Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Care and Feeding of Prior Probabilities

Roffle wrote: I would agree that someone who comes to a conversation with a lot of unfounded assumptions (uninformed priors) will form different conclusions based on the evidence at hand, but that doesn't mean that that person's opinion should carry any weight.

If you want to convince others that your conclusion is rational, you need to justify your assumptions (priors). If you can't, and instead hide behind a smokescreen of subjectivity about priors while at the same time pretending to be rational, then don't be surprised when you receive as much condemnation as you do.

VR: When I say I am a pluralist about priors what I mean is that I don't think it's necessary to show that everyone ought to have the same priors I do. But that doesn't mean the priors are uninformed. They are affected, in my case at least, on the positive side by natural-theological argumentation, and on the negative side by the problem of evil. There are differences of opinion about these arguments. Whether I think the universe exists contingently and this needs something to cause its existence, or whether I think it can exist on its own, is going to affect my prior for miracles. Whether the universe was designed by someone for intelligent life, or whether intelligent life arise with no design would be another factor. Whether our power to reason requires a mentalistic universe, or whether it can be the by-product of a purely material and fully evolved brain is another issue. Whether the world as we know it with the evil it contains is compatible with a perfectly good creator would be another factor. Lewis's whole book, Miracles: A Preliminary Study, offers an explanation as to why he thinks the miracle claims of Christianity should not be considered overwhelming improbable prior to investigation.

If you think the whole case for God apart from arguments for miracles is nonsense, and the case against God overwhelming, then no case for the Resurrection will ever be good enough. But some of us don't concur with the antecedent of this conditional.

69 comments:

Ilíon said...

For some reason, the title on this one really cracks me up.

Roffle said...

I don't see how anything you said would be considered a response to what to I said. You listed a bunch of conclusions to different arguments that would affect your priors, but you failed to address the point of my comment. Until the premises for those arguments are supported by evidence, those cannot be used to support your priors. This is what I mean when I say uninformed priors, the premises involved are either false or unsupported by evidence.

If you want to convince others that your conclusions and priors are rational, you need to justify the premises involved. If you can't, then don't be surprised when you receive as much condemnation as you do.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't see that someone deserves condemnation (wow!) for holding an anti-foundationalist theory of prior probabilities. In the real world, people are going to differ on what they consider probable or not probable.

You seem to have a Cartesian concept of knowledge where we have to start with certain self-evident truths and establish other truths based on the evidence of those foundational truths. That sort of classical foundationalism has been widely criticized in epistemology, and by that I mean secular epistemology, not religious epistemology. I know McGrew is actually a defender of it, but he's in a minority at this point.

Personalist theory with respect to prior probabilities is a pretty common position among Bayesian theorists. It's a departure from classical foundationalism, but there was a pretty wide consensus amongst the people I studied epistemology with in grad school that classical foundationalism leads to skepticism. This could all be wrong, but I would like to see you rebut the anti-CF arguments before you start condemning people.

Roffle said...

“This could all be wrong”

Yea, I really have no idea how you got so far off track...

Winston Smith said...

Heck, if the atheist believes that existence, life, and mind itself can be explained by mindless processes, then of course no case for God is good enough.

No matter what case you present, they can fall back on "mindlessprocessessdidit" even though they can not demonstrate that in an experimentally demonstrable and repeatable way.

As such, their atheism is NonFalsifiable and hence is the class of pseudo science, certainly not science or even philosphy.

Nothing, then, can convince them, "Even if a man to were rise from the dead."

shiningwhiffle said...

Part of the reason I reject foundationalism is that it has the obnoxious implication that you have to scrub your mind to some kind of ritual purity before you can trust it to do critical thinking. But of course the only way to do this is through critical thinking. It's a Catch-22.

Doctor Logic said...

Victor,

I know you don't like the alternatives to the Christian resurrection story, but let's look at the numbers that need to be overcome.

Wouldn't you agree that, based on our experience with the physical world (established science about how bodies work), the odds of someone being resurrected is well under 1 in a billion?

I think you would agree, and would then point out that P(physical resurrection) is not equal to P(supernatural resurrection). Fair enough.

So what are the background odds on some modern person being resurrected supernaturally? Both for an average Joe and for, say, Billy Graham?

It seems to me that P(supernatural resurrection) is greater than P(natural resurrection) because we have more constraints on natural resurrection (we are more familiar with the mechanism), but p(supernatural resurrection) is on the order of 1 in a billion (just based on the number of people who have ever lived and been resurrected).

Even if you think the AfR is effective, the AfR doesn't predict resurrections over staying dead.

This means that the sum probability of all natural alternatives to the resurrection have to be less than 1 in a billion, even if one admits supernaturalism. When you consider alternatives to the Christian story, you might think that there are factors of improbability, but do they get to 1 in a billion?

Remember, alleged facts about Jesus are just that: alleged facts. We don't know there were 500 witnesses, nor that he fulfilled prophesies because the authors were aware of the prophesies that they wanted him to fulfill, etc. You have a single source. If the Jesus story played out today, you would not believe it. They would say Jesus lived a perfect life, and you would say "prove it without circularity".

Victor Reppert said...

The question, though, that has to be introduced whether resurrecting Jesus, as opposed to someone else, fits in with God's motives and intentions. If you are in fact a theist, you have to factor that in. The founding of Christianity was a historical game-changer.

My knowledge of intelligent agents suggests that if an intelligent agent is in charge of the universe, that agent will want to open a pathway for fellowship with other intelligent agents. This is evidenced, for example, in the SETI project. Why do we care? Why do we want to talk to intelligent life on other planets if that weren't built into the very nature of intelligent agency. So it seems antecedently likely that if we were created by God, God would want to contact us, and so we have to start looking at the best candidate for where God might have done that. Christianity and Islam look like the main options, but to my mind at least, Christianity looks like by far the best option. So if we start with a reasonably high prior for theism, and we find that the Christian story makes more sense a posteriori than any anti-Christian alternative, it looks at least possible that we could have good reason to believe in the Christian miracle story.

Many events that occur even in a naturalist world are events that are lone members of their event-type. If you are thinking naturalistically, then you have to look at how naturalistically plausible the event might be. If you, for whatever reason, think it's rational to suppose that God is halfway likely to exist, and you know that God is intelligent, then you can analogize from what you know of intelligent beings to some ideas about what God is likely to do.

Victor Reppert said...

Roffle: Could you kindly explained to me how John Earman got so far off track?

mattghg said...

"You have a single source."

That isn't true. There are several sources which were collected together at a later date.

Doctor Logic said...

Matt,

There are several sources which were collected together at a later date.

Unless you're taking a very special definition of independent source, then I totally disagree.

You have a cabal of fanatics who were in Jesus's cult before he died. After Jesus died, the remaining members of his cult came up with their story in collaboration, and then created a set of works they could use for the purposes of evangelism and indoctrination.

If you look at the Eight Witnesses to the Mormon plates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight_Witnesses) and the later testimony of Martin Harris (http://tinyurl.com/34humfk), you can see just how the resurrection story could come about.

When cult prophesies fail, many members actually become more committed to the cause than before (cognitive dissonance, validating self-concept over the facts). It's easy to imagine the apostles hanging out after the crucifixion, sharing visions collaboratively. The visions could have been creative interpretation (e.g., seeing Jesus as a stranger and not initially recognizing him), ghost story participation, spiritual vision (like Harris), etc. Throw in the fact that visions probably increased their status in the group, and you have a recipe for a shared vision of a risen Christ.

So, either you have to say that the Eight Witnesses are independent sources or else you have to admit that the gospels are a single source, too.

Ilíon said...

"You can't argue with a crazy man"

and, well, that's a crazy man.

Nick said...

Yep. Because we all know Paul was part of the Jesus cult from the beginning and that stuff about going around and persecuting the church must have been made up....

mattghg said...

"After Jesus died, the remaining members of his cult came up with their story in collaboration"

You know this how?

"We don't know there were 500 witnesses"

Either there were 500 witnesses or there was a massive bluff that could have been refuted by anyone with not much effort.

"So, either you have to say that the Eight Witnesses are independent sources or else you have to admit that the gospels are a single source, too."

No I don't. The eight witnesses signed a joint statement. Here there's actually evidence that they "came up with their story in collaboration". Heck, here there's only one story.

"When cult prophesies fail..."

There were plenty of wannabe messiahs in the first century. When they got killed, their followers either gave up the movement or found a new messiah, often from the same family. They didn't go around saying that the original one had been raised from the dead.

Doctor Logic said...

Nick,

So Paul had never met any Christians or heard of the resurrection story before he was visited by Jesus?

Ah, no, I didn't think so either.

He fell in with a group of Christians, and made up his own visions. Of course, Paul claims he wasn't the kind of person who would do that. But then that's just what we would expect him to say.

It's not as if Jesus cults sprang up independently in Jerusalem, Shanghai, Borneo and London independently, only meeting up centuries later.

Nick said...

Wow. Someone needs to take logic out of their name.

Um. No. Paul gives testimony of his own conversion and how he persecuted the church in authentic Pauline letters. You think he's going to write something about himself that his own opponents could read and say "Wait! That's not true! He was with us from the beginning!"

Yep. He made it up. Great benefits he got from that. What did he write about in 2 Corinthians 11? Yeah. That sure helped him out a lot. Taking a path that if wrong would have cut him off from YHWH forever and led to his being shamed in the community. Hey. Where does everyone else sign up?

You want to say he made it up? Then give me this thing called evidence because unlike atheists, I actually value it.

Doctor Logic said...

Matt,

You know this how?

I don't know it, but it's plausible. Are you telling me that the apostles didn't communicate the good news to each other?

And if they did, and they started sharing visions, what's one little lie (or omission) about the order of sightings?

I think it's tough to argue that they would not have been sharing information.

IIRC, the gospels refer to some information sharing.

Either there were 500 witnesses or there was a massive bluff that could have been refuted by anyone with not much effort.

Refuted by whom? The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry? Mythbusters? 60 minutes?

And how are these skeptic groups doing in today's more skeptical culture at defeating a lot of popular myths? Psychics and astrologers? WMD's in Iraq? The Apollo moon landing hoax?

What have you done to squash the 9/11 hoaxers? And would you be more or less likely to work to squash them if your standard of living was at the subsistence level?

Seriously, if a modern cult claimed they had 500 unnamed witnesses to a miracle, we would both say the story was bunk unless they could produce names and affidavits. But that wouldn't stop people joining the cult.

The "it would have been debunked" claim won't work as an argument for Christianity any more than it is working for Mormonism or Scientology.

There were plenty of wannabe messiahs in the first century. When they got killed, their followers either gave up the movement or found a new messiah, often from the same family. They didn't go around saying that the original one had been raised from the dead.

To the extent that this is relevant, I don't think that this information helps you, but rather helps me.

You're looking at an evolution of religions, many of which had no difficulty in attracting followers who would go to their deaths for their respective cults.

The other messiahs were interested in opposing Rome militarily or economically. The Christianity wanted to coexist with as many existing faiths and cultures as possible. They absorbed pagan myths and traditions, and tried to distance themselves from the Jews.

I don't see how this is supposed to make anyone think it more likely that their claims of the miraculous were true.

Doctor Logic said...

Nick,

Paul gives testimony of his own conversion and how he persecuted the church in authentic Pauline letters. You think he's going to write something about himself that his own opponents could read and say "Wait! That's not true! He was with us from the beginning!"

I don't think you're responding to my point. Paul didn't have his vision independent of Christianity. He knew about Christianity beforehand. He's not an independent source. He's part of the original cult, even if he was against it before he was for it.

I have no reason to doubt that he persecuted Jews earlier in his life. Indeed, the Wikipedia page has the following quote from Galatians:

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

Looks like he was a real go-getter.

Great benefits he got from that. What did he write about in 2 Corinthians 11? Yeah. That sure helped him out a lot. Taking a path that if wrong would have cut him off from YHWH forever and led to his being shamed in the community. Hey. Where does everyone else sign up?

Not sure what you're getting at here. He made a great career move. He was a leader in a new and up-and-coming venture. And there was a chance he could become a martyr! Bonus!

For sure, he thought he was doing God's work! It comes with the territory.

You want to say he made it up? Then give me this thing called evidence because unlike atheists, I actually value it.

So... miracle stories are true unless proven otherwise? You have an interesting idea of burden of proof. If you see a magician saw a woman in half and put her back together again, is the burden of proof on me to show that it was just a trick?

Nick said...

Doc: I don't think you're responding to my point. Paul didn't have his vision independent of Christianity. He knew about Christianity beforehand. He's not an independent source. He's part of the original cult, even if he was against it before he was for it.

Reply: No one denies he knew about Christianity beforehand. What is denied is that he was part of the cult. He was against it before he was for it? Echoes of John Kerry there.

Of course he was! He was persecuting the church! If you are part of a cult, you do not go around under the opposing power following its orders and collecting members of your cult to be killed.

Doc: I have no reason to doubt that he persecuted Jews earlier in his life. Indeed, the Wikipedia page has the following quote from Galatians:

Reply: Another big hit for the abomination that causes misinformation. Citing Wikipedia is lazy research. First off, he was persecuting Christians, not Jews. He was bringing them for charges of blasphemy, much as his approval of Stephen's stoning.

Doc: Looks like he was a real go-getter.

Reply: Yes he was. He was zealous for his beliefs at the time that saw Christianity as blasphemous.

Doc: Not sure what you're getting at here. He made a great career move. He was a leader in a new and up-and-coming venture. And there was a chance he could become a martyr! Bonus!

For sure, he thought he was doing God's work! It comes with the territory.

Reply: You're not sure what's being said, but never let that stand in the way of ignorance! Speak on it anyway! It has to be wrong!

Sorry. In the ancient world, you got your identity from the people around you and which group you identified with and people did not seek honor for themselves. It had to be given to them.

Paul would not be making a "career move." Jews did not go against YHWH for the sake of career. He would be a martyr in a cause seen by his peers against YHWH and that would be a bonus? Please.

Yes he thought he was doing God's work. Why? What convinced him? He tells you.

Doc: So... miracle stories are true unless proven otherwise? You have an interesting idea of burden of proof. If you see a magician saw a woman in half and put her back together again, is the burden of proof on me to show that it was just a trick?

Reply: Sorry. The claim is one you made. You said he made it up. I'm waiting to see you back it. Why should I automatically discount Paul's testimony and say he made it up? What did he gain? What is your evidence?

Ilíon said...

Concerning the "scientific" case against miracles -- 'Science!' and Miracles ... and Skepticism!

Ilíon said...

... the point is not whether the Sagan claim in the quote I analyzed is 'scientific' or even logical; the point is the selective hyper-skepticism -- the intellectual dishonesty -- of most "arguments" trotted out by so-called atheists against the posibility of miracles.

Roffle said...

Vic,
Perhaps I should have been more clear. Your presumption about my views is so far off track that I have no idea how you justified the leap between what you thought I held versus what I actually wrote. Unless you also go by the alias of John Earman, he is not even closely relevant to what I said. If you want to comment on my original comment, go ahead and do so; if you want to dodge the issue with wild goose chases, that's your prerogative as well, but if the latter, don't expect me to respond with further clarification.

Doctor Logic said...

Nick,

You're not paying attention.

If you are part of a cult, you do not go around under the opposing power following its orders and collecting members of your cult to be killed.

I never said he was part of the Christian cult when he persecuted them. I said he was part of the cult later. You are reading your own assumptions about my views into my comments.

I'm saying that Paul was not an independent witness. He wasn't a Chinese citizen who met Jesus independently. No, he met some Christian fanatics who valued people who had visions of Jesus.

I figure he was someone who saw himself as God's agent on Earth. My guess is that his antics didn't impress the Pharisees, so he figured that he was the agent of God for Christianity instead.

Christian apologists have a very naive view of human psychology. In particular, they don't seem to understand persuasion at all. They think the founders of Christianity were average human beings presented with overwhelming evidence, and that this evidence rationally converted them into the people they later claimed to be. And then they take the self-descriptions of the founders as factual and beyond criticism.

Matt brought up the other messiahs of the period (or, at least, the one's we know about). Some of these messiahs claimed to be kings, and most of them got killed by the powers that be. The apostles of Jesus followed him around long before he was arrested and executed. So they were obviously not just average Joes. They were rabble-rousers, prepared to give their lives for their cult. They weren't converted into martyrs by the Resurrection. The Resurrection was their rationalization for martyrdom. Their Resurrection fantasy was their post-purchase rationalization. They hadn't wasted their lives on a fake messiah. No, their messiah was just the kind of messiah to appear in visions after death, and so they had to redouble their efforts to convert people to their cult.

The claim is one you made. You said he made it up. I'm waiting to see you back it. Why should I automatically discount Paul's testimony and say he made it up? What did he gain? What is your evidence?

I just levitated across the room! Prove me wrong!

Come on! Be reasonable! You have to compare the odds of the claim being true, all things being equal, versus the odds of the person lying or being delusional. The latter can be established by looking at evidence from psychological experiments. If a person has a strong emotional investment to a claim, the odds of honest reporting with respect to that claim are not very high. The bottom line is that if an occurrence is less probable than, say, 1 in 1000, you need more evidence than hearsay.

Now, you have two choices. You can claim that Paul's vision was mundane and that Paul had no conceivable psychological advantage for his claims, OR, you have to admit that the odds of his lying or being delusional are higher than the odds of his claim being true.

The former is impossible to maintain. Do you think that Paul's beliefs generated within him a great sense of purpose, well-being, invincibility, importance among his peers, contentment, etc? If so, then you admit that his beliefs were psychologically important, whether true or not.

mattghg said...

"Refuted by whom?"

By the members of the church in Corinth, to whom the claim is addressed. Sheesh.

"The "it would have been debunked" claim..."

...is an argument for there having been 500 witnesses.

"To the extent that this is relevant, I don't think that this information helps you, but rather helps me."

I see. None of what would normally happen at the death of a messianic figure happens, but rather something unprecedented, and this supports the naturalistic explanation. Heads you win, tails I lose.

"The Christianity wanted to coexist with as many existing faiths and cultures as possible."

In that case they did an extraordinarily bad job of it, given the extent of percecution against the church that followed from both Jewish and Roman culture!

"They absorbed pagan myths and traditions"

Evidence?? I mean, don't be shy - which ones?

These auxiliary hypotheses are really stacking up, as Victor predicted...

Doctor Logic said...

Matt,

"The "it would have been debunked" claim..."

...is an argument for there having been 500 witnesses.


You're so naive.

Suppose the Church of Thor says that 500 witnesses saw Thor appear in 1992. CoT isn't specific about how this appearance occurred, whether it was in the flesh or in visions.

First question: How do you go about debunking this claim?

The only way to debunk it is to demand that the CoT provide more information. When they don't respond, you only win if the church is guilted into admissions of fraud, or if the unanswered question prevents people joining the church. Neither of which are likely.

Second question: Suppose you love Thor and you feel in your bones that Thor is the savior we have been looking for. Are you even going to ask the question?

Or are you going to assume that if no one else in the CoT has "debunked" it, then it must have been true? After all, Thor could appear to 500 if he really wanted to.

If this isn't how you think the debunking would have worked, then exactly what did you imagine?

None of what would normally happen at the death of a messianic figure happens, but rather something unprecedented, and this supports the naturalistic explanation. Heads you win, tails I lose.

Yeah, it's strange how the notion of resurrection had never occurred to anyone earlier in history. I mean except for Mithras. And Osiris. And Dionysis. Oh, and Tammuz.

Evidence?? I mean, don't be shy - which ones?

Virgin birth. The story of the fishermen and the 153 fish (a story from the cult of Pythagoras). The long list of resurrectees I mentioned above. Justin Martyr admits to the Romans that the Jesus myth sounds like myths about many pagan gods, and goes on to suggest that the devil planted the other myths to confuse us. Yeah, that's what it was.

Nick said...

Doc:I never said he was part of the Christian cult when he persecuted them. I said he was part of the cult later. You are reading your own assumptions about my views into my comments.

Reply: Hey. You say original. I take that to mean a follower from the beginning.

Doc: I'm saying that Paul was not an independent witness. He wasn't a Chinese citizen who met Jesus independently. No, he met some Christian fanatics who valued people who had visions of Jesus.

Reply:He didn't seem too impressed with visions when he was stoning Stephen and afterwards. Our account of his conversion says he was breathing out threats against the church when he went to arrest more Christians.

Doc: I figure he was someone who saw himself as God's agent on Earth. My guess is that his antics didn't impress the Pharisees, so he figured that he was the agent of God for Christianity instead.

Reply: A conjecture with zip evidence to back it. Paul was someone who trained under Gamaliel and by his own testimony in Galatians 1, he was advancing beyond others. (Galatians is a book in the Bible that you don't need Wikipedia to read)

Also, keep in mind that conversion was a far bigger deal in the ancient world. Personality was seen as static and to convert would be to risk your eternal relationship with YHWH.

Nick said...

Doc: Christian apologists have a very naive view of human psychology. In particular, they don't seem to understand persuasion at all. They think the founders of Christianity were average human beings presented with overwhelming evidence, and that this evidence rationally converted them into the people they later claimed to be. And then they take the self-descriptions of the founders as factual and beyond criticism.

Reply:Yeah. Silly us. We actually believe people should be persuaded by overwhelming evidence. No. We take their testimony at face-value. It's the skeptics who insist they have to be lying or delusional.

Doc: Matt brought up the other messiahs of the period (or, at least, the one's we know about). Some of these messiahs claimed to be kings, and most of them got killed by the powers that be. The apostles of Jesus followed him around long before he was arrested and executed. So they were obviously not just average Joes. They were rabble-rousers, prepared to give their lives for their cult. They weren't converted into martyrs by the Resurrection. The Resurrection was their rationalization for martyrdom. Their Resurrection fantasy was their post-purchase rationalization. They hadn't wasted their lives on a fake messiah. No, their messiah was just the kind of messiah to appear in visions after death, and so they had to redouble their efforts to convert people to their cult.

Reply: Oh puh-leez. It is amazing what some people will believe. To identify with Jesus had he not been raised would be to identify with someone who had been seen as a traitor to Rome and under the curse of YHWH. When "Messiahs" died, their followers went away also.



Doc: I just levitated across the room! Prove me wrong!

Come on! Be reasonable! You have to compare the odds of the claim being true, all things being equal, versus the odds of the person lying or being delusional. The latter can be established by looking at evidence from psychological experiments. If a person has a strong emotional investment to a claim, the odds of honest reporting with respect to that claim are not very high. The bottom line is that if an occurrence is less probable than, say, 1 in 1000, you need more evidence than hearsay.

Reply: First off, if you had just levitated, it would not be a problem to me. However, your claim is about Paul that he made it up rather than being just delusional. Those are entirely different. What I ask is "Why would he make it up?" He didn't gain anything as is his testimony in 2 Corinthians 11. Just look at all he went through.

Doc: Now, you have two choices. You can claim that Paul's vision was mundane and that Paul had no conceivable psychological advantage for his claims, OR, you have to admit that the odds of his lying or being delusional are higher than the odds of his claim being true.

Reply: Nope. Even if Paul was deluded, we still have in his writings an early Christian creed recognized by NT scholarship that refers to all the events we need to demonstrate the resurrection. Still, you've given me no evidence he was deluded and I will stick to my original belief. Paul really saw the resurrected Christ and as a result abandoned all to follow him.

Doc: The former is impossible to maintain. Do you think that Paul's beliefs generated within him a great sense of purpose, well-being, invincibility, importance among his peers, contentment, etc? If so, then you admit that his beliefs were psychologically important, whether true or not.

Reply: Spoken like a true modern who believes in introspection and individualism. The ancients knew nothing of that kind of thinking. Your identity did not come from within but the group you identified yourself with. Why would Paul identify with a crucified Messiah under YHWH's curse?

Nick said...

Doc.

I also see you have brought up Mithras, Osiris, Dionysus, and Tammuz.

Which of those baloney claims would you like dealt with first? Shall we start with Mithras?

mattghg said...

The passage mentioning the 500 hundred witnesses begins with a list of names! The claim that Paul "wouldn't respond" to a request for further information is, ahem, unfounded.

"Yeah, it's strange how the notion of resurrection had never occurred to anyone earlier in history"

Only with a suitably ridiculously attenuated sense of "resurrection". The sun setting and rising again is not "resurrection". Vegetation is not "resurrection".*

In any case this is besides the point, since none of the pagan deities you mention was a recently deceased historical figure at the time of anything being believed about him. You claimed to explain Christian origins because you know what happens "when cult prophesies fail". I responded that what in fact demonstrably did happen when messianic movements did fail at the time is nothing like this, and then you claimed that this actually counts for your view! The pagan myth copying hypothesis is only so much smokescreen here.

* The same goes for virgin birth. Being hewn out of solid rock is not "virgin birth". Being the product of Zeus raping your mother is not "virgin birth". And so on. I'll leave all this to Nick now.

Nick said...

I beg to differ Matt! That rock did not have sexual relations with anyone! That rock was a virgin!

mattghg said...

Chuckle. It hardly counts as a "birth" though, does it?

Despair thy charm,
And let the angel whom thou still hast served
Tell thee, Mithras was from a hillside
Untimely ripp'd.

Doctor Logic said...

Matt,

You claimed to explain Christian origins because you know what happens "when cult prophesies fail". I responded that what in fact demonstrably did happen when messianic movements did fail at the time is nothing like this, and then you claimed that this actually counts for your view!

I would have thought that an expert on cults such as yourself would know more about this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doomsday_cult#Prophecies_and_predictions

Are you saying that Christianity was different? That when Jesus was killed, none of his followers clung to the cult? Wanting to deny that Jesus's claims to being a god and a king could have been falsified?

In any case this is besides the point, since none of the pagan deities you mention was a recently deceased historical figure at the time of anything being believed about him.

Really? And none of the other deities were named Jesus. Is that significant, too?

Look, the point is not that Jesus doesn't have unique attributes. Everyone does. You were saying that the idea of resurrection was novel. I'm saying it wasn't. And Justin Martyr agrees with me.

Nick said...

Justin Martyr agrees? What have you read of Dialogue with Trypho?

My guess is you've never even looked at it but are just spouting things off. Okay. Let's clear the light of nonsense again with reason and research.

http://members.optusnet.com.au/gakuseidon/God_Who_Wasnt_There_analysis_Part2.htm#2.1

Doctor Logic said...

Nick,

First off, if you had just levitated, it would not be a problem to me.

You take testimony at face value. You think the burden of proof is on the person challenging the testimony, not on the witness, no matter what the claim is.

Well, I have a magic box that tells me only the truth. It has predicted many things that came to pass for me. The box also tells me that Paul was a fraud. Now, the burden of proof is on you to prove I don't have such a box.

Thanks for playing.

Nick said...

Doc:

You take testimony at face value.

Reply: Hilarious coming from someone who has twice cited Wikipedia as a valid resource.

Doc: You think the burden of proof is on the person challenging the testimony, not on the witness, no matter what the claim is.

Reply: Correct. Innocent until proven guilty. When Mormons visit me, I don't doubt that something happened to them like they say. I doubt the content because of reasons outside of Mormonism itself. I have no problem with Paul's claim because Paul had nothing to gain from becoming a Christian and everything to lose. He would want to make sure he was not deluded, and Galatians 1 and 2 indicate that he did just that.

Doc: Well, I have a magic box that tells me only the truth. It has predicted many things that came to pass for me. The box also tells me that Paul was a fraud. Now, the burden of proof is on you to prove I don't have such a box.

Reply: Considering you're wanting to make a comment about made-up claims, I have evidence then that you're intentionally making a ludicrous claim. I also believe you have something to gain by this and nothing to lose. Further, I could ask questions such as "What is my wife's full name?" or "What did my in-laws give me for Christmas?"

I have no problem with testing a claim, and I have tested Paul's claims by actual study of the NT. (Hint: That means reading something other than Wikipedia.)

Doctor Logic said...

Nick,

http://members.optusnet.com.au/gakuseidon/God_Who_Wasnt_There_analysis_Part2.htm#2.1

Thanks for the link to the (biased) page, but I've already read that article. Look carefully. Even if it is true, it doesn't affect my point at all. If the OT originally predicted resurrection of a god, and the pagan cults copycatted the ideas before Jesus, then the idea of resurrection still wasn't original in the 1st century.

Nick said...

Reply to Doc on Gakuesi Don:

Oooh! It's biased!

Oh my! A Christian is actually arguing against a non-Christian position!

Can't have Christian argumentation! We must accept non-biased argumentation like atheist argumentation!

Sorry. I don't give a darn about bias. I care about the arguments. You prefer to look at the motive and then disregard the argument.

The point is that the copycats did a terrible job of copying! They got it wrong! N.T. Wright has affirmed this in The Resurrection of the Son of God saying that the Greeks were clear. Resurrections did not happen.

If you want to show us that they did, do so. I've already presented something to blow Mithras out of the water and I have more. Do you want to try another one?

Consider taking logic out of your name. It's an insult to logic. Maybe Doctor Wikipedia would work.

Ilíon said...

You *can't* argue with a crazy man -- everything for one is *always* "heads I win, tails you lose."

Jake Elwood XVI said...

@ Dr Logic whop mentioned "[t]he story of the fishermen and the 153 fish (a story from the cult of Pythagoras)" as a response to Christianity absorbing pagan myths.

What evidence do you have for this. Have you read the accounts of the Pythagoras story. There are 3 that I have found. Two of them by Porhpyhry and Iamblichus date in the 3rd and 4th C.

The number 153 is mentioned, and there is a miraculous event. Now the number is interesting but the dating (3rd and 4th C) and the actual story seem to me to be counterproductive to an argument of absorption into the Christian story.

There is an a much earlier account by Plutarch dating 1st C which seems good re dating wise for you. This story is much more limited then Iamblichus or Porphyry does not mention the number 153. It has no miraculous event unlike the Iamblichus or Porphyry such as guessing the correct no. or no fish dying. The stories in my opinion are more dissimilar then similar.

I think if the argument boils down to there both about fish and questioning directly/indirectly wether the protagonist is man, then this argument is flawed.

I am interested if there are other accounts of the story

Jake Elwood XVI said...

Also from IAMBLICHUS of Syrian Chalcis's – “LIFE OF PYTHAGORAS”
Chap 8.
One day, during a trip from Sybaris to Crotona, by the sea-shore, he happened to meet some fishermen engaged in drawing up from the deep their heavily-laden fish-nets. He told them he knew the exact number of the fish they had caught. The surprised fishermen declared that if he was right they would do anything he said. He then ordered them, after counting the fish accurately, to return them alive to the sea, and what is more wonderful, while he stood on the shore, not one of them died, though they had remained out of their natural element quite a little while. Pythagoras then paid the fisher-men the price of their fish, and departed for Crotona. The fishermen divulged the occurrence, and on discovering his name from some children, spread it abroad publicly. Everybody wanted to see the stranger, which was easy enough to do. They were deeply impressed on beholding his countenance, which indeed betrayed his real nature.

Nick said...

Jake. I suspect one of two sources if not both for Doctor Wiki's claim.

#1-The Jesus Mysteries by Freke and Gandy.

#2-Zeitgeist

Jake Elwood XVI said...

Accounts of the Pythagoras fish story
Plutarchus
Pseudodoxia Epidemica book III.
"verily reported it is of Pythagoras, that upon a time hee bought of the fishers a draught of fish; and when he had so done, commaunded that they should be all let out of the net into the sea againe: surely this was not the act of a man,"

Porphyry
LIFE OF PYTHAGORAS" -

25. While at the Olympic games, he was discoursing with his friends about auguries, omens, and divine signs, and how men of true piety do receive messages from the Gods. Flying over his head was an eagle, who stopped, and came down to Pythagoras. After stroking her awhile, he released her. Meeting with some fishermen who were drawing in their nets heavily laden with fishes from the deep, he predicted the exact number of fish they had caught. The fishermen said that if his estimate was accurate they would do whatever he commanded. They counted them accurately, and found the number correct. He then bade them return the fish alive into the sea; and, what is more wonderful, not one of them died, although they had been out of the water a considerable time. He paid them and left.

Anonymous said...

Jake, I would be great if you could refer us to some manucript sources for your various stories.

Copie are OK, of course, but they need to date from the 1st century or before.

Thanks.


Skeptical Skeptic

Anonymous said...

Nick, I am amused by the Freke And Gandy references.

Neither are scholars, of course, and the Zeitgeist movie is a propaganda peice. I am also amused when I see some uninformed atheist trotting that one out!

But you probably knew that.


Skeptical Skeptic


Skeptical Skeptic

Nick said...

Well, I saw on Doctor Wiki's page on a post about Christianity that he's fine with trotting out Richard Carrier on history, though he is not a historian.

But if I put up a link, that's "biased."

Here's the criteria for deciding then if a claim is true or not.

Does it go against Christianity?

Then it's true! It doesn't matter that there's no evidence for it, scholars don't back it, and you can only find it on the internet, darn it, it comes up in Wikipedia and we know that's the authority!

Mr Veale said...

I think that some sceptics are playing "word association" games rather than assessing evidence.
For example, the history and genre of the Book of Mormon does not help us understand or evaluate the information in the Gospels at all.
I'm also fairly sure that High School history lessons about Primary and Secondary sources lie behind the mantras about eyewitnesses.

Graham

Jake Elwood XVI said...

Finding sources for Iamblichus and Porphyry from 1st C will be impossible as they wrote their accounts in the 3rd/4th C.

I have used The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings Which Relate to Pythagoras and Pythagorean Philosophy Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie translator

The reference for Plutarchs can be found at penelope.uchicago.edu/oddnotes/plutarchsymp88.html

I am always trying to find better sources in regard to this. If you have any suggestions that would be appreciated
There is a more modern translation which I have not read
On the Pythagorean Way of Life (Scholars Press Homage Series)
By (author) Iamblichus, Volume editor John Dillon, Volume editor J. Hershbell, By (author) John M Dillon, By (author) Jackson P Hershbell

@Skeptical Skeptic

my resources are quite poor.

I have struggled to find much on the accounts of Pythagoras Fish story and would appreciate any help.

If there are other accounts of the Pythagoras fishy story that are closer to the time of the writings of the Gospel of Luke and Matthew swell as being closer to the account of the miraculous draught of fish story then Dr Logic may have a some substance to his argument.

Doctor Logic said...

Nick,

Sorry. I don't give a darn about bias. I care about the arguments. You prefer to look at the motive and then disregard the argument.

No, you're not interested in arguments. You're looking for ways to confirm your theory. A theory that makes you immortal, special, etc.

Moreover, you've already admitted that your principle for interpreting claims is that you take them at face value, and that the claimant is "innocent until proven guilty". Well, I'm sorry, but that's not an epistemological principle. That is a moral principle or a principle from social contract. You're not interested in getting to the truth, but in upholding a moral principle (and out of context, to boot).

Let's get back to Bayesian reasoning. Remember Bayesian reasoning? The point of this thread?

Bayes Theorem says that when evaluating evidence, you have to consider the probability that the evidence would exist if the theory were false. The evidence with which you are presented is written evidence from alleged witnesses. The theory is something that contradicts all of our experience and all of physics (which is what makes it miraculous).

So, our job as Bayesian reasoners is to evaluate P(E|~T). That means NOT taking the witnesses at face value. This is completely lost on you. You're effectively arguing that we should ignore the possibility that the witnesses are not telling things as they happened.

Well, maybe I can put this in terms you will understand. We are all proven guilty. Psychological experiments demonstrate the probability of everything I have been saying. False memories, cognitive dissonance, frauds, schizophrenia, confabulation, etc. In particular, the more emotional investment a person has in a claim, the more likely they are to be susceptible to human psychological bias. (And bias was that thing you said you didn't care about, remember?)

This means that knowing nothing other than person P made claim X, we can infer that there is some percentage probability that person P is lying or delusional with regard to their claim of X. That probability is probably on the order of 1%, but we can do better if we know how emotionally important X is to P's self-concept.

So, when I told you that I levitated across the room, the dear Reverend Bayes would have you compare the likelihood of me having levitated across the room (1 in 10 billion, say) versus the background likelihood that I was not being truthful (1 in 100). And, if you were rational, you would doubt me, even if you knew nothing about me and my motives. (Of course, the fact that you do know my motives in this case should make you doubt my levitation claim even more.)

Contrary to your central claim that we should give Paul the benefit of the doubt, rational thinking demands that we give him the benefit of the doubt only inasmuch as he makes a mundane claim, or a claim about something to which he is indifferent. Neither of which apply in this case.

Doctor Logic said...

Nick,

(continued)

Also, the model that you propose (implicitly) is that people don't do anything that isn't in their material self-interest. In reality, people do lots of things that are not in their material self-interest. Material self-interest is only valued to the extent that it satisfies an emotional or psychological self-interest. So, a gangbanger who gets a sense of accomplishment, brotherhood, and social status from committing violent crimes can simultaneously satisfy his values while denying his material self-interest (he's likely to die in a gang fight, or end up incarcerated).

The question with respect to the first Christians is "What were their values and self concept?"

You blindly assume that these guys were average Joes who wouldn't do anything to harm their material self-interest or their status in society at large. For example, I commonly see Christian apologists make statements about what views were common in Jewish culture at the time. However, that's like saying that gangbangers could not exist in our modern culture, or that gang culture could not feature prominently in the music mass market.

Let's get back to Paul's psychology.

1) Given his beliefs about Jesus, would he be willing to make material sacrifices?
I think that he would.

2) Given his beliefs about Jesus, would he believe that he was betraying Yahweh?
I don't think he would believe he was betraying Yahweh any more than you do.

3) His writings suggest that he saw himself as an important figure in the religious community. He was very pious, even before he became a Christian. It was important for him to be seen as more pious than others. A conversion to Christian martyr was completely compatible with this psychology.

4) Martyrdom was considered valuable among oppressed Jews in the first century. It's probably not unlike the value placed on martyrdom by Palestinians in the West Bank & Gaza. Not everybody values martyrdom enough to do something about it or to be an activist, but the value exists.

Given these facts, I think it's clear Paul had plenty of bias, and was quite capable of confabulating. First and foremost, Paul knows he is a figure of religious importance, and a man who is extremely pious. The rest he can confabulate.

So, however Paul acquired his beliefs, whether by a real vision or not,he would act the way he did.

Doctor Logic said...

Nick,

(continued)

I think you're operating from a simplistic and idealistic model of human reasoning. You assume that a man objectively collects facts about the world, and then rationally infers the way things are. He then acts according to how his preferences line up with the facts. Indeed, this is how people ought to reason. But it's not the way most people actually do reason. People don't usually infer beliefs. They get their beliefs first, and then rationalize why those beliefs are valid later. And the more emotionally important those beliefs are, the more they will do this.

The point of formal methods, such as science and Bayesian reasoning, is to overcome this tendency. The goal is to collect evidence without the interference of our emotions. That's why we have things like blind or double-blind studies.

The Christian picture is that the disciples of Jesus were average guys with no particularly great commitment to the cause. They saw Jesus return from the dead, and that tipped them, rationally, from level-headed, materially-motivated skeptics into believers willing to die for the cause.

But this just seems to be accepted without question by Christians. What of their prior commitment to martyrdom and to the cause of Jesus? Did they consider their being in the Jesus cult to be safe? They had no prior commitment?

And you pretty much admit that you give them the benefit of the doubt. It means you're not looking for truth. You're looking for ways to justify your existing moral and religious beliefs. To justify your identity, foremost as a Christian.

Well, I am an atheist, and I certainly have an emotional investment in that, but I'm more committed to truth and epistemological validity than to atheism. I used to think that the Jesus myth was compelling, but I've been persuaded through my debates with Christians that the myth was itself a myth.

I'm well aware that some authors have sometimes been a little too hasty to draw parallels between Jesus and other mythical figures. I have been persuaded that within a few years after the death of Jesus, a core of his followers came to believe that he was resurrected.

However, this is still not enough evidence to make the case for Christianity. My arguments in the preceding posts are all about how people can get these beliefs without their story being true.

Moreover, the story does very likely contain myths. Justin Martyr DOES recognize the parallels with other religions. Martyr may be arguing that the other religions were inspired by the OT prophesies, but that makes for a lousy argument. He's already admitting that religions that predate Christianity have very strong parallels.

And the Pythagorean story and the number 153 are too coincidental. Sure, you can find differences, but 153? Seriously? Even if you thought that the fishing story was true, do you really think it impossible that the authors added the number 153 as a flourish?

Doctor Logic said...

Nick,

Wow. You replied faster than I could paste in the rest of my comment. I'll give you time to actually read what I've posted.

Nick said...

Wiki: Also, the model that you propose (implicitly) is that people don't do anything that isn't in their material self-interest. In reality, people do lots of things that are not in their material self-interest.

Reply: Actually, this is what I do hold to as a good Thomist. The only reason anyone does anything is they perceive there is a good to be gained from the action.

Wiki: Material self-interest is only valued to the extent that it satisfies an emotional or psychological self-interest. So, a gangbanger who gets a sense of accomplishment, brotherhood, and social status from committing violent crimes can simultaneously satisfy his values while denying his material self-interest (he's likely to die in a gang fight, or end up incarcerated).

Reply: Correct. In this case, social approval is valued over material goods.

Wiki: The question with respect to the first Christians is "What were their values and self concept?"

Reply: With this, you need to read up on the way the ancients thought. They had no idea of a self-concept. That's a notion of individualism that most of the world doesn't live with today and neither did the ancients.

Wiki: You blindly assume that these guys were average Joes who wouldn't do anything to harm their material self-interest or their status in society at large.

Reply: No. You blindly assume these guys were just like you. The truth is, they were not. Read Jeffers. Read Malina. Read DeSilva. People did not think about themselves first but about the good of the group.

Wiki: For example, I commonly see Christian apologists make statements about what views were common in Jewish culture at the time. However, that's like saying that gangbangers could not exist in our modern culture, or that gang culture could not feature prominently in the music mass market.

Reply: Actually, they could easily because that fits in with our culture just fine of self-interest without regards to society as a whole. The ancients thought about the society first and the individual last. The individual was who he was because of who he identified with and not because of something in him.

Wiki: Let's get back to Paul's psychology.

Reply: In our next post.

Nick said...

Wiki: 1) Given his beliefs about Jesus, would he be willing to make material sacrifices?
I think that he would.

Reply: Evidence for this? Zip. For one thing, we have no record of vast material wealth from Paul. Second, Paul's view of Jesus would have been a man who died under the curse of YHWH as a blasphemer and a traitor to Caesar. To follow Jesus would have meant that Paul was publicly identifying with a figure the world saw as just that.

Wiki: 2) Given his beliefs about Jesus, would he believe that he was betraying Yahweh?
I don't think he would believe he was betraying Yahweh any more than you do.

Reply: I don't believe he was betraying YHWH because I do believe he saw YHWH acting in Jesus by raising him from the dead. Without being convinced of the resurrection, he would have been assured Jesus died under YHWH's curse.

In fact, Paul was doing what he did because he was zealously serving YHWH in his opinion. Why do you think the Jews wanted to stop the Jesus movement? Because they knew what it meant to abandon the covenant. They'd been through that with Babylon already.

The ironic thing is that in stopping the Christian movement, they were abandoning the covenant. In thinking they were serving YHWH, they were fighting against him.

Wiki: 3) His writings suggest that he saw himself as an important figure in the religious community. He was very pious, even before he became a Christian. It was important for him to be seen as more pious than others. A conversion to Christian martyr was completely compatible with this psychology.

Reply: Actually, if he already saw himself as pious, there was no need to switch. He was advancing in ranks in the Sanhedrin and was a student of Gamaliel. Again, how would it be pious to identify yourself with someone under YHWH's curse?

Wiki: 4) Martyrdom was considered valuable among oppressed Jews in the first century. It's probably not unlike the value placed on martyrdom by Palestinians in the West Bank & Gaza. Not everybody values martyrdom enough to do something about it or to be an activist, but the value exists.

Reply: Martyrdom to YHWH. That meant Paul believed YHWH was behind the Jesus movement? Why if their leader who was under God's curse was still in the tomb?

Wiki: Given these facts, I think it's clear Paul had plenty of bias, and was quite capable of confabulating. First and foremost, Paul knows he is a figure of religious importance, and a man who is extremely pious. The rest he can confabulate.

Reply: Shallow reasoning and ignorance of the ancient world can lead people to thinking that 2 Corinthians 11 is a benefit I suppose.

Wiki: So, however Paul acquired his beliefs, whether by a real vision or not,he would act the way he did.

Reply: False. Ancient people viewed personality as static. Hence, there was great suspicion in Acts when Paul was suddenly a Christian.

Really. What reading have you done on the Ancient world? Google doesn't count.

Nick said...

Wiki: I think you're operating from a simplistic and idealistic model of human reasoning. You assume that a man objectively collects facts about the world, and then rationally infers the way things are. He then acts according to how his preferences line up with the facts. Indeed, this is how people ought to reason. But it's not the way most people actually do reason.

Reply: Correct. You're an example of having your mind made up and then looking for the facts. Who cares if scholarship doesn't support the parallels of Mithras and Jesus? They go against Christianity so let's just spout them off everywhere!

Wiki: People don't usually infer beliefs. They get their beliefs first, and then rationalize why those beliefs are valid later. And the more emotionally important those beliefs are, the more they will do this.

Reply: I'm INTJ. Emotion plays no part in what I do. Hence, I've changed my mind in life several times on issues. For someone however who is an emotional thinker themselves, I suppose you would punt to emotion.

Wiki: The point of formal methods, such as science and Bayesian reasoning, is to overcome this tendency. The goal is to collect evidence without the interference of our emotions. That's why we have things like blind or double-blind studies.

Reply: Spoken like a true modern. The same principles followed in medieval reasoning. Before you were allowed in debate to refute your opponent, you had to repeat his argument in your own words to his satisfaction. Also, you speak of a modern concept of science. Science simply means a body of knowledge. Any area where you can have knowledge is a science.

Wiki: The Christian picture is that the disciples of Jesus were average guys with no particularly great commitment to the cause. They saw Jesus return from the dead, and that tipped them, rationally, from level-headed, materially-motivated skeptics into believers willing to die for the cause.

Reply: Um. No. They were just as rational and level-headed afterwards. You're creating a false dichotomy. Had Jesus not returned from the dead, they would have just returned to their lives. They would have nothing to gain by perpetuating a myth of resurrection.

Wiki: But this just seems to be accepted without question by Christians. What of their prior commitment to martyrdom and to the cause of Jesus? Did they consider their being in the Jesus cult to be safe? They had no prior commitment?

Reply: Of course they had a commitment. When their leader was crucified however, they fled. Why? They knew Jesus was under God's curse then and that Rome and the Jews could be looking for them next.

The rest next.

Nick said...

Wiki: And you pretty much admit that you give them the benefit of the doubt. It means you're not looking for truth. You're looking for ways to justify your existing moral and religious beliefs. To justify your identity, foremost as a Christian.

Reply: False. That's simply how you do history. I have enough reason to justify my belief. When I read Plutarch, I take him at his word unless I have reason to believe otherwise. The same with Tacitus or Josephus. If someone brings up reason for doubt, I will examine it.

Wiki: Well, I am an atheist, and I certainly have an emotional investment in that, but I'm more committed to truth and epistemological validity than to atheism. I used to think that the Jesus myth was compelling, but I've been persuaded through my debates with Christians that the myth was itself a myth.

Reply: I would like to know what is meant by Jesus myth. Do you mean by this that the resurrection accounts are myths, or that the idea that a person named Jesus described in the gospels is not a historical figure, i.e., that Jesus never existed such as Humphreys says?

Wiki: I'm well aware that some authors have sometimes been a little too hasty to draw parallels between Jesus and other mythical figures. I have been persuaded that within a few years after the death of Jesus, a core of his followers came to believe that he was resurrected.

Reply: This is the earliest testimony based on 1 Corinthians 15.

Wiki: However, this is still not enough evidence to make the case for Christianity. My arguments in the preceding posts are all about how people can get these beliefs without their story being true.

Reply: And it all hinges on psychology and a modern concept of man rather than an ancient one. Go check the sources I have given.

Wiki: Moreover, the story does very likely contain myths. Justin Martyr DOES recognize the parallels with other religions. Martyr may be arguing that the other religions were inspired by the OT prophesies, but that makes for a lousy argument. He's already admitting that religions that predate Christianity have very strong parallels.

Reply: Correct. I'm not saying that the argument is good that Justin gave. I really don't think the parallels are really good parallels.

Wiki: And the Pythagorean story and the number 153 are too coincidental. Sure, you can find differences, but 153? Seriously? Even if you thought that the fishing story was true, do you really think it impossible that the authors added the number 153 as a flourish?

Reply; Saying it is impossible is not the same as saying it is actual. What are the reasons? I'd be glad to get some commentaries out and research.

However, I notice you have backed down on Mithras and not said anything about resurrection claims elsewhere. Would you like to present another?

And I have also read what you've said. The reality is that it's just what I've seen before a number of times.

Jake Elwood XVI said...

@Dr Logic

I was too hasty in my typing, but the accounts of the pythagorean story that I have looked at and presented do not even mention the number 153. So to say that it is too coincidental because of this number seems more then stretched. Do you have versions of the Pythagorean fish story that mention the number 153?

Now I understand that 153 is proclaimed as a special/extremely important to the Pythagoreans. I am curious though in the works of the Pythagoreans or accounts about Pythagoras as to where it is mentioned.

If your argument for myth absorption comes down to a number, a number that is missing from all the accounts presented for the Pythagoras fish story and only in one of the two accounts of the Jesus fish story, then your case is very weak.

What are your thoughts on the case put forward by NT Wrights in "The resurrection of the son of God" against the myth absorption of the resurrection story?

Mr Veale said...

A good Northern Irish discussion on the Resurrection has just started off here

http://answersingenes.blogspot.com/

under "The Great Resurrection Debate"

All welcome. Well, it's not my blog, but I'm sure you're all welcome!

Graham

Doctor Logic said...

Nick,

However, you say this goes against all experience, but you are arguing in a circle. How do you know that throughout all of history in all the world a miracle has never happened?

It's not circular. I don't have as a premise that miracles never occur.

My premise is the rational principle that past experience is a guide to future experience. If miracles occur frequently, then the world could look very different. For example, we might see history appear like the world of Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter, or any of a trillion radically different worlds in which magic is commonplace. However, if miracles do not occur, then there are far fewer ways the world could look, or ways that history could look. So, even if we accept that miracles occur, we would also have to accept that they occur rarely. The miraculous past is that very rare (one in a trillion) kind of miraculous past that looks exactly like a non-miraculous past.

Second, miracles are sometimes defined as exceptions to physical laws. How do we know physical laws? Because we have absolutely overwhelming statistical evidence that the laws are reliable, and have been pretty reliable throughout recorded history, and overwhelming evidence that they were reliable in prehistory. So, again, miracles are defined in large part by their infrequency.

This means miracles are highly improbable. Even if you thought God would resurrect a man (not a priori probable in the slightest), there are billions of men who have ever lived, and so you need billion-to-one evidence (at least) to say it would be any particular man.

I don't care about bias in the sense that I don't give a darn what position a person comes from in evaluating an argument. I care about the argument itself.

Psychology is the crux of the argument, don't you see? I'm not arguing that your psychology is preventing you from accepting my position. That, indeed, would be a sidetrack from the argument, however valid. The crux of the argument is whether (1) the alleged witnesses would have said and done what they did had their claim been false, and (2) whether the witnesses were independent. That's where the psychology comes in.

First, the witnesses were not independent. That means, you can't just multiply their individual improbability factors together. Second, human psychology is such that there are conditions under which the alleged witnesses would have done what they did even when their claims were false. Those conditions may be improbable, but they are not nearly as improbable as a resurrection followed by a convenient disappearance of the resurrectee.

The idea of "self-concept" would have been nonsensical to the ancient world. Your identity did not come from the self but from the group.

Huh?! While people of that era very likely were unaware of the psychology of self-concept, it's absurd to say they didn't have a self-concept. Self-concept is just how you see yourself. Your self-image. It relates to the ego and superego. You're suggesting that people in the first century had no ego or superego.

If you really think that people of the first century were so different from us that they lacked egos, then I don't think we have enough in common to continue discussion.

Doctor Logic said...

Jake,

I don't think that the Pythagoras tale mentions the number 153, but it does tell a story about the great teacher walking on the shore, calling out to fishermen about a rather specific sized catch of fish (even if the actual number isn't specified).

Beyond this, the number 153 was sacred to the Pythagoreans because it is involved in a ratio of lengths within intersecting circles: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vesica_piscis

265/153 is close to the square root of 3 (the exact solution).

When you draw the intersecting part of the circles, they look like a fish. A fish shape I expect you have seen before in Christian symbols.

So, in the NT we have a story about the great teacher on shore, calling out to fisherman, a story that involves counting fish, and finding a total of 153. 153 is a sacred Pythagorean number also associated with fish (the Vesica Piscis).

Jake Elwood XVI said...

@Dr Logic
You write "I don't think that the Pythagoras tale mentions the number 153".
You are right, but it is not a matter of thinking its a matter of comprehension. The number is not mentioned, in any of the accounts, Plutarch or Iamblichus/Porphyry. Plutarch the earliest account we have does not even mention counting the fish.

The expanded accounts of Pythagoras fish story are only seen in Iamblichus/Porphyry who write in the 3rd and 4th C, well after gospels accounts of Jesus.

The dating of the expanded accounts ultimately works against your claim of Christian absorption. I am not sure where Iamblichus/Porphyry get expanded elements from of guessing and counting fish from, though its obviously not from Plutarch.

It would seem difficult to say that the Iamblichus/Porphyry expanded accounts where older then the gospel ones even though they are written down after. If there is another expanded account of similar or older age then Plutarch's then this would help your claim.

However the evidence for absorption presented, if any absorption has happened only shows that the Iamblichus/Porphyry appear to have absorbed christian stories and traditions.

In regards to the significance for the Pythagoreans of 153 it would help if you did more then just quote a wiki page. There is no mention of where the link with Pythagoras comes into it, I am not saying its not there but it would be helpful if we could read it.

Nick said...

Dr. Wiki:

It's not circular. I don't have as a premise that miracles never occur.

Reply: Then your proof that they have never occurred is?

Wiki: My premise is the rational principle that past experience is a guide to future experience. If miracles occur frequently, then the world could look very different.

Reply: Miracles have never occurred frequently. That's what makes them miracles. They are very rare exceptions to the rule. The reason they're recorded in the Bible often is just that. The Bible records the rare exceptions.

Wiki: For example, we might see history appear like the world of Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter, or any of a trillion radically different worlds in which magic is commonplace.

Reply; In a fantasy setting, magic is not a miracle. It is a force that is used of a different kind to accomplish an effect. A miracle by definition is an act of God.

Wiki: However, if miracles do not occur, then there are far fewer ways the world could look, or ways that history could look. So, even if we accept that miracles occur, we would also have to accept that they occur rarely. The miraculous past is that very rare (one in a trillion) kind of miraculous past that looks exactly like a non-miraculous past.

Reply: My position is that they do occur rarely, but that they occur. That is the key issue. Now are you going to demonstrate a non-miraculous past?

Wiki: Second, miracles are sometimes defined as exceptions to physical laws. How do we know physical laws? Because we have absolutely overwhelming statistical evidence that the laws are reliable, and have been pretty reliable throughout recorded history, and overwhelming evidence that they were reliable in prehistory. So, again, miracles are defined in large part by their infrequency.

Reply: Correct. Miracles are infrequent. That does not mean they never happen. Also, miracles do not break laws of nature. An act by a free-will agent working in the system is not a violation of the system. Gravity is not violated because I catch a ball falling to the Earth.

Wiki: This means miracles are

Nick said...

highly improbable. Even if you thought God would resurrect a man (not a priori probable in the slightest), there are billions of men who have ever lived, and so you need billion-to-one evidence (at least) to say it would be any particular man.

Reply: More Humean nonsense. Each case must be tested by its own strength. If you want, present some of these other resurrections. (You know, the ones like Mithra I find hilarious.) I am only claiming that God raised Jesus from the dead. Could it be there could be special circumstances involving this such as being God's broker on Earth, making atonement, being the Son of God, and having to be vindicated for supposedly dying under YHWH's curse?



Wiki: Psychology is the crux of the argument, don't you see? I'm not arguing that your psychology is preventing you from accepting my position. That, indeed, would be a sidetrack from the argument, however valid. The crux of the argument is whether (1) the alleged witnesses would have said and done what they did had their claim been false, and (2) whether the witnesses were independent. That's where the psychology comes in.

Reply: Somehow, I suspect you think this answers my point. It doesn't. I presented you with a weblink and you said it was biased.

On your own page though, you can freely post up a link by Richard Carrier. That's not biased at all!

Wiki: First, the witnesses were not independent. That means, you can't just multiply their individual improbability factors together.

Reply: False. The appearances are listed in the earliest Christian creed independently. There's Peter, there's James, there's the 500, and there's Paul.

Wiki:Second, human psychology is such that there are conditions under which the alleged witnesses would have done what they did even when their claims were false. Those conditions may be improbable, but they are not nearly as improbable as a resurrection followed by a convenient disappearance of the resurrectee.

Reply: Haven't you learned yet about psychological history? It is extremely difficult to psychoanalyze someone in person who you can dialogue with. It's much harder to do so with history.

Wiki: Huh?! While people of that era very likely were unaware of the psychology of self-concept, it's absurd to say they didn't have a self-concept. Self-concept is just how you see yourself. Your self-image. It relates to the ego and superego. You're suggesting that people in the first century had no ego or superego.

Reply: People in the first century weren't individualists. They were in an agonistic society like most of the world is today. Go read Pilch and Malina some. Look at the Context group of scholars.

Wiki: If you really think that people of the first century were so different from us that they lacked egos, then I don't think we have enough in common to continue discussion.

Reply: Because people in the past had to be exactly like modern people!

What are your references on the way ancient people viewed themselves? Oh that's right! None!

Doctor Logic said...

Jake,

I think you make a good point.

The sequence is something like this:

-Pythagoras lived around 500 BCE.

-Pythagoras and his followers were enamored with numerical ratios because they thought geometric ratios were significant to cosmology.

-Archimedes (~220 BCE) is associated with the Vesica Piscis ratio of 265:153.

-The gospels were written in the mid-late 1st century CE.

-Porphyry and Iamblichus wrote about Pythagoras much later, and they are the modern source for the fish story.

The idea that the story about Pythagoras derives from the Christian story isn't implausible. However, that still leaves the fact that the number 153 was significant and associated with fish before the gospels were written.

The alternative to Christian absorption of the pagan concept is that

1) the fishermen counted all the fish (instead of saying "the nets were full almost to breaking" or some such thing)

2) there really were 153 fish,

3) the gospel author thought this number significant enough to write down, and

4) that it's just a divine coincidence (or a sign from God) that the number 153 is associated with the Vesica Piscis, which later became a Christian symbol.

I think this alternative theory is crazy. It makes much more sense that the 153 was absorbed into the gospel rather than it being a coincidence.

Why is it so important for you that this not have been absorbed from external myths? Isn't it possible that the Resurrection took place, but that other myths were incorporated as evangelists moved back and forth along the shores of the Mediterranean? If your historical evidence for the Resurrection is strong, then the incorporation of other myths in the story isn't that important, is it? I mean, shouldn't we have expected myths to have been incorporated along the way? At least, before the gospels were formally written down?

Doctor Logic said...

Nick,

The appearances are listed in the earliest Christian creed independently. There's Peter, there's James, there's the 500, and there's Paul.

They're not independent. They're collaborators. They SAY they're independent in their own accounts, but that's what you would expect a salesperson to do. That's what the Mormons did, too. You have one source - a group of collaborators.

Let me guess, you watch Fox News, too?

Also, since people of the first century (and before) had no ego, and no self-image, there are no allegories or messages about self-concept in the Bible, right? No one in the Bible has any pride or identity independent of the group? No one sees themselves as different in any significant way or takes pride in their difference? That's why the rabbis of the first century had only the best interests of the community at heart, and none of them saw themselves as individuals or as important? Same with all the false messiahs?

If you don't think that the top rabbis of the time didn't see themselves as important the way that televangelists, politicians or CEO's do today, then you're living in a fantasy world.

Nick said...

Wiki: They're not independent. They're collaborators. They SAY they're independent in their own accounts, but that's what you would expect a salesperson to do. That's what the Mormons did, too. You have one source - a group of collaborators.

Reply: Okay. Give your evidence that these 500 witnesses all got together with Peter and then with James, who was the brother of Jesus and a skeptic, and all decided to make up an account that James and Peter died for.

Wiki: Let me guess, you watch Fox News, too?

Reply: No. I don't watch much TV either. Of course, we all know Fox just HAS to be wrong! They're biased! (Unlike MSNBC, CNN, or any other network.)

Wiki: Also, since people of the first century (and before) had no ego, and no self-image, there are no allegories or messages about self-concept in the Bible, right? No one in the Bible has any pride or identity independent of the group? No one sees themselves as different in any significant way or takes pride in their difference?

Reply: Such a stance would have been seen as a violation of the group view. You were to look for the good of the group before the good of yourself and the identity came from the group. You also were not to seek more honor than that which you were given. Do you know nothing about agonistic societies or the honor/shame context? Oh wait. I already know the answer to that.

Wiki: That's why the rabbis of the first century had only the best interests of the community at heart, and none of them saw themselves as individuals or as important? Same with all the false messiahs?

If you don't think that the top rabbis of the time didn't see themselves as important the way that televangelists, politicians or CEO's do today, then you're living in a fantasy world.

Reply: No. I'm understanding an agonistic society. Unlike you, I've read something on that. The good rabbis would have seen themselves as clients of YHWH and the idea of them living good lives as an example was not to point to their greatness, but the greatness of YHWH. A client living a good life brought glory to the patron.

Jake Elwood XVI said...

@Dr Logic

If your argument comes down to a number, a number that not even in the accounts about Pythagoras, I think your case is very weak.

I do find the case interesting.

I am still curious about the link between 153 and Pythagoras. You have showed me a wiki link to Archimedes. What is the link to Pythagoras?

My issue was always with your linking between the gospel story of the catch of fish and Pythagoras story of fish. This still remains very weak.

Maybe you would do better arguing that just the number was incorporated rather then Pythagorean account.

I do find it curious that the the Jesus fish story set earlier in his ministry does not include a number. Rhetorically, it is curious that the author of John moves it backwards and adds the number 153. That is if we take the usual chronology of the gospel accounts.

Questioning ones motives does not help much and really show there is no room left for valuable discussion. I apologise if I have done this.

To repeat it is a valid question to ask why does the john account have the number 153, but this is a big step in showing that the Pythagorean account is basis for Jesus story.

Jake

Doctor Logic said...

Nick,

Give your evidence that these 500 witnesses all got together with Peter and then with James...

Give your evidence that the 500 witnesses existed. It's hearsay from a biased source.

Again, you don't seem to understand what independence means. If I tell you I have a list of 1000 witnesses who saw me levitate, that doesn't mean you now have 1001 independent sources who saw me levitate. You have, still, just one.

If I had a bunch of committed followers before I levitated, those followers would not be independent and trustworthy witnesses to my levitation. Their standing in society (and in my dojo) depends on their compliance with what I say. Also, if they speak out against me, they speak out against their original character in choosing to follow me. They are not independent witnesses.

There are some claims that cannot be rationally believed only on the basis of eyewitness accounts. And miracles are one example of such claims.

Such a stance would have been seen as a violation of the group view. You were to look for the good of the group before the good of yourself and the identity came from the group.

Utter nonsense! People at the time relied on their families more than people in modern societies with social safety nets, and they were more tribal than people in our own culture. But look to tribal cultures on Earth today, and you'll still find ego, self-concept, greed, pride, dissent and crime. (Tribal cultures are pretty sick anyway.)

Finally, I have no idea why you think that first century society was monolithic. It wasn't. There were at least two major factions, even within Judaism. And there were several other messiah factions, rebel factions, etc. By your reasoning, those factions could not have existed.

Moreover, Middle-Eastern Islamic cultures are even more honor-centric and monolithic than those of the first century, and yet their people have the same psychological systems as everyone else on Earth. They have egos and self-concepts.

Suppose a person in 1st century Jerusalem becomes a disciple of a messianic rabbi. The disciple's family probably thinks he's gone off his rocker, and the disciple pays a price for his associations with the rabbi. After the rabbi is executed, the disciple has two options. He can return to the fold with his tail between his legs, and suffer a great loss of honor, OR he can come to believe that he made the right decision all along, and retain the honor of his compatriots. I fail to see the third option you implicitly propose, i.e., he returns to the fold with his honor intact.

Nick said...

In comes Doctor Wiki once again!

Wiki: Give your evidence that the 500 witnesses existed. It's hearsay from a biased source.

Reply: Actually, no. It's an early Christian creed that is accepted by NT scholarship be it atheist or Christian, liberal or conservative. Paul stating this is treating it as a historical fact and inviting the readers to question the witnesses, something he would not have done had he known them to not exist. That also doesn't say anything about Peter and James and Paul himself. As for biased, that doesn't seem to matter when you post Carrier does it?

Wiki: Again, you don't seem to understand what independence means. If I tell you I have a list of 1000 witnesses who saw me levitate, that doesn't mean you now have 1001 independent sources who saw me levitate. You have, still, just one.

Reply: Duh. That's not my claim. My claim is Peter is separate from James who is seperate from Paul who is separate from the 500. Four claims.

Wiki: If I had a bunch of committed followers before I levitated, those followers would not be independent and trustworthy witnesses to my levitation.

Reply: James was a skeptic prior to the appearance. Paul was an opponent of the church. We know nothing of the stance of the 500. Peter was the only believer for sure who died for his claim willingly.

Wiki: Their standing in society (and in my dojo) depends on their compliance with what I say. Also, if they speak out against me, they speak out against their original character in choosing to follow me. They are not independent witnesses.

Reply: On the contrary, that is a point that hurts your case. To stand with Jesus would be to say you stand with one under YHWH's curse and who was identified as a traitor to Rome. It's basically saying to everyone, Jew and Gentile that you deserve death.

Wiki: There are some claims that cannot be rationally believed only on the basis of eyewitness accounts. And miracles are one example of such claims.

Reply: No reason given for this. Just an assertion. Please. Give me Hume. Be aware I've read him.

More coming

Nick said...

Further nonsense from Doctor Wiki!

Wiki: Utter nonsense!

Reply: Your posts? I agree.

Wiki: People at the time relied on their families more than people in modern societies with social safety nets, and they were more tribal than people in our own culture.

Reply: Correct. You do realize that is an agonistic society? You looked for the good of the group, like the tribe or the family, before your own.

Wiki: But look to tribal cultures on Earth today, and you'll still find ego, self-concept, greed, pride, dissent and crime. (Tribal cultures are pretty sick anyway.)

Reply: And how are people punished? Consider reading some of Plutarch. Ostracism was a big way of punishing people. It was a way of cutting them off from the group that gave them their identity. I'm denying self-concept in that people worked on having a healthy self-esteem. Their view of themselves was based on the view of the one they identified with. Again, read some historical sources. Try Pilch and Malina. Try Jeffers. Try the Context Group.

Wiki: Finally, I have no idea why you think that first century society was monolithic.

Reply: I never said it was monolithic in belief. First-century culture was the same however in the honor/shame system and client/patron model.

Wiki: It wasn't. There were at least two major factions, even within Judaism.

Pharisees and Sadducees were the big ones. Then Zealots, Herodians, and Essenes. You know, my knowledge of these groups doesn't hurt my thesis at all.

Wiki: And there were several other messiah factions, rebel factions, etc. By your reasoning, those factions could not have existed.

Reply: Nope. They existed just fine. Followers would identify themselves with those Messiahs. When the Messiahs died, so did the movements. You might want to understand my position before you argue against it.

Wiki: Moreover, Middle-Eastern Islamic cultures are even more honor-centric and monolithic than those of the first century, and yet their people have the same psychological systems as everyone else on Earth. They have egos and self-concepts.

Reply: As a result of Western living coming in. Hard to avoid in the age of television and internet. Now I've given you some names to read. Where are yours?

Wiki: Suppose a person in 1st century Jerusalem becomes a disciple of a messianic rabbi. The disciple's family probably thinks he's gone off his rocker, and the disciple pays a price for his associations with the rabbi. After the rabbi is executed, the disciple has two options. He can return to the fold with his tail between his legs, and suffer a great loss of honor, OR he can come to believe that he made the right decision all along, and retain the honor of his compatriots.

Reply: Um. No. The latter would not be done in this case. His compatriots would have all been identifying with someone under YHWH's curse, which is something no Jew would do.

Wiki: I fail to see the third option you implicitly propose, i.e., he returns to the fold with his honor intact.

Reply: Only because I never proposed it. I say he stays with the rabbi because he believes the rabbi was raised by God, thereby God giving him vindication of his claims.