Tom Gilson

The Primitive Belief in Satan and Demons

I’ve been talking about Satan, demons and other primitive, pre-scientific sorts of things here. The topic has reminded me how odd it is that labeling ancient ideas that way—”primitive,” “outdated,” and the like—tilts us toward counting them as wrong or worthless. Usually that has to do with their having preceded the Dawn of Science, which leads to the other great oddity, which is that this tilt happens even with ideas that have nothing to do with science.

C.S. Lewis spoke more than once of the silliness of thinking what counts is how “modern” or “up-to-date” an idea is, as if that alone could determine how true it is. Labels like “primitive” have emotional rather than true rational power. They serve nicely as tools for cutting off old but currently unpopular ideas. We forget that the man in the cave was more of an artist than we give him credit for, and that means he was likely more of a thinker, too.

That’s not to deny the real progress that follows from “standing on the shoulders of giants,” as Newton put it. Ideas build fruitfully upon ideas, so that over the course of generations our knowledge increases. Somehow, though, we’ve come to think that only science has tall men supporting it, and that the great prophets of Judaism and Christianity, Jesus included, were but primitive pygmies: highly influential but ultimately wrong, as we modern, enlightened ones now know.

Aside from minor corrections we’ve made along the way, however (see my first article in this series), what science has taught us about the natural world has had almost nothing to do with what might or might not be true about reality beyond nature. Dawkins and others of his ilk might think it does, but for the most part they are using pro-science sentiment as a cover for anti-theistic prejudice.

InThe Blind Watchmaker, for example, Dawkins says that since science can explain how the biological world could have come to be without a designer, there is therefore no designer. Even if his evolutionary premises were correct (feel free to take your choice on that one), the conclusion wouldn’t begin to follow. It’s as if he thought the only reason anyone believed in God was to explain the origin of species; but if that’s all he sees when he looks at Christianity, he’s standing on the shoulders of a bucket in a well. Lawrence Krauss represents another case of bucket-vision when he says science requires a kind of practical atheism. It’s just not true, and no one who understands Christianity could think that it is.

The ancients were not stupid. There are foolish and ignorant people in every generation—we have our share of them today—but the best men and women of old were at least as wise as the best of today. Maybe they had less information to work with than we have—Aristotle’s Physics would have looked a lot different had it been written it after Newton (though not necessarily as different as some might think)—and yet, is it not possible that in some cases their information was better than ours? What if the prophets were standing on shoulders much taller than any of Newton’s giants, when they spoke of what they saw concerning worship, justice, worship, goodness, truth, and yes, even what was to come? What if (to alter the metaphor) they were seeing through lenses the Creator himself crafted for seeing the truth?

Perhaps you think that’s all preposterous. You’re entitled to think so; but if you think it’s preposterous just because the prophets all lived such a long time ago, that’s where your entitlement runs out. Later is not necessarily better.

Suppose it was your intention to understand contemporary currents in cosmology. Would you rather consult Stephen Hawking or Popular Science? Obviously you would prefer to be closer to the source. Now suppose you wanted to know exactly what Herodotus wrote in his Histories. Would you rather have access to the manuscripts he himself wrote (if it were possible), or to the Kindle version? Again, it’s better to be closer to the source. If Herodotus’s autographs (original manuscripts) were available, they would have absolute authority over all later versions. For representing the author’s own work, nothing in the passage of time could produce any improvement.* For some things later is worse, not better.

So with that in mind, what if there were an authoritative source of information on the spiritual world, and that source delivered a major portion of its information a couple thousand years ago? If it were true then that God existed, and angels and demons too, why would it be any less true after the Dawn—or even the Noontime—of Science?

That is, of course, an open-ended sort of what-if question, and for now I’m going to leave it at that. I said last time that I was going to move on toward providing positive reasons for believing, without irrationality that Satan and demons exist and influence the world we live in. I have not gotten there quite yet. There is so much prejudice against this belief, I thought it important to spend at least one more article on turning our thoughts in a more rational direction. Next time (if I’m not interrupted by my own thoughts one more time) I intend to show why there can be merit in believing the ancients knew something real and true about reality, and about spiritual battle in particular.

*One might argue that if the original were damaged, contemporary science might help us recover the original, and that some future science might help even more. One might also argue that better science could provide better assurance that the manuscript before us was Herodotus’s own. But for the question, What did Herodotus write? the point remains: the closer we get to the ancient source, the better we can answer the question. Herodotus’s first readers—ancient, primitive readers, that is—would have been far wiser on this particular question than we could ever hope to be.

Series Navigation (Spiritual Battle):<<< Is It Rational to Believe in Spiritual Battle? (Part 2)
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99 thoughts on “The Primitive Belief in Satan and Demons

  1. The really difficult argument that you have to make in order have a convincing case is that the stories of miracles and demons in the Bible are really quite credible, while the similar ancient stories from many other cultures and traditions are just myths. Ditto for “eyewitness” stories from the modern age (the last few hundred years), where everyone would concede that a great deal of the talk of witches, aliens, faith healing, spiritualism and communication with the dead, psychic powers, etc., etc., is a combination of hoaxes, wishful thinking, crowd psychology, naive credulity, lack of independent testing, etc., all added to the growing of a good story in the retelling, and not actual evidence of supernatural or paranormal activity.

    If one concedes that humans have a widespread tendency to infer such things where they don’t exist, often quite confidently, then, while this doesn’t *disprove* all such claims, it does mean that the evidence should be much better than the usual half-baked, third-hand “evidence” presented in favor in such claims before they are considered probable. Achieving this for anything in ancient times is going to be extremely difficult I’m afraid.

    Remember, the Mormons have plenty of eyewitnesses too…

  2. Good points, Nick. I agree with you completely (for a change 🙂 )

    That’s for my next post or two in this series. of course. What do you think about what’s here so far?

  3. The really difficult argument that you have to make in order have a convincing case is that the stories of miracles and demons in the Bible are really quite credible, while the similar ancient stories from many other cultures and traditions are just myths.

    Of course, that makes a few assumptions. First, that the “similar” stories are actually similar in terms of quality, testimony, etc. Second, that the response is “those are all just myths”. This goes back to the suggestion that Christians suddenly become hardened naturalists when talking about other religions – but it ain’t the case.

    where everyone would concede that a great deal of the talk of witches, aliens, faith healing,

    What you mean “everyone”, kimosabe?

    And why specify “talk of witches, aliens, faith healing” as opposed to… talk of anything at all? If you’re going to take the route you are with skepticism of the accuracy of reports, you’ll notice that the net doesn’t catch “claims about the vaguely paranormal”. It catches “claims”, period.

    If one concedes that humans have a widespread tendency to infer such things where they don’t exist, often quite confidently, then, while this doesn’t *disprove* all such claims, it does mean that the evidence should be much better than the usual half-baked, third-hand “evidence” presented in favor in such claims before they are considered probable.

    But enough about neo-darwinism!

    Remember, the Mormons have plenty of eyewitnesses too…

    If you are referring to its founding, are you aware of what the Mormons have eyewitnesses of?

  4. First, some nitpicking: “Standing on the shoulders of giants” was first uttered by Bernard of Chartres (12th century) — the attribution is made by John of Salisbury in his Metalogicon.

    The ancients were not stupid. There are foolish and ignorant people in every generation—we have our share of them today—but the best men and women of old were at least as wise as the best of today. Maybe they had less information to work with than we have—Aristotle’s Physics would have looked a lot different had it been written it after Newton (though not necessarily as different as some might think)—and yet, is it not possible that in some cases their information was better than ours?

    The battle of the ancients against the moderns is recurrent in human history: it existed in ancient Greece, in medieval Europe (the great German literary critic and medievalist E. R. Curtius has written extensively about it), etc. One of my favourite writers, Jonathan Swift, has an appendix to his masterpiece “A Tale of a Tub” about this war, entitled the “The Battel of the Books”. He sides with the ancients: Descartes does not even get so much as an honorable death as he dies from an arrow shot by Aristotle that was aimed at Bacon. Hazzlitt wrote a fine essay explaining why the arts are not progressive and that literature, say, has reached a definitive limit in the works of Homer, Virgil, Chaucer, Dante, Spenser, Shakespeare, etc. Mortimer Adler has a little book called “Ten Philosophical Mistakes” in which he points out philosophical errors introduced by modern philosophers such as Descartes, Hobbes, Hume and Locke, when they deviated, either by misunderstanding or ignoring, from the insights of Aristotle, the Scholastics, etc. He ends the book explaining why these insights are enduring and largely immune to the vagaries of culture or scientific progress.

    The previous paragraph and its motley list of examples is just to reinforce your idea, that everything the ancients thought and wrote can be safely thrown away, and that we, like new Adams at the dawn of a new day are free to begin again, on a blank slate, is not just presumptuous, it is false and culturally deleterious. As someone famous once said, about a completely different subject, “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” Particularly apt quote when the subject is spiritual warfare. I do not know what military strategists today think of Sun-Tzu or Clausewitz, but no Christian soldier can afford the luxury of ignoring the wiles and weapons of his enemy. Ephesians 6:11-12. And to know that, our best guide is still the Bible and the, fortunately long, list of spiritual wisdom writers. I myself have a soft spot for the Desert Fathers — but I guess I am getting ahead and that you will most surely touch on these matters in future posts on this topic.

  5. Crude’s comments are similar to what I would say in response to Nick’s opening statement.

    Christian’s are under so such obligation to conclude that similar stories from non-Christian sources are false myths. We can withold judgement if the evidence is a mixed bag, we can conclude that some spiritual being was involved if the evidence is strong enough or we can think they are likely false for one reason or another. It’s a case-by-case situation. I look forward to Tom’s next post.

  6. I haven’t done a systematic study, but my sense of it is that Christian apologists are *very often* pretty much hardened naturalists when it comes to other religions.

    It is true, as we see in this thread also, that you will sometimes get vague talk about how *maybe* some of other religious groups’ supernatural stories are true — but I think this is mostly a tactic used to avoid precisely the dilemma I have put forward above. (Which is that the evidence that we have for supernatural activity is pretty poor in basically all ancient cases, even if one can make an argument that e.g. the New Testament is slightly better than some of the other legends.)

    As another way to get at this — can anyone produce a case where a prominent Christian apologist has endorsed the reality of a supernatural claim made by another religion? (apart from those already accepted by Christians, e.g. those that Jews accept from the Old Testament)

  7. Nick, Nick, Nick. Please.

    I haven’t done a systematic study, but my sense of it is that Christian apologists are *very often* pretty much hardened naturalists when it comes to other religions.

    Define “naturalist,” please. I mean, that’s just idiotic. Here, I’ll help: naturalism is not the belief that some religion is false. It is (on one way of stating it) the belief that no supernatural religion is true. My belief that Mormonism is false does not make me naturalistic about Mormonism. There’s no such thing as “naturalistic about some religion x.” If one is not naturalistic about everything, then one is not naturalistic.

    Sheesh.

    Are you going to say you meant it metaphorically? Doesn’t work that way, either:

    As another way to get at this — can anyone produce a case where a prominent Christian apologist has endorsed the reality of a supernatural claim made by another religion?

    Why would that be important? If another religion made the supernatural claim that God is and that he works in the world, we would endorse that because it’s true. If another religion made the claim, for instance, that Gabriel or Moroni gave Joseph Smith some golden plates, we would contradict it because it’s false. Those are two easy ones.

    What if some other religion made a supernatural claim that was supportable by evidence? There might be such things. Satan can masquerade as an angel of light, says Scripture. Naturalism cannot.

  8. I haven’t done a systematic study, but my sense of it is that Christian apologists are *very often* pretty much hardened naturalists when it comes to other religions.

    Alright – and my sense of it is that it is *very rare* for Christian apologists to take a “naturalist” (thin gruel though that word is) response to other religions. You seem to think that the only way to reject a competing religious claim is to take a wholly naturalistic stance. A few moments of thinking this over should indicate the flaw in this approach.

    It is true, as we see in this thread also, that you will sometimes get vague talk about how *maybe* some of other religious groups’ supernatural stories are true — but I think this is mostly a tactic used to avoid precisely the dilemma I have put forward above.

    I can play this game as well: We see in this thread no one taking a “naturalistic” stance towards either other religions or their claims, despite you strongly insisting otherwise. And I think this is mostly a tactic used to create a dilemma where none exists. Doubly so since “naturalistic” is a word with practically no content, and “supernatural” is in a similar boat as a result. (For instance, is Zeus supernatural? Why?)

    As for comparing “ancient evidence”, are you taking the Jesus Mythicist line that there’s no evidence Jesus even existed? By all means, walk down that road if you want – it’d be a great way to establish just what brand of skeptic you are.

    But if you back off and say, “Wait, no, I think Jesus clearly existed. I just question whether Jesus rose from the dead or really performed the miracles attributed to Him”, then you’re sunk already. This would, even with that qualification, go a long way to establish that the evidence for Christianity is not “slightly better” than some vague list of “other legends”. It’s actually leaps and bounds better.

    So, take your pick: Jesus Mythicist, or peddling back your claim.

    As another way to get at this — can anyone produce a case where a prominent Christian apologist has endorsed the reality of a supernatural claim made by another religion?

    But this test doesn’t at all fit what you were originally claiming. Remember: You said that “Christian apologists *very often* [are] pretty much hardened naturalists when it comes to other religions”. Now your standard is suddenly “endorsing the reality of a supernatural claim made by another religion”. But that’s a different standard – they could reject the claims without adhering to a naturalistic evaluation of the religion. They could regard the supernatural claim as real, but misinterpreted by human error or contextualizing. Or really supernatural, but deceptive (say, the work of a devil, etc).

    More than that, we can just look at the intellectual history of Christianity. Aristotle’s “Prime Mover” wasn’t rejected as heretical and disregarded with “naturalistic” presumptions, nor was “The One” of Neoplatonism. These were, among St. Aquinas and others, regarded explicitly as understandings of the Christian God but lacking the essential revelation. And these are only the most prominent examples.

    How about the Pope (or Popes – I believe Ratzinger has done the same) endorsing the idea that Muslims and Christians worship the same God? So much for Christians becoming “hardened naturalists” when it comes to other religions. Unless agreeing that the God another religion venerates is real, even if the religion itself is incorrect, is now the stuff of hardened naturalism.

    Actually, I suppose a naturalist can be a theist so long as they call God natural. 😉

  9. @Nick Matzke:

    This is not a direct answer to your query, so feel free to dismiss it, but I will point out that when Moses went to the Pharaoh and turned his rod into a snake, the Magicians of the court likewise turned their rods into snakes. Similarly for the first two plagues (turning water into blood and the summoning forth of frogs). Since obviously it was not God’s power fuelling the magicians’ sorcery, guess who is to blame…

    In other words, there was never any problem for a Christian, in principle, to recognize miraculous signs and portents produced by other, non-Christian people. This is told and retold in the Bible, by the Church fathers, etc.

  10. It must be realized that there are false and questionable stories about merely naturalistic events. In any historical question we need to weed through unreliable reports to find the truth. It is not surprising that this would also true in the area of the supernatural even given it exists. It is only if you reject the supernatural out of hand you can reject all accounts of it without examining them.

  11. Well, you think you know which supernatural stories are true and which are false — but can you really, objectively, make a decent case that
    e.g. the New Testament story about Jesus forcing out two demons and putting them into pigs is substantially better, evidentially, than the Mormon Golden Plates story? That kind of inconsistency, not dogmatic naturalistic philosophy or whatever, is what really bothers those of us with a Doubting Thomas attitude.

  12. Nick, you’re still jumping the gun. See comment 2. You’re busy providing commentary on posts in this series that I haven’t written yet. Do you have anything to offer on what I have?

  13. Define “naturalist,” please. I mean, that’s just idiotic. Here, I’ll help: naturalism is not the belief that some religion is false. It is (on one way of stating it) the belief that no supernatural religion is true. My belief that Mormonism is false does not make me naturalistic about Mormonism. There’s no such thing as “naturalistic about some religion x.” If one is not naturalistic about everything, then one is not naturalistic.

    Sheesh.

    Rawr! That’s kind of a harsh response. Why don’t we do a survey and see how many Christian rebuttals of Mormonism assert that the various core Mormon “miracles” were real, but the work of evil supernatural entities, vs. the number that say they never happened at all, and were the product of fraud, gullibility, and the like.

    The latter is what I mean by “a naturalist response” — i.e., it’s the same critique a naturalist would give of a particular supernatural claim. Obviously it doesn’t mean that the Christian making the critique was a convinced naturalist about all things. As was obvious from my original post, or should have been.

    Another poster writes,

    But if you back off and say, “Wait, no, I think Jesus clearly existed. I just question whether Jesus rose from the dead or really performed the miracles attributed to Him”, then you’re sunk already. This would, even with that qualification, go a long way to establish that the evidence for Christianity is not “slightly better” than some vague list of “other legends”. It’s actually leaps and bounds better.

    The evidence for the existence of Joseph Smith is rather better than the evidence for the existence of Jesus, but for some reason you don’t seem to be giving the Mormons a similar benefit of the doubt about their miracle claims.

  14. Nick,

    So were you using “naturalist” metaphorically? Or were you thinking that if a Christian thinks Mormonism’s miracles are doubtful, that’s a “naturalist” approach? If the former, you were nowhere near clear about it. If the latter, you were just wrong. But you’re still jumping the gun, and I’ll explain further later.

    The evidence for the existence of Joseph Smith is only the tiniest step toward evidence of his alleged miracles. But forget that: do you or do you not accept the historical evidence of Jesus’ existence?

  15. Nick,

    The latter is what I mean by “a naturalist response” — i.e., it’s the same critique a naturalist would give of a particular supernatural claim.

    Same? I’ve heard little of these kind of critiques. Listen to a Theist tell you why they think a supernatural claim isn’t trustworthy and it will not sound anything like the story the naturalist is telling. That’s been my experience. The two are coming from entirely different epistemological angles.

  16. Another thing, Nick. What is this “benefit of the doubt” of which you speak? What “benefit of the doubt” do you suppose Christians assign to Jesus’ primary miracles? Are you spouting off the top of your head, are you reading Dawkins for your source of information, or what?

    I am inclined to be hard on you, because I am so continually disappointed in you for your confidently ignorant assertions. Maybe if you hadn’t been so insistent along the way that I not talk about that of which I know little, I would back off. But you really don’t know what you’re talking about, and it shows. Maybe, too, if sometime along the way you had acknowledged your lack of knowledge on these things, and expressed some interest in growth and learning, I would be less harsh. But you’ve done very little of that along the way. If you had more self-respect you would refuse to spout such ignorance in public.

  17. The evidence for the existence of Joseph Smith is only the tiniest step toward evidence of his alleged miracles. But forget that: do you or do you not accept the historical evidence of Jesus’ existence?

    Sure, it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that a guy named Jesus existed. It’s not quite 100%, though, like the existence of Joseph Smith is.

    But, as you say, “The evidence for the existence of Joseph Smith is only the tiniest step toward evidence of his alleged miracles.”

    Another thing, Nick. What is this “benefit of the doubt” of which you speak? What “benefit of the doubt” do you suppose Christians assign to Jesus’ primary miracles? Are you spouting off the top of your head, are you reading Dawkins for your source of information, or what?

    We saw it right here in this thread, where another poster wrote:

    This would, even with that qualification, go a long way to establish that the evidence for Christianity is not “slightly better” than some vague list of “other legends”. It’s actually leaps and bounds better.

    …which is actually not true — actually, making a reasonable case for the existence of Jesus “is only the tiniest step toward evidence of his alleged miracles”, as you put it.

  18. Nick.

    Where is the benefit of the doubt of which you speak?

    If you thought you answered the question, think again.

    If you think you understand how Christians regard biblical miracles, think again.

    Remember when you recommended I learn something more about evolutionary morality? I read Mary Midgley, and now I’m reading Richard Joyce. I’ve read other authors in between.

    You, on the other hand, continue to make confident assertions in blithe ignorance. Would you like to know what you’re talking about?

  19. …which is actually not true — actually, making a reasonable case for the existence of Jesus “is only the tiniest step toward evidence of his alleged miracles”, as you put it.

    Well Nick, this reply of yours is either dishonest or ignorant. Take your pick, but it’s one or the other.

    Nowhere did I state or even imply that establishing the existence of Jesus was sufficient to establish the credibility of Christian miracle claims. I pointed out that when you compare the claims of Christianity to some vague list of “other legends” as you were, that Christianity is in fact “leaps and bounds better” than those alternatives the moment you concede, along with the consensus of scholars, that Christ did exist. I even pointed out this remains the case *even if you are skeptical of the miracle claims*. Yes, when you are claiming the historical reality of miracles at the hands of a miracle-maker, having considerable evidence that your miracle-maker existed does put you leaps and bounds above the “other legends” that lack this evidence.

    Do you realize that a given piece of evidence can make one claim vastly better than another claim in a contrasting sense, while not on itself being sufficient to establish the claim in question?

    Further, you hedge and say it’s reasonable to believe Jesus existed. Is it reasonable to believe Jesus did not exist? Inquiring minds want to know.

  20. If you think you understand how Christians regard biblical miracles, think again.

    Well, by no means am I an expert in this area, but I’ve read more than the average amount of evangelical literature. E.g., C.S. Lewis’s Miracles, and Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

    These sorts of works lose me about when they do things like pretend like the “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” trilemma is a really great argument, when “Legend” is left out or given short shrift, when in fact the *entire* argument really should be about whether or not these miracle stories are legends that grew up around a preacher in superstitious times.

    They also lose me when great effort and display is put into showing how well-documented the New Testament text is, when this only gets you back to the last common ancestor text some time after they were written, and the gospels were written generations after and countries away from the key events in question, and have major conflicts at the most important parts.

    Remember when you recommended I learn something more about evolutionary morality? I read Mary Midgley, and now I’m reading Richard Joyce. I’ve read other authors in between.

    You, on the other hand, continue to make confident assertions in blithe ignorance. Would you like to know what you’re talking about?

    Sure, I’m happy to take suggestions. Hopefully something better than McDowell’s Evidence, which I gather is one of the most popular apologetic tomes of recent decades. Ideally something that addresses in a responsible, non-question begging and scholarly fashion all the findings of higher criticism, starting with Luke’s nonexistent census under Emperor Augustus and continuing through the duplication of the feeding the multitudes story, and the dramatic differences in the resurrection accounts.

  21. Miracles is a philosophical, not an historical treatment. Evidence That Demands a Verdict does not pretend to be scholarly; it is a compilation of notes and quite openly so. The Lord-Liar-Lunatic trilemma was explicitly directed toward people who thought Jesus existed and was a great moral teacher; it was not about miracles. You give little evidence of having understood what you read on that point. Your disdain for textual attestation is what it is; your conclusion that the gospels were written “several generations after and countries away” is just wrong.

    Evidence was quite popular when it was almost forty years ago. If you want a good account that’s more current, I suggest The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas and Licona, or the more recent and quite scholarly (but longer) book by MIke Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.

    What you’ll find in here is obviously an emphasis on the Resurrection. I don’t think either of them treat Luke 2. I don’t think anyone really minds that there are different accounts of the feeding of the multitudes; it’s beside the point. The central NT claim is that Jesus rose from the grave on the third day following his death by crucifixion. No reasonable person could disagree that if that really happened in history, it changes history forever, whether that disputed Augustan census happened or not.

  22. Nick,

    So I ask again: Is it reasonable to doubt the existence of Jesus? Or is that an unreasonable belief?

    Thank you.

    I don’t know, I’d put the probability of Jesus existing at something like 95% or 99%. The most plausible alternative view, which I’m not terribly familiar with, is something like the position that Jesus is an amalgamation of various stories told about itinerant preachers, with increasing legendary features added as time goes on. The difference between this view and what we might call the “mainstream liberal scholar view” that Jesus existed but had various stories and legends attach to him over time is not that huge. So I wouldn’t say it’s wildly irrational, and the arguments for the position are not wildly implausible, but it’s not the most likely position.

  23. The difference between this view and what we might call the “mainstream liberal scholar view” that Jesus existed but had various stories and legends attach to him over time is not that huge.

    Actually, it is pretty huge. “Jesus never existed, nor did He say or do any of the things we record Him as saying and doing” and “Jesus existed, and did many of the things we record Him as saying and doing – but I’m skeptical of or deny the apparently miraculous” is quite a gulf.

    But apparently your view is that Jesus mythicism is modestly irrational and quite implausible. Thank you.

  24. If you want a good account that’s more current, I suggest The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Habermas and Licona, or the more recent and quite scholarly (but longer) book by MIke Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.

    Thanks, I’ll take a look.

    What you’ll find in here is obviously an emphasis on the Resurrection. I don’t think either of them treat Luke 2. I don’t think anyone really minds that there are different accounts of the feeding of the multitudes; it’s beside the point.

    I’m afraid that’s not quite true. The case for the miracles depends on the reliability of the source documents as historical data, and if they aren’t terribly reliable as historical data, with known inaccuracies and known examples with “history” created by duplication of stories and numerous other forms of editing and accretion, then it becomes much, much harder to make the case that you’ve got real miracles here instead of legends. If one miracle story from the Holy Word of God in the New Testament is given up as being legend, the credibility of the rest is badly affected.

    So if you’ve got anything that addresses those points I’d be interested.

    The central NT claim is that Jesus rose from the grave on the third day following his death by crucifixion. No reasonable person could disagree that if that really happened in history, it changes history forever, whether that disputed Augustan census happened or not.

    That’s true, but first we have to determine whether or not the Resurrection happened or not, and if the author of Luke, allegedly the closest thing to a historian amongst the gospel writers, got wrong such a simple matter as a census, it raises the question of what he might have gotten wrong — not through any personal flaw of course, but just because doing history was extremely tough back then, and passing stories around orally for a few decades before writing them down can do very poor things.

    Re: generations and countries away — the standard dating is Mark about A.D. 70 and the other gospels later, that’s definitely “generations” away from A.D. 33. Yes, I know it is technically possible that an adult-ish eyewitness alive in AD 33 could still be living in AD 70, but the numbers wouldn’t be huge, and the Gospels don’t have anything like “such-and-such an eyewitness saw X for himself and I am writing it down as he is telling it to me.” As for countries away, was any of the Gospels written in Judea? Wikipedia seems to say no:

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

    …and I gather there are is all kinds of evidence that the Gospel authors were primarily working in a Hellenistic, Greek-speaking environment, and make all kinds of mistakes about Hebrew and the Jewish scriptures as a result of their remoteness from the native land and tongue of Jesus.

  25. The feeding of the multitudes appears in multiple locations in the Gospels. What is it about that that seems unhistorical to you?

    If one miracle story from the Holy Word of God in the New Testament is given up as being legend, the credibility of the rest is badly affected.

    But if one miracle story is accepted as being historical—especially the Resurrection—that changes everything. Read Licona and Geisler, and you’ll find that they take a minimalist approach. They’re willing to grant, for the sake of historical investigation, that a lot of the NT is disputed. They’re even willing to whittle down their source material to that which is accepted by virtually all NT historians, skeptics included. That leaves enough for them still to work with to draw some significant conclusions..

    Your definition of “generations” is an odd one. Usually it implies a some time after the original generation of participants passed away. There is no reason historically to doubt that the Gospels (esp. the Synoptics) were written by eyewitnesses or by one (Luke) who personally investigated by interviewing eyewitnesses. I don’t know about you, but there were a few fairly remarkable events in my life forty years ago that I can still remember.

    What you “gather” about mistakes is quite the opposite of the truth. You’ll find this video fascinating in that regard.

    Wikipedia has a point of view, by the way.

  26. The feeding of the multitudes appears in multiple locations in the Gospels. What is it about that that seems unhistorical to you?

    The fact that it is *duplicated* in *one* Gospel in almost the same language. Even the author of Luke probably thought they were a duplicated story, since he left one of them out.

  27. I’m afraid that’s not quite true. The case for the miracles depends on the reliability of the source documents as historical data, and if they aren’t terribly reliable as historical data, with known inaccuracies and known examples with “history” created by duplication of stories and numerous other forms of editing and accretion, then it becomes much, much harder to make the case that you’ve got real miracles here instead of legends.

    If the case for the historical existence of Jesus is strong — and the case *is* made by sifting through the historical data — it is but the “tiniest step toward evidence of his alleged miracles”. Now that we are discussing the miracles, the historical data isn’t terribly reliable and “it becomes much, much harder to make the case that you’ve got real miracles here instead of legends”.

    Sigh.

    Shrug shoulders.

  28. Good grief, Nick. You trust the documents enough to be able to scope out Luke’s psychology, but not enough to believe what they actually say. Doesn’t that strike you as convenient for someone who just wants to be a skeptic? It’s the ultimate in picking and choosing.

  29. What you “gather” about mistakes is quite the opposite of the truth. You’ll find this video fascinating in that regard.

    I’ve seen this video. It’s a little gee-whiz, but the statistical distribution of names and the like neither (a) fixes historical mistakes that are known, nor (b) fixes various mistakes that the authors of the New Testament made in their use of the Old.

    E.g., which version of the Old Testament was the right one for the New Testament writers to use?

    http://mysite.verizon.net/rgjones3/Septuagint/spexecsum.htm

    Matthew relies on the Septuagint for the assertion that the Messiah’s mother was to be a virgin (Matthew 1.23). Jesus himself follows the traditional Septuagint wording in condemning the Pharisees’ traditions (Matthew 15.8-9). The Septuagint clearly prophesies that Jesus will heal the blind (Luke 4.18-19) – but the Masoretic text is more obscure. The Septuagint foretold that the Messiah’s death would be unjust (Acts 8.32-33) and that the Gentiles would seek the Lord (Acts 15.16-17). The Hebrew has the nations being “possessed” along with Edom. Paul knows that a remnant of Israel will be saved because he was reading the Old Testament in Greek (Romans 9.27-28). Perhaps if his topic were the return to the Holy Land and not salvation, he would have found the Hebrew reading more suitable. Following the Greek, he knows that the Messiah will conquer his people’s sin – not that he would come to those who had already cleansed themselves from sin, as the Hebrew would have it (Romans 11.26-27). Paul’s thought that Jesus would rule the Gentiles also depends on a Septuagint reading (Romans 15.12). The author of the book of Hebrews – to prove the deity of Christ – proclaims the truth that Jesus is worshipped by all the angels of God (Hebrews 1.6). But the Hebrew Old Testament does not contain that verse. Also on the basis of the Greek Old Testament, that author asserts that the incarnation was prophecied (Hebrews 10.5-7) – that Jesus would have a body, which he would offer for our sanctification (Hebrews 10.10). The Masoretic text at this point stresses auditory capability. Finally, where the Masoretic text described a nonviolent suffering servant, the Septuagint prophesied a sinless Messiah (1 Peter 2.22).

    Or, what about the problem that kicked off Bart Ehrman’s questioning of Biblical Inerrancy?

    http://www.salon.com/2009/04/03/jesus_interrupted/

    So Ehrman decided to plunge all the way in and immerse himself in the academic study of the texts of the New Testament. He entered the Princeton Theological Seminary, home to the world’s leading authority in the field, Bruce Metzger. His literalist faith in and his devotional approach to the Bible were under increasing strain, but he managed to hold onto them for a while — until a professor jotted a casual comment on one of Ehrman’s papers. Ehrman was attempting to explain a passage from the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus refers to an event that took place “when Abiathar was the high priest.” The problem is that the book in the Old Testament that Jesus is referring to states that not Abiathar but his father Ahimelech was the high priest. Ehrman came up with a convoluted argument to reconcile the contradiction, using Greek etymology to prove that Mark did not mean what he apparently said. Ehrman believed that his professor, a beloved and pious scholar named Cullen Story, would appreciate his argument as a fellow believer in biblical inerrancy.

    Story’s response, Ehrman wrote in his best-selling 2005 book “Misquoting Jesus,” “went straight through me.” “Maybe,” Story scrawled at the end of Ehrman’s paper, “Mark just made a mistake.”

    Story’s comment proved fatal for Ehrman’s belief that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. Realizing that his own argument was unconvincing, he was forced to acknowledge that yes, maybe Mark did make a mistake. “Once I made that admission, the floodgates opened,” Ehrman wrote. “For if there could be one little, picayune mistake in Mark 2, maybe there could be mistakes in other places as well. Maybe, when Jesus says later in Mark 4 that ‘the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds on the earth,’ maybe I don’t need to come up with a fancy explanation for how the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds when I know full well it isn’t. And maybe these ‘mistakes’ apply to bigger issues. Maybe when Mark says that Jesus was crucified the day after the Passover meal was eaten (Mark 14:12, 15:25) and John says he died the day before it was eaten (John 19:14) — maybe that is a genuine difference.”

    Here’s a very interesting article I just came across on this problem: basically, the numerous proposed solutions all cause bigger problems or strain the evidence, and the natural conclusion, that someone made a mistake somewhere, takes down inerrancy or maybe even the deity of Christ. By the end of the essay, the author writes, “Fifth, how can we assess these various options? It must be admitted that views 2-5 all have a certain plausibility.39 If you were to decide to opt for 2, 3, or 4, I would simply plead with you not to abandon Christ.”

    Mark 2:26 and the Problem of Abiathar
    Study By: Daniel B. Wallace
    http://bible.org/article/mark-226-and-problem-abiathar

    !!

    So much weighing on such a small text! Such are the problems caused by inerrancy.

  30. Tom Gilson says:
    October 22nd, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Good grief, Nick. You trust the documents enough to be able to scope out Luke’s psychology, but not enough to believe what they actually say. Doesn’t that strike you as convenient for someone who just wants to be a skeptic? It’s the ultimate in picking and choosing.

    The situation is simpler than usual, since in this case we know that Luke used Mark as a source and therefore deliberately made a change from Mark by putting in only one multitude story instead of two. Obviously I don’t claim certainty about his reasons for doing this.

  31. If the case for the historical existence of Jesus is strong — and the case *is* made by sifting through the historical data — it is but the “tiniest step toward evidence of his alleged miracles”. Now that we are discussing the miracles, the historical data isn’t terribly reliable and “it becomes much, much harder to make the case that you’ve got real miracles here instead of legends”.

    Sigh.

    Shrug shoulders.

    This is like arguing that the credibility of the historical record supporting the existence of Joseph Smith somehow translates into the credibility of the historical record supporting the existence of Joseph Smith’s claimed miracles.

  32. Nick, don’t you find it seriously disingenuous to retreat from talking about the historical reliability of the gospels and the question of supporting miracle claims, to disputes about inerrancy – which it seems no one but you, in your own post, was bringing up or insisting on?

    Likewise, the statistical distribution of the names in that video, along with the other evidence cited (You think it’s just a distribution of the names?), goes a long way towards bolstering the claim that the gospels are reliable, even written by or in consultation with eyewitnesses. This doesn’t establish inerrancy – but again, that wasn’t being advocated or discussed here, so why you dove for it is a mystery.

    Well, no. I guess it’s not.

  33. The kind of strong inerrancy claimed by some faith communities which sees the bible as almost a magical book causes a huge number of problems. When faced with the reality that the bible is indeed a very human book it causes a crisis of faith and it seems that there is two options offered, either ignore the difficulties and produce some kind of harmonisation or give up the faith, but they have failed to consider a third option – the incarnational Word of God, whereby the bible is fully human and fully divine. That’s why I think Ehrman’s reasoning on this point is flawed.

    That being said there is more than just the gospels when considering the question of the resurrection. Any alternative theory must also explain the letters of Paul, the spread of the gospel, the growth of the faith communities and how these legendary accounts infiltrated the preaching of the church at a time when there would still have been witnesses to the events alive. Alternative explanations that I’ve seen are as forced as some of the harmonisation’s offered up on difficult biblical texts.

  34. I’m reminded that first you must establish that something is likely true (or false) before you can begin to talk about how it came to be true (or false).

    Nick wants to skip over the first part and jump to the part where his vivid imagination explains how certain segments of the bible can’t be trusted. It reminds me of the “just-so” stories told in support of Neo-Darwinian evolution.

  35. Regarding Mark 2:26

    http://www.tektonics.org/tsr/abby.html

    My ESV translation comments further:

    “he incident with David actually occurred when Ahimelech, not his son Abiathar, was high priest (1 Sam. 21:1). “In the time of Abiathar” could mean: (1) “In the time of Abiathar, who later became high priest” (naming Abiathar because he was a more prominent person in the OT narrative, remaining high priest for many years of David’s reign); (2) “In [the Scripture section of] Abiathar, the high priest” (taking Gk. epi plus the genitive to indicate a location in Scripture, as in Mark 12:26). Abiathar, the only son of Ahimelech to survive the slaughter by Doeg (1 Samuel 22), is the best-known high priest in this larger section of 1 Samuel.”

    To try to refute inerrancy based on isolated, ambiguous passages seems to me to be quite irrational. Are you really willing to bet your soul on this?

  36. Bryan, was your last comment directed towards me or Nick?

    I agree with your last paragraph but I would point out that the refutation of a particular view of inerrancy does not refute Christianity.

  37. Heya all. Late night comment here.

    I humbly submit that the topic of inerrancy, while important in its own right, is a red herring here. What was being discussed is the trustworthiness of the gospels and how Christians approach claims of the “supernatural”, whether from Christians or non-Christians. Inerrancy was suddenly brought up, and the cynic in me would suggest that it’s because the previous line of inquiry wasn’t working out the way it was expected to.

  38. Crude, you are probably right. Nick’s claim that Christians treat the supernatural claims of other religions in the same way as atheists treat Christianity’s supernatural claim is really just a variation of the “one god more” argument.

  39. Agreed, Crude.

    Nick says that certain apparent discrepancies undermine the credibility of the Gospels. There are at least several reasons (in this context especially) to regard that as either wrong or irrelevant.

    1. The “discrepancies” are not actually in disagreement. As far as I know all of them can be accounted for. That’s not convincing to a skeptic, I’m sure, but that’s okay; that’s not what it’s for. It’s important only for the discussion concerning biblical inerrancy.
    2. We all know of stories that are basically, predominantly true even if there might be errors in detail. Suppose the general outline of the life of Christ is true. If it is, then that changes history, and it changes everything for you and me personally, even if some of the details were wrong.
    3. The central message in the life of Christ is one of life, death, and resurrection. If just that broad summary is true, that alone changes everything.
    4. There is good reason to believe that the crucifixion and resurrection account is true, based only on those passages in the NT that everyone among NT scholars—even hardened skeptics—admits as genuine history.
    5. The inerrancy issue is a perfect candidate for a red herring, because if a skeptic like Nick can find just one discrepancy that he feels he can hang his hat on, he can believe he has proved Christian believers wrong. It’s so easy: it only takes one. So people like Nick get really excited about alleged errors in Scripture, not noticing that there’s a bigger picture. I’m tempted to throw in the forest-for-the-trees cliché, but it’s not that, really. It’s like finding an abandoned washing machine in the middle of the woods, and proclaiming, “People don’t use washing machines in the forest, therefore this isn’t a forest.”
    6. There are other reasons besides (4) to accept the historicity of the Gospels, in broad outline at least. Melissa mentioned several of them. Nit-picking details won’t make them go away; in view of (5), actually, it looks rather off-topic and red-herringish.

    Nick, if you want to undermine the Gospels as historical accounts, you have to treat them as historical accounts, which is exactly what you’re not doing with this hunt for alleged errors. You’re not even doing it by pointing to some scholars’ conclusions that the Gospels were written several decades after the events. Witnesses to major events can remember them for more than a few years, and the Resurrection was (need I say it?) a major event.

  40. Here’s an example, Nick, of how you are applying an inordinate standard upon the text. You concluded,

    The fact that it is *duplicated* in *one* Gospel in almost the same language. Even the author of Luke probably thought they were a duplicated story, since he left one of them out.

    There are a host of other “probable” reasons for this. One that jumps immediately to mind is that he left it out because he judged it less important to include. Maybe he thought the point had already been covered. Suppose you and your fellow Berkeley student Linda (I made that name up) were telling the life story of one of your Berkeley. Chances are there is some lab demonstration this professor has performed and/or led more than once in her career. Suppose Linda was intrigued by the fact that it was slightly different on two different occasions, and wrote both of them down; maybe she herself was there for both of them. Suppose you only saw it once, or maybe you thought, “they’re basically all the same demonstration, no need to be redundant here.”

    Now fast-forward to the year 2525 (“if man is still alive,” as the song goes), some scholar is reconstructing the story of life at Berkeley, and he runs across the accounts you and Linda wrote. Should he conclude the following? “We can’t tell when these accounts were recorded, but it looks like there must have been time for some legend to accrue around these demonstrations. Linda recorded two demonstrations, whereas Nick only recorded one.”

    My point here is not so much to defend the text as it is to direct your own attention upon your methodology. You rush to assume that “probably” legend explains the accounts of the feedings. There is at least one other equally plausible explanation, so the probability of “legend” could hardly be greater than 50%.

    Beyond that, the probability that these accounts prove the NT is in error is effectively zero. There is no proof there. But let me state it more realistically: the probability that these accounts effectively undermine the credibility of the NT accounts is considerably less than 50%, for in order for you to find some undermining principle there, you would have to show that your theory is more than 50% probable, and you would have to contend with the historical principle of finding one’s information from the documents rather than from psychologizing authorial intent from the space of thousands of years and continents away.

    If you insist that there is some “probable” significant undermining regardless, I suggest you take a close look at yourself. Reason says that’s a false conclusion. If your heart still wants to consider it a false conclusion, your heart may need some corrective work, beginning with, “What is it about me that I want so much for this to be legend that I’ll claim it’s probably legendary, for reasons that don’t actually make sense?”

  41. Chances are there is some lab demonstration this professor has performed and/or led more than once in her career. Suppose Linda was intrigued by the fact that it was slightly different on two different occasions, and wrote both of them down; maybe she herself was there for both of them. Suppose you only saw it once, or maybe you thought, “they’re basically all the same demonstration, no need to be redundant here.”

    In the case of Jesus feeding the multitudes, we’re not talking about some routine, oft-repeated, perhaps boring lecture, we are talking about some stupendous divine miracles done before the general public and allegedly witnessed by thousands and thousands of people. Surely it is an important point whether or not it happened once or twice, surely if there were plenty of eyewitnesses informing the Gospel writers there would be no ambiguity about whether it happened once or twice, and surely if Luke actually were the careful historian he is supposed to be, he wouldn’t have just brazenly left out one of these stupendous miracles on the mere grounds of style or lack of interest or whatever.

    Once the above is admitted, the remaining options are pretty dire — they include e.g. Mark or the traditions he drew from duplicated the story, one or both of the Gospel writers in fact did not have eyewitnesses to Jesus’s ministry available, whatever claimed eyewitnesses were available were actually just repeating stories they had heard which had grown over time as legends do, etc.

    And if such things happened in the case of one of Jesus’s miracles stories, this causes a major problem for the claimed documentation of the other miracle stories, since the (presumed) rock-solid eyewitness testimony on which the whole thing is supposed to rely, isn’t.

    I don’t think I am being unreasonable, biased, dogmatically materialist, etc., in asking questions like this.

  42. Nick,

    I’m puzzled why you think this point is such a deal breaker. As far as I’m aware none of the gospels claim to be the definitive, exhaustive account of Jesus’ public ministry. It’s clear that all four gospel writers selected particular events in Jesus’ life and wrote their narratives with a particular purpose and audience in mind. The fact that the early church preserved all four gospels and they were subsequently all canonised suggests that they did not consider any one gospel to be the definitive history of Jesus’ life.

  43. Surely? Surely? Surely? How do you know? How are you so certain Luke wasn’t satisfied that the main point was accomplished with just one inclusion? What’s “brazen” about that? What’s not careful about some historian selecting paradigmatic events from a person’s life? What make you think Luke cared whether the number of incidents shouldn’t be left ambiguous?

    My gracious, Nick, what are you, omniscient? Or just overwhelmingly arrogant with respect to your ability to read some author’s mind from 2,000 years ago and many continents away?

    You say that the miraculous would have called for a different treatment than a lab demonstration, but no; what you’re really saying is that every person reflecting on the miraculous life of Jesus would have felt it necessary to record every single incident, and if they didn’t all record every single incident (and record every one identically) then we should conclude no one saw any of them and their accounts were all legendary.

    Don’t you see how ridiculous that is on the face of it?

    “Once the above is admitted… ” you say. On what authority other than your omniscience ought anybody to admit it? The strength of your argument lies in your repeated “surely.” But surely your “surelys” aren’t so sure, when I can contest them with questions such as I have just done.

    And if such things happened in the case of one of Jesus’s miracles stories, this causes a major problem for the claimed documentation of the other miracle stories, since the (presumed) rock-solid eyewitness testimony on which the whole thing is supposed to rely, isn’t.

    A. Such things only happened in that case if you are surely omniscient and unable to be in error, which you are not.

    If you were just “asking questions like this,” that would be fine, Nick. But you’re not. You’re drawing conclusions. “Surely” is not a question word, it is a conclusion word. Is that hard for you to see??

    But you’re trying to drag this discussion down into details again. Let me return you to some big questions. I remind you of:

    6. There are other reasons besides (4) to accept the historicity of the Gospels, in broad outline at least. Melissa mentioned several of them. Nit-picking details won’t make them go away; in view of (5), actually, it looks rather off-topic and red-herringish.

    Nick, if you want to undermine the Gospels as historical accounts, you have to treat them as historical accounts, which is exactly what you’re not doing with this hunt for alleged errors. You’re not even doing it by pointing to some scholars’ conclusions that the Gospels were written several decades after the events. Witnesses to major events can remember them for more than a few years, and the Resurrection was (need I say it?) a major event.

    and

    If you insist that there is some “probable” significant undermining regardless, I suggest you take a close look at yourself. Reason says that’s a false conclusion. If your heart still wants to consider it a false conclusion, your heart may need some corrective work, beginning with, “What is it about me that I want so much for this to be legend that I’ll claim it’s probably legendary, for reasons that don’t actually make sense?”

  44. Surely? Surely? Surely? How do you know?

    Same point I made back here. This is Nick’s problem. Where’s the evidence, Nick, that surely you are correct? We don’t see any.

    One thing we can say with certainty is this: Surely Luke left out one of these stupendous miracles on the grounds of “whatever” (we don’t know why). Nick’s claim that Luke surely would not is obviously false.

  45. One of the things I’ve learned about studying real history is that it is messy. Real historical accounts leave a lot of loose ends. Consider for example, the sinking of the Titanic. Is that a real historical event? I don’t think that there are any people who really doubt that there was a ship named the Titanic that sank in 1912 somewhere in the North Atlantic. However, there were some significant disagreements in the eye witness accounts about how the Titanic sank. For example, there were eyewitnesses who claimed that it broke in two; others who claimed it went down in one piece. Those kind of differences are not trivial. However, do we conclude from that that nothing in the historical account of the sinking of the Titanic is reliable?

    In my reading I have found similar discrepancies in the account of “The Shootout At the OK Corral,” “The Flag Raising On Iowa Jima,” “The Sinking of the Hunley” (a Civil War submarine) and of course, “The Kennedy Assassination” I am sure there are countless other examples.

    In my opinion if one approaches the Gospel accounts like one approaches any other kind history you find that for the most part that the apparent discrepancies are no where as near as problematic. But, it is also my opinion that most critics of the gospels don’t approach their study fairly or objectively.

    On the other hand, the so called defenders of the gospel accounts need to keep in mind that these accounts are nearly 2000 year old and we’re going to have a lot of unresolved difficulties. Ancient history is something like putting together a very large puzzle where you only have a small percentage of the pieces. You might only get a partial picture of what really happened, and there will always be unanswered questions.

  46. So, when I do a little bit of common-sense reasoning about how alleged eyewitnesses and Gospel writers would act about a simple and clear matter of whether or not Jesus performed a particularly stupendous and particularly public miracle once or twice, it’s wildly unreasonable, but when evangelical apologists do all kinds of elaborate just-so storytelling to explain away pretty huge discrepancies in accounts (how many angels and/or people in the empty tomb, for starters), that’s all perfectly fine.

    This kind of double-standard is what bothers me in evangelical discussions of miracles, demons, etc. I would encourage that it be avoided in the continuing series of posts.

    No matter what solution gets proposed, it looks like the available documents are a long ways from eyewitness accounts and a long ways from reliable historical accounts in anything like the modern sense. And therefore it is extremely difficult to exclude the hypothesis that the NT miracles are basically legends that grew in the retelling (and kept growing well into the 100s and 200s, apparently, according to later early Christian documents).

  47. Is that a real historical event? I don’t think that there are any people who really doubt that there was a ship named the Titanic that sank in 1912 somewhere in the North Atlantic. However, there were some significant disagreements in the eye witness accounts about how the Titanic sank. For example, there were eyewitnesses who claimed that it broke in two; others who claimed it went down in one piece. Those kind of differences are not trivial. However, do we conclude from that that nothing in the historical account of the sinking of the Titanic is reliable?

    Sure the question of whether Jesus fed the multitudes once or twice is a simpler question that the details of how the Titanic sank, when the eyewitnesses were completely panicked, freezing, *in the dark*, and the actual scenario for how it sank is quite complex (IIRC, sank partially as a unit, then broke, then the remaining piece sank very quickly), and the witnesses were mostly not naval personnel, engineers, etc. who could be expected to pay attention to the details of such things.

  48. Nick, the problem is that you still haven’t offered up one good reason why Luke should have included both accounts.

    Aside from that you are still avoiding the big question. What got Christianity started if not the disciples belief in the resurrection of Jesus. All evidence points to that being a very early and universal belief of the church.

  49. Nick, the problem is that you still haven’t offered up one good reason why Luke should have included both accounts.

    Because they supposedly happened, they were stupendous holy miracles of the Son of God, not routine events, they were supposedly huge events witnessed by thousands of people, and he was supposedly had plenty of highly accurate eyewitnesses to rely upon. Luke’s not including one of the events might make some sense if one of the above premises weren’t true after all…but which one are you willing to give up?

  50. Nick,

    So, when I do a little bit of common-sense reasoning about how alleged eyewitnesses and Gospel writers would act about a simple and clear matter of whether or not Jesus performed a particularly stupendous and particularly public miracle once or twice, it’s wildly unreasonable

    The problem I see is that what you are concluding as “surely” is not an obvious conclusion one would draw from a common sense reading of the text and a common sense view of history.

    Your conclusion is one possible way (among many) to explain an apparent condradiction or a missing piece of information, but there’s no reason to think it’s *surely* the reason. That’s the unreasonable part of your comments. I grant that what you have put forward is a possiblity – but that’s all I will grant you until you give us a reason to think it actually happened that way.

    but when evangelical apologists do all kinds of elaborate just-so storytelling to explain away pretty huge discrepancies in accounts (how many angels and/or people in the empty tomb, for starters), that’s all perfectly fine.

    All possible explanations have to fit well with the realities that follow from the events in question. It makes no sense to say *surely* a person is making up a story when you look at how the culture responded. The culture didn’t think they were lying or making it up so what makes you think they were? You could be correct about the fabricated story, but we need *reasons* to think you are correct.

  51. Nick,

    This is irresponsible:

    So, when I do a little bit of common-sense reasoning about how alleged eyewitnesses and Gospel writers would act about a simple and clear matter of whether or not Jesus performed a particularly stupendous and particularly public miracle once or twice, it’s wildly unreasonable.

    What I said was that it was wrong for you to assign a modality of “probable” to your explanation. Now, what’s the responsible thing to do when someone argues that your position is wrong? Is it to attack the other person’s position? Or is it to look at your own, and to see if there might be some merit in the objection raised against it?

    I could answer your “double standard” question, for there is a rational answer to it, but I’m not going there until you take a close look at yourself.

    1. Is it, or is it not, correct that there is another reasonable explanation for Luke’s not including two feeding-of-the-multitude accounts?

    2. Why is it that you think it’s necessary to give up one of your premises in #56, when I’ve given you a highly reasonable alternative in #45 and #48?

    3. Is it, or is it not, unreasonable therefore to conclude that your explanation is probably correct?

    4. Why can’t you recognize (see #2) that your explanation is not the only common-sense one that’s possible?

    5. Why can’t you face the answer to #3? You have not shown it to be wrong or invalid. You only remonstrate against it, and insist that it’s wrong.

    6. Do you regard yourself as a reasonable person? Do you realize that your behavior as I’ve described in #5 is not reasoning?

    7. Why do you keep avoiding the big issues that Melissa has mentioned more than once?

    Answer those and I’ll answer the “double standard” (again).

    By the way, this part did make sense, at least from the limited point of view of the current discussion:

    And therefore it is extremely difficult to exclude the hypothesis that the NT miracles are basically legends that grew in the retelling (and kept growing well into the 100s and 200s, apparently, according to later early Christian documents).

    The problem is you didn’t just include that hypothesis. Other than this one instance you’ve been saying it was probable. I have not been saying that, based on the limited point of view we’re working from, we must exclude your hypothesis. I’ve been saying your hypothesis concerning Luke should not be regarded as probable.

    Someday we might come back and explain why “growing well into the 100s and 200s” is an historically impossible thesis. But for now, just soak for a while in the reality that you have misunderstood the argument. You’ve been arguing up until now that common sense demands that your hypothesis concerning that Lucan account be regarded as probable. In that, my friend, you are rationally and evidentially wrong.

    Your persistence in holding to that wrong opinion leads me to believe something is hindering you from engaging the truth. What is it, Nick?

  52. I’d like to add the following, from the end of John’s gospel:

    “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

    How do we know that Jesus didn’t feed the multitudes 3 times? Or more?

    Nick, I think you would do well to learn more about the discipline of historiography. You’re in luck, be one of the books that’s been recommended to you (Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach) gives the a reader a concise discourse on history and it’s methods.

  53. All possible explanations have to fit well with the realities that follow from the events in question. It makes no sense to say *surely* a person is making up a story when you look at how the culture responded. The culture didn’t think they were lying or making it up so what makes you think they were? You could be correct about the fabricated story, but we need *reasons* to think you are correct.

    Eh? The Christian claims were by-and-large rejected by the Jews. Only when Christianity got out into the Hellenistic world did it start to take off.

  54. I hope you’re still working on further replies, Nick. Although what you wrote here is true, you’re not getting anywhere near the heart of the issue.

  55. Tom,

    2. Why is it that you think it’s necessary to give up one of your premises in #56, when I’ve given you a highly reasonable alternative in #45 and #48?

    I did address why those weren’t reasonable, and you haven’t dealt with the argument I make in #56, instead making meta-arguments about my psychology, as you usually do instead of just dealing with the only really important thing, the evidence. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to address every post line-by-line, so I’m only going to hit the big points. People can engage with those, or not, as they like.

    For example, one hypothesis is that Luke is missing the story because his copy of Mark was damaged and missing that section, or the early manuscript of Luke was damaged and missing it, although neither seem to be preferred by scholars — google “Luke great omission” for lots of discussion.

    Re: the points people made about quote from John, the 4 Gospels as canon, etc. — all this really indicates is that there were a great number of stories circulating about Jesus by the time the Gospels were written. What got written down was probably some combination of the best-known stories, the best documented according to the crude forms of documentation available at the time, and what fit in with the highly theological purposes of the authors and their communities. It was not at all particularly close to eyewitness testimony, nor to historical research in the modern sense. I don’t see any way the available evidence for the reality of NT miracles can reasonably be considered rationally compelling or convincing, and I’m pretty sure you guys would agree in a situation where a similar weak level of documentation was presented in favor of the miracles of some other religion that you didn’t already believe in.

  56. Nick, open your blind eyes, my friend.

    You say I didn’t deal with what you wrote in #56. See point 2 in my comment #58. That was no meta-argument. It was no new argument, even. It was a pointer to earlier arguments you missed for some reason.

    The meta-argument is important, but not to me. It’s important to you. You are missing major points. Your position here is untenable, it’s poorly reasoned, you’re missing major things we’re saying, you haven’t responded to a whole series of direct questions.

    Now, I fully acknowledge that the meta-argument of psychology is off to the side of the main argument. In that sense it’s a side issue. But note well that I’m bringing it while also taking part in the main argument. I’m not using it to evade the main argument, I’m using it as commentary on the main argument.

    I’m responding to what you say. So are the other commenters here. You’re ducking it. Why?

  57. Re: the latter portion of your comment 62:

    I’m not sure where you stand now. Are you still committed to the position that the differing accounts of Jesus feeding the multitudes, especially the fact that Luke only recorded one of them, serves as probable evidence that this was legendary? You see, if you’re willing to draw an unreasonable conclusion like that for one incident or pair of incidents, how can you trust the conclusions you’ve drawn about the rest of it?

  58. I make in #56, instead making meta-arguments about my psychology,

    And in the same comment…

    and I’m pretty sure you guys would agree in a situation where a similar weak level of documentation was presented in favor of the miracles of some other religion that you didn’t already believe in.

    Nick complains about meta-arguments about psychology, when a pillar of his entire approach here has been meta-arguments about psychology. (In addition to the above, see the claims that Christians are naturalists with regards to the claims of other religions.)

    I want to add one thing. Nick, right at the start of this conversation, suggested that Christians are “pretty much hardened naturalists” when it comes to the claims of other religions. That was denied by all here (and again, Nick produced a psychological meta-argument to answer that). But that leads to a simple question.

    Nick, are you evaluating the New Testament as a hardened naturalist yourself?

  59. While I’m not sure if I’m still moderated or not for my (misrepresented and rather benign) comments on the other thread…

    But its worth pointing out that at least one or two staunch defenders of the minimal facts resurrection case (Craig, and I think Licona) argue that the miraculous explanations (the resurrection in particular, but I would image the same applies for the feeding of the multitudes) are only probable IF God exists, or if naturalism is false.

    In other words, those explanations require a prior belief in a Christian-like God, who would desire to raise Jesus from the dead, and would desire to allow, facilitate or enable, the other miracles that Jesus performed, and really have no ability to dissuade one from naturalism on their own.

    So it seems like miracle accounts on the NT can only begin to have ANY persuasive force if one is already committed to a certain kind of theism, but not before. So Nick is right, according to his worldview, to claim the miraculous accounts in the Bible are improbable.

    So we’re back to the debate as to what’s more reasonable – naturalism or theism.

  60. It sounds to me like Nick is arguing from personal incredulity. What I don’t understand is, if Nick is incredulous about two “Feeding of the Multitudes” miracles, does that mean he is not incredulous if it is just one?

  61. For example, one hypothesis is that Luke is missing the story because his copy of Mark was damaged and missing that section, or the early manuscript of Luke was damaged and missing it, although neither seem to be preferred by scholars — google “Luke great omission” for lots of discussion.

    Here’s another hypothesis: Jesus performed at least two miraculous feedings. Mark and Matthew chose to include both (or two out of an unspecified number of) feedings as bookends to three stories about faithful and unfaithful responses to Jesus’s message. Their writing style allowed them to place events out of chronological order (in a way that no contemporary reader would have found deceptive) so as to emphasize a message. In other words, Mark and Matthew chose to place miraculous feedings at opposite points in a chiastic structure, and thus, needed two feeding accounts. Luke, on the other hand, did not choose to construct a chiasm, and only needed to use one account. He chose not to include every amazing public miracle that Jesus did, so as not to saturate his readers and distract from the theological message.

    Have you given us any reason at all to think that your hypothesis is more plausible than mine (or any other hypothesis)? Given the obvious literary differences between Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the hypothesis I detailed seems pretty plausible.

    Your main argument against the above hypothesis seems to be something along the lines of “I simply cannot see any good reason why Luke would not have included the second miraculous feeding, if he had known about it”. Is the Argument from Incredulity now fair game, in your opinion? How about in a thread on Evolution?

    Also, you seem to have lost sight of the fact that nobody on this thread is arguing that you should believe that Jesus performed the miracles recorded in Luke. At most, people have argued that it is reasonable to believe in the miracles recorded in Luke — a condition which is necessary, but not sufficient, for actually believing in them. The exception is the Resurrection, for which there is much more evidence than just what is recorded in the gospels.

  62. @ JAD #66

    I promise that I did not see your post before I wrote mine (#67). Obviously, I second your assessment 🙂

  63. Rather than rely on a fallacious argument from personal incredulity, I think Nick should be arguing for the impossibility of the supernatural. That would, once and for all, settle the issue… The reason why relying on personal incredulity is fallacious is because none of us think like Nick (obviously!) It could get very tedious going miracle by miracle through the gospels.

  64. d,

    That’s a misunderstanding of both Craig and Licona, and also of the place that historical evidence can have in forming one’s beliefs about reality.

    They take the historical evidence for the Resurrection as evidence that God exists. Now of course they’re not stupid: if God does not exist, then the Resurrection is (highly!) improbable. But that’s just another way of saying the same thing: if there is good historical reason to believe the Resurrection happened, then that counts as good reason to believe that God exists.

    Conversely, if one has some other reason to believe that God exists, of course one will be more favorably inclined to accept the Resurrection as the best interpretation of the known facts of history. And if one has some reason to believe that God does not exist, one will be less inclined to do so.

    So as we go back to the debate as to what’s more reasonable, naturalism or theism, let’s allow the historical evidence to guide us. If you are of the opinion that nothing that history could ever bring to light could never “dissuade one from naturalism,” then you are of the opinion that naturalists have no regard for what the evidence might indicate. But I doubt that’s the case; you know better than that.

  65. Nick,

    What got written down was probably some combination of the best-known stories, the best documented according to the crude forms of documentation available at the time, and what fit in with the highly theological purposes of the authors and their communities.

    So the missing feeding in Luke could just as easily be missing due to author’s purpose rather than because it is a legendary account.

    It was not at all particularly close to eyewitness testimony, nor to historical research in the modern sense.

    On what basis? The most likely scenario, from the available evidence is that the authors had contact with people who were eye witnesses to many of the events, the communities they were writing into would have also contained people who were eye witnesses or who had met eye witnesses. Granted it’s not historical research in the modern sense but when did that become the test of truth?

    I don’t see any way the available evidence for the reality of NT miracles can reasonably be considered rationally compelling or convincing, and I’m pretty sure you guys would agree in a situation where a similar weak level of documentation was presented in favor of the miracles of some other religion that you didn’t already believe in.

    I think you will find that many Christians believe the miraculous claims about Jesus because they first believe in the resurrection which as BillR pointed out is well evidenced.

  66. Here is an interesting video about the “Feeding of the 5000”. It argues for it’s historicity based on apparently trivial details (undesigned coincidences) that are recorded in one gospel account but not in the others, but fit togeather to give us a more complete picture of the event. It is hard to explain this if the accounts are contrived or purely legendary.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGVLeC5HbSQ

  67. JAD says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    It sounds to me like Nick is arguing from personal incredulity. What I don’t understand is, if Nick is incredulous about two “Feeding of the Multitudes” miracles, does that mean he is not incredulous if it is just one?

    I’m incredulous that *if* the feeding of the multitudes happened in just the way you guys believe — i.e., two widely witnessed events, prominent event, impressive divine miracle, etc., then transferred to the Gospel writers by eyewitness accounts — if that is what occurred, it’s pretty darn unlikely that some Gospel writers would have included two and others only one.

    If the events weren’t actually miraculous, or the Gospel writers weren’t using eyewitnesses, or one of them is a duplicate story, etc., then it becomes much easier to understand.

  68. Their writing style allowed them to place events out of chronological order (in a way that no contemporary reader would have found deceptive) so as to emphasize a message. In other words, Mark and Matthew chose to place miraculous feedings at opposite points in a chiastic structure, and thus, needed two feeding accounts. Luke, on the other hand, did not choose to construct a chiasm, and only needed to use one account. He chose not to include every amazing public miracle that Jesus did, so as not to saturate his readers and distract from the theological message.

    But, this is a massive concession. Hugely impressive, major historical events sacrificed for mere convenience?

  69. Of course, the gospels were not written to catalog each and every one of Jesus’ miracles. The end of John’s gospel, remember? Jesus had a three year ministry…

  70. The exception is the Resurrection, for which there is much more evidence than just what is recorded in the gospels.

    Really? There’s Paul, which is short, vague, and already formulaic, and relayed by a guy who himself had “seen” the Risen Lord, but in a vision, and religious visions are pretty much a dime a dozen in the history of religions, cults, etc.

    And then there are arguments about e.g. Roman writings mentioning Jesus, long after Christianity was already widespread; arguments about the rapid rise of Christianity, the willingness of its followers to undergo martyrdom, etc., but all of these are easy to find in other religions and cults in history.

  71. That’s a misunderstanding of both Craig and Licona, and also of the place that historical evidence can have in forming one’s beliefs about reality.

    Are you sure? I don’t think it is, at least not if we consider what they’ve said in their debates (more precisely, in their debates with Richard Carrier, on the resurrection).

    I’m sure they would agree that historical evidence can inform one’s beliefs about reality – but like the YEC creationist who sees red-shift simply as evidence that the speed of light isn’t (or wasn’t always) constant – there’s something more fundamental informing their interpretations of fact, in this particular case.

    They take the historical evidence for the Resurrection as evidence that God exists. Now of course they’re not stupid: if God does not exist, then the Resurrection is (highly!) improbable. But that’s just another way of saying the same thing: if there is good historical reason to believe the Resurrection happened, then that counts as good reason to believe that God exists.

    Hmmmm… no…

    In their respective debates with Carrier, Carrier pressed the point that even if there isn’t a plausible or well-evidenced naturalistic hypothesis forthcoming for the resurrection (granting the minimal facts), that even an implausible naturalistic explanation would be more plausible than a supernatural one. Both Craig and Licona defended their view by appealing to theism (and natural theology, at least in Craig’s case), and if theism is true, it becomes probable that Jesus rose from the dead supernaturally. And remember, its the resurrection itself which is being offered as the best possible explanation for the minimal facts. The resurrection is not taken for granted as a historical fact that needs explaining in the context of Craig or Licona’s arguments for it.

    So what’s more fundamental in the worldview of Craig, Licona, or yourself? The resurrection as a historical explanation, or theism? It can’t really be both. It seems to me that Craig and Licona both think theism is more fundamental, and should inform our interpretations of the historical facts, and less so the other way around – just like a creationist might view a literal/historical account of Genesis as more fundamental, and so would believe that it should inform our conclusions regarding red-shift. So it seems there cannot really be a good historical reason to believe the resurrection happened, unless theism is true.

    Conversely, if one has some other reason to believe that God exists, of course one will be more favourably inclined to accept the Resurrection as the best interpretation of the known facts of history. And if one has some reason to believe that God does not exist, one will be less inclined to do so.

    I don’t quite agree, at least not with the former claim. Believing in a deity does little, from my perspective, to increase the probability of the resurrection. I consider it to be a rather puzzling way (to say the least) to bring about the salvation of humanity. Indeed, if a God existed, “salvation” probably wouldn’t even be necessary, and certainly not a crucifixion and resurrection, at all!

    So as we go back to the debate as to what’s more reasonable, naturalism or theism, let’s allow the historical evidence to guide us. If you are of the opinion that nothing that history could ever bring to light could never “dissuade one from naturalism,” then you are of the opinion that naturalists have no regard for what the evidence might indicate. But I doubt that’s the case; you know better than that.

    Of course I’m not of the opinion that there’s no possible historical evidence that could dissuade one from naturalism – but I don’t think the resurrection, nor any miraculous accounts in the Bible, or any other religious text come close to rising to that level, and it seems like Craig/Licona agree, at least on one particular occasion.

    And really, in so far as one is relying on history to confirm or dis-confirm the resurrection or other miracles, isn’t one essentially donning the epistemological hat of a naturalist, and a little at odds with what people have been claiming throughout this thread about their alternate, non-naturalist epistemologies with respect to the supernatural? If so, it seems as if Nick’s hypothesis might have some truth to it. History is fundamental to a good naturalists epistemological framework, and is just as rooted in things natural as is science, is it not?

  72. Skip over the Resurrection appearances and the empty tomb much? 🙂

    That post begs so many questions…I’m not even sure where to begin…

    Um, that stuff is covered under “the Gospels”. The claim I was challenging was that there was lots of *additional* evidence beyond them.

  73. And then there are arguments about e.g. Roman writings mentioning Jesus, long after Christianity was already widespread; arguments about the rapid rise of Christianity, the willingness of its followers to undergo martyrdom, etc., but all of these are easy to find in other religions and cults in history.

    I’d be satisfied if you could produce one claim with the equivalent in total evidence.

  74. And really, in so far as one is relying on history to confirm or dis-confirm the resurrection or other miracles, isn’t one essentially donning the epistemological hat of a naturalist, and a little at odds with what people have been claiming throughout this thread about their alternate, non-naturalist epistemologies with respect to the supernatural?

    Not at all. Wearing the “epistemological hat of a naturalist” would not involve “relying on history to confirm or disconfirm” the resurrection – for naturalists, the disconfirmation is a foregone conclusion. Gathering evidence and investigating claims is not the exclusive territory of naturalism (not that naturalism has much of a definition anyway.)

    So it seems there cannot really be a good historical reason to believe the resurrection happened, unless theism is true.

    If you assume naturalism at the outset, maybe. If you’re agnostic, the situation changes. If you’re open to theism but not necessarily a committed theist, the situation changes.

  75. Melissa,

    I’d be satisfied if you could produce one claim with the equivalent in total evidence.

    Let me look into my hat and guess what’s coming: “Well, some people said they briefly glimpsed Joseph Smith’s plates even after they determined that Smith was a con man.”

  76. And then there are arguments about e.g. Roman writings mentioning Jesus, long after Christianity was already widespread; arguments about the rapid rise of Christianity, the willingness of its followers to undergo martyrdom, etc., but all of these are easy to find in other religions and cults in history.

    Give me your favorite three “other religions and cults” whose rapid rise was predicated on the belief in an event that was…
    – equally miraculous,
    – equally recent (for the original believers)
    – equally open to disconfirmation from eyewitnesses and enemies (“let’s just show them his corpse”), and
    – equally fiercely persecuted (requiring hundreds of people to die for what they would have known to be false)
    …as the Resurrection.

    Ok, I’d be satisfied with one example, as Melissa requested. I think you’re yoked to the attitude that all religions are basically the same, and it is blinding you to the evidence.

    Nick, I don’t want to steer this thread off course with the following example, but I do want to give you a little perspective on how your words sound to someone who knows anything about this subject. Your quoted paragraph above is equivalent to the following:

    Sure, evolution explains evidence from comparative anatomy, geology, ecology, genetics, etc.; but all of these features are easy to find in other scientific theories.

    To all who are reading: whether you agree or disagree with this statement, it is clear that it is appropriate for the defender of evolutionary theory to respond with, “Fine, name one!”, and then to judge his opponent’s position on the strength of the evidence provided. I hope not to start an argument about evolution, but rather to call Nick out on his anti-intellectual flippancy.

    Tom, if you see this becoming problematic, feel free to delete it.

  77. But, this is a massive concession. Hugely impressive, major historical events sacrificed for mere convenience?

    What, according to Luke, was the most important thing that Jesus did? Was it feeding thousands of people? Or could Luke have thought that something else was more important?

    Nick, what was Luke’s purpose in writing his gospel? To wow his audience with special effects? To compile a complete record of every amazing thing that Jesus ever did? Or could it have been something else? Bryan has already tried a couple of times to get you to think about what it means to write history. Since at least Thucydides, the job of the historiographer has been very different from the job of the chronicler (or even the journalist, in modern times). If you don’t know the difference, then you’re not qualified to make statements about the historicity of anything.

  78. There may have been a more mundane reason why Luke left out a duplicate miracle, he was writing a scroll.

  79. I’m afraid Nick is locked into his one answer, convinced for some unexplainable reason that none other could suffice.

    Prove me wrong, please, Nick.

  80. I don’t know about anybody else but I think that the more Nick argues, the more absurd his position becomes.

    I am not going to say that he is condescending or arrogant, but his argument seems to boil down to: “I am incredulous about this why aren’t you guys?” In other words, from Nick’s POV, the only clear thinking person on the planet earth is Nick Matzke.

  81. I think d @79 has raised a number of good points (though he makes some other points that I find confusing). Some of his discussion reminds me of the debate in apologetics between evidentialists and presuppositionalists. Personally I don’t think it’s a case of either/or (presuppositionalism or evidentialism), rather it’s a case of both/and.

    Everyone looking at historical or scientific evidence brings with them a set of presuppositions. Basically there are two: (1)naturalism/materialism which presupposes a uniformity of natural causes in a closed system; or (2)theism which presupposes a uniformity of natural causes in an open system. However, how do we decide which presupposition is true?

    I would argue that we can use a “best explanation” approach that actually recognizes elements of both approaches. This approach argues that all things being equal that the presupposition that best explains the evidence is probably the more correct one.

  82. @d

    Licona’s position (per his new book) is that we should use objective historiographical criteria when evaluating the Resurrection hypothesis and others, rather than presupposing theism or ruling it out a priori. In this way, we let the evidence speak for itself.

  83. Thanks for that clarification, Bryan.

    I haven’t heard the Carrier debates, d. Do you have links? Preferably to audio; I’ll listen while I’m driving.

    In any case if Carrier maintains that one must be a theist to believe in the Resurrection, then of course he is correct, although the causal sequence could go the other way around: one comes to believe that the Resurrection happened, and becomes a theist as a result. Now it’s true that a naturalist could not come to believe in the Resurrection while remaining committed to naturalism; but it’s not true that one must begin as a theist in order to be persuaded the Resurrection happened. (There are lots of people who stand as examples to show that’s not the case: McDowell, Strobel, and Morrison to name a few prominent ones.) Rather, the only necessary presupposition is that theism is not impossible. A person in that open stance can look at the historical information and ask, “Which explanation for these data makes more sense: the Christian one or some naturalistic one?”

    I’m guessing that Carrier picks up on Hume’s natural probability argument against miracles to arrive at his position. Is that right? If so, then I’m guessing Licona and Craig answered with one of the standard rebuttals to Hume on that point. I’d be interested to hear and find out whether that’s the case.

  84. I disagree with you, JAD, by the way, that there are only two possible presuppositional stances. It’s not just naturalism vs. theism. It’s also possible not to have decided between the two. (There are also other worldview options besides these, such as pantheism or deism, but I take it that you just set those aside as not being part of this discussion.)

  85. Here is the audio for the Carrier/Licona debate:

    http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/2008/01/michael-licona-vs-richard-carrier.html

    Here’s one between Carrier and Craig (though I think there might have been two such debates, I don’t remember)
    :
    http://www.philvaz.com/CraigCarrierDebate.mp3

    I’d have to re-listen to the debates (which I might yet do) to remember exactly whether Carrier was relying on Hume in either. Either way, his characterization is probably close, but you can be the judge as to whether he defends himself well.

  86. Tom,
    I would argue that pantheism, at least the form I am familiar with, is a spiritualized form of naturaliam and deism is a stripped down form of theism. (I said I was referring to basic positions.) And of course I recognize there are people who take no position (agnostics). How are they relevant to the discussion unless they are trying to decide on a position? Maybe it would be better to say that theism and naturalism are presently the two predominant positions. I have yet to have an on-line discussion with a died-in-the-wool pantheist or deist, have you?

  87. That makes sense, JAD. I wasn’t saying the other options were relevant to this discussion, quite the opposite. I was trying to deflect objections from people who might think you had left something out.

    But the agnostic position is quite relevant to d’s complaints. He’s saying that no one could be persuaded to believe the Resurrection happened unless he were a theist coming in. I think anyone but a closed-minded naturalist could be persuaded. In the sense relevant to d’s argument, there are three positions: Closed-minded naturalists, who have decided no evidence of any kind could be persuasive; Christian theists, who are already persuaded; and everyone else, who might be persuaded.

  88. I should expand that for the sake of accuracy if not for the sake of relevance. There are others who couldn’t be persuaded as long as they held to their position: those who are convinced there is no true knowledge, those who believe any old truth is true enough for them (so the Resurrection and also its denial could both be true, in their minds), and those who won’t be persuaded for emotional/volitional reasons: they might not be naturalists, but they sure don’t want Christ for their God.

  89. @JAD:

    I would argue that we can use a “best explanation” approach that actually recognizes elements of both approaches. This approach argues that all things being equal that the presupposition that best explains the evidence is probably the more correct one.

    I’m not sure this approach really avoids all the epistemic baggage. Just what constitutes a “best explanation” seems fraught with all the same pitfalls. What passes for a best explanation will inevitably be informed by where one’s worldview is calibrated.

    @Tom:

    But the agnostic position is quite relevant to d’s complaints. He’s saying that no one could be persuaded to believe the Resurrection happened unless he were a theist coming in. I think anyone but a closed-minded naturalist could be persuaded. In the sense relevant to d’s argument, there are three positions: Closed-minded naturalists, who have decided no evidence of any kind could be persuasive; Christian theists, who are already persuaded; and everyone else, who might be persuaded.

    To refine that slightly, I’d say there is a continuum with unreachable naturalists on one end, and unreachable theist on the other. Most of us are somewhere in between.

    When I say that it seems like the historical case for the resurrection has no persuasive force, I say that within the context of the actual state of the evidence. I don’t mean to say that NO possible evidence should convince a naturalist – just that the evidence that exists now, should not convince a naturalist.

  90. d wrote:

    I’m not sure this approach really avoids all the epistemic baggage. Just what constitutes a “best explanation” seems fraught with all the same pitfalls. What passes for a best explanation will inevitably be informed by where one’s worldview is calibrated.

    People can and do change their world views. When they do it is usually because they find the new world view answers questions/solves problems that their former world view was unable to do. For example, C.S. Lewis wrote:

    “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”

    Lewis eventually concluded that Christian theism provided a better explanation of why the world is the way it is. In my opinion it’s a matter of honesty and open-mindedness. Cynicism is an easy way out but it really doesn’t get you any place.

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