Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Rethinking Christian Historical Apologetics

I have been thinking about historical apologetics recently. I remember reading Evidence that Demands a Verdict as a young Christian, and then seeing Josh McDowell at a Campus Crusade retreat in 1973. I remember a friend of mine at the time simply exultant after the retreat about the force of McDowell's arguments, saying "I dare people to come here and try to PROVE US WRONG." That Christian friend was Timothy Grogan, whose deconversion story was recorded in the volume Ed Babinski edited, Leaving the Fold. I soon became disaffected with Campus Crusade, and always thought that the McDowell book had serious problems, mostly that it piled on quotations from evangelical sources and assumed the Bible's inerrancy in order to prove points at issue between Bible believers and their opponents.  I remember writing a paper about it in seminary in which I said that McDowell uses the shotgun method, as if arguments were forceful as a result of their sheer numbers. The book, as we all know, was compiled by a committee evangelical seminary students. I certainly don't consider it worthless, but the case certainly needed to be put together more judiciously.

At the same time, there was nothing in there about Hume's essay on miracles, thought there was a second volume that had a brief rebuttal to Hume including one paragraph from Lewis's rebuttal in Miracles. Many philosophers I knew were simply willing to dismiss the whole thing out of hand on Humean grounds. At the same time, I remained convinced that there was something right about the historical argument which would have real force if it were done right.

Since that time, the historical argument has been deployed by William Lane Craig and others. When I first encountered Internet Infidels, their flagship project was an actual rebuttal or criticism of ETDAV, entitled The Jury is In, and J. P. Holding was firing back with A Jury In Need of Dismissal.

I think a few responses to how this all ought to go are in order. First, while I think that there is an overall consensus amongst philosophers that Hume's essay doesn't destroy the possibility of rational belief in miracles, it is true that the miraculous character of the events that the Historical Argument tries to defend are not ordinary events, and the evidence required to make them believable is bound to vary from person to person. The believability of the Christian miracles is going to depend, in the minds of different people, on the overall plausibility of Christianity in general, and many people are going to hold world-views that are sufficiently hostile to miracles to make just about any evidence coming out of the ancient world insufficient for belief. So, I don't think we can attribute all resistance to the case for the resurrection to pride, ignorance (usually self-imposed), or a moral problem. Extraordinary claims, we are told, require extraordinary evidence, but the inherent improbability of the miraculous can be mitigated by the plausibility of Christianity in other respects. Or not, as the case might be. I don't think antecedent improbability arguments are sufficient to show that a case for historical miracles can't be persuasive.

Second, for the purposes of a discussion historical apologetics, one needs to employ a conception of general reliability which is distinct from an inerrancy claim. The relevant texts need to be broadly reliable, as reliable as we should expect ancient documents to be which are serious attempts to discover the truth through contact with eyewitnesses. In fact, a certain amount of "errancy" actually helps the case for the Gospels by undercutting the idea that everyone was in collusion.

What I think I can argue is that no really sensible account of the events surrounding the life, claims, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the events involved in the founding of the Christian church, can be given in naturalistically acceptable terms. Even if we think whatever happened wasn't a resurrection, it is at least difficult to tell a story consistent with the facts which is also consistent with naturalism. 

More on this later.

156 comments:

unkleE said...

Yes, I think some of what I used as apologetics in the past would not be satisfactory today. But that surely is at least partly because different people, and different ages, bring different assumptions to the table.

Back then, there was a broad consensus in society that didn't strongly question the Bible or miracles, even if many people didn't actually believe them. People like CS Lewis, McDowell and others worked from where people were at.

Now that consensus is well and truly gone, and we need to start with different assumptions. But we still start with assumptions, as you would know as a philosopher - about the real world, and our apprehension of it, about minds and logic and evidence, and so on. They're just slightly more theoretical assumptions is all.

Let's not be too hard on the old guys (and gals!) - it would have been tedious of them to spend time supporting views for which there was already a consensus. Speak to your audience is good advice. Who knows how silly our apologetics, and the attacks on it, will seem in another few decades?

Steven Carr said...

'Extraordinary claims, we are told, require extraordinary evidence...'

In other words, we need at least one person who claimed to have personally seen an empty tomb.

That would be extraordinary , if Christians produced at least an attempt at evidence.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

We all too often hear the phrase, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". But do they? Allow me to differ.

Let's say I have in my possession the winning Powerball ticket. The odds against me holding such are tens (or even hundreds) of millions to one against. So that would be an extraordinary claim.

But what sort of evidence do I produce to back up my assertion? I simply pull the ticket out of my wallet (or wherever), and hold it up for examination. The ultimate in ordinary evidence!

So Christianity presents us with the most extraordinary of claims (Christ is risen!), and then backs it up with the most ordinary of evidence. (Upwards of 500 people saw Him, touched Him, spoke with Him, ate with Him...)

Steven Carr said...

So Anonymous thinks a resurrection is like the lottery.

Every week somebody wins the lottery, just like every week somebody is resurrected from the dead, and then flies off into the sky on his way to Heaven.

Of course, anonymous (well named) cannot name any of these alleged 500 people who allegedly saw Jesus on a piece of toast, or whatever counts as evidence of Jesus in the Christian world.

Meanwhile, Mormons can point to named people who went to the grave demanding that their testimony about the Book of Mormon be put on their tombstone.

Christians scoff at such testimony.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Does Steven Carr not read, or is he simply blind? I ALWAYS begin my posts with "Bob Prokop writing:"

Take a look, Steven. You'll see it on the post by "anonymous" just above yours!

Walter said...

Let's say I have in my possession the winning Powerball ticket. The odds against me holding such are tens (or even hundreds) of millions to one against. So that would be an extraordinary claim.

That is not an extraordinary claim since we know that people win lotteries all the time. An extraordinary claim would be something like claiming that you have adapted a nuclear reactor to power your '56 Cadillac. The resurrection of a being that has been dead for several days counts as a much more extraordinary claim than holding a winning lottery ticket.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

I was NOT comparing the Resurrection to the lottery. Sorry for any confusion my probably sloppy writing may have caused.

I was using it as an analogy to show that sometimes one does not need "extraordinary evidence" to back up an "extraordinary claim", and I stand by that statement.

Walter said...

So Christianity presents us with the most extraordinary of claims (Christ is risen!), and then backs it up with the most ordinary of evidence. (Upwards of 500 people saw Him, touched Him, spoke with Him, ate with Him...)

That goes back to relying on an inerrant or near inerrant bible. If these events did not really happen, then it is useless to to try and prove Christianity by "proof-texting." Those of us who embrace historical criticism do not believe that the gospels are first century versions of CNN documentaries.

Not only do I NOT believe that the gospels are literal biographies, but I also believe that Paul's letters have been edited by the early proto-orthodox Church to make Paul a little less gnostic and a little more "orthodox".

The best a modern apologist can do is to try and convince us doubters that Christianity could not have gotten off the ground without a supernatural resurrection. I do not believe that the case has been made that Christianity absolutely could not have happened without a miracle. It is still plausible, to me at least, that Christian beliefs could have arisen by naturalistic means.

Walter said...

I was using it as an analogy to show that sometimes one does not need "extraordinary evidence" to back up an "extraordinary claim", and I stand by that statement.

And the counter to that is that winning a lottery is not that extraordinary and is not analogous to the extraordinary claims of the supernatural.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Oh, well. It works for me.

Not to get hung up on what analogy is being used, I was actually trying (unsuccessfully, it seems) to clarify a point upon which I and the skeptic happen to differ. Personally, I'm satisfied that I have good and sufficient grounds for continuing in my faith. And at 58 years old, that's probably not going to change anytime soon. I just feel that the majority of skeptical people I've come across have unnecessarily tied themselves up into intellectualy immobile positions through unreasonable unacknowledged a priori assumptions and ridiculous standards of proof that they would never think of applying anywhere else.

But even if you yourself are not moved by what others regard as convincing evidence, if not proof, of the Evangel, I'd like to see some unbiased soul searching on the part of the skeptic, as to the motivations their "conclusions", and an honest acknowledgment that they have prejudged the matter prior to any discussion. Lets have an Outsider Test for atheists!

Anonymous said...

I, for one, have never understood what "extraordinary evidence" means. Let's take the example of a nuclear reactor hooked to a car. What would be extraordinary evidence of that? Wouldn't it be sufficient if several experts in the construction of nuclear reactors verified this claim? It seems to me that it would, and I don't really consider the testimony of, say, half a dozen such experts "extraordinary".

Walter said...

I just feel that the majority of skeptical people I've come across have unnecessarily tied themselves up into intellectualy immobile positions through unreasonable unacknowledged a priori assumptions and ridiculous standards of proof that they would never think of applying anywhere else

Let's examine this a bit. If I told you that I knew of a guy that could actually fly just by flapping his arms, what evidence would it take for you to believe me? Would you accept the written affidavits from this guys closest friends as "good enough" evidence that he really can fly? I doubt it. I sincerely believe that it is not being unduly skeptical to demand more than a few written documents of unknown provenance as sufficient evidence for events that defy my own experiences in life that people do not walk on water, fly through the air, or return from the grave after days of being dead. In my view the true believer is the one not being consistent with their skepticism. They are "privileging" certain claims that are found within the sacred traditions of the culture around them.

Walter said...

I'd like to see some unbiased soul searching on the part of the skeptic, as to the motivations their "conclusions", and an honest acknowledgment that they have prejudged the matter prior to any discussion. Lets have an Outsider Test for atheists!

Us doubters can say the same for you, and psycho-analyzing each others motives gets us nowhere. Each side accuses the other of "prejudging the matter."

You seem to believe that no rational person can come to the conclusion that Christianity is false? If so, then the majority of people in the world must not be rational, since the majority of people in the world are non-Christian theists. Many of these people believe in the supernatural but are not convinced by Christian evidence.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Walter, You may not remember my posting this to an earlier thread, but I've already freely acknowedged my failing the Outsider Test. I just want skeptics to admit the same!

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

So Walter, by your standards of not accepting anyone else's testimony for an extraordinary event, then the only people eligible to be rationally believing Christians are Jesus's contemporaries? After all, all subsequent generations will necessarily have to rely on "a few written documents".

Walter said...

So Walter, by your standards of not accepting anyone else's testimony for an extraordinary event, then the only people eligible to be rationally believing Christians are Jesus's contemporaries? After all, all subsequent generations will necessarily have to rely on "a few written documents".

I don't wish to accuse anyone of irrationality, as I used to be a person who believed in Christian miracle claims without any doubts. The evidence we have may be sufficient for you--it is not for me. It would be irrational for me to pretend to believe when at this juncture I simply do not believe.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Walter, I don't think I expressed myself clearly enough. I didn't intend to debate "rationality" of belief, but rather what I perceive is your proposition that, since you are not a contemporary of Jesus, and have apparently rejected out of hand the possibility of believing anyone else's testimony, there is no possibility of your ever accepting the historicity of the Resurrection?

What exactly would you require as convincing evidence?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Great stuff in this thread Walter.

Anonymous said...

BDK: What was that? Kind of like the LIKE button on Facebook?

normajean said...

Blue Devil Knight:

Walter's comment about the lottery is persuasive if God doesn't exist or you've ruled miracles from the get go. Of course, not everyone here shares the same presuppositions.

Walter said...

What exactly would you require as convincing evidence?

I am not sure that I can ever have absolute certainty about a one-time event that happened thousands of years ago and is shrouded in the fog of history. I stated in an earlier thread that if there exists a deity that wishes to reveal itself to me, it needs merely to come down and speak to me as Jesus supposedly did for Paul. If I may quote Thomas Paine:

Revelation, when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.

No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it.

Anonymous said...

Charles writing:

Walter, what is interesting about the Paine quote is that it is essentially what the Catholic Church says about personal revelation. So if Jesus appeared to me and said XXX, then the most that someone else should say about it, if they are being careful, is "Charles says that Jesus said XXX", not "Jesus said XXX."

Victor Reppert said...

Walter: Most of what I know I know on the testimony of others. I believe that Lhasa is in Tibet because of the testimony of mapmakers. I've never been there. I haven't personally examined the evidence in support of evolutionary biology. I have seen some fossils in a museum, but if I wanted to be a good skeptic I could say that they were clever hoaxes. I saw the moon landing on TV, but that could be a clever hoax cooked up in Area 51. I believe that Lincoln was assassinated, and that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo (remember that thread?) on human testimony. I could dismiss that as hearsay, and Whately explained just how I could do that.

Why say that God can't spread his message through human testimony? Why tie God's hands in this way?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, interesting post. Glad to see you get down and dirty into what it takes to defend your faith and get off that high philosophical horse.

Regardless of Hume you now face a different sort of argument. This time from Lessing in what is known as Lessing's Ugly Broad Ditch.

I claim it is impassible.

So Hume on the conceptual possibility and Lessing when it comes to historical apologetics.

--One or the other or both serves as a solid wall between you and belief.

Good luck my delusional friend, cause you'll need it--you did say I play hardball right?

Walter said...

Why say that God can't spread his message through human testimony? Why tie God's hands in this way?

I suppose that a god can communicate in any way it sees fit, but should I be obligated to believe a fantastical story that I did not witness, or am I obligated to believe in a supposedly divine revelation that was not uttered to me?

Do you believe that the Hindu miracle worker, Sathya Sai Baba is the incarnation of God as he claims to be? He has millions of followers in India who believe it. Do you believe the miracles he performs are tricks or real supernatural events? Why should my skepticism towards the gospel stories be any less than yours most likely is towards Sai Baba?

Victor Reppert said...

Why do I need mathematical certainty for my beliefs?? I am a card-carrying fallibilist myself.

So much for the broad ugly ditch.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

John,

Wow. Thank you so much for the post on Lessing’s argument. Absolutely fantastic - it makes everything so clear. He is exactly right. I would not stake anything worthwhile, and certainly nothing critical, on whether or not Alexander the Great conquered the Known World.

But I would most emphatically stake EVERYTHING I have, believe in, and have access to, on the person of Jesus Christ. Lessing’s argument puts what is really at stake here in crystal clear perspective. We are, after all, not discussing various theories concerning Kennedy’s assassination - we are talking about the Central Event, not only in all of human history, but also in our own very personal lives.

We can (and apparently do, at least on this website) debate the historicity of the Resurrection ad nauseam, but what is missing in all the sturm und drang is that no one, least of all the committed skeptic, will have his LIFE changed solely by ceding an argument to Victor or myself or whomever. That will only happen through a change in heart.

And where does that come from? Well, that’s a whole different topic. The Calvinists have one explanation for the origin of faith – one that I don’t happen to buy into. Personally, I think it comes from within. You have to be ready for it. Read the Parable of the Sower again (And don’t say, “Oh, I’ve read it a thousand times. I know it by heart.” Read it again.) The same word falls on different ears, but to very different effect. Why is that? Maybe we should just be glad that some things will forever remain a mystery.

Victor Reppert said...

I hate to bring up Pascal's Wager, but it seems to me that it is the perfect answer to the Big Ugly Ditch.

GearHedEd said...

VR said,

"...Even if we think whatever happened wasn't a resurrection, it is at least difficult to tell a story consistent with the facts which is also consistent with naturalism."

And what ARE the so-called "facts"? Quoting the Gospels or Paul the spin doctor doesn't establish "fact".

Victor Reppert said...

Or, imagine this. A woman asks her boyfriend of several years why he has never proposed. He says: Well, consider that this is a decision that is going to affect my whole life. Marriage is so final and complete, and everything is at stake. I love you, but how can I be sure you won't someday change your personality, or be unfaithful, or what if some things happen to me that will make me regret this marriage. There is a big ugly ditch between the degree of commitment that is going to be required of me and the knowledge I have about you and me as marriage partners.

Such arguments have been used by commitment-phobic men, and it invariably results in a Big Ugly Breakup.

GearHedEd said...

Bob Prokop writing:

"Walter, You may not remember my posting this to an earlier thread, but I've already freely acknowedged my failing the Outsider Test. I just want skeptics to admit the same!"

Um, Bob...

Hate to break this to you, but atheists are already "outsiders".

Anonymous said...

Um, GearHeadEd,

Perhaps atheists are outsiders, as in "in the outer darkness"?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, I take it this is your first exposure to Lessing, eh? You don't understand his argument yet to properly respond.

Of course, if you had read my book, WIBA...but then you've heard all of my arguments before right?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, that's chapter 8 in case you want to get it from inter-library loan (God forbid I should get my 50 cents royalties if you bought it).

And if you think I'm taunting you, I am. I am tired of you taking potshots at me and never having read what is in my books.

What would you say about people who reacted to a blog post of yours here and there who think you have not made your case who have never read your book and/or chapters in anthologies?

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

GearHedEd, everybody is an outsider to someone else's belief system - atheists included.

The personal story I related on this website some time back had to do with my approximately one year long time as a Protestant in college (Victor probably remembers this period well). I increasingly got more and more uncomfortable as such, and finally (with our mutual friend Joe Sheffer's help) returned to the Catholic Church, in which I had been raised. After that, EVERYTHING was easier - it just "felt right" in a way that Protestantism never did for me, as much as I tried.

So you see, I make no bones about it. I failed the test (and moved along). Been there, done that. My challenge is for others to admit the same (and move along). But please done claim you're exempt from taking it, or (extraordinarily improbable) that you passed. Now THAT would require extraordinary evidence!

Anonymous said...

Typo in my last posting: should have read "please don't claim" - not "please done claim".

Apologies.

Hey, the Word Verification is "Hymnal". Maybe it's a sign!

Victor Reppert said...

Bob, you were a Catholic when I met you. But you did talk about your Protestant period at the Maranatha House (The ASU Baptist Student Union).

Victor Reppert said...

John, you have a website with arguments all over it. Summaries of The Christian Delusion are all over the Internet. If you worked through, in particular, Dangerous Idea 2, back when I was posting there a lot, you would know pretty much what the issues were in the argument from reason, and by the way, you have never tried very hard to understand it. (Actually, my argument from reason is a sort of big ugly ditch argument, of a different sort). I think I can figure out, based on what is online, what the Outsider Test for Faith is. I wish you would stop acting as if you have no online presence and as if people can't interact with your arguments without buying your books. (My book budget is limited, so there are plenty of perfectly good books I haven't bought. For example, I still don't own Walls and Dongell's Why I am Not a Calvinist, in spite of being in agreement most of it).


As for the broad ugly ditch argument, I looked at the discussion when you presented the argument the first time, and I simply don't buy the underlying epistemology. We are called upon all the time to fully commit ourselves to things about which the evidence is less than perfect. The trouble is that by NOT being a believer, you commit yourself to NOT getting in on whatever was in store for you as a believer in Christianity should it turn out to be the truth. There's no asymmetry here. In fact, if you suppose that, if Christianity is true, you are making it more likely that you will go to hell by not believing, or at least missing heaven, the risk of nonbelief is greater than the risk of belief. If I did and were to realize before I went out of existence that Christianity was all false, I would feel a little dumb. But at least I wouldn't be looking up at someone seated on a throne asking me why I didn't believe.

Now I don't want to push this too far, because I don't think of Christianity as all about the threat of hell or even the hope of heaven. But by what ethics of belief do I have to be absolutely sure about God before I can believe? All I can see this doing is putting the burden of proof out of reach and then claiming that I haven't met it.

The most I will claim for the historical argument is that it presents some unsolved difficulties for the skeptic which are more easily explained in theistic terms, and that it therefore confirms theism to some extent.

Ever read Tim McGrew's chapter in the Blackwell Companion? It pretty much reflects my position.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, Let's sit down sometime (at your blog or mine) and talk about the "historical evidence," starting with 1 Cor. and taking it in historical order, Mark, Matthew, Luke-Acts, John.

If I can show you

1) Examples of miracle stories people believed back then, kooks and quacks in the ancient world.

2) Contradictions in the resurrection stories.

3) Legendary embellishments added over time when the NT documents are compared in the most widely accepted historical order of their formation.

At least we will have shared knowledge of the prima facia data in the NT texts, and how that data raises questions by itself.

Sub-categories in addition to the three above that also enlightened me concerning the nature of Jesus stories are these:

4) Are the stories about Jesus' resurrection first hand, any of them, except for Paul's brief mention of Jesus "appearing" to him? Paul says nothing in particular about the experience except that "Jesus appeared" to him. That's it. Along with his claim that Jesus had a "spiritual body," which doesn't tell us much at all.

5) The NT authors demonstrate and eagerness to cite OT verses out of context and/or stretching the context as in midrash and pesher interpretations. That demonstrates to me their desire to stretch the facts, not stick to them. This corroborates the growth in legends evidence in 3) above.

6) The failed prediction of the soon coming parousia and subsequent attempts to explain its continue delay from Paul to the Gospels when they are examined in chronological order. This corroborates further imposture on the part of NT writers.

7) All of the above strikes me as prima facia evidence in the NT of the non-trustworthy nature of the documents and the obvious desire of early believers to try and prop up false beliefs. I do not see how any "God" would consider me as "sinning" in pointing out my honest intellectual doubts concerning such matters.

GearHedEd said...

"Um, GearHeadEd,

Perhaps atheists are outsiders, as in "in the outer darkness"?"

---------------------------------

I'm perfectly OK being dead when I'm dead. Why does anyone need more? Why invent comforting fairy tales that promise we'll all be together again in some make-believe afterlife, floating among the clouds with Aunt Peggy and Uncle John singing "Kum Ba Yah"?

Whatever getd you through the night, Pal, but I don't need it.

GearHedEd said...

VR: "The trouble is that by NOT being a believer, you commit yourself to NOT getting in on whatever was in store for you as a believer in Christianity should it turn out to be the truth. There's no asymmetry here. In fact, if you suppose that, if Christianity is true, you are making it more likely that you will go to hell by not believing, or at least missing heaven, the risk of nonbelief is greater than the risk of belief. If I did and were to realize before I went out of existence that Christianity was all false, I would feel a little dumb. But at least I wouldn't be looking up at someone seated on a throne asking me why I didn't believe."

Pascal's Wager again?

Really?

The Uncredible Hallq said...

"What I think I can argue is that no really sensible account of the events surrounding the life, claims, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the events involved in the founding of the Christian church, can be given in naturalistically acceptable terms."

I guess this means I should be eagerly awaiting your explanation of why my book is a failure?

Crude said...

I remember some atheist - possibly Michael Shermer, though I'm not certain - arguing that no possible set of circumstances or events could ever push him to believe in God, on the grounds that he could always imagine a "naturalistic" explanation, and that explanation would always take precedence for him. Prove that Christ really was raised from the dead, and he'll assume powerful beings are at work (Aliens, etc). And so on, and so on. Hey, he could always end up claiming we live in a computer simulation if he really had to do it.

And I think that illustrates an important problem with Lessing's ditch. You're getting a ditch no matter how many miracles are present, period. Even after Christ's life, the popular claim was that Christ was some kind of magician performing powerful tricks. Denying the miracles wasn't necessary to deny Christ then, and it isn't now.

So Victor is right - you're going to make an imperfect decision regardless. Given Christ and Christianity (speaking as a Catholic here), there's considerable warrant for being willing to put your trust in Christ. I'd also add that some manner of theism or mere deism also seems vastly more intellectually warranted than a positive or presumed atheism, and that that informs a lot of this discussion. (Approaching Christianity as someone who accepts even a broad and basic theism/deism versus someone who is utterly committed, for whatever reason, to atheism makes one hell of a lot of difference.)

Victor Reppert said...

Hallq: The next post I am thinking of doing is an attack on you.

Victor Reppert said...

GHe: Actually maybe more James than Pascal. Though there's a lot more to Pascal than the Wager, just as there is more to Calvin than the Five Points. I don't think the wager deserves the ridicule it often receives, and the legitimacy of the wager depends on the context. Here I'm just saying a) you've got to make an existential choice, b) the evidence isn't going to be perfect and c) you stand to suffer a loss of one kind of another for being wrong. Yes, you should care about the truth, and you take a risk of missing the truth either way you go, unless the evidence is perfect. You have to jump a ditch either way, so the ditch argument doesn't target Christianity as opposed to anything else. That which cuts all ways does not cut at all.

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR
Why say that God can't spread his message through human testimony?

CARR
Indeed, Mormons had people like David Whitmer who went to the grave demanding that his testimony be put on his tombstone.

By contrast, the Gospels contain a vast cast of characters that there is no historical evidence for -Judas, Thomas, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Salome, Joseph of Arimathea, Arimathea itself, Nicodemus, Simon of Cyrene etc etc.

Of course, Christians are not at all bothered by the fact that their Holy Book contains people that there is no historical evidence for.

Just like Mormons are not at all bothered by the fact that their Holy Book contains people that there is no historical evidence for.

But if you are an outsider, you apply the outsider test to both religions.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, you really don't understand, do you? Why don't you fear Allah's hell? Listen, there are some Muslims around the world scared shitless to doubt their religion. They're not scared of Yahweh's hell. Never were. They're scared of Allah's hell. They worry over it. They think about it daily as they ponder their doubts. They want to make sure their doubts are legitimate before they give in to them. They need to know.

But you don't give this a thought. Their faith is bunk. There is no hell for non-Muslims. Such a thought never enters your mind. The only thing you focus on is the Christian hell. You are ignorant, completely ignorant when doing so and when focusing on Pascal's Wager. You dismiss the fastest growing religion with over a billion rational people in it as bunk. You probably don't even understand it much at all. you dismiss it with the wave of your philosophical hand.

Utter nonsense.

I therefore dismiss your religion and your threat with the wave of my hand. What'cha gonna do about it? I dismiss your religion for the same reasons you dismiss Islam.

You just don't get it. You're a failure as a philosopher if you don't understand. Or rather, philosophy has failed you. You are in a certain little circle and only see what the people see in that little circle.

Open your eyes. Develop a larger focus. All is jaundiced to the jaundiced eye and you are a blinded man. Blind by faith.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

John, your last posting opened my eyes to what is the real broad ditch here. It is the amazingly wide chasm between perceptions held by Christians and skeptics respectively. You used all sorts of visual imagery in your last lines, as you encouraged Victor to think differently:

“Open your eyes. Develop a larger focus. All is jaundiced to the jaundiced eye and you are a blinded man. Blind[ed] by faith.”

But you must be aware that those very words could be used by any Christian, directed at any atheist:

“Open your eyes. Develop a larger focus. All is jaundiced to the jaundiced eye and you are a blinded man. Blinded by your unexamined a priori assumptions and by your prejudices.”

My “faith” has not blinded me. Quite the reverse; it has opened my eyes to vast worlds of possibility inaccessible to the rigid and doctrinaire skeptic. Far from looking at Creation as a meaningless arena of impersonal forces, I see the greatest of all possible works of art, charged with beauty and bursting with purpose. Instead of looking upon human beings as nothing more than complex constructs of biological mechanisms, our very thoughts unable to have any real significance (They are after all, in the naturalist’s view, nothing more than the product of chemical and electrical activity in the brain), I look upon everyone I pass in the street as the Image of Christ – a revelation of the very person of God in my presence. I realize that the Incarnation was not some interesting historical event some 2000 years ago, but center of meaning for each of our individual existences. For while Genesis informs us that we are created in the image of God - of far greater importance is that God has also assumed our image in Christ. Through His becoming a human being, the most mundane aspects of our lives are inseparably connected to the divine. Our smallest, most insignificant, and utterly normal activities must be regarded as leading us to the Heavenly City.

I cannot see how any other way of thinking could possibly give me a “larger focus”.

Walter said...

I realize that the Incarnation was not some interesting historical event some 2000 years ago, but center of meaning for each of our individual existences

This is the part that I have the hardest time believing: that the creator of the entire cosmos put on a 'meat suit' to masquerade as a human for thirty something years just so this deity could undergo some form of blood ritual sacrifice so that the other 1/3 of his triune self could then feel good about forgiving humans for not living up to an impossible standard of perfection.

Further, this deity's forgiveness is contingent upon believing in revelations and miracles that only happened in the ancient past. Any god that will only reveal "himself" in the ancient past should not be surprised nor upset that large numbers of people don't believe in him today.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Walter's posts in this thread have been great.

Paul Manata said...

Walter says this about sufficient evidence:

"I stated in an earlier thread that if there exists a deity that wishes to reveal itself to me, it needs merely to come down and speak to me as Jesus supposedly did for Paul."

However, in the book The Christian Delusion, this was explained away as a "frontal lobe seizure."

Blue Devil Knight said...

Paul: I agree actually. For me to become a theist I'd probably need more than a personal experience which I could chalk up to dreaming or hallucination or delusion. I'd need public miracles caught on television, multiple eye- witnesses. For instance, hundreds of people coming back from the dead, preaching the gospel of Christ.

Note I wonder if we are witnessing miracles in this video here. I sort of want to go.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Wait, this one is better.

Who was it arguing that multiple people believing X lends credibility to X?

Bilbo said...

Hi Walter,

If I understand orthodox Christian theology, the Son took on the meat-suit, not just for 30 years, but for eternity.

David B. Ellis said...


So Walter, by your standards of not accepting anyone else's testimony for an extraordinary event, then the only people eligible to be rationally believing Christians are Jesus's contemporaries?


There are lots of ways one could have reasonable grounds for believing Christianity but not being and eyewitness to the life of Jesus.

If Christian (and only Christian) faith-healers laid hands on amputees and severe burn victims and their injuries where miraculously healed in mere moments then one would have quite good grounds for finding Christian supernaturalism plausible.

Anyone with a bit of imagination could come of with dozens of good examples of solid evidence for Christianity.

The problem is that all we actually do have is anonymous anecdotal evidence.

That just doesn't cut it (even when I was a Christian I never thought historical evidence was sufficient to establish the truth of the claims about Jesus' miracles ---I'd have found the very idea absurd).


But even if you yourself are not moved by what others regard as convincing evidence, if not proof, of the Evangel, I'd like to see some unbiased soul searching on the part of the skeptic, as to the motivations their "conclusions", and an honest acknowledgment that they have prejudged the matter prior to any discussion. Lets have an Outsider Test for atheists!


A very large percentage of us skeptics (myself included) came to our study of apologetics with Christian beliefs and biases---and were frankly appalled to see how bad the arguments were.

Bilbo said...

And I think the idea was that because the Son shares in our imperfect existence, we can share in His impossible to achieve state of perfection.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Bilbo, you are correct. In fact, many theologians speculate that the Incarnation was the primary, if not the whole, purpose behind the initial act of Creation.

Bilbo said...

Ah yes, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

BenYachov said...

>If Christian (and only Christian) faith-healers laid hands on amputees and severe burn victims and their injuries where miraculously healed in mere moments then one would have quite good grounds for finding Christian supernaturalism plausible.

I reply: Well at Lordes an amputee was healed & in middle eastern countries the local Muslim population never turn to the Imam's for healing. They all go to the CAtholic & Orthodox Priest among the Arab Christians. Ask any Arab Christian.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Realizing before I post this that David B. Ellis probably won't care what the scriptures have to say, but Jesus did heal at least one amputee. See Luke 22:50-51.

David B. Ellis said...


I reply: Well at Lordes an amputee was healed....


Who? When? And what evidence do we have that this occurred?

And, to be more clear (I realized after posting I should have been more specific), I'm not talking about one or a few, difficult to impossible to verify, healings of amputees. I was talking about it happening with such regularity that it could not reasonably be disputed that it actually was happening.

BenYachov said...

When it comes to the "amputee" nonsense the Fundamentalist Atheists keep moving the goal posts as with miracles in general. They can't escape their naturalism-of-the-gaps mentality.

BenYachov said...

>Who? When? And what evidence do we have that this occurred?

Pierre de RUDDER's case was documented by the Medical Bureau of Lourdes 1908.

But I doubt it will convince you. Even Richard Dawkins admits the crowds at Fatima saw a real celestial phenomena when the Sun Danced but he still believes it must be anything BUT a miracle. His views on hand waving BVM statues are exibit B.

David B. Ellis said...


in middle eastern countries the local Muslim population never turn to the Imam's for healing. They all go to the CAtholic & Orthodox Priest among the Arab Christians. Ask any Arab Christian.


If belief in faith healing is endorsed by Islam (not something I'm familiar with but a quick perusal of the wikipedia article on faith healing suggests it isn't---anyone with more knowledge about the topic feel free to share) and the idea is discouraged by Muslim leaders then it should not be surprising if some desperate Muslims, when they or a loved one is gravely ill, sometimes go to people of another religion claiming to be faith healers. That's the sort of thing desperate people do.

David B. Ellis said...


Pierre de RUDDER's case was documented by the Medical Bureau of Lourdes 1908.


Pierre de Rudder was never an amputee:

http://www.grantchronicles.com/astro116.htm

The doctors advised amputation several times, but Pierre de RUDDER refused.
After a few years, these doctors abandoned him, because they were
absolutely powerless to help his chronic condition.....n this state, eight years after the accident, Pierre de RUDDER decided to
make a pilgrimage to Oostacker on 7.4.1875, where a replica of the Grotto
of Lourdes had recently been built for the piety of our Belgian neighbours.

Setting off from Jabbeke in the morning as an invalid, unable to stand on
his left leg, he returned in the evening without crutches or wounds.

The bones had united in a matter of minutes, without any shortening or
deviation from the vertical axis. During the following days, the doctors
who had treated him, verified these changes.


Yes, there is a claim of miraculous healing. But it is not claimed that he was an amputee. And the so-called healing took place 8 years after the injury. More than sufficient time for them to have healed naturally. For all we know his chronic suffering was psychosomatic (I'd need to study far more into the case before commenting further, of course).

Exaggeration does not strengthen your case.

David B. Ellis said...


f belief in faith healing is endorsed by Islam....


I meant to say "not endorsed".

BenYachov said...

Actually according to a Priest I read who had experience in the middle east the story the Imam's tell is that they are in communion with Allah & have no time to deal with the lesser spirits. So it falls on the Priests to take care of them. OTOH it's the chicken & the egg. Did the Imams come up with this explanation because they don't heal or because they can't?

BenYachov said...

>Pierre de Rudder was never an amputee:

I reply: He had only his thin skin holding his leg on. Sounds like one to me. Besides why don't you be a scientist & look up the medical records yourself rather then making a snap judgement based on an internet entry? The Church is notorious in weeding out "miracles" that have a plausible natural explanation.

David B. Ellis said...

And note these two statements:

"After a few years, these doctors abandoned him, because they were
absolutely powerless to help his chronic condition."

And:

"During the following days, the doctors
who had treated him, verified these changes."

So it was apparently years since he had been seen by the doctors. So they had no knowledge of the state of the bones prior to his trip to be "healed".

Funny how these things turn out to be so much less impressive when we look into them as compared to the claim that's originally made in discussion (from an amputee healed to an eight year old leg injury causing chronic pain that the sufferer hadn't seen a doctor for in years).

David B. Ellis said...

"I reply: He had only his thin skin holding his leg on."

Not according to the source I looked up. Where are you getting your information?

BenYachov said...

As I said no miracle will convince someone who holds dogmatically to a naturalism-of-the-gaps.

>Not according to the source I looked up. Where are you getting your information?

Hello? Quote"The bones had united in a matter of minutes, without any shortening or
deviation from the vertical axis. During the following days, the doctors who had treated him, verified these changes."

What was holding his leg on then? Stop qubbling over samantics.

BenYachov said...

>So it was apparently years since he had been seen by the doctors. So they had no knowledge of the state of the bones prior to his trip to be "healed".

I reply: What peer reviewed science can you offer me to justify bones fusing together in a matter of minutes after 8 years?

terri said...

Legs are held together by more than skin...there are muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc.

I think that David's point is that people make claims, such as you did about a healed amputee, and repeat them with such confidence...that it is severely disappointing when people try to discover the "real" story and realize that it isn't quite as depicted.

David B. Ellis said...


I reply: What peer reviewed science can you offer me to justify bones fusing together in a matter of minutes after 8 years?


He hadn't seen a doctor in years. What reason is there to think they didn't heal naturally and quite gradually?

And I'm still wondering what your source is. Are you just going on your vague memory of something you read years ago? What source would you suggest as credible?

BenYachov said...

The bones were sticking through the skin, and his leg became infected.

There was an almost two inch gap between the ends of the bone where it had been injured years before and the leg could be turned completely.

http://reverendknow-it-all.blogspot.com/2009/09/is-there-any-real-proof-of-miracles.html

Again with the quibbling.

BenYachov said...

>What reason is there to think they didn't heal naturally and quite gradually?


I reply: What you are really saying is you doubt the account because of a preconceived bias against the possibility of a miracle. Bones fusing together in a matter of minutes.

Besides you can still contact the Medical center at Lordes for the records. But then you would move the goal posts & deny the records because your dogma is that miracles can't happen.

Bilbo said...

Getting back to the original topic, the New Testament offers the story of God, the creator of the universe, humbling himself and wearing our "meat-suit," so that he might unite himself with us, even unto death, so that we might unite ourselves with him, even unto eternal life. It was and is good news to many who hear it. The evidence that it actually happened isn't the greatest. But it's good enough for many very intelligent, rational people. And it's a story that is not easily explained away. Why not believe it?

terri said...

OK...I'm not an atheist...but I am going to call BS on this.

From the post you listed:

De Rudder was a pitiful sight on the way, his leg sometimes swinging back and forth during the journey because his bones had never mended. There was an almost two inch gap between the ends of the bone where it had been injured years before and the leg could be turned completely. Heel forward, toes behind.

Imagine that there was a full two inch gap between the ends of the bone...btw do we know if this is his lower, or upper leg?

There is no way that a person's leg would be able to be rotated 180 degrees without causing incredible pain and ripping all of the skin, muscles and tendons that are a part of a person's leg. This would be even more incredible if we're talking about the upper leg in which the bone would be surrounded by the much larger thigh muscles.

It isn't just that the miracle is unbelievable...it's that the description of the injury is unbelievable.

Also, how many people have an ongoing infection for 8 years without it killing them? The infection would either be naturally fought off by the body , or enter the bloodstream and eventually cause massive organ failure. Bacterial infections don't linger for 8 years...they either kill you, or you get better.

Maybe the word "inflammation" is what should have been used to describe the sore, painful issues this man had instead of the word "infection".

Even granting that the language describing De Rudder's might simply be imprecise...it is stiil a very long way from considering him an amputee.

BenYachov said...

Yes Fatima & Lourdes are off topic but I stand by my claim that New Atheists have a dogma against the possibility of any miracle. If you had video footage of Christ coming out of the Tomb then the New Atheist would say the footage is either doctored or as was mentioned before Aliens or a mad time traveling scientist raised Christ from the dead.

BenYachov said...

terri,

What about when they did an autopsy on his body? What about the new bone?


BTW what is your training in medicine?

Steven Carr said...

YACHOV

If you had video footage of Christ coming out of the Tomb then the New Atheist would say the footage is either doctored or as was mentioned before Aliens or a mad time traveling scientist
raised Christ from the dead.

CARR
And if David Whitmer went to his grave demanding that his testimony about the Book of Mormon be put on his tombstone, Christians would scoff at Mormons.

Yachov actually believes there is one person in recorded history who wrote a document saying he had seen an empty tomb!

Such ignorance!

Even Christian apologists like Mike Licona have abandoned trying to show there s factual evidence for an empty tomb.

BenYachov said...

>Even Christian apologists like Mike Licona have abandoned trying to show there s factual evidence for an empty tomb.

It seems you made that claim over at Debunking Christianity about this person I never heard of on a debate I never listened too.

I might give it a listen & then I will listen to the Craig vs. Carrier which I heard so much about.

terri said...

Do I need special medical knowledge to know that a person couldn't rotate their leg 180 degrees without causing severe muscular and tissue damage?

We aren't talking about an injury at the joint, in which case a leg, arm, etc could be rotated because cartilage and tendons are all that keep the joints together, although that would still be incredibly painful.

We are talking about a bone broken in the middle, or two thirds(?) from the nearest joint, and saying that the leg could be completely twisted backwards at the break, but I'm assuming not above the break. So the whole leg isn't being rotated, only one part of the whole leg, which I mentioned before would require rotating muscles, not as a whole, but half way, or two thirds, up the muscle.

It just doesn't make any sense.

Bones continue to grow and heal when they are broken. EVen if a person is not miraculously healed, normal re-growth and healing of bones remains visible on medical scans and could be detected after an autopsy.

So the autopsy doesn't really show any evidence that his healing was miraculous.

I checked out this story on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pieter_De_Rudder

and it lists several problems with the story, not the least of which is that the medical doctor contradicts himself.

Now...Wikipedia could be wrong. I have no verifiable way to know how "true" this story is. All I have is some guy on the internet quoting Reverend-Know-It-All's blog which ironically has the tagline, "What I don't know, I can always make up."

indeed!

Anyway...I don't think that atheists are being incredibly difficult when they balk at things....anymore than I balk at your "amputee" story.

Steven Carr said...

So Yachov never even bothered to try to think of one person who ever named himself as seeing an empty tomb.

Not...one...person...in...history...wrote...a...document...saying...he...had...seen...an...empty...tomb.

I've spaced it out to make it easier for Yachov to read the facts and comprehend the,/

Steven Carr said...

And Yachov can read as many Craig debates as he likes and he will never hear Craig say 'Person X wrote document Y in which he said he had seen an empty tomb.'

Nobody ever saw Judas, Lazarus, Thomas, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea etc.

They are as fictional as the second gunman who shot JFK or the angel moroni.

David B. Ellis said...

I ask for a credible source for your claim and all you give us is a blog post?

Setting aside the fact that he was by no means an amputee as originally claimed. There is also no suggestion that "he had only his thin skin holding his leg on" as you later claimed---it is only said that the leg bone remained completely broken in two. So, again, you have exaggerated what was already a remarkable claim and amply demonstrate how miracle claims grow in the retelling.

What the post DID say:

There was an almost two inch gap between the ends of the bone where it had been injured years before and the leg could be turned completely. Heel forward, toes behind.

But what evidence do we have that this is the case? When was the last time a doctor had examined him prior to his "healing"? The story does not say---and you have already demonstrated how such stories have a tendency to get exaggerated.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

"Hallq: The next post I am thinking of doing is an attack on you."

:)

BenYachov said...

Well since you have no training in medicine yes I think I can be skeptical of your analysis. As for the wiki article it is bias in that it is merely a reproduction of the view from the Skeptical Inquirer which doesn't believe miracles are possible & believe the whole thing didn't happen at all.

To know for certain we will have to read the primary acounts ourselves unfiltered.

BenYachov said...

>But what evidence do we have that this is the case? When was the last time a doctor had examined him prior to his "healing"? The story does not say---and you have already demonstrated how such stories have a tendency to get exaggerated.

Thus no evidence I can give via any eyewitness testimony can ever convince you. You will always move the goal post & in the end you will dogmatically believe whatever must have happened must be accounted for naturalistic-ally.

terri said...

BenYachov,

"Well since you have no training in medicine yes I think I can be skeptical of your analysis.

And what is your level of medical training? What is Reverend Know-it-All's level of medical training?

It doesn't bother me if you doubt what I say...because you can research bone growth and the anatomy of the human body very easily online. By all means...look it up for yourself.

I have no formal medical training, but I have fought cancer and have thereby a great expanse of lay medical knowledge. I have friends who have had bone metastasis which can cause bone to either become weak and fracture, or to "overgrow" in response to the cancer. I know that all of these things show up on PET scans and CT scans. I know how quickly bacterial infection can kill a person. having had cancer acquaintances die quickly from secondary infection while undergoing treatment.

All of these things are easily verifiable.

Are these primary source documents online? Have you tried to find them? Do you have the expertise to judge this a true miracle?

No, you don't. And as such, should you be surprised that others wouldn't simply take your word for it?

BenYachov said...

terri,

I'm not trying to convince anybody of anything. Even as a Catholic Lourdes is a private revelation & doesn't require the assent of faith or belief.

My point is rather simple. Ellis claimed if people where healed that would "prove" miracles. I pass on a report off the top of my head of a miracle that has some documentation & he still doesn't believe & I don't think there is any evidence that can convince him. Heck I even referenced Fatima which has even better documentation & that was ignored.

My point is New Atheists have a dogma against belief in even the possiblity of a miracle and they have an unreasonable hermeneutic of radical skepticism which makes them immune to it.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

I wondered how long it would be until Steven Carr weighed in with the one and only thing he ever has to say, no matter what the topic. (and he says it over, and over, and over again...)

He writes that there is no "one person who ever named himself as seeing an empty tomb". But there is, Steven, there is. Saint John, in his Gospel, writes quite explicitly, "He who saw it has borne witness - his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth - that you also may believe." (John 19:35) And again, "This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true." (John, 21:24)

Besides, except for the Roman guards, only five people saw the empty tomb (Peter, John, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome). Of these five, one wrote an eyewitness account, and the others had their testimony recorded. What more do you want? Get over it.

Walter said...

Besides, except for the Roman guards, only five people saw the empty tomb (Peter, John, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome). Of these five, one wrote an eyewitness account, and the others had their testimony recorded. What more do you want? Get over it.

It is highly unlikely that the fourth gospel was written by any eyewitness of the historical Jesus. (despite the disclaimer of being written by an eyewitness)

Tim said...

Walter,

You write:

It is highly unlikely that the fourth gospel was written by any eyewitness of the historical Jesus.

I would be interested to know what you have read on both sides of this issue and what, in your opinion, are the decisive arguments against eyewitness authorship of the fourth Gospel.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

(WARNING, WARNING: Ad Hominem argument follows!!!)

Steven Carr's problem is that he actually thinks he has an argument capable of convincing someone... anyone. With his endless repetition of the same statement ad nauseam, he imagines that there is a christian somewhere who is going to suddenly say, "Oh my gosh! Steven is so right! What a fool I've been all these years!"

Ain't gonna happen, Steven. It's time someone called you on it. I don't pity you because you're wrong, wrong, wrong (although you are), but because, even worse, you are a bore. A crashing bore.

There! Now I feel better!

Steven Carr said...

So Bob has nothing better than an outpouring of Christian love as a defense against the facts.

If he can call people enough names, he will never have to answer what they say. Or even hear what they say.

And he can congratulate himself on his Christian love while he is calling people names.

Steven Carr said...

I forgot.

Bob thinks that if an anonymous person writes something in a book, that makes it true.

Can you imagine the laugher of a christian if he read a mormon book where an anonymous mormon had written in the back page 'This is all true'?

Bob would never stop laughing if he heard a Mormon say the things about his Holy Book that Bob says about his Holy Book.

sorry bob, but being a christian does not save you from the laughter that mormons and muslims get when they say that 'Anonymous mormons and muslims say it is true.'

Steven Carr said...

'He writes that there is no "one person who ever named himself as seeing an empty tomb". But there is, Steven, there is.'

of course, this person never names himself in the book. He hid behind a mask of anonymity.

Another Christian claim shot down in flames.

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Yes, Steven, that was indeed an "outpouring of Christian love". It's called Tough Love. Sometimes someone just has to step up to the plate and say what needs to be said. "I tell you, if these remained silent, the very stones would cry out". You have long ago shown that you have NOTHING to say. You are a One Note samba, a broken record, an empty vessel. But the saddest thing is that you give the impression that you actually believe there is someone out there who might care about what you have to say. You desperately need to be disillusioned. NO ONE CARES!!!

Yes, it is most certainly Christian Love to call you out on this.

I love ya', man!

BenYachov said...

Some academics have advanced the theory that Shakespear didn't write all the plays attributed to him. Thus those plays are "anonymous"? But it kind of begs the question doesn't it? Even if I rejected the existence of God I see no rational reason why I should believe the Four Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke & John had not been written by persons so named.

I believe Muhammed recited the Koran. I just don't believe God spoke to him but I would say any idiot who claimed Muhammed didn't exist is in fact an idiot.

Same goes for people who believe Jesus never existed.

Shackleman said...

Lets say, for the sake of argument, that I'm persuaded by all the atheists and skeptics and renounce my faith. What then? What would you skeptics have gained? What would you have me do now?

Right now I'm a law abiding citizen. I like to help poor people. I give blood. I help to shelter the homeless, and I like to gather with people and sing some songs and pray. I'm a pretty decent guy if I do say so myself. What about all that is offending you so, to the point that you want me to stop believing in God?

If I deconvert, I might still be a pretty decent guy, but, I might be far more depressed, and likely to end up needing some psychological counselling. But really now, what's it any of your business what I believe? I'm not hurting anyone, and in fact, my community outreach and support is an outgrowth of my belief in God. Why would you want me to stop?

Is it simply a case of misery needing company? Are you all just a little sad that this is all there is, and you want others to be sad right along with you so you don't feel so alone in your meaninglessness? What else could it possibly be? If you say that you're motivated by reducing religious violence in the world, then you're wasting your time on blogs like Dr. Reppert's. You should be busy trying to deconvert Islamic extremists or something. The VAST majority of Christians who would be reading this blog and others like it, are pretty decent people, by ANY measure. Why waste your time with us? We're all too busy donating food to pantries...go bark up the trees of the violent types at least, and leave us in peace to do what we think is God's work. You folks sure as hell aren't feeding any homeless. When was the last time ANY of you atheists who post here volunteered at a soup kitchen?

David B. Ellis said...

"My point is rather simple. Ellis claimed if people where healed that would "prove" miracles."

No, that was not my claim. My position was that if Christian faith healers (and only Christian faith healers) could cure amputees and severe burn victims (and clarified that I meant if it happened so frequently that it could not be reasonably doubted) then this would constitute strong evidence for Christianity.

The goalposts have not shifted. I have set the bar high from start to finish---as I think is entirely appropriate for extraordinary claims. Whether those claims be that a Christian healed an amputee or that a Hindu holy can levitate or that Joseph Smith was visited by an angel named Moroni who told him the location of golden plate hold an ancient scripture.

BenYachov said...

My point remains Dave. New Atheists hold a naturalism-of-the-gaps view. Thus any reports of these so called "miracles" would not convince since you would doubt the testimony of the witnesses and or attribute natural causes to any "cures" you see. Thus in principle no evidence can be given that will convince you.

Emile Zola said even if he saw people being healed at Lourdes he would not believe.

That is my point.

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Ben, I've mentioned this before some weeks back, but it bears repeating. There actually are "reputable scholars" who quite seriously maintain that the plays of Shakespeare were not in fact written by Shakespeare, but by another man with the same name!!! Just shows you where this line of thinking leads you to.

BenYachov said...

(and clarified that I meant if it happened so frequently that it could not be reasonably doubted)

I reply: No this isn't true either if one applies the radical skeptical hermeneutic. I'll explain more when I get home. I wrote something on this but it's in my other flash drive.

David B. Ellis said...

"Thus any reports of these so called "miracles" would not convince since you would doubt the testimony of the witnesses and or attribute natural causes to any "cures" you see."

I gave an example of the sort of evidence I would find a reasonable basis for belief. I could give countless others. The fact that you don't have anything even approaching that level of evidence is not, in itself, evidence that my standards are unreasonable. If you think my standards should look more like yours state your reasons for thinking so.

BenYachov said...

>If you think my standards should look more like yours state your reasons for thinking so.

So we are playing the Atheist Vs Theist game of who can shift the burden of proof for one's hidden philosophical presuppositions to whom? Isn't that a little tedious?

I'm still skeptical you can be convinced of any miracle even if it happened according to your narrow range & quibbling "The leg has to come clean off & moved no less than 5 feet from the body or it's not an amputee". BTW in short based on the philosophical Criticisms of Feser, Anscombe, Stove and Conway I tend to think David Hume was full of shit. But that's just me.

David B. Ellis said...

LOL

Even your own source does not claim the leg was only hanging by a bit of skin. It just claimed the leg bone was broken in two. A complete bone fracture is not an amputation. It isn't even close.

Just admit it. You misremembered the case and overstated it. That wouldn't be an admission that there wasn't a miraculous healing. It wouldn't even be an admission that the evidence for the miraculous isn't overwhelmingly good. It would just indicate that you have at least a modicum of intellectual honesty.


BTW in short based on the philosophical Criticisms of Feser, Anscombe, Stove and Conway I tend to think David Hume was full of shit. But that's just me.


Well, I guess that's settled then.

BenYachov said...

>Just admit it. You misremembered the case and overstated it.

I reply: I cited something off the cuff from memory & I do remember some mention about the leg holding on by thin skin. You pressed me on it & after that ignored my points & started hectoring me on the petty details. Now you are attacking my intellectual honesty.

Gee what a nice guy.

BTW since we are quibbling in a petty manner you never defined "amputee" so if I want to subjectively think of an amputee as a person whose bones are divided & you want a clean cut then that's fine with me.

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

BTW since we are quibbling in a petty manner you never defined "amputee" so if I want to subjectively think of an amputee as a person whose bones are divided & you want a clean cut then that's fine with me.

Doctor (looking at X-ray of complete bone fracture): I have bad news. Your arm appears to be amputated.

Patient (looks at arm, touches arm): Can I have another doctor, please?

David B. Ellis said...

Anyway, I think we may as well get back to the original topic.

Could you be specific about the criteria necessary to reasonably conclude that a historical claim that a miraculous event is true?

It seems to me that the Christian apologist has a problem. Any criteria that the miracles of the New Testament would pass would also pass miracle claims at odds with Christianity (so long as the criteria does not arbitrary exclude them).

But perhaps I'm wrong. Let's find out:

What criteria do you propose?

BenYachov said...

Whatever dude.

At least Lisa challenged my off the cuff claim directly & didn't get bogged down in petty details and quibbling.

Unlike some of us.;-)

David B. Ellis said...

"Arbitrarily", I meant to say.

BenYachov said...

(... if it happened so frequently that it could not be reasonably doubted)

According to Philosopher Eric Reitan (a so called progressive theologian) QUOTE ”..if scientists had discovered a correlation between petitionary prayers and the suspension of previously observed regularities. This discovery could neither falsify nor verify God’s existence. While the scientific evidence of the `power of prayer’ would be consistent with many religious beliefs, it wouldn’t imply their truth. And scientists would likely treat that evidence as justifying new directions in research. [Richard] Dawkins would doubtless rail angrily (and with some justification) against those who leap to the God-of-the-gaps to explain prayer’s efficacy, not giving science the chance to unravel the mystery. Scientists might begin to study the regularities between mental effort and physical events, cataloguing their discoveries in the form of `psychodynamic laws.’ Theoretical entities analogous to photons might be proposed to provide a unifying framework for understanding these laws(we could call them psychons- a wave or a particle or a wish, depending on how you look at it!). In other words, science would plod along, determined to construct the appropriate naturalistic account of the power of prayer. The field of psychodynamic engineering would be born, devising new technologies that worked with observable laws of psychodynamics. Technology-induced psycho-disasters analogus to global warming would surely not be far behind.”END QUOTE from Is God a delusion?: a reply to religion's cultured despisers By Eric Reitan pages 87-88.

Bilbo said...

Hi David,

Your request seems to imply that if Christianity is true, then no miraculous events outside of Christianity can take place. I doubt this would be the case.

BenYachov said...

Thus I am still skeptical (by their own Humean post enlightenment neo-Kantian skeptical standards as opposed to my Moderate Realist, Aristotelian, Thomistic & Classical standards) of the neo-Humean criteria for doubting miracles. Taken to it's logical extreme any proof of a miracle is in fact objectively impossible even if it's looking at you in the face.

BenYachov said...

I'm with Bilbo. You would be surprised how many Fundamentalist Christians believe the Miracle of Fatima actually happened but because of their negative view of Catholic Marian Theology attribute it to Satan.

BenYachov said...

From the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Hume held that no testimony could prove miracles, for it is more probable that the testimony is false than that the miracles are true. But

* his contention that "a uniform experience", which is "a direct and full proof", is against miracles, is denied by Mill, provided an adequate cause — i.e., God — exists.
* Hume's "experience" may mean: (a) the experience of the individual, and his argument is made absurd (e.g., historic doubts about Napoleon) or (b) the experience of the race, which has become common property and the type of what may be expected. Now in fact we get this by testimony; many supernatural facts are part of this race experience; this supernatural part Hume prejudges, arbitrarily declares it untrue, which is the point to be proved and assumes that miraculous is synonymous with absurd. The past, so expurgated, is made the test of the future, and should prevent the consistent advocates of Hume from accepting the discoveries of science.
* Hard-pressed, Hume is forced to make the distinction between testimony contrary to experience and testimony not conformable to experience, and holds that the latter may be accepted — e.g., testimony of ice to the Indian prince. But this admission is fatal to his position.
* Hume proceeds on the supposition that, for practical purposes, all the laws of nature are known, yet experience shows that this is not true.
* His whole argument rests upon the rejected philosophical principle that external experience is the sole source of knowledge, rests upon the discredited basis that miracles are opposed to the uniformity of nature as violations of natural laws and was advanced through prejudice against Christianity. Hence later sceptics have receded from Hume's extreme position and teach, not that miracles cannot be proved, but that as a matter of fact they are not proved.

David B. Ellis said...


Your request seems to imply that if Christianity is true, then no miraculous events outside of Christianity can take place. I doubt this would be the case.


Such is not logically impossible. But it seems rather doubtful that prayers to Ganesh would result in miraculous healings if Christianity is the one true faith.

Regardless, solid evidence that miracles occur in a variety of religions would still be solid evidence for the supernatural. I could live with that.



I'm with Bilbo. You would be surprised how many Fundamentalist Christians believe the Miracle of Fatima actually happened but because of their negative view of Catholic Marian Theology attribute it to Satan.


You do realize such a position undercuts the argument that the miracles of Jesus are evidence for the truth of Christianity, right?


According to Philosopher Eric Reitan (a so called progressive theologian) QUOTE ”..if scientists had discovered a correlation between petitionary prayers and the suspension of previously observed regularities. This discovery could neither falsify nor verify God’s existence.


I'm not Eric Reitan. Are you debating me or him?


Hume held that no testimony could prove miracles, for it is more probable that the testimony is false than that the miracles are true.


I'm also not David Hume. If you want to debate him I'm afraid it's going to be a one-sided conversation....he died an awfully long time ago.

David B. Ellis said...


Your request seems to imply that if Christianity is true, then no miraculous events outside of Christianity can take place. I doubt this would be the case.


If an angel appears to a Joseph Smith and tells him that the Book of Mormon is God's Holy Word this would contradict a miracle in which an angel appeared to a Southern Baptist, picked up a Bible and said that any who claim to add to this scripture are false prophets.

Point being, one miracle claim can directly contradict another. Certainly not all do. Probably not even most. But more than a few do.

BenYachov said...

>You do realize such a position undercuts the argument that the miracles of Jesus are evidence for the truth of Christianity, right?

I reply: Not really. First you would need to prove to me the Humean view of miracles obtains over the Catholic view(which is not the same) & since you don't wish to discuss Hume or deal with Reitan's criticism of your personal standard for miracles then we have nothing more to say to each other & debate would be pointless.

We are clearly talking past each other & don't wish to discuss the same thing.

Good day to you then. I wish you well.

David B. Ellis said...


First you would need to prove to me the Humean view of miracles obtains over the Catholic view(which is not the same)...


Why would I need to prove Hume's views of miracles? My views aren't identical to those of Hume.


....or deal with Reitan's criticism of your personal standard for miracles.....


Reitan wasn't criticizing my personal standard for miracles. For one thing, I'm quite sure he has no awareness of my existence. Second, the views he WAS criticizing are not only very different from mine but nearly the complete opposite of my views.

But I quite agree that further discussion with you would be a waste of time.

Bilbo said...

Hi David,

I don't think I would be comfortable judging the truth or falsity of a religion based solely on miraculous events. If, for example, Saddam Hussein rose from the dead, I wouldn't be tempted to worship him.

I don't think I can prove that Jesus rose fom the dead. (OTOH I think explaining the rise of Christianity without his rising from the dead isn't easy to do.) But even if I could prove it, I don't think that by itself should convince anybody that Jesus is the Son of God.

Jesus performed miracles, not to prove that he was the Messiah, like some ancient Benny Hinn act, but out of compassion for people. So I wouldn't point to his miracles, but to him. Do you like what you see? Then hang around him for a while and get to know him. Maybe you will fall in love with him, like so many of us have done. If so, then finding out that he rose from the dead won't be just a proof, but a cause for celebration.

And if you don't like what you see about Jesus, then why should you care if he rose from the dead?

GearHedEd said...

VR: "...Here I'm just saying a) you've got to make an existential choice, b) the evidence isn't going to be perfect and c) you stand to suffer a loss of one kind or another for being wrong."

c) is the essence of Pascal's Wager, no?

I told my very religious mother when I was a teenager that I was na atheist. She said something very much like c) to me in reply.

I told her,

"That's not anywhere near a convincing argument to hang faith on."

I'm OK with a); and given the weak argument contained in c) and the toss-up implied by b), I still don't see a convincing enough argument to devote my lfe to a mere conjecture as given (but not completed) in c),

so I'll complete it:

c) you stand to suffer a loss of one kind or another for being wrong, PROVIDED THE STORY IS TRUE."

Now that I look at it again, b) isn't complete either:

b) the evidence isn't going to be perfect EITHER WAY, whether talking about Christianity or naturalistic explanations.

Steven Carr said...

BILBO
Jesus performed miracles, not to prove that he was the Messiah, like some ancient Benny Hinn act, but out of compassion for people

THE HOLY BIBLE
Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

What could show more compassion for people than telling your friends how to get free money by looking in the mouth of a fish?

Can you imagine Benny Hinn promising his followers free money?

That is the difference between Jesus and Benny Hinn.

Bilbo said...

Hi Steven,

You took the story out of context. It can be found in Matthew 17:24-27. People had asked Peter if Jesus paid the temple half-shekel tax, and he said yes. When he came home, Jesus asked him if Kings collect tribute from their sons or from others. Peter said from others. Then Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them...."

The miracle of the coin in the fish was a one time event that happened to prove to Peter who Jesus was. NOT to show his disciples how to get free money. I expected better of you, Steven. But I think you have demonstrated what you think of Jesus. So even if he rose from the dead, it would make no difference to you.

David B. Ellis said...


I don't think I would be comfortable judging the truth or falsity of a religion based solely on miraculous events. If, for example, Saddam Hussein rose from the dead, I wouldn't be tempted to worship him.


I agree. To be clear, I was not saying someone should convert to Christianity if the supernatural claims of Christianity turned out to be true. There is still the question of whether it's God is worthy of worship and whether it's values morally sound. I should have made that more clear.


OTOH I think explaining the rise of Christianity without his rising from the dead isn't easy to do.


Then I would suggest more reading in the ways humans deceive themselves (for example, I'm currently reading Michael Shermer's WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE WEIRD THINGS). It's a lot less difficult to believe that Christianity could have arisen without any supernatural events at it's origin when you learn more about the history and psychology of human credulity.


So I wouldn't point to his miracles, but to him. Do you like what you see? Then hang around him for a while and get to know him. Maybe you will fall in love with him, like so many of us have done.


I used to be Christian. I've already given your Jesus more than sufficient opportunity. I've also given Lao Tsu, Plotinus, Buddha, Confucius and lots of others their opportunity in my explorations of religion. In the end I find none of them, including Jesus, unreservedly worthy of emulation.

David B. Ellis said...

GearHedEd, for me, one of the most significant problems with the problem of evil is that it can only be used to argue for worshipping an unjust God. A just being does not punish someone for not believing something they don't have very good reasons to think probably true. The theist claims that God is just.

If they are right, I see no reason to fear punishment for refraining from belief.

David B. Ellis said...


The miracle of the coin in the fish was a one time event that happened to prove to Peter who Jesus was.


How does money out of a fishes mouth prove Jesus was the messiah or the son of God?

Especially given your previous comment when you said:


I don't think I would be comfortable judging the truth or falsity of a religion based solely on miraculous events. If, for example, Saddam Hussein rose from the dead, I wouldn't be tempted to worship him.

David B. Ellis said...


GearHedEd, for me, one of the most significant problems with the problem of evil....


I should proofread more carefully. I'm meant to say pascal's wager rather than the problem of evil.

Bilbo said...

Hi David,

In Matthew 16 Peter had already confessed that he believed that Jesus was the Son of God. If so, then Jesus doesn't need to pay the temple tax. In Matthew 17 Peter tells people that Jesus does pay the tax. Jesus confronts Peter with his inconsistency. He is saying to Peter, "If you believe that I am the Son of God, why are you telling people that I pay the tax?" Peter's in a pickle. The fish is Jesus's way of getting him out of it. And finding the coin is Jesus's way of telling Peter, "You were right the first time." It's not a proof for the world. Just for Peter.

Bilbo said...

I just realized why Jesus used a fish. He had a fish thing going with Peter. Fishing was Peter's profession. He was an expert at it. This is another story where Jesus is telling Peter, "I know more about fish than you do." Subtle sense of humor, that guy.

David B. Ellis said...

It was, by exactly the reasoning you proposed earlier, merely proof he had magical/supernatural powers and wanted Peter to interpret this as evidence for his being the messiah.

Regardless, it's not something I think worth much debate.

Getting back to the original topic (or, again, trying to):

What criteria do you propose for judging, on the basis of historical evidence, when a supernatural or paranormal claim is true or false?

My point earlier, which you seemed not to get (and maybe I didn't explain it well enough), is that the Christian accepts the resurrection of Jesus and his miracles on the basis of historical evidence of a kind and extent that is so low that most of the supernatural claims they REJECT could also pass it.

Bilbo said...

David,

I think what you said about the miracle of the coin in the fish comes into play in answering your question. You are right that it only demonstrated that Jesus had magical/supernatural powers. So in taken isolation, that's all that it means. But in the context of Peter having already confessed that Jesus was the Son of God, it takes on the role of confirmation for Peter.

Now why did Peter make that confession? Many people saw Jesus's miracles, and thought many things about him. According to Jesus, it wasn't human wisdom (flesh and blood) that revealed the truth to Peter, but "my Father in heaven."

The idea seems to be that coming to believe in Jesus requires something more than human wisdom and understanding. I don't think there is some set of criteria that we can erect to determine who Jesus was. I think it requires the working of God's Spirit on hearts willing to be changed. And for those hearts, the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is sufficient.

So do miracles happen in other religions? I expect that they do. But the Grand Miracle -- God becoming man -- has taken place, and all else dims in comparison.

David B. Ellis said...


The idea seems to be that coming to believe in Jesus requires something more than human wisdom and understanding. I don't think there is some set of criteria that we can erect to determine who Jesus was.


If you go back and read Dr. Reppert's post you'll recall that the subject he was discussing was historical apologetic arguments: when is historical evidence sufficient grounds for belief that a miracle occurred and do the miracles and supernatural events described in the Gospels meet that standard--whatever it might be.

Sure, you may think that the fundamental basis for belief in Christianity is, as William Lane Craig put it, "the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit". But that's not the subject under discussion. We're looking into the historical arguments that have been proposed and whether they're sound.

Tim said...

David,

You write:

My point earlier, which you seemed not to get (and maybe I didn't explain it well enough), is that the Christian accepts the resurrection of Jesus and his miracles on the basis of historical evidence of a kind and extent that is so low that most of the supernatural claims they REJECT could also pass it.

I'm always interested when I hear a claim like this. Could you elaborate a little on what you mean? For example, when you speak of "the Christian," do you mean all Christians, or most Christians, or the typical Christian apologist, or something else? And -- whichever of these you meant -- what line of reasoning persuaded you of this conclusion?

David B. Ellis said...


And for those hearts, the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is sufficient.


In other words, if you're already convinced you'll find the historical arguments convincing.

Let's take the focus off of the beliefs you already hold and approach the general subject of when historical evidence is sufficient to justify belief in a supernatural claim in a way where one's already held beliefs are less at issue:

Suppose that one is investigating, for example, the claims Mormons make about the supernatural events surrounding the origin of their religion. What criteria should it meet if it were to be reasonably believed on the basis of historical evidence?

By the way, the Mormons are also quite big on pushing an inner experience from God (their "testimony" as they often put it) as the true basis of belief.

David B. Ellis said...

For example, when you speak of "the Christian,"

To clarify, I'm referring specifically and only to Christians endorsing historical apologetic arguments. I'm aware that not all do. When I was a Christian I found these sorts of arguments obviously absurd---there was plainly very little historical evidence to go on.

I just wasn't bothered by it because I saw the witness of the Holy Spirit as all the reason I needed.

David B. Ellis said...


And -- whichever of these you meant -- what line of reasoning persuaded you of this conclusion?


As I said, even when a Christian, I recognized that the historical evidence for the miracles in the Gospels was minimal. That being the case I don't think that any criteria (not arbitrarily restricted to claims consistent with Christianity) could pass the miracles in the Gospels and not pass other claims a Christian would almost certainly reject.

Tim said...

David,

Thanks for the notes. I'm still trying to understand your position. You say that, when you were a Christian, you "recognized that the historical evidence for the miracles in the Gospels was minimal." How did you "recognize" this? Was there some line of argument or investigation that led you to this conclusion? Did something you read persuade you that this is true? Or did you look into the matter for yourself?

8 said...

Pascal's Wager in the traditional form doesn't cover all the alternatives. It's not just wager that God exists, and so do the right thing. The expanded Wager would include other faiths, for one: ie, a christian bets, so to speak, that his particular sect ...holds the keys to the kingdom. But the correct expaned Wager would take into effect all major religions--hinduism, Islam, buddhism, judaism, even pagan sects.

Some bad joss could be in store for the sunday schooler when he hits Judgment day and discovers the presiding....Judges speak sanskrit and wear saffron robes.... Namaste!

David B. Ellis said...

I recognized it in the sense that it's so utterly obvious a brain-damaged chimp could see (I exaggerate---but only a little). It isn't exactly higher math we're dealing with. The historical evidence for these claims consisted of a handful of anonymous documents written decades later.

That isn't much to go on--especially when talking about claims as extraordinary as those involved in the Gospels. I might have been a believer but I was at least honest enough with myself to admit that much.

8 said...

What criteria do you propose for judging, on the basis of historical evidence, when a supernatural or paranormal claim is true or false?

When it's an ancient religious text (christian...or otherwise), the rational person would first consider altenative explanations--mistaken testimony, exaggeration, even...a hoax--then weighing the two AND..keeping the uniformity of experience in mind (ie...ghosts don't exist), makes a decision, and generally tosses out the claims of alleged miracles, since alternative explanations can and do suffice. That's Hume.

What's more, that demolishes the claims of scripture to inerrancy (reinforced by Darwin and Lyell's overturning of the OT dogma a few decades apres-Hume). That doesn't mean the Bible does not have some moral significance or metaphorical power. But it's not infallible nor to be used as a basis for jurisprudence, ie theocracy.

Whoa. Hume on miracles AND contra-theocracy in a nutshell.

Tim said...

David,

Again, thanks for helping me to understand you better. If I'm understanding you correctly, your position is that (a) taken by themselves, unsigned documents written decades after an (ostensible) event provide only minimal evidence in favor of the event, and (b) this is all that we have in the case of the Christian claim to the resurrection.

Have I understood your position correctly?

Anonymous said...

@Tim:

Aren't you leaving out David's clause about events being extraordinary (in particular, events as extraordinary as those depicted in the gospels)?

Tim said...

Anon,

I don't think we're at the point where that's relevant yet. I'm trying to take his statements as straightforwardly as possible, particularly statements like these:

"[T]here was plainly very little historical evidence to go on."

* "[T]he historical evidence for the miracles in the Gospels was minimal"

* "That isn't much to go on"

Now, if these statements are really true, and if David's description of the Christian evidence is accurate, then a fortiori such "minimal" evidence will, in his view, provide a particularly inadequate ground for believing the claim of the resurrection. That's where his further statement following the third of these quotations comes into play.

But first, I'm trying to see whether my understanding of his position on the nature and weight of unsigned documentary historical evidence is correct.

David B. Ellis said...


I don't think we're at the point where that's relevant yet.


Actually, it's one of the most important parts of my statement. But I can still address the other questions you asked:

If I'm understanding you correctly, your position is that (a) taken by themselves, unsigned documents written decades after an (ostensible) event provide only minimal evidence in favor of the event and (b) this is all that we have in the case of the Christian claim to the resurrection.

Actually, we have a few sources that aren't anonymous and I was careless not to have mentioned that. Historians are, for example, pretty confident Paul wrote many of his epistles. I was thinking specifically of the sources claiming to record his life, the Gospels, when I referred to anonymity. The epistles say very little about that---their focus, when they talk about Jesus, is more theological than historical.

That revision granted the fact remains that the evidence is far too thin to serve as basis for believing such remarkable claims.

And this isn't about it not being consistent with one's worldview. For example, while nothing in my worldview excludes alien abduction from possibility, I would still need far more evidence than is available to think belief in it reasonable.

And, after all, we have FAR more evidence for alien abduction than we do for the miracles of Jesus. We have the first person testimony of thousands of individuals claiming to have been abducted. The evidence cited by those presenting historical arguments for Christianity does not even approach that.

David B. Ellis said...

There are even alien abduction support groups:

http://www.abduct.com/support.php

Hardly any of us take these claims seriously yet apologists argue that the testimony of a few (mostly) anonymous ancient documents written years after the extraordinary events they purport to record is adequate historical evidence?

This seems, to put it mildly, rather inconsistent.

Tim said...

David,

I appreciate your refining your original claims, and I agree that they needed refining.

But when you say, "the fact remains that the evidence is far too thin to serve as basis for believing such remarkable claims," I'm still not clear as to why you think this is true. By your own admission, you never put any stock in historical arguments; it seems pretty plain, and given your inclinations it would make a lot of sense, that you have not bothered to study them in any detail.

Your comparison with tales of alien abduction suggests that you are impressed by two factors: "first person testimony," and the sheer number of people who attest to having had a certain kind of experience. Of course, you don't think that these are enough to overcome the presumption against alien abduction, but the contrast you set up suggests that you think these two factors alone suffice to make the evidence for alien abductions overwhelmingly stronger than the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

Is that a fair representation of your position?

David B. Ellis said...


By your own admission, you never put any stock in historical arguments; it seems pretty plain, and given your inclinations it would make a lot of sense, that you have not bothered to study them in any detail.


You should perhaps not assume and instead simply ask. It requires little effort. While not a professional historian or other expert, I'm quite familiar with the historical arguments used by Christian apologetics.


Your comparison with tales of alien abduction suggests that you are impressed by two factors: "first person testimony," and the sheer number of people who attest to having had a certain kind of experience.


Sigh. Really? You read what I said and that's the conclusion you come to?

I pointed out that most of us (myself included), quite rightly, aren't remotely impressed by the evidence for alien abduction despite there being thousands of first hand accounts. How do you draw the conclusion from this that I put great stock in there being large numbers of first hand accounts? It suggests, quite obviously, THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE.

I used the example of alien abduction as a comparison because it has a similar sort of evidence being relied on to that used by the apologists employing historical arguments---just far more of it. NOT because I put stock in those varieties of evidence. Where the apologist relies on often anonymously hearsay (and only a handful of those) the alien abduction believers rely on first person accounts by the thousands.

I'm saying that the apologist using historical arguments is putting stock in a certain kind of evidence but that they are doing so inconsistently. They're willing to be convinced on far less testimonial evidence for their religion than they would for other extraordinary claims.


Of course, you don't think that these are enough to overcome the presumption against alien abduction, but the contrast you set up suggests that you think these two factors alone suffice to make the evidence for alien abductions overwhelmingly stronger than the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.


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

Not exactly controversial.

But neither is particularly adequate when it comes to extraordinary claims. We have too many examples of human credulity, fraud, faulty memory and misperception for that to be even remotely sufficient. Often they're inadequate even in ordinary court cases. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable; which is why such an effort is made to find physical evidence whenever possible.

My point in comparing the alien abduction claims to the claim that we have sufficient historical evidence to confirm New Testament miracles is that the former, despite having far more evidence, falls VASTLY short of having sufficient evidence to rationally warrant belief. And if that is so then what does this say about the apologist's historical argument?

David B. Ellis said...

At 151 comments this is getting a bit difficult for my decade old computer to load. Please continue, if you want to carry on in Dr Reppert's next post (which seems to relate to my comparision of alien abduction accounts to the New Testament accounts).

GearHedEd said...

David B. Ellis said...

"GearHedEd, for me, one of the most significant problems with the problem of evil....


I should proofread more carefully. I'm meant to say pascal's wager rather than the problem of evil.

August 06, 2010 6:33 AM"

I WAS kinda puzzled at first...

R O'Brien said...

"Vic, Let's sit down sometime (at your blog or mine) and talk about the "historical evidence," starting with 1 Cor. and taking it in historical order, Mark, Matthew, Luke-Acts, John."

That is not the "historical order." Apparently, your incredulity does not extend to the claims of modern NT scholarship. I claim John is a primitive gospel; there is no good reason to believe otherwise. (The canard about John being late because of his "high Christology" falls flat when one considers that Paul also has a "high Christology" and he was writing in the 50s and 60s.) There is also no good reason to believe Mark was written as late as 70 AD/CE, as the gospel most certainly lacks the hallmarks of vaticinium ex eventu.

Quit while you are behind.

R O'Brien said...

Steven Carr lacks the native intelligence to distinguish between the lack of archaeological evidence for specific individuals, none of whom were emperors, kings, high priests, etc. and the lack of evidence for entire civilizations.

Also, if Steven Carr were honest, which is apparently not the case, he would mention that the witness Martin Harris mentioned the plates were observed with "spiritual eyes." This same Martin Harris joined about a dozen sects over his lifetime, including after he (allegedly) witnessed the gold plates. (In fact, when Harris was a Shaker, Brigham Young's brother reported that Harris claimed he had a greater testimony of Shakerism than he ever had of Mormonism.)

Steven Carr isn't just a moron; he is a pretentious moron (like Avalos, Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris, etc.), which is the worst species of moron.

Anonymous said...

About Pieter De Rudder's healing, there is an interesting skeptical article here : http://www.csicop.org/si/show/belgian_miracles/
(by Joe Nickell, of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry).