Saturday, December 18, 2010

ECREE and Antecedent Probabilities

There is a sense in which I agree with the ECREE thesis, it is just that I don't believe that there is any objective way of proving that one set of antecedent probabilities is rational and another is not. So what is "extraordinary" is just what your antecendent probabilities tell you is improbable.

I think that as you pull at the story of the founding of Christianity, as you play out the various scenarios all the way through, you end up thinking that none of the scenarios for what might have really happened fit the facts very well. They run into factual brick walls of one kind or another. The Christian story, IF you can get over the initial antecedent improbability of the miraculous, makes more sense of it that any other story does. I think there is no logical proof that a miracle cannot happen, since it is possible that God exists, and God is omnipotent. Further, I think that this miracle is one that God would have a fairly understandable reason to perform. So, given my prior probabilities, the evidence lifts the case for the resurrection  at least over 90%. But I can't prove the someone else that they shouldn't have priors so low for the Resurrection that it never gets above 10 for them. Both can be rational, and that's just life in the big city. (I also don't think salvation is a matter of passing a theology test). If you don't believe in the Resurrection, then I think there are a bunch of inconvenient facts out there that are hard to make sense of. But I think every philosophy has to deal with inconvenient facts.

Keith Parsons would probably call this Bayesian Balkanization.


Anonymous said...

But I can't prove the someone else that they shouldn't have priors so low for the Resurrection that it never gets above 10 for them. Both can be rational, and that's just life in the big city. (I also don't think salvation is a matter of passing a theology test).

Perhaps not. But if you also think the same is true of theism, then doesn't this entail that the apostle Paul was wrong when he said in Romans that the existence and nature of God are clearly seen through what has been made, and that, in virtue of this fact, all are without excuse? I'd be curious to see whether you think Paul was wrong on this.

Victor Reppert said...

Yes, if Paul were to study contemporary philosophy of religion the way I have, he would see the error of his statement.

Victor Reppert said...

Or, at least, my study and practice of philosophy of religion, and the availability of evolutionary explanations that would not have occurred to anyone in the first century, suggest to me that I don't have any way of defending him. If he's right, I'm to dumb to prove it.

Paul also said "Slaves obey your masters." Does that mean Harriet Tubman was wrong when she got people out of slavery (people theft, you know).

Jarrett Cooper said...

Prof. Reppert,

I think Paul and his statements in Romans are accurate.

For example, Paul could've made the philosophical statement that there are other minds and this is clearly seen in the world and all are without excuse of this fact. However, a philosopher could say that if Paul was to study today's philosophy that he would see the error in his statement.

The point is not about having a philosophical or scientific argument that proves theres a God (thereby making one without excuse), but that God created the world in such a way that we know -- without any argument -- that there is a creator. However, as Paul and the Bible notes, sin causes problems with regards to this particular issue.

We can know something to be the case, but actually having an argument is much harder. I think Paul was speaking about the former and not the latter. To quote Stephen M. Barr, "Recognizing God’s handiwork is one thing; fashioning compelling philosophical or scientific proofs is another. Everyone, as St. Paul observes can do the former, few can do the latter."

With regards to Paul and his mentioning of slaves obeying their master. Context is important. A couple of verses earlier, Paul says that children should obey their parents in everything. But, I don't think if my dad told me to go murder someone, Paul would think I'm not following his statement.

Anonymous said...

Paul also said "Slaves obey your masters." Does that mean Harriet Tubman was wrong when she got people out of slavery (people theft, you know)?

I'm glad to hear you say Paul was wrong about slavery. I wonder, though, that you want to go this far. For in the Romans passage, Paul is relying on the point about the obviousness of theism to reach an important theological conclusion about the Gentiles being under the condemnation of God.

I suppose one could reply that to conclude they are not under God's condemnation is to fallaciously deny the antecedent, but that strikes me as effete. For the passage clearly says they're under God's condemnation for suppressing their knowledge of God.

Steven Carr said...

What facts?

Facts like early Christian converts openly scoffing at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses?

Even Christian apologists like Mike Licona has abandoned trying to show the empty tomb is a fact.

Not one person wrote a document naming himself as having seen it, and the first mention of it seems to have lead straight to accusations of Christians being grave-robbers.

As the first Novel makes no defense whatever against this claim, it is obvious that before the empty tomb was invented, nobody had been accusing Christians of robbing graves.

Mr Veale said...

"Even Christian apologists like Mike Licona has abandoned trying to show the empty tomb is a fact."

No he does not! He does not believe that there is a strong enough consensus to use it as "historical bedrock" in an argument for the Resurrection.

I think that his reasoning here is horribly flawed - it borders on the inexcusable - and anyone not taken with the "minimal facts" approach developed by Habermas would agree.

But Licona believes that the case for the Empty Tomb is strong, and cites a number of "sceptical" scholars who believe that the Tomb was Empty.


Mr Veale said...

You also ignore the fact that Matthew's Gospel was aimed at Jews; and that unless this story had circulated widely in Jewish circles it would have been insanity for Matthew to include it.
This is a remarkably embarrassing story for Matthew to include, and to disseminate (especially as Matthew’s counter-assertion amounts to the rather weak “well, the guards would say that wouldn’t they!”)Matthew cannot even deny that such guards ever existed - which would be the obvious option if this story was fiction through and through!

The embarrassment of female witnesses to the Empty Tomb and the embarrassment of the Temple authorities counter assertion practically guarantees an empty tomb.



Mr Veale said...


I think if Paul were to study cognitive psychology of religion, he might return to his original position!


Vinny said...

If you don't believe in the Resurrection, then I think there are a bunch of inconvenient facts out there that are hard to make sense of.

There are tons and tons of ancient stories that are hard to make sense of, but since I don't expect to be able to explain the reasons and motivations behind every ancient myth, they are not in any way "inconvenient" for me. Nor does any particular story become inconvenient by virtue of your insistence that it is the product of an actual supernatural event.

Moreover, the only reason these stories don't make sense is that they describe events that violate the normal patterns of cause and effect that we observe around us. However, if we must allow for the possibility of supernatural intervention in the physical world, then we no longer have any basis to rely on the normal patterns of cause and effect that we observe and we can no longer claim that any ancient stories make any more sense than any others.

Steven Carr said...

So Licona cannot demonstrate that this alleged empty tomb existed.

If he leaves that out of his 'bedrock' then he is building on sand.

But please name a document where somebody named himself as seeing this alleged empty tomb.

Or a document where a named Christian writes naming himself as ever having heard of these alleged women.

And the first Novel was blissfully unaware that Christians had allegedly been hammered for decades with charges of grave-robbing.

So these charges did not exist until the first Novel was written explaining that the body was lying around for anybody to access who could move the stone.

After that, 'Matthew' had to change what was written, and allege that there were guards, and he knew about secret meetings where there was a government cover up.

Much like people even today claim they know about secret government meetings where the Moon landings were faked.

The first Novel had so many holes in it that later Christians had to spin away what it said, because any Jew who heard the story of the first Novel would conclude that the body was there to be stolen.

The fact that later Christians doctored embarrassing stories does not make them true.

it just reveals the shoddy nature of Christian spin-doctoring.

Steven Carr said...

What remains a fact is that early Christian converts scoffed at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

Mr Veale said...


The traditions circulated widely before they were written down in Gospels. They all have Mary of Magdala's name attached to them. There is no need to include the name, unless she is being cited as an eyewitness (much as Paul cites eyewitnesses to the risen Christ in the Kerygma in 1 Cor 15).

You may not like it - and you may not understand the nature of ancient "bios" and oral communities - but you have named eyewitnesses from the very beginning.

In any case, you don't understand the argument for the Resurrection. Suppose we had a document entitled "Pilate's Diary". And under the entry "Passover" we find "How odd. went down to the Galilean's prophet's tomb today, and it was empty." Now suppose that was the only evidence that we had for the Resurrection. It wouldn't be worth a jot.

As for "What remains a fact is that early Christian converts scoffed at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses", you're just making things up. Where's the evidence that the Corinthians doubted Jesus' physical Resurrection?
And only one group of Christians within this small group of Christians doubted the general Resurrection! That's an astonishing fact. I'm sorry that you missed it, and its importance.

As for Michael Licona, you obviously have not read his book, as you do not understand what he means by "historical bedrock". Once you have familiarised yourself with his arguments, I will be happy to discuss them with you.

It might be helpful for you to understand that there is more than for the Resurrection. And you need to read a bit more on the nature of historical inferences. For example - and famously - what signed eyewitness document do we have that states that Hitler had full knowledge of the extent of the Holocaust, approved of it, and gave orders that it should be carried out?
Licona spends 100+ pages investigating historiography. I suggest that you put in a fraction of his effort.

Mr Veale said...

On those scoffing early Christians at Corinth -

“…the dying and rising gods have nothing at all to do with the Resurrection of Jesus – at least not for Paul. He comes from a basis in Pharisaic Judaism to announce that the general resurrection has already begun with that of Jesus – that is why he is able to argue in 1 Corinthians 15: 12-20 that no Jesus resurrection means no general resurrection; no general resurrection means no Jesus resurrection. They stand or fall together for Paul, and he could never even imagine that “resurrection” is some special privilege for Jesus on the analogy of a dying-rising divinity”

JOHN DOMINIC CROSSAN “Response to Robert M Price" in The Historical Jesus - 5 Views.

The argument Paul runs in 1 Cor is - "you accepted that Jesus physically rose from the dead; therefore you should accept that you will physically rise from the dead.


Anonymous said...

Ah, leave it to Steven Carr to once again trot out his one-and-only idea. Seriously, Mr. Carr, don't you ever have anything original to say? It's gets a bit wearying (read: stupefyingly boring) to read you saying the same thing over and over and over and over again. Even John Loftus if far more interesting than you!

And please, if you intend to take part in an educated discussion, at least make an attempt to use the correct terminology. Your use of the word "novel" for works written in the 1st Century A.D. simply shows that you have no idea whatsoever of what you are talking about. If you want, then use the word "fiction", but please, please, please... not "novel". Novels, as a literary genre, did not exist until the 16th Century!!! Your insistence on using the term simply makes you look like a fool... but then, maybe that's just Truth in Advertising!

Victor Reppert said...

Romans 1:20 is difficult for me because it looks like it is saying that we can look at "things made," that is, the physical world, and determine that that which is in it was not only designed, but designed by a good moral being. Given what I know about the logic of design inferences going back to Hume's Dialogues and the rise of Darwinian biology, I don't see that there's that kind of a slam dunk argument. None of the arguments that I have studied are sufficiently strong, in my estimation, to yield the result that no one can honestly reject God. I know that some people even hope that the AFR has that kind of kick to it, but I don't see it.

At the same time, the image of the intellectually virtuous skeptic, who is somehow perfectly "objective" and just goes by the evidence, who has no emotional investment in unbelief is an image I don't believe in. Intellectual honesty is a tough business. It could be the case that if my sinful nature weren't at work, I would have an easier time seeing that there is a God to whom I owe complete obedience. I can't prove that.

I try to presume the best on the part of my opponents, though ad hominem attacks and "no concession" argumentation styles make me wonder about how rational some people really are.

Anonymous said...

I try to presume the best on the part of my opponents, though ad hominem attacks and "no concession" argumentation styles make me wonder about how rational some people really are.

I agree: plenty of irrationality and ugliness on the part all parties to the discussion. I'm glad, though, that none of that applies to you, Vic. Keep up the good work!

Doctor Logic said...


I wonder if you are confused about priors. If I intuitively feel certain that T is true, but I cannot state why I believe T is true, I don't get to say that P(T) = 1.

In other words, there's a difference between a Bayesian prior and pure intuition.

Of course, one can successfully argue that my intuitions are informed by unconsciously/subconscious sampling, so they carry some non-zero statistical weight. However, this does not seem to be what you are doing.

Here is an example.

Suppose that I have a barrel of one-inch cubes, half of them are red, and the rest are blue. I place before you one of each color.

Suppose you are instantly struck by a strong intuition... intuitively, you are all but certain that the blue cube is heavier, but you cannot say why you believe this. What is your prior for the theory that the blue cube is heavier?

I put it to you that your P(blue is heavier than red) is not equal to 1 just because your intuition was that you were certain the blue cube was heavier. The prior probably shouldn't even be 75%.

IOW, intuitive belief is not a prior!

Instead, priors should be based on explicit sampling.

When priors vary from person to person, they vary because each person's samples are different, or because they haven't been able to quantify the space of alternative theories. They don't vary just because people have different intuitions.

Suppose that, in reality, there is a 60% probability that a random blue cube will be heavier than a random red one. Two observers could come up with different (and subjective) assessments for P(blue cube heavier than red) if they haven't seen random, representative samples of the cubes before. One observer could be unlucky and have samples only the lighter blue cubes versus the heavier red ones. Their priors differ, but it's not about intuition.

The two observers converge to the same result as they make it through the barrel.

Doctor Logic said...


Also, with respect to the Resurrection, you should not be weighing your Resurrection theory against any particular naturalistic theory. Instead, you should be weighing your theory against the sum probability of ALL naturalistic theories.

In fact, you ought to be weighing it against the SUM of all naturalistic alternative and ALL dualistic alternatives.

What this means is that even if you conclude P(R|E) > any individual P(~R|E), you might still be irrational to conclude that R is true. If P(R|E) is 1%, and P(x|E) < 1% (where x is one of ~R), it's irrational to believe that R is true.

Mr Veale said...

If I remember correctly, most of these questions are dealt with here:

and here

(although I imagine there would be some differences, on the details, between the McGrews and Vic)


Jarrett Cooper said...

Prof. Reppert,

I think looking at Romans 1:20 to be "things made" only in the physical sense is much too restrictive. It excludes beauty, love, the role of good and evil, God's sustenance of the universe, and a whole host of other values.

I want to emphasize again, that I don't think Romans 1:20 deals with us having having an argument that proves or having an argument so strong that it will persuade all to belief, but rather we -- without any argument -- can recognize God's handiwork in nature (both physical and non).

Mr Veale said...

Once more - if we have degrees of belief, expressed say in how much we would bet on a particular proposition being true, then Bayes Theorem can be used to assess those degrees of belief by the evidence.

I'm also worried that some posters are trying to smuggle in positivism when discussing Bayes Theorem.


Boz said...

Victor, what is your bayesian prior probability for some random miracle claim?

for example: "Yogi Adityannath from Nagpur, India, can levitate unaided at will"

Victor Reppert said...

Not very high, unless I learn quite a bit more about the Yogi. More details my provide evidence of charlatanry, or cause a serious explanation problem for the skeptic.

Boz said...

I did a bayesian calculation of the probability of jesus' ressurection. Of course, these numbers are just estimates.

Pr(miracle|reports) = Pr(reports|miracle)*Pr(miracle)/pr(reports)

=Pr(reports|miracle)*Pr(miracle)/[Pr(reports|miracle)*Pr(miracle) + Pr(reports|~miracle)*Pr(~miracle)]

= (.99 * 1 trillionth)/[(.99 * 1 trillionth) + (0.01 * 1 - 1 trillionth)]

= 0.000000000099

What do you guys think?

Doctor Logic said...


If I were being generous to McGrew, I would call her argument unimaginative.

For example, she talks about suicide bombers, kamikazes, etc. as being in a different class because they do not die to affirm truths or eyewitness testimony. In taking this approach, she makes two errors. First, she assumes that, before the Resurrection, the apostles were not the type of people to become martyrs. This seems, frankly, daft. Clearly, the apostles had already abandoned the mainstream, and had been members of the Jesus dog and pony show, risking their lives in the process. In other words, we don't have good reason to believe that the apostles were converted into martyrs as a result of the Resurrection.

Second, if you are someone who likes the idea of martyrdom (or just likes the idea of standing up for a cause), are you likely to describe yourself as someone who happens to have that sort of personal nature, or are you likely to describe yourself as a normal person motivated by a clear vision of reality?

I put it to you that you will describe yourself (and your colleagues) as a normal person persuaded by clearer vision or an unusual circumstance.

And guess who wrote the story of the apostles? That's right. The apostles. And why did they write their story? In order to persuade others to their cause. So we should expect them to write themselves into the story as average Joes motivated by unusual circumstances.

Now, nothing in the picture I have described is of a particularly low probability. In fact, martyrdom was a far more significant feature of the culture in 1st century Palestine than it is now. Throw in a renegade rabbi as a filter, and you have a locus for attracting such radicals.

McGrew also focuses on hallucination as the source for false belief. If a group of teens go into a haunted house, and one person says they see a ghost, it's likely that all of them will emerge with a ghost story. Is this effect "hallucination"? No. But it is a real effect.

There's also the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance. After doomsday fails to arrive, many members of doomsday cults actually become even more committed to their world view! They are faced with two dissonant alternatives: (1) they are smart, insightful, moral people who committed their lives to a falsehood, or (2) they were 99% right all along, but some details need a tweak (e.g., like the date of destruction, or the form of their deliverance).

The discarding of dissonant facts in favor of self-image is a mundane occurrence (everyone does it to some degree, and some more than others). And a desire for martyrdom, while somewhat rare, is not particularly remarkable. The haunted house effect is mundane, too. This makes for a very simple naturalistic alternative.

Typically, I see this simple idea rejected on the grounds that the apostles described themselves as ordinary blokes before the Resurrection. I think there are obvious flaws in that sort of response.

Steven Carr said...

The traditions circulated widely before they were written down in Gospels.


Name one person who claimed to have circulated these traditions before 'Mark' wrote a Novel that was so embarrassing to Christians that other Christians had to rapidly change the story, to patch up some of the holes in the story.

Please produce evidence that Mary Magdalene existed.

Name a Christian in the first 30 years who claimed she existed.

You can't, no more than you can find evidence for the existence of the second gunman who shot JFK.

But Christians no more need evidence than people who believe a second gunman shot JFK.

But Bob Prokop will pop up once more to demand that atheists stop asking for evidence.

Bob is bored stiff with sceptics asking for evidence that Joseph of Arimathea existed.

Atheists, shut up asking for evidence. You are boring Bob!

Steven Carr said...

Paul, of course, never mentions Gospel traditions of an empty tomb even when writing to recently converted Christians who scoffed at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

Paul simply tells them that if the body is destroyed, they will get a new body.

And Paul reminds Christians that resurrected bodies are not made from the dust that a corpse becomes.

These are all facts, which is why Habermas ignores them.

Mr Veale said...

Dr Logic

Tim can defend the apologetics in this article quite ably. And I don't think that you're really dealing with their arguments. If you have read my posts here on DI, you would see that I take a slightly different approach. The McGrews can speak for themselves, and they pack quite a punch.
However, I drew your attention to the article because it has an excellent discussion of the Bayesian approaches to the Resurrection, a wonderful discussion of Earman's work and a devastating critique of Plantinga. These all seem relevant to the questions that you were asking. Most of your questions re: Bayes Theorem are discussed.

(In fairness to you, when I first read the version of the article that appeared in Philosophia Christi I kept thinking "you can't just assert that about the Gospels" and "that's too controversial to use in apologetics". Then as I read through the McGrew's thoughts on using Bayes I realised that these arguments are being used to illustrate their points about the probabilities. Although Tim and Lydia would use these arguments, they are not essential to their preferred way of arguing for the Resurrection. And I think this Bayesian approach is exciting and insightful and, best of all, right!)

Mr Veale said...

By the way, I think that the evidence that the Gospels are excellent historical sources is very good. (I set that aside in debate with sceptics.) But if the Gospels are excellent historical sources most of Tim and Lydia's argument goes through.


Mr Veale said...


"Paul, of course, never mentions Gospel traditions of an empty tomb"
That he does not mention them does not mean that he did not know of them; if he did not know of them then it remains possible that the Palestinian Churches did, and considered them to be important.

"converted Christians who scoffed at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses"
I've dealt with that - as usual you ignore what is inconvenient to your ill-informed rant. You have not analysed the structure of Paul's argument. You have not considered what Paul and one sub-group of Corinthians who denied a general resurrection must hold in common.

"Please produce evidence that Mary Magdalene existed" etc etc.

A verse about answering a fool according to his folly springs to mind. And I doubt that you'll even read any of this, nevemind reflect on it. Nevertheless -

A (i) Please provide evidence that the Gospels are "novels".Show how Buridge's work is flawed. Show that you have read Burridge, and understand the issues.Otherwise - shush.
(ii) The Gospels are literary units. But they are composed of oral traditions that circulated in the Early Church. The evidence clearly indicates that many began to circulate during Jesus' ministry.
(iii) The Gospels theology depends on their historicity. So they must make every effort to be faithful to the traditions.
(iv) It is impossible to explain why these traditions mention Mary of Magdala if she did not exist, and was not a witness. She is associated with demon possession, so she is not the ideal witness. Clearly identifying a witness when anonymous witnesses could have been used by preachers, or when reliable male witnesses could have been invented, points to Mary's existence and role as an early eye witness. If you've a better explanation - that does not involve name calling and empty assertion - I'm all ears.

B "Name a Christian in the first 30 years who claimed she existed."


Mr Veale said...

You haven't responded to my comments about historical inferences, and the place of eyewitnesses.

Melmoth the Wanderer said...

Doctor Logic wrote:

"And guess who wrote the story of the apostles? That's right. The apostles."

Many thanks to the good Doctor for totally undermining the main premise on which the arguments of most of the other atheists around here (Carr et al) are built - ie, that the gospels are a total fiction written by a later generation of Christians.

Guys, with friends like the Doctor, you don't need enemies!

Anonymous said...

I frankly don't understand Steven Carrs' point at all. OF COURSE, Paul will not reference Gospel accounts. His letters were written BEFORE the gospels. How could he possibly reference something which had not yet been written?

As to not mentioning an empty tomb, there are more references to the Resurrection in Paul than I can count. Does not the Resurrection imply an empty tomb? You can't have one without the other! This is a giant non-issue.

Vinny said...

Does not the Resurrection imply an empty tomb?

Does it?

For Paul, the evidence of the resurrection is the appearances of the risen Christ. Nothing that Paul says about those appearances implies that anyone knew where Jesus' body had been buried or had verified whether the body was still there.

Doctor Logic said...


I don't really know what argument(s) you're referring to.

Do you mean that we can overcome an arbitrarily small prior probability if we have enough independent observations? Because I'm on board with that.

The problem I have with Christian attempts at Bayesian analysis is the blind (and faulty) insistence that the gospels constitute multiple independent witnesses.

If I tell you that I have a thousand witnesses to the fact that I can fly unaided, my story isn't automatically validated by a thousand independent witnesses. You still have the claim from just one source, i.e., me.

Similarly, if a dozen kids go into an allegedly haunted house, and 10 of them come out claiming to have seen a ghost, we don't have 10 independent eyewitnesses. For starters, there's a filter on the witnesses just based on the fact that they were all the type of person to enter the haunted house looking for ghosts in the first place. Second, social status is tied to seeing a ghost, and people reinterpret mundane occurrences as supernatural ones when properly motivated.

But if you read McGrew's paper, none of this sort of analysis is to be found. She explicitly argues that the apostles were average(ish) Joes before the Resurrection.

Doctor Logic said...


Many thanks to the good Doctor for totally undermining the main premise on which the arguments of most of the other atheists around here (Carr et al) are built - ie, that the gospels are a total fiction written by a later generation of Christians.

I think some aspects of the gospels are clearly fictional. Still, I think it's probable that within a few years after the death of Jesus, his followers came to believe he was resurrected (before conveniently vanishing into thin air).

Nevertheless, admitting this is no great gift to Christian apologists. The Christian case remains quite pathetic.

Anonymous said...

To Vinny:

I guess I'll have to answer my own rhetorical question. Yes, the Resurrection not only implies, it necessitates an empty tomb. And no, you cannot have one without the other. I believe we would be safe in saying that this was so blatantly obvious to Paul, that it simply never would have occured to him that he had to mention the empty tomb.

Paul also never mentions the fact that he is breathing. Does this mean we must assume he was holding his breath the entire time he was writing his letters? Yet this seems to be the level of this argument here.

Vinny said...


Paul doesn't say anything about the circumstances under which Jesus was buried. For all he tells us, Paul might have thought that Jesus' body was buried in a common grave for executed criminals in which case I'm not sure that the phrase "empty tomb" applies.

If the place of Jesus' burial were known and Paul had verified that Jesus' body was no longer there, that would have been pretty strong evidence for a physical resurrection. I think it might have occurred to him to mention it.

If the issue is merely whether Paul thought that the natural remains of Jesus could be found in the place where they had been laid after he was taken down from the cross, it may be that Paul's belief that they could not is implied by his belief in the resurrection. However, I rarely see the term "empty tomb" used in such a limited sense. It is normally used to include the idea of the women finding the tomb empty as described in the gospels, which is not in any way implied by anything Paul writes.

Anonymous said...

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but off the top of my head, with the sole exception of enumerating the eyewitnesses to the Resurrected Jesus, I can't recall Paul EVER giving "evidence" (other than scriptural) to anything. It just wasn't his style. So the absence of his bringing up the empty tomb is simply in line with everything he ever wrote.

Remember, in his letters, he was "preaching to the choir". They are not addressed to non-Christians, but to the "Church at Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi" or wherever. Where he does engage in polemics (at least in print), it is not with "unbelievers", but with fellow Christians who might be confused about points of doctrine, but remain in basic agreement with the main event.

Mr Veale said...

Dr Logic

I think you might be referring to one section of the McGrew's paper - where the disciple's testimony is considered, and each disciple is considered an independent source. Again, if Tim is around, he can defend this argument.

I was referring to:
"In fact, you ought to be weighing it against the SUM of all naturalistic alternative and ALL dualistic alternatives." Which the McGrews acknowledge.

As for:
" priors should be based on explicit sampling" - this is just a positivist assertion

"When priors vary from person to person, they vary because each person's samples are different, or because they haven't been able to quantify the space of alternative theories" - is this based on psychological studies? Or is it another positivist assertion?


Mr Veale said...

However - I certainly agree that we shouldn't just multiply 12 testimonies. (The McGrews agree too - I'm not sure why you would think otherwise? Are you reading sections out of context?)

We need to look at what exactly was claimed, how it was claimed, what sort of person made the claim and in what circumstances, and compare this with cultural expectations, what the opponents of the claimants said etc.

Doctor Logic said...


What is the non-"positivist" alternative that you are proposing?

Are you saying that intuitive beliefs that cannot be consciously substantiated ought to be counted as priors?

Suppose that my initial intuition is that I am certain that the Earth is flat (though I am unable to state why I am 100% certain). Should this certainty be my prior? No amount of evidence should sway me?

I wonder how you square your picture with the discovery that people automatically and unconsciously get beliefs through cognitive bias, and that many of these beliefs are false. It seems that the only way to tease out the true beliefs from the false ones is through experience (testing in the Bayesian sense).

Vinny said...


I think you are correct, but what are the inferences that might logically be drawn from that? One is that Paul didn't know of any evidence other than the scriptures.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

But far more likely is that Paul simply wasn't writing apologetics. He was exhorting the flock, who already believed and didn't need any convincing. His letters are pastoral. He wasn't in the business (at least in print) of defending the Faith, but rather in proclaiming it.

Pure speculation here (since other than tiny snippets in Acts, we have no record of his speaking style), but I rather suspect a good deal of Paul's oral preaching was what we would call apologetics, and I bet you would have heard a great deal about eyewitness testimony and other "evidence" in it.

Vinny said...


I am sure that there were many issues of concern within Paul’s congregations that did not make it into his letters, however, I don’t see how we can have any better evidence for what Paul believed and what his congregations believed than what we find in those letters. His silence about a matter might be the result of the fact that the issue was not controversial or it might be because he was ignorant about the matter, but I find it hard to see a principled reason to assign a higher probability to the former possibility.

Anonymous said...


I do find a very good reason.

At the risk of sounding like Steven Carr, and endlessly repeating myself, Paul's letters are not apologetics. His audience was in no doubt as to the Truth of the Faith, and wasn't questioning whether there was evidence for it. Paul was writing to the converted.

Therefore, it would actually be highly unlikely, and indeed downright odd, for Paul to engage in laying out a case for the Resurrection, or to champion this or that eyewitness testimony. It would be as weird as if, in a travel book, you found a chapter proving that Denver was east of San Francisco. No one is contesting that, so why would the author feel the need to defend the fact?

Note the famous passage in Corinthians, where Paul is defending the doctrine of General Resurrection. What's really interesting here (as far as this conversation is concerned) is that he doesn't lay out a case for Christ's Resurrection. He just assumes that all his readers already accept that as fact. What he DOES debate is whether anyone ELSE is also going to rise from the dead.

So Paul never saw the slightest requirement to proove the reality of Christ's Resurrection (at least, not in print). It was a given to the early Christians.

Vinny said...


How is it that you know that Paul's readers had no doubts about the truth of the faith? I would infer from Paul's letters that they were regularly confronted by false teachings and prone to being led astray.

Anonymous said...

I note that the false teachings were generally about HOW to be a Christian (should I be circumcised?, can I eat meat sacrificed to idols?, what sort of sexual morality is required of me?, that sort of thing). Seldom do we see a debate like the ones here on Dangerous Idea. Paul never addresses atheism, for example. He doesn't try to show that Christianity is truer than Paganism. He never tries to prove the high Christological doctrines that we mostly find in Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians - he just states them.

Vinny said...


That may reflect the fact that pagan religion was a matter of performing the necessary rituals to keep the gods happy. It may not have occurred to Paul's converts to worry about what they were supposed to believe as much as what they were supposed to do.