Friday, January 14, 2011

Tim McGrew replies to Ed Babinski's Critique of his Discussion of Undesigned Coincidences

Tim McGrew has asked me to publish his response to Babinski's rebuttal of a sermon he presented in Keener, La.  I am linking to Babinski's rebuttal, and you can follow a link he provides to the original sermon.

TM: “When the only tool you have is a hammer,” runs an old saying, “everything looks like a nail.” Ed Babinski’s attempt to address the arguments I raised in a recent sermon provides a striking illustration of the proverb. Ed misunderstands (at best) the nature of the argument I was making, inadvertently illustrates my point in trying to deal with six examples I laid out, and goes off on a variety of tangents about the synoptic problem and the nature of the fourth Gospel. There is in all of this a great deal of sound and fury. But does it signify anything?

At the outset, Ed notes alertly that the synoptic problem is not the subject of my sermon. It is, however, one of Ed’s own personal hobby horses, one that he rides with a frequency and frenzy calculated to attract the unfavorable attention of the SPCA. His reaction to an unfamiliar argument is to leap upon his favorite steed and flog it mercilessly in an effort to keep up. It is hardly surprising that the poor beast collapses under this mistreatment.

The thesis of Marcan priority comes in varieties. At the moderate end of the spectrum it consists in the position that our second gospel was the first of the four to be completed, at least in Greek, and that the authors of the first and third gospels had access of some kind to the text of the second before they wrote up their own gospels. Though one can find qualified people who are unconvinced by the arguments brought forward in its favor, this is the position of a majority of contemporary scholars. It says, in itself, nothing about the authorship of any of the gospels, nothing about the credibility of their writers, and nothing about the factuality of the events they report.

On the other end of the spectrum we have what for lack of a better term we may call the immoderate position. Taken in this sense, Marcan priority is not simply a thesis about the chronological order of the Gospels and the direction, in consequence, of any literary dependence among them. It is, rather, a sweeping thesis about the evolution of the Gospels from the most primitive narrative (which is Mark) to the most spectacular (which is whatever other Gospel one is trying to explain away at any given time). All passages in the other three Gospels are categorized as The Same as Mark or Different from Mark. If they are the same, then they must be simply copying Mark; if they are different, they must be embellishing Mark with pious legend or theological fancy. The idea that they might here or there be providing independent testimony to events mentioned in Mark is peremptorily dismissed when it is noticed at all.

Moderation, in this respect, is not one of Ed’s vices. It is painfully obvious even on a cursory reading of his post that his faith is heavily invested in the immoderate version of Marcan priority. He employs it everywhere, to do everything; it is a universal anti-apologetic prescription. One comes away with the impression that his failure to mention its virtues in getting crab grass out of one’s lawn is a mere inadvertence.

Ed does a pretty good job summarizing the first undesigned coincidence that I note:

Tim raised concerning what he called the “undesigned coincidences” in the Gospels is that the Gospel of Matthew mentions Jesus being struck and the guards saying “prophesy, who struck you?” Tim says this makes no sense, striking a person and asking “who struck you,” without adding that Jesus was blindfolded. And then we read in Luke that indeed, Jesus was “blindfolded.” McGrew thinks this constitutes an undesigned coincidence between those two Gospels, possibly even evidence of separate eye witness testimony to the same event.

Just so. And as I point out explicitly, someone can quibble about the level of strength of this bit, taken by itself. Ed is bolder: eschewing mere quibbling, he complains that I am not talking about the synoptic problem:

But McGrew neglects to mention the mainstream explanation that both Matthew and Luke reproduce over 90% of Mark, the earliest Gospel. And Mark mentions, “they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, ‘Prophesy’!” Therefore all that McGrew has demonstrated via his first example is that Matthew and Luke both reproduced a great amount of Mark’s story but in this one case Matthew sloppily forgot to add mention of the “blindfold,” while Luke did include that bit from Mark and added the phrase “...who struck you?”

Here, then, is Babinski’s alternative explanation: Matthew was trying to copy Mark, but he “sloppily” omitted a detail; Luke copied accurately; hence the coincidence. As I said in my talk, one can try to brazen it out by postulating this sort of thing. It is not the way to bet; it is a little too curious that the item Matthew omits is just the piece we need to explain what he retains. But it is possible. This piece of evidence tips the scales a bit in favor of authenticity and (at this point) independence but not, by itself, dramatically so.

Ed, however, wishes to draw another moral: he takes this coincidence as evidence for his favored resolution of the synoptic problem:

So Tim has demonstrated yet another reason to accept that Mark was the earliest Gospel written, followed by Matthew and Luke that built their stories on Mark.

By “built their stories” I take it Ed means “elaborated their stories without any further source of facts.” Well, no. The evidence of the first undesigned coincidence is logically consistent with that view, but it does not sit well with it unless we add the further premises that Matthew was doing nothing but copying Mark and that, in his copying, he was careless enough to omit the relevant detail about the blindfold. And these additional premises have nothing in their favor except the fact that they are necessary to square the data with Ed’s version of Marcan priority.

Here is the second undesigned coincidence, again in Ed’s words:

Tim mentioned the story of sick people whom Matthew says came to Jesus “when it was evening,” without explaining why they waiting till eventing to come to Jesus for healing. But the earlier Gospel, Mark, contains the same story and explains “it was the Sabbath,” and that’s why the sick waited “till evening” to come to Jesus in Matthew’s version.

Right: Mark provides the detail that explains Matthew’s narrative. Ed does not even try to explain this connection, but he does take the opportunity to speak from the heart once again about how this coincidence supports his version of Marcan priority:

Therefore, Matthew assumed Markan priority and the first two examples that McGrew discussed both demonstrate Marcan priority.

Matthew assumed Marcan priority? Come again? Matthew mentions no such thing. This isn’t a response at all. The coincidence exists, and provides evidence that both accounts are truthful and in this respect at least independent, regardless of who wrote first. But for Ed, anything will do as a demonstration of Marcan priority, and it will do as nothing else. Ed offers nothing but chance as an explanation. And chance has less explanatory power here than truth does.

Ed wraps up incongruously:

They demonstrate nothing miraculous.

A careless reader might infer that the point of the argument from undesigned coincidences is to demonstrate the miraculous directly. But of course that is not the point of the argument from undesigned coincidences at all. Its purpose, as I explained quite carefully, is to show that the authors of the gospels know whereof they speak and that they are giving independent testimony to the same actual events.

Having come this far, Ed feels the need to indulge in a bit of psychologizing:

At this point, based on Tim’s first two examples, I began to suspect that Tim got hold of a book so old that its author still assumed MATTHEAN PRIORITY, namely that Matthew was the first Gospel composed, not Mark. But most scholars agree today that Mark was the first Gospel composed, NOT MATTHEW.

I am tempted, perversely, to pretend that he is right. But that would not be fair. Ed has made no secret of where he is coming from, and I will not do so either. So let me say here explicitly what I said on Monday when I gave an expanded talk on this same material at NOBTS: the interesting thing about this argument is that it is completely independent of the ordering of the synoptics. It matters not one whit whether you take the position of Streeter or of Griesbach or of Wenham or of Lindsey and Bivin. The undesigned coincidences provide evidence for the authenticity of these documents and the veracity of their contents no matter who came first.

We move on now to the third example, and again, I’ll give Ed’s summary:

Tim’s third example involved the Gospel story about three apostles going up a mountain and seeing Jesus transformed, glowing, along with great Hebrew prophets. The story has been named the transfiguration, and it’s hard to imagine anyone remaining silent about seeing such a miracle. That’s why Tim said Luke’s ending of the story (“they told no one”) made little sense, and why he claimed that by an “undesigned coincidence,” Mark explained Luke, since Mark’s version of the story ends with, “Jesus charged them that they tell no one [until later].”

Well, yes; that is curious, and it does make better sense if the accounts are both truthful and to some degree independent than if one is copied from the other. But Ed sees here—wait for it—nothing but Marcan priority.

But this is not an undesigned coincidence it’s a third example of Marcan priority in action, since Mark was the earlier Gospel and the others followed Mark, sometimes with little explanation.

This is not an argument: it is a bare unargued assertion that the ordering in time eliminates the undesigned coincidence. It does not. Accepting (as I am happy to accept) that Mark wrote before Luke and that Luke was aware of Mark’s gospel and even had read it, it does not follow that Luke simply copied Mark—indeed, he cannot have copied Mark here, nor Matthew either, as neither of them says what he does, nor does he say what they do. An ordinary reader would take this as some evidence of independence, and the fact that Matthew and Mark explain Luke’s comment would make that evidence stronger. But not Ed. Secure in his developmental hypothesis, he does not need to offer any actual argument; it suffices to say that the others followed Mark “sometimes with little explanation.” How they contrive to make Mark explain them, he does not say.

At this point, Ed’s chronic parallelomania is triggered by what really is a bare coincidence. Having noticed that Not Saying Something is a Theme that Reappears in Mark 16:8, he cannot resist trotting out the idea that Mark 16:8 is a clue that nobody really knew about the resurrection and the empty tomb.

So such amazing miracles might be later legendary accretions, not part of the earliest stories about Jesus. Also in both the case of the transfiguration and the empty tomb tale, only three people are mentioned as having seen either: “Three male apostles” in the case of the transfiguration, and “three women” in the case of the empty tomb. In both cases according to Mark, “no one was told” about such miraculous tales until some time later.

Mmm hmm. And “God” spelled backwards is “dog.” Makes you think. Never mind the fact that many scholars hold that the original ending of Mark is lost; never mind the fact that Mark regularly uses “no one ... but” constructions; never mind the fact that the story makes no sense if ended here; never mind the fact that ephobounto gar is deuced awkward as the ending even for a sentence. Why should little things like that get in the way of the grand metanarrative of legendary development, the glorious pottage for which Ed has sold his birthright?

Ed’s description of the fourth undesigned coincidence is disappointingly weak.

Tim points to the story about “the feeding of the five thousand,” which appears in both Luke and John, and which both agree took place around “Bethsaida.” John, a later Gospel than Luke, added that the apostle “Philip” was from “Bethsaida,” thus adding an apostle’s name and some words from “Philip” to the story in Luke.

But this is misguided. John does not say that the feeding of the five thousand took place in Bethsaida—that is, in fact, the whole point of the undesigned coincidence. Having missed the point, Ed hastens to assure his readers (and perhaps himself) that there is nothing to see here:

There is no mystery in that case, just later legendary accretion. The story of the feeding of the five thousand has been embellished.

Funny, that the “embellishment” just happens to have mentioned Philip, and that this dovetails, quite indirectly, with the description in Luke and a detail from the first chapter of John. Ed wants to say that this is just an example of “amalgamating names and details from earlier Gospels in order to create new stories peculiar only to the Gospel of John.” But that sort of undesigned coincidence is precisely the sort of thing that a hypothesis of legendary accretion, amalgamation,  and embellishment does not explain.

It does not help to point out, as Ed does, that most scholars agree that the fourth gospel was written after the other three. Yes—but what of it? It does not follow that the author of the fourth gospel had no independent sources of information. We look for the evidence of that independence precisely where one story differs from another. If the new material explains or is explained by some detail in the old, that is a mark of authenticity.

The air now grows thick as Ed drags a couple of his favorite red herrings across our path. I have already engaged a bit with some of these; interested readers may consult the discussion here:


Nothing Ed says has the slightest relevance to the evidence of undesigned coincidences. Most of his substantive claims are false.

Eventually, Ed seems to realize that he has wandered far from the original argument. He does not even bother to summarize the fifth undesigned coincidence from my talk, saying simply that

Tim’s fifth example involves the ending of the Gospel of John wherein is found a scene that’s indebted to something in an earlier Gospel, Matthew. No mystery there, not when you consider the chronological order.

But there is a mystery, for John gives us the same scene (13:31-38), but he does not include, in his own telling of it, the detail required to explain what we find in John 21:15. I cannot tell whether Ed misunderstands this point or is simply deaf to its implications.

Ed’s attempt to explain the sixth undesigned coincidence is not very helpful, so at this point I will give it in more or less the words I used in my talk. Luke 23:1-4 reads:

Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”

As it stands, this sequence of events is completely baffling. The Jews make a grave accusation, Pilate questions Jesus on this very point, Jesus admits to the charge—and Pilate promptly declares him to be innocent. Ed wants to cast doubt on this characterization by pointing to the Anchor Bible Commentary, where the Greek idiom is treated as more enigmatic. I find more persuasive the arguments that his answer was understood as affirmative, and many translators apparently agree. But for the sake of the undesigned coincidence, it hardly matters; for Jesus to give even a coy and enigmatic answer in response to a charge this direct and grave would hardly be grounds for declaring him to be innocent.

Ed doesn’t even try to deal with the double undesigned coincidence between this scene and the parallel scene in John 18. Instead, he tries to claim that the real explanation for Luke 23:4 can be found by an appeal to—wait for it—Marcan priority. But does this even make sense? Here is Mark’s account of the trial before Pilate (15:1-5):

Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

Since it is a postulate of Ed’s faith that the roots of the other Gospels must be found in Mark, he feels honor bound to say that this somehow explains the report in Luke that Pilate found Jesus innocent. But how? Ed does not tell us. He notes that Matthew, Luke, and John all have details not found in Mark, but that fact alone provides no traction for the hypothesis of legendary embellishment. Certainly Pilate’s amazement at Jesus’ silence, as recorded in Mark, does not provide nearly as good an explanation either of the fact of Pilate’s saying that he found no guilt in Jesus (if we take Luke’s account to be factual) or of the development of Luke’s story (if we take it to be mere fancy) as John’s account gives.

I also note that Luke supplies a detail missing in John’s account of this same scene, but Ed does not bother to mention it.

It is, I will admit, gratifying to see Ed taking refuge in these sorts of misdirections in an attempt to evade the force of the argument from undesigned coincidences. It suggests that he can find nothing better—that is to say, nothing relevant—to say with respect to the argument itself.

90 comments:

Patrick said...

A good case for the literary independence of the parallel Gospel accounts is presented in the following book:

Eta Linnemann, Is there a Synoptic Problem? Rethinking the Literary Dependence of the First Three Gospels, translated by Robert W. Yarbrough, Grand Rapids 1992.

Such independence is furthermore reinforced by the use of different names for persons or places in parallel Gospel accounts. In Luke 6,16 the apostle Thaddaeus, as mentioned in Matthew 10,3 and Mark 3,18, is called Judas son of James. According to Mark 8,10 after the feeding of the four thousand Jesus went to the region of Dalmanutha, according to Matthew 15,39 to the vicinity of Magadan.

Brute Fact said...

Ring of truth? Really? I suppose for someone indoctrinated into this myth tradition as a child, these stories seem true. Just as all religious devotees think their particular religion is true.

But for those on the outside, these stories have all the characteristics of legend and myth.

John W. Loftus said...

"But for those on the outside, these stories have all the characteristics of legend and myth."

;-)

Tim said...

Brute,

If all you can do is ignore the argument and stick doggedly to your talking points, you aren't a player.

Walter said...

Patrick, surely you are not intimating that the four canonical gospels were written completely independent from one another? That would take more faith for me to believe in than the resurrection of Jesus.

Patrick said...

Whereas with respect to the apostle Thaddaeus Matthew and Mark agree with each other against Luke, the situation is different with respect to the apostle Matthew mentioned in Matthew 9,9. In this case Mark and Luke, who call him Levi (Mark 2,14 and Luke 5,27), agree with each other against Matthew.

Coming back to the apostle Thaddaeus, it is interesting that concerning his name John agrees with Luke (John 14,22).

Patrick said...

Walter,

Eta Linnemann, who was an excellent New Testament scholar, argues for such a point of view.

Brute Fact said...

Hi Tim,

Let me try and explain what I mean.

While relating how one author leaves out the blindfold and the other mentions it, you say something like "Behold the wisdom of God giving us different pieces of the puzzle".

My reaction to that was to guffaw.

So two guys heard a story, later wrote it down, and one left out a detail. That is rather mundane, and tells us nothing about the truth of the original story.

You then say something about how these puzzle pieces fitting together cannot be an accident. Cannot be a coincidence. But who thinks it is an accident? Two authors heard the same story, and later wrote it down. No one thinks these two authors made up the story from whole cloth individually and they just happen to overlap accidentally.

Then you give more examples, including demons being cast out and a voice speaking from a cloud.

To my ears, I cannot tell you how ridiculous this all is. Demons!? Really? Voices from a cloud!? It is 2011 don't you know. And this has the ring of truth to you?

Sorry friend, this is superstitious nonsense, and your feeble argument has the ring of desperation.

Walter said...

Eta Linnemann, who was an excellent New Testament scholar, argues for such a point of view.

I have not read his book, nor am I likely to anytime soon, but it is simply inconceivable to me that the synoptic gospel authors would have written entirely independently from one another yet managed to duplicate material virtually verbatim--even editorial comments are duplicated. Sorry, but Linnemann's view is as "fringe" as that of the Jesus-mythicist crowd.

Tim said...

Brute,

The argument, as I said very clearly, is cumulative. Sure, you can back up on coincidence as your "explanation" for this or that bit. But coincidence doesn't have as much explanatory power vis a vis the evidence mentioned as does the hypothesis that the event occurred.

You may be dead set against the supernatural, so that no evidence would convince you. That's your lookout. But it does not follow from the fact that you are invincibly committed to naturalism that there is no evidence against it or that such evidence as there is should not be persuasive to someone who does not share your presuppositions.

The nature of cumulative reasoning is brought out nicely in this quotation from Bacon's Advancement of Learning 4.6:

[T]he strength of all sciences is, as the strength of the old man’s faggot, in the bond. For the harmony of a science, supporting each part the other, is and ought to be the true and brief confutation and suppression of all the smaller sort of objections. But, on the other side, if you take out every axiom, as the sticks of the faggot, one by one, you may quarrel with them and bend them and break them at your pleasure: so that, as was said of Seneca, Verborum minutiis rerum frangit pondera [A foolish man, that with verbal points and niceties breaks up the mass of matter], so a man may truly say of the schoolmen, Quaestionum minutiis scientiarum frangunt soliditatem [Minute disputations destroy the solidity of science]. For were it not better for a man in fair room to set up one great light, or branching candlestick of lights, than to go about with a small watch-candle into every corner? And such is their method, that rests not so much upon evidence of truth proved by arguments, authorities, similitudes, examples, as upon particular confutations and solutions of every scruple, cavillation, and objection; breeding for the most part one question as fast as it solveth another; even as in the former resemblance, when you carry the light into one corner, you darken the rest.

Brute Fact said...

Tim,

I said nothing about coincidence as an "explanation".

Nor am I dogmatically against the supernatural. Show me a holy man that can regrow amputated limbs by praying to his god, and I would be convinced.

But you are offering nothing like that. Nothing like that at all.

My original comment stands.

From the inside, your apologetic sermon I suppose is intended to reinforce beliefs acquired in childhood that now as adults are seeming a bit suspect. A lot suspect. So you guys creatively manufacture these arguments, to lighten the load of the oppressive cognitive dissonance.

Keep it up, if it gets you through the day.

But realize from the outside, it's just pathetic, and I'm amazed that you are not embarrassed by it.

Tim said...

Brute,

Got arguments?

Brute Fact said...

Tim,

Suppose I visit a primitive tribe. They tell a story about a talking donkey that sees a fair maiden carrying a purple parasol with pink polka dots. They eventually marry. At the wedding, the donkey wears a purple hat with pink polka dots in honor of the day he fell in love.

Twenty years later, I revisit the tribe. A similar story is told, with the purple hat, but the connection to the parasol has dropped out.

This is just like your blindfold story. Just because one story makes more sense in light of the other is not evidence that the story is true.

Your examples, with talking clouds and demons and magic food, fall into the same category as my clearly mythical talking donkey story.

Are some of the things in the gospels true? Probably so. Which parts? I have no idea, and neither do you.

Yet you want me to believe in talking clouds? You really think that has the "ring of truth"?

Then I suppose to you think donkeys can talk.

Tim said...

Brute,

I don't think the donkey example is a particularly good one. But you're missing the point: is the undesigned coincidence evidence for the event, or is it not? That is to say, is it more likely if the event took place than if it did not?

You've staked out a very strong claim: this "tells us nothing about the truth of the original story." But you haven't argued that P(E|~H) >= P(E|H). Instead, you're taking your stand on your conviction about the overall truth of the matter, saying, in effect, "I can make up some poor, ad hoc, purely chance hypothesis for this, and that satisfies me." If that's what you'd like to think, nobody will stop you. But that doesn't come to terms with the evidence, and it doesn't show that the evidence tells us nothing about the original story. It just tells us that the evidence, in your judgment, isn't anywhere nearly sufficient to sway you. The two responses are distinct and should not be conflated.

Patrick said...

Walter,

the question whether or not Matthew and Luke copied from Mark is of minor relevance here. Assuming that that’s how they wrote parts of their gospels one has to conclude that they must have had good reasons to replace names of places and persons they found in Mark, and it might have been because they had additional pieces of information concerning the places or persons. So maybe Matthew replaced “region of Dalmanutha” by “vicinity of Magadan” because, as an eyewitness, he knew more precisely where Jesus had gone.

Brute Fact said...

Tim,

Again, I did not say anything about a "purely chance hypothesis". Before you accused me of claiming these were coincidences.

You can keep saying that is my position, but that does not make it my position.

The Gospels are telling a story. The stories overlap in some places, and make more sense if you fill in details from the other accounts. But all that tells us is that the writers have a common source. But that does not tell us anything about whether any particular detail from the common source is true.

So these anonymous authors are telling stories based off a common source. Was the common source an accurate account of actual events? Who knows? A great deal of the story seems plausible, and a great deal of it seems to be obvious legend and embellishment.

In order for me to believe that Mosses and Elijah materialized on a mountain, and then the creator of the universe spoke from a cloud, it will take a bit more than three writers re-telling a story they each heard from a common source.

So, this type of thing has the "ring of truth" to you.

Sounds like bullshit to me.

Did you hear about Jessica Lynch? Mowing down Iragis with an M16 as she lay gravely injured in the street? Must be true. It was in all the papers. It was even on the internet.

Tim said...

Brute,

So is it evidence -- weak and inadequate evidence, according to you, but still evidence -- or is it not?

That's the question. You said it "tells us nothing about the truth of the original story." [Emphasis added] Do you stand by that, or do you realize now that it's an overstatement?

WAR_ON_ERROR said...

Tim,

You seem to be expecting a contrary theory to be making an argument in exactly the same place as your theory makes its arguments. I don't think that's how it works. All of these "undesigned coincidences" are quite underwhelming in light of the scholarly consensus on Markan priority, so one does not have to put forward a "stronger explanation."

Ben

Tim said...

Ben,

That's a separate discussion. Brute has gone on record saying, in effect, that they are not evidence at all. If he can see that he's wrong, he should back up. Then if anyone is interested we can talk about the wider claim.

I'm underwhelmed by the present critical consensus, which I think is infected at many points with bad methodology. But it wasn't the point or purpose of my talk to discuss those methodological issues.

Walter said...

Patrick says...So maybe Matthew replaced “region of Dalmanutha” by “vicinity of Magadan” because, as an eyewitness, he knew more precisely where Jesus had gone.

Perhaps.

The author of Matthew's gospel may have simply been working from a different set of traditions than "Mark" was. Or "Matthew" may have been a Jew who was more familiar with Palestinian geography, and he used his superior knowledge of the area to correct Mark's account.

Tim said...

Walter,

What would it mean for Matthew to "correct" Mark's account if there was no real event to which his language more precisely conformed?

Brute Fact said...

Tim,

Of course I stand by it.

Just because a bunch of newspapers published similar stories about Jessica Lynch is not evidence that the stories are true. It just tells us that each paper had a bad source. The same bad source.

All your "undesigned coincidences" show is that the gospel writers were working from the same source or sources. It tells us nothing about whether the story is true.

This is so freaking obvious.

I have read different versions of the Robin Hood story. There is some overlap. Is this evidence that the Robin Hood story is true?

No. Not at all.

Tim said...

Okay, Brute, so give us a reason to think that the evidence of undesigned coincidences would be at least as likely if the events did not take place as it would if they did.

If you can't, then you haven't a leg to stand on. And mere overlap is irrelevant -- as I took pains to point out right near the beginning of my talk. So the Robin Hood example is another red herring.

Of course the newspaper reports regarding Lynch were evidence. Is it really your position that there cannot be evidence for any improbable claim that turns out to be false?

Walter said...

What would it mean for Matthew to "correct" Mark's account if there was no real event to which his language more precisely conformed?

I did not mean to give the impression that there was no real events behind the stories. I am quite sure that there was a Jesus traveling around Palestine preaching that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Tim said...

Walter,

Okay -- that makes sense. And that is the sort of thing we're arguing about here: whether there is actually some independent eyewitness testimony behind each of the gospels. I'm comfortable seeing a certain measure of literary dependence as well. But the undesigned coincidences and the sort of evidence Linnemann points out place pretty striking limits on the amount of literary dependence in question.

It doesn't help when people like Robert H. Stein misread Tyson and Longstaff's analysis and make completely unsupportable claims about 97% of Mark being paralleled in Matthew. This number is pretty much useless. When Eta Linnemann uses statistics loosely or naively, everyone is all over her; but her use of statistics is, as Yarbrough points out, no more loose or naive than a lot of what passes for serious scholarship on this front. It's just that, as a rather strident defender of an unpopular position, she attracts more critical attention than the others.

Brute Fact said...

Tim,

I just jumped over my three story house. I was not injured, as I landed in the pool.

Now imagine 10 years from now. You write down my story just as told. Ben writes my story also, but just says "Brut jumped over his three story house, and was uninjured."

Now, Ben's story certainly makes more sense in light off your story. The uninjured part becomes more plausible, once we fill in the part about the pool from your re-telling.

But there is nothing at all about the stories told by you and Ben together that speaks at all to the truth of the original story.

The original story is false.

You and Ben's re-tellings are not "evidence" that my story is true. They are evidence that you were told a a similar story, that's all.

Brute Fact said...

"Of course the newspaper reports regarding Lynch were evidence."

Right. They are evidence that the papers had a common source. They are not evidence that the story is true.

Tim said...

Brute,

You're conflating "the original story was false" with "the coincidence is no evidence for the original story."

Beyond that, the parallel is truly awful. Do you really think that "Matthew had independent information regarding the actual doings of Jesus" is a claim on a par with "Brute jumped over his three-story house"?

Because that's what this argument is all about. Not miracles as such; not the resurrection as such -- those would be reached by further inferences, if at all. This isn't a point you seem to be grasping, and I'm now suspecting that failure to see what the argument is (and isn't) designed to show may lie behind your corny examples.

Brute Fact said...

Tim,

OK. State as plainly and clearly as you can what your argument intends to show. I've listened to your sermon twice, I cannot bear it again. Just a simple sentence should do. Thanks.

Tim said...

Brute,

Here you go:

The undesigned coincidences among the gospels provide a cumulative case that at numerous points the authors of the gospels were faithfully and independently reporting actual events rather than merely copying one another or engaging in mythic elaborations.

Brute Fact said...

Tim,

Thanks, but your argument does not come close to achieving that. It merely achieves this:

The undesigned coincidences among the gospels provide a cumulative case that at numerous points the authors of the gospels were faithfully and independently reporting a common story they were told.

(My examples are corny? Yours had demons and the ghost of Moses. That's cornball on stilts right there.)

Tim said...

Brute,

If the authors were merely reporting a common story they were told, there is no reason to expect the different details of their stories to link together in the way found in some of these undesigned coincidences. Yes, it could happen just by accident: but that supposition does not render the data as likely as does faithful and independent reportage. This is a principle underlying the treatment of testimonial evidence in Anglo-American law, as you can verify by looking at some works on criminal evidence.

When the agreements are oblique (as, for example, in the case of John's casual reference to Philip) and can be traced out only by a careful attention to a chain of data points, it is not plausible to attribute them to premeditation or fraudulent contrivance. When they are very extensive (as they are: I had time to give only six but could have given many more), they cannot be well accounted for as the accidental coincidences of fiction.

Brute Fact said...

Tim,

This is just bizarre.

I have made no mention of accidents or "premeditation or fraudulent contrivance" or "accidental coincidences of fiction".

Jesus died, stories were passed down for decades. Eventually four or more authors decided to write down the version they heard. That is all you have. The "undesigned coincidences" show only that these authors were working from the same source material.

I have no idea why you keep referring to accidents and what not.

Appealing to some principle underlying testimonial evidence in Anglo-American law cuts no ice with me. I'm the first juror rejected, when the lawyers hear I have made a study of the unreliably of eyewitness testimony and the faultiness and malleability of human memory.

Even if your "undesigned coincidences" were somehow evidence that increased the likelihood of the source material being true, that would not overcome the evidence we have from the last 300 years showing us how the universe actually operates. Uneducated ignorant folks write imaginative tales about ghosts and demons and god men.

You have mistaken myth for history. Have a good day.

Tim said...

Brute,

You write:

I have no idea why you keep referring to accidents and what not.

I know -- that's why you are having such a hard time seeing the point.

If, to use your words, "Jesus died, stories were passed down for decades" and "eventually four or more authors decided to write down the version they heard," then the undesigned coincidences among them are accidental.

Try accounting for the undesigned coincidence regarding Jesus' words to Philip in John without assuming that it actually happened, and you have to fall back on coincidence. Either each author is copying from some now lost version of the story and just happens to leave out precisely the elements that dovetail (John doesn't mention that the setting is in Bethsaida; Luke doesn't mention Jesus' speaking to Philip or Philip's home town), or else at least one author is writing creative fiction and somehow stumbles into the undesigned coincidence. That is where accident comes in.

On the other issue, it is interesting to see that you're ranging yourself against longstanding principles of evidence. I would not say that one couldn't be wrong about something like that. But I'd like a little more detail than self-proclaimed expertise regarding witness reliability. I've read some of that literature too, and I have no idea why you would think that it is relevant to the question of whether undesigned coincidences are evidence.

As far as the global issue is concerned, we disagree. But is there something in the fact that you think it's myth whereas I think it's history that should shock me? If so, what? If not, what is the point of your repeating it?

Patrick said...

Brute,

the miraculous accounts in the Gospels don’t seem to be so far-fetched if you take into account the fact that there are well-documented accounts of this sort from more recent times, reported by educated people. Such accounts, happening in 19th century Germany and containing things like demon possession or prayer healings, can be found in the following biography of the Lutheran theologian and pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Blumhardt):

Dieter Ising, Johann Christoph Blumhardt: Life and Work: A New Biography, Translated by Monty Ledford, Eugene 2009.

To get an idea how well documented the events described in this biography are, you may go to the following link, then go to the link “Search inside this book” and have a look at the section “Sources and Literature”.

http://www.amazon.com/Johann-Christoph-Blumhardt-Life-Work/dp/1606085395/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1289074764&sr=1-1

The last mentioned link also contains the first few pages of the biography. However, these do not include the sections containing accounts of miraculous events. In particular this refers to the chapters “The Events Surrounding Gottliebin Dittus” (pp. 162 ff.), “The Awakening Spreads. Healings” (pp. 202 ff.) and “Healings” (pp. 326 ff.).

Brute Fact said...

"Try accounting for the undesigned coincidence regarding Jesus' words to Philip in John without assuming that it actually happened, and you have to fall back on coincidence."

No I don't. Why do I have to repeat this over and over?

Luke and John are working from the same source materials. Big deal. Yawn. This tells us nothing about whether the source materials are about events which actually happened.

Your argument is embarrassingly forlorn. But, this is apologetics after all, where feeble arguments are the norm.

Tim said...

Brute,

So your explanation is (1) to postulate an imaginary fictional source document -- one that nobody we know of ever mentions, and one that has no basis in fact, and then (2) to suppose that both John and Luke had access to this imaginary fictional source document and were simply copying parts of what it said, and then (3) to suppose that the fictional story hangs together so well that pieces of it that Luke copies but John does not explain the bits that John copies but Luke does not.

You think you're not appealing to accident here? And this sort of just-so story is your justification for giving yourself airs as a master of reasoning?

Andrew EC said...

Tim,

Can you make an argument without the sophomoric editorializing? It's hard to evaluate the interplay between you and Ed when every other sentence contains unwanted snide assertions about the supposed weakness of Ed's argument. If it's really that weak, show me -- spare me your self-congratulatory view of your own responses.

Tim said...

Andrew,

I make no apology for saying very clearly what I think of Ed's rambling and sloppy critique, which was, in case you didn't notice, pretty full of snide assertions about the weakness of my arguments. If the infidels are going to dish that out, they had better be prepared to have some of it served back to them. And I did explain precisely why, in each case, Ed is mistaken.

I am sorry, though, that you found it so difficult to follow. So here's the Cliff's notes version.

As far as his critique reveals, Ed has completely misunderstood the structure of the argument from undesigned coincidences. As a result, virtually everything he says is either false or irrelevant. Merely providing a logically possible scenario that does not involve the supposition that the evangelists have independent information about actual events does not do the job.

Formally, I am arguing that the undesigned coincidences provide independent pieces of evidence E1, ..., En in favor of the claim

F: At numerous points the authors of the gospels were faithfully and independently reporting actual events rather than merely copying one another or engaging in mythic elaborations.

My claim is that, for each En,

P(En|F) > P(En|~F)

-- and not just barely greater, but tangibly so, enough that for the weakest of them, for example, a reasonable and well-informed person should judge that

P(En|F)/P(En|~F) > 2

and for the strongest considerably more than that.

The cumulative force of independent pieces of evidence of that sort is considerable.

Does that help?

Walter said...

So your explanation is (1) to postulate an imaginary fictional source document

Does it have to be a document? Can the source material not be a pool of oral traditions?

Tim said...

Walter,

If for "document" you want to substitute "oral sources," the problems will not be lessened; arguably, they will be greater on point (3), since an oral fiction has an even worse chance of hanging together in its details than a written one. But both are pretty awful as explanations.

If we knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the authors of the gospels had no independent access (direct or indirect) to actual events, then we would have to make shift with whatever explanations we could, the best of a bad lot, so to speak.

But it's another thing altogether to shield one's position from the impact of adverse evidence by pretending that the supposition that they did not have independent information regarding real events would lead us to expect the undesigned coincidences as strongly as the supposition that the authors of the gospels were faithfully and independently reporting actual events.

Andrew EC said...

Tim,

You've summarized your initial argument. I appreciate that. However, I don't think you're really interacting with Ed's responses.

Your initial claim is a strong one -- it is that for "the least of these" coincidences, the probability that the gospel writer is recording independent history is at *least* twice as high as it is that he is not.

When Ed shows what you deride as "logically possible scenario[s]," he's exploring the universe of ~F in such a way as to cast doubt on your assertion.

Thus, Ed's hypothesis (call it G1) that "X gospel writer copied Y material from Mark and/or Q" is just one hypothesis in the universe that comprises ~F.

I share Ed's intuition that familiarity with the source material provides an awfully good basis for explaining the failure to copy particular details, resulting in the "undesigned coincidences" you describe.

For example: If I went to summarize the movie Star Wars, one could imagine that I might leave out particular details in my summary *because* of my familiarity with the underlying source material.

I do think it's a fair -- if not particularly persuasive -- criticism to point out that G1 is not quantified for the purposes of Bayesian analysis. The obvious response is that if this particular hypothesis is plausible, then P(En|G1) is nonzero, and ~F includes G1, G2, G3, ... Gn.

Now, if you want to contend that Gn is either a) a very small set of alternative hypotheses and b) that for each one, P(En|Gn) is vanishingly small, that would, in my view, respond to Ed's criticism.

Tim said...

Andrew,

The error here consists in the supposition that in exploring the universe of ~F, we can take any subhypothesis under ~F and pretend that the likelihood we generate with it is equivalent to the likelihood we get with ~F simpliciter. That is what I was saying, though without the formalism, when I wrote:

The evidence of the first undesigned coincidence is logically consistent with that view, but it does not sit well with it unless we add the further premises that Matthew was doing nothing but copying Mark and that, in his copying, he was careless enough to omit the relevant detail about the blindfold. And these additional premises have nothing in their favor except the fact that they are necessary to square the data with Ed’s version of Marcan priority.

In other words, what Ed is giving us is not P(E1|~F) but rather P(E1|~F & X & Y). And I see no reason -- certainly Ed provides none -- to think that P(X & Y|~F) is even tolerably high.

Think about this in connection in particular with the undesigned coincidence regarding Philip, and I think you'll see what I mean. In that case, the problem is particularly stark.

Andrew EC said...

Tim,

I disagree, but let me see if we can do something productive:

In your view, how would one demonstrate P(En|~F)?

Tim said...

Andrew,

I'm not sure what you mean by "demonstrate." I think that ratios, like P(En|F)/P(En|~F), are often epistemically more accessible than terms like P(En|~F) itself. On this, see my BJPS piece from 2003.

Since intuitively the most probable thing to have happened under ~F is nothing, no stories, no traditions, just people moving on with their lives, the space for subhypotheses under ~F that give En a decent conditional probability is going to be pretty small. And since made-up stories do not hang together in the way that real events do, it's going to take some fast talking to make the likelihoods seem to come out in the zone of P(En|F). It's illicit to smuggle in what we know about the evidence in an attempt to jack up the likelihood on behalf of ~F.

Andrew EC said...

I just want to make sure I understand your argument:

1. You claim that P(En|F) is "at least twice" P(En|~F) (reply #39); but

2. Reject (ridicule, in Ed's case, although you have been polite to me) efforts to show what P(En|~F) actually is; and

3. You answered my question as to how one can demonstrate P(En|~F) with your intuitive view of P(~En|~F) (reply #45).

Please let me know if I've misunderstood your replies. (I'm also stunned by the argument that "made up stories do not hang together in the way real events do", but I'm not sure it's worth exploring if your view is that there's no practicable way that I can argue for P(En|~F).

Tim said...

Andrew,

1. Yes.

2. No. Ed has not provided anything that could be an argument for even a relative value of P(En|~F).

3. As I said, I think it's easier to get a rough fix on a likelihood ratio than to get an absolute value for either term in the ratio. The fact that each En presupposes that we have stories at all, and that ~F doesn't give us any strong reason to believe that there would be stories, much less the various En, is a bad sign. F doesn't have that problem. That isn't a calculation -- like just about everyone else, I don't think we have an algorithm for calculating exact values in these kinds of applications -- but it is a clue to the direction the ratio is going to tilt.

As for the bit that stuns you, let me try to spell this out, since it seems to me that it should not really be controversial.

Every real event has its place in the vast web of circumstances that precede and follow it. It is connected with countless other real events, proximate or remote, that contribute to it as causes or flow from it as effects. In all of this welter of complexity there is not only logical consistency but also harmony, as the full set of circumstances (which, of course, we sometimes do not possess) provides the explanation for many facts that seem puzzling without it.

Modern, novelistic, realistic fiction strives for this kind of verisimilitude. Yet modern fiction is not always even internally consistent; and when we move from the modern novel to oral mythmaking, and from that to independent retellings of the original myth, we have no reasonable expectation that the details of different versions or adaptations of the original myth will provide extensive explanations of each other, much less that they will interlock with what we know of the actual history of the times.

The gospels exhibit both phenomena, extensively: they interlock both with each other and, in the most incidental and unpremeditated fashion, with the history of the first century as we know it from outside of the New Testament. The undesigned coincidences are the internal interlockings; they are all the more significant because we know that the gospels were authored by different people, and undesignedness is the one sort of coincidence that is poorly explained by copying-with-inadvertence or copying-with-fictional-elaboration.

Patrick said...

There are two other scholarly works that support the view that there is no literary dependence between the Gospels.

Bo Reicke, The Roots of the Synoptic Gospels, Philadelphia 1986.

John Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem, London 1991.

A good overview of the arguments put forward in favour of this view, written in German, is available in the following link:

http://www.traditionshypothese.de/texte/finnern.html

In chapter 6 the author writes:

“Der hohe Anteil an gemeinsamen Perikopen, die ähnliche Reihenfolge und die Wortlautübereinstimmungen können auf eine durch Wiederholung gefestigte mündliche Tradition zurückgeführt werden.”

Translation:

“The high number of common accounts [among the Synoptic Gospels], the similar order and the agreement of the wording can be put down to oral tradition fixed by repetition.”

Walter said...

Patrick,

There is simply no way that the authors of the canonical gospels were writing completely unaware of each others work.

One example taken from bible.org:

“One of the most persuasive arguments for the literary interdependence of the synoptic Gospels is the presence of identical parenthetical material, for it is highly unlikely that two or three writers would by coincidence insert into their accounts exactly the same editorial comment at exactly the same place.”5 One of the most striking of these demonstrates, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the use of written documents: “When you see the desolating sacrilege . . . (let the reader understand) . . . ” (Matt 24:15/Mark 13:14). It is obvious that this editorial comment could not be due to a common oral heritage, for it does not say, “let the hearer understand.” Cf. also Matt 9:6/Mark 2:10/Luke 5:24; Matt 27:18/Mark 15:10.

Another example would the intercalation of Peter's denial of Jesus sandwiched in the middle of Jesus' trial scene. This same literary technique is used by Mark and John in their respective gospels.

Tim said...

Walter,

I think that the Matthew 24:15/Mark 13:14 comment is the best piece of evidence that there is some measure of literary dependence; coincidentally, I mentioned it in conversation to someone just this morning. (Peter's denials, not so much.) But of course that leaves open the question of how much independence there may also be.

Walter said...

Peter's denials, not so much

It boggles my mind to think that the author of the fourth gospel just happened to utilize the same literary technique as Mark did. Intercalations are a great way to increase dramatic tension in a story. Both the synoptics and fourth gospel cut away from Jesus trial to tell the story of Peter's denial, then return to the trial. (with an additional intercalation added in the fourth gospel where Peter's denial is split up with a shift back to Jesus' trial again)

This seems to me to make a fairly strong case that even the fourth gospel was not written apart from any influence from the other gospels.

Walter said...

Tim,

I hope you do not mind that I quoted some of your comments in this thread and repeated them on Neil Godfrey's blog. The "undesigned coincidences" is an interesting argument that I had not heard of before Babinski's post, and I am curious as to how a mythicist will respond.

Tim said...

Walter,

No problem. But please do not expect me to interact with the mythicists. I'm busy (semester starting), and there are limits to the ways I'm willing to use my time. Mythicism is just too far out to be worth it.

Tim said...

Walter,

Influence is one thing; literary dependence is another. Every scholar I know thinks that John was familiar with the synoptics. But the influence seems to have shown itself chiefly in John's avoidance of mere repetition.

On the other hand, if Peter really did deny Jesus in the middle of the trial by night, that would provide a good explanation of why it's placed there in all four gospels.

Walter said...

No problem. But please do not expect me to interact with the mythicists.

I wouldn't dream of it :)

Patrick said...

Walter,

in her book “Biblical Criticism on Trial: How Scientific Is Scientific Theology?” Eta Linnemann argues that “the reader” in Matthew 24,15 is not the reader of the Gospel, but the reader of Daniel 11,31, the passage from which the expression “the abomination that causes desolation” was taken.

In the same chapter, which is about Robert H. Stein’s arguments in favour of a literary dependence of the Synoptic Gospels, she also deals with the view that Matthew 9,6 and 27,18 and the respective parallels support literary dependence.

Walter said...

Patrick,

I guess we will simply have to agree to disagree because I feel that the evidence is simply too strong in favor of literary interdependence, not independence.

Andrew EC said...

Tim,

I can't tell if you've genuinely misunderstood the argument or if you've deliberately set up a rigged game. So I'll try it one more time:

~F is the entire universe of possibilities that comprises anything that's not "independent, trustworthy eyewitness accounts." That includes:

G1: Copying from Mark and Q
G2: Copying from Mark without Q
G3: Some kind of fragmentary hypothesis
G4: Independent, untrustworthy eyewitness accounts
G5: Independent noneyewitness accounts
G6: Very late fabrications
G7... ad infinitum

Pr(En|Gn) may indeed be low for each and every one of those. That's an argument that you're free to make. So far, you've made one objection as to G1 (that I'll discuss below).

But before we hit the specific arguments about G1, there's a conceptual problem. You've dismissed Ed's attempt to argue from G1 as inappropriate, and that's just not so.

Your apparent objection is that Ed's G1 is not a subhypothesis of ~F but ~F + X + Y. That's not true, as shown above. Now, it may be that G1 requires X and Y (and X and Y are unlikely), thus making G1 of relatively low probability. You're free to argue that, of course, but what you may not do is simply handwave it away as invalid.

Finally, the specific argument. You've claimed the truth "hangs together" better than fiction; and thus, if if the gospel writers were not independent, trustworthy eyewitness recording actual history, the most likely outcome would have been "nothing, no stories, no traditions, just people moving on with their lives."

Your justification for this argument is intuition. Thus, I'll point out that intuitively, it strikes me that the opposite is true.

Specifically, real-life people behave in ways that are capricious and unpredictable. An actual accounting of a real person's life often "hangs together" considerably less well than a well-crafted story.

Proof? Think about the literary influences on our language and our ways of thinking. Almost all of these influences come from fiction, rather than biography. Historians credit Shakespeare with coining thousands of words and hundreds of phrases that are in common use even today. If I say that you are "Achilles sulking in your tent," you know exactly what that means. And so on.

The life of Achilles "hangs together" better than the life of, say, Lyndon B. Johnson, because Achilles is a fictional character written to "hang together." The real-life LBJ is harder to understand, even though he has the same sorts of ambitions that the fictional Achilles has.

I don't expect that to persuade you; it doesn't have to. I'm just demonstrating that your intuitive argument in opposition to G1 is no more probable than an intuitive argument in support of it.

But again, I don't want to lose sight of the overall point: these discussions back and forth fit perfectly within the framework Ed developed, and so I think you ought to take his arguments more seriously.

Andrew EC said...

Tim,

I can't tell if you've genuinely misunderstood the argument or if you've deliberately set up a rigged game. So I'll try it one more time:

~F is the entire universe of possibilities that comprises anything that's not "independent, trustworthy eyewitness accounts." That includes:

G1: Copying from Mark and Q
G2: Copying from Mark without Q
G3: Some kind of fragmentary hypothesis
G4: Independent, untrustworthy eyewitness accounts
G5: Independent noneyewitness accounts
G6: Very late fabrications
G7... ad infinitum

Pr(En|Gn) may indeed be low for each and every one of those. That's an argument that you're free to make. So far, you've made one objection as to G1 (that I'll discuss below).

But before we hit the specific arguments about G1, there's a conceptual problem. You've dismissed Ed's attempt to argue from G1 as inappropriate, and that's just not so.

Your apparent objection is that Ed's G1 is not a subhypothesis of ~F but ~F + X + Y. That's not true, as shown above. Now, it may be that G1 requires X and Y (and X and Y are unlikely), thus making G1 of relatively low probability. You're free to argue that, of course, but what you may not do is simply handwave it away as invalid.

Finally, the specific argument. You've claimed the truth "hangs together" better than fiction; and thus, if if the gospel writers were not independent, trustworthy eyewitness recording actual history, the most likely outcome would have been "nothing, no stories, no traditions, just people moving on with their lives."

Your justification for this argument is intuition. Thus, I'll point out that intuitively, it strikes me that the opposite is true.

Specifically, real-life people behave in ways that are capricious and unpredictable. An actual accounting of a real person's life often "hangs together" considerably less well than a well-crafted story.

Proof? Think about the literary influences on our language and our ways of thinking. Almost all of these influences come from fiction, rather than biography. Historians credit Shakespeare with coining thousands of words and hundreds of phrases that are in common use even today. If I say that you are "Achilles sulking in your tent," you know exactly what that means. And so on.

The life of Achilles "hangs together" better than the life of, say, Lyndon B. Johnson, because Achilles is a fictional character written to "hang together." The real-life LBJ is harder to understand, even though he has the same sorts of ambitions that the fictional Achilles has.

I don't expect that to persuade you; it doesn't have to. I'm just demonstrating that your intuitive argument in opposition to G1 is no more probable than an intuitive argument in support of it.

But again, I don't want to lose sight of the overall point: these discussions back and forth fit perfectly within the framework Ed developed, and so I think you ought to take his arguments more seriously.

Andrew EC said...

Tim,

I can't tell if you've genuinely misunderstood the argument or if you've deliberately set up a rigged game. So I'll try it one more time:

~F is the entire universe of possibilities that comprises anything that's not "independent, trustworthy eyewitness accounts." That includes:

G1: Copying from Mark and Q
G2: Copying from Mark without Q
G3: Some kind of fragmentary hypothesis
G4: Independent, untrustworthy eyewitness accounts
G5: Independent noneyewitness accounts
G6: Very late fabrications
G7... ad infinitum

Pr(En|Gn) may indeed be low for each and every one of those. That's an argument that you're free to make. So far, you've made one objection as to G1 (that I'll discuss below).

But before we hit the specific arguments about G1, there's a conceptual problem. You've dismissed Ed's attempt to argue from G1 as inappropriate, and that's just not so.

Your apparent objection is that Ed's G1 is not a subhypothesis of ~F but ~F + X + Y. That's not true, as shown above. Now, it may be that G1 requires X and Y (and X and Y are unlikely), thus making G1 of relatively low probability. You're free to argue that, of course, but what you may not do is simply handwave it away as invalid.

Finally, the specific argument. You've claimed the truth "hangs together" better than fiction; and thus, if if the gospel writers were not independent, trustworthy eyewitness recording actual history, the most likely outcome would have been "nothing, no stories, no traditions, just people moving on with their lives."

Your justification for this argument is intuition. Thus, I'll point out that intuitively, it strikes me that the opposite is true.

Specifically, real-life people behave in ways that are capricious and unpredictable. An actual accounting of a real person's life often "hangs together" considerably less well than a well-crafted story.

Proof? Think about the literary influences on our language and our ways of thinking. Almost all of these influences come from fiction, rather than biography. Historians credit Shakespeare with coining thousands of words and hundreds of phrases that are in common use even today. If I say that you are "Achilles sulking in your tent," you know exactly what that means. And so on.

The life of Achilles "hangs together" better than the life of, say, Lyndon B. Johnson, because Achilles is a fictional character written to "hang together." The real-life LBJ is harder to understand, even though he has the same sorts of ambitions that the fictional Achilles has.

I don't expect that to persuade you; it doesn't have to. I'm just demonstrating that your intuitive argument in opposition to G1 is no more probable than an intuitive argument in support of it.

But again, I don't want to lose sight of the overall point: these discussions back and forth fit perfectly within the framework Ed developed, and so I think you ought to take his arguments more seriously.

Andrew EC said...

Tim,

I can't tell if you've genuinely misunderstood the argument or if you've deliberately set up a rigged game. So I'll try it one more time:

~F is the entire universe of possibilities that comprises anything that's not "independent, trustworthy eyewitness accounts." That includes:

G1: Copying from Mark and Q
G2: Copying from Mark without Q
G3: Some kind of fragmentary hypothesis
G4: Independent, untrustworthy eyewitness accounts
G5: Independent noneyewitness accounts
G6: Very late fabrications
G7... ad infinitum

Pr(En|Gn) may indeed be low for each and every one of those. That's an argument that you're free to make. So far, you've made one objection as to G1 (that I'll discuss below).

But before we hit the specific arguments about G1, there's a conceptual problem. You've dismissed Ed's attempt to argue from G1 as inappropriate, and that's just not so.

Your apparent objection is that Ed's G1 is not a subhypothesis of ~F but ~F + X + Y. That's not true, as shown above. Now, it may be that G1 requires X and Y (and X and Y are unlikely), thus making G1 of relatively low probability. You're free to argue that, of course, but what you may not do is simply handwave it away as invalid.

Finally, the specific argument. You've claimed the truth "hangs together" better than fiction; and thus, if if the gospel writers were not independent, trustworthy eyewitness recording actual history, the most likely outcome would have been "nothing, no stories, no traditions, just people moving on with their lives."

Your justification for this argument is intuition. Thus, I'll point out that intuitively, it strikes me that the opposite is true.

Specifically, real-life people behave in ways that are capricious and unpredictable. An actual accounting of a real person's life often "hangs together" considerably less well than a well-crafted story.

Proof? Think about the literary influences on our language and our ways of thinking. Almost all of these influences come from fiction, rather than biography. Historians credit Shakespeare with coining thousands of words and hundreds of phrases that are in common use even today. If I say that you are "Achilles sulking in your tent," you know exactly what that means. And so on.

The life of Achilles "hangs together" better than the life of, say, Lyndon B. Johnson, because Achilles is a fictional character written to "hang together." The real-life LBJ is harder to understand, even though he has the same sorts of ambitions that the fictional Achilles has.

I don't expect that to persuade you; it doesn't have to. I'm just demonstrating that your intuitive argument in opposition to G1 is no more probable than an intuitive argument in support of it.

But again, I don't want to lose sight of the overall point: these discussions back and forth fit perfectly within the framework Ed developed, and so I think you ought to take his arguments more seriously.

Andrew EC said...

Tim,

I can't tell if you've genuinely misunderstood the argument or if you've deliberately set up a rigged game. So I'll try it one more time:

~F is the entire universe of possibilities that comprises anything that's not "independent, trustworthy eyewitness accounts." That includes:

G1: Copying from Mark and Q
G2: Copying from Mark without Q
G3: Some kind of fragmentary hypothesis
G4: Independent, untrustworthy eyewitness accounts
G5: Independent noneyewitness accounts
G6: Very late fabrications
G7... ad infinitum

Pr(En|Gn) may indeed be low for each and every one of those. That's an argument that you're free to make. So far, you've made one objection as to G1 (that I'll discuss below).

But before we hit the specific arguments about G1, there's a conceptual problem. You've dismissed Ed's attempt to argue from G1 as inappropriate, and that's just not so.

Your apparent objection is that Ed's G1 is not a subhypothesis of ~F but ~F + X + Y. That's not true, as shown above. Now, it may be that G1 requires X and Y (and X and Y are unlikely), thus making G1 of relatively low probability. You're free to argue that, of course, but what you may not do is simply handwave it away as invalid.

I'll address your specific argument in the next post.

Andrew EC said...

Tim,

Finally, the specific argument. You've claimed the truth "hangs together" better than fiction; and thus, if if the gospel writers were not independent, trustworthy eyewitness recording actual history, the most likely outcome would have been "nothing, no stories, no traditions, just people moving on with their lives."

Your justification for this argument is intuition. Thus, I'll point out that intuitively, it strikes me that the opposite is true.

Specifically, real-life people behave in ways that are capricious and unpredictable. An actual accounting of a real person's life often "hangs together" considerably less well than a well-crafted story.

Proof? Think about the literary influences on our language and our ways of thinking. Almost all of these influences come from fiction, rather than biography. Historians credit Shakespeare with coining thousands of words and hundreds of phrases that are in common use even today. If I say that you are "Achilles sulking in your tent," you know exactly what that means. And so on.

The life of Achilles "hangs together" better than the life of, say, Lyndon B. Johnson, because Achilles is a fictional character written to "hang together." The real-life LBJ is harder to understand, even though he has the same sorts of ambitions that the fictional Achilles has.

I don't expect that to persuade you; it doesn't have to. I'm just demonstrating that your intuitive argument in opposition to G1 is no more probable than an intuitive argument in support of it.

But again, I don't want to lose sight of the overall point: these discussions back and forth fit perfectly within the framework Ed developed, and so I think you ought to take his arguments more seriously.

Tim said...

Andrew,

I can't tell if you've genuinely misunderstood the argument or if you've deliberately set up a rigged game. So I'll try it one more time:

None of the above.

~F is the entire universe of possibilities that comprises anything that's not "independent, trustworthy eyewitness accounts." That includes:

G1: Copying from Mark and Q
G2: Copying from Mark without Q
G3: Some kind of fragmentary hypothesis
G4: Independent, untrustworthy eyewitness accounts
G5: Independent noneyewitness accounts
G6: Very late fabrications
G7... ad infinitum


Fine so far, so long as you realize that some of these aren’t really very well defined (e.g. G3 is vague and G7 comprises a host of alternatives).

Pr(En|Gn) may indeed be low for each and every one of those. That's an argument that you're free to make. So far, you've made one objection as to G1 (that I'll discuss below).

My claim is a little more nuanced: it’s that for every Gn such that Gn entails ~F, either (a) P(En|Gn) < P(En|F) or (b) P(Gn|En) ≈ 0, or both.

But before we hit the specific arguments about G1, there's a conceptual problem. You've dismissed Ed's attempt to argue from G1 as inappropriate, and that's just not so.

Your apparent objection is that Ed's G1 is not a subhypothesis of ~F but ~F + X + Y.


This bit is muddled. I’ve pointed out that Ed is arguing from a subhypothesis under ~F, one that may be fairly characterized as ~F & X & Y. Call this conjunction G1. Ed is trying to argue, in effect, that since P(E1|G1) ≈ P(E1|F), P(E1|~F) ≈ P(E1|F). But this does not follow unless P(G1|~F) ≈ 1. I have pointed out, in a passage I pulled out and quoted above, that there is nothing to commend the extra premises required to add to ~F in order to obtain G1 except for the fact that they help Ed to get a high likelihood. So the problem remains. The only handwaving going on is Ed’s, not mine.

Tim said...

Finally, the specific argument. You've claimed the truth "hangs together" better than fiction; and thus, if if the gospel writers were not independent, trustworthy eyewitness recording actual history, the most likely outcome would have been "nothing, no stories, no traditions, just people moving on with their lives."

No -- you’re confusing the argument for P(En|F) > P(En|~F) with an argument for P(Gn|~F) < 0.5, where Gn is any hypothesis giving a high likelihood to our having a substantial body of stories about Jesus. Most people don’t get celebrated in elaborate myths. Sure, with a little thought and a trip to the library we can name, let’s say, a hundred -- that’s why we’ve heard of them. But considered as a proportion of memebers of the human race, that’s about one in a billion.

Your justification for this argument is intuition. Thus, I'll point out that intuitively, it strikes me that the opposite is true.

Since you have misunderstood the argument, I’m not sanguine about the prospects of the rest of your analysis.

Specifically, real-life people behave in ways that are capricious and unpredictable. An actual accounting of a real person's life often "hangs together" considerably less well than a well-crafted story.

The question isn’t whether this or that accounting does, in fact, hang together: the accounting may be very incomplete. The question is whether, when we have several accounts that hang together in the sort of way that these do, this fact is better explained by the hypothesis that the various accounts contain material faithfully drawn from life or by the hypothesis that they do not.

Proof? Think about the literary influences on our language and our ways of thinking. Almost all of these influences come from fiction, rather than biography. Historians credit Shakespeare with coining thousands of words and hundreds of phrases that are in common use even today. If I say that you are "Achilles sulking in your tent," you know exactly what that means. And so on.

What does the provenance of phrases have to do with the argument from undesigned coincidences? This seems completely off topic.

The life of Achilles "hangs together" better than the life of, say, Lyndon B. Johnson, because Achilles is a fictional character written to "hang together." The real-life LBJ is harder to understand, even though he has the same sorts of ambitions that the fictional Achilles has.

I think this is just an equivocation on “hangs together.” What you’re picking up on, I think, is that the story of Achilles has a narrative arc; the life of LBJ does not. But I’d be willing to lay a bet that the multiple sources we have for the life of LBJ hang together in the sense that details in one account explain, incidentally and without premeditation, details from another source, and that this sort of explanatory interconnection can be found over and over again in the LBJ source material, but not nearly so much in our sources (such as they are) for the life of Achilles (Homer, Pindar, Aeschylus, Euripides, Plato, Statius).

For all these reasons, I think that both Ed and you have missed the point of the argument. That is why I continue cheerfully to refuse to take such scenarios seriously.

Andrew EC said...

Tim,

When you concede ("Fine...") that ~F includes G1...Gn, then you concede my framework argument.

From there, you're free to start to dispute the specific claims (as you begin to do in this post). I think you're wrong, but at least we're speaking the same language now.

I have pointed out several times now, though, that this involves a retraction of your original misguided criticism of Ed's piece. He does, indeed, substantiate a legitimate subhypothesis of ~F.

I might also point out, parenthetically, that as I demonstrated this fundamental error in your initial argument, I became (in this last response) a companion victim to Ed of your unwarranted editorializing. So, in your last two posts, I get:

"This bit is muddled"; "you’re confusing the argument"; "Since you have misunderstood the argument, I’m not sanguine about the prospects of the rest of your analysis"; and so on.

I point this out not to complain -- I've got plenty thick skin, and I'm arguing on the internet, so I can take it -- but rather to point out a somewhat disturbing trend to your rhetoric whereby you declare supposed errors as a device to shift attention away from your own mistakes.

I think that's a shame; you're obviously a smart guy. When I get it wrong, I'll own up to it. I don't need to sneeringly declare victory and withdraw.

Tim said...

Andrew,

Blogger seems (once again) to be eating long comments; they come through for a moment but then disappear. Try breaking your last one up into two or three pieces and posting them seriatim.

Patrick said...

Tim,

it seems to me that much of the confusion stems from the fact that for you and for Babinski the expressions “Markan priority” and “literary dependence” have different meanings. As for “Markan priority”, it can be understood in the following ways:

(1) Mark was the first to write a gospel. Matthew and Luke didn’t know this gospel.
(2) Matthew and Luke were aware of Mark’s Gospel and knew its content very well, but when writing their own gospels they didn’t make use of Mark’s Gospel.
(3) When writing their gospels Matthew and Luke made use of Mark’s Gospel. They copied from it and altered the texts of Mark’s Gospel whenever it served their purposes.

You seem to hold (2), Babinski (3).

The view that there is no literary dependence between the gospels is compatible with (1) and (2). “Literary dependence” as I see it only applies to (3).

You seem to hold a different view what it means to be literary dependent of another author. For you it can mean “being influenced by” as well as “copying from”. Babinski on the other hand when he speaks about the “mainstream explanation” among New Testament scholars concerning this issue obviously only has the latter in mind.

I think what really is at issue here is not which gospel was written first, but whether or not Matthew and Luke copied from Mark when they wrote their respective gospels. As I see it the “undesigned coincidences” only make sense if you assume that Matthew and Luke didn’t copy from Mark.

Tim said...

Patrick,

I tried to disambiguate this at the outset of my reply to Ed, and my own position is a bit different from any of those you list. I am happy to accept (provisionally, until shown otherwise) that Matthew and Luke were aware of Mark's gospel, had read it, and each at some points found it convenient to follow Mark's narrative. But each also had independent information and each frequently deliberately deviated from Mark -- in content and in order -- on the strength of that information. It is in those deviations of content that we find, from time to time, those undesigned coincidences that provide the basis for the argument I have sketched.

Tim said...
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Tim said...
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Tim said...

Andrew,

When you concede ("Fine...") that ~F includes G1...Gn, then you concede my framework argument.

I don’t see that as an argument. Since you do, would you please spell out its premises and its conclusion?

I have pointed out several times now, though, that this involves a retraction of your original misguided criticism of Ed's piece. He does, indeed, substantiate a legitimate subhypothesis of ~F.

I’m sorry, but it still seems to me that you are just missing the point. This is not a retraction; I’m completely baffled as to why you keep thinking that it is, and I can only suppose that right at the outset you misunderstood something that I wrote. I have never argued that G1 (=~F & X & Y) is not a subhypothesis of ~F. As I wrote above:

The error here consists in the supposition that in exploring the universe of ~F, we can take any subhypothesis under ~F and pretend that the likelihood we generate with it is equivalent to the likelihood we get with ~F simpliciter.

Tim said...

What Ed argues for is not significant, because, as I argued, if P(G1|~F) << 1, merely showing that P(E1|G1) ≈ P(E1|F) does not come remotely close to establishing that P(E1|~F) >= P(E1|F). And that last claim is the one that Ed must establish in order to claim, as he does, that E1 is not evidence for F.

We can fill this in with some numbers to illustrate the basic point. Suppose for the sake of argument that P(E1|F) = .2, P(E1|G1) = .2, P(G1|F) = 0, and P(G1|~F) = .01. Then since P(E1|~F) = P(G1|~F) P(E1|~F & G1) + P(~G1|~F) P(E1|~F & ~G1), all that we are entitled to say about P(E1|~F) on the basis of this information is that it equals or exceeds .002. That places an upper bound on the likelihood ratio of 100:1, but a Bayes factor of 100 would still be a hefty piece of evidence. Any top-heavy likelihood ratio means that E1 is evidence for F.

I hope that clarifies my objection to Ed’s (and, apparently, your) procedure.

Tim said...

I might also point out, parenthetically, that as I demonstrated this fundamental error in your initial argument, I became (in this last response) a companion victim to Ed of your unwarranted editorializing.

I’m sorry that you are offended, but since I think that you are the one committing a fundamental error, I stand by my comments. I’m not trying to be unkind, but your initial comment in this thread was high-handed, and I’ve tried to deal very straight with you. You think I’m committing “fundamental errors,” and I haven’t complained about your “sophomoric editorializing” in saying so: I’ve just pointed out that I think the shoe is on the other foot, that in your haste to defend Ed you’re misunderstanding the underlying structure of my criticisms of Ed.

If you show me that I’m wrong, I’ll acknowledge and accept that. But you have saddled me with a claim that I never made (which you are now suggesting that I am “retracting”), and as far as I can tell, you have not addressed or apparently even understood the point that I have now tried several times to make plain.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Tim,

Such algebraic reconstructions are precisely what I'm after. Thanks so much for your explications here.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Tim, I wasn't offended by your response to my blog piece. In fact the Shakespeare quotation and the C. S. Lewis-like manner of riposte you employed was a refreshing change from the tripe that tries to pass as riposte on the internet.

As you know I'm reading the comments here and elsewhere on the internet and considering how best to reply, that we may reach greater understanding, or at least that I may best explain my own arguments as I see them against "undesigned coincidences," or rather, in favor of "designed redaction."

I think understanding takes time, and brain-minds don't stretch easily in every direction once they have a system of thinking about things that works for them. Instead they keep making little changes, conservative ones, working out best how to explain tiny exceptions and fit them back into whatever system the brain is already running. So I don't expect people to "get" each other immediately. But we might be able to reach some smaller agreements.

Flipping the switch over to a whole new system, especially at our ages, would take probably require a lot of reading, thinking, and arguing, both with ourselves and others. And it may be that neither of us has a long enough life for that to happen.

You know, even the atheist and critic of Catholicism, H.G. Wells, was a friend of G. K. Chesterton, both during their lifetimes and after Chesterton died. Wells said something nice about him even then. And Chesterton wrote Wells an interesting letter a decade or so earlier when Wells was quite ill, claiming that Wells would get into heaven by being a friend of man. Being a reader of all the Inklings, as well as MacDonald and Chesterton, I do appreciate their generally moderate tone, even humorous at times, and their hints of universalism or its explicit advocation as in MacDonald. And that has always stayed with me, and made me also speak less harshly than I might about others. (It's also no fun to simply insult and condemn and then wind up having no one at all who will play intellectual tag with you in the end. *smile*)

As I told Vic, "Lay on McGrew and damned be him who says hold enough!" *smile*

Tim said...

Ed,

That's very fairly said; I can't object!

One comment. You write, in part,

... that I may best explain my own arguments as I see them against "undesigned coincidences," or rather, in favor of "designed redaction."

It's important to keep in mind that the latter is not tantamount to the former. Some pieces of evidence may favor both hypotheses, though they are mutually incompatible. So an argument in favor of designed redaction will not necessarily be an argument against undesigned coincidence; both hypotheses may gain at the expense of alternatives that possess little or no explanatory power with respect to the evidence.

That doesn't have to happen. But it can.

Reginald Selkirk said...

A friend told me a joke, or so I thought at the time. It was about three blondes on an island, but we needn't get caught up in the details. Anyway, she left part out and when the punchline came it wasn't funny. I presumed she had muffed it.

Later I heard the same joke from someone else, but they told it properly, and it made sense and it was funny (as blonde jokes go).

That's when I realized that since I heard it differently from two sources, it must not be a joke at all, but was a true account of events witnessed by both parties, using criteria establish by Tim McGrew.

Tim said...

Reginald,

... it must not be a joke at all ...

Was the "must" here a critical part of your punchline? Or did you just muff the joke?

Tim said...

Second anniversary.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi Tim (Tim McGrew, right?) Yes, it's been a few years. I just googled: Mcgrew Babinski undesigned coincidences and noticed about 33,000 hits. Do you have a manuscript ready to publish on the topic and were you searching for responses from others prior to completing the manuscript? I have kept up with the videos you've made over the last few years, and also seen one made by another apologist who concentrated on the feeding story in particular. And I read what some commentaries had to say about the feeding story in each Gospel, along with three books specifically on "the feeding stories," the books are on this list: http://amzn.com/w/3KKLY02YFTRNF

Are we dealing with highly significant "undesigned concidences" or is the apologist connecting the dots and boosting their significance inside their imagination and via ignoring alternative explanations?

1) Take the "green grass" in Mark that the apologist connects with the pilgrimage to Jerusalem's holy festival at the time of year when the rainfall was high and the grass would more likely be green (but there's more than one time of year when the rainfall could produce green grass, and there's probably some places that are greener than others even during relatively drier months. And there are other explanations for Mark's use of green grass such as his attempt to depict Jesus as the Good Shepherd. As for the fourth Gospel author's inclusion of the "Passover" festival when it came to writing his Gospel that also comes as no surprise for that author because unlike the other Gospels, it is the one that depicts Jesus as the "Passover" lamb, sacrificed on the "Passover" instead of the day before the Passover as in the earlier Gospels, and it's also the only Gospel that has John the Baptist exclaim that Jesus is the "Lamb of God" who takes away the sins of the world).

2) Or, certain details were indeed coincidences (or added by John, since no one but John mentions Philip was from Bethsaida). Many of the apostles were fishermen (who were said to have become fishers of men) and/or worked in Capernaum or Bethsaida, fishing villages, since those cities lay on either side of the same major river that flowed into the sea of Galilee (which is where the fish would be, since the river brought nutrients). Those were two of the towns in Jesus' "evangelical triangle" (the third being Chorazin) where Jesus preached the most, and probably all of his disciples or nearly all of them lived or fished in that area or knew where to sell their fish along the beaches of either city. So Jesus could have asked nearly any of his disciples or followers "the question" of where to find food. (Per Matt 4:13, Peter and Andrew were fishermen living in Capernaum, the city on the other side of the river's delta from Bethsaida. Though John 1:44 says, "Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter." So how many disciples were familiar with those fishing towns on both sides of the river? Probably lots.)

CONTINUED

Edward T. Babinski said...

CONTINUED FROM ABOVE

3) Or the apologist ignores the way the story developed over time from Mk->Mat->Lk->John. For instance Mark and Matthew, the earliest tellers of the tale don't mention where the miraculous feedings took place. They are extremely vague on where it took place in fact, it was a "solitary place," "isolated" "remote" location that Jesus reaches by boat instead of via named roads. However in the earliest telling in Mark, "Bethsaida" is mentioned. But it's not the site of the miracle, it's the place they sail to after leaving the site of the miracle. It's only in the later Gospel, Luke where a location is supplied, Bethsaida. The story developed from vague to specfic over time.

4) The apologist also makes too much of the question addressed to Philip, "“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Which ignores the fact that in the earliest version it is the apostles who tell Jesus where the people can get food, "in the surrounding towns and villages (unnamed as already noted above)." Therefore in the earliest versions there was no question as in the later version concerning "where to buy bread," because the disciples spoke up first and insisted that Jesus: “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”

Robert M. Price in one of his Bible Geek podcasts was asked about "Philip's question" noting that the question is a set up used in ancient dialogues by their authors: http://podbay.fm/show/360861303/e/1295985600?autostart=1 So Jesus could have meant the question rhetorically, just the author's means of telegraphing in literary fashion the miracle punch to follow. Per some commentators It's a typical Johannine set up and illustrates "how the fourth Gospel author wrote."

Price addressed "seventeen undesigned coincidences" on his March 16th 2012 episode of the Bible Geek podcast on itunes [it's free]: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-bible-geek-show/id360861303

And there's much more to consider once one has read the first two books in the list above concerning the tale of the miraculous feeding of the multitude.

Tim said...

Hi Ed!

1) Green grass -- sure, you can always invent other possible explanations. But that's not the way to bet.

2) Ditto. None of this explains why Philip was mentioned; the explanation given does.

3) I think you're reading a developmental trajectory into the story in a very implausible way. I'm happy to grant that Matthew and Luke had some kind of access to Mark. But that isn't going to do any work for you where the undesigned coincidences are concerned. We've been around that barn a couple of times already.

4) None of these versions is complete, and they often complement one another. To insist that this is just "development" is to indulge in the sort of fantasy that gives literary criticism a bad name. Too much of contemporary NT studies is infected by that.

Price's attempted explanation of Jesus' question to Philip has no explanatory value with respect to the selection of Philip per se. Of course Jesus meant the question rhetorically.

I did listen to Price's attempt to deal with various undesigned coincidences and other pieces of evidence in that podcast back when it first came out. It was so bad that it was painful to listen to him bumbling around looking for something to say. Explaining away Matthew's mention of Herod's address to his servants by saying that the story was in Mark? Really? Has he read the story in Mark lately? No mention of Herod's servants there! His other blunders were similarly embarrassing. If that is the best that the infidels can do, I am well content.

Tim said...
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Edward T. Babinski said...

Tim, This is sad. You're the one coming up with connections that are not the only ones. Far from it. And you're ignoring the even greater wealth of differences. Here's what you ought to consider...

McGrew and another apologist have been focusing on the "feeding of the multitude" story, where they claim the undesigned coincidences are piled on top of one another, though other scholars point out that the undesigned coincidences argument is based more on human ingenuity and attempts to boost the significance of some coincidences while ignoring all the discrepancies and alternate explanations, for instance:

1) Much is made by apologists for the "undesigned coincidences" argument of Mark's mention of "green grass" in the "feeding of the 5000" story, which the apologist claims is connected with the time of year when rainfall was higher and also when huge crowds journeyed to Jerusalem for Passover. But there's more than one time of year when the rainfall could support grass, and there's probably some places near the lake that are greener than others even during relatively drier months. And there are other explanations for Mark's use of "green grass" such as his attempt to depict Jesus as the Good Shepherd. As for the fourth Gospel author adding mention that it was "Passover" when this miracle occurred, it is also the fourth Gospel which is most obsessed with "Passover" in general, the one that depicts Jesus as the "Passover" lamb, sacrificed on the "Passover" (instead of the day before the Passover as in the earlier Gospels), and it's also the only Gospel that has John the Baptist exclaim that Jesus is the "Lamb" of God who takes away the sins of the world, and it's the only Gospel that has Jesus utter a soliloquy that connects the feeding of the multitude with the holy rite of eating Jesus (one eats the "Passover Lamb"). So naturally John would be the one Gospel that depicted such a miracle happening during "Passover." But the size of the crowds need not depend on it being "Passover," since the three earlier Gospels mention tremendous crowds around Jesus when it was not Passover.

2) Much is made by apologists for the "undesigned coincidences" argument of the fact that in the fourth Gospel Jesus calls upon Philip, asking him where to buy fish. They point out that Luke said the miracle occurred in Bethsaida and the fourth Gospel author added that Philip was FROM Bethsaida. Amazing undesigned coincidence for Jesus to direct such a question at Philip who, being from Bethsaida would know where to buy fish there? Not so amazing. Many of the apostles were fishermen (whom Jesus said he would make into fishers of men) and they worked in Capernaum or Bethsaida, fishing villages, and both of those cities lay on either side of the same major river that flowed into the sea of Galilee which is where the fish would be, since the river brought fresh nutrients into the sea. Those two towns, Capernaum and Bethsaida were the two out of three towns in Jesus' "evangelical triangle" (the third being Chorazin) where Jesus preached the most, and probably all of his disciples lived or fished in that area or knew where to sell their fish along the beaches of either city on both sides of that river that exited into the sea of Galilee. So Jesus could have asked nearly any of his disciples or followers "the question" of where to find food. In fact, according to Matt 4:13, Peter and Andrew were fishermen living in Capernaum, the city just on the other side of the river's delta from Bethsaida. While John 1:44 says, "Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter." How many disciples were drawn from those two fishing towns and hence familiar with where to buy and sell fish on both sides of the river? Probably lots.

Edward T. Babinski said...

3) Not how the apologist for "undesigned coincidences" ignores the way the story developed over time from Mk->Mat->Lk->John. For instance Mark and Matthew, the earliest tellers of the "miraculous feeding of the multitude" story are extremely vague on where it took place--it was a "solitary place," "isolated" "remote" location that Jesus reached by boat instead of via named roads. However in the earliest telling in Mark, "Bethsaida" is mentioned, but NOT as the site of the miracle, just the place they sail to AFTER LEAVING THE SITE OF THE MIRACLE. It's only in the later Gospel, Luke where a location is supplied, Bethsaida. Luke could have been telescoping Mark's story and used Bethsaida since no other name is connected with the tale, even if it was the the place Jesus went AFTER the miracle instead of where the alleged miracle took place. So the story developed from no location to a specific one over time.

4) The apologist for "undesigned coincidences" also makes too much of the question addressed to Philip, "“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Which ignores the fact that in the earliest version it is the apostles who tell Jesus where the people can get food, "in the surrounding towns and villages (unnamed as already noted above)." Therefore in the earliest version of the miraculous tale there was no question asked by Jesus concerning "where to buy bread," because the disciples had spoken up first and insisted that Jesus: “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”

Robert M. Price in his Bible Geek podcast on January 25th 2011 was asked about J.J. Blunt's undesigned coincidences and "Philip's question" and noted that the question is a typical "set up" used in ancient dialogues: http://podbay.fm/show/360861303/e/1295985600?autostart=1 It was just a rhetorical question put into Jesus' mouth--the author's means of telegraphing in literary fashion the miracle punch to follow. Per some commentators It's a typical Johannine set up and illustrates "how the fourth Gospel author wrote," rather than something that reveals eyewitness knowledge.

Price addressed "seventeen undesigned coincidences" on his March 16th 2012 episode of the Bible Geek podcast on itunes [it's free]: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-bible-geek-show/id360861303

There are many more questions to ponder once one has read the first few books in this list of scholarly books by biblical scholars on the tale of the miraculous feeding of the multitude http://amzn.com/w/3KKLY02YFTRNF

Tim said...

Ed,

I agree there’s something sad about it; we just disagree about what it is.

“You're the one coming up with connections that are not the only ones.” Did I say that these connections were the only ones? What’s that all about?

“And you're ignoring the even greater wealth of differences.”

Not true; I’ve actually spoken on those multiple times.

“[O]ther scholars point out that the undesigned coincidences argument is based more on human ingenuity and attempts to boost the significance of some coincidences while ignoring all the discrepancies and alternate explanations,”

Let them display competence in the discussion of the argument, which Price signally failed to do, and I’m ready to listen.

“[T]here's more than one time of year when the rainfall could support grass, and there's probably some places near the lake that are greener than others even during relatively drier months.”

And yet, for all that, it’s the only time in the Gospels or Acts that anyone mentions green grass. And it just happens, per John, to fall smack in the growing season.

“And there are other explanations for Mark's use of ‘green grass’ such as his attempt to depict Jesus as the Good Shepherd.”

There is a basic logical fallacy that runs like this: someone notices that X is true; then it occurs to him that if C were true, X would be true – and without further ado he leaps to the conclusion that C. But this attempt to explain Mark’s use of the phrase “green grass” doesn’t even rise to the level of that fallacy, because frankly, it’s asinine to suggest that putting the phrase “green grass” into a narrative would have any value in depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd, even supposing that Mark were trying to make that point in some subtle way rather than, say, by having Jesus say, “I am the good shepherd” – which is a phrase John records, not Mark.

“As for the fourth Gospel author adding mention that it was ‘Passover’ when this miracle occurred, it is also the fourth Gospel which is most obsessed with ‘Passover’ in general, ...”

Are you really suggesting that John just salts the term through his Gospel for the heck of it? And you think this counts as an explanation?

“ ...the one that depicts Jesus as the ‘Passover’ lamb, sacrificed on the ‘Passover’ (instead of the day before the Passover as in the earlier Gospels), ...”

No, it doesn’t. Jesus dies on Friday according to John, just as in all of the other Gospels. I’ve dealt with this already in my lectures.

“... and it's also the only Gospel that has John the Baptist exclaim that Jesus is the ‘Lamb’ of God who takes away the sins of the world,”

<sarc>Well, then, obviously it didn’t happen, since nothing that really happens is ever mentioned only once in existing historical sources. </sarc>

“ ... and it's the only Gospel that has Jesus utter a soliloquy that connects the feeding of the multitude with the holy rite of eating Jesus (one eats the ‘Passover Lamb’). So naturally John would be the one Gospel that depicted such a miracle happening during ‘Passover.’”

So, naturally? Sorry, that does not even come close to making it “natural.” This sort of stuff, parading as “critical scholarship,” is just pathetic.

“But the size of the crowds need not depend on it being ‘Passover,’ since the three earlier Gospels mention tremendous crowds around Jesus when it was not Passover.”

Except for the crucial difference that this time the crowds do not appear to have anything to do with Jesus in particular, which is why he and his disciples think that it makes sense to get away from the crowds by walking out to a deserted place. The fact that, in the event, they were recognized and followed doesn’t undermine the fact that the very idea of getting away from the crowd by walking away means that the initial crowding wasn’t due to Jesus’ presence.

Tim said...

“Much is made by apologists for the ‘undesigned coincidences’ argument of the fact that in the fourth Gospel Jesus calls upon Philip, asking him where to buy fish. They point out that Luke said the miracle occurred in Bethsaida and the fourth Gospel author added that Philip was FROM Bethsaida. Amazing undesigned coincidence for Jesus to direct such a question at Philip who, being from Bethsaida would know where to buy fish there? Not so amazing. Many of the apostles were fishermen (whom Jesus said he would make into fishers of men) and they worked in Capernaum or Bethsaida, fishing villages, and both of those cities lay on either side of the same major river that flowed into the sea of Galilee which is where the fish would be,...”

All true, and it would have worked as well for Peter or Andrew. But the question is not, “Why ask a native of those parts?” but rather, “Why ask Philip?” And the undesigned coincidence arises because this question gets answered – but only indirectly.

“How many disciples were drawn from those two fishing towns and hence familiar with where to buy and sell fish on both sides of the river? Probably lots.”

So when the text plainly says something you don’t like, even an innocuous, non-miraculous statement of fact, you’ll move heaven and earth to call it a literary invention; but when you need to undermine someone else’s argument, you’ll help yourself to hypothetical facts unsupported in the text without batting an eye. Suit yourself – but don’t call it reasoning.

“So the story developed ...”

Sorry, that’s the kind of claim you have to argue for; you can’t get away with just asserting it and then demanding that everyone fall into line. The fundamental problem with trying to explain everything away like this is that each of the Gospels has unique material that explains things in the others, in multiple places.

“The apologist for ‘undesigned coincidences’ also makes too much of the question addressed to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ Which ignores the fact that in the earliest version it is the apostles who tell Jesus where the people can get food, ‘in the surrounding towns and villages (unnamed as already noted above).’”

But since the argument shows that it is not reasonable to think of “later versions” as merely elaborations from “earlier versions,” since all parties seem to have at least some independent evidence regarding the same events, this is irrelevant.

“Therefore in the earliest version of the miraculous tale there was no question asked by Jesus concerning ‘where to buy bread,’ because the disciples had spoken up first and insisted that Jesus: ‘Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.’”

A glance at ancient bioi shows that the handling of this bit of dialogue is no more divergent than the handling of dialogue in non-Christian documents, indeed, rather less so. Only a particularly brittle theory of inspiration would stumble over this minor difference. Certainly the “therefore” is completely unwarranted; to insist that this means Jesus didn’t ask the question first is to treat this text in a way that would not be tolerated in, say, treating the documents of Roman history.

Tim said...

“Robert M. Price in his Bible Geek podcast on January 25th 2011 was asked about J.J. Blunt's undesigned coincidences and ‘Philip's question’ and noted that the question is a typical "set up" used in ancient dialogues: http://podbay.fm/show/360861303/e/1295985600?autostart=1 It was just a rhetorical question put into Jesus' mouth--the author's means of telegraphing in literary fashion the miracle punch to follow.”

Except that it turns out that his posing the question to Philip has an explanation that makes sense of his selection of Philip, which the mere use of a rhetorical device does not.

“Per some commentators It's a typical Johannine set up and illustrates ‘how the fourth Gospel author wrote,’ rather than something that reveals eyewitness knowledge.”

So much the worse for “some commentators.”

“Price addressed ‘seventeen undesigned coincidences’ on his March 16th 2012 episode of the Bible Geek podcast on itunes [it's free]: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-bible-geek-show/id360861303”

I do hope lots of people will both liste to Price’s podcast and look up the arguments for themselves and think about them. In my opinion, his striking failure to engage with the arguments in a serious manner – I have pointed out only a few of his errors here – is one of the best positive advertisements for this method of reasoning.

Yoyodyne Tech Div 45 Info: said...

I wonder...

Say I go to a movie theater and grab three people who have just seen a movie and ask them all to write down what they've just seen in as much detail as they can. Then later I collate their reports and produce a separate paper from it to describe the movie. Will the paper I produce be more accurate than any of the three that proceeded it? You would think so, but alas, different people pay attention different things.

And movies aren't real life.

So if three people go to, oh, I don't know, a passion play about the life and times of Jesus, I wonder... I wonder what the result would be?