prepared to interpret the text against their own preferences and traditions, in the interest of intellectual honesty.”

This is emphatically not what I find apologists doing. I know this. When a problem in the Biblical text arises, say about genocide, child sacrifice, or many others defenders of the faith do what they thinks is called for, defend the faith. They do not consider for a moment there is any problem with what they believe so they will not consider the text on its own terms honestly.

Here's another example. Have you seriously read Judges 19-21 recently? Have you seriously read it..taken it in...pictured the world it described? Go ahead, picture it. And yet there was no voice from God to stop this madness. Remember, this was back in the day before God ceased talking to people so there would be no reason to be silent, right? And he did nothing except to be sure this was recorded in his perfect word. It's supposed to show us how sinful human beings are, but I don't see that kind of thing taking place on my street corner, do you? It might take place once in a while in some barbaric place, yes, but then THEY ARE BARBARIC places. Nothing I'm ever accainted with. No, I'm not that sinful at all...at all!

Here's what I learn from those chapters. I learn not to trust anything these ancient barbaric people wrote. Why should I learn anything from what they said about truth, history, or ethics?

Give me one reason upon reading those chapters to accept anything these people wrote about anything?

And if there was one righteous man who observed it all and wrote this story down for us then why didn't he editorialize by condemning in the strongest words possible how barbaric this was. They people involved would not think this was barbaric at all in the telling of it, for they were involved in it.

Read it. I mean it. the Bible provides for it's own demise, and the dishonesty of its defenders is so obvious that when I point such things out they divert the issue by throwing up irrelevancies and even ad hominems directed to me.

Who am I to judge why God does what he does, they'll opine. Well, well, i alone can do the judging because there is no other alternative, none. If God created us with minds then he expects us to use them. And my question with the mind he gave me is whether or not there is a god given these things. Why does God create us with minds that require evidence to believe and not give us the evidence our minds require to believe?

Excuse after excuse, escape clause after escape clause, the defense of Christianity is not done honestly. Here's an example.

Victor Reppert said...

What Ehrman and Collins need in order to defend their methodology is a defensible version of Hume's essay on miracles. An announcement from you that you are a big picture guy won't do it.

As for who to marginalize, let's not marginalize anybody. Let's follow the argument where it leads. If a Muslim has a good argument for the Islamic view that Jesus was born of a virgin, but did not die on the cross, let's hear it. If a Mormon wants to argue that the Book of Mormon peoples really did exist, in spite of an apparent lack of archaeological evidence, let's hear it. If somebody from Bob Jones University wants to argue that the Bible was dictated by the Holy Ghost, let's see it.

John W. Loftus said...

Okay Vic, how about Scientology? Let's give them a hearing. Maybe they are right, right?

That's the problem with your epistemology Vic. You are forced to claim that you treat even the most bizarre claims with fairness and respect because YOUR claims are bizarre and don't deserve respect.

But your method does not match your stated epistemology. You are inconsistent. Surely there are claims you have no respect for and wouldn't bother to even look into them. Or you can say it isn't so.

I actually treat all extraordinary claims, especially in the religious past (because it is not immediate) equally. I doubt them all. Some I do not even think are worth looking into.

The ONLY reason I'm forced to look into your bizarre Christian claims is because I was raised to believe them and they dominate our society. Otherwise I'd treat them just as you do to Scientology (or fill in the blank).

Victor Reppert said...

JL: Again Vic, a critical scholar is "prepared to interpret the text against their own preferences and traditions, in the interest of intellectual honesty.”

VR: I like this as an ideal, but it's just too darn easy to accuse people on the other side of violating this requirement, and too difficult to catch yourself doing it. It's the same problem I have with testing other people's outsider test: it's too easy to judge the intellectual honest of others ideologically.

Victor Reppert said...

It is quite true that people can't spend their lives considering every option, and some might be missed that stand a chance of being true. But these choices are pragmatic, and based on some pre-existing idea of what is normal and what is not normal. If I don't investigate Scientology, I suffer an opportunity cost, I lose whatever benefits I might have received from believing that Scientology is true, assuming that it is true. You are not actually dismissing Christianity, you are arguing against it, and wherever possible, rejecting something based on argument as opposed to dismissal is preferable.

Why is the belief that an omnipotent being raised someone from the dead bizarre? God can create the world but he can't resurrect Jesus?

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"Here's another example. Have you seriously read Judges 19-21 recently? Have you seriously read it..taken it in...pictured the world it described? Go ahead, picture it. And yet there was no voice from God to stop this madness. Remember, this was back in the day before God ceased talking to people so there would be no reason to be silent, right? And he did nothing except to be sure this was recorded in his perfect word. It's supposed to show us how sinful human beings are, but I don't see that kind of thing taking place on my street corner, do you? It might take place once in a while in some barbaric place, yes, but then THEY ARE BARBARIC places. Nothing I'm ever accainted with. No, I'm not that sinful at all...at all!"

Why is Loftus waxing moralistic? Over at David Wood's old blog (http://www.problemofevil.org/), Loftus admitted that nothing is intrinsically right or wrong.

Likewise, Hector Avalos, a contributor to The Christian Delusion, proudly admits to being a moral relativist. So does David Eller, another contributor to The Christian Delusion.

And that's just for starters.

John W. Loftus said...

JL: Again Vic, a critical scholar is "prepared to interpret the text against their own preferences and traditions, in the interest of intellectual honesty.”

VR: I like this as an ideal, but it's just too darn easy to accuse people on the other side of violating this requirement, and too difficult to catch yourself doing it.

It's basically all that a critical scholar has Vic. And with that as a criterion the dominant view among Biblical scholars is as I and Ehrman and Collins and Levenson say it id preciously for the reasons stated. All you must do is look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you are being honest with what you see or trying constantly to explain it away in defense of what you were raised to believe in a Christian culture.

Take Judges 19-21. Steve do a "you too" fallacy here. I have a problem too, is what we see him saying. He does not try to interact with the text or my questions at all. What we find him doing is saying I have a problem too.

Listen, Steve, what then say ye about the many Biblical scholars who were once in your faith shoes who looked deeply at this passage (among others) with your Christian assumptions and decided to no longer believe? That's me, ya see. I believed but passages like these were placed in the text by your God to lead me astray.

Now what you say about me is true, but not then. Passages like this are completely and utterly barbaric. Whether such a claim is intrinsically evil or not is not the question. If all you can do is dishonestly deflect the question then stand in front of the mirror Steve and see for yourself.

Victor Reppert said...

I can stand in the mirror and say I am doing my best. Are you suppressing the truth?

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"Take Judges 19-21. Steve do a 'you too' fallacy here. I have a problem too, is what we see him saying. He does not try to interact with the text or my questions at all. What we find him doing is saying I have a problem too."

A tu quoque argument is not fallacious. It's a legitimate type of argument. As the late Peter Geach, who was a logic prof., explains:

***QUOTE***

Ad hominem arguments. This Latin term indicates that these are arguments addressed to a particular man—in fact, the other fellow you are disputing with. You start from something *he* believes as a premise, and infer a conclusion he won’t admit to be true. If you have not been cheating in your reasoning, you will have shown that your opponent’s present body of beliefs is inconsistent and it’s up to him to modify it somewhere. —This argumentative trick is so unwelcome to the victim that he is likely to regard it as cheating: bad old logic books even speak of the ad hominem fallacy. But an ad hominem argument may be perfectly fair play.

Let us consider a kind of dispute that might easily arise:

A. Foxhunting ought to be abolished; it is cruel to the victim and degrading to the participants.

B. But you eat meat; and I’ll bet you’ve never worried about whether the killing of the animals you eat is cruel to them and degrading to the butchers.

No umpire is entitled at this point to call out “ad hominem! Foul!” It is true that B’s remark does nothing to settle the substantive question of whether foxhunting should be abolished; but then B was not pretending to do this; B was challengingly asking how A could *consistently* condemn foxhunting without also condemning something A clearly does not wish to condemn. Perhaps A could meet the challenge, perhaps not; anyhow the challenge is a fair one—as we saw, you cannot just brush aside a challenge to your consistency, or say inconsistency doesn’t matter.

Ad hominem arguments are not just a way of winning a dispute: a logically sound ad hominem argues does a service, even if an unwelcome one, to its victim—it shows him that his present position is untenable and must be modified. Of course people often do not like to be disturbed in their comfortable inconsistencies; that is why ad hominem arguments have a bad name.

Reason & Argument (Blackwell 1976), 26-27.

***END-QUOTE***

steve said...

Cont. "Listen, Steve, what then say ye about the many Biblical scholars who were once in your faith shoes who looked deeply at this passage (among others) with your Christian assumptions and decided to no longer believe?"

i) I don't have to say anything about that since that's not an argument. That's just empty opinion-mongering.

ii) Even on its own terms it falls flat since there are also scholars who have looked deeply at this passage and retained their faith. Consider evangelical scholars who have written commentaries on Judges, like Daniel Block and Lawson Younger.

iii) In addition, you act as if a narrative description implies the approval of the narrator. That's an elementary blunder on your part.

iv) Apropos (iii), anyone who actually knows anything about the purpose and narrative strategy of Judges would know that this book is documenting atrocities to expose the apostasy of Israel. Far from endorsing these incidents, the objective is just the opposite.

v) Oh, and btw, this isn't the first time you've trotted out that passage, and this isn't the first time I've responded to you. So you're just a fraud. You repeatedly dust off the same mouldy chestnuts, dare Christians to rise to the challenge, then conveniently ignore their counterarguments when they call your bluff.

"Now what you say about me is true, but not then. Passages like this are completely and utterly barbaric. Whether such a claim is intrinsically evil or not is not the question."

Of course it matters. If nothing is intrinsically wrong, then there's nothing intrinsically wrong with barbarity.

You're a moral relativist who tries to deploy the argument from evil. But that's a nonstarter given your denial of intrinsic good and evil.

"If all you can do is dishonestly deflect the question then stand in front of the mirror Steve and see for yourself."

Even if I were dishonest, you don't think it's intrinsically wrong to be dishonest.

Why do you keep resorting to morally loaded language when you're a moral relativist?

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"If all you can do is dishonestly deflect the question then stand in front of the mirror Steve and see for yourself."

Since you've imprudently chosen to introduce the issue of personal character into the discussion, now seems like as good a time as any to ask what happened to all your cobloggers at DC. It looks like you're a social climber who treats people like rungs on a ladder to move up in the world, then cast them aside once they've outlived their usefulness to you.

John W. Loftus said...

Steve, your "you too" argument(?) simply does not work against me. For I was a believer when I concluded these kinds of passages could not be reconciled with the moral attributes of a perfectly good God which I believed in. I had YOUR standard as a believer and according to that standard these types of passages ended my faith. I saw too many of them and felt I had to be intellectually honest with what I saw like what Levenson said about critical scholarship.

The fact that evangelical scholars have looked at passages like this and not blinked means nothing to me so long as they teach where they must sign a doctrinal statement to teach every year. My charge is that evangelical scholars are not critical scholars who follow what Levenson wrote about.

And as far as my so-called "elementary blunder" goes, I KNOW IT'S A NARRATIVE DESCRIPTION OF EVENTS Steve. You'd have to claim I'm stupid not to see this and that I didn't write what I did about it earlier.

My questions revolve around this narrative (again as but one among many). If these events took place among the very tribes who were God's people and not the Canaanites or Amorites, then why did God allow them to do this without any intervention of command forbidding it or editorializing against it when the very survivors of such barbarisms would read this narrative and not find anything in that narrative showing that what they did was wrong? You simply refuse to get this point. The people who committed these atrocities did so because they thought what they were doing was right and that in doing so they were keeping a vow to their God. Why on earth would they think this narrative describes them doing something wrong when it's clear they thought otherwise? Yes it's narrative, but then if the people involved saw nothing wrong with what they did then additionally why on earth would you conclude the narrator thought any differently than the people involved?

All I'm saying here is that if you believe the Bible then take it seriously like I do and reject any ethical advice the authors give you (unless confirmed by human history), reject any history they write (since it's obvious the victors told this story), and reject the religion they had (just like you reject the Aztecs, Hindu's, and so forth).

Vic, Steve is suppressing the truth here, not me, and so are you.

John W. Loftus said...

Steve about DC Bloggers I will not throw any pearls before a swine like you.

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"Steve, your 'you too' argument(?) simply does not work against me. For I was a believer when I concluded these kinds of passages could not be reconciled with the moral attributes of a perfectly good God which I believed in. I had YOUR standard as a believer and according to that standard these types of passages ended my faith. I saw too many of them and felt I had to be intellectually honest with what I saw like what Levenson said about critical scholarship."

i) But you said the tu quoque is a fallacy. Now you're having to walk back from your initial claim.

ii) But let's suppose you're trying to mount an internal version of the argument from evil. That doesn't extricate you from your dilemma.

Why would a moral relativist even care about the argument from evil? Suppose Christians are wrong. So what? You don't think it's intrinsically wrong to entertain false beliefs. So why, as a moral relativist, are you trying to disprove Christianity? Why are you trying so hard to convince us to agree with you?

Since you deny that anything is intrinsically right or wrong, you deny that we have any intrinsic epistemic duties to believe what is true and disbelieve what is false.

"The fact that evangelical scholars have looked at passages like this and not blinked means nothing to me so long as they teach where they must sign a doctrinal statement to teach every year. My charge is that evangelical scholars are not critical scholars who follow what Levenson wrote about."

i) Umm, no. That's your bait-and-switch tactic. You originally talked about "Biblical scholars who looked deeply at this passage (among others)..."

Well, that includes evangelical scholars like Block and Younger.

But when I call your bluff, you change the rules. You then resort to the circular ruse that the only witnesses who count are witnesses who see things your way. That's such a transparent charade.

ii) Then you bolster that play with the dumb little argument that these scholars don't count because they sign a doctrinal oath.

Of course, no one is putting a gun to their head. They work at confessional institutions because they are Christians. That's what they believe.

Don't you just suppose that science profs. who teach biology at Harvard or Cambridge or MIT are expected to believe in evolutionary biology? Are those institutions going to hire Kurt Wise or Jonathan Sarfati? Are they even going to hire Michael Behe?

steve said...

Cont. "And as far as my so-called "elementary blunder" goes, I KNOW IT'S A NARRATIVE DESCRIPTION OF EVENTS Steve. You'd have to claim I'm stupid not to see this..."

Well, if you insist...

"My questions revolve around this narrative (again as but one among many). If these events took place among the very tribes who were God's people and not the Canaanites or Amorites, then why did God allow them to do this without any intervention of command forbidding it or editorializing against it when the very survivors of such barbarisms would read this narrative and not find anything in that narrative showing that what they did was wrong? You simply refuse to get this point. The people who committed these atrocities did so because they thought what they were doing was right and that in doing so they were keeping a vow to their God. Why on earth would they think this narrative describes them doing something wrong when it's clear they thought otherwise? Yes it's narrative, but then if the people involved saw nothing wrong with what they did then additionally why on earth would you conclude the narrator thought any differently than the people involved?"

Because you need to know how to read narrative theology. You need to pick up on the literary clues. On the narrative presuppositions. Judges takes for granted the the Mosaic law–and defection from the Mosaic law. You need to interpret a particular incident in the larger context of the overall design of the book.

That's what real scholars like Block and Younger do. But you don't want to understand Judges, since that would spoil your zippy prooftext.

"All I'm saying here is that if you believe the Bible then take it seriously like I do and reject any ethical advice the authors give you (unless confirmed by human history)..."

History doesn't confirm ethical advice. History is descriptive, not normative.

"...reject any history they write (since it's obvious the victors told this story)..."

That's a tiresome Marxist cliche. And it's self-defeating. John Collins represents the culture elite. He teaches at an Ivy League university. When he writes about Bible history, he writes from the viewpoint of the winners. *His* viewpoint.

"Steve about DC Bloggers I will not throw any pearls before a swine like you."

So you don't have a decent explanation.

Blue Devil Knight said...

"they must sign a doctrinal statement to teach every year"

I agree that is just F-ed up.

Still waiting on refs to the intertestamental readings that will blow our minds...

John W. Loftus said...

As I said when I introduced Judges 19-21, most of what I'd get in response are irrelevancies and ad hominems. If anyone thinks Steve Hays has answered me I have a piece of property I want to sell him on the moon.

From experience Steve will always have the last word, always. I'll just have to call it quits until or unless he actually says something that addresses my points head on.

Cheers.

steve said...

From my experience, Loftus takes brash, swaggering, tuff-guy swings at Christian and Christianity, then stomps off in a big pout when he gets his tail kicked in a fair fight.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I'm wondering if anyone else has references to discussions of these intertestamental texts, and how they might help Loftus make his point. I'm familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis and such from the Hebrew Bible, but am not familiar with the scholarship on the intertestamental texts.

Tim said...

BDK,

There is a sizeable body of Jewish literature from roughly the last four centuries BC -- the intertestamental period. It gives us a clearer view of the variations within Judaism than we would glean from the New Testament and Josephus. It is also useful for clarifying some of the interpretive practices common in second temple Judaism, which in turn sheds some light on some of the odder interpretations seen in the New Testament (e.g. Galatians 4:24-25). The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in the mid-20th century has given us a great deal of new material of this sort.

Earlier works dealing with Judaism, such Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, tended to focus on the Talmud and Midrash rather than on the intertestamental literature. Though Edersheim's book contains much valuable information, his focus on the literature of Judaism from a later period limits its value for a scholar who wants to come to understand the historical backdrop to the New Testament.

John W. Loftus said...

Steve, what I've learned from you these past few years is that you are too ignorant to know when a discussion or a debate is over because we've run aground. The difference between us is that I'm smart enough to know when it's over, and it was over. You never said anything relevant to what I had argued for. Then here you come again beating your chest as if you won something. What are you talking about? Such idiocy. If you are that stupid about why I didn't respond (even if you disagreed with my responses) then how can you possibly turn around and be smart when it comes to properly assessing the truth of your faith? The needed thinking skills are the same, you see.

So why is it that precisely because I am smart enough to see we ran aground (like we always do) that you pontificate I ran with my tail between my legs (like you always do)?

you never properly responded to what I said. I even predicted the responses would be irrelevancies and ad hominems, didn't I?

Is this what it takes to believe? Then I'm glad I left it.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Tim, what could I read, for the layperson, that would bear on this claim from Loftus:
"Do you think there is a smooth transition between the OT and NT such that the ideas in the OT were seeds that blossomed in the NT. Read the intertestamental literature. Do you really want to know what the earliest Christians thought about their Christianity? Read the early Christian literature."

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

“Steve, what I've learned from you these past few years is that you are too ignorant to know when a discussion or a debate is over because we've run aground. The difference between us is that I'm smart enough to know when it's over, and it was over.”

You know when you lost the argument, but you’re trying to salvage your reputation by staging a dignified retreat in which you declare victory and leave.

“You never said anything relevant to what I had argued for.”

To the contrary, you said Judges 19-21 is barbaric. Well, by whose standard?

i) On the one hand, it’s clear that you personally think the incident is barbaric. That isn’t just for the sake of argument. You constantly inveigh against the morality of Scripture.

ii) Yet, as self-confessed moral relativist, you have no objective moral standards. So even if the incident were barbaric, that doesn’t amount to a normative value-judgment.

iii) And although the incident is barbaric by my own standards, it is hardly barbaric for the Bible to record a barbaric event. A historian is not barbaric because he reports an atrocity. And in the larger context of the narrative viewpoint, the incident is reported to indict the Israelites for their the moral degradation.

"The fact that evangelical scholars have looked at passages like this and not blinked means nothing to me so long as they teach where they must sign a doctrinal statement to teach every year."

That’s another lie that you try very hard to popularize. But numerous Christian scholars who take the historicity of Scripture quite seriously have taught at institutions that don’t require them to swear by the inerrancy of Scripture, viz. F. F. Bruce, Kenneth Kitchen, Paul Maier, Timothy McGrew, Alan Millard, Noel Weeks, Donald Wiseman, Edwin Yamauchi, and so on and so forth.

“You never properly responded to what I said. I even predicted the responses would be irrelevancies and ad hominems, didn't I?”

Because I don’t need to reinvent the wheel or do your homework for you. This has already been dealt with in the commentaries by Daniel Block and Lawson Younger. Read their introductions to grasp the purpose and narrative strategy of Judges. Read their exegesis of 19-21, along with their concluding comments. It’s all there.

But, of course, you don’t want to know the truth since that would spoil your zippy prooftext.

Tim said...

BDK,

Tim, what could I read, for the layperson, that would bear on this claim from Loftus:

I'm not sure, because it's hard to know what he means by saying that "the ideas in the OT were seeds that blossomed in the NT." I don't know anyone who thinks that nothing happened in Judaism for over four centuries. But I also don't know anyone who thinks that we could understand either the intertestamental literature or the NT without the backdrop of the OT, whatever one's views on the authorship and dating of this or that particular book.

Clearly, many of the authors of the NT viewed themselves as reaching back directly into the OT literature and tracing the fulfilment of prophecy in their own time. One need go no further than Matthew to see this stamped out in bold characters. Traces of the intertestamental literature, though present in the NT (e.g. in Jude), are nowhere nearly so prominent.

Gregory said...

I'm not sure what the phrase "smooth transition between the OT and NT" is supposed to mean. In terms of Intertestamental Judaism, there was no "smooth" transition to "Hellenist" culture; but there was definitely a shift. Hence, the Maccabean hoopla.

The first "Christians", if you will, were all Jews. But they did not forsake gathering for worship in the Temple. And even after the inevitable split from classic "Judaism", the Christian Church retained much of the Liturgical formalities of Temple worship. Where Jews remembered "Passover", the Church remembered the "Paschal Lamb", Jesus Christ, as the "telos" of the O.T. sacrificial system. What's more, the Christian Church never observed the O.T. sacrificial system; observing, instead, that Christ, Himself, is the "lamb of God slain....once for all". In fact, St. Paul warns of this folly in Hebrews 10.

Also, much of the "priestly" attire and ceremonial duties were retained....yet they were given new signification in light of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But, just to complicate matters, the Church began baptizing and initiating many "Gentile" converts. And many Jewish Christians were not sure about what aspects of the Mosaic Law the Gentiles must abide by. So a Council convened and determined this:

"For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality."

--Acts 15:28,29

That was the "rule" for the Gentiles.

But I'd like to point out that this shows the "historical" nature of Acts and it's implicit recognition of the O.T., as well as the Inter-Testamental cultural conundrum. And we see this played out through entire Book of Acts. But the Church thought of itself as the true heir of the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacab, since "Israel" had rejected their "faith" when they crucified "the Lord of Glory" (i.e. the "Messiah").

The "rough" transition, if you will, came for the "Jews" and not the Christians. God had rejected "Judaism" by sending their most despised enemies, the Gentiles (i.e. Rome), to destroy their "most holy" place of worship: the Temple

Meanwhile, the true "Temple" (i.e. the Church), preserved the Abrahamic faith, and were shown to have received the same "promises" that were given to Abraham:

"I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those that bless you and I will curse him who curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

--Genesis 12:2,3

And, like O.T. Israel, the Church faces the same responsibilities that they did:

"Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore, love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God; and shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast, and take oaths in His name....therefore, you shall love the Lord your God"

and

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another".

--Deut. 10:16-20, 11:1 and Gospel of John 13:34,35

Gregory said...

It should not be surprising that what Christ had spoken of concerning the "Temple" had come to pass (i.e. Matt. 24)....if Christ is, indeed, the Son of God. Nor should it be surprising that the Church had both outlasted and conquered "Israel" and "Rome", as demonstrated by the conversion of the Roman Emperor, St. Constantine, to Christianity.....if Christianity is true.

That is why I had mentioned the promises God had made to Abraham, and the Church's fulfillment of those promises.

I would say that this is a great example of Divine apologetics. It's sort of like God saying:

"Ok...so you don't believe in My Son from the fact that I raised Him from the dead? That's alright, though. I can understand your doubts. Therefore, I'm going to spend three centuries of chaos to show you that I really am King of kings and Lord of lords by placing one of My chosen on the Imperial throne. And if that isn't enough, I'm going to provide Martyrs and Saints who will hold fast to My words and protect the integrity of the Faith. They will give you "reasons" and "answers". They will explain to you My Son and My Spirit. And when times seem dark and despair is certain....I will raise more up for you, if that's what it takes. Because My name is "I AM", and you are not."

Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks Gregory that's a useful perspective.

John W. Loftus said...

Note to BDK, you are banned from my blog. Anyone like you who shows so little sign of being able to grasp why I stopped responding to you and then who comes to my blog misrepresenting the facts doesn't deserve any more of my time.

Hi Steve! Still want the last word?

Victor Reppert said...

Congratulations, BDK. Now, if you can get yourself banned at Triablogue, that would make your accomplishment complete.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic,

BDK said something completely and utterly stupid earlier:

John seems unable to engage in cogent arguments. Some people are better at just writing their personal revelations I guess, not as good at defending them.

If BDK actually thinks this then being banned from my blog shouldn't trouble him. I mean really, who would want to bother with someone like that? Not me.

Now let's have an update. In my most recent post about not being a dick BDK comments:

BDK I think telling someone they aren't qualified to discuss something because they don't have the right credentials, especially when that topic is some namby-pamby humanities type theme, and especially if said skeptic didn't have impressive credentials himself...I think that would be a good example of a skeptic being a total dick.

So for instance, if Person X were to enter a conversation about religion, and say (to a PhD in philosophy, chair of a philosophy department at a "real" university):
"[I]t's really difficult to respond to a non-credentialed anonymous hack like you. Anonymous people like you are a dime a dozen throwing around claims without any support to them."

I think people would be justified in calling person X a dick, maybe even an ignorant dick.

Such vitriolic rhetoric will help those against Mr X entrenched, and those on the same side of the fence as Mr X will be embarrassed to be associated with him and consider if they made the right decision. So it might prompt believers to change, but not the believers you think.

So, I don't know who Phil was referring to specifically, but I have no doubt Mr X would be one of them.


I am Mr. X you see. It is completely and utterly ignorant for BDK to say I called a PH.D. a non-credentialed hack. I did no such thing. Do I even need to spell out why such an accusation is unfounded?

BDK is too stupid to comment on my Blog, you see. And a false accusation is merit enough to be banned.

Keep BDK Vic. You deserve him.

Victor Reppert said...

You called someone, Dr. Timothy McGrew, a non-credentialed anonymous hack, apparently because you didn't know who he was. But anybody who isn't blinded by ideology should be able to see that Tim's responses here have been careful, courteous, and well-informed. (Unless of course you question-beggingly assume that anything from an "evangelical" perspective is uninformed, which, I guess, is your position.)

I went over to your site to respond to the "emotional appeal" posts, and got blasted with vitriolic, off-topic personal attacks by someone named "Russ." I checked to make sure, and found that Russ is completely anonymous, exactly as anonymous as Tim from the standpoint of the Blogger profile (and I know Tim sometimes has his blogger profile up, and sometimes he doesn't). Except that Russ has a blog called "Complete Materialist" on which he posted a couple of times. I was told I was a sick man and it was a good thing that people like me weren't more influential. You moderated his comments, but just posted them without comment yourself. Now, I could have called Russ a non-credentialed anonymous hack if I had wanted to (and would you have deleted my comment if I had), but I have long recognized that the credentials card doesn't have much value in the blogosphere. So I just gently tried to explain what my real point was and that I considered his comments to be off-topic. You, on the other hand, blow up, and play the Credentials Card on someone who has been writing careful, informed, and reasoned comments, not realizing that his credentials were superior to your own.

This doesn't make you look good, John. People are not just judging our beliefs, they are judging our attitudes, the way we treat one another if we become atheists or if we become Christians. I'm never going to give an argument for Psalm 14:1 (The fool has said in his heart......). But if atheists want to make the case for me, they can be my guest.

As an fellow atheist, (with an MA in philosophy and a Ph.D in neuroscience, by the way), BDK found your treatment of Tim to be embarrassing. Do you blame him?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, I am not here to make friends with people whose beliefs are on an equal footing with Scientology, Mormonism, Islam, Orthodox Judaism and Haitian Voodoo. But I emphatically deny knowingly calling Tim a non-credentialed hack. So I also emphatically deny any ignorant accusation that I treated him badly.

Vic, you have been taking pot shots at me for a long time out of sheer ignorance about me. You have not read my books and you will probably not read the three others I have planned (one already accepted for publication).

I have found your site to be hostile to me because of this. No wonder BDK thinks I'm stupid, for he shares this same ignorance of yours and has not read my books either (he couldn't have and said what he did).

One thing though. I feed off hostility. I've warned Christians about this for years. I am one unusual bird in that respect. It makes me more passionate about what I do.

As far as comments on my blog goes you keep in mind that I only speak for myself, and I'll keep in mind that you only speak for yourself. That's only reasonable, right?

Anonymous said...

My claim is that the founding of Christianity involves a set of events that are strange and difficult to explain unless Christ rose from the dead. What you do with that conclusion once I get you to draw it is up to you.

What, then, do you make of the rise of Islam centuries later? Was Mohammad the prophet of God because he was successful?

Tim said...

What, then, do you make of the rise of Islam centuries later? Was Mohammad the prophet of God because he was successful?

Islam was spectacularly successful because Mohammad offered his male followers things that have always proved highly attractive to the lowest elements of human nature here on earth: conquest, plunder, and indulgence of sexual appetite.

Islam and Christianity both flourished in their early years at the point of a sword. But the sword was pointing in opposite directions.

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