What Does Faith Have to Do With Knowledge? (Faith-Knowledge Connection Part Two)

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What does faith have to do with knowledge? Skeptics keep asking that. In part one of this series I showed one thing obviously wrong with a certain atheistic philosophy professor’s view on the matter (more on him below). But I was asked to draw out the actual connection that exists between the two. It’s a fair question, but it’s also a daunting task, in that the follow-up question is bound to be, “If faith is tied to knowledge, then how do you know what you have faith in is real?”

There’s no short answer to that question: it’s the whole apologetic issue wrapped up in one quick query. So I’m going to ask everyone to bear in mind that although it’s easy to ask a question like that in one brief blog comment, to answer it is the project of libraries full of material. The libraries exist, but they’re deucedly difficult to reproduce in a comment thread.

Still I believe I can offer a manageable answer to the basic question, What connection is there between knowledge and [glossary]faith[/glossary]? Faith is a complex experience and a multifaceted word, so what follows is far from the whole story; but I think it comes close to the heart of the ongoing discussion here. Its short form goes something like this: faith is trust built upon knowledge.

I’ll play that out in a couple different ways from a believing Christian perspective, then I’ll address the number one skeptical objection.

Faith Based On Knowledge

I’ll begin with the common Christian experience of having faith in the promise of eternal life. That belief doesn’t arrive out of thin air, or wishful thinking, or fear, or hopefulness, or (especially) pretending. There is a strong knowledge connection there. It begins (Christians believe) with knowing that Jesus Christ died and rose again following a life which, when capped off by his resurrection, established his credibility as one who could make promises of that magnitude, and who would keep the promises that he made.

Let me repeat that to make sure it’s clear. Suppose (whether you believe it or not) that Jesus actually

  • Lived a life at least approximately like what the New Testament records
  • Rose again after his death
  • Demonstrated a completely trustworthy character
  • Demonstrated sufficient power to raise others from the dead
  • Promised to raise you or me from the dead based on certain conditions

 

If you had reason to consider all that to be actually true in history, then the step of faith would be quite justifiable, even obvious: all you would have to do is to take the otherwise quite normal step of believing someone will do what he says, when he is known to have the character and the power to do what he says. That’s what Christian faith is like: it’s drawing a warranted conclusion about the unknown based on knowledge of the known.

What if none of it’s true, though? I know some of you are asking that question, and I promise I’ll come to it. First, though, I ask you to linger on that last sentence: without the information of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, no one would have faith in him for eternal life. The knowledge connection there is unavoidable.

Faith As the Determination To Keep Hold On Knowledge

C.S. Lewis has another helpful angle on this. In Mere Christianity he wrote,

I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it. That is not the point at which faith comes in. But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair; some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments where a mere mood rises up against it.

Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why faith is such a necessary virtue; unless you teach your moods “where they get off” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.

For Lewis — and I am quite sure that he is right in this — faith is the determination of the mind to cling to what is known in the face of what is felt. Though it involves trust it’s all about knowledge: trusting that what one knows to be true remains true even when it does not feel true.

The Unbeliever’s Objection

But the skeptic will ask: Sure that’s what you Christians say, but what good is that “knowledge” connection if everything you think you know is all false?

Even in that case, my point remains: faith and knowledge are bound together as one. For if we are right, we are not (primarily) right in our faith, we are right about what we know to be true. If we are wrong, we are not (primarily) wrong in our faith, we are wrong about what we thought we knew to be true.

Whether Christian faith is justified depends first of all on whether that which Christians take to be knowledge is justified.

Of course the skeptic may not be finished yet: he or she will likely go on to ask, How could you possibly think that your “knowledge” is justified? Which brings me back to where I started: I am not going to try to write the book here that it would take to answer that question. I’ll be satisfied if we can just come to agreement that Christian faith is intimately tied to matters of knowledge. For that is the point of this post, it’s what I’m trying to establish; and I am content to accomplish one thing without at the same time accomplishing everything.

Boghossian: Confused or Crafty?

But I do to do one more thing. I want to keep pressing on Peter Boghossian as I go through this series, which in this case is not hard to do. He proposes erasing the faith-knowledge connection, and replacing it with a faith-pretense connection instead. He’s on a mission to change faith’s definition to, “pretending to know what you don’t know.” And he means that in quite an exclusive sense: that’s the only thing that faith means, to him.

But by now it should be obvious why that’s wrong, even from a disbelieving perspective. For from an unbeliever’s perspective, Christian faith isn’t pretense, it’s error. It’s not play-acting at knowledge, it’s being mistaken about knowledge.

Pretense and play-acting are not at all synonymous with error or mistakenness; or if they are, then Ptolemy was a pretender, a child in the astronomical sandbox. So was Copernicus, who thought the heavenly bodies moved in perfect circles, or variations thereof. So was Columbus, who thought the earth’s circumference was something like 14,000 miles. So was Darwin, who thought that cells were made up of basically undifferentiated materials. So were you, if you ever got a single answer wrong on a test or a paper in school, or if you ever misunderstood something your significant other was trying to tell you. If being mistaken is equivalent to pretending, then what does either of those words mean, after all?

Therefore to equate faith with pretense is to make a sophomoric error in the realm rational thinking. That doesn’t mean Boghossian is sophomorically stupid, though. If his purpose is to undermine faith, rhetoric can fill in where rationality fails. If only he weren’t portraying it publicly as good critical thinking.

Of course I don’t think that Christian faith is either pretense or play-acting, error or mistake. The thing is, you don’t have to agree with me about that to see that Boghossian is wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw that just as clearly, and if he was willing to set it aside for his rhetorical purposes. Sometimes when you have an agenda, you can accomplish it more directly by pretending to know what you know is false.

Faith and Knowledge: Intimately Connected

It should be clear now: faith is intimately connected to knowledge. Faith’s validity stands or falls with the validity of the knowledge to which it is tied.

Also related to this post: Okay, You’re Right: There’s No Evidence for Faith…

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404 Responses to “ What Does Faith Have to Do With Knowledge? (Faith-Knowledge Connection Part Two) ”

  1. Nicely explained, Tom.

    If Jesus never walked on water, it does not mean that Christianity is false. Except to a small minority of fundamentalists, Christianity does not depend on the inerrancy of the gospels. It is a popular misconception.

    You outlined the foundational beliefs and I agree; they are the bedrock of knowledge upon which my own (justified) faith rests.

  2. Agreed, and thank you, Bryan.

    Inerrancy is a conclusion drawn from a series of premises that are (I think) quite supportable, but which are not essential to the question of whether we can have faith in Christ as the God who came to live, suffer, die, and rise again for us. That’s the first and the most central question of all.

  3. “But by now it should be obvious why that’s wrong, even from a disbelieving perspective. For from an unbeliever’s perspective, Christian faith isn’t pretense, it’s error. It’s not play-acting at knowledge, it’s being mistaken about knowledge.”

    And if there was any doubt about the validity of this statement you only have to look to the posts by kaapstorm, Abraham, ullrich fischer, et als, in the previous OP. Do they object to the idea that faith is tied to knowledge. No. Quite the contrary. They object to the validity of the knowledge. And in that, they confirm the definition of faith for which Tom has argued.

  4. To be fair, there was an accusation of pretense from Abraham (#26):

    … could you please explain how ‘faith isn’t pretending to know what you don’t know’, when you explicitly pretended to know (have evidence) that what’s described in the Bible actually happened?

    I think he has a point. There are things I know (confidently believe) for which I don’t have explicit evidence.

    My faith goes further than the evidence, but I feel justified based on other more foundational knowledge that is well-supported by evidence.

  5. In part I do acknowledge Abraham’s point. It is valid in that I have to take on trust the veracity of the accounts. There is simply no way to know if the Red Sea parted and it borders on impossible to verify if the words attributed to such a person were actually said. Yet if we accept his charge against Biblical accounts (i.e. that we are pretending to know that they are reliable) then why not apply the same argument to all historical accounts? Why is it that scepticism (or hyper-scepticism even) and an inherent mistrust of Biblical documents is seen as the default view? Is it simply because they contain supernatural events?

    It’s a shame that Abraham was so transparently not interested in a discussion to the point of dishonesty.

  6. There’s more to it than that, even. It goes (very roughly and briefly) like this:

    That which is open to corroboration in the Bible proves to be trustworthy. That includes the account of God revealing himself in Jesus Christ, whom we discover to be the True one, God incarnate. Jesus affirms the historical accuracty of the OT, and because of who he is, he has reason to know, and he can be trusted to speak truly. Therefore we trust the account because there is attestation in Jesus Christ.

    (This also leads, through a direct but somewhat complex path I do not intend to traverse here, toward the idea that the entire Bible is inspired by God and trustworthy in all that it affirms.)

    So no, I’m not “pretending” to know about Jonah. Suppose your five year-old daughter told you all about a robbery she had seen happening just before you got home, and how she had been right there when the police caught the perpetrators, and she even helped them figure out who did it. That would be too fantastic to believe, but you might still go along with it: “Wow! That was an exciting day you had, wasn’t it?” And you would pretend to “know” that it happened.

    A quiet word from your spouse, however — “She’s not making it up, honey, that’s exactly what happened” — would go a long way toward turning it from pretense into actual knowing.

    That’s roughly analogous to (part of) how we know the truth of some portions of the OT. We have confirmation from a trusted source

    For some of the OT there is also archaeological/documentary support in other sources, and that information is coming up consistently supportive. That’s not available for all of it, but where it is it’s helpful.

  7. Yes, BillT,

    “But by now it should be obvious why that’s wrong, even from a disbelieving perspective. For from an unbeliever’s perspective, Christian faith isn’t pretense, it’s error. It’s not play-acting at knowledge, it’s being mistaken about knowledge.”

    And if there was any doubt about the validity of this statement you only have to look to the posts by kaapstorm, Abraham, ullrich fischer, et als, in the previous OP. Do they object to the idea that faith is tied to knowledge. No. Quite the contrary. They object to the validity of the knowledge. And in that, they confirm the definition of faith for which Tom has argued.

    That is correct. I have no problem with Tom’s defintion. In fact I agree with almost everything in this post.

    There is just one thing, and the bone I want to pick is with C.S. Lewis:

    That is why faith is such a necessary virtue; unless you teach your moods “where they get off” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.

    Clearly the words of a man who is deeply uncomfortable with uncertainty. If C.S. Lewis were a car, he would be a Volvo, with the top gear disabled, and airbags on the outside as well as the inside.

    I would say that this point, exactly this point, is where theists and sceptics part ways. If our favourite “atheistic philosopher” were a car, he would be a roller-coaster car. (I live in South Africa, and the Afrikaans word for “roller-coaster car” is awesome: “wipwaentjie” (sounds like “vip vying-kee”); literally, “little whip-wagon”.)

    Sceptics work hard at being 100% certain of nothing — and let me tell you, it’s not easy. Letting go is never easy. But it is more honest. And it is liberating.

    “Honest”?! You’re kidding, right?

    No, really. The truth is I am 100% certain of few things. I am very certain of things like gravity, and that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. But some of you might point out that Karl Popper will say that those are just instances of philosophical induction — and we can’t be sure of them. Fair enough, Karl.

    But it gets even worse. We need to be honest with ourselves when it comes to our certainty of anything we have been told or read. Could the teller be biassed? Sure. Could the teller be mistaken? Maybe. How well do they remember? Could their memory have been affected by preconceptions, confirmation bias, or the influence of others? Could the teller be lying? It’s possible. (The possibility increases the more they could benefit from lying.)

    What about the things we perceive? How well do I know my wife? Pretty well. 100% completely? No. Does she change? Sure, we all change. Has anything changed today? I don’t know.

    What about myself? Have I been mistaken in the past? Of course. Could I be mistaken about anything I believe right now? Of course. As Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    When you are honest with yourself, only then can you be honest with other people. That sounds trite, but it is accurate. Try to evaluate how certain you are of everything you know. You can’t possibly be 100% certain of anything.

    It’s scary at first. But you get used to it. And then, you start to enjoy it.

    Why “liberating”?

    Well, as a result of all this self-evaluation, you can’t help gradually getting better, and more comfortable, with letting go of some of the things you thought you knew.

    And this is where the enjoyment comes in. And the feeling of liberty.

    With all that practice you’ve been getting, it becomes easier to evaluate other people’s knowledge. I enjoy learning. Everyone has reasons for believing the things they do. You need to be able not only to learn their beliefs, but also to learn their reasons, just as you’ve been looking at your beliefs, and your reasons. Then you can more accurately evaluate new information, without the constrains that you might have felt in terms of fidelity to being what C.S. Lewis called a “sound Christian”.

    I’m sure you’ve felt those constraints. That warning in the back of your mind that says “This is sounding like New Age rubbish”. (And I’ll wholeheartedly agree with you on that one; it is rubbish!) Or you start to focus on what the other guy is getting wrong, and not what he’s getting right, like, “Look at that schoolboy error Krauss just made when he context switched from classical God to ancient god!” … but not, “A universe without a purpose?! Is that even possible? Well, what if it is?!”

    That is not a scary thought. (Well, a little scary, but only at first.) That is an exhiliarating thought! That is when the roller-coaster car goes over the top of a climb and starts barrelling downhill, and your date next to you is squeezing your hand blue and screaming. That’s when you go online, and start flipping through “People who bought this book also bought …” on Amazon. And when you search groups on Facebook, and channels on YouTube.

    “What If”s will set you free!

    Being a “sound atheist”, as C.S. Lewis puts it, is nothing to be proud of. In the past decade or so, “atheist” has come to be used as an umbrella term for “atheist”, “agnostic” and “sceptic”, mostly because it started off as a pejorative, and, like “queer”, and “nigger”, those to whom it was applied have taken ownership, and then control, of the word. It no longer means what it did back in the 1940s. And today, an “atheist” who prefers to suppress any doubts he may have in his own knowledge, in my opinion, has not yet earned the badge “atheist”.

    So, while C.S. Lewis might instinctively feel as if “faith” is equivalent to “being true to yourself” and “being reliable to others”, it is actually “suppressing your feelings” and “placing bounds on your beautiful, exciting, enriching, fulfilling curiosity”.

    I let go of the steering wheel of truth — it doesn’t determine what is true or not anyway — and chose to ride the roller-coaster of enquiry. Counter-intuitively (or maybe just because I’ve stretched this metaphor too far), it’s more likely to take you somewhere truthful, and real.

  8. Faith and knowledge, great combination
    Faith is the things hoped for that are not seen
    Knowledge is the understanding of God’s creation
    In this respect to understand God’s creation, you have to first believe in things that are not seen.
    For no man has seen God.

  9. I feel sad that you have decided to let go of the truth. The colorless life of suppressed feeling that you describe is the opposite of my own experience. Faith for me is liberating. As a wise man once said: the truth will set you free.

  10. Thanks, kaapstorm, for what you’ve said so articulately and engagingly here.

    You’ve emphasized a certain feeling of freedom, and I wonder whether you consider that to be the chief advantage of your way of looking at things, or at least as one of the chief advantages. To that end I’d like to tell you a story.

    I just made a significant career change. I was with the same organization for thirty-four years. It is probably the most well-established and highly respected organization in its niche (Christian parachurch ministry). I had a role I could only have dreamed of: creative development of ideas and curriculum in an environment extremely free of restraints, á la “skunkworks.”

    I gave up what may be the best non-governmental health insurance program in the country, at a time when I was looking at not one but two potential joint surgeries. One of them has become gradually less likely (thought not ruled out), the other has become considerably more likely, and tomorrow I’ll find out if I have a rotator cuff tear in my left shoulder.

    I set that all good stuff (not necessarily the surgery) aside to jump on board with a very new mission agency, Ratio Christi, that’s very young and is outgrowing its capacity to keep up with itself. I took on responsibility for more than one hundred locations, with all of their potential opportunities and their inevitable problems.

    Whee-ee-ee!!! I’m having a blast.

    Am I in over my head? Certainly! Where’s this going to lead? I don’t know. Are there uncertainties? Of course there are. The RC leaders who brought be on board kept asking me, “Are you sure you want to join a motley, rag-tag band like this?” (They weren’t speaking of the staff around the country, but the continually-trying-to-catch-up state of the central infrastructure.) I said, “Sounds like a fun challenge.”

    It doesn’t take metaphysical uncertainty for life to be a roller coaster ride.

    But where does freedom come from, really? Jesus said, “the truth will make you free.” That’s really helpful: knowing what’s true, solid, and sure about life gives me the ability to take risks with things like my career and my future.

    I played trombone in a session once with a jazz band at the Grove School of Music in Studio City, under the leadership of one of my idols, Dick Shearer of the Stan Kenton band. There’s nothing more free in all of music than jazz. That day, though, we had a pick-up drummer playing with us who couldn’t keep steady time. It was miserable. It totally destroyed the experience. There’s nothing more limiting in jazz than not having something steady, something true, to riff off of. And every jazz band I’ve played in has insisted on tuning up before we start: there’s a truth to the basic pitch everyone starts from, even if a soloist can bend around it.

    But some readers here have noticed that I committed the same mistake with that quotation from Jesus that so many others have made: I took it out of context. Here’s what he really said, there in John 8:31-32:

     So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

    The truth will set us free, but the way to know the truth is to stick with Jesus in his teachings, and to be his apprentices (disciples).

    Frankly I think your expectation of getting more likely to “somewhere truthful, and real,” while letting go of “the steering wheel of truth” is unlikely to be realistic. Letting go of prematurely accepted truth or “truth” that is not truth is a good thing. But letting go of true truth won’t get you closer to “somewhere truthful.”

    There’s more freedom than you might realize in following Christ, by the way. I wrote about it in my article on The Map or the Fuel. Check it out!

    And one more thing: C.S. Lewis wasn’t talking about being a “sound Christian” in the way you took it. He meant being a “sound human being, whether Christian or atheist.” Read it again and I think you’ll find that fits the context better than the way you took it.

  11. Actually, kaapstorm, you should read Ecclesiastes to get a picture of what a life of practical atheism really entails.

    To help you understand it, you can use this study

    https://bible.org/series/ecclesiastes

    So, while C.S. Lewis might instinctively feel as if “faith” is equivalent to “being true to yourself” and “being reliable to others”, it is actually “suppressing your feelings” and “placing bounds on your beautiful, exciting, enriching, fulfilling curiosity”.

    Wrong, on two counts
    1. Lewis did not really mean suppressing feelings by denying them – he meant (and we know this from personal experience) that how one feels about an issue does not affect the truth claims of that issue. It is a matter of discipline to remember what God has done for us ( 2 Corinthians 1:3-10 or Philippians 4:6-9 for example), and as Tom said, being actively involved in living one’s faith and staying in the race until the finish.
    Performance athletes understand this – I’m a long distance runner, and when I’m training for an event, there are a lot of days when I don’t feel like getting up at 6AM on the weekends to get ready for a long run, and by long I mean 20 kilometers or more, but I do it anyway, so that I won’t bonk during the real race. I know that I need to get out there in order to be well-trained enough to stay the course and finish the race, and to meet the performance goals I’ve set for myself.

    2. What bounds does it place on one’s … curiosity? Why do you think this? In my experience, lo these many years of being a Christian ( 35+ years ) that this is not the case. In fact, it opens up a whole set of new questions and challenges 🙂

  12. Hi Tom,

    Thank you for your engaging reply. I think you are right about what C.S. Lewis meant by “sound”. I’ve opened “The Map or the Fuel” in another tab and I’ll get back to it in a minute.

    Bryan, and Tom, on rereading my comment I regretted my choice of words at the end, and tried to edit it to change them to

    I left the Volvo of certainty — it was a false sense of security anyway — …

    but I had taken too long, and it didn’t accept the edit.

    (What I was trying to get at is just that you can’t steer truth where you want it to go; it is a track you follow, like a roller-coaster, not something you control, like a car. But this metaphor really is taking some serious strain by now. 🙂 )

    I don’t feel that I have let go of truth. Quite the opposite. I think my grasp on the truth is better considered, and my understanding of that truth is more realistic than ever before.

  13. I’m curious, kaapstorm, you have told us about the freedom you enjoy – and that is something that I don’t doubt for a moment – but can you tell me what part of your world-view make you least comfortable?

  14. Victoria,

    Performance athletes understand this – I’m a long distance runner, and when I’m training for an event, there are a lot of days when I don’t feel like getting up at 6AM on the weekends to get ready for a long run, and by long I mean 20 kilometers or more, but I do it anyway, so that I won’t bonk during the real race.

    It’s over 100 deg F right now and I don’t feel like doing my 5 mile tempo run later today. My feelings might win this time.

  15. Hi Victoria,

    Actually, kaapstorm, you should read Ecclesiastes to get a picture of what a life of practical atheism really entails.

    To help you understand it, you can use this study

    https://bible.org/series/ecclesiastes

    I swear you guys are teaming up to ensure I never get to read my brand new copy of “A Universe From Nothing”. 🙂 I remember I enjoyed Ecclesiastes as a teenager. Perhaps an indication of things to come? 🙂 But I don’t remember anything from it.

    I’ll check it out with the study guide. If anything, I’m looking forward to reading a theist telling an atheist what athiesm is really all about. 😀

  16. BSquibs, you ask, “Can you tell me what part of your world-view make you least comfortable?”

    That’s an easy one. I scares the living crap out of me that there are billions of people out there making life-changing decisions — decisions that affect my life too — based on knowledge they refuse to evaluate sufficiently. If my worldview accommodated such knowledge, I might not be quite so uncomfortable.

    I say this knowing that I have about a 10% chance of being wrong: Be grateful you aren’t gay. And if you are, may I recommend moving to my country. We have our problems, like every country. But Cape Town is beautiful. And homosexuals have legally been allowed to marry since 2006. Is our society worse off for it? Absolutely not. One of my cousins is a female doctor, and she is married to a female school teacher. That makes them very happy, which makes my family more happy, not less happy. (Although I’m sure not all families respond as positively as mine.)

  17. Oh, Victoria, I accidentally skipped this bit,

    Lewis did not really mean suppressing feelings by denying them – he meant (and we know this from personal experience) that how one feels about an issue does not affect the truth claims of that issue. It is a matter of discipline to remember what God has done for us ( 2 Corinthians 1:3-10 or Philippians 4:6-9 for example)

    I completely agree, and would like to emphasise myself, that how we feel about something doesn’t affect its truth.

    That Philippians verse is particularly inspiring. But you must know that while I think prayer is a good thing, it is only good in so far as it allows the person praying to quietly think about whatever is on her mind. I don’t think it affects the person being prayed for in any way unless you tell them that you have been thinking about them, and are concerned for them, and are willing to help them. That, of course, is comforting and helpful.

    2 Corinthians and Philippians gives the following examples of what God has done for us: His comfort, the suffering of Christ, that He raises the dead, and that He gives peace. I am sure that Jesus suffered. I’m not sure God raises the dead. But I’ll have to expound on that some other time.

    Tom wrote, “faith is the determination of the mind to cling to what is known in the face of what is felt.” I am concerned that those feelings might include doubt, or, at least, suspicion. In which case “clinging”, I am very sure, is not the right response. Investigation and contemplation is. And, specifically, investigation beyond just a book and some study guides written by people with an enormous emotional vested interest in one particular perspective.

    If I were to write to the Corinthians, and try to comfort and inspire them while they were being persecuted, my letter would go more along the lines of,

    Do you remember every time you called out to God for comfort and blessing? Every time you cried yourself to sleep, not knowing how you would get yourself out of bed in the morning?

    Do you remember that you found the strength to carry on, and that you felt the love and support of God, and of those around you?

    You thought it was God?

    Do you know what’s even more awesome?

    It was you and your family and your friends! It was you! You! You are stronger than you ever imagined! You can be proud! And grow stronger in the knowledge that all that love you felt, that was entirely the love of your family and friends. They love you more than you think. And together, you can get through this.

    No matter what persecution you think you might be faced with in the future, do not feel angry. Do not think of your lost friends. Do not feel sad. Feel strong. Feel confident. Feel proud. You have overcome so much. You can get through this.

  18. Interesting response, kaapstorm. But I’m not sure that you actually got at my meaning.

    All off us – irrespective of whether we believe in God or not – in some sense live at the behest of our society. And society is composed of people who disagree over the fundamentals. In short, that there are people who make decisions based upon faulty reasoning (and I don’t believe that religiously motivated reasoning is inherently faulty if that is what you are getting at) is something that impacts us all. Nothing of what you have described is exclusively a consequence of non-belief, it’s just life.

    To explain a little of where I am coming from, there are a number of things that confuse and trouble me about my own faith. Possibly cheif amongst them would be the existence of evil and gratuitous suffering in the face of a good God who we are told has, in some sense, defeated these things. Other troubling matters would be parts of the OT, the nature of hell and also the hiddenness of God.

    Rather than atheism just the non-belief (or lack of belief) in God, I think that it also entails certain things about our existence. Some of these things I find troubling. For example, I think that an atheistic universe is inherently amoral and our lives are meaninglessness in the grander sense of things and so on. So aside from worrying that other people are thinking, what is the thing that troubles you specifically about your world-view.

    Also, when you say you have 10% of being wrong how do you calculate this percentage?

  19. Ah, now I understand what you mean, Billy Squibs,

    I think that an atheistic universe is inherently amoral and our lives are meaninglessness in the grander sense of things and so on. So aside from worrying that other people are thinking, what is the thing that troubles you specifically about your world-view.

    Neither of these things are issues for me any more.

    Regarding morality, the “ought” part of the “is-ought” divide is actually catered for by our own instincts from a very early age. This inherent sense of morality is the basis of all religious morality (not just non-Christian morality, or non-theist morality) (which is not to say that all religious moral instruction is necessarily correct). To be human is to have a sense of morality, or to be sociopathic. Any human society that is not populated exclusively by sociopaths will have a moral code. And if that moral code is determined by reason to maximise wellbeing, it is sure to be at worst equal, but invariably superior to any moral code supposedly acquired from a god. Our Western moral code is only loosely based on the Bible. (We all but ignore the first five commandments, and for good reason; Would you stone someone to death for collecting sticks on a Saturday? (Numbers 15:32-36)) All moral code, including what Christians today consider to be acceptable, is the product of continuous negotiation among members of a society. That is a good thing.

    Regarding how our lives are meaningless. There is a “yes” and a “no” here. First, the “no”. The meaning of your life is just not determined supernaturally. That’s all. It is what you choose! You choose what you want your life to be for. I have chosen my life to be for the benefit of humanity, with a special bias given to my wife and kids — and we can debate how successful I am at achieving that somewhere else. 🙂

    The “yes”; so the universe has not purpose. Well, as my friend Diane would say, “Put on your Big Girl Panties and Get Over It.” Yep, you feel a sense of loss, at first, like when you realise that there is no truly altruistic magical guy who gives presents to kids for no other reason than that it’s Christmas. But you get over it. There are smaller instances of altruism. Like buying Christmas presents yourself. Or choosing your own purpose, and living life according to that.

    (About that 10% figure. Very few animals do not exhibit homosexual behaviour in one form or another (specifically asexual animals like sea urchins and aphids). The tendency of animals to exhibit this behaviour, and whether it occurs occasionally, or whether the animal may show a homosexual preference, depends on the species. I can’t remember where I read it, I’m afraid, so the figure might be completely off, but I remember reading that roughly 10% of humans exhibit some degree of homosexual behaviour. Whether they are “gay”, “bisexual” or, like the girl in Katy Perry’s song, just “curious” I would not be able to say.)

  20. Kaapstorm,

    In your explanation of morality you seem to be having a problem differentiating morality from the law. They’re not the same. What you describe that comes from negotiation of the members of the society is law not morality. And as we have seen over and over societies from the Nazis to the communist regimes in Russia or Cambodia to the Shria law systems of Islam, countries regularly enact laws that defy any sense of even the most basic morality.

    Also, your description of how we determine the value of our own lives is in the most classic sense not a description of the determination of our value but a textbook example of “sound and fury signifying nothing”. Our own words or thoughts don’t make us valuble. Either we have value that is intrinsic to our existence or we are no more valuble than the ant you unknowingly squashed the last time you walked out your door.

    And then you go onto validate the above but admitting that the universe has no purpose but some how miss the fact that if it doesn’t we don’t either. Perhaps you could take a step back from your explanations and look at them in the big picture. You haven’t showed how we have morality and you haven’t showed how we have meaning. What you have done is quite the opposite. Morality that comes from ourselves is always a step away or a step past just naked will to power. And real meaning either exists or it doesn’t.

    If you really want to put on some big girl panties, perhaps a basic understanding of the limitations and deficiencies of your own world view might be a good starting place. After all, the great existentialist thinkers didn’t shy away from this as you have.

  21. You can’t possibly be 100% certain of anything.

    Yes. But how is that relevant here? No-one is claiming 100% certainty – we all accept a degree of uncertainty.

    Most definitions of knowledge do not imply absolute certainty – if they did, we’d all be solipsists.

  22. Hi BillT,

    You say, “What you describe that comes from negotiation of the members of the society is law not morality.”

    I agree that they are not the same. But I think they are both a product of negotiation; in the case of law it is more formal, in the case of morality it is informal, often non-verbal, and happening constantly, all around us.

    Gay marriage is a nice example. In the United States it is a heated topic of debate, and identified as a divisive moral (independent of any laws for or against) issue. In South Africa, although a minority are still strongly against the idea, I would guess (I have no figures) that most Christians now think that gay marriage is acceptable. The Americans and South Africans I am considering here are all Christians. In South Africa, among the Christian community, verbal and non-verbal discourse seems to have reached a majority consensus. That doesn’t seem to be the case in the U.S. yet, but I have no doubt that at some point opinion will settle, just as it did for slavery, and for witchcraft, and for civil rights.

    You say, “Morality that comes from ourselves is always a step away or a step past just naked will to power.” While evil people exist, many of them claim a moral basis to support their actions. You mentioned the Nazis. In “Mein Kampf” Hitler wrote, “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” Of course he was patently wrong. “Naked will to power” does not come exclusively from “morality that comes from ourselves” — at least not in the minds of *all* megalomaniacs — but as I have tried to argue, all morality does, in fact, come from ourselves, including the morality that many believe comes from God. And, on the whole, as time passes, we improve it, and it serves us better and better.

    perhaps a basic understanding of the limitations and deficiencies of your own world view might be a good starting place.

    That is why I’m here. Not to preach; to learn.

    After all, the great existentialist thinkers didn’t shy away from this as you have.

    My intention was not to shy away. I’ll start with Nietzsche. Since my first post on this website my reading list has grown enormously. He may have to wait his turn. 🙂

    Either we have value that is intrinsic to our existance or we are no more valuble than the ant you unknowingly squashed the last time you walked out your door.

    Why would value either be intrinsic, or non-existent? There is a third option, right? For example, Westerners eat cattle that have been slaughtered for their meat, but they don’t do the same with dogs. Is that because a cow is less intrinsically valuable than a dog?

  23. Would you stone someone to death for collecting sticks on a Saturday? (Numbers 15:32-36)

    No, I wouldn’t and I have to admit I have a lot of trouble with that passage. I know it was a wantonly rebellious act – a direct challenge to God’s authority – with ample warning of the consequences. I still find it hard to reconcile.

  24. Kaapstorm,

    Your view of morality and law if flawed. The bottom line is, no God no morality. Mortality is the “ultimate law” and cannot exist without an ultimate law giver. (And BTW, all the existenialists and even most of the New Atheists, when pressed, admit this.) You collapse law and morality in one thing but still call them two different things. Without an ultimate law giver there is no difference between the two. Just negotiated societal laws formally or informally agreed to.

    I won’t dignify your using Hitler as an example of someone who was interested in morality, the Creator, or the Lord with a response. It’s an heinous suggestion. Your belief that as time passes our laws/morality get better is simply naive.

    I certainly do hope you do take a look at what others have said about the world view you have adopted and the one you reject.

  25. @kaapstorm
    Our morality is getting better? Really? I guess that explains why there is no longer any slavery / human trafficking, crime, war, in the 21st century, then.

  26. @kaapstorm
    Morality is not getting better. Morality doesn’t change. Laws, customs, and societies change. You are conflating different concepts.

  27. BillT, you state, “The bottom line is, no God no morality.”

    Wikipedia reckons:

    Morality (from the Latin moralitas “manner, character, proper behavior”) is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are “good” (or right) and those that are “bad” (or wrong). The philosophy of morality is ethics. A moral code is a system of morality (according to a particular philosophy, religion, culture, etc.) and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code. Morality may also be specifically synonymous with “goodness” or “rightness.” Immorality is the active opposition to morality (i.e. opposition to that which is good or right), while amorality is variously defined as an unawareness of, indifference toward, or disbelief in any set of moral standards or principles. An example of a moral code is the Golden Rule which states that, “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”

    Not a single mention of “God” beyond the reference to “religion”, along side “philosophy” and “culture”.

    You continue, “Mortality is the ‘ultimate law’ and cannot exist without an ultimate law giver. (And BTW, all the existenialists and even most of the New Atheists, when pressed, admit this.)”

    Really? Obviously none of them were going by the definition offered by Wikipedia.

    If you choose to define “morality” as “what God says”, then tell us upfront, so we start from a mutual understanding.

    Victoria, actually, our morality really is getting better. Take a look at The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker, or just check out his TED talk on the topic.

  28. @kaapstorm, re #16
    Hmmm… it seems you don’t really understand the significance of Christianity at all, if you can say that about prayer. As for what you would write to the Corinthians, you are still not grasping the fundamental issue here – Christianity gets its strength from the risen Son of God, Jesus Christ, and His promise of His Spirit living within His adopted children. The two anchors of the Christian faith are the Incarnation (the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us – He put on humanity and lived as one of us), and the Resurrection. If these things did not happen, then Christianity is patently false (see 1 Corinthians 15, for example). But these things did happen, and that changes everything.

  29. @kaapstorm #26
    If you can believe that, then you can believeanything, no matter how ridiculous it is. How has the human heart actually changed? Has human behaviour really changed?

    If you can explain away human sex trafficking and slavery in the 21st century, please go ahead.

  30. Hi Victoria,

    I fully appreciate when you say, “Christianity gets its strength from the risen Son of God, Jesus Christ, and His promise of His Spirit living within His adopted children.”

    I agree that Christianity has strength. Absolutely. As a former Christian and sceptic, I just think that instead of it coming from God, His Son, or His Spirit, it comes from Christians! Because, and I realise that you disagree strongly with me on this one, I believe that God, (the divinity of) His Son, and His Spirit, exist exclusively in the minds of Christians. Unlike many atheists, I don’t think that’s such a terrible thing, because God, His Son and His Spirit obviously inspire and motivate Christians tremendously, and on the whole they do positive things as a result — on the whole.

    I think my favourite Christian (although my mother doesn’t consider her a Christian) is Karen Armstrong. Karen Armstrong doesn’t think that “existence” is a necessary attribute of God. She thinks that what is important is that you believe in Him, and what He stands for. (I’m not sure I’m explaining that very well — I’m not even sure I fully understand it.) She writes very well. The first book of hers I read was A History of God, and I thoroughly recommend it.)

    You say that, “If these things did not happen, then Christianity is patently false.”

    Mmmm. Again, most atheists might disagree with me here, but I’m not so sure it is false in every sense of the word. I think it has a lot of value. I’m sure you’re very unlikely to read it, but Alain de Botton wrote a book in which you might find many things you actually agree with, called Religion For Atheists.

    We are all better off for many aspects of Christianity, and the character of Jesus is one we should try to reproduce in our own lives.

    But the supernatural? I know you’re convinced. And I was. But I’m not any more.

  31. Victoria #29, “Has human behaviour really changed?”

    It does seem so, doesn’t it?

    You continue, “If you can explain away human sex trafficking and slavery in the 21st century, please go ahead.”

    No one is explaining away human sex trafficking and slavery. All Steven Pinker is saying is, “Things were much worse. They are getting better. Here is the evidence.” Did you watch the TED talk? Which of his claims do you think are unsubstantiated?

  32. @kaapstorm
    Then you don’t understand anything about Christianity – you are going on about what you think Christianity is, and the fact that there is an objective, Biblical definition and understanding of it that completely contradicts your version seems to be irrelevant to you.

  33. @SteveK
    I don’t mind the heat for a good run(makes cool weather running so much easier – I ran like Elijah last night for a 14K tempo run) – it’s those cold, dark winter mornings that get to me 🙂

  34. Victoria,

    you are going on about what you think Christianity is, and the fact that there is an objective, Biblical definition and understanding of it that completely contradicts your version seems to be irrelevant to you.

    Not at all. I acknowledge that there is an objective, Biblical definition and understanding of Christianity. I just disagree with it.

    It’s not irrelevant to me. If I both acknowledged it and agreed with it, firstly, I would not be an atheist, and secondly, this conversation would be a lot more boring, don’t you think? 🙂

    I’m new around here. Is “Thinking Christian” frequented only by Christians?

  35. I’m new around here. Is “Thinking Christian” frequented only by Christians?

    I believe not. It’s just been a bit quite on the atheist front of late.

  36. In the context of #4 here, it seems that, if you define ‘faith’ in the way you do so in this article, you’d have to agree that quips like “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist” are glib but misguided, right?

    At the very least, they aren’t using the term ‘faith’ the way you define it here, right?

  37. “Oh go on then, tell us where you got your definition of the word “morality”.

    In the Judeo/Christian tradition the understanding of the word and where the authority behind it comes from dates back to the beginning of recorded history. As little as maybe fifty years ago you would have been laughed out of the room for suggesting that man could invent his own morality and have it be anything but a farcical use of the word. Today, we have reached the “elevated” place where people actually ask “where you got your definition of the word”.

  38. Hi BillT,

    In the Judeo/Christian tradition the understanding of the word and where the authority behind it comes from dates back to the beginning of recorded history.

    Well, that explains it, doesn’t it? Back at the beginning of recorded history, people thought rainbows, crop yields and comets came from the same authority.

    As little as maybe fifty years ago you would have been laughed out of the room for suggesting that man could invent his own morality

    In my country, as little as maybe fifty years ago, we had a thing called the Immorality Act which prohibited, amongst other things, sexual relations between white people and people of other races.

    Some of us have come a long way in the last fifty years.

  39. Well, that explains it, doesn’t it? Back at the beginning of recorded history, people thought rainbows, crop yields and comets came from the same authority.

    And as any Christian / trained scientist will tell you, we still do. Our descriptions of the properties and dynamics of space-time, matter-energy, and the physical / natural phenomena that result from them are more sophisticated than those of, say King David ( Psalm 19:1-2 or Psalm 139:13-18 for example), but he and I would agree that they are God’s handiwork – His design – the universe works the way it does because God designed the above-mentioned properties and dynamics – that is what Christians call God’s general providence – the regular, consistent patterns of the way nature operates.

    If you want to see what thoughtful Christians/scientists think about such things, go to http://www.asa3.org – the home page of the American Scientific Affiliation, an association of professional scientists who are also Christians.

  40. Billy Squibs says, “It’s just been a bit quite on the atheist front of late.”

    Well, I’ve learned a whole lot, and I’ve got enough new reading material to keep me busy for a quite while.

    Victoria, I’m sorry we talked past each other. (But, come on, did you honestly expect me to agree with you when you said, “Christianity gets its strength from the risen Son of God”? How could I possibly call myself an atheist, and agree with that?) But I will read Ecclesiastes again, I promise, and I’ll check out the study guide you suggested.

    BillT, I’m sorry our conversation ground to a halt over a rather narrow, albeit I’m sure ancient, definition of “morality”. (And, of course, if you define “morality” as “what God says”, then I’m sure every atheist will agree, no God, no “what God says”, right?) Fortunately evidence shows that in predominantly atheist countries, society does not collapse into moral anarchy. In fact, quite the opposite.

    Both of you, I wish the best of luck with that whole supernatural thing. Five minutes after there is no more neural activity in your brain stem (and I hope that doesn’t happen for a very long time), if you are still conscious, you can have a big long laugh at my expense. A very … long … laugh. 🙂

    But I might bump into you guys again well before then.

    Tom, this really is a great site. Thank you for your well considered and well written posts.

    And thank you all for your lively comments. I’ve had fun.

    I’m sure I’ll be back. Until then, I’ve got some reading to do.

  41. That study is flawed, for it does not seem to understand the difference between nominal Christian (in name only) and genuine Christian (filled with the Spirit of God). Claiming to be affiliated with a faith tradition and actually living in accordance with that tradition are two different things.

    Since it was taken from the US, where the majority of people come from a Judeo-Christian background, what else would you expect? If one took the same survey in India, would it come as a surprise that the majority of people in the Indian prison system identify as Hindu?

    Third, the study does not do a differential comparison of religious faith or lack thereof before going to prison and after being in prison for a while. The study doesn’t take into account that someone, having hit rock-bottom in prison, realizes that his or her life is in the toilet and on the fast-track to hell, and genuinely repents, embraces Christianity (say), and turns his/her life around while serving out the terms of the sentence.

  42. @ Ray # 37 – That’s a fair point. For what it is worth Christians like Greg Koukl have criticised Frank Turek (I assume this is who you are referring to) for using this as a title of a book he wrote.

    It has rhetorical value for sure (much like some of the stuff emanating from the other side) but ultimately it’s a dumb and self-defeating statement. I would hope that for most people it’s used for the former purpose (which is still no excuse) and it’s not actually considered to be a rigorously thought out statement of belief.

  43. It is indeed intended for rhetorical purposes only. Frank knows the difference, and he knows how to explain it. Unlike some of the rhetoric from other sources, he knows when to get on that horse, and when to get off it.

  44. In fairness to Greg Koukl I believe that when criticising his friend he acknowledged the rhetorical nature of the book title.

    I realise that Kaapstorm has bowed out of the conversation but I had partially typed a response up in work yesterday (it was a slow day) and I figure that I may as well post it anyway.

    ===

    A couple of quick points, Kaapstorm. I offered a number of weaknesses that I see with my own world-view (Christianity) and also with yours in order to get the conversation going. Unless you honestly think that your atheism entails no intellectual or emotional challenges then you still haven’t really answered my question.

    Also, I think that I miss-understood your 10% point. I thought that you were referring to the certainty you place on your atheism being false. I’m really not interested in talking about homosexuality or same-sex marriage as these are not things I feel strong about.

    @Victoria
    Even if we grant that morality is getting better (and in many regards I think that it is) the term “better” remains problematic for the atheist. The notion of human flourishing doesn’t quite cut, at least as I understand the argument presented in The Moral Landscape and I’ve yet to hear an atheist whose moral theory doesn’t ultimately rest on the shifting sands of subjectivism. For example, see Kaapstorm above.

    I remember watching the TED talk that Kaapstorm linked to and being somewhat unimpressed. While I agree that Pinker is on to something, I also have three main points to make about the talk.

    One, Pinker couldn’t resist injecting into his talk a mocking and sneering tone towards religious faith. For their part, some of the audience evidently could not help but cheer him on. This, I think, is a sure fire way of getting some people to not listen to you. While this says nothing about the soundness of his thesis it certainly is off-putting.

    Two, I would suggest that due to thinks like the global interdependence of national economies it seems that the very nature of war has shifted over the last 50 years. Deaths from conflicts have mercifully been on the decrease since the end of the Second World War and this is in no small part due to the decline in the number of inter-state wars. However, while the instance of these epic State versus State wars has fallen, there has been a sharp overall increase in the numbers of intra-state wars over the same time. The most resent examples can be seen in places like Syria and Egypt. But who is to say that it will stay this way? Resources are certainly becoming scarcer, and yet we continue to expand as a race. Could we be having oil or water wars in years to come?

    Moreover, I think that there are other forms of violence that Pinker doesn’t begin to consider – at least not in his talk. For example, we as a species readily exploit and destroy other species in ways that don’t seem to be readily justifiable. And what if future generations accepted the arguments of people like Scott Klusendorf (excellent debate about 1hr 30 long) (and I personally think they are scientifically, logically, morally and theologically sound) then it would seem that we have become very much more violent. In other words, while we look back in history and say that deed X is violent crime future generations may look back and conclude that Y, something we readily do nowadays, is morally reprehensible and therefore we lived in brutal and savage times. So we are back to the shifting sands of subjective morality.

    Three, my main bone of contention comes when he compares the battle death rates amongst a number of tiny tribes living 1000’s of years ago to worldwide conflicts. This doesn’t seem like a fair comparison. Firstly, where these tribes living in a particularly violent time, say that lasted only for a period of a handful of years? Or where they an unusually aggressive tribe? What of the advances in battlefield medicine? Somebody only looking at the battle death rates of The German Empire/ Germany between 1914 -1945 in would certainly have a skewed perspective of the greater German society. Secondly, I don’t believe that you can simply look at battle death proportions and make any statement on our improving morality. IMO, a 3% battle death rate out of a tribe 1,000 is not a moral improvement over a 1% battle death rate out of a population of 10,000,000. I’m interested in the actual total figures, not their proportions. This is where I think that statistics don’t really tell the whole story.

  45. “I think that it is) the term “better” remains problematic for the atheist. The notion of human flourishing doesn’t quite cut (it?)…”

    Exactly. Not only doesn’t it cut it, it’s stolen from theism. Human flourishing is a meaningless term from an atheistic perspective as the atheist has no way do explain why human flourishing is any better than human decline. For human flourishing to be the basis for a moral understanding humans would have to have some intrinsic value that would make their flourishing somehow preferable to their decline.

    However, no such value can or does exist within an atheistic world view. In their world view a “A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy”. We all are just a great cosmic accident with little if anything to differentiate us from any other living creature whether plant or animal. And given all of this will end and we will become the forgotten cosmic dust of the universe, just why would it mater what we did or didn’t do in the brief seconds we existed. For that matter what difference would it make if it all ended tomorrow.

    Only a planet filled with humans who were put here for a reason would their flourishing be preferable to their decline. That’s what they steal from the theists. They try to skip past the reason flourishing is better than decline and just assume that it is. And, of course, given we believe we have value (Gee, I wonder why that is?) most will not think to challenge their assumption. But challenged it should be as it is baseless in the accidental, meaningless world of atheism.

  46. [whispering, because I am not really here] The reason I have to bow out is because this discussion has taken up way too much of my headspace, leaving too little for me to do my job. I am a software developer, and the past few days at work have been among the least productive of my career. I got the feeling that the conversation was winding down, and I took the opportunity to excuse myself from it.

    But I’m popping back just to address two questions, and then I really must go.

    BSquibs, we can switch to e-mail. My address is kaapstorm at gmail dot com.

    For the sake of anyone else reading this thread though, your question is totally valid. There is a wonderful poem by Thomas Hardy, titled “God’s Funeral” that captures the deep sense of loss that comes with moving beyond your belief.

    It does eventually pass, though. It took me a long time, years, until I was prepared to admit to myself what I had long suspected to be true: the supernatural is not only unlikely … it’s ludicrous. You reach this “scales falling away from your eyes” realisation, and things that had been so hard to grapple with, like a world of suffering under a benevolent and omnipotent being, are simply resolved. You can understand the world around you with an insight that you never had before.

    I think we’ve covered “purpose” already. If not, please mail me and we can pick it up again.

    There are two other emotional challenges. The first is your family and friends. My father and sister know what I believe, and my father and I talk about it at length. Duty is an important character trait for him, and he not only attends church regularly, he is also a lay minister in his church, but his beliefs are probably well aligned with yours, BSquibs.

    My mother, on the other hand, would probably be heartbroken if she read everything I’ve written on this site. Our religious conversations are occasional, and I restrain myself from explaining exactly what I believe.

    I have several Christian friends. I’m sure they know what I think. We don’t talk about religion at all. But we have long histories and many other interests in common.

    So that is Problem Number One: Your openness with your family and friends may be tempered, unless you choose to do the whole Coming Out thing, which has some definite pros and some definite cons.

    Problem Number Two is Community. Cape Town is very cosmopolitan, and in my industry atheism is common, so this is not much of a problem for me. But where you live things might be different.

    There is a brilliant radio podcast, hosted by a former evangelical Christian, Seth Andrews, called (funnily enough) “The Thinking Atheist”. He is extremely personable, and talks directly to the issues people like you and I come across. Look him up. I subscribe to his podcast with an app called “BeyondPod”, and I listen to his show in the car to and from work. He’s great.

    Before I go, BillT, you said something I just can’t let slide.

    Human flourishing is a meaningless term from an atheistic perspective as the atheist has no way do explain why human flourishing is any better than human decline. For human flourishing to be the basis for a moral understanding humans would have to have some intrinsic value that would make their flourishing somehow preferable to their decline.

    However, no such value can or does exist within an atheistic world view. In their world view a “A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy”.

    Not only is that patently false, it is violently repugnant.

    Straight up, understand that when I use the word “value” I do not mean “the worth imbued by God on that small subset of humanity that He chooses to favour”. I’m sure even the ancients had an understanding similar to my own, but if you are unsure, try Wiktionary. Yes, really.

    Just because value is not assigned by God does not mean that it does not exist.

    I am not sure which atheists you refer to when you say, “in their world view a ‘A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy’,” but I have never met such an atheist, and I’ve met quite a few. What you describe is a baby-eating monster.

    Value is determined by humans, moral (my definition, not yours) humans, who value human life and well-being, and the lives and well-being of those loved by (all) humans.

    That is why atheists do not eat babies, or dogs. Some of them don’t even eat animals.

    I’m not convinced BillT is able to fully appreciate any perspective that extends beyond his own worldview. So this video is for the rest of you. It is a well-known debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig. You may have watched it already.

    It is important though that you watch it with an understanding that neither Sam Harris nor William Lane Craig actually direct their discussion to each other. Both of them are speaking to the part of the audience they have chosen. From the beginning, they both choose incompatible definitions of “objective”. William Lane Craig chooses a meaning familiar to you all; a Platonic ideal, or divinely ordained absolute. Sam Harris chooses a meaning familiar to his own audience; the highest peak on his “moral landscape”. If you are not yet familiar with his moral landscape, try his TED talk.

    If you get past the fact that he is not addressing divinely determined morality, and that he is assigning his own (perfectly reasonable) definition to the “ought” part of the “is-ought divide”, then you may be able to appreciate what he has to say, and I recommend you watch it again. If you can’t, either watch it to hear William Lane Craig say nothing you haven’t heard before, or, rather, please don’t waste your time. It will just upset you, and teach you nothing.

    Here is the debate.

    And now, I really must go. You have my address if you want to follow up on anything I’ve written. And, BillT, please excuse me if I choose not to reply.

  47. Just because value is not assigned by God does not mean that it does not exist.

    Nobody is suggesting this. We know it exists in your mind as an opinion or preference about various situations or things so it would be silly to deny the obvious. Opinions and preferences exist. What doesn’t exist in a naturalistic universe is moral duty.

  48. Yes, kaapstorm answers predictably. I have value because I say I do! And, of course, he does as far as that goes. And it goes no further than the tips of his fingers. It applies to no one but himself and it creates no duties or obligations for or to anyone else. It means nothing to anyone but himself. And this self declared worth cannot be the basis for any morality for anyone except himself. Anyone that chooses not to value kaapstorm and his self declared worth has every right to do so. Why should they care what he declares. Why should any society care and why or how could they use it to create a moral code to live by. He’s right though, few atheists eat babies. But then no atheists can tell me why anyone shouldn’t, either. But it’s me that can’t appreciate any perspective outside my world view.

  49. (because it is 04:00 AM in South Africa, and kaapstorm couldn’t possibly suck that badly at letting go.)

    Assuming there is a divinely determined morality, would it make any practical difference? I mean, do you know what it is?

    Every religion claims that God (or gods) has given them instructions. But each religion’s version is different. Not one religion has enough evidence that their version is correct to persuade any of the other religions to switch en masse.

    Doesn’t it bother you that most of you chose the same version as your parents? Or would you say that God loves the babies of Christians just a little more than other babies; at least enough to give them a bit of a statistical leg-up?

    And even if we assume that Christianity is the one religion to which God has given His absolute moral code, every time Christians try to interpret that moral code, they come up with something different. I’m sure “the broad strokes” are the same, but what about the differences? How can you act according to your moral duty if you don’t know exactly what your obligations are?

    It is obvious to everyone that most religions’ versions are not dictated by God.

    Some of us are honest enough with ourselves to suspect that maybe none of them are dictated by God.

  50. I would encourage you watch the rest of the talk, SteveK. Not that it gets any better mind you. It gets worse, in fact. But Harris does demonstrate a master-class in how to inject gravitas by delivering your message slowly and with pregnant pauses.

    Yes, religions have much to answer for but all I got out of that talk, apart from the conflation of religions into one amorphous blob of evil, was that he actually didn’t provide any answers. Rather, he broadly voiced Western sensibilities and the audience unsurprisingly agreed with him.

    There was a lot use of words like “may”, “probably” and “perhaps” in relation to how we are to navigate this moral landscape. Sadly beyond encouraging us to admit that moral questions have answers (something religions like Christianity have always maintained) he offers little in the way of showing us how, from his atheistic perspective, this is possible.

  51. And some of us know the difference between the genetic fallacy and a decent argument.

    kaapstorm, I’m going to recommend you get a copy of True Reason and check out David Marshall’s response to the first issue you raised just now. You could also look in on something similar online here, too.

    Our basic obligations are clear. God did not give us every little detail: Should I read a book or listen to music? Should I give to the poor in Africa, or nearby? He did give us some really clear broad strokes: Should I defect from the truth of the Gospel? No. Should I love other persons? Yes. Should I have sex outside of marriage? No. Should I practice justice to the best of my understanding? Yes. Should I worship myself? No. Should I worship God? Yes.

    These things are quite clear. Which controversies were you thinking of?

  52. Oops — I almost forgot to mention: my review of Sam Harris’s no-show at the Craig debate can also be found in True Reason. That is, he showed up with a lot of appeals to emotion, but when Craig demonstrated that his thesis could not rationally be true — that is, when Craig demonstrated that Harris, the founder of “Project Reason” had staked out and was defending a rationally incoherent position, one that failed basic tests of reason and logic — Harris completely ignored it. He didn’t address it. He didn’t even acknowledge it. That’s what I mean by being a no-show.

  53. Among other things, I hope this gives you some sense of confidence that we’ve given these matters some thought before now. Of course I’m happy to think them through with you here in this kind of online conversation: it’s what this blog is for. I don’t mean to shunt you off to other sources, except as they provide additional support, beyond what anyone could write in a blog comment. In this case, though, the other sources provide that additional benefit of demonstrating that we’ve at least recognized and grappled with the issues you raise.

  54. (I’m really awful at quitting, aren’t I? I did manage to restrain myself from posting something at 4 this morning though.)

    Tom, I personally never had any doubt that you’ve given these matters a lot of thought. And I will add “True Reason” to my reading list. It looks like a good summary of the thinking I’d find throughout this site.

    Fancy earning $2000 for 1000 words? Do you know Sam Harris is offering a prize adjudicated by Russell Blackford? Before you dismiss it, check out the FAQ at the other side of that link. It looks like the $2000 may well be going to someone. It might as well be you.

  55. BSquibs wrote, “Sadly beyond encouraging us to admit that moral questions have answers (something religions like Christianity have always maintained) he offers little in the way of showing us how, from his atheistic perspective, this is possible.”

    I haven’t read his book, but I’d imagine that the “how” is more likely to be in there.

    Yes, but what religions like Christianity maintain is that their holy book, given to them by God, dictates what those answers are. What Harris tries to show is that there is at least one other way, theoretically, to determine those answers.

    That is very useful if you accidentally don’t subscribe to the right holy book.

    I’m sure Tom is right when he says that Christians agree on the basic obligations, but I still think the idea of another means to those answers might be useful even for Christians, if only to help with the everyday minutiae. (Should I send my money to that rich televangelist, or should I help the poor guy over the hall to pay his rent while he’s between jobs?)

  56. kaapstorm,

    Yes, but what religions like Christianity maintain is that their holy book, given to them by God, dictates what those answers are. What Harris tries to show is that there is at least one other way, theoretically, to determine those answers.

    This is an incorrect characterization of the link between God, the bible and morality as far as I am concerned. While the bible does have something to say about moral questions it does not dictate the answers.

    The link between God and morality is much more nuanced than “we need God to tell us what is right”. Paul quite rightly maintained that at least some of what is morally right and wrong could be known to anyone. Proponents of natural law would argue that reason can tell us what is good up to a point. It is this fact the atheists draw on when they reason about morality, the problem is that for there to be a good for people that rises above personal preference or the enforcement of the majorities preference on the minority, humans must be created with a purpose. It is good for us to do those things and be the way we were created to be, it is bad for us to frustrate those purposes.

    Of course people flourish when they satisfy the purpose for which they were made – aligning yourself with reality generally works that way. There is no way to deny purpose in nature and still hold to universal objective morality. If this is true, on what basis can atheists judge others? – and judge they certainly do.

  57. I would just like to add that my dad is an atheist, my mum is effectively a none and I came to faith in my 20s while studying my undergrad degree in science. I would also add that the millions of people coming to faith in places where the dominant cultural narratives are hostile to Christianity show that the skeptics story if indoctrination and failure to grow out of belief in God because of the discomfit as an explanation for Christian faith is wrong as a generalization and should be jettisoned by people who profess to care about evidence.

    I know you think that your Sunday school understanding of faith is about all there is to the Christian faith but really it’s like someone claiming the science they learnt in primary school is all there is to science.

  58. Hi kaapstorm,

    it’s as difficult to kick the posting habit as it is to quit smoking but perhaps it’s a little healthier. Thanks for the invite to personal conversation. I may take you up on it. However, this public conversation is very enjoyable and I think it benefits from other perspectives.

    == Tangent ==

    A while back you mentioned something about fine tuning. You may be interested in a critique of Victor Stenger (part 1 and part 2) by Luke Barnes. Stenger pops up in the comments section. There is a more technical version here). Barnes has also written on Laurence “Something from nothing” Krauss several times. Indeed, I see that his most recent post is about Feser’s commentary on Krauss. If you recall Feser was recommended to you above by G Rodriguez, I believe. More for that ever growing reading list.

    For his part Barnes isn’t a believer – certainly not a believer in Christ – and he is equally at home criticising Christians like WLC as he is in criticising anti-theists like Stenger and Krauss.

    == End Tangent ==

    Now that this is out of the way it occurs to me that we have a different understanding of the Bible. I don’t see it primarily as God’s Big Book of Rules that will cover each and every eventuality we encounter in life. To be sure there are many laws in the books of the Bible, some of which Christians maintain have been obviated through and by Christ. However, I think that rather then being a book of rules the Bible is primarily an account of God’s interaction with a backwater tribe and the frankly bizarre lengths he went through to rescue creation itself. In other words, the Bible is a means to come to know God rahter then a really long book of “do’s and don’ts”.

    Finally, there are a number of questions/ challenges that non-believers regularly ask of Christian apologists. Two have been raised here in some form or another are –

    1) You are only a believer because your parents were.

    This is neither necessarily true nor is a coherent argument (see genetic fallacy for more).

    2) You don’t need religion to be moral.

    Often when the case for objective morals is made the non-believer hears “You don’t have grounds for objective morality and therefore you are nothing more than an immoral baby-eating heathen”. This is irrespective of whether it was said by the apologist or not. In my experience it is a case of people wanting to hear stuff that they can be outraged by. However it passes that people arrive at this understanding it is exactly opposite to the point that Paul makes in Romans 2:13-15.

    So, yes, I certainly grant that Harris might be correct when he suggests in that there are other avenues to knowing moral truth. That’s a Biblically coherent statement, I think. But the problem is that, again, when Harris suggests this he has no ultimate foundation upon which to rest his morality. Perhaps he fleshes it out in his book, but from what I understand many of those who eagerly anticipated its release were left disappointed.

    P.S. I happen to work in development myself and it is interesting to find how many guys are not just non-believers but also anti-theists to boot(strap).

  59. Dnk,

    “Assuming there is a divinely determined morality, would it make any practical difference? I mean, do you know what it is?”

    Duties and obligations. Moral codes that are personal to each individual create no duties or obligations to or really for anyone except the person who holds them. (See#51). Can you see that personally held “morality” isn’t morality at all. For morality to have any worth for anyone it must create duties and obligations for everyone to everyone. Morality that is personal is just that, nothing more than a personal preference that (See# 50) falls far short of being (Capital”M”) morality in any way.

    P.S. And the idea that these personal preferences masquerading as morality even create duties or obligations for the person that holds them is questionable. Because if one believes he has an obligation based on such a preference and no one else believes that, how long will that person continue to act on that belief when no one else reciprocates.

  60. Re: humans create their own morality, and further to what BillT said in 63, it’s easy to show that human-created morality isn’t the same as moral duty. You can have one without the other, and if you can do that it shows that they are not the same.

    Ask yourself if you or anyone else would be obliged to live their life according to human-created moral code X. I’m being vague on purpose to show the disconnect. You cannot answer the question about human duty without knowing what X is (even then it may be difficult/impossible to answer).

    But if humans create their own morality then it doesn’t matter what X is – the duty/obligation would be inherent by the fact that humans create their own morality. Therefore, it is false that humans create their own morality.

  61. SteveK is right. Humans create laws and customs, but they don’t create moral duty. They create legal duty and etiquette that may or may not overlap with moral duty. Where they differ or contradict, we have problems.

  62. And here’s what I don’t understand and mentioned to kaapstorm. It’s really not just Christians who believe that (Capital “M”) morality can’t exist without God (i.e., in a purely naturalistic universe). Here is a link to an article by atheist and noted evolutionist Jerry Coyne that says this very same thing.

  63. Melissa, you say, “While the bible does have something to say about moral questions it does not dictate the answers. … It is good for us to do those things and be the way we were created to be, it is bad for us to frustrate those purposes.”

    OK. (Does everyone else agree with that?) Sounds fine to me. Maybe this is a stupid question — maybe I missed that particular lesson in Sunday School myself — but how do we know what we were created to be? e.g. We no longer hold to the divine right of kings, but the logic is pretty solid: God created me the eldest son of your king, and therefore it is God’s will that I become your king. In fact, that reminds me of the now-omitted third verse of “All Things Bright And Beautiful”,

    The rich man in his castle,
    The poor man at his gate,
    God made them high and lowly,
    And ordered their estate.

    Obviously we disagree with that these days. But why? And is there anything that we think today about our divinely determined purpose and identity that we may disagree with tomorrow? (Gender issues come to mind.)

    “I know you think that your Sunday school understanding of faith is about all there is to the Christian faith”

    Well, not entirely. Karen Armstrong put paid to that. But you are right that a lot of what I was taught as a kid I believed for a long time to be true, and I’ve certainly learned a lot about what thinking Christians like you believe from my conversations on this site.

    I am one of those people who in my early twenties still believed in Tom’s “God*”, by my thirties had moved to deism, and eventually let go of the idea of the supernatural altogether. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d be a Christian today even if my church had taught me what you all know — I would probably still find the supernatural to be far less likely than the natural explanations we have for the same phenomena — but the church I grew up in would probably have more people my age attending it. And, as my heart-felt plea in Part One #97 suggests, I still “pity them their willful ignorance” for not understanding what you understand.

    What that plea does not admit, though, is the enormous difficulty involved in implementing it. I was chatting to my mom today about her bible study group, and how they are split between the more academic members like her, who are happy to accept that the Gospel of John was not actually written by the apostle John himself, and the more literalist members, who are not interested at all in thinking too hard. How, then, would you split teenagers, and tell some of them, “Listen, guys, morality does not come directly from the Bible. What is actually the case is that it is good for us to do those things and be the way we were created to be, it is bad for us to frustrate those purposes.” And tell the others, “You know what? Don’t worry about it. Just don’t go to YouTube or read Wikipedia and you’ll be fine.”

    SteveK, I agree, “Ask yourself if you or anyone else would be obliged to live their life according to human-created moral code X,” that if by “obliged” you mean in a divine or absolute sense, you are right; nobody would be obliged. But you’re speaking to someone who does not believe in an afterlife where justice is metered out based on such an obligation, nor that such an obligation exists.

    But if “moral code X” happens to be the moral code held by members of the society in which you find yourself, whether you agree with it on not, you are certainly obliged. Just try walking down a street in Saudi Arabia, next to your wife, drinking a beer, and wearing swimming shorts and a bikini. You will soon experience a non-divine sense of “obligation”. That meaning of obligation I can believe in.

    BillT, your Jerry Coyne link looks fascinating. I’ll certainly read it. But I think you misunderstand me. We are agreeing on this point. If you say that Morality is “what God says”, or as Melissa points out “the implications of what God says”, then if God does not exist, “what God says” does not exist either — not in the same sense (it just turns out that it’s what humans said, and mistakenly thought God said). So yes, no God; no Morality. What I was trying to convey though was something else, and I think we agreed on that as well; that it is theoretically possible to come up with a (little “m”) morality that optimises our wellbeing. SteveK is correct, there is no (big “O”) Obligation to adhere to that morality, but there is a social (little “o”) obligation, and while we are alive, assuming no supernatural interference (like what happened to Onan), the result on your and my life is the same.

    So, no supernatural, no God, no Morality, no Obligation, no afterlife. But yes morality, yes obligation. And maybe, without a predetermined idea of what God means us to be and to do, we could come up with something that leads to a more flourishing society.

  64. kaapstorm,

    but how do we know what we were created to be

    By what we were created to be I meant human not what I personally am supposed to do. There are ways to be a good human, to live a good life (to advance “human well- being” if you will). These ways may look slightly different in each particular human life due to accidental circumstances but there are some things, determined by our nature (in the technical sense of the word) as human beings that frustrate the purpose toward which we are directed towards as human beings, these we call bad. Given that naturalism denies that purpose and meaning do not exist as part of reality external to human minds, and some humans have purposes that do frustrate their natural ends there is nothing in the naturalistic worldview that allows you to judge anyone else’s actions as optimizing our well-being. Your little m morality doesn’t exist either unless people already agree with you and there is no way to rationally convince anyone that they should agree with you.

    But if “moral code X” happens to be the moral code held by members of the society in which you find yourself, whether you agree with it on not, you are certainly obliged. Just try walking down a street in Saudi Arabia, next to your wife, drinking a beer, and wearing swimming shorts and a bikini. You will soon experience a non-divine sense of “obligation”. That meaning of obligation I can believe in.

    I find that very interesting that you would write, especially considering the context you are coming from. I would argue that in many cases there are laws that we have an obligation to not follow, and in fact to work against because they are immoral. A legal obligation and a moral obligation are two different things.

  65. kaapstorm,

    Money is a bit like what you describe. It’s fictional – you can’t feed your kids on bank notes or bits in a database – but the shared agreement to go along with the fiction can help us to live better lives. However, it must be grounded in reality. We suffer to the extent that it is not grounded in reality.

    The same with legal systems or other human-created systems of morality. They’re a fiction, but they’re useful to the extent they garner shared agreement and are aligned with the true underlying moral reality.

    While fictional morality systems may be useful, ultimately they must be grounded in the reality of an objective truth – not merely subjective desire. Christianity, rightly understood, provides the basis for this truth.

  66. @kaapstorm

    nd how they are split between the more academic members like her, who are happy to accept that the Gospel of John was not actually written by the apostle John himself, and the more literalist members, who are not interested at all in thinking too hard

    This is an extremely prejudicial and insulting statement, one that both demonstrates ignorance of NT scholarship ( it is not a matter of consensus amongst NT scholars that the author of the 4th Gospel is not John the Apostle), and arrogance – who are you to decide that those of us who side with the traditional authorship are literalists who are not interested at all in thinking too hard? What scholarly credentials do you have (that go beyond the Internet) give you the right to say something like that?
    That is an insult to scholars like Daniel Wallace, who has thought carefully about things like the authorship of NT documents.

    Readers interested in a summary of what he has to say about John’s Gospel will find it here
    https://bible.org/seriespage/gospel-john-introduction-argument-outline#P74_15663

    Michael Kruger has this to say about John’s Gospel
    http://michaeljkruger.com/is-the-gospel-of-john-history-or-theology/

    and for readers who have access to the Biblical Archaeology site (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/), do a search for John’s gospel (look for
    John: Historian or Theologian?
    By D. Moody Smith – BR 20:05 Oct 2004 )

    or the Pool of Siloam

    BAR is doubly suited to our purposes – it is generally based on solid scholarship and archaeology, and nobody would accuse it of being a mouthpiece of conservative Biblical thought.

  67. @kaapstorm

    But if “moral code X” happens to be the moral code held by members of the society in which you find yourself, whether you agree with it on not, you are certainly obliged.

    You know this isn’t true. The moral code (little ‘m’) of early American society was that slavery is good for society and hence is a moral good. You are saying that everyone living in America at that time would be morally obliged (little ‘o’) to go along with that moral code. You are saying the minority who sought to end slavery, that they sought an end to a moral good.

    Do you believe that this minority group eventually ended a morally good situation, or did they end a morally evil one?

  68. kaapstorm, you wrote

    I was chatting to my mom today about her bible study group, and how they are split between the more academic members like her, who are happy to accept that the Gospel of John was not actually written by the apostle John himself, and the more literalist members, who are not interested at all in thinking too hard. How, then, would you split teenagers, and tell some of them, “Listen, guys, morality does not come directly from the Bible.

    So I think what you’re saying here is (a) no one who has ever done any study into the matter, and no one who is “interested at all in thinking too hard,” believes that John wrote the fourth gospel, and (b) your authority for this information is your mom’s Bible study group.

    Look, (a) is silly. It’s silly regardless of the source. We’re having a good discussion here: try to keep it on the rails, okay?

    And by that I don’t mean, “try a little harder not to be so obviously offensive,” though I could have meant that. (I do not disagree with what Victoria said.) What I really mean is, “try a little harder to think about what you believe before you commit to it in words and say something as unsupportable as that.”

  69. Here’s someone else who isn’t very academic and doesn’t like to think about anything much at all, making a total fool of himself by providing solid, thoroughly researched, and academically respectable arguments for the Johannine authorship of that gospel, along with the other gospels’ authorship, while also holding down a job as professor of the philosophy of science and chairing a university philosophy department.

    I don’t suppose he got invited to your mom’s Bible study, though.

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gldvim1yjYM&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dgldvim1yjYM

  70. kaapstorm,

    It’s hard to imagine what you think your little ‘o’ or little ‘m’ will do for anyone. How will anyone know what we each think the little ‘o’ or little ‘m’ are? Why do you even think everyone will want to create a more flourishing society (which as I explained earlier is a concept stolen from theism). It all seems a bit Pollyannaish from my understanding of the world in which we live.

    And BTW I think you will find Coyne’s article interesting. In it he will explain why ‘A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy’. It’s an obvious implication of atheism that it seems you have failed to consider.

  71. How does this concept of faith line up with the description of ‘faith’ in the latest Papal encyclical, Lumen Fidei?

    “Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift…” doesn’t seem like “the Determination To Keep Hold On Knowledge”. Is the claim that the only way anyone could have ‘Determination To Keep Hold On Knowledge’ is with ‘a supernatural gift’ ‘from God’?

    Or does the Catholic Church have yet another concept of ‘faith’, different from both the one Tom Gilson is proposing, and the one that Peter Boghossian puts forth?

  72. @Ray
    Read the entire article – as usual, you are selectively citing.

    Faith as being grounded in knowledge and faith being a supernatural gift from God are complementary. We (Christians) have always thought that both are necessary components. The encyclical makes that very clear.

  73. Victoria – What is this ‘spiritual gift’ component, though? How does ‘spiritual trust’ differ from ‘regular trust’ or ‘regular determination’, assuming faith really is trust or determination?

  74. Victoria, Tom, I am sorry. That was a poor example, and poorly phrased on top of that. Let me try again.

    My mother’s Bible study is divided into two groups of people. Recently they have been looking at the Gospel of John. The first group of people is more academic, and is happy to accept for the sake of discussion, or willing to entertain alternative ideas, or even just curious about the authorship of the book, and when it was written. The second group of people is not curious. Not just that, they see the question as distracting, irrelevant, and maybe even offensive. They don’t want to study that. Instead they want to be given one single meaning of the text, preferably one that is close to its literal meaning.

    And that example lead me to an appreciation that not all Christians will accept the idea that the Bible may be nuanced. They are not good with nuanced. Perhaps some of them are a little afraid of nuanced, because it seems dangerous to them.

    I am sorry my wording was misleading and offensive.

  75. The spiritual component comes from the Spirit of God Himself, who opens our eyes to the significance of the Person of Jesus Christ, and the significance of the facts about His life, death and resurrection, as in John 16:5-11, Romans 5:1-11, Romans 8:1-17, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, for example.

  76. Hi BillT,

    It’s hard to imagine what you think your little ‘o’ or little ‘m’ will do for anyone. How will anyone know what we each think the little ‘o’ or little ‘m’ are? Why do you even think everyone will want to create a more flourishing society (which as I explained earlier is a concept stolen from theism).

    Let me start from the end, and work my way back. And I’ll start with an acknowledgment that you and I disagree about the fundamentals of my point, but please suspend your disbelief for a moment. This is just an explanation of where I am coming from.

    Imagine for a moment the universe I think I live in. It is the result of a First Cause that is not intelligent (or as Mr. X would say, “have something analogical to intellect”). It resulted in 13.8 billion years of stars and galaxies, our solar system and Earth, spontaneous life and evolution, primates, humans, you and me. I’m guessing somewhere around 60 000 to 40 000 years ago (I’m not a paleoanthropologist) our ancestors and some of their relatives invented an ancient form of spirituality, based on their experiences of nature, and mental perceptions. It is believed that both humans and neanderthals had a concept of an afterlife, based on their burial practices. Much later humans developed what we would today consider to be theism. And it was an amalgamation of what today are separate disciplines of thought, including theology, and philosophy, and science. So, when you say “concept stolen from theism”, I don’t think theist concepts belong to theism any more than science or philosophy do, but some ideas found in science and philosophy originated in theism.

    You ask, “Why do you even think everyone will want to create a more flourishing society?”

    “Everyone”? No. But I trust that enough of us do, because we are good people, and we want the best for each other and our children.

    (I hear you asking what “good” could possibly mean without God to help us determine it. “Good” starts as an instinctive understanding that allows you to get on with other humans beings from before you can walk, and develops as you grow older and we collectively get wiser. The idea of “good” came long before the idea of “God”. Other primates like chimpanzees and bonobos have concepts of “good”. And they have structures in their societies to “oblige” individuals to abide by them. They don’t have a holy book, religion or philosophy.)

    You ask, “How will anyone know what we each think the little ‘o’ or little ‘m’ are?” Because if we want people to agree with us, we are sure to tell them.

    You ask, “It’s hard to imagine what you think your little ‘o’ or little ‘m’ will do for anyone.”

    It’s done all this! Every bit of goodness in the world, like SteveK’s example of slavery’s abolition, is the success of someone’s little “m”, and their resistance of the dominant little “o” of their time. Even religion! One day Jesus (in my universe he is not divine, but he is a very good man) decided that the Pharisees and the Sadducees had it wrong. So he told them. And he persuaded a lot of people to agree with him, and they persuaded more, and more. Other easy examples are Siddhārtha Gautama, Confucius, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. They all struggled to establish something better.

    SteveK, to address your question specifically, “Do you believe that this minority group eventually ended a morally good situation, or did they end a morally evil one?”

    They ended a situation that was considered morally good at the time, but which we now know to be morally evil.

    There are things today that are in the same transition. Interestingly, it seems, that every time this happens, it corresponds to a broader definition of “neighbour” — BillT, here is something else borrowed from theism, but not owned by it — “Love your neighbour as you love yourself“. It turns out that slaves are neighbours. Women are neighbours. Black people are neighbours. Gay people? I guess it depends who you ask.

    That’s all from our supernatural-free universe for now. Over to your universe.

  77. Victoria, by “nuanced” I meant something more like Melissa’s understanding of the Bible, and by “literal” I meant something more like Ken Ham’s.

  78. Wow, kaapstorm that’s so….insightful. Your mother’s Bible study group as a paradigm for all Christians everywhere. And let’s not fail to mention your descriptions of these to groups and the, ahem, very nuanced opinion you have of them.

  79. Oh, before I go, BillT, about that “rat-pig-dog-boy” thing.

    My little “m” morality, and I presume your big “M” morality, are both OK with eating pigs. I do it regularly myself. In Nigeria they serve roast cane rat at the side of the road, much like they do hot dogs in South Africa and America. It doesn’t appeal to me, but my little “m” morality has no problem with it.

    I would not eat a dog though, unless my situation was dire. This is because my little “m” attributes a value to dogs, because they are loved by people.

    And I would certainly never eat a boy. My little “m” would assign a higher value to the boy than to myself. If we were starving in a cave, and it was him or me, my death would be less of a tragedy. (I’m sure you’d agree! 😉 )

    Even Jerry Coyne might agree, although he might see it in terms of potential gene proliferation and the fact that I don’t plan on having any more kids. While Jerry Coyne doesn’t believe that “M” Morality exists, I’m sure he can recognise “m” morality.

  80. ‘You ask, “It’s hard to imagine what you think your little ‘o’ or little ‘m’ will do for anyone.”

    It’s done all this! Every bit of goodness in the world, like SteveK’s example of slavery’s abolition, is the success of someone’s little “m”, and their resistance of the dominant little “o” of their time.”

    Right. I get it! (And always have.) If there is no God then that’s possibly true. But that’s just your opinion and you have no more evidence that there is no God (if not a great deal less) that theists do that he does. And if He does, it makes your entire explanation bunch of nonsense. What? Did you think because you can make up some scenario that “accounts” for all the positive things that have happened that that makes it true? How does any of the stuff you have made up actually count as evidence for the validity of your proposition that God doesn’t exist? Hey, I’m not saying you’re not a good story teller but what would make me think you’re anything but that.

  81. @Ray Ingles:

    Or does the Catholic Church have yet another concept of ‘faith’, different from both the one Tom Gilson is proposing, and the one that Peter Boghossian puts forth?

    See Faith.

    From the first paragraph under the title “Faith may be considered both objectively and subjectively”:

    Objectively, it stands for the sum of truths revealed by God in Scripture and tradition and which the Church (see RULE OF FAITH) presents to us in a brief form in her creeds, subjectively, faith stands for the habit or virtue by which we assent to those truths. It is with this subjective aspect of faith that we are here primarily concerned. Before we proceed to analyze the term faith, certain preliminary notions must be made clear.

    When Tom uses the word faith he is using it in the subjective sense of the article, a “habit of virtue”. And there is of course, a direct and intimate connection between “habit of virtue” and “supernatural gift”.

    It is not hard, you know.

  82. BillT: “if He does [exist], it makes your entire explanation bunch of nonsense.”

    Of course. And if He doesn’t, likewise to your understanding.

    BillT: “How does any of the stuff you have made up actually count as evidence?”

    I gave no evidence. That wasn’t my intention. It was merely to explain my position and offer an alternative to yours.

  83. “Even Jerry Coyne might agree…”

    You should read him. You might be surprised. (Not to mention you use of the term “value” as it relates to dog, pigs, and boys is also stolen from theism and unsupportable in an atheistic universe (See:Coyne, Jerry), your little ‘o’ and ‘m’ notwithstanding.)

  84. Well kaapstorm you do tell a good story. Usually, on this blog, we try if sometimes unsuccessfully, to do a bit more than tell made up stories that even the person who made them up can’t defend. But it’s, as they say, a free country and your imagination is impressive.

  85. @G. Rodrigues

    Nicely put 🙂

    And what makes the habit of virtue possible for us is in fact the supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit (cf Galatians 2:20) – Divine Grace, as your reference puts it.
    (see the paragraphs under the genesis of faith in the individual soul.

  86. They ended a situation that was considered morally good at the time, but which we now know to be morally evil.

    A more accurate statement would be, “…but now is considered to be morally evil”

    So where is the moral progress over time? Where is the evil of slavery that needed to be stamped out? It didn’t exist. Slavery was morally good back then according to you. Society exchanged one morally good situation for another morally good situation. Society completed that transaction by advocating and promoting moral evil.

    I can sum up your moral philosophy this way: Evil produces societal changes that are often considered to be good for society.

    For people wondering why moral relativism is a cancer, there you have it.

  87. BillT, Tom, I was going to post this somewhere else, at a different time, because I’m sure it does not belong in this thread, but in order to respond to BillT a bit further,

    BillT, as a sceptic I do not “know” of God’s non-existence in the same sense that you and Tom “know” of His existence. I (and a lot of other atheists) am open to persuasion (although, speaking for myself, I admit it will take a lot) if you have answers to four questions:

    1. First Cause: Hume suggested infinite causal chains, and some physicists, like Krauss, suggest that some things can have a beginning without having a cause. Is a First Cause necessary?

    2. Assuming First Cause, what supports the step to deism? i.e. What necessitates that the First Cause have an analogue of intellect? (Bear in mind that fine-tuning of the universe may not be true.)

    3. Assuming deism, what supports the step to theism and the necessity of the supernatural (if we haven’t passed that point already)? What incontrovertible evidence suggests that God takes an active role in creation — evidence that cannot be explained by more-likely natural phenomena.

    4. Assuming theism, what supports the step to Christianity? (This is a step that even Thomas Aquinas did not take.) What is the minimal set of requirements of the Christian faith? (The need for a messiah, i.e. our fallen nature. The divinity of Jesus. The truth of the resurrection. Anything else?) Are there any sources not written by people with emotional incentives to fabricate? Or any other forms of evidence?

    Before you all start with a firestorm of responses, Tom, is there a better place for people to post the answers to these questions …

    OR … considering I am not the first person either to ask these questions or, surely, to put them all together like this, is there some place I can find the answers already?

  88. SteveK: “Slavery was morally good back then according to you.”

    No, of course not.

    Am I unintelligible? Is it me?

  89. SteveK, we learn. We improve. Your suggestion is like saying that science never accumulates knowledge. It just jumps from one guess to the next. And what we know from experience sheds no light on our mistakes in the past.

  90. kaapstorm,

    Those are great questions the answers to which are book length if not multiples of that. You said something much earlier about, if we are right, having a very long time to enjoy that. It’s the nuanced understanding of Pascal’s Wager that we are all gambling on being right about our beliefs. What we are gambling is huge. I hope you honestly pursue the answers to your questions. There couldn’t be more at stake. (Oh and BTW, skip Krauss, he’s a nitwit.)

  91. No, of course not.

    I misunderstood your explanation then, sorry.

    Your suggestion is like saying that science never accumulates knowledge. It just jumps from one guess to the next. And what we know from experience sheds no light on our mistakes in the past.

    To say that we are learning morality over time means that there is a real object that can be known more accurately with some extended study. That seems to differ wildly from what you said before about humans creating their own morality. What are humans studying in order to learn more about morality?

  92. And there is of course, a direct and intimate connection between “habit of virtue” and “supernatural gift”.

    Based on your link, though, Tom’s not addressing “Divine faith” at all here, right?

  93. kaapstorm,

    I know the conversation has moved on but I would just like to make a few comments this:

    My mother’s Bible study is divided into two groups of people. Recently they have been looking at the Gospel of John. The first group of people is more academic, and is happy to accept for the sake of discussion, or willing to entertain alternative ideas, or even just curious about the authorship of the book, and when it was written. The second group of people is not curious. Not just that, they see the question as distracting, irrelevant, and maybe even offensive. They don’t want to study that. Instead they want to be given one single meaning of the text, preferably one that is close to its literal meaning.

    In some ways the question may be irrelevant depending on context. One of the main purposes of theology is to ensure that our (the church) witness to the world is consistent with his Word. In the context of a local bible study the most important questions are the so what questions ie. what does the passage mean for our communal life and mission together. While the authorship of John may be academically interesting, unless our answer to that question distorts our communal witness away from the truth (and by truth I mean not information but how we live and speak life) it is largely irrelevant in this setting and will very often derail the discussion from the most important matters.

    My second point is that the community of believers is a body, we are growing in knowledge, wisdom and fruit of the Spirit but together, not individually. My husband is a smart guy, having a double degree in law and chemical engineering but he has next to no interest in the academically interesting questions unless they have practical relevance in his life. All Christians need to be theologians but we don’t all need to answer the same questions.

    All that being said I do think the kind of literalism that flattens out the text is a problem in the Christian community but the cause of that type of literalism are cultural, not really religious. What needs challenging is a cultural mindset. Knowledge is reduced to information and the getting of information is for power – that is the ruling paradigm of our culture birthed out of the scientific revolution and it doesn’t allow easily for nuanced positions. There’s very little nuanced thought happening in the new atheist movement. In the Christian faith though knowledge is sought not to gain control but to submit.

  94. I would just like to add that I am not suggesting that the motive of fundamentalists is to control but that we all unconsciously adopt cultural assumptions which we bring to our reading of any text.

    Also on the questions of the authorship of John the question does hang on what you mean by authorship but there are people of varying opinions who hold those opinions intelligently. I haven’t personally looked into the question myself – we all have to make a judgement call on what we’re going to spend our time doing.

  95. @ kaapstorm 94 – Those are all good questions. And yet even if I possessed the knowledge to offer robust answers – rather than my half-aresed attempts – I would be reluctant to do so. When, for example, you ask for “incontrovertible evidence” and “evidence that cannot be explained by more-likely natural phenomena” this sets alarm bells ringing. You have set the bar impossibly high and I would be inclined to think that any explanations offered would be unacceptable and therefore done in vain. Tom may feel differently though.

    While I enthusiastically embrace an intellectual approach to apologetic sand the Christian life, I would also suggest that relationships aren’t ultimately built on logical proofs and God isn’t to be found at the end of a syllogism.

    Anyway, maybe you will stick around long enough to have some of your questions answered.

  96. kaapstorm:

    Good questions in #94. I agree with BillySquibs that the answers could never reach the incontrovertible level, but they do reach the highly plausible or even probable level.

    I’m going to take your six questions and turn them into a blog series. It might take some time to get through them all, since I’ll need to supplement myself with some research first, so I appreciate your patience. I also appreciate the systematic way you’ve stated your questions, and I think it’s worth working through them over the next several weeks

  97. Tom Gilson –

    What gives you that impression?

    ‘Cause “Divine faith” isn’t “drawing a warranted conclusion about the unknown based on knowledge of the known”. According to G. Rodrigues’ link, human reason can’t get to the ‘conclusions’ that “Divine faith” touches upon. Indeed, they aren’t ‘conclusions’ at all, but rather, revelations.

  98. Kaapstorm,

    Instead of going through the impossibly long task in the questions you asked perhaps I could start at the other end. With Christ and the New Testament. One of the basic apologetics goes like this. The Bible is, by broadly accepted academic standards, the most reliable ancient text in existence. Through it we can be certain of at least a few facts. One is about the story of Christianity. That is, that Christ’s deity (his miracles, life, death and resurrection) has always been the center of Christian teaching and been taught as such from the very beginning of the Faith. Second, we know that beginning after Christ’s death, Christianity spread rapidly and within 35 years to at least as far away as Rome. We also know that during this time the eyewitness to life of Christ were alive.

    Now, let’s put this together. If you base your Faith on the story of Christ you have a major problem. It’s simply unbelievable. No one would believe a tale like this. God walks on earth, turns water into wine, raises the dead, dies, lives again, and ascends to Heaven. Right. Sure he does. So, if you’re telling this story to people to and hoping they will believe it you better have some pretty good backup. And, of course, they do. They have thousands of people believers and non-believers that actually saw the particulars of the story of Christ. Eyewitnesses to his miracles. Eyewitnesses to his death. Eyewitnesses to his resurrection. Travel in that part of the world at that time was reasonably easy so people who were told this story had every opportunity to verify it. We can be certain they did.

    So, we have the story of Christ’s life, the story of Christianity in all it’s unbelievable details being accepted by people all over the Mediterranean who have access to the eyewitnesses for verification (or not?) of those unbelievable details. So, I believe, the bottom line is this. No verification, no Christianity. And that’s besides the fact that it never even makes it out of Jerusalem to begin with as those early believers were there when it happened. They believed because they saw it with their own eyes. I believe this is a compelling enough scenario to make most at least consider it being reasonable. Any thoughts?

  99. Ray, let’s bring this divine faith question into a space here where we can address it more easily — if we need to, that is. Note that I’m not a Roman Catholic, I haven’t studied Catholic theology much, and I’m also not taking the position that my definition of faith is exhaustive. If I’m not covering divine faith here it does not mean I disagree with it. So the first response might be, “sure, but so what?” If you have an answer to that “so what?” question, then I would ask you to spell out what you think divine faith is, and how that matters to the current discussion. Otherwise we can just agree that it’s not the topic of this post.

  100. Here’s another thing, BillT. I was planning to blog this, and I still might, but it fits here. You said that Christianity was unbelievable. There’s a video here from a nearby church, that begins with a young man wearing an “I’m an outcast” t-shirt, saying “I think Christianity is the most ridiculous belief on the planet.” Follow it through, and you’ll here a couple other people talking about their experience with Christ. Interspersed among them you’ll hear outcast-t-shirt guy continuing to clarify what he means by that. Very interesting.

  101. @kaapstorm
    Yes, those are indeed great questions – I hope too that you’ll be able to stick around for the series that Tom is going to do, and I’m looking forward to participating in that.

    Your #4 question has this:

    Are there any sources not written by people with emotional incentives to fabricate? Or any other forms of evidence?

    I would suggest that you have begged the question already by an implicit assumption – that because the NT writers had strong reasons to write about what they experienced, what they saw and heard and participated in (and lets be clear that the authors make that plain – there is no hidden agenda here), their witness is suspect. By that standard, then what of any historical writings would you be able to accept as authentic and reliable, especially of ancient Greco-Roman historiography? Are you now pretending to be a historical scholar?
    In subsequent posts, we’ll discuss this in more detail, I’m sure. For now, I’ll just say that ancient historians were not impartial journalists just recording facts – they all had reasons that went beyond the mere facts to write what they did – they were interested in the significance of the events and circumstances as well. The NT authors were no different – they tell us what they experienced, and why it was (and still is) significant – they are giving us the deeper meaning of those events.

    Can you substantiate the charge of fabrication? Does it make sense in the light of the facts of history of early Christianity?

    The second point is that in subsequent discussions, I’m sure we’ll cover the reasons why we can accept the NT documents as first line historical source documents, written by people who knew what they were talking about and intimately acquainted with their world, the times, culture and the events of which they write.

    I suggest you read Cold Case Christianity, by J. Warner Wallace, and/or visit his blog posts: http://coldcasechristianity.com/, before you start engaging us in discussions.

  102. I’m also not taking the position that my definition of faith is exhaustive… we can just agree that it’s not the topic of this post.

    That’s indeed what I asked in #77 and #79.

    (Of course, that opens up the possibility that atheists and other skeptics of Christianity could object to other kinds of faith, too. I suppose we’ll cross that bridge when/if you cover other kinds of faith.)

  103. BillT #97: “Those are great questions the answers to which are book length if not multiples of that.”

    Yes, I know. And I agree with you, there is a lot riding on their answers. Pascal’s response to his Wager was to choose the religion of his parents, but this isn’t just a binary decision, Christianity or atheism, there are many religions that consider themselves candidates. I’m not much of a gambler myself. So if I’m wrong, I’m relying on a benevolent god who will hopefully be a bit lenient towards people like me who are unsure, to say the least, about the answers to those questions.

    SteveK #98: “To say that we are learning morality over time means that there is a real object that can be known more accurately with some extended study.”

    Mmmm. I feel that way about science; that there is a reality that we are learning more about, bit by bit. But I imagine that little “m” morality is more like learning a skill, like playing a guitar. The more we learn, the better we get, but there is no guitar-playing Platonic ideal that we are working towards. Logically, I have to agree with Sam Harris’s metaphorical landscape; somewhere on a landscape of utopian peaks and distopian troughs, there must be a lowest trough and a highest peak. And we should always work towards realising the highest height, whether we will ever attain it or not.

    Melissa #101, 102: You make some very good points. Thank you, I’ll pass them on to my mom.

    Billy Squibs #103, Tom Gilson #104: “incontrovertible” was a bad choice of word. I’d be happy to settle for “highly plausible or even probable”.

    Billy: “I would also suggest that relationships aren’t ultimately built on logical proofs and God isn’t to be found at the end of a syllogism.”

    You make a good point. But I am looking for some indication that there is more to a relationship with God than just that it’s “all in my head”.

    Tom: “I’m going to take your six questions and turn them into a blog series.”

    That sounds extremely ambitious. I hope you’ll be including lots of links to other sources, otherwise I’m afraid we’ll be waiting a very long time! As BillT said, “book length if not multiples of that.”

    BillT #106, those are good points. I have a couple of thoughts, but I’m going to run out of time this evening, and I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to reply, or sit on them a little longer.

    Victoria #111:

    I would suggest that you have begged the question already by an implicit assumption – that because the NT writers had strong reasons to write about what they experienced, what they saw and heard and participated in (and lets be clear that the authors make that plain – there is no hidden agenda here), their witness is suspect. By that standard, then what of any historical writings would you be able to accept as authentic and reliable, especially of ancient Greco-Roman historiography?

    I do not doubt that a lot of the Bible is historically accurate. But for the big, important stuff, the pillars of the Christian faith if you will, the things I mentioned in my question; our need for a saviour, the divinity of Jesus, and the truth of the resurrection, out of a world population of 8 billion, 5.48 billion people don’t buy it. (Figures taken from Pew Research Center) So I’m looking for third-party corroboration.

    Tom gave a good analogy earlier of third-party corroboration, but in a different context:

    Suppose your five year-old daughter told you all about a robbery she had seen happening just before you got home, and how she had been right there when the police caught the perpetrators, and she even helped them figure out who did it. That would be too fantastic to believe …

    A quiet word from your spouse, however — “She’s not making it up, honey, that’s exactly what happened” — would go a long way [to convince you].

    If third-party corroboration is an unreasonable expectation, I’m open to suggestions. But big claims — life-changing claims — the kind that determine whether you go to a Christian heaven or a Muslim hell (and the Muslims are pretty graphic when it comes to their hell; I worked with a Muslim girl, and let me tell you they work hard at petrifying little girls) — big claims like that need big evidence.

    I’m not going to lie; I’m guessing that last question must surely be the toughest. Imagine that you were a Muslim. What would it take to convince you of Christianity, while you are trying to come up with every reason you can think of that Islam is true? It’s not impossible though; it’s happened before.

    I will definitely check out “Cold Case Christianity”, thank you.

  104. @kaapstorm

    I guess we’ll have to tackle these things one by one, in the upcoming series, then 🙂

    But, argumentum ad populum? Really?

    Big claims need big evidence? Really? What is ‘big evidence’, anyway, in the context of historical evidence? In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, what would be sufficient evidence to carry the weight of this claim of His disciples?

  105. Hi, Victoria: “But, argumentum ad populum? Really?”

    You’re right, of course, that if I’d appealed to the popularity of Christianity, or of non-Christianity, to support a truth claim, that would be fallacious. But that wasn’t what I was trying to get at. What I meant was that whatever evidence those 5.48 billion people have been given (and I’m sure many of them haven’t been given very much), they haven’t been convinced.

    What is ‘big evidence’, anyway …

    Imagine your friend Matt spent the weekend with his friend Josh in a cabin in the woods. You see Matt the following Tuesday and he is very excited. You’ve never met Josh, but you have no reason to question his existence. You never even consider asking for evidence that Matt really does have a friend called Josh, and that he’s a real person. That would be silly.

    But then Matt says that on Friday morning Josh walked on water, across half the lake, to the boat that Matt was in! Really?! You are a curious person. You want to know whether there was a sandbank just under the surface. Were Josh’s feet wet when he got into the boat? How fast was he walking — could there have been some mysterious non-Newtonian fluid where he thought there was water? Was it extremely cold — cold enough for ice to have formed and Matt not to have noticed?

    That’s not “big evidence”. That’s just “light evidence”. Matt’s not finished. He continues, “That’s nothing! There was a terrible accident! Some hunters shot Josh … through the head! It was terrible! There was this massive hole in his skull, and I was nearly sick; I could see right through. I haven’t slept since then. I just keep seeing it over and over in my mind. We put him in the back of the car and drove him to hospital. But … and you’ll never believe this … but on Sunday he woke up in the morgue! He literally got up! His head is much better. There’s just a scar where the bullet when in, and he’s bald where the massive hole was on the other side.”

    And at this point I’m expecting you’re looking for “big evidence”.

    But Matt’s still not finished, “Oh, and he’s God.”

    Aaaah, REALLY?!?!?!

    … in the context of historical evidence? In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, what would be sufficient evidence to carry the weight of this claim of His disciples?

    Frankly, I don’t really know. I realise that’s unfair; I’m not giving clear guidelines of what will convince me. But maybe don’t take me into consideration. Maybe think of it in terms of you. You said you’re a scientist, so you’ll be familiar with these, but for the sake of everyone else, the key principles of the scientific method (from the Preface of “A Universe From Nothing” (sorry, BillT — his philosophy and theology may be terrible, but his physics isn’t so bad)):

    (1) Follow the evidence wherever it leads;
    (2) If one has a theory, one needs to be willing to try to prove it wrong as much as one tries to prove that it is right;
    (3)The ultimate arbiter of truth is experiment, not … the beauty or elegance one ascribes to one’s theoretical models.

    (I appreciate that Tom has already pointed out that “experiment” doesn’t apply to God. Although I keep on thinking of the conversation I would have had with Jesus, if I were Doubting Thomas. It would have gone something like this, “Jesus, do you remember that time last year when just you and I were walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee? Do you remember that thing I told you? What was it?” Unfortunately that is not an experiment I can conduct — but it is something Matt might want to try with his friend Josh. 🙂 )

    So my point is number (2). You need to play your own devil’s advocate. You need to work hard at un-convincing yourself. And if you can still re-convince yourself, you stand a chance of re-convincing other people.

  106. kaapstorm,

    Let me suggest a Matt-and-Josh exercise for you. Imagine Matt were telling the truth, and wanted to convince you that he was. What means could Matt use? What do you think he might say and do? What would you do if you were in Matt’s shoes?

    Let’s make the case realistic by adding this: Josh is gone. He has returned to heaven. People are getting thrown into prison and even murdered for affirming the Josh story. Matt still wants to convince you this is real. How would he go about doing that?

  107. kaapstorm,

    But hasn’t the “big evidence” (it’s not really big it’s just evidence like any other) already been given. All you would need to know if Josh really got up from the morgue is to see him. Hmmm…. Sounds somewhat like a story from about 2000 years ago. Per my #106 those facts any many more relating to water into wine, a guy named Lazarus, a blind man, a cripple have been established by the many people that saw them.

  108. It’s not my job to convince other people of the truth claims of Christianity – I can answer questions, address objections in matters of fact, show that there are reasonable grounds for following the evidence of Christianity to the Person it points to, explain the meaning and significance of those claims and of Christian theology. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict and convince people of both their need for a Saviour and that Jesus Christ is that Saviour, and Lord as well.

    Do not assume what you don’t know.

    I have been a Christian for 36 years, and in regards to the Christian faith, I’ve done those things. I’ve examined the evidence, I’ve examined the objections, and I’ve experienced the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. I am not the same person now as I was 36 years ago, thank God – I know for myself that the substantial changes are due to His work. I’ve compared notes with my Christian family to see that my experiences, while special to me, are not unique to me. In all those years, I’ve had successes and failures in my walk with God, but here I am, staying the course – He has been faithful and has never let go of me. Thanks be to God for keeping me from shipwrecking my faith.

    You should have taken Hebrews 2:1-4, Hebrews 3:12-13 and Hebrews 4:1-13 to heart.

    You seem to not understand that to live the Christian life apart from the Spirit of God is impossible – this is not something we do in our own strength and by our own resources (Galatians 2:20, for example). Little wonder, then, that you fell away.

  109. But I imagine that little “m” morality is more like learning a skill, like playing a guitar. The more we learn, the better we get, but there is no guitar-playing Platonic ideal that we are working towards.

    That is incorrect. The technical aspect of music is something a musician trains for and learns to become better at. So once again I’ll ask you, what is this real object that can be known more accurately with some extended study so that we can become more knowledgeable about morality?

  110. Right. Of course there’s an ideal I work towards as a musician (trombone, not guitar). There are ranges of interpretation in the neighborhood of that ideal, but they all include things like playing in tune, hitting every note cleanly with a relaxed and open tone, staying on tempo, and finally, musicality. Musicality is where there’s some freedom of expression, but within a fairly limited range. Some things are musical, some things aren’t.

  111. Logically, I have to agree with Sam Harris’s metaphorical landscape; somewhere on a landscape of utopian peaks and distopian troughs, there must be a lowest trough and a highest peak. And we should always work towards realising the highest height, whether we will ever attain it or not.

    We’re in agreement there. The problem is in Harris’s insistence that his definition of peaks and valleys is also definitional of morality. It doesn’t quite get there.

  112. @Tom Gilson:

    Logically, I have to agree with Sam Harris’s metaphorical landscape; somewhere on a landscape of utopian peaks and distopian troughs, there must be a lowest trough and a highest peak.

    Whether this is important or not depends on the exact structure of Harris’ argument, but it is simply *false* that there must be “a lowest trough and a highest peak” (I suspect this particular objection is nearly fatal, but the details would have to be spelled out). Or if such is indeed the case, there is some other argument besides the metaphor that is doing the work.

  113. Tom,

    Imagine Matt were telling the truth, and wanted to convince you that he was. What means could Matt use? What do you think he might say and do? What would you do if you were in Matt’s shoes?

    That is a very good question! I’m going to have to think about that for a while.

    Ideally, Matt or I could call on the services of someone like Benjamin Radford or Joe Nickell. They are sceptical paranormal investigators. In fact, I’m sure that as the Josh story started to attract public attention, either or both of them would want to get involved. Either of them would know what questions to ask, what evidence to look for, and what alternative explanations to follow up.

    Living in the 21st century though, both Matt and I have a huge advantage over 1st century people living in the Levant and surrounds. We know the impressive power of the placebo effect (even if we don’t yet fully understand it).

    We know about confirmation bias, and magical thinking (although it’s a real shame that not more people know about, or appreciate them, otherwise superstitions like astrology would be just as dead as superstitions like reading entrails.)

    We know what cold reading is, how it works, and how to do it. And we have watched sceptics like James Randi debunking charlatans like Peter Popoff.

    We have lived through messianic tragedies from the Münster Rebellion to the litany of new religious movements, and doomsday cults.

    The West is 2000 years older and 2000 years wiser, a lot more bitten and a lot more shy.

    So I don’t have an answer for you yet, but I’m sure it’ll be a tougher challenge than the Apostles ever faced.

    Victoria,

    It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict and convince people of both their need for a Saviour and that Jesus Christ is that Saviour, and Lord as well.

    Then we should walk away now, before we waste anybody’s time. The Holy Spirit had me from my christening to my early twenties — He gave me His best shot — and He lost me. My fault, not His? Maybe. Difficult for me to do? Absolutely. It took me about a decade.

    Do not assume what you don’t know.

    I’m not smart enough to know everything, but I need to function in a world I don’t fully understand. I assume things every day. I assume I will not die tomorrow. If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I would have spent my time today very differently! But my assumptions are based on what I think is most likely.

    You seem to not understand that to live the Christian life apart from the Spirit of God is impossible

    The Christian life doesn’t make sense to me. Specifically those questions I posed earlier. I’ll just mention the first one: Why do we need to be saved in the first place? Apparently we are fallen, because Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the fruit of knowledge. What does that mean?

    When did Adam and Eve live, and where? The Bible tells us that Eden is in the Fertile Crescent, and we know humans migrated there from Africa. Does that mean that native Africans, who never left Africa, are not fallen? The Gospel of Luke lists Adam in the genealogy of Jesus. Does that mean he was a literal man? Is that a literal fruit, or is it metaphorical? If metaphorical, symbolic of what? (“Knowledge”, right, but what knowledge?) What was so horrific about knowing something that every descendant of those humans must struggle to survive, suffer excruciating labour pains, and be banished to hell for eternity, unless they accept Jesus as their saviour? Did humans prior to this moment not struggle to survive, nor suffer labour pains? Or is that also metaphorical? At what point does the metaphor become literal, or are eternal life, hell and salvation all metaphorical?

    Here is a cartoon to illustrate my point.

    It really looks like bronze-age mythology to me — remarkably similar to other bronze-age mythology, like the Enuma Elish, and the Epic of Gilgamesh. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a deep and valuable metaphorical meaning; I just don’t understand what it is, or why any of it must be literally true.

    And so, based on what I think is most likely, I am living a life which might have been advocated by Thomas Jefferson.

  114. kaapstorm,

    Why do we need to be saved in the first place?

    If you don’t look at the nightly news and think there’s something seriously wrong in this world (and especially with us humans) I’m not sure what we could write here to convince you. If you think we can put everything right ourselves then you are delusional.

    The significance of the story of eating the fruit is that Adam and Eve deliberately chose to do there own thing, to believe that they knew better how to live as humans than God did. They made themselves little gods (sound familiar?)

    It really looks like bronze-age mythology to me — remarkably similar to other bronze-age mythology, like the Enuma Elish, and the Epic of Gilgamesh.

    All through the bible the writers pick up the symbols and figurative language of the bible. If you carefully look at the differences though you would recognise that these biblical stories act as powerful polemics against the surrounding cultural understandings. What they’re saying is “this is what people around us think but here’s the real story – God is in control, the world is not a chaotic battlefield but is ordered for good but that good has been disrupted, not by other God’s but by us etc, etc. also don’t be too fast to write off the genre of myth, it can be true or false also, it’s just not trying to impart information but existential truth.

    These are just some quick thoughts and are in no way meant to be an exhaustive answer to your questions.

  115. @kaapstorm

    By admitting that you do not understand the meaning and significance of the Christian faith, you are implicitly identifying yourself with those who are perishing ( see 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16). The sad fact is that you probably were always in that state, even from your “christening to the time you walked away from it entirely”.

    What, or more properly, Who, is the central, core truth of the Christian faith? Jesus Christ – read Peter’s speech to the crowd in Jerusalem in Acts 2:22-36, and the response in Acts 2:37-41. His Incarnation (the eternal Son of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, took on Himself humanity and lived among us as one of us – see John 1 ) and His death and resurrection, which took place in real space and time, in human history, are the two foundational truths upon which all of Christianity rests (Paul develops this in Romans very clearly). Did you not understand what Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians 15:1-28? If Christ was not raised, then Christianity is false, regardless of whatever other good ideas it has.

    Christianity is centred on these two truths. Genuine Christians have been wrestling with the questions you have asked for centuries, and even today there those who understand Genesis 1 and 2 in the light of modern science ( go to http://www.biologos.org, or http://www.reasons.org ), and take a less literal view of the contents. Perhaps we are right, perhaps we are wrong. I myself think Genesis should be understood from the point of view of a very old and very vast universe (I find myself more in agreement at this point with the second site) – does this create interpretational issues? Yes. Do I have all of the problems solved? No, so I hold my position tentatively – as a trained scientist, I know that both operational science and origins science (formational history) are theory-laden descriptions and interpretations of the data, and may in fact be wrong, especially in the formational history interpretations. As a Christian, I know that my understanding of the depth and breadth of Scripture is far from complete – I will never exhaust it in my earthly lifetime. People far wiser than you and I have wrestled with these issues for centuries, without abandoning their faith (oh, many have had a crisis of faith – I think all genuine Christians who think deeply about it have this experience in one form or another). We all have examined the very same evidence as you, and have come to very different conclusions – why is that, really?

    In my case, I grew up as a nominal Catholic, abandoned that in my teens, and came to faith when I was 22. As divine providence would have it, when I went to university to study physics, I ended up interning with one of the professors in the department who is a Christian – so I learned about Christianity and experimental physics from the same people (his grad students and post-docs were also Christians). It took 3 years, but finally there came a time when I said, “Okay, God, I’m ready to listen”, and that’s when the Holy Spirit took hold and showed me Jesus Christ, and I asked Him to be my Saviour and Lord.

  116. Hi Victoria and Melissa,

    Thank you for your considered replies. I’m afraid I don’t have time to respond at length. But I would like to pick up on something C.S. Lewis said because it adds to your point, Victoria, in #125. From Cold Case Christianity,

    As C.S. Lewis wrote in God in the Dock, “Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, is of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

    That’s almost right. C.S. Lewis does make a schoolboy error here in supposing that Christianity is the only show in town. To be more accurate, “Christianity is a statement which is of no importance if and only if every theist religion is false. Otherwise it is of infinite importance.”

    I bet you all sleep peacefully at night in the quiet confidence that Islam is a big bunch of bull.

    Don Johnson writes, “I have found that skeptics are generally ignorant of sound theology.” I’m certainly sketchy when it comes to theology. But Muslim apologists would probably say the same about all of us.

    I don’t know much about Islam. As far as I know, they claim that Jesus was just a prophet, and Muhammed was the last true prophet of God. And I know they claim to have evidence to back this up; Muhammed split the Moon.

    The author of “The Way To Truth” writes, “Materialist philosophers and their unreasoning imitators, who want to cast a shadow with their vicious delusions over such a bright miracle of the Prophet Muhammad …”
    and then elaborates about how the miracle convinced the “extreme stubborness of the unbelievers in the Hijaz” of his Prophethood.

    He lists other miracles too which collectively form overwhelming evidence, “The majority of the foremost scholars of meticulous research … concluded that like the flowing of water from the fingers of the Prophet, upon him be peace, and his satisfying the thirst of a whole army with that water, and the grieving of the dry wooden pole — against which the Prophet used to lean while delivering sermons — because of its separation from him, and its being heard by a whole congregation, the splitting of the moon, too … has been transmitted by one truthful group at each period to another, forming such a vast community that their agreement on a lie is inconceivable.”

    Convinced yet? Some atheists say that if God were to write His name in the stars, they would be convinced. Apperently the name of Allah is all over the place.

    Be aware that your rejection of Islam may have extremely dire consequences. If there was a competition between hells to find which is the most hellish, the prize would probably go to Muslim hell.

    My point is just that at the end of the day, we’re all sceptics. We all reject faith claims that have convinced millions. Maybe we’re right. Maybe we’re wrong. If Islam is true, I bet C.S. Lewis is kicking himself for completely overlooking it.

    I, for one, will be sleeping peacefully tonight though. I’m sure you will be too.

    Good night.

  117. Ugh, I just realised my comment above doesn’t make sense … I’ll blame small screens

    First sentence, second last paragraph should read:

    All through the bible the writers pick up the symbols and figurative language of the surrounding cultures.

  118. I’m sorry, kaapstorm, but Christianity is of infinite importance if and only if Christianity is true. If Christianity is true, then Islam is false, for they contradict one another in major, significant ways.

    But if Islam is right, or Jainism, or Mormonism (not a Christian denomination), or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or even contemporary Judaism, then Christianity is both false and unimportant, except sociologically; but Lewis was speaking of importance to each individual, not of sociology.

    So yes, I am quite peaceful in my knowledge that Islam is false, partly because I’ve done some study into Muslim apologetics, and they don’t hold up. The claimed miracles of Islam are not much to go on, as you have already noted.

    So then what’s your point? That we all disbelieve many things? I’ve addressed one version of that in the past. It’s a red herring.

  119. Whew. Just catching up here, and I saw your list of questions here. I know you’re letting your thoughts flow. I appreciate so much how you’re hanging in there in this discussion, too. I know that you recognize that we can’t have a discussion here on all of these topics at once. Is there one thing in particular that’s of interest to you?

    As for Matt and Josh, I need to be more specific in my wording. Suppose Matt had those experiences with Josh, and he was quite convinced that those things happened, that he was of sound mind, that he wasn’t deceived, and so on. The first questions Matt would have would probably be, how did this happen and what did it mean? The first question you would have, on the other hand, is whether Matt was making it all up, or deceived, or was really of sound mind after all.

    So my question is, what could Matt do, hypothetically, to convince that this really happened?

    I have some ideas of my own if you’re interested.

  120. Hi Tom,

    Regarding #132. I didn’t mean to distract us. It was in response to Victoria’s #125, two links to articles about why sceptics resist or reject Christianity, and I just wanted to suggest that while those reasons may apply to many sceptics, the reasons of some sceptics might be the same as our collective rejection of Islam — we don’t think the evidence for Islam is sufficiently persuasive. It’s a point addressed by J. Warner Wallace in the first of Victoria’s article. So, really, I just mean that you all understand me; you are the same as me — up to a point — a point you make clear in your “Arithmetical Atheism Argument” post — you have also accepted the deist-theist steps in my earlier questions, while I’m not so sure. (And you don’t sit on Islamic apologist websites and bombard them with questions. 🙂 )

    To answer your #133, firstly, “Is there one thing in particular that’s of interest to you [regarding Genesis 2:4-3:24]?” Yes. As far as I understand, Christianity believes that we are born sinful and requiring salvation from the wages of that sin. And, as far as I understand, Genesis 2-3 is the explanation of that original sin. So my question is, is my understanding correct, and if so, what of that story is metaphorical and what is literal?

    And your second question, “What could Matt do, hypothetically, to convince [you] that this really happened? … I have some ideas of my own if you’re interested.”

    I’m sure I would believe that Matt had been thoroughly “Derren-Brown“ed by Josh. The more passionate he became, the more duped I’d think he was. (And I would love to know how Josh did it!)

    So, yes, please, I could use some ideas.

  121. @kaapstorm
    Surely you must realize that your contrived Matt & Josh scenario bears almost no resemblance to the details of Jesus’ very public life and ministry, His very public death by crucifixion, and His subsequent appearances alive and well to a large number of people who knew Him previously. How do any of your hypothetical attempts at an explanation of Matt and Josh apply to the record of the NT?

  122. When Derren Brown performs all of his tricks and deceptions to the point where he dies in order keep the ruse going, then you’ll have a comparable video. Let us know when you find that video.

  123. “BillT #106, those are good points. I have a couple of thoughts, but I’m going to run out of time this evening, and I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to reply, or sit on them a little longer.”

    ???

    (Not that you owe me an answer kaapstorm but I thought you might owe yourself one.)

  124. Steve K, I have actually seen a video of Derren Brown stopping his pulse (with the old tennis ball under the armpit trick). I can’t find it right now though.

    Kaapstorm, whilst I agree that in theory the disciples and eyewitnesses could have been repeatedly duped by a magician the likes the world had never seen, is it likely? Really? Does it fit with the other information we have about this man and his knowledge and ideas? The answer to that is a resounding no.

  125. SteveK, a very good point!

    BillT, thanks for the reminder.

    So, I believe, the bottom line is this. No verification, no Christianity. And that’s besides the fact that it never even makes it out of Jerusalem to begin with as those early believers were there when it happened. They believed because they saw it with their own eyes. I believe this is a compelling enough scenario to make most at least consider it being reasonable. Any thoughts?

    Two thoughts. You have chosen to assume the first three steps in my original questions: First Cause, deism, and theism. I respect your choice to start with a divine Jesus, what you would consider to be absolute truth, and reason backwards. But I am trying to get to that truth from the other direction. You can point out that it is hopeless to try to get from subjective knowledge to objective truth. You may be right. But I am stubborn. 🙂

    Secondly, I really recommend “A History Of God” by Karen Armstrong. You may not consider her to be a Christian, but she calls herself one and is an outspoken advocate. Her research is thorough. And her writing is accessible and engaging. She establishes that what we think of as Christianity is not what those early believers in Jerusalem believed. Christianity has developed from those first Jews, become more Hellenised in the west, changed (or just focussed) by the council of Nicaea, the influence of the Renaissance and then the Reformation. You can see it from how Matthew 16:28, or 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 must have first been read, to how we read it today. (Actually, I was at school with a family of Plymouth Brethren, who take 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 literally, and wear headscarves.)

  126. Victoria, yes, it is a little contrived, and not the same as Jesus’ life. But I was hoping to make it feel more immediate, accessible, and frame it in a 21st century setting, with all that comes with that, like how we would go about investigating claims that might not have been investigated quite as rigorously 2000 years ago (apart from not thinking in terms of the scientific method, they just didn’t have our technology; comparing DNA from the scene of the shooting with the DNA of the resurrected Josh, analysing evidence for postmortem bacterial growth and how Josh’s resurrected body dealt with it, studying the entry wound and trying to match it to the bullet, etc.), or how hard it would be to convince you or me of having divine parents today, compared to how similar claims might have been received back then (especially among Hellenistic audiences, who had grown up with that as part of their mythology).

    So my point is that a 21st century public would be a lot more sceptical of Josh than a 1st century public was of Jesus. Christians base their faith on testimonies and witness accounts of people who might phrase what they see and experience very differently today.

    And yet, as we know, even 21st century witnesses can be mistaken. Whole groups of them. What are the chances that they could have been mistaken 2000 years ago?

    And we haven’t touched on the idea of making up supporting evidence for a good cause. For example, there is a lot of controversy surrounding Isaiah 7:14: The choice of the word “almah” instead of “bethulah”; whether the prophesy applied to the time of King Ahaz or to the time of Jesus (or not yet); the idea that Hellenistic Jews using the Septuagint simply repurposed the prophesy to support their claim that Jesus was begotten of God. Many theologians believe that the gospels of Matthew and Luke were written after the death of Joseph and Mary. Who could have disagreed with the gospels’ authors?

    I don’t want to get sidetracked with this particular example. I’m sure there has been too much talk about it already. You are welcome to refer me to some supporting arguments — I might even have read them already — but the virginity of Mary doesn’t really bother me one way or the other. That’s not my point. My point is that well-meaning Christians could have made things up — not everything, of course, but some things — with the best intentions, and we wouldn’t know.

    Whether you can fake a fatal crucifixion and a resurrection — I’ll agree with you and SteveK — I have no idea how one would do that. But I’m not yet ready to do what BillT has done, and start with that and work my way backwards. I’m not willing to say that Christianity, and everything that comes with that, is the most likely explanation for the resurrection. I still have a lot more ground to cover before I can reach that conclusion.

    As Hume says in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,

    No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.

    Would the falsehood of the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection be even more miraculous than the resurrection itself?

  127. @kaapstorm
    No, you don’t understand BillT’s starting point, or the resurrection.
    A supernatural resurrection is the abductive inference to the best explanation of the appearances of Jesus being alive after having been dead and buried, and the changed lives of those who saw Him, and the subsequent growth of early Christianity.

    The trouble here with your arguments is that you are not engaging the actual records and the actual history of early Christianity – you are just throwing out hypotheticals without testing them.

    What theologians? Who are they? What about NT scholars and historians who think differently than your uncited references? Did it ever occur to you that the Gospel authors were not writing anything not already known to the Christian community? (Luke 1:1-4 makes this rather clear). Did it ever occur to you that Mary herself could have related the details of Jesus’ conception and birth to the apostles? She was there with them, along with Jesus’ siblings, in Acts 1 and Acts 2. There is a tradition that Mary went with John to Ephesus and died there some time later (if I have time I’ll see if I can find a reference to it).

  128. @kaapstorm
    You might want to consider reading N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God (warning, its some 800 pages of dense history, philosophy and Christian theology). It’s time you changed your diet.

    You can also read a lot of his articles, here:
    http://ntwrightpage.com/

    You’ll find these articles particularly useful
    http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Early_Traditions.htm
    http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Historical_Problem.htm
    http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm

    You said in a previous post that it took you some 10 years to lose your faith – in all that time, how many books did you read by skeptics and anti-supernaturalists who are critical of Christianity? How many books did you read by conservative Christian scholars who explained Biblical Christianity, and who addressed the objections and criticisms of the skeptics, and could have answered your questions and concerns?

  129. @Bryan #139
    Here’s what kaapstorm is saying:

    One the one hand, first century people were ignorant of the most amazing things we know today, which explains why they fell for the ruse and believed all this Jesus nonsense.

    On the other hand, Jesus was better at doing street magic than any magician alive today. David Blaine and Penn Jillette – all magicians, really -with their fancy 21st century computers and technically sophisticated devices to help them perform great magic, cannot do what Jesus himself did without all that stuff.

    Amateurs. 🙂

  130. In other words, kaapstorm says it’s completely rational to believe that 1st century people fell for a series of magic tricks that 21st century geniuses cannot begin to duplicate.

  131. The reference to Mary having died in Ephesus is from here

    http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2007/03/17/The-So-Called-Jesus-Family-Tomb-Rediscovered-in-Jerusalem.aspx

    However, the article also refers to Mary having died in Israel and buried either in Nazareth or somewhere in the Kidron Valley

    According to early tradition, Joseph was buried in Nazareth (Bagatti 1969: 12; Kopp 1963: 64-66), possibly the “tomb of the saints” on the property of the Sisters of Nazareth (Livio 1990: 28). The fact that Jesus and his family were “poor” does not necessarily mean they could not have been buried in a rock-hewn tomb. Joseph was a carpenter (Mark 6:3). Some have suggested that the word “carpenter” also included the craft of stone masonry. If that is the case, Joseph could have carved out the family tomb at no cost to himself. Early tradition also places Mary’s burial in Nazareth (Kopp 1963: 65, 66). However, there is a 5th century AD tradition that places her tomb in the Kidron Valley near Gethsemane (Strome 1972: 86-90). There are some who doubt the historical accuracy of this tradition (Taylor 1993: 205, 206). A much later tradition places the burial of Mary in Ephesus in present day Turkey (Meinardus 1979: 113-117). The house where she allegedly resided was located on the mountain south of the city of Ephesus. The location of this house was supposedly revealed to Sister Catherine Emmerich in a vision (1774-1824). The name of this nun might ring a bell in some peoples mind because she was the source for some of the unbiblical scenes and events depicted in Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ

    Interesting bits of information, unrelated to our discussion 🙂 I just like to tie off loose ends 🙂

  132. @SteveK:

    In other words, kaapstorm says it’s completely rational to believe that 1st century people fell for a series of magic tricks that 21st century geniuses cannot begin to duplicate.

    Let us roll with this:

    (1) Jesus performed illusionary tricks that no 21st century genius can replicate.

    (2) From (1) it follows that Jesus, living in the 1st century, is an even bigger genius than all the 21st century geniuses.

    (3) A genius is a genius because, among other things, he can grasp truths that the rest of mankind cannot.

    (4) from (3) it follows that 21st century geniuses know more than the rest of mankind.

    (5) mankind in the 21st century knows more than mankind at every other point in history.

    (6) from (4) and (5), it follows that 21st century geniuses know, on average, more than any human being at any point in the history of mankind.

    (7) from (2) and (6), it follows that Jesus knows more, on average, than any human being at any point in the history of mankind.

    (8) from (3) and (7) it follows that Jesus grasped truths that no man has ever grasped.

    (9) it is reasonable to give our intellectual assent to the claims of people that know more than us; for example, it is reasonable to give intellectual assent to the scientific opinions of the scientific experts on a given matter.

    (10) from (8) and (9), it follows that it is reasonable to give our intellectual assent to the claims of Jesus.

    (11) Jesus claimed He was the Son of God and that through Him we would obtain salvation.

    (12) from (10) and (11) it is reasonable to give our assent that Jesus was the Son of God and that through Him we will obtain salvation.

    (13) from (12) it is reasonable to believe Christianity is true.

    How cute.

  133. I propose that rationalists/skeptics/scientists test the magician theory, or better said the con theory, so that we can put this matter behind us. Science!! We have all this technology to help us so it should be relatively easy to carry out the experiment.

    Just commission our best magicians in secret to develop a con similar to what Jesus did. Start with the best con of all – the death and resurrection con that fooled all the people back then.

    See if a magician can get himself in legitimate legal trouble, actually sentenced to death by hanging, actually thrown into jail, beaten to a pulp and stabbed in the side by the other inmates the day before the hanging is to take place – or make it look like you’ve been beat up and stabbed using magic skills. Do this without anyone knowing it’s all a ruse, a con, a trick.

    When it comes time to death by hanging, either go through with it or use your magic skills to create the illusion of a death by hanging. We’ll make sure the team of secret insiders revive you if you actually die during the show.

    If someone can get that far without anyone else knowing it’s all a ruse, a con, a trick then I’ll believe that something similar *might* have occurred back in the 1st century. Until then, I remain a skeptic.

  134. G. Rodriguez, that is superb. Thank you.

    I’m not suggesting that Jesus was a conman or an illusionist.

    I’m suggesting that many early Christians were more credible than many of us today. Many (not all, e.g. Saul of Tarsus) of them wanted to believe; to the Jewish and Greek ear the gospel really was very good news, just as it is today (especially if you are willing to accept the truth of your fallen nature), and people really really want beautiful-sounding ideas to be true. It caught on like wildfire.

    And I’m saying that the chances of the witness accounts of miracles being mistaken, embellished or fabricated are less miraculous than the miracles themselves.

    Everyone is getting excited with the “he thinks Josh might be a conman so Jesus is a conman” idea and ignoring Hume. What is more miraculous: That God came down to Earth, died, and rose again, or that a whole lot of people were tragically mistaken?

  135. Kaapstorm
    What is the chance of a miracle? How are we to assess comparative probabilities?

    For example, we exist, I hope you agree. It’s a miracle, right? What is the probability of it occurring? The question is nonsensical. Can you see the problem with Hume’s argument? At its heart, it is begging the question.

  136. Bryan Howlett asks, “What is the chance of a miracle? How are we to assess comparative probabilities?” I’d say that the chance is small, right? I wouldn’t be able to get specific, but I’m sure we can pick a number from 1 to 10, just for a subjective feel:

    Turning a stick into a snake: 1
    Turning water into wine: 3
    Walking on water: 5
    Raising the dead: 8
    Being God: 10

    He continues, “For example, we exist, I hope you agree. It’s a miracle, right?”

    Really? Can you support that? If so, you have just answered my earlier question; the step from First Cause to deism, and perhaps also the existence of the supernatural.

    “What is the probability of it occurring? The question is nonsensical.”

    Not at all. In fact, there are physicists and cosmologists spending a lot of time working on that exact question right now.

    “Can you see the problem with Hume’s argument? At its heart, it is begging the question.”

    I guess you could pick a definition of the word “miracle” to support your opinion. But let’s assume that Hume was not using your definition. Perhaps assume that Hume meant something along the lines of “probability”. Can you compare the probability of Jesus being God and dying and rising from the dead, with the probability that people made an honest mistake? Just a gut feel. Maybe on a scale of 1 to 10.

  137. Thin air, totally. And if you were to do the same exercise, and pick figures out of thin air, what figures would you choose?

  138. I wouldn’t, because, as I said, it’s nonsensical to think of them in terms of probabilities.

    It’s like asking what the probability was that we would find that we are made of atoms which are full of empty space and not solid like we might have imagined.

  139. I don’t want to get too personal here but I think it has become clear kaapstorm that you are not a serious person looking seriously at the issues we have been discussing. Your non-reply to my post #106 is only the starting point. For you to state, without explanation, that I approached your questions from one end and not the other when I had prefaced my remarks with that very fact is just excuse making. Further, simply referring to the very agenda driven Karen Armstrong on a theological point that a consensus of theologians of all stripes, from skeptical to conservative, agree on isn’t a serious reply either.

    But really, this pales in comparison to your embarrassing list of the probabilities of various miracles. Anyone who has seriously thought about this understands the basic fact about the possibility of miracles. If God exists miracles are possible. If God does not exist miracles are impossible. Yet, you prattle on quite unbelievably assigning actual numbers to these occurrences seemingly oblivious to the fact that actually turning water into wine is no more or less probable that Jesus being God. A miracle is a miracle. That’s why they call them that. Do you really have so little self respect as to post this nonsense. Have you not thought this through at all?

    And then there is this quite ironic statement. ” Many…of them wanted to believe; to the Jewish and Greek ear the gospel really was very good news…” Actually, even the most cursory understanding, much less serious study, of the mindset of 1st century Jews (among whom Christianity began) would lead one to just the opposite conclusion. The idea of an incarnate God was a complete anathema to the 1st century Jew. 1st century Jews wouldn’t even speak the name of God. The idea that God would walk the earth with them would have been completely abhorrent. But there is someone here who really “wants to believe”. That would be you kaapstorm. That would be you.

  140. Many (not all, e.g. Saul of Tarsus) of them wanted to believe; to the Jewish and Greek ear the gospel really was very good news, just as it is today (especially if you are willing to accept the truth of your fallen nature), and people really really want beautiful-sounding ideas to be true. It caught on like wildfire.

    Yes, so much so that Paul had to describe the reactions to the Gospel as:

    for the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will thwart the cleverness of the intelligent.” 1:20 Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish? 1:21 For since in the wisdom of God the world by its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching. 1:22 For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, 1:23 but we preach about a crucified Christ, 23 a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. 1:24 But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1:25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, 24 and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

    ( 1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

    Christianity would not have gotten off the ground if the front line witnesses (the apostles and those who saw the risen Jesus for themselves) were not convinced of the truth. Yet you say they wanted to believe – where is your historical evidence? Support this assertion from the historical record!

    The fact is the NT documents record that the apostles were reluctant to believe that Jesus was really alive.
    1. Thomas “I won’t believe unless I see it for myself and examine His wounds for myself” Didymus (John 20:24-25).
    2. Mary Magdalene wanted to believe so much that she mistook the gardener at the tomb for the risen Jesus – oh, wait, that was the other way around – she mistook the risen Jesus for the gardener and asked where he had taken the body ( John 20:10-18).
    3. Peter and John wanted to believe so much that they mistakenly understood the full significance of the empty tomb (John 20:1-9)
    4. The apostles, having heard Mary’s initial report, wanted to believe so much that they rejoiced when they heard what she said (Luke 24:1-12).
    5. Saul of Tarsus – what changed his mind?.

    These people changed their minds and did a complete about-face because they were presented with direct evidence that Jesus was really alive and well (Luke 24:30-49 and John 20-21).

    Your bare assertions are baseless assertions.

    Yes, indeed the Gospel is good news, for it meets our deepest existential needs and brings new life in Christ to those who are willing to listen to the Spirit of God.

    and

    What is more miraculous: That God came down to Earth, died, and rose again, or that a whole lot of people were tragically mistaken?

    Well, can you support your assertion that the apostles were actually mistaken? Show us, if you are able, from the historical records, that the details provided by the NT authors demonstrate that they were mistaken.

  141. @Victoria:

    Well, can you support your assertion that the apostles were actually mistaken? Show us, if you are able, from the historical records, that the details provided by the NT authors demonstrate that they were mistaken.

    Prediction: the retort will be, possibly in a deriding tone, “how do you know the historical records are reliable?”, followed by weaving an elaborate conspiracy theory. If you respond “well, let us look at the evidence for the reliability of the records”, the retort will be that the authors were mistaken because, “they wrote tales of dead coming back to life and similar nonsense”. Dealing with the *actual* evidence is anathema.

    Round and round, the merry-go-round we go. Or in Wallace Stevens’ poem:

    The Pleasures of Merely Circulating

    The garden flew round with the angel,
    The angel flew round with the cloud.
    And the clouds flew round and the clouds flew round
    And the clouds flew round with the clouds.

    Is there any secret in skulls,
    The cattle skulls in the woods?
    Do the drummers in black hoods
    Rumble anything out of their drums?

    Mrs. Anderson’s Swedish baby
    Might well have been German or Spanish.
    Yet that things go round and again go round
    Has rather a classical sound.

  142. @G. Rodrigues (and BillT too)
    I think you are right – I was thinking the same thing when I wrote the post 🙂

  143. Actually, BillT, I’m not at all convinced that the issue is whether kaapstorm is a “serious person looking seriously at the issues.” By my lights he’s about as honestly engaged as any atheist/skeptic that’s ever interacted here. He has replied to an awful lot since #106, and it would be hard to fault him for not staying involved because of that.

    I think the real problem might be just what you said in #106: for kaapstorm, the accounts of Jesus Christ are “simply unbelievable.” We’re asking him to join us in believing that everything in his life, my life, your life, indeed everything in all of time and space revolves around one wandering teacher and miracle worker who lived in a far corner of the world 2,000 years ago. We Christians must never lose sight of how that must appear to others. The truth of Christianity is inescapable to my mind; but that doesn’t make it easy or obvious for those who are deeply inculcated with naturalistic atheism.

    Take the probabilities of miracles. We could look at it on three different scenarios.

    1. On naturalistic atheism, pr(M) (the probability of miracles) is zero.
    2. Given that there is a God, pr(M|G) (meaning, the probability of miracles given that there is a God) is somewhere unknown between 0 and 1.
    3. Given that there is a God who has reason to accomplish miracles (mG), then pr(M|mG) = 1: miracles are certain.

    But there’s another way of looking at it:
    4. What is is pr(G|E)? That is, given that there is some purported evidence (E) for miracles, what’s the probability that there is a God?

    If the evidence for miracles holds up, then 1 is completely ruled out, 2 is probably ruled out (for who would think miracles would come from a God who did not have a reason to accomplish miracles?), and naturalistic atheists have to deal conclusions like:
    pr(M) is very nearly 1: miracles probably really do happen, and therefore,
    pr(G) is very nearly 1: there is very probably a God who does miracles.

    kaapstorm has been living in a mindset of pr(M) = 0. We’re setting before him the possibility that God is, and that his miracles have authenticated Jesus Christ as the actual center of all history.

    kaapstorm, I appreciate your being in this conversation.

    But picking numbers out of thin air is no better than, say, picking numbers out of thin air. I don’t think you were thinking that through very seriously when you wrote it.

    Did you know that Hume’s argument against miracles has been successfully contested, by the way?

  144. Regarding one section of your linked article, which goes like this:

    When Hume says that the laws of nature are established upon “a firm and unalterable experience,” is he claiming that the laws of nature are never violated? If so, then his argument begs the question, assuming the very thing that needs to be proved. It would be as if he argued this way:

    • A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature.

    • Experience teaches us that the laws of nature are never violated (i.e. that miracles never occur).

    • Therefore, experience teaches us that miracles never occur.

    Such an argument is clearly fallacious. Hume would be assuming “as a premise for his argument the very conclusion he intends to prove.”{7} But this is probably not what Hume intended.

    C.S. Lewis summed it up something like this: “Firm and unalterable experience” is tantamount to saying miracles have never happened; and if miracles have never happened, then they never have. But if they have happened, then this “firm and unalterable experience” is both firm and alterable: Hume’s premise fails. So how do we know whether miracles have happened? By exploring persons’ experience, not by reading Hume.

  145. Tom,

    I wasn’t taking kaapstorm to task for not “staying involved” in the assertions I made in #106. I was criticizing his posted response to it. It was neither a serious or thoughtful response as I explained (which is a lot more than he did). Second, though far more sophisticated than my reply to him regarding miracles, your nos. 1 and 3 mirror almost exactly what I said. And you described his “picking numbers out of thin air” as not “thinking that through very seriously when you wrote it” just like I did. I’m glad for his participation as well but posting rebuttals without explanations making unsupported and unsupportable assertions isn’t serious dialog.

  146. BillT, I wasn’t clear enough: when I said that about picking numbers out of thin air, at that point I was agreeing with you. I’m sorry I didn’t articulate that at the time.

  147. And Tom. I certainly didn’t expect my #106 to change kaapstorm’s mind, just consider our point of view and the analysis that backs it up. After all, the unbelievability of the story of Christ cuts both ways.

  148. @Victoria:

    One more thing: Hume’s argument is predicated on some rather contentious metaphysical assumptions (meaning: wrong), but Earman’s book, being largely an exercise in Bayesian probability, may be more up your alley.

  149. BillT, I’m sorry I did not reply immediately to your comment 106, and that when I did you were not satisfied. I find your and my worldviews so very different that I’m not sure whether I’m getting your meaning, or whether you’re getting mine. Frankly, I’m not sure how to talk to you.

    And when I am pressed for time (a job that consumes all the time I allow it to, and a wife and two kids) that doesn’t leave much time for considered responses to all the topics that have come up in this conversation. So I’m sooner going to respond to something that is more easily accessible to me, and that’s seldom the stuff you write. Also, your posts tend to be a little more antagonistic than most of the others, and that doesn’t make them any more attractive to me.

    In 106, you write, “The Bible … is the most reliable ancient text. … Christ’s deity … has always been the center of Christian teaching. … Christianity spread rapidly … eyewitness[es] to life of Christ were alive.”

    OK. I get that. I have a negligible disagreement, but I’d prefer to let it slide, and continue with the discussion.

    You continue, and I’m very sorry I somehow missed this bit the first time round, “If you base your Faith on the story of Christ you have a major problem. It’s simply unbelievable.”

    We agree on that.

    But! “They have thousands of people believers and non-believers that actually saw the particulars of the story of Christ. Eyewitnesses to his miracles. Eyewitnesses to his death. Eyewitnesses to his resurrection.”

    OK. Tom has pointed out my issue with that in #163: “We’re setting before him the possibility that God is, and that his miracles have authenticated Jesus Christ as the actual center of all history.”

    Exactly. As I see it, there is no reason to believe that the First Cause has anything analogous to intelligence. The universe does not seem to be the product of fine-tuning. The origin of life on Earth is not fully understood but there is little reason to suspect that its cause was supernatural. Evolution is proven. Don’t ask your congressman, ask a biologist, or the Pope if you must. You and I are the result of a natural process, not a supernatural one.

    And now, as Tom mentioned, you are requiring me to accept the existence of a deity — a theist deity — who uses supernatural powers to come to Earth, (roughly) 4 billion years after its formation, (roughly) 100 000 years after the appearance of humans, in the form of an itinerant Jewish preacher, to die, and then to come back to life. Why? Because we are born sinful (a claim supported by a legend involving a talking snake) and we need to accept His divinity and forgiveness in order to avoid hell. I hope you can appreciate that that is very hard for me to accept.

    Bryan Howlett maintains that it is nonsensical to think of miracles in terms of probability. Perhaps that is true for all people who believe in miracles. So I will speak only for myself here. Near my office there is an artificial wetland with a canal. If I was walking along the path that surrounds the canal, and I saw some guy walking on the water, I would not think “A miracle!” No, I would think “Wow! I wonder how that works!”

    If the same guy were to walk up to me, whip out a samurai sword, chop his own head off, and, holding it under his arm, say, “I am God!” my response would be very different. I feel that chopping your own head off and then then talking seems a whole lot more miraculous than walking on water, regardless of what Bryan tells me.

    (Before I believe in his deity though, I’d have a few questions. Like, “What is the prime number that follows 2 to the power of 57,885,161 minus 1?” — If he knew that, then he might be God. Or he might come from the future. Or maybe he just works for the NSA. 🙂 But I digress.)

    Regardless of what mind-blowing miracles he performed in front of me and thousands of other witnesses, over an extended period of time and on many separate occassions, I would sooner believe that there were hallucinogens in the water supply than that he is God. Because, considering what I believe about the universe, that would be more likely.

    So Tom is right. That is exactly what I would think.

    You conclude, “So, we have the story of Christ’s life, the story of Christianity in all it’s unbelievable details being accepted by people all over the Mediterranean who have access to the eyewitnesses for verification. … They believed because they saw it with their own eyes. I believe this is a compelling enough scenario to make most at least consider it being reasonable.”

    It is reasonable. It is even strongly compelling. I do not consider you or anyone else who has participated in this conversation to be stupid or ignorant. I completely understand why you would be persuaded by the evidence you have just given me.

    But — and you know what I’m about to say — I still think that claiming to be God must be the most extreme of all claims. Anything, ANYTHING, must surely be more likely than that a human is God. For me to be persuaded, I would first need to have the same understanding of the universe as you. I would first need to accept that the universe is the result of a deity. Then I would need to accept that this deity takes an active role in the universe. And then I would need to accept that the purpose for his appearance as a human, and subsequent death and resurrection, (i.e. original sin) is true.

    These are all beliefs that Jews have, and so that extra step to Christianity was easier for them than it is for me.

    BillT, I hope that answers your question.

    Tom, I am glad you appreciate my involvement. I’m not sure the feeling is universal. 🙂 But I have really been enjoying this, and I’ve learned a lot.

    Maybe it would be useful to explain why I’ve stuck around for so long. I’m not here to convert anyone to atheism, or to wait for someone to convert me to Christianity. But I do enjoy thinking, and being challenged, and you all have given me plenty to think about. And I hope that my involvement occasionally gives at least some of you something to think about too — or at least fills in a couple of gaps in your understanding of what people like me believe — and that it isn’t just one long exercise in frustration that I haven’t yet come around to your point of view.

    Victoria, thank you for the links. Both articles look quite long. I will read them after I’ve posted this.

    G. Rodrigues, thank you for the link to the book. It looks tempting, but a bit expensive for me. I may not get to it.

    Regarding your prediction in #161, I wouldn’t have pursued investigating or discounting the historical records. I would be completely out of my depth (not that that always dissuades me 😉 ). Instead I would say that I have offered a natural explanation, and although it may be inaccurate, any variation of it that does not invoke the supernatural would be more likely than a supernatural explanation.

    I doubt it would have persuaded Victoria though. I’m guessing I’m the only person here who is uncomfortable with invoking supernatural explanations.

    Perhaps whatever is at the other end of those links will show that supernatural explanations are not so unlikely after all. I’m about to find out.

  150. The universe does not seem to be the product of fine-tuning.

    Cosmologists disagree with you, meaning they acknowledge the fine tuning of the universe.

    The origin of life on Earth is not fully understood but there is little reason to suspect that its cause was supernatural.

    There are reasons. That you disagree is little reason to think there is little reason.

    Evolution is proven.

    Depends on how you define the term. An absense of intentionality in the formation of living beings has not be scientifically proven.

  151. Regardless of what mind-blowing miracles he performed in front of me and thousands of other witnesses, over an extended period of time and on many separate occassions, I would sooner believe that there were hallucinogens in the water supply than that he is God. Because, considering what I believe about the universe, that would be more likely.

    Huh? You’d sooner believe in the water theory without evidence, but it’s too big of a stretch for you to believe in the God theory with evidence – repeated again and again, evidence.

    Wow!!

  152. Cosmologists disagree with you

    All cosmologists? Most cosmologists? Or just the ones you’ve been told about?

    An absense of intentionality in the formation of living beings has not be scientifically proven.

    Melissa, Victoria, G. Rodrigues, please help me out here. Why would an absence need to be proven when there is no evidence for the missing thing in the first place?

  153. You’d sooner believe in the water theory without evidence, but it’s too big of a stretch for you to believe in the God theory with evidence – repeated again and again, evidence.

    You’re absolutely right. We’d have to test the water. And if that came up blank, we’d have to keep on looking for other possibilities, until we had exhausted every single one. Because divinity is the most outrageously extraordinary claim you could ever make, and you would need to eliminate every possible alternative.

  154. kaapstorm,

    I think you are jumping to a conclusion I didn’t make. It’s a pretty simple thought experiment. You take historical Christianity with it’s “unbelievable” story and the fact that it spread rapidly throughout the region in which it began with eyewitnesses available to any and all who wanted to confirm the facts. What could possibly account for that? I am simply trying to reason to the best possible inference. Just repeating over and over that “Anything must surely be more likely than that a human is God” isn’t reasoning. I think you know that. I hope you will find the time to continue to post here. It’s been an great discussion.

    P.S. BTW, I agree with you about evolution being true. However, that really doesn’t in any way prove we live in purely materialistic universe.

  155. kaapstorm,

    The evidence that the first cause is rational is in the type of world we live in. Teleology in nature is obvious unless you choose to deny it because of prior philosophical commitments. If you do, you actually undermine your reasons for accepting the findings of science as descriptive of reality and not just our own projection onto undifferentiated stuff.

  156. @kaapstorm

    “The universe does not appear to be fine-tuned”

    You are presenting only one side of the issue, and without references, I might add (unless you are a secret cosmologist/physicist and can state this on the authority of your own scientific credentials).

    The real argument is whether or not fine-tuning is evidence of teleology (purpose in the universe, or a Creator). Why do you think physicists are so interested in multiverse theories, and especially M-theories (string theory to the layman) that lead to the multiverse landscapes?

    Just because people like Victor Stenger and Don Page happen to dispute the inference, so what? The matter is far from settled, so your bare assertion is presumptuous.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-tuned_Universe

    Fine-tuning is an expected property of the universe in a modern understanding of the Biblical doctrine of Creation and General Providence (see the links here: http://www.reasons.org/Search?q=fine+tuning)

  157. We’d have to test the water. And if that came up blank, we’d have to keep on looking for other possibilities, until we had exhausted every single one.

    You weren’t clear on this. I agree that you look for other answers but why would you believe the water theory unless you had a reason to do that? You didn’t say anything about checking or if you had a reason to side with the water theory – you just pointed to some other possible explanation and chose to believe that instead. As I said, you weren’t clear.

  158. @SteveK

    When your debate opponent engages in unconstrained, fact-free hypothetical situations, what else can you expect? It’s easy to make up possibilities when you have no real data to explain, and the only thing you have going for you is a vivid imagination.

    kaapstorm: are you ever going to engage with the real historical data concerning the central claims of Christianity?

  159. “The universe does not seem to be the product of fine-tuning”

    Please see post 62. Barnes’s critique of fine-tuning and also of the writing of men like Krauss and Stenger is not, to my knowledge, coming from an explicitly theistic source.

  160. Victoria,
    I’m also troubled by what he says here:

    we’d have to keep on looking for other possibilities, until we had exhausted every single one.

    He clearly stated that he was being repeatedly exposed to a series of events over a long period of time. Let’s say it was a burning bush that was never consumed. Not all bushes of the same kind, just one of them out in a field of many.

    So he sees this repeatedly over long periods of time and his response is “we’d have to look for other possible explanations”. Why? This experience has now become common experience, mundane even. Like walking past the same store everyday. Is there any doubt that the bush is never consumed by fire?

  161. Never mind fine-tuning, let’s ask why the dynamics of a physical system can be described in such elegant and abstract mathematics as a principle of least action, leading to Euler-Lagrange equations and their extensions, symmetries and conserved quantities (Noether’s Theorems). That last one is so elegant and pretty as to be breathtaking – we could write a modern day version of Psalm 19 on that alone.

  162. Also ask why so many things can be described in terms of the ratio pi when the thing has no apparant relationship to circles.

  163. I’m reading Barnes’ paper now. He addresses the very point I mentioned in #187 (Noether’s Theorem) and takes Stenger to task for equivocating on the meaning of ‘invariance, covariance and symmetry’.

    Stenger confuses frame invariance/covariance of physical laws (as in the ‘laws of physics should not depend on an observer’s reference frame’, ie upon a change of observer coordinate systems) with the symmetry properties of a system (the group operations that leave the system unchanged – eg, in a spherically symmetric system, a rotation about any axis passing through the center of the system (cf central potentials) . Noether’s Theorem is about the latter.

    To put it simply – covariance is about coordinate system transformations that leave the formal dynamical equations unchanged (same form). Symmetry (and Noether’s Theorem) is all about operations on a specific dynamical system that leave specific dynamical variables unchanged. Also, Noether’s Theorem only applies to dynamical systems that can be described using functionals and Hamilton’s principle (least action).

    Barnes formulates Stenger’s argument about the ‘laws of nature’:

    Are the laws of nature themselves fi ne-tuned? Stenger defends the ambitious claim that the
    laws of nature could not have been di erent because they can be derived from the requirement
    that they be Point-of-View Invariant (hereafter, PoVI). He says:

    . . . [In previous sections] we have derived all of classical physics, including classical
    mechanics, Newton’s law of gravity, and Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism,
    from just one simple principle: the models of physics cannot depend on the point
    of view of the observer. We have also seen that special and general relativity follow
    from the same principle, although Einstein’s speci c model for general relativity
    depends on one or two additional assumptions. I have o ered a glimpse at how
    quantum mechanics also arises from the same principle, although again a few other
    assumptions, such as the probability interpretation of the state vector, must be
    added. . . . [The laws of nature] will be the same in any universe where no special
    point of view is present.” [Foft 88, 91]


    We can formulate Stenger’s argument for this conclusion as follows:
    LN1. If our formulation of the laws of nature is to be objective, it must be PoVI. Point of View Invariant
    LN2. Invariance implies conserved quantities (Noether’s theorem).
    LN3. Thus, when our models do not depend on a particular point or direction in space or a
    particular moment in time, then those models must necessarily contain the quantities
    linear momentum, angular momentum, and energy, all of which are conserved. Physicists have no choice in the matter, or else their models will be subjective, that is, will
    give uselessly di fferent results for every diff erent point of view. And so the conservation principles are not laws built into the universe or handed down by deity to govern the
    behavior of matter. They are principles governing the behavior of physicists.” [Foft
    82, emphasis original]
    This argument commits the fallacy of equivocation | the term “invariant” has changed its
    meaning between LN1 and LN2. The di erence is decisive but rather subtle, owing to the
    di erent contexts in which the term can be used. We will tease the two meanings apart by
    defi ning covariance and symmetry, considering a number of test cases.

    Barnes presents his test cases, and concludes with

    Conclusion: We can now see the
    flaw in Stenger’s argument. Premise LN1 should read: If
    our formulation of the laws of nature is to be objective, then it must be covariant. Premise
    LN2 should read: symmetries imply conserved quantities
    Since `covariant’ and `symmetric’
    are not synonymous, it follows that the conclusion of the argument is unproven, and we would
    argue that it is false. The conservation principles of this universe are not merely principles
    governing our formulation of the laws of nature. Neother’s theorems do not allow us to pull
    physically signi cant conclusions out of a mathematical hat. If you want to know whether
    a certain symmetry holds in nature, you need a laboratory or a telescope, not a blackboard.
    Symmetries tell us something about the physical universe.

    This is Mathematical Physics 301 (assuming that most physics programs don’t introduce Hamilton’s principle and Lagrangian formalisms until about the 3rd year) – undergraduate physics – that Stenger mucks it up so badly makes me wonder what his real agenda is.

    @Tom: apologies in advance for the digression 🙂 Too interesting and important to let kaapstorm get away with a bare assertion about fine tuning…

  164. BillT #179:

    You take historical Christianity with it’s “unbelievable” story and the fact that it spread rapidly throughout the region in which it began with eyewitnesses available to any and all who wanted to confirm the facts. What could possibly account for that? I am simply trying to reason to the best possible inference.

    I think your inference is a good one.

    I spent quite a while coming up with another possible inference, and in the end abandoned it because I realised that to do this answer justice would take me a long time — and also, other people have done all the work before me. More on them further below.

    Melissa #180:

    The evidence that the first cause is rational is in the type of world we live in

    Order is not necessarily the result of a rational first cause.

    If you [deny teleology in nature], you actually undermine your reasons for accepting the findings of science as descriptive of reality and not just our own projection onto undifferentiated stuff.

    I don’t deny it. I just don’t assume it. The truth is, we just don’t know.

    Victoria #181:

    You are presenting only one side of the issue, and without references

    Very good point. I’ll restate that: The universe is not necessarily fine-tuned. If it is fine-tuned, it is not necessarily evidence of teleology. And there is even one hypothesis out there that posits that if the universe was designed, it was not necessarily by God.

    The bottom line is, we don’t know.

    Victoria #187:

    Never mind fine-tuning, let’s ask why the dynamics of a physical system can be described in such elegant and abstract mathematics …

    Exactly, “let’s ask”.

    It would be fallacious to use God as an explanation for that which we don’t understand. Well, I certainly don’t understand that God is the reason that “the dynamics of a physical system can be described in such elegant and abstract mathematics”. It seems to me to be a nice way of restating, “the universe is ordered, therefore God.”

    Maybe He is the reason, but not necessarily.

    However, I do appreciate that in a designed universe, nature would reveal the true character of God.

    Victoria #183:

    kaapstorm: are you ever going to engage with the real historical data concerning the central claims of Christianity?

    It’s definitely not my field. But I’m interested to hear what you have to say. And while the view I expect to hear from you is clearly the most popular view, there are other views too. Here is a continuation of my response to Bill #179, and perhaps something to get you started, Victoria.

    In Introduction to the New Testament, Vol. 2: History and Literature of Early Christianity Helmut Koester writes that the stories of the resurrection were originally epiphanies in which the disciples are called to a ministry by the risen Jesus and were interpreted as physical proof of the event at a secondary stage.

    In his book The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity, Thomas Sheehan argues that even Paul’s account of the resurrection is not meant to be taken as referring to a literal, physical rising from the grave, and that stories of a bodily resurrection did not appear until as much as half a century following the crucifixion. Sheehan believes that Paul’s understanding of the resurrection, and perhaps Peter’s as well, was a metaphysical one.

    In his paper, The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb (which can be found in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave), Richard Carrier writes,

    Christianity probably began … with a different idea of the resurrection than is claimed today. The evidence suggests the first Christians, at least up to and including Paul, thought Christ’s “soul” was taken up to heaven and clothed in a new body, after leaving his old body in the grave forever. The subsequent story, that Jesus actually walked out of the grave with the same body that went into it, leaving an empty tomb to astonish all, was probably a legend that developed over the course of the first century, beginning with a metaphorical “empty tomb” in the Gospel of Mark … By the end of the first century the Christian faction that would win total power three centuries later, and thus alone preserve its writings for posterity, had come to believe in the literal truth of the ensuing legend, forgetting or repudiating the original doctrine of Paul.

    In his book, The Resurrection: History and Myth, Géza Vermes concludes that there are eight possible theories to explain the “resurrection of Jesus”:

    I have discounted the two extremes that are not susceptible to rational judgment, the blind faith of the fundamentalist believer and the out-of-hand rejection of the inveterate skeptic. The fundamentalists accept the story, not as written down in the New Testament texts, but as reshaped, transmitted, and interpreted by Church tradition. They smooth down the rough edges and abstain from asking tiresome questions. The unbelievers, in turn, treat the whole Resurrection story as the figment of early Christian imagination. Most inquirers with a smattering of knowledge of the history of religions will find themselves between these two poles.

    Vermes’ remaining six possibilities are:

    (1) The body was removed by someone unconnected with Jesus
    (2) The body of Jesus was stolen by his disciples
    (3) The empty tomb was not the tomb of Jesus
    (4) Buried alive, Jesus later left the tomb
    (5) Jesus recovered from a coma and departed Judea
    (6) the possibility that there was a “spiritual, not bodily, resurrection”.

    You’ve clearly been looking forward to your response. I don’t know enough to respond to it, but I’m sure it’ll make good reading. Over to you.

  165. kaapstorm,

    Order is not necessarily the result of a rational first cause.

    I guess we could just bite the bullet and conclude there are no things that change or that there are no reasons (causes) why things change. But then what are we doing when we do science?

    I don’t deny it (teleology). I just don’t assume it. The truth is, we just don’t know.

    I wasn’t making an assumption, I was referring briefly to the reductio absurdism arguments against the denial of teleology in nature. The premises which Aquinas begins his arguments from cannot be denied without undermining our beliefs in all sorts of other areas. Obviously we can’t be 100% certain that teleology is real but if it’s not then the world is unintelligible and all our arguments are incoherent ramblings. We actually have reasons to believe that there is real teleology in nature. Really, why think any of our observations aren’t just apparent (fill in the blank)? Why single out the existance of teleology in nature as something we just don’t know? What are you reasons for doing so?

  166. kaapstorm,

    “Thomas Sheehan argues that even Paul’s account of the resurrection is not meant to be taken as referring to a literal, physical rising from the grave, and that stories of a bodily resurrection did not appear until as much as half a century following the crucifixion.”

    Yet Paul wrote, prior to his death in 67A.D., in 1 Corinthians 15:14
    “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” This one line, among dozens of others, refutes both of Sheehan’s points. My #106 refutes Koester and Carrier . Vermes’ points have been refuted so often and so thoroughly that they’ve become cliché. Not that you would have though that there weren’t replies to these. However, look at Sheehan’s alone to judge the absurdity of that in light of the plain meaning of what Paul said and when he said it. And further, even if the “…stories of a bodily resurrection did not appear until as much as half a century following the crucifixion.” there still would have been eyewitnesses alive that could and would have refuted it were it a fiction.

  167. @kaapstorm
    Glad to see you are still here with us 🙂 I hope you had a good weekend 🙂

    Lot’s of material to respond to – I’ll try to do it justice:) FYI I am a software developer/designer as well (medical imaging systems) and our team is working on a major feature on an aggressive schedule, so I won’t have the luxury of being able to reply as often or in as much detail during the normal 9-5 EDT working hours, so I trust that my fellow Christians will take up the slack.

    Let me just start with this opening remark.
    You have done exactly what G. Rodrigues predicted in his #161 – well, perhaps not you personally, but your references – namely

    Prediction: the retort will be, possibly in a deriding tone, “how do you know the historical records are reliable?”, followed by weaving an elaborate conspiracy theory. If you respond “well, let us look at the evidence for the reliability of the records”, the retort will be that the authors were mistaken because, “they wrote tales of dead coming back to life and similar nonsense”. Dealing with the *actual* evidence is anathema.

    There is little dispute amongst NT scholars and historians (or anybody who has read the NT documents) that, taken at face value, as they are written the NT documents point us to a supernatural, fully divine and fully human Jesus, who lived in Palestine in what we now call the first 3 decades of the 1st century AD, was crucified, dead and buried, and was subsequently seen alive by those who knew Him, and that these events were the catalysts for the development of Christianity. The Gospels make it clear that Jesus was indeed dead, buried, that His tomb was discovered to be empty, and that His disciples saw Him alive, in a body that was corporeal, yet more than corporeal (He could eat, they could touch Him, etc). There is no getting around the fact that the NT documents attribute these things to supernatural causes.

    Having said that, those whose worldviews a priori do not admit the supernatural (either Metaphysical Naturalism, which assumes the non-existence, or some form of Deism, which does not allow a deity who interacts with the natural realm), have to assume that the documents can’t be taken at face value because of those supernatural elements, and thus they have to come up with alternate non-supernatural explanations.

    As my time permits, I’ll respond in more detail to your points.

    For the interested readers, N. T. Wright has dealt with the claim that Jesus’ resurrection was a non-corporeal one here
    http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Early_Traditions.htm to start.

  168. BillT and Victoria, thank you for your replies. And good luck with the project Victoria.

    Melissa,

    Order is not necessarily the result of a rational first cause.

    I guess we could just bite the bullet and conclude there are no things that change or that there are no reasons (causes) why things change. But then what are we doing when we do science?

    Maybe I’m being a bit slow here. When you connect science and causes, you are talking about Aristotle’s four causes, of which teleology is the fourth, or “final cause”, right? And doing science as a method of determining causes? But there are causes other than “final cause”. And we use science to determine those other causes. Why would a lack of teleology lead us to conclude either that “there are no things that change” or that “there are no reasons (causes) why things change”? I think I’m missing your point here.

    I don’t deny it (teleology). I just don’t assume it. The truth is, we just don’t know.

    I wasn’t making an assumption, I was referring briefly to the reductio absurdism arguments against the denial of teleology in nature. … Obviously we can’t be 100% certain that teleology is real but if it’s not then the world is unintelligible and all our arguments are incoherent ramblings.

    You’re definitely better informed on this one than I am. What reductio ad absurdum arguments?

    If nature does not have an ultimate purpose, why does that mean that the world is unintelligible, and our arguments incoherent ramblings? (Just because I don’t understand exactly what you’re getting at, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. 🙂 )

    Why single out the existance of teleology in nature as something we just don’t know? What are you reasons for doing so?

    Well those questions I asked way back when — about the step from First Cause to deism, and from deism to theism, and from theism to Christianity — that step from First Cause to deism would suggest teleology, and the next step would necessarily imply it. If I understand you correctly, you’ve argued that nature has a purpose, therefore deism. I’m saying we don’t know that nature has a purpose. It looks like the universe can be explained without it. If so, Occam’s Razor suggests that we leave it out, and so we’re still looking for a reason to move from First Cause to deism.

    Of course, there are implications. Many theists believe that denying teleology leads directly to nihilism, but I don’t see that. It leads to liberty. We are still bound by our social contract, and motivated by our nature as good people, who not only have a capacity but also a strong tendency to love, and an appreciation for being loved. That doesn’t lead to nihilism. It just means that the meaning in our lives and of our lives is not predetermined. It means that we are good because we choose to be, not because we are commanded to be, with associated supernatural sticks and carrots. That’s even better! Isn’t it?

    “Slaves dream not of freedom but of becoming masters.” (Google claims that that is a quote from Jack Childress, a character in The Bridge, but I’m sure he didn’t come up with that all by himself. Anyone know who said that first?)

  169. For Geza Vermes list

    Vermes’ remaining six possibilities are:

    (1) The body was removed by someone unconnected with Jesus
    (2) The body of Jesus was stolen by his disciples
    (3) The empty tomb was not the tomb of Jesus
    (4) Buried alive, Jesus later left the tomb
    (5) Jesus recovered from a coma and departed Judea
    (6) the possibility that there was a “spiritual, not bodily, resurrection”.

    Does Vermes go on to discuss these in more detail to see if they fit the recorded details?

    As BillT mentioned, these have all been addressed and can be shown from the NT record as not likely. It just so happens that the Gospel records provide details that speak to each of these issues.

    For instance:

    (1) all 4 gospels record that Joseph of Arimethea went to Pilate to request the body of Jesus and (with the help of Nicodemus, according to John) placed the body in his (Joseph’s) own family tomb.
    Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:472-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:38-42.

    (4) and (5)
    (a) both Mark and John provided two details that make it certain that Jesus was dead: Mark 15:44-45 Pilate was surprised that he was already dead. He called the centurion and asked him if he had been dead for some time. 15:45 When Pilate was informed by the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. .

    John tells us (John 19:31-37) that So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men who had been crucified 97 with Jesus, first the one and then the other. 19:33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out immediately. 19:35 And the person who saw it has testified (and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth), so that you also may believe.

    Josephus talks about three crucifixion victims who were taken down from the cross and given the best medical treatment available – two died anyway, and one managed to recover…(see http://jamestabor.com/2012/08/08/that-most-wretched-of-deaths-josephus-a-1st-century-witness-to-crucifixion/ for example). With no medical help, Jesus manages to exit the tomb, and convince His followers that He is not only alive but gloriously so? If He just left, without His disciples’ knowledge, the NT documents dispute that possibility with the accounts of the disciples actually seeing Jesus alive again.

  170. kaapstorm,

    I’m pretty pressed for time at the moment but these two articles might get you started with causes and natural teleology and some of the problems in denying it.

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/natural-theology-natural-science-and.html

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2009/07/hitting-metaphysical-snooze-button.html

    Of course, there are implications. Many theists believe that denying teleology leads directly to nihilism, but I don’t see that. It leads to liberty. We are still bound by our social contract, and motivated by our nature as good people, who not only have a capacity but also a strong tendency to love, and an appreciation for being loved. That doesn’t lead to nihilism.

    Many atheists believe it leads to nihilism. The social contract does not help you because evil thing will be labelled good as long as they are socially acceptable. Your second point about our nature just picks up the idea, although probably unconsciously of formal causes. We know though that we all can be selfish and unloving, and to varying degrees defective in our ability to love but that doesn’t make sense unless there is an ideal towards which we are directed.

    It means that we are good because we choose to be, not because we are commanded to be, with associated supernatural sticks and carrots. That’s even better! Isn’t it?

    I’m disappointed that you are still, in spite of our earlier discussions, characterising theistic morality in this way. As far as I’m concerned the superiority of the Christian moral framework is not because we are commanded and offered incentives but in that it grounds good in our universal human natures and purposes.

  171. re my #197 -oops, I should not try to multitask 🙂 NT history and C# don’t mix well.

    The point about the tomb being Joseph of Arimathea’s addressed the wrong tomb issue- the gospel accounts all indicate that the women knew where the tomb was located, and could easily have told Peter and John the location when they related the events of that morning.
    In any case, the Jewish authorities knew where the tomb was, too, and so when the apostles started declaring the resurrection, they could have produced the body, or at least countered the claim that Jesus’ tomb was empty.

    Some else took the body? Who? Why? How? When? It would have to have been after Joseph and Nicodemus laid the body in the tomb and closed it, but before the Roman guard had been posted and secured the tomb – hmm, one wonders if they forgot to double check that there was actually a body in the tomb first – it would be a sensible and shrewd precaution – if the Jewish authorities were shrewd enough to insist on a guard just in case Jesus’ followers tried to steal the body, they’d be shrewd enough to check the tomb before sealing it.

    Any explanation of the details recorded in the NT has to take into account what the apostles saw – Jesus alive and well, after He had been dead and buried. It also has to explain what James and Paul saw that convinced them that Jesus is the risen Son of God.
    If the skeptic wants to discredit that by asserting that the stories are late fabrications or legends, then they have to demonstrate the historicity of that claim.

  172. Victoria,

    Does Vermes go on to discuss these in more detail to see if they fit the recorded details?

    I’m not sure. I haven’t read the book. I haven’t read any of them I’m afraid, but I will definitely check out that Mike Licona-Richard Carrier debate soon — it’s much quicker than reading Vermes. 🙂

    Melissa, I’m working my way through the Edward Feser links you posted, and when I’m finished I might be able to respond better.

    I’m disappointed that you are still, in spite of our earlier discussions, characterising theistic morality in this way. … [the Christian moral framework] grounds good in our universal human natures and purposes.

    You’re absolutely right, I’m sorry. That was dumb.

    Many atheists believe [lack of teleology] leads to nihilism.

    I’m still thinking this through. I may be making a category error here, but I’m sure that anyone who reaches that conclusion hasn’t given enough consideration to what we have learned about human nature (with insights provided by everything from Christianity to primatology), or rejects its relevance. If nihilism is the lack of divinely-given meaning and purpose, fair enough, but if it is the lack of all purpose and meaning, I have to disagree. But I’ll continue looking into it.

    And the bone I still have to pick with “our universal human natures and purposes” is that, even if it is true, I think Christians still don’t have a good enough handle on those natures and purposes. Those gender issues keep coming back to remind us that we don’t have it all figured out yet. And it is not the words of the Bible that are informing us going forward; those haven’t changed. It is what we are learning about ourselves that is informing us, and influencing how we read the Bible.

  173. kaapstorm,

    I look forward to your further thoughts on these issues. I will just comment on one thing:

    And it is not the words of the Bible that are informing us going forward; those haven’t changed. It is what we are learning about ourselves that is informing us, and influencing how we read the Bible

    The gospel writers and also the letter writers were articulating the good news into their particular contexts. We have no contextless account of the good news in fact the “context less account” is a myth of the modern era. Part of the job of theology is working out how we follow Christ in our own contexts. The early church did not have a problem with a variety of expressions of the Christian life. Dietrich Bonheoffer spent his life trying to answer the question “Who is Jesus for us today”. The thing with the gospel is that it both affirms and critiques aspects of every human culture, the difficult task is to be aware of how our culture shapes us, be sensitive to the leading if the Spirit and honest about our hearts desires which can lead us astray.

  174. I just came across this article summarizing the developments in NT scholarship about the Resurrection:

    http://garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm

    The trend seems to be for serious NT scholars that the NT documents need to be taken seriously as they are.

    this section is particularly significant

    The Disciples’ Belief that they had Seen the Risen Jesus

    From considerations such as the research areas above, perhaps the single most crucial development in recent thought has emerged. With few exceptions, the fact that after Jesus’ death his followers had experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus is arguably one of the two or three most recognized events from the four Gospels, along with Jesus’ central proclamation of the Kingdom of God and his death by crucifixion. Few critical scholars reject the notion that, after Jesus’ death, the early Christians had real experiences of some sort.

    Reginald Fuller asserts that, “Even the most skeptical historian has to postulate an `x’” in order to account for the New Testament data—namely, the empty tomb, Jesus’ appearances, and the transformation of Jesus’ disciples.[80] Fuller concludes by pointing out that this kerygma “requires that the historian postulate some other event” that is not the rise of the disciples’ faith, but “the cause of the Easter faith.” What are the candidates for such a historical explanation? The “irreducible historical minimum behind the Easter narratives” is “a well-based claim of certain disciples to have had visions of Jesus after his death as raised from the dead . . . .” However it is explained, this stands behind the disciples’ faith and is required in order to explain what happened to them.[81]

    Fuller elsewhere refers to the disciples’ belief in the resurrection as “one of the indisputable facts of history.” What caused this belief? That the disciples’ had actual experiences, characterized as appearances or visions of the risen Jesus, no matter how they are explained, is “a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever may agree.”[82]

    An overview of contemporary scholarship indicates that Fuller’s conclusions are well-supported. E.P. Sanders initiates his discussion in The Historical Figure of Jesus by outlining the broad parameters of recent research. Beginning with a list of the historical data that critics know, he includes a number of “equally secure facts” that “are almost beyond dispute.” One of these is that, after Jesus’ death, “his disciples . . . saw him.”[83] In an epilogue, Sanders reaffirms, “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.”[84]

    After beginning with a list of “a few assorted facts to which most critical scholars subscribe,” Robert Funk mentions that, “The conviction that Jesus was no longer dead but was risen began as a series of visions . . . .”[85] Later, after listing and arranging all of the resurrection appearances, Funk states that they cannot be harmonized.[86] But he takes more seriously the early, pre-Pauline confessions like 1 Corinthians 15:3-7.[87]

    John Meier lists “the claim by some of his disciples that he had risen from the dead and appeared to them” as one of the “empirically verifiable historical claims.” Paul, in particular, was an eyewitness to such an appearance, and James, the brother of Jesus, appears in the pre-Pauline list of appearances.[88]

    James D.G. Dunn asserts: “It is almost impossible to dispute that at the historical roots of Christianity lie some visionary experiences of the first Christians, who understood them as appearances of Jesus, raised by God from the dead.” Then Dunn qualifies the situation: “By `resurrection’ they clearly meant that something had happened to Jesus himself. God had raised him, not merely reassured them. He was alive again. . . .”[89]

    Wright asks how the disciples could have recovered from the shattering experience of Jesus’ death and regrouped afterwards, testifying that they had seen the risen Jesus, while being quite willing to face persecution because of this belief. What was the nature of the experience that dictated these developments? [90]

    Bart Ehrman explains that, “Historians, of course, have no difficulty whatsoever speaking about the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since this is a matter of public record. For it is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution.” This early belief in the resurrection is the historical origination of Christianity.[91]

    As we have mentioned throughout, there are certainly disagreements about the nature of the experiences. But it is still crucial that the nearly unanimous consent[92] of critical scholars is that, in some sense, the early followers of Jesus thought that they had seen the risen Jesus.

    This conclusion does not rest on the critical consensus itself, but on the reasons for the consensus, such as those pointed out above. A variety of paths converge here, including Paul’s eyewitness comments regarding his own experience (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8), the pre-Pauline appearance report in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, probably dating from the 30s, Paul’s second Jerusalem meeting with the major apostles to ascertain the nature of the Gospel (Gal. 2:1-10), and Paul’s knowledge of the other apostles’ teachings about Jesus’ appearances (1 Cor. 15:9-15, especially 15:11). Further, the early Acts confessions, the conversion of James, the brother of Jesus, the transformed lives that centered on the resurrection, the later Gospel accounts, and, most scholars would agree, the empty tomb. This case is built entirely on critically-ascertained texts, and confirmed by many critical principles such as eyewitness testimony, early reports, multiple attestation, discontinuity, embarrassment, enemy declarations, and coherence.[93]

    These same data indicate that Jesus’ followers reported visual experiences, witnessed by both individuals and groups. It is hardly disputed that this is at least the New Testament claim. The vast majority of scholars agree that these persons certainly thought that they had visual experiences of the risen Jesus. As Helmut Koester maintains, “We are on much firmer ground with respect to the appearances of the risen Jesus and their effect.” In addition to Paul, “that Jesus appeared to others (Peter, Mary Magdalene, James) cannot very well be questioned.”[94]

    The point here is that any plausible explanations must account for the disciples’ claims, due to the wide variety of factors that argue convincingly for visual experiences. This is also recognized by critical scholars across a wide theological spectrum. As such, both natural and supernatural explanations for these occurrences must be entertained. Most studies on the resurrection concentrate on cognate issues, often obstructing a path to this matter. What really happened? I certainly cannot argue the options here, but at least the possibilities have been considerably narrowed.

    there is also this summary article by Habermas
    http://garyhabermas.com/articles/trinityjournal_latetwentieth/trinityjournal_latetwentieth.htm
    discussing naturalistic theories about the Resurrection.

    and this, discussing Habermas’ own position
    http://garyhabermas.com/articles/dialog_rexperience/dialog_rexperiences.htm

  175. Normally, skeptics will side with and defend the historicity of public events where you have the same key components that are found in the circumstances surrounding the resurrection event.

  176. Hi SteveK, yes I have read it.

    There is something he said though, that caught my attention.

    As I have argued many times … the “theistic personalism” that characterizes so much contemporary philosophy of religion … is seriously problematic both philosophically and theologically. One reason is that God as conceived of by theistic personalists simply cannot plausibly be regarded as an ultimate explanation of the world. Theistic personalists … typically deny, or at least seriously qualify, the doctrine of divine simplicity. … Yet (so the classical theist would argue) … whatever is in any way composed of parts requires an explanation of its composition

    I don’t know what “theistic personalism” is, but it was the word “parts” that jumped out at me. “Parts” may be the wrong word to describe a triune God. “Aspects” or “characteristics” might be better. But either way, does the God of Judaism and Christianity meet the restrictions of “pure act”? The only god I am aware of that seems to meet those requirements would be Brahman of Hinduism (“the supreme reality without form, quality or attribute”). (My understanding of Hinduism is extremely limited so I might be completely off here, but certainly I’m not aware of either Judaism or Christianity claiming that God has no qualities or attributes; just that He does not change. (Malachi 3:6))

  177. Thank you for that, Melissa. That’s a big help.

    So “existence”, “omnipotence”, “omniscience” and “benevolence” are all analogous to the (irreducible) essence of God. All right.

    And God remains unchanged by His actions, which aren’t so much actions in the sense that actions are to us, as rather the results of His essence. OK.

    But I don’t see where Feser deals with the other two parts of the Trinity.

    What is the Spirit of God? Just another analogue of Godness? Or can it be differentiated from God the Father? I would say the Christian understanding is latter.

    And in what way can a human simultaneously be divine? How can divinity, as defined above, apply to a human, or any physical subset of the universe for that matter?

  178. kaapstorm,

    So “existence”, “omnipotence”, “omniscience” and “benevolence” are all analogous to the (irreducible) essence of God. All right.

    Not quite right. According to the doctrine of duvine simplicity God’s knowledge, power, essence etc are identical with his essence. His knowledge, power, existence is analogous to that found in created things.

    And God remains unchanged by His actions, which aren’t so much actions in the sense that actions are to us, as rather the results of His essence. OK.

    But I don’t see where Feser deals with the other two parts of the Trinity.

    I know that often Christians use the word God to mean God the Father but technically God refers to God as Trinity – not just the Father.

    On the Trinity:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2009/06/trinity-sunday.html?m=1

    No one claims it is easy but I don’t think it’s contradictory.

  179. An interesting piece, and a few interesting comments too.

    What I gleaned from what Feser is saying is that we don’t really understand it, and in fact it might be impossible for the human intellect to comprehend it. But we know the First Cause is true, and we know the resurrection is true, so therefore the bit in the middle must be true.

    Would that be a fair summary?

  180. I think there’s more to it than that, although Feser talks mainly of the resurrection, from my own personal viewpoint there are many aspects of Christianity that resonate strongly with what I know of the human experience.

    Just to let you know, I’m heading off early tomorrow morning on a trip out in the bush (no internet) so this will be my last post for at least 15 days.

    I hope you’ll still be round when I get back.

  181. Thank you for writing to me earlier today Mr. Gilson, this was exactly what I was looking for.

    I agree with much of what you say. But I ask a point for clarification (please forgive me if you have already addressed this in the 200+ comments you have received… you describe faith by way of example:

    “It begins (Christians believe) with knowing that Jesus Christ died and rose again following a life which, when capped off by his resurrection, established his credibility as one who could make promises of that magnitude, and who would keep the promises that he made.”

    By historical criteria, no one could really “know” that those things about Jesus are true (unless they witnessed the events, but I am speaking about everyone who did not – they must trust that the Bible is valid), even if they do believe them to be true. So it would seem to me that what you are calling “faith” is really a kind of “trust” that is built upon a “foundational trust” that could never be verified (or is unlikely to be verified).

    I have read some of your blog now (which is very good) and you have repeated the example of how atheists have poor evidence for their belief that their definition of “faith” is correct. – Nice illustration. But they are not compounding their trust upon trust. It seems that they would be quite willing to change their minds based on good reasons to believe there is a better definition. [I wonder if faith is as amenable – but that’s another matter.] I wonder then if you don’t see faith as distinct from knowledge as a quality of degree. That is, the more we compound unknowns, the more we move from a reasonable trust to the realm of faith – a sort of continuum.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying believers are unreasonable, but we would have to admit that there is a point at which trust or faith would eventually become unreasonable. Let me try to illustrate:

    I know a wealthy man. He drives a BMW and lives in an expensive home. He has funded my scientific research this year with about $20K. He says if I do quality research, he will fund at double that amount next year. I think it seems quite reasonable that he will do so. I may even trust that he will do so to the point where I stop looking for other ways of funding my work.

    Is this “faith?” I don’t know. But if the man tells me that my work will lead to me becoming the world leader of an international scientific movement, I think I would be starting to move into the realm of “faith” of the kind that you describe… Sure, there is some reason to believe it, after all I do have knowledge that he did give me $20K … but you begin to compound many leaps of trust when you assume you will also become the next leader of a major scientific movement.

    Is THIS how you would characterize the difference between faith and knowledge – a degree of quantity?

    Unless I misunderstand you then, it seems that your disagreement with Boghossian is not really one about definitions, but a disagreement about quantity. You rightly point out that if given sufficient reason, a trust/faith that follows belief for good reason is based in knowledge (e.g. if there were sufficient reason to believe the validity of the Bible, then the belief that true followers of Christ would be given eternal life in Heaven is reasonable). But isn’t Boghossian (I have not read his book yet) using his “belief without evidence” more in the sense to say, “Hey, I know you believe in the validity of the Bible, but if you really thought about it, you really have no way of knowing if this is true.”

    The foundations that YOU believe are there, he believes are not there (whether he is right or wrong I will set aside). But IF that is his case, then it does not really seem you disagree.

    What do you think?

    Thanks again for your time,
    Bill

  182. Hi Bill – welcome to the blog 🙂

    Good questions, indeed.
    Just to answer one of your points….

    Christians have confidence in the Bible as a historically reliable set of documents because this is something that can be tested against the historical and archaeological evidence, as well as by examining the internal consistency of the documents. This is basically the same way any historical document is evaluated, and by those standards, the Bible passes the tests very well.

    (try browsing over at http://www.apologetics315.com or http://www.biblearchaeology.org, for further references and links)

    Certainly there are areas where the correlation between the Biblical documents and the historical/archaeological records are not clear or lacking (because the external evidence is itself inconclusive, which leads to the skeptics’ use of the fallacy of absence of evidence and arguments from silence) or we are not 100% certain of what an author meant to say within his own historical and cultural context. Don’t forget that the Biblical authors had their own context and could make implicit assumptions about what their immediate readers would know and understand – things that we in the 21st century would not necessarily know and understand.

    One such example is Luke’s census narrative in Luke 2 (see http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/11/01/Once-More-Quiriniuss-Census.aspx#.UpAnzMSsjAk for a discussion).

    You’ll also find many threads on this site where we have discussed this very topic.

    Another point we can make is that Jesus’ immediate disciples and apostles who saw Him alive again after His crucifixion and death had certain knowledge that He had physically been resurrected. Their faith in Jesus as the Risen Saviour was anchored to this fact – that His resurrection from the dead confirmed His claims to be the Son of God (see Romans 1 or John 20-21). They came to understand and believe that this was God’s plan of redemption all along, and they acted on that belief and understanding. It was necessary for there to be a set of initial eyewitnesses, of course, so that they would have a solid foundation on which to base the message of the Gospel ( see John 17, esp John 17:20 or 2 Peter 1:16-21 or 1 Corinthians 15 for starters), and this is what Peter’s 1st sermon in Acts emphasized (see Acts 2:14-40).

  183. Thanks for writing Victoria. That was very kind of you.

    I don’t mean to sound dismissive of your answer, but you are probably aware of the various reasons historians don’t consider the Bible to be a historical document.

    As you know, just because SOME of the claims or statements in a document turn out to be true, certainly does not mean ALL of them are true. And in the case of the Bible, it turns out that many of the central claims are simply false by the best historical and scientific criteria (e.g. the Jews did not descend from the freed slaves of Egyptians… not an absence of evidence claim, but one of archaeology and genetics).

    Furthermore, a historian can never tell us WHAT happened, (s)he can only tell us what PROBABLY happened. And as you probably understand, extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence.

    In the case of the Resurrection the only form of “evidence” we have is testimony. And in most cases (Paul being the exception) the testimony came to us anomalously by a handful of people who did not agree on important details, and only decades after the purported event.

    Take this and the fact that the Resurrection would be the MOST extraordinary of claims, historians must classify many of the events in the Bible in the category of a faith-based claim. Of course this does not mean it is false. But let’s be honest about what it is.

    I’m sure you disagree, and if you wish to discuss it I would like you to show me where a scholarly consensus by historians has led to agreement about the validity of Biblical miracles. [However, I think this blog has rules about getting side-tracked, and I believe it is the bloggers right to conduct his blog the way he wishes]. Either way, thank you for responding.

    Bill

  184. Well, the best historical and scientific interpretations of the evidence of today could just as easily become obsolete and wrong tomorrow. There was a time when the only references to the Hittites known to history were in the Bible, and the ‘best historical criteria of the day’ concluded that the Bible was wrong, until later archaeology found the Hittites – gee, the Bible was right after all.

    There was a time when Biblical scholars argued that Moses could not possibly have written any of the books attributed to him because writing was not sufficiently advanced in his day for anyone to write books like that. This was back in the 18th and early 19th centuries, when Julius Welhausen et al proposed their documentary hypothesis, with that assumption as one of its pillars. Well, as later archaeology would show, writing dates back to at least 3500BC, which is roughly 2000 years before Moses.

    Another example is the Book of Acts – the ‘best historical criteria of the day’ said that Luke had gotten innumerable details wrong, until later archaeology showed that Luke had gotten them right after all (see Colin Hemer’s The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History for the details.

    It can also be shown that the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection actually dovetail with each other – a plausible reconstruction, and that the skeptics’ claims of contradictions and discrepancies are flimsy. You should read J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity for a good discussion on that, or visit that http://www.apologetics315.com site and follow the links to J Warner Wallace, Tim McGrew, Mark D Roberts, Craig Evans, Michael Licona, Craig Blomberg, Michael Kruger, Richard Bauckham – all top Biblical scholars with credentials to match those of their skeptical peers, and see that side of the story. For a good discussion of miracles, look up Craig Keener there – he has a good critique of Hume. If you want to get fellow scientists’ perspectives, look up John Lennox and Edgar Andrews.

    The problem with the scholarly consensus in the academy is that too much of it starts with an anti-supernatural bias to begin with, so much of what passes for Biblical scholarship is based on that presupposition (read Rudolf Bultmann for example).

    It is with confidence and trust that Christians can bank on the Bible as not merely reliable, but indeed the inspired, yet human-authored Word of God. It is our contention that if and when all of the historical facts are known, the Bible will be shown to have gotten the details right. That, sir, is faith in action.

    BTW – you indicated that you are a scientist…me too 🙂 (physicist).

  185. Victoria,

    As a scientist you probably understand that to me, your arguments look rather similar to those of a creationist who says things like “well science just doesn’t know everything” and “science may be shown to be wrong some day” or “science is biased by naturalism.” (The latter of course not being true – science and history are not biased by anti-supernaturalism… there is really just no realistic or reliable way to proceed with supernaturalism. As a physicist I’m sure you could appreciate the difficulties involved in starting with the assumptions that ghosts exist and we should base our physics around that assumption.)

    You are right. Science and history may indeed be shown to be wrong some day and if that happens I will revise my views.

    So, since you seem to be aware that there is no scholarly consensus, it may be more important to understand WHY that is the case. There is a good reason we don’t have “Muslim Chemistry” or “Buddhist Biology.” Supernaturalists are unable to arrive at a common ground from which to proceed, and I suggest that is why most of the advances you see around you are due to science and not religion.

    But I should also restate my main point is that JUST because a book can be shown to be right about one thing, does not mean it is right about EVERYTHING. The book of Mormon, the Koran, and the Vedas got many things right. But I do not expect to see Christians rushing to their defense to say that everything in those books must be correct.

    I am also curious; do you believe extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?

  186. My argument is that history and archaeology are incomplete as any archaeologist will tell you. That is not the same as what you are implying by your creationist references. I have given you specific examples that you can look up and consider where archaeology has overturned the ‘scholarly consensus’. Are you prepared to discuss such examples?

    Ah, but have you read Bultmann’s work, and specifically about his assumptions and presuppositions? If so, you could hardly have missed his explicit metaphysical naturalism (which means a denial of anything supernatural).

    As A Christian and a physicist, my worldview is based on Biblical Christian Theism – in regard to the way the natural world operates, this teaches us that God endowed His Creation (space-time and matter/energy) with properties and dynamics that are self-consistent and regular, not random or capricious – but are based on God’s own rational, consistent character and purposes and sustaining power. These properties and dynamics are describable within their own self-contained framework that has been established and guaranteed by God Himself (that is what we mean by General Providence). It is not necessary to caricature that understanding as you have done above – that is just an argument from ridicule – I certainly hope you don’t plan on using that tactic.
    Just what do you think that God and the supernatural are supposed to be explanations for, anyway?

    The point you are not seeing is that scientists and historians have their own worldviews, and will interpret scientific or historical data according to those worldviews – for many, metaphysical naturalism is their worldview. The physics is the same for me as Christian as it is for my colleagues who are Muslims or atheists or what have you – it is in the metaphysics and the metaphysical conclusions and presuppositions that we have significant differences.

    You need to understand the the NT authors were writing about historical events that either they were directly involved with or were based on the testimony of eyewitnesses and individuals who were there and experienced those events(Luke makes this clear in his prologue, and that is why we find the use of inclusio in the Gospel narratives (see Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses). They were also writing about the significance of those events for their readers.

    From a strictly historical point of view, the conclusion that one could come to is that Jesus was indeed dead and buried on the Friday of Passover Week (just before the start of the Sabbath). One can also conclude that His followers were absolutely convinced and sure that He was alive again on the immediate Sunday after the Sabbath. What the NT writers are telling us beyond that is that a supernatural resurrection is the inference to the best explanation for those details, and that is where faith starts.

  187. Let me also ask you this, Bill:

    What are the logical implications of the premise that Jesus of Nazareth is the Incarnate Son of God? What would that mean for the NT claims that He is the very embodiment of everything that God is, and is God’s last word on His plan of redemption for the human race? What would that mean for every other belief system?. In particular, what would that mean for any worldview or belief system in those areas that directly contradict or deny His claims to be God Incarnate, and the Risen Saviour and Sovereign Lord of Creation?

  188. I agree that history and archaeology are incomplete. I have met many Mormons who are quick to point that out. They also point out how scholarly consensus has been overturned. So, does that make them right? We could discuss your examples if you like, but I don’t see the point if I already agree with you.

    Once again, just because a book is right about some things, that does not mean it is right about everything. Do you understand this?

    I have never heard of Bultmann. So I’m not exactly sure what you are referring to. But metaphysical naturalism is not a presupposition of science (methodological naturalism may be but there are many ways to scientifically encounter the supernatural).

    I’m not sure what “caricaturization” you are referring to above. But God and the supernatural are used to explain many things for different people, from the creation of the universe, to the existence of good and evil, to the causes of miracles. I suppose that depends on the specific believer.

    Of course I also agree that scientists and historians see things through their own world views. But the vast majority are not metaphysical naturalists. So this leaves the problem… A Muslim biologist will eventually come to accept the findings of a Hindu biologist (provided the work is solid). A Jewish historian will eventually come to accept the findings of a Christian historian (for matters other than religion). Culture and place of birth play little role in the validity of evidence for non-religious issues.

    But why do Muslim historians and Christian scholars generally not accept the others religious views of history? It is because they know what they are… views clouded by religious belief. [This does of course raise interesting issues about the kind of God that would leave so little evidence, or evidence of such poor quality, that a sincerely open person who wants to know the truth and is not only open to the idea of a God, but fully WANTS to believe in a God, would not be convinced by the evidence by a supposedly true religion. But that is another matter.]

    I agree with the main position of Mr. Gilson… the God presented in the Bible is one who provides TONS of evidence. But I find it contradictory (or at least odd) that he has offered no evidence for the last 2000 years or so.

    I hope you know that there is very serious doubt about any of the Gospel writers (whoever they were) having been eyewitnesses. However, even if they were eyewitnesses to actual events, that still does not make their accounts true. Although I think the testimonial evidence is good enough to warrant the belief that Jesus did die on that day. The evidence is not good enough for a Resurrection.

    I ask you again, do you think extraordinary claims should require extraordinary evidence?

  189. As for the implications…

    I believe it would imply that other religions are not valid… that believers would be following either a false God, or at least a false idea of God.

    It’s similar to the claims of the Koran. If Christians are wrong on this issue they should expect some form of damnation for not following the right God.

    This is why I think that a God who would condemn people for sincere doubt would be a moral monster if he did not provide overwhelming evidence for his existence. I know you want to believe that he did, but you have little reliable evidence to go on – akin to “someone said so” (unless you believe you have had a direct vision or encounter with God. That is another matter).

  190. I’m late to this part of the discussion, but I’m not sure, Bill, where you got the idea (@#219) that anyone was arguing that because the Bible is right about one thing, it’s right about everything.

    Maybe you were using some exaggeration, and you’re really contesting the view that because the Bible is right about many things, it’s right about everything. If that’s what you’re really disputing, I’d still like to know where you found any of us making that claim.

    Thanks.

  191. Hi Tom,
    Sorry, I guess I got a little side-tracked in my replies to Victoria. I think it started (@#216) when she began:

    “Christians have confidence in the Bible as a historically reliable set of documents because this is something that can be tested against the historical and archaeological evidence, as well as by examining the internal consistency of the documents. This is basically the same way any historical document is evaluated, and by those standards, the Bible passes the tests very well.”

    – Maybe you are right Tom. Maybe I was reading too much in to this. But she seems to be saying that the Bible is reliable historically, when in fact much of the historicity of the Bible has been shown to be probably not true. Is SOME of it true? Of course! But to say it passes the tests very well is stretching things a bit.

    – She goes on…

    “Certainly there are areas where the correlation between the Biblical documents and the historical/archaeological records are not clear or lacking (because the external evidence is itself inconclusive, which leads to the skeptics’ use of the fallacy of absence of evidence and arguments from silence) or we are not 100% certain of what an author meant to say within his own historical and cultural context. Don’t forget that the Biblical authors had their own context and could make implicit assumptions about what their immediate readers would know and understand – things that we in the 21st century would not necessarily know and understand.”

    – This paragraph seems to be saying that even though there are some problems, it is not because there is anything wrong in the Bible… it’s because we just don’t understand everything correctly. If we took this approach with everything we would have to find nearly every ancient book to be a work of accurate history.

    – Later she says

    “Another point we can make is that Jesus’ immediate disciples and apostles who saw Him alive again after His crucifixion and death had certain knowledge that He had physically been resurrected. Their faith in Jesus as the Risen Saviour was anchored to this fact – that His resurrection from the dead confirmed His claims to be the Son of God …. They came to understand and believe that this was God’s plan of redemption all along, and they acted on that belief and understanding. It was necessary for there to be a set of initial eyewitnesses, of course, so that they would have a solid foundation on which to base the message of the Gospel…. and this is what Peter’s 1st sermon in Acts emphasized….”

    – She says this as though just because it was said in the Bible it should be taken as “fact.” Do you wonder if she would consider the multiple testimonies of some UFO sightings as good reason to accept at fact the idea that extraterrestrials are visiting the earth? What about the multiple attestations of seeing the golden plates given to Joseph Smith?

    – Again, maybe I have read too much in to it. But her subsequent posts seem to back it up especially since I raised the question several times and she did not address it.

    – Anyway Tom, my question for you is back one more (@215) if you have time.

    Thank you,
    Bill

  192. I ask you again, do you think extraordinary claims should require extraordinary evidence?

    Yes and no. I think that any claim requires sufficient evidence to substantiate it – the same criteria that historians generally use to evaluate historical information and events.

    http://carm.org/extraordinary-claims-require-extraordinary-evidence

    What do you think is sufficient evidence for Jesus’ resurrection? That is, what evidence would you expect the people who made that claim to put forward? Would you expect them to provide sufficient details for us to be justified in concluding that they knew He was really dead? Would you expect them to provide sufficient details for us to be justified in concluding that they knew He was alive again?

    On another tack of yours, Bill.
    Do you understand that Christianity, more than any other religion (other than OT Judaism) is a faith that is rooted in history? The Bible is a record of God’s plan of redemption being worked out in real human history, of God interacting in special ways with human beings to accomplish His sovereign purposes, ultimately by stepping directly into His creation and into real space and time and human lives, in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth.

    So, where are you intending to go with your argument about the historical reliability of the Bible? What conclusions about Christianity’s claims are you trying to draw, and why?

    I suggest you get a hold of the book reviewed here
    http://www.apologetics315.com/2013/11/book-review-do-historical-matters.html#more

    One more thing, Bill – please provide references for your statements.

    Maybe you are right Tom. Maybe I was reading too much in to this. But she seems to be saying that the Bible is reliable historically, when in fact much of the historicity of the Bible has been shown to be probably not true. Is SOME of it true? Of course! But to say it passes the tests very well is stretching things a bit.

    How do you know this – where are you getting your information?

    Back this up with specific examples, references and links to the scholarly research.

  193. Bill,

    But she seems to be saying that the Bible is reliable historically, when in fact much of the historicity of the Bible has been shown to be probably not true.

    Besides Victoria’s questions, I would ask, which parts? The Gospels? The Resurrection?

    There are some parts of the Bible that have been shown to be very reliable, based on internal, external, and documentary evidence. There are other parts for which the only evidence is internal. I’m willing to let much of the OT stand moot for now. What about the Gospels, and the Resurrection in particular? Where have those portions been shown to be probably not true, and for what reasons?

  194. Bill @ #215, you write,

    I have read some of your blog now (which is very good) and you have repeated the example of how atheists have poor evidence for their belief that their definition of “faith” is correct. – Nice illustration. But they are not compounding their trust upon trust. It seems that they would be quite willing to change their minds based on good reasons to believe there is a better definition.

    The evidence speaks very, very, very loudly otherwise. They are astonishingly closed-minded and dogmatic on this, and stunningly unwilling to examine the evidence concerning how “faith” is actually used by Christians. I won’t grant you a millimeter on that one.

    Is this “faith?” I don’t know. But if the man tells me that my work will lead to me becoming the world leader of an international scientific movement, I think I would be starting to move into the realm of “faith” of the kind that you describe…

    No, because the man has not demonstrated competence and integrity with respect to that specific claim. Faith in God is faith in his demonstrated character, including his power and his constancy in keeping his promises. These have a rational basis in theory and in observation, unlike the case in your example.

    But isn’t Boghossian (I have not read his book yet) using his “belief without evidence” more in the sense to say, “Hey, I know you believe in the validity of the Bible, but if you really thought about it, you really have no way of knowing if this is true.”

    Yes, he’s saying that. He’s also wrong. We do have ways of knowing that it’s true.

    The foundations that YOU believe are there, he believes are not there (whether he is right or wrong I will set aside). But IF that is his case, then it does not really seem you disagree.

    IF that were the case then he would be more right than I am. But when he says faith is belief without evidence, he is 100% obviously and demonstrably wrong, for reasons I have given repeatedly in my Boghossian series. So we disagree.

  195. Tom,
    I will answer the second part of your question in a reply to Victoria (it will take me some time… I should be doing other work right now. Somehow I’m so easily distracted).

    But in your statement, you seem to be agreeing with what I thought Victoria was saying (almost contradicting your earlier question for me).

    So maybe I should ask you BOTH at this point… do you understand that just because a document is correct about some things, that does not mean it is correct about everything?

  196. Tom,
    I just saw your reply to my question. Again, thank you for your time.

    I think I’m getting a better understanding on this now. And I hate to sound like I’m equivocating, but it seems that you and Boghossian are BOTH correct.

    It seems that he believes that faith is belief without evidence, because he believes you have no (or very poor) evidence. Where you believe you have evidence. Therefore you see faith as built upon evidence.

    You may point out that Boghossian should be using “faith” in the more Biblical sense, and I feel you are correct in that he should distinguish the word as it is used by the people who did not witness the events (obviously the vast majority of people). But it seems he is not really interested in the history of the term and how it was used in that time, rather how it is used now.

  197. @Bill LaBarre:

    Since no one has taken up on this one gem, so I will.

    There is a good reason we don’t have “Muslim Chemistry” or “Buddhist Biology.”

    There is a good reason we do not have “Agnostic Chemistry” or “Atheist Biology”, so your point is?

    Supernaturalists are unable to arrive at a common ground from which to proceed, and I suggest that is why most of the advances you see around you are due to science and not religion.

    (1) Atheists are unable to arrive a common ground from which to proceed, so your point is? If you say that atheists *do* have common ground, their atheism, then I will say that I doubt even this, since they cannot even agree on the definition of atheism given that so many of them trout the asinine meme of atheism as lack of belief. But even if true, by the same token, so supernaturalists (whoever these nigh-mythical creatures are) have common ground: they agree on their supernaturalism, so once again, your point is?

    (2) If the advances you have in mind are due “to science and not religion”, then they are neither due to agnosticism and atheism, so your point is? You do realize that if the comparison is to make sense, it is not “Religion” and “Science” that have to be in the plates of the scale, but rather “Religion” and another worldview in direct contradiction to it, e.g. Atheism. Science is not a worldview, so the comparison is just silly.

    (3) And as a point of terminological clarity, “Science” and “Religion” are not beings in the full sense, with a substantial nature and causal powers. So nothing, “advances” included, has its cause in “Science” and “Religion”. It is people, some who happen to be scientists, some who happen to have one religion or another, some both (yes, many scientists have a religion, and God forbid, they are even Christians), that are the cause of “advances”.

    (4) And as a matter of curiosity, exactly what “advances” do you have in mind? Nuclear weapons? Chemical warfare? Mass city bombings? Zyklon B? Genetically engineered viruses as deadly as Ebola or Mahrburg? The wonderful world of the Internet that allows pedophiles to exchange and view in the privacy of their rooms all the child pornography they want? NSA spying programs? Telecommunication technologies that allows human traffickers to move in relative safety women out of Russia and Eastern European countries to work as slave prostitutes? Intensive child labor in countries like India and China that provides westerners with cheap consumer goods? The rapacious exploitation of natural resources with the attending environmental disasters? The abortion industry? What?

  198. I’m not sure what your second sentence means Tom. But you may be right in the first. I will read his book in a few weeks.

  199. “But she seems to be saying that the Bible is reliable historically, when in fact much of the historicity of the Bible has been shown to be probably not true.”

    Let me just state the following absolutely clearly and unequivocally.

    This is not true.

    I fact, what we understand to be true is that there have been no historical/archeological discoveries that directly contradict the historicity of the Bible.

  200. Victoria,
    I do not intend to get in to a debate about scholarly articles on this subject… I just don’t have the time. And I hope it is apparent to you that you have given me many more references than are useful or practical right now.

    So briefly:

    You both seem to be aware (or at least uninterested in) that the story that the OT presents about the origin of the Jews out of Egypt has considerable evidence against it (archaeological, historical, and genetic). So I won’t go into that, but I will mention that this should be sufficient to cast very serious doubt on the idea that the Bible is some kind of infallible document guided by the hand of God (as many believe – I’m not saying you do). Other examples could be given such as the veracity of the Genesis account of creation, which many fundamentalists believe must be true or else Jesus would not have referenced it. Again, I’m not saying you believe that, but again, we see that the book(s) do not present accurate information in many cases that are rather central to the story.

    But you are both interested in the NT… OK

    I’m going to keep my examples minimal for the purposes of a practical discussion. Most of what I’m talking about can be found in the works of Bart Ehrman and Karen Armstrong [I can already hear you both cringing] but is backed up by most scholars.

    I think it is clear that the followers of Jesus expected him to return during their lifetimes, and I think this is no small issue. If they misunderstood something so foundational as this aspect of his teaching, it makes you wonder what else they got wrong.

    As for the link you sent about Extraordinary Claims (CARM), I found it disappointing. He says “The claim itself requires extraordinary validation.” OK, true enough, and this has been done… many times every day. If I tell you that I drive my car to work every day, I suspect you would take that at face value. If however I tell you that I drive a hovercraft down the highway every day, you would probably want a bit more evidence. It wouldn’t be impossible, but you would be right to require additional evidence to believe me. If I tell you that my hovercraft is entirely driven by the solar panels that I put on its surface, I think you would really want to see good evidence (after all, we would be talking about a major breakthrough in solar power). This is what people do every day; we require more and more evidence for things that sound less plausible. The fact that we all do this, and that in doing this we seem to overcome believing a lot of potentially false claims attests very well to how well this claim has been validated.

    Consider his Alexander the Great example. The truth is that we DO have good evidence that he conquered much of the known world. And that evidence is in proportion to the claim. Furthermore, the claim is really not that extraordinary (many people have conquered much of the world during their lifetimes). But if we found one or a few claims that said that Alexander ALSO conquered much of North and South America, we would expect (with good reason) that these claims are spurious. If the claim then went on to say that he did this due to his fleet of flying carpets, well… I hope you get the picture.

    So, what kind of evidence would I require for the Resurrection? Well, I would expect evidence that is proportional to and consistent with the claim. In this case, it is a God with the ability to create the entire universe and perform almost any act he wishes. God could have left the resurrected Jesus on the Earth to continue to perform miracles or simply be a unique UN-aging individual that lives throughout time. Or he could have Jesus reappear to people every hundred years or so where he would perform a series of miracles.

    You are probably thinking this is unrealistic or expecting too much. But I would have to ask if this kind of evidence was fine for Biblical times, why not now? Why the inconsistency? Why the desire to have people believe for not very convincing reasons when giving such reasons would be child’s play? If eternal damnation is on the line, any God that did not give sufficient evidence to convince reasonable people would be a moral monster.

    So it’s not just the evidence that the PEOPLE would put forward (which none of the authors who actually knew Jesus wrote about this – Peter’s letters as you know are too heavily disputed. Please correct me if I’m wrong here.), it is issue of what a God would or could put forward.

    I’m going to leave this here for now with no references to specific articles. I want to see first where you may agree or disagree before I spend the time.

  201. BillT,

    I’m afraid that if I give you an example, you will likely just say “Well THAT was not meant to be taken as literal.”

    Example, the Genesis flood.

    As long as you can play by those rules, it seems that you could get away with almost anything.

  202. Bill,

    I am unaware of this genetic evidence against the Exodus. I think you are unaware that there is archaeological evidence for it; and that the best you have to offer against it is a weak argument from silence.

    The Genesis account of creation has been discussed repeatedly here. There is nothing in it to undermine the veracity of Scripture, unless one takes a strict 6-day interpretation, which is widely disputed and to which I do not hold.

    Bart Ehrman is an irresponsible scholar. For example, in Jesus Interrupted he complains that John spoke of the water-into-wine in Cana of Galilee as Jesus’ first miracle, and his healing of the official’s son in Capernaum as Jesus’ second miracle (John 4:54), calling this a contradiction with John 2:23, where Jesus was spoken of as doing other signs.

    What’s wrong with that? (I’m borrowing from Tim McGrew here, by the way). Ehrman quoted only part of John 4:54: “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.” It was Jesus’ second sign in Galilee.

    Ehrman made a big deal of that. It’s irresponsible. He’s not to be trusted. He complains about the thousands of textual variants, not acknowledging that (a) none of them make the slightest difference to the meaning of the text, except (b) for maybe two or three of them, all of which were clearly marked as “doubtful” in the Bible I was given in fourth grade around 1966, and in every other halfway decent Bible published since then, and (c) most Bibles even mark the less crucial variants, so that (d) he’s making a huge big deal out of something that every Christian has ample opportunity to discern for themselves and to see that he’s grossly exaggerating.

    There’s more that could be said…

    Why shouldn’t we cringe? Wouldn’t you cringe if someone tried to pawn off irresponsible “scholarship” on you?

    I’ve read Karen Armstrong on the history of religion but was unaware she had written anything about the veracity of the New Testament.

    If however I tell you that I drive a hovercraft down the highway every day, you would probably want a bit more evidence.

    Sure. But extraordinary evidence? I’d settle for a good testimonial from a trusted friend. Come now, do you want me to send engineers to inspect the engine? Do you want me to bring over a professional illusionist to certify there’s no trickery involved? Really, now; if someone I had good reason to trust (someone known to be a truth-teller, someone who had competence to tell whether it was the truth) were to tell me about it, why wouldn’t I trust him or her?

    The disciples had the ability to tell whether Jesus was dead. They had the ability to tell he was alive. They had the ability to tell that he is alive was a true statement both prior to and following the day when Jesus died. None of this is extraordinary! They presented us with this testimony, and then—now this is extraordinary—went to the grave because of it. No one dies for a lie of that sort while believing it’s a lie. They believed it was true that Jesus rose from the grave. They had every reason to know that it was or was not true, and they died for their testimony that it was true. If they had died for a lie that they knew was a lie, a lie that gained them nothing, now that would have been extraordinary.

    If eternal damnation is on the line, any God that did not give sufficient evidence to convince reasonable people would be a moral monster.

    A God who absolutely compelled belief in the manner that you have proposed he do would be a moral monster of a different sort. God has left us with sufficient reason to believe but freedom to choose not to believe. Thus we can believe or disbelieve freely (from a human perspective, as far as the evidences are concerned).

  203. You say,

    I’m afraid that if I give you an example, you will likely just say “Well THAT was not meant to be taken as literal.”

    Example, the Genesis flood.

    As long as you can play by those rules, it seems that you could get away with almost anything.

    Which rules? The rules that say, “I don’t need to answer BillT because I think BillT might answer in a way I don’t approve of?” You could get away with almost anything that way….

    (goose, gander, …)

  204. Again, you have said,

    I do not intend to get in to a debate about scholarly articles on this subject… I just don’t have the time. And I hope it is apparent to you that you have given me many more references than are useful or practical right now.

    I suggest that if you’re not going to investigate the sources, you had better hold your acceptance of Ehrman and Armstrong in deep abeyance. You wouldn’t be so foolish as to think you know the story when you’ve chosen to hear just one side of it.

  205. G. Rodrigues,
    I just noticed your post.

    The point is that you really can’t DO anything reliable or consistent with supernaturalism so at least Atheists and Agnostics (and most believers involved in science) say “Don’t use this form of reasoning to try to understand the world… it won’t get you anywhere reliably.” This is where the advances come from… from removing supernaturalism from the process.

    OK, if you don’t like my use of the word “science” to compare to “religion” you may change it for methodological naturalism. Hopefully that will be less silly for you.

    In your 3rd point, I had thought it would be obvious that I was talking about the scientific method as the thought and experimental process that lead to the advances. I should have been more clear.

    As for your fourth point, you can point out the negative side of the scientific method (although most of what you point out is not a result of that, and much of what you give are examples of the misapplication of the results of the method) but then you must point out in equal fairness the negative consequences that religious reasoning have given us (if you want to be honest). As for the advances, I will point you to this:
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/02/21/the-world-is-getting-better-argues-new-book-abundance.html

  206. Tom,
    “I’d settle for a good testimonial from a trusted friend…. if someone I had good reason to trust (someone known to be a truth-teller, someone who had competence to tell whether it was the truth) were to tell me about it, why wouldn’t I trust him or her?”

    One of my most trusted friends (I would let her manage my life’s savings no questions asked) also believes in the validity of astrology. Should I trust her on that issue? She is trustworthy on EVERY other aspect of life, but that does not mean she is right about this. Do you understand that?

    I trust myself even more. But that does not mean I have reasoned correctly about everything I believe. See this as an example:
    http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/09/memories.aspx

    You say no one dies for a lie. I’m not convinced that’s true, but let’s set that aside for a moment. The more important point here is that we really don’t know why these folks died. We would need to understand their thoughts for that.

    “A God who absolutely compelled belief in the manner that you have proposed he do would be a moral monster of a different sort. God has left us with sufficient reason to believe but freedom to choose not to believe. Thus we can believe or disbelieve freely (from a human perspective, as far as the evidences are concerned).”

    I am free to believe in the existence of the moon or not believe in it. I don’t think (if there were a God) that he would be a moral monster for “compelling” me to believe in it. I fail to see the difference.

    As for the reply for BillT: implicit in my reply was my answer. He is free to deal with it how he wishes. [Sorry I didn’t make that obvious enough].

    “I suggest that if you’re not going to investigate the sources, you had better hold your acceptance of Ehrman and Armstrong in deep abeyance. You wouldn’t be so foolish as to think you know the story when you’ve chosen to hear just one side of it.”

    Though I have looked at many more sources, I treat all evidence and scholarship that way. I hope you do the same.

  207. Oh, I forgot to ask Tom,

    Would you consider the lack of evidence of the Jaredite civilization to be a weak argument from silence?

  208. Bill, you ask,

    Tom,
    “I’d settle for a good testimonial from a trusted friend…. if someone I had good reason to trust (someone known to be a truth-teller, someone who had competence to tell whether it was the truth) were to tell me about it, why wouldn’t I trust him or her?”

    One of my most trusted friends (I would let her manage my life’s savings no questions asked) also believes in the validity of astrology. Should I trust her on that issue? She is trustworthy on EVERY other aspect of life, but that does not mean she is right about this. Do you understand that?

    Your trusted friend is not credible on the matter in question. To be credible is to be competent to make the assessment, as well as to be known as a truth-teller. Your friend may be known to be a truth-teller, but I’ll wager she has not performed a competent and knowledgeable assessment of the correlation of stars and planets with persons’ life outcomes, and produced a result from that assessment that supports the truth of astrology.

    The disciples were competent to assess the truth of the Resurrection, as I have already explained. I suggest you re-read what I wrote with that difference in mind. They had that aspect of credibility well in hand. As for being truth-tellers…

    You say no one dies for a lie. I’m not convinced that’s true, but let’s set that aside for a moment. The more important point here is that we really don’t know why these folks died. We would need to understand their thoughts for that.

    Am I to understand that you think that it’s hard to understand a person’s thoughts? What’s communication for?

    Note carefully, that I did not simply say no one dies for a lie. If that were my claim there would be millions of counterexamples. I said no one dies for a lie, knowing that it’s a lie, when such a death could be avoided simply by acknowledging the lie.

    I am free to believe in the existence of the moon or not believe in it.

    No, my friend, you are not. Try it some time if you think I’m wrong. Try to disbelieve in the existence of the moon. See how far you get with it.

    Concerning the Jaredites:
    There are massive, massive, libraries and museums full of archaeological and documentary support for large portions of the Bible, and no find so far that has contradicted it. In the face of all that huge support, some lacunae are to be expected. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, has one huge empty gaping hole where all of its archaeological support should be found. It’s as if there was one book missing from one shelf of a huge library of support for the Bible, in comparison to no library at all supporting the Book of Mormon.

    Now, do you want to ask your question about the Jaredite civilization again? If so, please explain how it’s relevant to the matter at hand, given that there’s no analogy there.

  209. You say,

    Though I have looked at many more sources, I treat all evidence and scholarship that way. I hope you do the same.

    Have you read contrary views to theirs? (I do it all the time: I’ve just spent considerable time in both Boghossian and Dennett, for example. And Ehrman, not too long ago.)

    And what will you do with the brief examples I’ve just given you of Ehrman’s scholarly irresponsibility?

    I would suggest that your best answer would be to say at least this: “Oh. I’d better look into that. Until then I’ll be cautious about what I believe from Ehrman, at least until I find out whether Tom’s specifically named charges are correct, and whether they represent a larger picture of problems in Ehrman.”

    Anything less than that would be a lack of intellectual responsibility on your part.

  210. Here are some resources for the interested readers (yet again)
    on the critiques of Bart Erhman

    http://www.isca-apologetics.org/sites/default/files/papers/Jared%20Martinez/Howe-AResponseToBartEhrman.pdf

    http://www.apologetics315.com/search/label/Bart%20Ehrman

    Tim McGrew has a series of presentations examining Erhman’s claims

    http://www.apologetics315.com/search/label/Tim%20McGrew

    So Bill, when Bart Erhman tells you that the Gospels are full of contradictions, and claims that they don’t even agree on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion and death as an example, you simply take what he says at face value? Considering that the stakes are one’s eternal destiny, did you not stop to see if he was really correct? Did you dig deeper into the Gospel texts and examine the details to see if they really contradict each other, or if they actually dovetail? (For that particular example, there is no contradiction on the day between John and the Synoptics – that is so easy to work out that I wonder what kind of axe Erhman is really grinding in his claims).

    What you hear is not just a gasp, but an unlady-like snort of derision 🙂

  211. I don’t think the evidence is available to say that the “the disciples were competent to assess the truth of the Resurrection” or that “….[T]hey had that aspect of credibility well in hand.”

    I understand what you meant about the lie. I am saying we don’t know their true motivations; at best they did, though even that could be in doubt. The people who wrote the gospels may have been convinced about a spiritual resurrection and believed THAT is what was really important. Other things they may have just told a miracle seeking audience in order to impress them, believing that small exaggerations were not as important as the real message. [Do I know this happened? Of course not. Is it plausible? I don’t see why not.]

    Alright, my example of the moon was too extreme. But the point was not about the validity of it, it was about the morality of it. I just don’t see how it is immoral to give good evidence for something that is true.

    Of course I agree with your illustration of the BoM. But I think the situation is similar for The Exodus. Current intelligent and thoughtful Mormons reason this away about the Jeredites similar to what you have done with Exodus, and I’m starting to wonder if you take a similar approach with the Genesis stories of Creation and Flooding. How do you reconcile these stories (other than just saying “it’s not a literal 6 days”)? Are you a theistic evolutionist?

  212. Victoria,

    As I told Tom, Ehrman is not my only source. I am well aware that many disagree with him. And your advice is good not to ever take one source at face value; I hope I have never done that. But I also believe the scholarly consensus either concurs with Ehrman, or admits there is a lot of discrepancy. In short, I think the Gospels dovetail well, if that’s what you want to see in advance.

    But I would love to hear from you both, if this story is so obviously true, why has it not convinced the majority of people who have looked into it? Why do 3 of my pastor friends (all with Masters in Theology and extensive knowledge of history) remain unconvinced? Why has this story not convinced that majority of the Jews, Muslims or Hindus who have looked into it deeply with the hope of finding truth? These folks are not disinclined to believe supernaturalism… in fact they want desperately TO believe in it.

  213. Tom,
    (@245) Yes, when I was younger I read bad authors (McDowell and Strobel), and have read better ones (Lewis, David Ford, William Craig, and Aquanis) and others. Timothy Paul Jones’ critique of Ehrman is on my “to read” list. What I will do with your examples is probably start with an internet search of the people and issues you recommend then decide to proceed from there. I’m not completely surprised by what you present. I think everyone makes mistakes and overall, it does not seem like a major critique (certainly not one that makes him extremely untrustworthy – we will see as I look further).

  214. You don’t think the disciples were competent to assess whether Jesus was alive???????

    They ate with him, or at least they reported they did. Do you think that left them incompetent to know whether he was alive?

    The people who wrote the gospels were not motivated by belief in a spiritual resurrection. They ate with this person. Further, the concept “spiritual resurrection” wasn’t in their vocabulary (see N.T. Wright on this). The small exaggeration theory is completely unbelievable on the face of it. “Oh, the most important person in my life and in your life and in the lives of every person who has ever lived or who will ever live, who is coming as king and as judge, who has the words of eternal life for any who will receive it, died, and well, if you’ll excuse just an eensy-tiny stretching of the truth, rose again and demonstrated his lordship over all life.”

    Really?

    The Exodus has considerably more support for it than you seem to think; and besides, you’re missing the point: an argument from silence concerning the Exodus is not equivalent to the argument from silence concerning the Book of Mormon. The Exodus is one chapter in a massively supported book.

    I am not a theistic evolutionist. I do not believe the Genesis was intended to be read as six literal days. Theistic evolutionism is not the only alternative viewpoint. I really don’t want to open that can of worms here, though; I’ve already written thousands and thousands of words on it.

  215. Bill
    Have you read scholars who hold to a high view of the Bible and of Jesus Christ, or do you restrict yourself to those who do not? Whether you realize it or not, the dividing line in this battle is between those scholars whose ‘theology’ is anti-supernatural in its presuppositions (either explicitly stated or implicitly assumed) and those scholars who accept the Bible’s own view of itself and its message.

    Interested readers can browse the links here
    http://www.apologetics315.com/search/label/Mark%20D.%20Roberts

    see here for example
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/unmasking-the-jesus-seminar/

    Have you read Craig Blomberg, Mike Licona, Daniel Wallace, Darrell Bock, N. T, Wright, Colin Hemer, Craig Evans, F. F. Bruce, Michael Kruger, Richard Bauckham, Craig Keener ( you can find links at http://www.apologetics315.com for most of these scholars), just to name some of the top NT and Bible scholars who have that high view of the Bible.

    Daniel Wallace has a really good summary of the NT documents here
    https://bible.org/series/new-testament-introductions-and-outlines

    He provides a lot of information about authorship and dates – the pros and the cons, arguments for traditional authorship and against it, and why he, as a NT scholar with credentials every bit as impressive as those of the liberal persuasion, has confidence in the traditional authorship of the NT documents.

    Lastly, do you really think that this is simply an intellectual endeavor? Just a matter of weighing evidence, and that human beings are the only players in this game? Do you not realize that this is every bit as much a spiritual and moral issue as it is about the ‘evidence’? Paul develops this aspect of Christian teaching in his first 3 chapters of Romans, and in 1 Corinthians 1-3 as well.

  216. Tom,
    OK, I phrased that badly. Of course they could assess if someone was alive or not. I was trying to say that we really don’t know what happened, if they really did eat with him, or if that story came about later. I have read N.T. Wright. A spiritual resurrection was completely plausible to them. Exaggeration was a common tactic of the time (and probably not seen as a form of deception).

    I would like for you to point me to your evidence for the Exodus. But let’s be clear here, Exodus is one book in a massive collection of books; most of which have serious flaws.

    I will look for your writing about your views on evolution.

  217. “But I also believe the scholarly consensus either concurs with Ehrman, or admits there is a lot of discrepancy. “

    In fact, the “scholarly consensus” disagrees with Erhman almost to a man. Erhman is an outlier who’s dishonest redefinition of long accepted critical terms has made him a pariah in theological circles. And the consensus regarding real discrepancies in the NT is that they are exceptionally rare and effect no text that describes any important theological idea or essential fact.

  218. Tom,
    I read your link. I am still wondering why you think God would be a moral monster to provide compelling evidence for his existence? If he exists, I think I would still be free to love or not love him.

    If he exists and does not provide compelling evidence for his existence yet condemns me for doubting it, it is hard to imagine anything less moral.

  219. Good point. (I’m on a break from my project–hanging pictures in the living room.)

    Sure, there’s scholarly consensus that there are lots of discrepancies. There’s also scholarly consensus that Ehrman is wrong to think there are discrepancies that matter, other than those that I’ve already acknowledged above, which matter only in a very limited sense.

  220. If there’s anything N.T. Wright has tried to communicate, it’s that the idea of a spiritual resurrection was completely foreign at the time. A vision of a spiritual apparition might have been conceivable, but they would in no way have confused that with a resurrection. Wright hammers that home. Repeatedly.

  221. I’m sorry Tom and Victoria,
    I was careless about my paragraph. I should have started a new one after the NT Wright sentence. I did not mean to say that Wright suggested it. I meant to say “Yes, I have read NT Wright.”

    “But I believe a spiritual resurrection was what these people probably believed.”

    My fault (I’m getting careless as I try to work on two things at the same time).

    I also didn’t mean to say they were confusing this with a physical resurrection. I think it is more probably that they embellished their stories in order to garner more believers.

    Also Tom, do you have any links as to what your views on evolution are?

    All-in-all, I think you have one of the most stimulating and intelligent blogs I have ever encountered on Religion/Christianity. So no matter what, thank you for that.

  222. In fact, in J. Warner Wallace’s opinion (he, a former homicide cold case detective who has written “Cold Case Christianity”), the term discrepancy is already a loaded term. Differences in details are not automatically discrepancies or contradictions, even though they appear to be so on the surface. Digging below the surface will reveal whether the differences in detail are really contradictions or differences that actually dovetail and harmonize.

    For example, suppose a traffic accident occurs and the police interview several eyewitnesses about the event.

    Witness #1 says it occurred at 12:17pm (how does he know? He just happened to look at his watch). Witness #2 says it occurred after 12pm, but could not be more specific about the time. That’s a difference in detail, one of precision, but not a real discrepancy.

    Witness #1 also said that the car which caused the accident was travelling north on Main Street when it occurred. Witness #2 says that the car which was struck was on First Street. So which street was it? This looks like a real discrepancy….until you pull out a street map of the area and see that Main Street does indeed run North-South, and First Street runs East-West and intersects Main Street. The accident occurred at the intersection, so both witnesses are correct and do not contradict each other, once you know the underlying street layout.

    The same can be shown of many apparent contradictions in the Gospels, if one is willing to take the time to dig deeper.

    For example, skeptics (I had this debate with Fleegman on another thread a while back) will claim that Matthew (in Matthew 27:1-10 ) and Luke (Acts 1:15-20) contradict each other in the accounts of the circumstances surrounding Judas’ death after he betrayed Jesus.
    Matthew, they say, tells us that it was the priests who purchased the Potter’s field with the 30 pieces of silver, and that Judas later went out and committed suicide by hanging himself. Luke, so they claim, says that it was Judas who bought the field, and ‘falling headlong, burst open in the middle….) – these are contradictory.

    Well, the manner of Judas’ death can be understood as Matthew describing the method by which Judas committed suicide, and Luke is describing the state of Judas’ corpse when it was found.
    But that is actually a minor point – we can come up with a plausible harmonization for that.
    The question of who bought the field is actually on more solid ground – Matthew tells us that it was the Chief Priests who carried out the real estate transaction and paid the purchase price – we know that this is what he really meant, because he used the Greek word ἠγόρασαν for the verb bought – this is the word agorazo which any Greek lexicon of the NT will indicate, means

    57.188 ἀγοράζωa; ὠνέομαι: to acquire possessions or services in exchange for money—‘to buy, to purchase.’
    ἀγοράζωa: ἀπερχομένων δὲ αὐτῶν ἀγοράσαι ἦλθεν ὁ νυμφίος ‘while they were gone to buy (some oil), the bridegroom arrived’ Mt 25:10.
    ὠνέομαι: ἐτέθησαν ἐν τῷ μνήματι ᾧ ὠνήσατο Ἀβραὰμ τιμῆς ἀργυρίου παρὰ τῶν υἱῶν Εμμώρ ‘they were buried in a grave which Abraham had bought from the tribe of Hamor for a sum of money’ Ac 7:16

    Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (578). New York: United Bible Societies.

    The astute reader will see the root agora there, which is the Greek word for ‘marketplace’.

    So Matthew is very specific about the fact that the financial transaction was carried out by the Chief Priests.

    In Acts 1:18, Luke does not use this specific word – he uses the word ἐκτήσατο ( ektesato), a verb form of ktaomai, which the same lexicon tells us

    57.58 κτάομαι: to acquire possession of something—‘to get, to acquire, to gain.’20 ἀποδεκατῶ πάντα ὅσα κτῶμαι ‘I give a tenth of everything I gain’ Lk 18:12; μὴ κτήσησθε χρυσὸν μηδὲ ἄργυρον μηδὲ χαλκόν ‘do not acquire gold, silver, or bronze’ Mt 10:9.

    Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (564). New York: United Bible Societies.

    If Luke had wanted to tell us that Judas had carried out the financial transaction, he could have done so, but he did not.
    More likely is that Luke is telling us that Judas acquired the title to the field. Putting the two together, it seems that the Chief Priests bought the field themselves, in Judas’ name, and that is how Judas ‘acquired’ the field.

    Hey, this could be an undesigned coincidence, too 🙂

  223. Victoria,
    I would be interested to hear what your views are regarding the expected return of Jesus during the lifetime of his followers.

    (Tom as well).

  224. @Bill

    I also didn’t mean to say they were confusing this with a physical resurrection. I think it is more probably that they embellished their stories in order to garner more believers.

    What is your justification for assuming that the stories were embellished? Why could a supernaturally empowered physical resurrection not be the inference to the best explanation for the documentary evidence provided?

    There is just no satisfying the skeptics! You ask for evidence that the apostles encountered Jesus alive and well after His death and burial – the Gospel accounts provide various details for precisely that purpose, and not just vague claims, but specific details that describe their physical encounters with Jesus, and then you turn around and say the accounts were embellished, or unhistorical. Why? Because they point to a supernatural reality that your worldview cannot allow? Why would you consider the accounts by the same authors describing Jesus’ death and burial as historical (considering that Josephus and Tacitus provide external evidence that Jesus was crucified by Pilate, you have no leg to stand on there – what, unless are you going to doubt their records too?) and then dismiss with an a priori anti-supernatural flourish the other details?

  225. @Bill LaBarre:

    The point is that you really can’t DO anything reliable or consistent with supernaturalism so at least Atheists and Agnostics (and most believers involved in science) say “Don’t use this form of reasoning to try to understand the world… it won’t get you anywhere reliably.” This is where the advances come from… from removing supernaturalism from the process.

    In heaven’s name, *DO* what? What is “Supernaturalism” supposed to *DO* that is somehow better done by Science? The answer is nothing. Absolutely nothing. The coherence of the question is even doubtful. Somehow, you imagine that there is this thing called “Supernaturalism”, that nobody knows exactly what it is, and then there is this other thing called Science, and that the two are pitted against each other. But this is exactly what I said it was, a figment of your imagination.

    The questions to which God (which I imagine is what you have in mind with “supernaturalism”) is the answer are typically *NOT* scientifick questions; God is not the sort of being that somehow has to elbow its way among all the other “natural” causes to have a share in the causal cake and make His voice heard and His presence felt, but rather He is the cause of there being any causes in the first place.

    Furthermore, to suppose that “scientific advances” have come about from “removing supernaturalism from the process” is to display a crude and infantile knowledge of the History of Science.

    And my point remains exactly the same. If you were correct (you are not even coherent, much less correct, but let’s accept it for the sake of argument), then tit for tat, atheism is likewise irrelevant to scientific advancements and can be likewise “removed from the process”. And “Supernaturalists” (whoever they may be) can likewise say “Do not use this form of reasoning to try to understand the world… it won’t get you anywhere reliably.”

    OK, if you don’t like my use of the word “science” to compare to “religion” you may change it for methodological naturalism. Hopefully that will be less silly for you.

    It is not “silly for me” or “silly for you”, it is silly simpliciter — it is not like there is silly-o-meter inside my head that just happens to be overly sensitive. And the comparison is still silly. For reasons already stated.

    In your 3rd point, I had thought it would be obvious that I was talking about the scientific method as the thought and experimental process that lead to the advances. I should have been more clear.

    My third point was, and I quote:

    (3) And as a point of terminological clarity, “Science” and “Religion” are not beings in the full sense, with a substantial nature and causal powers. So nothing, “advances” included, has its cause in “Science” and “Religion”. It is people, some who happen to be scientists, some who happen to have one religion or another, some both (yes, many scientists have a religion, and God forbid, they are even Christians), that are the cause of “advances”.

    So what are you saying? That there is this thing out there called “scientific method” that goes into a lab and does experiments? I surely hope not. If all you want to say is that all the scientifick advances have been made by people correctly using the scientific method, it is historically inaccurate but then again, so what?

    As for your fourth point, you can point out the negative side of the scientific method (although most of what you point out is not a result of that, and much of what you give are examples of the misapplication of the results of the method) but then you must point out in equal fairness the negative consequences that religious reasoning have given us (if you want to be honest).

    Out of curiosity, what is the criteria to distinguish the “negative side” of “the method” and “misapplication of the results of the method”? What is to stop me from saying that all the allegedly “negative consequences” of “religious reasoning”, is not just a “misapplication of the results of the method”?

    The fact is that there is no such thing as “religious reasoning” as there is no such thing as “atheist reasoning”. No one disputes that many bad things were made in the name of religion. And then again, history, of the 20th century in particular, shows that immeasurably more human misery was wrought in the name of Atheism by officially Atheist regimes then all of the Crusades, Inquisition, Witch Hunting and Religious Wars (which were anything but) put together. I am not particularly interested in comparing the tallies of dead bodies, because that is not my point. The point is that you have no point and are just conflating wildly different things.

    And I appologize profusely; since you have managed to miss every single point I made, the fault is surely mine.

    note: feel free to not respond; the concurrent thread about the historical evidence for Christianity is far more interesting. Do not mind me at all.

  226. “What is your justification for assuming that the stories were embellished?”

    – The countless times I have seen others do this throughout history and at present. It seems to be human nature. The multiple accounts we have of people doing that during the time of Jesus. The other things I have mentioned about what an all-powerful God COULD have done but decided not to. The fact that it is just much more plausible that the stories were simply embellished.

    “Why could a supernaturally empowered physical resurrection not be the inference to the best explanation for the documentary evidence provided?”

    – It certainly COULD be an answer; I just don’t think it probable. The Bush administration COULD have rigged the twin towers with explosives; I just don’t think it probable.

    I’m willing to change my mind with more/better evidence for both cases.

    “There is just no satisfying the skeptics! You ask for evidence that the apostles encountered Jesus alive and well after His death and burial – the Gospel accounts provide various details for precisely that purpose, and not just vague claims, but specific details that describe their physical encounters with Jesus, and then you turn around and say the accounts were embellished, or unhistorical. Why?”

    – The aforementioned reasons and that I think a moral God would be willing and easily able to provide good evidence.

    Tell me Victoria, have you heard of Sathya Sai Baba? He died just a couple of years ago. His many miracles attributed to him included materializing objects out of thin air and even raising the dead. He had tens of thousands of followers and THIS was in an era of cameras, video, and scientific skepticism. People will tell you to this day about his many miracles in rather amazing detail (I have met many of them). I think consistency on your part would demand that you take these claims very seriously. But why don’t you tell me why you do not.

    “Because they point to a supernatural reality that your worldview cannot allow?”

    – No. My worldview does allow it. I just want evidence proportional to the claim. Do you think that’s unreasonable?

    “Why would you consider the accounts by the same authors describing Jesus’ death and burial as historical (considering that Josephus and Tacitus provide external evidence that Jesus was crucified by Pilate, you have no leg to stand on there – what, unless are you going to doubt their records too?) and then dismiss with an a priori anti-supernatural flourish the other details?”

    – Again, I have said that I am not anti-supernatural (I know you probably need to dismiss me as such, perhaps so I can fit into your worldview). I just think the strengths of our beliefs should comport with the strengths of our evidence and I think that extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence.

  227. What is your worldview, Bill?

    Since we have not brought up Sai Baba before in this thread, your assumptions what I think about him are presumptuous.

    What if Sai Baba’s power comes from Satan? You seem to forget that there is an antagonist in this drama, namely Satan, who opposes all that God stands for; he (and his minions) have limited power to masquerade as ‘angels of light’ and to produce spiritual counterfeits of supernatural power – for the purposes of blinding people to the truth about Jesus Christ and to deceive as many people as possible. It would appear that in the last days he will be allowed almost free reign to do just that.

    Second, Sai Baba’s ‘teachings’ about the person of Jesus Christ complete contradict Biblical Christianity – this is ‘another gospel’ of sorts, the kind that Paul and the other NT authors warned us about.

    Since I am convinced by reason and by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit of God of the truth of Christianity and that Jesus is the Son of God, my Risen Lord and Saviour, the logical conclusion is that both Sai Baba and Jesus Christ cannot both be right – and my allegiance is to Jesus Christ.

  228. G. Rodrigues,
    If you are not aware of what supernaturalism is supposed to do, I suggest you look over Victoria’s comments and maybe take the issue up with her. She wishes to invoke it many times in the understanding of history.

    If you are not aware of its use in scientific areas, I suggest you look into subjects such as intercessory prayer, creationism, and faith healing.

    But I will leave it there, since I believe you are right… we are just not understanding one-another.

  229. By the way, how are you all quoting someone else from a previous thread? When you all do it, I see a little line to the left of the quoted material. Please forgive my ignorance.

  230. If you are not aware of what supernaturalism is supposed to do, I suggest you look over Victoria’s comments and maybe take the issue up with her. She wishes to invoke it many times in the understanding of history.

    No that is not the case – not as a general interpretive principle, but I do maintain that God has acted in human history to accomplish His sovereign purposes, specifically redemptive history, and that the Bible is a record of those specific events and their significance.

  231. Victoria,
    How long of an answer do you want? I’m very open about myself and to others, so just let me know if there is anything you would like to know.

    I live in the US (Maryland currently but I spent most of my adult life in Colorado.) I’m 44. Married. Environmental Scientist/Botanist.

    Most people would describe me as a Liberal Democrat politically. However, my liberal friends probably think I get my information from Fox News (lol) since I look upon their conspiracy theories (anti-Vaccination, anti-GMO, all corporations are evil, Wicca) with the same amount of skepticism that I look upon the more conservative fringe beliefs and religion. While I am a social liberal, I am a fiscal conservative.

    And I used to be prone to believing a lot of things that I had little justification for (though we probably all believe we have the justification at the time). I spent most of my life as what I would have called an Agnostic Buddhist. Now, I tend to say Atheist and I mean that in the sense that I think there is not sufficient reason for belief in a God.

    As a liberal, I have always believed it is important to keep an open mind about new information and ideas (that is how we progress). But in many ways I am a skeptic and I like the adage that while it is good to keep an open mind, it should not be so open that our brains fall out.

    I am a meliorist (hence my work in Environmental Science) and I spent years volunteering overseas. I believe we have a responsibility to leave this world a better place than the way we found it (yes, I feel like Sisyphus meets Don Quixote). I believe in trying to lessen the amount of suffering I cause in this world. Most importantly, I want to know the truth about anything and everything I can. I see no other way to live honestly.

    How about you?

  232. Victoria,
    I’m not too sure what to make of your views about Sai Baba now. You are right; I was presuming. I thought you would be able to see him for the obvious charlatan that he is. Take a look at this (sorry for the poor quality):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yblhsr1O4IQ

    If you’ve not really taken a look at claims from a skeptical point of view before, I would suggest you start looking at people like James Randi and Penn and Teller.

    The point here is NOT to say that Jesus was a charlatan like Baba. I do not think he was in the least. The point is to say that we humans are easily deceived by our own desires for something to be true. And we fool ourselves in many many ways.

    One of the differences I have noticed over time is the tendency of believers to be more concerned over a type 1 error, where skeptics seem more concerned over a type 2 error. Of course BOTH are important to avoid. I just think we humans are more prone to making type 2 errors.

    That makes sense in terms of evolution. If you are an early hominid on the plains of Africa and you hear a rustle in the grass, it could be the wind or it could be a lion. If you assume it is the wind and it is a lion, you win a Darwin award and your genes are removed from the pool – you’re lunch. If you assume it is a lion and it turns out to be just the wind, well, not a big deal.

    Belief is easier, and that makes survival sense, and explains why there are fewer skeptics in the world… it takes training.

  233. Ah. So you’re telling us skepticism is rarer than Christianity because it’s harder, and takes more training, than believing in the life, death, life-giving resurrection, global sovereignty, and eternal deity of Jesus Christ.

    I hadn’t heard that explanation before.

  234. @Tom Gilson:

    I hadn’t heard that explanation before.

    Mr. LaBarre belongs to a very special minority — he is *trained*. In *hard* things. Like *skepticism*. Hmmm mm. He also said “we fool ourselves in many many ways” so I am bit hesitant on what to believe exactly.

  235. @Bill
    I grew up nominal Roman Catholic, but never really believed any of it, and in my teens and early 20’s, I didn’t want anything to do with it or any form of religion. After all, I was going to be a physicist, and scientists don’t believe in that sort of nonsense, right?

    Without going into details, my lifestyle back then was, shall we say, less than wholesome….

    When I started my first year of university, I ended up as a research intern/assistant with one of the professors in the Physics Department (not one that I had for any of my courses at the time). Well, looking back now I can see both God’s providential grace and His sense of humor in that situation….this prof and his graduate students and post-docs were all Bible-believing Christians 🙂 It took three more years of their patient witness, but during that time they encouraged me to reconsider the claims of Christ and His offer of forgiveness and redemption, and through a variety of circumstances I came to the point where I was ready and willing to listen to what God had to say – I listened, He spoke, and I believed. I ended up learning both experimental physics and Christianity from the same people 🙂 That was back in 1977.

    My worldview is Christian Theism – I belong to God’s adoptive family through Jesus Christ, and while my walk with Him has had its share of failures as well as successes, I would never turn my back on it or Him.

  236. @Bill
    I suggested that Sai Baba’s claims could be spiritual counterfeits, not that they actually were, and if they were roundly debunked as tricks and illusions with perfectly natural explanations, fine. The time may yet come when such things are much more sinister and demonic.

    I was more concerned about his teachings about Jesus Christ – those are already demonic enough, in my opinion.

  237. You don’t seem to see that you have a default go-to position for supernatural explanations, Bill – that they are the least probable explanation, and that a naturalistic explanation is to be sought unless the supernatural explanation comes with its own supernatural confirmation. That is still an implicit assumption that leads you to reject the supernatural elements of the Bible.

    You do realize that David Hume is almost 300 years out of date, right, and that his arguments against miracles have been challenged and critiqued by philosophers for almost as long.

    see http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.5924027/k.8661/Humes_Critique_of_Miracles.htm for a concise summary.

    Craig Keener in his massive work on Miracles, which I still have not finished reading, has an even more thorough analysis of the flaws in Hume’s logic.

  238. You may be right Victoria, that is somewhat of my “go-to position.” I guess I don’t see why I should change that but I will look at the critique of Hume.

    Can you tell me why I should change it?

  239. @Bill

    I thought that we were already doing that with a vengeance here 🙂

    Seriously though, are you ready to encounter the Sovereign King of Creation, the great I AM? The Son Of God, Who loved you, and gave His life to redeem you, while you are as yet His enemy? The One to Whom your knees will bow to and have to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and King – are you ready to do that in this life, willingly? You will do so eventually, either as His willing adopted child and subject, or as a defeated enemy.

    Are you ready to have another look at what God has already said and done in the Person of Jesus Christ? You keep asking for evidence, but you consistently reject that which has already been given – look at the opening words of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:1-4) or the purpose of John’s Gospel (John 20:31)….you have to start somewhere…do it as a humble seeker, and not as an arrogant critic, on God’s terms, not yours.

    Ultimately, though, this is about a heart attitude, not just an intellectual one. Do you really want to learn to love and obey God, and to spend eternity as His adopted son? If yes, then you have to understand that He has the sovereign right to set the terms of His covenant relationship with you.

  240. I have read some Hume but not “Of Miracles.” If the author is correct about Hume’s views, then I would disagree with Hume as well. I would say miracles need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. I think this is in line with William Lane Craig’s views as well.

    I also don’t believe that only irrational people make these miracle claims. In fact many very intelligent people make these claims. The problem is that very intelligent people make claims that are demonstrably wrong. I think we are in agreement on this since I don’t think you would give much credit to my (very intelligent) friends who claim to see ghosts.

    The most perplexing and difficult thing in all of this is THAT smart people believe some very weird things. Things you would never believe. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the number of Mormon scientists. These people also believe they experience God and miracles. That is the problem. We are ALL prone to delusional thinking.

    So we have to ask, HOW will we avoid the pitfalls? Is there some way of detecting false claims, or at least, are some ways better than others?

    The article incorrectly goes on to talk about the improbability of the lottery. Given what we know of lotteries, we at least know that SOMEONE will win.

    I can accept that the vast majority of Sai Baba’s followers were honest people. I believe that these people TRULY believed in his miracles. But this should give us more pause. These people were not all stupid.

    What about Our Lady of Fátima and the Miracle of the Sun? We are talking about 10’s of thousands of people. Should we believe it on that ground? How would we determine if this is just not true?

  241. @Victoria

    I know you believe what you have written in your post (283) but I just have no way of knowing if it’s true. Moreover I have reason to suspect it is NOT true. The only thing I know to do now is remain open to new reasons and evidence.

    The evidence you say has been given seems greatly out-of-proportion with the kind of evidence that we should expect.

    Years ago I put 3 books on my book shelf that I said, “if anyone reveals what these are to me I will know that there is a God.” I’ve never told anyone the titles. It would be child’s play for God to put the answers in the mind of a believer (like you) to tell me the answer.

    Is that unfair?

    Well then, throughout many times in my life I have prayed as sincerely and humbly as I knew how to God to just come into my heart. To just give me some kind of assurance that he is there. I have been met with nothing but silence.

    In fact, if I have had ANY experiences that could be considered a near-divine encounter, it would be the ones I experienced during deep meditation. But those kinds of transcendental experiences have told me that if any religion is close to the truth, it is likely Buddhism or Pantheism. I suppose you would rather believe those are either hallucinations or the work of Satan, and you could be right. But what I know right now tells me that you have no way of knowing better than I would.

    Well, my day has been interesting on this forum, but not very productive with the work I should be doing. I thank everyone still reading for their time. I will continue to look for responses over the next few days.

    Goodnight

  242. “Well then, throughout many times in my life I have prayed as sincerely and humbly as I knew how to God to just come into my heart. To just give me some kind of assurance that he is there. I have been met with nothing but silence.”

    We’ve all been there Bill and really are sympathetic. My experience is that He comes when you, in humility and repentance, ask Him into your life. Surrender to Him. You can’t put Him on trial. Demand of Him. Put Him to the test. Christ’s trial in the desert teaches us that.

    I think if you really look at the things Victoria has suggested or the things Tom has written you will find we believe in the reliability of the Bible for very good reasons. As an ancient historical text it stands head and shoulders above any other ancient text in its reliability and historicity. The basic apologetic arguments are coherent, rational and internally consistent, far more so that their counter arguments. I was a non-believer until I was 40. There is a time for everyone.

  243. Thank you BillT, I will give that thought. It’s difficult for me to imagine right now though how I could had more humility and fewer demands. But I will consider it.

    For anyone who may be reading (Victoria and Tom… hopefully):

    I think you all asked me a very good question about what kind of evidence we should EXPECT to see for a risen Jesus. And I will continue to reevaluate my expectations to see if they are not out of proportion.

    But I want to ask you all, given the scenario(s) I presented that I thought were more probably (e.g. a dead Jesus whose followers later embellished in order to to convince others). What kind of evidence do you expect we should see for that?

  244. I’ve been reading Boyd and Eddy’s The Jesus Legend, and I’ve got an article in queue for publication on that topic at Touchstone magazine. I recommend Boyd and Eddy to you highly.

    In general, we should expect to see a less consistent story (a set of stories, actually), since according to Ehrman at least, it was produced by a “telephone game” across multiple languages, countries, and cultures.

    We should expect a set of stories that were put in writing much, much later than they were.

    We should expect it to arise from non-Jewish sources, and to have an identifiable provenance (prior parallel legends, for example) that it lacks. (Frazer was wrong in The Golden Bough.)

    We should expect it to have thrived in a culture where oral tradition was handled carelessly, which was not the case.

    We should expect to see evidence of prevarication and collusion in the documentary record.

    We should expect to see identifiable errors of historical fact.

    We should expect to see Jesus in a more fantastic light: not so humble and human; but on the other hand we should expect to see him exercising his power at least once in a while to serve himself, as every other person of power in history, literature, and imagination has always done.

    We should expect to have seen the Jesus movement die out like movements founded by all other pretenders to deity have done.

    We should expect to see less moral power in the follow-on actions and writings of his followers, immediately and down the centuries.

    What else? I’m sure I missed quite a bit.

  245. Bill,

    Don’t misunderstand me. I wasn’t very humble then and I’m not sure how humble I am now. But in that moment there is an acceptance of His gift to us and an acknowledgement of His sovereignty in your life.

  246. Ah, thank you Tom. I did go back and read it more carefully. I was much too rushed the other day. I hope I made it clear that I am not closed to the possibility of miracles. I also think they need to be judged on a case by case basis.

    OK, I have a very sincere question (for anyone with the knowledge)…

    Exactly who wrote about the Resurrection? What I want to get a sense of is how many people were actual eye witnesses and wrote their story(s).

    I think we would all agree that some of the letters and testimony are of dubious authorship. So if you believe the authorship is or is not in question, please feel free to say so.

    To run through an example, in 1 Corinthians, Paul tells us of the appearances. But when he says there were 500 witnesses, we are left with his word that this was the case. So we only have one attestation. I do not doubt the authenticity of 1 Corinthians – This is indeed Paul’s writing. But unfortunately we just don’t have anything from the other 500.

    I know I’m asking for a lot of help here. And I do appreciate your time. I hope everyone understands that I am asking you because you seem to be some of the more knowledgeable people I’ve encountered.

  247. @Bill

    For a good series on the gospels, see here
    http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/gospelsreliableprint1.htm#sep2605

    I think that series will answer some of your questions about who wrote what, and why we hold to a high view of the Bible.

    No, we do not agree that some of the NT documents are of dubious authorship. That liberal and skeptical scholars (most of who are practical, if not explicit, anti-supernaturalists – see the above links and find the article where Mark talks about the influence of the German theologian Lessing) and conservative scholars disagree and debate about the authorship of some letters, is true enough. We do not agree with the skeptical conclusions. Why do you seem to agree with them?

    Do you understand why anti-supernatural scholars want to date the Gospels and Acts to after 70AD?

    Please, read carefully, the outlines for each of the books in the series here
    https://bible.org/series/new-testament-introductions-and-outlines.

    We don’t know much about who these 500 were in 1 Corinthians 15. But Paul says to his readers that some of them were still alive, so it seems a safe bet to assume that the Christian community of the 50’s might have known about them. See Acts 1:12-15, where we learn that after Jesus’ ascension, His followers returned to the ‘upper room’, and Luke mentions that there were about 120 people there, including the Twelve and Jesus’ family).

    I would venture the idea that many of the witnesses to the Risen Jesus were eventually dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, out of Jerusalem, during the early persecutions that forced many to leave Jerusalem. While we don’t have any surviving written material, if any, from these people (but that would be true of most any group of 500 or more people from any century – so what? That is the fallacy of argument from silence). After the murder of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60, Acts 8:1-4 ) we find that the believers started to scatter into the surrounding regions – Samaria, Damascus (for that is where Paul ended up after his encounter with Jesus). If you follow that thread ( of persecution and scattering) through Acts and the NT letters, you can see how the Gospel was spread throughout that part of the Empire. I think it is also a safe bet to assume that that many of those 500 were among the scattered believers, and they told others of their experiences – what they had seen, and what it all meant.

  248. Bill LaBarre, I’m about to write a new post in answer to your question in #255. I’m going to edit out the part about “moral monster” because it refers back to what I said in #238. which on further reflection I now consider to have been unwisely spoken. I do not know for sure that God would have been a moral monster to have given us undeniably compelling evidence of his existence. That’s not the question. The question is whether he is a moral monster for having revealed himself in the way he has and has not.

  249. Victoria – Thank you for those. I intend to get to them in the next couple of days (so much to do with Thanksgiving and all). And I will answer your questions.

    Tom – I look forward to it greatly.

  250. Victoria,

    I first want to clarify something. Several times we have referenced the idea that because most things said in a particular book are known to be true, that does not necessarily make them ALL true. For example, the majority of the work of Leonhard Euler may have been correct (what an amazing guy he was) but that does not make every one of his statements true. Do you agree with this?

    You know the issue: I agree with you that much or perhaps almost all of what is verifiable in the NT is consistent with historical knowledge. But then what shall we make of the unverifiable? Does that make it true by default?

    I hope you will say “no” and I will grant you that if most of the NT is found to be true, then it at least deserves to be taken more seriously. (This is after-all why I am here).

    For both you and Tom, I wonder how much needs to be done to demonstrate the reliability of the NT writers… I mentioned my friend who believes in astrology, and Tom pointed out that she is not trustworthy on those issues. So that would bring us to the idea of exactly how well do we need to know someone to get a sense that they are rational about a particular subject.

    From what I can gather at this point (I am still researching) the only people who wrote in the NT about the Resurrection from the sense that they saw the risen Jesus are Paul, Peter and the Gospel writers Luke and John. [Please tell me if I am missing anyone].

    You both seem to believe that none of the authorship is in doubt, so we will set that aside.

    So let me ask you both… how much do we know about the skeptical nature of these people. How can we be confident they did not embellish?

    By embellish I mean in the sense that a chemistry teacher teaches his middle school students a planetary model of the atom. He (rightly) believes this is the best way for these people to understand this truth. Why teach something so complicated to people who are not mature enough?

    The followers I have known of Sai Babba are very sincere and believe they are highly skeptical. But we will agree they have obviously fooled themselves but are unfortunately unable to recognize it.

    Victoria, to answer your questions:

    “We do not agree with the skeptical conclusions. Why do you seem to agree with them?”

    -I do not agree that the majority of people have an “anti-supernatural bias.” I honestly think that most people seek the truth (with obvious exceptions) but the natural (innate) tendency is to assume supernaturalism. MOST of the people who have looked at the NT from other religions are certainly not anti-supernatural. But their looking at the evidence does not seem to draw them away.

    “Do you understand why anti-supernatural scholars want to date the Gospels and Acts to after 70AD?”

    -Is it because they would then not be close enough to the date of the event? (I honestly want to here your opinion on this).

    “While we don’t have any surviving written material, if any, from these people (but that would be true of most any group of 500 or more people from any century – so what?”

    – I haven’t said this was evidence against the case. But it is still true that at some point we should see evidence where we expect to find it. If someone made the claim for intelligently designed canals on Mars, and we have not found them by now, we COULD say that this is just an argument from silence… but after a time, we start to think – no, the evidence goes the other way now. I’m not saying we’re there with “the 500” but you do have to wonder.

  251. When I refer to the skeptical anti-supernatural bias of people, I was not referring to people in general – I was referring specifically to academic scholars who specialize in Biblical studies, or those who have studied under such skeptical scholars; these scholars approach Biblical studies with that presupposition at the outset. Rudolf Bultmann (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/84545/Rudolf-Bultmann) played a crucial role in this methodology – see http://www.tektonics.org/af/bultmann01.html and http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/16/16-2/16-2-pp073-081_JETS.pdf for some details).

    The reason these scholars want to date the Gospels and Acts to post-70AD is because the forward-looking statements that Jesus made concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. Since we know from history that Titus and his legions destroyed Jerusalem in 70AD, any reference or allusion to this event in the NT must have been written after the fact, according to these skeptics (they assume that there is no such thing as true prophetic vision). The only allusions to this state of affairs occurs in the Gospels (see http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Luke/Jerusalems-Destruction-End for a good commentary).

    If we discover that an author is accurate and reliable in the things we can test, does not that give us reasonable grounds to assume he is accurate and reliable in the things we cannot verify directly? I am justified in giving the NT authors the benefit of the doubt when they write about the spiritual significance of the events they describe. People who come to the Bible with that attitude will find what they need most – a Risen Saviour, as John 3:16 and John 20:31 promise. This is where the obedience and trust and action components of faith come into their own, where God and a human being meet through the presence of the Holy Spirit – it is He Who shows a person the truth of Who Jesus is, and calls that person to accept the gift of redemption and grants the new life. I know what I know because of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God – this transcends human reason in ways that you will not understand until you yourself do the same thing that Christians have been doing for almost 2000 years.

    You keep talking about embellishment, yet you offer no tangible evidence that the NT authors did this. If you want to see embellishment and bizarre exaggeration, I suggest you read the non-canonical gospels and the Gnostic writings.

    Why assume they embellished, except to avoid the supernatural conclusion?? I think you are the only person in this thread who believes that you are open to the supernatural – it is obvious to me that you are not, in practice.

    Get the book by Wallace – I agree with the reviewer that Wallace’s use of scientific arguments such as fine-tuning is rather weak – arguments like that are better left to professionally trained scientists, such as John Lennox or Edgar Andrews, in my opinion as a trained physicist. Other than that, it is worth the read, and worth considering his other arguments – one should follow up on his references for more scholarly, academic level details.

  252. Bill,

    The problem with the idea of NT embellishment is the early dating of the books. The books were written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses of the events they describe. How can they be embellishing them and have any credibility with the early believers who knew the facts first hand.

  253. Another point I’d like to make is that what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-9

    Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,
    2  by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
    3  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
    4  and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
    5  and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
    6  After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;
    7  then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;
    8  and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
    9  For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

    New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (1 Co 15:1–9). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

    is a tradition that dates back to the earliest days of the apostles’ preaching (the consensus amongst NT scholars and historians is that this is so). NT Wright has a good argument here: http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Early_Traditions.htm

    Luke essentially implies the same, namely that what he wrote comes from those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning (Luke 1:1-4)

    The apostles were declaring the resurrection of Jesus Christ within 2 months of His crucifixion, and not long after His ascension, after, over a period of 40 days, with Jesus teaching them what they needed to know (Acts 1:1-8).

    This message was being preached and taught, initially in Jerusalem, in the presence of people who themselves were eyewitnesses to Jesus and the events surrounding His life and death (Luke 24:13-35, esp Luke 24:17-19 – another undesigned coincidence?). This is yet another thread of evidence: the apostles were preaching the Resurrection in the presence of hostile witnesses who would have refuted this claim if they could (Acts 5;17-42). Christianity took root and grew in the presence of its worst enemies.
    Furthermore, we learn that some of these enemies became Christians themselves (Acts 15:5, in context )

    More than that, by his own admission, Paul (aka Saul of Tarsus) was one of the chief persecutors of the Way (Acts 8:1-2, Acts 9), a member of the Pharisees (so a highly educated and literate person) . How does he end up being Christianity’s foremost spokesman as the apostle to the Gentiles?

    Kinda hard to embellish a story in the presence of people who were also there and knew the facts.

  254. Exactly, BillT 🙂

    I suspect that this is also why skeptical NT scholars date the NT documents so late – with an a priori assumption that the gospels are myths, a la Bultmann (because the supernatural must be ruled out as an explanation), a late date (one or two generations after the events) means that there is nobody around who could challenge the mythical/supernatural aspects that the authors embellished (aka, non-historical, non-factual, never really happened).

    @Bill LeBarre

    Okay, if you want to claim that the Gospels were embellished, why don’t you delineate for us specifically those parts which are embellished and which parts are factual?

    Just to limit the scope, focus on the accounts of Jesus’ death and then accounts of the apostles seeing Him alive and well from Sunday onward. Moreover, explain the rationale behind your classification of each detail as either factual or embellishment.

  255. I just saw that you two had posted as I was writing.

    I do admit that if the Gospels (and Acts) would have to be taken more seriously as an accurate account if they were indeed written earlier as you say (I do not know that is the case). And if they were well circulated. That is, if enough people could read them who could protest anything they disagreed with and then write their own account of the truth and have those records survive.

    As far as Corinthians, it seems to date a couple of decades after the resurrection (correct?). That is a LONG time to embellish an oral tradition where there would be few remaining eyewitnesses to the event. Paul says there are these people, but how easy would it have been to find them? How easy would it have been for his congregation to leave Corinth and go find all of these people? (I honestly don’t know the answer here either). We they encouraged or discouraged to do so?

  256. Bill,

    The credal statement Victoria provided from 1Corintians 15 is accepted by 90% of theologians of all stripes as being reliably dated to within two years of Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s part of Gary Habermas’ minimal facts approach to the resurrection.

  257. I am having a difficult time seeing how 1 Corinthians 15 should be read as a literal bodily Resurrection. Please forgive my ignorance, but what is the earliest clear indication we have that a physical Resurrection took place?

    I ask this because I agree that skeptics would have been more inclined to seek witnesses for a physical resurrection.

  258. OK, I’m looking more into this, and I take that last statement back. Frankly, I’m not sure what Paul thought of the body. He seems to believe it was some kind of “super-body” that is somewhat physical and somewhat spiritual. I will need to give this some thought.

  259. Sorry to chip in; fascinating conversation. Just pondering: has there been much scholarly dissection of the word “appear” in 1 Corinthians 15? (particularly in earlier Greek/Hebrew versions?). As elsewhere in the NT it refers to both literal physical appearances of people as well as “non-physical” appearances (often of angels, God, Moses & Elijah, visions in dreams). Just wondering if anyone knows whether the original texts use distinct words that differentiate between these two cases? (and if so which is used in 1 Corinthians 15?). Thanks.

    Edit: Upon first browsing myself it seems the meaning of “to be seen”/”appeared” is as open-ended as in English (though I would be glad to be clarified otherwise by those with expertise). So perhaps direct linguistic analysis in this case sheds little light; whether Paul using the same word to describe the appearance of Jesus to him as to the others would imply a synonymity of the type of appearance they experienced seems a more interesting consideration.

  260. @Bill LaBarre
    In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s description of our resurrection bodies, he first distinguishes between our natural, physical bodies that we have now, and the spiritual bodies that we shall inherit in Eternity (1 Cor 15:40-49). The spiritual body is different from the physical body, but, that does not imply it is incorporeal.
    Physical means perishable, sown in dishonour (corruptible, with a sin nature), weak, bears the image of the earthly; Spiritual means imperishable, raised in glory (freed from the sin nature), raised in power, made in the image(likeness) of the heavenly.
    Our physical bodies are not made for life in Eternity – the spiritual body is – we are given new life when we become adopted into God’s family, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; that transformation process will be completed when God replaces the old creation with His new, eternal creation.

    Paul goes on to describe by way of analogy in 1 Cor 15:50-54 the characteristics of the resurrection body: (1) a merely physical body (flesh and blood) cannot inherit the kingdom of God; the perishable does not inherit (or receive) the imperishable – the physical has to be changed, like a seed that ‘dies’ when it is sown, and is transformed into the tree that it was designed to become.

    The spiritual body is more than the physical body, not less, which is why Paul talks about the perishable putting on the imperishable, and the mortal must put on the immortal.
    The Greek is quite clear about the term ‘put on’: ἐνδύσασθαι, or endysasthai, derived from ἐνδύω (endyo), which is a verb used to describe the putting on of a clothes, for example. The manuscript form is a verb, aorist tense, middle voice, infinitive, indicating a continuous on-going state of affairs. The same word is used in Ephesians 4:24; this concept is continued on in 2 Corinthians 5:1-11, where Paul talks about not wanting to be ‘unclothed’ (Gk ekdyo, the opposite form of endyo).

    John tells us that when we see Jesus again, we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2), even though the full details of what that will be like are not yet known.

    When we look at the Gospel accounts of the apostles encounters with the Resurrected Jesus, they describe Him in terms that suggest He is both corporeal (they could physically touch Him, as per Mary Magdalene’s encounter at the tomb site, and Thomas’ in the upper room; He ate with them), and at the same time, did not have the limitations of a merely physical body.

    See here also http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm

  261. Hi Alex Dawson 🙂
    It’s been a while since we’ve seen you in these parts! How are you? I trust all is well.

    The Greek form of the word translated as ‘appeared’ in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 is ὤφθη (ophthe) – the English word ophthalmology is derived from this. It basically means ‘to see with the eyes, to perceive with the physical sense of vision’. If one looks this up in The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, there is quite a lengthy discussion of this Greek concept, how it is used in the NT, the Septuagint, as well as in Classical Greek writings – this particular Greek verb is generally used as I described above, but there are a number of Greek words for sight and seeing that range from visual perception of a real object to experiencing an event to having a vision, depending on both context and the grammatical form of the verb, just like in English 🙂
    Think about the word ‘appear’ – “He appeared in court for his trial”; “It appears that we need more milk”, “He appeared in the likeness of a human being”, for example.

    In order to know what Paul meant, we need to see what the rest of the NT says about Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances to His followers – what did they mean by it? Since this passage in 1 Corinthians 15 comes to its readers as a received tradition from the earliest days of the Christian community, it is both necessary and proper to see what that tradition is. Fortunately, Luke specifically tells us (Luke 1:1-4) that what he has written is just as they were handed down to us by those who were from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word (Luke 1:2), so that is where we should turn to see what Paul received and delivered to the Corinthian believers ( the Greek word for ‘they were handed down’ in Luke is παρέδοσαν(paredosan), from παραδίδωμι(paradidomi : to hand over – NT scholars will tell you that this was used of passing on teachings from authoritative teachers to students. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses the same word, but in a different form (Παρέδωκα or paredoka, also a verb form of paradidomi), but in the first person, singular, active tense, because now he is the teacher passing on to his students the traditions which he received (παρέλαβονparelabon, from παραλαμβάνωparalambano, which a Greek lexicon will tell us means

    to acquire information from someone, implying the type of information passed on by tradition—‘to learn from someone, to learn about a tradition, to learn by tradition.’ παρέδωκα γὰρ ὑμῖν … ὃ καὶ παρέλαβον ‘for I passed on to you … what also I had learned from another’ 1 Cor 15:3; ἄλλα πολλά ἐστιν ἃ παρέλαβον κρατεῖν ‘they follow many other rules which they have learned by tradition’ Mk 7:4; καθὼς παρελάβετε παρ’ ἡμῶν τὸ πῶς δεῖ ὑμᾶς περιπατεῖν καὶ ἀρέσκειν θεῷ ‘as you learned from us how you should live in order to be pleasing to God’ 1 Th 4:1.

    Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (326). New York: United Bible Societies.

    Thus, in Luke, and by extension, the other Gospel accounts (which are after all records of what the apostles taught and what was known to the Christian community), we look at the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus to see that they meant He was physically present with them, as I mentioned in my previous post.

    In Paul’s experience of the Resurrected Jesus, on the road to Damascus, he heard a voice (Acts 9:3-7), had seen Jesus on the road (Acts 9:27), and had a heavenly vision (Acts 26:13-20), where Jesus told him what he was to do. Paul also describes himself as ‘untimely born’ in 1 Cor 15, in this case meaning his encounter with the Risen Saviour was after His ascension, unlike the other apostles, who saw Him after His resurrection, up until the time of His ascension. The experience transformed Saul, from an enemy of the Gospel of Christ to its foremost spokesman.
    The beauty and wonder of this is that the transforming power of the Gospel is still available to people today, through the very real presence of the Spirit of God 🙂

    Thusly we understand what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 15.

  262. Hi Victoria! I am quite well, just had a very varied and busy life in the recent past (as we all often do!) I hope you are well yourself 🙂

    Thank you very much for your exposition. I am putting some thoughts together but before I proceed I’m just wondering whether I could ask for one further clarification:

    Is Paul’s conversion/meeting with Jesus one where Jesus was physically present with him? In what sense (is it physical or not)? And how are these conclusions drawn? Thanks again.

  263. Thanks Victoria,
    I obviously have a lot of research to do and I really appreciate your help. I’m sorry I don’t have as much experience with the Bible as so many people on this site.

    Let me ask you, did I get it right about the 4 people who saw the Resurrected Jesus? Actually, I had forgotten that Luke actually states that he did not see Jesus, so that leaves the 3 testimonies (Paul, Peter and John) correct?

    Also, I would really love to here what you think about my closest thing to a supernatural experience that I described above. Are you at least a little more open to the idea that I’m not inherently “anti-supernatural?”

  264. Hi Alex
    I’m well, thank you 🙂 Busy, too and looking forward to a break over the Christmas holidays.

    I think it is safe to say that Paul had a very real experience in his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road – those travelling with him did not share fully in that experience (they heard a voice, but apparently did not understand what was said, and saw nothing, other than Paul, fallen down to the ground).

    The presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit is very real in the life of a Christian – it is hard to articulate to non-believers because there is no suitable common ground to form a reference point for this experience; while it subjectively experienced by each person, it is objective in the sense that comparing notes with other Christians, we see common patterns and themes. While not everyone will ever experience such a forceful presence of God like Paul did, all Christians at one time or another will experience God’s very real presence, gently and quietly – I’ve found even that to be both overwhelming and welcoming, at once both awesome and safe. Comparing notes with other Christians, they say similar things.

  265. @Bill
    Actually, if you go through the Gospels and Acts, there are a number of people who saw the Risen Jesus besides Peter and John (and Paul, ex post facto).

    Luke also mentions Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus – Cleopas could be Mary’s (Jesus’ mom) brother-in-law.

    Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, in all probability, were among those who saw Jesus alive again – it would be surprising if it were otherwise, given their involvement in His burial, and being members of the High Council, would be in a position to tell Luke what transpired in the Council chambers.

    There are the women, with Mary Magdalene as their spokeswoman (which is why she figures so much in the details of the post-Resurrection accounts), Jesus’ family, all 11 of the original Twelve, and at least 120 in total, that we can account for in Acts 1:9-26. In Acts 2, Peter talks about choosing replacement for Judas as one of the Twelve, the requirement being that this person should have been with them from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to the time of His ascension and saw Him alive again.

    Matthias and Joseph were nominated, and Matthias was picked. The implication seems to be that all who were present at that time in the upper room were witnesses of Jesus’ ascension, at least.

    Although there is no explicit statements, the 7 people chosen as deacons may also have been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection as well.

    There is a strong tradition in the history of the early Church and the writings of the Church fathers, that Matthew wrote (or caused to write) the Gospel bearing his name (and that Matthew was one of the original 12); Mark wrote his Gospel based on Peter’s teachings and recollections; Luke was Paul’s travelling companion, ‘the good doctor’, and the Gospel of John explicitly states that it was written by ‘the disciple that Jesus loved, who was an eyewitness of those events’ (John 21:24). The only surviving written accounts we have are those 4 Gospels and Acts + the NT epistles – Peter, James and John figure highly in Acts as apostles to the Jews and leaders of the Jerusalem Church, Paul and his companions as the apostles to the Gentiles; I would not assume that the other apostles were idle during this period, though.

    You may be open to a vague supernaturalism, but are you open to the specific implications of a thoroughly Christian supernatural view, namely that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, Who was crucified, dead and buried, and conquered death and the grave by His own Divine power?

    What, exactly, did you say to God when you ‘asked Him to come into your heart, and got nothing but silence in return’? On what basis did you think you could do that? God is good, and gracious, but He is awesome and definitely not to be trifled with. As CSLewis said in his Chronicles of Narnia, “Aslan is not a tame lion” and, in answer to the childrens’ question about whether it was safe to be in his presence: “Safe? Safe? No, he’s dangerous, but he’s good

    Listen, I really want to help you out here, but you had better be prepared to have your worldview and presuppositions and current understanding of Christianity challenged in here 🙂

  266. Victoria,

    I honestly can not find an honest and meaningful way to live in this world without being challenged. I sincerely appreciate it. I unfortunately don’t know how I can convince you of that sincerity. It is why I travel and experience other cultures; it is why I entered a scientific profession; it is why I try to read as much counter-information as I can to what I already believe; and it is why I am here now.

    I hope I am as open to Christian supernaturalism as I am to every other supernatural claim. How else could I be honest and seek truth? Let me state this clearly – I have no issue with the idea that if there is a God, doing that things claimed in the Bible would not present a problem. I have been over this with many of my Christian friends; I get it. I will accept it.

    But you may see the issues my spiritual experience have given me… this is now the strongest experience I have ever had. So I need something at least somewhat comparable. Wouldn’t you if you had encountered something God-like?

    I don’t consider this to be vague. It was a more real experience than the ones I have every day whether I am driving down the highway, climbing mountains in Nepal, or looking at the results from an ICP-MS. I don’t know if your experiences have ever come close to feeling a “oneness” with God so it may be hard to relate.

    As for the times I asked God… it has been a variety of situations. From when I was at my most desperate in depression (not clinical), to my greatest moments of awe (the sense of awe that I mentioned before), to my times of greatest confusion (like when I try to account for the Resurrection stories ;-)). What I ask is sort of like “PLEASE… come in. PLEASE let me know or just give me something. PLEASE, I need to be able to distinguish this from wishful thinking.

    Honestly, I don’t know what my basis was. Maybe I had been reading the Bible at sometimes, and was wondering what to believe. Maybe it was in those times that I think of myself as lowly as the dust, maybe it was in those times I was viewing life from its highest points of grandeur. As a somewhat “evangelical” atheist, it has often been at the point that I am about to de-convert a believer when I say “PLEASE, if I am doing something wrong, let me know. I don’t know what else to do.

    I haven’t read Chronicles of Narnia, only “Mere Christianity” and “The Screwtape Letters” so far. “Surprised by Joy” was next on my list.

    What I am also looking for is an opinion about my “satori” experiences. Do you think it was real? The work of God or the work of the Devil? A hallucination or something else? Can you see how this would greatly shape my view of things?

  267. Victoria,

    Thank you for clarifying and elaborating.

    The train of thought I am considering is the following:
    1) The appearance of Jesus to Paul was not “physical” in the sense that he was not manifest (certainly not publically) in the physical world at the time.
    2) Taking Paul’s testimony to be consistent and with integrity, the use of ὤφθη to refer to the appearance of Jesus to both himself and others in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 would then seem to imply that either (i) the other appearances are not physical (ii) the distinction between physical and non-physical appearances are unimportant. [For if the audience were to understand the appearances as tacitly physical then Paul would be proclaiming his as such which would be misleading]

    I guess the point I am drawing is that in and of itself the credal statement does not attest the physical resurrection of Jesus. [To clarify I do mean merely that – in that the inference is that the physicality of the resurrection is left ambiguous/unimportant]

  268. @Alex
    And your train of thought fits in with the NT development of the Resurrection how, exactly?

    Did you not consider that Paul’s “last of all, He appeared to me as one untimely born” is not part of the tradition that he received from the apostles, but Paul’s own testimony of his own apostleship?

    In fact, Paul’s language there would be indicative that he considers his own experience as different from those who had seen Jesus before His Ascension. In that case, there is no misleading here, and the credal statement stands on its own, independent of Paul’s specific encounter. I reiterate: the tradition about the Resurrection that Paul received and had passed on to the Corinthians when he was in Corinth, preaching the Gospel to them (he’s not telling them anything new in 1 Cor 15, just reminding them of what he had taught them, and answering their questions) has to be correlated with those same traditions that Luke was talking about in his Gospel; and that tradition describes the apostles encounters with the Resurrected Jesus as physical ones. In fact, the Gospels specifically mention the details one would expect if Jesus’ resurrection body was corporeal. Paul’s encounter in Acts mentions no such details.

    In fact, this fits in with the descriptions of Paul’s experience in Acts – it was completely different in character from the descriptions of the apostles’ experiences in the Gospels, but no less real and legitimate.

    Read the link I gave to Bill, pointing to N. T. Wright’s paper on the Resurrection, as well as the articles here: https://bible.org/topics/389/Resurrection

  269. The problem that you guys (Alex and Bill, but non-Christians generally) is that you are picking up pieces of a puzzle and looking at them in isolation from the picture that the puzzle portrays. You are not thinking about how the pieces interlock to produce a coherent narrative. Perhaps that is because you are not cognizant of the Holy Spirit as the source of the overall picture.

    I’ll let you both in on an open secret about Christianity and its source book – the Bible was not meant to be read independently of a relationship with its ultimate Author. Without Him (the indwelling Holy Spirit) the significance of what He inspired His human authors to write will be lost on you, an argument that Paul develops in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16.

  270. @Alex
    Ah, the tradition that Paul received from the apostles about their experiences with the Resurrected Jesus would not include Paul’s own unique experience. Think about it for a moment.

  271. @Bill
    My experience of the presence of God is through the indwelling Holy Spirit, and it is never independent of or contrary to His Word – in fact it serves to apply the Word of God to my life, as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 imply. This is also an argument that Paul develops in Romans 8:1-39.

    In my opinion, if your satori experiences lead you to conclusions that differ from core Christianity, then it is not of God ( 1 John 4:1-3 for example, or 1 Corinthians 12:3 for another).

  272. Victoria,

    Well, I know what you believe. I know what Paul and John believed. But I do not know that it is true. I did not experience what they experienced. What I do have are my own experiences. How would I know that they are not of God?

    I do realize you may not be able to appreciate the position I would find myself in, after all, you don’t know me and are really not invested in seeing my viewpoint. I could not possibly blame you for that. But could you at least see that I really don’t have a reliable way of knowing that my experiences are not of God? Why should I believe someone else’s experiences over my own?

    One thing I can think of is repeatability. Perhaps Paul, Peter and John really did see the same thing. But other than that, I don’t have much to go on. Can you at least appreciate that?

    I know most scholars find Peter’s letters unreliable and my understanding of the authorship of John is that it is in dispute and it sounds like John would have had access to Paul’s works. I don’t know what to make of this, but it sounds like there is not a strong case for independent testimony.

    I’m still thinking this through.

  273. @Bill
    Have you read that link I gave you to Mark Roberts’ discussions on the trustworthiness of the Gospels? Have you read any scholarly works by conservative Christian scholars? Or are you content to accept the conclusions of the liberal, skeptical scholars whose methodology presupposes a distinct anti-supernaturalism? Do you even understand and recognize the theological and metaphysical assumptions of these scholars?

    I ask you again, if you are as open to the Christian viewpoint as you claim (and which I doubt more and more), why do you default to jumping to conclusions that contradict that viewpoint without any arguments to (a) support that position, and (b) to show that you have considered the arguments in favour of that viewpoint?

    Craig Blomberg’s Jesus and the Gospels is a really good introduction to the Gospels, as well as a scholarly analysis of origin and development and applications of analytical methods in NT studies.

    Why don’t you take the time to look into the conservative Christian viewpoint, and the scholarly replies and critiques of the skeptical conclusion, rather than repeating the same refrain over and over again? Why don’t you do that, and then come back and tell us why you disagree with them.

  274. I also find it rather incongruous and self-contradictory that someone who has admitted to being an ‘evangelical atheist’, who attempts to de-convert Christians, would at the same time claim to be looking for answers on a Christian website.

    Why are you really here, Bill?

  275. Victoria,

    Here’s where you are correct… I have a lot more to learn. I have a lot more reading to do and I will start with what you and Tom have provided.

    As I mentioned before, I have read both conservative and liberal scholars (though I’m sure not as much as you have on either end). I have told you several times that it does not make sense to me that the majority of religious, God believing scholars who examine the NT would not be convinced since they are obviously not anti-supernatural. As for your claim that the others are, the truth is that I just don’t know. But I seriously doubt that you know the biases of people like Ehrman or Armstrong. I kind of get the impression that you would rather quickly discount any supernatural experience that does not conform to what you already believe. Also, while you may be right about an anti-supernatural bias for some, you do not seem to be aware (or ready to admit honestly) that Christian scholars likely have an even stronger supernatural bias – one that specifically directs them to the God of their culture somehow.

    Why am I realy here? Well, it’s quite simple… it is the reason I try to learn about anything. If I am right about something I believe, then great, I at least hope others will be convinced. But if I am wrong, I want to know. If my arguments are not strong, then I know of no better way of knowing that then putting my ideas out there to knowledgeable people and having them picked apart (a sort of mini, interactive peer-review).

    You shouldn’t be upset that atheists are doing things like this. If someone believes for poor reasons that they haven’t thought through, then they either need to drop their conclusions or think them through more carefully; they will be the better for it. And the vast majority of believers I encounter have not thought their positions through as I’m sure you know. Similarly, it is also true that many atheists have not thought their positions out very carefully. Either way, I think that deconstructing arguments and beliefs is one of the best ways to get to the truth.

  276. @BillLaBarre

    As for your claim that the others are, the truth is that I just don’t know. But I seriously doubt that you know the biases of people like Ehrman or Armstrong.

    I have only been reading this blog for a few months, but know that this statement is objectively wrong. Especially with respect to Ehrman. It seems to me, the disconnect between his scholarly and popular writings is a good demonstration, all by itself, of his biases. It might be a big help for you to search this blog for the term “ehrman” to find out what has been written. I am not so sure about Armstrong, but her membership in the Jesus Seminar does make a pretty strong statement about her bias.

  277. @Alex
    Re the tradition that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 :
    What does ‘according to the Scriptures’ mean?

    For Paul and the other apostles, Scripture means the Jewish Bible – the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms, in particular. We know that the NT authors came to understand these writings in Christological terms, because Jesus Himself explained it to them (Luke 24:19-35, specifically Luke 24:25-27).

    In Acts 2, Peter’s first sermon is explicit as to how they understood the Scriptures as referring to Jesus’ resurrection (see Acts 2:14-36). There, Peter quotes from Psalm 16:8-11, and explains

    Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
    30  “And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE,
    31  he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY.
    32  “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.

    New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Ac 2:29–32). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

    Peter uses the reference to the Psalm’s statement that God would not allow His Holy One to suffer decay to mean that Jesus’ body did not stay in the tomb, but that He was restored to life.

    Paul refers to the same Scriptures in his speech in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (see Acts 13:16-43, where he quotes from Psalm 2 and the very same part of Psalm 16 that Peter had used – see Acts 13:34-35).

    This was always part of Paul’s Gospel message, for we are told (another undesigned coincidence) in Acts 17:10-12 that the Jews in Berea examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were true – these things would be Paul’s Gospel message.

    We also know that Paul preached the same Gospel message that Peter and James and John would have (see Galatians 2:1-10) approved of.

    The NT letters are replete with references to the Old Testament to the Messiah, explaining how they refer to Jesus Christ…
    Hebrews is a letter specifically written to explain that. Particularly beautiful is the comparison between Jesus and Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:5-8 and Hebrews 7:1-28) – in Jesus, our Risen Saviour, He is both King of Righteousness (or King of Justice), for that is what Melchizedek means, and King of Peace (M was King of Salem, as well as priest of El Elyon, God Most High) – in Jesus, we see God’s justice and God’s peace united on our behalf, once for all, and for all eternity.

    The apostles both understood and proclaimed Jesus’ corporeal resurrection from the dead because (a) they experienced it that way, and (b) they came to understand that this is what God’s plan of redemption had foretold all along.

  278. @Bill

    Mark Roberts concludes his series with this post

    http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/gospelsreliableprint3.htm#nov705

    He summarizes

    As I’ve explained before, if your worldview excludes the possibility of miracles, then you have an intractable problem with the historicity of the gospels. But your acceptance of such a worldview is a matter of faith. There’s no way you can prove that miracles don’t happen, even as there’s no way I can prove that the extraordinary events Christians believe to be miracles are actually works of God. There’s an irreducible element of faith on both sides of this argument.

    Nevertheless, my point is that one can approach the New Testament gospels as a theist and come up with a reasonable understanding of what happened: of who Jesus was and how early Christianity developed. Of course I believe that this understanding is not only reasonable, but in fact the most reasonable. Yet I’m willing to debate the pros and cons with those who disagree with me. What I’m unwilling to do is to accept the tyranny of “the modern scientific worldview,” or to agree that historians must write as if miracles never happen, no matter what they might believe in their hearts. I’m happy to take my theistic understanding of the gospels and lay it beside all other options for careful scrutiny. At the very least, I think a fair observer would have to acknowledge that what I’ve proposed is reasonable, even if that observer isn’t convinced. (By the way, let me hasten to add that what I’ve proposed depends upon the work of many, many scholars. A few ideas in this series are, as far as I know, unique to me. Most reflect the helpful efforts of many others, especially folk like F. F. Bruce, Craig Blomberg, N.T. Wright, and Ben Witherington.)

    Throughout most of this series I’ve spoken of the gospels as reliable, meaning “reliable as historical sources of information about Jesus.” Yet I believe, now speaking as a Christian more than as an historian, that the gospels are much more reliable than this. Aside from being trustworthy history, the gospels are also trustworthy revelation. I believe that the very Spirit of God inspired and guided the writers of the gospels. This means the portrayal of Jesus in Mark, for example, isn’t only historically reliable. It’s also God’s way of helping us to know who Jesus really is.

    Now I freely admit that what I’m saying here goes beyond historical inquiry. Yet I want to emphasize that what I have found as an historian doesn’t imply that my faith in the inspiration of the gospels is really just wishful thinking. On the contrary, the more I study the New Testament gospels in the context of the literature and culture of their own time and place, and the more I compare these biblical gospels to the non-canonical varieties, the more I am persuaded that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are indeed reliable both as historical records of Jesus and as trustworthy facets of divine revelation.

    where he talks about worldviews and presuppositions and how they will affect the interpretation and understanding of the Bible. I agree with him. I am fully aware that I (and conservative Christians scholars), with an allegiance to Jesus Christ as the Son of God, my Risen Lord and Saviour, read the Bible from that position of faith and interpret it thusly. It was not always so for me.

    This is a position I hold because both reason and the witness of the Spirit of God within have convinced me of it truth.

    Ask your friends who have such a low view of the Bible about the theologians Lessing, Bultmann and C. F. Bauer, to name but a few.

  279. Victoria,

    I do not doubt your sincerity in the least, and I agree with much of what Roberts says in the passage you quoted. Obviously I am going to need time (weeks to months) to do some reading for the small mountain of material you have given me already.

    I think many are still missing one of the points however that EVEN IF I were to grant that ALL of the NT is written by the authors traditionally ascribed and EVEN if ALL of the verifiable information is found to be true, it does not make the non-verifiable information true. (I do not know what does exist but I can rather easily imagine a dozen followers of Sai Baba putting together a first-hand witness accounting of his miracles that were verified in places, dates and so on. This just isn’t that hard. How many people gave sworn statements about the ascension of King Romulus in to heaven?).

    Still, Roberts is right. We do not have sufficient reason to reject the miracles in the books and they must be taken seriously. I am trying to do this, but I do have questions.

    At most, we have the first-hand written accounts of 3 people. For second-hand maybe 2 dozen(?) and obviously for the unnamed masses hundreds. And I would say that THIS is something we need to take seriously. That is why I am wondering what the situations would have been like for those who did have the early creed – Did they actually go and check? Did they find anyone? If so, how many? Try to imagine yourself as a skeptic in Paul’s congregation; what would you have done? [If you know where I may find some of this I would REALLY appreciate it].

    Something that always worries me about believers (of most any stripe) is what seems to be certain for you and some others on this site… The belief comes first, the reasons to support the belief come later (or are at least intertwined in a sort of auto-feedback cycle). Let me be clear – we are ALL in danger of doing this, and it does not necessarily make our positions wrong. But it does OFTEN lead us to very strong convictions about very wrong beliefs (see Michael Shermer’s “The Believing Brain”). So if I seem too skeptical for you, it is because I have seen a form of reasoning among the religious that I find to be very common among believers in another subject that I do understand well – evolution/creationism. Again, I am not saying you are a creationist (I don’t know what you believe on that issue), but you should understand that my caution with believers rises from the great amount of nonsense some have brought upon themselves.

    I think Tom said earlier (I think in this thread), that Christians should remember how ridiculous the core claims seem to outsiders (talking snakes, talking donkeys, worldwide flood, a God who sends his son who is really himself to die for the sins of others, etc). I think Tom was giving good advice to keep that in mind.

  280. For the record, I am not a Young Earth Creationist, but I stand by the Biblical doctrine of Creation – namely that God did create the ‘heavens and the earth’, which as a physicist, I associate with Big Bang cosmology, and that interpretation of the observational data.

    If you read this thread in its entirety, you would see that.

    I’ll look forward to hearing from you again after you have done your homework.

  281. Victoria,

    I would not have bet a single dollar that you were a YEC. You are clearly much too intelligent for that.

    I found your links in #127 where you say you more favor the 2nd site, so I guess it would be more accurate to describe you as an ID Creationist(?) It’s hard to tell because the site also does not believe in the common ancestry of say chimps and humans but it does believe in the reality of a flood with an ark (albeit local) – so maybe somewhere between OEC and IDC.

    This is part of what worries me about your ability to critically reason and it suggests that you are just more likely to look for things that support what you already want to believe. But again, it does NOT mean you are wrong about the Biblical miracles.

  282. @Bill
    I can reason just fine, thank you – I just don’t use the methodological hyper-skepticism that you do. I have a worldview and a faith that I am committed to, but please spare me the patronizing attitude that seems to imply I am any less scholarly and analytical because of it.

    Also, your characterization of YEC intelligence is not very charitable – that would be a ad hominem slur at best.

  283. Interesting links. Did you find any problems for the NT (specifically the Resurrection claims) in either of them?

    (By the way, I just bought “Cold Case Christianity”).

  284. Bill LaBarre,

    I’m concerned about your ability to critically reason and it suggests that you are just more likely to look for things that support what you already want to believe.

    Also, in case you aren’t aware there are multiple beliefs that fall under the rubric of “creationism” within Christianity. YEC, OEC, ID (which itself contains sub-divisions) and theistic evolution (also with sub-divisions) spring to mind. I fall under the latter of these. However, I found the recent discussion between Stephen C Meyer and Charles Marshall to be fascinating.

    http://media.premier.org.uk/unbelievable/22d8050f-6511-467b-9128-013c51e6221b.mp3

  285. The Wiki link is just a summary of the methodology, so it really doesn’t say much about how historians go about applying it to real cases 🙂

    The second link is an application of those criteria to the NT documents, so it speaks for itself, I think.

    I ended up going to Amazon and buying the book that the second link refers to (and a related one on source material analysis – could not resist. Now I will have to buy myself another bookshelf for my library for Christmas, as my current ones are overflowing 🙂 ). Historiography and historical methodology will be my homework reading over the holidays 🙂

    My point here is that you said

    At most, we have the first-hand written accounts of 3 people. For second-hand maybe 2 dozen(?) and obviously for the unnamed masses hundreds. And I would say that THIS is something we need to take seriously.

    How is that much different from what secular historians have for ancient history in general? Secular historians would love to have as much documentation for ancient history in general, of the quality and proximity to the actual events that the NT documents represent.

    Have you read Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses? Do you know what inclusio is, and how ancient writers used it when writing about their history?

    You also said

    I think many are still missing one of the points however that EVEN IF I were to grant that ALL of the NT is written by the authors traditionally ascribed and EVEN if ALL of the verifiable information is found to be true, it does not make the non-verifiable information true

    When are you going to understand that this is NOT our argument!!!. We are NOT deductively reasoning from the verified details to the conclusion that the ‘non-verifiable’ details must also be true; NEITHER are we inductively reasoning from the particular verified details to the truth of the ‘non-verifiable’ details.

    Our reasoning here is a matter of trust and benefit of the doubt, just like secular historians would use.

    For years, skeptics have claimed that the historical, cultural and geographical details of the Bible, and the NT in particular, were in error, full of internal contradictions, and therefore the documents were neither reliable nor historical. Archaeology and on-going historical work have overturned those skeptical claims, one by one (there are still open issues, true enough, but my confidence is in the Biblical authors).

  286. Victoria at 334:

    When are you going to understand that this is NOT our argument!!!. We are NOT deductively reasoning from the verified details to the conclusion that the ‘non-verifiable’ details must also be true; NEITHER are we inductively reasoning from the particular verified details to the truth of the ‘non-verifiable’ details.

    Our reasoning here is a matter of trust and benefit of the doubt, just like secular historians would use.

    It might be a great help for you to express in syllogistic form what “your” argument is, since there always seems to be misunderstanding about it.

  287. @Larry
    Good suggestion…I’ll take a stab at formulating it later 🙂

    In the meantime, Tom et al, jump in any time on that.
    Tom did provide a partial answer here

  288. Billy Squibs,

    Are you serious about your first comment? If so I would honestly like to know WHAT suggests that to you. If you are just castigating me for taking such a tone with Victoria, I fully accept your reproach; I should have been more polite and I apologize again.

    Yes, I am well aware of the different forms of creationism. I have been talking to creationists for almost 2 decades. I’m glad to hear you are more in the TC camp.

    I will look at your link when time affords.

    Thank you

  289. Victoria,

    Briefly, I have not read that book and I had never herd the term used in that context. I will look in to it.

    “How is that much different from what secular historians have for ancient history in general? Secular historians would love to have as much documentation for ancient history in general, of the quality and proximity to the actual events that the NT documents represent.”

    Again this is where I think we are right to apply the idea that extraordinary claim require extraordinary evidence. I’m certain you do it with the eyewitness accounts of King Romulus and Sai Baba. I think this should apply to EVERY historical document.

    Thank you for clarifying that this was not your position. I had been trying to get you to say something about it; I’m glad to see you were not just evading the question.

  290. The broad point that should be made about the NT is that it’s multiple orders of magnitude better evidenced than any other ancient document. That includes the “paper trail” of (over 25,000) manuscript copies (which now begins in the late 1st century), extra Biblical writings and archeological evidence. Historians with far less reliable sources express little doubt that we have an accurate understanding of the Greek or Roman empires, the people who lived there, and the things they wrote whether it be by Aristotle or Julius Caesar. And those just happened to be preserved because someone thought them interesting.

    The Bible, on the other hand, was quite purposely preserved by people who believed they were preserving the actual words spoken by and the acts performed by God incarnate. The care and precision of their work was what they dedicated their entire lives to. Far from this being a negative, as it’s often portrayed, a fair assessment would understand the positive implications of such an arrangement. And that is backed up by the historical/textual studies of the NT which estimate the accuracy of the current NT texts as a (I believe) 98% accurate representation of the originals.

  291. Our reasoning here is a matter of trust and benefit of the doubt, just like secular historians would use.

    This is no different than what we all do in our everyday lives. If someone demonstrates themselves to be accurate and trustworthy, then you trust them in things you cannot possibly verify or know for certain – with one caveat.

    That caveat being, does the available data support or undermine the knowledge you are trusting to be true? If the data undermines it, then distrust is warranted. If there is no data to undermine your trust, then you are warranted to keep on trusting.

    Some say scientific knowledge is the data that undermines our trust in the Bible. That line of faulty thinking has been put to rest time and time again. Science has nothing to say about supernatural events.

    Some say it’s the nature of the extraordinary claims that undermines our trust in the Bible. That’s a weak philosophical position that is itself undermined by a strong, rational metaphysic.

  292. And what would be considered ‘extraordinary evidence’?
    How is that different from sufficient evidence?

    What evidence could people in the 1st century have provided that would be sufficient to show us in the 21st century that they knew what they were talking about?

    What evidence, recorded for us in the NT documents, would be sufficient to show that they knew Jesus had actually died by crucifixion on the Friday of Passover, the day of preparation, before the start of the Sabbath (which was a Passover Sabbath), and that He was indeed dead when they buried His body?

    What evidence, recorded for us in the NT documents, would be sufficient to show us that they knew Jesus was bodily alive again on Sunday and afterwards, and had encountered Him on numerous occasions?

    What evidence would be sufficient to convince someone in the 21st century that 1st century Jews would not change their theology in such a radical way, based on a crucified Messiah, unless they had compelling reasons to do so? Even Paul admits that in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

    For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1:19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will thwart the cleverness of the intelligent.” 1:20 Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish? 1:21 For since in the wisdom of God the world by its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching. 1:22 For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, 1:23 but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. 1:24 But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1:25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

    Jews knew that anyone who was hung on a tree was cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23), which Paul applies to Christ in Galatians 3:6-14:

    Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, 3:7 so then, understand that those who believe are the sons of Abraham. 3:8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, proclaimed the gospel to Abraham ahead of time, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” 3:9 So then those who believe are blessed along with Abraham the believer. 3:10 For all who rely on doing the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the book of the law.” 3:11 Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous one will live by faith. 3:12 But the law is not based on faith, but the one who does the works of the law will live by them. 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) 3:14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit by faith.

    N. T. Wright, in his 3-volume work on the New Testament has a lot to say about applied historiography and the Resurrection
    http://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Christian-Origins-Question-Vol/dp/0800626796/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386095582&sr=1-7&keywords=nt+wright

    here, http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm

    as well, if you are not up to reading an 800+ page academic level textbook 🙂

    I know you will now move the goalposts and ask why God doesn’t do miraculous signs now to convince unbelievers, but why should He? He has already done the heavy lifting, and as Jesus said in Luke 16:22-31, esp Luke 16:30-31, “you have Moses and the Prophets – if you don’t believe them, then you won’t believe even if someone comes back from the dead”. Well now you have Jesus, who did come back from the dead, and left us sufficient evidence to have to come to grips with – do you reject Him because it’s not what you expected, or do you follow what you have been given to the Person it points to? The question is not what God could have done, but what did He, in fact, do? If you don’t have the heart or the willingness to come to God on His terms, that’s your problem. All of us who are Christians, adopted into God’s eternal family on the basis of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf, who name Him as Risen Saviour and Sovereign Lord, have received the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, have come to God on His terms – we have faced exactly the same evidence, and have followed it. The evidence is only the beginning of faith, obedience and trust and repentance are the ongoing process of faith.

    For the interested readers (as always 🙂 )

    https://bible.org/seriespage/burial-and-resurrection-christ

  293. Victoria (and SteveK),

    Maybe you are right about the goalpost statement and that is what we should look at. It does seem to be our largest and most important point of disagreement – wouldn’t you agree? 😉

    Please take a look at this:
    http://ufoevidence.org/cases/case67.htm

    Keep in mind this is 1959 in Papua New Guinea. We certainly should not expect a proliferation of cameras. In fact the evidence is rather in line with what we should expect from an extraterrestrial visitation of that time and place. Twenty-five credible witnesses and over 60 sightings around that time and area.

    What do you make of this and why?

  294. Bill,
    What does this have to do with whether the Bible is an accurate account of history, or not? That’s right, nothing. You could have linked to a report by several scientists that claimed to have seen the Higgs boson. Maybe they did, but so what?

  295. SteveK,

    I suggest you take a look at comment 340. Someone made a statement about trusting people that are reliable when you can not verify everything they say.

    I thought this comment should be looked at in more detail since it is so crucial to the questions at hand. I doubt the person who made the comment only meant it should only apply to one specific religion.

  296. Bill,
    You revised #344 so I will reply again.

    I doubt the person who made the comment only meant it should only apply to one specific religion.

    You are correct, I didn’t mean to apply it to one specific religion. My comment was about a general principle that we all employ in our day to day lives.

    Am I warranted to believe that their story is accurate and true? I don’t know these people so there isn’t any sense of trust there that I can build upon. I also didn’t read all the details so it’s hard for me to judge. It’s a worthwhile exercise to get into the details and to wrestle with the hard questions.

    What we often do in life situations like this is we get a sense of trustworthiness from other people that we trust. We get credible people that other credible people trust (trusted friends of trusted friends), and we slowly dig into the details, step-by-step.

    These credible experts (philosophical, scientific, close friends, spouses, etc) weigh in on the subject, wrestle with hard questions and together we get a sense about the story – is it accurate and true, or not, where are the holes and where is solid ground?

  297. Bill,
    Let me add that at some point the weight of everything might point to a particular conclusion more than some other, and at that point it is rational to settle on that conclusion even though you could be wrong and even though some group of people argue that you haven’t proven your case. I don’t need proof. I only need my decision to be rationally justified, and I have that justification.

    This is typical circumstantial-case stuff that courtroom juries deal with all the time and Cold Case Christianity goes into this a lot. I think you’ll enjoy the book. I did.

  298. It’s not in the form of a syllogism, but this article by Brian Auten expresses the role of the Biblical documents and their reliability in the process of coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ:

    http://www.apologetics315.com/search/label/Inerrancy

    scroll about halfway down, to the entry entitled A Case for Biblical Inerrancy

    I’ll quote the relevant paragraphs from that article here:

    The Historical Reliability of the New Testament
    Before the claims of the New Testament are examined, an important question must be asked: Can the New Testament be trusted as history? When you question a document’s historicity, you question the document’s authenticity, and ultimately, its authority….


    Before even evaluating the spiritual claims of the New Testament, one can confidently view it as authentic, reliable, and historically accurate. This is supported by abundant manuscripts, archaeological evidence, and external historical sources. One need not believe in the inspiration or inerrancy of the scriptures to trust the New Testament as a reliable historical record.

    The Life of Jesus Christ
    From the New Testament documents, one is introduced to the person of Jesus Christ. His authoritative teaching and radical claims of divinity culminated in his crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection from the dead. Christ’s closest followers were eyewitnesses to the events, and their lives were transformed. Many who were unbelievers and skeptics were converted. James, the unbelieving brother of Jesus, was converted and died for his belief in the resurrection. In the same way, Saul, the persecutor of early Christians, was radically converted because he believed in the resurrected Jesus. The rise of the early Church in Jerusalem was considerable, as those nearest to these events believed and gave their lives by the thousands.


    It is through the New Testament account of Jesus Christ, and the reality of his resurrection, that one comes to faith in the Son of God for salvation. This faith in Christ transforms the life of the believer, and enables him to receive the Bible itself as the Word of God. The point to be made here is that faith in Christ is the prerequisite for the acceptance of the Bible as the Word of God. This belief is not unwarranted or baseless.

    Rather, it is warranted by one’s acceptance of Jesus Christ and based in the authority of Jesus’ teaching. The New Testament simply provides a fully trustworthy historical account for one to be introduced to Jesus Christ. Then, through Jesus Christ, the Christian can know that the Bible is God’s Word, as the Holy Spirit enables him.

    This argument may not seem valid for the skeptic. The skeptic may balk at the idea of any “leap of faith,” or “suspension of reason.” However, it has been demonstrated that this in not an irrational jump of logic. The early Church was composed of those who had legitimate reasons to believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and is who he claimed to be. The same reasons they had, we have today through the historical account of the New Testament. Once one sees that Jesus truly is the Son of God, everything changes.

    (emphasis in italics added).

    Our argument is an abductive one, and that the inference to the best explanation for the history presented in the NT documents is that Jesus of Nazareth is the Risen Son of God, and Sovereign LORD and King.

    As I have said elsewhere in this thread, the Bible was meant to be read and understood and applied in the context of a relationship with Jesus Christ through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. For those who do not yet have that relationship, but whose hearts are willing to follow the evidence to the Person of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God will help you to understand what He caused to be written so that you will see the grace and truth available in Jesus Christ.

    What atheists consistently do not understand is that faith as Christians understand it and live it is much more than just an intellectual undertaking. It also involves a relationship with a Person, a relationship grounded in trust and obedience and love for Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

    The role of evidence and reasoned thought is to establish reasonable grounds for taking the next step of following through to accepting and acting on the implications of the NT explanation of Who Jesus is and what His death and resurrection mean for us. The Spirit of God is the Person Who opens the mind and heart to this truth, as well as convicts the conscience of the need for a Saviour, the need for mercy from a Holy and Sovereign God, and to accept the offer of grace and forgiveness made possible by Jesus Christ. That is God’s job, not ours.

    This is the way Christianity works – this is the way God redeems people and gives them His life and brings us into His family as adopted children, here, in Time, and ultimately, in Eternity.

  299. Victoria,

    This is from the link you provided:

    “[The Bible] contains hundreds of specific prophecies that have been fulfilled with complete accuracy….”

    – I do indeed believe specific prophecy would be very strong evidence of the supernatural or God. So can you point out say the 10 or so most specific prophecies, that we are confident were not made after the fact (i.e. we are sure the writings are from before the event and that no scribal insertions were made). [If you don’t have time for 10, just start with one].

    Otherwise, it is good to know where you stand. Thank you for taking the time. And believe it or not, I DO understand that for Christians this is much more than an intellectual undertaking. While I think there is nothing intrinsically wrong about that, it is part of where my skepticism lies. As I said before, there may be an inherent danger when beliefs come first, and we find reasons later to support that belief. I’m sure you are familiar with confirmation bias.

    Again, this does not mean you are wrong. But you may be in danger of following a path that often leads one to be wrong.

    Still, you put a lot of emphasis before about how I am being too skeptical and I fully admit that this a possibility and a pitfall to be avoided. I have to start somewhere though, so if you could answer for me the question (that SteveK declined to look in to) about the encounter in the link I provided, I think we would be getting to the heart of the matter.

    (By the way, one more chapter to go in “Surprised by Joy” for me. Then I will start Cold Case Christianity).

  300. @Bill
    You would be interested in this thread as well, as it parallels the discussion we are having here.

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/11/undesigned-coincidences-series-tim-mcgrew-apologetics-315/#comment-75493

    1. I have neither the time, the inclination, nor the obligation to run down every rabbit trail that you point to. This is not a UFO web site, so the discussion of the merits of that link you posted is tangential to the OP or Biblical historicity at best. That UFO story is what it is – if it can stand up to a rigorous historical scrutiny or is exposed as a clever and amusing fiction, or just a case of mistaken observations – it stands or falls on its own merits. If you want to debate that issue, this is not the place for it – go to a UFO website and do that there. As far as I am concerned, this UFO rabbit trail ends here and now.

    2. For predictive prophecy, I am not going to do all of the heavy lifting here for you, either. You can do the research just as easily as anyone else, if you are interested.
    (a) Jesus Christ fulfilled specific OT prophecies concerning the Messiah: Psalm 22 describes the crucifixion, Psalm 16 refers to His resurrection, Isaiah 53 refers to His role as the suffering servant, Daniel 9 refers to the arrival of the Anointed One and that He would be killed, Micah 5:2 refers to the Messiah’s birth place in Bethlehem. That’s just some of them. I expect that you will take the word of the hyper-skeptics and claim the the NT authors just made up events in the life of Jesus to correspond to OT Messianic prophecies.

    (b)The entire history of the nation of Israel – their going into exile, their return from exile, their rejection of the Messiah at His first coming, their subsequent scattering to the ends of the earth, and their eventual return to their homeland after centuries of being outcast are all foretold in the OT.
    Of course, I will expect you to take the skeptical line which assumes that any prophetic statements in the OT which correspond to historical events that have come to pass are evidence that the prophecy was written after the fact, or that scribes inserted them into the text after the fact. That’s how the hyper-skeptical critics determine the dates for books, if they can get away with it.

    https://bible.org/topics/402/Prophecy/Revelation
    http://carm.org/prophecy-bible-and-jesus
    https://bible.org/article/messianic-prophecies

    (c) Daniel’s prophecies
    Of particular interest is Daniel 2, where he interprets the king’s dream.

    https://bible.org/seriespage/here-eternity-daniel-112-45
    https://bible.org/seriespage/daniel%E2%80%99s-prayer-and-gabriel%E2%80%99s-proclamation-daniel-91-27

    Of course, the skeptics use Daniel’s prophecies to date the book to sometime in the 2nd century BC, because it refers to the Greek empire.
    However, the Dead Sea Scrolls make that skeptical date untenable
    http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2012/07/31/New-Light-on-the-Book-of-Daniel-from-the-Dead-Sea-Scrolls.aspx#.Up9bLcReZ8E

  301. That UFO story is what it is – if it can stand up to a rigorous historical scrutiny or is exposed as a clever and amusing fiction, or just a case of mistaken observations – it stands or falls on its own merits.

    Why do skeptics like Bill and Ray think these stories tell us *anything* about the accuracy and reliability of the Bible as history? Ray in particular is obsessed with this line of fallacious reasoning. It boggles the mind.

    And if the reply from either of them is “there is no relationship between these stories and the Bible” then why do you bother bringing these up in the middle of our discussions?

  302. SteveK,

    I think if you had been following the conversation between me and Victoria a little more closely, it would probably be clear why this is relevant. We were talking about the nature of reliable and sufficient evidence. This is Victoria from #341:

    “What evidence could people in the 1st century have provided that would be sufficient to show us in the 21st century that they knew what they were talking about?”

    There was much more to it in a similar line. But she is rightly asking the question about sufficient evidence. Previously in #334, when referring to the reliability of the non-verifiable stories in the Bible, she said “Our reasoning here is a matter of trust and benefit of the doubt, just like secular historians would use.”

    Additionally, she has told me many times that I am simply too skeptical. I demand too much evidence. And I FULLY admit that this is a very real possibility (e.g. 9-11 truthers). So I wonder how I would know if I am being unreasonably skeptical?

    We talked previously about the kind of evidence for the resurrection we have – 1st hand account from 3 authors, 2nd hand for maybe a dozen or so more, then unconfirmable accounts for many, many more.

    I want to know if by believing in the Bible accounts I am not just engaging in a kind of wishful thinking. I have said all along that I suspect that what WE (all humans) do is often ignore evidence that runs counter to what we want to believe, and seek out what we think supports our beliefs. That is, beliefs come first, then we seek the reasons to support them. I have stated that this would not necessarily make us wrong, but it often does.

    So I put fourth a historical claim with astounding significance (if true) that is built upon similar evidence to the Resurrection accounts. I wanted to see how people would react to this. To see that you both simply chose to ignore it I suspect may be telling…

  303. Bill,

    To see that you both simply chose to ignore it I suspect may be telling…

    It tells you that we aren’t interested in discussing UFO events. Don’t read too much into that.

  304. Maybe I am reading too much into it. But right now it looks like when you’re presented with similar evidence for an extraordinary claim (that you think others are being overly skeptical for seeking better evidence) that it doesn’t even warrant a paragraph of discussion.

    The whole reason for this series of threads was to stand up against Peter Boghossian’s claim by showing how Christians DO have good evidence… that their faith IS based on solid foundation. Yet what you yourselves put fourth as evidence you see as obviously good enough. But when it comes to a claim that you don’t want to believe (UFO’s) it doesn’t even warrant a conversation.

    The discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life visiting the earth would be BY FAR the most profound scientific discovery ever. If true, as far as I can see, the only more significant fact in the world would be the veracity of Jesus as Son of God (if true).

    Maybe I’m just not too bright, but right now it’s hard not to see that as a very selective application of your own criteria – “Well, we meant those historical criteria are good for OUR claims about the resurrection… we didn’t mean they should be used EVERYWHERE.”

  305. No, that’s not what we are saying….
    If you look at the link I provided in #353 you would see that your last assertion is patently false.

    Look, I have a day job. I have a life that extends beyond work and blogging. I am not a historian, an investigative journalist, or whatever. I have no expertise in UFO-ology. I don’t have the time to spend trying to answer every question you might pose here. My views on UFO’s are not on trial here. I don’t have the time to dig deeper into whether or not the report stands up to historical scrutiny or not, as interesting as the answer might be!

    Goodness knows I’ve spent more than enough time and effort to answer your questions about Christianity. I’ve given you more than enough material to look at for quite a while.

  306. Bill,

    But when it comes to a claim that you don’t want to believe (UFO’s) it doesn’t even warrant a conversation.

    Never said if I believed or not. You’re reading into things.

    Here’s why I don’t want to discuss it: because my time is limited (as is yours) and because I have only a mild interest in the subject and because I’d much rather discuss God on a blog like this.

    Want to discuss running and various training strategies? I’m game, but it makes no sense to do that here. Victoria too, probably. 😉

    Maybe I’m just not too bright, but right now it’s hard not to see that as a very selective application of your own criteria – “Well, we meant those historical criteria are good for OUR claims about the resurrection… we didn’t mean they should be used EVERYWHERE.”

    It’s not hard to see that it means what I said above. But there’s one more glaring problem.

    It’s also not hard to see your fallacious thinking. You think that the way I handle the details of the UFO story will somehow tell you if I handled the details of the Biblical story well, or not so well. Not true at all because the details for each account are different and therefore must be considered individually. I could very well think clearly on one account and be very biased on the other.

    The only way for anyone to know if I handled the details of the Biblical story well is for me to tell you how I handled the details of the Biblical story. Got it?

  307. Look, I hear that you guys are busy. But by your own criteria (especially Victoria) the UFO account is as well documented the the Resurrection accounts. And I think you both agree that the discovery would be of incredible significance.

    Of course your views about UFO’s are not on trial here. What I am trying to get a picture of is IF you apply your criteria of evidence equally. And that is something I can NOT tell by how you handle the details of the Bible.

    (And SteveK, I perfectly agree with what you say about being biased. That was rather my point).

    I think an honest look at this encounter would lead you to conclude that the evidence for it is on a par with evidence for the Resurrection. Since the point of this series of threads was to show that Thinking Christians are led by evidence to their beliefs, one would at least want to know how they handle roughly equivalent evidence.

    You may not agree, but I do not see how you are being honest with yourselves.

    I don’t have much more to say on this at this point, so I’m willing to drop it. It’s not my intention to make anyone angry and I’m starting to sense that is where this is going. I do have a lot to read and I will start the book tomorrow.

    Best wishes everyone

  308. Bill,

    I think an honest look at this encounter would lead you to conclude that the evidence for it is on a par with evidence for the Resurrection.

    By “on par” I suppose you mean both had several eyewitnesses, both had repeated events, both were public and both had true believers.

    So what do the similarities tell us about the truth? Not much.

    Maybe you’re not convinced. Maybe you’d like the courts to decide all future murder cases involving two men, one gun, two shots and three eyewitnesses on the basis of one prior case where the evidence was “on par” and “roughly equivalent”?

    I hope not.

    Enjoy Cold Case Christianity.

  309. @Bill
    Since you are making the claim that this UFO report is on par with the NT support for the Resurrection conclusion, how about you do some heavy lifting for a change and provide the detailed point-by-point comparison?

  310. @Victoria,
    I was going to ask the same question but didn’t. “On par” is a vague term.

    @Bill,
    Why not just make up a hypothetical story so you can get to the point you wish to make – which is we are obviously biased and deluded. Let me help you out so we can get straight to the deriding comments.

    Imagine this: that the preponderance of evidence points toward the fact that some event in history occurred according to the various evidences and multitudes of testimony by apparently reputable people, including experts from a variety of fields – except, according to one expert, if the event indeed occurred it would have to apparently violate natural physical laws (gasp!).

    My conclusion is that I side with everything above: the “various evidences and multitudes of testimony by apparently reputable people, including experts from a variety of fields” show that the event happened and wasn’t a natural event (which is what the last expert is saying).

  311. Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus – A New Historiographical Approach has a very good discussion of historical methodologies, much more in-depth than what I’ve linked to thus far, and more than I want to reproduce here.

  312. I left the phrase “on par” in there to be intentionally vague; of course these comparisons will never be exact. I gave you this case because it is one of the best documented UFO cases we know of. But fair enough – Here is a very brief description (It’s not really point by point):

    Keep in mind this was 1959 Papua New Guinea. The event was witnessed by an Anglican priest (a missionary from Australia) and 38 eye-witnesses. 3 of those were teachers and 2 were medical technicians. Gill himself was very well respected by his peers and considered skeptical of such things.

    They wrote down and drew and agreed upon what they saw (though many saw it independently). It occurred on two separate nights to them, but there we dozens of additional sightings around that area both before and after. The sightings lasted for hours. They reported the angle in the sky at about 30 degrees. The craft appeared in different locations each time.

    They made very specific descriptions and reported that the ship made a kind of communication with them (the humanoids waved back at them as they waved, they responded to their flashlight). He also heard a loud explosion like sound on one occasion [sonic boom? – my insertion].

    People went back on several occasions to confirm the sightings – multiple people attested to the truth of the story years later.

    Of course people have come up with counter ideas, but nothing has ever stood the test of plausibility or time. Father Gill’s life was changed by this event and he remained convinced until his death. There is no reason to think these folks were lying or hallucinating.

    If you want more detail, you can look at the link or you can see Father Gill on this short video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJr-Ss5DnFU

    Victoria has repeatedly asked me, “What kind of evidence should we expect?” And I think this is a good and fair question. That is why I want to see how we (all of us) deal with roughly equal evidence for an unrelated case. She says that I should only expect the kind of evidence that would be available to the people of the time. OK, that is what we have for this case – eyewitnesses and their recorded writings and drawings. We have later reports from the witnesses that they did indeed see what was reported.

    So I ask, what should we make of this?

    (SteveK, I think you misunderstand me. I am NOT trying to say that you are obviously deluded. Biased? Maybe. I don’t really know, but that is what I’m trying to get at. I have repeatedly said that I am OK with the concept of violating natural laws. I just think that these kinds of violations need to be judged on a case-to-case basis and that we should have appropriate evidence. Again, I am not trying to make you angry. We all get that way sometimes and maybe a little breather is in order.)

  313. What should we make of it?

    On the assumption that the accounts really stand up to historical scrutiny (and this is a BIG IF, since we really haven’t done the real historical work here), then we should conclude that they did indeed have experiences of ‘aerial anomalies’. The question to ask is how plausible would it be that they should produce such a report if they had not experienced something unusual.

    Please note that I am NOT saying that the accounts actually hold up to scrutiny. I’m assuming that they do for argument’s sake.

    The link you gave us has this to say

    The figures inside looked perfectly human. In fact, I thought they were human, that if we got them to land we would find the pilots to be ordinary earthmen in military uniforms and we would have dinner with them…

    … The Boianai ‘visitants’ still stand as remarkable evidence for an impressive aerial anomaly and are regarded as some of the best entity reports on record. At the time of writing I spoke again with Gill. He still remains puzzled by what he saw and was pleased that an authority like Dr Hynek had independently interviewed him and some of the other witnesses and travelled to the site. While he accepts that the sightings remain unexplained, he questioned my characterisation of some attempts to explain them as ‘silly’. He felt that these ‘explanations’ were serious attempts to bring understanding to the events. I think that attitude encap- sulate the integrity of Gill and the reality of the affair.

    so it does not appear that these eyewitnesses were explicitly claiming that the cause of the experience was due to alien beings. If someone wanted to use this to ‘prove’ that aliens from other worlds are visiting us, this account does not provide sufficient justification for that conclusion.

    The NT accounts of Jesus’ being alive after having been dead and buried, on the other hand, provide us with sufficient detail to conclude that the apostles were certain of His death:

    Mark 15:42-47: Mark reports that when Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body, Pilate confirmed that Jesus was dead with the centurion in charge of the execution.

    John 19:31-37 reports that Pilate was asked by the Jewish authorities to not allow the crucified victims to remain on their crosses after sunset, because of the Sabbath. The soldiers broke the legs of the two crucified with Jesus, but not Jesus’ legs, because He was already dead. The centurion confirmed this by stabbing Jesus in the side. Given that Pilate was surprised when Joseph asked him for the body, I’d surmise Joseph came to Pilate before the centurion came back with his confirmation report that everyone was dead, and just after the Jewish authorities asked to have the victims hastened along into the afterlife.

    When Jesus appeared to His disciples alive again on Sunday and on, the Gospels report that they could touch Him, and that He ate with them (John 20:1-21:24 and Luke 24:1-43 specifically).

    The conclusion that Jesus was supernaturally resurrected is the inference to the best explanation, as well as the theological conclusion that the apostles arrived at as they pondered the significance of these events in the light of what Jesus told them before He was crucified and again after He was resurrected.

    https://bible.org/article/historical-veracity-resurrection-narratives
    http://tombell93.com/2013/11/16/was-jesus-resurrected-from-the-dead/?utm_source=buffer&utm_campaign=Buffer&utm_content=buffer57593&utm_medium=twitter

    That is a big difference in detail – the UFO account provides no detail that could be used to confirm or deny an alien being encounter, but the NT provides the very details to confirm that Jesus had conquered death.

    Are you satisfied now??

    What you do with the implications of that conclusion is up to you, Bill.

  314. As to the supernatural details recorded in the NT, try this experiment.
    Remove them from the record – what would be left for the apostles to construct Christianity from?

    Bill
    You still have NOT answered my questions about what you consider to be ’embellishments to the NT’, what is historical, and the rationale for those conclusions. You have yet to provide any such details.

    When I asked you what details do the NT documents provide to support their conclusions, you did not answer those questions. Instead, you diverted to the UFO question. I ended up answering the questions for you.

    We’ve answered your questions, even the rabbit trails. It is your turn now to answer ours.

  315. Well, it seems that by your standards, we should AT LEAST conclude that they experienced a craft that could make a sound like that of a sonic boom. That the craft was saucer shaped and had a blue light that shone upwards. That the craft was capable of sudden motion and that there were several others. It was also capable of hovering at about 100 meters for hours.

    He says they looked human, but it’s not like he was able to do a medical examination. How much can really be made out at 100 meters?

    Maybe nothing is conclusive. But wouldn’t you say this is good evidence for at least some kind of humanoids that were capable of much better craft navigation then we have even now? The shape of the craft is so consistent with other UFO’s reported. Given no other plausible explanations I think we would need to admit that this points to extraterrestrials, don’t you? We certainly can’t discount the evidence because he wasn’t close enough to really see the humanoids.

    I will get to your questions. But it’s going to take some time.

    Thanks for considering mine.

  316. Oh, for my #365, I forgot to add to
    Please note that I am NOT saying that the accounts actually hold up to scrutiny. I’m assuming that they do for argument’s sake.

    that I just have not had the opportunity to do the in-depth searching that would lead me to conclude that the accounts are reliable. I’m not being hyper-skeptical.

    I did find this article
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/no-simple-flight-of-fancy/story-e6frg6z6-1225815076210

    a newspaper story marking the 50th anniversary of the incident.

  317. Enough of this rabbit trail, OK?
    Regardless of the explanation for that encounter, it is orthogonal to the question of the NT documents’ reliability and interpretation.
    I’m done with it.

  318. Though Victoria is done with it, I want to add this additional thought.

    Where reports of unusual experiences are made, one of the most important next steps is to consider those reports in the light of available theoretical frameworks. I know a couple whose lottery ticket numbers exactly matched those that were broadcast on TV one night. That was a most unusual experience, but the theoretical framework underpinning the buying and selling of lottery tickets supported the likelihood that their unusual experience was genuiine. They were winners.

    The theoretical framework supporting alien experiences was, and remains, very thin, which must seriously dampen any confidence that the experience was genuinely an encounter with aliens. That’s the whole point of your bringing it up, I think, Bill. It’s not to assess the reports; it’s to consider just how unlikely an alien encounter would have been, no matter how it was experienced or reported, in light of everything else we know about reality.

    The theoretical framework supporting a miracle-working God, however, was strong in NT times, and with subsequent thought has grown even stronger. (That’s the fruit of what we now study, in retrospect, as historical theology, and organize as systematic theology.) That’s not without competition, of course, for there is an alternate view of reality that says that this God is not real and miracles are impossible.

    But that competing framework must take into account the fact that miracle stories really do make sense in a broad system of documentation, philosophy, historical evidences, experience, and thought. That broad system is not the one the anti-theist subscribes to, but it’s a well-studied, well-developed, and coherent one nonetheless.

    This very large and crucial factor makes miracle accounts in the Bible and in contemporary times completely different from accounts of alien encounters.

  319. Tom,

    A while ago you gave some of the best advice I think I’ve ever heard a Christian give, namely that the Christian story must appear very strange to outsiders (it does) and that Christians need to keep that in mind. I think you have demonstrated something very telling with your quickness to discount an alien encounter. You rightly say, “hey, this is outside of our experience.” I further suspect that you want more and stronger evidence if you were to take this seriously.

    I don’t know if you have been following the conversation but Victoria has stated several times that too many skeptics have an anti-supernatural bias. Since people are usually not aware of their own biases, I have to accept that she may be right about them and me. On the other hand, I think there is also the possibility that people have a PRO-supernatural bias – that is, they really want to believe this and will try to fit everything to what they want to believe while unreasonably discounting counter-evidence. In fact, this may be the default position of the human mind. One of the criticisms of believers is that they want people to accept supernaturalism for their own set of beliefs, but are quick to dismiss them in others. Of course there is the secondary issue for people like me – I am neither quick to believe in, nor entirely dismissive of the supernatural; I simply want sufficient evidence.

    This is why I presented the UFO encounter. It’s not really even an inherently supernatural question. But in a similar manner the claim is extraordinary. Currently, it is difficult for me to distinguish the kinds of dismissals that you three (Victoria, SteveK, and Tom) have shown from what might be labeled either bias or anti-supernaturalism (in this case “anti-extraterrestrialism”) in the case of the encounter. The first ways this claim was dealt with was to simply say “I’m not even going to bother looking into this. It’s not even worth my time considering.” Later it was to say “well, they saw something, but it’s not conclusive, so I’m done thinking about it.” (Does this sound at all like the attitudes you get from some atheists?)

    This “in light of everything else we know about reality” claim should now not appear so unusual to anyone. It is simply another way of saying “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” But we don’t really have evidence for miracles in NT times other than “someone said so.” And I don’t think you ever really answered the question of why God doesn’t provide more compelling evidence or why this evidence was so forthcoming in NT times, but no longer is. I know you may feel that you have personally witnessed miracles (e.g. the lottery tickets, the healing of a loved one after being prayed for), but to an outsider these often appear rather similar to those stories we here about seeing extraterrestrial space craft. When we look into the details, most are explainable by more “worldly” events. Still, a few remain unexplained.

    Why don’t we just take the alien visitation and abduction stories at face value, even when the stories are from credible witnesses (yes, there are many more but I fear posting them at risk of being banned from this site. 😉 )? It’s because we know other things happen… people hallucinate, people are sometimes deluded, people are simply mistaken about what they saw; they exaggerate what happened. So we demand better evidence when the claims become less believable at face value.

    I have repeatedly stated that we should accept miracles as a possibility and that they need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. But when you say that “miracle stories really do make sense in a broad system of documentation, philosophy, historical evidences, experience, and thought” I have to add, “maybe, but hallucinations, exaggeration, mistakes, and delusions also make sense.” As we learn more about the nature of reality, we learn that eyewitness is not as reliable as once thought:
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-the-eyes-have-it
    2000 Years ago, we can be sure that people thought eyewitness testimony was the best they had (it probably was). Now given what we know, it would be foolish to proceed without caution.

    This does not mean I discount the Resurrection accounts out-of-hand. In fact, I think it is the strongest evidence for the Christian God. That is why I am focusing on it. I think if anything is going to convince me, it is this. So I will go back to what I said… I need time – weeks – to look at all of the links, books, articles, and so on. I’m trying to drop the discussion for now (I have a lot of my work that I have been neglecting because of this) and come back to it later, but everyone keeps adding things and asking questions – so I feel obligated to respond.

  320. Bill, good questions.

    Why don’t we just take the alien visitation and abduction stories at face value, even when the stories are from credible witnesses (yes, there are many more but I fear posting them at risk of being banned from this site. 😉 )? It’s because we know other things happen… people hallucinate, people are sometimes deluded, people are simply mistaken about what they saw; they exaggerate what happened. So we demand better evidence when the claims become less believable at face value.

    Sure. But there are other reasons besides, especially that we have no good theoretical foundation for believing in alien encounters. That, by the way, is one thing that makes it an extraordinary claim. In the system of Christian theism, miracles are not extraordinary in the same sense, for we take it that it is ordinary for God to express himself within his creation in that way from time to time.

    (Miracles are of course extraordinary in another sense, i.e., rarely occurring; see here for reasons why this should not be regarded as surprising, on Christian theism.)

    So in the Christian worldview miracles are ordinary in a certain sense. In contrast to that, there is no well-developed, thoroughly explored discipline or worldview in which alien encounters are ordinary in any sense at all. Thus alien encounter reports really deserves to be treated differently than Christian miracle reports. Alien reports don’t fit anything we have any good reason to believe.

    SciAm’s article on eyewitnesses is good. But I suggest you read it again, and ask yourself, “in what circumstances were these eyewitness reports shown to be unreliable? How closely do those circumstances parallel those of miracle reports?” Ask yourself the same question also with respect to the implantation of false memories.

    And just as a general rule for life, whenever you read an article whose headline begins, “Science Tells Us…” put yourself on guard: the rest of the headline is probably something the actual researchers would want to shoot the editor for saying. It happens over and over and over and over again …

    Science does not tell us “not to rely on eyewitness accounts.” Science (scientists, actually) tells us to exercise caution in relying on eyewitness accounts for certain purposes in certain circumstances. I can just about guarantee you that if you read the original research paper, you’ll find that they actually rely on eyewitnesses to conduct their research!

    There are limitations to this research (there always are!) which the researchers would certainly want the reader to keep in mind. Psychologically, though (since we’re on the topic), headlines tend to undermine the reader’s sense of nuance, caution, and limits to what the science actually claims.

    Life lesson: Never draw a conclusion from a science article headline in the popular press. Never. Always read the article. Oh, and bear in mind that the researcher might cringe at that, too. This isn’t science’s fault; it’s about journalism.

  321. Bill LaBarre, I don’t know what risk of banning you have in mind. I don’t mind disagreement, that’s for sure. If you took us off on endless rabbit trails, that could conceivably violate the discussion policies. Otherwise you’re not doing anything unwelcome here.

  322. Bill,

    Why don’t we just take the alien visitation and abduction stories at face value, even when the stories are from credible witnesses

    I can do that, with one exception. The experts tell us that there is no advanced life on nearby planets, which means the aliens would have to come from very distant planets, which means they would die before they got here (or give birth to a new generation), etc. etc. Add to that the question of motive for taking such an arduous journey. Aliens have motives too, right?

    So I’m siding with the experts in saying that the story might be exactly as reported, but the alien from another planet isn’t realistic. Supernatural being? Perhaps.

    If you haven’t noticed yet, I pretty much side with the expert consensus when it comes to these stories. If there is a situation where I don’t do that I’ll give you a reason as to why.

  323. Tom,

    I agree with you about the caution in these general science articles (as well as peer-reviewed ones). I am a scientist doing research after all, so I am well too aware of this. I could have given you many more articles that support this concept (of the unreliability of eye-witness testimony). I just put out that one to keep the general topic in mind, “The Invisible Gorilla” is a good book on this topic.

    SteveK,

    I feel the same way about expert consensus as you. Good to know we are on common ground for many things.

  324. That’s helpful, Bill, but the question remains: in what circumstances should we trust eyewitness testimony, and in what circumstances should we not?

    I can give you solid eyewitness testimony that there is a green and white coffee mug on the desk in front of me right now, with the words “MSU Spartans” written on it.

    I have nothing but my eyes to inform me of that. Assuming that I have no reason to lie, do you doubt that there is such a coffee mug on the desk in front of me? Why or why not? And what does this tell you about the reliability of eyewitness testimony? Should we never trust it?

  325. Bill,
    I told you how I’d handle the UFO stories, so now the resurrection.

    The expert consensus for the minimal facts surrounding the resurrection is pretty solid, and just like I did with the UFO stories I side with them on this.

    Speaking of facts, there are no experts that would credibly say miracles can’t occur as a matter of fact, and the one’s that do I can ignore as someone speaking out of turn.

    So the NT events apparently unfolded just as they are reported. The facts fit the reports. That’s what the experts tell us. Alternate theories that attempt to explain the same minimal facts don’t make sense of those same facts. They either drop some of those facts or modify them.

  326. [tangent]

    By way of of an example of bad journalism check out yesterdays offering from the BBC – http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/25226469

    In a fluff article that consists of a few lines it’s impressive how they manage to get the title to say something different to the quote. Perhaps the Devil is in the details but on the face of it I think there is a libellous disconnect. It makes you wonder how inaccurate headlines are (and reporting in general) when it comes to complex issues.

    I’m an occasional reader of/ listener to getreligion.org for this very reason.

    [/tangent]

  327. @Bill
    In the light of our tangential discussion of the UFO report, what has happened to your requirement that “extra-ordinary claims require extra-ordinary evidence”?

    Aside: It was not that I was dismissing out-of-hand the UFO story; on the contrary, I agree with what SteveK said in his #375.
    I didn’t want this to turn into a discussion of UFOology and get diverted from the stated purpose of this blog, which is Christianity. After all, you came in here asking us about that; the last thing I expected was to have to deal with UFO reports. This is also what SteveK explained to you in his #358. Perhaps I should have posted a hearty “AMEN” to his reply to you so that you’d know what page I was on 🙂

  328. Maybe I need to restate this with every post I make:

    I AM NOT SAYING THAT MIRACLES CAN’T OCCUR AS A MATTER OF FACT.

    I’ll look at the Habermas video later this weekend. I’m a slow reader, and I’m really crunched for time right now.

    Maybe others don’t feel this way, but personally, with the bombardment of links to multiple page articles, books and so on that people here tend to post, it makes me want to skip over them. There is often so much non-sense scattered throughout them that it would take so much time to straighten out what is good and what is bad in them. I would rather have a direct conversation with someone to know what they think. It’s much more convincing and gets to the heart of the matter.

    Tom,

    I have NOT said we should we should never trust eye-witness testimony. I will state this again (as I have repeatedly) – I want sufficient evidence for the claim being made and I believe extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    This is what I struggle with for the claims of Christianity. I see the extraordinary claims. The fact that somebody said so, is not (yet) in my mind extraordinary evidence. By I am trying to keep a prudently open mind.

    [Tangent]

    SteveK,

    By the way, it’s fairly easy to overcome your intergalactic travel problems – suspended animation.

  329. We post links like that because they are by scholars who have done the heavy lifting, who know much more about the subject matter than I do, because they are professionally trained, and have the credentials to speak authoritatively on the matters at hand.

    It’s really no different than writing a paper or an article, where good scholarly practice is to cite references. Much better than making bare assertions with no supporting documentation.

  330. Victoria,

    Just saw your 380.

    What do you mean what’s happened to my requirement? I put the account out there to see how you (and other Christians who make similar claims) deal with the evidence. I want to know the answer to the question – Do I have an anti-supernatural bias? Or do believers tend to have a pro-supernatural bias that is only directed towards their own preferred belief?

    You laid out your requirement for evidence (multiple eye-witness testimony from reliable sources, etc.) so I wanted to see if you were equally fair towards similar claims. You eventually took an honest look, but you haven’t told me what you have concluded (i.e. what did they see). This and other statements most of you have made leaves me with the impression (albeit inconclusive) that you are only interested in giving the benefit of the doubt when it comes to your particular claim.

    The subject at hand is NOT about the veracity of the UFO account. It’s about how we deal with evidence.

    EDIT: @382
    I understand that. I’m just saying that for me personally it’s overwhelming.

  331. Bill,
    Add to my comment #378, the solid, rational, realistic philosophical arguments (yes, they exist) that conclude there *must* be some thing – some being – that exists beyond the natural world as we see and experience it.

    When you do that, the conclusion that the NT events occurred as they are reported becomes highly justified. The details fit at every point.

    At the same time, these rational philosophical arguments allow you to dismiss quite easily events that claim there are amazing beings-among-beings (Thor, Venus, Triton, Poseidon) living among us for the same reason you might dismiss alien beings from another planet. These other beings have to work within the framework of natural physical “laws”.

  332. Bill,

    By the way, it’s fairly easy to overcome your intergalactic travel problems – suspended animation.

    Now overcome the motive problem, the muscle atrophy problem, the food/nutrition problem for such a long journey and size of the ship, the fueling problem, the machinery spare parts problem for such a long journey and size of the ship. I’m sure there are more problems if I bothered to look them up. I’m sure you could *imagine* a solution to all of these, but that’s what we are trying to avoid.

  333. Google “nearest galaxy to milky way”.

    Assuming Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy supports life, and super advanced intelligent life at that, then it would take them approximately 25,000 light years to reach us. This assumes that they can travel at this speed.

    I should write a novella about aliens detecting that earth was likely suitable for life and embarking on a mission some 25, 000 years ago and due to arrive in our system (for reasons as yet unknown) in 2020.

    I would think that suspended animation is out of the question over such a long period of time, so perhaps a purely machine intelligence is more believable or some sort conciousness transfer from computer into bodies grown just before contact. Now where to place Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Obama in this most excellent of stories?

  334. But this is more complicated than you realize, because I believe if they’re traveling at very near light speed, their perceived duration of the voyage would be much shorter than 25,000 years. A photon in a vacuum has a life span of zero from its own perspective; that is, it arrives at its destination precisely at the moment it left its source, again, from its own perspective. (There’s a physicist or two around here who will confirm or correct that. I’d rather ask a photon, but they don’t hang around long enough.)

    But then there’s still the problem still of the energy required to achieve speeds like that…

  335. Tom,
    Mass increases with speed so they couldn’t travel anywhere close to light speed. The fuel requirements would be (get ready for it)… astronomical.

  336. @Bill re your #383
    You could have saved us a whole lot of aggravation if you had simply said so when you posed the UFO question in the first place! 🙂

    I was willing to go down your rabbit trail when you made it clear what your intent was.

    As to my conclusions
    1. I accept that the details of the account could stand up to historical scrutiny, based on our criteria. The details describe what they saw and heard, and they recorded as much, along with their impressions of the incident. In the absence of compelling evidence that would invalidate some or all of the correspondence with our historical criteria, I will ‘give the benefit of the doubt’ and accept that they saw what they saw.
    2. I accept that alien visitation is a possible explanation for this, and perhaps other similar accounts. Our current scientific theoretical framework for understanding living systems does not exclude the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe – the current observational evidence says otherwise, but that may change. Thus, we have no real solid way of determining the probability of intelligent humanoids from another planet who are technologically advanced enough for interstellar travel, and who would actually take the time to visit us (maybe they have a Prime Directive to not interfere with us or make themselves known to us because we are not a Warp-capable civilization 🙂 ).
    3. From a Christian perspective, there is still another possible explanation for UFO phenomena – namely that it is the result of demonic deception – supernatural entities bent on deceiving people. I say this because (it’s been a while) I’ve read of people who claim to have been in communication with ‘aliens’, and report that these beings gave them a theology that contradicts Christianity. That is the ultimate purpose of Satan and his minions. Again, I don’t know how probable that explanation is, either.
    4. Thus, I will set aside this report as an interesting factoid, and nothing more. I will certainly not alter my beliefs or worldview because of it (there is nothing compelling to suggest that I should, and may in fact be something much more sinister than we think).

  337. Bill

    This and other statements most of you have made leaves me with the impression (albeit inconclusive) that you are only interested in giving the benefit of the doubt when it comes to your particular claim.

    Have you not been reading our comments? Regarding both the NT reports and the UFO reports I give the benefit of the doubt to the expert consensus, and Victoria agrees. Tom likely agrees too. You agree, I think. What’s the problem here?

  338. Bill,
    If you’re short on time and want to hear one of the main points of the Habermas video, watch from 50-54 min (4 min total). You can later go back and hear the details leading up to that.

  339. Habermas at 1:13:00 to 1:19:00 answers a question that I had, and maybe some of you have. I’ll paraphrase the question this way,

    “How does someone like skeptic Bart Ehrman reconcile the fact that he accepts the resurrection as historical fact per all the scholarship, yet he isn’t a Christian?”

    I won’t give the answer here, so take a look. 🙂

  340. SteveK,

    I did get to watch the video at the points you mentioned. I won’t have time to go into what I thought the problems were until later this weekend (similarly with “Cold Case Christianity” which I just started).

    You said, “Have you not been reading our comments? Regarding both the NT reports and the UFO reports I give the benefit of the doubt to the expert consensus, and Victoria agrees. Tom likely agrees too. You agree, I think. What’s the problem here?”

    Part of what you may not have followed was when I was talking to Victoria about a spiritual experience that I myself had. That was part of what preceded your comment.

    As for the UFO account, maybe I haven’t followed this line of reasoning. What are you calling the “expert consensus” in this case. I was looking for an answer to the question “What did they see?” Was it an alien craft? A military craft? A hallucination?

    Victoria doesn’t really seem to say. She says it may have an alien craft, it may have been demons, or it was “what they saw” but doesn’t say what it was. You seem to say it was “exactly as reported” but don’t seem to say what they saw. So what did they see?

  341. Bill,

    What are you calling the “expert consensus” in this case.

    I wasn’t speaking about this specific case. In #375 your comment as about “stories”, which is a broad term so I was speaking about a general rule that I follow for these kind of things.

    I was looking for an answer to the question “What did they see?” Was it an alien craft? A military craft? A hallucination?

    I still haven’t read all the details – and don’t plan to. Regardless, I would still stand by the expert consensus regarding aliens from another plant. It’s ruled out. The experts would probably also rule out a repeated mass hallucination where all eyewitnesses hallucinate about the same details.

    Those rulings may make it very difficult to hold all the other credible pieces of the event together so that it all makes sense. It might make the most sense if you allow some aspects of the report involve supernatural beings – but that would be a last resort.

    It’s a puzzle with a lot of credible pieces (some less than others) and you do your best to put the pieces together so that a clear picture forms.

    You seem to say it was “exactly as reported” but don’t seem to say what they saw.

    Again, I was making a general statement about these “stories”.

  342. Hey everyone, thanks for your comments. I know I said I would be able to get to things this weekend, but now that seems unlikely (maybe my New Year’s resolution should be to actually be bored for a few minutes in 2014).

    Let me tell you all that I am closer to believing Christian claims then I ever have been in my life. You’ve given me a lot to think about, and a lot more to read. 😉 You may have a convert yet. But I’m sure you understand that I still have a lot of doubt and questions.

    I think many of you are getting a picture of what it means to be a non-believer. When presented with rather equal historical evidence in the UFO case that you have for the Resurrection, you don’t even want to take the time to look into it. Why not?

    Could it be that you have an anti-extraterrestrial bias that is similar to what you accuse others of having when it comes to the supernatural? All of those “problems” you’ve given for intergalactic travel can be overcome with the kind of problem solving techniques believers engage in about their “Problems with God” (e.g. The problem of evil, the hiddenness of God, etc.). To an outsider, you seem to be doing the same thing.

    I think I understand why, but I am having a hard time articulating it… we tend to look at historical evidence in a way where we sort of shrug our shoulders and say “good enough for now.” But when the claims become more unbelievable, we want better evidence.

    For example, Victoria looked at the UFO evidence and said, “OK, they saw what they saw” (what ever it was). She wasn’t there so she is not certain what they saw. What she is not willing to do is say “This is evidence for extraterrestrials.” Why? That would require a lot more evidence since so much of what she knows would have to be overturned and rethought. (How often do you all tell non-believers that they will have to overturn so much of what they thought if there is a God?) So Victoria is willing to suspend judgement and is saying that in the absence of more evidence, she just doesn’t know, and it’s not even worthy of investigation.

    So what about historical claims? Do I KNOW for example, that a Civil War occurred in the US about 150 years ago? Sure. That’s about as historically certain as anything. Do I know that the Battle of Gettysburg occurred in the fields where the current National Park is? Well, it seems probably, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find historians off by quite a bit.

    I just started the book, but in Cold Case Christianity, the author doesn’t seem to acknowledge just how often cold case detectives are wrong. Yes, they are usually right, but it gets worse and worse the less data we have and the farther we are from the events. And they ALL believe they are led by evidence. And they all believe they can drop their biases (like the judges advice to the jurors) and just will themselves to be non-biased.

    TANGENT: wonder if you are racially biased?
    https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

    That is the problem with historical data for me, especially ancient history. Do I KNOW that a man named Plato really lived in ancient Greece? No, I don’t. It’s just something I kind of go along with because there is little significance if it is true or not. I say “On historical grounds, it’s probably true.” But historical grounds vary. We say things in ancient history are on better historical ground with very little evidence NOT because it makes the truth more probable, but because it is just the best we have. It’s almost the opposite of scientific knowledge.

    So even if I gave you all the benefit of the doubt and say that the Biblical testimonies are correct in every verifiable fact, even if I agree that the witnesses to the Resurrection did indeed see something and that what they saw is best accounted for on historical grounds by a Resurrection, that still does not make it true.

    Why? Because I can imagine many other plausible scenarios… They COULD have exaggerated. They COULD have had common hallucinations. Do I know this happened? Of course not. Do I have evidence that this happened? It’s not very good. But COULD these have happened? Sure.

    Maybe the data does fit better with your explanation. But that still doesn’t mean it happened. And this is the way I view all historical information, and I think all of us do in some way. I look at these miracle claims, ghost claims, UFO’s, astrological predictions, etc. and shrug my shoulders and say “Sure, it could have happened. But I don’t really know, and I want more evidence for the less believable stuff.”

    So let me ask you guys (for lack of a better gender neutral pronoun), what does it mean to have an anti-supernatural bias? Does one need to be 50/50 – equally open at all times and in each circumstance? How about equally open to the concept of a supernatural overall, that is 50/50 regarding the totality of claims? When I was young (teens and 20’s) I was probably an 90% believer in the supernatural… it seemed almost certain. But as time went on and I looked more and more at the claims, you begin to find that other things better account for the stories. We may not even know what they are, but the stories are usually discovered to just be wrong (e.g. most UFO claims).

    I feel like I am a “supernatural agnostic” in the sense that I am willing to see the evidence and look at the claims seriously (that’s why I’m here now). In fact, I would LOVE for it to be true. Think of all the exciting areas of research and study it would open up! I would certainly drop my life’s work in environmental science and take up the study of the supernatural if I felt I could do more than chase a dead-end. It would be the most fascinating thing in life.

    On the flip-side, how do we know that people don’t have a PRO-supernatural bias? How do we know that we have not evolved a tendency to make us believe these kinds of things are real when they just are not? Would early Christians have been skeptical about the Resurrection claims and actually checked the stories of “the 500” or did they just believe what they were told?

    Well, just some thoughts. Take your time responding as I won’t have much time for the next 2+ weeks.

    Cheers

  343. Hi everyone,

    Sorry I’ve been away for so long. I wanted to let you know that I finished “Cold Case Christianity.” I thought it was a good book and I found both a lot of good points in it, as well as things I thought were mistakes. Maybe I can get into those later.

    But I’m at the point right now where I have decided to re-look at the central claims of Christianity with as open a mind as I can. I really want to be open to the possibility that I have had the anti-supernatural bias that everyone on here (and in the book) speak so much about. I have decided to just focus on the historical evidence for the Resurrection – the most solid piece of evidence for Christianity – and forget about any other issues I have for now

    I think these last few weeks have really opened my eyes to how bad 90% of atheist’s arguments are. I see now more than ever that most of them disbelieve for the reasons I have seen in most Christians that believe – it’s purely emotional. This website is a great eye-opener. As long as I have been talking to Christians in my life, not one has ever said “OK, you’re an evidence-based thinker, so let’s look at the evidence.” I’m sure you all know that this is a pretty rare attitude among believers. But it’s great to see. I am serious about potentially being converted. But I don’t just want to believe – I want to know.

    So if anyone is still out there (especially Tom and Victoria), I would love to here what you think about my questions in post #398.

    I also want to ask/discuss some additional things…
    The repeated phrase here has been about how “anti-supernatural bias” has prevented scholars from seeing the truth of the Resurrection. I am wondering if anyone here has any evidence (psychological study or something) that points towards that. Earlier I pointed out that IF that were indeed true, then it does not explain the myriad scholars from religions like Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and especially Buddhism (whose adherents could still maintain their Buddhists practices while accepting Christianity) and even Agnostics who have looked at the evidence and are not convinced. It would seem that these people are clearly not anti-supernatural. So what is preventing them? Am I just not aware of the proportions that have been convinced?

    I’m sure most of you are aware that many social scientists think right now that if anything is stronger in us, it is our tendency to believe in things that are likely just not there:
    http://www.michaelshermer.com/2009/06/agenticity/

    Well, I hope to here back from you all. I have also been talking to a Presbyterian Minister friend of mine. He is thrilled about my new-found search and has sent another half dozen books.

    Take care everyone
    Bill

  344. Thanks for the update, Bill. I will be praying for you, now and in the days to come.

    My admonishment to you would be to approach this with as much humility as you can, and go slowly.

    Know that you are in good hands – His hands – and that if one day you convert, that you will be in very good company with a lot of great thinkers throughout history. A few lesser known examples of modern converts, some very reluctant, include:

    The former Raving Atheist, now Raving Theist
    Kirsten Powers of Fox News
    Leah Libresco
    Jennifer Fulwiler

  345. Thanks Tom and SteveK

    What’s up with the Raving Atheist? Doesn’t look like there have been any posts for 5 years.

  346. @Bill

    What SteveK said in his #401 goes ditto for me.
    I’d just add – “Don’t demand proof from God before you will believe – humbly ask Him for His help to follow the evidence to the Person it points to.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family 🙂

  347. Victoria,

    Good to hear from you. I think that is fair advice. I will try it as best I can, even knowing that my mind almost works the opposite way. I am just an evidence-based thinker, so I am trying to set other doubts aside while I just look at the evidence for the Resurrection. I think what started my re-thinking this was when you asked my what evidence I should expect from such an event.

    Honestly, it’s tough to answer, because on the one hand you are right. The evidence does look like what we should expect if this did indeed happen the way it has been told. In the past I have typically said that I wanted the kind of extraordinary evidence we should expect from a God. But of course that does not allow me to treat the Resurrection fairly.

    So, I am off on a new quest.

    At the very least you all in this blog have helped me rethink my position to see Christianity in a new light. I hope intelligent Christians can keep in mind that a lot of the reason people like me have so easily dismissed Christian claims, is because of the multitudes of people like Young-Earth Creationists who are so quick to talk so confidently about things they clearly don’t understand. Also, there are the great numbers that say that they believe because this idea brings them so much comfort. So few say “look at the evidence.”

    Well, I know people are busy with the holidays and the whole “Duck Dynasty” issue. But I would love to hear what people think of my questions in 398 and 399.

    Take care

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