Two Atheists’ Strategic Self-Trivialization

David Albert reviews Lawrence Krauss’s newest book and ends with this

When I was growing up, where I was growing up, there was a critique of religion according to which religion was cruel, and a lie, and a mechanism of enslavement, and something full of loathing and contempt for every­thing essentially human. Maybe that was true and maybe it wasn’t, but it had to do with important things — it had to do, that is, with history, and with suffering, and with the hope of a better world — and it seems like a pity, and more than a pity, and worse than a pity, with all that in the back of one’s head, to think that all that gets offered to us now, by guys like these, in books like this, is the pale, small, silly, nerdy accusation that religion is, I don’t know, dumb.

[From ‘A Universe From Nothing,’ by Lawrence M. Krauss – NYTimes.com]

It is a retreat to the trivial ridiculizing of religion. Or so it seems to me, but maybe I’m primed to think that way after an encounter I had with an individual at the Reason Rally yesterday. He thought Christianity was absurd, and his Exhibit A was the talking donkey (Balaam’s ass in Judges). He wanted to me to explain how a donkey could talk.

I asked him what he meant by “explain.” (I’m condensing a ten- to fifteen-minute conversation here, but I’m not distorting the portion I’m telling you.) He said he wanted to know just exactly what physical changes God made in the donkey to enable it to talk. I reminded him that no one had observed and recorded those changes. Amazingly, he continued to insist on that very thing anyway–and no speculations on possible answers was allowed.

I decided to step it up a notch. “Why are you so concerned about the physical possibilities of a talking donkey? Try something really difficult–what about a man rising from the dead?” We talked briefly about how there might or might not be evidence for that. But then he said, “I’m not interested in that. I want to talk about the donkey.”

I paused when he said that, so I wouldn’t blurt out the first thing that came into my head. After several moments I gently told him, “If you are more interested in that than in life out of death, I suggest you find someone who is as interested in talking donkeys as you are.” He stormed off.

Why a donkey rather than Jesus’ resurrection? I could be wrong, but I think this is why: He was hell-bent on making Christianity look ridiculous. A talking donkey is a better image of comic absurdity than the conquering of death. Though it was a “Reason Rally,” he didn’t want to listen to a reasoned answer on the resurrection. He wanted to focus on the foolish image instead.

I worry about him. Sometimes we become like that on which we focus. I hope he thinks that through.

But there is a much larger story here, lest you think I myself am guilty of trivializing by focusing on these two stories. Richard Dawkins spoke at the Reason Rally and called on the attendees there to make “ridicule” and “contempt” their mode of dealing with religion. The man I spoke with was carrying out marching orders. I haven’t read Krauss’s book, but I suspect from the review he might be too. This is big-picture trivialization. And with it the world gets even weirder.

Hat Tip to Bill Vallicella

Comments

  1. Chris

    Excellent post; and I do think you have tapped into something real. (Too) many years ago, at university, I became a Christian. I often found myself in discussion with one of my lecturers, an atheist and a Marxist. He would often argue exactly along the lines that you quote from that review. He and my non-believing friends may have had problems with my faith but they rarely if ever resorted to ridicule.
    Here in the UK, there has been a sea change over the last few years. I get the feeling that aggressive atheism is much more, well aggressive, over here; but lately, you rarely find an atheist doing little more than dismissing faith as “stupid” or “silly”. It is almost impossible to have a debate worth the word. It is common to hear God described on TV programmes as “the make-believe man in the sky” and Christians compared to those who believe in unicorns.
    Is this a deliberate policy? I do wonder. I’m taken with how aggressive some atheists have become (as an Englishman and a biologist, I feel I should apologise for Dawkins!).
    I wonder if it’s because we won’t “go away”. They thought that we would all lose our faith once they had “disproved God” – that didn’t work so perhaps this new tactic has been born out of that frustration…

  2. Beelzebob

    I would like first to say, I agree that there is no reason to trivialize religion. I may consider Judaism an outgrowth of iron-age folk religion, and Christianity as its far larger Hellenized daughter, but I am quite fond of both.

    I think the problem here is a difference in emphasis. Rather than wanting you to “explain” a talking donkey, perhaps he should have just engaged you on the evidence for the talking donkey? The simple truth is that there is just not much available evidence to support talking donkeys — or dead men rising from the grave. That goes for at least the evidence of which I am aware.

    While I am not inclined to believe in talking donkeys, or in dead men rising from the grave, I hold no ill will towards Christianity or any faith. On the contrary, I tend to label myself a “reluctant non-theist”.

    The great tragedy of Christianity (or the idea of a loving, personal God in general) is not that it exists. Why would that be so bad? Rather the tragedy is so little evidence to support it, and therefore is less likely to be true.

    After all, who wouldn’t WANT to believe that the most powerful Entity in the Universe had your back? 😀

  3. Wolf Nelson

    Actually, if you cannot explain something as simple as a talking donkey, how do you expect to be able to tackle something as extraordinary as resurrection?

  4. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    What he wanted, Wolf, was a physical description of what changed in the donkey’s anatomy to enable it to speak. When I began a sentence with, “It might have been…” he cut me off and said “No! I don’t want to know what could have been. I want to know what the actual physical changes were.” He said that several times. I don’t know how many times I said, “No one was there observing that.”

    So rather than continue being subjected to an unreasonable demand, I decided to change the subject to something hopefully more fruitful. But I didn’t want to duck his question, so I said, “let’s talk about something even harder. Let’s talk about someone rising from the dead.”

    Note also that I asked him early on, “what do you mean by explain”? There are many levels of explanation. I could have made an explanation of the donkey even on other levels, but not on the one he insisted on.

  5. Post
    Author
  6. BillT

    But we have seen this here before. Who could forget Luke Muehlhauser and his “imaginary magical friend” argument. He even admitted that he was embarrassed into his atheism by friends who ridiculed his Christian beliefs. Dawkins and his like must be very sensitive to being “unpopular”. I thought most people got over that kind of stuff in middle school but apparently not. And it makes you wonder if they’re focusing on ridicule and contempt because they have so little else to offer.

  7. BillT

    beelzbob,

    “The simple truth is that there is just not much available evidence to support talking donkeys — or dead men rising from the grave.”

    You might be surprised to learn that’s not exactly true. In fact right on the front page of this website is a post “Ten Turning Points: Jesus Rose From the Dead”. Linked there are two videos where some of that evidence you think doesn’t exist is explained. Would you risk an hour of your time to be better informed?

  8. Lynn

    The “Talking Donkey”
    tells me regardless of one’s religious beliefs that a condition known as
    “Schizophrenia”
    went undiagnosed and obviously untreated back in those days as well as today.
    The mind is a fragile thing…

  9. JAD

    Richard Dawkins spoke at the Reason Rally and called on the attendees there to make “ridicule” and “contempt” their mode of dealing with religion.

    And when “ridicule” and “contempt” don’t work, (and they won’t) what’s next?

  10. SteveK

    Just finished chapter 9 of the True Reason book. The end of that chapter poses, in my opinion, a HUGE problem for naturalism – on naturalism’s own terms – on biological evolution’s own terms.

    At the very least, skeptics should become aware of these logical/rational problems even if they choose to ignore them because the emotional price is too high to accept them as true.

    If you are an honest skeptic looking for an honest discussion you ought to plunk down $2.99 for the book. Skip just one morning coffee/tea this week and get it.

  11. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    JAD, they seem to be running a three-pronged strategy:

    1. The rhetoric of “reason” (regardless of the reality).
    2. Ridiculing religion.
    3. Relegating religion to the private sphere.

    The point of the first two is to grease the skids for the third. They will use rhetorical, legislative, and judicial means for that third step. Watch for it. Better yet, equip your church to stand against it.

  12. Post
    Author
  13. d

    BillT:

    I don’t think that accurately reflects Luke’s story.

    In his case, the ridicule seemed to jostle him, but that jostling lead to a rather intense investigation into his beliefs, rather than a knee-jerk abandonment of his religion. At least from what we can know over the internet, I don’t think we can say Luke is a guy who hasnt done his due diligence..

    So ridicule can be a useful tool (It’s certainly Holo’s hammer – and he sees nails everywhere!), under the right circumstances.

    Ridicule can, properly wielded, can jostle a person, like we saw with Luke, into viewing a belief from a different perspective. Good ridicule can force a person to confront the possibility that the emporer is actually unclothed.

    And really… just think if Rush Limbaugh had called upon conservatives to mock liberals… or Bill Maher had called upon liberals to mock conservatives… it’d be just another day on the Limbaugh show and Maher show, and nobody would blink an eye. Nobody expects their political beliefs to be safe from ridicule. Not that I think the world of political debate is anything to emulate, or that Limbaugh or Maher are explars of reasnableness, but I’m not sure why people expect religious beliefs to be so off limits from ridicule.

  14. JAD

    d,

    And really… just think if Rush Limbaugh had called upon conservatives to mock liberals… or Bill Maher had called upon liberals to mock conservatives… it’d be just another day on the Limbaugh show and Maher show, and nobody would blink an eye. Nobody expects their political beliefs to be safe from ridicule. Not that I think the world of political debate is anything to emulate, or that Limbaugh or Maher are explars of reasnableness, but I’m not sure why people expect religious beliefs to be so off limits from ridicule.

    Ridicule is really just another bad way of begging the question.

    There are good reasons for me to believe Christian-theism. If an atheist wants me to abandon my beliefs he has to begin by at least giving me better reasons for atheism over and against theism. Not only will contempt and ridicule not convince me to abandon my beliefs, but it actually will have the opposite effect… It convinces me that the “new” atheist position (Ecclesiastes 1:9) is not really a rational one.

  15. d

    JAD:

    If anecdotal experiences of ridicule drove you to oppose atheism even more, I’d suggest you may be a victim of confirmation bias. There is plenty of ridicule going the other way as well, but its not frowned upon or even hardly noticed (because its the norm). There are also plenty of atheists who don’t ridicule, who you would really never know were atheists because they don’t talk about it.

    And if that really is your position, then perhaps you want to review Psalm 14:1 from that perspective.

    EDIT: This reminds me of this old cartoon: http://montaraventures.com/pix/atheistcartoon.jpg

  16. Justin B.

    “Not that I think the world of political debate is anything to emulate, or that Limbaugh or Maher are explars of reasnableness, but I’m not sure why people expect religious beliefs to be so off limits from ridicule.”

    I don’t think they do. For as long as I can remember, the churches I’ve attended have urged me and many others to learn how to defend the faith. Why would they do that if we didn’t expect to face ridicule for what we believe?

    From what I can tell, atheists and their fellow skeptics are the only ones who think that Christians are surprised that their beliefs are met with hostility. Pretty much everyone I’ve ever gone to church with knows better than that.

  17. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    d,

    In the same breath, Dawkins also called on the crowd to hold religion in contempt. That’s very strong language. And as I understand his message, he was not just stating an opinion, he was calling on the crowd to take up ridicule as a strategy for all to apply in their cultural warfare to eliminate religion from public influence.

    Oh, and if I remember right (I could be confused on this, so correct me if necessary), the venue where he did this had the word “Reason” as part of its name. Grade-school mocking tactics seem rather out of place in connection with that, don’t you think?

    You say there are plenty of atheists who don’t ridicule. Fine, and bless them. Dawkins said that they should. It’s Dawkins with whom I differ on this.

    I’m not sure why people expect religious beliefs to be so off limits from ridicule.

    I’m not sure why you think anyone said that. What I said is that those who practice that tactic trivialize themselves. What I say to you now is that either you’re not paying attention very closely, or you’re attacking a straw man.

  18. BillT

    d,

    Sorry if I don’t share your admiration of Luke Muehlhauser and his due diligence. In his visit here he showed himself to be an intellectual coward. If he had done such a good job with his due diligence then why did he bail on the discussion with Tom essentially before it got started. You would think that someone with so much due diligence to display would have been eager to show us all what he had to say. And that jostling you are talking about. That’s what’s called social cowardice in most circles and most people grow out of it in their teens.

  19. d

    Actually, its possible that the very expectation of persecution and ridicule heightens one’s sensitivity, so that non-antagonistic actions are often interpreted as attacks and persecution.

    I think we see that play out in the Christian media all the time. Pretty outrageous religious billboards pepper the rural southeast. This is fine and dandy. The minute an atheist throws one up, its major news, Christians feel threatened, motives are questioned, sinister things are afoot, etc.

  20. d

    BillT:

    I read commonsenseatheism regularly, but I must have missed his interactions with Tom, so I haven’t the foggiest what you are referring too.

  21. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Actually, its possible that the very expectation of persecution and ridicule heightens one’s sensitivity, so that non-antagonistic actions are often interpreted as attacks and persecution.

    Right.

    Dawkins said to Hitchens that victory would be the elimination of Christianity.

    Harris says the same kind of thing frequently.

    A sign at the Reason Rally said “Obama isn’t out to eradicate religion, I am.”

    Numerous signs at the Rally said things to the effect that belief in religion is idiotic.

    Many people carried mocking anti-religious symbolism with them around the rally grounds.

    The slavery billboard in Harrisburg, PA was racist, inflammatory, degrading, and utterly misleading with respect to what the Bible teaches.

    Which of these were “non-antagonistic”? (What would it take for it actually to be antagonistic?)

  22. JAD

    d:

    If anecdotal experiences of ridicule drove you to oppose atheism even more, I’d suggest you may be a victim of confirmation bias.

    How is expecting/ asking for reasons to abandon my faith confirmation bias?

    Once again, I am a theist because I have done an honest, open minded apples-oranges comparison with atheism. For me not only theism but Christian theism continues to be a better, more rational explanation for the universe, life and human existence. It is going to take more than ridicule and contempt to undermine my belief. If your position is more rational than mine shouldn’t you be able to persuade me with reason?

    I think new atheists need to recruit some used car salesmen (or women). I have never bought a car because the sales person resorted to ridicule. For someone to sell me anything they have to at least start out by pretending to show interest in me… You won’t accomplish that by resorting to ridicule.

    Again if your worldview is based on superior reasons, why isn’t reason sufficient to make your case? That is what I claim for theism; why isn’t a reliance on reasoning sufficient for atheism?

  23. d

    JAD:

    Did I say that expecting good reasons to abandon your faith is confirmation bias?

    No, I said it could be confirmation bias if you are placing to much weight on anecdotes of ridicule to measure the strength of the atheist position.

  24. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Lynn, re: schizophrenia:

    I’m impressed with your skills at historical diagnosis. Could you tell us how you came to such a firm conclusion, please? I’d like to know how you came to be so confident that Balaam’s condition was chronic and debilitating, and on what non-question begging basis you assure yourself that the circumstance should (“regardless of one’s religious beliefs”) be attributed to pathology rather than the act of God. Please be sure to bear in mind the entire context of the account, which I am confident you have read and studied in its historical and literary context.

  25. Chip

    d,

    JAD’s statement recognizes something fundamental about discussion. Discussion is a two-way engagement. I present my perspective and defend it. You present your perspective and defend it. This idea is captured in the Cooperative Principle and the Gricean Maxims (i.e., the “rules” [or social expectations] which govern discussions).

    JAD sees atheists as using ridicule to fulfill their responsibility to the discussion, and he correctly argues it’s lacking.

  26. Beelzebob

    Bill T.

    I have not seen the video presentation, but I am somewhat familiar with Habermas’ minimalist facts approach.

    Basically, the problem with the approach (just as with the Lord, Lunatic,Liar argument) is that it rests on the premise that the gospels are reliable, historical accounts which accurately depict the events in the life of Jesus and his disciples.

    The truth is, we don’t have a single word that we know was written by a person who knew Jesus personally. The names attributed to the gospels were done so in the second century. When making a fantastic claim that runs contrary to medical fact, that’s a pretty shaky foundation.

  27. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Beelzebob,

    The strength and uniqueness of the minimal facts approach is precisely that it does not rest on the premise that the gospels are reliable, historical accounts. It rests only those minimal, few facts that scholars actually agree are trustworthy as history. That includes skeptical as well as believing scholars. Habermas bases his approach on facts that virtually all scholars agree with.

    In other words, I’m going to call your bluff. I do not think you are familiar with Habermas’s minimal facts approach. You never could have said what you did if you were.

    Maybe you should watch the video after all.

  28. Peter Grice

    Beelzebob, which medical fact counters the claim that God brought Jesus back to life? To suggest as much is a category error.

  29. Robiin Schumacher

    Excellent post! The story of Balaam always bothered me too, but it wasn’t the donkey speaking – it was the calm reaction of Balaam to the donkey speaking. Not being an Old Testament guru, it took a while and some help to understand that the story of Balaam and the donkey foreshadows the relationship between Balaam and Balak. The dullness of the prophet is akin to the dullness of Balak; what the donkey is to Balaam, Balaam is to Balak.

  30. Nathaniel

    I strongly dislike how many atheists interpret the Bible in as unthinking and black-and-white a manner as the most extreme Christian literalists out there. Balaam’s donkey is a humorous fable, not a historical account.

    But anyways, hey Tom, I have the whole Dawkin’s speech on video and you might notice that he says “[the religious] make claims about the universe that should be ridiculed…” etc. He’s specifically referring to claims like “the earth is only 6000 years old”, which he actually talks about right before he made that statement. While I don’t agree with Dawkins on this point, you do misrepresent his statement by not including the context. But I’m just being nitpicky. Carry on.

    @Beelzebob
    Yeah, you clearly haven’t actually seen Habermas’ presentation. You’re ridiculing the wrong argument.

  31. Beelzebob

    Tom Gilson

    Actually, it does rely on the reliability of the gospels, as Habermas uses their reports the emptiness of the tomb, and the universal belief among the disciples of their belief that Jesus rose again.

    What I said simply gets the the crux of Habermas’s argument.

  32. Beelzebob

    Peter, in regard to all available medical evidence to date, people who have been dead for three days do not come back to life.

    Whether or not a supernatural entity was involved is not really the point. The point the burden of proof upon is pretty heavy in this light — too heavy I think for the gospels questionable reliability, and Habermas’ argument to overcome.

  33. Robin Schumacher

    [Peter, in regard to all available medical evidence to date, people who have been dead for three days do not come back to life.]

    That’s kind of the whole point and message behind the resurrection… Muhammad? Dead. Jesus. Not dead. Big difference in who to trust and believe.

    Ever listened to Habermas debate former atheist Antony Flew on the resurrection? Very telling…

  34. Peter Grice

    Beelzebob, but you did not mention the burden of proof as “the point,” you said that the Christian claim runs contrary to medical fact. It does not. The claim is not that “people who have been dead for three days… come back to life.” Rather, it is that “the Creator brought Jesus back to life.” The causal agency is precisely the point, and there is nothing about the nature of the claim that is beholden to medical knowledge, or the ordinary nature of things. The categories would be confounded whether the agent were claimed to be God or Barry Manilow. In the latter case, the claim would fail because Manilow is taken not to posses the capacity to perform the act. Such is not the case with God, so the claim stands and would have to be challenged with some other argument than an appeal to ordinary states of affairs or the relative difficulty in reversing death.

    Also, you continue to show complete ignorance of the minimal facts approach. Perhaps you don’t realize that it appeals to the scholarly consensus, incorporating scholars who do not hold to the reliability of the texts regarding any supernatural belief. Habermas reasons from all the non-disputed points, to the Resurrection being the best hypothesis.

    When you say “the burden of proof is… too heavy for… Habermas’ argument to overcome” you are being incoherent. Habermas makes the burden redundant because he willingly argues, and his argument is not rendered more challenging by any anti-supernatural presupposition. In fact he shows that, far from challenging the Resurrection claim, such prejudice actually supplies the facts necessary to reason that it did in fact occur.

  35. SteveK

    Beelzebob, in regard to all available medical and scientific evidence to date,

    (a) dead, non-living matter came to life long ago.

    (b) in 100% of all observed cases, those already living are required to play a significant role in creating life.

    The point of (a) is to show you that dead things do come to life. Whether Jesus did is another question altogether, but you can’t say this is impossible.

    The point of (b) is to show that a living being’s involvement is necessary.

    The point of (a) and (b) together is to show you that the Gospel story matches the data and that our burden has been lightened significantly.

  36. Beelzebob

    Steve K

    It is possible that (a) is true. As I understand it, the evidence on whether or not abiogenesis is true is still a bit sketchy at this point.

    As for how (a) applies to Jesus, you correctly observe that (a) is “another question altogether”. Indeed, I cannot say whether or not is impossible that Jesus did come back to life. Nor would I make such an argument. That is tantamount to proving a negative statement.

    I am a bit mystified as to how (b) plays a relevant role in the question. Admittedly, I am a bit of a simpleton, however.

    All that said, as far as I am aware, there is no solid medical evidence that dead people come back to life after three days. Given the questionable reliability of the gospels, I think the burden of proof placed upon them by such medical evidence is too great for them to bear.

  37. Mike Gene

    Beelzebob,

    That criticism falls apart if you think it through. Take “there is no solid medical evidence that dead people come back to life after three days.” Okay, but for that to even be significant, we should be able to imagine a state where there was solid medical evidence that dead people come back to life after three days.

    So, a simple question that naturally follows from this –

    In that hypothetical world, what might this solid medical evidence look it?

  38. SteveK

    Beezlebob,
    If (a) is true then it doesn’t matter if anyone in the medical community has witnessed the dead coming to life, it happens. It may be a rare event, but the event isn’t without precedent.

    I don’t know of anyone in the realm of science that thinks the evidence for (a) is lacking so I’m going to side with (a) being probably true.

    What is the purpose of (b)? I explained that. It shows that, with (a), the Gospel writers recorded an event that aligns with how reality operates. Simple enough.

    Our burden isn’t to makes sense of the Gospel reports in light of the current data as you suggest. It already is in alignment with the data – at least according to the experts we both trust.

    Our burden is to show that it’s reasonable to conclude the reports are trustworthy and accurate reports of real historical events. That’s what Habermas does pretty well.

  39. Beelzebob

    Mike Gene

    If I understand your argument, it is that in order for the fact that there is no evidence to be significant, we have to imagine where there would be evidence?

    Seems to be a bit of a non-sequitur to me. Mind elaborating on it?

  40. Beelzebob

    Steve K

    Interesting argument.

    I would say sure it’s possible, but extremely unlikely given the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It’s possible on about the same level that a purple unicorn will suddenly appear out of a mountain of goo.

    As I understand it, entropy always increases because there are many more states in which molecules can be arranged in a disorderly fashion than in an orderly one.

    For a single proto-cell to accomplish this is unlikely, at least from what I understand of abiogenesis. But for roughly 100 trillion cells to re-organize themselves in the EXACT SAME order (as in re-make the same person) as they were previously is orders of magnitude less likely.

    I am not saying it is absolutely impossible Jesus rose from the dead. I am just saying it is extremely unlikely given what we know of biology, medicine and thermodynamics.

    To believe this event actually occurred, based on second hand accounts about the psychological states of Galilean Jews, and a tradition of an empty tomb, is more than just a stretch of the imagination — it’s essentially engaging in fantasy.

  41. Doug

    in order for the fact that there is no evidence to be significant, we have to imagine where there would be evidence?

    Close. Try this instead: in order to be able to legitimately CLAIM that there is no evidence for X, we must be able to imagine the kind of evidence X would entail. I’m afraid your wording begs the question.

  42. Beelzebob

    Doug, no intent of mendacity on my behalf, just having difficulty understanding Mike’s argument.

    Mike said:

    “Okay, but for that to even be significant, we should be able to imagine a state where there was solid medical evidence that dead people come back to life after three days.”

    So for there to be the absence of X, we have to imagine where there was solid evidence of X?

    That said, I think your argument is a different one — that we have to imagine what medical evidence of the dead returning to life would look like.

    As for that question, I would think well-documented case studies would do. Unless there is critical medical intervention, death is usually imminent after cardiac arrest within 10-12 minutes. Due the mammalian diving reflex, people immersed in cold water can survive 40 minutes or so, although they do not actually undergo cardiac arrest, just become extremely bradycardic.

    If you have anything outside these boundaries, I would be interested in seeing such evidence.

  43. Mike Gene

    Beelzebob,

    You are assuming medical evidence is relevant to the claim of Jesus’s resurrection. To do so, you are assuming the following argument:

    If Jesus rose from the dead, then we would have medical evidence of his resurrection.

    So I am asking what type of medical evidence should exist if Jesus did indeed rise from the dead?

  44. Beelzebob

    Mike

    I am saying that it is a medical fact that dead people do not come back to life.

    The burden of evidence placed on the gospels to overcome this fact is too great for them to bear.

  45. Doug

    it is extremely unlikely

    Indeed. But if it were a common event (like you seem to be pretending it needs to be), then it would have no power to change the world!

  46. Mike Gene

    Beelzebob,

    What you need to show is that if Jesus from the dead, then we would have medical evidence of his resurrection. Your argument is only relevant if we rely on superficial thinking.

    As for that question, I would think well-documented case studies would do.

    There y’go. So what you want is for there to be several other examples of resurrection. Enough of them such that medical science could document a few. In other words, there should be nothing special or unique about the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, resurrection would be some unusual physiological process that science is trying to understand.

    So your argument makes no effort -none – to take Christian theology seriously. It is thus an argument against a straw man.

  47. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    In case you missed it, the person with whom I had the “donkey” conversation commented here with a link to his response. Of course he has a different perspective on it.

    He found it “hilarious” that I seemed to consider him the most significant person I had talked to. I don’t know why that’s funny; why would he be any less significant than, say, PZ Myers? I don’t think I said anything about who was more or less significant, though; that’s not the kind of judgment I like to make. I mentioned him in this post because our conversation was interesting to me, and fit in to this topic.

    As for the rest of what he said, I have little comment until this at the end.

    Tom Gilson doesn’t know me. He shouldn’t presume to. I wasted over 10 minutes that I could’ve used to look at stamps. Atheism isn’t even a hobby for me, much less something more grand as he’s describing. As Gustavo said at the beginning of this post, the donkey speaks. When you honestly argue that a donkey can talk it just makes you look like an ass.

    I didn’t presume to know him. I speculated, and I hope I was clear about it being speculated, about the reason he was more interested in a donkey than in the resurrection of Christ.

    As for arguing that a donkey can talk, I never got as far as an argument with him over that. He kept insisting on a physical description of the donkey’s talking, which was by all reasoning standards an illegitimate request. Since I couldn’t describe it, and he wouldn’t listen to anything else about the donkey, we never got to whether it makes sense for God to do what the Bible says God did.

    Note the distinction there, by the way: if I were to simply say the donkey did it, that would be outrageous in any theology. I say that God did it; and it is not absurd to think that God can do the unusual.

    I commented on his blog one time. I do not expect to do so any further, for the same reason it did not make sense to continue the conversation there. I do wish him well, and I do pray he will understand what really matters.

  48. G. Rodrigues

    @Beelzebob:

    I would say sure it’s possible, but extremely unlikely given the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

    This is irrelevant to Jesus’ ressurection, but I would note the following:

    1. The law applies only to closed systems.

    2. It is a “global” law; there are local violations happening all the time — otherwise Evolution theory would be in a real jiffy.

  49. Grace

    Tom,

    We see time and time again atheists wanting to scrutinize only the theist’s positive beliefs. They think because they call themselves atheists (which they say means only “lacking a belief in God”), what they believe is exempted from being scrutinized. They hide under the guise of “atheism” when in reality they are materialists or naturalists. What do atheists believe grounds morals? What do atheists believe about the origin of life and the origin of the universe? What do atheists believe about consciousness? What do they believe about the origins of love, hope, kindness? Atheists do hold positive beliefs, and if they didn’t, they should label themselves agnostic. Maybe if they realized that, there would be less ridiculing going on. If I am questioned about my positive beliefs, I question atheists on theirs. It is only fair to lay all the cards on the table and scrutinize both beliefs.

    I also find it odd that many, including this guy Shawn and Beelzebob, seem to think that miracles can be explained away. It wouldn’t be considered a “miracle” then, would it? They seem to think that miracles can’t happen; however, the origin of the universe is considered a miracle by cosmologist Paul Davies (agnostic), and scientist Francis Crick (atheist) considers the origin of life a miracle. These are not every day or even common occurrences, but if these two highly improbable, extraordinary events occurred, then it is possible that the Resurrection occurred. Beelzebob said that there is “little evidence” to support the idea that God exists. Well, evidence is evidence. I understand that not everyone has the same standard for proof, but if atheists want to be consistent, they are going to have to start claiming agnosticism on many things. Do they use the same standard of proof for examining their own beliefs? I think not.

  50. Doug

    The burden of evidence placed on the gospels to overcome this fact is too great for them to bear.

    On the contrary. This “burden” is supported by more than the gospels. Please re-read what Peter wrote here (#36)

  51. d

    @Chip, #26

    JAD’s statement recognizes something fundamental about discussion. Discussion is a two-way engagement. I present my perspective and defend it. You present your perspective and defend it. This idea is captured in the Cooperative Principle and the Gricean Maxims (i.e., the “rules” [or social expectations] which govern discussions).

    JAD sees atheists as using ridicule to fulfill their responsibility to the discussion, and he correctly argues it’s lacking.

    But religious beliefs, I daresay more than any other kind of belief, come adorned with an assumed profundity, nobility, wisdom, and vitality, often without question. In other words, the very nature of dialog about religion, by default, assumes a bunch of stuff that really *hasn’t* been debated, and that no other type of belief enjoys.

    And in situations like that, I’d say there really is no two way discussion – the discussion is stacked.

    Good ridicule can re-balance the scales. It may be little more than pointing out, with purposeful irreverence, that the glass is half empty, in the midst of crowd giving thanks for the glass being half full. It need not be angry or irrational or false.

    Hitchens was a master of that type of ridicule, and despite the biting and blunt nature of his words, he still managed to earn (even if begrudging, in some instances) high likability among theists.

  52. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    But religious beliefs, I daresay more than any other kind of belief, come adorned with an assumed profundity, nobility, wisdom, and vitality, often without question. In other words, the very nature of dialog about religion, by default, assumes a bunch of stuff that really *hasn’t* been debated, and that no other type of belief enjoys.

    It is not an “an assumed profundity, nobility, wisdom, and vitality”, but a cultural fact that religious discourse, while it surely has produced some the ugliest kitch, it also has produced some of the most profound, noble and vital discourse.

    Good ridicule can re-balance the scales. It may be little more than pointing out, with purposeful irreverence, that the glass is half empty, in the midst of crowd giving thanks for the glass being half full. It need not be angry or irrational or false.

    I do not deny that it has its fitting targets (heck, I will be the first to provide some) but “purposeful irreverence” is also “shameful ignorance” and “bovine insensibility”.

  53. JAD

    @d #53,

    Let me repeat something I wrote on an earlier thread.

    There is a difference between (A) believing that your position is more reasonable and (B)being able to demonstrate that your position is more reasonable. There is no doubt that the majority of atheists who attended the Reason Rally this past weekend believe A. The problem is that without B, A is pure faith.

    It is also a problem if you skip B and substitute ridicule for reasoning. I am a theist because I am convinced that it is a more reasonable position than atheism. Ridicule without reason is not sufficient to convince me to change my mind because my beliefs have a rational basis. To do that you need to engage me in dialogue, discussion and debate… That is not something that I am afraid of engaging in. The question is why are some of new atheists, like Richard Dawkins, afraid of putting their beliefs to the test.

    Ironically he is acting more like a religious fideist than a confident free thinking rationalist.

  54. Chip

    d,

    Good ridicule can re-balance the scales. It may be little more than pointing out, with purposeful irreverence, that the glass is half empty, in the midst of crowd giving thanks for the glass being half full. It need not be angry or irrational or false.

    That’s a stupid idea.

  55. Chip

    To restate my previous comment in hopes to clarify.

    Atheists want to engage in discussion about God’s existence. They realize to do so requires a position. At the same time, they recognize taking a position requires one to bear responsibility for their position (i.e., “burden of proof”). Rather than take a position, they take a term which indicates a position (i.e., atheism) and define it as a non-position (i.e., “mere lack of belief”). When this fact is raised in attempts at discussion, they resort to a meta-position (i.e., “there is no evidence”) to appear as though they have a position. Essentially, atheists are refusing to adhere to the Cooperative Principle.

  56. Chip

    Side note. My comment @56 was intended as a joke to demonstrate the conversation ending nature of ridicule.

  57. BillT

    beelzebob,

    “Basically, the problem with the approach (just as with the Lord, Lunatic,Liar argument) is that it rests on the premise that the gospels are reliable, historical accounts which accurately depict the events in the life of Jesus and his disciples.”

    First you misstate Habermas’ argument. Then the above when the facts are that the Gospels and the New Testament are the most reliable ancient texts in recorded history. They are orders of magnitude more reliable than the texts that are used as the basis for most of the rest of ancient history. No one even raises a question about those texts. They’re accepted as perfectly reliable to establish the history they record whether it’s Alexander the Great or the plays of Sopholces. But then misstatement and/or denial of the facts is pretty much what we would expect.

  58. SteveK

    Beelzebob,

    I am saying that it is a medical fact that dead people do not come back to life.

    People are declared dead by the medical community and are later revived by the medical community all the time. Dead people do come back to life with the help of others. You’ve got your facts wrong, Beelze. If you want trusted citations from the medical community, Google is your friend.

  59. Beelzebob

    Peter Grice

    Sorry I missed your comment (#36). I did not see it until Doug pointed it out in post #52.

    You said:

    The claim is not that “people who have been dead for three days… come back to life.” Rather, it is that “the Creator brought Jesus back to life.” The causal agency is precisely the point, and there is nothing about the nature of the claim that is beholden to medical knowledge, or the ordinary nature of things.

    Or in other words, your argument is:

    P= Jesus rose from the dead
    Q= God is the cause

    If P, then Q
    Q
    Therefore P

    As I see it, this is a classical converse error, also known as affirming the consequent.

    Before you claim Q was the cause of P, I would think you would have to substantiate that Q actually occurred.

    Additionally, I don’t think it is that I misunderstand Habermas’ argument. It is that Habermas has only substantiated that there was an early belief in the Resurrection, not that the Resurrection actually occurred.

    I am not the brightest bulb in the pack, but to claim that Jesus triumphed over something so axiomatic and universal as death with second hand (or further removed) tales seems a bit of a stretch to me.

    That said, I bear no ill will toward Christianity. I have loved the Bible since I was a child. Indeed, I wish it were true 😀

  60. Beelzebob

    Doug

    In reference to post #47, you wrote:

    But if it [the Resurrection] were a common event (like you seem to be pretending it needs to be), then it would have no power to change the world!

    I can’t disagree that it is a powerful idea. Given that some 2 billion people believe it is surely evidence of that. But I think the problem is that this is essentially an Appeal to the Consequences of a Belief, rather than being true in itself.

    But hey, I am just another goofball with a PC and a few billion neurons trying to make sense of it all. 😀

  61. Beelzebob

    Grace,

    I would say I am a non-theist. I make no claim that God exists, or that God does not exist.

    Simply put, I just try really hard to be deadly honest and look for the evidence — and let the evidence fall where it may.

    Would it be nice to believe in a personal loving God? Sure, it’d be great. But to believe simply because I WANT to, rather than because there is a really solid basis for that belief is something I cannot do and remain honest with myself.

    That said, I get the feeling that there is a certain animosity toward non-believers here. And that surprises me. I bear no ill will toward anyone. I hope the same can be said in return.

    Peace 😀

  62. Beelzebob

    Mike Gene, I am not sure you understand my argument (Ref post #48)

    I am not saying that there should be medical evidence of the resurrection. I am saying that medical evidence speaks strongly against such events. That dead people (and dead organisms in general) stay dead is about as universal and self-evident statement as I think can be made.

    The claim that a dead person is an exception to this universal phenomenon is going to require some pretty stiff evidence (pun fully, but not blasphemously intended).

    In the case of Jesus, I think it requires more evidence than the gospels can really provide.

    Peace 😀

  63. BillT

    Arguing that it’s unlikely Jesus could have been resurrected misses the point entirely. If there is a God that created the universe ex nihilo with the sound of his voice, then if he wanted to resurrect Jesus he certainly could. It isn’t, given the existance of God, an exceptional event at all. Holding up the resurrection of Jesus as problem, in general, for Christianity isn’t a very strong argument. Denying the exceptional historicity of the New Testament isn’t a strong argument either as it flies in the face of the facts about the New Testament.

  64. Beelzebob

    G. Rodrigues

    I was responding to Steve K’s argument (post #40) that such self re-assembly (ie the Resurrection) would be possible, albeit rare.

    As you said, the earth is an open system, and local violations happen all the time even in closed systems. From what I understand, as long as the overall level of entropy does not decrease, such an occurrence is not technically impossible. But given the complexity involved with large organisms, such radical self re-assembly is going to find a mighty foe in the Second Law.

    Is it possible? I suppose it is. But then again, I am not a physicist — just another guy on the internet.

    But in any event, you are right — this is not really Christianity’s central argument concerning the Resurrection. The Judeo-Christian Deity is claimed to operate outside the boundaries of physical laws. I was just surprised Steve K did so, at least if I understood his post correctly.

    Peace 😀

  65. Beelzebob

    Bill T

    I am arguing that given such a hurdle (ie that a man rose from the dead), the Resurrection claim needs better evidence than the gospels provide.

    All the talk about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and medical evidence is just about showing what a giant hurdle Christianity faces with such a claim.

  66. Beelzebob

    Steve K

    I think what you are referring to is people being resuscitated following cardiac arrest. Barring critical medical intervention, cardiac arrest results in death within 10-12 minutes. I think at the extreme, people have been resuscitated at 17 minutes, but with severe brain damage.

    If we look at the mammalian diving reflex, people can be resuscitated after about 40 minutes, but these people do not actually undergo arrest, as they still have a bradycardic perfusing rhythm.

    Peace 😀

  67. Beelzebob

    Peter Grice

    Please note I mad a major boo-boo in my comment to you. In re-reading it, I found this error:

    Before you claim Q was the cause of P, I would think you would have to substantiate that Q actually occurred.

    It should read “substantiate that P actually occurred. My apologies.

    Peace 😀

  68. BillT

    “I am arguing that given such a hurdle (ie that a man rose from the dead), the Resurrection claim needs better evidence than the gospels provide.”

    And that is what I addressed as well. The idea that the resurrection is a hurdle is that must be overcome with better evidence is a false one. The resurrection is not a hudle at all given the presence of “a God that created the universe ex nihilo with the sound of his voice”. For God, it’s no different that the sun coming up every morning.

  69. Beelzebob

    Bill T

    I may be wrong here, but your argument is begging the question by assuming that the resurrection occurred in the first place.

    You’d have to support your claim that such an unlikely event (ie-the Resurrection) occurred, before finding the cause of that event. This is sort of similar to Peter Grice’s view I addressed above in post #62.

    Peace 😀

  70. Doug

    @B-bob,
    The difficulty may be with the fact that you are demanding evidence of the sort that would naturally be unavailable for the Resurrection. Since, as you have said, two billion people believe without the evidence you require, might it not be fair to ask what sort of evidence is sufficient for them? Granted, many unsophisticated believers believe without the ability to process evidence. But I would claim that there are literally tens of thousands of believers better equipped to deal with evidence-as-evidence than (say) Richard Dawkins. No: they don’t claim that the evidence you request is forthcoming. But they are convinced, nonetheless, by the evidence that exists. Why would that evidence be insufficient for you?

  71. Doug

    @B-bob,
    You are miscasting Bill and Peter’s comments as arguments. The import of their comments was not:
    since {proposition} therefore {Resurrection}
    but
    since {proposition} therefore {your argument against the Resurrection weakens considerably}
    I’ve noticed that many of the guests on this site make similar mistakes. I wonder why…

  72. BillT

    B-bob (I like that!),

    Yes, you’re miscasting my statement. You claim the resurrection to be an extaordinary event. The existance of God mitigates against your “extraordinary” claim about the resurrection. The resurrection is something God can do just like all the other things God can do. Not extraordinary, in that sense, at all.

    On the other hand, you downplay the importance of Habermas’ conclusion by isolating it from the history of Christianity. If the reports of the resurrection are contemporanious with it’s occurrance then those who heard it at that time had hundreds of eyewitnesesses to check with to confirm it’s authenticity. Christianity is DOA, a complete non-starter if those early Christians couldn’t confirm the diety, death and resurrection of Christ. Habermas’ conclusuion eliminates the possibilty that the resurrection was a story added later after it couldn’t be confirmed.

  73. SteveK

    Beelzebob,

    I was responding to Steve K’s argument (post #40) that such self re-assembly (ie the Resurrection) would be possible, albeit rare.

    Self reassembly??? Read what I wrote, again. This is not what I am saying. I’ll give you a hint: read my point (b)

  74. Beelzebob

    Doug

    Beliefs in resurrection were not uncommon in those days. Apollonius of Tyana supposedly rose from the dead. Pliny, Herodotus and others record various tales, myths beliefs concerning resurrections. Some were of humans, some were of gods, some were of divinized humans. In the Bible, Jesus is not the only one to come back to life (eg-Matthew 27:51-53; John 11:38-44; 1 Kings 17:19-23, 2 Kings 4:32-35).

    Even today, people still believe in zombies, vampires, ghosts and the like.

    The problem with all of them is the same: Where’s the evidence? Substantiating a claim that goes against everything we know about biology and medicine is a rather Brobdingnagian task (Brobdingnagian is one of my favorite words). And yet, the evidence at best can only speak of beliefs in resurrection– not that a given resurrection has actually occurred.

    As for your second post,reformulating the argument changes it, but not for the better. It goes from a straightforward affirmation of the consequent to begging the question by assuming such a deity exists to perform a resurrection.

    I also note the argument works just as well no matter what deity you postulate as the agent.

    Peace 😀

  75. SteveK

    Beelzebob,

    I may be wrong here, but your argument is begging the question by assuming that the resurrection occurred in the first place.

    Nobody is assuming, a priori, that it occurred. That’s the conclusion, given the evidence of history.

    We know my points (a) and (b) are true facts of reality so we know that this sort of thing is possible. The question then becomes, did it happen? Where do you suggest we look for that answer?

  76. Doug

    It goes from a straightforward affirmation of the consequent to begging the question by assuming such a deity exists to perform a resurrection.

    Not at all. But since you missed it the first time, let me restate: the comments that you are casting as arguments were not arguments — they cannot beg the question unless they draw a conclusion!
    If I construct a statement “we can better understand X if we appreciate that X would imply Y,” it is absurd to accuse me of begging the question! (even if the existence of X is ultimately the “question”!)

  77. Beelzebob

    Bill T

    Glad you like B-bob. Given my love of puns and that my real name is Robert, I couldn’t pass it up once the name occurred to me. I also apologize if I misunderstood your argument, it certainly was not my intention to deliberately misrepresent it.

    You say that the resurrection is not extraordinary in the sense of being outside God’s power. I agree. But otherwise, I cannot agree. If the resurrection of a dead person has only occurred once (or a few times, if you believe the accounts of Matthew, John, etc) then it is extraordinary by definition. If we consider that resurrection of the body goes against all we know about biology and medicine, then we no longer have an extraordinary event — we have a true miracle.

    So, (if I understand correctly) you argue since Yahweh exists, then this miracle is easy to explain. Fair enough.

    But that leads to a problem: you are then begging the question by assuming that Yahweh exists.

    As for your argument about Habermas, I would say that beliefs of dead people returning to life were not uncommon in those days. I gave several examples to Doug earlier. People believe many things, and are inclined to do so with very little evidence, or even contrary to the evidence. Such examples today would include anything from sightings of Elvis, to the assassination of JFK, to the many, many conspiracy theories floating around.

    And yet, despite eyewitnesses, birth certificates, video, etc, people still believe in these things. Keeping this in mind, the claim that Christianity would have been DOA if early Christians could not confirm the authenticity of the Resurrection falls flat.

    Peace 😀

  78. Beelzebob

    Steve K

    If (a) is true then it doesn’t matter if anyone in the medical community has witnessed the dead coming to life, it happens. It may be a rare event, but the event isn’t without precedent.

    It seems to me you are arguing for abiogenesis, but on the scale of 100 trillion cells arranged in the same precise manner as before, as in remaking the same exact person– not just the formation of a single proto-cell. I guess I am really not getting your point about dead matter giving rise to life in the context of the resurrection.

    Can you clarify?

  79. Beelzebob

    Doug

    I really don’t think I missed anything. You said:

    But since you missed it the first time, let me restate: the comments that you are casting as arguments were not arguments — they cannot beg the question unless they draw a conclusion!

    In my defense, allow me to present Exhibit A:

    since {proposition} therefore {your argument against the Resurrection weakens considerably}

    Seems to me a conclusion has been made.

    Peace 😀

  80. Doug

    @B-bob,
    Ok, let me slow down a tad…
    Suppose the “ultimate question” is R.
    If I state:
    R->X
    (that is, R implies X)
    This is not “begging the question” — even if the ‘if’ clause (i.e., R) is identical to the “ultimate question” (i.e. R). Why? Because R->X does not make any claim on R. It simply looks at the implications of R.
    If {your argument against R} requires ~X, then the statement:
    R->X
    “weakens your argument against R considerably” without assuming R at all.
    (wish they taught logic in school! 🙂 )

  81. Beelzebob

    Doug

    Interesting. I admit to a total ignorance of predicate logic, and only a very elementary understanding of logic and philosophy. But as you used the words “if” and “therefore”, I think I can be excused for thinking that an argument was being made.

    So that we can be clear, can you please define R and X? Thanks.

    שלום 😀

  82. SteveK

    It seems to me you are arguing for abiogenesis, but on the scale of 100 trillion cells arranged in the same precise manner as before, as in remaking the same exact person– not just the formation of a single proto-cell. I guess I am really not getting your point about dead matter giving rise to life in the context of the resurrection.

    Can you clarify?

    Happy to clarify. I’m not arguing for abiogenesis because there is no evidence that it can occur. If the event did occur, current evidence suggests that a living being needs to be involved in some meaningful way.

    You seem hung up on the impossibility of life coming from non-life under certain circumstances. I’m willing to look to experts when it comes to that question. Reports from the medical community suggest that people declared dead have been resuscitated back to life.

  83. Alex Dawson

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding Doug, but

    If {your argument against R} requires ~X, then the statement:
    R->X
    “weakens your argument against R considerably” without assuming R at all.

    seems like a bit of a hash that is either too weak or too strong (I’m not sure exactly what you’re trying to show with it).

    For claim (argument) A, claims X, Y, Z, R etc.
    A <=> Y & Z & … & notX
    and R => X
    i.e. notX => notR
    So A => notX => notR

    Or in other words, it is sufficient to only consider the claim notX in argument A, and if this claim can be proven, notR follows.

    However if X/notX is unascertainable, the argument is either worthless or needs to be constructed without notX as a premise.

    From what I’ve grasped from a quick skim, BillT isn’t begging the question per se, but is taking the existence of God as a premise, which is what B-bob is complaining about. To have fruitful discussion between theists and non-theists, you will probably have to consider arguments without that premise.

  84. Doug

    @Alex,
    Please explain how your last sentence is different from: “atheists require that theists offer arguments for the existence of God that presuppose that God doesn’t exist”? (i.e., if this is what you are really saying, it is no wonder theists aren’t up to the challenge!)

  85. Alex Dawson

    No no that wasn’t what I meant at all; in claims about the existence of God and related phenomena (such as miracles), the premises should be neutral (and ideally mutually agreed in terms of being conducive to discussion). The arguments can then judge the claim under competing hypotheses (God/no God/different gods/etc), and evaluate their coherency or likelihood under each, to form a conclusion of best inference as to what occurred. Or something along those lines, I’m aware I’m not being completely thorough.

    If an atheist debated such existence arguments with the premise “God doesn’t exist” they would be equally unhelpful.

  86. Doug

    @Alex,
    God’s existence/non-existence is of such fundamental impact on the nature of the universe, it is difficult (if not impossible) to argue from effects to causes.
    So I agree with you that the preferred approach is to make inferences from what we have.
    Using the approach legitimized by Stenger and Coyne, “what we have” is:
    – a very interesting universe
    – life
    – consciousness
    – rationality
    – morality
    – art
    – emotion
    – personality
    – communication
    – language
    …all things that have no coherent explanation from modern science. Surely we can infer a cause for all that evidence, and be permitted to refer to that cause as “God” (because, frankly, that’s precisely what philosophers have done for centuries). After we agree that we can, in fact, speak about such a cause as “God”, then we can start the interesting journey of getting to know Him.

  87. BillT

    Alex,

    “From what I’ve grasped from a quick skim, BillT isn’t begging the question per se, but is taking the existence of God as a premise, which is what B-bob is complaining about.”

    It’s the premise of Bob’s argument that has the existance of God as its basis. If you’re arguing that the resurrection of Jesus is extraordinary you are presuming that we’re talking about The Christ and thus God’s existance. There is no God neutral position in which that premise can be discussed.

  88. BillT

    B-Bob,

    Glad we agree on the basic premise. We also agree that “If we consider that resurrection of the body goes against all we know about biology and medicine, then we no longer have an extraordinary event — we have a true miracle.” Exactlty!

    As I explained above, (#91) the existence of God in this particular discussion is a given and the only way to reasonably discuss this topic. That doesn’t beg the question in any way. If you approach this question without God, there really isn’t anything to discuss.

    Your belief that “I would say that beliefs of dead people returning to life were not uncommon in those days.” simply isn’t true. 1st century Jewish culture and beliefs were not ammenable to supernatural claims. People were every bit as skeptical about resurrection then as they are now.

    Further, Habermas’ conclusion defeats your premise as well as the contemporanious reporting of the resurrection would have spurred people to confirm the facts. Why would anyone accept resurrection as a fact without confiming it when that confirmation “lived next door”.

  89. Nathaniel

    I think we’re missing out on something here. People always discuss the Resurrection. One thing that is of equal import to Christian theology is the Ascension! Why do we never talk about the Ascension into heaven? That seems to me to be an even more unlikely event.

  90. Doug

    @Nathaniel,
    There is nothing less likely that the universe coming out of nothing (really nothing, not some cheap substitute-nothing pedaled by the likes of Stenger). Once a miracle of the size of the universe disrupts our “likelihood instincts”, it is kinda odd, don’t you think, to get hung up on what “seems…more unlikely”.

  91. Nathaniel

    @Doug
    “There is nothing less likely than the universe coming out of nothing”

    Except for, perhaps, a god that is greater than the universe coming from nothing? Hahaha joking. But I do agree with you which is why I do not hold that position. Nonetheless, we can still deduce probability with some degree of accuracy on certain things, the Ascension perhaps being one of them (albeit we wouldn’t be able to come up with an exact ratio, but we know enough intuitively to have a discourse at least).

  92. Mike Gene

    B-bob (65),

    I understand your argument, but I’m not sure of the purpose of your argument.

    If the purpose is defensive, along the lines of explaining why you are not a Christian, or why you do not accept the resurrection of Jesus, then fine, I can accept that as reasonable.

    However, if the purpose is offensive, along the lines of arguing that Christians are being irrational in accepting the resurrection of Jesus, then your argument fails.

    In other words, the argument works if you want to argue your skepticism is reasonable. It fails if you want to argue Christian faith is unreasonable.

    So what is the purpose of your argument?

  93. Doug

    @Nathaniel,

    we can still deduce probability with some degree of accuracy on certain things

    That’s nonsense: human beings are notorious for their inability to accurately deduce probabilities (the recent mortgage meltdown in the USA is a good example: the combined salaries of PhD statisticians whose job it was to predict the probability of that event was considerable). In fact, our intuitions considering probability (particularly small probabilities) are almost uniformly bogus. Just curious: how much background do you have in probability and statistics?

  94. d

    Doug,

    I agree, out statistical intuitions, among others, are notoriously bad. Unfortunately, that sword cuts both ways and hurts arguments for things like the resurrection

  95. Doug

    @d,
    The fact of poor statistical intuitions “hurts arguments for things like the resurrection”? Oh, really? Not any of the arguments for the resurrection that I’m aware of!

  96. Pingback: Not so polite dinner conversation – True Reason | Club Schadenfreude

  97. David

    I know I’m dredging up some older articles here, but…

    I decided to step it up a notch. “Why are you so concerned about the physical possibilities of a talking donkey? Try something really difficult–what about a man rising from the dead?” We talked briefly about how there might or might not be evidence for that. But then he said, “I’m not interested in that. I want to talk about the donkey.”

    I paused when he said that, so I wouldn’t blurt out the first thing that came into my head. After several moments I gently told him, “If you are more interested in that than in life out of death, I suggest you find someone who is as interested in talking donkeys as you are.” He stormed off.

    Thank you for that, Tom, it made my day. It also reminds me of the peculiar phenomenon I’ve seen all too often of atheists who seem to hold their atheistic beliefs for rather…illogical or downright bizarre reasons, amounting to, for example:

    “How could a donkey talk?! Therefore, no god exists.”
    “I’m not a fan of how the God of the bible comes across sometimes. Therefore, no god exists.”
    “I asked God to show Himself to me and He didn’t. Therefore, no god exists.”

    Surely, *surely* one must put more critical thought into things than this!

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