Monday, December 14, 2015

Is there good evidence for the resurrection?

I have yet to see a good theory that explains the historical events without running into serious problems when you look at it closely.

Here. 

It is interesting that atheists say Christians are not interested in evidence when one of the most popular Christian books of the last 50 years is Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

76 comments:

Hugo Pelland said...

A mix of 2-3-4 seems most likely, with some subtle points being missed under 2, such as Lucid Dreaming. The so-called witnesses could have really felt like it was all real, but it could have been powerful dreams. People back then didn't quite understand what these were.

Also, what's even more problematic, and also not covered in the article, is that it seems absurd that written accounts of an event such as a resurrection could even possibly be accurate. It's such a fantastic claim that books cannot possibly be enough for justifying such claims. Yet...

Aron Zavaro said...

I understand what you mean by evidence: E is evidence for H if P(E|H)>P(E|~H).

But what do you mean by "good" evidence? Do you mean that E is good evidence for H if P(H|E)>0.5?

If so, then you need to do more than say, "I have yet to see a good theory that explains the historical events without running into serious problems when you look at it closely."

Even if it is true that P(resurrection|E) is greater than the probability of any given alternative theory given that evidence , that isn't sufficient to show that the resurrection is probable. The relevant question is whether

P(resurrection|E)>[P(alternative1|E)+P(alternative2|E)+...+P(alternativeN\E)]

How does showing that the resurrection is superior to each individual alternative also show that the resurrection is superior to the disjunction of all alternative?

Or do you define "good evidence" in some way other than P(H|E)>0.5?

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "I have yet to see a good theory that explains the historical events without running into serious problems when you look at it closely."

"Historical events?" The only reliable historical events are that a group that came to be called Christians arose, complete with a mish mash stew of beliefs and theologies, and that over time a sect within that group rose to prominence and enforced a dogma post facto while exorcising those beliefs and practices that conflicted with its authority. This is about as mundane and easy to explain as Scientology.

VR: "It is interesting that atheists say Christians are not interested in evidence when one of the most popular Christian books of the last 50 years is Evidence that Demands a Verdict."

I would say that Christians don't have any good evidence for the tenets of their belief. And I would say that you putting for a book title that uses the word "Evidence" in its title, instead of admitting that there isn't any good evidence for the tenets of Christian belief, is a perfect example that you don't understand what constitutes good evidence either.

Skeptic: "Christians don't have any good evidence for the tenets of their belief."
Apologist: "Oh yeah, then why is there a book that's called EVIDENCE that Demands a Verdict?"

Seriously?


John Mitchell said...

I have a few questions regarding this:

"If you thought you saw a dead man walking and talking, wouldn't you think it more likely that you were hallucinating than that you were seeing correctly?"

Isn't there good evidence that suggests that Mark does not narrate the resurrection, let alone any post-mortem appearances?
If yes, then why would the earliest gospel omit this?

"1) There were too many witnesses. Hallucinations are private, individual, subjective. Christ appeared (...) even to five hundred people at once (1 Cor 15:3-8)."

If the risen son of God appears to 500 people at once, why does no Gospel unambiguously refer to this remarkable incident and narrate it??
Does that not seem to be an interpolation in the Epistle??

"(5) Hallucinations usually happen only once, except to the insane."

Isn't there evidence for the existence of people who hallucinate regularly but are nevertheless broadly cognitively functional ??

"(11) The apostles could not have believed in the "hallucination" if Jesus' corpse had still been in the tomb. This is a very simple and telling point; for if it was a hallucination, where was the corpse? They would have checked for it; if it was there, they could not have believed."

This presupposes the truth of the narrative of the honorable burial.
Is there a good reason to believe it??
Is it likely that the Romans would grant an honorable burial to a crucified criminal, when the practice of crucifixion was in itself an attempt to inflict a maximum amount of humiliation upon the criminal?
Doesn't the evidence suggest that Pilate had no regard for the religious sensibilities of the Jews? Is it likely that he would allow this to happen??

"(12) If the apostles had hallucinated and then spread their hallucinogenic story, the Jews would have stopped it by producing the body"

Doesn't the book of Acts tell us that the disciples waited at least seven weeks to proclaim the death of Jesus?
Is it likely that the body would still be even remotely identifiable by that time ??

John Mitchell said...

"Refutation of the Myth Theory: Six Arguments

(1) The style of the Gospels is radically and clearly different from the style of all the myths. Any literary scholar who knows and appreciates myths can verify this. (...) Nothing is arbitrary. Everything fits in. Everything is meaningful."

Isn't the lack of arbitrary elements combined with the fact that 'everything fits' and 'is meaningful' a sign of literary creation ??

"the little detail of Jesus writing in the sand when asked whether to stone the adulteress or not (Jn 8:6). No one knows why this is put in; nothing comes of it"

How isn't this a total contradiction to what was asserted in my last quote?

" 2) (...) Eyewitnesses would be around before that to discredit the new, mythic versions. "

Don't the gospels tell us that even Jesus himself was not able to restrict oral narration of his deeds during his lifetime by his own authority?
Does that not call into question the ability of the eyewitnesses to control oral transmission later?

"But no one disputes that Paul's letters were written within the lifetime of eyewitnesses to Christ."

Were the Dutch-Radicals properly refuted when they asserted that all of the Epistles were 2nd Century forgeries or were their views simply dismissed because the were unwelcome??

"...Paul affirms all the main claims of the Gospels"

Do any of the Epistles that are deemed 'authentic' narrate an empty tomb??


"(3) The myth theory has two layers. The first layer is the historical Jesus, who was not divine, did not claim divinity,"

If Jesus did claim to be God then why is that not unambiguously narrated in the first three gospels? Or is it?
Is that something that is likely to be left out of an account of the life of Jesus?

"(4) (...) If the empty tomb were an invented legend, its inventors surely would not have had it discovered by women, whose testimony was considered worthless."

That presupposes that the empty-tomb story in Mark was intended to serve as evidence for the resurrection.
May it not simply be a lamentation-narrative that is not intended to be evidence for anything??
If yes, then is not a lamentation-narrative more likely to include women??


"(6) The following arguments (rearranged and outlined from Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection) prove two things: first, that the Gospels were written by the disciples"

Do any of the gospel writers claim to be disciples or eye-witnesses?? If not why dont they?

John Mitchell said...

"(A) Proof that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses:
1. Internal evidence, from the Gospels themselves:
The style of writing in the Gospels is simple and alive, what we would expect from their traditionally accepted authors."

Is sophisticated Greek also what we would expect from their traditionally accepted authors?


" d. (...) Hence, the Gospels must have been written prior to A.D. 70"

Were there only eye-witnesses living before A.D. 70 ??

"E. The stories of Jesus' human weaknesses and of the disciples' faults also bespeak the Gospels' accuracy."

Does that not presuppose that Christology did not evolve?
Is it possible that what may have been embarrassing to later Gospels-Authors was not ,in fact, embarrassing to the first??

"f. (..)The Gospels do not try to suppress apparent discrepancies, which indicates their originality"

May it not be the case that later gospel-authors did edit earlier gospels to correct things they didnt like?
If yes then how are they to suppress discrepancies they intentionally create??

"g. (...)The Gospels do not contain anachronisms"

Isn't there some evidence that suggests that there were few Pharisees in Galilee during Jesus’ lifetime?
Does not Luke's portrayal of the cost of following Jesus (allowing no delay to bury family members or say goodbye to them) fit into a situation where Christians are prosecuted and martyrdom is on the cards?

"2. External evidence:
The disciples must have left some writing"

Is it likely that they were able to write at all ??

John Mitchell said...

"Doesn't the book of Acts tell us that the disciples waited at least seven weeks to proclaim the death of Jesus?"

That should obviously read:


""Doesn't the book of Acts tell us that the disciples waited at least seven weeks to proclaim the *resurrection* of Jesus?"

entirelyuseless said...

According to my experience, Christians are uninterested in evidence against Christianity, and atheists are equally uninterested in evidence against atheism.

Hugo Pelland said...

Yet, here we are on a blog with a Theist author who occasionally do present argument/evidence for Theism. Nobody is forced to read; it's purely out of interest...

Ilíon said...

"According to my experience, Christians are uninterested in evidence against Christianity, and atheists are equally uninterested in evidence against atheism."

According to *my* experience, the people who subscribe to "a pox on both their houses" are uninterested in evidence that the side they really want to trumpet as being "on the side of the angels" is really on the side of the demons while the side they really want to condemn as being on the side of the demons is, at "worst", neutral.

Ilíon said...

... the point being that "a pox on both their houses" is almost always the very opposite of "nuanced" or "thoughtful" or "balanced"; it is, in fact, the *refusal* to be thoughtful.

VinnyJH57 said...

Kreeft claims that "We do not need to presuppose that the New Testament is infallible, or divinely inspired or even true." This is utter nonsense as Kreeft repeatedly cites the New Testament as refuting alternatives to his theory. Since we don't accept the New Testament as true, we have no basis to reject the alternatives.

entirelyuseless said...

Ilion, talking about the "side of the angels" and the "side of the demons" is the whole problem. Naturally, no one wants to advance the side of the demons, so they are uninterested in evidence against the side they consider the side of the angels.

But if you think it is a question of knowing the truth, not of a war between good and evil, you should be interested in evidence both for and against what you currently believe, and for and against what you currently disbelieve.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Victor,

It is interesting that atheists say Christians are not interested in evidence when one of the most popular Christian books of the last 50 years is Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

I would not want to make a generalization about whether Christians as a group are interested in evidence. But I don't think your attempted refutation of that atheist meme works. The fact that ETDAV is one of the most popular Christian books of the last 50 years has many potential explanations. One explanation is that Christians are open-minded people who are willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Another explanation is that many of the Christian readers of ETDAV were looking for confirmation of their Christianity after the fact. Indeed, the content of ETDAV (much like the content of Lee Strobel's Case for Christ) is a textbook example of understating the evidence. At best, McDowell (and Strobel) presents genuine evidence which does favor Christianity. He does not, however, discuss the evidence against Christianity in his book, so we don't even have a prime facie reason to believe that McDowell's book is a good discussion of the evidence about Christianity (for and against), and so we don't even have a prima facie reason to believe that the total relevant evidence favors Christianity.

Of course, one could make precisely the same argument about many atheist books, and one would probably be justified in doing so. Far too many people seem to cherry pick the evidence.

Jim S. said...

Daniel Bonevac published an interesting article in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion 3 (2011) which argued that the number of witnesses obviates the low probability of an event. So if an event has one chance in ten billion of occurring, then if you have ten witnesses to it, the probability that they are correct is .5, and if you have eleven witnesses it's .99. For every order of magnitude you add, you increase the number of witnesses by one. So if it's one chance in a hundred billion, eleven witnesses make it .5 and twelve make it .99; for one in a trillion, twelve witnesses make it .5 and thirteen make it .99; etc. Something like that. You can read the article here:

http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/80295.pdf

Hugo Pelland said...

Jim, I only read the conclusion; copy/pasting here:

Conclusion
I have argued that, although Hume shows that it would be irrational to accept a single report of a single, isolated occurrence of a violation of a law of nature, nothing at all follows about the credibility of the central Biblical miracle stories. Multiple witnesses attest those stories, and they fall into series, supporting one another. Hume’s argument shows that believing in isolated violations of laws of nature on the basis of a single witness’s testimony flies in the face of reason. Skepticism about claims of isolated miracles, mystical experience, or privately transmitted visions is justified. But what is right in Hume’s argument is fully compatible with rationally believing that God revealed Himself to Moses, sent him to Pharaoh, sent the plagues on Egypt, brought the Israelites out of Egypt, rescued them from Pharaoh’s army, and led them (circuitously!) to the promised land. It is fully compatible with rationally believing that Elijah trounced the priests of Ba’al at Mt. Carmel or that Elisha raised the son of the Shunammite woman from the dead. And it is fully compatible with rationally believing that Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, was born of the virgin Mary, and rose from the dead on the very first Easter morning.

Hugo Pelland said...

So... what's supposed to be interesting about this? It's completely irrelevant; there was no recorded eye witness account of any of these events, and even if there were, it would still be the word of a bunch of antiquity people who didn't know much about how the world works. 100 people, or even 1000, in 30 AD stating they "saw" something is not more convincing than 1... it's just people telling stories that they personally really, deeply, believed. But that's it... nothing more.

B. Prokop said...

What convinces me the most concerning the historicity of the Resurrection is I have yet to see an alternative explanation to a literal, historical, physical, bodily Resurrection of Christ that can not be blown out of the water and completely discredited. You'd think that if the Resurrection were somehow a fraud, that after 2000 years of trying, someone would have been able to close the case against it by now. But instead, the reverse has happened. The "pro" case gets stronger by the year.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Ilíon said...

Oh, now! Hugo Pelland is just signaling his 'Science!' denialism.

Ilíon said...

The "a pox on both their houses" gambit is almost always a means to *avoid* the truth, both to avoid it oneself and to seek to deflect others from encountering it.

The people who assert the "a pox on both their houses" stance about some subject or statement almost always are heavily emotionally invested in the false-to-reality view being correct. What differentiates the Poxer from the True Believer is that at some point they've hit between the eyes with enough reality and they can't successfully lie to themselves about it. So, they know that what they want to be true isn't, and they're unable to successfully directly con themselves that it is true. BUT, rather than honestly taking a fresh look at what they want to reject, they instead strike a pose.

entirelyuseless said...

Ilion, there was a time when I was emotionally invested in one side of this debate being true, and I thought that this was the true side. But I was willing to consider the evidence on both sides, and my current belief is now the opposite of my original belief. I am still willing to consider the evidence on both sides.

Cal Metzger said...

Prokop: "What convinces me the most concerning the historicity of the [Muhammed Flying to Heaven on a Winged Horse] is I have yet to see an alternative explanation to a literal, historical, physical, bodily [Muhammed Flying to Heaven on a Winged Horse] that can not be blown out of the water and completely discredited."

Yup.

John Mitchell said...

"But instead, the reverse has happened. The "pro" case gets stronger by the year."


That statement raises a great many suspicions.
The early believers did only manage to convert a small fraction of the contemporary people in Palestine.
Jews didn't convert in masses, gentiles did.
The more time passes the more converts there are, thats what one expects given one goes along with a steady growth rate of Christianity around 40%
That's also compatible with the claim that the pro-resurrection case gets stronger by the year.
But what makes it get stronger over time?
Does B. Prokop living in the year 2015 (in Baltimore right?) have better evidence for the resurrection than somebody living in Jerusalem in the year 35?
If yes why is that? (The glorious post 1950 Christian scholarship?)
And is it not possible that the person living in Jerusalem in the year 35 did have better reason NOT to believe it that are simply not recorded in history??

Ilíon said...

"Jews didn't convert [to the set of beliefs that we now distinguish as separate from Judaism] in masses, gentiles did."

Actually, they did, which is why the Jewish authorities -- both before and after 70 AD, including to the present day -- have always takes such an anti-Christianity stance that their arguments against Christianity just come off as unhinged when rationally examined.

The subject population of the Roman empire in the 1st century is variously estimated at 60-100 millions. At least some historians estimate that about 10% of that population were Jewish -- and they didn't *all* live in Judea and Galilee. As an example, I recently saw reference to a writer of the time who placed the population of Egypt at 8 millions, with 1 million of them being Jews.

Now, assuming that the 10% figure is close to correct, that would mean there were 6-10 million Jews subject to the Roman empire (and this doesn't take into account those subject to the Persians/Parthians). Now, not *all* of those Jews were killed or enslaved in 70 AD or 135 AD. And not all of them fled to Persia. Yet Jews-as-Jews went to being a *significant* presence in the empire to an insignificant one. Is it really credible that they turned to paganism? Of course not -- most of the Jews in the empire turned to Christianity, rather than to the developing Rabbinical Judaism, as being the correct understanding of their people's historical encounter with God.

Ilíon said...

entirelyuseless: "... I am still willing to consider the evidence on both sides."

In this particular debate (*eyeroll*), there *is* nothing at all supporting the atheist position; atheism is not just irrational, it's actively anti-rational.

Victor Reppert can say, "There is evidence on both sides of the God question" all he wants, John Mitchell can say, "I totally agree with your contention that there is eidence on both sides of the God question. I am always amazed and honestly a little bit irritated by people who deny this.", and you can make vague references all you want to there even being two sides ... but there isn't.

Neither VR nor John Mitchell (nor you, for that matter), and certainly none of this blog's current crop of atheist prancing fools, can put forward even *one* true proposition that really is evidence for atheism. At best, one of you can offer a paradox ... which is to say, a misunderstanding.

BUT -- and this is the kicker -- even if someone could present some apparent evidence for atheism, that is, apparent evidence that was't identifiable as question-begging, or as a category error, or as an honest misunderstanding, of some other flaw that shows the appearance of being evidence for atheism to be a false appearance, atheism *still* founders on the reality of embodied rational beings: we are the proof that God-denial is the false statement about the nature of reality; that is, *we* are the proof that God is

And, for added amusement, even if some specific "theist" finds himself unable to show some atheistic pseudo-argument to be false (and, indeed, absurd), such that he then says, "OK, you win: there is no God", according to the "truth" of atheism, he can also go on to say, "But, you know what? So what? I'm still going to try to convince people that God is." This is because the "truth" of atheism matters only if it is not true; if atheism were indeed the truth about the nature of reality, it wouldn't matter that it were true.

How meta-absurd is that?

John Mitchell said...

"Actually, they did...
...most of the Jews in the empire turned to Christianity"

What is the evidence for that??
Does Josephus tell us anything about a high Jewish conversion-rate in the first century?
Does he tell us anything about Christian sects and churches, Christian public affairs or any memorable Christian figure besides the questionable section about Jesus and the short mention of the stoning of James?
Does he not report rather trivial things about the Isis cult and the "shameful practices" ??

Ilíon said...

What does Josephus have to do with reasoning that shows your bare assertion to be, well, just a bare assertion?

Isn't it odd that you people make bare assertions, and that's OK. Yet you always demand footnotes when someone scoff at your assertions?

Ilíon said...

Getting back to the question of the OP -- "Is there good evidence for the resurrection?"

That isn't a discussion one can even profitably have with those who cling to their God-denial.

John Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Mitchell said...

"What does Josephus have to do with reasoning that shows your bare assertion to be, well, just a bare assertion?"

Calculating the number of Jews in the Roman Empire and then concluding:

"Is it really credible that they turned to paganism? Of course not -- most of the Jews in the empire turned to Christianity, rather than to the developing Rabbinical Judaism"

thats of curse flawless "reasoning".

A feeble mind may come to think that thats just giving a negative answer to a rhetorical question followed up by a 'bare assertion'. But no, that's about as compelling a case as it can get.

You know i always thought Leibniz reasoned well.

It's just my stupidity to ask whether there may be silence on the part of Josephus about these mass-conversion of Jews to Christianity while he was apparently willing to record trivialities about the Isis cult.
Because, you know, that could possibly count as evidence against your properly deduced conclusion.

But i am clearly a fool to even consider evidence in this case.
Deduction beats induction, so to hell with Josephus. My bad.

Btw i was kind of disappointed to not have acquired some not-so-funny parody-name.

B. Prokop said...

"That isn't a discussion one can even profitably have with those who cling to their God-denial."

Evidence for the truth of that statement can be seen in Cal's non-rebuttal to my comment above. But I understand how awkward this all is for him. After all, for Cal to actually respond to my challenge, he'd have to come up with a coherent alternate explanation for the Resurrection that can stand up to even moderate scrutiny - something no one's managed to do in the past 2000 years. Let's review the attempts to date:

- Apostles stole the body
- Roman guards were bribed
- Mass hallucination
- Outright falsehood by people who knew they were lying
- Wishful thinking
- Mythic accretion
- Paul made it all up
- The Emperor Constantine invented the story to consolidate his power
- Jesus didn't actually die (the "swoon theory")
- Jesus had a twin brother
- It wasn't even Jesus on the cross (as told in the Koran)
- Jesus was a space alien
- Jesus was a time traveler
- Jesus never existed at all

Note how, as time passes, the "explanations" get crazier and crazier - a sure sign of desperation.

Jezu ufam tobie!

B. Prokop said...

Oh, and I forgot:

- The women went to the wrong tomb (one of my favorites!)

Hugo Pelland said...

Ilíon said...
"...the "truth" of atheism matters only if it is not true; if atheism were indeed the truth about the nature of reality, it wouldn't matter that it were true. How meta-absurd is that?"
It's absurd because you have it backward; Atheists would like Atheism to be irrelevant, and Theists would like Theism to be relevant but it's not, so Atheism is the response to that insistence that Theism has something valuable to offer. But all we see are stories, bad evidence supporting those stories, and lots and lots of people who disagree with each other on everything but 1 thing: there must be some supernatural realm where we go after we die and/where the gods, or God, live.

And the same applies to what B. Prokop said...
"...historicity of the Resurrection is I have yet to see an alternative explanation to a literal, historical, physical, bodily Resurrection of Christ... to actually respond to my challenge, he'd have to come up with a coherent alternate explanation for the Resurrection that can stand up to even moderate scrutiny."
This is backward here as well. You would need an explanation as to why it is a literal, historical, physical event. But all you have are people talking about it, claiming that they really believe this, and that we should thus all believe as well. The problem is that there is no good reason to believe. The evidence presented is so weak...

Hugo Pelland said...

(Bob, you also forgot Lucid Dreaming as I mentioned in the first comment of this thread, but it doesn't matter because we can list alternatives all day and it makes no difference to the veracity of the positive claim that supernatural stuff really did happen)

Cal Metzger said...

Prokop: "After all, for Cal to actually respond to my challenge, he'd have to come up with a coherent alternate explanation for the Resurrection that can stand up to even moderate scrutiny - something no one's managed to do in the past 2000 years."

The coherent alternate explanation for the resurrection goes like this: Bullshit -- show me. It is the same coherent explanation that you give for not believing in the the Greek pantheon, Norse gods, Hinduism, etc. The coherent story is that people are prone to magical thinking, and they imagine that there is agency and intent behind physical events, so they cling to stories that simplify the world, seem to make it more understandable, and that help them belong to a cohesive group that offers support.

But in response to a request for evidence for whatever set of magical stories a group tells itself, we only get more references back to the stories. Stories that other people saw these things. Stories that other people were superdy duperdy amazed. Stories about things that never, ever happen to you or me, and that only happen in stories.

And Bob likes to pretend that all these stories are believable because he and other people, throughout time, have believed the stories. The same way that scientologists, mormons, et al. believe their stories. That's what they've got; they stories are true, because they believe them.

"Butbutbutbutbutbut!" spouts the believer, "my stories are different, because unlike the other stories, MINE really happened!"

Show me.

Superstitious stories don't demand coherent alternate explanations. They are superstitious stories, and they will remain just stories until they do something they cannot: give us some evidence.


Edgestow said...

You want "evidence"? Then read N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God. Get back to us after you've finished it.

Hugo Pelland said...

Edgestow, so... another book with more stories? Or is there something different this time? (Silly question, I know, as if that were possible...)

Cal Metzger said...

Edgestow: "You want "evidence"? Then read N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God. Get back to us after you've finished it."

And please get back to me when you've understood my criticism.

Me: All you have for evidence are stories.
Edgestow: No, we have another book, with MORE STORIES!
Me: Sigh.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Speaking in broad generalizations, skeptics of the Resurrection are analogous to atheists who debate God's existence: both have generally done lousy jobs defending their positions. It's easy to find some "big name" atheist who's debated God's existence and done a horrible job. So too it is with the Resurrection and skeptics.

So, in a sense, it's hard to fault Christians for drawing the conclusions they do about alternative explanations for the alleged historical facts relevant to the Resurrection. But there are better criticisms available than what you will find from the writings of, say, Bertrand Russell, Antony Flew, Michael Martin, G.A. Wells, Richard Dawkins, and so forth. Arguably the best critics of Resurrection apologetics are Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos Colombetti:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2013/02/03/must-read-greg-cavins-case-against-the-resurrection-of-jesus/

Hopefully Christians will eventually get around to interacting with the work of C&C.

Ilíon said...

"And please get back to me when you've understood my criticism."

Is he a humorist or a projectionist?

Edgestow said...

I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I read comments like those of Cal or Hugo, concerning the Gospels. "Just Stories," they write, apparently in blissful unawareness of the power and Truth of "mere" stories.

This is the season of Advent, in which all people of faith prepare for the Coming of Our Lord, both that first, humble appearance at the split in time between BC and AD, and for that second, glorious coming at the End of Ages. It's a good time to read once again the "stories" of Christ's birth, in prayerful hope of some new insight, some deeper meaning, some more startling truth.

This morning, I saw the angel's words to the shepherds in an entirely new, more glorious light. "And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." (Luke 2:12) I must confess these words had always puzzled me in the past. What kind of sign is that? Why didn't the angel just say, "Go to Bethlehem and you'll find..." etc.? What was this a sign of?

Well, the answer (or, at least, an answer) hit me with blinding clarity today, on this, what must have been my ten thousandth re-reading of that passage. The "sign" is not the baby - it's the manger (i.e., animals' feeding trough)! The sign is Christ's appearance, not in some king's palace, not in power or magnificence or wealth or any other kind of glory, but in the most humble of all possible circumstances. In a barn, surrounded by animals, in abject poverty and rejection by society ("no room at the inn"), hunted by state power (Herod), and recognized first of all by the lowest of the low (the shepherds).

There is more power in that "mere story" than could possibly be expressed in any other way. And that is true in all our encounter with "story". Which has more meaning and is more profitable to read - Moby Dick, or some history of the New England whaling industry? Which tells us more about the human soul - King Lear, or a history of pre-Roman Britain? And as C.S. Lewis intuited, the unique characteristic of the Gospels is not the just the stories being told, but that in the Gospels those stories become fact. They not only express Mankind's deepest aspirations, they fulfill them!

Next week is Christmas. Happy Advent to all!

Cal Metzger said...

@Lowder, when I hear a Christian ask, "Well, what's the evidence AGAINST the Resurrection?" what I hear is, "Well, can you explain all of historical study (and in particular what we know about Antiquity), basic science, human psychology, the value of healthy skepticism, the rules of argument and logical fallacies, and probably some other stuff to me?"

In other words, a question like the one above (What's the evidence AGAINST the Resurrection?) reveals a larger problem in educational scope and an approach to knowledge that a simple point-by-point address talking about the the story of the resurrection in the NT fails to achieve.

As Inigo Montaya says, "There is too much."

Hugo Pelland said...

Edgestow, your avoidance is dully noted,

Merry Christmas to you too!

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

@Cal -- Sorry if I am being dense or even brain dead, but I don't understand your comment. To be specific, I don't understand why you hear the Christian's question with the question you describe in your comment.

Cal Metzger said...

Lowder: "@Cal -- Sorry if I am being dense or even brain dead, but I don't understand your comment. To be specific, I don't understand why you hear the Christian's question with the question you describe in your comment."

My point is that if you find yourself accepting the story of the resurrection in the NT as more credible than the many, many, many reasons it should not be considered credible, then a mere point-by-point delving into the particular issue surrounding one aspect of the way the resurrection story has problems tends to gloss over a broader problem -- one of a general approach to knowledge.

Another way of saying this would be that I seem much time wasted by picking over the disparities found in the different accounts of the events surrounding the resurrection in the Synoptic gospels, which overlooks the problem that many times stories don't have to relate to actual people and actual events to be recounted and useful; even if one were to be successful pointing out the contradictions in the NT accounts, what is really needed above that is a healthier overall skepticism toward a set of accounts that borrow so heavily from mythic influences.

And so on.

Cal Metzger said...

Edgestow: "And as C.S. Lewis intuited, the unique characteristic of the Gospels is not the just the stories being told, but that in the Gospels those stories become fact."

Magics stories! Eleventy!

B. Prokop said...

Cal's comment "a set of accounts that borrow so heavily from mythic influences" shows how basic, how fundamental, how crucial is his misunderstanding of the Gospels. He has gone down the wrong path from his very first footstep, so it is no wonder his conclusions are so woefully erroneous.

Cal, the Gospels did not "borrow" from any mythic influences - they are the source of those mythic stories. Think of the Incarnation as God tossing a gigantic stone into a pond. Sure, there a huge splash at the point of impact, but the ripples from that event spread outward until they have disturbed every last bit of water to the furthest edges of the pool. And never forget this: This "disturbance" acts both backwards and forwards in time. It is irrelevant whether or not a particular mythic account preceded the Incarnation by a thousand years or more, or whether it was the product of a people who had never heard a single syllable of the Gospel.

God being outside of Time and Space (He invented them, after all, and is no more subject to them than I am to this text I am writing.), the order of cause and effect can be (and frequently is) reversed.

So if you find some echo of the Gospel in pagan mythology, you can be sure it is there because of the Gospel, regardless of when the mythic story first arose. Thus, if Zeus fathers all those children with mortals, he does so precisely because of the Incarnation. If Persephone returns from Hades each spring, she does so as a result of the Resurrection. If Minos is judge of the dead in the underworld, his position is due to Christ's coming judgement of the living and the dead on the Day of Doom.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Hugo Pelland said...

Bob, are you saying that things written BEFORE the Christian Gospels were written similarly to the Gospels, and not the other way around?

Plus, the only way you can say that Cal's conclusions are erroneous is by showing why the supernatural elements of the stories are actually facts. But, you can't, other than by quoting more stories, more books, more people who believed mote or less the same things. It's enough for you, fine, but that's why it's called faith, because there is some element of belief which comes not from logic and reason but from trust in something bigger, something you cannot justify but accept because it makes sense to you.

B. Prokop said...

"Bob, are you saying that things written BEFORE the Christian Gospels were written similarly to the Gospels, and not the other way around?"

I am saying, with all the clarity I can muster, that it does not matter whether a story came about before or after the Gospel. If it is reflective of the Gospel, then it exists because of the Gospel.

How clear can I make myself? How's this? The reason the Earth is tilted on its axis, giving us the seasons of summer and winter, is because Christ died and rose again during the Passover of AD 33. And that planetary axial tilt was billions of years prior to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Yet the cause remains those events, and the seasons are the effect.

Compared to that, the existence of the odd mythological story is small potatoes.

Oh, and by the way, before you misuse the word "faith" any further, you need to read what I wrote HERE.

Jezu ufam tobie!

John Mitchell said...

"This "disturbance" acts both backwards and forwards in time. It is irrelevant whether or not a particular mythic account preceded the Incarnation by a thousand years or more, or whether it was the product of a people who had never heard a single syllable of the Gospel.

God being outside of Time and Space (He invented them, after all, and is no more subject to them than I am to this text I am writing.), the order of cause and effect can be (and frequently is) reversed."

This is about the weirdest thing i ever heard apart from the claim that Satan counterfeited the gospel story in advance to discredit the ressurection in the eyes of people.

So when the stories of Inanna being dead in the "underworld" but then coming back to life were told, that was because thousand years later Jesus would be crucified ?
And that supposedly makes sense because God is timeless ??

So invoking retrocausality to defend the reliability of the gospel-accounts is reasonable but claiming that the empty-tomb story might be a legend is a sign of desperation? Interesting.


But what do i know? I could never fully make sense of the idea that God is timeless anyway.

B. Prokop said...

"So when the stories of Inanna being dead in the "underworld" but then coming back to life were told, that was because [one] thousand years later Jesus would be crucified?"

Yes.

"And that supposedly makes sense because God is timeless??"

Yes.

"I could never fully make sense of the idea that God is timeless anyway."

Why is it so hard? If I paint a landscape, am I somehow supposed to be spatially confined by what I painted? Since God is the "Creator of all things visible and invisible"* (which would include time), why should He be subject to what He has created?

* From the Nicene Creed.

Hugo Pelland said...

B. Prokop said...
"How clear can I make myself? How's this? The reason the Earth is tilted on its axis, giving us the seasons of summer and winter, is because Christ died and rose again during the Passover of AD 33. And that planetary axial tilt was billions of years prior to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Yet the cause remains those events, and the seasons are the effect."

You could not be clearer; it's just that I wanted to confirm whether you had written something you did not mean, by mistake, or had written it on purpose and are literally insane. Now I know.

John Mitchell said...

I agree with these statements:

"So could God remain timeless while creating the universe? Well, I don't think so. Why? Because in creating the universe God undergoes at least an extrinsic change—a relational change. At the moment of creation He comes into a new relation in which he did not stand before because there was no "before." It's the first moment of time. And at the first moment of time, He comes into this new relation of sustaining the universe or at least of co-existing with the universe, a relation in which He did not stand before. And thus, in virtue of this extrinsic, relational change, God would be brought into time at the moment of creation."

"Now notice that I, in virtue of knowing tensed facts, must have a temporal location. If I know today is July 20, then I am located at July 20. Moreover, in knowing tensed facts, I would be constantly changing. I would know that today is July 20. The next day I would then know that today is July 21 and the next day that today is July 22. So any being that knows tensed facts is undergoing change and is therefore temporal. As an omniscient being, God cannot be ignorant of tensed facts. He must know not only the tenseless facts about the universe, but He must also know tensed facts about the world. Otherwise, God would be literally ignorant of what is going on now in the universe. He wouldn't have any idea of what is now happening in the universe because that is a tensed fact. He would be like a movie director who has a knowledge of a movie film lying in the canister; he knows what picture is on every frame of the film lying in the can, but he has no idea of which frame is now being projected on the screen in the theater downtown."



William Lane Craig

Hugo Pelland said...

I am surprised you say you agree with these John, since Craig's statements do not fit with today's modern understanding of spacetime where there is no such thing an objective 'now' for the universe. What happens at both ends of our galaxy, at the same time, cannot be seen by the other end for another 100,000 years. So there is no 'now' that even an omniscient god could always be aware of.

The movie director who does not know which frame is currently being displayed to which crowd is actually a good analogy I think. The movie is always the same, but different groups of people watch it at different moment in spacetime, so for them, what's happening 'now' in the movie is relative to their location in spacetime, not the movie's time.

And obviously, this modern knowledge changes absolutely nothing for Atheists since it's just more fascinating information about how the universe really works. But for the Christian God to still be relevant, it becomes more and more difficult.

B. Prokop said...

"[I]t's just that I wanted to confirm whether you had written something you did not mean, by mistake, or had written it on purpose and are literally insane. Now I know."

You need to ponder the meaning of the words "folly to the Greeks".

John Mitchell said...

"I am surprised you say you agree with these John, since Craig's statements do not fit with today's modern understanding of spacetime where there is no such thing an objective 'now' for the universe. What happens at both ends of our galaxy, at the same time, cannot be seen by the other end for another 100,000 years. So there is no 'now' that even an omniscient god could always be aware of. "

I'm actually not really committed to any particular theory of time and i don't think Relativity theory really gives us very good reasons to rule out any of them.

The mathematical framework of Special Relativity tells you what you are going to measure under certain circumstances. Mathematical frameworks have no ontological commitments.

You can very well be a Neo-Lorentzian if you understand that the question about the nature of time is, in essence, metaphysical not merely physical. You don't have to be but you can.

oozzielionel said...

"So there is no 'now' that even an omniscient god could always be aware of."
This may be an issue for a merely omniscient god, but not a problem for an omniscient and omnipresent God.

Ilíon said...

"So there is no 'now' that even an omniscient god could always be aware of."

Which 'now' in Middle Earth is the "real now" from Tolkien's perspective?

Hugo Pelland said...

There is an interesting thought experiment here, when based in proper physical facts. These facts include the notion that there is no such thing as 'now'. So God, being omni-whatever-you-want, can either:
- Be time bound to 1 specific spacetime location and know everything there is to know about that location, and outside of it with respect to that location.
- Not be time bound to 1 specific spacetime location and know everything there is to know about every single point in spacetime.
In the first case, God would know what 'now' means, but not in the second, as there would be no 'now' for Him. Since our universe works more like what the second case described, Craig is wrong when he says that his hypothetical God knows what is going on 'now' in the universe. There is no such 'now'; there cannot be. God still knows everything He can know about the universe, just not with any reference to 'now', which is a purely human construct.

John Mitchell said...

Oh if we are talking about Tolkien i can't resist asking a question:

If Gandalf was not raised from the dead then who did break Saruman's spell on Theoden ?



Ok that's a cheap shot but you know.... i think it's funny nevertheless

John Mitchell said...

"There is no such 'now'; there cannot be"


I dont see how you can be so certain about that.

Hugo Pelland said...

Because you cannot define what 'now' means without a reference point in space.

John Mitchell said...

"Because you cannot define what 'now' means without a reference point in space."

There could very well be a preferred reference frame which would justify the notion of a universal 'now'
And even if there cannot be, i don't see how you can know that.

Hugo Pelland said...

But that's not something that's up for debate; we know the universe works like that. I am just stating what physics tell us about spacetime. There is no such thing as a universal 'now', and there cannot be, because of how information/light travels. A preferred reference point is still a reference point, in space, which is what I am saying is required...

John Mitchell said...

"A preferred reference point is still a reference point"

I am talking about a frame not a point

Hugo Pelland said...

Alright, missed that detail... which is still problematic though, because the reference frame would include multiple points in space (I suppose, since you make a distinction with reference point). So 'now' for each of these points in space is 'now' there, and only there, so you still have no universal 'now'.

John Mitchell said...

Suppose there really is an 'aether' then any clock that is at rest relative to that aether shows the 'true time'

It does not matter where that clock is located, all that matters is that it is motionless relative to said aether.


"Provided that there is an aether, then under all systems x, y, z, t, one is preferred by the fact, that the coordinate axes as well as the clocks are resting in the aether. If one connects with this the idea (which I would abandon only reluctantly) that space and time are completely different things, and that there is a "true time" (simultaneity thus would be independent of the location, in agreement with the circumstance that we can have the idea of infinitely great velocities), then it can be easily seen that this true time should be indicated by clocks at rest in the aether."


Hendrik Antoon Lorentz



Another point is, you not only say there is no now you say :" there cannot be "
I am not aware of any argument that shows that Newtonian physics is metaphysically impossible. So there is at least a possible world where Newtonian Physics is true.
If that's true then there can definitely be a universal 'now'

Hugo Pelland said...

Obviously I was limiting my observations and comments to what we experience within the universe, where Newton laws are just approximations and no unique 'now' exists.

It's possible the universe sits on top of a giant turtle carrying a pocket watch with the 1 true turtle time.

John Mitchell said...

"It's possible the universe sits on top of a giant turtle"


If Universe is defined as all existing matter and space considered as a whole then thats impossible by definition because turtles are material creatures and would therefor be part of the universe.

Hugo Pelland said...

You mentioned 'clock'; same thing, materially defined inside our universe.

Take your pick... are you talking about the universe as this thing we live in, where there is no unique 'now', or something hypothetically bigger encompassing our limited universe and anything outside of it, whatever that could possibly be, including some simpler notion of time.

What's strange in the later case is that what we define as a 'unique continuous time', for simplicity of our everyday lives, would mirror what time is outside of the visible universe, but not in it. So, sure, that's possible... just like the turtle with a watch.

Dave Duffy said...

Thanks Dr. Reppert for the link. I enjoyed the reading. I admire you constantly finding links and topics. Tenacity on the internet is becoming a favorable quality to me. But, maybe I just admire people who never give up.

Merry Christmas Victor! The Lord's blessing on you and your family!

David B Marshall said...

Peter Kreeft is still in business? Wow, I remember writing him (on paper -- look it up on Wikipedia, kids) when I was a young sapling, about Catholicism, from Taiwan I think it was. He kindly answered, on paper with arguments that didn't convince me, but I appreciated the effort.

Excellent argument. For those interested, here's my supplemental argument on the Prior Probability of the Resurrection, which I think increases the odds for Jesus even more:

http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2012/03/prior-probability-of-resurrection.html

John Mitchell said...

"You mentioned 'clock'; same thing, materially defined inside our universe."

What?? I only talked about a clock being at rest relative to some 'aether'. That can, of course, be anywhere inside the universe.

You talked about a turtle carrying the universe.

Hugo Pelland said...

"I only talked about a clock being at rest relative to some 'aether'. That can, of course, be anywhere inside the universe."

That doesn't exist inside the universe; and it cannot. We know there is no such thing as some 'aether'... I thought you were listing this as a possibility for outside the visible universe.

So again, take your pick: inside the visible universe, no universal 'now', or outside of it, whatever that means, and almost anything is possible, and meaningless/unattainable to us.

John Mitchell said...

"That doesn't exist inside the universe; and it cannot. We know there is no such thing as some 'aether'"

And you know this because of ... ?

Hugo Pelland said...

Hum, because I learned how things/nature work?

Which part is a mystery to you? Do you understand the practical example of GPS for instance and how it depends on that knowledge for accuracy?