Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Jason Pratt responds to Keith Parsons Part I

I like Keith Parsons a lot. Pro-resurrection apologetics tend to be sloppy, and he counters with some of the right moves. (Or, anyway, he counters with some of the same things _I_ would counter with; and I still think those countermoves are the correct ones to make, even though technically they're countering moves in favor of a belief of my own. Which is why I counter with them myself, if someone else doesn't do it first.) I'm on record here at the site as calling a win for Keith by a solid edge over WLC, too, in the debate he references. (Not for the Res section, as you may gather; but I have no problem calling some points there as well, in Keith's favor.)

The following rebuttal, then, is meant to be presented in a spirit of detente. (Plus whichever 'e' the accent falls on--can't ever remember...)

Keith's reply to Holding, concerning the prep by Jesus (saying things which clearly don't mesh with expectations of the time), is fair enough, as far as it goes. One could even extend the point, about Jesus saying things which simply didn't mesh with expectations, by noting that in GosMatt, the Sanhedrin is presented as being ahead of the disciples on this: _they_ understand the implications before the event, and according to that story take steps to ensure the disciples don't fake it (which is what they're not unreasonably presented as expecting.)

This particular story element, though, represents a general thematic, emphasized in all the (canonical) Res narratives: Jesus _TOLD US_ this was going to happen, but we kept on not getting it!

Now, that story emphasis, however it got there, is _itself_ an Indisputable historical fact. (i.e. sometime between 29 and 130 CE on the extreme outside range, a set of indisputably historical people indisputably wrote a set of documents that each clearly contain this thematic.) The hallucination, on the other hand, is a hypothesis. As a hypothesis which is supposed to be part of an explanation for a long-term complex historical event, it needs to be in synch somehow with what indisputable historical facts we _do_ have--such as the existence (itself) of this eventual story thematic.

Keith starts by saying, in effect, that hallucinations of a risen body, or hallucinations eventually attributed to a risen body (even if it would be implausible to hypothesize a group corporeal-hallucination), can be accounted for by the strength of the expectation Jesus managed to instill in them, that he would be raised again.

In itself, this is far from being an unreasonable position to take. But if this hypothesized expectation was _so_ strong, that it generated delusions of the expectation's fulfillment after Jesus' death--then there's a tension with what _is_ an indisputable historical fact: how did it happen that the group did _not_ place a similarly proportionate value of their expectation,
especially the _vindication_ (as they would see it) of their expectation, as part of the story that eventually developed?

If Keith calls in delusions of human nature with this kind of power, he will have to find some way to run (more-than-)proportionately _against_ the strength of this power in order to explain an important subsequent detail of development: in all authoritative accounts, the disciples are presented as being constantly clueless (even doubtful and outright rejectful after the fact in some accounts--trumped by a group of "oblivion-gushing" women as St. Luke colorfully puts it.)

Put another way, Keith is going to find it difficult to proceed without historical disjunction, in proposing a theory about historical facts, based on first maximizing a delusion of human nature (per hypothesis) and then completely negating that strength in order to keep from conflicting with an _actual_ (not hypothetical) piece of the evident history. If a group of people want so badly to be vindicated in their expectations of something, that they will delude themselves (or be accidentally deluded) into thinking they have been vindicated, then _those_ people (by all reasonable expectations of the hypothesis) are going to make that vindication _of theirs_ to be a significantly important part of the continuing story, to be handed down authoritatively as such, and opposed where their authority on this is rejected (especially to the extent one would expect from people having suffered, per hypothesis, such a strong delusion).

But entirely the opposite is what historically (not hypothetically) happened instead. And that's what has to be overcome for Keith to present the experience as a delusion arising from over-strong expectations, in a way that can be shown to mesh with what even _he_ has to admit must have historically happened: the authoritative documents were written in a completely different way.

(Instead of 'we were clueless while the wretched, lying Sanhedrin actually had a clue', the result, from the hypothesis, needs to be something like 'ha, stupid Sanhedrin, we knew all along this would happen--go us!')

Given the heretical and apocalyptic nature of their master's teachings, and the experiences, whatever they were, that convinced them that Jesus had risen, the emergence of radically new concepts in the disciples' minds hardly seems to require supernatural explanation. (possibly quoted by Keith directly from a transcript of his debate with WLC, and/or from his book _Why I Am Not A Christian._)

I will set aside the objection, that if Keith considers GosMark to be accurate to this extent, then on what (non-circular) grounds does he consider GosMark to be inaccurate about the (fairly mundane and entirely natural, even naturalistic, repeating detail of the) disciples completely misunderstanding Jesus on these points. Not that it wouldn't be an interesting question to see a reply to, but what Keith presents here is more damaging to his case.

Up to now, Keith has been defending an explanation of the experiences being _grounded in_ the strength of the belief that Jesus was going to rise again (bodily or otherwise)--thus, (not unreasonably) the "hallucinations" of the same. This is, naturally, the sort of thing such hallucinations will need_ already_ in place; and, that is the explanation Keith has given. Till now.

_Now_, however, Keith tells us that these radically new concepts in the disciples' minds, came not only from the heretical and apocalyptic nature of their master's teaching, _but from the experiences themselves_("whatever they were").

If Keith wants to explain the radically new concepts in the disciples' minds, as being a product of Jesus' teaching _and_ of the experiences—fair enough. No dissension from me. No dissension, in principle, from any conservative Christian apologist I know of, for that matter. But if he wants to explain the experiences _themselves_ as (natural) delusions based on the _expectations_ of the disciples being so strong and so strongly radical thanks to the powerful teaching of their heretic master; then why bother appealing to the "experiences" as an explainer for the strength and content of their beliefs??

I see no clear answer from Keith on this, yet. I suspect it's because he can't really get away from the realistic content of GosMark, on this matter: that what Jesus was telling them kept flying entirely over the heads of their expectations, so that--as the story says (certainly only emphasized in other canonical variants)--they were totally unprepared even to _expect_ the experiences, much less deal with them (at first) when they began to happen.

But then, so much for the "hallucination" theory being naturally
plausible, _based on_ strength of expectations.

Concerning Keith's remarks about Jesus being _subsequently_ regarded as the first fruits of the general Res: in fairness I can see no problem with this being a later conclusion by followers, on Keith's hallucination-experience hypothesis per se--in abstraction from other considerations.

If Keith is trying to bring this in as a strength-of-expectation _before_the fact, however, as part of explaining the Res experiences; then my reply is going to follow lines similar to what I've already said.

I objected that nobody knows how long a period passed before the Disciples' preaching had succeeding in irritating the Jewish authorities sufficiently to motivate them to produce the body if they could get it.

One could answer that this depends on how generally reliable one judges the report in Acts to be (itself a whole other huge topic). But rather than launch into an historical analysis (pro or con) as thorough as Colin Hemer's _The Book of Acts and its Setting in Hellenistic History_; I reply instead again: such a reluctance would not fit into the historical details. (I do respect Keith's attempts at saying the same thing in the other direction, though; and I'll get to those presently once I explain myself here.)

For what it is worth, I (myself) am not especially impressed by the typical
'Sanhedrin would have produced the body but they didn't' arguments put up by apologists. But, let us assume for purposes of argument, that at (any given) x-time the Sanhedrin becomes irritated enough to do so; and that they wait until the body couldn't be easily identified before becoming
so irritated (whether or not they even _have_ the body, for whatever reason).

Is it seriously supposable, as part of an overall _historical_ theory, that this would make a difference to these men?

The point, from their perspective, would not be to de-convert the main converts; the point would be to inoculate the populace against heresy (even blasphemy). When the Inquisition of the College of Cardinals arrives in town, displaying the remains of Josh the Freaking Heretic, does it really _matter_ whether the body is identifiable by terms of 1st century forensics? If the Sanhedrin says _THIS IS THE BODY_, then the faithful can say, "Yes sir, great illuminated rabbi! Glad you showed us!", and fly the flag of loyalty.

Whatever may have been the constituency of the Sanhedrin as a whole at that time, there is good evidence even _outside_ the Gospel texts--and put a whole lot stronger there than in the Gospels--that the ruling family in the Sanhedrin at that time, was a bunch of ruthless opportunistic crooks. So, what _good_ reason can be given by Keith (whom, I can freely suppose, has no higher opinion of ruthlessly opportunistic religious authorities than I do), to explain why these ruthlessly opportunistic religious authorities didn't just _fake_ showing a body, using their authority to sanction belief in that?


Steven Carr said...

I have never heard anything so dumb as people being asked to produce a 7 week old corpse to show that somebody is dead

Why don't people produce the body of Elvis to disprove all these Elvis sightings?

Why didn't people produce the body of Nero to disprove the people who claimed Nero had not died, but was still alive?

Why didn't Herod produce the head of John the Baptist , to squash the rumours that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the grave.

Of course, the Christians would simply have pointed out that the dead body of Jesus was just the seed which died, and that Jesus was alive as a 'life-giving spirit'

As Paul said, if there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Producing the natural body of Jesus hardly disproves the spiritual body, does it?

Jason Pratt said...

Opps--one of the html headers didn't make it in. The paragraph beginning "I objected that nobody knows how long a period passed..." was supposed to have bold marks, indicating a quote from Keith.

(Interestingly, this could make for a handy illustration of something else regarding the Pauline epistles later, though... {g})

Since I'm presenting a rebuttal of Keith's letter, and since I mentioned that I _did_ call a win in his favor by a solid edge in (Jeff's abstract of) his debate with WLC, I intend to work up a summary of points I thought he did well on in that debate, and post them as a follow-up comment later. (Might not be today, though; I have to go make a building with Dad.)


PS: I've long since answered Steven's reply here (on the Pauline matter) in-depth in previous months. If he doesn't remember, he should pay more attention. If he does remember, he should take the reply into account, even if he still disagrees with it. In any case, it'll be brought up again, in passing, in Part 2 of the letter (which Victor already has.)

Meanwhile, I would ask him to remember that I _did_ say in Part 1 here: "For what it is worth, I (myself) *am not especially impressed* by the typical 'Sanhedrin would have produced the body but they didn't' arguments put up by apologists." One of those typical arguments is 'they didn't produce a body, so no body was there'. I think that's an extremely weak argument, and I'm not making it here. In fact, I'm not making _any_ direct argument for the bodily resurrection here.

Even so: the situation the Sanhedrin would be facing would be _rather_ significantly different than Elvis sightings today, or even Nero sightings (if there were any, other than expectations of his return) back in the 1st century. The historical contexts are crucially important to keep in mind as an overall picture; and they can't be quickly entered into much less covered quickly.

(Also, remember story contexts please: Antipater wouldn't necessarily know at first where JohnBapt was buried, head included. And since that story detail drops out of sight by the time he returns to the scene, for all we know he _had_ had the body confirmed in place in the meanwhile. Though more likely he simply came to the realization that Jesus was a different person from John.)

Steven Carr said...

And, of course, Paul is clear in Galatians 6 that observance of the law (not resurrection) is what was at dispute between Christians and Jews.

Steven Carr said...

Jason writes ' So, what _good_ reason can be given by Keith (whom, I can freely suppose, has no higher opinion of ruthlessly opportunistic religious authorities than I do), to explain why these ruthlessly opportunistic religious authorities didn't just _fake_ showing a body, using their authority to sanction belief in that?'

OK, I give up, why didn't they just fake showing a body?

Victor Reppert said...

Jason: I restored the relevant html passage

Jason Pratt said...

Thanks, Victor. Not sure why the formatting comes out odd.