Friday, August 13, 2010

What would evidence look like if we had it?

Before entering, however, on this examination of the incidental allusions or secondary facts in the New Testament narrative, it is important to notice two things with regard to the main facts; in the first place, that some of them (as the miracles, the resurrection, and the ascension) are of such a nature that no testimony to them from profane sources was to be expected, since those who believed them naturally and almost necessarily became Christians; and secondly, that with regard to such as are not of this character, there does exist profane testimony of the first order.

George Rawlinson, The Historical Evidences of the Truth of the Scripture Records (Boston: Gould & Lincoln, 1860), p. 180.

HT: Tim McGrew

22 comments:

Blue Devil Knight said...

I started reading through that chapter and he keeps saying how people not talking about Christ is somehow evidence in its favor, and then kept using the Scripture itself as evidence for pagan believers. Lost patience and stopped reading at that point.

But if there is decent stuff especially material not in NT I'd love to see it. Such sources would raise my estimation of the case for Christianity.

Richard said...

Ah Thomas Thomas, unless you see and touch you will not believe. Millions of Muslims believe in Christ though as a man, yet as historical fact, what more do you want for faith only exist if you dont see what you have faith in. But I see you as an honest seeker for the truth and it shall set you free. Happy travelling.

Blaise Pascal said...

"3.3 Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day."
Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 93 - 94 CE

But let me guess your response: "This is not from Josephus! Its a fake because it provides very strong support for Christianity."

Well, if everything that provides strong support for Christianity is a fake, then there is not even a theoretical possibility to prove Christianity to you. So, this cannot be a reasonable response.

Mark said...

I agree that the lack of evidence from non-Christian sources isn't very telling. However, we are well within our rights to ask for evidence from skeptical sources. If a reporter came from a superstitious culture and was deeply emotionally committed to the truth of his religious narrative prior to his inquiries, that should lower our confidence in his skepticism. In the case of the Gospels, I don't think we're in a position to gauge the authors' skepticism very well.

Blaise Pascal said...

"But if there is decent stuff especially material not in NT I'd love to see it."

In fact there is plenty of it:

1. Corintheans:
"3. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4.And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5. And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6.After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep."

This is a testemony that there are roughly 500 first hand sources of the resurection outside the NT.

Since Paul could not have hidden the lie, if it were a lie, it is highly impropable that he lied.

terri said...

Blaise the passage you quote fro Josephus has long been identified as at least a partial interpolation. Even evangelical Scholars admit this.

The general thought is that Josephus did mention Jesus...but all the spiritual commentary is extra.

Otherwise, why would Josephus call Jesus the Christ and talk about his wonderful teachings as being foretold the prophets, and admit to his resurrection...and yet, himself, not ever become a convert to Christianity?

Ken said...

Jesus dies after three days on the cross (instead of hours), i.e. the normal amount of time that it took to kill the victim and his corpse is only taken down after a week on the cross.

Jesus is examined by doctors who verify his death.

Dozens of people witness the actual resurrection.

Local authorities launch a modern-style investigation, the names of all the witnesses and the guards involved are known, all witnesses are summoned and they are questioned with word for word statements transcribed immediately after the miracle.

Jesus is interviewed and examined by physicians and specialists.

Following the investigation a full report on the evidence is publicly available on the internet.

People visit his empty tomb as a tourist attraction

Of course this sounds ridiculous and unreasonable to Christians, but so does misuse of terms such as "evidence" in the form of "What would the evidence look like if we had it?" to force skeptics to imagine things happened exactly as depicted in the Gospels. If God had intended for there to be evidence, he would have given everyone, for all time, the same opportunity to examine the evidence. I don't think it would be unverifiable tales of doubters poking at holes in Jesus.

We could only know what the "evidence would look like" if we knew with confidence essentially what had actually happened in the first place (which would be the case if the evidence was much more detailed than it is.) We need to have enough detail to know where to look in the evidence to form a coherent picture, but the Gospels are too fuzzy for any sensible hypothesis.

I could say that the gospels themselves are evidence of some combination of fabrication, confabulation and delusional thinking. The gospels represent exactly what I would expect was the start of an apocalyptic cult whose leader and members thought that the end of the world was imminent. The cult hits their first big surge of popularity (thirty years after their leader has disappeared) as the elderly disciples urgently preach that the end is surely near -- as the last of their generation are about to pass. Someone finally writes about all the excitement.

Tea leaves!

Tim said...

BDK,

I started reading through that chapter and he keeps saying how people not talking about Christ is somehow evidence in its favor, and then kept using the Scripture itself as evidence for pagan believers. Lost patience and stopped reading at that point.

The line of argument you're alluding to, if I am understanding you properly, is the one that spans pp. 181-85 of Rawlinson. I agree that it is unconvincing -- and needless, since (as virtually all Josephus experts are agreed) the Testimonium Flavianum is not a wholesale interpolation but rather an original part of Josephus's narrative retouched by a ham-handed Christian redactor. Rawlinson makes too much of the argument from silence.

If you want to see some more impressive evidence for the basic historicity of the narrative portions of the NT, skip directly to the latter half of p. 185 and start reading there.

Tim said...

Ken,

If God had intended for there to be evidence, he would have given everyone, for all time, the same opportunity to examine the evidence.

I do not find this theological claim persuasive, for broadly the sorts of reasons laid out in Butler's Analogy of Religion, Part II, chapter 6, and Paley's View of the Evidences of Christianity, Part III, chapter 6.

Eric said...

It would be about 6 feet high by 3 feet wide. About 3 feet deep and colored purple and black. It would have a few dimples where the surface is imperfect and a slit in the top where a sharp object fell on it. It would be made out of wood and plastic, except for the hardware which would be metal. The plinth it stood on would be a slice of marble and would ensure it was too heavy to be easily stolen. About as real as the bible.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, Christian apologetics?

As I've reminded you, look at the history of the most conservative Christian institutions of higher learning after they have attracted the best scholars and students for 200 years. They ain't that conservative any more.

And the logic of this guy's boasts. . .

Let's say he's right, EVERYONE was converted who saw the miracles of Jesus and/or his apostles, but in that case why doesn't God send out lots of miracle working Christians today and convert EVERYONE on earth?

Second, even in the Gospels you read about how people were NOT converted by miracles, and how much more blessed it is to believe without them. (Sounds like an excuse for their lack, and an argument to be gullible, "just believe!," but whatever. This apologist whom you cited is an ignoramus. His argument demonstrates what a simpleton he is. NT studies have also moved far past such nonsense.

SCHWEITZER: . . . these writers are faced with the enormous problem that strictly speaking absolutely nothing can be proved by evidence from the past, but can only be shown to be more or less probable. Moreover, in the case of Jesus, the theoretical reservations are even greater because all the reports about him go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even be raised so high as positive probability.
_________

Even if an oral tradition existed at the time Mark put pen to papyrus (already a huge assumption), that oral tradition had evolved and mutated over at least 40 years. Is some Q material earlier than Mark (as Borg and Crossan wish to be true)? Perhaps. But recent studies indicate that parts of Q were still in flux when Matthew first wrote the sayings down. They were still being retold and refashioned to fit current circumstances, evolving as they appeared successively in Luke, Thomas, the Didache, etc. So it's a moot question how much closer to the words of the historical Jesus studying the oral tradition can bring us. It isn’t as if reading an “original” Q saying is the same as listening to a Dictaphone recording of Jesus.

Edward T. Babinski said...

The Legend of the Resurrection grew and also experienced alterations (in contradictory ways) in the tale over time. Just compare the resurrection tales chronologically, Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke-Acts, John

Also, the number of words allegedly spoken by the post-resurrection Jesus grew over time (just perform the same chronological examination).

So the NT provides the evidence of the growth and alteration of legends about Jesus' resurrection. If that's "inspired" legendary growth and "inspired" contradictory changes, then I just don't feel very inspired to rationally defend such first century miracle mongering.

Steven Carr said...

No evidence for the Ascension?

Christians of today ignore the Ascension as even they struggle with the idea of Jesus flying into the sky and disappearing into a cloud on his way to Heaven.

A quick reread shows that Victor is quoting from an 1860 work.

This is why it tries to defend the Ascension, which has become totally unfashionable among Christians today, who can't even sell it to themselves , let alone sceptics.

Anonymous said...

>A quick reread shows that Victor is quoting from an 1860 work.


I reply: Considering your crackpot "Jesus never existed" meme is straight from the playbook of 19th century Atheism I fail to see why you are complaining?

Steven Carr said...

I'm not complaining.

Quite the opposite.

Victor has possibly forgotten that Christians are not supposed to talk about eyewitnesses seeing Jesus fly into the sky, and disappear into a cloud on his way to Heaven.

It is no longer theologically correct to think Jesus flew into the sky on his way to Heaven, even if Acts says that was has happened.

By the way, how are you getting on with the evidence for Judas, Thomas,Lazarus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene and the other characters from the Novels?

Managed to ignore the fact that nobody reported seeing them?

Perhaps they were all on the grassy knoll?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks Tim, I'll take a look.

R O'Brien said...

"Just compare the resurrection tales chronologically, Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke-Acts, John..."

I dispute your chronology.

Bilbo said...

One piece of evidence that I have not seen discussed here is the question of why Paul was persecuting Jewish Christians. I think it strongly suggests that early Jewish Christianity aleady had a very high theological view of who Jesus was. If so, then the question should be, what caused them to have such a high view of Jesus?

Blaise Pascal said...

Carr: "Christians of today ignore the Ascension as even they struggle with the idea of Jesus flying into the sky and disappearing into a cloud on his way to Heaven."

Blessed Cardinal Newman once said: "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject; difficulty and doubt are incommensurate. There of course may be difficulties in the evidence; but I am speaking of difficulties intrinsic to the doctrines themselves, or to their relations with each other. A man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, of which the answer is or is not given to him, without doubting that it admits of an answer, or that a certain particular answer is the true one."

http://www.newmanreader.org/works/apologia65/chapter5.html

Ken said...

Tim said: I do not find this theological claim persuasive, for broadly the sorts of reasons laid out in Butler's Analogy of Religion, Part II, chapter 6, and Paley's View of the Evidences of Christianity, Part III, chapter 6.

(read the chapter in Paley's, nothing new)

You miss the point. If the Gospel evidence clearly favors divine resurrection, then God intends that clear evidence is only available to a select few who happen upon it and you may justify that exclusiveness as you wish, but doing so, you cede that the evidence will have a variable effect depending on circumstances.

Let's divide people into broad, rough categories according to proximity to evidence.

1 Immediate witnesses (women who saw empty tomb, apostles etc.)
2 People living at the time in the area who may have heard the testimonies from witnesses. They had opportunity to investigate all witnesses.
3 People living in the area at the time of the first gospels. They have intimate knowledge of geography, culture, politics etc. Could have investigated the gospel writers and some living witnesses.
4 People living after the death of the last witness, exposed to the gospels. Had some ability to investigate gospel writers.
5. People exposed to the gospels after writers' deaths a short time after.
6 People exposed to the gospels centuries later with almost no ability to investigate but receptive and intellectually capable of perceiving the signal in the noise.
7 People exposed to the Gospels centuries later, but intellectually incapable of believing them. This may include bonehead skeptics, people born into other religions, severely mentally retarded, etc.

8 All people not exposed to the Gospels (born before Christ, infants who die, people in various non-Christian isolated cultures etc.)


Here's the epistemological quagmire. How do you know whether I'm stubbornly refusing to believe because of my evil nature or that I lack the intellectual background and experience as in category 7 that is, in effect, just like the last category 8?

Ask yourself whether God intends for us to have evidence or the reverse (He wants to hide the resurrection), or is indifferent. If He intends to have evidence for the resurrection, why not more effectively and equally. If he really wants to hide, then he intends for there to be no evidence and I'm at least right about the gospels as not providing evidence. If he's indifferent, then gospel evidence is accidental and irrelevant to His purposes and it follows from God's intentions or lack of such that it doesn't matter that it variably affects different people. In the latter case, the Gospels never needed to be written at all, which is absurd from a Christian perspective.

This leaves you with the first option, and you can excuse the intent on God's behalf if you wish. But if the Gospels are both variably available and variably effective if available, then it undermines any use of the Gospels in apologetics as evidence for a miracle. If you expect God to provide mediocre evidence based on a denial of the value of universal knowledge of the divine, then Christians (perhaps subconsciously) expect the evidence to be mediocre and substandard -- which may to account for the lower standards of evidence that Christians accept. God is leaving messages in tea leaves and to Christians that's fine, as long as you can see the message in the leaves or even get a chance to peer into the teacup.

Tim said...

Ken,

the evidence will have a variable effect depending on circumstances

But of course. Given that some people are more intellectually gifted than others, that was going to happen anyway.

How do you know whether I'm stubbornly refusing to believe because of my evil nature or that I lack the intellectual background and experience as in category 7 that is, in effect, just like the last category 8?

I don't hold that those who are truly intellectually incapable are accountable. What happens to the rest of the people in category 8 is between them and God. But in those all-too-common cases where boneheadedness is an acquired characteristic, the ultimate incapacity to think through a rational argument is no more excuse than it would be for a drunk driver to plead "not guilty" on the grounds that he was inebriated by the time the accident occurred.

If He intends to have evidence for the resurrection, why not more effectively and equally.

Since there is enough for those from whom belief is required, the question "why not more" is of no consequence. We can conjecture -- Butler offers some thoughts on this -- but the whole question would have bite only if there were not enough evidence to satisfy a rational inquirer. And in that case, the subsequent discussion would, of course, be moot.

[I]f the Gospels are both variably available and variably effective if available, then it undermines any use of the Gospels in apologetics as evidence for a miracle.

This simply doesn't follow.

Ken said...

Tim said: But in those all-too-common cases where boneheadedness is an acquired characteristic, the ultimate incapacity to think through a rational argument is no more excuse than it would be for a drunk driver to plead "not guilty" on the grounds that he was inebriated by the time the accident occurred.


I know I'm not capable of believing the Gospels. It's beyond me how the average person can believe it, and I do see very intelligent people believing. So I figure it's possible I'm an idiot is some peculiar way. Or an psychological/emotional block for which I'm not responsible. Or I happen to be right.


This simply doesn't follow.

What I'm saying here is that if the evidence is both weak (arguably), and totally unavailable to some, it doesn't appear that God really wants people to believe the Gospels.

Why even bother teaching it to children?

Any justification you use to excuse the unfairness of having the bulk of the world's population not knowing about the gospels could be applied to children left unindoctrinated by Christians themselves. Or is there the slightest advantage to being taught Christianity? You can't have it both ways.