Wednesday, December 01, 2010

CARM on Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

78 comments:

Alex Dalton said...

I've seen some good points go back and forth on this issue. I think over-analyzing these skeptical scientistic mantras and whether or not they apply to some phenomena is often pointless though, due to vast differences in presuppositions as mentioned in the CARM article. I think theists should just come up with their own vague and seemingly authoratitive mantras, use them often, and leave the skeptics to spend their time unpacking them philosophically. I vote for:

"Extraordinary events require extraordinary explanations!"

Alex

Blue Devil Knight said...

ARticle says:
The resurrection is supposed to be an event of history and since it claims historical validity, then typical criteria for examining historical claims should be applied.

No. Not all claims about things that happened in history are vanilla historical claim like 'So and so died on this date.'

Claims about evolution require different methods than claims about Caesar. For claims about outlandish things like resurrections I'd need evidence that was ridiculously tight even if it was claimed to happen yesterday. If history can't provide that evidence for the resurrection of Christ, that is not my problem. Standard history is not sufficient to establish his resurrection: this doesn't mean that I should relax my standards.

It's like saying we can only measure strings in physics using infinite-energy detectors, but since we can't make those detectors, we should accept the existence of strings by simply lowering our standards and believing the theoretical arguments (unlike what was done for antiparticles etc).

Note to Victor spending a bit of time at triablogue makes me greatly appreciate the quality of your blog, it is really unique in the blogs that are along the Christian-Atheist axis. So much of the skeptical and Christian stuff amounts to confirmation bias run amok, echo chambers with people stroking one anothers' ideas, overconfident hacks preening in the light of their self-appointed cleverness, but missing the truth, and that the point is truth. Good to have something different to come to and not be disappointed (though if you were to let go of that silly 'liar, lunatic, lord' argument I wouldn't complain).

John W. Loftus said...

Our conceptions of what makes for an extraordinary event has changed in each subsequent century/generation with the advancement of science. It has repeatedly forced believers to change their views on the matter. In the ancient world they knew axe heads don't float, that women were not turned into pillars or salt, or that donkey's can't talk. But to the pre-scientific ancients most every event was in some sense an extraordinary one, from the birth of a child, to the rising of the sun,, the rainfall, to a bountiful crop. So extraordinary events occurred for them almost daily. They couldn't understand how these events could take place within nature's laws. So since they could not explain them they concluded some deity did them. Then one by one these events were explained naturally by science and consequently one by one they were taken out of the realm of the extraordinary and placed into the category of the ordinary course of events.

SIn a world where extraordinary events took place daily a woman turning into a pillar of salt for slighting a deity was technically speaking, on the boards. And while as human beings they might show some sort of skepticism about a donkey that talked all they had was testimony in a world where a person's word was as good as the truth. This testimony was in most cases all that was needed to establish an extraordinary event in a world occupied by deities.

The whole discussion about what makes for an extraordinary event is caused by the advancement of science.

Why can't you just own up the the fact that an extraordinary event is one that cannot be explained by science? And then realizing science is our only tool for knowing whether an extraordinary event took place just admit agnosticism about these events?...or tell us a different method for distinguishing between these sorts of claims coming from people who hold mutually exclusive religious viewpoints? I'm all ears on this.

Alex Dalton said...

wow, second comment deleted. Victor, did I do something wrong?

Russell said...

Alex,

It's been happening to me too. Blame Blogger.

Blue Devil Knight said...

He's not deleting comments there is something wrong with blogger where posts appear and disappear.

Make sure to save your comments on your computer before sending them into blogger oblivion.

Alex Dalton said...

Quick summary of points in deleted post. (I'm beginning to believe someone is hacking this blog).

1. BDK - I agree on this blog; it is great. You really add to that.

2. I don't think any Christian can even sustain the argument that a mere historical case for the resurrection amounts to anything significant.

3. Not sure what "standard historical" argument for the res. you are even referring to as most academic proponents have been philosophers. N.T. Wright and Mike Licona are perhaps the only modern historians to attempt what is *close* to a standard historical argument.

4. Not sure you are in a position to judge the success or failure of even a philosophical-historical argument as a:

a) are you really that familiar with the best academic defenses of the issue? Most are very recent. Licona (being more on the historical end) was just published. Several professional historians who specialize in the period under question believe he makes a very strong case.

b) aren't you a methodological naturalist with respect to history - and therefore you'd have to rule out the theistic option from the start?

5. re: "ridiculous". Depends on background beliefs. Several atheist detractors of the res. argument believe Christians can be justified in accepting it.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Loftus says:
an extraordinary event is one that cannot be explained by science

This doesn't work, it is basically Dembski's explanatory filter replacing 'designed' with 'extraordinary.' Reversal of magnetic fields of earth can't be explained, most would say not very extraordinary.

Not all scientific gaps are extraordinary gaps. Indeed, gaps are the engine of all science, without which no experiments would be needed. In our lab, we can't presently explain why stimulating rat brains, very briefly, causes long-term epilepsy. But nobody would say that such kindling phenomena are extraordinary.

So scientific gaps aren't sufficient for extraordinariness.

Are they necessary? I don't think, so. We can scientifically explain why this billiard ball hitting that billiard ball caused such-and-such change in momenta. But some would say even such mundane things, that can be explained by science, are extraordinary in that they exist at all, as God sustains and explains their very existence at all places and times. If I were a theist, this is what I would say: I wouldn't insult God by using him as metaphysical caulk to fill the gaps in science. The Caulk God just seems peurile to me. (;))

Finally, most of this is moot when it comes to the resurrection case. The resurrection argument isn't about some X we all agree happens, and whether we can explain it or not using science (e.g., lightning). The argument is whether the resurrection happened in the first place. So it seems this focus on scientific gaps and extraordinariness and such doesn't work that well for unique miracle claims. The question is, did it happen? not 'can we explain it?'.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Alex, if you are saying I already have to be a theist/non-naturalist to buy the historical argument for the resurrection, then you are right I will never be convinced.

However, if I were to buy the historical argument for the resurrection, then I'd become a theist.

I am not knowledgable about the history of Christianity, that is true. Perhaps there is an impartial source I am not aware of, written during Christ's time, that supports the Bible's story, that is not part of the propaganda packet written and put together by true believers decades after the event was supposed to happen (i.e., the NT).

At any rate, I take it that it is clear from historians such as Ehrman that narrowly historical scholarship is not sufficient to come down either way on the resurrection. Ya' gotta bring your priors to the table. As you already suggested with your claim against methodological naturalism in history.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I know about as much about the history of Christianity as Christine O'Donnell knows about the constitution.

I say what I think though, what else can I do? That's the best way for me to expose my ignorance so people can teach me. I am always on the lookout for a good argument, which is why I come to this blog, it acts as an antidote to my confirmation bias. My opinions on this matter are flexible and can be changed.

Blue Devil Knight said...

For future reference, in general, the closer the topic is to neuroscience/consciousness/philosophy issues (and biological sciences in general) the more I know what I am talking about.

The more it is history and specifics of Christian theology, the more I am just trying to explore ideas and throw out opinions using my skills of reason (for what that's worth) to see how badly my ideas fare. Often on those typics I'm just trying to learn from those here much more knowledgable (e.g., I learned about annihilationism here, for instance, from my nemesis Shackelman, and this immediately made me much more sympathetic to Christianity).

OK enough narcisissm. I don't mean to give the impression that I know anything about history, or Christianity. I'm a fawn in those areas.

BenYachov said...

>I know about as much about the history of Christianity as Christine O'Donnell knows about the constitution.

They you must have a good understanding indeed!;-)

Cheers!

Sorry guy I couldn't hep make the partisan counter swipe. But it was done in love.

Cheers again.:-)

Alex Dalton said...

BDK: Alex, if you are saying I already have to be a theist/non-naturalist to buy the historical argument for the resurrection, then you are right I will never be convinced.

Alex: I think it would definitely make it easier. :-)

BDK: However, if I were to buy the historical argument for the resurrection, then I'd become a theist.

Alex: Honestly, I'd be really surprised if things could work in that order, as I presume you already think there's very low probability that God exists.

Re: propaganda - I don't think any of the stronger cases rely on blind acceptance of the Gospels. They at least *attempt* to use standard/neutral historical criteria to isolate certain historical "facts", and build the case off of those. The NT documents are propaganda, yes. Propaganda is effective though, and can be based on truth.

I agree that everyone brings their priors, Gospel authors, and especially Bart Ehrman. I have all of Ehrman's NT books and have often heard him speak. I, myself, am totally comfortable with myth, fiction, fable, etc. all throughout the Bible. And honestly, *IMO*, he is the last person you should be looking to for a neutral perspective. His text-critical work aside, I think he brings an extremely ethnocentric fundamentalist hermeneutic to the Bible.

Alex Dalton said...

BDK: I say what I think though, what else can I do?

Alex: Pragmatically, I think that's a fine way to go. I just think from the standpoint of justification, you overstep your bounds when you say, in an *unqualified* manner, "Standard history is not sufficient to establish his resurrection." And that, even though I actually agree that the statement is undeniable. I think I have one simple point that is sufficient to refute any Christian that attempts to say history can do any such thing.

I would not make bold unqualified claims like this about what neurosciece can/can't or has/hasn't established. On the other thread (Spelling Bees) with our new-found friend Brenda, I was expecting a clobbering from you when I dared to even mention Stuart Hameroff and quantum consciousness (hence my disclaimer).

Blue Devil Knight said...

Alex: that's why I added the narcissistic qualifier to what I said above. I can sometimes say what I think without adding the appropriate epistemic operators of 'it seems to me' or 'IMHO' or whatever.

If I had seen the QM-hameroff ref, I would have probably said something :)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Note thought when I say: "Standard history is not sufficient to establish his resurrection" I don't feel like that's much of a stretch. I don't need to know that much history to say that, given that it isn't a purely historical claim, but touches on epistemic concerns that I am more comfortably spouting off about.

Again, unless there is an amazing impartial historical source I am unaware of.

Which there isn't.

:)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Alex you said:
I think I have one simple point that is sufficient to refute any Christian that attempts to say history can do any such thing.

Well, what is it?

Alex Dalton said...

Aahaha...I think I covered my butt on Hameroff.

BDK: I don't need to know that much history to say that, given that it isn't a purely historical claim, but touches on epistemic concerns that I am more comfortably spouting off about.

Alex: Perhaps. I think you should have read at least one of the more historically-oriented academic accounts, but maybe your undisclosed epistemic considerations circumvent the need. I think you should check out Licona's book as he deals with philosophy of history for half of it, and, like I said, it is getting a lot of praise from fairly liberal historians as the best historical case so far.

My point on the resurrection argument is that it seems to be axiomatic within orthodox Christianity that there is some sort of epistemic role for God's Spirit in accepting that Jesus rose from the dead, is Lord, etc. A purely rational, metaphysically neutral account of all the relevant facts is simply not sufficient, according to the sciptures themselves, to establish such belief. If presented in this context, it is not surprising that atheists might be underwhelmed by a historical resurrection argument, and rightly question whether or not the creator of the universe would use an ancient isolated event, riddled with historical difficulties and intricacies, to convince modern man to believe.

Alex Dalton said...

re: "amazing impartial historical source".

How can history ever be impartial? This is one point that Wright brings up in his massive work on the resurrection. The second I decide what to report, however objectively I attempt to do it, I admit a selection bias that is inherently value-laden (e.g. these facts are worth reporting as opposed to the near infinite multitude of surrounding facts). I think the task of doing history is more along the lines of learning to work with wildly impartial sources and construct our own extremely partial view of what happened, and that any demand for an impartial account rules out most ancient and modern history.

John W. Loftus said...

Loftus says:
an extraordinary event is one that cannot be explained by science

BDK said: This doesn't work, it is basically Dembski's explanatory filter replacing 'designed' with 'extraordinary.' Reversal of magnetic fields of earth can't be explained, most would say not very extraordinary.

BDK, you are correct. I caught this after I wrote it before I posted my edited comments on my blog:

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2010/12/extraordinary-claims-hogwash-remix.html

Why can't Christian believers just own up the the fact that [a necessary condition--good point so I added it!] for an extraordinary event is one that cannot be explained within the natural world?

The rest is where you play the devil's advocate, something the devil can do himself.

Walter said...

Claims of events that seem impossible (like liquid water supporting a human's weight or Jesus flying through the air on his way to heaven) require an exceptional amount of evidence before I can consider it to be anything other than the ramblings of ancient, superstitious men.

Oddly enough, I find the ascension even less believable than the resurrection. I rate the ascension of Jesus right up there in whopper territory with Balaam's talking ass and Jonah's three night stay at Seaworld.

Alex Dalton said...

"wildly impartial" should be "partial" in my last post.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Alex said:
A purely rational, metaphysically neutral account of all the relevant facts is simply not sufficient, according to the sciptures themselves, to establish such belief.

What verses?

Licona wrote a trash book with Dembski that is like 10 demerits in my eyes not sure I want to waste my time with anything he has written. I especially don't feel like reading a bunch of philosophy of history.

I want to read "mainstream" historical scholarship. I wouldn't include Avalos, Price in there, and I think Ehrman is close enough for me even if a bit left of the mean (left of the mean in a discipline that is strangely partisan and half filled withi people that believe something that is outlandish that would never survive in any other academic disipline or be taken seriously...just sayin it's the backwater of academics). Any fundamentalist, dembski sucking freak I will not stomach. I wasted too much time on crap like that already, life is too short.

Unfortunately with this topic it is hard to find impartial sources. Especially hard given that the only sources we have from the time period are particularly partial.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Note Licona might be fine, he might not be a dembski sucking freak, but his book sounds ponderous and overspecialized and hyperpartisan. Something involving that kind of intellectual commitment, I'm not going to be wasting it on something like that my time is too short on this earth.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Tim suggested a few sources, that's what I'm going to go with. He said:
BDK, I think you'd get a reasonable sense of some of the better mainstream scholarship regarding the NT by reading Raymond Brown, Martin Hengel, E. P. Sanders, and Gerd Theissen.

Anyone here have a particular suggestion from that bunch of authors?

Blue Devil Knight said...

EP Sanders seems good. I'll start there.

GREV said...

To BDK:

Yes, I would commend your choice in starting with EP Sanders.

Erhman to me always comes off sounding like he still has not gotten over his fundamentalist roots. And I cannot count him as close enough to mainstream. Speaking for myself.

This summary from another man serves as a good list:

I think in Jesus studies there are several good examples: Howard Marshall, Craig Evans, Ben
Witherington, Scot McKnight, and Tom Wright all do very careful work in this field. They know
the sources and the context of the materials they work with. They move through a range of
sources well. Martin Hengel is a good example of a mainstream scholar. Again, his knowledge of
sources is extensive and he is not closed to dealing with the difficult question of divine activity. I
could add to this list people like Richard Bauckham, Raymond Brown and John Meier. J. D. G.
Dunn has a wonderful ability to address a question with clarity and get to the nub of a problem,
asking the right kinds of questions.


I would add for a cultural studies approach – Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes by Kenneth Bailey.

Hope this helps

As an aside Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was learning to read Plato in the Greek at 90 or 92. So never stop reading.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Grev: I agree he seems to be haunted by his fundamentalism which puts me off a bit. Thanks for the other suggestions.

The question isn't not reading, but focusing my reading on stuff that I will not regret, and at this point in life I have a pretty good sense for stuff I will hate based on content or approach, and trust my fundamental reasonableness in making that evaluation. I focus mostly on neuroscience and related issues (I'm writing a ms about consciousness). I take very little time to dabble outside of that.

Unless it's about the Patriots, that is (I'm going to see them play the Jets Monday so have been reading a whole lot of football lately, which is much more important than consciousness and Christ). Go Patriots!

GREV said...

BDK and others:

One writer who I am growing to like more and more is John Polkinghorne. A physicist and Anglican priest. His books are small, expensive when new, but usually worth the read. Keith Ward is another good read. He has an interesting critique of Dawkins.

I am growing more and more interested and Science, Theology, Philosophy and the interactions between the fields. Might do some further studies in this.

JS Allen said...

" I wouldn't insult God by using him as metaphysical caulk to fill the gaps in science. The Caulk God just seems peurile to me."

My thoughts exactly! I'm unable to see how theists do God any favors by banishing him to an ever-shrinking slice of reality.

Alex Dalton said...

BDK - Sanders short book _The Historical Jesus_ is a great read. It is probably one of the best short books on the historical Jesus of our generation in fact. And Sanders is respected/admired by all - liberals, moderates, and conservatives. Truly a major figure. His _Jesus and Judaism_ will probably bore you to death with all the detail and his conclusions there are more controversial. Honestly, Tim's suggestions are proof of collective consciousness and/or psychic ability. You really can't do much better than those four.

A couple things though. Unfortunately you miss alot in just trying to choose the "most impartial" works. The partisan authors also have their luminaries and even the most extreme, that you might disagree with in 90% of their conclusions, can really be very insightful in some areas. Along those lines, I was just reading an essay by Richard Carrier (not a skeptical luminary, IMO though) at lunchtime. Mostly crap, but there was this one paragraph in there that was just brilliant and packed with just the sources I needed.

Alex Dalton said...

BDK - main thing though is this.

Now we're on a different subject. So you're going to read some moderate scholars on the historical Jesus. I think its a worthwhile endeavor.

This won't allow you to speak any more authoritatively (from a historical perspective) on historical arguments for the resurrection of Jesus though. For that, you'd need to read someone who actually makes a historical argument for the resurrection - N.T. Wright or Mike Licona. Wright will bore you to death with 5 million pages on what it meant to be "resurrected" in Judaism. I still recommend Licona's book. LOL - he doesn't use Dembski's filter.

Also - you can't study the historical argument for the resurrection without reading the writings of conservatives (just like you can't find impartial history). They're the only ones who make that argument.

Alex Dalton said...

God-of-the-Gaps (and Caulk God) objections are so silly for so many reasons, IMO. They're really theological objections. And the problem with that is that, theologically, no one is scared of a shrinking realm for God. Theistic arguments, particularly those based on fairly recent scientific data, are booming in our generation(whether or not you think they succeed). You propose a theistic hypothesis, some new data turns up explaining it in a more reasonable manner...so what? God's realm didn't shrink. An argument was just defeated, or rendered less effective. Christian faith doesn't rest on theistic arguments. For the overwhelming majority of Christians, it is grounded in religious experience within a community. Most Christians wouldn't know an argument for God if The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology replaced the Bible. Even the minority of Christian intellectuals who make theistic arguments *usually* ground faith in something else.

Alex Dalton said...

BDK - I'm a bit delirious and going to bed. I will find those scriptures for you tomorrow.

Walter said...

Even the minority of Christian intellectuals who make theistic arguments *usually* ground faith in something else.

That's is what bothers me. Apologists will use every argument in the book to convince me to believe, but they themselves believe for a different reason--usually a subjective personal experience that I do not share. I still say that apologetics is all about assuaging the doubts of the already converted.

Tim said...

BDK,

You write:

Perhaps there is an impartial source I am not aware of, written during Christ's time, that supports the Bible's story, that is not part of the propaganda packet written and put together by true believers decades after the event was supposed to happen (i.e., the NT).

I'm interested in your reasons for giving this description of the NT. Could you explain in what sense you are claiming that the Gospels are propaganda? I'm familiar with Carrier's claim to this effect, and I don't think much of his reasoning; I'm wondering what you might have to say on this point that is independent of his claim.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Tim: they were written to persuade people of the truth of Christianity, by ardent followers, are not impartial historical sources.

Blue Devil Knight said...

And before we enter the 'They are reliable because they knew such-and-such fact about ancient life', we've been over that a lot here. Good propaganda/proselytizing/persuasion pieces would do nothing less.

Propaganda doesn't imply it is false, it just means we should hope there are independent, less partial sources that can collaborate what they are saying. If the only sources we had for David Koresh's miracles were his followers, I would be suspicious even if they knew where Waco Texas was on a map, or that Clinton was President when they lit themselves on fire.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Alex so you are saying that I won't find support for the resurrection if I don't read evangelical historians? That's not very good for their case is it?

Tim said...

BDK,

Thanks for that clarification. It seems to me that the question should be whether, on the basis of the public evidence, we have good reason to believe that what they say is true, at least in outline. Rolling together the terms “propaganda,” “proselytizing,” and “persuasion” does not seem to me to be a helpful way to begin assessing the evidence.

Three points seem pertinent here. First, the term “impartial” is somewhat vague. That the gospel authors believed what they wrote seems plain; that they were in various ways ardent is at least true for Matthew and John, and I am willing to grant it in some innocuous sense for Mark and Luke arguendo; that they intended to persuade any readers not already persuaded is something I am happy to grant, though several of the Gospels seem to have been written primarily for the more exact information of those who already accepted the main outlines of the Christian message. But none of this entails or even seriously raises the probability that they were mistaken about the broad outlines of the major events they report. So it does not seem to me that a lack of impartiality in that sense creates an evidential problem.

Second, we need to calibrate our conception of the level of detail and accuracy included in legends and myths of antiquity. When we read, for example, Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius of Tyana, we find that he makes the most shocking blunders, though it is beyond dispute that Philostratus was trying to present a persuasive tale that would rival the Christian story. (Further examples are available on request.) So submit that your claim that “[g] ood propaganda/proselytizing/persuasion pieces would do nothing less” is either untrue or else rigged by the definition of “good” in a way that undermines your defense against this line of argument.

Third, we can always pine for evidence we don’t have; that doesn’t really address the question of the adequacy of the evidence we do have. The only situation in which the absence of independent corroboration is a serious drawback in the evaluation of a historical claim is when we have good reason to believe that, if the event had actually happened, we would have testimony that it did occur from someone who wasn’t moved by the significance of that fact. And in the case of the resurrection, this is patently absurd: those who believed that Jesus rose again became, immediately and almost by necessity, Christians. So in this case, the absence of that sort of evidence is negligible evidence against the event.

Alex Dalton said...

BDK - you just won't find anyone making the argument. Though there is an exception in Pinchas Lapide. He was a Jewish scholar who actually thought the evidence was convincing (but he still did not accept that Jesus was who Christians believe him to be). Even believing scholars have mostly found it theologically inappropriate to even attempt to argue for the resurrection.

Walter said...

Third, we can always pine for evidence we don’t have

The "work" of the cross is supposed to be the most important event in all of human history, and most sects of Christianity believe that our salvation hinges on whether we believe this story or not. Why would Yahweh/Jesus choose the worse possible means of communicating this momentous deed to all future generations? The story had to be passed by word-of-mouth for decades before quill ever met papyrus. It boggles my mind that the Creator would not have left us with far better evidence than what we have--especially if our eternal fate is predicated on whether we believe this story or not.

Tim said...

BDK,

You write:

But if the evidence we are stuck with isn't sufficient, then that's too bad for Christianity.

Right. So the question is really whether the evidence we have is sufficient. The rest of this -- and in particular the whole question of contemporary non-Christian references to events from the life of Jesus -- is just shadowboxing.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Tim said:

[W]e can always pine for evidence we don’t have; that doesn’t really address the question of the adequacy of the evidence we do have.

But if the evidence we are stuck with isn't sufficient, then that's too bad for Christianity. As I wrote above:
It's like saying we can only measure strings in physics using infinite-energy detectors, but since we can't make those detectors, we should accept the existence of strings by simply lowering our standards and believing the theoretical arguments (unlike what was done for antiparticles etc).

I'm not going to believe in strings just because the best evidence we have is insufficient to show they exist! I'm also not going to believe some some ancient propaganda just because that's the best we've got.

To believe in a resurrection even now, say I'd need video evidence. You aren't allowed to say "Well we can't give you that so you aren't allowed to say that!" No, I'm allowed to have high standards for believing in crazy outlandish stories, and if you can't meet my standards of evidence then too bad for your outlandish claims.

As for the claim that nearly by definition a person would no longer be "impartial" in my sense if they really believed in the resurrection, that is one Victor has used and it is right, with some caveats.

I'm not saying I want an impartial source arguing strongly for the resurrection, but even any independent corroboration of any of the specifics of Jesus' life (outside of claims about state capitals, which are easy to get right). Even some of his miracles, people could believe them and write about them in his day without thinking he is the messiah (e.g., they could think he performed magic tricks or something, and even believe the Saducees plausible explanation for the empty tomb mentioned at the end of Matthew).

To my knowledge, there is nothing of that nature, no independent accounts of Christ from contemporaries.

I would argue that early Christians were very good at persuading (and propaganda), this much is obvious!

This includes not putting a bunch of stupid falsehoods in their important texts. It seems likely that Jesus himself was incredibly charismatic and persuasive, and some of this should have made it through into the writings.

Note this is consistent with it all being true. They were really good at spreading the word, at promoting their cause. This doesn't mean their cause is false. But it does mean I want independent corroboration that would make me think it is more reasonable than the claim that they are mistake that this guy literally came back from the dead.

As I insinuated, though, I am likely a lost cause when it comes to history. I would want much stronger evidence than history can in principle provide (well, stronger than history before the age of recording devices more accurate than the human brain can provide).

That's one thing I'm surprised about with many of the skeptical scholars. Why even bother with these texts unless you first establish what would make you believe today. If it is in principle not possible for the historical texts to provide said evidence, why bother spending so much of your intellectual energy going into them?

I suppose I'm being a little harsh. If the Bible included a coded message to the future, say a solution to the measurement problem in Quantum Mechanics, or something that superstitious goatherds wouldn't have been able to understand, then I might take it more seriously. So I'm open to arguments like that.

But arguments based on getting the state capitals correct don't work for me.

GREV said...

Walter:

Very well put --

The "work" of the cross is supposed to be the most important event in all of human history, and most sects of Christianity believe that our salvation hinges on whether we believe this story or not. Why would Yahweh/Jesus choose the worse possible means of communicating this momentous deed to all future generations? The story had to be passed by word-of-mouth for decades before quill ever met papyrus. It boggles my mind that the Creator would not have left us with far better evidence than what we have--especially if our eternal fate is predicated on whether we believe this story or not.
The work of the Cross is either foolishness or the wisdom of God for those who believe.

You have stated the crux of the matter quite well.

Your understanding of what is at issue exceeds some who have attend church, perhaps many.

Perhaps a new thread beckons from such a summary?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Tim I deleted and revised my previous post, and tried to address your claim here a little more about the evidence we do have.

Alex Dalton said...

Walter:Why would Yahweh/Jesus choose the worse possible means of communicating this momentous deed to all future generations?

Alex: If you mean through just some written records, it has never been the supposition of Christians that He did. In fact, the first Christians did not have written records as you say in your next sentence. The Gospels are one witness, the Spirit another, and, on some views of Christian theology, the Creation is a witness to God's existence, power, etc.

Walter: The story had to be passed by word-of-mouth for decades before quill ever met papyrus.

Alex: Again, on Christian theology, the supposition isn't that God did some stuff and then left it to blindly unravel in oral tradition. The doctrine of divine inspiration supposes that the authors of the Gospels were inspired to write.

Tim said...

BDK,

I think we’re making some progress. You write:

To believe in a resurrection even now, say I'd need video evidence. You aren't allowed to say "Well we can't give you that so you aren't allowed to say that!" No, I'm allowed to have high standards for believing in crazy outlandish stories, and if you can't meet my standards of evidence then too bad for your outlandish claims.

And later on you add:

As I insinuated, though, I am likely a lost cause when it comes to history. I would want much stronger evidence than history can in principle provide (well, stronger than history before the age of recording devices more accurate than the human brain can provide).

Right: I wouldn’t try to beg off because video evidence isn’t available. Instead, I’d contest your claim that video footage is the sort of evidence that a reasonably well-informed 21st century academic without an a priori anti-supernaturalist chip on his shoulder would need in order to be rational in accepting the resurrection. Pretty obviously, we disagree about the force that documentary historical evidence can in principle have. We might want to make this point the focus of a discussion in its own right.

You give this description of the kind of evidence you want:

I'm not saying I want an impartial source arguing strongly for the resurrection, but even any independent corroboration of any of the specifics of Jesus' life (outside of claims about state capitals, which are easy to get right). Even some of his miracles, people could believe them and write about them in his day without thinking he is the messiah (e.g., they could think he performed magic tricks or something, and even believe the Saducees plausible explanation for the empty tomb mentioned at the end of Matthew).

But is it likely that, if Jesus did in fact perform miracles, we would now have such evidence as you here describe? If not, then the absence of such evidence doesn’t much affect the probabilities in the case. Keep in mind how comparatively little literature outside of the New Testament we have from the entire Roman empire for the first century. Most of stuff from this era just didn’t survive. (Data underwriting this statistical claim are available upon request.)

You ask a question regarding present-day skeptical scholars:

That's one thing I'm surprised about with many of the skeptical scholars. Why even bother with these texts unless you first establish what would make you believe today. If it is in principle not possible for the historical texts to provide said evidence, why bother spending so much of your intellectual energy going into them?

I suppose that skeptics can speak for themselves, but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d conjecture that they’re trying to persuade people who come to the issue with less of a bias against the supernatural than they themselves feel. Additionally, I think they’re aware that there may be lines of argument that are independent of the historical evidence, lines of argument that, taken in conjunction with the historical evidence, might make the case even stronger. So they want to hamstring it at the outset by downplaying the historical case.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Tim I think we probably agree on what separates us in terms of what counts as evidence for what, based on your previous comment.

(Though my low priors against miracles and the supernatural is not an a priori bias, but itself based upon evaluating the case for supernatural entities, and overall finding the worldview painted by naturalism more intellectually satisfying and coherent than one where supernatural beings intervene or care about me).

Alex Dalton said...

BDK wrote: "they were written to persuade people of the truth of Christianity".

Right - writing with a purpose like this in mind shouldn't be a problem. Obviously, having such a purpose of persuading others makes it likely that they were convinced of the truth of the events they were recounting. Thus, in *some* sense, they believe they are justified in their beliefs. So they'd probably make an attempt to lay out their case by drawing upon whatever that base of concepts, events, or experiences are that convinced them, rather than tell lies. That doesn't mean their writings are always aimed at "history", in the modern sense of the word of course, but they are aimed at what they thought to be the truth about Jesus nonetheless. A "biased" account can often be a more accurate account. I can probably give you a better sense of who my daughter is, than her teacher at school, even though I spend less time with her on average than her teacher does, and I care about her a whole lot more. Due to our more intimate relationship, I have privileged access to other areas of her character.

There's so much more that is wrong with supposing this kind of authorial intent to be problematic. Think about it; academia is just saturated with writing that is designed to persuade. We usually aim to persuade in any area we feel passionate about. But we feel passionate about it because we take deep interest in the truth of the matter.

Walter said...

Obviously, having such a purpose of persuading others makes it likely that they were convinced of the truth of the events they were recounting.

I have no doubt that "they" believed in the truth of what they were writing. I just don't believe that "they" were actual eyewitnesses to the stories that they crafted. I know many here are convinced that Matthew really wrote the Gospel of Matthew, John wrote the Fourth Gospel, etc., etc. I am fairly convinced that the Gospel stories were written by a later generation of believers and not the original followers of Jesus. I am sure that this later group was convinced that Jesus was the first-fruits of the resurrection, but I am not convinced that they were actual witnesses, nor do I believe that the stories that they crafted were ever meant to be LITERAL history in the same sense that we think of historical documents today.

Alex Dalton said...

Walter: That's is what bothers me. Apologists will use every argument in the book to convince me to believe, but they themselves believe for a different reason--usually a subjective personal experience that I do not share. I still say that apologetics is all about assuaging the doubts of the already converted.

Alex: There's nothing wrong with this in principle, so I'm not sure why it bothers you. Suppose I come to believe that my cat can do backflips, when motivated with a little catnip and some dangling string, on the basis of the testimonial evidence of my daughter. I later decide to give it a go, and now I have the evidence of a demonstration. A friend of mine comes over for dinner, and I decide to show him the feline acrobatics. He comes to believe then based on this demonstration, although I intially believed on testimonial evidence. Given his lack of familiarity with my daughter and potential doubts about her trustworthiness, the demonstration might be more appropriate.

Most Christian apologists will say that God uses rational arguments to break down intellectual and cultural barriers to the faith. Many will also say that there is biblical warrant for the Spirit working in tandem with the presentation of evidence/arguments.

Apologetics also has a huge role in assuaging the doubts of believers; I agree. I don't see anything shameful in that. PZ Myers and Richard Carrier will be doing the same for the Pastafarians at Skepticon 3.

Alex Dalton said...

Walter wrote:
I just don't believe that "they" were actual eyewitnesses to the stories that they crafted.

Alex:
I think we obviously have eyewitness testimony within the Gospels and I think a *fairly* decent case can be made for the traditional attributions, but, in the end, I don't think much hangs on that. And really, I wasn't opening that can of worms. I was just trying to say that "biased" people can have good intentions and even more valuable insight. You'll often get the strongest arguments for a position from someone who thinks its true. I'd have to agree with you on what you said about literal/modern history. For Christians, Jesus is God incarnate. How does Jesus teach? Mainly in non-literal modes of communication - parables, proverbs, eschatological imagery and discourses, and often via hyperbole/overstatement. If God teaches in this way, in the form of a man on earth, why should we expect the Gospels, inspired by the same Spirit, to confine themselves to one method of conveying truth about who Jesus was? Atheists will often recognize the ability of art, poetry, etc. to capture deeper truths about the nature of existence.

Ana said...

When atheists ask for extraordinary evidence, I wonder if they've considered that their request leads to an infinite regression of requests.

Let's think about this. When an atheist asks for extraordinary evidence to an extraordinary claim, then the evidence has to be at least as extraordinary as the claim itself!

And, if the initially proposed evidence (P) is extraordinary, then evidence (P) ITSELF has to meet the conditions of having extraordinary evidence (P2) that validates (P), and so on.

Infinite Regress.

Walter said...

When atheists ask for extraordinary evidence, I wonder if they've considered that their request leads to an infinite regression of requests.

I require an extraordinary amount of evidence to believe an extraordinary claim.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ana that's basically Hume's argument. In practice, reasonable people will be swayed by good evidence. Even if I witnessed a single obvious miracle such as a limb growing back or dead family member coming back (with many other people able to corroborate etc), I would immediately reject naturalism and have to completely rethink my world. I would have to decide what brand of theist to become, basically.

Prophets coming and telling me visions, telling me to write them down and send them to newspapers, and the visions come true and we have lots of independent corroboration of my visions. I'd buy that.

Reasonable people would change in such a case. There'd be a few holdouts, but whatever for them.

Problem is, stuff like that seems to basically never happen. What a coincidence it happened a whole lot when people were superstitious and ascribed agency so promiscuously to the natural world. Makes ya' think...

Blue Devil Knight said...

Plus, the regress just doesn't follow.

I see and talk to my deceased father, who tells me of meeting Jesus in heaven. Yes, amazing evidence for an amazing thing. But I don't feel the need to justify that with extraordinary means: ask my other family members if it is real. Wait a bit to see if I was dreaming. Fairly mundane epistemic cleanup actually.

Ultimately I can imagine the buck stopping with fairly mundane reliable perceptual/cognitive processes, the way it does with everything else.

Ana said...

Walter,

My original comment presumes an interpretation of “extraordinary evidence” that is qualitative.

But an alternative interpretation of “extraordinary evidence” is indeed a quantitative one -- which is the one you stand behind.

I would still maintain that there is a glaring problem: what quantity fulfills the word “extraordinary”? Does this quantity change depending on the nature of the extraordinary claim? Who or what establishes what the required quantity is? It seems to me a very vague, undefined, and unrealistic standard.

Ana said...

BDK,

I was not trying to make the point that in practice a reasonable atheist wouldn’t be swayed to the other side if he witnessed miracles.

"Even if I witnessed a single obvious miracle such as a limb growing back or dead family member coming back (with many other people able to corroborate etc), I would immediately reject naturalism and have to completely rethink my world"

In the example you gave, you and others are the direct witnesses to the event, and the event (because it’s extraordinary) is self-authenticating. Thus the extraordinary event and the extraordinary evidence are simultaneous in such cases.

That is different to the issue of Jesus’ resurrection because none of us are witnesses to the resurrection. Thus, to historically inquire as to whether the extraordinary claim of Jesus’ resurrection is true, we have to examine evidence that is derivative of the event. (Whereas, if we were the disciples themselves, there would be no need inquire into derivatives because we would have directly seen the physically resurrected Jesus -- a self- authenticating phenomenon.)
And the gospels are an examples of derivatives.

So, my initial comment was not addressing the issue of what a reasonable person would *in practice* find as compelling evidence of the extraordinary.

But rather, that the verbal standard that atheists use “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” has no upper limit, so that, if we take it to its logical conclusion, an extraordinary claim will never be confirmed by extraordinary evidence, because each piece of evidence (being itself extraordinary ) has to be confirmed by other extraordinary evidence.

Alex Dalton said...

BDK - How do we judge how superstitious a people are? By how often they claim a miraculous event happened? It seems to beg the question if that's the criteria. Further, miracle claims surface all over the world in modern society. A skeptic might even argue that modern people are more superstitious as they are still making the same claims despite being more familiar with the subjective/objective distinction, modern scientific explanation, widespread reports on the instances of fraud, etc.

As far as ascribing agency, this seems to be more of an adaptive trait of our cognitive architecture (e.g. "hyper-sensitive agency detection" hypothesis), and I doubt it is more common in ancient cultures. I think it is just articulated differently through the prevalent culturally conditioned categories. It is obvious that such agency detection is rampant in our society, though expressed in a more nuanced "scientifically respectable" form (pushed to origin events, the laws of physics, etc.).

Here's a thought...From a naturalistic neuroscientific standpoint, the kind of agency behind human thought and action, that almost every person on earth presumes to be at work in every day activity, including the exchanges we're having on this board, is a kind of supernatural agency.

Alex Dalton said...

Ana wrote: It seems to me a very vague, undefined, and unrealistic standard.

Alex: Well, that's exactly the problem, and exactly the point I think. The skeptic would just save everyone some time if, rather than quote Sagan, they'd just say "Nope, not good enough."

Walter said...

Ana says...I would still maintain that there is a glaring problem: what quantity fulfills the word “extraordinary”?

Let's just say it will take a far greater amount of mundane evidence to convince me of a miracle, than it takes to convince me of some mundane fact. For instance: It does not take much evidence to convince me that a man named Jesus developed a cult following and got himself crucified for ticking off the Romans. It takes far more evidence to convince me that he was the incarnation of God, capable of violating the laws of physics at will.

Ana: Who or what establishes what the required quantity is? It seems to me a very vague, undefined, and unrealistic standard.

I suppose that I am the only judge of what type and quantity of evidence that will convince me of the truth of any particular miracle claim.

Alex Dalton said...

Walter wrote: Let's just say it will take a far greater amount of mundane evidence to convince me of a miracle, than it takes to convince me of some mundane fact.

Alex: I'm divided on this. Firstly, I think your "quantitative" definition of extraordinary is the best way to go. And it seems fairly reasonable to me, on the surface. The problem I think is that miracles will always be rare/anomalous events. Thus they will have fewer witnesses, they aren't the kind of thing that we can recreate conditions for and repeat, predict, etc.

So right from the start, demanding *more* evidence for miracles than for mundane events, pretty much rules out the possibility of having good evidence for a miracle. Perhaps we're raising the bar too high.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Alex: there is no question that the number of phenomena for which supernatural/agent-based explanations is less now. Weather, geology, astronomy, origins of species, ontogeny, reproduction, success of crops (associated with, but not identical to weather), mental illness, etc.. Not sure why you would think people are less superstitious now. No way, you are using a different definition of the term if you think that.

Alex Dalton said...

BDK - Maybe you don't spend much time in religious communities, but people still pray for good rain, success of crops, and healthy children. People also still look up at the stars and see them as evidence of God's handiwork. Many religious astronomers even see God as directly specifying the arrangement of our solar system, so as to bring about the possibility for life on earth. Like I said, same beliefs, different cultural conceptions of how God influences them. Same goes for anomalous experience. The succubus of old is now an alien gynecologist in a spaceship. Now, I do not think any of these beliefs really *are* superstitious. But, as I said, If I'm a skeptic and I call these beliefs superstitious, I should suppose that modern man is more superstitious as he still believes in them, *despite* all of the modern notions that seem to undercut them. To take one example (I could put forth thousands), look at belief in astrology -- scientifically impossible, and publicized as such, yet still believed in by multitudes of people (academics even argue for the validity of astrology). The astrology section of my Barnes & Nobles is 3 x's bigger than the astronomy section.

I realize skeptics don't want to let go of this argument, but it is seldom actually argued. It is just asserted.

Walter said...

Alex writes...So right from the start, demanding *more* evidence for miracles than for mundane events, pretty much rules out the possibility of having good evidence for a miracle. Perhaps we're raising the bar too high.

I have no problem remaining agnostic towards miracle claims. Maybe Jesus really could walk on water? Maybe Balaam's donkey really could talk? Maybe the sun really did stand still for Joshua? Maybe Edgar Cayce and Nostradamus really could see the future? I have my doubts.

Doubt only seems to be a problem for religionists who push orthodox belief as the only means of pleasing the creator of the universe.

Alex Dalton said...

Hi Walter - I really have no problem with you remaining agnostic either. I think the issue though is whether or not slogans like Sagan's actually capture a reasonable evidential standard with regard to supernatural claims, or are just good for bumper stickers. At first, it seems reasonable to demand more evidence for a supernatural event, than a mundane event, as you suppose. But when we unpack it a little, this criteria actually raises the bar impossibly high from the start. It puts the skeptic in the unreasonable position of having to say that, even if Jesus floated on in to a P.Z. Myers rant at Skepticon 3 in a cloud car chauffeured by the ghost of Carl Sagan, and said "Hi folks. I wanted you all to know that I am real so here is your extraordinary evidence!", and Sagan's ghost gave the crowd the thumbs up, we'd still have to withhold belief because we still have a larger quantity of evidence (and even a greater quality) for more mundane events. So your standard doesn't work philosophically, even though you're comfortable with your position psychologically.

Walter said...

Alex,

I believe that it is perfectly reasonable that extraordinary claims carry a heavier evidential burden than mundane claims do.

If I claimed to have black hair, you would probably take me at my word. If I claimed to have real magical powers, you would probably no longer take me at my word, even if you knew me to be a fairly trustworthy person. You would demand a greater amount of evidence for a claim that violates your understanding of reality: that people do not have real magical powers.

The problem with Christian miracles is that they all are reported to have happened ages ago. There is no way to fact-check them today. In fact, I daresay that many rank-and-file Christians sitting in the pews do have doubts about many miracles found in the bible; they are simply afraid to express those doubts for fear of losing eternal rewards or being castigated by their fellow believers.

Mr Veale said...

The issue of "video evidence" etc. has been raised. Here's a whimsical little thought experiment that shows that eyewitness testimony can establish a reasonable degree of belief in an "extraordinary event".

Suppose a group consisting of several investigative journalists, police officers, Martin Amis, Reza Aslan, EJ Hobsbawm, Simon Conway Morris, Richard Fortey, Ben Goldacre, Elton John, James Randi, Tim Haggard, Michael Shermer and Stephen Weinberg are all at one event (maybe they're all at an outdoor arts festival or something..use your imagination.)

After the event they all report that they observed a rock roll a short distance up a hill at that event.

The sceptics are reluctant to report this, as they were unable to explain the event (they could detect no trickery) and we have to do a little digging to discover their testimony. So their testimony pops up in personal journals and diaries, and a few of the record comments to journalists. But every sceptic on the list unequivocally testifies to the event in some way.

The few religious witnesses present could conceive of no religious significance.They, too, lack an explanation - and they're a little worried that this is a hoax at their expense. The stone just unexpectedly rolled up a hill for a few metres, then came to a stop. So a few mention it in a few interviews and such, but they don't make a fuss in public. This includes individuals who we should expect to make a fuss out of the event.
Only the journalists and the police seem to get excited over the event. The papers have some photographic evidence pointing to tracks left in the ground.
Yet every effort to recreate the conditions of the event fails to reproduce the event. That is, geologists and physicists can't explain why this rock would behave this way, and they can't make any other rock behave this way.
(a) the manner in which the testimony is given by each witness reduces the probability of lying
(b) the odds of all these witnesses lying about the same event would be vanishingly low
(c) there is no available naturalistic explanation for the purported event ([i]. journalists, James Randi and Michael Shermer are present to rule out trickery [ii] geologists and other scientists are witnesses [iii]. geologists cannot replicate the results even though they can replicate the conditions.) If you like, change the purported event to make naturalistic explanations more difficult.
(d) the reported physical traces rule out hallucination etc

Mr Veale said...

Again, I'm not claiming that the evidence for the Resurrection is this good...but I think that testimony can establish that an "extraordinary" event took place.

You can add some more details to the thought experiment. Imagine that future historians recover the eyewitness evidence to the event several centuries after its occurrence. The distance in time doesn't seem to reduce their warrant in believing that an extraordinary event took place.

Graham

Walter said...

Hi Graham.

Using your analogy, let's say that the reports of the "misbehaving stone" found by later historians are unsigned, anonymous documents written decades after the purported event, and that there is no substantial evidence pointing towards them having been written by the primary eyewitnesses. Does this not further your skepticism towards these reports.

Mr Veale said...

No one's arguing that the Resurrection occurred because "x" said it did.

In any case, at this stage I'm just trying to establish that testimony and historical evidence could, in principle establish that a 'miracle' occurred. Then we can look at the evidence in the Gospels for the Resurrection. (It won't be on a par with the "misbehaving stone" - I'm not sure what would!)

Is it fair to say that in the case of the "misbehaving stone" the evidence would warrant a belief that a stone rolled up a hill?

Graham

Mr Veale said...

As for the Gospels -

Do they need to have been written by "primary witnesses"? When did that condition make it's way into history?

Does a report have to name witnesses to be reliable?


I'm not arguing - "Peter says he seen a Resurrection, and Peter is trustworthy, so we should believe Peter".
Again, remember what I'm trying to establish. (i) That a group of Jesus' female followers discovered that his tomb was empty. (ii) That some of Jesus' inner circle, and one or two of his opponents, were passionately convinced that they had seen the crucified Jesus physically alive and well. I don't need Mary or Peter's diaries to establish either of those facts. And neither would be extraordinary in the relevant sense.
An empty tomb is not unusual in and of itself. And people see and believe strange things all the time. Given that we can evaluate each pericope in isolation, and thereby deal with your charge of propaganda (which would come in at the stage of redaction) I think that my two facts should be relatively uncontroversial. At this stage I'm not saying some of the inner circle did see a risen Jesus - I'm just saying that they believed they did.

But first things first - does the "misbehaving stone" convince you that, in principle, historians could discover an extraordinary event had occurred?

Graham

Walter said...

But first things first - does the "misbehaving stone" convince you that, in principle, historians could discover an extraordinary event had occurred?

History does relay to us stories of unusual events such as "The Miracle of the Sun" at Fatima.

BTW, I am already familiar with the "Minimal Facts" apologetic, and the "Argument to the Best Explanation" as it is usually applied to the resurrection story.

Alex Dalton said...

I have had about 11 posts deleted from this thread.

Alex Dalton said...

Walter - I keep trying to post my latest response to you, and this evil blog will not allow it, so I am going to catch some sleep. Let me assure you though that my latest thoughts were devastating to your worldview and that, on the basis of them, you should abandon your skepticism and re-embrace Christian theism. :-)

Mr Veale said...

Alex

This explains why my GoogleMail has 11 blank comments by you...

G Veale

Walter said...

Walter - I keep trying to post my latest response to you, and this evil blog will not allow it, so I am going to catch some sleep. Let me assure you though that my latest thoughts were devastating to your worldview and that, on the basis of them, you should abandon your skepticism and re-embrace Christian theism. :-)

Satan is working to keep your inspired responses from reaching the eyes of one of his minions.

Methinks Victor should switch to Disqus, like Loftus did, over at Debunking Christianity.