Tom Gilson

Independent Attestation

It seems that some skeptics who complain about the lack of independent attestation for the resurrection have set up the rules this way. (I originally wrote this as a comment and have promoted it now to a blog post for wider discussion.)

These seem to be the criteria:

  1. The source must be an early document, contemporary with the alleged events, from someone who had reason to know whether the alleged events actually happened.
  2. It must affirm that the alleged events really happened, for otherwise it would not be attestation.
  3. It must be written by someone who is known not to be a believer, for otherwise it wouldn’t be independent; obviously Christians had an axe to grind, and their witness is tainted by their motivations.
  4. Therefore (from 2 and 3) it must be a document that says the events happened, written by someone who says the events did not happen.

Further, and in contrast, let us take the case of a document that affirms the events happened, written by someone who actually agrees with what he wrote in that document. From 3, we conclude that this testimony is tainted and cannot be trusted. Therefore regardless of the quality, date, authorship, or even the actual truth value of that document, it is inadmissible. No document that affirms that Jesus rose from the dead can be admitted into the discussion, because the one who wrote it obviously believes it happened. To rely on early believers’ testimony regarding the resurrection is circular reasoning, because, after all, they were believers!

Thus only the only acceptable testimony affirming the resurrection is that which comes from someone who denies the resurrection.

Are these the rules under which we are supposed to operate ?


Series Navigation (Evidences for the Resurrection):<<< The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Part Three)The First Easter: Historical Consensus >>>
Commenting Restored

The comment function here has been out of service, possibly causing frustration, for which I apologize. You can comment again now, and it will save and post as it should do. First-time commenters' comments will not appear, however, until approved in moderation.

189 thoughts on “Independent Attestation

  1. The independent attestation that most skeptics have in mind (at least the sort I’d be interested) is more of the form:

    non-christian contemporary X attests that Jesus claimed to be the messiah.

    He, of course, does not actually have to believe Jesus’ claim was truthful.

    Another example would be if people in China recorded an unnaturally bright star appearing in the sky around the time we think Jesus was born.

    Naturally, they would not be believers in Jesus (they would never even have heard of him at any point in their life). But it would provide independent support for claims Christians make.

    Hopefully I don’t need to multiply examples ad nauseum. I’m sure you get the idea.

  2. Regarding the resurrection specifically the sort of independent attestation that would be relevant would be things like a non-christian who could confirm the empty tomb.

    He would not have to be a believer in the resurrection. He might think something more mundane happened to the body–or may not claim to have any idea what happened to the body–he just attests that it was gone.

  3. David, thank you for that. I take it then that you would not agree with Tony’s early comment (on another thread) that relying on believers’ testimony of the resurrection is not necessarily circular?

    There is, by the way, considerable archaeological evidence supporting the general historical claims in the New Testament, on the order of what you have requested. What’s wrong with Josephus? Let’s grant that there were some interpolations added by Christians after he wrote, as some scholars suggest and even Christian scholars are willing to allow. Still you probably have at least this much:

    Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

    We have independent archaeological attestation of Pilate, by the way. And of the pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, recently discovered but until then only known by its mention in the NT. And also of many, many details recorded by Luke, for example having to do with idiosyncratic local terms for government leaders in various places.

    You’ve probably said something in another thread about how the absence of evidence for transitional forms in the fossil record is not evidence of the absence of transitional forms. You would call on us to be gracious about that in view of the probability that records (fossils) could not all have been preserved through the ages. Any objective look at the archaeological evidence relating to the NT would have to acknowledge that it is massively corroborated, even if the one specific statement, “Jesus claimed to be the Messiah,” written by a certified contemporary, has not been unearthed.

    Charlie has been commenting on this archaeological evidence lately—have you caught those comments?


  4. What’s wrong with Josephus?

    Nothing, he provides independent attestation that Christianity existed in the first century and held certain beliefs about Jesus. .

    I’m not sure if the following isn’t interpolation as well:

    “for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.”

    But I’m not much inclined to debate it since its possible he viewed Jesus as a sage and faith healer who came to be mistakenly worshipped as a god. Either way would make little difference other than to confirm that, if the latter, in the first century it was claimed he was a great teacher and wonderworker and even some nonchristians accepted this.

    But that doesn’t do much to support the idea that Christianity is substantially true. The example I gave of someone who could attest to the empty tomb would at least confirm that certain facts that would have to be true if Jesus resurrected where actually the case. It would be far from enough to rationally warrant belief in a resurrection but it would certainly be a step in the right direction (for more on this see my last comment, no. 37, on the RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST PART 1 discussion concerning what it would take to be rationally convinced of an ancient supernatural event).


    We have independent archaeological attestation of Pilate, by the way.

    Yes, I’m aware of that. But no independent attestation that he tried or crucified a religious leader named Jesus whose followers thought we was the messiah.


    Charlie has been commenting on this archaeological evidence lately—have you caught those comments?

    I don’t think so. But I don’t consider things like existence of the pool of Siloam particularly relevant (other than in a very tangential way). Harry Potter novels mention telephones and real places like London but it wouldn’t warrant Potterites of the distant future (imagining a scenario in which these novels become the basis of a religion) to claim that this supports the truth of Potterism since these things existed in the 21st century.

    Still, one can imagine archaeological finds that would be relevant. If someone found a tomb with inscriptions indicating it to be that of a man named Jesus whose followers believed him to be the messiah that would certainly be a feather in the cap of those who wanted to refute those holding a mythicist position.

    And if they found DNA on wrappings in that tomb that were human but with rather bizarre qualities that wouldn’t hurt either.

    And, of course, if they found an actual body still in that tomb–that would be relevant too.

    But it’s hard to imagine many archaeological finds particularly relevant to the supernatural claims of the Gospels. Can anyone think of others that would be useful?

  5. And if they found DNA on wrappings in that tomb that were human but with rather bizarre qualities that wouldn’t hurt either.

    This is why we should not trust the rules of the game David plays when he claims (1) “I’m not a materialist,” or (2) “Science is not the only valid form of knowledge.” His personal epistemological rules of the game demand materialism and scientism–forcing all conclusions to a personal presuppostion: God doesn’t exist, and therefore all evidence will be made to support his personal opinion. Moreover, I’m willing to bet a month’s salary that even if “rather bizarre qualities” [of human DNA] were found in the wrappings, David would dismiss it with something akin to “that’s not a proof that Christ is God, it’s just that now we have a broader view of human DNA”… and mind-numbing a priori rejection continues to trudge toward self-destruction…

    In how many ways and how many times must it be repeated that faith is not based on validation by the MESs? The basic axioms and principles of the MESs themselves are not validated by the MESs (circular reasoning alert!), so strictly, logically speaking, why must faith succumb to such fallacious thinking? Well, remember with what we’re dealing: as any critical thinker understands, it’s not that we need a scientific explanation for the existence of God (that’s a non-starter), it’s that we need a psychological explanation for atheism.

    A parallel message to my Christian friends: there are several important reasons why (at least for now) ID is not working. One of these is the above example turned upon ID: ID theorists seek MES-based confirmation of the existence of God (philosophical or theological interpretations of such finding notwithstanding). That’s a non-starter. Why? Because there’s a very strong disconnect (hidden non sequitur) in such reasoning, and I’ve mentioned it here a number of times: one does not seek “design” by using the MESs in the same way one seeks the existence of the neutrino–they are two ontologically very different things. The latter is a clear, direct, confirmable path. The former MUST employ an intelligent agent (a nous) well-versed in a realist philosophy of nature to draw a conclusion either yay or nay…

    … But a further important distinction is needed: we can reason to the existence of Existence itself (God, i.e., the Being whose Essence IS Existence) by human reason alone (ref: preambula fidei). However, we cannot gain a proper understanding of Who God is or gain insights to His nature (say, the Trinity, the Incarnation, Redemptive Grace, the Resurrection, etc., etc.) without revealed knowledge and prayerful reflections upon such revealed knowledge. (Knowing that God exists is not the same thing as trusting [faith!] in Him.) This holy “double whammy” of faith and reason is why we can avoid terrible errors of Rationalism on the one side and Fideism on the other.

  6. No document that affirms that Jesus rose from the dead can be admitted into the discussion, because the one who wrote it obviously believes it happened. To rely on early believers’ testimony regarding the resurrection is circular reasoning, because, after all, they were believers!

    This common approach taken by atheists is itself the genetic fallacy, i.e., a disordered form of reasoning that discredits a statement or reasoned-to position based not on the merits of the argument presented but on who poses it. Try it on an atheist by turning the tables: tell him, “your arguments and your sources are dismissable out of hand because you’re an atheist”… and see how far you get.

    My guess is that this fallacy (with its close cousin, historicism) is running a close second behind various applications of the strawman fallacy as employed by atheists. If you step back and simply note the sheer number of times such fallacies have been foisted upon the readers of this blog, and then add to this decaying heap not only a general level of philosophical incompetance but also the terrible impact on these folks of the disordered worldviews of scientism, naturalism, materialism, logicism, etc. that are ubiquitously bandied about, one could not be faulted for wondering how atheists are able to hold to their positions in the first place (atheism as an intellectual embarrasment notwithstanding, of course).

  7. Regarding the resurrection specifically the sort of independent attestation that would be relevant would be things like a non-christian who could confirm the empty tomb.

    He would not have to be a believer in the resurrection. He might think something more mundane happened to the body–or may not claim to have any idea what happened to the body–he just attests that it was gone.

    I assume the stolen body theory in Matthew 28 won’t pass your widely regarded historical approach then? Non-Christians acknowledge that there’s an empty tomb.

    “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ … And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

    some more…

    Still, one can imagine archaeological finds that would be relevant. If someone found a tomb with inscriptions indicating it to be that of a man named Jesus whose followers believed him to be the messiah that would certainly be a feather in the cap of those who wanted to refute those holding a mythicist position.

    Those people exist? That James Ossuary must be boggling their noodle at the moment. I know, only tangential.

    But it’s hard to imagine many archaeological finds particularly relevant to the supernatural claims of the Gospels. Can anyone think of others that would be useful?

    … yeah, that body would be something else.

  8. Count me as a hard core materialist, and ignore me if you like, but one thing that bugs me is that nobody seems to want to tell me what miracle I should accept. OK, a couple of thousand years ago it was straightforward: a dead body was put into a cave which was sealed with a rock, and a couple of days later a living person emerges. Now f that was a Penn & Teller trick in Las Vegas, we focus on the “how”, because we assume that the living person that they produce was always living (or at least was living when the trick began).

    But resurrection? We know what death is, we know how the decomposition of a dead body takes place, and we know why, after a few hours, the restoration of life to a corpse is a physical impossibility. I’m sure I don’t need to spell out the details. But if you (referring to Christians) claim that the dead person was restored to life, it seems as if the “what” ought to matter. Was it the same person, cell for cell? Was the electrochemical brain state restored to what it was before death, or was it created ab initio? What happened to all of the organisms that invade a corpse? Did they just vanish? Where did the blood (drained, supposedly, through a wound in the side) come from?

    That’s the first thing that bugs me about the resurrection: nobody can tell me what they actually mean by it, beyond a conjurer’s “poof”. The other is that Christians seem unwilling to acknowledge the force of the simple assertion (from Hume via Sagan) that “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. In fact they want it both ways: they insist that this is an extraordinary claim, that it was a unique event in the history of humanity (perhaps in the history of the universe?), and yet the evidence they offer is mundane, circumstantial, third-party word-of-mouth with questionable antecedents.

    In his way, commentators like Holopupenko are at least consistent: faith is not (should not) be based on validation. Yet in the next breath he argues that atheists are committing a fallacy – a claim which is coherent only if s/he expected there to be some commensurable way of assessing the claims of believers and atheists. You cannot have it both ways: if you reject materialism, realism, and validation, you cannot argue for the strength of one position vs. another. You have to reject any kind of evaluation, and notion of correct vs. incorrect, because all of these require validation.

  9. What unusual questions, Geoff.
    Given that we are dealing here with the God who created everything that was made, including creating all of life, including man from dust, there is very little in your list of materialistic requests that ought to pose a problem.
    Nonetheless, here are some thoughts on some of them:
    None of us is the same person, cell for cell, in any two consecutive minutes.
    Our brains are remapped moment by moment as well and we do not need the exact same synapses firing in the exact same manner to maintain mind or continuity of self.
    The Body would not drain of blood since the wound was inflicted after death.
    The aloes and myrrh that Jesus’ body was anointed with are antibiotic and antimicrobial.

    But the God who can create the universe ex nihilo and Resurrect His Son to life certainly isn’t constrained by questions about whether the blood needed to be created, replaced or revitalized.

    If you want a scientific explanation of the Resurrection you could try Frank Tipler’s in The Physics Of Christianity.
    He says that the law of physics responsible for Jesus’ Resurrection was first discovered in 1976 by Gerardus ‘t Hooft. The body can dematerialize/ rematerialize by the the mechanism of baryon annihilation via electroweak quantum tunneling. It is not the mere resuscitation of a corpse, according to his explanation of physics.
    Interesting, if you are concerned with the physical laws and secondary causes that God could have employed (as Tipler insists He would have).

  10. But Charlie: if you are willing to simply wave your hand and say, “Given that we are dealing here with the God who created everything that was made, including creating all of life, including man from dust, there is very little in your list of materialistic requests that ought to pose a problem.”, why would you or Tom possibly care about evidentiary standards? This whole thread began with Tom saying, plaintively, “Are these the rules under which we are supposed to operate?”

    And your hand-waving is pretty unconvincing anyway. I phrased things the way I did to invite you straight into the causal dilemma that Descartes had to wrestle with centuries ago, and neither you nor Tipler have done very much to refute it. Yes, my cells change and are replaced from minute to minute, but the consistency of the patterns encoded into the biological substrate is well supported by purely physical means. Dualists such as (I assume) yourself have got to explain the relationship between souls, brains, brain damage, neurochemistry, and personality. And hand-waving is all I’ve seen so far.

  11. You say “hand waving” a lot.
    What do you mean and what does my response have to do with evidence? What evidence do you think there could possibly be for the continuity of Jesus’ cells and what possible difference could it make to your skepticism?

  12. Hi Geoff


    In his way, commentators like Holopupenko are at least consistent: faith is not (should not) be based on validation.

    In how many ways and how many times must it be repeated that faith is not based on validation by the MESs?

    Holopupenko qualifies the assertion with the acronym MESs, that is the “Modern Empirical Sciences”, which are essentially materialist and empirical in their epistemology. The claim of MES, “We know that all reality can be explained by the observation (empiricism) of material (matter and energy) phenomena (causes and effects).” is a claim that cannot be verified through the observation of material phenomena.

    What Holopupenko is asserting is the futility of expecting any verification of non-material phenomena fromm materialist science, a science which denies “in principle” the existence of non-material phenomena. However, that does not mean that non-material phenomena do not exist or that they have not been observed, or that there is not verification for their existence. He is simply pointing out a bias in what is commonly termed “science”.

    Yet in the next breath he argues that atheists are committing a fallacy – a claim which is coherent only if s/he expected there to be some commensurable way of assessing the claims of believers and atheists.

    In fact he is asserting that there are ways of assessing the claims of believers and atheists, although many on both sides of the divide deny it, and it is not commensurable. Modern empirical science restricts all knowledge to the material whereas the Christian includes the non-material. Since the materialist view is demonstrably self referentially incoherent, I tend to think the evidence for non-material phenomena is persuasive. The Bible is a coherent account of the non-material dimension of reality and even a perfunctory read of the Bible will reveal that the miracle accounts are nearly always evidential in context.

    This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

    John 21:24-25

    Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

    Luke 1:1-4


    You cannot have it both ways: if you reject materialism, realism, and validation, you cannot argue for the strength of one position vs. another.

    Here, I think, you make the common mistake of conflating materialism and realism. Are you certain that the material universe is the totality of all that is real? Is it not possible that there is another dimension, a dimension of mind? It is in the context of this question that the manifest incoherence of materialism arises. How do we account for mind, the capacity to know and to act upon our knowledge in a universe which is governed by inexorable laws of cause and effect?


    You have to reject any kind of evaluation, and notion of correct vs. incorrect, because all of these require validation.

    It is the materialist who wants to have it both ways. How much does evaluation weigh? What color are correct and incorrect? What is the speed of validation? These are not material concepts which can be observed an evaluted. They are non-material acts of the mind. They are judgements of truth and falsity.

    A little something on the divinity of Jesus..

    I do so love Chesterton, a little wordy, and a little Catholic, but he never fails to cut through the bull.

    Nor is it even avoided by denying that Christ did make this claim. Of no such man as that, of no other prophet or philosopher of the same intellectual order, would it be even possible to pretend that he had made it. Even if the Church had mistaken his meaning, it would still be true that no other historical tradition except the Church had ever even made the same mistake. Mahomedans did not misunderstand Mahomet and suppose he was Allah. Jews did not misinterpret Moses and identify him with Jehovah. Why was this claim alone exaggerated unless this alone was made. Even if Christianity was one vast universal blunder, it is still a blunder as solitary as the Incarnation.

    http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/everlasting_man.html#chap-II-iv

  13. Geoff:

    It is incredible the way you manipulate a person’s words to suit some deep-seated need to formulate strawmen de jure for destruction. Dave nicely exposed the obvious mistakes (perhaps intentional?) you made in manipulating my words, so I won’t repeat his fine exposition.

    The innanity, though, of conveniently removing the clear qualifier “MES” from the term “validation” is the most egregious and lies at the heart of the disordered game played. This is why it is so tiring to discuss such topics with those who, to varying extents, are (1) ignorant of what is being presented, (2) ignorant of important philosophical nuances, (3) unscientifically and a priori wedded to a scientistic epistemology and materialist ontology, (4) manipulative, fallaciously-argumentative, and unwilling to follow the evidence (writ large). You ought to be embarrased by the 12:20 post. Really.

    [Sound of keys busily clicking search engines… Oh! So that’s who he is!] Hey, what is it about ex-pat Brits that are software developers living in either Seattle or Chicago that makes them succumb to the viral meme of atheism?

  14. Geoff, you write of

    a dead body was put into a cave which was sealed with a rock, and a couple of days later a living person emerges. Now f that was a Penn & Teller trick in Las Vegas, we focus on the “how”, because we assume that the living person that they produce was always living (or at least was living when the trick began).

    That answer has been tried repeatedly. It hasn’t stood up.

    The big problem with it is that even in the old days, people knew when someone was dead. But let’s suppose Jesus was only near-dead when he was wrapped in grave clothes and placed in the tomb. Does that explain the origin of a messianic, resurrection, kingdom-of-God movement like the early church? Don’t you think his followers would have noticed he was rather hurting and weak? Do you think they would have regarded him as “both Lord and Christ” because of that?

    But if you (referring to Christians) claim that the dead person was restored to life, it seems as if the “what” ought to matter. Was it the same person, cell for cell? Was the electrochemical brain state restored to what it was before death, or was it created ab initio? What happened to all of the organisms that invade a corpse? Did they just vanish? Where did the blood (drained, supposedly, through a wound in the side) come from?

    1 Corinthians 15:35-49. If you want a full scientific explanation of that, then you really are begging the question as a materialist.

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

    This is how the first Christians experienced it:

    One: Jesus was dead. Is that an extraordinary claim? No.

    Two: starting a few days later, repeatedly on many occasions, hundreds of them saw him alive and recognized him. Now, if I see someone that I have known for years and I recognize him, is that extraordinary? No. So far there is no claim that goes beyond the reach of the available evidence.

    And yet there was at least one who actually did call for extraordinary evidence: Thomas, in John 20:24-28. He wasn’t willing to be fooled by someone faking he was Jesus.

    So we do have extraordinary evidence just as you have requested. Or at least they did back then. Today, though, we have to use historical methods to determine whether the documents attesting to this can be trusted. That’s what I’m doing in these posts.

    Now, if you have decided in advance that no amount of historical evidence could be sufficient to persuade you, then by all means consider yourself a materialist for life. Recognize that like Tony Hoffman (if my analysis there is correct, which I’m waiting to hear from him) you have assumed your conclusion rather than letting evidence direct you to it.

  15. Hi Tom

    And yet there was at least one who actually did call for extraordinary evidence: Thomas, in John 20:24-28. He wasn’t willing to be fooled by someone faking he was Jesus.

    I think Thomas gets a bad rap for being the only skeptic to the resurrection. He was simply the last witness and his encounter was in the company of the other disciples who had already witnessed the extraordinary evidence. The account of Thomas actually undercuts the usual skeptical narrative that these were primitive people who believed in miracles and didn’t understand that dead men don’t get up. Thomas was well aware that dead men don’t get up, as were his contemporaries in the Middle East, including the other disciples.

    37They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

    40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate it in their presence.

    Luke 24:37-43

    Thomas knew, as certainly as the Athenians in Acts 17 that the dead are dead. That’s why the resurrection is such a shock to them all, and why the Gospels and the Epistles call on the evidence of eyewitnesses to the event.

    32And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.

    Acts 17:32

    28Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

    29Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

    30Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

    John 20:28-30


  16. One: Jesus was dead. Is that an extraordinary claim? No.

    Two: starting a few days later, repeatedly on many occasions, hundreds of them saw him alive and recognized him.

    If I could be confident that actually happened then I’d certainly be intrigued. But the only thing I know is that some accounts written, mostly anonymously, decades later claim this to have happened.

    And that’s not nearly so intriguing.

  17. I apologize for not responding earlier: Dave’s language in #12 that asserted “Since the materialist view is demonstrably self referentially incoherent” left me… well, the old English term “gobsmacked” comes to mind.

    Since you claim that the materialist view is “self referentially incoherent” and that this is “demonstrable”, please demonstrate it – or point us to material which does so.

    As for the historicity question, I agree with David Ellis. To return to Tom’s original question (I know, how boring), it seems that we have three candidate explanations for the accounts in the Gospels:

    1. None of it happened; it was all made up, cobbled together from various myths and legends. Let’s ignore this for now.

    2. Jesus was crucified, but did not actually die; he lapsed into a coma, his body was removed (contrary to standard practice) and he was nursed back to health, and spent a short time with some of his followers before disappearing (e.g. succumbing to his injuries). Eye-witness accounts of an apparent resurrection were later interpreted as literal.

    3. Jesus actually died (the way humans die) and was actually and miraculously restored to life.

    A priori, #2 is obviously more plausible than #3. There are plenty of examples of people recovering after what appeared to be death (just Google for “wake up in morgue”!). There are obvious reasons why Gospel writers and others might wish to present this apparent resurrection as a literal event.

    For Christians it is (I think) a matter of faith – it’s #3, not #2. And that could be an end to it. But for some reason there are Christians who wish to persuade skeptics that there are evidentiary reasons for preferring #3 over #2. Skeptics such as myself shrug, point out that the NT (and Josephus, if you insist) are entirely compatible with both #2 and #3, and since #2 requires no special pleading, we’ll stick with #2. (For good measure, we observe that Christians take exactly the same position as the skeptics when they evaluate the supernatural claims of Islam and other religions.)

    And finally my use of the term “hand-waving”. When I use it, it refers to the tendency to skip over awkward explanatory gaps by saying “Goddidit” or something similar. Every time religious people make an extravagant claim about the relationship between the physical world and their (claimed) non-material realm, they open themselves up to questions about how this relationship is manifested in the physical. In my experience, they generally wave their hands. Read your Descartes. What is your “pineal gland”? 😉

  18. But the only thing I know is that some accounts written, mostly anonymously, decades later claim this to have happened.

    1 Cor. 3b-5

    [T]hat Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

    First Corinthians (~AD 55).
    First Corinthians, written by Paul.
    Paul cites an old Christian formula (see above).
    Paul says the formula is the content of the earliest apostolic teaching which agrees with sermons reproduced in Luke and Acts — this suggests that the formula originated in the Jerusalem church.
    Paul likely got this formula at his conversion in Damascus (~AD 33) and probably got it no later then his visit to Jerusalem (~AD 36) where he personally met James and Peter.

    So the formula developed within a few years of Jesus’ death.

  19. Even being generous and granting that, its still not much to go on, and not at all convincing to someone not already a believer, Luke.

    Geoff, I can think of at least two more options than the 3 you listed:

    4. Jesus died on the cross. Some of his followers had visions (similar to Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus) and the stories of these visions came to be exaggerated into the more substantial physical appearances described in the Gospels.

    5. Jesus died on the cross. One or more of his followers fraudulently claimed to see him resurrected in order to become the head of a new religion (similar, in more recent times, to the frauds perpetrated by Joseph Smith and countless other, less successful cults/new religions).

    4 and 5, it should be noted, are not mutually exclusive. There could have been followers of his who fit into the 4th category while one or more other followers fit into the 5th.

    Can anyone think of others? I’m not sure we’ve yet exhausted the possibilities—those are just the first two additional options that come immediately to mind.

  20. Another question worth asking (and I’m not asking this rhetorically, I don’t know the answer and would like information if anyone knows) is whether people ever have hallucinations that include not just sight and sound but touch as well. Is there anything in the psychological literature on this? Do people ever hallucinate physical contact with a person who’s only there in their imagination?

    I’ve not heard of this happening but if it does it has some obvious relevance and might warrant an option 6—a more extensive and unusual variety of hallucination than the visions of option 4.

    And, obviously, this option too, if possible, could have happened along with options 4 and 5.

  21. Hi Geoff Arnold,

    In my experience, they generally wave their hands. Read your Descartes.

    You’ve extrapolated quite wildly then from your experience to charge that Tipler’s 275 page book on the Physics (law-based, scientific) Of Christianity is “hand-waving” (building on his The Anthropic Cosmological Principle and The Physics Of Immortality). The book is all about mechanism and the relationship between miracles and the physical.

  22. Even being generous and granting that, its still not much to go on, and not at all convincing to someone not already a believer, Luke.

    Why?

    You asked for known author and attestations to the events earlier then decades later from which they occurred. Here we have someone we know (Paul) attesting to there being witnesses to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (i.e. the messianic, resurrection, kingdom-of-God movement started quickly). You don’t find that all intriguing? So are you raising the bar again so you don’t have to deal with it? At what point will it stop moving (there will never be any convincing evidence because the minds already made up)?

  23. david ellis,

    If I could be confident that actually happened then I’d certainly be intrigued.

    Now that your objection to late writing has been overcome, I want to ask a similar question to you that I’ve been asking Tony.

    How is it that you’re confident that Jesus died – a specific, non-repeatable claim about an historical event – but you’re not confident that Jesus was seen alive later? Why not the opposite – never died but was later seen alive? Why not confident in both events taking place?

    What is driving your decision making process? Are you using different sources of evidence for each one, or different criteria for evaluating each one?

  24. david ellis,
    I missed the window to edit my last comment. Consider these changes to what I said above….

    Why not the opposite – not confident he died but confident he was later seen alive? Why not be confident in both events taking place, or be not confident that either one took place?

  25. Speaking for david ellis…
    How is it that you’re confident that Jesus died – a specific, non-repeatable claim about an historical event – but you’re not confident that Jesus was seen alive later? Why not the opposite – never died but was later seen alive? Why not confident in both events taking place?

    Induction. The way we learn about all properties of the universe: we observe, notice patterns, infer causal relationships, make predictions, and test them.

    In our collective experience, death is permanent. Dogs, cats, people. The apparent exceptions are so few that we can confidently put then down to observer error (the creature in question was not actually dead – “woke up in morgue” – or not really alive afterwards – mistaken identity, visual illusion).

    So if there is a credible claim that X was dead at time T, we are justified in being confident, absent conclusive evidence to the contrary, that X will not be alive at time T+eps. And if there is a credible claim that X was alive at time T, we can be confident that X was not dead at time T-eps.

    Of course our induction is not simply based on the observation of dead and alive individuals. We understand the mechanisms of death and life well enough to explain WHY the transition dead->alive is implausible. That’s why the purported miracle is not simply a Penn&Teller trick but involves the biological, chemical, electrical, physical, and (probably) quantum-mechanical properties of the universe. (Of course, that’s why I asked about cell breakdown. “Fully human” goes a long way down.) And no, Tipler doesn’t answer the deep question here.

    Ultimately, a few passages in a few books written by third parties who had a stake in the outcome are never going to convince someone who doesn’t have a prior commitment to the truth of those passages. Isn’t that the same attitude you take to supernatural elements in non-Christian religions? Do you accept the truth of Mohammed’s midnight ride to Jerusalem? Of course not. (Although that was simply a matter of technology: strictly speaking, no miracle was required.) How about Moroni and the gold plates? I wonder how many Christians have tried the thought experiment of writing down the criteria that they apply to non-Christian religious claims, and then impartially applying those same criteria to the sources which they rely on…..

  26. david ellis: I was, of course, aware of the alternatives which you identified. In this case I was restricting myself to alternatives which presumed that at least some of the hearsay reports were made and reported in good faith. (Ouch – awkward idiom, that.)

  27. By the way, I’ve read enough of Tipler’s “Physics of Christianity” (using the Kindle’s “Download a sample” feature) to know that the science is really bad. (He states, without qualification, that we understand quantum gravity, which will be news to the rest of the physics community. We don’t. He states that the “standard model” is mathematically complete. It isn’t.) And my religious friends (mostly Episcopalian, if you must know) say that the religion is even worse. Tipler seems to think that there is a “gene for evil”, whatever that means. His “God” is a mathematical formula for a singularity, bounded in space and time. (Is that your God?) Etcetera. It’s really pathetic.

  28. Geoff,

    So if there is a credible claim that X was dead at time T….

    On what basis do you say it is credible rather than say X wasn’t dead in the first place? That’s my multi-faceted question you seem to have misunderstood. You accept parts of the historical account at face value for some reason and I’m trying to understand why before getting to the parts you don’t accept.

    We understand the mechanisms of death and life well enough to explain WHY the transition dead->alive is implausible.

    Tell that to the origin of life researchers. An observer watching life come from non-life doesn’t need to understand the mechanism of how, or the question of why before he can know that – implausbile or not – it did just happen.

    Do you accept the truth of Mohammed’s midnight ride to Jerusalem?

    Explain it to me and give me the facts/evidence and I will tell you.

    How about Moroni and the gold plates?

    Not a public event, so no.

  29. Hi Geoff

    I apologize for not responding earlier: Dave’s language in #12 that asserted “Since the materialist view is demonstrably self referentially incoherent” left me… well, the old English term “gobsmacked” comes to mind.

    So sorry for inducing such a debilitating state of mind. 8^> I, too, was “gobsmacked” when I finally realized how incoherent much of what “everybody knows” really is.

    Since you claim that the materialist view is “self referentially incoherent” and that this is “demonstrable”, please demonstrate it – or point us to material which does so.

    Materialism’s first deadly legacy is the rejection of reason and objective truth. Nineteenth-century materialists depicted our thoughts as the irrational products of environment or heredity or brain chemistry. As a consequence, the intellectual classes became convinced that only the reality was material, and thus the only true explanations were reductive. If you wanted to explain a flower, you described its cell structure, not its beauty. If you wanted to explain human beings, you looked not to their greatest achievements, but to the raw materials that made them up. As Leo Strauss put it, modern thought tried to “understand the higher in terms of the lower: the human in terms of the subhuman, the rational in terms of the sub-rational…”17

    One possible result of the denial of reason is that people will become so skeptical that they will believe in nothing. But most people cannot live without something to give meaning to their lives. Thus, the ultimate consequence of denying reason is not nihilism but a leap into irrationality. The philosopher Nietzsche foresaw this at the end of the last century. If objective truth was dead, the only thing that could save us from the abyss according to Nietzsche was to create our own meaning by a sheer act of willpower. We will ourselves into believing something that will give us meaning.

    In the Nietzschean cosmos, what is prized is not truth, but creativity, freshness, and power: Whoever is strong enough or creative enough to impose his vision on other people is the hero. In many respects, we live in Nietzsche’s universe. The highest praise of a work of art or a piece of scholarship in today’s society is not that it is true, but that it is “fresh” or “original.” When one looks at what passes for scholarship today—the paradigm approach in the sciences, deconstruction in literature, and the more extreme forms of ethnic and gender studies—it becomes readily apparent that most scholars have given up even the pretense of seeking objective truth. What they are concerned about is power—how long their particular ideology will control the terms of debate.
    […]
    The materialist may scoff at this approach, but as Lewis relished in pointing out, the materialist has his own problems: For the materialist who debunks everyone else’s ideas as the sub-rational products of their brain chemistry or environment cannot avoid being debunked himself. If he is honest, says Lewis, the materialist will have to admit that his own ideas are merely the “epiphenomenon which accompanies chemical or electrical events in a cortex which is itself the by-product of a blind evolutionary process.”22 The point Lewis is driving at is that if all thoughts are merely the products of non-rational causes, this includes the materialist’s own thoughts. In other words, there is no reason according to materialism for materialism itself to be regarded as true.

    Even people who try to water down their materialism by granting that reason can be a valid way to truth have a problem, according to Lewis. For if the universe is how the materialist describes it, it is not at all likely that reason should have ever developed. “People who take [the materialist view],” explained Lewis, “think that matter and space just happen to exist, and always have existed, nobody knows why; and that the matter, behaving in certain fixed ways, has just happened, by sort of a fluke, to produce creatures like ourselves who are able to think. By one chance in a thousand something hit our sun and made it produce the planets; and by another thousandth chance the chemicals necessary for life, and the right temperature, occurred on one of these planets, and so some of the matter on this earth came alive; and then, by a very long series of chances, the living creatures developed into things like us.”23

    In sum, materialists have no ground to stand on if they deny the reality of reason outright, and very little ground to stand on if they claim to accept reason in part.

    http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1565

    Which could help to explain the search for the god gene, the gay gene, and the violence gene, etc. Being English you may be amused by John Cleese’s take on the topic.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M-vnmejwXo

    1. None of it happened; it was all made up, cobbled together from various myths and legends. Let’s ignore this for now.

    Good idea.

    As he began to write ‘The Miracle Detective’, Randall Sullivan planned a simple, straightforward investigation into how the Catholic Church investigates miracles. He’d interviewed a woman who had experienced a miracle. The Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared in a cheap painting in the trailer where she lived with her parents. She had video, and the testimony of hundreds of witnesses.

    Sullivan was intrigued, and even more intrigued by the bureaucracy the Catholic Church employed to investigate such events. He proposed the title of book to his publisher, who jumped at the chance. A visit to Rome would follow, and then to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A series of simple steps would reveal the clockwork behind the Catholic Church’s investigation and inevitably result in a better understanding of the Church, the beliefs it espoused and those who believed them.

    More than ten years later, Sullivan’s book is completed; his investigation is ongoing. ‘The Miracle Detective’ tells a number of stories. It’s tricky and complex, just like the phenomena it describes. As Sullivan starts his journey, he’s a confident reporter for one of the most respected publications in the world, sure of himself and rational. But as he’s immersed in the immensely complex situations that serve up these apparitions, he finds that what he is observing is affecting how he is observing. The feedback loop between the investigator and the investigated becomes a fascinating phenomenon in itself.

    http://trashotron.com/agony/reviews/2004/sullivan-miracle_detective.htm

    And an excerpt from the book about a burn victim in Spain.
    From the “Miracle Detective”
    http://books.google.com/books?id=o3QX8Xhc9x8C&pg=PA27&lpg=PA27&dq=miracle+detective+burn&source=bl&ots=Vwim3IsckN&sig=UKWA-Lw7jIYiSztEKfHLqex9WgE&hl=en&ei=VPinSv-MMYOmsgO6rfTNBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false


  30. Me:Even being generous and granting that, its still not much to go on, and not at all convincing to someone not already a believer.

    Luke: Why?

    I thought with us listing the possible explanations this would be obvious: because we have explanations that fit the scant data we have just as well as the hypothesis that the resurrection occurred as described and which are far less extravagant, extraordinary claims.

    If you’re neighbor claims he’s going to put a hex on your horse to make it die and it dies the next day we have several possible explanations:

    –the neighbor really magically killed your horse.
    –the neighbor poisoned or otherwise caused its death by ordinary means.
    –the event was a coincidence.
    –someone else who dislikes you, having heard of the neighbor’s threat, killed your horse thinking suspicion would go to your neighbor.

    Not all of these explanations are equally plausible but none is less plausible than the first, most extraordinary, explanation.


    Here we have someone we know (Paul) attesting to there being witnesses to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (i.e. the messianic, resurrection, kingdom-of-God movement started quickly). You don’t find that all intriguing?

    Not particularly. Explanations 4,5, and 6 or any combination thereof explains that equally well and are of a far less extraordinary nature.


    So are you raising the bar again so you don’t have to deal with it?

    The bar for the claim that a guy magically rose from the dead has always been, so far as I’m concerned, very high—and appropriately so. I haven’t raised it. I’ve always held such claims (Christian, non-Christian and nonreligious) to this standard.

    It may not be low like you’d wish. But that doesn’t mean I’ve moved it.

    Now to SteveK’s comment:


    How is it that you’re confident that Jesus died – a specific, non-repeatable claim about an historical event – but you’re not confident that Jesus was seen alive later?

    I’m not confident Jesus died or existed at all. I don’t particularly question those claims like the mythicists do simply because there’s nothing particularly implausible about the idea that a wandering street preacher and faith healer named Jesus existed nor that he was executed. So I see little reason to debate the issue. Since the idea is plausible and, in and of itself, insignificant I’m more than happy to grant it and move on to the extraordinary claims.


    Why not the opposite – never died but was later seen alive?

    Good thinking! A 7th possibility for our list:

    —Jesus was never crucified. He may have simply given up his ministry (explaining his not being a further part of the movement) and one or more of his followers claimed he had been crucified and raised from the dead.

    Personally, I find 4-6 more plausible. But good thinking.


    Why not confident in both events taking place?

    You’re mistaken in thinking I’m confident of the first. I’m confident of nothing when the data we have to go on is as scant as that involving the life of Jesus.


    Geof: hey’re called tactile or somatic hallucinations. See this definition in Wikipedia, and various discussions elsewhere on the interTubes.

    Thanks. I’ll check that out.

  31. Hi Geoff

    You might want to peruse this article, “The Materialist Superstition” by George Gilder.

    The continued prevalence of the materialist superstition was manifest in a recent issue of Time magazine titled “In Search of the Mind.”1 The cover story for the issue authoritatively declaimed that “consciousness may be nothing more than an evanescent by-product of more mundane, wholly physical processes.” According to one medical school neuroscientist cited in the article, “being awake or being conscious is nothing but a dreamlike state” that has “no objective reality” because we can “never actually touch or measure it.”

    http://www.mmisi.org/ir/31_02/gilder.pdf

    1. “Glipses of the Mind”, Time Magazine, Monday, Jul. 17, 1995

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,983176,00.html

  32. The tactile hallucinations it refers to involve things like drug users thinking there are bugs crawling all over them. So far nothing that would be relevant here. But I’ll look into it further. At this point I think option 6 is probably pretty low in plausibility. I’m inclined to favor 4 or 5 or a combination of the two.

  33. david ellis,

    You’re mistaken in thinking I’m confident of the first. I’m confident of nothing when the data we have to go on is as scant as that involving the life of Jesus.

    So it’s plausible that Jesus was never crucified given the evidence we’ve all been talking about? You’re saying the evidence we have doesn’t give us confidence one way or the other when it comes to ordinary claims.

    How then do you expect it to help us with extraordinary claims? According to you it can’t, yet you keep asking to discuss it and talking about plausibility.

  34. The bar for the claim that a guy magically rose from the dead has always been, so far as I’m concerned, very high—and appropriately so. I haven’t raised it. I’ve always held such claims (Christian, non-Christian and nonreligious) to this standard.

    It may not be low like you’d wish. But that doesn’t mean I’ve moved it.

    No, my moving-the-bar comment was directed at your request for non-anonymous source that was attested to in a time closer to the actual events. You have that, but instead of dealing with it you, to borrow a phrase, wave it off with “and not at all convincing to someone not already a believer”. If that’s not hand waving I don’t know what is. You ask for something and then bury your head like an ostrich. LA LA LA LA, CLANG CLANG GOES THE TROLLY, RING RING GOES THE BELL

    I thought with us listing the possible explanations this would be obvious: because we have explanations that fit the scant data we have just as well as the hypothesis that the resurrection occurred as described and which are far less extravagant, extraordinary claims.

    No, because you’re not seriously dealing with the data we have, heck it doesn’t even appear that you know what the data is — so all you’re doing is throwing out speculation that doesn’t fit the data — culture, people, time and place for which the historical events in question took place. And you’re not seriously addressing Tom’s original question:

    Thus only the only acceptable testimony affirming the resurrection is that which comes from someone who denies the resurrection.

    Are these the rules under which we are supposed to operate?

    `~-=[ The coup de grace ]=-~’

    I’m confident of nothing when the data we have to go on is as scant as that involving the life of Jesus.

    Well, Coo Coo Ca-choo.

  35. Geoff:

    Do you really want us to understand that you won’t read George Gilder and judge his arguments on their own merits so that you can perjoratively dismiss him simply because he’s to the right of your “thinking”? Really? Please say you were just kidding to so blatanly expose your a priori and unshakeable bias: “I won’t listen to what the other side says because, well… I just won’t… they’re so loony.”

    Nonsense that a grade schooler would recognize.

    (In the interests of full disclosure, this is the first time I’ve heard of George Gilder…)

    Let’s see if I can play the genetic fallacy game… notwithstanding the fact I’ll be insulting the intelligence of the readers of this blog… and of course, myself: what I found hilarious about your approach, Geoff, is you reference an article by John Derbyshire to attack George Gilder. That’s funny: how can you accept anything Derbyshire writes when he clearly attests about himself “I am a homophobe, though a mild and tolerant one, and a racist, though an even more mild and tolerant one”?

    Tom:

    Yet another example of the use of fallacies to intimidate rather than convince–in this case, Geoff repeats the genetic fallacy… sneeringly. Perhaps a new addition to your comment policies is in order?

  36. For the record, I don’t think that “independent attestation” for the resurrection is really a problem. I think the paucity and kind of evidence that we would expect from Jesus’ ministry and his resurrection lend little credence to a historical case for the claims of the NT. This is so obvious that only an apologist could argue otherwise.

    I listed this on another post, but here are some of the kinds of things that don’t exist that an apologist must explain around (and the problems are not about the independence of the attestations):

    – Those who witnessed the resurrection would enshrine the tomb.
    – Within months of Jesus’ appearing before 500 or more eyewitnesses such a stir would have been created that no chronicler of the age would be able to avoid its mention.
    – We would have far more than 4 anonymous accounts, written a generation of more after Jesus’s death, describing events surrounding Jesus that did not all conform to a standard template – e.g., there would be accounts of those who only witnessed one of his miracles (but did not know Jesus’ life story, for instance).
    – Those who got the best look at him – the Jews of Ancient Judea, would not have been so overwhelmingly indifferent to his existence (after all, he fed 5,000 miraculously, healed the lame, even raised a dead man).
    – Facts about Jesus’s life would not be based on mistranslations of the Bible.
    – Artifacts, including the likenesses of Jesus, would exist – tokens, tablets, statues, drawings, anything that conveyed the likeness of the man who so many claimed appeared to perform miracles, as the resurrected one before them, etc.

    The one I think is most interesting is, Why don’t we have any surviving event or encounter accounts? Why are all the accounts biographical narratives, and yet nothing survives that describes, as it would have been witnessed, any of the singular events that describe Jesus’s ministry or resurrection?

    Lastly, speaking of a priori bias, why don’t we open it up even further? Why should we assume, a priori, that Jesus ever even actually died? (He could have been faking, among other things.) Wouldn’t it be obvious that to just assume that Jesus died show that we are unable to openly consider all the possibilities and decide for ourselves what actually happened? Really, at what point are we to consider every option as possible so as not to be labeled as biased against the truth?

  37. See… now with Tony the problem is ignorance: regarding the points he raises (as if they were new and not considered throughout the past 2,000 years–a clear sign of arrogance): every single one of them has been refuted. Only one of many references that immediately comes to mind is Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands A Verdict as well as its follow-up volume. (There are tons of other references.) Oh, but, we can antipate the response from Tony, David, and Geoff: “a Christian wrote it… so, by definition, the points posed are biased, wrong, etc., and hence can be dismissed out of hand. No need to consider the merits of the argument.”

    Are these guys really that straight-jacketed in their refusal to think critically by not following the arguments from those who present evidence that opposes the atheist world view? It’s the sheer barking-moonbat (genetically crossed with lemming) attitude that never ceases to amaze me. It’s like stammering little bullies repeatedly coming back with, “Oh yeah, well I’ll show you!”

  38. Hello Geoff

    Twenty years ago, Gilder was a provocative and fairly well respected pundit in my field (computing and society). Since then he has gone completely off the rails. He’s a creationist working with the Discovery Institute, which is bad enough; he’s also morphed into a far-right loony.

    What can I say to answer such a vacuous charge? You asked for some for a demonstration of the materialist fallacy and I provided it. Several sources. You don’t like the implication that your belief system is irrational and so you attack the messenger. How typical. And you wonder why I assert that materialism is demonstrably irrational. All I need do is look around me to see the irrational results of an irrational worldview.

    Of course, you may always comfort yourself with the belief that you can’t really help yourself, it’s the left-wing loonie gene that’s to blame. BTW, why the silence on the other references? Did you even look at them?

  39. Hi Holopupenko

    Are these guys really that straight-jacketed in their refusal to think critically by not following the arguments from those who present evidence that opposes the atheist world view?

    Don’t you know? There is no evidence that opposes the atheist worldview! All evidence is, by definition, atheistic. Therefore atheists do not have to examine the arguments for theism, as Richard Dawkins so ably demonstrated in his recent book, all the atheist need do is wave his hands and say, “You’re a creationist and a far-right loonie.”

    I particularly discovered reading Freud informative in this style of argument, he was at least a little more subtle and inventive. Freud would write, “We can imagine a circumstance where X may come to pass…” and then a few pages later he will write, “As we have seen X is possible and if X then Y…” and so on, then in a subsequent chapter he will suddenly insert, “Since, as we have seen, X led to Y then we may observe that Z is true.” From wild speculation to solid truth in a few short sentences with nary a supporting fact between them.

    We can imagine a circumstance in which Jesus [did not really die, the disciples halucinated, the disciples perpetrated a fraud, it was all cobbled together, etc.] and then assert the speculation is more credible than the actual historical accounts.

    The evidence that their speculation is more credible? Why the fact that (as everybody knows) miracles don’t happen. It never occurs to them that most people in the history of the world, including most people alive today, know that miracles do happen. It is only a tiny, insular, subset of the world, the liberal intellectual, who believes miracles cannot happen.

    To avoid upsetting their tidy little world they write books and papers explaining how “miracles” have never been observed… and even if they had it’s only the ignorant hoi polloi who actually observes the impossible so we can safely dismiss it as imagination or halucination.

  40. I think the paucity and kind of evidence that we would expect from Jesus’ ministry and his resurrection lend little credence to a historical case for the claims of the NT. This is so obvious that only an apologist could argue otherwise.

    I think the amount of evidence the we have and could expect from the second temple Jewish era for Jesus’ ministry and resurrection is staggering and lend ample credence to the historical case and claims of the NT. This is so obvious that only a modern day westernized materialist would argue otherwise.

    – Those who witnessed the resurrection would enshrine the tomb.

    Why, when you worship someone who is alive and not dead why enshrine someplace where your leader is not at?

    – Within months of Jesus’ appearing before 500 or more eyewitnesses such a stir would have been created that no chronicler of the age would be able to avoid its mention.
    – We would have far more than 4 anonymous accounts, written a generation of more after Jesus’s death, describing events surrounding Jesus that did not all conform to a standard template – e.g., there would be accounts of those who only witnessed one of his miracles (but did not know Jesus’ life story, for instance).

    When oral tradition was held in higher regard then written why should we assume such things. You’re imposing your own cultural expectations on a completely different culture.

    – Those who got the best look at him – the Jews of Ancient Judea, would not have been so overwhelmingly indifferent to his existence (after all, he fed 5,000 miraculously, healed the lame, even raised a dead man).

    They eventually had him killed because he represented a threat to the status quo and world wide religion sprung up around him — that’s considered overwhelmingly indifferent?

    – Facts about Jesus’s life would not be based on mistranslations of the Bible.

    What, no explicit examples (so sneaky, must be laying a great trap)? I’ll assume you’re talking about Isaiah and the virgin.
    See here for some commentary.

    “The word yalda would have been inappropriate in Isaiah 7:14 because it refers to a child. Likewise na’arah would have been the more normal choice if a young woman had been the object of Isaiah’s thought, for it is used of both married and unmarried women. Some say that if Isaiah had really wanted to denote virginity he would have used bethulah which primarily denotes virginity. However, bethulah was used of widows and others who had experienced coitus. Furthermore, a bethulah can be a woman of any age, making the word difficult to qualify as a specific sign. The evidence supports both the traditional translation of “virgin” and the modern translation of “young woman,” but each must be qualified. The English term “virgin” does not suggest age limitations while the English phrase “young woman” does not suggest virginity. The word almah demands both, and so a more accurate translation would be “young virgin.”

    So Matthews use is not a mistranslation.

    – Artifacts, including the likenesses of Jesus, would exist – tokens, tablets, statues, drawings, anything that conveyed the likeness of the man who so many claimed appeared to perform miracles, as the resurrected one before them, etc.

    Why, maybe due to being persecuted that couldn’t produce durable works of art, maybe early Christians (who viewed Jesus as God) wouldn’t produce graven images. See here to why Christian graffiti used code words and cliches.

    The one I think is most interesting is, Why don’t we have any surviving event or encounter accounts? Why are all the accounts biographical narratives, and yet nothing survives that describes, as it would have been witnessed, any of the singular events that describe Jesus’s ministry or resurrection?

    Only interesting if the events that took place happened in a modern day westernized culture, but as it stands it’s not surprising at all.

    Peace

  41. Hi Geoff,
    This is a very interesting line of reasoning you present, but for unusual reasons.
    First, you offer a series of irrelevant questions asking for physical facts about the body of Christ, making several erroneous assumptions in doing so. Then you suggest they have to with evidentiary claims, though there is no evidence that could answer them or be brought to bear upon them (did Jesus return with the same cells, for instance).
    Then you say you are asking the irrelevant question about how the miracle interacts with matter and- ignoring the fact that I gave you Tipler, who presents an argument that answer that question – you call my answer “hand-waving. You call Tipler’s hand-waving as well, without even looking at him.
    Now you return with another set of irrelevant claims. For instance, Tipler is hand-waving not because he is hand-waving but because you have authoritatively declared his science to be “bad”. First, you must admit he has not waved his hands, but has rigorously answered your question.
    Second, so what if he presents his case based upon his assumption that his mathematical proofs of QM are just that? i) He has presented those proofs, he has not presupposed them and he has not hand-waved them (as you do in your dismissal). ii) Everybody presents their theories based upon the idea that they are working from a correct paradigm – somehow this is not allowed of Tipler. iii) He happily concedes that when the mathematics prove him wrong he will accept that he is in error. iv) This doesn’t touch the question of his argument as to why Christ could physically rise from the dead.
    Next you say his is bad theology? First, so what? You wanted an argument about physical interactionism, not theology, did you not? You got it. Second, you get this wrong as God is not a mathematical formula but a Trinity of Persons. I bet your Episcopalian friends (no, I did not must know) would agree with him there.
    Then you make a ridiculous point about his discussion of the genetic basis for evil. First, again, so what? This has nothing to do with your challenge. Second, so what? Didn’t you want a materialistic account of certain phenomena? That’s what he supplies. Third, so what if he said there was an evil gene? Don’t materialists tout such genes as the God gene and the Gay gene all the time? Fourth, you got this wrong as well – he does not say there is an evil gene.

    Finally, the singularity certainly is not bounded in space and time. At the singularity the laws of physics do not apply – and that precludes space and time boundaries. The singularity exists at the beginning, the end, and now, and outside the physical universe.
    In fact, a singularity that lies inside spacetime would violate unitarity, according to Tipler (page 58) and, therefore, cannot exist.
    PAge 82:

    The Cosmological Singularity is a single entity outside space and time [sorry , Geoff]. Since the CS is intrinsically infinite, it is not possible to define any physical law at the Singularity itself. In other words, the CS is unconstrained by physical laws

    Really pathetic, you say?
    Hmm.

  42. Do you really want us to understand that you won’t read George Gilder and judge his arguments on their own merits so that you can perjoratively dismiss him simply because he’s to the right of your “thinking”? Really? Please say you were just kidding to so blatanly expose your a priori and unshakeable bias: “I won’t listen to what the other side says because, well… I just won’t… they’re so loony.”

    Listen, buster, I’m not going to read every author you cite just because you cite ’em. If you want to advance an argument, and offer one or two authors whose works support your thesis, that’s fine. But when I make it clear that I’ve read Gilder, and that I now consider him to be a crackpot, you don’t get to invoke the Genetic Fallacy against me, because I haven’t made an argument to which the fallacy might apply. I’ve simply said that he’s a crackpot that I’d prefer not to read. Got it?

    If I toss out a string of names of atheist writers, are you committing to read them all and respond to their various argument? I didn’t think so.

    In my earlier response about Gilder, I linked to a reviewer of his recent work. And I deliberately chose a conservative writer, so that you could see that refuting Gilder is an equal-opportunity pastime, not a Librul Atheist Conspiracy. Derb’s point (and mine too) is that there is literally no point in reading or commenting on any creationist, ID’er or fellow-traveller thereof, because it always degenerates into a game of whack-a-mole with old, tired, familiar and discredited moles. It’s the same reason why there’s no point in arguing with flat-earthers, or Raelians, or Scientologists. It’s tedious, repetitious, and the documented refutations are widely available. These guys have no claim on my time.

  43. Hello Geoff

    If I toss out a string of names of atheist writers, are you committing to read them all and respond to their various argument? I didn’t think so.

    Perhaps you prefer to play “whack-a-mole”TM with Richard Dawkins, the hero du jour for materialist superstition, for evidence of the materialist fallacy, and its inherent irrationality. Prof. Dawkins main claim to fame is his book The Selfish Gene in which he posits that we human beings are “nothing but” robots programmed by our genes to produce more genes. We are gene duplicators. In the same book he introduced his other “great idea” — the “meme hypothesis” — that ideas are analogous to viruses residing in our heads and passed from person to person, from generation to generation. But, declares Prof. Dawkins, we have “evolved” to the point where we may overthrow the “tyranny of our genes” — we may declare our independence from the deterministic hell he envisions in his writings.

    This “declaration of independence” leaves me wondering, “From whence comes this mysterious power to overthrow the very nature of the universe he posits?” If, as materialism asserts, all phenomena can be explained in material terms, and all phenomena are to be understood as instances in a great causal chain stretching back to the beginning of time, how can mere matter in motion overthrow the fundamental principle of the universe? Perhaps Prof. Dawkins has been infected by a rogue meme.

    Then there is his rather curious assertion in a television interview a few years back that, while he remains a committed Darwinist, he wouldn’t want to live in a Darwinian society. This is rather strange on several levels, not least of which is the fact that if his views on Darwinism are correct all societies develop along Darwinian processes and so could be called “Darwinian societies”. Of course, Dawkins was referring to a society guided by Darwinian principles, a social pattern which Prof. Dawkins called “fascism” (his words, not mine). It appears Prof. Dawkins thinks a society run on Darwinian principles would necessarily be an unethical and cruel society, a society in which Prof. Dawkins would prefer not to live. I ask you, is this a rational viewpoint?

    Of course, all this implies some sort of moral order, although the implication is never addressed nor would Prof. Dawkins agree with my contention that it does. Prof. Dawkins has often been quoted for his own contention that the materialist universe is exactly what we should expect if materialism is true, “no good, no evil, just blind,. pitiless indifferece”. But wait… what light through yonder window breaks? Didn’t Prof. Dawkins just spend an inordinate amount of time and money producing a television program titled “The Root of All Evil”? and what is the source of this evil? Why, the very belief that there is a moral order. Hmmm… that seems a curious and somewhat incoherent position to take, doesn’t it.

    But, to give Prof. Dawkins his due, he has constructed his worldview upon a solid foundation of facts… hasn’t he?

    http://www.arn.org/docs/dawkins.mpg

  44. Funny how one finds little gems of thought here and there on the web (the meme tranfer system?), and how often I stumble across something relevant to a discussion in which I am currently involved. This bit of serendipidous thinking relates to Dawkins and materialism and was written two days ago… go figure.

    […]It reminds me of his other assertions, such as belief in God being like belief in Father Christmas. Alistair McGrath, who let us remember is an Oxford professor as well qualified a scientist as Dawkins, but who made the journey from atheism to Christian faith. He politely asks the poser of this proposition if he knows anyone who started believing in Father Christmas as an adult. The question answers itself, showing how silly and childish the comparison between God and Santa is. Perhaps Dawkins’ greatest ‘achievement’ is to have manufactured and popularised so many slogans like this, and put them in the mouths of people, including children, who don’t know much science but think themselves clever for repeating these Dawkinisms, with Dawkins’ scorn, to ward off questions and evidence against materialism…

    http://questiondarwin.blogspot.com/2009/09/dawkins-latest-diatribe.html

  45. Luke,

    On one hand you say we have a staggering amount of evidence:

    I think the amount of evidence the we have and could expect from the second temple Jewish era for Jesus’ ministry and resurrection is staggering and lend ample credence to the historical case and claims of the NT.

    And on another we have so little because that’s all that we can expect:

    When oral tradition was held in higher regard then written why should we assume such things. You’re imposing your own cultural expectations on a completely different culture.

    But it’s not just my cultural expectations at work – it’s the expectations of historians of the period that there should be more than there, in fact, is. I found this quote from Gibbon (an Christian believer, no less):

    “But how shall we excuse the supine inattention of the Pagan and philosophic world, to those evidences which were represented by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses? During the age of Christ, of his apostles, and of their first disciples, the doctrine which they preached was confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, dæmons were expelled, and the laws of Nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations in the moral or physical government of the world. Under the reign of Tiberius, the whole earth, or at least a celebrated province of the Roman empire, was involved in a preternatural darkness of three hours. Even this miraculous event, which ought to have excited the wonder, the curiosity, and the devotion of mankind, passed without notice in an age of science and history. It happened during the lifetime of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects, or received the earliest intelligence, of the prodigy. Each of these philosophers, in a laborious work, has recorded all the great phenomena of Nature, earthquakes, meteors, comets, and eclipses, which his indefatigable curiosity could collect. Both the one and the other have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has been witness since the creation of the globe.

    As for imposing my own cultural expectations into this time, my side is not the one claiming things like Jesus’s resurrection was adequately vetted because news of it supposedly spread so widely and quickly that it gave ample opportunity for teams of investigators and ordinary citizens to have conducted a few simple forensics test and proved the claim false (among other anachronistic arguments).

    Why, when you worship someone who is alive and not dead why enshrine someplace where your leader is not at?

    Because followers of religions, including Christianity, typically enshrine places where miraculous events occurred. This is so obvious a phenomenon I’ll not bother to cite examples.

    They eventually had him killed because he represented a threat to the status quo and world wide religion sprung up around him — that’s considered overwhelmingly indifferent?

    I am not talking about the Roman authorities crucifying a man named Jesus. I am saying that his contemporaries and the immediate generations around the places of his ministry remained largely unconvinced that Jesus was who he and his followers claimed he was. (The parallel to Mormonism is extremely apt.) Doesn’t it seem oddly consistent with other religions that only by significantly distancing itself in time and place did the claims of early Christian proselytizers prove persuasive (and not among those who were closest to the events)? Why did all the Jews, those who were ripest for Jesus’s message, remain Jews?

    I’ll assume you’re talking about Isaiah and the virgin.

    No, not the virgin birth. I have come across examples in books over the years, but my books are home right now. If you’d like I can start to list some later. What’s interesting, obviously, are the ways that it has to be explained how a “historical fact” recounted in the NT that fulfills a prophesy in the OT is based on a mis-translation of the OT text. An example of this in, I believe Mark, opened a door on the NT that compelled, among other things, Bart Ehrman to lose his faith.

    Why, maybe due to being persecuted that couldn’t produce durable works of art, maybe early Christians (who viewed Jesus as God) wouldn’t produce graven images. See here to why Christian graffiti used code words and cliches.

    The link about grafitti you posted to has nothing to do with the situation in Judea in the time of Christ and immediately after; there is no evidence that Christianity was a forbidden religion during that time and in that place. Your link takes this quote, ““the one who has given the Spirit” written and undated on a wall, as evidence of Christian grafitti, and then speculates this: “What was the function of this graffito, inscribed in a public place? It does not seem to have been an advertisement to bring in outsiders, but rather for insiders (Christians), who knew the key clichés, phrases and code words to make sense of the graffito. To insiders it announced that there were Christians in the city with whom other Christians could socialize and worship.” And that’s proof that Christians were persecuted in and around the time of Jesus and that the reason why there is no archaeological evidence to support the claims of rapid growth recounted in the NT?

    In fact, religious persecutions were the exception in the Roman Empire – I took Roman history in college, and the legends of Christian prosecutions (and those of other religions) are little supported by the extra-Christian sources. The truth is that the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus was one of great religious diversity, not a monolithic state religion that was enforced as later, monotheistic religions have done. But I imagine you and many other Christians are too steeped in the lore of Christian persecutions to acquaint yourself with the the mainstream historians’ view that Christians were not unusually singled out in this way.

    And that is largely the problem for the historical claims of Christianity. Similar to modern biology, the Christian must go “off road” to cite a tiny minority of those in the field who are willing to allow their Christian bias to overwhelm their scholarship.

  46. Dave,

    Geoff wrote this:

    If I toss out a string of names of atheist writers, are you committing to read them all and respond to their various argument? I didn’t think so.

    He appears to have asked a rhetorical question, and then answered it for you in case there was any confusion. Feel free to riff on Dawkins, but I don’t see anyone here besides you asking the questions for which you’ve provided your comments.

  47. Tony, maybe you need to catch me up on something. What did you mean by, “but I don’t see anyone here besides you asking the questions for which you’ve provided your comments”?

  48. By the way, Geoff, I’m not reading every atheist who has ever written — and I’m sure you didn’t mean to suggest any of us should — but I’m reading a lot of them, and responding to them. I don’t have a problem with that.

  49. Tom,

    Geoff commented that it would be unprofitable for him to offer up a string of atheist writers in order to ask Dave to comment on them. Dave appears to have taken this as invitation to offer up an atheist writer and comment on him. If you look up Dawkins on this page you’ll see 20 matches. Every one is under one of Dave’s comments.

    I thought we were discussing the historicity of the NT.

  50. As to this, Geoff:

    Derb’s point (and mine too) is that there is literally no point in reading or commenting on any creationist, ID’er or fellow-traveller thereof, because it always degenerates into a game of whack-a-mole with old, tired, familiar and discredited moles. It’s the same reason why there’s no point in arguing with flat-earthers, or Raelians, or Scientologists. It’s tedious, repetitious, and the documented refutations are widely available. These guys have no claim on my time.

    If that’s how you feel about it, what are you doing here? I’m an ID’er, and you’re reading and commenting here. Am I an old, tired, familiar, discredited mole? Am I the intellectual equivalent of a flat-earther? Do you think it worth your time? Once again, what are you doing here? If that’s your attitude, wouldn’t you rather take your coffee off to another table?

    I’m not saying you ought to move, but I wonder why you don’t want to, if we’re not worth your time of day.

  51. And again, Geoff,

    But when I make it clear that I’ve read Gilder,

    Actually you didn’t make that clear. You just said he was someone in your field who was now considered a crackpot.

    and that I now consider him to be a crackpot, you don’t get to invoke the Genetic Fallacy against me, because I haven’t made an argument to which the fallacy might apply. I’ve simply said that he’s a crackpot that I’d prefer not to read. Got it?

    My, my, my.

    Anyway, though you haven’t “made an argument,” you have dismissed an argument on the basis of Gilder’s being (in your opinion) a crackpot. Close enough for me.

  52. Thanks, Tony, for that explanation at 12:33, and I agree it would be helpful to keep this focused. Dawkins is off-topic. But since materialism is relevant to the topic, I don’t mind that Gilder has come up for discussion in context of that issue.

    The idea of asking someone to read a list of writers they disagree with is also off topic; I think Geoff’s suggestion on that was a red herring, to deflect attention from his ad hominem form of argumentation with respect to Gilder.

  53. wouldn’t you rather take your coffee off to another table?

    I can certainly do that. My impression so far has been that you were trying to create a forum which was not purely an “echo-chamber”, that you actually wanted a diversity of viewpoints. Perhaps I was wrong. As for ID, you’ll note that I haven’t engaged in any specific debates about ID, and that if you had introduced an ID-based argument I would have ignored it.

    Certainly some people (Dave, for instance) seem to get their rocks off by taking the opportunity to blast slabs of quoted text at visiting skeptics. On the other hand, most of his contributions have been unfortunately off-topic (C.S.Lewis on materialism? Dawkins?), and I can see that if you want to have a quiet chat about a question that interests you, you might prefer it if things didn’t get sidetracked.

    Anyway, I was just dropping by. Cheerio.

  54. Saying someone is a crackpot is not ad hominem. Attempting to rebut an argument by suggesting that the author is a crackpot is ad hominem. There’s a difference. I did the former, not the latter.

    Please get it straight, people.

  55. Hi Tony

    I found this quote from Gibbon (an Christian believer, no less):

    Do tell. Another patently false statement invented to add false authority to false evidence.

    Gibbon’s work has been criticized for its aggressively scathing view of Christianity as laid down in chapters XV and XVI. Those chapters were strongly criticised and resulted in the banning of the book in several countries. Gibbon’s alleged crime was disrespecting, and none too lightly, the character of sacred Christian doctrine in “treat[ing] the Christian church as a phenomenon of general history, not a special case admitting supernatural explanations and disallowing criticism of its adherents” as the Roman church was likely expecting. More specifically, Gibbon’s blasphemous chapters excoriated the church for “supplanting in an unnecessarily destructive way the great culture that preceded it” and for “the outrage of [practicing] religious intolerance and warfare”.[24] Gibbon, though assumed to be entirely anti-religion, was actually supportive to some extent, insofar as it did not obscure his true endeavour – a history that was not influenced and swayed by official church doctrine. Some argue that though it is true that the most famous two chapters are heavily ironical and cutting about religion, that it is interesting that it is in no way utterly condemned, and that the apparent truth and rightness is upheld however thinly.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Gibbon#Assessment

    As for Gibbon’s apparent sympathy to Christianity, that was a common ploy engaged by the enemies of the church to avoid the outright condemnation of their peers in a time when nearly every influential thinker endorsed Christian orthodoxy. Gibbon was, no doubt, aware of Machiavelli’s advice to princes.

    Also, a prince [author] may be perceived to be merciful, faithful, humane, frank, and religious, but he should only seem to have these qualities. A prince [author] cannot truly have these qualities because at times it is necessary to act against them. Although a bad reputation should be avoided, this is not crucial in maintaining power. The only ethic that matters is one that is beneficial to the prince [author] in dealing with the concerns of his state [writing].

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Prince#Reputation_of_a_prince

    BTW, as for the matter of independent attestation and the validity of Christian orthodoxy…

    By the way, much of the evidence for the Romans (which I agree with Dawkins is overwhelming) is architectural, documentary, and historical. Just like the evidence for the life and works of Jesus and the establishments and growth of the church based on eye witness accounts of the miracles and the Risen Christ. Why accept one account and ridicule and deny another, when they are based on similar levels and kinds of documentary and other historical evidence (the only kind of evidence you could expect for a one-off past event)?

    http://questiondarwin.blogspot.com/2009/09/dawkins-latest-diatribe.html

    Gibbon’s antagonism to Christian doctrine spilled over into the Jewish faith, inevitably leading to charges of anti-Semitism. For example, he wrote:

    Humanity is shocked at the recital of the horrid cruelties which [the Jews] committed in the cities of Egypt, of Cyprus, and of Cyrene, where they dwelt in treacherous friendship with the unsuspecting natives;¹ and we are tempted to applaud the severe retaliation which was exercised by the arms of legions against a race of fanatics, whose dire and credulous superstition seemed to render them the implacable enemies not only of the Roman government, but also of humankind.²[27]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Gibbon#Assessment


    In fact, religious persecutions were the exception in the Roman Empire – I took Roman history in college, and the legends of Christian prosecutions […] to acquaint yourself with the the mainstream historians’ view that Christians were not unusually singled out in this way.

    Of course it never occurs to you that “mainstream historians” may share the same antipathy towards Christianity we observe throughout the halls of academe. That’s why you think Gibbons is a “Christian believer, no less.”

  56. Geoff, you wrote:

    My impression so far has been that you were trying to create a forum which was not purely an “echo-chamber”, that you actually wanted a diversity of viewpoints. Perhaps I was wrong.

    My, my, my again.

    I do welcome a diversity of viewpoints. I wasn’t recommending or suggesting you leave. I was quite clear on that. I was just curious how you could have this “I-wouldn’t-waste-my-time-on-an_ID’er” attitude, and yet spend time here anyway. It seemed rather curious to me, so I asked about it.

    If you do think it’s a waste of time, that’s your decision. I’m not telling you to move along, though I certainly do prefer you take it easy on your expressions of contempt. That kind of thing actually is in the Discussion Policies.

  57. Geoff:

    Saying someone is a crackpot is not ad hominem. Attempting to rebut an argument by suggesting that the author is a crackpot is ad hominem. There’s a difference. I did the former, not the latter.

    Please get it straight, people.

    Please get it straight, Geoff. Neither the former nor the latter is an accurate description of what you did. You did not merely say, “someone is a crackpot.” You dismissed his argument on the the basis of his being “a crackpot.” That’s ad hominem.

  58. And did so by citing Derb’s article which was nothing more than a screed against ID or Creation by an author who admitted to a sketchy knowledge of Gilder and who hasn’t read one of his books.
    But the question wasn’t about ID, Creation, or the DI and the Derb wasn’t answering, nor claiming to answer, any of the points in the Gilder article that Dave linked.
    More not being straight.

  59. Dear Geoff

    Certainly some people (Dave, for instance) seem to get their rocks off by taking the opportunity to blast slabs of quoted text at visiting skeptics….

    Let me blast another slab of quoted test at you…

    Since you claim that the materialist view is “self referentially incoherent” and that this is “demonstrable”, please demonstrate it – or point us to material which does so.

    #12

    My own comments, which led to your request for further information quoted above, was a response to your assertion that Holopupenko was being inconsistent when he argued for the evidential validity of Christianity, in which you specifically equated materialism, realism, and validation. I took issue with this unwarranted assertion which you did not bother to support with any argument other than personal incredulity and supplied the requested information in the form of some original?, if inadequte argument of my own, references from the Bible, quotes from supporting evidence, and links to that evidence.

    You cannot have it both ways: if you reject materialism, realism, and validation, you cannot argue for the strength of one position vs. another.

    #8

    To date, complaints about my posting habits to the contrary, you haven’t addressed either the argument or the evidence I provided. I don’t make assertions that I can’t back up with evidence, and I don’t “wave my hands” and say “poof, it happened.” You may not like the evidence I have presented but, so far, I have seen nothing to refute it.

  60. Dave,

    I’m missing your points in your comments on my comment.

    It appears that you ignore the substance of Gibbons assessment of the historical evidence for the events of the New Testament because… he was only pretending to be a Christian?

    You then go on to counter Gibbons assessment of the historical evidence for the claims of the NT with a quote from a blog post by someone named “dissenter.”

    And that Wikipedia says that Gibbon was anti-semitic, therefore…?

    And we conclude with the insinuation that mainstream historians are tainted by Chrisitan antipathy.

    But all this, of course, lends to my point; one must escape the consensus of those who study the subject, and enter the realm of the conspiracy theorist, to conclude that there is good historical evidence for the claims of the NT.

    If you have anything substantial or on point to add to this discussion I’ll respond. If you continue on this line I’ll let my silence serve to confirm my assessment above.

  61. Back to Geoff’s argument from inductive reasoning, here.

    Induction. The way we learn about all properties of the universe: we observe, notice patterns, infer causal relationships, make predictions, and test them.

    In our collective experience, death is permanent. Dogs, cats, people. The apparent exceptions are so few that we can confidently put then down to observer error (the creature in question was not actually dead – “woke up in morgue” – or not really alive afterwards – mistaken identity, visual illusion).
    So if there is a credible claim that X was dead at time T, we are justified in being confident, absent conclusive evidence to the contrary, that X will not be alive at time T+eps. And if there is a credible claim that X was alive at time T, we can be confident that X was not dead at time T-eps.

    Of course our induction is not simply based on the observation of dead and alive individuals. We understand the mechanisms of death and life well enough to explain WHY the transition dead->alive is implausible. That’s why the purported miracle is not simply a Penn&Teller trick but involves the biological, chemical, electrical, physical, and (probably) quantum-mechanical properties of the universe.

    In many ways what you say here is valid, but not in every way. What you said here doesn’t resemble the Christian claim (per the historical text) so your inductive reasoning, while valid in some respects, doesn’t address the actual historical account.

    The historical account, and claim, is that a being (God) caused Jesus’ dead body to come to life – not his body spontaneously came to life by itself – and here we have some measure of experience and understanding so we can do some inductive reasoning.

    In our collective everyday life experience, we know that the four causes work together to bring about desired outcomes. Geoff decides to make a table and it happens. Doctor’s decide to revive a dead patient and it happens (the dead can come to life!). God decides to raise Jesus from the dead and it happens.

  62. Further: Geoff, I take it you are aware that the information contained in your inductive reasoning argument is not news to Christians. It wasn’t news in the first century. They knew Jesus’ resurrection was one-of-a-kind. Don’t you suppose information that old has already been addressed?

    Your inductive argument contains this hidden assumption: Induction — and the ordinary course of events it reveals — defines all that is possible in the world. Therefore if God exists, then he is a God who cannot accomplish anything within his creation except for that which follows the ordinary course of events. Here’s the quick answer to that: you don’t believe in such a God, and neither (as Steve said) do we.

    Your objections to Christianity might be more productive if they were actually objections to Christianity.

  63. Hi Tony

    It appears that you ignore the substance of Gibbons assessment of the historical evidence for the events of the New Testament because… he was only pretending to be a Christian?

    I wasn’t assessing the evidence of Gibbons, I was assessing your assertion that Gibbons was Christian believer. The argument of Gibbons in this instance may be valid, but we should not make the error of believing that Gibbons is sympathetic to Christianity, he is a hostile witness.


    And we conclude with the insinuation that mainstream historians are tainted by Chrisitan antipathy.

    It isn’t an insinuation, it is an observation. I don’t imagine I will have much trouble finding verification for the observation…. if you want me to start looking?

  64. You completely missed the point of the opening remarks, they were directed at your ridiculous comment about how it’s so obvious that only an apologist would believe such things… yet you edit out my twisting of your silly jibe (my whole comment was just yours in parody, if you found my comment silly imagine how yours sounds).

    As for imposing my own cultural expectations into this time, my side is not the one claiming things like Jesus’s resurrection was adequately vetted because news of it supposedly spread so widely and quickly that it gave ample opportunity for teams of investigators and ordinary citizens to have conducted a few simple forensics test and proved the claim false (among other anachronistic arguments).

    No, but your side basically says that people of the first century were too stupid to know when someone was dead or alive as if it’s something the Enlightenment brought forth was the ability to know that dead men don’t walk. And yet you’re not dealing with the evidence that there were people who truly believed Jesus rose from the dead contra to ALL their expectations, so much so that a religion that should have failed did not.

    Because followers of religions, including Christianity, typically enshrine places where miraculous events occurred. This is so obvious a phenomenon I’ll not bother to cite examples.

    You need to deal with the early Jewish followers, you have not… so since this is so obvious a phenomenon amongst the 2nd temple Jewish people I’d like for you to site a source because I’m not aware of how common this is.

    I am not talking about the Roman authorities crucifying a man named Jesus. I am saying that his contemporaries and the immediate generations around the places of his ministry remained largely unconvinced that Jesus was who he and his followers claimed he was.

    I wasn’t talking about the Romans either I was talking about the Jewish authority and how Jesus threatend to turn Temple worship upside down, that he preached about Israels unfaithfulness and need to repent, that the in breaking of Gods Kingdom is at hand and the single-plan-for-world-salvation-through-Israel will include those outside of walls that the Jews had setup (i.e. Gentiles). This is a complete shift away from their current expectations that they had him killed, that doesn’t speak of complete indifference to me. But yes, the Romans did nail him to the cross.

    If you’d like I can start to list some later.

    In all honesty not really. I’m sure you have plenty of lists if this first list is any indication.

    An example of this in, I believe Mark, opened a door on the NT that compelled, among other things, Bart Ehrman to lose his faith.

    Ehrman lost his faith because of the “problem of evil.” See here for an interview or just pick up his book.

    From Dr. Ehrman:

    What happened in my case is I actually didn’t give up my belief because of any of this. My understanding of the Bible changed and I became a kind of mainstream, mainline, liberal Christian who thought the Bible had discrepancies but I still believed in God and still believed Christ was the Son of God and still believed in his death for salvation and all those things. The reason I became an agnostic is unrelated to this material. I have another book that came out a year ago on the problem of suffering called God’s Problem, and in that book I talk about how I actually lost my faith, which was related to my problem believing that there could be a good God in control of this world given the state of things, given all the suffering and pain in the world. That’s what led me to leave the faith, not my change in my views of the Bible.

    Back to you now:

    In fact, religious persecutions were the exception in the Roman Empire – I took Roman history in college, and the legends of Christian prosecutions (and those of other religions) are little supported by the extra-Christian sources. The truth is that the Roman Empire during the time of Jesus was one of great religious diversity, not a monolithic state religion that was enforced as later, monotheistic religions have done. But I imagine you and many other Christians are too steeped in the lore of Christian persecutions to acquaint yourself with the the mainstream historians’ view that Christians were not unusually singled out in this way.

    First off, congratulations on going to college, we Christians are a stupid bunch and not too many of us get any education. I am an exception to the schooling bit and did go to college and also took classes in history, anthropology, cultural anthropology, reading, writing and ‘rithmatic (you know, the basics). You apparently also took a course in creative thinking when you “imagine you and many other Christians are too steeped in the lore of Christian persecutions to acquaint yourself with the the mainstream historians’ view”. What else do you imagine about us stupid Christians?

    So first off you didn’t address the bit about early Christians (most likely Jews) wouldn’t make graven images. Second, Romans were open to those customs and beliefs that already fit their ancient customs, anything “new” was looked on with distrust as a “superstition”. So taking the main topic at hand (the resurrection) N. T. Wright in Resurrection of the Son of God quotes Homer’s King Priam: “Lamenting for your dead son will do no good at all. You will be dead before you bring him back to life.” And Aeschylus Eumenides: “Once a man has died, and the dust has soaked up his blood, there is no resurrection.” Resurrection of the body would have been looked on as a superstition and not accepted. Plus, persecution would have taken many forms, not just some state wide killing spree. There would have been social persecution, imprisonment, torture, financial persecution… one couldn’t do business in many cities without submitting to the emperor cult and when Paul makes such declarations as “Jesus is Lord” he is saying that Ceaser is NOT Lord, against the old cultic submition claim for the emperor. And as you so clearly seemed to miss (and then devolve into your ridiculous diatribe about how Christians don’t know history) from my link let me quote:

    Christianity was categorized as a superstitio in the Roman Empire before Constantine legalized it in the fourth century, and as such Christians were subject to persecution, prosecution and occasionally execution.

    Note, “occasionally”.

    Finally you completely ignore Jewish persecution, Saul had a day job before he himself converted.

  65. Steve K / Tom,

    As I said earlier, there are basically two options when pleading for the historicity of Jesus: either provide the historical evidence, or make a case that the rules of history should be applied uniquely to your religion.

    Only someone who has a prior bias for Christianity would accept the second option. If you choose the second one, you will find yourself in some odd company. There’s this from a BYU Studies document (http://byustudies.byu.edu/shop/pdfSRC/21.3Packer.pdf), for instance:

    There are qualifications to teach or to write the history of this church. If one is lacking in any one of these qualifications, he cannot properly teach the history of the Church. He can recite facts and give a point of view, but he cannot properly teach the history of the Church. I will state these qualifications in the form of questions so that you can assess your own qualifications.
    Do you believe that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ personally
    appeared to the boy prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., in the year 1820?
    Do you have personal witness that the Father and the Son appeared in all their glory and stood above that young man and instructed him according to the testimony that he gave to the world in his published history?
    Do you know that the Prophet Joseph Smith’s testimony is true because you have received a spiritual witness of its truth?…

    Now, you obviously noted that I did not talk about academic qualifications.
    Facts, understanding, and scholarship can be attained by personal study and essential course work. The three qualifications I have named come by the Spirit, to the individual. You can’t receive them by secular training or study, by academic inquiry or scientific investigation.
    I repeat: if there is a deficiency in any of these, then, regardless of what other training an individual possesses, he cannot comprehend and write or teach the true history of this church. The things of God are understood only by one who possesses the Spirit of God.

    The argument for the historical Jesus here is starting to sound suspiciously similar to what BYU expects of its students of history – i.e, that the only way to understand what happened in the past is to first accept the official version of what happened in the past. The question I have is, are we going to reconstruct history from the material of history, or arrange the piece together based on a premise?

  66. What is interesting to me is that our skeptical friends would think it reasonable to accept as true an independently attested story about a man who was stabbed to death and who was later seen alive by others (but never seen from again) if they were also told that people went into the morgue shortly after death to revive him.

    There would be no requirement to know HOW the people did it, or WHY before accepting the independent attestations and other evidence. Mass hallucination theories or swoon theories would be laughed off as the work of conspiracy theorists trying to explain away the obvious.

    Tell the skeptics the man was God in human flesh or that God did the reviving and then the conspiracy theories start sounding pretty good.

    What this means to me is the skeptic’s complaint is not about how or why or about independent attestations or evidence….the complaint is about Who.

  67. Tony, I have chosen the first option, and I am giving you historical evidences. Why would you even bring up that second option for discussion?

    But if you think “the rules of history” include the kind of inductive assumptions Geoff has brought forth, then I respectfully but firmly disagree. Those are rules of science, not of history.

  68. What is interesting to me is that our skeptical friends would think it reasonable to accept as true an independently attested story about a man who was stabbed to death and who was later seen alive by others (but never seen from again) if they were also told that people went into the morgue shortly after death to revive him.

    How do you know that “our skeptical friends” would think any such thing? What a curious straw-man….

    Now if you preface the word “stabbed” with “apparently”, and change “after death” to “after the incident”, it sounds just like a typical story from the nightly news. Well, except for the disappearance bit; that’s more like something from the tabloid department….

  69. Geoff,

    Now if you preface the word “stabbed” with “apparently”, and change “after death” to “after the incident”, it sounds just like a typical story from the nightly news. Well, except for the disappearance bit; that’s more like something from the tabloid department….

    Hence the word ‘reasonable’ in my comment – meanining the phrase ‘apparently the man was stabbed to death and apparantly he was seen alive’ is what normal people conclude when they get evidence before them and multiple, independent attestations.

    There is no reasonableness or apparentness in the skeptics statement ‘apparantly there was a mass hallucination occuring, or apparantly everyone was mistaken, or apparantly the story was made up, or apparantly the man never existed’

  70. OK, I can’t resist. You write:

    But if you think “the rules of history” include the kind of inductive assumptions Geoff has brought forth, then I respectfully but firmly disagree. Those are rules of science, not of history.

    So what exactly do you take to be the difference between the two? For science, I can’t do better than Koupelis and Kuhn.

    (To pre-empt one possible move, and contra authors like Martin, I reject the suggestion that the hypothetico-verificationist approach cannot be applied to agency, motivation, and subjectivity.)

  71. Hello Tony

    Regarding the Gibbon quote;

    “But how shall we excuse the supine inattention of the Pagan and philosophic world, to those evidences which were represented by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses?[…] etc.

    I would direct your attention to this observation regarding the Royal Library at Alexandria

    It is a strange fact that as long as the Royal Library existed no one bothered to say very much about it. Nearly everything that has been written dates from a time after the Library was no more which suggests it was rather taken for granted until it was lost. As shown below, one can say that by about 30BC it was certainly no more or at least greatly reduced in size and prestige. If the comments above on the size of the Library’s holdings are correct, it was not mentioned much when it existed because it was at that stage only an important and large facility. It was only after it had gone that it was transmuted into a mythical institution that contained every work that had ever been written and such a vast number of scrolls that it is a wonder any were left anywhere else.

    http://www.bede.org.uk/Library2.htm

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Our knowledge of the past is marked by vast gaps in extant writings of contemporary authors. Whether or not particular historical events were ever recorded is something we cannot know for certain, but we can know that the priorities of early authors do not necessarily reflect the priorities of modern historians.

  72. SteveK: see my #17. A perfectly plausible timeline that involves none of your “apparantly” [sic] suggestions is that Jesus was crucified, appeared to die, was removed from the cross and taken elsewhere, found not to be dead (happens all the time, especially without EEG and EKG), nursed back to health, was well enough to meet with a few of his followers (who were, understandably, amazed by his recovery, and viewed it as miraculous), but who succumbed to his injuries soon after.

    Over and out….

  73. Geoff,
    Except there is nothing apparent (thanks!) about not dying, nor being nursed back to health by anyone other than God, nor succumbing to his injuries soon after.

    I would also add that ‘elsewhere’ was apparently a known location, apparently sealed by an apparently heavy stone and under an apparent Roman guard who apparently didn’t see anyone take the apparent dead man out of the apparent tomb.

    So, does this mean you think it’s reasonable to think the historical account of the resurrection is true?

  74. Geoff,
    Plausible and apparent must go together in order to be considered reasonable. Your previous comment about the resurrection event is very plausible, but not very apparent – and hence not reasonable.

    If you like plausible arguments that lack apparentness, then please consider this: it’s plausible, not apparent, that I’m Neo and we’re all living in the Matrix. (I watched that last night so it was on my mind, sorry)

    ……..
    Captcha is on to my Matrix reference – sentinels

  75. SteveK: here’s a hint: skeptics like me tend not to accept the literal accuracy and veracity of your texts. (As someone said a couple of comments ago, “we can know that the priorities of early authors do not necessarily reflect the priorities of modern historians”.) If you can’t get past this, then the conversation is going to be pretty short.

  76. Accept what you want, Geoff. I asked if the Christian understanding of the account was reasonable given the evidence we have.

  77. Geoff:

    So what exactly do you take to be the difference between the two?

    I think you missed my first response to your inductive approach.

    The difference between the two (as far as is relevant here) is that science is bound to answer what can happen under ordinary circumstances, while history is bound to answer what actually did happen.

    Now, if your approach to history is naturalistic, then the two will be identical, for in the broad scheme of things there are no circumstances but ordinary circumstances. If the question is whether Jesus was raised from the dead, hwowever, that approach begs the question. See my earlier response, already stated once and now linked to twice.

  78. Geoff:

    SteveK: see my #17. A perfectly plausible timeline that involves none of your “apparantly” [sic] suggestions is that Jesus was crucified, appeared to die, was removed from the cross and taken elsewhere, found not to be dead (happens all the time, especially without EEG and EKG), nursed back to health, was well enough to meet with a few of his followers (who were, understandably, amazed by his recovery, and viewed it as miraculous), but who succumbed to his injuries soon after.

    If you’re going to re-run an argument from earlier in the thread, kindly pay attention to answers that were given the first time around. If you think it was a bad answer, then please say so and explain why.

    SteveK: here’s a hint: skeptics like me tend not to accept the literal accuracy and veracity of your texts. (As someone said a couple of comments ago, “we can know that the priorities of early authors do not necessarily reflect the priorities of modern historians”.) If you can’t get past this, then the conversation is going to be pretty short.

    I’ll soon be adding material explaining why some key passages in the narratives are accepted by skeptical historians.

  79. Luke,

    You completely missed the point of the opening remarks, they were directed at your ridiculous comment about how it’s so obvious that only an apologist would believe such things…

    No, I got your point.

    No, but your side basically says that people of the first century were too stupid to know when someone was dead or alive as if it’s something the Enlightenment brought forth was the ability to know that dead men don’t walk. And yet you’re not dealing with the evidence that there were people who truly believed Jesus rose from the dead contra to ALL their expectations, so much so that a religion that should have failed did not.

    Okay. My mistake for attributing viewpoints to your side that I don’t know you to hold. Similarly, I don’t think that the people of Ancient Judea were too stupid to know when someone was dead or alive. I don’t know what you mean by “it’s something the Enlightenment brought forth was the ability to know that dead men don’t walk.”

    I’ll spell out my position to make this easier. I don’t know with any high probability what happened, and can be persuaded pending new information of almost anything, but what appears most likely to me is this: there was probably a messianic, charismatic figure named Jesus who believed that the world was soon to end, and his own sincere, fervent (albeit deluded) belief persuaded a small following. Contrary to his and his followers’ expectations, he was crucified. (I don’t believe there’s good reason to believe he was entombed, nor that his followers thought the saw him soon afterward. I think he was probably buried in a mass grave as would most of those who were crucified at that time.) As his followers came to grips with his demise, they went through a progression similar to those who experience great grief. First, they imagined that his death, although real, did not represent a defeat but an unexpected turn of events. They mollified themselves at first with the thought that although his body perished, his spirit lived on. As his followers continued his ministry, it was discovered that those who claimed that not only did his spirit live on, but so did his body, were more successful in proselytizing, etc. (A bodily resurrection is more attractive, more tangible, more desirable than a mystical, spiritual life afterward; as Woody Allen says, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my works, I want to achieve immortality by not dying.”) The success of preaching a bodily resurrection led to the backward progression of better filling out the details – yes, now that you ask, there was a tomb, there were witnesses, then more witnesses, etc. The desire among Jesus’s followers that his life represent more than a final end, more than a spiritual ascending, evolved to the promise of bodily resurrection. This message, the organization of his followers, the place and time, all proved conducive to a theology that can be seen to evolve through Mark to Luke, Matthew, and John, continuing with some vigor through to the 4th century when things became more static from a theological perspective.

    That’s my working historical hypothesis of the most likely explanation for how things got started, knowing what I know. I consider that the most probable, from a historical perspective, accounting of what we know from the facts available.

    You need to deal with the early Jewish followers [regarding the fact that there is no evidence of a shrine at the tomb of Jesus], you have not… so since this is so obvious a phenomenon amongst the 2nd temple Jewish people I’d like for you to site a source because I’m not aware of how common this is.

    People, whether they be Christians, converted Jews, whatever, have enshrined things for millenia. I just think it’s odd that no one thought to enshrine the original tomb.

    I wasn’t talking about the Romans either I was talking about the Jewish authority and how Jesus threatend to turn Temple worship upside down, that he preached about Israels unfaithfulness and need to repent, that the in breaking of Gods Kingdom is at hand and the single-plan-for-world-salvation-through-Israel will include those outside of walls that the Jews had setup (i.e. Gentiles). This is a complete shift away from their [the Jews’] current expectations that they had him killed, that doesn’t speak of complete indifference to me.

    The state of Texas has killed hundreds of people in the last few decades. Does that mean that all of those people posed potential threats to create a world religion that would overthrow the state of Texas? State powers routinely kill people they find to be a nuisance or just inconvenient – they don’t wait for them to represent a significant rebellion before they decide to do so. I repeat; having the authorities decide to kill you does not make you a significant cultural figure.

    Ehrman lost his faith because of the “problem of evil.” See here for an interview or just pick up his book.

    Ehrman may have the most trouble reconciling his faith with the problem of evil now (as do I – that one continues to be a deal breaker for me), but in my book Ehrman says (regarding the tendentious logic he had to use to explain a problem in the Mark),

    Ehrman: “Once I made the admission [that Mark had probably made a mistake] the floodgates opened. For if there could be one little, picayune mistake in Mark 2, maybe there could be mistakes in other places as well.”

    Then we have this:

    So first off you didn’t address the bit about early Christians (most likely Jews) wouldn’t make graven images. Second, Romans were open to those customs and beliefs that already fit their ancient customs, anything “new” was looked on with distrust as a “superstition”. So taking the main topic at hand (the resurrection) N. T. Wright in Resurrection of the Son of God quotes Homer’s King Priam: “Lamenting for your dead son will do no good at all. You will be dead before you bring him back to life.” And Aeschylus Eumenides: “Once a man has died, and the dust has soaked up his blood, there is no resurrection.” Resurrection of the body would have been looked on as a superstition and not accepted. Plus, persecution would have taken many forms, not just some state wide killing spree. There would have been social persecution, imprisonment, torture, financial persecution… one couldn’t do business in many cities without submitting to the emperor cult and when Paul makes such declarations as “Jesus is Lord” he is saying that Ceaser is NOT Lord, against the old cultic submition claim for the emperor. And as you so clearly seemed to miss (and then devolve into your ridiculous diatribe about how Christians don’t know history) from my link let me quote:

    [Ben Witherington III:] “Christianity was categorized as a superstitio in the Roman Empire before Constantine legalized it in the fourth century, and as such Christians were subject to persecution, prosecution and occasionally execution.”

    I mentioned the part about my having studied Roman History in college because most of what you write above is, according to what I was taught, gibberish. (I don’t get your point about the ancients knowing that death was final, which is an unremarkable thing to say and doesn’t entail that a religion that promised otherwise would have been regarded as superstition.) The Romans favored tradition, and old religions were better than new ones. If new ones gained favor by Imperial authority, then those who wanted to move up followed suit – this isn’t so different from belonging to the right political party, or going to the right parties today. (It is true that if a religion caused a problem for the state by rebelling, or if there was a setback in need of a scapegoat, then those in the rebelling religions or those not ascribing to the state religions could expect some state or mob payback.)

    Your quote from Witherington is terribly misleading. Christianity was not illegal until the 4th Century, as Witherington’s quote implies – it simply never had an Imperial patron until Constantine. There was no systematic or regular persecution of Christians as an outlaw religion, period. And Christians were subject to persecution, prosecution, and occasionally execution, yes, but so was everyone else in the Empire. You have not touched my point, which is that there was seldom, if ever, any need for Christians to be clandestine as a result of Roman persecution, and almost certainly not at the time and soon after Jesus’s death.

    Finally you completely ignore Jewish persecution, Saul had a day job before he himself converted.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean there is significant evidence of Jewish persecution of the Jews? If so, I’m all ears.

  80. Tom writes:

    If you’re going to re-run an argument from earlier in the thread, kindly pay attention to answers that were given the first time around. If you think it was a bad answer, then please say so and explain why.

    Sure. In the response you cite, you say:

    The big problem with it is that even in the old days, people knew when someone was dead

    which is frankly bullshit. We get it wrong today, even with all of the technology at our disposal. Are you seriously suggesting that people in 44CE Jerusalem were more skillful at detecting medical conditions like the Lazarus Phenomenon than people are today?

    And then you went on with non-sequitur after non-sequitur. You asked:

    Does that explain the origin of a messianic, resurrection, kingdom-of-God movement like the early church?

    Well, no, but there are plenty of alternative explanations – like an effective PR campaign by Paul piggy-backing on the characteristics of other religious movements in the region. And then

    Don’t you think his followers would have noticed he was rather hurting and weak? Do you think they would have regarded him as “both Lord and Christ” because of that?

    Beats me. If they had though he was dead, the fact that he was actually (but only just) alive would probably be hyped to the point where such considerations went out of the window. Just look at the credulity of cult-like groups over recent American history….

    So yes, it was a shockingly bad answer. So bad that I couldn’t believe you were serious. I guess I’ll have to recalibrate.

  81. Hi Tony


    That’s my working historical hypothesis of the most likely explanation for how things got started, knowing what I know. I consider that the most probable, from a historical perspective, accounting of what we know from the facts available.

    And a very plausible hypothesis it is. So, how do you explain, given the facts available, that this has never happened before or since in the history of the world?

    Why does no one else have an account that is even remotely similar in style or content to the Christian account of the life of Jesus?

  82. Are you seriously suggesting that people in 44CE Jerusalem were more skillful at detecting medical conditions like the Lazarus Phenomenon than people are today?

    And the resurrection of the dead is impossible? The fact that dead people coming back to life is well documented even though it is not understood underscores our own egregious ignorance of the mysterious nature of life and death. “One doctor wrote, “Perhaps it is a supreme hubris on our part to presume that we can reliably distinguish the reversible from the irreversible, or the salvageable from the nonsalvageable.”” Sounds like it could almost be termed miraculous except that these cases lack any clear theological import.

    If you read the account I linked in “The Miracle Detective” you would realize that healing of injuries and illness is also a well documented, if often ignored, and certainly unexplained, phenomena. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

  83. Geoff,

    In your kind answer to me at 11:30 pm, you failed again to look even just a bit further, to the original posts of the series, in which it was made clear just how unusual it was to proclaim Jesus Christ, and how unlikely it was they would have described him as resurrected, and how the circumstances you described the word “probably” is completely inappropriate to the result you described. The credulity of cult-like groups over recent American history is relevant to recent American history.

    Your contempt is really showing through, and I want to remind you again of the Starbucks Standard. You’ve seen it before so I need not link to it again.

  84. Tom,

    Ah, yes, that is the rub. Historians must view the past through the prism of their present. Because today’s historians live in a time where the miraculous is, every time, debunked, they assume that miraculous events of the past would suffer from the same. This is a premise, I’ll admit, but I think it’s no more dangerous than scientists assuming that gravity works the same in the rest of the solar system, light moves at the same speed across the universe, etc.

    Of course, I’ll admit as evidence the miraculous accounts of the NT were any of them to be duplicated today. If a man is resurrected after being tortured to death and being dead for almost 2 days today, I’ll grant that the account of the Gospels probably recounts actual events.

    If that seems like too onerous a hurdle to inflict, then please grant that the “one-time” only aspect of Jesus’s miracles are also a tad convenient for the apologist.

    Dave,

    And a very plausible hypothesis it is. So, how do you explain, given the facts available, that this has never happened before or since in the history of the world?
    Why does no one else have an account that is even remotely similar in style or content to the Christian account of the life of Jesus?

    I can’t tell if you’re serious here or not. Truly.

    If you’re saying that my hypothesis seems implausible, what specifically?

    And are you saying that the story of Jesus’s life and death is without parallel in human history? Because if you are, I think you’re going to lose that one.

  85. Hi Tony

    If you’re saying that my hypothesis seems implausible, what specifically?

    No, I am saying that your hypothesis is entirely plausible, just as the theory of phlogiston and the theory of stable continents are entirely plausible and as so many theories are plausible. Plausiblity is not a measure of truth.

    And are you saying that the story of Jesus’s life and death is without parallel in human history? Because if you are, I think you’re going to lose that one.

    So destroy my hypothesis.


  86. ….it was made clear just how unusual it was to proclaim Jesus Christ, and how unlikely it was they would have described him as resurrected, and how the circumstances you described the word “probably” is completely inappropriate to the result you described.

    Which only indicates that the vast majority of the Jewish people of the time would have regarded this small religious movement (cult is probably the word they would have used) as made up of a bunch of nutters. And that’s exactly what happened. Christianity never succeeded in converting many Jews.

    Examining other religious movements and cults is entirely relevant in understanding what might have happened when Christianity was new. Be it the very recent Scientologists, the less recent Mormons and Millerites, or any other you might want to look to over the course of history. I can understand how you might not like this course of thought. It highlights just how irrationally people tend to behave and think when they get caught up in a religious movement of great fervor. A fact which is strongly and predictably downplayed by Christian apologists wanting us to accept the Gospels as accurate historical accounts.

  87. Dave,

    This from “The Mysteries of Mithras: the pagan belief that shaped the Christian World”

    The savior [Mithras] was born in the middle of the night between Saturday and Sunday, 24th-25th December, 272 B.C.E, and according to those who believed in Him from an immaculate (Anahid) Virgin (Xosidhag) somewhere not far from lake Hamin, Sistan, lived 64 years amng men, and ascended to his father Ahura Mazda in 208 B.C.E.

    Now I know that the December 25 thing is irrelevant to the Gospels, but the rest of it has a familiar ring to it. There are other Christian similarities with Mithras, and with other mystery cults that predate Christianity. Of course, subsequently, there are plenty of other instances of millions of people being converted by a religion that claims miraculous occurrences in the past (witnessed by hundreds or thousands!) Typical are accounts like this:

    Another miracle was the flowing of water through Muhammad’s fingers when his companions got thirsty and had no water except a little in a vessel. They came to him and told him that they had no water to make ablution nor to drink except for what was in the vessel. So, Muhammad put his hand in the vessel, and the water started gushing out between his fingers. So, they drank and made ablution. They were one thousand five hundred companions.

    By the typical apologist standard, this event is far more believable because of the last sentence. Do you really believe that a) the miracle occurred, and b) there were one thosand fine hundred companions? If not, why not?

  88. Off on another tangent, but oh well:

    The form of the cult most familiar to us, the initiatory cult, does not seem to derive from Persia at all. It is found first in the west, has no significant resemblance to its supposed Persian ‘origins’, and seems largely to be a western construct…. instead of Christianity borrowing form Mithraism, it was the other way around. Mithraism tried to make its pagan rituals look and feel more Christian.
    Read more: http://www.comereason.org/cmp_rlgn/cmp070.asp#ixzz0QoDysHTs

    Did Christianity Steal From Mithraism?

  89. All skepticism reserved only for Christianity.

    Not at all. All the atheists that I know are equally skeptical about all of these stories. The problem is that when Tom says

    just how unusual it was to proclaim Jesus Christ, and how unlikely it was they would have described him as resurrected

    he is clearly inviting a discussion about probability, about likelihood. And it’s difficult to assess the posterior probability of an event that is claimed to be unique, especially when we are told that inductive arguments are unacceptable. That, I think, is why I, and David Ellis and others think that it is relevant to examine the claims of uniqueness, both of the claimed event and of the way it was interpreted by others.

  90. Geoff, we could proceed a whole lot more productively if you would not misrepresent me so repeatedly.

    I did not say inductive arguments are unacceptable. I said that begging the question is unacceptable. Surely you don’t disagree with that!

    My own argument is inductive, really. Broadly speaking it’s based on the observed extreme unlikelihood of people inventing radically new ideas, radically opposed to current cultural and intellectual norms, out of completely thin air, at significant danger to themselves.

  91. Hi Tony

    For a short summary of the problematic nature of the claim of Dec. 25 and the virgin birth.

    Campbell relies heavily on the work of Cumont. This was excusable in 1959, but to blindly rely on this work in 1994 is not excusable.

    What does Campbell say? Well, he does clearly imply that Mithra was virgin born. But before you feel validated, I should point out that Campbell cites no original source. In fact, his claim is really nothing more than a strained, subjective interpretation.

    He says:

    “Mithra…was born beside a sacred stream beneath a sacred tree. In works of art he is shown emerging as a naked child from the “Generative Rock,” wearing his Phrygian cap, bearing a torch, and armed with a knife…..The earth has given birth – a virgin birth- to the archetypal Man.” [pp. 260-261]

    As you noted, the Dec. 25th inanity is akin to the similar foolishness comparing the ‘sun’ god with the ‘Son’ of God when the English word ‘son’ was a thousand years and several thousand miles removed from the venue in question.

    In fact, almost all scholars agree that this date was adopted centuries later. To be more specific, Joseph Campbell notes that the date was adopted in 354 AD. Thus, the adoption of this date says NOTHING about the influences of Mithraism on the formation of the Gospel accounts.

    http://geneva.rutgers.edu/src/faq/mithra.txt

    Here is a little on the timing of the rise of Roman Mithraism and the likelihood that its cultic praxis influenced Christian theology.


    C. Inexact Parallels From Late Sources

    What should be evident is that past studies of phenomenological comparisons have inexcusably disregarded the dates and the provenience of their sources when they have attempted to provide prototypes for Christianity. Let me give two examples, Mithra and the taurobolium.

    Mithra was the Persian god whose worship became popular among Roman soldiers (his cult was restricted to men) and was to prove a rival to Christianity in the late Roman Empire. Early Zoroastrian texts, such as the Mithra Yasht, cannot serve as the basis of a mystery of Mithra inasmuch as they present a god who watches over cattle and the sanctity of contracts. Later Mithraic evidence in the west is primarily iconographic; there are no long coherent texts.

    Those who seek to adduce Mithra as a prototype of the risen Christ ignore the late date for the expansion of Mithraism to the west (cf. M. J. Vermaseren, Mithras, The Secret God, 1963, p. 76). The only dated Mithraic inscriptions from the pre-Christian period are the texts of Antiochus I of Commagene (69-34 B.C.) in eastern Asia Minor. After that there is one text possibly from the first century A.D., from Cappadocia, one from Phrygia dated to A.D. 77-78, and one from Rome dated to Trajan’s reign (A.D. 98-117). All other dated Mithraic inscriptions and monuments belong to the second century (after A.D. 140), the third, and the fourth century A.D. (M. J. Vermaseren, Corpus Inscriptionum et Monumentorum Religionis Mithriacae, 1956).

    The taurobolium was a bloody rite associated with the worship of Mithra and of Attis in which a bull was slaughtered on ‘a grating over an initiate in a pit below, drenching him with blood. This has been suggested (e.g., by R. Reitzenstein) as the basis of the Christian’s redemption by blood and Paul’s imagery in Romans 6 of the believer’s death and resurrection. Gunter Wagner in his exhaustive study Pauline Baptism and thc Pagan Mysteries ( 1963) points out how anachronistic such comparisons are:

    The taurobolium in the Attis cult is first attested in the time of Antoninus Pius for A.D. 160. As far as we can see at present it only became a personal consecration at the beginning of the third century A.D. The idea of a rebirth through the instrumentality of the taurobolium only emerges in isolated instances towards the end of the fourth century A.D.; it is not originally associated with this blood-bath [p. 266].

    Indeed, there is inscriptional evidence from the fourth century A.D. that, far from influencing Christianity, those who used the taurobolium were influenced by Christianity. Bruce Metzger in his important essay “Methodology in the Study of the Mystery Religions and Early Christianity” (Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish and Christian (1968), notes:

    Thus, for example, one must doubtless interpret the change in the efficacy attributed to the rite of the taurobolium. In competing with Christianity, which promised eternal life to its adherents, the cult of Cybele officially or unofficially raised the efficacy of the blood bath from twenty years to eternity [p. 11].

    http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/yama.html

    And for some thoughts on the nature of mythology, juxtaposed with the nature of Christianity, consider the words of G. K. Chesterton in “The Everlasting Man”

    Those who talk about Pagan Christs have less sympathy with Paganism than with Christianity. Those who call these cults ‘religions,’ and ‘compare’ them with the certitude and challenge of the Church have much less appreciation than we have of what made heathenism human,[…] But anybody who has felt and fed on the atmosphere of these myths will know what I mean, when I say that in one sense they did not really profess to be realities. The pagans had dreams about realities;[…] They are fundamentally different exactly where they are superficially similar; we might almost say they are not the same even when they are the same. They are only different because one is real and the other is not. I do not mean merely that I myself believe that one is true and the other is not. I mean that one was never meant to be true in the same sense as the other. The sense in which it was meant to be true […] We know the meaning of all the myths. We know the last secret revealed to the perfect initiate. And it is not the voice of a priest or a prophet saying ‘These things are.’ It is the voice of a dreamer and an idealist crying, ‘Why cannot these things be?’

    http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/everlasting_man.html#chap-I-v

  92. Thanks Tom and Dave.
    That’s what I mean about selective skepticism. Not that the atheist thinks Mithra/s existed, but that he is willing to swallow and repeat without investigation the borrowing claims.

    This was excusable in 1959, but to blindly rely on this work in 1994 is not excusable.

  93. (Stepping into Tony H’s shoes, following his long account of a possible sequence of events following the crucifixion…)

    No, I am saying that your hypothesis is entirely plausible, just as the theory of phlogiston and the theory of stable continents are entirely plausible and as so many theories are plausible. Plausiblity is not a measure of truth.

    This seems to be nub of the issue. The first part is a staggering admission – I thought apologists’ arguments were that there was *no* plausible account other than the miraculous/supernatural one? Certainly Josh McDowell quoting Paul Maier seems to think so. [Following taken randomly from J’s website…if this isn’t describing naturalistic accounts of the resurrection narrative as implausible, I don’t know what is…]

    None of these theories then, offer any solid base for historical reconstruction of what happened on the first Easter morning. If honestly examined, they appear quite fanciful and all of them…raised far more difficulties than they solved

    ====

    Contrary to what you said, I think phlogiston / stable continents used to be plausible theories, but are no longer so. There’s too much evidence suggesting otherwise.

    I’m not sure what you mean by \plausibility is not a measure of truth\. Slightly amended, I disagree completely: plausibility is very relevant when assessing whether a truth claim is, in fact, true.

    But this is all just evaluating empirical claims in the light of pre-existing knowledge. Standard Bayesianism…nothing new at all.

  94. Hello snafu

    […] The first part is a staggering admission – I thought apologists’ arguments were that there was *no* plausible account other than the miraculous/supernatural one? […]

    plausible
    having an appearance of truth or reason; seemingly worthy of approval or acceptance; credible; believable:

    Since you, and obviously others, find certain assertions about the resurrection of Christ having an appearance of truth or reason; seemingly worthy of approval or acceptance; credible; believable: it would be somewhat disingenuous of me to suggest otherwise. The apostles who wrote the New Testament were well aware that other “plausible” reasons for the resurrection could be advanced by their critics which is why they listed witnesses and offered testimony intended to refute these “plausible” theories.

    Certainly Josh McDowell quoting Paul Maier seems to think so. [Following taken randomly from J’s website…if this isn’t describing naturalistic accounts of the resurrection narrative as implausible, I don’t know what is…]

    To answer which I might use your own words…

    Contrary to what you said, I think phlogiston / stable continents used to be plausible theories, but are no longer so. There’s too much evidence suggesting otherwise.

    What Josh McDowell suggests here is, given the evidence available to us, the naturalistic accounts of the resurrection are no longer plausible.


    I’m not sure what you mean by plausibility is not a measure of truth. Slightly amended, I disagree completely: plausibility is very relevant when assessing whether a truth claim is, in fact, true.

    I think you are conflating “plausible”“having an appearance of truth or reason; with “warranted”“Something that provides assurance or confirmation; a guarantee or proof:”. As I wrote earlier, plausibility is not a measure of truth.

  95. Dave,

    When you said:

    Why does no one else have an account that is even remotely similar in style or content to the Christian account of the life of Jesus?

    I took you to mean, well, that there has never been an account similar to the the Christian one of Jesus. What I think you meant was that you believe Christianity was the first to develop its specific theology, and that it was not influenced by other religions (save Judaism). Is that correct?

    If that is true, can you provide at least a partial list of what makes the style or content of the Christian account unique, or at least prior?

  96. Ok, we’ll run with your use of the term plausible in the last post.

    The apostles who wrote the New Testament were well aware that other “plausible” reasons for the resurrection could be advanced by their critics which is why they listed witnesses and offered testimony intended to refute these “plausible” theories.

    …and also…


    given the evidence available to us, the naturalistic accounts of the resurrection are no longer plausible.

    Now at 1.41am, you described Tony’s account as plausible, with 2 riders:

    And a very plausible hypothesis it is. So, how do you explain, given the facts available, that this has never happened before or since in the history of the world?
    Why does no one else have an account that is even remotely similar in style or content to the Christian account of the life of Jesus?

    I guess you mean Tony’s account is superficially plausible, but once you take your two conditions into account, it is no longer so. But I don’t see why uniqueness of the facts makes the account implausible. There are no other (remotely contemporary) accounts similar to the Christian account simply because (on Tony’s hypothesis) Jesus’ life would have been unexceptional to all but a dedicated band of followers.

    I was expecting you to follow the apostles’ lead and refute Tony’s account with specific historical argument based on eyewitness testimony etc…can you go on with that?

  97. Hi snafu

    Thanks for the thoughtful response.

    I guess you mean Tony’s account is superficially plausible, but once you take your two conditions into account, it is no longer so.

    I think there are far more than my two conditions which make the naturalist explanations implausible and I chose those two (which I consider one) because I am presently rereading a book which makes a similar point.

    But I don’t see why uniqueness of the facts makes the account implausible.

    On its own it doesn’t but, as I said, there is far more material, evidentially, philosophiclaly, and anthropologically, which add to its credibility. In fact, I consider the resurrection mere icing on the cake and became a Christian because it answered deeper questions about (to quote Douglass Adams) “life the universe and everything.”

    There are no other (remotely contemporary) accounts similar to the Christian account simply because (on Tony’s hypothesis) Jesus’ life would have been unexceptional to all but a dedicated band of followers.

    I’m not sure you understand my assertion, or perhaps I don’t understand yours. What I wrote is that there are no other accounts before or since which are similar in style (historical narrative) and content (prophecy, miracle, incarnation, resurrection). You may find one or the other, but not both (although there are some post-resurrection non-christian resurrection stories which imitate the Christian story they lack the historic flavor).

    I was expecting you to follow the apostles’ lead and refute Tony’s account with specific historical argument based on eyewitness testimony etc…can you go on with that?

    Why?

  98. Hi Tony

    I took you to mean, well, that there has never been an account similar to the the Christian one of Jesus. What I think you meant was that you believe Christianity was the first to develop its specific theology, and that it was not influenced by other religions (save Judaism). Is that correct?

    No, you were correct the first time around. We have myths and we have Christian history and ne’er the twain shall meet. The Gospels, with the possible exception of John, are very light on theology and very strong on history. Even John is primarily history. The Epistles venture into theology, but they are more concerned with the practical implications of the incarnation more than theology proper.

    Christian theology (as opposed to the Gospel accounts) always has been, and still is, influenced by many sources. We have “Christian” denominations which are all over the map theologically from the position that every jot and tittle in the KJV was miraculously placed there by God Almighty to the denial of incarnation, miracle, prophecy, or deity itself (the kindom of heaven is within you), although most are not “orthodox”. To discover the “orthodox” Christian faith you should read the “Three Ecumenical Creeds” which are considered by most to elucidate the core beliefs of all “orthodox” Christians.

    One of the better analyses of the distinctiveness of Christianity was in a book about Islam. The author suggests that Judaism and Islam have more in common with each other than either one has with Christianiy. The primary difference between the three is their understanding of the relationship between man and God – the practical application of Divine Revelation to daily life.

    Judaism and Islam are religions of Law, Mosaic or Sharia, and the practical application is primarily legal. Do this, don’t do that, and you will be right with God – right down to how and when you pray, what you wear, what you eat, and even how you use the toilet. Their religion is reinforced in a thousand little ways every day as they go through their daily routine. Their Rabbis and Immams are “teachers of the Law” and their religious vocation is study of the Law.

    Christianity on the other hand is a religion of relation. We are adopted into the family of God and,while the Law is still valid, there are still things Christians should do and should not do, it is no longer the overriding focus of the faith. The Law may guide us, but our primary focus is more familial, to know and love God as His adopted children and to act with the due consideration of that familial relationship. The teaching and study of the Law has been supplanted by “theology”, the study of the nature of God, as we attempt to discover the true nature and will of our Heavenly Father. That is why there is such diversity of practice among even the “orthodox” Christian denominations, there is very little prescribed practice for Christians and so the practical “legalities” for any given denomination are, at least initially, self-imposed.

    But that’s more than a little off-topic. What I meant is that there is no other example in the history of the world of anything approaching the Gospel of the incarnation and resurrection of God as an historical event at particular (and identified) time and place.

  99. Well, I think that any claim that the events of Jesus’s life must be true because no other story is exactly like it is clearly fallacious; the events of my life are unique, but that does not make claims about me, for instance, levitating my neighbor’s lawnmower to be therefore true.

    There are great similarities between Mithraism (and other mystery religions) and the story of Jesus. Even if every similarity between the two originated in Christianity (a fact that few, if any, scholars of the period concede) the fact that Mithraism was wildly popular puts lie to the claim that Christianity was improbable. The fact is Christianity had plenty going for it: a support community, a code for how to behave, a gifted set of theologians and organizational thinkers, opportunity for women, the promise of eternal life, etc.

    But the fact that, as Dave said, “there are no other accounts before or since which are similar in style (historical narrative) and content (prophecy, miracle, incarnation, resurrection)” is pretty much beside the point. I could make the same case, replacing various attributes, for Muhammed, Joseph Smith, whomever, and I would not have made a case that these stories are historical, only that they are different.

    So the question remains, why do you dismiss the historical stories of God’s activities here on earth as recounted by all other religions but yours? What makes your religion the one, true, historical religion?

  100. Hi Tony

    This is an interesting comment


    The fact is Christianity had plenty going for it: a support community, a code for how to behave, a gifted set of theologians and organizational thinkers, opportunity for women, the promise of eternal life, etc.

    and I am surprised you make the connection. What makes you think this is true?

    There are great similarities between Mithraism (and other mystery religions) and the story of Jesus. Even if every similarity between the two originated in Christianity (a fact that few, if any, scholars of the period concede) the fact that Mithraism was wildly popular puts lie to the claim that Christianity was improbable.

    The whole point of my overlong post complete with links to the originals for verification is that there is little, if any, similarity between Mithraism and Christianity. Mithraism was a military cult, restricted to men alone, which enjoyed a relatively brief practice within the Roman Legions. The so-called similarities between the two, upon examination, prove unfounded.

    It is not possible to state with certainty when “the mysteries of Mithras” developed. Clauss asserts[9] “the mysteries” were not practiced until the 1st century A.D. Mithraism reached the apogee of its popularity around the 3rd through 4th centuries, when it was particularly popular among the soldiers of the Roman Empire. Mithraism disappeared from overt practice after the Theodosian decree of 391 banned all pagan rites, and it apparently became extinct thereafter.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mithras#History_and_development

    But the fact that, as Dave said, “there are no other accounts before or since which are similar in style (historical narrative) and content (prophecy, miracle, incarnation, resurrection)” is pretty much beside the point.

    As I wrote in my response to snafu;

    On its own it doesn’t but, as I said, there is far more material, evidentially, philosophiclaly, and anthropologically, which add to its credibility. In fact, I consider the resurrection mere icing on the cake and became a Christian because it answered deeper questions about (to quote Douglass Adams) “life the universe and everything.”


    I could make the same case, replacing various attributes, for Muhammed, Joseph Smith, whomever, and I would not have made a case that these stories are historical, only that they are different.

    If by make the same case for “Muhammed, Joseph Smith, whomever” you mean that they were something more than “mortal prophets” in the same mold as Moses, Buddha, Shankara, Nanak, etc. then you wouldn’t acheive your goal. Muhammed never claimed divine status, nor have his followers asserted it of him, he is a prophet, not a god.

    is regarded by Muslims as a messenger and prophet of God (Arabic: الله‎ Allāh), the last and the greatest law-bearer in a series of Islamic prophets as taught by the Qur’an

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammed

    The same is true of the Prophet Joseph Smith (if you wish to use his full title)

    Smith’s followers consider him a prophet and have canonized some of his revelations as sacred texts on par with the Bible.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Smith

    and Buddha

    Siddhattha Gotama) was a spiritual teacher in the north eastern region of the Indian subcontinent who founded Buddhism.[1] He is regarded by Buddhists as the Supreme Buddha (Sammāsambuddha) of our age.

    In Buddhism, the term ‘buddha’ usually refers to one who has become enlightened (i.e., awakened to the truth, or Dharma).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddha
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhahood

    Shall I go on? BTW, all references are from Wikipedia, as site notorious for its overt Christian biases. 8^>


    So the question remains, why do you dismiss the historical stories of God’s activities here on earth as recounted by all other religions but yours? What makes your religion the one, true, historical religion?

    For one, I haven’t “dismissed” them, I haven’t even addressed them. The Mithraic cult doesn’t even pretend to be historical, Mohammed is demonstrably historical, as are the Buddha and Joseph Smith. Whether they are reflective of God’s historical activities is something I have neither asserted or dismissed here.

    (addendum) As noted above where I quote my own post there are several lines of evidence which lead me to believe that Christianity is the best exposition of Divine revelation, however there is good reason to assume that at least some non-JudaeoChristian prophets have received a partial revelation. God reveals Himself to us. Sometimes we “get” the revelation and sometimes we confuse it.

  101. From a review of “Philosophy of Religion” by C. Stephen Evans
    http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/2009/09/book-review-philosophy-of-religion-by-c.html

    Indeed, the existence of the community of religious believers who claim to have experience of God provides evidence of God’s reality even for those who personally do not have such experiences. A good deal of what humans know is not gained through firsthand experience but through the testimony of others. Why should not this be the case for religious knowledge as well?

    and this

    The arguments can be rejected, but the person who rejects them pays a price. For to deny a proposition is logically equivalent to asserting another proposition. To deny p is to assert not-p. In some cases the assertions required to reject theistic arguments may be troublesome ones.

    The book can be found in preview form on googlebooks and seems fairly complete.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=bmSXjRVWAsMC&dq=Stephen+Evans+%22Philosophy+of+Religion%22&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=RUC9SgabTH&sig=Ms_yDONkWIwMxPtFuFA7csjUI4A&hl=en&ei=bkGrSrSbGoKEswOf1eH7BA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false

  102. Listen, if we go round every other religious text / prophet in history we’re going to be here all day. It’s simply not possible to compare them all with Jesus in just a couple of sentences, which is what seems to be happening now. But as Tony says, the fact that a particular account is unique in some particulars lends no particular credibility to it.

    The fact remains that at 11.03 Sep 10th, Tony gave an overview of a possible natuarlistic explanation of the resurrection that he claimed was consistent with the historical evidence that we have.

    What concerns me slightly is that as soon as I try to pin down what’s wrong with it, I get comments about the “uniqueness of the accounts” and things “being the icing on the cake of larger philosophical arguments” etc etc.

    Let’s stay with specifics. We started with the claim that the inference to the miraculous explanation was by far the best one. What’s wrong with Tony’s account? Which bits of history make it an untenable hypothesis?

  103. Dave, the point was that Muhammed, Joseph Smith and the Buddha are founders of religions who made and/or about whom were made extraordinary claims.

    The fact that Christianity makes even more extravagant claims about Jesus is hardly an indication of greater credibility. Nor does that difference alter the validity of the point about the extraordinary claims surrounding the births of new religions and whether we should accept them.

  104. Hi sanfu

    Comment 3 TG

    Comment 7 luke

    Comment 12 Dave

    Gotta run… the wife summoneth

    BTW, I just loved your question in the other thread “…not decades after the fact…” intended to dismiss the eye-witness testimony simply because they didn’t write it down until they neared the ends of their lives.

  105. Dave, I fully appreciate that you wrote that comment quickly. When my wife’s chasing me, it’s much the same as well.

    #3 tells of Josephus’ contribution to the non-NT historical record. And some geographic details that were found to be consistent with their description in the NT.

    #7 is about the stolen body hypothesis.

    #12 is a post about epistemology, materialism, what science can show us and what underlying assumptions it has.

    It strikes me that #3 is entirely consistent with Tony’s story (#83), and #7,#12 are irrelevant. No doubt there are other details in there. What am I missing?

    best regards.

  106. Well in the most general terms I’m asking for something that’s in the historical record and makes the proposed explanation in #83 unlikely.

    If you read it again, I’d hope it’s obvious that making a philosophical point about materialism (that is a debate in its own right) isn’t going to cut much ice.

    Neither, for that matter, is a point regarding stolen bodies when #83 doesn’t propose any.

  107. Dave,

    I don’t follow what you’ve been trying to say in the last several comments now either and I don’t see whatever philosophical arguments or differences in theology there are between religions doesn’t apply to the topic of the original post.

    Regarding the original post, I should have done this earlier but I’ll backtrack now and say that I would have rewritten the problem of independent attestation this way.

    Premise: For the sake of argument, I’m going to say that anyone who witnessed firsthand Jesus or any of his miracles was converted there on the spot. But this doesn’t obliterate the chance for independent attestation – it simply moves it outside the circle of converted eyewitnesses. That’s still a very big circle – far, far larger than those who would have met or seen Jesus.

    So here’s all that we really need for independent attestation of the supernatural events of the NT:

    1. The source should be a contemporary document.
    2. It should affirm events that would have occurred as a consequence of any of the supernatural events described.
    3. It should be written by someone who remained ignorant of the cause (Jesus, God) or remained hostile to Christianity (this would, if Christian history is correct, contain the vast majority of the populations of Judea and the Romans, neither of whom were hesitant to chronicle).

    As I said, this applies to a very large group. If the whole country went dark for 3 hours at Jesus’s death, then, as Gibbon noted, you’d think somebody somewhere else would have mentioned that. The star over Bethlehem, etc. But it looks like there’s a virtually perfect vaccuum where no supernatural event brought about by Jesus passed notice from any of his contemporaries. (And there’s a predictable escape to metaphor or unlearned pagan interpretation, I might add, when Christains are pressed to explain these lapses.)

    So what we’re really stuck with is a bunch of documents, none of whom are known to be written by eyewitnesses, the earliest of which is dated decades after the fact by the consensus of historians (and many of the others much later), written by believers, written for the sake of proselytizing, that show evidence of authorial intent, and borrowing from previous versions, that are not in their supernatural claims materially different from those that recount past events of religions like Islam and Mormonism. (Muhammed poured water from his hands for 1,500. See, it happened with 1,500 eyewitnesses, now it’s historical!) Either you believe or you do not, but those looking for the kind of independent attestation that historians use to come to probable conclusions about events of the past should find no comfort in the historical evidence offered for Christianity.

  108. Tony:

    This is, admittedly, somewhat off topic. I offer it not to “answer” your immediate question, but to suggest that perhaps in your case (and very likely in David Ellis’ case) NO explanation, evidence, argumentation, etc. will suffice… and to pose to you a challenge. (It’s something I came to understand this past week regarding the conversion of Jacques Maritain from very early in the last century.) In other words, I’m suggesting that it’s not your mind that’s not receptive (pardon the double negative) to truths beyond the ones you narrowly focus upon… but your will. You simply do not want to believe: it’s clear from the very questions/demands you pose. One does not “believe” (trust in) mathematical formalisms or the theories of the MESs or the soundness of philosophical arguments: faith is (crudely stated) a different epistemology altogether, because one “knows” once one trusts. Yet, you and others of the loyal opposition continue to try to bang that square peg into what is a round hole.

    So be it.

    Here’s the challenge: if you REALLY do not believe in Christ or the invitation He offers you, then surely any Christian prayer is utterly inefficacious. If that is so, then to recite a prayer is, at best, ineffective… and at worst a waste of the precious time you have on this earth.

    This further means any such prayer will have no effect upon you–either (on one end of the spectrum) from the crude reductionist vision that the sound waves of such a prayer will not be able to alter your brain state, to (on the other side of the spectrum) the immaterial power of honest words of an honest seeker addressed to an admittedly sensory-inaccessible God will also not change you (because there is no such realm as the immaterial and surely there is no God).

    Fair enough.

    Nonetheless, take my challenge: once in the morning and once at night recite the Lord’s Prayer… for one full week. Surely, if there is nothing there, nothing will happen.

    Please note an important nuance: I’m NOT asking you to empirically test whether God is there (there are, from the scientistic perspective, much better ways of doing this). I’m even NOT asking you to honestly recite the following with the expectation of an answer: “I don’t know if You’re there, but show me You are.” What I’m asking you is to take one minute out of your morning and one minute out of your evening to recite the Lord’s Prayer, each day for one full week. I do NOT request that you “report” back to me or any of the members of this blog discussion or anyone at all if something happens.

    The only thing I request (to repeat) is for you do take up the challenge… and ONLY let me know if you REFUSE to do it or if you refuse to continue some time during the week. I will NOT ask for clarifcation or reasoning for the refusal, nor will I pursue it in any other way. In either case, I will ONLY respond to you with a “thank you”… and, I can assure you, I’m not doing this to gain anything in any possible way.

  109. Been away and busy but let me see if I can catch up on this — no promises 😛

    Tony says:

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean there is significant evidence of Jewish persecution of the Jews? If so, I’m all ears.

    I don’t know what you mean by significant evidence or what you’ll even accept but yes there was. Unless you completely discount what Paul says about himself but that was what he was doing was persecuting “Christians”. The book of Acts has the persecution in Jerusalem as the reason that the “Christian” religion left the city and moved to Samaria and onwards. Take that Paul was authorized by the Jewish priests to go after “Christians” in Damascus. Also we have the Roman prefect of the Holy Land, Herod Agrippa, who had Christian leaders executed (the beheading of James) which is probably why Peter left Jerusalem. Plus there’s the animosity and killings between Samaritans (the lost Jews) and more “ethnically pure”-Jews (as would continue when Samaritans started to convert to Christianity).

    I mentioned the part about my having studied Roman History in college because most of what you write above is, according to what I was taught, gibberish. (I don’t get your point about the ancients knowing that death was final, which is an unremarkable thing to say and doesn’t entail that a religion that promised otherwise would have been regarded as superstition.) The Romans favored tradition, and old religions were better than new ones. If new ones gained favor by Imperial authority, then those who wanted to move up followed suit – this isn’t so different from belonging to the right political party, or going to the right parties today. (It is true that if a religion caused a problem for the state by rebelling, or if there was a setback in need of a scapegoat, then those in the rebelling religions or those not ascribing to the state religions could expect some state or mob payback.)

    Your quote from Witherington is terribly misleading. Christianity was not illegal until the 4th Century, as Witherington’s quote implies – it simply never had an Imperial patron until Constantine. There was no systematic or regular persecution of Christians as an outlaw religion, period. And Christians were subject to persecution, prosecution, and occasionally execution, yes, but so was everyone else in the Empire. You have not touched my point, which is that there was seldom, if ever, any need for Christians to be clandestine as a result of Roman persecution, and almost certainly not at the time and soon after Jesus’s death.

    All I can do is sigh. I’ll get back to the part about physically bodily resurrection when I critique your view of conversion after the first Easter, but as far as persecution goes I don’t think I ever said that there was some sort of extermination order sent out by Ceaser:

    From The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era by Jeffers.

    Roman repression of religions was selective, sporadic and short-lived. Emperors typically moved against a cult when they believed it threatened law and order.

    What I was getting at was localized, either by city citizens or ordered by whatever local procurator ruled, persecution (whatever form they may have taken).

    Again from Jeffers about an exchange between emperor Trajan and the governor of th eprovince of Bithynia, Pliny the Younger:

    Pliny tells Trajan that when an informant accuses the people of being Christians he questions the accused. He gives them three chances to deny their faith. If they still profess Christianity, Pliny says he has them executed, for “whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished”

    Also see emperor Domitian who implemented a litmus test for those who were brought to trial before him which involved a sacrifice before the image of the emperor. The emperors cousin, Flavius Clemens, was executed on the charge of atheism and his wife exiled. Christians were persecuted and lit as torches in the Circus Maximus as scapegoats for the fire of Rome in A.D. 64 through A.D. 68.

    Jeffers:

    Hundreds of Roman Christians, perhaps several thousand, lost their lives in this persecution. Tacitus says that “an immense multitude” was convicted. Clement uses similar phrase when he says that “a great multitude” was put to death at this time.

    Whether the Rome-fire persecutions were that immense doesn’t dimish from the fact that they were persecuted none the less. As far as the Witherington quote goes it’s not my fault you don’t understand what superstitio means. Note he says that they were “subject to persecution, prosecution and occasionally execution.” As you can see above they were “subject” to such things. Witherington again, this time from New Testament History A Narrative Account:

    To a large extent, the Romans took what could be called a common-sense approach to foreign religions. Each such religion was viewed as a superstitio, which, while viewed with suspicion, should be tolerated unless it became a public nuisance disrupting the life of a city or town.

    So, all of this sidetrack about persecution because I was responding to one of the items on your list about why there were no artifacts in early Christianity to prove the resurrection of Jesus. I said that there wasn’t likely to be any because (1) Good Jews wouldn’t make graven images (unanswered to prove otherwise). (2) The only likely time that such artifacts would start to come around would be during the Gentile conversion (so that doesn’t really matter too much to the resurrection now does it) but as I said there was persecution so it’s possible that they couldn’t make durable goods and let me add that in all likelihood most of the Gentile converts were of a lower class so they probably didn’t have much money to expend on making such artifacts. As stated above though, regardless of (2) the fact that we are looking at (1) as being the main focus of why the earliest Christians didn’t make graven images.

    Let’s move on from your list to your hypothesis now:

    I’ll spell out my position to make this easier. I don’t know with any high probability what happened, and can be persuaded pending new information of almost anything, but what appears most likely to me is this: there was probably a messianic, charismatic figure named Jesus who believed that the world was soon to end, and his own sincere, fervent (albeit deluded) belief persuaded a small following. Contrary to his and his followers’ expectations, he was crucified. (I don’t believe there’s good reason to believe he was entombed, nor that his followers thought the saw him soon afterward. I think he was probably buried in a mass grave as would most of those who were crucified at that time.) As his followers came to grips with his demise, they went through a progression similar to those who experience great grief. First, they imagined that his death, although real, did not represent a defeat but an unexpected turn of events. They mollified themselves at first with the thought that although his body perished, his spirit lived on. As his followers continued his ministry, it was discovered that those who claimed that not only did his spirit live on, but so did his body, were more successful in proselytizing, etc. (A bodily resurrection is more attractive, more tangible, more desirable than a mystical, spiritual life afterward; as Woody Allen says, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my works, I want to achieve immortality by not dying.”) The success of preaching a bodily resurrection led to the backward progression of better filling out the details – yes, now that you ask, there was a tomb, there were witnesses, then more witnesses, etc. The desire among Jesus’s followers that his life represent more than a final end, more than a spiritual ascending, evolved to the promise of bodily resurrection. This message, the organization of his followers, the place and time, all proved conducive to a theology that can be seen to evolve through Mark to Luke, Matthew, and John, continuing with some vigor through to the 4th century when things became more static from a theological perspective.

    I’ll come back to this when I can… as it’s getting late I’ll make a few points about the burial that you don’t believe happened. We have the early, within 5 years of Jesus’ death, formula from 1 Cor. 15:3-5 that says that he was buried. We also have the Markian story about the burial by Joseph of Arimathea. Since Mark is dated around 70 A.D. that means his source material is older then that. The burial account is universally acknowledge to be part of Marks source material. Joseph is said to be part of “the Council” which means the Sanhedrin. What’s the likelihood that early Christians made up a fictional character who was a member of such an important group and could easily be verified by people (name, place of birth and a member of the Sanhedrin) — this is why most scholars accept Joseph as being a real historical figure who buried Jesus. Also all the incidental details about Joseph lend credence to the burial narrative, he was rich, the type of tomb used and where it was located. Also the fact that Mark says that Joseph “dared” to go to Pilate and request the body is significant because bodys were not usually handed over in cases of major offenses and Jesus was convicted of treason. Thus it would take courage to make such a request. The fact that women are given as witnesses to the burial, instead of any of Jesus’ core disciples, is significant because women couldn’t qualify as legal witnesses in Jewish culture — but why are they listed as witnesses, in all likelihood because they were.

  110. Hello Tony (and snafu since I think you and Tony are on the same page here)

    1. The source should be a contemporary document.

    I think we could call the Gospels and the Epistles “contemporary documents”, all, with the exception of Luke/Acts were written by men who claimed to have personally seen the risen Jesus, even though the earliest uncontested date is @AD 45 – that is 12 to 15 years after the resurrection.


    2. It should affirm events that would have occurred as a consequence of any of the supernatural events described.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_darkness_and_eclipse#Non-biblical_accounts


    3. It should be written by someone who remained ignorant of the cause (Jesus, God) or remained hostile to Christianity (this would, if Christian history is correct, contain the vast majority of the populations of Judea and the Romans, neither of whom were hesitant to chronicle).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thallus_(historian)

    Interestingly it is the Christian Africanus who objects to Thallus report of the darkness as an “eclipse”.

    On What Followed the Savior’s Passion and Life-Giving Resurrection

    This event followed each of his deeds, and healings of body and soul, and knowledge of hidden things, and his resurrection from the dead, all sufficiently proven to the disciples before us and to his apostles: after the most dreadful darkness fell over the whole world, the rocks were torn apart by an earthquake and much of Judaea and the rest of the land was torn down. Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of his Histories, without reason it seems to me. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day, reckoning by the lunar calendar, and the events concerning the savior all occurred before the first day of the passover. But an eclipse of the sun happens when the moon creeps under the sun, and this is impossible at any other time but between the first day of the moon’s waxing and the day before that, when the new moon begins. So how are we to believe that an eclipse happened when the moon was diametrically opposite the sun? In fact, let it be so. Let the idea that this happened seize and carry away the multitude, and let the cosmic prodigy be counted as an eclipse of the sun according to its appearance. Phlegon reports that in the time of Tiberius Caesar, during the full moon, a full eclipse of the sun happened, from the sixth hour until the ninth. Clearly this is our eclipse! What is common about an earthquake, an eclipse, rocks torn apart, a rising of the dead, and such a huge cosmic movement? At the very least, over a long period, no conjunction this great is remembered. But it was a godsent darkness, because the Lord happened to suffer, and the Bible, in Daniel, supports that seventy spans of seven years would come together up to this time.

    JACOBY: That Thallus mentioned this solar eclipse “in the context of Jewish history,” as is generally accepted, is entirely doubtful. Africanus polemicizes against the expression and concept of the “eclipse,” i.e. a natural process, explicable through the motion of the celestial bodies, in favor of a supernatural one, of the “god-sent darkness that coincided with the lord’s suffering.” For Thallus there follows nothing more, except that he, as did Phlegon (257 F 16) and probably every other chronicler, noted the eclipse of November 24, 29 AD. He did it concisely, as is natural with only three books. Thallus may be understood as the reference, if in the report of the Canons of Eusebius (the Chronicle of Eusebius as preserved in the Latin rendition of Jerome, p. 172.22, cf. Rudolf Helm, Die Chronik des Hieronymus, 1902; and George Syncellus, p. 614.12) before Phlegon’s work is mentioned “another collection of notes on Hellenic affairs,” in which “as the phrase goes” it is read: “the sun was eclipsed, Bithynia shook, and all of Nicaea fell.”

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jacoby.html
    Emphasis in original (Translation and criticism of fragments of Thallus)

    You keep bringing up Mohammed and Joseph Smith as if you think their existence somehow invalidates the New Testament and the life of Jesus. I have pointed out before that there are mojor differences between the New Testament and their writing/lives and the beliefs their followers hold about who they are.

    As for the “miracles of Muhammed”, they are the product of late date hagiographies, much like the non-cannonical books that some modern “scholars” would like to see included in the canon. They were rejected by the church because of their late dates, anonymous authorship, and fantastic claims.

    Here is atheism.about.com on the Koran

    http://atheism.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?zi=1/XJ/Ya&sdn=atheism&zu=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bowness.demon.co.uk%2Fislam.htm

    Which you may compare with atheism.about.com on the Gospels

    http://atheism.about.com/od/biblestudygospels1/a/ReliableGospels.htm

    You might want to compare the atheism.about.com Gospel dates with the Wikipedia data.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel#Dating

    and the comments of those scholars who do not agree with Islamic traditionalists.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_and_development_of_the_Qur%27an#Sceptical_scholars


  111. Nonetheless, take my challenge: once in the morning and once at night recite the Lord’s Prayer… for one full week. Surely, if there is nothing there, nothing will happen.

    That’s not necessarily the case. I’ve encountered this sort of challenge many times in the past and its a good proselytizing method. What it is, in essence, is an invitation to allow religious ritual and habit to take root in the psyche. If this can be successfully achieved an emotional attachment will be formed to the faith that will make thinking critically about the religion’s claims more of an uphill battle. I’m reminded of a blog post by an atheist who went to some sort of adult Christian camp and his surprise at how effective the constantly repeated group praying, singing, ritual, etc is, in such a concentrated form, at evoking emotional responses.

    Religions have, after all, had a long time to refine their techniques for manipulating emotions.

    I don’t think most proselytizers are thinking this self-consciously; its more an intuitive grasp of the psychology of conversion (indeed, it wouldn’t do to have too clear and conscious an understanding—it would highlight too clearly just how irrational the process is).

  112. David:

    No, it’s not about proselytizing (it’s not my responsibility or job description to convert you)–I qualified my remarks carefully. Please re-read them… because you really missed my point. (Are you that arrogant to know why I posed the challenge?) Second, you slavishly mimic Dawkins’ emotionally-driven errors… and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander: in essence, repeating an atheistic mantra is an invitation to allow scientistic errors and naturalist habits to take root in the psyche. Third: is a third-grader’s repetition of the mathematical truth 7 x 8 = 56 a problem simply because he repeats it and it “takes root in the psyche,” or is there no problem (with the repetition) because it is a truth? Frankly, I expected more from you. Sadly, it confirms the first point of my first paragraph (second sentence) above.

    Thank you for your response–it is duly noted, and I will interpret it as a refusal to take up the challenge.

  113. Hello David

    Religions have, after all, had a long time to refine their techniques for manipulating emotions.

    Sort of like reading Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Meyers.

    Speaking of which, here is a chapter by chapter review of Dawkins new book, “The Greatest Show on Earth” by “dissenter”.

    […]
    “Are we sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Once upon a time….there were a lot of rabbits sitting in a row, and each one is the mother of the rabbit sitting next to it. As we go back in time millions of years, the animals look less like rabbits and more like shrews. Then we reach a hairpin bend in evolution, and turn round and head back to the future. Eventually, the shrews get to look more and more like a leopard, until we reach a present day leopard. And that, dear children, is how we know that rabbits and leopards are both related by the ancestral shrew like animal (which by the way also turned into a whale.)

    I paraphrase, but you can read it yourself to see how fair I have been to Dawkins. This is what passes for ‘evidence’ in the world of his imagination.

    Basically, all Dawkins has done here is say ‘Lets imagine that Darwin’s ‘tree of life’ illustration was true. and it IS true!’ He hasn’t offered us any reason here for believing it true, he has just re-stated Darwin’s original imaginary idea and clothed it in different language.

    Having told us this made up fantasy, he then asserts (page 26′ ‘You can see how this thought experiment drives a coach and horsesthrough the elegant Greek temple of Platonic ideal forms.’

    But excuse me dear professor, an imagined story cannot prove anything at all except about imagination. Check this out for yourself readers- Dawkins, in a book about ‘evidence’ tells us a made up story, calls it a ‘thought experiment’ than cites is as evidence! Is this the sort of thing my opponents mean when in response to my criticism of Darwiniam they tell me to ‘go read a science book’?!?!?!?!?

    […]

    http://questiondarwin.blogspot.com/
    [emphasis in original]

    Of course, you might discount the criticism because, after all, Richard Dawkins is a genius and the critic is “only” a medical doctor.


  114. No, it’s not about proselytizing (it’s not my responsibility or job description to convert you)–I qualified my remarks carefully.

    The goal of such “challenges”, whatever your protestations, is the conversion of the individuals who take it up.

    The fact that you don’t ask him to report back or discuss it with you afterward doesn’t change that. It only indicates that you’re willing to let the participation in religious activities do the heavy lifting rather than trying to achieve the goal through discussion—which is simply good technique. If the challenge is effective in hooking the individual emotionally, the work is done. If it didn’t sink an emotional hook then discussion won’t change that. You realize you aren’t going to talk most individuals into belief so it would serve little purpose to have them report back (and might discourage them from trying it in the first place).

    Again, its just a more sensible approach to proselytizing (or evangelizing if you prefer that word).

    When I say its an evangelizing/proselytizing technique I don’t mean that I think you believe you can convert others. I’m simply saying that you’re encouraging a practice which may increase the likelihood of a conversion taking place.


    Thank you for your response–it is duly noted, and I will interpret it as a refusal to take up the challenge.

    You interpret correctly. If a religion can’t convince my intellect I’m not giving it the opportunity to employ emotional manipulation instead (and your particular religion has already had my entire childhood to try that).


  115. Second, you slavishly mimic Dawkins’ emotionally-driven errors…

    What emotionally-driven errors are you referring to?

    Besides which, I’ve read very little of Dawkins (only a handful of short essays/articles by him I’ve see online plus a couple of interviews). I’d be hard pressed to imitate him in anything.

    But perhaps you mean we simply make similar errors. So, again, what errors are you referring to?

  116. Holopupenko,

    I am always surprised at how few Christians seem to realize how many skeptics like myself were all raised and indoctrinated in Christianity. When I was younger I believed — it’s as simple as that. I went to Sunday School, Church, was confirmed a Lutheran, read the Bible, read religious stories for youth, took courses on religion in school from believers, etc. When I grew older and thought more independently, I lost my faith.

    If it makes you feel any better, most nights, out of habit or if I’m having trouble sleeping, I will recite the Lord’s Prayer in my head. I still do this all the time. It doesn’t hurt, it sometimes helps me feel asleep, but it has not yet rescued me from the skepticism into which I have lapsed.

  117. Dave,

    I think we could call the Gospels and the Epistles “contemporary documents”, all, with the exception of Luke/Acts were written by men who claimed to have personally seen the risen Jesus, even though the earliest uncontested date is @AD 45 – that is 12 to 15 years after the resurrection.

    Well, lots (most) scholars don’t grant a 45 AD date for the Gospels, so I don’t think that deserves being called “uncontested.” If you go with the standard 68 to 90 (and it could very well be higher) dates, then contemporary is indeed inapt. (But even if I allowed that the Gospels were written the same year as Jesus’ death, they would not be written independently in the ways I explained above.)

    Nowhere do Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell us who they are. Nowhere on the earliest manuscripts are they even identified by the names later chroniclers have given them. I don’t know why claiming to see the risen Jesus matters (lots of people claim to see the risen Jesus today, and that does not make them contemporaries, nor qualify them along the lines I’ve listed), but I’m curious how you know that the Gospel writers were men, and in which passages the Gospel writers claim to have seen the risen Jesus. That’s not terribly important, but I am curious.

    You understand that you’re trying to make a case for the NT documents historicity to a skeptic, right? Imagine a Muslim trying to explain her religion’s history to you. That’s how historians view the NT documents (and all other religious documents of the past). So imagine what a Muslim would have to provide as evidence for you to believe – that’s what I am asking you to identify in your religion.

    Me: 2. It should affirm events that would have occurred as a consequence of any of the supernatural events described.
    You: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_darkness_and_eclipse#Non-biblical_accounts

    I read this. In the future, please take the time to explain your point here or at least cite some relevant part of the link you send to — I believe it’s part of the comment policy here. I mention this because it’s often impossible to tell what your point is when you link without explanation, and because the link you sent me to here, as has been the case in the past, does not actually support your case – Thallus is claimed to be a witness to an eclipse which could not have occurred because the sun would have been between the sun and the moon. (There are also great problems dating Thallus, as explained in the link and associated links you provided later in your comment, but I won’t get into that here.) The rest of the link mentions later church historians. I think it should be obvious why they do not fit into my list of requirements for independent attestation, as they fail to meet any of the three requirements I offered.

    Regarding the citation you included in your comment (thanks for that) I’m not sure how the translation and analysis by Jacoby help your case.

    You keep bringing up Mohammed and Joseph Smith as if you think their existence somehow invalidates the New Testament and the life of Jesus. I have pointed out before that there are mojor differences between the New Testament and their writing/lives and the beliefs their followers hold about who they are.

    I have pointed out, as have others, that the supernatural claims of the Christians, Muslims, and Mormons all have in common a lack of independent attestation. It appears contradictory to the skeptic that you should dismiss the supernatural claims of other religions and not apply that standard to the claims of your own.

  118. David Ellis (now with capital letters!)

    The goal of such “challenges”, whatever your protestations, is the conversion of the individuals who take it up.

    Is there a problem with this?

    If this can be successfully achieved an emotional attachment will be formed to the faith that will make thinking critically about the religion’s claims more of an uphill battle.

    Again, is there a problem with this? Considering we are, in part, emotional beings, I don’t see a problem here.

    Do you complain in likewise fashion, that critical thinking will be doomed if people successfully get you to become emotionally attached to them? Do you complain that their goal is to ‘convert’ you into someone who loves them rather than focus on the intellectual side of things?

    Are you in a relationship of any kind, David?

  119. Luke,
    In a post about independent attestation I ask for evidence about persecution by the Jews and you cite the Bible and otherwise fail to cite the evidence. Where, other than in the Bible, do other sources say that the Jews were persecuting the Christians in the time immediately following the death of Jesus?
    Regarding persecution of the Christians by the Romans, you first wrote this:

    Plus, persecution would have taken many forms, not just some state wide killing spree. There would have been social persecution, imprisonment, torture, financial persecution… one couldn’t do business in many cities without submitting to the emperor cult…
    When I challenged that version of history, you amended it to:

    What I was getting at was localized, either by city citizens or ordered by whatever local procurator ruled, persecution (whatever form they may have taken).

    At this point, though, I’m still asking for independent sources that the early Christians were targeted and prosecuted, not just speculation that they could have been. I agree that they could have been.
    Regarding the Pliny quote, yes, I am aware of it. I don’t know that it says much other than that Pliny (and Roman officials in general) feared political insurrection and worked to uncover what they suspected could foment into a rebellion. In any event, it is far later than the period we are talking about.

    Regarding Nero and Domitian there is good reason to believe that these accounts represent tampering by later Christian copyists. (I also have to say that if you want to get Roman historian rolling their eyes about the difference between popular understanding and historical record ask them about Nero; what we know about Nero is deeply suspect because of who his historians were). I though these were good pages about the problems:
    http://users.drew.edu/ddoughty/Christianorigins/persecutions/tacnero.html
    http://users.drew.edu/ddoughty/Christianorigins/persecutions/domitian.html
    I’m running out of time too. I’ll get back to the rest of your comment when I can.

  120. Hello Tony

    For a list of who dates what when…

    http://www.errantskeptics.org/DatingNT.htm

    It’s a big game to see who can date things later or earlier and whose proof trumps whose other proof. I happen to agree with those scholars, such as F. F. Bruce, that date the Pauline Epistles from 48 AD onward. Those who go with later dates must contend with all the 1st C quotations by tertiery sources.

    Exactly when the New Testament was written affects the interpretation of every aspect of Christian origins. Biblical scholars generally think that except for eight or nine of the letters attributed to St. Paul, the books were composed between A.D. 70 and the early 2nd century, with one or two even later. Fundamentalists believe every word in the Bible is literally true, but those who hold to “late” dating argue that much of the New Testament was not written by contemporary witnesses and tends to reflect later church views of Jesus and his Apostles.

    According to the latest earth tremor in New Testament studies, the present scholarly consensus is wrong. John A.T. Robinson, 57, Anglican dean of chapel and lecturer in theology at Trinity College, Cambridge, declares that all 27 New Testament books were produced in approximately the two decades before A.D. 70, and that they are the work of the Apostles themselves or of contemporaries who worked with them. Since Jesus was crucified around A.D. 30, this would mean that the authors knew numerous eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and early church events.

    […]

    Robinson now brings that same independence of mind to his closely reasoned work on chronology, Redating the New Testament (Westminster; $15), and a forthcoming popular paperback, Can We Trust the New Testament? (Eerdmans; $1.95). What drew him into the dating game was the Gospel of John. In the 19th century newly liberated German Bible critics placed the fourth Gospel in the mid-2nd century because of its well-developed theology, but subsequent archaeological finds (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls and an early fragment of the Gospel) forced the date back to A.D. 90-100. Robinson, however, felt even that was “unbelievably late,” since the Gospel makes no mention of the sack of Jerusalem and destruction of the Jewish Temple in A.D. 70.

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,946794,00.html


  121. Is there a problem with this?

    Not really, other than the fact that Holo denies it a form of proselytizing (a claim which I find disingenuous). And that it would involve conversion through emotional appeal rather than because the claims of the religion have rational support.


    Again, is there a problem with this? Considering we are, in part, emotional beings, I don’t see a problem here.

    One doesn’t increase one’s chances of successfully pursuing truth by decreasing one’s objectivity and becoming emotionally invested in a proposition. I would have thought that was too obvious to need commenting on. Its why the protocols for medical and other scientific studies demand one go to such pains to remove researcher bias, as much as is humanly possible, from the equation.


    Do you complain in likewise fashion, that critical thinking will be doomed if people successfully get you to become emotionally attached to them? Do you complain that their goal is to ‘convert’ you into someone who loves them rather than focus on the intellectual side of things?

    No one has to ask to me speak to thin air twice a day to convince me that my mother, sister, father, girlfriend, etc, even exists.

    I already know that before the relationship begins. So I don’t find your analogy remotely applicable. Normal relationships are not in the same category as relationships with entities indistinguishable from imaginary friends.

  122. Hi Tony

    “Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome” by Rodney Stark, a city by city study of the spread of Christianity with comparison to the contemporary “mystery” religions.

    A city is defined as 30,000 + people. There were 31 such cities within the Roman Empire around the year 100 AD, stretching from Seville in Spain to Nisibis in Eastern Turkey and from Oxyrhynchus in Egypt to London in England. 13 of those cities had a Christian church by the year 100 AD and 23 of them had churches by 180 AD. Overall growth of Christianity was from around a thousand in 40 AD to aroud 7,500 in 100 AD to 31 million or nearly half the population of the Empire by the time of Constantine – which my explain Constantine’s efforts to co-opt Christianity in support of his imperial pretensions.

  123. Dave,

    Thanks for the link on the list of scholars dates. I thought that was really interesting.

    Of course, you’re free to agree with anyone’s estimate on dating. In the absence of undertaking my own scholarship on the issue I’m going to go with the arguments I find most persuasive and that survive the scrutiny of the field’s scholars.

    I wonder if you misunderstand the issue here, though. I am not disputing a small, early, Christian community. I am not disputing a reasonable timeline, give or take the tug and pull of scholarly disputes, of the documents of the NT. I am not disputing that the Christian community grew substantially after 100 AD. That’s all because I think the evidence for those things is reasonably good.

    But none of that is dependent on a single one of the supernatural claims of the NT being historically accurate. In fact, it all supports my hypotheses on the origins of Christianity as outlines above.

  124. David Ellis,

    And that it would involve conversion through emotional appeal rather than because the claims of the religion have rational support.

    I think you’re proposing a false dilemma.

    One doesn’t increase one’s chances of successfully pursuing truth by decreasing one’s objectivity and becoming emotionally invested in a proposition.

    The ‘challenge’ wasn’t an intellectual challenge, like a math test, as far as I understood it. Establishing a relationship isn’t anything like conducting a physics experiment.

    No one has to ask to me speak to thin air twice a day to convince me that my mother, sister, father, girlfriend, etc, even exists.

    Nobody asked you to speak to thin air. Tony was asked to communicate to a non-material person. There is a difference. For a non-materialist, you sure do limit your thinking to the realm of materialism even though material properties can’t account for what you already know to be true.


  125. The ‘challenge’ wasn’t an intellectual challenge, like a math test, as far as I understood it. Establishing a relationship isn’t anything like conducting a physics experiment.

    I know the challenge wasn’t an intellectual challenge. That was my point: that the challenge, if it brings a person to feel that they’ve made contact with a deity (be it Jesus, Krishna or whatever deity you may have prayed to), only succeeds in short-circuiting a person’s intellectual and critical faculties—it still has not achieved justified belief.

    Why do I say this?

    Because the “relationship” established is indistinguishable from a relationship with an imaginary friend. There’s still no rational basis for believing the entity is real.

    Imagine similar scenarios. Imagine a friend tells you that you can make telepathic contact with wise and benevolent alien cultures throughout the universe. He tells you to look up into the stars every night attempting to make contact.

    Let’s suppose you give it a try. Can’t hurt, right?

    And after a few weeks of this on a clear night when the stars are shining brightly you feel a wave of peace and joy come over you like nothing you’ve ever felt before.

    Hallelujah, you BELIEVE!!

    Congratulations, you’re now a proud member of the latest weird New Age alien telepathy cult.

    What wonderful things sloppy epistemology, human brain chemistry and suggestibility can achieve.

    Is belief in the Christian god, based on this sort of action, any more reasonable? I’ve heard no sound reason to think it is.

  126. Luke,

    Getting back to the rest of your comment…

    We have the early, within 5 years of Jesus’ death, formula from 1 Cor. 15:3-5 that says that he was buried.

    You should refer to Dave’s list; none of his scholars has a date earlier than 54 AD.

    We also have the Markian story about the burial by Joseph of Arimathea. Since Mark is dated around 70 A.D. that means his source material is older then that.

    But since we don’t have Mark’s source material we know very little about it. All we can do is speculate.

    By the way, Joseph of Arimathea and the empty tomb are a bit of a problem. To start with, it seems a tad convenient – if someone is crucified and buried in a mass grave, how do you make their resurrection seem more credible? It doesn’t take a lot of imagination that an empty tomb is a much more effective story-telling device. More daming, Paul makes no mention of the empty tomb. None. And you think he would brought that one up when he was talking about evidence for Jesus’s resurrection. Also, no one really know where the town of Arimathea is, it isn’t mentioned in any non-Christian sources, Joseph has no place in the Gospels outside of providing a tomb, his role and identity are contradictory in the Gospels (is he a disciple? A member of the Sanhedrin? A rich man (who was also a follower of Jesus?) ), and the name of the town of Arimathea could also be a play on words for “best disciple town.” So, instead of serving as the linchpin for the the history of the resurrection, it appears to me to be one of the story’s weakest elements.

  127. I know the challenge wasn’t an intellectual challenge.

    Again with the false dilemma. I never said it completely lacked an intellectual element. Knowing that you’re in a relationship requires the use of the intellect.

    Because the “relationship” established is indistinguishable from a relationship with an imaginary friend. There’s still no rational basis for believing the entity is real.

    We’ve been over this. I most certainly can tell when I’m talking to myself, and when I’m not. Do you lack this talent? Unintended mental hiccups can’t produce meaningful, contextual information any more than unintended static electricity can produce a TV commercial.

    Imagine a friend tells you that you can make telepathic contact with wise and benevolent alien cultures throughout the universe. He tells you to look up into the stars every night attempting to make contact.

    Oh, for heaven’s sake. Not the God-as-a-being-among-all-other-beings analogy. Your analogy falls flat.

    Is belief in the Christian god, based on this sort of action, any more reasonable?

    It’s not based on the same action.

    I’ve heard no sound reason to think it is.

    Then start paying attention, David.

  128. Hi Tony,

    We have the early, within 5 years of Jesus’ death, formula from 1 Cor. 15:3-5 that says that he was buried.

    You should refer to Dave’s list; none of his scholars has a date earlier than 54 AD.

    None of the scholars listed there was addressing the Creed that Luke is speaking of. Paul did not compose it but received it, he taught it to the Corinthians personally long before he wrote this letter and he likely received it himself when he visited the Apostles in Jerusalem scant years after his own conversion. In short, it did not originate with Paul’s composition of this epistle.

  129. I’m catching up again. I was in meetings for about 14 hours yesterday, after having had a church/family day and then a flight on Sunday. In other words, there’s a reason I haven’t been adding comments. I have a day of meetings starting again in about fifteen minutes, so if I get back to this it will be while I’m waiting for my plane in the airport this afternoon.

    What I want to say in the meantime is that this strikes me as the best discussion on these kinds of topics this blog has seen in a long time. I wish I had time to jump in, but then, y’all are probably doing better without me! It may be that instead of getting involved here my next contribution will be a new post on a related topic.

    Anyway, thanks for setting and keeping a high standard.


  130. I most certainly can tell when I’m talking to myself, and when I’m not.

    And how do you know that?


    Your analogy falls flat.

    It’s analogous in the sense that there is no basis for thinking the entities one has come to believe in actually exist. It is based entirely on a subjective impression which lacks any content that can be verified.

    You may think you have the ability to just tell the difference based on the experience itself but you’ve given no good argument for this belief and there’s strong reasons for thinking human beings are very prone to this error.

    After all, people have similar experiences of feeling the presence of and contact with non-christian gods. If they can be mistaken why can’t you?

  131. David,
    I have a flight to catch so I will have to get back to you. For now, let me comment on this.

    After all, people have similar experiences of feeling the presence of and contact with non-christian gods. If they can be mistaken why can’t you?

    Take a step back and think for a minute rather than react. If most everyone rationally perceives – not feels – a presence of some kind from time to time, is the best conclusion the one that says there was no one there? No. People may be mistaken as to the identity of person being perceived, but that’s an entirely different question.

    People perceive colors and love differently, but we don’t deny the reality of colors and love because of that. And please don’t make the mistake of saying we can empirically prove the reality of colors.

  132. his role and identity are contradictory in the Gospels (is he a disciple? A member of the Sanhedrin? A rich man (who was also a follower of Jesus?) )

    The definition of “contradiction” seems to drop precipitously when discussing the Bible.

    (is he a disciple? A member of the Sanhedrin? A rich man (who was also a follower of Jesus?)

    Yes, why not?
    Do I have brown hair or is it graying?
    Am I 5′ 8″ or do weigh 185 pounds?


  133. If most everyone rationally perceives – not feels – a presence of some kind from time to time, is the best conclusion the one that says there was no one there?

    Perceptions are neither rational nor irrational. Rationality (or the lack thereof) comes in when we make a judgement about the perception.

    All people have perceptions of things that aren’t there. The most common variety are, of course, dreams. You can electrically stimulate one region of the brain and a person reports smelling bacon. People have hallucinations and false perceptions of a wide variety. We consider these imaginary because they contain no content that is perceived by others and because it communicates no information that can be independently verified.

    Characteristics that are shared by religious experiences.

    Its pretty obvious what explanation is the more parsimonious.

    And I’ll consider that my final statement on this topic for the time being–I’ve explained my position to my satisfaction.

  134. David wrote:

    Perceptions are neither rational nor irrational. Rationality (or the lack thereof) comes in when we make a judgement about the perception.

    That’s silly and dead wrong. You mean there’s a middle ground between “rational” and “irrational”? Pray tell, what is that? And your next sentence is an ignorant bandying about of terms: one does not judge perceptions but the truth content of propositions!

    Prior to the three acts of the mind of a rational agent,* one must perceive the existence of the other by means of the external senses (hearing, seeing, smelling, feeling, tasting) and the internal senses (central organizing sense, memory, imagination – each dealing NOT with sensations but with precepts)… AND know a thing actually exists (either in the mind like the rules of chess or extramentally like trees) before understanding it.

    We indeed have sensory knowledge of things, but not only sensory knowledge. You are illicitly conflating/equivocating sensation with perception, you are sloppily applying the term “irrational” to perception, and you’re not getting what it means to be a rational agent (just because the brute animals are not rational creatures yet do perceive things doesn’t mean perception is at best and invented middle to suit your purposes: perception in rational agents is an early part of the rational process). The rest of your position trip up on such misunderstandings. If you can’t understand reality at such a basic level, how are you going to tackle more complex issues?

    There is so much of which you’re ignorant, David, and yet you feel competent enough to impose your position (based on that ignorance) upon others–including the anti-realist non-starter of “how do you know?” in response to SteveK point that one knows when speaking to oneself (how do you know you’re making sense in this blog?), or the ridiculous implication that Christian claims are psychological/emotional barriers but atheist claims somehow have special dispensation from somewhere to get out of their disordered mental jail. (Your atheist mantra, as so clearly asserted, is I won’t because I do not want to. No ritual or habit taking root in the psyche there, eh?)

    On top of the ignorance is the fallacy after fallacy upon which you base your position. A simple count of the fallacies you’ve employed in this post alone–not to mention other posts–makes this abundantly clear.

    If you’re here just to oppose for the sake of opposition rather than to strive toward truth because you will NOT accept anything that doesn’t suit your preconceived notions, then, as Tom has intimated to you (and others), there are other forums better suited to such nonsense.

    * [Three acts of the rational mind: (1) terms defined–the process of moving from the vague to the distinct knowledge of what a thing is; (2) propositions (material components of arguments, i.e., premises) are judged true or false; (3) arguments evaluated for validity (proof) or soundness (demonstration)]


  135. That’s silly and dead wrong. You mean there’s a middle ground between “rational” and “irrational”? Pray tell, what is that?

    I don’t know where you get the idea that I was saying there’s a “middle ground” between rational and irrational from the sentence you quoted (or anything else I said).

    Sensory experiences (you’re right in one thing–I used the term perception rather loosely) aren’t in a middle ground between the rational and irrational. Take smells.

    A smell isn’t rational. It isn’t irrational. It isn’t in a middle ground between rationality and irrationality (whatever that would even mean).

    Its just a smell. Period.


    And your next sentence is an ignorant bandying about of terms: one does not judge perceptions but the truth content of propositions!

    That was exactly my point. I didn’t say we “judge perceptions”. I said we “make judgments about perceptions (substitute sensory experiences for perceptions to be more clear)”. For example, I smell something burnt. I think to myself that the toast I put in the toaster may be getting overcooked—I made a judgment about the likely cause of the sensation: that the proposition “the toast is burning” is true. Of course, that preliminary judgment could be wrong. It might be that the apartment next door is on fire.

    I notice that your comment, while long, did not actually address the central point I made:

    that religious experiences share with dreams, hallucinations, and other experiences of the entirely imaginary the characteristics of containing no content that is perceived by others and communicating no information that can be independently verified.

    Care to comment on that?

  136. David,

    A smell isn’t rational. It isn’t irrational. It isn’t in a middle ground between rationality and irrationality (whatever that would even mean).

    The perception of a smell, as a smell, is a rational act. The perception of a person, as a person, is also a rational act. The perception of a thought, as a thought not of my own making, is a rational act. I know the difference between your thoughts and mine, for example.

    You asked how I could know if I was talking to myself or not. I can’t demonstrate it or explain it to you other than to say if the human mind can’t do that – despite every perception that we think we can – then let’s all pack up and go home now because we’re all trapped in the Matrix with no hope of getting out.

  137. David,

    that religious experiences share with dreams, hallucinations, and other experiences of the entirely imaginary the characteristics of containing no content that is perceived by others and communicating no information that can be independently verified.

    Perception of the details of your own thoughts can’t be perceived by others or verified by them, yet I hope that won’t stop you from concluding that your perceptions are real and not dreams or hallucinations.

    You can’t test the truth/validity of the perception “I’m thinking about pizza” because that requires other thoughts that must also be tested in the same way. It’s an impossibly endless cycle. Yet you know you’re thinking about pizza and not cars.

    So now comes the silly question you keep asking. How do you know you aren’t dreaming or hallucinating the perception of the though “I’m thinking about pizza”? I’ll let you answer that.

    Can I perceive the details of thoughts that are not my own in much the same way? Well, yes, I do that when I read a book. I easily recognize that those thoughts are not my own. Now, I might be mistaken – maybe those really are my thoughts written in the book – but there are no reasons to think I actually am mistaken.

    Can something similar be at work when I’m communicating with God? Yes. Might I be mistaken, just like I might be mistaken about those being my thoughts written in the book? Yes, but there are no reasons to think I actually am mistaken.

  138. SteveK,

    On a post on the historicity of the NT, you persist in asking questions like this:

    So now comes the silly question you keep asking. How do you know you aren’t dreaming or hallucinating the perception of the though “I’m thinking about pizza”? I’ll let you answer that.

    I don’t recall that question being asked here yet. I’d like to say that it’s interesting that you keep avoiding the questions posed pertaining to the original post, but at this point I can’t even say that much.

  139. “independently verified”?!? Jeepers, creepers, David! Did you absorb nothing from Tom’s initial point? Additionally, you ARE scientistic: you’re understanding of “independently verified” is ONLY that accessible to the MESs. To whom do you turn to “independently verify” the fact that George Washington existed? Do you throw his corpse into water and see if he floats and declare, “yep, he existed”? (I’d say that proves George Washington is a bar of soap…) Perhaps you consult eyewitnesses and historical records… like the kind of evidence Charlie and Dave and SteveK have been presenting regarding Christ? In your arrogance you decry and refuse any evidence that supports their points, but your own opposition is miserably, woefully lacking and–I repeat–fallacious.

    Come on, stop this game: the very fact that you can’t seem to distinguish the subject matters (formal objects) and material objects studied by each separate science (which include logic, history, philosophy and theology), and hence that each needs different methods and instruments for their inquiries, and hence your conception of “independently verify” is so narrowly focused on presuppostions that support your vision of reality has, at this point, strayed into the territory of, well… the irrational.

    You refuse anything that doesn’t fit your personal understanding, and so you blithely dismiss things that are “verified” by means other than what you deem acceptable… which, by the way, your approach itself is held unscientifically, pseudo-philosophically, and (one more time) fallaciously.

    One can only reason to the existence of the mind (soul) [as opposed to the brain], one cannot employ the MESs except as input data. One can only reason to the existence of the “day after tomorrow,” one cannot isolate it in any way in a lab. I can only “see” (meaning: reason to) an injustice when an innocent child is murdered. I can only reason to the concept “chiligon,” I certainly can’t imagine it. I can only reason to (through dialectic arguments) the necessity for the existence and characteristics of angels. Can you demonstrate to me, scientifically, where the rules of chess are?

    If you want to refuse to reason beyond your senses, then by all means enjoy yourself. But don’t go about arrogantly asserting you hold the truth about reality writ large, and then even worse implying Christians are damaged goods resulting from “ritual and habit,” but that the habits, rituals, assumptions, a priori committments, and astronomical body counts of atheists are justifiable, valid, and beyond question.

  140. Tony,

    I don’t recall that question being asked here yet. I’d like to say that it’s interesting that you keep avoiding the questions posed pertaining to the original post, but at this point I can’t even say that much.

    David keeps bringing up the topic of dreams and hallucinations as it applies to knowledge of reality. I’m happy to stop talking about it nonetheless.

    I don’t recall anyone recently asking me questions related to the original post. I was discussing it many comments ago though. Did you have a question?

  141. David,
    Getting back on topic, I still don’t see a response to my 2nd request, here.

    I’d like to understand how you expect to deal with the extraordinary claims of the historical text when you have apparently stated that you have no way to deal with the ordinary claims.


  142. Perception of the details of your own thoughts can’t be perceived by others or verified by them, yet I hope that won’t stop you from concluding that your perceptions are real and not dreams or hallucinations.

    It was never my claim that if others can’t perceive something it doesn’t exist subjectively as a mental state. Only that we have no reason to think it has an existence independent of that mental state (provided it communicates no independently verifiable information not already known to us).


    So now comes the silly question you keep asking. How do you know you aren’t dreaming or hallucinating the though “I’m thinking about pizza”? I’ll let you answer that.

    The question is meaningless. Hallucinations are imaginary sense perceptions (which one may or may not mistake for normal/real sense perceptions). What would it mean to hallucinate a thought? To have an imaginary thought? That’s a bit redundant. Thoughts are, by definition, imaginary.


    Can I perceive the details of thoughts that are not my own in much the same way? Well, yes, I do that when I read a book. I easily recognize that those thoughts are not my own. Now, I might be mistaken – maybe those really are my thoughts written in the book – but there are no reasons to think I actually am mistaken.

    Others can communicate with you through language, written or spoken. You understand what a book is and you can recall that you didn’t write the book in question so you know what it says isn’t original to you. These facts are obvious and in no way relevant to the discussion.

    I won’t waste any more time on diversionary tactics intended to distract from the fact that you can give no reason for thinking religious experiences are contacts with beings who aren’t imaginary.


  143. David,
    Getting back on topic, I still don’t see a response to my 2nd request, here.

    I’d like to understand how you expect to deal with the extraordinary claims of the historical text when you have apparently stated that you have no way to deal with the ordinary claims.

    I’ve already explained my position on this. We have far too scant available evidence to draw firm conclusions about much, if anything, concerning the life of Jesus.

    It is not a weakness in my position that I’m unwilling to draw firm conclusions about the life of Jesus even in regard to the more ordinary claims about him (like, say, that he was born in Bethlehem) much less the more extraordinary, implausible ones. That’s the reasonable course of action when we have so little data to work with.

  144. Thoughts are, by definition, imaginary.

    That’s absurdly, breathtakingly wrong: yet another fundamental building block regarding reality misunderstood (perhaps intentionally?). Most people can handle ignorance (I myself am ignorant of many things) because it can be remedied with a little stretching of the mind, but not ignorance riding admittedly on “using terms rather loosely” spouted arrogantly and incorrectly with doors shut tight to any critique or correction.

    Do you have any clue, David, what the difference is between an image (technically a precept as a species of a thought tied to concrete individuals) and a concept (an idea as a species of a thought tied to abstract things)? Answer based on your non-“definition”: NO!

    What, pray tell, is “imaginary” (where’s the “image”?) about the universal concept of a tree, or the concepts “species” and “genus” and “predicate”, or the rules of chess, or the scientific method, or a chiligon… or a thought? Show me a thought employing any of your five primary external senses (which would mean it can be “imagined,”) and I will remove myself from commenting on this blog and give you peace.

    And you’re opposing much more complex concepts and historical evidence?

  145. Holo, at least make a stab at understanding what people mean before criticizing.

    By imaginary I mean existing in one’s mind and not independent of it.

    I’m simply making the uncontroversial claim that a person’s thoughts exist in their minds—not independently of the person. That, for example, your thoughts don’t continue to be thought when you’re unconscious.


    What, pray tell, is “imaginary” (where’s the “image”?) about the universal concept of a tree, or the concepts “species” and “genus” and “predicate”, or the rules of chess, or the scientific method, or a chiligon… or a thought?

    You seem to be claiming here that ideas (as opposed to thoughts in the more limited sense I was using the term as referring to the stream of words, images, etc that make up our subjective intellectual/reflective activities) have an independent existence (that is, independent of the minds of people who think them).

    I don’t claim to know if there is such a thing as independently existent abstract entities (the most I’ll say on that is that I find the hypothesis superfluous). Its an issue far afield from this discussion and if you thought I was referring to anything like that one way or the other in my comment you rather badly misunderstood me.

  146. By imaginary I mean existing in one’s mind and not independent of it.

    You’re wrong… again: it doesn’t matter whether you’re unfamiliar with, ignorant of, intentionally obfuscating, fallaciously arguing, etc. You’re still wrong. That’s not what “imaginary” means as connected to your misunderstanding of what a “thought” is. It is, however, a clear indicator as to why you so fallaciously group Christian faith in with the “imaginary.”

    By the way, if “thoughts” (of which you do not have a proper grasp because of the illicit equivocation of ideas with images) are located in people’s minds (granted), you’re going to have to explain why people’s thoughts can agree upon extramental realities. Moreover, the rules of chess, the scientific method, or “predicate” (as examples) are neither “imaginary” (in your sophomoric sense) or “images” in the true sense: so (following your disordered logic), what is the extramental basis for people to be able to agree upon “imaginary” rules of chess and actually play the game? How is it possible to do science if the methodology is (again, using your disordered understanding of the terms) “imaginary” and hence “independently [un]verifiable,” i.e., how are you able to enter my scientifically-trained and experienced mind to “verify” that my “imaginary” scientific method is the same as another scientist’s?

    (Hint: you’re teetering on the edge of the huge error of believing its the thoughts we know rather than the thing, when in fact it’s the ideas by which we know things… and thoughts only reflexively (as second intentions).)

    You don’t know what you’re talking about, David: you need to do a LOT of homework before arrogantly pushing your ideas around, insulting people of faith, and personally-opinionatedly [I just coined that] dismissing fiath… and before so foolishly implying I’m a Platonist. Enough of this ignorant nonsense…

  147. Holo, it’s clear that you only want to heckle and insult rather than engage with the substance of another’s position.

    I gave you a chance to re-engage after a long period of ignoring most of your comments due to the lack of civility (and, in most cases, paucity of substance). I’ll waste no more time responding to (or, probably, even reading) your comments. A shame. We could have had a good conversation about the nature of thoughts, ideas and abstract entities if you knew how to talk to rather than at another human being.

  148. More quick burial comments:

    We have the early, within 5 years of Jesus’ death, formula from 1 Cor. 15:3-5 that says that he was buried.

    You should refer to Dave’s list; none of his scholars has a date earlier than 54 AD.

    See my comment #18 above.

    Paul makes no mention of the empty tomb. None.

    Again, see my comment #18 above.

    But I’ll add to it with what Wright says in The Resurrection of the Son of God p321

    The mention of Jesus’ burial (verse 4a) can only have attained such a significant place in a brief and summary traditional narrative if it was regarded as important in itself. Much debate has circled around this point, but the really and truly dead (something the gospel accounts take care of in their own way, as we shall see); second, to indicate that when Paul speaks of resurrection in the next phrase it is to be assumed, as anyone telling or hearing a story of someone being raised from the dead would assume in either the pagan or Jewish world, that this referred to the body being raised to new life, leaving an empty tomeb behind it. The fact that the empty tomb itself, so prominent in the gospel accounts, does not appear to be specifically mentioned in this passage, is not significant; the mention here of ‘buried, then raised’ no more needs to be amplified in that way than one would need to amplify the statement ‘I walked down the street’ with the qualification ‘on my feet’.

    Basically it’s implied when you say someone was buried then resurrected that they leave behind an empty grave.

    Also, no one really know where the town of Arimathea is,

    Arimathea = Ramathaim-Zophim also known as Ramah also known as Aramathaim.

    it isn’t mentioned in any non-Christian sources,

    Josephus Antiquities 13.4.9, 1 Macc. 11:34, the LXX

    Joseph has no place in the Gospels outside of providing a tomb,

    So?

    his role and identity are contradictory in the Gospels (is he a disciple? A member of the Sanhedrin? A rich man (who was also a follower of Jesus?) ),

    How are these contradictory? Can you not be a rich man who’s a member of the Sanhedrin and be a follower of Jesus?

    and the name of the town of Arimathea could also be a play on words for “best disciple town.”

    Given that Jews made use of puns it’s not really amazing. The only question would be, was this pun (assuming it really is one) used in part to mock Joseph or to give honor to him or to mock the core 11 disciples.

  149. Trying to deflect by turning the tables, eh David (comments 131 & 140 come to mind)? That’s another [rhetorical] fallacy, you know…

    My point has been clear all along: you make so many mistakes and put forward so many fallacious arguments–things upon which your atheism is built–that one cannot help wondering upon what the arrogance and the worldview really rest.

    Then you appeal to emotion [another rhetorical fallacy] by threatening not to read my comments… [(sniffle) I’m… I’m hurt], and that you gave me a “chance” for redemption by entering the tent of your disordered ideas… talk about melodrama!

  150. Luke,

    I have always found the explanation for Paul’s not mentioning the empty tomb – whether it from Wright, Craig, or you — to be a stretch. There is a simpler explanation for Paul’s not mentioning it, and that is that the empty tomb was a later invention used to add credibility to Jesus’s resurrection.

    I’ll ask you this, though — if you think that there’s no remarkable difference between Jesus’s rising from a mass grave versus a tomb (why Paul didn’t bother to refer to it), then why is the supposed “fact” of the empty tomb the virtual cornerstone of modern apologetics? I mean, why aren’t Jesus’s later appearances to individuals given greater weight as evidence? I think David Ellis’s line of questioning in this regard is the reason – we all know that empirical evidence (an empty tomb that we can see and touch) is more persuasive versus the testimony of individuals and their recollections for an event that could be better explained as occurring only in their imagination.

    So it’s the apologists’ position that the prefecture Ramatha in Josephus is the same as Arimathea? I think this needs explanation.

    Given that Jews made use of puns it’s not really amazing. The only question would be, was this pun (assuming it really is one) used in part to mock Joseph or to give honor to him or to mock the core 11 disciples.

    You do understand that the use of a pun here undermines the claim that Arimathea was a real town (which would further undermine the claim that Josephus was a real person)? Or are you saying that the town where the only disciple who took care of Jesus’s body after his death came, coincidentally, by a town whose name is a pun for “best disciple?” I ask because usually, these kinds of coincidences are confined to legends.

    Regarding the contradiction in being a) rich and a disciple of Jesus, and b) a disciple of Jesus and a member of the Sanhedrin that convicted Jesus, I’ll leave you to explain how being rich does not conflict with Matthew 19:16-30, and how being a member of a council that shouts “Crucify him!” to Pilate on one hand and remaining a disciple on the other are compatible.

    I don’t harbor any doubts that you can come up with explanations, by the way. I could do the same. And the problem isn’t so much with whatever explanation is offered, but that so many complicated and unlikely explanations are required when a simpler hypothesis about the historical Jesus (such as I have offered) requires no such tendentious speculation.

  151. Joseph wasn’t the only disciple caring for Jesus’ body, nor was he the only member of the Sanhedrin secretly following Jesus, nor was he the only person of wealth who believed in Jesus.

  152. The empty tomb is not the virtual cornerstone of the argument for the historicity of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. That conclusion cannot be drawn from the evidence.
    The empty tomb is one of several historical facts recognized by the legitimate experts who study the subject with fact of Jesus’ existence, His Crucifixion, His burial, and the disciples’ experiences of Him.
    Of course the existence of Jesus’ body after His Resurrection would have stamped out the movement in a flash but the lack of a body is only a necessary factor, it is not a sufficient one. Witness the skeptics’ own claims about stolen bodies and hallucinations.
    Likewise, and contra your assertion, the basis of the belief in the Resurrection is exactly the eye witness testimony of the disciples – as evidenced by your reference to Paul.
    When he goes to Corinth he tells them of the witnesses who saw Jesus after His Resurrection. He converts them on this fact and he invites them, implicitly, to interview the living witnesses. He doesn’t say “and wouldn’t you like to go see the tomb as well? Wouldn’t that really seal the deal?”
    The empty tomb on its own tells you nothing except that nobody had a disproof for the disciples’ eyewitness experiences.

    Given that Christianity was spreading throughout the Empire, that Christians were already being persecuted and burned alive in Rome, that thousands of Jews in Jerusalem had converted and believed, before the dates that you accept for the writing of the Gospels, why would anybody invent the empty tomb, as you claim, after the fact?
    What apologetic value did it add decades after the fact when Christianity obviously did not require it (by your accounting) in the least?
    The speculation of a late invention of the empty tomb strikes me as a lot more contrived and strained than anything you can point to.

  153. The case for Christ as God involves a constellation of evidence – the resurrection being a significant part of that constellation.

    In the first century, news and written accounts traveled at a speed 1000 times slower than today. My understanding it that not everything got written down, and if it did, the document likely didn’t travel very far or get preserved and committed to memory unless it contained something significant, and worth remembering.

    Prior to the internet and technology, nobody would take the time to copy, save or remember ‘ho hum’ documents like yesterday’s newspaper because it was ordinary and had no value.

    The “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline is known and remembered by so many because it has historical significance. Nobody knows what the front page said on the Chicago Tribune paper the next day.

  154. Quick lunch break, let’s see what we can accomplish.

    From comment 157:

    I have always found the explanation for Paul’s not mentioning the empty tomb – whether it from Wright, Craig, or you — to be a stretch. There is a simpler explanation for Paul’s not mentioning it, and that is that the empty tomb was a later invention used to add credibility to Jesus’s resurrection.

    It is not a stretch when you take in the customs and culture of the time and place that the events that transpired took place. For Paul (a Jew) to say that he was buried means “Jesus was taken off the cross and placed in a tomb and buried according to Jewish customs and laws” that you seem to think that he needs to go into some detailed elaboration on the process is a reflection of what is called a High Context society versus a Low Context society, those who are expected to know and fill in the details with their own knowledge and those who need every little bit of minutia spelled out for them… at worst you’re just being silly/disingenuous when you say you don’t understand what buried means.

    From comment 83:

    I’ll spell out my position to make this easier. I don’t know with any high probability what happened,

    Well, what “probably” happened is that Jesus was nailed to a cross, suffered for 2-4 days before finally dieing, wasn’t ever taken off the cross and allowed to gradually decompose as a warning to the Jews. That is what the Romans ‘normally’ did to their victims, though it contradicts the sources and historical situation. So it’s a possible scenario but is it plausible in the historians point of view taking in the strictures of the culture and customs of the day?

    I’m currently focusing on the burial (I’ll try and get to the rest of your scenario as time permits):

    I don’t believe there’s good reason to believe he was entombed, [cut out by me (Luke)] I think he was probably buried in a mass grave as would most of those who were crucified at that time.

    I’m not entirely clear by what you mean by “mass grave”. Regardless it seems that the implications were that the Romans vs Jews handled the burial. The first point against your suggestion of the Roman handling is that the Romans, in general, would not have buried the victim. Their preference would be to let the body hang on the cross as a warning (deterrent) to others and let the animals, bugs and nature take care of the process, to suggest otherwise is already going against the historical evidence (see Martin Hengel).

    What did happen was that during peace times (especially during the time that Pilate ruled) Roman custom was to allow the local/national customs to be observed and to not interfere with them (see Philo, Josephus and the summary of Roman law Digesta). Politically it seems unlikely that Pilate would try and go against Jewish burial custom since it was on the eve of Passover (a Jewish festival celebrating liberation from foreign oppressors). What better way to incite the people against you then on a Holy Day to deny them their generally practiced customs? The more plausible explanation is that Roman officials allowed the Jewish authorities to practice their established rituals which included the burial of the dead.

  155. The problem of the empty tomb not having become a place of pilgrimage and a focus of worship for Christians has been, so far in this discussion, too blithely dismissed.

    How did Christians (at least the ones in the vicinity of Jerusalem) manage to forget the location of something so important as the empty tomb?

    Its not a deal breaker one way or the other (and skeptics don’t need one given the paucity of evidence about the life of Jesus). But it’s certainly puzzling.

  156. The empty tomb is one of several historical facts recognized by the legitimate experts who study the subject with fact of Jesus’ existence, His Crucifixion, His burial, and the disciples’ experiences of Him.

    The only thing historical about the empty tomb is that its assertion can be found in documents dating back to from 70 to 110 AD. The supernatural entailments that apologists imply with statements like the above are all ahistorical.

    Witness the skeptics’ own claims about stolen bodies and hallucinations.

    These are explanations that, for the sake of argument granting an empty tomb, are still more plausible than that offered by the apologist.

    Likewise, and contra your assertion, the basis of the belief in the Resurrection is exactly the eye witness testimony of the disciples – as evidenced by your reference to Paul.

    I said that the empty tomb makes the eyewitness testimony of the resurrected Jesus more credible because it is empirical, as opposed to the testimony of witnesses alone. The apologist’s case is stronger with an empty tomb.

    When he goes to Corinth he tells them of the witnesses who saw Jesus after His Resurrection. He converts them on this fact and he invites them, implicitly, to interview the living witnesses. He doesn’t say “and wouldn’t you like to go see the tomb as well? Wouldn’t that really seal the deal?”
The empty tomb on its own tells you nothing except that nobody had a disproof for the disciples’ eyewitness experiences.

    If you accept Paul’s account at face value, sure. But then you have no good reason to be any more discerning when the Mormon’s come to knock at your door with the story they tell about their own beginnings.

    Given that Christianity was spreading throughout the Empire, that Christians were already being persecuted and burned alive in Rome, that thousands of Jews in Jerusalem had converted and believed, before the dates that you accept for the writing of the Gospels, why would anybody invent the empty tomb, as you claim, after the fact?

    What dates and events are you talking about here? We’re on a post that asks about independent attestation, and it seems that there’s a lot of implicit (but unspecific) returning to the documents of the proselytizers to verify the story told by the proselytizers.

    I’ve already said why the story of the tomb would be invented several times now – because it makes the story of the bodily resurrection more credible. It makes more sense as a late invention than it for the reasons I’ve discussed here many times as well – Paul does not mention it, there’s no archaeological or historical evidence of a shrine, the story seems to get amplified with each successive gospel, Joseph of Arimathea appears to be a story-telling invention, etc. (I could have added the components of the story that don’t make sense from a timeline perspective, etc., and the fact that the story only seems to appear after the fall of Jerusalem, but I think these will only sidetrack the simpler problems as I’ve outlined, all of which do more than cast reasonable doubt on the veracity of the story.)

    What apologetic value did it add decades after the fact when Christianity obviously did not require it (by your accounting) in the least?

    That is the opposite of what I said. I said that the legend of the empty tomb is an invaluable addition to the proselytizer’s toolbox because “we all know that empirical evidence (an empty tomb that we can see and touch) is more persuasive versus the testimony of individuals and their recollections for an event that could be better explained as occurring only in their imagination.”

    It appears that you are denying the value of the story of the empty tomb as a proselytizing tool. If true, I think it is an example of the lengths apologists must go to maintain that their story is implausible to all but those who are already committed to believe.

  157. David,

    I find myself in a rather confusing position here. You complain that Holopupenko is far better at talking at you than at talking to you. He talks more about the way in which you argue, than about the content of your argument, and his assessment of the position where you stand is certainly negative. I agree to a great extent, and I want to say again to Holopupenko that God has called us to be be very careful about judging.

    But then, David, you write things like this:

    How did Christians (at least the ones in the vicinity of Jerusalem) manage to forget the location of something so important as the empty tomb?

    Its not a deal breaker one way or the other (and skeptics don’t need one given the paucity of evidence about the life of Jesus). But it’s certainly puzzling.

    First, this is not puzzling to any Christian. The early believers didn’t care about the tomb. There was nothing there to care about. It was empty.

    They were completely free of any veneration of objects or places. This has not always been true of Christianity through the centuries, which is not to the credit of all Christians, but it was so in the first century. The Jews had long been cured of any idol worship, so the early church had little motivation to regard objects as having much religious importance; and Jesus himself, having led a counter-Temple movement, having made his church a worldwide enterprise (see Luke 4 and Matthew 28:18-20 for examples), and having sent the Holy Spirit, made places of no importance.

    Thus the record of post-Easter Christianity in the New Testament is consistent both historically and theologically/philosophically: the empty tomb was no object of veneration. As an object of proof of Jesus’ resurrection, it was of little importance, because Christianity soon moved its center of gravity north to Antioch, and all of Jerusalem was sacked in AD 70. The disciples in Jerusalem up until then may very well have walked by the empty tomb and been reminded often of what it represented, but that they didn’t make note of that over and over again is hardly of any importance. It would be like a college student writing in her journal day after day, “my bedroom back at home is empty.” Don’t you think she would instead be writing, “Wow, here I am at college!”?

    That was the first part of my response to that. My second part is this: to anyone who has spent any time looking at Christianity, the first part is really quite obvious. (I have just now spent longer on formal analysis of that question than I can ever remember having done.) The fact that you bring it up as “puzzling” is itself puzzling. Why would you make an issue out of something so obvious?

    Have we done so poor a job of explaining Christian belief? I ask for an honest answer to that. Was it so unclear to you that Christianity is a belief in the Risen One, not an idolatry of places or things? If so, was it unclear because it has not been spoken to you clearly before now?

    Or have we explained it, and you have not heard it? And if we have explained it but you have not heard it, has Holopupenko’s analysis been so far off base?

  158. Tom,

    I appreciate your recognizing publicly that spirit of the comment policy here is sometimes infringed by those who share your beliefs.

    I have to disagree with this:

    [The early believers] were completely free of any veneration of objects or places. This has not always been true of Christianity through the centuries, which is not to the credit of all Christians, but it was so in the first century.

    This strikes me as being either utopic or convenient. While I understand the propensity for veneration of iconic figures, it is ahistorical to imagine that people were once vastly different than we are now. People, including Christians as you admit, are not immune to the veneration of idols, shrines, and other material things. It is all but an anthropological constant.

    To declare that early believers were “completely free of any veneration of objects or places” is akin to saying that they were “completely free of passion or vices” or something similar.

    You may now believe that places are of no importance, but the Christian religion, and humanity, has never been entirely immune to such notions.

    Was it so unclear to you that Christianity is a belief in the Risen One, not an idolatry of places or things?

    I shouldn’t have to remind you that you do not speak for all Christians, past and present. Why would you deny the history of a religion, both Western and Eastern Orthodox, that has left us with perhaps nothing so tangible and numerous as its 2,000 years of idols, shrines, icons, and talismans?


  159. First, this is not puzzling to any Christian. The early believers didn’t care about the tomb. There was nothing there to care about. It was empty.

    That’s already been mentioned and is precisely what I was talking about when I said the issue has been too blithely dismissed.

    Nothing to care about?

    Its the site of the greatest miracle in the history of the world and the attitude of the early Christians would have been “ho hum, nothing to see here”?

    Really?

    Honestly, if you were a Christian living in or near Jerusalem 50 or 75 years after his death would you not take your children to the site of the Great Event? The Resurrection of our Savior.

    Do you really think you would have said instead “he’s not there any more so why bother visiting the empty tomb and standing in the spot Jesus must have stood when he arose— Why see the stone that was rolled away by the angels hands—Why pray to Jesus at the site of His Victory over sin”?


    They were completely free of any veneration of objects or places.

    Perhaps they wouldn’t be venerators of objects (that might smack of idolatry). But what reason is there to think they would not have considered the empty tomb an important site? As Tom said the claim goes against everything we know about how humans think and behave. We’d need very strong reason to think the early Christians were so remarkably different from humans in general that they even managed to forget where the tomb was within a few decades of the event (at least there’s not the slightest indication anyone not mentioned in the Bible itself knew where the tomb was). And you’ve not provided anything in support of your position other than the mere assertion that they wouldn’t have cared about the site of the Resurrection.


    The Jews had long been cured of any idol worship, so the early church had little motivation to regard objects as having much religious importance;

    We’re talking about a place. Not an idol or an object.

    And even the Jews held sites sacred (The temple in Jerusalem, for example).

    So, yes, I still find it puzzling despite your efforts to explain it away.

  160. Tony,

    it is ahistorical to imagine that people were once vastly different than we are now. People, including Christians as you admit, are not immune to the veneration of idols, shrines, and other material things. It is all but an anthropological constant.

    It is ahistorical to invent such veneration out of thin air, and then to point to that thin air (as David did) as a sign of some historical inconsistency. It is ahistorical to deny the centuries of Jewish intolerance toward idolatry, and to deny that it could have had some impact on Christianity in Jerusalem.

    I shouldn’t have to remind you that you do not speak for all Christians, past and present. Why would you deny the history of a religion, both Western and Eastern Orthodox, that has left us with perhaps nothing so tangible and numerous as its 2,000 years of idols, shrines, icons, and talismans?

    I was speaking of first-century Christianity. I acknowledged that it has not always remained that way.

  161. David,

    Honestly, if you were a Christian living in or near Jerusalem 50 or 75 years after his death would you not take your children to the site of the Great Event? The Resurrection of our Savior.

    David, if we’re going to have a discussion about the historicity of the resurrection, it would help if you paid some attention to history. Do you know what condition Jerusalem was in 50 or 75 years after the Great Event?

    And I didn’t say that Christians didn’t do that. But you’re faulting them for not writing down that they did that. Please. They had other things on their minds. And remember, the earliest witness to the resurrection was a letter written to a city in Greece. Would Paul have said, “Oh, and by the way, when you’re in Jerusalem be sure to drop by the empty tomb and see for yourself”? Are you going to build some kind of case on his not doing so? Don’t you have better things to do with your time?

    We’re talking about a place. Not an idol or an object.

    And even the Jews held sites sacred (The temple in Jerusalem, for example).

    So, yes, I still find it puzzling despite your efforts to explain it away.

    And David, if you have enough time on your hands to puzzle over these things, why not at least notice that I already addressed that very question? Why just ask it again as if I hadn’t written something? Didn’t I already make this request to you recently: that if you’re going to repeat a question that has already been answered, at least show us something you didn’t like about the answer. Otherwise it looks a lot like you’re not paying attention you don’t give a rip, and you’re just pretending you care, for the sake of being argumentative.

  162. I’m not “building a case” against the resurrection on their not knowing where the empty tomb was. I don’t feel any need to. The general paucity of evidence regarding the life of Jesus is more than sufficient basis for reasonable people to remain thoroughly unconvinced. I’m simply thinking through an issue that seems problematic. That doesn’t mean Christianity stands or falls on the issue. One could admit that its very puzzling indeed and still, if other evidence is compelling, remain a firm believer in the Resurrection (not that I think we have anything even approaching that).

    And if I missed something you said then forgive me but this is a conversation that’s covered a lot of territory and is up to 170 posts. I don’t claim to have a photographic memory. Nor is it necessary to get an attitude when someone doesn’t recall something one said previously. All of us have had that happen—I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve had someone fail to recall a point I’d made previously in discussions on this blog.

  163. Tom:

    Curiously, I find myself agreeing with David and Tony… but only along the lines of what is perhaps a loose conflation of the terms “veneration” and “worship” on your part. Those two terms are anything but equal. Even in the secular world we venerate heros as good examples for all. Christians (meaning primarily Catholics and Orthodox) venerate saints, relics, sacramentals (like icons) precisely because they point to eternal verities.

    The theology of icons, for example, views icons as “prayers in color”: in a sense they are prayers that try to capture more than usual senses engaged in prayer (written and verbal). Look at the figures depicted in icons: they neither are nor should be anatomically correct… eyes are enlarged, etc., etc. Why? Because they’re not concerned with the material per se but with what we can be assisted by the material to see verities beyond the material. Isn’t that the point of Psalm 19:1?

    The Psalms were SUNG, not just recited, and one of the most beautiful visions of creation is that God sang the world into existence. Enter an Orthodox or Eastern Catholic church and ALL five of your senses are engaged as instruments that lead to God. We ARE sensual beings and we obtain knowledge through our senses, but not all our knowledge is sensory knowledge. We know God not “in” our senses but “through” them: that’s a no brainer, because one needs the sense of sight to read the Word of God or the sense of hearing to hear truths of sermons borne upon the truths expressed in Scripture. Why stop at those senses?

    If you told a Catholic that he or she “worships” the Mother of God or the Saints or icons or statues or whatever, he’d look at you like you lost your mind… (Similarly to an atheist trying to assert to a Catholic Thomist there are no sound proofs for the existence of Existence Itself: he’s look at the atheist like he’s lost his mind… and in a certain sense it’s true.) Why? Worship (which is due to God alone) of anything but God is grave idolatry… not to mention that God doesn’t need our veneration of Him. Veneration is a good thing because, for among other reasons, it helps to avoid worship AND it reminds us that God, through the Incarnation condescended to become one of us, i.e., reminding us that His creation–even the material aspects–are good… and He said so in Genesis. For heaven’s sake, He used mud made from His spittle to cure the blind man! It’s not a sin to draw or paint pictures of Christ (i.e., make material things depicting Him) because He Himself took upon Himself the material aspect of our nature… but it would be a sin to worship material things.

    Note the parallel: if a Catholic is told over and over that he or she “worships” saints (despite explanations to the contrary), the Catholic will feel slighted. Yet, in this and many other discussions on this blog, atheists tell us all manner of similar types of silly strawman things about Christian faith, and we feel slighted… because they refuse to listen.

    So, getting back to David and Tony, perhaps they are not aware of the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the first Christian Emperor of Rome, searching for the True Cross? If you knew for sure that the True Cross upon which Christ was crucified was to be found at such-and-such a place, would you feel somehow moved to honor or venerate the Cross as a reminder of what it bore? Don’t you honor your father and mother? How much more so the new Eve and mother (not just any mother) of Christians inasmuch as she bore our Savior? Maybe David and Tony haven’t visited (or know about) the Holy Land and experienced the worship of God at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? Well, if that’s idolatry (I assure you, it’s not) then what atheists claim about Christians being psychologically damaged goods must be correct. If you guys want the empty Tomb, go to Jerusalem and dispute with centuries of the findings of archeological evidence. But where do you get off saying so ignorantly that no one knows where it is, or that there’s a “paucity of evidence”… or that no one cared or cares? It’s not just ignorant–it’s dumb.

  164. Otherwise it looks a lot like you’re not paying attention you don’t give a rip, and you’re just pretending you care, for the sake of being argumentative.

    That’s spot-on correct: David doesn’t care and will not accept anything that opposes the disordered worldview of atheism, and he will employ all manner of obfuscation, fallacies, and ignorance just to oppose for opposition’s sake–not to seek the truth. I’m just saying it more forcefully. 😉

  165. 30 years after Jesus’ death the Christians weren’t even very much in Jerusalem to venerate the tomb in which He did not lay. They left based upon Jesus’ prophecies after Rome’s first siege.
    As to whether or not the Christian community kept in mind the location, Google Constantine and Church of the Holy Sepulchre and give the argument from “lack of evidence” some more thought.

  166. The only thing historical about the empty tomb is that its assertion can be found in documents dating back to from 70 to 110 AD. The supernatural entailments that apologists imply with statements like the above are all ahistorical.

    The thing that is historical about the empty tomb is that its fullness would have ended Christianity. Your dates are wrong. The facts I listed are historical, not ahistorical and they do not say anything about the supernatural.

    Me:Witness the skeptics’ own claims about stolen bodies and hallucinations.

    Tony: These are explanations that, for the sake of argument granting an empty tomb, are still more plausible than that offered by the apologist.

    These so-called explanations admit that there is not now nor ever was any evidence that the Tomb was not discovered empty. They are only more plausible if you already know what kind of a universe we live in and deny history.

    I said that the empty tomb makes the eyewitness testimony of the resurrected Jesus more credible because it is empirical, as opposed to the testimony of witnesses alone. The apologist’s case is stronger with an empty tomb.

    No, you said:

    then why is the supposed “fact” of the empty tomb the virtual cornerstone of modern apologetics?

    I said that their eyewitness testimony, that which was used to spread the belief in the Resurrection, could be sunk by the production of the Body. But the lack of the Body is not sufficient nor the “virtual cornerstone” of the apologetic case.

    If you accept Paul’s account at face value, sure. But then you have no good reason to be any more discerning when the Mormon’s come to knock at your door with the story they tell about their own beginnings.

    Yes, indeed, we treat historical accounts as historical accounts. Paul wrote letters that said “here is the Gospel, here is what the eyewitnesses said”. He did not say “travel from Corinth, Rome, etc. back to Jerusalem to check out the empty Tomb”. What is to doubt here? That his letters are actually written in code and that he actually was telling people to go back to visit the Tomb? So, long before you’d have us inventing the empty tomb we have Paul proselytizing and spreading the faith without telling people specifically about it.
    So again, the question is, if the greatest church planter and witness in history didn’t need the story why would it be invented later?

    What dates and events are you talking about here? We’re on a post that asks about independent attestation, and it seems that there’s a lot of implicit (but unspecific) returning to the documents of the proselytizers to verify the story told by the proselytizers.

    I’m talking about the dates of the Epistles. We have independent attestation to their dates and we know they long predate your (false) dates of A.D. 70-110 for the writing of the Gospels, and, thus, the supposed invention of the empty tomb. We also have independent witness of the spread of Christianity as far as Rome at least half a decade before what you claim as the earliest possible date of the invention of the empty tomb. Therefore, the empty tomb, by your own argument was not needed in the spread of the Gospel and the conversion to Christianity. Your very argument destroys itself.

    That is the opposite of what I said. I said that the legend of the empty tomb is an invaluable addition to the proselytizer’s toolbox because “we all know that empirical evidence (an empty tomb that we can see and touch) is more persuasive versus the testimony of individuals and their recollections for an event that could be better explained as occurring only in their imagination.”

    Yes, I read what you said. And I’ve shown why it makes no sense. Why was it invented, as you claim, later rather than earlier, when it obviously wasn’t needed?

    It appears that you are denying the value of the story of the empty tomb as a proselytizing tool. If true, I think it is an example of the lengths apologists must go to maintain that their story is implausible to all but those who are already committed to believe.

    You claim Paul didn’t need it. Why was it invented, then?

  167. I took your advise, Charlie and Googled the Holy Sepulchre. Looks like it was known, marked and noted as the place David and Tony say was never known, marked and noted – but that vandels came in and ruined the place prior to Constantine. Eusebius reports

    For it had been in time past the endeavor of impious men (or rather let me say of the whole race of evil spirits through their means), to consign to the darkness of oblivion that divine monument of immortality to which the radiant angel had descended from heaven, and rolled away the stone for those who still had stony hearts, and who supposed that the living One still lay among the dead; and had declared glad tidings to the women also, and removed their stony-hearted unbelief by the conviction that he whom they sought was alive. This sacred cave, then, certain impious and godless persons had thought to remove entirely from the eyes of men, supposing in their folly that thus they should be able effectually to obscure the truth. Accordingly they brought a quantity of earth from a distance with much labor, and covered the entire spot; then, having raised this to a moderate height, they paved it with stone, concealing the holy cave beneath this massive mound. Then, as though their purpose had been effectually accomplished, they prepare on this foundation a truly dreadful sepulchre of souls, by building a gloomy shrine of lifeless idols to the impure spirit whom they call Venus, and offering detestable oblations therein on profane and accursed altars. For they supposed that their object could not otherwise be fully attained, than by thus burying the sacred cave beneath these foul pollutions.

  168. David,

    And if I missed something you said then forgive me but this is a conversation that’s covered a lot of territory and is up to 170 posts. I don’t claim to have a photographic memory. Nor is it necessary to get an attitude when someone doesn’t recall something one said previously.

    Let me quote again what you said in your comment number 167, which I was responding to when I criticized you for failing to notice that I had dealt with the issue of place. The following begins with my words quoted by you, and ends with your response to what I wrote there:

    The Jews had long been cured of any idol worship, so the early church had little motivation to regard objects as having much religious importance;

    We’re talking about a place. Not an idol or an object.
    And even the Jews held sites sacred (The temple in Jerusalem, for example).
    So, yes, I still find it puzzling despite your efforts to explain it away.

    Note that you quoted part of a sentence that I wrote. The quote you used here ends with a semi-colon. Then you said, “We’re talking about a place. Not an idol or an object.”

    Now you say that in a discussion that “covers a lot of territory and is up to 170 posts” I’m expecting too much of you to have noticed that I discussed that issue. But it wasn’t that hard, really, David. What it would have taken would have been for you to read that entire sentence rather than just half of it:

    The Jews had long been cured of any idol worship, so the early church had little motivation to regard objects as having much religious importance; and Jesus himself, having led a counter-Temple movement, having made his church a worldwide enterprise (see Luke 4 and Matthew 28:18-20 for examples), and having sent the Holy Spirit, made places of no importance.

    Do you still think I was expecting too much of you?

  169. Hi Tom,
    Thanks for a great series. It’s been well-argued, well-written and well-researched.
    Beware that I didn’t think I was correcting you and beware also that Wikipedia doesn’t agree with the additional information.

    Archaeologist Simon Gibson, in The Final Days Of Jesus, who appears not to be a Christian, nonetheless does agree with the information on the Empty Tomb, its emptiness, and its location.

  170. Tom, you claimed the Christians, coming out of a Jewish heritage, rejected the veneration of places.

    I pointed out that the Jews, in fact, DID venerate at least one place.

    That Jesus led a counter-Temple movement doesn’t refute my point: that your claim about the source of Christian rejection of the veneration of places (if even a correct characterization of their attitudes) is mistaken. Veneration of places WAS part of Judaism. If early Christians rejected Jewish veneration of the Temple then that’s nearly the complete reverse of the claim you made (that Christians rejection of the veneration of places comes from the Jewish rejection of the veneration of places).

    Perhaps the early Christians DID strongly reject the veneration of places. But you’ve yet to give much, if anything, in the way of support for this claim. Nor any reason for it since you seem to be contradicting yourself on the basis of this rejection.

  171. So which is your position: that Jesus counter-temple movement is evidence of the early Christian movement’s rejection of the veneration of places (since they reject the Jewish veneration of the Temple) or that the early Christians reject the veneration of places because they came out of a Jewish culture and Jewish culture rejects the veneration of places.

    You can’t have it both ways (at least if you value consistency).

  172. David, thank you for at least responding now to what I wrote, rather than ignoring it.

    This is my position: that the Jews rejected idolatry, but that did not go so far as rejecting the veneration of places. They gave very high importance to the Temple and to Jerusalem because of its being home to the Temple.

    So in Judaism we have strong momentum toward the rejection of worshiping (or even venerating) the physical, and momentum toward the worship of God as Spirit, who cannot be represented by idols. This was not complete, in that they saw the Temple as the place at which one most specially met with God.

    Jesus carried that momentum to its full conclusion: that worshiping God is not just a matter that is not associated with physical idols, it is also not associated with a particular place. No place is more holy than any other in NT religion (later religion did take up the concept of holy places, but you won’t find it in the NT).

    There is no contradiction there. There is a trajectory instead. The Jews, unlike all other religions of the time as far as I know, rejected physicality of worship to a very great extent. With Jesus, that rejection was extended even further, along the same trajectory toward worshiping God in Spirit and Truth (John 4:19-24).

    (This is not to deny all physicality to worship, by the way: we live in bodies, and we express and experience worship in our bodies. We can find inspiration, sources of awe, information from which to learn, from the physical. But there is nothing in NT religion that associates that with any single place. This is a complex subject, which I’m not interested in pursuing at great length. I think I’ve shown that the lack of mention of visits to the empty tomb after that first Easter morning is no embarrassment to Christian belief. That’s all I set out to do.)

  173. I don’t see conflict between Tom’s statements and how the early Christian’s viewed the tomb. Veneration is not worship and there’s certainly nothing wrong with marking/keeping a physical place so you can better remember what happened. Using things for the purposes of remembering is a very biblical concept.


  174. This is my position: that the Jews rejected idolatry, but that did not go so far as rejecting the veneration of places.

    My apologies, I reread your previous comment. I thought you had attributed the rejection of objects AND places to their Jewish heritage. But you actually said Judaism rejects the veneration of objects and IN ADDITION said Jesus rejected the veneration of the Temple. So I stand corrected.

    Although I’m still not clear on why Jesus having rejected the veneration of the Temple would have led to Christians not venerating or holding sacred the site of the empty tomb. Not venerating one particular place doesn’t necessarily translate into a wholesale rejection of the veneration of places. And its not at all obvious that the rejection of idolatry and the emphasis on the spiritual over the physical would tend to lead to a strong rejection of the venerating of places as a natural progression. Its conceivable but I think its far from a compelling argument.

    So, even with that correction of my memory of what you said, it still hasn’t been established, to my mind if not yours, that we have particularly strong reason to believe Christians wouldn’t have held the site of the resurrection sacred.

    And something else comes to mind. You said Jews reject the veneration of objects. But wasn’t the ark of the covenant venerated? The ark contained the tablets on which the ten commandments were written. Also Aaron’s staff and manna. The descriptions of how the Ark was treated and presented certainly fits any normal usage of the word “veneration”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ark_of_the_Covenant

    Regardless, I’m also not greatly interested in debating at length why the site of the resurrection was forgotten. Christianity doesn’t stand or fall, as I believe I already said, on our having a compelling answer to this question. So I’m satisfied to let the issue rest and move on to other topics.


  175. I don’t see conflict between Tom’s statements and how the early Christian’s viewed the tomb. Veneration is not worship and there’s certainly nothing wrong with marking/keeping a physical place so you can better remember what happened.

    That’s true but Tom claimed that Christians DIDN’T venerate the tomb. Regarding why the tomb was forgotten Tom wrote:


    The early believers didn’t care about the tomb. There was nothing there to care about. It was empty.

    The whole point of contention was that I (and Tony) found this claim that they didn’t care about the tomb implausible. But, again, it’s a fairly peripheral issue.

  176. Here is a little somethig from a preliminary review of Dan Brown’s new book that might have some bearing on the feeling of “unseen presence” and the existence of God

    There’s an Institute of Noetic Science (IONS) near San Francisco, and it happens to be the subject of a chapter in a book I read last week, NPR religion reporter Barbara Bradley Haggerty’s excellent Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality. Haggerty investigates the scientific underpinnings of psychic phenomena. One of her themes is this idea of entanglement — that the universe is somehow knitted together in ways that materialist science currently can’t explain and maybe never will. On a certain view, a religious one, the unifying factor is God. We’re unified with each other through Him, which is why minds can affect each other across vast distances. That’s the case for the elementary reason that, as in the Jewish prayer Shema, “the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). That doesn’t mean just that there’s one God instead of two or three. Rather, God really is One. Somehow, there’s a unity to God that extends to the rest of creation. If we could see to the heart of reality, we would perceive that everything that seems to enjoy a separate existence from God is really nullified before Him.

    Our minds are mostly shut to evidence of this unity — it would be overwhelming otherwise, infinitely so — but occasionally, with more sensitive people or sometimes under the influence of events, spiritual practices, or certain substances, intimations will make themselves felt.

    Haggerty’s book just came out in May so obviously it’s not Brown’s source on this. Still, readers of The Lost Symbol will be interested to read Haggerty’s journalistic take on the subject. She visits IONS and interviews researchers who have documented the way, for example, married couples can produce measurable physiological effects in their partners by directing loving thoughts to them even if the two are in separate, totally sealed rooms. Somehow their minds, one might venture to say their souls, are entangled. One woman, a subject in the research, turns out to be psychically sensitive to an unusual degree.

    Haggerty tells how this woman once had an intuition that her daughter was in trouble. Haggerty later confirmed the story with the daughter. What happened is that the daughter was driving to Sacramento. The mother got a feeling that she must call a certain unfamiliar phone number that had just popped into her head. She called. It turns out it was the number of a service station off the highway on the way to, yes, Sacramento. She described her daughter, Allison, to the service station attendant. Just then, a young woman was walking up to him. He said, “Allison?” Of course, it was her. Allison’s car had broken down and she had come on foot looking for mechanical assistance.

    Interesting, no?

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/kingdomofpriests/2009/09/spooky-coincidences-and-noetic-science.html#more

  177. For a simple presentation explaining why all of these arguments are ultimately unconvincing to most atheists, may I recommend this short video?

    And whoever said, “The perception of a smell, as a smell, is a rational act. “ – SteveK, I think – is just plain wrong. You can perceive smells in your sleep. The interpretation of the perception, of the sense-data, is another matter, though even this is not uncontroversial – see this introduction to the notion of non-conceptual mental content. (However you interpret “rational”, most would agree that it is impossible to interpret the non-conceptual in a rational manner.)

  178. And whoever said, “The perception of a smell, as a smell, is a rational act. “ – SteveK, I think – is just plain wrong. You can perceive smells in your sleep. The interpretation of the perception, of the sense-data, is another matter, though even this is not uncontroversial

    I perceive something. What is that something? Even in dreams, the truth-value of the question, “What am I perceiving?” is arrived at via rationality so I don’t see how perceiving a smell as a smell (rather than a taste) is anything other than a rational act of the mind.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe

Subscribe here to receive updates and a free Too Good To Be False preview chapter!

"Engaging… exhilarating.… This might be the most surprising and refreshing book you’ll read this year!" — Lee Strobel

"Too Good To Be False is almost too good to be true!" — Josh McDowell

Purchase Here!

More on the book...

Discussion Policy

By commenting here you agree to abide by this site's discussion policy. Comments support Markdown language for your convenience. Each new commenter's first comment goes into moderation temporarily before appearing on the site. Comments close automatically after 120 days.

Copyright, Permissions, Marketing

Some books reviewed on this blog are attached to my account with Amazon’s affiliate marketing program, and I receive a small percentage of revenue from those sales.

All content copyright © Thomas Gilson as of date of posting except as attributed to other sources. Permissions information here.

Privacy Policy

Clicky