Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Response to Jeff G

Jeff G: First of all I should point out that I'm not the one who believes that any supernatural claim are supported by history. Nevertheless, here are a couple of standard criteria:

1) Multiple and independent attestation.
2) Reported by unbiased witnesses

The two criteria of
3) Internally consistency
4) External consistency

are what Vic is focusing on. But my point is that these last two are not criteria for supporting supernatural claims at all, but are instead criteria for disconfirming supernatural claims only. While this may sound a little Popperian, I find it appropriate when we are dealing with historical claims which we expect to be mostly consistent whether they are true or not.

VR: If you look at a lot of the works focused around supernatural claims, it seems as if you do not find the kind of fine-grained accuracy with respect to the non-miraculous detail that you find in the NT. I think this is something a skeptic should not expect to find. Getting all the governmental details right is pretty significant and places Luke close to the events. It renders unlikely the idea that the book of Acts is thr product of extensive legendary development.

It seems to me that you do have mulitple and independent attestation of the Christian miracle claims (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Paul, and others). But I'm not sure what a report by an unbiased witness would look like. There are reports of people becoming believers who had even been opponents or skeptics (Paul, James), but you're probably going ot argue that these people tainted themselves by becoming Christians. So what are we looking for? Someone who says "Yeah, I saw Jesus rise from the dead all right. But even though it looks like Jesus overcame death and said that I could receive eternal life if I followed him, I figured I had better things to do, so I didn't." Should we expect there to be anyone like that, and would someone like that write a biography of Jesus?"


Jeff G said...

I disagree on a number of points:

1) The skeptic is not committed to viewing the NT authors as being stupid or ignorant at all. Indeed, I think Luke especially was a very impressive historian. Thus, the skeptic would expect his natural facts to be largely correct.

I simply see no reason why the skeptic cannot allow that something unusual, but completely natural happened which later got exaggerated into supernatural claims. Under such a view, one would expect the "historical" transition between natural and supernatural to be fairly fluid.

2. The testaments are clearly NOT cases of multiple and independent attestation. First of all, because the author did not witness anything at all themselves. Second, and more importantly, they are shared sources amongst themselves.

An unbiased report would be a report which the reporter gains nothing it the report turns out to be true. When the reporter reports something which actually goes against their own interests, that is good historical evidence that some claim is reliable.

What I'm looking for is some person who saw Jesus perform any of his miracles, didn't believe him and then testified of it himself. Considering how many purported accounts of miracles which we have in the NT, this shouldn't be asking too much. Or we could ask to Paul or James' record which they wrote before their conversion.

Clark Goble said...

Jeff, it does seem that Victor does raise an important point. Is it even possible to be "independent." That is if you require for independence disbelief is that fair? It's akin to saying no one is a independent witness for a murder if all who claim to see it believe the murder took place. If one requires a witness to an event to take no belief on whether the event happened or obvious implications from the event, can there be an independent witness?

Or am I misreading you?

I guess it just seems to me that your requirement of "some person who saw Jesus perform any of his miracles and didn't believe him" seems problematic in some ways.

Maybe I'm a tad confused at what you are arguing for. I thought you were arguing against historic evidence for the supernatural but do you instead mean simply evidence for Jesus' existence?

Jeff G said...

Do not confuse independence with unbiased. By independence I simply mean that a "witness" isn't simply repeating stories or details which they heard from another source which was itself the original, or at least closer to it. The synoptics clearly do not pass this test.

By unbiased, I simply mean those who do not have a vested interest in the story or details which they are relating being true.

I don't think that biased accounts don't count at all, only that they should be taken with a large grain of salt.

Thus, I think you were misreading me on a number of levels.

1) I distinguished between evidence which could count for or against an event, be it supernatural or natural.
2) I distinguished between independent attestation and disinterested attestation.
3) I also made the claim that while the evidence in favor of Christianities natural claims are pretty good, this means very little. The supernatural claims are not well supported by the evidence. This is not to say, however, that the evidence against Christianity is compelling either.

I guess it just seems to me that your requirement of "some person who saw Jesus perform any of his miracles and didn't believe him" seems problematic in some ways.

Clark Goble said...

OK. So you're more talking about the dependence of the gospels on Mark and Q then? It would seem that in the NT we have several independent sources: Mark, the hypothetical Q, and Paul. In terms of secondary sources there are multiple independent, albeit biased, sources in the gospels, Acts, and the Pauline wriitngs.

If I read you right though Mark is only reporting hearsay as is the author of Acts. Paul, I'd hope you'd concede, seems firsthand as does the author of Revelation. Although their accounts aren't quite so "physical" as the what one finds in Acts and the gospels.

Given that it is hearsay we have the legendary problems of hearsay evidence and no way to evaluate the original witnesses.

Thanks for clarifying the unbiased vs. independent terms. I confess I read you as using them roughly synonymous rather than as you intended. My bad.

Steven Carr said...

'It seems to me that you do have mulitple and independent attestation of the Christian miracle claims (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Paul, and others).'

The last Adam became a life-giving spirit (pneuma).

A spirit (pneuma) does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.

And this is what Victor calls independent attestation. People who flat-out contradict each other?

The New Testament says Peter and Paul thought they saw real things in visons.

Paul thought he really went to Heaven in a vision.

Perhaps he had a vision of Jesus appearing to 500 people. He would have thought those people existed, but would not have been able to name any of them , of course.

And that would explain why he was unable to draw upon any eyewitness details of what the resurrected body was like, when trying to explain to the Corinthians what a resurrected body was like.

After all, how do you explain to people what a body of spirit is like, when you have never seen one?

Paul struggles to do so in 1 Corinthians 15.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

The Fatima point is an interesting one... actually, there's probably an argument to be made that there's better evidence for the apparitions there than for Jesus' resurrection. However, I really don't know the primary sources for the Fatima miracles.

Jason Pratt said...

{{After all, how do you explain to people what a body of spirit is like, when you have never seen one?}}

Or, for that matter, how do you explain to people what a body of spirit is like, when you _have_ seen one?

By all the story details, this is something new. There would be difficulty in communicating the properties in any case.

As to the apparent conflict generated by the GosLuke report, it seems reasonably obvious enough that the word 'spirit' there is being used colloquially for what we would mean by saying 'ghost' (much as when Rhoda freaks later in Acts, thinking she has seen Peter's "angel". 'Ghost' of course is simply 'geis' or 'spirit' in the history of our own language.) Jesus' reassurance makes entirely good sense along that line; and Paul's point about the second Adam becoming a life-giving spirit needs to be kept in context of the rest of his discussion in that chapter (something Steven still refuses to do after all this time).