Atheists’ Skepticism as Better Explanation?

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This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Atheists' Explanations


Series: Atheists' Explanations

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There are many ironies in the list of “better explanations” atheists graciously provided in response to a recent blog post here, but perhaps none greater than atheists’ skepticism:

I figure if there’s an atheist worldview it might be the same as the scientific worldview, which means questioning things and looking for physical evidence, unlike the religious worldview which means trusting and submitting to authority.

There’s a sentiment in there that’s echoed in comments like,

Skepticism is a better method for examining the claims people make about the nature of reality…. Skepticism and empiricism are so important…. Faith implies belief without reasoning.

Now, here’s the irony: Christianity isn’t what they’ve described it to be, and it’s hard to tell whether they’ve done the investigation to check their facts. I’m not sure skepticism is really their approach to knowledge after all. I think it’s may be something more in the neighborhood of unquestioning disbelief toward positive religious claims and unquestioning belief of negative assessments of religion.

I’m sure that sounds harsh, and I need to temper it by owning up to a harsh reality on our own side. Contemporary Western Christianity has an unhealthy fear of questions. We need more unanswered ones. Our pastors seldom, if ever, end a sermon without wrapping it up neatly, all questions answered, and in this they are not following the example of Jesus Christ. There is even an authoritarian strain within Christianity that tries to command assent and squash doubt by forbidding questions. This is counterproductive. Research out of Fuller Seminary shows that youth whose questions are denied by parents or church leaders are far more likely to leave the faith than students whose questions are encouraged.

Western churches have done a lot right over the past several decades, and we’ve done many things wrong. I wonder whether this might be our greatest error of all: not following the teaching example of Christ, who left a lot of questions unanswered–until his listeners were fully ready for the answers. (See the link above for more on that.)

I think this probably accounts for why Christian fiction and drama seem so canned so much of the time. Our chief performance and literary art form—the sermon—has to have everything tied up and tidy in 20 to 45 minutes, and heaven help the pastor who leaves his congregation wondering about anything he said when it’s over. That’s our model. I think it’s been a bad influence on Christian creativity.

So I think it’s entirely possible that our atheist commenters acquired their views of Christianity through direct, personal experience. Some or all of them may have spent an unhealthy amount of time in unhealthy, unquestioning church environments. If they’ve got a wrong impression of Christianity, it could be because Christians have given them that wrong impression.

I had a fascinating lunchtime talk once with a tenured philosophy professor at a major university, an atheist. I asked him why he was an atheist. I expected a philosophical answer, and he had one or two, but I’ll never forget the first words out of his mouth: “I was in a church youth group when I was thirteen, and I wasn’t too impressed with the people there….” Experiences color interpretations. Christians, let’s quit shutting down questions and start exploring them instead!

For my part, I’m going to ask another question of my own here: Skeptics, could you tell us where it was that you acquired your impression of the church as being unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical, overly trusting? Because I’m here to tell you that what you’re describing is an aberration with respect to Christianity as presented in the Bible, which is completely unlike that. Let’s start a conversation on that, during which we Christians here will also have the opportunity to explain why your opinion, Christianity isn’t skeptical enough isn’t skeptical enough.

[I’ll have more to say later about other topics alluded to in the quotes above. For now, my focus is on skeptics’ skepticism.]
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634 Responses to “ Atheists’ Skepticism as Better Explanation? ”

  1. I’d say 85% of my four years in a Catholic high school fit the “unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical, overly trusting” model quite well. I did have one religion teacher who went over some interesting ground, and was an engaging speaker. But ultimately I found his answers unconvincing.

  2. I´ve never been to a church and virtually all interactions I had with (practicing) Christians were online. And I´ve seen everything from “unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical and overly trusting” to “open-minded and skeptical”. Depends on the forum and the topic being discussed.

  3. “For my part, I’m going to ask another question of my own here: Skeptics, could you tell us where it was that you acquired your impression of the church as being unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical, overly trusting?”

    From the churches themselves; or rather, from the members and leaders of those churches. I don’t think this necessarily applies to all churches, though, and it definitely doesn’t apply to every individual religious person. And I don’t think the reason they’re like this is because they’re religious. In fact, I feel the same way about many atheist organizations.

  4. One idea that I think is important and would like for our atheist friends to consider is that faith development is a process, an intellectual and spiritual development that every Christian goes through that involves “stages” and turning points along the way. Not all Christians are at the same “stage” or have the same level of understanding or “maturity” (sometimes age related, sometimes not) in their faith and understanding of/about God and Christianity. We are on a faith journey and different ones of us are at different points on our own journey. I know that my own faith and knowledge of Christianity, and my relationship with God, has grown and deepened greatly in the last few years, in part as a result of my interactions with atheists, in my personal life and on the internet, but also from reading theologians that were previously unknown to me. My faith journey has also been greatly enriched by my friendships with my Jewish friends, including reviewing a book by a Rabbi friend of mine, who is a remarkable scholar and theologian. My concept of Christian apologetics has also changed to an understanding of apologetics as sharing my Christian experience and “witnessing” rather than “defending” Christianity against its critics and attackers.

    So, my request to my atheist interlocutors is this: Don’t judge Christians or Christianity unless and until you really have an understanding of what mature, committed, knowledgeable Christians know and believe. Avoid “sound bite” Christianity. And realize, please, that Christianity is both intellectual and spiritual. We really do want to address your questions, but only if they are asked without mockery or ridicule, which to me, are signs of a different “agenda” than truly and sincerely exploring each other’s knowledge and beliefs. JB

  5. Ridicule and mockery is what I have encountered from many “internet atheists.” They define faith in a way that is foreign to what we Christians truly believe. I am thankful as a Christian that I have not seen as much of that rhetoric here, though some still like to frame or paint the picture that way. In my street evangelism here on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, I have had some tremendous philosophical engagements over competing worldviews (not everyone is drunk on Bourbon Street). While there are some I meet that are less than cordial. others are fascinated to encounter a “street preacher” who can engage them on an intellectual level not seen or heard in many churches. Those who are on the other side I hope will admit that what Tom writes is of the “informed” Christian rather than the ignorant. We want to engage, we want to dialogue, that is what we are commissioned to do, and we do it out of a sincere love and concern for others. No matter how “corny” or “mushy” that may sound.

  6. Tom Gilson’s point (I think) is that not all Christians are unquestioningly trusting of Christian doctrine, since some Christians engage in apologetics or debate, and they come away with the conviction that Christian doctrine is indeed true.

    On the other hand, I still call it “trusting” because you’re sticking with the same basic thing you started with. Sure, your understanding of God has become deeper and richer, but you are still firmly within the Christian tradition. You’re growing into a deeper and richer understanding of what the Bible says. In other words, you are always trusting the Bible.

    If something the Bible says seems erroneous, you must read more carefully and pray about it and study various interpretations until you understand the deeper truth of that Bible verse. You never consider that the Bible verse might be flat out wrong.

    Or do you? What do you say – are some things in the Bible just blatant errors?

  7. Great question, John, and very perceptive.

    I would say that the possibility that a Bible verse might be wrong is something I would weigh against my evidence for what the Bible is, where it came from, and so on. I have strong reason to believe the Bible is generally true, which leads me to believe that the Bible is true in its specifics as well.

    It’s like when I’ve seen electrical anomalies; for example, once I observed a normal-appearing extension cord having a large drop in voltage from one end to the other, with no current running through it besides what the DVM required for testing. I could question whether that cord was an exception to Ohm’s law, or I could say, “Hmmm… there must be something going on here that I can’t quite see.”

    (My friend and I just laughed about it, saying, “Just because it’s physically impossible doesn’t mean it won’t happen.” And yes, we knew we were joking.)

    I’m inclined to trust the general principle and to see exceptions as points of incomplete information or confused understanding. If the verse is really important for me to understand, then yes, I’ll chase it down until I understand it or I decide it’s really out of my reach. (There are some of those in both Testaments.) If it’s not important I’ll file it under, “I don’t know what that means” and move on. My belief that the Bible is entirely true does not entail that it’s entirely understandable in every detail.

  8. OK, so I’ll wait a bit more for your follow up on the Problem of Evil and the Problem of the Hidden God – two answers you thought they belonged to the best and/or most interesting. Sorry, I’m not going to wade through dozens of boring and irrelevant stuff just to find out if you already wrote something about it.
    As for your question:

    “could you tell us where it was that you acquired your impression of the church as being unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical, overly trusting?”
    Article of faith and dogma. Here I don’t have in mind the negative meaning of the word, but the original religious one.
    Plus the tendency of almost all believers to reject science in one respect or another. Every single one who uses the Cosmological Argument does for instance; Modern Physics rejects causality (more precise: causality is an extreme form of probabilism). You do it here:

    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2010/04/whats-wrong-and-whats-right-with-intelligent-design-re-posted/

    “It’s a theory of Mysterious Intelligence.”
    It isn’t. Theories must be testable. This is just made up stuff – sucked out of your big fat thumb, as we Dutch rudely like to say.

    Now you can counter that unconditionally accepting science is also a form of unskeptical dogma or something like that. You would be wrong. The scientific method is mainly about weeding out errors, about improving theories by means of collecting empirical data. It recognizes it could be wrong, but just assumes that it’s correct until shown otherwise.
    And that applies to the scientific method itself as well. If anyone develops another method that produces results as reliable or more reliable than the scientific method every scientist will pay close attention.
    You’re invited. I have noticed though that christians have tried for almost 2000 years and utterly failed. That specifically includes your “mysterious intelligence”. It doesn’t increase in any way our understanding of the 13,7 billions of years journey from the Big Bang to your blog. It doesn’t make predictions. It doesn’t explain any observed fact or experiment. It does nothing. You don’t have an independent (ie non-deductive) way to determine if it’s correct or incorrect.

  9. ” I have strong reason to believe the Bible is generally true, which leads me to believe that the Bible is true in its specifics as well. ”

    Then how do you explain things like the very strong countervailing evidence for things like the Exodus account, a la Israel Finkelstien and others?

  10. “an intellectual and spiritual development that every Christian goes through that involves “stages” and turning points along the way.”

    Well, one stage for me was dropping it.

  11. Pofarmer,

    Yes, you are describing what sometimes happens in a faith journey. I highly recommend the work of Professor James W. Fowler (1981). Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Professor Fowler found in his research that since movement through the stages of faith development entails a continual reassessment of a person’s faith, sometimes the result is leaving a faith community or religious affiliation. But this reassessment usually results in an affirmation of the tenets and beliefs of one’s faith, while discarding beliefs that are found to be untrue, and a deepening of commitment to and understanding of one’s faith and community of faith. This is what is meant by turning points.

  12. Hey Jenna, Kodie will be delighted to notice that you have learned exactly zero from Fowler getting debunked.

    “I highly recommend the work of Professor James W. Fowler”
    It is remains and remains an unhealthy crossover of theology and psychology, resulting in meaningless pseudoscience.

    “Professor Fowler found in his research”
    Fowler’s research consisted of plagiarizing Jean Piaget, adding some theology and sucking the rest out of his big fat thumb. He didn’t do any empirical research.
    You’re a fine example of a christian incapable of learning anything new because of intellectual limits.

  13. Tom.

    Thank you for setting and enforcing these limits. I enjoy contributing to this blog for Thinking Christians precisely because you don’t allow this kind of senseless and insulting snark.

  14. Jenna, this comment
    “So, my request to my atheist interlocutors is this: Don’t judge Christians or Christianity unless and until you really have an understanding of what mature, committed, knowledgeable Christians know and believe.”

    It seems that christianity as whole can’t figure out who these knowledgeable people are so how do you expect atheists to figure it out? Your brand of christianity or one of the many thousands of others? As I am very familiar with the LCMS Lutheran church, they won’t even pray alongside other denominations lest they be seen to approve of other denominations. They are convinced they are the only mature, committed, knowledgeable christians out there. I’m sure many others are the same.

  15. MNb, you seem to be implying that Modern Physics’s view that causality is an extreme form of probabilism should lead us to reject the principle of causation as used in the Cosmological Argument.

    Could you elaborate, please? To wit:

    Which cosmological argument? (There are at least three prominent ones.)

    How does probabilism defeat causation rather than nuance our understanding of it?

    How does the use of the cosmological argument make anyone “anti-science”? (Could it be that a person could be pro-science in multiple ways while taking a different view on this issue? Would that still be anti-science?)

    And …

    Oh, I had more questions but these should be enough.

  16. Now, here’s the irony: Christianity isn’t what they’ve described it to be, and it’s hard to tell whether they’ve done the investigation to check their facts. I’m not sure skepticism is really their approach to knowledge after all.

    I am not sure you have done enough investigation as to what skepticism is.

    Skepticism is not an approach to knowledge, it is an approach to claimed knowledge, it is an approach to what should be required to accept a proposition as true, it is an approach to belief. That is an important point. If someone claims they own a cat I have no reason to really question it. We know people own cats and so making that claim is not outlandish. I am willing to take someone at their word that they own a cat. Even if they turned out to be dishonest or delusional my acceptance of that claim really doesn’t make me vulnerable to any degree.

    Now if someone claims they own a dragon I am going to need a ton of corroborating evidence to convince me that they do indeed own a dragon. I would pretty much need to see said dragon and examine it in detail.

    Christianity’s claims are akin to the dragon claim…and yet Christianity seems to expect people like myself to accept its claims based on nothing more than the testimony of other people…people who have long passed, who cannot be cross examined, many of which we don’t even know who they were. That isn’t enough to accept its preternatural claims.

    Christianity is not equipped to handle proper skeptical questions.

    I have investigated Christianity as thoroughly as should be necessary to come to a conclusion about its claims. I have attended Christian schools, spoken with Christian authorities from multiple Christian traditions and faiths, many of which had impressive Christian credentials, training and education. The funny thing is most all of them didn’t even agree with each other. Christianity can’t even get its own story straight as is shown by the more than 40,000 different denominations…and that number is getting bigger not smaller.

  17. Regarding key words in the heading: atheists, scepticism and better explanation:

    First up, atheism is just a denial of a claim. I don’t think of myself as an atheist as a descriptive label. I am just a normal guy. I don’t think the default is any particular religion. I am just not any particular religion. And if someone makes a claim, I weigh it up with evidence and reasoning.

    Secondly, we all have some degree of scepticism. We accept some claims, we reject others. And we all accept a degree of methodological naturalism or else we would be in a mire of incredulity. If normal guys like me are not “struck in the heart” or “touched” by God apparently the way other theists are (in many cases), evidence and reasoning is the only basis we can discuss such things. But one thing science teaches us, the more we really want something to be true, the more sceptical we should be of it.

    Finally, we need to agree what is meant by “better explanation”. I do sense a strong need in people to have explanations for why there is a world, what is ultimate morality, where are we going, etc. People are eager for accounts that give explanatory closure. The scientific mindset is the opposite of this and welcomes uncertainty, paradox and open-endedness. A “better explanation” is one that is more likely to give an accurate rending of of reality warts and all, as opposed to one that promises explanatory closure but has little evidence of truth. The better our rendering of reality, the better we can make judgements on what to do about it.

    In my experience with theism mainly the evangelical variety and street spruikers, the last point is the antithesis of what I see as the usual Christian marketing approach.

  18. Pardon me, Otto, but if skepticism is an approach to “claimed knowledge… to what should be required to accept a proposition as true… to belief,” then it is an approach to knowledge.

    You say that Christianity’s claims are worthy of skepticism because there’s no basis for them in reality, on your view. My post was about how skeptics have made claims about Christianity that have no basis in reality. If the principle is to be skeptical about claims that have no basis in reality, why wouldn’t your skepticism extend there as well?

    Your last paragraph seems to indicate that you’ve done the necessary investigation. I’d be very interested to have a real conversation with you about this.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about 40,000 denominations. There are only a few broad groupings of doctrinal differences (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, with subgroups broadly identifiable as Wesleyan, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist, and eclectic).

    All of these churches believe basically the same thing about the Bible and Jesus Christ, especially his resurrection, and our need for rescue from our sins through Jesus Christ. We have our differences, to be sure, and yet there is still a straight story that unites Christians, written in the historic creeds.

    If you want to worry about anything, worry about the churches that are rejecting the realities of historic Christianity while retaining the name.

  19. Tom,
    I would totally agree that the diversity in doctrine is not nearly as extreme as the “40,000 denominations” superficially imply.
    But “all of these churches believe basically the same thing about the Bible…” seems to be an exaggeration as well. Sola scriptura vs. Catholic tradition for example can hardly be called “basically the same” belief about the Bible or can they?

  20. Close. Not exact. Actually Catholic belief I the inspiration of scripture is probably the same as Protestant belief. The difference is not in our beliefs about the Bible but our beliefs about the role of tradition in its interpretation.

    But hey, if you want to nitpick over something, this is as good a way to do it as any other.

  21. Tom,

    Skeptics, could you tell us where it was that you acquired your impression of the church as being unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical, overly trusting?

    My impression of the church’s approach to knowledge of reality is fundamentally summarized in John 20:29:

    Jesus said unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are those that have not seen and yet have believed.

    I do not feel this approach to knowledge is ever correct. Rather, in my view, the Son of God should have blessed Thomas more than those who had not seen because Thomas questioned hearsay and demanded more evidence.

    The church follows the Bible’s lead and teaches that doubt is morally less desirable while faith is morally desirable. If this were reversed, I would no longer find religion unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical, or overly trusting

  22. Skeptics, could you tell us where it was that you acquired your impression of the church as being unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical, overly trusting?

    Sure, if you accept the writings of people 2000 years ago in your holy book as enough evidence that supernatural events happened (miracles) and yet you dismiss the same types of claims from other religious traditions that contradict yours you are insufficiently skeptical and overly trusting of your particular religion.

    My post was about how skeptics have made claims about Christianity that have no basis in reality.

    Your post essentially consisted of an argument akin to “no we don’t”.

    Some or all of them may have spent an unhealthy amount of time in unhealthy, unquestioning church environments. If they’ve got a wrong impression of Christianity, it could be because Christians have given them that wrong impression.

    First I am willing to bet that many of those unhealthy church environments would themselves state your brand of Christianity is unhealthy and wrong. My point is I have no reason to think any “Christianity” is correct.

    Please, fill me in on what the right impression is and then I will explain why it is not a skeptical position.

    All of these churches believe basically the same thing about the Bible and Jesus Christ, especially his resurrection, and our need for rescue from our sins through Jesus Christ.

    And they don’t agree on some very important issues, what is required for salvation for instance.

    If you want to worry about anything, worry about the churches that are rejecting the realities of historic Christianity while retaining the name.

    Why would I worry about that? I think they are just as wrong as you are. That is an internal dispute, but what it points to is the lack of a proper foundation for Christian belief. If you had a proper foundation there is no reason for people within the fold to come to those conclusions.

  23. “All of these churches believe basically the same thing about the Bible and Jesus Christ, especially his resurrection, and our need for rescue from our sins through Jesus Christ. ”
    Which is related to the Fall of Adam and Eve and of course to the story of the Great Flood, whether understood literally or metaphorically. So this is the christian explanation of the Problem of Evil – a long, multiparted and complicated story, based on zero evidence and zero arguments.
    The atheist explanation consists of only four words and thus is obviously better.
    Thanks for confirming.

  24. Mnb, your condescending contempt is contributing nothing. If you want to continue posting here, add something to the conversation. Re-read the discussion policies. I don’t usually enforce them on the first blatant violation, but if it continues I do.

  25. “For my part, I’m going to ask another question of my own here: Skeptics, could you tell us where it was that you acquired your impression of the church as being unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical, overly trusting?”

    I wouldn’t confine it to “the church”, as if it’s just a problem with the institution. A lack of skepticism is a problem inherent to Christianity and all religion.

    It’s not that Christians won’t ask questions, it’s that for certain questions, they are trying to reach particular answers. They can collect evidence, or go through a chain of reasoning, but the process of trying to critically assess that evidence or that reasoning seems to be absent; once the desired answer is reached, the questioning ends.

    Skepticism is more than just having a generally consistent claim and finding some evidence that you think supports it. You have to critically assess that claim, and the reasoning and evidence behind it, with the eyes of an outsider. Does that reasoning has any gaps in it, or might there be any problems with your axioms, or does the evidence say as much as you might want it to say? Is there an alternative theory that explains the evidence equally well? Is there a way to test your claim against the claims of others? Do other people making incompatible claims seem to have equal reasoning, or similarly good evidence?

    I’ve seen plenty of Christians who can provide some superficially plausible reasoning, and spin some evidence in their favour. I’ve also seen Muslims, Mormons, and believers in telepathy, ghosts, aliens abductions and conspiracy theories, who can all do the same. I’ve seen none who have critically assessed their own reasoning before an opponent starts taking it apart.

    Maybe this is an “aberration” as you claim. If so, why is the idea of the “crisis of faith” or “struggle with doubt” so prevalent? If you’re really being skeptical, then doubt should not be a “crisis” or a “struggle”. Doubt isn’t something to try and struggle through, in the hope that you’ll keep on believing the same things. It is a reason to reassess your beliefs, and probably discard some of them.

  26. We must follow the evidence, and reason, and so on.

    Reasoning has some troubling problems and insufficiencies in the philosophical naturalist’s framework, and, that too weighs in as evidence, as reasoning, and so on. Reason itself may be evidence. Or illusion. Or something else. I often doubt my friends, in fact, I often doubt all sorts of things. Our intellectual and existential eyes lead us.

    Many Atheist’s claim of No-God on the world outside of their own Self, their claim of No-God on Reality rather than on their own or on Man’s “ability to know” is a worldview – a claim upon reality – which comes by thoughtful reflection, reasoning, and experiencing life, and so on. While I disagree with their conclusions, the reasons I do are, as is theirs, thoughtful, reflective, and weighed. Comment #28’s stereotype of reason’s absence in those who one disagrees with is thus very incoherent to the way I see most of these decisions being arrived at. “….the process of trying to critically assess that evidence or that reasoning seems to be absent…”

    Well, I guess we’ve seen Theists make the same unfortunate and sophomoric “you’re unthinking” or “your reasoning seems to be absent” sort of moves in these kinds of threads.

    Oh well.

    That says more about the person making the comment than about those the comment is aimed at.

    C.S. Lewis offered this on Faith, Doubt, and Reason:

    “In one sense Faith means simply Belief – accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of Christianity. That is fairly simple. But what does puzzle people – at least it used to puzzle me – is the fact that Christians regard faith in this sense as a virtue, I used to ask how on earth it can be a virtue- what is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements? Obviously, I used to say, a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or bad.

    Well, I think I still take that view. But what I did not see then- and a good many people do not see still- was this. I was assuming that if the human mind once accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it turns up. In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so.

    For example, my reason is perfectly convinced by good evidence that anesthetics do not smother me and that properly trained surgeons do not start operating until I am unconscious. But that does not alter the fact that when they have me down on the table and clap their horrible mask over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me. In other words, I lose my faith in anesthetics. It is not reason that is taking away my faith: on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.

    When you think of it you will see lots of instances of this. A man knows, on perfectly good evidence, that a pretty girl of his acquaintance is a liar and cannot keep a secret and ought not to be trusted; but when he finds himself with her his mind loses its faith in that bit of knowledge and he starts thinking, “Perhaps she’ll be different this time,” and once more makes a fool of himself and tells her something he ought not to have told her. His senses and emotions have destroyed his faith in what he really knows to be true.

    Or take a boy learning to swim. His reason knows perfectly well that an unsupported human body will not necessarily sink in water: he has seen dozens of people float and swim. But the whole question is whether he will be able to go on believing this when the instructor takes away his hand and leaves him unsupported in the water-or whether he will suddenly cease to believe it and get in a fright and go down.

    Now just the same thing happens about Christianity. I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in. Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”

    The problem for the pure skeptic is that he must claim – to be pure – a complete absence of presupposition.

    Which is impossible.

    Even when it comes to sight itself.

    This is why Philosophical Naturalism and Theism are equally pure in their skepticism.

  27. Adam,

    Partially right but you miss the societal perspective I offered in #17 on the ‘Marriage Equality” thread.

  28. scbrownlhrm:

    I deliberately avoided using phrases like “you’re unthinking” or “your reasoning seems to be absent”, because I don’t think those statements are generally true about Christians. Plenty of Christians are generally reasonable and use reason in determining their religious opinions.

    The same is true of many Muslims, or Mormons. The same is even true of many conspiracy theorists, and it was true of the pre-Socratic philosophers, and Aristotle. These people are not idiots, they are perfectly capable of using reason, and they all do use reason, and yet they come to different and completely incompatible conclusions.

    There is a difference between using reason and assessing that reasoning critically. If you look at Muslim or Mormon apologetics, you’ll see them citing evidence and creating reasoned arguments in favour of their positions. To them, their reasoning seems convincing, but as an outsider, you’ll be able to find holes in their reasoning that they haven’t even looked for. Their reasoning hasn’t been informed by a process of constantly asking what an opponent would make of it; and so they unwittingly make assumptions which seem sensible to them but which you, as a Christian, would dispute. It’s not that they’re unintelligent, or unthinking; they’ve just failed to look at some part of their own argument with a critical, outsider’s perspective.

    As an outsider to Christianity, I see Christian apologists doing the same thing. There’s always some point in their reasoning process where they make an assumption favourable to their own position, possibly without even realising it, because that assumption seems perfectly sensible to them. And while using those assumptions, they reason perfectly well, and then they have a bunch of arguments that seem solid to them, and they wonder what these atheists are going on about when they say that Christianity isn’t skeptical. But they haven’t put themselves in the outsider’s shoes, and tried to poke holes in their own arguments, or thought about what kind of test they could do to see if their position is right or wrong.

    As for the C S Lewis quote: Christians, to me, seems more like the example he gives of a man too eager to trust an attractive woman. He holds certain ideas about that woman’s personality, and when her actions are incompatible with those ideas, he rationalises them away; he tries to think of a good reason for her doing whatever she did, or if he can’t think of one, assumes she must have one anyway, because he knows what a good and intelligent and loving person she is. Meanwhile the outsider goes with the simpler explanation, which is that she is not the kind of person he thought she was.

    The Christian approach to the problem of evil or the problem of divine hiddenness is similar. Horrific suffering exists in the world, and we see several seemingly malevolent actions attributed to God in the Bible, and it’s not easy to reconcile with the Christian belief in God’s omnipotence and benevolence. The simplest answer is that God is not the kind of person you thought he was; and maybe he doesn’t exist at all.

    This process of rationalisation might seem more reasonable to me if God was like the anaesthetist, or the swimming instructor, from Lewis’ other examples. But if you start doubting that your anaesthetist exists, or if you see people around you drowning in the pool while the swimming instructor does not intervene, then something is badly wrong. At that point, it probably is time to start reassessing your opinions of them.

  29. Sure, if you accept the writings of people 2000 years ago in your holy book as enough evidence that supernatural events happened (miracles) and yet you dismiss the same types of claims from other religious traditions that contradict yours you are insufficiently skeptical and overly trusting of your particular religion.

    Otto,

    There are a couple of major differences here. First, the rest of the world’s major religious texts don’t claim to be historical accounts of their founders. They are, in general, “do this” texts. In other words, if you do what they say in the books you’ll be saved. They don’t claim to be historically accurate. They claim to be theologically accurate and people can disagree about theology. The Bible is the historical record of Christ’s life and teachings. Its purpose is entirely different than other religious texts.

    Second, as a historical record, it is the best attested ancient text in world history. Its historicity is multiple orders of magnitude better than any other ancient text in existence. Historians regularly accept that they have perfectly good historical records for a valid understanding of, for instance, Greek or Roman culture. Yet, the Bible is a far better source of historical knowledge, based on standard historical verifications, than what they rely on for that knowledge.

    The above is why we accept the writings of people 2000 years ago in our holy book as enough evidence that supernatural events happened (miracles) and yet tend to dismiss the same types of claims from other religious traditions. We have far better evidence.

  30. The Bible is the historical record of Christ’s life and teachings.

    No, that is the claim. There is no corroborating extra-biblical evidence that confirms anything of the sort. No contemporary writings or other evidence supports this claim. And there is a large amount of evidence that events in this ‘historical record’ did not and could not have happened. In short I do not believe the Bible is a historical record and since I don’t I view it as historicity I put it in the same category as other religious writings. Just because Christianity claims the Bible is historical does not make it so.

    Second, as a historical record, it is the best attested ancient text in world history. Its historicity is multiple orders of magnitude better than any other ancient text in existence.

    That is just ridiculous. There are nuggets in the Bible that can be confirmed to be true, the idea that because some things in the Bible can be confirmed to be accurate does not therefore confirm the outlandish accounts of the supernatural. No respected historian would ever make such an argument. On top of that many ‘historical facts’ described in the Bible can be confirmed to be completely at odds with other historical information.

  31. BillT,

    Second, as a historical record, it is the best attested ancient text in world history. Its historicity is multiple orders of magnitude better than any other ancient text in existence.

    Yet, the Bible is a far better source of historical knowledge, based on standard historical verifications, than what they rely on for that knowledge.

    here is a book that is roughly as “ancient” as the gospels are:
    http://classics.mit.edu/Caesar/civil.1.1.html
    The author was a witness to the events himself, his claims are confirmed by other contemporary witnesses (including people that are sympathetic, neutral and hostile towards him) and there is further plenty of archaeological evidence that confirms the key claims being made by the text.
    So, how much of the gospels was written by people who witnessed the events themselves? How many contemporary witnesses attest to key elements of the stories? How much archaeological evidence is available for the key elements of the stories?

    I´m not interested in arguing against the reliability (or lack thereof) of the Bible as a historical record. I´m just wondering whether this claim that you made here might be a little exaggerated (to put it at its mildest), and whether you should have been a little more skeptical when you´ve learned about this claim that the Bible allegedly is “orders of magnitude better than any other ancient text in existence”.

  32. Otto, others have already addressed this, but I want to add my own response.

    Sure, if you accept the writings of people 2000 years ago in your holy book as enough evidence that supernatural events happened (miracles) and yet you dismiss the same types of claims from other religious traditions that contradict yours you are insufficiently skeptical and overly trusting of your particular religion.

    Writings of ancient people are routinely accepted as evidence for things that they observed happening. Obviously (for we are not the mindless idiots you apparently think we are) when those observations include miracles, we want some corroboration. It’s there in abundance for the Bible.

    Other religions differ from Christianity in a very important respect: they don’t really depend on the veracity of any particular event. (Mormonism might, but its supporting evidence is completely, almost laughably absent, so I’m not too concerned about that one exception.) Other religions are true if there philosophies are true. Christianity is true if its reported events and philosophies are true.

    That means Christianity is the one major world religion that’s open to historical investigation. Among skeptical historians you’ll find a very consistent anti-supernaturalist presuppositional bias. Among historians who approach the question with an open mind, you’ll find a large number who have decided the reports are at least mostly true.

    Among people who scoff at believers for always believing things without evidence, you’ll find it universally true that they have adopted that belief in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. That particular inconsistency in your actions is really quite interesting to people like me. It ought to bother you. Do you like yourself being hypocritical that way?

  33. Andy @34,

    There are libraries and museums full of corroborating archaeological and documentary evidence!!! My goodness, the things skeptics seem not to know. The Bible is used as a source book for archaeological research. There are dozens and dozens of minor details in the book of Acts–our most historically-testable document–that have been proved to be accurate to a degree that no falsification could have matched. The most significant accounts in the Gospels pass all the standard test of multiple attestation, documentary evidence, the criterion of embarrassment, and more.

    Secular historians and believing historians alike agree that Jesus lived, preached, performed remarkable acts, and died on a cross; and that his followers at least believed they had direct interactions with him in what they considered to be resurrection appearances after his death.

    Secular and believing historians are in consensus that something remarkable happened with Saul/Paul, a life change that’s hard to explain other than through what he claims to be the reason.

    There’s more, including the incredible unlikeliness of secularists’ attempts to explain away the Gospel accounts as legend.

    We are not without evidence. That’s for sure.

  34. Otto,

    You simply are wrong about the Bible and it’s historicity. Your are wrong that it’s in the same category as other religious writings and, it seems, you’re not interested in finding out the truth about it either.

    Andy,

    You are basically in the same boat as Otto. (see Tom’s comment above.)

  35. Writings of ancient people are routinely accepted as evidence for things that they observed happening. Obviously (for we are not the mindless idiots you apparently think we are) when those observations include miracles, we want some corroboration. It’s there in abundance for the Bible.

    Writings of ancient people are not routinely accepted as evidence for confirming supernatural events they say they witnessed. That is just not true. There is not a non-christian historian who thinks the story of Jesus producing food out of thin air is historically accurate. And even Christian historians admit the the truth of that claim cannot be verified in any reasonable way. The same is true for any other miraculous claims. Historians that accept those claims do so for religious reasons using theological reason, they are not based on historical evidence. The fact that you exaggerate to that extent is telling.

    Also I take issue with you proclaiming that I think you and other Christians are an idiots. I have never said or implied such a thing in my writing here or elsewhere. I think you are wrong and that is very different. I think you are trying to not so subtly imply my opposition is personal and of an ad hominem nature so that you can more easily discount and minimize my argument. I find that dishonest. Go back and read Ophis’ posts concerning skepticism and how he/she responded to claims he/she thinks Christians are ‘stupid’. I would agree completely with that assessment of the situation.

    As far a what you consider ‘corroboration’ in the Bible…the Bible is the claim. Saying the Bible confirms the Bible is a tautology. There is not one shred of extra biblical evidence that confirms any supernatural event reported in the bible.

  36. Tom, I would be interested to learn about Secular historians that think Biblical supernatural events are reliable history. Can you list some for me?

  37. Otto,

    I already made my argument. Your rebuttals are simply uninformed and badly miss the point. All of the claims Tom and I made are verifiable. Thus, you are wrong is as much as is necessary at this point.

  38. Tom,

    There are libraries and museums full of corroborating archaeological and documentary evidence!!! My goodness, the things skeptics seem not to know.

    Believe it or not, I did know that. But it has absolutely no relevance for what I said, which was:
    “So, how much of the GOSPELS….”

    The most significant accounts in the Gospels pass all the standard test of multiple attestation, documentary evidence, the criterion of embarrassment, and more.

    All irrelevant for what I said, and completely so. I didn´t argue against their reliability (and specifically say that I´m not interested in doing this), but rather pointed out that BillT´s claim is exaggerated in an almost comically absurd way. I asked:
    “So, how much of the gospels was written by people who witnessed the events themselves? How many contemporary witnesses attest to key elements of the stories? How much archaeological evidence is available for the key elements of the stories? ”
    There are ancient texts describing events that were written by people that actually witnessed the events themselves, that are multiply attested by people who also witnessed the events themselves, and that are confirmed by boatloads of coins, statues, inscriptions, remains of old battlefields and all other kinds of archaeological evidence.
    None of that is true for the gospels, all of it is true for the book I linked to. And that is why it would be comically absurd to say that the gospels are “orders or magnitude” more historically reliable than this.

    Secular historians and believing historians alike agree that Jesus lived, preached, performed remarkable acts, and died on a cross; and that his followers at least believed they had direct interactions with him in what they considered to be resurrection appearances after his death.

    Has nothing to do with what I claimed whatsoever, see above.

  39. Otto, please read what I wrote. I was very specific about what secular historians’ consensus together with believing historians. I did not say they agreed concerning supernatural events. That’s an interpretive point that seems to be highly influenced by prior presuppositions. Otherwise, see again what I wrote in #35.

    You say,

    Also I take issue with you proclaiming that I think you and other Christians are an idiots. I have never said or implied such a thing in my writing here or elsewhere.

    I inferred that from,

    I am not sure you have done enough investigation as to what skepticism is.

    and your highly dismissive remark,

    Sure, if you accept the writings of people 2000 years ago in your holy book as enough evidence that supernatural events happened (miracles) and yet you dismiss the same types of claims from other religious traditions that contradict yours you are insufficiently skeptical and overly trusting of your particular religion.

    Really, Otto, only an idiot would pursue these matters as closely as we have among this group writing here, and just “accept” our religion’s writings while dismissing the “same type of other claims.”

    “Insufficiently skeptical” and “overly trusting” in this context seem a lot like code words for “idiotic.”

    I get it from this:

    No, that is the claim. There is no corroborating extra-biblical evidence that confirms anything of the sort. No contemporary writings or other evidence supports this claim. And there is a large amount of evidence that events in this ‘historical record’ did not and could not have happened.

    You think that with all the pursuit we’ve put into this, we’re still accepting an empty claim with no corroborating evidence. We’re just credulous. That’s not much different from idiotic.

    Corroboration in the Bible is not tautological. It’s not one document. It’s a collection of documents, written by different people from different perspectives, corroborating one another in ways that mere collaboration never would have produced. See for example the “undesigned coincidences” as explained by Tim McGrew (very briefly introduced here; explained in detail here. I suggest you look into this before you make the same uninformed error again.

  40. Otto:

    Bill,

    “You are wrong”…is not an argument.

    No, but sometimes for the uninformed it can help persuade them to go look some things up. I am confident that if you did so, you would discover that you were wrong.

  41. By the way, Otto and Andy, your request for extra-biblical corroboration: how far do you go with that? I mean, we have a lot. We really do.

    But admittedly we don’t have non-Christians affirming the truth of Christianity, as you seem to be requesting. Admittedly the only people who wrote that Jesus rose from the dead were people who had reason to think Jesus rose from the dead. I don’t find that very surprising or even very interesting. We also have no one who thought John F. Kennedy’s assassination was done by a lone gunman arguing that it was really a conspiracy instead. That’s not very interesting either; in fact, I was able to surmise that without even looking it up. It’s really unlikely we would find people making a case for something they never knew about or didn’t believe. The argument from silence there is a vapor.

    Christianity predicts that no one who disbelieves that Christ rose from the dead would affirm that Christ rose from the dead. But that’s not just Christianity; anyone would say the same thing.

    So the presence of Christians writing that he rose from the dead is interesting, and worthy of further inquiry into whether their accounts can be trusted. The absence of non-Christian sources agreeing with them, however, is fairly meaningless. What were you expecting, anyway?

  42. Further on that last paragraph. The argument from silence is unworthy of much consideration for reasons stated, and also for other reasons including the relatively few documents that have survived from that period.

    The actual documents we have, on the other hand, should be interesting enough to consider for their historical accuracy.

    But here’s what I find you doing: you’re finding the silence to be interesting (which it isn’t) and the actual documents to be uninteresting.

    That’s odd.

  43. Otto and Andy aside, I think that when people like Ehrman state that we have “copies of copies of copies…” it could be nothing more than anti-supernatural bias posturing as intellectual reasoning. (Not that Christians don’t have to defend the reliability of the Bible, in particular the NT documents.)

    My hunch – and I admit it’s nothing more than this – is that if we unearthed indisputable first-hand accounts from the disciples, and each one attesting to the death and resurrection of Jesus, it would not move some of these people one inch closer to faith in Christ. Why? Because at root we are talking about a clash of world-views.

  44. Tom,

    Andy, on your statement “none of that is true,” you’re simply misinformed. What I said there is historically uncontroversial.

    You have completely misrepresented what I wrote, I pointed this out to you, and now you are still completely misrepresenting me.
    But ok, if you want to have it that way, then by all means enlighten me:
    – How much of the *GOSPELS* (which is what I was talking about, as I have pointed out twice) was written by people that witnessed the events themselves?
    – Please show me ONE attestation to the events described in the *GOSPELS* (which is what I was talking about, as I have pointed out twice) that was written by a person who witnessed the events himself.
    – Show me the archaeological evidence that confirms the events described in the *GOSPELS* (which is what I was talking about, as I have pointed out twice) and say “yes, I think that is better than what we have for ancient text´s like Julius Caesar´s The Civil Wars” (I´d also be curious to see if you can find even just a SINGLE historian who agrees with that).

  45. Andy, #42

    I recommend two excellent books on the subject of the credibility of the Gospels.

    Simon Greenleaf (1874). The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics (republished 1995).

    J. Warner Wallace (2013) Cold-case Christianity: A homicide detective investigates the claims of the gospels.

    Professor Greenleaf points out that the burden of proof that the testimony of the Gospels is untrue falls on the “objector”, just as it does in a court of law.

  46. As usual, per Andy’s post, with the secularists and the Bible it’s always special pleading. No respectable ancient historian has any doubts that they have solid verifiable historical knowledge about the Greeks or Romans or Egyptians. Yet none of the sources they have for these cultures even approaches the historicity of the sources we have for the events of the New Testament. Instead, we get a bunch of “yeah, but, whatevers” from the nonbelievers. Historical facts are historical facts. That they relate to Christianity does not differentiate them from facts about the Greeks or Romans or Egyptians.

  47. When people like Ehrman state that we have “copies of copies of copies…”

    what he is saying is nonsense. “copies of copies of copies…” is all any ancient historian has. However, Christianity has orders of magnitude more copies and the time between the originals and the first copies available is orders of magnitude shorter. Thus, we have far superior historicity.

  48. BillT,

    As usual, per Andy’s post, with the secularists and the Bible it’s always special pleading. No respectable ancient historian has any doubts that they have solid verifiable historical knowledge about the Greeks or Romans or Egyptians. Yet none of the sources they have for these cultures even approaches the historicity of the sources we have for the events of the New Testament.

    No, it is not special pleading, I am apparently simply a complete moron. But since you are so well informed here and seem so utterly certain that the New Testament is a much better source than anything we have about the ancient romans or greek, then please enlighten a fool like me:
    – How much of the gospels was written by people that witnessed the events themselves?
    – How many attestations to the events described in the gospels are available that were written by a person who witnessed the events themselves?
    – Where are the countless pieces of archaeological evidence like coins, statues, inscriptions etc.pp. that confirm the events described in the gospels?

    There are sources about ancient Rome and Greece where the author was a witness to the events himself, and his claims are confirmed by others that also witnessed the events themselves (including people that are sympathetic, neutral and hostile towards the author) and where there is further plenty of archaeological evidence that confirms the key claims being made by the text.
    Since the New Testament is “orders of magnitute better than this”, then the answers to your questions above should be truly impressive, I´m looking forward to see them.

  49. Andy,

    You are leaving out a very important question. How much of the testimony of witnesses to the events of Jesus’ life could be checked out and verified by the actual living witnesses to the events, such that they had the opportunity to deny or correct any inaccuracies or misrepresentations? Keep in mind that these events happened within a community where people knew each other and communicated with each other, and also had a deep commitment to communicating the truth of what they witnessed and experienced.

    And why are you questioning the historical truth (testimony) of the four (not just one but four) canonical Gospels? Are you suggesting that Christians don’t have enough to “go on” to understand Jesus’ life and teachings and the miraculous events of his resurrection from the dead? If so, how do you explain over 2,000 years of Christianity and the billions of followers of Jesus Christ today and throughout history?

    If your objective is to explain why you are not a Christian, we accept your testimony, but in reality you are are speculating about why you think Christians shouldn’t be Christians, not telling us why you reject Christianity. David Marshall says it very well in his recent book (2015) “How Jesus passes the Outsider Test: The inside story.” and I paraphrase: When I tell you why I am a Christian, that is testimony. When you tell me why you think I am or why you think I should not be a Christian, that is speculation. Offering and sharing our testimony as to why we believe is apologetics.

  50. Andy,

    I think Tom covered a bunch of this in his #35, #36, #43 and #46 and Jenna’s #50 has excellent sources listed. Getting a complete and reasonable understanding of the historicity of the NT isn’t possible in a blog post. If you’re really interested you’ll inform yourself.

    Just some brief answers. Generally, I believe it’s accepted at least 3 of the 4 Gospels were written by eyewitnesses. Richard Baulkham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” is considered the seminal work on this subject. However, consider this. The seminal work on D-Day was written by a non-eyewitness 60 years after the event. Good history is good history. Eyewitness attestation, throughout the stories and people mentioned in the Gospels and NT are too numerous to count. As far as archeological findings, there have been no archeological findings that dispute the narrative of the NT and large amounts that back it up.

  51. Jenna,

    And why are you questioning the historical truth….

    I didn´t do any such thing in this thread. I didn´t even hint at it.
    If you consider the three claims:
    1. The Bible is by far the most reliable historical account we have, it is by orders of magnitute better than anything we have about ancient Rome or Greek for example.
    2. The Bible is generally reliable.
    3. The Bible is completely unreliable.

    Someone here actually made claim #1, repeatedly. I pointed out that this claim is transparently and comically absurd because we have historical accounts about ancient Rome and Greece that are supported by evidence of much, much better quality and quantity compared to the Bible.
    I was very clear about this, and even repeated it once. However, people keep reading what I wrote as being claim #3.
    People also try to provide evidence for claim #2 while they have actually claimed #1, thus completely missing the point.

  52. BillT,
    This is the claim you have made:
    “No respectable ancient historian has any doubts that they have solid verifiable historical knowledge about the Greeks or Romans or Egyptians. Yet none of the sources they have for these cultures even approaches the historicity of the sources we have for the events of the New Testament.” [emphasis mine]

    And all you have to offer to support it is this:

    Generally, I believe it’s accepted at least 3 of the 4 Gospels were written by eyewitnesses. Richard Baulkham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” is considered the seminal work on this subject.
    and:
    As far as archeological findings, there have been no archeological findings that dispute the narrative of the NT and large amounts that back it up.

    1. So three out of four are eyewitnesses (that is not “generally accepted” by historians at all btw), cool, for Julius Caesar´s “The Civil War”, everything was written by an eyewitness (and that is generally accepted by historians), so Julius wins that round.
    2. You can point to no written attestations by other eyewitnesses (and there are none), but for “The Civil War” there are several – written by friends, enemies and neutral observers wrt to Julius Caesar. So Julius wins this round as well (by Knockout this time).
    3. So there are “large amounts” of archaeological evidence that confirm the NT? Now that is interesting, name the best three you can think of and we´ll compare it to what Julius has to offer (although he has already won anyway since #1+2 were not even a contest)

  53. Andy, I’m sorry I misrepresented in #44 you by saying you had said, “none of that is true,” when you really said, “none of that is true for the gospels.”

    What I should have said is this:

    Andy, on your statement “none of that is true for the gospels,” you’re simply misinformed. What I said there is historically uncontroversial.

    Please accept my apologies for the error.

    Meanwhile, the bulk of the historical evidence indicates that Matthew was written by an eyewitness; Mark was written by a very close companion of Jesus’ closest disciple, Peter; Luke was written by a close companion of Paul, but more than that, as he says in the intro to the book, he did considerable investigation through multiple sources; and John is controversial: historians are split as to whether he wrote it or not, and the split is pretty much along presuppositional lines.

    At any rate, we have three of the four gospels having been written by people who had every reason to know the events of which they wrote.

  54. Andy, you’re being terribly uncharitable here. I had made reference to libraries and museums full of corroborating material, and yet you tell Bill, “And all you have to offer to support it is this,” quoting two sentences he wrote.

    That notall Bill has to offer to support it. But if you’re not interested in treating the topic fairly, why would it make sense for us to belabor it? I mean, if I pointed you to an entire website full of material, would you study it, or would you point back at a quick summary one of us wrote and say, “all you have to support it is this”?

    Really now. If we gave you references to websites approaching the full range of support we have, would you study it?

    Be honest. And quit being dismissive for no good reason, okay? I’m not saying that as blog owner, I’m saying that as one annoyed human to another who is treating some of us rather rudely.

  55. Otto, please read what I wrote. I was very specific about what secular historians’ consensus together with believing historians.

    Secular consensus may be that a historical person named Jesus existed in that time an place. So what…you are claiming they believe he did wondrous things implying they believe he did miracles. I don’t think secular scholars believe that so I am asking you to cite a source. That should not be a problem should it?

    And apparently Tom it is OK for you in your post to to question whether we (and me personally) have done the investigation into Christianity but as soon as I question whether you have investigated skepticim and what the skeptical position is… that means I think you are an idiot. So I guess using that logic I should assume you think I am an idiot since you used the same question on me. (btw, I don’t think that I am pointing out your contradiction in thought).

    My other remark was not dismissive, I answered your question as to where I got the idea Christianity is not skeptical. I think you apply special pleading fallacies to your arguments and you do not accept other miraculous claims based ancient texts. Nothing you have said has refuted that point.

    Corroboration in the Bible is not tautological. It’s not one document. It’s a collection of documents, written by different people from different perspectives, corroborating one another in ways that mere collaboration never would have produced.

    All the people that wrote and edited the Bible wrote from the perspective of Jewish and Christian belief. They had a dog in the fight and skin in the game. There is no outside corroboration from anyone that did not share that faith but could have written about the events and people. These are people who were recording history at that time and place, people who were recording the doings of other ‘prophets’ and religious figures, and they were doing so from an outsiders perspective. None of those people ever mentioned Jesus or any of the events ‘recorded’ in the bible. The Bible says that Jesus was extremely famous in and around Jerusalem at that time, why did those historians ignore such a famous man?

    If you don’t think I have done my homework you are mistaken.

  56. Tom,

    Andy, on your statement “none of that is true for the gospels,” you’re simply misinformed. What I said there is historically uncontroversial.

    Aha, so you actually genuinely agree with this claim:
    “No respectable ancient historian has any doubts that they have solid verifiable historical knowledge about the Greeks or Romans or Egyptians. Yet none of the sources they have for these cultures even approaches the historicity of the sources we have for the events of the New Testament.”
    And not only that, you also consider it to be “historically uncontroversial”.
    Yes or no? If it is “no”, then you are still completely misrepresenting what I said.

  57. Tom,

    Not to mention I said this to Andy. “Getting a complete and reasonable understanding of the historicity of the NT isn’t possible in a blog post.”

    And then Andy, I tried to give you a general understanding of the type of information available to be studied, not a comprehensive list of all that there is. I think we get it Andy. You’re not interested in things that upset your carefully cloistered viewpoint. That’s ok. It’s your life after all.

  58. All the people that wrote and edited the Bible wrote from the perspective of Jewish and Christian belief.

    And all the people that originally wrote and edited Roman history wrote from the perspective of Romans.

    And all the people that originally wrote and edited Greek history wrote from the perspective of Greeks.

    And all the people that originally wrote and edited Egyptian history wrote from the perspective of Egyptians.

  59. No, but sometimes for the uninformed it can help persuade them to go look some things up.

    And now I am uninformed to you, I guess again you called me an idiot and were dismissive of me. Its OK when you do it but if anyone questions you and your supposed knowledge it is an ad hominem attack.

    Remember how in your post you were wondering where us atheists would get the idea that people were not allowed to question the claims of Christianity? Well Tom look in the mirror…anybody who would apparently question you is “uninformed”…i.e. ignorant. Believe it or not Tom there are many scholars who take issue with apologists arguments that you put forth with the same types of questions I have posed…are you going to answer their questions by just dismissing them as uninformed as well?

  60. And all the people that originally wrote and edited Roman history wrote from the perspective of Romans.

    Ah no Bill that isn’t true. The enemies of Rome wrote about Rome. The neighbors of Rome wrote about Rome. Not everything we know about Roman history came from Romans. I an surprised you would attempt such an inane argument.

  61. Patterns develop.

    When the Skeptic states that X is a poor explanation for Y *after* you’ve informed him that X isn’t the Christian explanation for Y, clearly he is, as Bill T alludes to in another direction, not interested in things that upset a carefully cloistered viewpoint.

    As noted, for skepticism to be *pure* and *clean* – the skeptic must claim to have no presuppositions.

    But that is impossible.

    Literally.

    Logically.

    Perception and reason are unavoidably peculiar on said presuppositions.

    But then so are so many things.

    This is why the whole spectrum – from the philosophical naturalist to the Theist to the Christian to everything in between – are equally *pure* and equally *clean* in their skepticism.

  62. Tom,

    Best three archaeological evidences for the NT?

    The crucified man.
    The Pilate stone
    The pool of Bethesda
    84 confirmed, mostly local-knowledge details in Acts; widely considered to be confirmatory of Luke’s historical acumen, since he wrote both Luke and Acts; therefore also carrying over into support for Luke.
    Minute historical accuracy related to names in the Gospels

    (5 is equal to 3 for large values of 3)

    I can see the relevance of the Pilate stone, the crucified man is very thin in terms of evidential quality because it only confirms that crucifixion was indeed practiced back then. But anyway, if you compare that with the archaeological evidence for “The Civil War”, like:
    http://www.romancoins.info/VIC-Historical1.html
    These pieces of evidence and incredibly numerous and they are very easy to interpret – there are for example 47 B.C. coins that struck in Antioch (when Caesar´s army liberated it), with the inscription “year two of the era of Caesar”. There are also plenty of inscriptions and statues that are very easy to interpret and confirm the key events described in “The Civil War”.
    So, overall, do you indeed claim that the archaeological evidence for the Gospels is better than it is for any other ancient source like “The Civil War” and not only better but rather even orders of magnitude better, and that this is historically uncontroversial?

  63. Tom,

    Andy, you’re being terribly uncharitable here.

    From my vantage point, it is rather as I described in #56.

  64. I didn’t make the claim that it was better. The documentary evidence is way better, and the archaeological evidence is good, and it’s uniformly confirmatory.

  65. Andy,

    I don’t think we claimed “…archaeological evidence for the Gospels is better than it is for any other ancient source like “The Civil War” and not only better but rather even orders of magnitude better….” We claimed the historicity of the Bible was that much better. And my statement about archaeological evidence didn’t say that either.

  66. Otto,

    Well Tom look in the mirror…anybody who would apparently question you is “uninformed”…i.e. ignorant.

    No. Anybody who makes uninformed assertions in place of really questioning is uninformed.

  67. Tom,

    I didn’t make the claim that it was better.

    BillT did. And he not only claimed that it was better – he claimed that it was orders of magnitude better. That is what I disputed and I honestly don´t see how I could have been any clearer – I clarified this over and over again. I am not being uncharitable, given what you say here now – it is rather exactly as I described in #56.

  68. Just trying to keep you on your toes there Otto.

    Oh I get it. Instead of admitting you were wrong in your argument you want me to believe you did it on purpose to see if I was paying attention.

    What a load of manure.

  69. Believe it or not Tom there are many scholars who take issue with apologists arguments that you put forth with the same types of questions I have posed…are you going to answer their questions by just dismissing them as uninformed as well?

    I’m aware of some. I’ll be glad to assess one if you put the name on the table along with some quotes.

  70. And Andy I covered the reasons for my confidence in the documentary evidence in my #52 which you either missed or ignored.

  71. No. Anybody who makes uninformed assertions in place of really questioning is uninformed.

    Except the points I have made are not uninformed.

    Please cite a secular source for the question I had concerning secular historians accepting Jesus’ miraculous deeds.

    Please answer the issue of contemporary historians at the time and place of the events failing to report anything about Jesus and the claimed events as reported in the Gospels.

  72. Andy, your recollection of #56 seems to be a bit off. The claim you were disputing there was,

    1. The Bible is by far the most reliable historical account we have, it is by orders of magnitute better than anything we have about ancient Rome or Greek for example.

    Now in #74, the topic is archaeological evidence, which obviously I didn’t claim was better than what we have for some other ancient history. And you say Bill claimed it was better, and that that was what you have been disputing all along.

    But in #56, it wasn’t about archaeological evidence. Bill never made that “orders of magnitude” claim about archaeological evidence! It was always about the documentary evidence, which is indeed orders of magnitude beyond the documentary evidence we have for anything else.

    So how does fact that archaeological evidence isn’t orders of magnitude better somehow support your contention that the documentary evidence isn’t, too?

    Did you forget what we were talking about?

  73. BillT did. And he not only claimed that it was better – he claimed that it was orders of magnitude better.

    Again. I did not say this in regard to the archeological evidence . The archeological evidence is part of evidence for the overall historicity of the Bible but this was not asserted by Tom or me about the archeological evidence alone.

    As far as that I said “As far as archeological findings, there have been no archeological findings that dispute the narrative of the NT and large amounts that back it up.” And that’s all I said and Tom’s examples back that up.

  74. Otto,

    You’ve already asked, and I’ve already answered:

    Please cite a secular source for the question I had concerning secular historians accepting Jesus’ miraculous deeds.

    They accept that he did remarkable things. They accept that his disciples had what they considered to be resurrection appearances. One example would be Gerd Von Lüdemann, who regards it historically certain that they had these experiences.

    Anyway, here’s one source that not only directs you to references but enables you to understand the common criteria historians use to determine authenticity.

    On the other end of the spectrum, Mike Licona has a 700-page historiographical study of the resurrection, using methods and sources amenable to skeptical criticism, in which he shows that there are certain facts surrounding the resurrection story that are uncontroversial. You’re welcome to look at it yourself.

    For a shorter summary, try here instead, or perhaps better yet, here.

  75. I think the confusion is over what BillT means by historicty. My guess is that what he meant by this is not what Andy is thinking.

  76. And Otto, please, if you think that there’s no secular historian who agrees with the things I said they agree with in the Gospels, you are uninformed. I’m sorry, but it’s true.

    The solution to that isn’t to argue that you know what you don’t know. The solution to that is to find out.

    There’s a very important question in #59 that no one has answered yet.

  77. Melissa, you might be right, but it’s also true that when BillT first spoke of historicity, he put it in a certain context:

    Second, as a historical record, it is the best attested ancient text in world history. Its historicity is multiple orders of magnitude better than any other ancient text in existence.

    And somehow “orders of magnitude” got morphed over into archaeology.

  78. They accept that he did remarkable things.

    Like what? What remarkable things did he do that they accept? That is an extremely vague statement.

    Ludemann argues that the Disciples experienced something. Is the best explanation supernatural? I don’t think so…apparently Ludemann doesn’t either. So that citation does not answer my question as to a secular historian accepting a miraculous event.

    Also I was asking for a miraculous event that Jesus performed that is accepted by Secular historians. I was not asking whether secular historians think the Disciples experienced something. That is like saying a person who claims to be a UFO abductee ‘experienced’ something. It is beside the point.

    Mike Licona is an apologist…I specifically asked for secualr sources since that was your claim.

    But admittedly we don’t have non-Christians affirming the truth of Christianity, as you seem to be requesting.

    That is a misrepresentation of the question. I am not asking for a non-christian contemporary historian to affirm the truth of Christianity.

    I am asking why a non-christian contemporary historian did not report ANYTHING about Jesus and his followers despite the Gospel claims that Jesus was incredibly famous in Jerusalem. Why not one word?

  79. Sorry, if that was confusing Melissa. I did begin this with a specific reference to the text. Perhaps historicity is too broad a word but I specifically used it in reference to the text and explained further in #52.

  80. Otto, your evaluation is that Lüdemann didn’t think the disciples didn’t experience anything supernatural. My evaluation is that this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given what I said:

    In #36:

    Second, as a historical record, it is the best attested ancient text in world history. Its historicity is multiple orders of magnitude better than any other ancient text in existence.

    In #43:

    Otto, please read what I wrote. I was very specific about what secular historians’ consensus together with believing historians. I did not say they agreed concerning supernatural events. That’s an interpretive point that seems to be highly influenced by prior presuppositions.

    In #83:

    They accept that he did remarkable things. They accept that his disciples had what they considered to be resurrection appearances. One example would be Gerd Von Lüdemann, who regards it historically certain that they had these experiences.

    You were asking for a miraculous event that secular historians agree with. My reasoning in #46 applies there. You’re asking for someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus’ miracles who believes in Jesus’ miracles. I’m sorry, but the best I can do is what I claimed from the beginning I would do.

    Of course Mike Licona is an apologist. He’s a friend of mine, I was talking with his wife about a finance-related question just a couple hours ago, and this is actually not news to me. Who else do you think is going to compile a list of secular sources to answer your question?

  81. Otto, do you realize you’re starting to raise your voice?

    I am asking why a non-christian contemporary historian did not report ANYTHING about Jesus and his followers despite the Gospel claims that Jesus was incredibly famous in Jerusalem. Why not one word?

    Do you realize that I answered that in #46 and #47? Do you realize that you re-asked that question, and I re-answered it in #84?

    Why are you getting impatient over something that has already been addressed? I mean, if you don’t like my answer or something, it’s not the most polite thing to start getting testy about my never answering. The more polite thing to do would be to say, “Hey, I saw your answer, and I see your point,” or “I saw it and I disagree because…”

    Meanwhile, do you realize that while you’re getting tired of asking a question that I’ve already answered and re-answered, there’s a question in #59 that I’ve asked and re-asked and re-asked (this being the fourth time now), and no one has answered?

  82. The first quote in #90 should have been this one:

    Secular historians and believing historians alike agree that Jesus lived, preached, performed remarkable acts, and died on a cross; and that his followers at least believed they had direct interactions with him in what they considered to be resurrection appearances after his death.

    Secular and believing historians are in consensus that something remarkable happened with Saul/Paul, a life change that’s hard to explain other than through what he claims to be the reason.

  83. Tom,

    Now in #74, the topic is archaeological evidence, which obviously I didn’t claim was better than what we have for some other ancient history. And you say Bill claimed it was better, and that that was what you have been disputing all along.

    That was a misunderstanding. I don´t just claim it for archaeological evidence. I also claim it for attestation from contemporary witnesses, and I claim it in general, in the sense that this claim, to which I objected:
    “Second, as a historical record, it is the best attested ancient text in world history. Its historicity is multiple orders of magnitude better than any other ancient text in existence.
    Historians regularly accept that they have perfectly good historical records for a valid understanding of, for instance, Greek or Roman culture.
    Yet, the Bible is a far better source of historical knowledge, based on standard historical verifications, than what they rely on for that knowledge.”
    is completely false. The Bible is not a far better source of historical knowledge than any other ancient text in existence, it is exactly the other way around. Which says nothing about whether the Bible is generally reliable or not, it simply says that there are sources of historical knowledge that are supported by evidence that is superior in quantity and quality compared to the evidence that supports the claims of the Bible. Or in other words, I claimed that BillT (and you to the degree that you agree with the claim he made here) was vastly overstating his case. If you think that historians would disagree with what I said here, feel free to check how many you can find that would say with a straight face that the Gospels or Acts or Kings or Chronicles are better sources of historical knowledge than Julius Caesar´s The Civil War or comparable works.
    I find it also very surprising how objectionable this appears to you. Even if I would be a Christian, I would never expect to find more and better evidence for the claims about the life of Jesus than for the claims about the life about someone like Julius fricken Caesar. For the simple reason that Jesus became widely known and influential after his death, but was almost a complete nobody during his lifetime compared to a ruler of the roman empire.

  84. You still have not answered the questions Tom,

    What remarkable things did Jesus do that Secular historians accept as accurate?

    Why did non-christian contemporary historians to Jesus fail to acknowledge anything concerning Jesus despite the Gospel claims that Jesus was very famous?

    Why do you keep dodging these basic questions?

  85. Andy,

    As I explained previously, which you continue to ignore, my claim that the the Bible is the most reliable ancient text is based on two standard historical points of reference. It has orders of magnitude more manuscript copies available for study than any other ancient text. Also, the time between the original and the first manuscript copies of the Bible available is orders of magnitude shorter than time between the original text and the earliest manuscript copies of any other ancient text. These are standard historical criteria.

  86. Otto,

    I really question your assertion that “Jesus was very famous” in a way that Julius Caesar, for example, was “famous” in his own time. Jesus was a rabbi from a very small town (Nazareth) in a small country where all communication took place by word of mouth. He was not a ruler or a government official or a wealthy person or a military general or anything like that. His Jewish and Roman rulers considered him to be a social and political nuisance and a threat to their power. What makes you think that the word would get around, mouth to mouth, about Jesus in such a way that he would draw the attention of contemporary secular historians (any more than what several sources report about him)? You are drawing a false analogy here.

    I ask you the question I asked Andy earlier: Are you trying to convince Christians that we don’t have enough to “go on” to be Christians or are you explaining to us why you are not a Christian? There is a big difference.

  87. Otto, it’s your turn. #59.

    (While you’re at it, I’ll mention that Marcus Borg, a strong skeptic, wrote,

    Despite the difficulty which miracles pose for the modern mind, on historical grounds it is virtually indisputable that Jesus was a healer and exorcist.

    That’s just to whet your appetite.)

  88. BillT,

    As I explained previously, which you continue to ignore, my claim that the the Bible is the most reliable ancient text is based on two standard historical points of reference. It has orders of magnitude more manuscript copies available for study than any other ancient text.

    The mere number is completely irrelevant. If there are two documents A and B, both written in the year 100, and we have:
    – 10000 copies for A, but the earliest complete one is from the year 783, and the earliest fragments are from the year 554.
    – 20 copies for B, the earliest complete one from the year 233 and the earliest fragments from the year 133.
    Then the documentary evidence for B is better.
    The ~10000 latin Vulgates for example do exactly nothing to increase the reliability of the NT.
    Feel free to look for a historian who disagrees with that.

    Also, the time between the original and the first manuscript copies of the Bible available is orders of magnitude shorter than time between the original text and the earliest manuscript copies of any other ancient text.

    For the earliest NT fragment (which contains nothing but a few verses out of John 18 btw), the timespan to the original is estimated to be 30 years. By “orders of magnitude”, you must mean at least two (else it would just be an order, not orderS). So, what you are claiming here is that for all other ancient documents, the timespan between the earliest fragment and the original is 30 years * 100 = 3000 years.
    Are you sure you want to go with that or do you want to try again?

    The documentary evidence for the Bible is actually good. However the way you are stating your case is as if you had a million dollars in your bank account (quite impressive!) but rather claim “I have a trillion dollars in my bank account!” – sounds impressive, but it is ridiculous on the face of it. Also, try to find a historian who would say with a straight face that the documentary evidence for the Bible makes it a better source of historical knowledge than The Civil War or a comparable book.

  89. Jenna,

    I am not the one claiming that Jesus was famous. The Bible does

    Matthew 4:24-25

    24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis,[g] Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

    Matthew 21:6-11

    6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
    “Hosanna[b] to the Son of David!”
    “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”[c]
    “Hosanna[d] in the highest heaven!”
    10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
    11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

    The bible proclaims he did many healings and miracles for very public people at the time and I am asking why no historian at the time recorded this event, or any event or anything having to do with Jesus what so ever?

    There were historians at the time that could have and would have taken notice but they didn’t. Did the Bible (as historically accurate as Tom and others claim) overstate the case? As Matthew states “the whole city was stirred” so it was quite the event, even for people that didn’t know him.

    But apparently no historian took notice…that’s a bit odd don’t ya think?

  90. BillT,
    oh btw – I forgot the most important thing. You have forgotten what the “documentary evidence” is actually evidence for. If you have outstanding documentary evidence, then you can have high confidence about what the text says (i.e. what the autograph actually said). It says absolutely nothing about whether what the text says is true – that is a completely different ballpark. So with regards to how historically reliable the Bible is, all that documentary evidence can get you is confidence in what the biblical autographs said – it tells you nothing about whether what they say is true.

  91. Tom,

    Benny Hinn is a healer and an Exorcist…does me saying that mean I think Benny Hinn actually heals people and exorcises demons? I don’t think Mr. Borg was saying he actually thought Jesus healed or demons were exorcised. Just that in Mr. Borgs opinion that is what people knew him for.

    Try again…what remarkable deeds did Jesus do that secular scholars accept as historical.

  92. Tom,

    (Oh, yeah–#59.)

    By this I presume you mean:
    “Really now. If we gave you references to websites approaching the full range of support we have, would you study it?”
    That depends. The amount of available material here is more than could be read in a lifetime so I like to use a heuristic to see whether it might be of potential interest for me.
    There is one (and only one) story in the NT for which I am reasonably certain that I have seen pretty much all evidence and arguments for and against the claim that it reliably describes historical events – and that is the Nativity of Jesus as described in Luke and Matthew. And based on that, I would not invest the time to read a long text about the historicity of a biblical story written by someone who has studied the nativity accounts and concludes that they reliably describe historical events (because I would consider him or her to be too biased to write about issues of biblical historicity in an at least somewhat objective manner). So, to answer your question, I would consider studying a source your recommend about this issue, but with this qualification.

  93. Otto,

    You must be basing you reasoning on some kind of evidence it would be helpful for the discussion if you could share with us what that is.

    For instance are there many other documents that have survived with details of figures of comparable fame as Jesus from a similar time and geographical area? That kind of data would be helpful in assessing whether your claim has any merit.

  94. Otto,

    You seem to think that “secular historians” in Jesus´time are something like modern day journalists and news reporters, on the lookout for current events to report for the sake of the historical records. Jesus’ activities in his ministry were notorious (famous) within his community and beyond, and as a result of his “fame” as a healer, people came from far away to seek healing. Can you find any contemporary reports from secular news gatherers (because these were then current and not historical events) that this was not happening? Can you refute the gospel testimony based on any outside authority?

    And please note, Julius Caesar was not famous for being a healer, while the claim of the gospels is that Jesus was well known as a rabbi who was a healer and miracle worker. It appears to me that the burden of proof that he did not have this reputation is on you and this burden of proof is not satisfied by your claim that “secular historians” did not take notice at the time, which is itself contradicted by evidence.

    Will you please answer my question in #97?

  95. Otto, I answered your question to the extent it can be answered, and to the extent I promised an answer. That is, there are plenty more sources I could quote, but I’m never going to promise you a secular historian who is a Christian historian, i.e., a secular historian who is convinced of the miracle claims of Jesus. Secular historians who become convinced of the miracle claims tend to become Christian historians, for some odd reason.

    Anyway, I don’t think you’ve processed what that answer means with respect to the reason the question was originally brought up. You’ve just moved the goalposts.

    Meanwhile, however, if you can’t find a question in #59 that you think might be the one I want answered, then just say good-bye and quit wasting our time. If you can’t even address the obvious question there, you’re not serious about engaging with us in this here.

  96. Andy, the historical evidence for the nativity is probably the worst of all possible places to begin. There are scholarly sources explaining why certain apparent discrepancies are not so discordant after all. Other than that, no Christian apologist I know of would suggest that there’s any evidence for those accounts except the accounts themselves.

    If I pointed you to a website with relevant and useful material on subjects accessible to historical corroboration, would you read it?

  97. You seem to think that “secular historians” in Jesus´time are something like modern day journalists and news reporters, on the lookout for current events to report for the sake of the historical records.

    Yes there were people like that. People that took notice of events and reported on them, including fringe religions.

    Philo of Alexandria (c.20 B.C.E.- c. 50) He lived before, during and after the time of Jesus and reported on Jewish sects at the time. He had strong ties to Jerusalem, his family was connect to the royal house of Judea. When Jesus’ fame spread all over Syrian, when he rode triumphantly into Jerusalem and then drove the money changers from the Temple, when he was very publicly crucified and was then resurrected and ascended into Heaven and Jerusalem experienced earthquakes, supernatural darkness and dead holy people emerged from graves to walk around the city he was around…yet Philo said nothing about any of this.

    This is one example. There are other historians at the time that could have taken note of Jesus and all the amazing things he did according to the Bible…especially if all of this is true. C’mon, these are real honest to goodness miracles…not those fake ones from other religious traditions…SOMEBODY from outside of the faith should have noticed something…!!!

  98. No Tom,

    You said “They accept that he did remarkable things”

    What things? What made them remarkable…it’s not that hard of a question.

    I don’t expect you to come up with secular historian that believed Jesus was god… but you said they accept he did remarkable things, name one thing they accept that he did that was remarkable.

  99. Tom if the question you want answered is the one Andy referred to then provide your link and I will look at it…I don’t know why you are being so enigmatic about it.

  100. Tom,

    Andy, the historical evidence for the nativity is probably the worst of all possible places to begin.

    I think you are misunderstanding me. I do not draw any conclusions from this about the historicity of the rest of the NT (as in, “the Nativity stories do not describe historical events, therefore, the NT is historically unreliable in general”). But I do draw conclusions about the objectivity (wrt issues of biblical historicity) of authors who have studied this and still believe that the Nativity stories are historical.

    There are scholarly sources explaining why certain apparent discrepancies are not so discordant after all.

    I know. I told you that I am reasonably certain that I´ve seen pretty much all attempts to explain “why certain apparent discrepancies are not so discordant after all”. This is something that I invested some time in (reading Raymond Brown´s The Birth of the Messiah alone is quite a time investment). I´m also friends with someone who wrote a book about the subject and had several long discussions with Christian commenters about this on his blog.
    And therefore, I stand by what I said – I wouldn´t trust an author who has studied the literature on this and concludes that the Nativity stories reliably describe history to be able to write about issues of biblical historicity with the required level of objectivity. I´m not saying that they are stupid or anything like that, but I do believe them to be too biased (and I don´t mean a pro-Christianity bias, because there are Christian scholars who do not believe the Nativity stories to be historical).

    If I pointed you to a website with relevant and useful material on subjects accessible to historical corroboration, would you read it?

    With the qualification mentioned before, yes.

  101. Jesus’ activities in his ministry were notorious (famous) within his community and beyond, and as a result of his “fame” as a healer, people came from far away to seek healing. Can you find any contemporary reports from secular news gatherers (because these were then current and not historical events) that this was not happening? Can you refute the gospel testimony based on any outside authority?

    Jenna, if Jesus was notorious within his community and beyond why did no one else take notice of him that recorded events at the time? These were pretty interesting events…chasing all the money changers out of the temple..? That is something that should have been news in the area…and that isn’t even the most amazing of the events…dead people crawling out of graves…?

    Does the fact that nobody else noticed prove they didn’t happen? No…but I have a hard time accepting these thing as “historical” without the corroboration that something was going on, especially when I have been reading all day about how accurate the Bible is historically.

  102. Otto,

    You have not addressed the issue I raised. Historians are not reporters. The events of Jesus’s ministry took place over time and according to the gospels, were noticed by lots of folks, even outside Jesus’s own locus of activity. You can’t claim that nobody noticed simply because you reject the biblical account and demand “notice” from “secular sources” which is a quite ill defined concept given the context in which Jesus carried out his ministry. Again, you reject the credibility of biblical sources without any justification. Besides, it is beside the point, in light of the billions throughout history who have done more than just “noticed” Jesus’s ministry and its outcome.

    Again, I ask you to address my question. Are you explaining to us why you are not a Christian or are you trying to convince us that we don’t have enough factual information about Jesus on which to base our Christianity?

  103. You’re still flogging away at that argument from silence, aren’t you?

    The argument from silence also shows that there was no Great Wall in China when Marco Polo went there. It shows that Lincoln didn’t issue an Emancipation Proclamation (U.S. Grant wrote two volumes on the Civil War and omitted that trivial[?!] fact).

    Yep, you can prove a lot from what’s not said.

  104. Tom I have asked that question only about a 1/2 dozen times or more…if that doesn’t demonstrate I am interested in your answer I don’t know what else to do.

    If by “interested in your answer” you mean “unconditionally accept your answer without further question”… then no I cannot guarantee that.

    For a guy that claims to be a part of a Christian tradition that is open to questions you have sure worked hard at avoiding some of mine.

  105. Andy,

    But I do draw conclusions about the objectivity (wrt issues of biblical historicity) of authors who have studied this and still believe that the Nativity stories are historical.

    Oh. Adding stereotyping to the rest of your epistemological filter set, I see. Or is it guilt by association? Some authors came to conclusions you don’t like about a historically challenging passage. Therefore all authors writing on the NT are not worth listening to.

    If that includes me, then say so. I like to know who I’m conversing with. Thanks.

  106. (Edit: I see that there were about 20 comments written while I was writing this. I don’t know what has been said since about #99.)

    Tom,

    You have 3 questions in #59, and they were all originally directed at Andy, but as I understand it, you are asking all of your readers whether they would read suggested readings. The answer for me is of course I would. I have read some of the books that have been recommended, and I’ll start following the links now. Also, specific citations are useful in ways that references to “libraries and museums full of corroborating material” are–I can follow specific citations.

    For what it’s worth, I was very surprised that you took so long to start offering suggestions (and one of your readers, Jenna Black, was the first to do so). You spent a lot of time insisting that skeptics weren’t as skeptical as they professed to be, while Christians were more so, but you gave no evidence for your position, just repeating that your claims were widely accepted. Why not start by offering some citations people can follow? As I’ve noted before, it’s your blog, so you can do what you want, but if you want to convince an outsider, this might not be the best approach.

  107. Otto @122,

    You’ve dismissed everything I’ve offered in response to your specific question, and you’ve done so without interacting seriously with it in context of what the question was intended to demonstrate. I had no idea you were seriously interested in an answer.

    If you want to review where this started, go back to #34 and #36, where Andy asked a general question about the reliability of the Gospels, and I said,

    Secular historians and believing historians alike agree that Jesus lived, preached, performed remarkable acts, and died on a cross; and that his followers at least believed they had direct interactions with him in what they considered to be resurrection appearances after his death.

    Secular and believing historians are in consensus that something remarkable happened with Saul/Paul, a life change that’s hard to explain other than through what he claims to be the reason.

    The whole point was to show that some events in the life of Christ have widespread agreement among historians, although they interpret those things differently.

    Your questions in #40, #61, #80, and part of #88 were all about something I never said. Three times you did that! You ignored what I wrote about that in #43 and #84. Now you say I’ve worked hard at avoiding your question. This is frustrating, Otto. You’ve asked over and over again for a secular source that believed in Jesus as a miracle worker. I’ve told you over and over again I don’t have any. Is that not an answer? It’s not avoiding. It’s answering. Can you tell the difference between avoiding and answering?

    Finally you switched to asking for more details about Jesus’ “remarkable acts,” as I originally put it, and I did begin to address that in #90. But it was hard to overlook the way (in #88) you pushed straight on past that question to asking the same question I had answered multiple times already. By that time, Otto, you had demonstrated your unwillingness or inability to see an answer you didn’t like. That’s when #59, which I think was an important question, became even more important.

    You see, I don’t know if you care, or at least I don’t think you’ve demonstrated that you do. If you want an answer from me, one good indicator would be that you actually notice when I give it to you, if not the first time, then perhaps the second, or maybe even the third.

    So what’s your answer? Do you care whether anyone answers your questions or not? How would I know if you did?

  108. Scott, I waited a long time because of the example of a great man, a leader among leaders, who had a practice of not answering questions for people who were primed to reject those answers. His way with them was not so much to give them answers but to ask them questions that would expose their hearts. I’m nowhere near as good at it as he was, in fact I’m a total bumbler by comparison, but I still like to make it my goal to do what he did.

    I’m speaking of Jesus Christ.

  109. Mercy! This is (largely) a bitter set of comments.

    “Jenna, if Jesus was notorious within his community and beyond why did no one else take notice of him that recorded events at the time? ”

    Like Paul? Now can we move away from the appeal to silence?

  110. If you’d like some source material, Scott, let me know here and I’ll email it to you. I assume I have your correct address, coming in here along with your comments.

  111. It shows that Lincoln didn’t issue an Emancipation Proclamation (U.S. Grant wrote two volumes on the Civil War and omitted that trivial[?!] fact).

    Tom if you want to dishonestly equate the historicity of the Emancipation Proclamation (as if there is no evidence from very diverse sources of this) and the historicity of the events described from 1 source with no outside the faith contemporary corroboration of anything (even non-supernatural events), regarding Jesus, then I will excuse myself from this conversation because it will have become painfully apparent you have no integrity in dealing with these issues. You asked in your post why we atheists don’t feel like Christianity is skeptical? Well a failure to adequately address issues like this is a fine example. The Bible makes some pretty extraordinary claims, I know you agree with that statement because it is, I am sure, one of the reasons you are a Christian. The fact that you want to claim the historicity of the unprecedented, unique and fantastic events of Gospels is nearly unassailable and at the same time claim it is not surprising that nobody in the area (other than those in the faith) took notice is just not believable…it is unconscionable and preposterous. Arguments like this is why young people are leaving the faith at unprecedented levels. Religious claims are not going to get the deference you are used to going forward so you better figure out a better way to address issues like these. Christians aren’t stupid, neither are kids and neither am I…acting like my questions are unreasonable aren’t going to make them go away.

  112. Tom @126: Jesus, like a good rabbi, asked questions. You were making assertions.

    Tom @128: I would much prefer that you post the sources here, or refer me to somewhere else you have listed them, but yes, the email with my comments will work.

  113. Tom,

    Oh. Adding stereotyping to the rest of your epistemological filter set, I see. Or is it guilt by association? Some authors came to conclusions you don’t like about a historically challenging passage. Therefore all authors writing on the NT are not worth listening to.

    I honestly do not see any way at all, really none whatsoever, how you could have misread my comment to mean this. I would clarify what I wrote but since what you read out of my comment has literally nothing whatsoever to do with what it in my opinion expresses – I have no idea how.

  114. Like Paul? Now can we move away from the appeal to silence?

    Billy, Paul did not write at the time of Jesus, nor did he witness anything reported in the Gospels. He states all his information regarding Jesus came from revelation (not that I believe him but that is besides the point). My question has specifically to do with historians that lived and reported at the exact same time as these purported events took place. Their silence is deafening.

  115. I was making assertions, yes, but with respect to #59 I was asking a question and awaiting an answer.

    I do not pretend I did as well as Jesus.

    My best recommendation is that you look up J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity. If you don’t want to spring for his book (though it’s really entertaining, as well as informative in surprising ways), you can find a whole host of good stuff on his website. I recommend you click on the “Writings” menu item and then select the topic of greatest interest.

    If you want more let me know. There’s plenty.

  116. It is (again) the consensus of NT-era scholars that the source of Paul’s resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:3-7 has a history that goes back to within no more than five to eight years after Jesus’ death (and resurrection).

    Matthew was a contemporary eyewitness.

    Mark and Luke acquired their information directly through inquiry with eyewitnesses.

    John may have been an eyewitness; historians are mixed on this.

    Do you want us to produce an eyewitness who wrote about Jesus and considered him inconsequential? Or an unbelieving eyewitness who wrote about him and reported that he did miracles? I’m still not clear on what you want.

  117. And Otto, Paul does not state that all his information came by way of revelation. Read the book of Galatians; you’ll find it in the first several paragraphs.

  118. Scott – for some heavy-weight resources you could delve into:

    Jesus and the Victory of God, Wright (actually, just about anything by Wright is worth a read).
    Can We Still Believe the Bible, Blomberg
    Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Baukham
    Ben Witherington has a number of books on the historical Jesus but I sadly can’t recommend any. However, this video may be of interest. It’s given to a lay audience so it’s not overly heavy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z22LkbEY5dM

  119. Otto @129, this is sad to me, the way you’re responding.

    I did not “equate” the historicity of the Emancipation Proclamation with the historicity of the Bible. I used it as an illustration of how the argument from silence could mislead.

    I didn’t fail to address your issues. It astonishes me that you would say that! But I already dealt with that in #125, which I don’t know if you read before you posted #129, but you can read it now. I didn’t say your questions were unreasonable; I answered them!

    Your response is, well, hard to understand. It’s up to you, and I’ve done all I know how to do, but it’s still hard to understand.

  120. Tom,

    The reason I asked those questions is because you said

    “There are libraries and museums full of corroborating archaeological and documentary evidence!!! My goodness, the things skeptics seem not to know. The Bible is used as a source book for archaeological research. There are dozens and dozens of minor details in the book of Acts–our most historically-testable document–that have been proved to be accurate to a degree that no falsification could have matched. The most significant accounts in the Gospels pass all the standard test of multiple attestation, documentary evidence, the criterion of embarrassment, and more.”

    As if because some things in the Bible can be proven to be true and are even able to be corroborated that that somehow gives the supernatural claims and miraculous events some sort of validity. It doesn’t, not even a little. Each claim has to be vetted for accuracy. I don’t care if a book is able to be completely shown to be true except for one part where it says “and then the man flapped his wings and flew into space”. All the validated truth of the entire book does nothing to prove that part happened.

    When you and others say secular scholars agree that Jesus did remarkable things, the implication you seem to want infer is they agree he did things that could not be explained (that doesn’t mean they necessarily believe he did miracles, just that they believe he did interesting things). All I wanted to know is what do you think secular scholars agree that Jesus did that was remarkable? What does the consensus (in your opinion) bear out of actions that he did that nearly all historians (even secular ones) made him stand out from the crowd?

    And then I want to know why, despite doing remarkable things (whether miraculous or not), did historians at the exact time not notice such a remarkable man?

  121. “I did not “equate” the historicity of the Emancipation Proclamation with the historicity of the Bible. I used it as an illustration of how the argument from silence could mislead.”

    It can mislead, I don’t think it is misleading in this case though, I think it is telling.

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence…unless one would expect to find evidence. It still doesn’t prove it didn’t happen, but it is a huge red flag that needs to be properly addressed.

  122. Galatians 1:11-12

    11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

  123. Galatians 1:11-2:10

    11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
    18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

    2 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

    The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ga 1:11:2-10). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

    He received it by revelation, but he checked his sources and was not corrected.

  124. Otto @138,

    I understand why you asked the question. I still don’t get why you kept asking it, fussing at me for not answering it, after I answered it several times. That was frustrating. Can you see why?

    And then I want to know why, despite doing remarkable things (whether miraculous or not), did historians at the exact time not notice such a remarkable man?

    Luke did. He was a top-notch historian, as attested by the previously-mentioned dozens of attesting archaeological finds corroborating him.

    Three other gospel writers did. That makes at least four historians/biographers who did notice this remarkable figure.

    Other historians were scattered around. Their records may have been lost. They may have considered Jesus to be just another Messiah figure, not worth mentioning, for there were others around that time. They may have been more focused on Imperial matters than anything else (this was probably the case with Josephus, writing somewhat later, although even he mentioned Jesus and James). Or they may have overlooked Jesus for any of a hundred other reasons we’ll never know, just as we’ll never know why Marco Polo didn’t mention the Great Wall of China or why U.S. Grant didn’t mention the Emancipation Proclamation.

    That’s the best answer I know. If you ask again, I’ll tell you I gave you the best answer I know, and if you ask again (as you asked a previous question repeatedly even though it was answered), I’ll copy this and paste it into my answer.

    In fact, this actually has already been answered, and your opinion has been heard (#139). I don’t see much argument in support of your belief that this is telling; at least, none that would outweigh the simple inadequacies of arguments from silence. You’re welcome to respond with further explanation.

    So this time, if you find this an inadequate answer, say so; just please don’t ask the question again without interacting with what’s been said, okay? I’d really appreciate it.

  125. “Billy, Paul did not write at the time of Jesus, nor did he witness anything reported in the Gospels. He states all his information regarding Jesus came from revelation (not that I believe him but that is besides the point). My question has specifically to do with historians that lived and reported at the exact same time as these purported events took place. Their silence is deafening.”

    Again, silence does not constitute a formal argument. What it does provide is a blank canvas upon which a person can paint a pet theory of their liking. But if we are going to play this game then allow me to present my argument from silence that is based upon this fact: there are no extant accounts of the body of Jesus having been found.

    As arguments from silence go that one is surely a stronger one than yours. Why? The answer is two fold.

    Firstly, I would not expect the life of an itinerant preacher to be of much interest to historians of the time – at least not until Christianity had actually begun to gain some traction in society. Frankly, Jesus was in their eyes a failure. And much like last years runner-up on X-factor, no one remembers a failed messiah. But you apparently think there is some strong argument to be found amongst all that silence.

    Secondly, I would expect the enemies of the early followers of Christ to be very motivated to drag the half-rotten corpse of Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem so all could gather around to see the glory of risen Christ for themselves.

    Moving on – Tom has already mentioned Galatians but I think it’s worth expounding on the point I was trying to make because you are in error. Galatians is an extraordinary document because in it Paul testifies that he met with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus, in Jerusalem three years after his conversion. I think it is reasonable to trace his conversion to some time around the mid 30’s. Later in the document he makes a surprising admission: 14 years on (it’s debatable as to whether this is from his conversion or from his meeting with Peter and James) he returns to Jerusalem to meet with Peter, James and John, the so called pillars of the burgeoning Christian community, in hope that they would corroborate his version of events. That Paul was experiencing some doubts is quite an admission – possibly quite a damaging one.

    So what we have is Paul, former persecutor of the early followers of Christ – a man feared by them (cross reference with Acts if you wish), meeting with some of the apostles on two occasions. That is gold.

    But what does any of it matter? This is not about the quality of the documentary evidence. How many sceptics would be convinced if tomorrow we unearthed indisputable eyewitness accounts and a piece of the “true cross”? I suspect that for some it would make no difference because there are more powerful objections under the surface. Perhaps it’s as simple as a world-view like naturalism lacking a framework for talking about God being anything more than a trick of the mind or an act of mendacity. Which is fair enough, I guess. But it does make these arguments somewhat redundant.

  126. He received it by revelation, but he checked his sources and was not corrected.

    All I said was he declared he received all his information from revelation, you now agree with me.

    My point was that Paul was not relating history, he was not reporting as a contemporary historical source. Paul was not recording historical events as Billy was asserting in his response to me.

  127. Luke did. He was a top-notch historian, as attested by the previously-mentioned dozens of attesting archaeological finds corroborating him.

    Three other gospel writers did. That makes at least four historians/biographers who did notice this remarkable figure.

    Of course my question was why didn’t historians outside of the faithtake notice, of anything related to Jesus. And I don’t mean confirming miracles, I mean just confirming his existence. But again you fail to answer my question and choose to answer the one you want to answer instead.

    And we know the Gospel writers borrowed heavily from each other, in this day and age we would call it plagiarism. Please don’t act like these were 4 different accounts all completely separate and independent from each other. To top it off the Gospels were written long after the fact…even they are not contemporary to the events.

    They may have considered Jesus to be just another Messiah figure, not worth mentioning, for there were others around that time.

    Exactly my point, many of those “failed messiahs” they did mention…

    but Jesus, known far and wide in Syria (according to the accurate recording of the Bible in your opinion) the guy who healed the sick including public figures…the guy who came riding into Jerusalem with throngs around him “stirring the whole of the city”…the guy who single handily chased all the money changers from the temple (no small feat as the temple market was quite large), who was publicly tried and executed in front of the masses (during passover no less) whose death was tied to earthquakes and dead people climbing out of their graves, who appeared to many after death…

    …no historian outside the faith in Jerusalem thought to even write a a passing note, not a sentence. But failed messiahs who did not have a 1/4 of a resume do get mentioned… And that doesn’t bother you in the least? Really?

    It doesn’t make sense Tom.

  128. Otto,

    But failed messiahs who did not have a 1/4 of a resume do get mentioned

    Failed Messiahs who also led armed rebellions do get mentioned. I wonder why that might be?

    I’m still waiting for the evidence of a list of other people who were similar to Jesus who did make the surviving histories. You must have some kind of list otherwise what are you basing your argument on?

  129. Tom,

    I was making assertions, yes, but with respect to #59 I was asking a question and awaiting an answer.

    And I thought I did answer your question. I didn´t mean to offend. My time is finite and even if I would spend my entire life reading only about this issue, I couldn´t read all the available material (not even close to all actually given how much has been written here). That´s why I use some criteria to decide what to read and what to skip. And the standard I use here seems to be not unreasonable to me, wrt to the Nativity stories (and only with regards to them, I don´t claim to know much about any other NT story), my opinion is very well informed – I have studied the essential readings on this issue (and if you´ve studied Brown´s The Birth of the Messiah (arguable the most important scholarly treatment of it), you know how much time it takes to study that book alone). And again, I´m not saying that authors who reach conclusions about it that I disagree with are stupid or anything like that, but for my taste and based on my opinion, they are too biased wrt issues of biblical historicity.
    I use a similar selection procedure to decide what to read for every issue. That´s why I very quickly stopped reading Victor Stenger´s works for example – he has very interesting things to say, is a great writer and I don´t consider him to be the stupid at all (quite the opposite), but he is too biased for my taste.

    My best recommendation is that you look up J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity. If you don’t want to spring for his book (though it’s really entertaining, as well as informative in surprising ways), you can find a whole host of good stuff on his website. I recommend you click on the “Writings” menu item and then select the topic of greatest interest.

    Alright, I´ll check it out.

  130. Otto @145,

    I have a breakfast meeting in a couple minutes and I don’t have time even to read through everything, but this caught my eye:

    Of course my question was why didn’t historians outside of the faith take notice, of anything related to Jesus. And I don’t mean confirming miracles, I mean just confirming his existence. But again you fail to answer my question and choose to answer the one you want to answer instead.

    I object mightily. I did not fail to answer your question. I gave an answer in #142, the first several paragraphs. After that I made it clear that I had answered it. I did not duck it. I did not fail to address it.

    I think it’s really odd and discourteous for you to take one sentence of a multi-paragraph answer, complain about it, and say that I failed to answer, when I did go on from there to answer.

    Are you reading here to understand what we’re saying? If not, then this blog is not the place for you. That’s your choice; it’s up to you.

  131. (That is, it’s up to you to decide how you will interact here. If you decide not to interact in good faith, your continuing presence here is up to me.)

  132. I’d like to briefly point out that some of the points made in the comments here seem illustrative of my earlier statements:

    “There’s always some point in their reasoning process where they make an assumption favourable to their own position, possibly without even realising it, because that assumption seems perfectly sensible to them.”

    And

    “Does that reasoning has any gaps in it, or might there be any problems with your axioms, or does the evidence say as much as you might want it to say? Is there an alternative theory that explains the evidence equally well?”

    The claim has been made that 3 of the canonical gospels constitute “eyewitness accounts”, with little acknowledgement (and in at least one case, apparent unawareness) that this claim is controversial and generally not accepted by skeptics, because the evidence that they are in fact eyewitness accounts consists of second-century claims of questionable reliability. The problem of these accounts evidently copying each other is unaddressed.

    The claim that these are separate eyewitness accounts is an assumption favourable to your own position. What if that assumption is wrong, as it very well might be given the limits of the evidence in its favour?

    If they are indeed eyewitness accounts, how much does that really tell us? We have ample eyewitness testimony for the claims of the Mormons, and for the existence of ghosts, and for aliens abducting humans and performing experiments on them. If eyewitness accounts are not enough to prove those cases, then why should we consider them sufficient to prove the Christian case?

    The references to archaeological evidence are a good example of the evidence not saying as much as you might want it to say. All it tells us is the state of the authors’ geographical and political awareness. Imagine that somebody tells me that he saw a ghost, and that he saw it in London, and gives me a description of the area and mentions that the Mayor Boris Johnson was there. I’m not going to be convinced based on the fact that London is a real place, the description of the area is accurate, and that Boris Johnson really is both a real person and the Mayor of London. It’s pretty much irrelevant to the claim being made. The archaeological evidence being cited for the NT accounts is of the same type; it’s irrelevant to the claims of miracles.

    In short, the evidence so far presented consists of written claims, some of which are by people who may or may not have been witnesses; which copy each other to some extent; all from people favourable to one particular opinion closely related to those claims; and which have no corroborating physical evidence supporting anything other than incidental details. If anything in this paragraph is false, then tell me where I’ve gone wrong. Would any of you accept that level of evidence for alien abductions, or ghosts, or another religion, or anything else that you don’t already believe in? Do you genuinely think I should convert based solely on evidence of that kind?

  133. Otto and Andy and Ophis have similar presupposed conclusions and they each have demonstrated rather bizarre rationalizations to justify such commitments. In #140 we see it as #141 untied 140’s pre-committed rationalization willing to misuse Scripture. Andy demonstrated the same kind of presuppositionalism in another thread with his own carefully cloistered (false) viewpoint in which he finds *evidence* against the Christian explanation’s predictive power on Knowledge by using Scripture the way Otto did in #140 despite being informed that he had given a *non*Christian approach to a question, thereby rationalizing away the evidence against his own version of “model A vs. model B”. Ophis continues in failing to show Skepticism’s freedom from presuppositions, and also fails to justify the skeptic’s conclusion that Peter’s epistle describing his own eyewitness experience is (apparently?) unquestionably fraudulent. These sorts of basic and fairly general demonstrations by the supposedly “free of presuppositionalism” thinking of the “Skeptic” reveal tainted waters.

    No assertion is free of presuppositions about all sorts of things, from mind to matter to everything in between. The skeptic has placed himself in the uncomfortable position of counting such as “somehow” unclean.

    Which is why the Christian’s skepticism is as pure and as clean as is the Naturalist’s as is the Skeptic’s as is the….. as is the….

  134. Andy,

    Re your #101. Seems you’re trying to make my point for me. The Bible has both the most manuscript copies and the shortest time gap from the original to the first existing copies. Just to get the facts straight. The total number of manuscript copies numbers near 25,000. The gap between the originals and the first manuscript fragment is around 10 years as new fragments were introduced year or two ago the earliest dating into the first century.

    To compare this to another ancient text, “For Caesar’s Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 B.C.) there are several extant MSS, but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar’s day.” So yes, multiple orders of magnitude (that is 2 different facts (multiple) and at least an order of magnitude (multiple there as well in numbers of copies and nearly in years)) a reasonable description. And, like you said, these facts verify the accuracy of the text (to 99+%).

    As for your question as to how do we know it’s true, that requires some thought. Since we know that the Biblical text we have is accurate we also know the story in it was the same story that began the Christian faith. We also know that Christianity grew rapidly in it’s early days during which time the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT were alive.

    So, if the story isn’t true, how could this happen. How do thousands of people all over the region become Christians believing the (rather unbelievable) facts in the NT. Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly. The validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT. That’s how we know it’s true.

  135. scbrownlhrm:

    “Ophis continues in failing to show Skepticism’s freedom from presuppositions,”

    I’m not sure why there’s a problem with my failure to demonstrate something that I have not asserted. If you want to know anything at all about the world, you must make some minimal assumptions, such as the existence of the outside world and some more-or-less consistent effect of that world on our senses. I haven’t denied this at any point. I try to minimise any assumptions and biases I might have without completely removing the ability to make any inferences at all about the world. I don’t claim the ability to do this perfectly, but I make the attempt.

    You seem to be on the verge of full postmodernism, saying that we all make some sort of assumptions and so all views are equally valid. That amounts to giving up on trying to establish what’s true, which eliminates the possibility of establishing Christianity as being more true than any other belief.

    “…and also fails to justify the skeptic’s conclusion that Peter’s epistle describing his own eyewitness experience is (apparently?) unquestionably fraudulent.”

    I didn’t refer to Peter’s Epistle, because you’re the first one to bring it up in this thread. I at no point described anything as “unquestionably fraudulent” or anything to that effect. I addressed the possibility of us having eyewitness accounts in my last comment (that was in relation to the Gospels, but it applies equally to 1 Peter). While 1 Peter, unlike the Gospels, does contain an internal claim of authorship, that still makes it no better than several apocryphal documents which I anticipate you would not accept.

    Frankly there doesn’t seem to be anything in your response to me that bears any strong relation to what I’ve actually said.

  136. scb,
    so what exactly is the conclusion that I have presupposed in this thread and which bizarre rationalizations did I use to justify it?

  137. Ophis and Andy,

    Presuppositions matter and, of course, the Non-Theist has a few, as does the Christian. Post-modernism is, as Philosophical is, unable to cash out their own IOU’s. Humean lines just fail and nothing better has ever been given by the Non-Theist. That’s just a point of “rationalization” which we find the Skeptic freely embracing despite the costs. It’s not an argument, rather, it’s merely an example of where the Skeptic’s regress does a worse job than the Theists in assuring us of the stability of this or that truth predicate.

    It’s simply an example of the sorts of the thought process over there inside of the Skeptic’s “better method”.

    Peter is just one more “thing” in a pile of eyewitness events which go unaddressed as other (false) points are instead put forth, like #140. Andy, your model of the Fall vs. Evolution in another thread misrepresented “model A” (the Christian’s accounting) and you then set that next to “model B” (your accounting) and you then rationalized that B trumps A based on that basic/generalized “comparison”. You did *not* just set up B, rather, you brought in A and made the comparison. Had you *only* appealed to B and the current state of affairs, that would be fine. But you *did* bring in A *and* your handling of A was of a fallacy.

    It’s easy to be skeptical of non-real and made up things. Like that on Andy’s part and like #140 on Otto’s part. Uncritical handling of Scripture seems to be very common by the Skeptic.

    As for Peter’s claim of an eyewitness inside of historicity, I’ve only seen (ever) the trivial and the pre-supposed emerge to discredit it and all without success. But such lines emerge on the skeptic’s side with just a bit too much frequency to allow them to claim some sort of un-biased thinking or some sort of “better approach”.

    As noted in the comment, these are all basic and general examples of *uncritical* rationalizations going on by the supposedly critically thinking skeptic.

    Small or Grand, Subtle or Bold, examples are examples. Such is just pointing out a few basic, simple, general *un*critical thought processes.

    That’s all this is – a few examples. I’m sure there will be more in the future.

    On both sides.

    The claim of the Skeptic that *his own* Skepticism is free of metaphysical baggage and bad-thinking is, so far, a rationalization against the evidence.

  138. So what presuppositions do my statements rely on which you would not accept? What rationalizations in particular have I engaged in? I don’t think I’ve done much more than define what a “lack of skepticism” means, and summarise the state of the evidence for Christianity presented here and its limitations.

    “Peter is just one more “thing” in a pile of eyewitness events which go unaddressed as other (false) points are instead put forth, like #140. ”

    How many eyewitnesses do you think are in this “pile”? Maybe five (Matthew, John, Peter, James, Jude)? Are you willing to accept every other proposition that has five or more witnesses in its favour? And the witnesses are all long dead, and cannot be examined. That’s if we put aside all the doubts about whether all or any of these really are eyewitnesses; even Martin Luther disputed two of them, and not all of them even claim to be witnesses.

  139. Ophis,

    You see.

    Accepting Christianity’s (or every! other!) proposition -cause X number of dead folks said so.

    As if that’s the whole show.

    It’s easy to be skeptical of such fallacies.

    It goes on a bit too often in the skeptic’s thought process.

    Again, no arguments are given here…. just examples and illustrations.

  140. I gave an answer in #142, the first several paragraphs. After that I made it clear that I had answered it. I did not duck it. I did not fail to address it.

    Tom,

    I explained why that answer did not answer the question I asked. Did you provide an “answer”? Yes I admit you did…just not to the question I had been asking and it (in my opinion) did not address the point I had been making.

    This is no different from the Christian culture I experienced and I am guessing that is the case for others too. Were questions allowed? Yes…but the answers were less than satisfactory and they often did not directly address the question asked. When we further pressed an issue the response was often the same…”but we did answer and you just don’t want to accept our answer”…putting the blame for the lack of understanding on us. That worked for a very long time, and I give you guys credit, it’s a good ruse. I often thought the issue was with me but since the questions were not properly addressed they never went away. Eventually many of us go searching elsewhere. I myself went and experienced other versions of Christianity but the experience was the same, and not just with issues of historicity but with every other type of question dealing with Christian view, whether it be moral questions, theological questions or Christian foundational questions. After a while the lack of proper answers and the obvious dodging takes a toll. We finally looked completely outside of the faith for answers and put the faith under a microscope. That’s what I did and for the first time I got direct answers to questions. I didn’t become an atheist…I rejected Christianity as a valid worldview. And the reason is Christianity showed itself to be incapable of dealing with the issues I had with it properly. You want to point your finger at “unhealthy versions of Christianity”, or at individuals for just not accepting answers. I understand that because I went through the same process, I blamed myself, I blamed specific versions of Christianity. But those issues weren’t the problem. The problem was with Christianity itself. I found out the Christian worldview was not able to answer the issues I experienced. The pieces never fit. Ultimately my last line of the last post sums up my experience in Christianity…it doesn’t make sense. There is not one answer I have ever been provided about the Christian worldview that HAS made sense. I know you are trying to figure out what goes wrong when people like me leave…I am here to tell you it is not just one issue or one question. It is the totality of Christianity.

    You can discount me and try to pin the blame elsewhere. I think if you seriously questioned people who have rejected Christianity the answer will be the same from them. It may have been one issue or question that got the ball rolling but those are only symptoms of a larger problem for us. I know you don’t agree with me and that’s OK. I am just telling you many of us have done the work, we have tried to make sense of it so please don’t belittle or patronize us by complaining that we are just uninformed. That is not helping and only creates further animosity. We may not be as educated as well informed in Christianity as you but that doesn’t mean we haven’t done enough work to come to a conclusion. We don’t need to know every little detail about Astrology to determine whether Astrology makes sense. I don’t need to know every detail about Mormon theology and why people accept its claims to determine whether it makes sense. Christianity is no different. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t claim to… but I do know when the information is just not adding up. Please don’t take this as a specific attack on Christianity, I don’t think any religious tradition adds up either. That’s why I am an atheist.

    The questions I have posed here are but a small issue. You could provide any Christian view and we could talk about why you accept it and I reject it almost indefinitely. I found out the questions that caused me the most cognitive dissonance as a Christian are the questions philosophers and theologians have been dealing with for thousands of years. For far too long I was convinced the reason I was having those doubts were a personal fault I had…that the problem was with me. It wasn’t and that is why I bristle when people such as yourself try to frame it that way.

    If you are interested there is a guy by the name of Evid3nc3 on youtube who did an a great breakdown of all the steps he went through trying to overcome his questions and why he ultimately could not make sense of Christianity despite all of his best efforts. He was a very hardcore Christian, he is very well informed in the faith but he ultimately let it go because it did not add up. I don’t expect his experience to convince you that we are right and you are wrong. I only point it out as a resource if you want to attempt to understand how a well informed individual can reject Christianity when every part of their being wanted to confirm their faith. I honestly think you would find it fascinating and would most likely enjoy picking it apart and finding fault with it and why you disagree with his conclusions. But his experience is real and it is shared by many who have rejected your faith, I am sure you could find a large amounts of material to blog about in his story.

    https://www.youtube.com/user/Evid3nc3

    I think you and I would agree that our discussion is at an end for the above questions. If you have a further question you would like me to address let me know I will check back.

  141. Failed Messiahs who also led armed rebellions do get mentioned. I wonder why that might be?

    Melissa, that is not the issue.

    The issue is trying to make sense of the Biblical claim that Jesus was so famous that all of Jerusalem took notice…that he did unprecedented miracles and extraordinary events happened but the only people who took notice at the time they happened were the people in the faith. Where are the reports from his opposition? A man that makes headlines like that always has opposition and we would expect those events to be reported on.

    Or maybe he wasn’t as famous as the Bible implies, but then that brings up issues with the accuracy of the Biblical reports. Either answer causes more issues with the story. The message Christianity seems to want to promote is that Jesus was extremely famous…just not THAT famous.

  142. Otto,

    Your chosen paradigm is reasonable. To a point.

    Logic is illusion, an insolvent chain of IOU’s.

    As is love’s imperative.

    That’s *just* the stuff of logic and the stuff of love.

    Never mind the rest.

    Full stop.

    Christianity need not be retained to annihilate that – though it does. Naturalism cannot be retained should one wish to free oneself of such ends.

    If the claim is that the whole show’s context above our heads is in play – well then your peculiar satisfaction with such necessary elimination contradicts – or rationalizes away – such fundamental subtexts.

    Metaphysical baggage is fine.

    We all have it.

    You too.

    Lest you mean to claim freedom.

  143. “Accepting Christianity’s (or every! other!) proposition -cause X number of dead folks said so.

    As if that’s the whole show.”

    I summarised the evidence given in this thread earlier (#150). It might not be “the whole show”, but it’s all that’s been presented here, in the attempt to show how skeptical and evidence-based Christianity really is. Since I wrote that, you have increased the number of citations of “dead folks” by one, by citing 1 Peter, and complained about unspecified presuppositions and rationalisations by skeptics.

    Your comment suggests that you agree that this level of evidence should not be convincing to anyone. But we’re 160 comments in now, and nothing more than this has so far been given to back up Christianity’s skeptical and empirical credentials.

  144. Ophis,

    The whole “!every! other! proposition!” is a mere example of the stuff found a bit too often in many manifestations of skepticism.

    An example. An illustration. Fairly common actually.

    Feel free to read more into it than that if you must.

  145. I summarised the evidence given in this thread earlier (#150)

    The summary of which consisted of: “There are people who don’t believe the evidence you’ve presented therefor it’s not reliable.” Very impressive.

  146. Otto,

    Melissa, that is not the issue.

    The issue is trying to make sense of the Biblical claim that Jesus was so famous that all of Jerusalem took notice…that he did unprecedented miracles and extraordinary events happened but the only people who took notice at the time they happened were the people in the faith. Where are the reports from his opposition? A man that makes headlines like that always has opposition and we would expect those events to be reported on.

    Evidence for your position isn’t the issue? Ironic.

    The problem here is just as Jenna said earlier. Their time was not like ours. The written word was not as important. You didn’t have of reporters writing news stories. You had historians and they would either need to have a personal interest in the matter or be paid by someone who wanted them to write about every exciting event in the lives of, generally the common people, in a backwater. Not to mention that very little of what was written would have survived. That’s why I’m asking for evidence for your claims that we should expect to find writings from historians contemporary with Jesus. You clearly don’t have any.

  147. Otto, you asked why no one outside the Christian belief system wrote about Jesus. I answered that question. Now, you’re complaining:

    I explained why that answer did not answer the question I asked. Did you provide an “answer”? Yes I admit you did…just not to the question I had been asking and it (in my opinion) did not address the point I had been making.

    This is no different to the Christian culture…

    What point were you making, other than the question you actually asked so many times, and which I answered several times? I’m going to have to guess, since I don’t think you actually stated it.

    I think you were probably trying to get at something like this: “Given that no one other than Christians wrote about Jesus during his lifetime, why on earth would anyone believe the stories we have about him might be true?”

    I think maybe that was what you were getting at.

    But you never asked that question, as far as I can recall. You only asked the question that I answered.

    Now, did I guess right? Or would you like to clarify for us the point that I’ve been missing all along? Either way, would you please quote the original location where you asked it and I missed it? I’d like to find out.

    BTW and FWIW, I have been in severe sleep deficit this week due to an insurance-enforced switch to an alternate medicine for my chronic foot pain, which turned out to be a bad idea. One night I was awake until 1:30 am, the next night until 4 am.

    But if you show me what I missed, I’m sure you’ll still be confident it’s because I’m either stupid or unwilling to face your frightening questions.

  148. BillT:

    Can you show me where I’ve written anything like that? The closest thing I can see is where I pointed out that not everyone believes the canonical gospels are eyewitness accounts. That means that the claim that they are eyewitness accounts needs to be supported if you’re going to use it as a basis for an argument. I noted the difficulties of trying to do that.

    What part of that do you disagree with? Or were you referring to something else I wrote there?

  149. Ophis,

    Yes, that’s what you said and just claiming that some people don’t accept the Gospels as eyewitness accounts isn’t an argument against that proposition. The case for that has been made quite convincingly. Richard Baulkham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” is the seminal work on that subject and is widely accepted.

    However, I did introduce a new argument after your #150 in my #152. Glad to get your take.

  150. “Yes, that’s what you said and just claiming that some people don’t accept the Gospels as eyewitness accounts isn’t an argument against that proposition.”

    That’s true, and that’s why I didn’t claim anywhere in that comment to have falsified the claim that the gospels were eyewitness testimony. My point was that, if some claim is controversial or contested, then you can’t just assume its truth as an axiom of your case; you need to firmly establish the point before you can use it to demonstrate anything else. Your statement earlier, that “Generally, I believe it’s accepted at least 3 of the 4 Gospels were written by eyewitnesses,” suggests to me that you were unaware that there are very many New Testament historians who do not in fact accept this.

    Since you cited Bauckham, I’ll quote his words on this: “To validate the four Gospel canon as apostolic in the sense the early church intended
    one really has to give some credence both to the titles of the Gospels and to the early patristic testimonies to the origins of the Gospels, both of which indicate that the Gospels had close connexions with the apostolic eyewitnesses themselves, whether or not any of the Gospels was actually written by such an eyewitness. Such a view of the Gospels has become unusual in Gospels scholarship, but this was not always the case in modern NT scholarship.” [My emphasis]

    http://richardbauckham.co.uk/uploads/Accessible/Authenticity.pdf#page=3

    So even Bauckham, whom you cite, admits that his view of the Gospels “has become unusual in Gospels scholarship”. The “early patristic testimonies” he mentions are the “second century claims” I referred to; from his statement, he seems to agree with me that the idea of the Gospels as eyewitness testimony is dependent on those second century claims.

    So given what Bauckham has said, and given the contrary opinions of a large number of NT scholars, do you think I’ve been unfair in saying that “this claim is controversial”, asking “what if that assumption is wrong,” or stating that the authors “may or may not have been witnesses”? Are there any substantial misrepresentations of the situation in what I said? And don’t you think that, given this state of affairs, the claim that the gospels constitute “eyewitness testimony” should be firmly established before using it as the basis of a historical case?

    I also addressed the possibility that some of the claims did come from witnesses. So if you change “may or may not have been witnesses” to “were witnesses” in #150, does that paragraph now look like a case strong enough to rest a life-changing belief on?

    Re #152:

    We are in quite a good position in terms of number and date for New Testament manuscripts. But those manuscripts are not all the same, and sometimes vary quite considerably, such as a 10% variation in the total length of Acts.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_the_Apostles#Manuscripts

    The early manuscripts of Mark’s gospel omit the ending (everything after 16:8). That contains the resurrection appearances, which is, to put it mildly, not theologically insignificant; especially since Mark is generally believed to be the earliest Gospel.

    The bigger problem, in my opinion, is the way the Gospel writers used their sources. The large amount of word-for-word replication demonstrates that Matthew, Mark and Luke are not independent of each other; Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, without attribution, and other commonalities between Matthew and Luke separate from Mark demonstrate further copying. Matthew and Luke are, essentially, extensive rewrites and modifications of their source(s), and they don’t bother to tell the reader that they’re copying someone else’s words and sometimes modifying them. To put it another way, Matthew and Luke are extremely corrupted versions of Mark’s Gospel. Mark itself tells us nothing about where and how the author got his information.

    “Since we know that the Biblical text we have is accurate we also know the story in it was the same story that began the Christian faith.”

    Going back to the original writings of the gospels is not the same as going back to the beginning of the Christian faith. There’s a few decades in between (varying for each gospel). Accuracy of manuscripts tells you about the former, not the latter.

    “So, if the story isn’t true, how could this happen. How do thousands of people all over the region become Christians believing the (rather unbelievable) facts in the NT. Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly.”

    Remember the travelling around the Mediterranean that Paul did in Acts? Where he’s at sea for weeks at a time, and he nearly dies? Travelling from a Greek church to Jerusalem was no trivial matter.

    That aside, how do you explain the expansion of Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Both of those religions were founded when we had railroads, newspapers, printing, and high levels of literacy. How do you explain the churches that grew out of the Millerite movement, which now have tens of millions of members despite starting with a spectacular and well-publicised failure of prophecy? Finding evidence against any one of these groups early on would be trivial compared to trying the same thing in the 1st Century.

  151. Balkham still confirms the eyewitness testimony of the Gospel accounts. His work is comprehensive and takes many things into consideration but his conclusion confirms the Gospels as eyewitness accounts..

    Your view of Matthew and Luke as “corrupted” is without validity. The Gospel accounts all hold up on their own to examination of their content. And you seem to be trying to hold the Gospels to modern acedemic standards. They are 2000 year old historical accounts not modern research papers. They aren’t “corrupted” accounts in any way.

    The Gospel accounts and Paul’s writings confirm the content of early chuch theology. Early creedal statements confirming Christ and his resurrection in the NT that date to within a few years of the crucifixion confirm this. There is no doubt what the early church believed. And they believed it with the eyewitnesses (both believers and non believers) to those facts alive and available to anyone who wanted to speak to them.

    As far as travel its estimated a million people a year travelled the road along the Palestinian coast less than a days travel from Jeruselem. Travel was easy and safe and the Roman Empire kept it that way as that kept the money coming their way. Paul may have had some difficult moments but he quite successfully travelled extensively all over the region.

    And growth of other religions can be explained by looking at them and the facts surrounding them. The growth of Christianity can be understood by looking at the facts surrounding Christianity. Trying to throw doubts about one with the other is just a red herring.

  152. “Balkham still confirms the eyewitness testimony of the Gospel accounts. His work is comprehensive and takes many things into consideration but his conclusion confirms the Gospels as eyewitness accounts.”

    As much as you might find him convincing, all you’ve done is mention his book. You haven’t repeated his arguments and explained why you find them convincing, and why we should believe him rather than those who disagree with him.

    All you’ve done is note the idiosyncratic opinion of one historian, who himself freely admits that the majority of relevant experts disagree with him. Even if you find him convincing, you can’t expect everyone else to take a minority opinion for granted and use “the majority of NT historians are definitely wrong” as a starting point. You need to make an effort to convince everyone else of that case first.

    My statement that the Gospels may or may not be witness accounts doesn’t require you to affirm any position on this. It just requires an admission that their status as witness accounts is not definitively proven, which I think is pretty fair given that it hasn’t convinced most experts in the field. Is it too much to ask for an admission that the majority of experts might be right?

    “Your view of Matthew and Luke as “corrupted” is without validity. The Gospel accounts all hold up on their own to examination of their content. And you seem to be trying to hold the Gospels to modern acedemic standards. They are 2000 year old historical accounts not modern research papers. They aren’t “corrupted” accounts in any way.”

    I’m holding them to the same standards that the Church Fathers held Marcion’s Gospel to. They considered that Gospel corrupted, because they said that Marcion had used Luke as a basis and made large adjustments to it. Matthew and Luke have done the same thing with their source as Marcion was accused of doing with his.

    Plutarch lived at about the same time as the NT writers. His writings explain what sources he used, how he used them, and why he considers them reliable or unreliable on a particular point. The Gospels don’t do this; they just take large sections from their sources without attribution, without even stating that they used a source at all. I’m not asking for the gospels to use modern standards; I’m asking for the same standards as other contemporary works like Plutarch’s.

    “Early creedal statements confirming Christ and his resurrection in the NT that date to within a few years of the crucifixion confirm this.”

    We don’t have anything written down until Paul’s letters, a couple of decades later. So unless Paul tells us, there’s no way to tell where and when any creedal statement in his letters comes from. And we can’t say that the people who believed those statements believed anything else that’s not in those statements, so we can’t assume that they believed everything that’s found in the Gospels just because they believed in some kind of resurrection.

    “As far as travel its estimated a million people a year travelled the road along the Palestinian coast less than a days travel from Jeruselem. Travel was easy and safe and the Roman Empire kept it that way as that kept the money coming their way. Paul may have had some difficult moments but he quite successfully travelled extensively all over the region.”

    Going from the coast to Jerusalem isn’t too difficult. Going from one of the churches Paul set up in Greece and Asia Minor is a lot harder and takes a far greater investment of time, effort and money, and we can’t assume that it was practical for most people to do this.

    How many people would travel from Greece to Israel today to investigate some religious claim? Trying it 2000 years ago would only be harder.

    “And growth of other religions can be explained by looking at them and the facts surrounding them. The growth of Christianity can be understood by looking at the facts surrounding Christianity. Trying to throw doubts about one with the other is just a red herring.”

    Your statements imply that a new religion like Christianity won’t grow if its claims can be easily investigated. That’s just plain wrong, and the examples I gave show that.

    We have absolutely no evidence that any early Christians went through an investigation of the kind you’re describing. We have no evidence that, if someone did do an investigation and found Christianity’s claims to be false, that anyone else in his church would listen to him. We know, based on the growth of new religions in modern times, that a religion can spread despite the availability of contrary evidence, and that converts will not in general go through a careful process of skeptical investigation before converting. Why do you think that early Christianity was any different?

  153. First, your contention that a majority of NT scholars don’t believe that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts is simply wrong. Balkham wasn’t the first to suggest that and his work confirmed the works of many others in the field. It may be the most comprehensive analysis and the current standard on the topic but he is among a large number of theologians that understand that to be true. It’s not a minority position by any means. Even a simple reading of the text reveals details that could only have come from someone who was there and that the texts were intended to be see as historical accounts.

    Marcions gospel was disqualified from the cannon for many obvious reasons beyond what you suggest. It dating places it as a 2nd century work well ouside of the time frame of the other NT works, Its theology runs contrary to the theology of the NT and and was an idosycratic work written it fit Marcion’s own agenda. That isn’t the “same criteria” in any way.

    The creedal statements in Corintians are accepted by 90% of all theologians, skeptical and conservative, to date within a few years of Christ’s life. That the early church accepted and practiced the same basic beliefs as we do today is utterly uncontrovercial and almost universally accepted.

    Again, travel in the region was reasonably safe and easy. The Roman Empire made sure it was so and the historical reports and archeological findings confirm that. The million people who travelled the Via Mare were coming from all over the region. Corinth wad a major trading and commerce center. You don’t get to be that without safe travel. Your opinion that travel was difficult it without merit or evidence and in fact the evidence you did provide in Paul’s travels contradict that.

    Red herrings regarding growth of cults like Mormanism have absolutely nothing to do with the growth of Christianity. Christianity is unique in its fact driven orientation. The claims of Christianity are astounding and the requirement that they be true in order for the faith to be valid are contained in the NT text itself. It defies basic common sense that people who could have verified its claims would not have done so. There simply isn’t another way to rationally understand these basic facts.

  154. And just another word about the Gospels as eyewitness accounts. You take the basic attitude that this idea is something new and controversial that is in need of some special verification. The belief that the Gospels are first hand historical accounts has always been the position of the church. C.S. Lewis was offering apologetics about this 60+ years ago and it was in reaction to the the then new and unheard if idea that they were something other than eyewitness accounts.

    The “burden” of this discussion belongs on you. If they aren’t first hand historical accounts, what are they? Just throwing stones at a theory isn’t enough. You have to make an affirmative case for what the Gospels are if not that. They’re not fiction (1500 years too early) they’re not myth (unless you dont have any idea what a myth is and how they’re deveoped and written). So what are the Gosoels if not eyewitness accounts.

  155. Melissa and Bill T,

    Interesting points about the hyper-skeptic’s lack of evidence thus far for their assertions.

  156. Skeptics here are rationalizing against the evidence.

    That is to say, they are not treating the New Testament with the same skepticism which we all treat all history / manuscripts with. The reason they treat it differently is because of a pre-commitment which they hold dear and they need to make moves which ensure those conclusions appear justified.

    How sad. How telling.

    Unfortunately for the hyper-skeptics here, the science of Historicity has all sorts of components which are common, fairly rote, and apropos to the goal at hand. There’s nothing peculiar about Caesar or the N.T. or ancient Macedonia – or what have you. Standard stuff. The skeptics here are actually displaying an awkwardness in their handling of such an established science, that is to say, they are displaying an uneven and overly skeptical treatment which we do not find levied upon other documents and histories.

    How sad. How telling.

    While the two links above provide only rough background information on an overall process, a brief analogy or framework is in part summarized by them:

    What are some of the factors that might serve the role of E in increasing the probability of some saying or event S? The following are some of the most important:

    (1) Historical congruence: S fits in with known historical facts concerning the context in which S is said to have occurred.

    (2) Independent, early attestation: S appears in multiple sources which are near to the time at which S is alleged to have occurred and which depend neither upon each other nor a common source.

    (3) Embarrassment: S is awkward or counter-productive for the persons who serve as the source of information for S.

    (4) Dissimilarity: S is unlike antecedent Jewish thought-forms and/or unlike subsequent Christian thought-forms.

    (5) Semitisms: traces in the narrative of Aramaic or Hebrew linguistic forms.

    (6) Coherence: S is consistent with already established facts about Jesus.

  157. “First, your contention that a majority of NT scholars don’t believe that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts is simply wrong.”

    “It’s not a minority position by any means.”

    I’ve already given you a quote from the guy you cited showing that this is wrong. Here’s another:

    “I have argued that, contrary to the view of the origins of the Gospels that has dominated New Testament scholarship since the rise of form criticism in the early twentieth century, there are good reasons to think that the Gospels as we have them are close to the way the eyewitnesses testified to what they had seen and participated in.”

    http://richardbauckham.co.uk/uploads/Sermons/Canonicity%20of%20the%20Gospels.pdf#page=8

    That’s two separate quotes now from the person you cited, agreeing that his position is in opposition to the dominant one. If even that isn’t good enough, then I encourage you to do the minimal research required to find out what the dominant position is.

    “You take the basic attitude that this idea is something new and controversial that is in need of some special verification.”

    I never said “new”. It is the traditional position of the church. But in the modern day, it is very controversial.

    “Marcions gospel was disqualified from the cannon for many obvious reasons beyond what you suggest. It dating places it as a 2nd century work well ouside of the time frame of the other NT works, Its theology runs contrary to the theology of the NT and and was an idosycratic work written it fit Marcion’s own agenda. That isn’t the “same criteria” in any way.”

    There was no NT in Marcion’s time. The NT is a product of orthodox theology, not the other way round. And there are other 2nd century documents in the NT, such as the Pastoral Epistles.

    Matthew and Luke are adding things to fit their own agenda as well. They have added the virgin birth stories and post-resurrection appearances despite them being absent from their source. Those are major additions with theological significance, which some other early Christians would not have agreed with. So they’re changing Mark to fit an agenda, just as Marcion was accused of doing to Luke.

    “The creedal statements in Corintians are accepted by 90% of all theologians, skeptical and conservative, to date within a few years of Christ’s life. That the early church accepted and practiced the same basic beliefs as we do today is utterly uncontrovercial and almost universally accepted.”

    There was a huge variety of beliefs in the early Church. That letter itself explicitly addresses the fact that there is wide variation in belief at that early stage, particularly in beliefs related to the resurrection. It took centuries to firmly establish orthodoxy. Major points of Christian doctrine are absent from those creedal statements, so assuming that they reflect a modern understanding of Christianity is nothing more than anachronistically reading future beliefs into the past without evidence. And without a written record, how can we know whether those statements changed at all before Paul wrote them down?

    “Your opinion that travel was difficult it without merit or evidence and in fact the evidence you did provide in Paul’s travels contradict that.”

    The stories of Paul’s travels in Acts attests to the amount of time required to make that sort of journey, and to the inconvenience involved. How many weeks are you willing to take off work to investigate a new religion? How much money are you willing to spend? How much spare money and time do you think the average Greek peasant had 2000 years ago?

    “Red herrings regarding growth of cults like Mormanism have absolutely nothing to do with the growth of Christianity.”

    We’re looking at the growth of a particular new religion. What we know about the growth of new religions in general is obviously relevant. The alternative is to engage in wild speculation.

    “Christianity is unique in its fact driven orientation. The claims of Christianity are astounding and the requirement that they be true in order for the faith to be valid are contained in the NT text itself.”

    Be honest: out of the conversion stories you have heard people tell, what sort of proportion of them began with “I carefully investigated the evidence for multiple beliefs”?

    “It defies basic common sense that people who could have verified its claims would not have done so. There simply isn’t another way to rationally understand these basic facts.”

    Then the existence of any religion other than Christianity defies basic common sense, especially the ones in modern times. As much as you dislike the comparison to newer religions, they prove that the ability to investigate and discredit a religion’s claims doesn’t necessarily prevent its growth.

    “The “burden” of this discussion belongs on you. If they aren’t first hand historical accounts, what are they?”

    Anonymous accounts written for the purpose of promoting a religious belief.

    That purpose is given in John 20:31. The Gospels contain no internal attribution; there is no contemporary external attribution; the external attribution that does exist does not cite the source of information for that attribution; the descriptions in those attributions are incompatible with what we can reliably infer about the development of the synoptics, demonstrating the unreliability of those attributions; the probable level of education of the apostles is incompatible with them writing anything of the length and quality of the Gospels; misattribution of religious writings was common in early Christianity.

  158. I’ll also add that not a shred of evidence has been produced for the claims of Christianity beyond what I’ve previously mentioned: the testimony of at most five supposed witnesses, supported by some non-witnesses, none of whom we can examine because they are all long dead. What else are you all willing to believe on such evidence?

  159. scbrownlhrm:

    “There’s nothing peculiar about Caesar or the N.T. or ancient Macedonia – or what have you.”

    Let’s hold them all to the same standard then. If some non-Christian miracle is claimed by an ancient witness, and that witness is otherwise generally reliable, should we believe in this miracle?

  160. Again and agin you quote Balkham and again and agin he counters your assertion that the Goepels are anything but eyewitness accounts. The”rise of form criticism” is the outlier view in the history of the understanding of the Gospels and has been effectively countered by Balkham and the many theologians that support his view both prior to and since the publication of his seminal work.

    Your view and interpretation of referenced creedal statements is disputed, as I said, by 90% of all theologians. Enough said.

    The history of the first century Roman Empire disputes your view of the difficulty of travel in the area in question.

    We know what we know about the growth of Christianity by what we know about the growth if Chistianity which is quite substantial. No speculation is necessary.

    Speculative anecdotal questions about “multiple beliefs” are irrelevant to the NT claims of of the truth of its assertions and the requirement of its truth to the validity of the faith.

    Anonymous accounts written for the purpose of promoting a religious belief.

    Well this baseless assertion that runs contrary to well known and widely accepted facts certainly sums up what you don’t know about the NT.

  161. Ophis,

    If your “inferred” claim that “It’s true -cause the bible” were all there was to the Christian paradigm’s truth claims, or any other religion’s paradigm juxtaposed to their texts, or what have you, you’d have a point.

    But, it isn’t.

    So you don’t.

    One would think the Skeptic would know that – carrying on as you are about Christian claims.

    But you didn’t.

    So again you don’t.

    Sort of like your goings thus far with Bill T etc.

    Your imprecise, uneven, and hyper-skeptical approach here is – still then – quite telling.

  162. Friends,

    I wish to point out that in the academic community of historians and historical researchers, consensus among scholars is neither sought nor desired. So this talk of a “consensus” among biblical scholars and historians is really nonsense. It’s not like scholars sit around a huge table and vote on what history says. In fact, certain scholars are recognized and respected because of the scope and depth of their research, the cogency and relevance of their research methods and the wisdom and credibility of their analysis, not because they are popular or they agree with the rest of the scholarly community. So, if anyone claims to have knowledge of a scholarly consensus about XYZ, we are safe to disregard their claims as a sort of pseudo-academic ad populum argument or false appeal to authority where none exists, expect, of course, for the Holy Scriptures themselves.

  163. BillT, 171: “First, your contention that a majority of NT scholars don’t believe that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts is simply wrong. ”

    Though other sources dispute this: “Neither the evangelists nor their first readers engaged in historical analysis. Their aim was to confirm Christian faith. Scholars generally agree that the Gospels were written forty to sixty years after the death of Jesus. They thus do not present eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings.” — The Oxford Annotated Bible

  164. Bill T,

    Other historicity with items that close to the real event are considered a gold find. 50 years? G-R-E-A-T!

    The uneven and hyper-skeptical treatment of the N.T. when compared to other sorts of history.

    Peculiar.

  165. Adam,

    Whether early readers engaged in historical analysis, which no one said they did, this has no bearing on whether these are eyewitness accounts. We know at least two of the Gospels were written by Disciples and probably a third. Also, the 40 to 60 years is within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events described in the Gospels. As I said above, the definitive history of D-Day was written by a non eyewitness 60 years after the events it described. No one doesn’t consider it an authoritative, accurate primary source account that includes eyewitness testimony.

  166. And scb’s comment above is right on target. It’s special pleading for those critiquing the NT. Regular historical standards need not apply.

  167. Tom, have you viewed the video Jesus of Testimony? If so what is your opinion of it as a resource for answering many of the “historical Jesus/ trustworthiness of the Gospels” questions that keep getting recirculated here? I know it is done by Christian scholars and therefore makes it suspect in the mind of secularist but in my opinion it does address many of the questions I have been reading here. Here is the web site in case you have not seen the video. http://www.jesusoftestimony.com

  168. This has already been mentioned by several other commentators but let me reiterate it with a few examples.

    Even though it does not adhere to so-called modern standards, the New Testament, does unequivocally emphasize the importance of evidence based eyewitness accounts. For example, in his introduction to the Gospel of Luke, the author (Luke) writes:

    1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (NIV)

    Luke as an historian shows a keen interest in eyewitness testimony and evidence. For example, when we look at The Book of Acts, Luke’s sequel to his gospel, it’s very apparent that he was a very good historian. His detailed descriptions of historical people and events, as well as of the geography, customs and culture of the eastern Mediterranean in the first century AD demonstrate that Luke was a very accurate historian who highly valued evidence.

    Archaeologist Sir William Ramsay wrote,

    “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians.”

    (William M. Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, 1915, pg 222)

    And classicist A.N. Sherwin White wrote concerning the historical accuracy of Luke’s account in Acts,

    Any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.

    (A.N Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, 1963, pg. 189)

    Other New Testament writers also emphasized evidence and eyewitness accounts. For example, John tells us:

    1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us… (I John 1:1-4, ESV)

    And Peter writes:

    For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (1 Peter 1:16, ESV)

    Furthermore, Biblical writers did not automatically eschew reason for faith, rather they valued reason and in fact used it in teaching and defending their faith.

    For example, Jesus taught us, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… all your soul and… all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

    And in the book of Proverbs we’re urged to seek wisdom, understanding and knowledge like it was silver or hidden treasure. (See Proverbs 1 & 2)

    Peter takes the role of reason defending faith even further. In I Peter 3:15, he writes, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord… always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”(ESV)

    The Greek word for defense is apologia. It is a legal term that was used ancient law courts which referred to the arguments that a lawyer would give on behalf of a client who was a defendant in either a civil or criminal court case. For example, in Plato’s dialogue, The Apology, Socrates who is representing himself in a criminal trial in the Greek city state of Athens, gives an apologia, or a reasoned defense, on behalf of himself before the Athenian court.

    Modern conceit based on ideologically driven chauvinism is not a sufficient reason to reject historical evidence from ancient times.

  169. BillT:

    Again and agin you quote Balkham and again and agin he counters your assertion that the Goepels are anything but eyewitness accounts.

    Of course he does. You’re missing my point.

    I do not deny that Bauckham is arguing in favour of the Gospels being eyewitness accounts. But this argument is against the dominant opinion in New Testament studies. He admits as much, as I’ve shown you twice. AdamHazzard has provided a third citation for what the dominant belief is. You have provided exactly zero citations for your claim that most NT historians accept the traditional authorship of the Gospels, a claim which you wouldn’t have made if you had any substantial knowledge of the history of the NT beyond Christian apologetics.

    The fact that Bauckham’s opinion is not the majority one does not, by itself, show that he is wrong. Maybe he is right, and the majority is wrong. I’m not asking you to accept that the majority must always be right. I’m just asking you to accept that there is a possibility that the majority of experts who have looked at this question are not blundering idiots.

    The fact that you seem unable to accept the mere possibility that you are wrong about this is a spectacular demonstration of that lack of skepticism which Gilson’s post was trying to deny.

    The”rise of form criticism” is the outlier view in the history of the understanding of the Gospels and has been effectively countered by Balkham and the many theologians that support his view both prior to and since the publication of his seminal work.

    Your view and interpretation of referenced creedal statements is disputed, as I said, by 90% of all theologians. Enough said.

    In paragraph 1, you dispute form criticism and argue against the majority of scholars. In paragraph 2, you appeal to the majority opinion, an opinion they’ve arrived at via form criticism. This is exactly why I stated, in my first comment here, that Christian apologetics is dependent on making favourable assumptions; you’ll use arguments that contradict each other, as long as they can both help to support your position.

    The history of the first century Roman Empire disputes your view of the difficulty of travel in the area in question.

    What exactly are you disputing here? Do you disagree that travelling from Greece to Judea, spending time investigating there, and travelling back, would take weeks? Do you disagree that for many people this would be, at the very least, inconvenient? Are you expecting people to hop on a plane and do this over a weekend?

    We know what we know about the growth of Christianity by what we know about the growth if Chistianity which is quite substantial. No speculation is necessary.

    OK, since you say we “know” this, and it is not speculation, kindly provide me with the evidence you have that these investigations happened. Show me how we “know” that the growth of Christianity happened in a way that was substantially different from all other religions, a way that was dependent on people undertaking personal investigations. Show me how we know that the Christians around the empire would have given up their religion if someone returned from such an investigation having concluded that Christianity was false.

    I hypothesize that you don’t actually “know” this, that you have merely assumed it, and there is little or no evidence in its favour. Prove me wrong.

    Speculative anecdotal questions about “multiple beliefs” are irrelevant to the NT claims of of the truth of its assertions and the requirement of its truth to the validity of the faith.

    That is not speculative at all, since it comes from the words of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-11 he notes the existence of disputes and differing loyalties in the church. In 15:12 and 15:35, he notes the existence of disagreements on the question of resurrection.

    Well this baseless assertion that runs contrary to well known and widely accepted facts certainly sums up what you don’t know about the NT.

    This assertion is not “baseless”; I told you what it is based on in the rest of that paragraph, which you have cut from the quote and simply ignored.

  170. scbrownlhrm:

    Ophis,

    If your “inferred” claim that “It’s true -cause the bible” were all there was to the Christian paradigm’s truth claims, or any other religion’s paradigm juxtaposed to their texts, or what have you, you’d have a point.

    But, it isn’t.

    So you don’t.

    I’ve addressed the claims brought up in this thread by Christians trying to counter the opinion that Christianity is insufficiently skeptical. So far, that consists entirely of the limited evidence I’ve described: at most five biased witnesses, and some non-witnesses. At any point, anybody (including you) could have added more evidence to support the claim that Christianity is not insufficiently skeptical. Nobody has chosen to do so.

    I’m aware that there are other arguments used in favour of Christianity, but none of them have been used here. Presumably Christians agreeing with Gilson’s contention that Christianity is not insufficiently skeptical would provide the best and most relevant arguments supporting that. That’s what I’ve addressed.

  171. BillT,

    Re your #101. Seems you’re trying to make my point for me. The Bible has both the most manuscript copies and the shortest time gap from the original to the first existing copies. Just to get the facts straight. The total number of manuscript copies numbers near 25,000. The gap between the originals and the first manuscript fragment is around 10 years as new fragments were introduced year or two ago the earliest dating into the first century.

    To compare this to another ancient text, “For Caesar’s Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 B.C.) there are several extant MSS, but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar’s day.”

    Again, the number is first of all not surprising (because for many centuries, the scribes that created new copies were almost exclusively Christian monks, and they were strongly biased towards copying religious literature, particularly the NT – sometimes even going as far as bleaching the pages of valuable and rare manuscripts to make room for yet another copy of the NT) and also irrelevant.
    Regarding the timespan between original and oldest copies, the earliest known fragment of a NT text is not 10 years but rather around thirty younger than the original (and this fragment is literally just the size of a business card and contains nothing but a few verses out of John 18), and the oldest complete copies are some copies of the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus – that´s very good but not orders of magnitude earlier than all others, not even a magnitude earlier, it might not even be the shortest timespan at all (I just checked and for some works by Herodotus and Homer, the timespan between original and earliest extant copy is about comparable to the NT, I didn´t search exhaustively but I doubt that the NT actually holds the record here unless you can provide a scholarly source for this claim).

    And, like you said, these facts verify the accuracy of the text (to 99+%).

    But you provided this as a claim that supports the historical truth of the claims being made in the Bible, and the documentary evidence has nothing to do with whether the claims that are made in the Bible are actually true.

    As for your question as to how do we know it’s true, that requires some thought. Since we know that the Biblical text we have is accurate we also know the story in it was the same story that began the Christian faith. We also know that Christianity grew rapidly in it’s early days…..

    Christianity did grow rapidly, but only among the gentiles and only starting in the 2nd century. Christianity was a complete failure among the Jews:
    Throughout the first century the total number of Jews in the Christian movement probably never exceeded 1 000 and by the end of the century the Christian church was largely Gentile.
    – which I find much easier to explain assuming that Jesus was not as impressive a miracle worker as the Gospels claim he was, if he was – why did only a handful of Jews believe in him then?

    So, if the story isn’t true, how could this happen. How do thousands of people all over the region become Christians believing the (rather unbelievable) facts in the NT. Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly.

    I can easily turn this around and say that the people that did not have to travel to Jerusalem because they actually lived there, the people that had by far the best access to the evidence and the people that included many of the actual eyewitnesses, overwhelmingly did not convert to Christianity – Christianity was an enormous success among the gentiles but also a spectacular failure among the Jews.

  172. Tom,

    I think that we have come to a certain juncture in this conversation, given your original intent for this blog, as I understand it. I quote you:

    TG: “For my part, I’m going to ask another question of my own here: Skeptics, could you tell us where it was that you acquired your impression of the church as being unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical, overly trusting? Because I’m here to tell you that what you’re describing is an aberration with respect to Christianity as presented in the Bible, which is completely unlike that. Let’s start a conversation on that, during which we Christians here will also have the opportunity to explain why your opinion, Christianity isn’t skeptical enough.”

    As you may recall, I asked our atheist interlocutors this question, phrased slightly differently, two or three times and got no answer: Are you telling us why you don’t believe in Christianity or are you making the argument that we Christians don’t have enough information about Jesus to “go on” to be Christians in the first place? My observation is that the discussion from the atheists side is an attempt to convince us that there are so many opinions coming from outside Christianity that unless we adopt their same level of skepticism, which should cause us to abandon our Christian faith in the NT, we are not being skeptical enough. What I observe is that they refuse to believe the Holy Scriptures themselves and accept opinions from other sources, at least the ones that tend to confirm their skepticism, instead. What they have not done is given us any reason to doubt the testimony of and in the NT or the credibility (truthfulness and competence) of the givers of the testimony.

    This is why I have such deep respect for Professor Simon Greenleaf’s analysis as a legal scholar of the credibility of the evangelists. We are, Christians and atheists alike, much like jurors in a trial in which the credibility of the witnesses who testify has not been impeached. We jurors must now weigh the evidence ourselves and each individually and independently reach a verdict. For me, apologetics is testifying why I believe the evidence to be true beyond any reasonable doubt. My job as a Christian is not to defend the Gospels against opinions about it but to explain (witness) to why it is believable to ME.

    So, how do we move forward in this conversation? Is Christianity really not skeptical enough? How skeptical of itself does Truth need to be?

  173. Ophis,

    I’m merely commenting on some of the various examples laced throughout this thread of “the skeptic’s” imprecise thinking, Non-Christian straw-men, and uneven, hyper-skeptical (special pleading) treatments.

    Such sloppiness reveals unfortunate emotional commitments to presuppositions as sourcing such uncritical rationalizations levied as “arguments”.

  174. Andy and Ophis,

    Been over and over and over this ground too many times. If you think you’ve been successful then good. If you have one thing you’d like to go over again I’d be glad to comment.

    Andy just a quick historical fact. You’re wrong about the gap between the originals and first copies. It is 10 years. You’re behind the curve here as I explained. You description of what kind of copies exist is off, too. Fragmentary copies in the 1st/2nd century, entire books in the 3rd century, complete NT copies by the early 4th century. It’s an utterly remarkable textual record unlike anything else in existence.

  175. #192

    I believe the evidence to be true beyond any reasonable doubt. My job as a Christian is not to defend the Gospels against opinions about it but to explain (witness) to why it is believable to ME.

    Careful with labels like “beyond any reasonable doubt” – it´s the highest standard of evidence there is, so you are setting the bar very, very high for yourself. Also, if your conclusions are “true beyond any reasonable doubt”, then no one can reasonably disagree with them – you are quite literally saying that people that disagree with you on this can only do so by being unreasonable ;-).

  176. “We jurors must now weigh the evidence ourselves and each individually and independently reach a verdict. For me, apologetics is testifying why I believe the evidence to be true beyond any reasonable doubt.”

    I agree with Jenna here. I’m not troubled when jurors reach a 10-2 decision on a complex case. What I find mildly amusing is when the 2 think the 10 are deluded or have no evidence for their verdict despite explanations to the contrary.

  177. BillT,

    Andy just a quick historical fact. You’re wrong about the gap between the originals and first copies. It is 10 years. You’re behind the curve here as I explained.

    So P52 is no longer the oldest known fragment of a NT text?
    Citation needed.

    You description of what kind of copies exist is off, too. Fragmentary copies in the 1st/2nd century, entire books in the 3rd century, complete NT copies by the early 4th century. It’s an utterly remarkable textual record unlike anything else in existence.

    Again, the earliest complete copies are mid 4th century – and that makes the timespan between oldest complete copy and originals very much comparable to some works by Herodotus and Homer (and probably many others as well because I only checked this briefly).
    Also again, this is not in any way relevant for the claim you originally made – you provided this as evidence for the alleged superiority of the Bible as a source of historical information compared to literally everything else, and the documentary evidence has nothing to do with whether what the text says actually happened or not.

  178. “I agree with Jenna here. I’m not troubled when jurors reach a 10-2 decision on a complex case. What I find mildly amusing is when the 2 think the 10 are deluded or have no evidence for their verdict despite explanations to the contrary.”

    Yes but given the skeptic’s demonstrations in this thread of uneven and hyper-skeptical approaches, special pleading demands that such ratios be branded as uncritical and unreasonable in *any* arena of the – you know – ‘Christian’ variety.

  179. Andy,

    Here. To be fair the final publication has been delayed since this was written. And your right, mid 4th century is more accurate for the complete NT manuscript. This might interest you though from the above: “we have as many as eighteen New Testament manuscripts from the second century and one from the first. Altogether, more than 43% of all New Testament verses are found in these manuscripts.” So these fragments are significant both historically and for their content and sets Biblical textual history apart from other ancient texts.

  180. Jenna,

    We are, Christians and atheists alike, much like jurors in a trial in which the credibility of the witnesses who testify has not been impeached.

    That’s really well put. Thanks.

  181. BillT,

    Here. To be fair the final publication has been delayed since this was written.

    That´s not a good sign, if it was indeed already ” dated by one of the world’s leading paleographers” in early 2012, it should have long been published since then.

    This might interest you though from the above: “we have as many as eighteen New Testament manuscripts from the second century and one from the first. Altogether, more than 43% of all New Testament verses are found in these manuscripts.” So these fragments are significant both historically and for their content and sets Biblical textual history apart from other ancient texts.

    Again, I can happily grant you that the documentary evidence is superior to everything else (although certainly not by orders of magnitude, not even by one order of magnitude ). However, that is simply completely irrelevant for how reliable the text is as a source of information about history. What matters for this would be things like independent and contemporary corrobation from other writers, archaeological evidence and so on and so forth. And I´m not saying that the Bible doesn´t have that (well, the Gospels indeed do not have independent and contemporary corrobation from other writers but what the hell), all I´m saying is that there other ancient documents that are more reliable as sources of information about history, because there is far more high quality evidence that confirms their claims.
    And as I also mentioned, that is not at all surprising, even if one assumes that Christianity is 100% true – it would still be completely ridiculous to expect to find more evidence that confirms the claims about the life of Jesus than evidence that confirms the claims about the life of someone like Julius Caesar, and it is in fact the other way around.

  182. Andy, RE: #195

    You say this: Also, if your conclusions are “true beyond any reasonable doubt”, then no one can reasonably disagree with them – you are quite literally saying that people that disagree with you on this can only do so by being unreasonable ;-).

    You are correct, the highest standard of evidence is “beyond a reasonable doubt” and not “any reasonable doubt” as I said.

    But, to continue with the jury analogy, it is never assumed that a juror who is not convinced by the evidence is being unreasonable. Remember, jurors are assumed to be reasonable people (what used to be called the “reasonable man” standard). What Tom is asking, IMO on this thread and phrased in terms of my jury analogy, is this: What is it about the evidence for the considering the truth (or untruth) of the NT that gives atheists reason to entertain a reasonable doubt. So far, the argument coming from your side, is that the witnesses are incompetent to testify (did not witness what they claim to have witnessed as per the Gospels) and, to a lesser degree, that their testimony is not credible. You are certainly not unreasonable to have questions about either of these sources of evidence and evidence.

    But, speaking for myself, I really truly find the evidence of the gospels and the NT convincing without any reasonable doubt. What is at issue here, IMHO, is whether or not your doubts about the evidence can be overcome and if so, how? If the answer is that no, nothing will overcome your doubts about the NT, then is Christianity really at fault?

  183. However, that is simply completely irrelevant for how reliable the text is as a source of information about history. What matters for this would be things like independent and contemporary corrobation from other writers, archaeological evidence and so on and so forth.

    Andy,

    To paraphrase Jenna “The credibility of our witnesses (the Bible) has not been impeached but any historical or archaeological source. If that’s not good enough for you then, hey, it isn’t.

  184. BillT,

    But Andy, to paraphrase Jenna “The credibility of our witnesses (the Bible) has not been impeached but any historical or archaeological source.

    That depends on which parts of the Bible you are talking about, some indeed do have been contradicted by archaeological research or demonstrated to be ahistorical through other means. The exodus in the OT or the nativity stories in the NT for example do certainly not describe history.

    If that’s not good enough for you then, hey, it isn’t.

    Yup.

  185. Evidence for the claim of Caesar’s 3rd announcement isn’t present.

    Clearly then “the rest” is nonsense.

    Not sure why then I learned so many specifics about Caesar in high school.

    Must’ve been before this new uneven special pleading surfaced…..

    Hope I donut looze mi daploma….

  186. scb

    Evidence for the claim of Caesar’s 3rd announcement isn’t present.

    Clearly then “the rest” is nonsense.

    That is an incredibly obvious non sequitur, try thinking it through again.

  187. Andy,

    You misunderstood.

    It’s just not about the reliability of Scripture. It’s about the reliability of a particular flavor of skepticism.

    There are no arguments here.

    Merely observations of your treatment of texts as compared to general treatments.

    You inferred that either the O.T. or Scripture in general or the N.T. specifically is unreliable based on the Exodus. The theme here is Scripture – not the Exodus – and you levy the Exodus as evidence against reliability. In other words, you took the Exodus and used it as some sort of “weight against” scripture. You did the same with the birth of Christ in the standard nativity scene ascribed to it. Perhaps you have evidence against foreign travel (wise men etc.) and so on. You didn’t specify.

    Nazareth was recently discovered, and, the O.T. texts have more than average weight on their side despite your subtle inference of the opposite:

    “The great names of Archaeology, including Dr. Flinders Petrie, Dr. William Albright, Dr. J.O. Kinnaman, Ira M. Price, Professor Sayce of Oxford, and Sir William Ramsey have gone on record to say that archaeology confirms the accuracy and reliability of the Bible. Dr. William Albright, who was not a friend of Christianity and was probably the foremost authority in Middle East archaeology in his time, said this about the Bible: “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament.” Let me quote Dr. J.O. Kinnaman, who spent some 40 years in research work in and about Palestine: “Let me say that of all the thousands of artifacts that have been discovered by the archaeologist, varying from an inscribed jug handle to the complete edition of the Synoptic Gospels, not one thing has ever been discovered that contradicts or denies any word of the Bible, but the artifacts, without fail confirm, illustrate, illuminate, and fill in the gaps of narrative events and historical continuity…..

    “Seeing this topic relates to a tremendously important archaeological find concerning Nazareth, what about Nazareth?……

    “Skeptics have been asserting for a long time that Nazareth never existed during the time when the New Testament says Jesus spent his childhood there. Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament, by the apostle Paul, by the Talmud (although 63 other Galilean towns are cited), or by Josephus (who listed 45 other villages and cities of Galilee, including Japha, which was located just over a mile from present-day Nazareth. Dr. James Strange of the University of South Florida is an expert on this area, and he describes Nazareth as being a very small place, about 60 acres, with a maximum population of about 480 at the beginning of the first century. Strange notes that when Jerusalem fell in A.D. 70, priests were no longer needed in the temple because it had been destroyed, so they were sent out to various other locations, even up into Galilee. Archaeologists have found a list in Aramaic describing the 24 “courses” or families, of priests who were relocated, and one of them was registered as having been moved to Nazareth. This shows that this tiny village did, in fact, exist at that time. In addition, there have been archaeological digs that have uncovered first-century tombs in the vicinity of Nazareth, which would establish the village’s limits because by Jewish law burials had to take place outside the town proper. Two tombs contained objects such as pottery lamps, glass vessels, and vases from the first century. Renowned archaeologist Jack Finegan, in a book published by Princeton University Press, stated, “From the tombs…it can be concluded that Nazareth was a strongly Jewish settlement in the Roman period. McRay exclaims: “There has been discussion about the location of some sites from the first century, such as exactly where Jesus’ tomb is situated, but among archaeologists there has never really been a big doubt about the location of Nazareth. The burden of proof ought to be on those who dispute Fits existence.” Now we have further confirmation of its existence.”

    Further, there are these issues with the New Testament as already linked:

    “Laymen who do not understand historical method sometimes demand sources for the life of Jesus outside the New Testament–as if a document’s being later collected into an anthology somehow impugns its historical credibility! Never mind; what we now see is that there are such sources, but that the most important ones are not those which came later than the New Testament documents, such as Josephus or Tacitus’ testimonies, but rather those which came before the New Testament documents were written and were used by New Testament authors.”

    And:

    “The idea that the abundance and age of the manuscripts of the Gospels is evidence for their historical reliability is a misconception fostered by popular Christian apologetics. It’s true that the New Testament is the best attested book in ancient history, both in terms of the number of manuscripts and the nearness of those manuscripts to the date of the original. What that goes to prove is that the text of the New Testament that we have today is almost exactly the same as the text as it was originally written. Of the approximately 138,000 words in the New Testament only about 1,400 remain in doubt. The text of the New Testament is thus about 99% established. That means that when you pick up a (Greek) New Testament today, you can be confident that you are reading the text as it was originally written. Moreover, that 1% that remains uncertain has to do with trivial words on which nothing of importance hangs. This conclusion is important because it explodes the claims of Muslims, Mormons, and others that the text of the New Testament has been corrupted, so that we can no longer read the original text. It’s awe-inspiring to think that we can know with confidence that when we pick Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, for example, we are reading the very words he wrote almost 2,000 years ago. But, as you say, that doesn’t prove that what these documents say is historically accurate. We could have the text of Aesop’s fables established to 99% accuracy, and that would do nothing to show that they are true stories. After all, they are intended to be fables, not history. People in the future would say something similar about the Joe narratives, no matter how many copies existed. Now, as you point out, the Gospels are intended to be history. That is the import of your comment that the Gospels “are historical” even if they are not true. That is to say, the Gospels are of the literary genre of historical writing. They are not of the genre of mythology, fiction, or fable. This is an extremely important insight. Something of a consensus has developed within New Testament scholarship that the Gospels are closest in genre to ancient biographies…”

    There’s more, but this is not to argue reliability but rather is merely to show that your one-trick pony of the sort of flavor of criteria you are appealing for – asking for – just is not necessary to grant.

    Which simply reveals an uneven special pleading beneath the surface on a few levels.

    I’m satisfied with those few levels leaking through as it’s just not about the reliability of Scripture. It’s about the reliability of a particular flavor of skepticism.

    History’s tid bits just keep surfacing on the side of the O.T. and N.T. such that the 10/2 jury vote has 1) not been shown to be beyond reasonable doubt and 2) secular archeologists refer to both for lines of direction and 3) the 2 votes against have a few layers of special pleading leaking out all over the floor.

    There are no arguments here.

    Merely observations of an odd skepticism’s treatment of texts as compared to general treatments.

  188. scb,

    Andy,

    There are no arguments here.

    Merely observations of your treatment of texts as compared to general treatments.

    Oh, really? Well, lets see:

    You inferred that either the O.T. or Scripture in general or the N.T. specifically is unreliable based on the Exodus.

    Nope, I never said that or anything like it.
    It seems as if we are in for another round of scb tilting at windmills *grabs popcorn*

  189. Jenna Black #192:

    As you may recall, I asked our atheist interlocutors this question, phrased slightly differently, two or three times and got no answer: Are you telling us why you don’t believe in Christianity or are you making the argument that we Christians don’t have enough information about Jesus to “go on” to be Christians in the first place?

    It’s closer to the second; I’m saying you’re accepting evidence for Christianity that you wouldn’t accept for other beliefs. Even if we put aside any doubts about the authorship of the Gospels, and assume we really have some kind of witness account there; many other claims of extraordinary events are also backed up by the testimony of eyewitnesses, and you would not accept most of them. That looks to me like an inconsistent application of skepticism.

    scbrownlhrm #193:

    I’m merely commenting on some of the various examples laced throughout this thread of “the skeptic’s” imprecise thinking, Non-Christian straw-men, and uneven, hyper-skeptical (special pleading) treatments.

    “Various examples” which you choose not to specify. Now you’re just making generalised complaints without actually pointing out where I’ve done any of those things.

    Such sloppiness reveals unfortunate emotional commitments to presuppositions as sourcing such uncritical rationalizations levied as “arguments”.

    Vague and speculative. None of this contains any substantial criticism of anything I’ve said.

    BillT #194:

    Been over and over and over this ground too many times. If you think you’ve been successful then good. If you have one thing you’d like to go over again I’d be glad to comment.

    Then let’s go back to my statement at the end of #150, but putting aside any doubts about the authorship of the gospels, and assume there really are eyewitness accounts in the NT.

    In short, the evidence so far presented consists of written claims, some of which are by people who may or may not have been witnesses; which copy each other to some extent; all from people favourable to one particular opinion closely related to those claims; and which have no corroborating physical evidence supporting anything other than incidental details.

    Are you telling me I should accept an extraordinary, unprecedented event like the resurrection of a corpse, based on the testimony of a few witnesses with no physical evidence? And if I can find similar witness support for other extraordinary, unprecedented events, should we accept those too?

  190. Are you telling me I should accept an extraordinary, unprecedented event like the resurrection of a corpse, based on the testimony of a few witnesses with no physical evidence? And if I can find similar witness support for other extraordinary, unprecedented events, should we accept those too?

    Ophis,

    I think there are a few unwarranted assumptions in this statement. First of all, that it’s “…based on the testimony of a few witnesses…” Our understanding is that the risen Christ appeared to at least 500 people (at one time) and likely twice that overall. And that information is in the NT text so it’s available for verification to those that wanted to confirm it.

    Second, as you must know, the physical evidence is the empty tomb. This was a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers who faced execution for failing their orders. Yet, there was no body. There is a huge amount of internet information and discussion on this this topic so I’ll stop there.

    I believe the confluence of information we have is quite substantial. Knowledge of the original text, a text written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events that were described, who were alive and available to confirm it’s content to members of the early church.

  191. I’m saying you’re accepting evidence for Christianity that you wouldn’t accept for other beliefs.

    How so? Considering that each case is contextually different, there may be good reasons to reject those other beliefs. The evidence is different and the testimony is different, right?

    To stay with the jury analogy, just because you decide to convict on one case doesn’t mean you are being inconsistent when you decide not to convict on another case. Saying the claims in both cases is “extraordinary” doesn’t tell us anything about how to decide the case based on the evidence.

  192. Ophis & SteveK,

    Steve is correct about examining the evidence from the gospels in regard to the jury analogy. The decision in this “trial” is whether or not we can, beyond a reasonable doubt, accept the gospels and NT as truth. The decision to be a Christian is a spiritual, moral, intellectual and life/worldview decision of such transcendent importance in my life that of course, I examine and reexamine the evidence continually, and my faith deepens as a result. There is no inconsistency in how I weigh the evidence of the NT. If I were a juror in a capital murder trial and had to make a decision about someone else’s life or death, I would apply the same high level of scrutiny and analysis to that evidence as I do to my Christianity. I believe that the same is true for all committed Christians.

  193. Level of evidence:

    Apologists are in part to blame for playing along with the Skeptic’s unjustified assertion that the abundance and age of the manuscripts is “the evidence” for their historical reliability. As Dr. Craig points out, that is a misconception fostered in part by popular Christian apologetics. The overall point that there are various layers housing an uneven treatment by the Skeptic in this thread is aided by looking at the more thorough work of Bart Ehrman. He does a better job and uses a more broad brush. Yet we’re still not out of the arena named Reasonable Doubt given that we observe his various lines of criticism being answered along the way by others. The prosecution has valid points, and, the defense has valid points. We have several observations here of an over-skeptical line asking for lines of evidence which just don’t have to be granted, and, of that same over-skeptical approach making subtle calls along uneven weights such as a conclusion on matter A demanding the same conclusion on matter B, or what have you. Yet through all of that, Ehrman and others have done better work, and yet there are more than satisfying intellectual rebuttals of his analysis.

  194. BillT,

    I think there are a few unwarranted assumptions in this statement. First of all, that it’s “…based on the testimony of a few witnesses…” Our understanding is that the risen Christ appeared to at least 500 people (at one time) and likely twice that overall.

    Even if that were so, you don´t have their testimony and don´t know what exactly they saw (or not). If you have one witness who tells you that what he saw was also seen by 1000 others, you still have just one witness and not 1001.

    Second, as you must know, the physical evidence is the empty tomb. This was a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers who faced execution for failing their orders.

    Well, apologists like Craig keep saying that all historians accept that Jesus was buried in a tomb, but that is simply not the case. And many do not accept this for good reason, because some parts of the story are simply more than fishy, example:
    “11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”
    – this story reports a private conversation among conspirators, so how does whoever wrote Matthew know what was said during this conversation? Either this story is just made up, or the author of Matthew knows it because the “story has been widely circulated” – which would make this nothing but gossip. Stuff like that makes the whole story about what the romans allegedly did or didn´t do with the body of Jesus not very trustworthy.
    Btw, try finding one other ancient text that is considered to be a source of historical information and that reports the contents of private conversations that the author himself did not participate in. You won´t ever find stuff like that in Herodotus’ Chronicles for example.

    I believe the confluence of information we have is quite substantial. Knowledge of the original text, a text written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events that were described, who were alive and available to confirm it’s content to members of the early church.

    Again, Christianity was a failure among the Jews. Those that were in the best position to check out all the evidence were precisely those that overwhelmingly did not convert – Christianity was only a success among the Gentiles.

  195. Those in the best position to evaluate the evidence were His Jewish followers as everybody fled for their life. At risk to life and limb those followers (and other Jews) subsequently convert. Besides, (Jewish) Prophesy speaks before such events even happen about the house of Israel here on such lines.

    Paul moves towards the Gentiles as Peter in Acts finds Jewish folks quite interested.

    “Motives for belief” is claimed by the Skeptic about people one step removed from Christ (gentiles) as good evidence. Then, when those closest to the evidence (Jewish people) make up the *earliest* converts – well – that just cannot count as evidence, nor will prophetic nuances.

    Un….even….ly…. handed… hyper-skeptical lines asking for what need not be granted.

  196. Andy,

    If Christianity was “… a failure among the Jews” is wasn’t a failure in Jerusalem as I described above. Jerusalem wasn’t a 100% Jewish city and we have record of Jews, members of the Sanhedrin, and Roman Centurions belonging to the church in Jerusalem. All of these people plus the gentiles who were part of that church were eyewitnesses and in every bit as good a position to know the truth about the claims of Christianity. And that’s not to mention that there were large numbers of non-believers in Jerusalem that were eyewitnesses to Christ’s ministry and they were available to be questioned by seekers as well. (BTW, the verse you quote above is evidence for the empty tomb, not against it.)

  197. BillT,

    If Christianity was “… a failure among the Jews” is wasn’t a failure in Jerusalem as I described above. Jerusalem wasn’t a 100% Jewish city and we have record of Jews, members of the Sanhedrin, and Roman Centurions belonging to the church in Jerusalem. All of these people plus the gentiles who were part of that church were eyewitnesses and in every bit as good a position to know the truth about the claims of Christianity.

    And yet:
    Neither the Law-observant gospel of the Jerusalem church nor the Law-free gospel of the Hellenists and Paul made much impression upon the people of Israel. Throughout the first century the total number of Jews in the Christian movement probably never exceeded 1 000 and by the end of the century the Christian church was largely Gentile.
    My point is, only a teeny-tiny minority of those that were in the position to know, became Christians – the overwhelming majority did not. That is easy to explain if Jesus was not as impressive a miracle worker as the Gospels describe him to be and if he in fact did not rise and appeared to hundreds. If hundreds of people saw the risen Christ and thousands saw his miracles before the crucifixion – then why did only a handful convert?

    (BTW, the verse you quote above is evidence for the empty tomb, not against it.)

    Those verses are evidence for the author of Matthew either a) making stuff up out of thin air or b) relying on gossip.
    If you think there are other possibilities, then how, in your opinion, could the author of Matthew possibly know the contents of a private conversation among conspirators that he himself did not participate in?

  198. Jenna,

    Nor will Andy accept evidence of how “Jewish” Christianity is as evidence?

    Evidence for what?

  199. Those in the best position where the earliest converts.

    Does the Skeptic have proof of 1000 Jews in 100 years.
    Them’s soms realz numbers!

    I guess Paul’s miracles did the trick for the Gentiles.

    Case closed?

  200. So Paul was a much more impressive miracle worker than Jesus himself, so impressive that he, unlike Jesus, managed to convince more than a handful of people.
    Now that is an interesting proposal for a “Christian” to make 😀

  201. My point is, only a teeny-tiny minority of those that were in the position to know, became Christians – the overwhelming majority did not.

    This is not news to anyone. Scripture documented this 2000 years ago. The gate is narrow. You’re late to the party, Andy.

  202. Show us your proof of 1000 Jewish converts in 100 years.

    And don’t forget about Prophesy about the House of Israel.

    And those pesky earliest converts having the best information.

  203. SteveK,

    This is not news to anyone. Scripture documented this 2000 years ago.

    Why are you telling this to me? Tell it to the one who said:
    “We also know that Christianity grew rapidly in it’s early days during which time the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT were alive.

    So, if the story isn’t true, how could this happen. How do thousands of people all over the region become Christians believing the (rather unbelievable) facts in the NT. Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly. The validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT. That’s how we know it’s true.”

  204. scb,
    “Show us your proof of 1000 Jewish converts in 100 years.”
    – Already did. You seem to be new to the internet, so I suggest you familiarize yourself with the concept of a “hyperlink”.

    “And don’t forget about Prophesy.”
    – Be precise, don´t forget about which “prophecy” exactly?

  205. Early Christianity had churches in every major city in the Mediterranean, including as far away as Rome, by the mid 60’s only thirty years after Christ’s ministry. And your numbers are a bit misleading. As I said, there were lots of non Jewish eyewitnesses who were members of the church in Jerusalem which had to number between 500 and 1000 by itself. Jewish eyewitnesses aren’t any more reliable than any other eyewitnesses. “The Rise of Christianity” by Rodney Stark I think gives somewhat more complete numbers and is generally accepted as the most accurate research on the subject.

  206. Andy,

    You’re floundering in your special pleading and your morphing standards of what counts.

    You don’t even see it.

    That’s the uncritical thinking perhaps?

  207. BillT,

    Early Christianity had churches in every major city in the Mediterranean, including as far away as Rome, by the mid 60’s only thirty years after Christ’s ministry. And your numbers are a bit anemic. “The Rise of Christianity” by Rodney Stark I think gives somewhat more robust numbers and is generally accepted as the most accurate research on the subject.

    The only numbers that are relevant to what I am pointing out are the numbers of jewish Christians. The Jews were in the best position to know, and they overwhelmingly did not convert – Christianity only became successful among the Gentiles.
    If Rodney Stark contradicts this and has some evidence to show that the Christian community around Peter in Jerusalem was actually large and kept growing rapidly, then by all means quote him saying that – that would certainly be news to me.

  208. Andy,

    AD 70 seems left unaccounted for in the Math.

    Many factors seem left unaccounted for.

    Including Prophesy and the fact that those in the thick of it had the best information and were the earliest converts.

    If motive for belief counts as evidence then those closest to Christ have the best reason to fear for their life, the best information, and yet comprise the earliest converts.

    Good point about those factors being strong evidence.

  209. And Andy, if you can’t figure out why Jews would have been reluctant to convert to Christianity, besides the evidence, you should put your thinking cap on.

  210. SteveK,

    A “few conversions” and “grew rapidly” are not mutually exclusive phrases, Andy.

    Yup, if the converts reproduce like rabbits and their children uncritically accept the religious views of their parents. Not relevant for what I said though – virtually all the original eyewitnesses to Jesus` alleged miracles and alleged post-crucifixion appearances were Jews, the Jews were on average in a much, much better position to evaluate the evidence for Christianity then the Gentiles were. And yet Christianity became a huge success among the Gentiles but failed spectacularly among the Jews, exactly the false way around if one assumes that a) Christanity is true and b) conversions in early Christian history were driven by evidence.

  211. The Jews were in the best position to know, and they overwhelmingly did not convert – Christianity only became successful among the Gentiles.

    This is not true. The gentiles in Jerusalem were in the very same position to know. His ministry was a public one.

  212. BillT,

    And Andy, if you can’t figure out why Jews would have been reluctant to convert to Christianity, besides the evidence, you should put your thinking cap on.

    Nope, can´t figure it out at all. Persecution of religious minorities never stopped the Gentiles from becoming Christians, so this cannot be the reason, and I can´t think of any other. If you have the explanation for this, why don´t you want to share it?

  213. BillT,

    This is not true. The gentiles in Jerusalem were in the very same position to know. His ministry was a public one.

    I know. And you are not contradicting what I said, note that I said:
    “virtually all the original eyewitnesses to Jesus` alleged miracles and alleged post-crucifixion appearances were Jews…
    the Jews were ON AVERAGE in a much, much better position to evaluate the evidence for Christianity then the Gentiles were”
    – I can also tone it down and change the “virtually all” to “by far the most”, doesn´t affect my point at all.

  214. Bill T,

    @235

    Strong evidence for Christ by Andy’s standard. Until special pleading morphs and massages.

  215. It may not effect your point but you point isn’t very compelling. Lots of non Jews were eyewitnesses and lots of them became converts. On the other issue you might think about who it was that lead the persecution of Christ, their overall cultural orientation and the Biblical prophesy.

  216. BillT,

    It may not effect your point but you point isn’t very compelling. Lots of non Jews were eyewitnesses and lots of them became converts.

    Those “lots of converts” among the Jews in total amounted to nothing but a teeny-tiny community that in the entire first century never exceeded ~1000 people. While Christianity spread like wildfire among the Gentiles… And if Christianity is true and early conversions were driven by evidence, then this is the exact opposite of what one would expect to observe.

    I can’t help it if you can’t use your thinking cap on the other issue.

    Translation: “I don´t really have a point here but I don´t want to admit that”.

  217. So I talked about the non Jewish eyewitness converts and you bring up the same point again about the Jewish converts?????? Done and done, Andy

    And check my edit above.

    And if you really want to understand the book I referenced above will explain that as well.

  218. 1) In the first 50 years Gentiles out-number Jews by magnitudes, were direct observers of Christ, had the best information, and make up the larger group of coverts.

    2) In the first 50 years Jews were out-numbered by Gentiles by magnitudes, were direct observes of Christ, had the best information, and make up the smaller group of converts.

    3) A.D. 70 isn’t accounted for in the Math.

    4) Prophecy isn’t accounted for in the Math.

  219. BillT,

    So I talked about the non Jewish eyewitness converts and you bring up the same point again about the Jewish converts?????? Done and done, Andy

    There being eyewitnesses among the Gentiles is completely irrelevant for the point I am making. Jesus preached and performed his miracles among the Jews, that an occasional Gentile was in the crowd doesn´t change the fact that the Jews had by far the best access to the evidence. This is almost silly, if there is an alleged miracle that happened in France and was observed by 10000 french people and 50 Germans, and over time most Germans start to believe that the miracle actually happened while the french simply don´t buy it at all and even the tiny community of french believers eventually all but dies out – then this would absolutely contradict the claim that the belief in this miracle spread due to evidence, it didn´t, the people with best access to the evidence were not convinced.
    It would be simply silly to object to this with “but, but… some Germans did witness the event” – but that is the exact same objection as the one you are making here re Jews and Gentiles.

    On the other issue you might think about who it was that lead the persecution of Christ, their overall cultural orientation and the Biblical prophesy.

    1. Persecution never stopped the Gentiles from becoming Christians, so this is no explanation.
    2. “overall cultural orientation” – be precise, what does the cultural orientation have to do with anything? It was apparently not impossible for Jews to convert because there were jewish converts, they were just incredibly rare compared to converts among the Gentiles – how does “cultural orientation” explain that?
    3. WHICH “prophecy” and WHEN was it written? (if you have the Gospel of John in mind for example – that was written long after it was apparent that the Jews are simply not buying Christianity)

  220. sctrollhrm,
    yes, they are completely irrelevant. And I explained why. Jesus preached and performed his miracles among the Jews, saying that the Gentiles had the exact same access to the evidence because there was an occasional Gentile in the crowd, is stupid.

  221. sctrollhrm,
    coming from a thoroughly dishonest and ignorant specimen like you, I cannot help but read that as a compliment 🙂

  222. Andy,

    The obvious math – and prophecy – *easily* predict exactly what we find.

    In the first 50 years……large groups and small groups all talking among themselves and so on. Large stays large and small stays small. And prophecy.

  223. sctrollhrm,
    interesting “apologetics”:
    “Ur wrong because math! Also, prophecy! And stuff….”
    It´s completely vacuous of course, but certainly universally applicable:
    Skeptic: “X is evidence against Christianity”
    sctrollhrm: “No! Because math! And prophecy! And stuff….”

    “Works” for everything that you could substitute for X – you should write a book!

  224. Andy,

    1) In the first 50 years Gentiles out-number Jews by magnitudes, were direct observers of Christ, had the best information, and make up the larger group of coverts.

    2) In the first 50 years Jews were out-numbered by Gentiles by magnitudes, were direct observes of Christ, had the best information, and make up the smaller group of converts.

    It’s simply an observation of facts. Helpful facts.

    The standard is (so far anyway) that those with the best information ought to convert. Well that is what happened. We expect that to happen if the best information is good.

    And that is what we find.

    Given the population densities, over that first 50 years we expect that particular extrapolation to follow trajectories which reflect such basic demographic facts.

    And that is what we find.

    A.D. 70 and Prophecy are two separate sets of data, but we have enough to go on already without those two, so, well, it’s enough.

  225. Andy,

    The author of the paper you cite admits himself that he is engaging in speculative calculations. That seems to me to be a little flimsy to build your case on. All the initial members of the church (prior to the late 30’s) would have been predominantly Jewish.

    That being said, the church was probably a very small percentage of the total Jewish population in Jerusalem.

  226. Melissa,

    The author of the paper you cite admits himself that he is engaging in speculative calculations. That seems to me to be a little flimsy to build your case on. All the initial members of the church (prior to the late 30’s) would have been predominantly Jewish.

    That being said, the church was probably a very small percentage of the total Jewish population in Jerusalem.

    And it eventually all but died out completely. Yes, the initial members would have been jewish, but they couldn´t convince more than a handful of other Jews that they are telling the truth – while Paul could convince the Gentiles. Regarding the numbers, you could be much, much more generous with the numbers and it still wouldn´t affect the point – Christianity spread like wildfire among the Gentiles but the Jews didn´t buy it (and still don´t). And if we assume that Christianity is true and that conversions in early Christian history were driven by evidence – this is totally unexpected, because the Jews had better access to the evidence than the Gentiles did.

  227. sctrollhrm,

    Given the population densities, over that first 50 years we expect that particular extrapolation to follow trajectories which reflect such basic demographic facts.

    Right! Jesus preaching and performing his miracles among the Jews, with maybe an occasional Gentile being present here and there, would totally lead us to expect that only a teeny-tiny community of Jews is convinced that Jesus is for real and that this community eventually all but dies out, so that the Jews to this day still overwhelmingly don´t believe in Jesus. While we would simultaneously expect that the belief that Jesus is for real spreads like wildfire among the Gentiles.
    This is of course totally not breathtakingly idiotic because you dropped some sciencey sounding words like “extrapolation” and “demographic”.

  228. Andy,

    Have you even read the paper you’re using to support your thesis? The author begins with a constant rate of 40% growth in Christianity. That rate does not change for his calculations whether it is growth before the mission to the Gentiles or after.

    Also there is a good historical reason why the church is Jerusalem died out which I’m sure you must be aware of.

  229. Melissa,

    Have you even read the paper you’re using to support your thesis? The author begins with a constant rate of 40% growth in Christianity. That rate does not change for his calculations whether it is growth before the mission to the Gentiles or after.

    That growth rate is adopted from Rodney Stark´s work and he didn´t distinguish between Jews and Gentiles to estimate this growth rate. However, this growth was evidently only present among the Gentiles and didn´t affect the Jews – else the jewish Christian community would have actually become sizeable instead of all but dying out.
    So I don´t really see what your point here is.

    Also there is a good historical reason why the church is Jerusalem died out which I’m sure you must be aware of.

    No, I´m actually not aware of a good reason. If you are thinking about the jewish-roman war and the sacking of Jerusalem for example – why should that have wiped out the jewish Christian community? (and not only in Jerusalem but rather among the Jews in general).

  230. Andy,

    The facts and demographics not only fail to contradict the Christian model’s predictions, they actually fit it rather well. Whereas, on several levels they present your ad hoc model with a burden of proof to overcome which you’ve not demonstrated you can do. As Bill T alluded to, your whole driving theme here is rather unimpressive, and given the weight you need to overcome you’re floundering as you just keep repeating, eyes closed, “But the Gentile’s don’t matter!”

    Your entire ad hoc model must give strong evidence that 50 years of direct access to the best information should *not* have caused the Gentile group to grow.

    You’ve not even come close to making a case for that.

    1) In the first 50 years Gentiles out-number Jews by magnitudes, were direct observers of Christ, had direct access to the best information, and make up the larger group of coverts.

    2) In the first 50 years Jews were out-numbered by Gentiles by magnitudes, were direct observes of Christ, had direct access the best information, and make up the smaller group of converts.

    You want to argue against a “Summation”. And that summation is what 50 years of direct access to the best evidence predicts, and then, combined with that is what population densities predict. How unfortuante for you that both/each predict exactly what we find.

    Each on their own predicts what we find – and when combined they sum to a real problem for your ad hoc attempts here.

    Your entire ad hoc model must give strong evidence that 50 years of direct access to the best information should *not* have caused the Gentile group to grow.

    But you have not presented an argument for that.

    Given that it is impossible for the Jews to out-number the Gentiles, and worse, given that you’ve *not* given good evidence that 50 years of direct access to the best information should *not* have caused the Gentile group to grow, and worse still, given that the growth which we find tracks right along with the Christian model’s predicted trajectories based on easily proven demographics, given all of that, the Christian is quite happy with his case, even as the burden of proof which your assertions must meet is as of yet just too high to overcome by anything you’ve given us.

  231. sctrollhrm,

    Given that it is impossible for the Jews to out-number the Gentiles

    Irrelevant, my point is that the Christian movement among the Gentiles showed rapid growth while the Christian movement among the Jews rapidly became irrelevant and all but died out. And that despite the Jews having the best access to the evidence for Christianity, if Christianity indeed is true.
    Your vacuous blustering does not include any argument for why Christianity was successful among the Gentiles but a failure among the Jews. You can yell “but demographics! and math!!” until you are blue in the face, it still won´t turn into an argument for why the Christian movement among the Gentiles was rapidly growing while the Christian movement among the Jews rapidly all but died out completely.

    Also, “as you just keep repeating, eyes closed, “But the Gentile’s don’t matter!”” – you are a notorious liar, but that is nothing new.

  232. Andy,

    We expect the Gentile group to outnumber the Jewish group. We expect Israel to be scattered. We expect the Jewish group to be smaller than the Gentile group.

    Just like today.

    There have always been Jewish Christians.

    Then too.

    Just like today.

    It is all rather coherent with Christianity.

    Whereas:

    Your entire ad hoc model must give strong evidence that 50 years of direct access to the best information should *not* have caused the Gentile group to grow.

    You’ve not done that.

    Not even close.

    So your model is far less plausible than the Christian’s.

  233. sctrollhrm

    “We expect the Gentile group to outnumber the Jewish group”
    – Has literally nothing what-so-ever to do with the point I made because it was about rapid growth (among the Gentiles) versus lack of growth followed by eventual extinction (among the Jews). The total numbers among Gentiles and Jews are completely irrelevant, it´s about growth and lack of growth.

    “There have always been Jewish Christians.”
    – And they have always been a teeny-tiny minority among the Jews while other cultures became fully christianized within just a few centuries. Christianity was an enormous success among the Gentiles and an utter failure among the Jews. Despite the Jews being the original audience of Jesus’ preaching and miracles. Your vacuous blustering about an alleged “Christian model” that predicts exactly this outcome is just that – vacuous blustering, you have no explanation at all for how this could have happened assuming that Christianity is true.

  234. Andy,

    else the jewish Christian community would have actually become sizeable instead of all but dying out.

    I’m trying to follow your reasoning here, but it’s difficult. I think you need to provide more information to make your case that those with less access to the evidence were more likely to convert. The primary piece that is missing is the conversion rate of Jews in Jerusalem per population as opposed to Jews in other cities. I’m not sure whether that information is available or not. i don’t think you can mount a case without this evidence.

    I would like to reiterate what Jenna wrote earlier, that I doubt anyone converts solely on the basis of the historical case. I do think that the alternative scenarios are no more compelling than the Christian explanation and do have their own holes that need filling. Which Alternative a person finds compelling probably has more to do with other reasons.

  235. Melissa,

    I’m trying to follow your reasoning here, but it’s difficult. I think you need to provide more information to make your case that those with less access to the evidence were more likely to convert. The primary piece that is missing is the conversion rate of Jews in Jerusalem per population as opposed to Jews in other cities. I’m not sure whether that information is available or not. i don’t think you can mount a case without this evidence.

    It´s not just Jerusalem, it´s the Jews in general. Jesus travelled a lot, preached a lot and performed many miracles. And, on average, a Jew would a) have been much more likely to have been in the audience when Jesus was preaching, or performing miracles, or when he rose and “appeared to many” etc.pp. and b) also much more likely to have close friends or family members who were eyewitnesses.
    Do you disagree with that? If so, on what grounds?
    If you do not disagree about this point, then we agree that the Jews had, on average, the best access to eyewitness testimony supporting Christian claims (if Christianity is indeed true). But despite that, Christianity spread like wildfire among neighboring cultures so that they became fully christianized within centuries, while Christianity was never more than a teeny-tiny minority among the Jews.
    And that seems to directly contradict the claim that the rapid growth of Christianity was caused by the evidence for Christianity being so good – if that would have been the reason, Christianity should have spread rapidly among the Jews, but it didn´t, it eventually all but died out among the Jews.

    I would like to reiterate what Jenna wrote earlier, that I doubt anyone converts solely on the basis of the historical case.

    I don´t disagree with that at all. And when this is turned around, it would still be true I think – people that are convinced that Christianity is false are not solely convinced based on what they believe about the historical record.

  236. Andy,

    Your entire ad hoc model must give strong evidence that 50 years of direct access to the best information SHOULD NOT HAVE caused the Gentile group to grow. We expect it WOULD grow.

    Jewish Christians have *always* existed since then. Prophecy aside.

    LOTS of geographic areas gave VANISHED as far as their Christian status went. The TINY TEENY Jewish “nation” is just ONE OF THOSE.

    You seem to think that is magically different than any other random “groups” which have ALSO undergone that SAME change across history. Gentile groups of Christians were APOSTATE back then TOO.

    So what?

    In short: Some geographical area lost a big % of its Christian numbers – THEREFORE Christianity is unreasonable.

  237. sctrollhrm
    “Your entire ad hoc model must give strong evidence that 50 years of direct access to the best information SHOULD NOT HAVE have caused the Gentile group to grow.”
    – No. Because my point is not that the Christian movement among the Gentiles was growing, it is that the Christian movement among the Jews was *NOT GROWING*. As I have said over and over and over again (and now we´ll see how sctrollhrm will simply ignore this and just copy-paste the same stupid “objection” for the fifth time in 3,2,1…..)

  238. Andy,

    And, on average, a Jew would a) have been much more likely to have been in the audience when Jesus was preaching, or performing miracles, or when he rose and “appeared to many” etc.pp. and b) also much more likely to have close friends or family members who were eyewitnesses.
    Do you disagree with that? If so, on what grounds?

    I’m just trying to establish what information you have to support your claim that those with access to more evidence were less likely to convert, all other things being equal. You really do need to compare the conversion rates of Jews living within the influence of Jesus 3 year ministry and the fledgling church and those who were at a distance from that otherwise I’m not sure how you hope to draw valid conclusions.

  239. Andy,

    LOTS of geographic areas have VANISHED as far as their Christian status went. The TINY TEENY Jewish “nation” is just ONE OF THOSE.

    You seem to think that is magically different than any other random “groups” which have ALSO undergone that SAME change across history. Gentile groups of Christians were APOSTATE back then TOO.

    So what?

    In short you’re here: Some geographical area lost a big % of its Christian numbers – THEREFORE Christianity is unreasonable.

  240. Andy,

    You are making a number of unsubstantiated assumptions in your argument here. 1. That the Jews in Israel, particularly Jerusalem had better access to evidence about Jesus than the Gentiles who became Christians. On what basis do you make that claim? Of course you realize that in the very early days of the Church, there was no such thing as Christianity. Christians were considered a sect of Judaism, so no conversion was necessary.

    2. You seem so assume that the fate of the Christians among the Jews was separate and apart from the fate of the entire community of Jews in Israel under Roman rule (oppression), such that we can disaggregate and separate what was happening to Christians in this population. You don’t appear to have any historical information that makes such a distinction.

    3. You assume that Christianity’s alleged lack of growth (undocumented) among the Jews versus its success among the Gentiles says something negative about Christianity when in fact, the opposite is true. Think about it. Christianity immediately spread rapidly among groups who were not familiar with Jewish religion, law and traditions, what was the “glue” that held Jewish communities together. The phenomenon of the growth of Christianity is testimony to its truth and power as a universal religion. It means that Jesus’ followers did as Jesus had commanded them to do and did it well:

    Matthew 28:19
    Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

    I recommend two excellent books on this subject:

    Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (Ed.) (2011). The Jewish annotated New Testament.

    John Shelby Spong (1996). Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish eyes.

  241. Melissa,

    I’m just trying to establish what information you have to support your claim that those with access to more evidence were less likely to convert, all other things being equal. You really do need to compare the conversion rates of Jews living within the influence of Jesus 3 year ministry and the fledgling church and those who were at a distance from that…

    The initial church – the community around Peter in Jerusalem – would have been almost completely jewish. But by the end of the 1st century, Christianity was already a largely Gentile movement.
    If we assume that the jewish community around Peter grew at least as fast as the largely hellenistic community around Paul, this could not have happened unless the jewish Christian community would have been systematically killed (and there is no historical record for that). So, the natural conclusion is that the community around Paul was growing rapidly while the community around Peter didn´t – so that Christianity, despite starting out as a largely jewish movement, became a largely Gentile movement within just one lifetime.

  242. Jenna,

    You are making a number of unsubstantiated assumptions in your argument here. 1. That the Jews in Israel, particularly Jerusalem had better access to evidence about Jesus than the Gentiles who became Christians. On what basis do you make that claim?

    “Jesus travelled a lot, preached a lot and performed many miracles. And, on average, a Jew would a) have been much more likely to have been in the audience when Jesus was preaching, or performing miracles, or when he rose and “appeared to many” etc.pp. and b) also much more likely to have close friends or family members who were eyewitnesses.”

    Of course you realize that in the very early days of the Church, there was no such thing as Christianity. Christians were considered a sect of Judaism, so no conversion was necessary.

    This is nitpicking. If you don´t want to call an event where a Jew chooses to join this new sect a “conversion” but rather something different, be my guest – it´s just semantics.

    2. You seem so assume that the fate of the Christians among the Jews was separate and apart from the fate of the entire community of Jews in Israel under Roman rule (oppression), such that we can disaggregate and separate what was happening to Christians in this population. You don’t appear to have any historical information that makes such a distinction.

    Persecution of religious minorities didn´t stop the spread of Christianity among the Gentiles – so why should it have stopped the spread of Christianity among the Jews?

    3. You assume that Christianity’s alleged lack of growth (undocumented) among the Jews

    Undocumented? I don´t know if you have noticed, but the Jews overwhelmingly still do not believe in Jesus.

    versus its success among the Gentiles says something negative about Christianity when in fact, the opposite is true.

    Then by all means, construct this argument:
    “That the Jews didn´t buy Christian claims is actually evidence for Christianity because [….]”

    Think about it. Christianity immediately spread rapidly among groups who were not familiar with Jewish religion, law and traditions

    Maybe because Paul made most of those jewish idiosyncracies optional?

  243. Melissa and Andy,

    According to scholars published in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (2011) there was no clear distinction between Judaism and Christianity until “at the end of Late Antiquity between 200 and as late as 700 C.E. and that the division between the two as separate religions was through institutionalization. C.E. Fonrobert (p. 554-557) says this: “This process of institutionalization enabled structures of authority to produce and enforce canons of permitted and prohibited texts, which in turn shore up stronger boundaries between Judaism and Christianity as two very different religious traditions.”

    Andy, do you have any scholarly references to back up your conclusions about the early history of Christianity?

  244. Jenna,

    According to scholars published in The Jewish Annotated New Testament (2011) there was no clear distinction between Judaism and Christianity

    Paul the apostle used to be called Saul of Tarsus. And, if the NT accounts are correct, he was a Pharisee and persecuted the followers of Jesus until his conversion experience (on the road to Damascus). And this presupposes that there was a new sect that was somehow distinguishable from Judaism (if it wasn´t distinguishable, the Jews could not have persecuted them) and that a Jew like Saul of Tarsus could “convert to” this new sect.

    Andy, do you have any scholarly references to back up your conclusions about the early history of Christianity?

    I already cited a paper above. And that Christianity was a largely Gentile movement by the end of the 1st / beginning of the 2nd century does not seem to be very controversial afaict (and even if it would be, at some point this transition from “largely Jew” to “largely Gentile” MUST have happened for the simple reason that Christianity now is a world religion while the Jews still overwhelmingly don´t buy it).

  245. Andy,

    You say this: “This is nitpicking. If you don´t want to call an event where a Jew chooses to join this new sect a “conversion” but rather something different, be my guest – it´s just semantics.

    Because in Jesus’s time and in the decades of early Christianity, Jesus’s followers were mostly Jews and Jesus was a Jewish rabbi whose teachings were consistent with a messianic interpretation of Judaism, they were not “converts” when they became followers of Jesus, any more than followers of certain rabbis in the Jewish community are considered “converts” from Judaism to whatever the rabbi’s followers call themselves. This is not just “semantics” or nitpicking. The reason Jews are not Christians is because they do not accept Jesus as the Messiah. My late husband HB was a Jew who converted to Christianity in the last decade of his life and considered himself to be a Messianic Jew. A more deeply devout and faithful Christian than he I have never known!

  246. Jenna,

    Because in Jesus’s time and in the decades of early Christianity, Jesus’s followers were mostly Jews and Jesus was a Jewish rabbi whose teachings were consistent with a messianic interpretation of Judaism, they were not “converts” when they became followers of Jesus…

    Again, this is just semantics. If you don´t want to call it “conversion” then call it something else – it´s beside the point. The point is that the vast majority of Jews did not become followers of Jesus in the early history of Christianity, never did become followers of Jesus in the later history of Christianity, and are still not followers of Jesus today. While other cultures rapidly became fully christianized. Christianity started as a jewish movement and within little more than one lifetime, it was a largely Gentile movement and within one century more, it was an overwhelmingly Gentile movement – it was a huge success among the Gentiles but the Jews overwhelmingly didn´t buy it.

  247. Andy,

    Please note here that what I question is not the history of the rapid and extensive growth of Christianity among the Gentiles or the demographics of the followers of Jesus, but your conclusion that this says something negative about or detracts in some way from the NT evidence and truth, nor does the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Again, we return to the jury analogy. There will always be a “hung jury” about Jesus as the Messiah. Religious diversity is simply a fact of life.

    Why are you so insistent on these points? Is the fact that Jews don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah one of the reasons that you don’t believe in God or Christianity? Or do you really think that the Jews’ non-acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah should provoke skepticism among Christians about Jesus’ divinity? IOW, what exactly is your argument? Could you please state your argument in a few sentences so we/I can be clear about why you find these premises persuasive, so that we/I can explain why I do not?

  248. Andy,

    If we assume that the jewish community around Peter grew at least as fast as the largely hellenistic community around Paul, this could not have happened unless the jewish Christian community would have been systematically killed (and there is no historical record for that). So, the natural conclusion is that the community around Paul was growing rapidly while the community around Peter didn´t – so that Christianity, despite starting out as a largely jewish movement, became a largely Gentile movement within just one lifetime.

    I’m still not seeing how any of this shows that those with better evidence were less likely to accept the claims of the early church. That is what you’re trying to show isn’t it?

    Clearly the number of people with direct (or close to) access to that evidence, i.e. not hearing secondhand and unable to access first hand witnesses in their immediate circle of friends and family was limited, probably most of these assessed the claims in the first decade of the church. So we have the early Jewish church in Jerusalem.

    Now you need something to compare this growth with. To avoid the complications of worldview differences you need a Jewish community outside that immediate circle, one in say a distant city that grows at a faster rate than the growth of the church in Jerusalem (as long as you could control for particular local factors).

    When Jerusalem was destroyed that church went the same way as the rest of the population and this was also the impetus behind the final breakaway of the Christian church from Judaism. Christ followers of all descriptions would have been more or less swallowed up in the movement as a whole.

    Look, we’re all hamstrung by a lack of evidence from this period. The data we do have in necessarily filled in by speculation, but I don’t see that the evidence you’re presenting logically follows to your conclusion.

  249. So far the whole conversion non-conversion thing is just unsubstantiated convolutions.

    Example:

    FACTS about people with 50 years of direct access to the best information.

    Facts about all those in that 50 years that CONVERT are NOT relevant, Jew or Gentile.

    Facts about all those who DON’T convert are NOT relevant IF they are Gentile.

    Facts about all those who DON’T convert ARE relevant IF they are Jewish.

    1 out of those 4 sets of facts matter to the truth of history. Presumably because that’s how history actually happens.

    And, we’ll ignore population demographics, prophecy, religious science, and a small but select handful of key historical details surrounding all of the above.

    In short: We’ll just assert.

    ________________________________

    This isn’t an argument. It’s merely observational skepticism of a certain flavor of “skepticism”. Because we all know that if the tables were turned and the Christian handled history like this the Critics would have a PARTY.

  250. Melissa,
    what I do not understand is on what grounds you want to isolate Jerusalem from wider Judaism. Jesus travelled a lot, preached a lot and performed many miracles. The people who were direct witnesses to this or who knew someone personally that was a direct witness to this were not in any way limited to Jerusalem (and even if, Jerusalem was a trade hub and the Jews that witnessed Jesus there would not only include citizens of Jerusalem). There is thus no a priori reason to expect that the jewish-christian community would be limited to Jerusalem instead of rapidly spreading to other predominantly jewish cities (i.e. exactly what happened to Christianity in the hellenistic world!). My point here is that Jews (in general, not just Jews in Jerusalem) were more likely to have first- or second hand eyewitness evidence available – based on what the NT claims about where Jesus did and did not go, preach and perform miracles.

    When Jerusalem was destroyed that church went the same way as the rest of the population and this was also the impetus behind the final breakaway of the Christian church from Judaism. Christ followers of all descriptions would have been more or less swallowed up in the movement as a whole.

    1. That is already very telling – sacking Jerusalem was apparently sufficient to kill the entire jewish-Christian movement. And that means that Christianity did not spread among Jews as it did among the Gentiles (else there would have been jewish-Christian communities outside of Jerusalem).
    2. The sacking of Jerusalem happened within the lifetime of actual eyewitnesses – most of which were Jews. And why should those have “given up” on trying to spread the good news among their people? Even after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews would still have had the best access to eyewitness evidence for Christianity – but they didn´t buy it.

    Look, we’re all hamstrung by a lack of evidence from this period. The data we do have in necessarily filled in by speculation, but I don’t see that the evidence you’re presenting logically follows to your conclusion

    Let me try to summarize the points we can agree on:
    1. The initial Christian church was composed out of Jews, centered around Peter in Jerusalem. Which means that the Jews had a “head start” / Christianity started out as a predominantly jewish movement.
    2. By the end of the 1st century, Christianity was already a largely Gentile movement.
    3. Among the Gentiles, Christian communities were rapidly established in many cities while jewish Chrisitanity was almost exclusively limited to Jerusalem.
    4. On average, a 1st century Jew would have been more likely to have either been an eyewitness himself or personally know one or more eyewitnesses (with “eyewitnesses” not just meaning those that saw the risen Christ but also those that were eyewitnesses to, say, the feeding of the multitude, or those that saw the risen Lazarus etc.pp.).

    Do you disagree with any of these points?

  251. Jesus was rejected by Jews because of a prior commitment to their religion, Judaism, not because there was no evidence.

    “Belief in the divinity of any human being is incompatible with Judaism”

    “The point is this: that the whole Christology of the Church – the whole complex of doctrines about the Son of God who died on the Cross to save humanity from sin and death – is incompatible with Judaism, and indeed in discontinuity with the Hebraism that preceded it.”

  252. Jenna,

    Please note here that what I question is not the history of the rapid and extensive growth of Christianity among the Gentiles or the demographics of the followers of Jesus, but your conclusion that this says something negative about or detracts in some way from the NT evidence and truth, nor does the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

    That is fine by me. The point I was specifically contesting was, that the reason for why Christianity spread so rapidly was the superior evidence for Christianity. This claim is, as I tried to argue, contradicted by the facts – if the evidence is the reason then those with best access to the evidence should have experienced the most drastic growth, but they didn´t – quite the opposite. So the reason(s) for why Christianity spread so rapidly must be found elsewhere.

    Why are you so insistent on these points?

    I saw someone making a claim that I disagreed with, particularly, I contested this claim:
    “We also know that Christianity grew rapidly in it’s early days during which time the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT were alive.
    So, if the story isn’t true, how could this happen. How do thousands of people all over the region become Christians believing the (rather unbelievable) facts in the NT. Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly. The validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT. That’s how we know it’s true.”
    – and that spawned the discussion that we are now having.

    Is the fact that Jews don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah one of the reasons that you don’t believe in God or Christianity?

    It doesn´t rank very high among the reasons I have for believing Christianity to be false, but yes.

    Or do you really think that the Jews’ non-acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah should provoke skepticism among Christians about Jesus’ divinity?

    That depends on what your reasons are for considering Jesus to be divine. If the historical record is a very significant part of why you consider that to be true, then the issue of the Jews is something that you should consider IMO.

    IOW, what exactly is your argument?

    Is it really so mysterious? I saw a claim that I disagreed with (see above) and explained why I did so, you (and others) disagreed with my assessment and that started the discussion we are now having.

  253. SteveK,

    Jesus was rejected by Jews because of a prior commitment to their religion, Judaism, not because there was no evidence.

    That is not an explanation. Christianity spread like wildfire among cultures that had religious views which were completely contradicted by Christianity – it didn´t stop them from converting, why did it stop the Jews? Particularly given that Jesus spent years travelling and preaching among them – why did he fail so spectacularly to convince them that he indeed is the messiah that they have been waiting for for so long?

  254. Andy,

    Thanks. This comment clarifies some of your arguments for me. I think that one fallacy or weakness in your argument is that you are conflating two different discussions: the credibility of the witnesses to Jesus’ life, ministry, execution on the cross, and resurrection from the dead that is the basis for the credibility of the gospels and the NT, with your argument “access to evidence” from those who witnessed these events from among the followers and family of Jesus. The rapid growth and endurance of Christianity is testified to by the growth and endurance of Christianity as people became Christians and formed Christian communities through hearing the Gospel (both oral tradition and written documents). It is unconvincing for you to argue that the redactors and their sources who knew Jesus of the gospels are less credible because of the rapid spread of Christianity among people who only knew about Jesus Christ through the preaching of the Gospel through his followers, the Gentiles. This argument doesn’t hang together.

    Please elaborate on your reasons for believing that Christianity is false. I ask this hoping that this conversation demonstrates our willingness as Christians to address your questions thoroughly and sincerely. Could you list your top five or so reasons for believing that Christianity is false? Otherwise, I sense we are getting bogged down when, as I understand it, the purpose of this thread is to address Tom’s question: “Skeptics, could you tell us where it was that you acquired your impression of the church as being unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical, overly trusting?”

  255. Jenna,

    Thanks. This comment clarifies some of your arguments for me. I think that one fallacy or weakness in your argument is that you are conflating two different discussions: the credibility of the witnesses to Jesus’ life, ministry, execution on the cross, and resurrection from the dead that is the basis for the credibility of the gospels and the NT, with your argument “access to evidence” from those who witnessed these events from among the followers and family of Jesus. The rapid growth and endurance of Christianity is testified to by the growth and endurance of Christianity as people became Christians and formed Christian communities through hearing the Gospel (both oral tradition and written documents). It is unconvincing for you to argue that the redactors and their sources who knew Jesus of the gospels are less credible because of the rapid spread of Christianity among people who only knew about Jesus Christ through the preaching of the Gospel through his followers, the Gentiles. This argument doesn’t hang together.

    I understand that you are objecting to what I said but somehow, I fail to see what your objection actually is. The “rapid growth” of Christianity doesn´t apply to the group of people that mainly comprised the audiences to Jesus’ miracles and post-resurrection appearences – why doesn´t it apply to them? And why is it false to say that *IF* the rapid growth of Christianity is due to the superior evidence for its claims, that this growth very much should have been expected for the Jews?

    Please elaborate on your reasons for believing that Christianity is false. I ask this hoping that this conversation demonstrates our willingness as Christians to address your questions thoroughly and sincerely. Could you list your top five or so reasons for believing that Christianity is false? Otherwise, I sense we are getting bogged down when, as I understand it, the purpose of this thread is to address Tom’s question: “Skeptics, could you tell us where it was that you acquired your impression of the church as being unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical, overly trusting?”

    Note that I do not actually have this impression of Christians / the church as “being unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical, overly trusting” – see my comment #2. From my vantage point, Christians are, on average, not more or less skeptical than other groups of people. I´ve certainly seen examples of insufficient skepticism (including in this thread (the uncritical acceptance of Bauckham´s claims for example by some here – despite it being rather obvious that they do not know why Bauckham´s views are fringe opinions, to put it mildly)), but I´ve seen that for every other group of people as well and I myself am also “guilty” of it occasionally.
    If you would like to discuss my personal reasons for why I consider Christianity to be false, I´d be fine with that – but I think that is also not exactly on topic wrt “Skeptics, could you tell us where it was that you acquired your impression of the church as being unquestioning, insufficiently skeptical, overly trusting?”

  256. Andy,

    The problem here is that you are treating your premise as if it were established fact: that there should have been more “converts” to following Jesus among Jews than there were, when this is an out-of-context hypothetical and not an established fact, and then claiming that this has implications for the truth of the gospels. Your argument fails to convince since there is no logical or empirical linkage between your claim and the alleged “evidence” (which is purely speculative) that you provide. This, I think is your argument expressed as a syllogism:

    There were more Jews among the followers of Jesus than there were Gentiles.

    Christianity spread more quickly among the Gentiles than among the Jews.

    More Jews should have “converted” to Christianity (although it wasn’t Christianity yet) than Gentiles.

    This is evidence that the people who knew more about Jesus were less convinced of the truth about Jesus than those who knew less about Jesus.

    Did I accurately state your argument?

  257. Jenna,

    …and then claiming that this has implications for the truth of the gospels…

    – I didn´t actually make this claim (that this has implications for the truth of the Gospels (although I think that such a claim indeed could be made)). All I was explicitly contesting is, that the rapid growth of Christianity was due to superior evidence for Christian claims*.

    This, I think is your argument expressed as a syllogism:

    There were more Jews among the followers of Jesus than there were Gentiles.

    Christianity spread more quickly among the Gentiles than among the Jews.

    More Jews should have “converted” to Christianity (although it wasn’t Christianity yet) than Gentiles.

    This is evidence that the people who knew more about Jesus were less convinced of the truth about Jesus than those who knew less about Jesus.

    In syllogistic form, I would phrase it this way:
    1. 1st century Jews were much more likely to either have been witnesses of Jesus’ miracles (like the feeding of the multitude for example) and post-resurrection appearances, than any other group of people.
    2. Christianity grew and spread rapidly among the Gentiles but didn´t grow rapidly among the Jews – on the contrary, the one jewish-Christian community in Jerusalem didn´t spread to other predominantly jewish cities and was very rapidly outnumbered by converts from hellenistic cultures.
    3. From 1+2: access to eyewitness evidence (directly or second-hand) was not the reason for the rapid growth of Christianity and those reason(s) (whatever they are) rather have to be found elsewhere.

    I do not see where exactly this is not based on facts – 1+2 seem to be rather uncontroversial, or do you disagree with them? And if you do agree with them, what exactly is illogical about the inference in #3?

    *Specifically, it was this claim here:
    “We also know that Christianity grew rapidly in it’s early days during which time the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT were alive.
    So, if the story isn’t true, how could this happen. How do thousands of people all over the region become Christians believing the (rather unbelievable) facts in the NT. Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly. The validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT. That’s how we know it’s true.”

  258. Andy,

    Thanks for taking the time to set out your argument above because it is an interesting question but I think you need more evidence to make your case. With respect to your point 2, there were communities of the Hellenist Jews that fled from persecution in Jerusalem and established Christian communities in other cities. Some of those would be Torah observant, some not, but with the complete break from the Jewish community most of those would be swallowed up into the mixed Jew-Gentile community. The Roman church is probably one example of an early mixed community. In the case of the Roman church many scholars believe that it was majority Jewish until the expulsion of the Jews.

    It would also be helpful also to have some estimates of the Christian per population of each ethnicity otherwise we cannot draw any meaningful conclusions from just a general observation that Gentile Christians outnumbered Jewish Christians.

    One interesting point to note is that among Jews, according to your point 2, those in Jerusalem were more likely to convert than their counterparts in other cities. On average they would have had more access to the evidence which supports the conclusion that the spread of Christianity was Influenced by access to the evidence. I don’t think that’s a valid conclusion and I’m sure you don’t either, there are many factors involved, I think you might have too lightly brushed over possible difference between the Jew and Gentile people or the mission to them that may be important to this question.

    Finally I don’t see anywhere is the claim you have quoted that amounts to a claim that access to eyewitness evidence was the reason for the spread of Christianity.

  259. Andy #211:

    I think there are a few unwarranted assumptions in this statement. First of all, that it’s “…based on the testimony of a few witnesses…” Our understanding is that the risen Christ appeared to at least 500 people (at one time) and likely twice that overall. And that information is in the NT text so it’s available for verification to those that wanted to confirm it.

    As Andy said, the only evidence we have of these witnesses is Paul’s claim. It’s not like we have 500 separate written accounts of seeing Jesus; we just have Paul making a claim. So the existence of these 500 is itself dependent on the testimony of just one person.

    Paul’s statement leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Who were these witnesses? Where did they live? Where did they see Jesus? When? Did they see his body physically, or did they see some kind of vision like Paul, or something else? How did they recognise Jesus; how many of them had seen Jesus before his execution, so they would know who he was? How does Paul know about them; did he meet them himself, or has he just heard about them from somebody else?

    The claim is so vague as to be useless as evidence, and lacks the details that would make it possible to verify. And it’s entirely dependent on one person, Paul.

    Second, as you must know, the physical evidence is the empty tomb. This was a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers who faced execution for failing their orders. Yet, there was no body. There is a huge amount of internet information and discussion on this this topic so I’ll stop there.

    That physical evidence no longer exists; it’s not something we can go and investigate independently of the written accounts. The same goes for the Roman soldiers; we have no evidence about them other than Matthew’s gospel (and an apocryphal gospel, which I’m assuming you wouldn’t consider reliable). The presence of these soldiers is not confirmed by the other gospels.

    So for both the empty tomb and the Roman soldiers, we’re still ultimately dependent on the claims of a few people (just one person in the case of the soldiers).

    I believe the confluence of information we have is quite substantial. Knowledge of the original text, a text written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events that were described, who were alive and available to confirm it’s content to members of the early church.

    But those eyewitnesses are not available to us. An eyewitness who was available a couple of thousand years ago is useless to us. We have no actual evidence that anybody did go to them to check out the story when they were alive. If somebody did, they didn’t write it down, so we can’t look at their account and get more information from it to back up the claims of the NT.

  260. SteveK #212:

    How so? Considering that each case is contextually different, there may be good reasons to reject those other beliefs. The evidence is different and the testimony is different, right?

    To stay with the jury analogy, just because you decide to convict on one case doesn’t mean you are being inconsistent when you decide not to convict on another case. Saying the claims in both cases is “extraordinary” doesn’t tell us anything about how to decide the case based on the evidence.

    Ideally, different decisions by a jury are related to different levels of evidence. But the claims of Christianity are based on a level of evidence that it’s easy to find for other claims. Everything that’s been presented in this thread is ultimately dependent on biased and sometimes interdependent accounts.

    We have that kind witness testimony for Mormonism, for bigfoot, for alien abductions, for ancient claims of miracles by the pagan gods, and many other claims. Christians generally reject such testimony, but when it comes to the claims of Christianity, this witness testimony suddenly becomes a reliable guide to what happened, even though we can’t cross-examine the witnesses, and we can’t back their claims of resurrection up with anything from outside of their statements. That’s what I see as inconsistent. If I accept the “witness testimony” (if that’s what it is) in favour of Christianity, then I don’t see why I shouldn’t also accept the witness testimony for numerous other claims, some of which are incompatible with Christianity.

  261. Jenna Black #213:

    Steve is correct about examining the evidence from the gospels in regard to the jury analogy. The decision in this “trial” is whether or not we can, beyond a reasonable doubt, accept the gospels and NT as truth. The decision to be a Christian is a spiritual, moral, intellectual and life/worldview decision of such transcendent importance in my life that of course, I examine and reexamine the evidence continually, and my faith deepens as a result. There is no inconsistency in how I weigh the evidence of the NT. If I were a juror in a capital murder trial and had to make a decision about someone else’s life or death, I would apply the same high level of scrutiny and analysis to that evidence as I do to my Christianity. I believe that the same is true for all committed Christians.

    So let’s imagine you’re at a trial. The evidence against the defendant consists entirely of written statements; the people providing the statements cannot be cross-examined. Some (but not all) of the statements are said to be from eyewitnesses to the crime.

    Some of the statements are word-for-word identical in several passages, although they are all supposed to be separate accounts from different witnesses. At least one long and intricate statement is supposed to be written by a witness who was said to be illiterate by one of the other statements. Where the statements are not identical, they sometimes differ in odd ways, such as what city a certain key related event happened in. The statements contain things which the supposed author could not have known, such as the content of private conversations where the supposed witness was not present.

    The crime was committed some time ago, so that any physical evidence there might have been to independently back up the statements is irretrievably lost. The crime is an extremely unusual one, and requires the criminal to be able to do something that has not, as far as anyone can confirm, been done by anyone else before or since.

    The statements are not signed or dated by their authors.

    This is roughly what the evidence for Christianity looks like to me. Do you convict?

  262. Andy and Ophis,

    There are a handful of reasons your line of approach is failing to gain any traction:

    Firstly,

    “Laymen who do not understand historical method sometimes demand sources for the life of Jesus outside the New Testament–as if a document’s being later collected into an anthology somehow impugns its historical credibility! Never mind; what we now see is that there are such sources, but that the most important ones are not those which came later than the New Testament documents, such as Josephus or Tacitus’ testimonies, but rather those which came before the New Testament documents were written and were used by New Testament authors.”

    Secondly,

    Far better work than anything we’ve seen here is done by Bart Ehrman to discredit the N.T. even as many others do an intellectually satisfying job of refuting that more robust work.

    Thirdly,

    “The idea that the abundance and age of the manuscripts of the Gospels is evidence for their historical reliability is a misconception fostered by popular Christian apologetics. [……. And apparently believed by layman-skeptics ……] It’s true that the New Testament is the best attested book in ancient history, both in terms of the number of manuscripts and the nearness of those manuscripts to the date of the original. What that goes to prove is that the text of the New Testament that we have today is almost exactly the same as the text as it was originally written. Of the approximately 138,000 words in the New Testament only about 1,400 remain in doubt. The text of the New Testament is thus about 99% established. That means that when you pick up a (Greek) New Testament today, you can be confident that you are reading the text as it was originally written. Moreover, that 1% that remains uncertain has to do with trivial words on which nothing of importance hangs. This conclusion is important because it explodes the claims of Muslims, Mormons, and others that the text of the New Testament has been corrupted, so that we can no longer read the original text. It’s awe-inspiring to think that we can know with confidence that when we pick Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, for example, we are reading the very words he wrote almost 2,000 years ago. But, as you say, that doesn’t prove that what these documents say is historically accurate. We could have the text of Aesop’s fables established to 99% accuracy, and that would do nothing to show that they are true stories. After all, they are intended to be fables, not history. People in the future would say something similar about the Joe narratives, no matter how many copies existed. Now, as you point out, the Gospels are intended to be history. That is the import of your comment that the Gospels “are historical” even if they are not true. That is to say, the Gospels are of the literary genre of historical writing. They are not of the genre of mythology, fiction, or fable. This is an extremely important insight. Something of a consensus has developed within New Testament scholarship that the Gospels are closest in genre to ancient biographies…”

    Fourthly,

    Andy, on CON-version and DE-Conversion and NON-Conversion:

    The N.T. records everything you are saying and none of these have anything to do with either the reliable historicity of the N.T. nor of its truth/falsehood given, that is, the way you’re presenting them.

    We find:

    1) Direct observers in the midst of Christ and His miracles in the Gospels rejecting Christ for many different reasons. The rich young man and many others come to mind.

    2) Actual followers of Christ in the midst of His miracles in the Gospels subsequently turning away and finally rejecting Him.

    3) We find these cases to be the case with Jews.

    4) We find these cases to be the case with Gentiles.

    5) The N.T. describes folks with 50 years of the direct access to the best evidence displaying a permanent embracing of Christ.

    6) The N.T. describes folks with 50 years of the direct access to the best evidence displaying permanent rejection of Christ.

    7) The N.T. describes folks with 50 years of the direct access to the best evidence displaying a season of embracing Christ followed later by a final rejection of Christ.

    8) All of the above are still observable today.

    Jenna and Melissa are pointing out the obvious, that these seem to be presented by you as evidence against something and that you don’t show why that is the case. Those eight experiences are merely described as having happened and then in a gigantic leap just presented as evidence against credibility. Yet the surrounding information of population demographics, prophecy, religious science, and as Melissa and J.B. keep pointing out, a small but select handful of key historical details surrounding all of the above are all missing.

    Motivations for CON-version and for DE-Conversion and for NON-Conversions just don’t help you in the way you are claiming/presenting.

    Your claim that, “A group of people who DE-Convert is evidence” is just bizarre – especially since Gentile groups are also described as “going-apostate” along the way and all of that in those critical first fifty years when all of the above had direct access to the best evidence.

    Unfortunately for you Christ Himself describes the very same events with His parable of the sower in which there just is going to be those groups who embrace Him only to eventually leave Him. Jews rejecting Christ is laced throughout the Gospels and Israel’s reaction there then and here today has a peculiar import if one has even a basic working knowledge of religious science. Which you don’t seem to.

    In short: Embracing Christ only to later reject Christ happened among both Jew and Gentle. That simple descriptive is meaningless in the way you’re presenting it.

    Miracle:

    Even worse for you is that Christ describes the Miracle (for those who seek “them” rather than “Him”) as a mechanism which leads to eventual deception as all sorts of con-men do all sorts of grand-buzzy-bling things. You’ve not shown Christ to be wrong – that is to say – you’ve just not given any evidence or shown that the Miracle itself is in fact the primary engine of either conversion or of a conversion’s sustenance. You just foist that the Miracle-Alone is both of those things, even when *Scripture* and experience and common sense and history all tell us otherwise. The Miracle does have import, yes, but this nonsensical inference of yours that it must grant immunity to DE-Conversion is just bizarre and ludicrous. It’s even bordering on embarrassing. Both Scripture and plain old common sense tell us otherwise.

    Just as the act of embracing Christ and later rejecting Him occurring among the Jews and among the Gentiles is a meaningless observation the way you’re presenting it, so too is the presence of the Miracle and DE-Conversion likewise meaningless the way you’re presenting it. Neither of those can do the work you are asking them to do the way you are presenting them. And Israel’s interface with Messiah is besides the point. In fact, all of those actually support Christ’s words, and, in fact, by affirming His Words then they, all, also thus affirm our own current experience today as it too reflects all the same patterns.

    Motivations for CON-version and for DE-Conversion and for NON-Conversions just don’t help you in the way you are claiming/presenting as evidence against something. You don’t show why any of that helps your case and worse you ignore how all of it – every bit of it – affirms Christ’s words and historical credibility. Those eight experiences are merely described as having happened and then in a gigantic leap just presented as evidence against credibility. Your use of DE-Conversion is farcical and your use of Miracle is incomplete and shallow. And through all of that the surrounding information of population demographics, prophecy, religious science, and as Melissa and J.B. keep pointing out, a small but select handful of key historical details surrounding all of the above are all missing.

  263. Melissa,

    It would also be helpful also to have some estimates of the Christian per population of each ethnicity otherwise we cannot draw any meaningful conclusions from just a general observation that Gentile Christians outnumbered Jewish Christians.

    We can draw one – the growth rate among the Gentiles must have been higher. That seems to be a mathematical necessity, else the Gentiles could not have outnumbered the Jews so rapidly, especially given that the initial church was mostly jewish.

    One interesting point to note is that among Jews, according to your point 2, those in Jerusalem were more likely to convert than their counterparts in other cities. On average they would have had more access to the evidence which supports the conclusion that the spread of Christianity was Influenced by access to the evidence. I don’t think that’s a valid conclusion and I’m sure you don’t either, there are many factors involved, I think you might have too lightly brushed over possible difference between the Jew and Gentile people or the mission to them that may be important to this question.

    True, I relied on the fact that the mission to the Jews failed but didn´t go into details wrt why exactly it failed. You are right that a fully fledged out version of the argument I am trying to make here should not gloss over those reasons.

    Finally I don’t see anywhere is the claim you have quoted that amounts to a claim that access to eyewitness evidence was the reason for the spread of Christianity.

    Really? Check again:
    “We also know that Christianity grew rapidly in it’s early days during which time the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT were alive.
    So, if the story isn’t true, how could this happen. How do thousands of people all over the region become Christians believing the (rather unbelievable) facts in the NT. Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly. The validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT. That’s how we know it’s true.”
    – So if they could “check the entire story”, and “we can be sure … that they did”, and “the validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT” – how does my interpretation not follow then?

  264. sctrollhrm,
    frankly, you are too stupid to follow this conversation. I don´t mean that as an insult – this is a simple observation. Example:
    “The idea that the abundance and age of the manuscripts of the Gospels is evidence for their historical reliability is a misconception fostered by popular Christian apologetics. [……. And apparently believed by layman-skeptics ……]”
    – if you could read on a 4th grade level or higher, then you would have noticed that not a single skeptic here assumed that “the abundance and age of the manuscripts of the Gospels is evidence for their historical reliability”. Quite the contrary, it was a Christian in this thread that defended this idea and a skeptic that pointed out the reason for why the idea is a misconception.
    I cannot take you seriously based on your shocking lack of intelligence, and I also find you personally unlikeable based on your incredible arrogance and dishonesty – and I told you many times already to stop talking to me.

  265. Ophis and Andy,

    I’m merely pointing out, as I have been from the start, the uneven and uncritical lines in “the skeptic’s skepticism”.

    Andy’s claim that Skeptic’s don’t believe the misconception alluded to by Craig is contradicted as many Skeptics keep referring to “witnesses” and to “eyewitnesses” and talking about how we need MORE WITNESSES (the Christian does *not* call for MORE) for the Jury analogy – thereby proving that laymen skeptics believe the misconception.

    Andy asks about his use of DE-Conversion as evidence against the Christian:

    “How does my interpretation not follow then?”

    As #289 alludes to, his use of DE-Conversion is farcical, the inferred immunity-to-de-conversion is a blind foist, his use of Miracle is incomplete and shallow, Israel’s peculiar interface with Messiah is lost on him, and, through all of that the surrounding information of population demographics, prophecy, religious science, and as Melissa and J.B. keep pointing out, a small but select handful of key historical details surrounding all of the above are all missing.

  266. sctrollhrm

    Andy’s claim that Skeptic’s don’t believe the misconception alluded to by Craig is contradicted as many Skeptics keep referring to “witnesses” and to “eyewitnesses” and talking about how we need MORE WITNESSES (the Christian does *not* call for MORE) for the Jury analogy – thereby proving that laymen skeptics believe the misconception.

    What you are saying here is quite literally “skeptics ask for MORE WITNESSES*, therefore, skeptics believe that the “the abundance and age of the manuscripts of the Gospels is evidence for their historical reliability””.
    The only appropriate response to this I can think of would be this.

    *Actually, skeptics did not even ask for “MORE WITNESSES” here but what the hell.

  267. Andy,

    I cannot count the times that Skeptics appeal for documents CLOSER to Christ’s time and for MORE than “just four and one of those is questionable”.

    Countless.

  268. scbrownlhrm #289:

    There are a handful of reasons your line of approach is failing to gain any traction:

    Firstly,

    “Laymen who do not understand historical method sometimes demand sources for the life of Jesus outside the New Testament–as if a document’s being later collected into an anthology somehow impugns its historical credibility! Never mind; what we now see is that there are such sources, but that the most important ones are not those which came later than the New Testament documents, such as Josephus or Tacitus’ testimonies, but rather those which came before the New Testament documents were written and were used by New Testament authors.”

    I’ve already said what the problem is, and it nothing to do with the NT documents being collected together later. The problem is that the entire historical case for Christianity is reliant on the claims of people who were all favourable to a particular religious position related to their account.

    Secondly,

    Far better work than anything we’ve seen here is done by Bart Ehrman to discredit the N.T. even as many others do an intellectually satisfying job of refuting that more robust work.

    “I saw another argument, and the people in it were smarter, and I think my side won”.

    Thanks for that useful contribution.

    Thirdly,

    “The idea that the abundance and age of the manuscripts of the Gospels is evidence for their historical reliability is a misconception fostered by popular Christian apologetics. [……. And apparently believed by layman-skeptics ……]

    I’ve addressed the historical claims while explicitly assuming the traditional authorship of the gospels as we have them today. I’ve done this several times. If you want to respond to me, go back and read what I actually wrote, rather than responding to a version of me that exists only in your head.

    Moreover, that 1% that remains uncertain has to do with trivial words on which nothing of importance hangs.

    So the ending of Mark (from 16:9 onwards), containing all of that Gospel’s claims of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, is trivial and contains nothing of importance?

    Even worse for you is that Christ describes the Miracle (for those who seek “them” rather than “Him”) as a mechanism which leads to eventual deception as all sorts of con-men do all sorts of grand-buzzy-bling things. You’ve not shown Christ to be wrong – that is to say – you’ve just not given any evidence or shown that the Miracle itself is in fact the primary engine of either conversion or of a conversion’s sustenance.

    Maybe you should mention that to the people here who are trying to demonstrate the truth of Christianity by trying to prove that one particular miracle happened. Go and speak to BillT, who is insistent that Christianity could only grow early on if people were carefully verifying the miracle of the Resurrection.

  269. I’m merely pointing out, as I have been from the start, the uneven and uncritical lines in “the skeptic’s skepticism”.

    By “pointing out” you apparently mean “asserting”. “Pointing out” would involve mentioning where and how I’ve been uneven and uncritical.

    Andy’s claim that Skeptic’s don’t believe the misconception alluded to by Craig is contradicted as many Skeptics keep referring to “witnesses” and to “eyewitnesses” and talking about how we need MORE WITNESSES (the Christian does *not* call for MORE) for the Jury analogy – thereby proving that laymen skeptics believe the misconception.

    Show me where I’ve said that the only problem is that the witnesses are not numerous enough. I want the quote.

  270. sctrollhrm,

    I cannot count the times that Skeptics appeal for documents CLOSER to Christ’s time and for MORE than “just four and one of those is questionable”.

    Oh I can easily believe that you “cannot count” those times, particularly if the number is larger than 10. However, this does not necessarily mean that they also believe that “the abundance and age of the manuscripts of the Gospels is evidence for their historical reliability”. The only one who did believe that in this thread was a Christian, and the one who corrected him on that was a skeptic.
    And that is why quoting Craig the way you did here in this context (repeatedly…) was completely idiotic. You are unable to follow the conversation on any level and you are embarrassing yourself by pretending that you can.

  271. Andy,

    Soooo many missteps, misreads, misrepresentations, and tired strawmen in those last two comments!

    Where to begin?

    Later today……..tedious as it is……

  272. Andy,

    Stupid is a comment about me. And it was directed at me.

    Not at my argument.

    Not at my statements.

    While I consider your theme flawed and weak, you as a writer and contributor overall are above the average.

    Stupid directed at people is very different than ignorance charged against them. As I’m sure you’re well aware of.

  273. sctrollhrm

    Soooo many missteps, misreads, misrepresentations, and tired strawmen those last two comments!

    Where to begin!

    Later today……..

    And that is an instance of you not saying something completely idiotic, but rather something extremely dishonest. The last comment that allegedly is full of “soooo many missteps, misreads, misrepresentations, and tired strawmen” is only 108 words long – but you still cannot point to even just a single “misstep, misread, misrepresentation [or] tired strawman” , although just pointing out one – if there indeed are any – would have taken you no longer than writing this comment here.
    There were no “missteps, misreads, misrepresentations, and tired strawmen”, and you know that, but you choose to lie about it because you think that lying about it makes you look better. It doesn´t.

  274. sctrollhrm,

    Stupid is a comment about me. And it was directed at me.

    Not at my argument.

    Not at my statements.

    Yes, I did call you “stupid”. And I meant it and explained why I did call you that, the label “lacking intelligence or common sense” fits you like a glove.

  275. Soooo many missteps, misreads, misrepresentations, and tired strawmen in those last two comments!

    Where to begin?

    It has become clear now that you will never begin. Your replies to me so far have consisted of vague general complaints that bear little or no relation to anything I’ve said, and no indication of where I’ve supposedly done whatever you’re complaining about at the time. The quoted comment fits right into this trend.

    You’re a great example of Christians being insufficiently skeptical. You vaguely dismiss other people’s arguments without addressing them, to the extent that your reply to me in #289 consists of some copy/paste statements rebutting assertions I haven’t made, and a reference to an unspecified argument that I wasn’t involved in. That isn’t the behaviour of someone who wants to know what’s true; it’s the behaviour of someone trying to defend the faith without having to think too hard about the opposing arguments.

  276. Andy, Ophis,

    On pointing out missteps:

    The “Later today” seemed self-explanatory. Duties called.

    It seemed clear enough.

    I’ll aim for more clarity on that phrase if you need me to.

    Do you need me to clarify “later today”?

  277. Ophis, RE: #288

    The evidence from the gospels is not at all as you describe it. Please read the book I recommended by Professor Simon Greenleaf (1879), “The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence.” Greenleaf is, to this day, considered one of the legal professions highest authority on evidence and witness testimony (It is a classic on the credibility and veracity of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. Professor Greenleaf’s Treatise on the Law of Evidence, found in every university law library, was the standard evidence textbook for a century and every evidence text written since then has drawn upon it. Atheists are what Professor Greenleaf calls “objectors” and as such, the burden of proof in opposition to “ordinary presumptions of law” falls on them to impeach the evangelists’ testimony. He does not himself say that Jesus Christ performed miracles. He points out why the testimony of the four Evangelists is completely credible and unimpeachable that they themselves and/or other people witnessed these miracles. You don’t have to believe a word that Prof. Greenleaf says to believe in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ miracles.

    As for your analysis of the testimony of the gospels, nothing you say about impeaches, much less even challenges, the competency of the witnesses or their credibility as it comes to us in the documents of the Holy Scriptures that have been verified to have a clear and convincing chain of custody leading to us from the original sources.

    As what Simon Greenleaf calls an objector, you’ll have to outdo his analysis of the credibility of the gospels if you really want to believed yourself as to why you reject the gospels as testimony.

  278. Jenna,
    the analogy does not really work. First of all, because you only have a text, not an actual witness that is testifying. If you believe that the text was written by an eyewitness, fine, but that is something that actually needs to be established – and the vast majority of scholars are not convinced that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses.
    Second, we cannot talk to the witnesses. When I read something like:
    “11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”
    – then I would like to ask the person who reports this “you yourself did not participate in this conversation, so how the hell do you know what was said? Are you making stuff up or relying on gossip?”
    I cannot ask such a question. But if we had actual witnesses, I could ask it.

    Also, just out of curiosity something else wrt the burden of proof. Do you believe that at least some people were actually abducted by aliens? If not, what proof do you have that the testimony of people that claim they were abducted by aliens is not trustworthy? If you have none, what happened to the burden of proof here?

  279. Andy, RE: #305

    Any analogy reaches its limits of comparability with the actual circumstances, and this is true of the trial by jury analogy for each juror’s decision about the truth of the gospels and NT, which is what our metaphorical “trial” is about. I like and use the jury and jurors analogy because at the end of the day, we each reach a verdict about Christianity’s truth based on our full and reasonable consideration of the evidence, which is the testimony that comes to us in writing through the Holy Scriptures from the followers of Jesus and the early Christian community. It is their testimony and must be evaluated as testimony and we must evaluate their credibility and competence as witnesses when they were alive. Of course we cannot cross examine them. We can’t hold the fact that they are dead against their truthfulness. But we do have their testimony to assess nonetheless.

  280. Ophis, RE: #288

    The evidence from the gospels is not at all as you describe it.

    I assume you don’t disagree with my first paragraph; presumably you agree that the gospel writers are dead, and that death is a significant impediment to cross-examination.

    “Some of the statements are word-for-word identical in several passages,”

    See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synoptic_gospels#The_triple_tradition . There’s plenty of material available around the web on the triple tradition and the synoptic problem.

    “although they are all supposed to be separate accounts from different witnesses.”

    See Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter I. His description of the gospels has them originating with the separate Apostolic accounts of Matthew, Peter, Paul and John, with no indication that he is aware of their interdependence.

    “At least one long and intricate statement is supposed to be written by a witness who was said to be illiterate by one of the other statements.”

    Acts 4:13. John was “agrammatos”, illiterate, sometimes translated as “uneducated” which amounts to the same thing given the standards of the time.

    “Where the statements are not identical, they sometimes differ in odd ways, such as what city a certain key related event happened in.”

    In Matthew 28:10, Jesus tells the women returning from the tomb to pass on a message that he will meet the disciples in Galilee. The disciples go to Galilee, and see him there.

    In Luke 24:49, Jesus tells the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until Pentecost. This happens on Sunday evening, a few hours after the discovery of the empty tomb.

    “The statements contain things which the supposed author could not have known, such as the content of private conversations where the supposed witness was not present.”

    E.g. Matthew 28:11-15, or the words of Jesus while he was praying alone in Gethsemane.

    “The crime was committed some time ago, so that any physical evidence there might have been to independently back up the statements is irretrievably lost.”

    This is pretty much self-explanatory; whatever physical evidence that might have existed is long gone now, and the only indication we have that it might ever have existed comes from the testimony we’re trying to assess.

    “The crime is an extremely unusual one, and requires the criminal to be able to do something that has not, as far as anyone can confirm, been done by anyone else before or since.”

    Presumably you agree that resurrection of corpses is unusual.

    “The statements are not signed or dated by their authors.”

    The Gospels do not state within the text the names of their authors, or the date of writing.

    So everything in my description seems applicable to the Gospels.

    I’ll have a look at Greenleaf’s book. I don’t know how common it is for someone to be convicted of a crime solely on the basis of written testimony, but I would expect it to be pretty rare if it happens at all. The Gospels are problematic as witness testimony since they don’t clearly differentiate between what the author saw personally and what he found out through other unspecified sources. They never state how the authors know what they know. Between that and the impossibility of cross-examination, I think there would be a good case for having the Gospels dismissed as hearsay.

    As for your analysis of the testimony of the gospels, nothing you say about impeaches, much less even challenges, the competency of the witnesses or their credibility as it comes to us in the documents of the Holy Scriptures that have been verified to have a clear and convincing chain of custody leading to us from the original sources.

    I’ve already pointed out a couple of quite significant corruptions in the text, and the fact that we have to trust the word of the second-century church fathers to trace the Gospels back to apostolic authors. On that basis I would dispute the supposed “clear and convincing chain of custody”.

    Like Andy, I wonder what we’re supposed to make of alien abductions etc. if we’re meant to assume witness testimony is trustworthy unless we can show otherwise.

  281. Jenna Black #306:

    Of course we cannot cross examine them. We can’t hold the fact that they are dead against their truthfulness. But we do have their testimony to assess nonetheless.

    Well, it’s not like they died just to avoid a cross-examination. We can’t say that dying was an act of dishonesty. But the fact remains that they can’t be cross examined, and saying it’s not the fault of the authors doesn’t stop it being a problem.

  282. SteveK #307:

    How does that take us to Christianity in particular, rather than any other religion, or deism?

  283. Ophis,

    It is you and Andy, not I, who are stretching the juror analogy beyond its logical and rhetorical limits.

  284. Andy,

    We can draw one – the growth rate among the Gentiles must have been higher. That seems to be a mathematical necessity, else the Gentiles could not have outnumbered the Jews so rapidly, especially given that the initial church was mostly jewish.

    No without some kind of estimate of the figures you can’t even do that. I think if you do the maths on different scenarios you’ll find that out yourself.

    So if they could “check the entire story”, and “we can be sure … that they did”, and “the validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT” – how does my interpretation not follow then?

    How does it follow? Serious question.

  285. Melissa,

    No without some kind of estimate of the figures you can’t even do that. I think if you do the maths on different scenarios you’ll find that out yourself.

    Alright, lets do a scenario together:
    Group x numbers 200 people and group y numbers 20 people. Assuming that y grows at 4% per year and that x grows at an equal or higher rate than y, what is the minimum number of years it would take until group y outnumbers group x?

    How does it follow? Serious question.

    Sorry, I have no idea how I could make it any clearer. But out of curiosity, here is the comment again:
    “We also know that Christianity grew rapidly in it’s early days during which time the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT were alive.
    So, if the story isn’t true, how could this happen. How do thousands of people all over the region become Christians believing the (rather unbelievable) facts in the NT. Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly. The validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT. That’s how we know it’s true.”
    – you seem to interpret this in a way that does not entail eyewitness evidence (if your interpretation does entail eyewitness evidence, then what exactly are we disagreeing about?), but how do you interpret the comment then?

  286. Jenna Black:

    It is you and Andy, not I, who are stretching the juror analogy beyond its logical and rhetorical limits.

    If I understood you correctly, you brought up the analogy to show that Christianity was true “beyond a reasonable doubt”, that the evidence in its favour was at the same level as the evidence you’d need for a conviction in a criminal trial. That’s a pretty high standard of evidence, and I’ve tried to show where Christianity does not seem to meet that high standard. You don’t really need all the baggage of a trial and a jury in the analogy; just think of it as a comparison of evidence against a particular (high) standard.

    Is there anything I’ve said in particular that goes beyond this testing of evidence against a standard, and so misuses the analogy?

  287. Ophis #310
    It takes us to a worldview where obligations are facts of reality, similar to the universe being a fact of reality.

  288. Andy,

    Alright, lets do a scenario together:
    Group x numbers 200 people and group y numbers 20 people. Assuming that y grows at 4% per year and that x grows at an equal or higher rate than y, what is the minimum number of years it would take until group y outnumbers group x?

    I see where you’re going wrong. You’re not working out a converts per population of the ethnic group which is surely the most relevant figure if you’re going to draw the conclusion you’re trying to.

    you seem to interpret this in a way that does not entail eyewitness evidence (if your interpretation does entail eyewitness evidence, then what exactly are we disagreeing about?), but how do you interpret the comment then?

    That because Christianity relies on the truth of an historical event, it would not have spread if the evidence did not attain some reasonable level. That is clearly a different proposition to “the reason for why Christianity spread so rapidly was the superior evidence for Christianity.” and the first does not entail the second.

  289. Melissa,

    I see where you’re going wrong. You’re not working out a converts per population of the ethnic group which is surely the most relevant figure if you’re going to draw the conclusion you’re trying to.

    I´m not entirely sure what exactly you mean by “converts per population of the ethnic group”. Literally, that would mean (#converts/#people belonging to the ethnic group). Is that what you mean? If so, I don´t see how that has any relevance whatsoever for my conclusion. The total sizes of the respective groups would only start to matter if the fraction of converts in a group approaches 100%, as long as both groups still have potential converts, my conclusion (that the group that started out as the bigger one can only become outnumbered by the other group, if it has a smaller growth rate) is independent of the total sizes of the respective groups.

    That because Christianity relies on the truth of an historical event, it would not have spread if the evidence did not attain some reasonable level. That is clearly a different proposition to “the reason for why Christianity spread so rapidly was the superior evidence for Christianity.” and the first does not entail the second.

    Originally, your objection was a different one:
    “Finally I don’t see anywhere is the claim you have quoted that amounts to a claim that access to eyewitness evidence was the reason for the spread of Christianity.”
    and the reference to eyewitness evidence seems to be rather clear in the quoted comment…. But somehow, I doubt that we actually disagree about anything of signficance here.

  290. Andy,

    I´m not entirely sure what exactly you mean by “converts per population of the ethnic group”. Literally, that would mean (#converts/#people belonging to the ethnic group). Is that what you mean? If so, I don´t see how that has any relevance whatsoever for my conclusion.

    Correct me if I am wrong but you are attempting to present evidence that the spread of Christianity was more successful among the Gentiles than the Jews. Now, what do you think would happen if you were presenting an actual study claiming that the spread of x was more successful in population A than population B and the data was:

    A 10 cases of x in a population of 100
    B 5 cases of x in a population of 10.

    You would be laughed out of town.

  291. SteveK:

    How is “a worldview where obligations are facts of reality” in #315 distinct from a worldview containing the “moral reality” of #307?

    Melissa #316:

    That because Christianity relies on the truth of an historical event, it would not have spread if the evidence did not attain some reasonable level.

    Some other religions rely on historical claims, and have spread. What is the evidence that early Christianity had a higher level of evidence than, for example, Mormonism, and that this evidence was important in allowing Christianity to spread?

  292. Melissa,

    Correct me if I am wrong but you are attempting to present evidence that the spread of Christianity was more successful among the Gentiles than the Jews. Now, what do you think would happen if you were presenting an actual study claiming that the spread of x was more successful in population A than population B and the data was:

    A 10 cases of x in a population of 100
    B 5 cases of x in a population of 10.

    You would be laughed out of town.

    Yes, I would be. But for a completely different reason than you think. I would be laughed out of town because I would present static data (one point in time) and derive a conclusion about something dynamic (about change over time – something like “success in spreading among the population”) from this.
    Your example here has nothing to do with my argument, I am talking about rates, and my conclusion that the growth rate of one group must have been higher than the growth rate of the other does follow. If you disagree, then I invite you again to answer this:
    “Group x numbers 200 people and group y numbers 20 people. Assuming that y grows at 4% per year and that x grows at an equal or higher rate than y, what is the minimum number of years it would take until group y outnumbers group x?”

  293. Ophis,
    It’s the same. I was being more specific so you could see that Christianity fits, and why others won’t.

  294. The answer, Andy, is if it’s equal then it will never outnumber the other and if it’s higher it will be some amount of time greater than zero but less than infinity.

    Edit: I see that I mixed up x and y so you can ignore my answer

  295. Andy,

    My list is almost done.

    A bit to go.

    In the meantime I’ll add Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah to the list of things you actually think count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth predicates.

  296. SteveK:

    It looks like you’re claiming that Christianity is the only religion that contains objective morality. Why wouldn’t Islam (for example) work equally well for this?

    What evidence do you have that obligations really are “facts of reality”, rather than being derived from human customs and preferences?

  297. Ophis, RE: #314

    You ask this in your comment #314: “Is there anything I’ve said in particular that goes beyond this testing of evidence against a standard, and so misuses the analogy?”

    You actually get closer to understanding the juror analogy in this comment. The analogy is regarding the standard of evidence (aka standard of proof) which is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” When I stated that I would apply this same standard of evidence if I were a juror in a capital murder trial, I am addressing whether or not the evidence convinces me of the truth beyond a reasonable doubt. Or, IOW, does the evidence meet the standard of credibility that I set as my highest standard, the bar of truth that the evidence must “jump over” to convince me beyond a reasonable doubt. This does not extend the analogy to mean that Jesus-era witnesses must be available to be cross-examined personally, which is obviously an unreasonable standard to hold the gospels to, and rather silly as well. So yes, you have misused or misapplied the analogy, or, as I express it, you have overextended the analogy beyond its logical and rhetorical limits.

    I know that the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard is the highest standard of evidence. I would not be a Christian if Christianity did not meet this high standard. It most certainly does. None of your arguments are new. They have all been addressed hundreds of times in scholarly and “popular market” theological treatises and books. I can recommend several books that give a very thorough treatment to the sort of objections you raise, including books by Simon Greenleaf, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace, John Stout, and Gregory Boyd. This book is one that entered my library recently that is excellent:

    N.L. Geisler & F. Turek (2004) “ I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.”

  298. Ophis,
    Islam would also fit. Atheism, no.

    What would count as evidence for a fact of obligation? Maybe before that question I should ask if it’s reasonable to think that we are factually obligated to truth, goodness and rationality?

  299. SteveK,

    Islam would also fit. Atheism, no.

    That is very often asserted, but usually without an argument. Which argument would you use to support this claim?

  300. Andy,

    Yes, I would be. But for a completely different reason than you think. I would be laughed out of town because I would present static data (one point in time) and derive a conclusion about something dynamic (about change over time – something like “success in spreading among the population”) from this

    Except that the data you are presenting us with is equivalent because your beginning point is the fact that Gentile Christians vastly outnumbered Jewish Christians.

    Your example here has nothing to do with my argument, I am talking about rates, and my conclusion that the growth rate of one group must have been higher than the growth rate of the other does follow.

    And I’m trying to point out that that is not the evidence you need to present to show that Christianity spread less successfully within the Jewish population. What you need to compare is the percentage of population converted after x years of mission.

    I want to make it clear that I don’t know the answers to these questions. What you’ve presented here is a superficial analysis of a limited amount of data. You can’t draw the kind of conclusions you want to from it.

  301. It’s not an assertion, Andy. I simply lack any reason to think that atheism entails factual obligations.

  302. SteveK,
    “It´s not an assertion”
    – It isn´t? If “Islam would also fit. Atheism, no.” is not an “assertion”, what is it then?

  303. Melissa,

    Except that the data you are presenting us with is equivalent because your beginning point is the fact that Gentile Christians vastly outnumbered Jewish Christians.

    Wrong. My argument was based on that fact, and the second fact that Christianity was largely Gentile by the end of the 1st century (EDIT: that is the fact you mention here, the “second” one I referred to was that Christianity started as a largely jewish movement).
    So it is about two facts corresponding to two different points in time.

    And I’m trying to point out that that is not the evidence you need to present to show that Christianity spread less successfully within the Jewish population. What you need to compare is the percentage of population converted after x years of mission.

    No, I do not need to compare those at all – the total percentage is actually completely irrelevant to the claim I made. Consider this hypothetical example:
    Mormon missionaries started to target China and Japan 50 years ago, and in this timeframe
    – Mormomism has spread in China so that there are on average 10000 new converts per year.
    – Mormonism has spread in Japan so that there are on average 100 new converts per year.
    This would be all I need to know to make the claim that Mormomism has been more “successful” (wrt spreading in the population) among the chinese than it was among the japanese. The total population sizes of the chinese and japanese populations respectively, and the percentages of the populations that correspond to converts, are completely irrelevant for this assessment.

  304. SteveK,
    alright, so you think that this:
    “Islam would also fit. Atheism, no.”
    – is actually not an assertion, but you also cannot say what it is instead. And the reason for why you think that this non-assertion is true (I wonder what it even means for a non-assertion to be “true”…) is personal incredulity.
    That is not very good case.

  305. SteveK,
    I´m feeling a little lazy right now – so I´ll just try the same stunt you did.
    I simply lack any reason to think that theism entails factual obligations.

  306. It’s not a stunt, it’s actually my view. If I have an incorrect understanding then I hope someone will help me.

  307. SteveK,
    insofar as “factual obligations” are part of several meta-ethical theories that are independent of whether a God does or does not exist – meaning that they can be incorporated into an atheistic worldview and that your claim “Islam would also fit. Atheism, no.”, is false.

  308. FYI – I was referring to a specific kind of moral reality, Andy, and the one I had in mind doesn’t fit within atheism. That’s why I answered Ophis’ s question the way I did. I have no doubt that atheism has it’s own, different, moral reality. Your factual obligations are not the same as mine.

  309. Andy,
    With #342 in mind, how would atheism respond to 327? In what way are we factually obligated to truth and rationality?

  310. – Mormomism has spread in China so that there are on average 10000 new converts per year.

    Just a side comment on all the “Mormonism has spread…” information you may have heard. (And why the parallels to Christianity that are drawn are bogus.) Mormonism has been claiming to be the world’s fastest growing religion for decades and decades now. If it were actually true, Mormonism would be one of the world’s largest religions by now. It isn’t. It isn’t, worldwide, any more significant than it was those decades and decades ago. Why? Because what they don’t tell you is that just as many people are abandoning this cult as joining it. I mean how long do you think it takes for people to figure out that the Garden of Eden wasn’t in Joplin, MO or that the Golden Plates (which most of the supposed “eyewitnesses” have denied actually seeing) didn’t exist.

  311. SteveK,

    What is the meta reality according to atheism?

    This question relies on a false premise. There is no meta-ethical theory that would logically follow if mere atheism is true (there are some that could not be true if atheism is true however). Similarly, there is no meta-ethical theory that would logically follow if mere theism is true (but there also would be some that could not be true).

    FYI – I was referring to a specific kind of moral reality, Andy, and the one I had in mind doesn’t fit within atheism.

    Alright. So what kind did you have in mind and how do you know that it exists?

    With #342 in mind, how would atheism respond to 327? In what way are we factually obligated to truth and rationality?

    1. Atheism doesn´t “respond” to anything (just like mere theism doesn´t), you have to specify a particular atheistic worldview.
    2. What does an “obligation to truth and rationality” mean? That you should not lie and act as rational as you can?

  312. Andy,

    No, I do not need to compare those at all – the total percentage is actually completely irrelevant to the claim I made. Consider this hypothetical example:
    Mormon missionaries started to target China and Japan 50 years ago, and in this timeframe
    – Mormomism has spread in China so that there are on average 10000 new converts per year.
    – Mormonism has spread in Japan so that there are on average 100 new converts per year.
    This would be all I need to know to make the claim that Mormomism has been more “successful” (wrt spreading in the population) among the chinese than it was among the japanese. The total population sizes of the chinese and japanese populations respectively, and the percentages of the populations that correspond to converts, are completely irrelevant for this assessment.

    If you want to define successful the way you have then it is actually completely irrelevant to your argument. I didn’t think I needed to keep reminding you of what you’re trying to provide support for and could just use a shorthand phrase. Let my summarise you argument so you can see what it is that you need to show.

    1. The Jews were more likely on average to have access to evidence from eye witnesses.

    (We both agree with this)

    2. Was controversial and did not produce a sound argument. It should be something like the Jews were less likely on average to accept the gospel than the Gentiles.

    (This is what I am focused on.)

    3. Access to the eye witness evidence is not directly correlated with acceptance of the gospel.

    As you can see this argument is sound and I’m trying to get you to understand that the acceptance per population is crucial in providing support for 2 not irrelevant.

    Now the final answer is neither here nor there because no one was arguing that access to eye witness evidence was correlated to acceptance of the gospel but I want you to think through your own claims more carefully and consider what kind of evidence might show it to be true.

  313. Melissa,

    1. The Jews were more likely on average to have access to evidence from eye witnesses.

    (We both agree with this)

    2. Was controversial and did not produce a sound argument. It should be something like the Jews were less likely on average to accept the gospel than the Gentiles.

    (This is what I am focused on.)

    3. Access to the eye witness evidence is not directly correlated with acceptance of the gospel.

    As you can see this argument is sound and I’m trying to get you to understand that the acceptance per population is crucial in providing support for 2 not irrelevant.

    I know that you are trying to get me to understand that you are right about “acceptance per population” being crucial. However, you are simply flat out wrong about this, acceptance per population is not crucial but rather completely irrelevant, and I explained to you why – and you ignored my explanations, you certainly have not even tried to demonstrate them to be wrong. You have no argument, you just keep repeating the mere assertion that you are right.

    Now the final answer is neither here nor there because no one was arguing that access to eye witness evidence was correlated to acceptance of the gospel…

    I parsed BillT´s comment to mean that easier access to eyewitness evidence should have been correlated with more acceptance of the Gospels and explained why. And looking at the comment again:
    “We also know that Christianity grew rapidly in it’s early days during which time the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT were alive.
    So, if the story isn’t true, how could this happen. How do thousands of people all over the region become Christians believing the (rather unbelievable) facts in the NT. Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly. The validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT. That’s how we know it’s true.” (emphasis mine)
    – I still think that my interpretation follows from this comment and that you are wrong about this as well.

    …but I want you to think through your own claims more carefully and consider what kind of evidence might show it to be true.

    I did. You did not. You have a preconceived idea that you are unwilling to examine – you are certain that you are right and keep merely asserting that you are, you should try to think it through for once and support your assertion with an argument instead of just repeating the mere assertion that you are right.

  314. Andy,

    Given your figures above I calculate that the likelihood that any particular Chinese person will convert to Mormonism in any given year is roughly ***edit roughly equal (100 times less) to a Japanese person.

    (Plugged in the wrong population but you can see where I’m going with this)

  315. Melissa,

    Given your figures above I calculate that the likelihood that any particular Chinese person will convert to Mormonism in any given year is roughly ***edit roughly equal (100 times less) to a Japanese person.

    (Plugged in the wrong population but you can see where I’m going with this)

    Yes, I see where you are going with this. And it is meaningless wrt success in spreading in the population. Lets use your example:
    “Now, what do you think would happen if you were presenting an actual study claiming that the spread of x was more successful in population A than population B and the data was:
    A 10 cases of x in a population of 100
    B 5 cases of x in a population of 10.
    You would be laughed out of town.”
    And imagine further that this is the data from year 100, while in the year 90 (which was also the founding year of x) it looked like this:
    A 1 cases of x in a population of 100
    B 5 cases of x in a population of 10.
    This would mean that x grows extremely fast in A, while it doesn´t grow at all in B – all of the x in B are actually founding members of x and they did not manage to find even just a single person who wants to convert. Looking at this and saying that x spreads more successfully in B because at one point in time 50% of B are x while only 10% of B are x, would be completely and utterly ridiculous – the percentage doesn´t tell you anything what-so-ever about the success in spreading in the population. The growth rate – the change over time – tells you that.

  316. Andy,

    Yes, I see where you are going with this. And it is meaningless wrt success in spreading in the population. Lets use your example:
    “Now, what do you think would happen if you were presenting an actual study claiming that the spread of x was more successful in population A than population B and the data was:
    A 10 cases of x in a population of 100
    B 5 cases of x in a population of 10.
    You would be laughed out of town.”
    And imagine further that this is the data from year 100, while in the year 90 (which was also the founding year of x) it looked like this:
    A 1 cases of x in a population of 100
    B 5 cases of x in a population of 10.
    This would mean that x grows extremely fast in A, while it doesn´t grow at all in B – all of the x in B are actually founding members of x and they did not manage to find even just a single person who wants to convert. Looking at this and saying that x spreads more successfully in B because at one point in time 50% of B are x while only 10% of B are x, would be completely and utterly ridiculous – the percentage doesn´t tell you anything what-so-ever about the success in spreading in the population. The growth rate – the change over time – tells you that.

    So you’re responding by ignoring completely what I just wrote in the last two comments to further explain my view … and you think I’m fixated on my own opinion? Is the problem that you disagree with my wording in premise 2 above?

  317. Jenna Black #325:

    You actually get closer to understanding the juror analogy in this comment. The analogy is regarding the standard of evidence (aka standard of proof) which is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” When I stated that I would apply this same standard of evidence if I were a juror in a capital murder trial, I am addressing whether or not the evidence convinces me of the truth beyond a reasonable doubt. Or, IOW, does the evidence meet the standard of credibility that I set as my highest standard, the bar of truth that the evidence must “jump over” to convince me beyond a reasonable doubt. This does not extend the analogy to mean that Jesus-era witnesses must be available to be cross-examined personally, which is obviously an unreasonable standard to hold the gospels to, and rather silly as well. So yes, you have misused or misapplied the analogy, or, as I express it, you have overextended the analogy beyond its logical and rhetorical limits.

    I think what’s going on here is that you’re lowering your standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” to fit in with what you think is a reasonable level of evidence to expect given the circumstances.

    If we use the trial analogy again: sometimes the circumstances of a crime are such that we can’t reasonably expect there to be witnesses available for cross-examination, or any clear physical evidence; and sometimes the criminal is smart enough to commit the crime in a way that reduces evidence. Sometimes it’s a case of one person’s word against another’s, and the circumstances mean we can’t expect anything better. When that happens, we don’t change what we mean by “beyond reasonable doubt” to fit in with whatever we can expect given the crime. We accept that some criminals will go free, and some crimes will remain unsolved, because circumstances prevent the high standard of evidence from being reached.

    The same applies to the claims of the resurrection. Saying that it’s unreasonable to expect to be able to assess the evidence as we would in a trial, is equivalent to saying that it is unreasonable to expect to be able to prove Christian historical claims “beyond a reasonable doubt”. The nature of the evidence prevents it, regardless of what reasons there might be for the evidence being as limited as it is.

    I know that the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard is the highest standard of evidence. I would not be a Christian if Christianity did not meet this high standard. It most certainly does.

    Only if you change the standard to fit the evidence. When the evidence is as limited as it is, even if there might be good reasons for it being limited, then it’s unreasonable to expect to reach the unchanged standard.

    None of your arguments are new. They have all been addressed hundreds of times in scholarly and “popular market” theological treatises and books. I can recommend several books that give a very thorough treatment to the sort of objections you raise, including books by Simon Greenleaf, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace, John Stout, and Gregory Boyd. This book is one that entered my library recently that is excellent:

    N.L. Geisler & F. Turek (2004) “ I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.”

    If you want to bring up one of their arguments that you think rebuts my objections, then go ahead. I don’t think it’s going to be productive if we just throw book recommendations at each other rather than going over the arguments ourselves. That amounts to outsourcing our beliefs to whatever authors we each happen to like.

  318. Melissa,

    Is the problem that you disagree with my wording in premise 2 above?

    What is premise 2? This:

    2. Was controversial and did not produce a sound argument. It should be something like the Jews were less likely on average to accept the gospel than the Gentiles.

    (This is what I am focused on.)

    ? If so, you seem to be attached to the strange idea that missionary work does not require any time at all but can rather happen instantaneously – so that the rate of how fast an idea spreads in a population is irrelevant to know how successful it is, and all that you need to know instead is the percentage of a population that accepts the idea at any arbitrary point in time. This would mean that if I fly as a missionary to China tomorrow, and manage to convince two chinese people to convert, you would calculate the likelihood for the chinese to convert as 2 divided by the number of chinese people.
    If that is what you mean – I explained in various ways why this makes no sense at all. If that isn´t what you mean, you have to elaborate in what exactly “premise 2” is supposed to mean.

  319. SteveK #327:

    Islam would also fit. Atheism, no.

    So it wouldn’t really work as evidence for Christianity in particular, rather than theism in general. Even if I accept your arguments, that wouldn’t mean I should become a Christian.

    What would count as evidence for a fact of obligation? Maybe before that question I should ask if it’s reasonable to think that we are factually obligated to truth, goodness and rationality?

    Before I can answer that I’ll need you to define what exactly you mean by a “factual obligation”, and how it’s supposed to be related to God.

  320. Andy and Ophis,

    Melissa has a point about premise 2 as we’ll see shortly:

    #295 #296 #297 have several misunderstandings, primarily about where Christians and Skeptic’s claim the weight of evidence either is present or is not present.

    ***There was this: “I saw another argument, and the people in it were smarter, and I think my side won.”

    That was in response to my, “Far better work than anything we’ve seen here is done by Bart Ehrman to discredit the N.T. even as many others do an intellectually satisfying job of refuting that more robust work.”

    J.B. echoed awareness of the same pathetic state of affairs that things – being so bad on your end – may require a bit of reading-up: “I know that the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard is the highest standard of evidence. I would not be a Christian if Christianity did not meet this high standard. It most certainly does. None of your arguments are new. They have all been addressed hundreds of times in scholarly and “popular market” theological treatises and books. I can recommend several books that give a very thorough treatment to the sort of objections you raise, including books by Simon Greenleaf, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace, John Stout, and Gregory Boyd.”

    Given that we are dealing with folks who believe that Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah is on the proverbial list of things many Skeptics actually think count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth predicates, there is a serious need on your part to become more familiar with what you are actually arguing *against*, hence these directories for you to go read-up on. And, also, as none of these arguments are new, and as you’ve no clear understanding of Christianity’s claims, the word-count needed here would be prohibitive.

    ***There was this: “So the ending of Mark (from 16:9 onwards), containing all of that Gospel’s claims of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, is trivial and contains nothing of importance?”

    That was in response to this: “Of the approximately 138,000 words in the New Testament only about 1,400 remain in doubt. The text of the New Testament is thus about 99% established. That means that when you pick up a (Greek) New Testament today, you can be confident that you are reading the text as it was originally written. Moreover, that 1% that remains uncertain has to do with trivial words on which nothing of importance hangs.”

    It is confusing why one would respond that way other than one having a complete misunderstanding of Craig’s point, as both Acts and Revelations and Paul describe Jesus appearing post resurrection. That confusion on your end about Craig’s actual point falls right in line with the fact that Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah is on the proverbial list of things many Skeptics actually think count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth predicates. Hence, again, the need to read-up on mine and JB’s suggested areas.

    ***There was this: “Maybe you should mention that to the people here who are trying to demonstrate the truth of Christianity by trying to prove that one particular miracle happened. Go and speak to Bill T who is insistent that Christianity could only grow early on if people were carefully verifying the miracle of the Resurrection.”

    This shows a complete misunderstanding of the Christian’s claim on 1) what “Seeing A Miracle” can and cannot grant and on 2) the human elements within a person’s conversion to this or that set of beliefs and on 3) The place of Christ’s resurrection in the Christian’s search for truth being the “ONLY” power behind growth. Your reply makes a monotone, monochromatic, droll swipe of the brush across all of that and blindly plugs in “Seeing-Miracle” as the whole show for all three. Wow. You have it postured such that “Seeing A Miracle” itself is in fact two things: 1) the primary engine of conversion and 2) the primary power behind a conversion’s sustenance (it grants immunity to DE-Conversion). But Christianity says none of this and your claim that Christians claim that the “ONLY” way Christianity spread was by seeing miracles is unsubstantiated. And you just fail to bring in *other* data and factors and so we can only guess that you think such was the only way stuff spread. This is so painfully obvious that Melissa also keeps pointing it out:

    “…….1) It should be something like the Jews were less likely on average to accept the gospel than the Gentiles. This is what I am focused on. 2) Access to the eye witness evidence is not directly correlated with acceptance of the gospel. As you can see this argument is sound and I’m trying to get you to understand that the acceptance per population is crucial in providing support for [your claim] of 2 [being] not irrelevant. Now the final answer is neither here nor there because no one was arguing that access to eye witness evidence was correlated to acceptance of the gospel…”

    None of us expect you to get this key flaw in your argument, that “Seeing-Miracles” is not what you claim it is. Melissa, JB, and I are just astounded at this line of argument from you. So we come back to Christ’s words and the plain fact that you’ve not shown Christ to be wrong – that is to say – you’ve just not given any evidence or shown that “Seeing-Miracle” itself is in fact the primary engine of conversion or the primary engine of a conversion’s sustenance (it grants immunity to DE-Conversion) or is the ONLY way Christianity spreads – is the ONLY item involved in the very experience of coming to believe a set of truth claims. IF your theory was correct, that Seeing-Miracle is the ONLY item involved in conversion and/or the spread of Christianity, THEN the entire Christian machine should have evaporated somewhere around 100 or 150 AD. But that did NOT happen and so EITHER Seeing-Miracle has NEVER stopped being present OR the Skeptic’s whole thesis is not only merely unsubstantiated but is also refuted by unassailable evidence in the present day. How unfortunate for the Skeptic’s hyper-skeptical and uneven treatments of data. And none of that has anything to do with the math which Andy’s thesis will need to produce as per Melissa’s points, as the math is yet another layer of problems for the Skeptic’s thesis besides all the rest here. As for the place of Christ’s resurrection in Christian theology, it is key, but it is not key in the way you laughably assert in all of this.

    There was this: “The problem is that the entire historical case for Christianity is reliant on the claims of people who were all favorable to a particular religious position related to their account… Show me where I’ve said that the only problem is that the witnesses are not numerous enough. I want the quote.”

    But Craig’s quote (which you read as it was the SAME quote you quoted) was general enough to show you the burden of proof you must bring, but which have not yet shown us: “But as you say, that doesn’t prove that what these documents say is historically accurate. We could have the text of Aesop’s fables established to 99% accuracy, and that would do nothing to show that they are true stories. After all, they are intended to be fables, not history. People in the future would say something similar about the Joe narratives, no matter how many copies existed. Now, as you point out, the Gospels are intended to be history. That is the import of your comment that the Gospels “are historical” even if they are not true. That is to say, the Gospels are of the literary genre of historical writing. They are not of the genre of mythology, fiction, or fable. This is an extremely important insight. Something of a consensus has developed within New Testament scholarship that the Gospels are closest in genre to ancient biographies……”

    Obviously you disagree with the evidence of genre – but – that is fine. We’re happy with the overall congruence in that arena. But that you missed that point about the skeptic’s wanting MORE witnesses OTHER than what we have reveals the skeptic’s missing of the whole point about *genre* and that just reveals yet ANOTHER misunderstanding of what the Christian is and is not claiming. Perhaps mine and JB’s reading lists will help you read-up a bit on what you are actually arguing *against*.

    Finally, again just as a reminder, we’ve added Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah to the proverbial list of things many Skeptics actually think count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth predicates. That reveals what all the REST of these items reveal – a complete lack of understanding about what one is arguing about. Perhaps mine and JB’s reading lists and Melissa’s (and other’s) point about [conversion / seeing-miracle] will motivate you to read-up a bit more as it’s clearly needed.

  321. sctrollhrm,
    I refer you to my #291, and that is the only response you deserve and the only one you will get from me.

  322. Andy,

    Always with all the HEAT and all the EMOTING and all the NAME CALLING.

    I’ve clearly hit a nerve…..

    The suggested reading(s) may prove helpful for you in the future.

  323. The arguments of Greenleaf and other legal apologist’s is dependant upon whether or not they would be able to convince a court to dispense with the hearsay rule in order to prove the authenticity of the gospels.

    They inveriably rely on the “ancient documents” rule in order to attempt this. Unfortunately, the gospels don’t meet the criteria necessary in order to invoke that rule.

    This is true, as far as I can tell, in most jurisdictions in Europe and America and especially those jurisdictions subject to a form of Roman-Dutch jurisprudence.

    The first hurdle is of course that the gospels consist of copies of copies of copies of anonamously authored and subsequently altered documents. We don’t need to take the enquiry further than that because that strike is deadly.

    If you don’t agree, could you please provide me with a link to the specific version of the gospels that an English speaking court should accept as authentic to the exclusion of all the rest.

  324. Andy,

    You seem to be strangely fixated on the point that I am somehow pressing for figures at a fixed time. To be clear my original example was just to illustrate how the relative populations can affect our conclusion. Since then I have tried to show you how similarly it makes a difference if we are talking about comparative rates of conversion as well. I may not have spelled it out for you, I didn’t realise I ‘d need to. Did you not notice that I included the time frame in my analysis of the Chinese/Japanese example. To remove any confusion. Taking your Chinese/Japanese example the likelihood, on average, of any Chinese person accepting the gospel over the last 50 years is roughly the same as a Japanese person on average. Is that a long enough time span for you?

    And once again if you think that premise 2 is wrong then rewrite it.

  325. sctrollhrm,
    statements of facts are not insults.
    Also, “I’ve clearly hit a nerve…” – I´m sure that´s what you hope and strive for, being the pathetic little troll that you are. However, the only emotions you arouse are pity (because your delusions of grandeur simply are a pitiable sight and because you did not choose your lack of intelligence) and contempt (because of your incredible arrogance and trolling).

  326. Melissa,

    Taking your Chinese/Japanese example the likelihood, on average, of any Chinese person accepting the gospel over the last 50 years is roughly the same as a Japanese person on average. Is that a long enough time span for you?

    What would be a “long enough time span” would be whatever time it takes until the entire population was exposed to all relevant information about the idea, but that is something that you in practice never know. You do not know it for the hypothetical example here (how many chinese know nothing or extremely little about the idea after 50 years? A million? Ten million? Five hundred million? How would you know?) And you also do not know it for the early history of Christianity. That is why the total sizes of the Jew and Gentile populations are not informative here, they are completely irrelevant – the only thing that is informative wrt how successful the idea was is the rate of how fast it spread.

    And once again if you think that premise 2 is wrong then rewrite it.

    Alright, your premise 2 entails a “likelihood to accept” parameter that is in practice unknowable – because for any non-trivial and real world example, you never know the fraction of the population that has actually been exposed to all relevant information. And the “likelihood to accept” is therefore a useless parameter to evaluate how successfully an idea spreads in a population. The rate of how fast an idea spreads in a population on the other hand is usually knowable and therefore a much better parameter to evaluate how successful an idea spreads in a population. And that is why I have based my argument on the growth rate of an idea in a population and why I see no reason to change it to your “likelihood to accept”.

  327. Andy,

    I’m not aiming at nerves. Rather, if I may be a bit too reductionististic for the sake of brevity:

    1) There are simply *other* factors involved here which your monochromatic one-trick-pony is failing to incorporate in one’s monotone “formula” of “rate”.

    2) Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah is now thanks to you added to the proverbial list of things many Skeptics actually think count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth claims.

    Etc…..

  328. Yes Andy.

    And Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah counts AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth claims.

  329. Re. #355:

    ***There was this: “I saw another argument, and the people in it were smarter, and I think my side won.”

    J.B. echoed awareness of the same pathetic state of affairs that things – being so bad on your end – may require a bit of reading-up:

    Given that we are dealing with folks who believe that Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah is on the proverbial list of things many Skeptics actually think count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth predicates, there is a serious need on your part to become more familiar with what you are actually arguing *against*, hence these directories for you to go read-up on. And, also, as none of these arguments are new, and as you’ve no clear understanding of Christianity’s claims, the word-count needed here would be prohibitive.

    This is just pure arrogance; an assumption that your position has long ago been proven right, and if I don’t agree with that, it must be because I’m unfamiliar with the arguments.

    If it’s so easy to prove me wrong, if you can just look up the arguments against my positions that make them look foolish, then it should be easy for you to make those arguments here without me taking them apart. But so far, nobody has been able to do so without making completely unsupported assumptions, like the unfounded supposition that the early Christians were skeptical investigators whose conversion was dependent on carefully checking the evidence. That’s not a strawman I’ve made up; it’s the position of BillT and Melissa, and I’ve quoted them on that in my previous comments.

    Your statement that “many others do an intellectually satisfying job of refuting that more robust work” is nothing more than a vague appeal to authority. If there really are intellectually satisfying refutations of more robust versions of my positions, then it should be very very easy for you to look them up and use them to refute my less robust version. But you choose not to.

    ***There was this: “So the ending of Mark (from 16:9 onwards), containing all of that Gospel’s claims of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, is trivial and contains nothing of importance?”

    That was in response to this: “Of the approximately 138,000 words in the New Testament only about 1,400 remain in doubt. The text of the New Testament is thus about 99% established. That means that when you pick up a (Greek) New Testament today, you can be confident that you are reading the text as it was originally written. Moreover, that 1% that remains uncertain has to do with trivial words on which nothing of importance hangs.”

    It is confusing why one would respond that way other than one having a complete misunderstanding of Craig’s point, as both Acts and Revelations and Paul describe Jesus appearing post resurrection. That confusion on your end about Craig’s actual point falls right in line with the fact that Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah is on the proverbial list of things many Skeptics actually think count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth predicates. Hence, again, the need to read-up on mine and JB’s suggested areas.

    If Craig really is counting every resurrection appearance in our earliest Gospel as mere “trivial words on which nothing of importance hangs” then he’s being intellectually dishonest, as are you. The resurrection appearances are critical events for Christianity. The status of the Gospel of Mark as our earliest Gospel makes it a key document. By my standard, and I think the standard of any reasonable person, that means that what the Gospel of Mark says about the resurrection is important and not trivial for our assessment of the resurrection claims.

    You are essentially saying “it doesn’t matter if our earliest in-depth account of the resurrection has been altered in a major way”. Do you expect that to be convincing to any seriously skeptical observer?

    ***There was this: “Maybe you should mention that to the people here who are trying to demonstrate the truth of Christianity by trying to prove that one particular miracle happened. Go and speak to Bill T who is insistent that Christianity could only grow early on if people were carefully verifying the miracle of the Resurrection.”

    This shows a complete misunderstanding of the Christian’s claim on 1) what “Seeing A Miracle” can and cannot grant and on 2) the human elements within a person’s conversion to this or that set of beliefs and on 3) The place of Christ’s resurrection in the Christian’s search for truth being the “ONLY” power behind growth. Your reply makes a monotone, monochromatic, droll swipe of the brush across all of that and blindly plugs in “Seeing-Miracle” as the whole show for all three. Wow. You have it postured such that “Seeing A Miracle” itself is in fact two things: 1) the primary engine of conversion and 2) the primary power behind a conversion’s sustenance (it grants immunity to DE-Conversion). But Christianity says none of this and your claim that Christians claim that the “ONLY” way Christianity spread was by seeing miracles is unsubstantiated. This is so painfully obvious that Melissa also keeps pointing it out:

    Here’s Melissa on this (#316):

    “That because Christianity relies on the truth of an historical event, it would not have spread if the evidence did not attain some reasonable level.”

    BillT asserted something similar in #152. Both are clearly asserting that the growth of early Christianity could not have happened without a process of people checking the historical miracle claims of Christians for themselves. That assertion is unsubstantiated, and that is what I have argued against.

    If you think that the early growth of Christianity was not dependent on the earliest converts or potential converts investigating the resurrection claims, then that entails that BillT and Melissa are wrong. If you think that my comments related to this are trying to argue something other than this, then you have failed to understand what I have written.

    So we come back to Christ’s words and the plain fact that you’ve not shown Christ to be wrong – that is to say – you’ve just not given any evidence or shown that “Seeing-Miracle” itself is in fact the primary engine of conversion or the primary engine of a conversion’s sustenance (it grants immunity to DE-Conversion) or is the ONLY way Christianity spreads – is the ONLY item involved in the very experience of coming to believe a set of truth claims. IF your theory was correct, that Seeing-Miracle is the ONLY item involved in conversion and/or the spread of Christianity, THEN the entire Christian machine should have evaporated somewhere around 100 or 150 AD.

    This whole passage seems to be arguing in favour of my position. I have made it very clear that I do not believe that verifying miracles was necessary for the growth of Christianity. I can only conclude at this point that you are willfully refusing to understand anything I say.

    But that did NOT happen and so EITHER Seeing-Miracle has NEVER stopped being present OR the Skeptic’s whole thesis is not only merely unsubstantiated but is also refuted by unassailable evidence in the present day. How unfortunate for the Skeptic’s hyper-skeptical and uneven treatments of data.

    You obviously have no idea what “the skeptic’s thesis” is.

    I have argued, over many comments, that seeing or verifying miracles WAS NOT necessary for the growth of Christianity. I have been arguing this AGAINST the position of Christians here.

    There was this: “The problem is that the entire historical case for Christianity is reliant on the claims of people who were all favorable to a particular religious position related to their account… Show me where I’ve said that the only problem is that the witnesses are not numerous enough. I want the quote.”

    But Craig’s quote (which you read as it was the SAME quote you quoted) was general enough to show you the burden of proof you must bring, but which have not yet shown us: “But as you say, that doesn’t prove that what these documents say is historically accurate. We could have the text of Aesop’s fables established to 99% accuracy, and that would do nothing to show that they are true stories. After all, they are intended to be fables, not history. People in the future would say something similar about the Joe narratives, no matter how many copies existed. Now, as you point out, the Gospels are intended to be history. That is the import of your comment that the Gospels “are historical” even if they are not true. That is to say, the Gospels are of the literary genre of historical writing. They are not of the genre of mythology, fiction, or fable. This is an extremely important insight. Something of a consensus has developed within New Testament scholarship that the Gospels are closest in genre to ancient biographies……”

    Obviously you disagree with the evidence of genre – but – that is fine. We’re happy with the overall congruence in that arena. But that you missed that point about the skeptic’s wanting MORE witnesses OTHER than what we have reveals the skeptic’s missing of the whole point about *genre* and that just reveals yet ANOTHER misunderstanding of what the Christian is and is not claiming. Perhaps mine and JB’s reading lists will help you read-up a bit on what you are actually arguing *against*.

    So what, are we supposed to believe the Gospels just because of what genre they seem to be in? And I’ll point out that you’ve yet again failed to address my actual point. You’ve just taken longer about it this time.

    Finally, again just as a reminder, we’ve added Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah to the proverbial list of things many Skeptics actually think count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth predicates. That reveals what all the REST of these items reveal – a complete lack of understanding about what one is arguing about. Perhaps mine and JB’s reading lists and Melissa’s (and other’s) point about [conversion / seeing-miracle] will motivate you to read-up a bit more as it’s clearly needed.

    That point was clearly made to address one specific claim, by the Christians here: that the growth of early Christianity was in some way dependent on people confirming miracle claims. Most of your comment seems to be angry agreement with what I and Andy have been claiming all along: that Christian conversion and growth was not dependent on confirming miracle claims.

    I don’t think you even know what you’re arguing any more. I honestly think you’re psychologically incapable of engaging with non-Christian positions in any meaningful way.

  330. Ophis,

    Once again you unfortunately miss the point(s) of what Christianity claims and does not claim. Your “in some way dependent” is clever as it agrees with Melissa’s and Christianity’s Polychromatic model and disagrees with Andy’s Monochromatic model affixed to rate. Israel’s general rejection of Christ as Messiah AFFIRMS the Polychromatic model.

    Later today…….

  331. scbrownlhrm:

    Since it seems you accept that at least some (most?) early Christians would convert without needing to confirm the truth of miracles, what’s the problem with the idea that Christianity could grow without anyone confirming them?

  332. Ophis,

    “Any”?

    A bit Monochromatic and so we can ignore it. There are Christians TODAY who have never seen a miracle OR those like myself who came to Christ prior to the whole empty tomb dissection. *AND* there are the polar opposites. Polychromatic is how real experiences in real people in the real world actually take place. Any model which fails to take it all in isn’t bring honest.

    More later as I’m able…….

  333. Ophis,

    For those who come to Christ prior to all these exercises we see here, we can add a group for whom – later in life – such discoveries added contours to the Polychromatic spectrum we are describing.

    This “ALL MIRACLE” and “ALL RATE” and “NO MIRACLE” stuff isn’t Christianity’s claim in the least. And, besides, Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah AFFIRMS the credibility of Christianity’s truth claims.

    Working on it along the way today when feasible……

  334. “And, besides, Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah AFFIRMS the credibility of Christianity’s truth claims.”
    Of course it does. Because math! And because polychromatic! And because trimotional ontological singular frames!
    You should write a book, the world needs more laughter.

    “This “ALL MIRACLE” and “ALL RATE” and “NO MIRACLE” stuff isn’t Christianity’s claim in the least.”
    – While it certainly is “THE SKEPTIC´s” claim, I mean, we uttered gibberish like “Christianity is false because “ALL MIRACLE” and “ALL RATE” and “NO MIRACLE”” all the time in this thread amirite?

  335. Andy,

    We get that you believe Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah ought to be added to the proverbial list of things which actually count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth claims. And, also, “RATE”.

    But you’ve just not given a good argument.

  336. sctrollhrm,
    so Christianity expects whatever is observed because random troll says so. Got it. I think you have just found a golden ticket that allows you to ignore every evidential challenge against Christianity that anyone ever thought or will think of:
    “No, ur wrong! Chrisistanity liek totaly predicteted this and stuff because I say so.”

  337. Andy,

    We get that you believe Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah can be added to the proverbial list of things that count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth claims.

    Specific enough for you?

  338. BillT asserted something similar in #152. Both are clearly asserting that the growth of early Christianity could not have happened without a process of people checking the historical miracle claims of Christians for themselves. That assertion is unsubstantiated, and that is what I have argued against.

    If I could butt back in for a bit and clarify on the two points being made by Ophis and Andy. I’d like to reference the aforementioned 1 Cor 15:3-7. This is a creedal statement accepted by 90% of all theologians, both skeptical and believing, as dating to within a few years of Christ’s ministry. I think it addresses both issues.

    3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
    4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
    5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.
    6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
    7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,
    8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born..

    As for Ophis’ point that Christianity could or did grow without eyewitness verification we have this account of the church in Jerusalem. It consists of at least somewhere between 500 people (“five hundred of the brothers and sisters…” i.e. believers) and reasonably maybe 1,000. This church is made up of almost exclusively of people who actually were the eyewitnesses to Christ’s ministry. Among them they have seen virtually every minute of his prior three years. From this group of eyewitnesses the church grew in the next 35 years to have churches in every major city in the Mediterranean. These eyewitnesses were the bedrock of that church.

    Also, we have Paul’s statement “most of whom are still living,” Why would he say that some 20 years after the events described here. Not much interpretation is needed for these plain words. He’s inviting anyone who reads this to personally verify these facts with those eyewitnesses. So we have virtually everyone’s basic instinct to verify fact based propositions, especially life changing ones, and Paul’s direct invitation for anyone to come and verify it with these specific eyewitnesses to these events. I don’t think we need to go any further to establish this point. However Ophis, I think it’s your turn to provide any evidence you have to the contrary. You haven’t yet and thus I think this proposition stands unless effectively rebutted.

    As far as Andy’s assertion that Christianity was a failure among the Jews we also can look at this account. The church in Jerusalem reasonably consisted of somewhere between 500 people (“five hundred of the brothers and sisters…” i.e. believers) and maybe 1,000. This is the church in primarily Jewish Jerusalem. There are multiple accounts of Jews belonging to that church and it defies any logic that some reasonable percentage were not Jewish. So, we have Jews in Jerusalem, who were in the best position to know the truth of Christianity’s claims, being members of that church. Certainly, when the church spread throughout the primarily gentile Mediterranean, an area where Jews were a distinct minority, the numbers of gentile believers became the vast majority. However, the initial church in Jerusalem obviously had plenty of Jewish believers. This is not remotely controversial.

  339. sctrollhrm,
    specific enough, absolutely! The sole “contribution” to any discussion that you are intellectually capable of, is copy-pasting random texts from Craig or Feser and repeating a claim like “Chrisistanity liek totaly predicted dat!” over and over and over and over again without ever presenting anything even remotely resembling an argument that demonstrates the claim to be true.

  340. BillT,

    As far as Andy’s assertion that Christianity was a failure among the Jews we also can look at this account. The church in Jerusalem reasonably consisted of somewhere between 500 people (“five hundred of the brothers and sisters…” i.e. believers) and maybe 1,000. This is the church in primarily Jewish Jerusalem. There are multiple accounts of Jews belonging to that church and it defies any logic that some reasonable percentage were not Jewish. So, we have Jews in Jerusalem, who were in the best position to know the truth of Christianity’s claims, being members of that church. Certainly, when the church spread throughout the primarily gentile Mediterranean, an area where Jews were a distinct minority, the numbers of gentile believers became the vast majority. However, the initial church in Jerusalem obviously had plenty of Jewish believers. This is not remotely controversial.

    You are missing the point. The christian movement was in the beginning almost 100% jewish, but by the end of the 1st century, Christianity was already a largely Gentile movement. Christianity spread like wildfire among the Gentiles but it was never more than a teeny-tiny minority among the people that “were in the best position to know”. The Jews overwhelmingly didn´t buy it and still don´t, the Gentiles did.

  341. Andy,

    If the initial Christian church was “almost 100% jewish(sic)” how were the people that “were in the best position to know”, which were those initial eyewitness Jewish believers not part of what you just admitted they were part of. By the end of the 1st century those eyewitnesses that “were in the best position to know” that were the initial believers were dead and the people left were not those that “were in the best position to know”. Everyone after the 1st century were in the same position to know either Jew or gentile.

  342. Andy,

    I’m not arguing. I’m happy to let you run with your assertion that Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah ought to be added to the proverbial list of things that actually count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth predicates.

    It’s helping our case.

  343. scbbrownlhrm, BillT and Andy,

    Let’s also remember the theology of this question about Jews and Gentiles, or what I consider to be God’s case against Andy. Remember that God promised Abraham that a blessing to the world would come through Abraham’s “seed.” This promise has been fulfilled. See David Marshall’s excellent discussion of this in his “Outsider Test” book. The Jews, who are Abraham’s seed, gave Christianity to the world.

  344. BillT:

    As for Ophis’ point that Christianity could or did grow without eyewitness verification we have this account of the church in Jerusalem.

    That passage doesn’t actually say they were in Jerusalem. Acts 1:15 states that there were only 120 people in the church in Jerusalem at that time, so either Acts was wrong, Paul was wrong, or the appearance happened among some other group outside of Jerusalem; if it’s the last one, they could plausibly have been anywhere in Judea or Galilee. So it could be pretty hard to track them down, and Paul hasn’t given any information that would be useful in finding them.

    It consists of at least somewhere between 500 people (“five hundred of the brothers and sisters…” i.e. believers) and reasonably maybe 1,000. This church is made up of almost exclusively of people who actually were the eyewitnesses to Christ’s ministry. Among them they have seen virtually every minute of his prior three years.

    Where do you get the idea that they were all eyewitnesses to the whole of his ministry? When Peter asks for such a person to replace Judas as an apostle, there are only 2 candidates out of the 120 people present. From that point, Acts has the church growing by making brand new converts, so by the time you get up to 1000 people, the vast majority of Christians would be non-witnesses.

    From this group of eyewitnesses the church grew in the next 35 years to have churches in every major city in the Mediterranean. These eyewitnesses were the bedrock of that church.

    Not from “this group of eyewitnesses”, but from Paul; he’s the one doing the work of setting up churches around the Mediterranean, and he hasn’t seen a moment of Jesus’ life.

    He’s inviting anyone who reads this to personally verify these facts with those eyewitnesses.

    If so, he’s provided no information that would allow that to be done. Are the Corinthians supposed to sail off in the vague direction of Judea and wander round asking people if they’re one of the 500?

    So we have virtually everyone’s basic instinct to verify fact based propositions, especially life changing ones,

    That should be how it works, but it isn’t. If it was, Mormonism wouldn’t exist; Mormonism is as dependent on historical claims as Christianity. The Jehovah’s Witnesses would be long gone, having fallen victim to their numerous failed prophecies of the end of the world.

    Christians today generally have little interest in verifying their beliefs. Go and read Tom Gilson’s post on “the loneliness of thinking Christianly”:

    For the past three years or so, at apologetics conferences across the country, I’ve asked numerous groups this question: “How many of you who have a real interest in apologetics, worldview, and other aspects of Christian thinking feel very alone in your church?” In every case, at least three-quarters of the people raise their hands.

    Sure, there’s a few people who have an interest in the verifiability of Christianity, but there’s a huge mass of others who just don’t care about it. Very few conversion stories start with “I carefully investigated the evidence”. I wish everyone really did have an instinct to verify important life-changing propositions, but observation shows me that’s just not the case.

    and Paul’s direct invitation for anyone to come and verify it with these specific eyewitnesses to these events.

    What exactly were these events? I’ll refer you back to the problems I pointed out at the start of #286; Paul’s claim is so vague that it’s useless for any attempt to verify anything at all, and it’s not clear exactly what he’s claiming to have happened.

    I don’t think we need to go any further to establish this point.

    I disagree. The entire idea of Corinthian Christians sailing to Judea, seeking out the 500 witnesses, somehow successfully finding them, verifying their story in an intellectually satisfying way, and returning to the Corinthians who were all ready to immediately give up their religion if verification wasn’t found, comes entirely from your imagination. You have not provided a single shred of evidence that it ever happened; all we have to support this story is supposition. And you’re trying to use that to support a claim of miraculous resurrection.

    However Ophis, I think it’s your turn to provide any evidence you have to the contrary. You haven’t yet and thus I think this proposition stands unless effectively rebutted.

    So you expect me to base a belief in resurrection on a story that you’ve essentially made up? I really think you have the burden of proof here.

    Nevertheless, I’ll point out that, as I’ve said above, both modern Christianity and modern new religious movements, including ones whose claims depend on assertions about historical facts (eg Mormonism), do not work in the way you suggest, and there’s no reason to assume the early church was any different. To the early pagans viewing Christianity from the outside, Christians seemed like gullible uneducated people, who took everything on faith, as we can see from the descriptions by Lucian, Galen and Celsus. 1 Corinthians 1:26 describes an early church made up mostly of the uneducated and unintelligent, and 2:1-5 shows that conversions were not based on being convinced through rational argument. In all of the conversion stories throughout Acts and the Pauline Epistles, none are shown as being the result of careful empirical investigation of the resurrection story.

    That’s reason enough to doubt your unevidence supposition. And let’s remember that we’re not trying to prove that supposition for its own sake; it’s supposed to be the basis for believing that the Son of God rose from the dead, and converting to Christianity. That’s an awful lot to rest on a supposition about what might have happened.

  345. Andy,

    Alright, your premise 2 entails a “likelihood to accept” parameter that is in practice unknowable – because for any non-trivial and real world example, you never know the fraction of the population that has actually been exposed to all relevant information. And the “likelihood to accept” is therefore a useless parameter to evaluate how successfully an idea spreads in a population. The rate of how fast an idea spreads in a population on the other hand is usually knowable and therefore a much better parameter to evaluate how successful an idea spreads in a population. And that is why I have based my argument on the growth rate of an idea in a population and why I see no reason to change it to your “likelihood to accept”.

    Except that substituting growth rate in the population does not produce a sound argument in this instance. The evidence you’re offering us does not support your conclusion which is what I’ve been trying to get you to see. Now, as much as you don’t seem willing to admit it the size of the population, especially at the level we’re talking about does matter to the question for the reasons I’ve already outlined. It would have been good if you could have thought through the issues yourself but in my opinion the most useful information would be the percentage population converted of, for example the Jews in Jerusalem after 20 years as against the percentage population converted of say Gentiles in Corinth after 20 years of exposure. Obviously there would still be problems inherent in the comparison but this data would be more pertinent to the question than what you’ve offered. Whether there is a way to provide meaningful evidence to support your conclusion is doubtful.

    Anyway, as I’ve maintained from the beginning of my discusion with you the evidence you’ve provided does not support your conclusion.

  346. orphis,

    Here’s Melissa on this (#316):

    “That because Christianity relies on the truth of an historical event, it would not have spread if the evidence did not attain some reasonable level.”

    BillT asserted something similar in #152. Both are clearly asserting that the growth of early Christianity could not have happened without a process of people checking the historical miracle claims of Christians for themselves. That assertion is unsubstantiated, and that is what I have argued against.

    It would be good if you presented what I’d written in context. My statement is actually an attempt (unsuccessfull) to correct Andy’s misinterpretation of Bill’s comment so it does not count as another specific instance.

    Now in my opinion there is evidence that they could have checked but no evidence either way as to how many did or did not check.

  347. Melissa,

    Except that substituting growth rate in the population does not produce a sound argument in this instance. The evidence you’re offering us does not support your conclusion…
    Anyway, as I’ve maintained from the beginning of my discusion with you the evidence you’ve provided does not support your conclusion.

    Yes, you keep asserting that my conclusion doesn´t follow and that I should modify my premise to your liking, however, it is just that, a mere assertion – and frankly, by now it seems as if you just try to obfuscate the issue because the conclusion is inconvenient for you.

    Now, as much as you don’t seem willing to admit it the size of the population, especially at the level we’re talking about does matter to the question for the reasons I’ve already outlined.

    Obviously there would still be problems inherent in the comparison but this data would be more pertinent to the question than what you’ve offered.

    And I´ve addressed time and again why you are wrong about this, and you simply ignore it and repeat claims like those here. No, the data would not be “more pertinent”, it wouldn´t even be relevant at all, and I explained to you several times now why it wouldn´t be relevant.

  348. Now in my opinion there is evidence that they could have checked but no evidence either way as to how many did or did not check.

    Doesn’t that mean it’s possible that few people or no people actually checked, and that at least some people converted without interacting with the evidence at all? So how can you say that Christianity “would not have spread if the evidence did not attain some reasonable level”? If some people converted without checking the evidence, then it would be possible for Christianity to grow without the evidence having attained a reasonable level.

  349. BillT,

    If the initial Christian church was “almost 100% jewish(sic)” how were the people that “were in the best position to know”, which were those initial eyewitness Jewish believers not part of what you just admitted they were part of. By the end of the 1st century those eyewitnesses that “were in the best position to know” that were the initial believers were dead and the people left were not those that “were in the best position to know”. Everyone after the 1st century were in the same position to know either Jew or gentile.

    So how did Christianity spread in the time until the eyewitnesses died? You have said earlier:
    ” Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly. The validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT. ”
    If that is the case, why was the jewish Christian community in Jerusalem so tiny and why was it so rapidly outnumbered by Gentile Christians? Why didn´t the jewish members of the initial church manage to convince their friends, family members, neighbors etc. and why didn´t Christianity spread like wildfire among neighboring jewish cities – although exactly that DID happen in the hellenistic world? The jews were much more likely to either a) be an eyewitness or b) personally know an eyewitness or c) be able to meet one of the eyewitnesses without giving up their day jobs for a weeks or months to travel – yet the Jews overwhelmingly didn´t buy it and within just one lifetime, Christianity was already a largely Gentile movement. If it is about evidence, eyewitnesses etc. then this makes no sense – Christianity should have spread even faster among the Jews than it spread among the Gentiles, but it was exactly the other way around.

    There are many potential explanations for this, one would be that Paul did not mean what you think he meant when he wrote:
    “6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.”
    Note that he later writes:
    “8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born..”
    Now, remember how Jesus appeared to Paul. Paul didn´t see a bodily risen Christ, he saw a talking light in the sky (one that no one could hear but himself (and maybe his two companions, the accounts contradict each other)). And if that is what the “five hundred of the brothers and sisters” experienced, then it is no wonder that their friends and neighbors were not exactly impressed.

  350. BillT @ 380.

    Exactly. I’ve been puzzled why he was stretching the timespan out to the end of the first century for this very reason but didn’t feel it would be worthwhile bringing up another objection in the light of his resistance to the problem of relative population sizes.

    The destruction of the temple and the likely assimilation of the Hellenists under the umbrella of his “Gentile” Christianity are other factors to consider which is why I think numbers are receding these events are required. It would have saved a lot of back and forth if I hadn’t assumed these points would be obvious.

  351. Orphis,

    If that is the case, why was the jewish Christian community in Jerusalem so tiny and why was it so rapidly outnumbered by Gentile Christians?

    Could you please provide useful numbers to assess your statement.

    And let’s not forget that two people presented with the same eyewitness testimony can come to different conclusions due to their prior beliefs and experiences.

  352. Orphis,

    Doesn’t that mean it’s possible that few people or no people actually checked, and that at least some people converted without interacting with the evidence at all? So how can you say that Christianity “would not have spread if the evidence did not attain some reasonable level”?

    For the second time I was providing my interpretation of Bill’s comment not offering my own opinion.

  353. Melissa,

    Orphis,

    If that is the case, why was the jewish Christian community in Jerusalem so tiny and why was it so rapidly outnumbered by Gentile Christians?

    Could you please provide useful numbers to assess your statement.

    And let’s not forget that two people presented with the same eyewitness testimony can come to different conclusions due to their prior beliefs and experiences.

    I presume you meant me because Orphis didn´t write this. Regarding numbers, if we trust Acts 1:15, the initial church numbered ~120 people, almost all of which would have been Jews. It has been estimated that until the end of the 1st century, the Christian movement grew to ~7500 people and that the number of Jews within the movement never exceeded ~1000 people. I quoted a scholarly source on that earlier:
    http://www.hts.org.za/index.php/HTS/article/view/430
    And if you disagree with the reasoning in it (or are aware of a scholarly publication that contradicts it), feel free to explain how exactly the reasoning is flawed. If you are now asking about population sizes, I have explained to you time and again why they are not relevant – if you think I am wrong, feel free to explain on what grounds I am wrong, but don´t just merely assert again that you are right and I am wrong without supporting that claim with an actual argument.

    Regarding “And let’s not forget that two people presented with the same eyewitness testimony can come to different conclusions due to their prior beliefs and experiences.”
    Of course. So?

  354. For the second time I was providing my interpretation of Bill’s comment not offering my own opinion.

    Fair enough. It wasn’t clear to me when I first saw it that it was just an explanation and not an endorsement of his argument.

  355. Andy,

    You still failed to address the main point of what I said in #380 about those who “were in the best position to know” and the obvious contradiction in your statements as was also pointed out by Melissa in #389. But I’ve said enough on all of this with both you and Ophis.

  356. Jenna,

    Let’s also remember the theology of this question about Jews and Gentiles, or what I consider to be God’s case against Andy. Remember that God promised Abraham that a blessing to the world would come through Abraham’s “seed.” This promise has been fulfilled. See David Marshall’s excellent discussion of this in his “Outsider Test” book. The Jews, who are Abraham’s seed, gave Christianity to the world.

    I like the ring of “God’s case against Andy”, but I don´t really see what you are getting at here – how exactly is this a case against me?
    Also, I cannot help but point out how this is deliciously ironic. What you say is, that Abraham´s seed, the Jews – brought forth a “blessing” – Christianity – and that this is the fulfilment of a promise that God made to Abraham. Now, this would be deliciously ironic on two levels:
    1. Because the Jews – the chosen people, the very people that this promise has been made to – overwhelmingly do not recognize Christ as Lord and Christianity as a “blessing”.
    2. Because Christians have not exactly been grateful to the people that brought forth this “blessing”, quite the contrary – they have despised and persecuted them, and they did so over and over and over again, it is one of the few constants in european history (btw, if you have never read Martin Luther´s “On the Jews and their lies” – it´s shocking but worth a read, Luther arguably hated the Jews at least as much as Hitler did).

  357. Bill T,

    #395 edited….re-entered here…. sorry….

    So:

    @380

    This may add to your picture frame a bit….. it may be worth noting that Paul had a lot of trouble in multiple early churches as Jews where constantly wanting to pull items of Law into churches in many locations and cities (plural) as 1st generation Jewish converts often tended towards the Law (etc.). The mingling of Jew and Gentile in those (many) early communities was obviously influenced by a firm Jewish presence but unfortunately after 135 CE or so that kind of blurring evaporated as the first real geographical split took shape and Christian Jews suffered the same fates which orthodox Jews suffered: chaos, genocide, and scattering. After that we find only find “Jew” and “Christian”. The few thousand(s) we find in Acts or in letters to Ephesus or in letters to Galatia (Jewish Christians tempted to return to Law) and so on – including letters for the city of Corinth’s “unclean food” fuses – Etc. – all widely made their (minority) presence “felt” in all those churches – and such housed that first generation of that multi-citied blurred law/grace crowd and did so expressly do to the overt Jewish tendencies fully *felt* and present within their many cities. As you noted, after that generation (and wars with Rome etc.) there is no such thing as “Early Jewish eye-witnesses rejecting Christ”. That species is an impossibility after *one* generation. Post 100 to 135 CE Jews are Jews and Christians are Christians. To say anything more than that of post 100 CE is nonsense….. as at about 100 CE it all converged to unity. Prior to 100 CE to deny their obvious presence or to call it “insignificant” relative to the size of the church herself (all those cities and letters) would be a statement of trivial worth given the start of a scant 500 eyewitnesses. To assert that only 500 eyewitness Jews screwed with the theology of all those churches in all those cities for all those years would be – again – trivial 🙂

  358. BillT,

    You still failed to address the main point of what I said in #380 about those who “were in the best position to know”

    Because it is irrelevant. You said:
    ” Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly. The validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT. ”
    – and this is simply incompatible with what actually happened. As I said:
    “The jews were much more likely to either a) be an eyewitness or b) personally know an eyewitness or c) be able to meet one of the eyewitnesses without giving up their day jobs for a weeks or months to travel – yet the Jews overwhelmingly didn´t buy it and within just one lifetime, Christianity was already a largely Gentile movement.”
    – if you are right, the Jews should have converted and joined the Christian movement at a higher rate (or at the very least an equal rate) than the Gentiles did, but they did not, quite the opposite.

    When you now talk about the time after all alleged eyewitnesses were dead – this has no relevance for what I am pointing out. Within this timeframe, before the eyewitnesses died, the jewish Christian movement was remarkably unsuccessful in convincing their jewish contemporaries that Jesus indeed was risen, and, also in the same timeframe (i.e. while at least some eyewitnesses were still alive), Christianity spread much more rapidly among the Gentiles.
    No matter what you say about the time after the original eyewitnesses died, this claim of yours:
    ” Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly. The validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT. ”
    – would be wrong either way.

  359. Because it is irrelevant.

    Pretty much your stock in trade answer to any objections to your positions as we have well learned.

  360. BillT,
    ah, pretending that I casually dismissed your point instead of explaining in detail why it is irrelevant? An extremely dishonest move Bill, I hope you are proud of yourself.

  361. This is just bizarre:

    “After 100 CE and war and chaos and scattering and so on there are Jews here and Christians there. The whole “Jewish-Christian” thing split apart and we can’t seem to find it after that. Therefore prior to 100 CE the Jewish presence in the early fledgling Church was insignificant and un-felt despite the heavy Jewish footprint blatantly stamped across the entire N.T.”

    This is even more bizarre:

    “Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah ought to be added to the proverbial list of things that actually count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth claims.”

  362. And now sctrollhrm finds his own comments to be “bizzare”. Interesting – recursive trolling presumably.

  363. Andy,

    This is your claim in #388.

    “When you now talk about the time after all alleged eyewitnesses were dead – this has no relevance for what I am pointing out. Within this timeframe, before the eyewitnesses died, the jewish Christian movement was remarkably unsuccessful in convincing their jewish contemporaries that Jesus indeed was risen, and, also in the same timeframe (i.e. while at least some eyewitnesses were still alive), Christianity spread much more rapidly among the Gentiles.”

    1. You cannot know this as a fact. This is mere speculation. On what empirical research and data are you basing this speculation?
    2. The early Christians (followers of Jesus) were persecuted. Both the Roman and Jewish authorities did everything they could to squelch this sect of Judaism, which was what it was following Jesus’ death.
    3. Yes, the missionary and evangelical work of the apostles was very successful. This does not mean that Jesus’ followers were not successful in spreading his teachings to other Jews. Again, where is your empirical research for this? And I mean a body of scholarly academic research that is peer reviewed and published, not just one “paper” off the internet. I have pointed you in the direction of one scholarly work that contradicts your theories about the early church and the Jews. See Levine & Brettler, 2011.

    Andy, this is the way Bible scholarship works as evidence. Your speculations don’t meet the standard of evidence required of the academic community you claim to draw information from.

    As for #396. please consider these statistics about world religions: Christian 33.35% (of which Roman Catholic 16.83%, Protestant 6.08%, Orthodox 4.03%, Anglican 1.26%), Muslim 22.43%, Hindu 13.78%, Buddhist 7.13%, Sikh 0.36%, Jewish 0.21%, Baha’i 0.11%, other religions 11.17%, non-religious 9.42%, atheists 2.04% (2009 est.)

    http://www.indexmundi.com/world/religions.html

    Please note the difference: 33% of the world’s population today are Christians. Less than 1% (0.21) are Jews. Do you really think that these statistics suggest to Christians that we should be concerned about our Jewish friends and neighbors who don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah?

  364. Jenna,

    1. You cannot know this as a fact. This is mere speculation. On what empirical research and data are you basing this speculation?

    That question is superfluous because I explicitly linked to an academic publication that argues for this, four times in this thread, you can easily find it yourself.

    2. The early Christians (followers of Jesus) were persecuted. Both the Roman and Jewish authorities did everything they could to squelch this sect of Judaism, which was what it was following Jesus’ death.

    I already addressed this many times. Persecution didn´t stop the Gentiles, so why should it have stopped the Jews?

    3. Yes, the missionary and evangelical work of the apostles was very successful. This does not mean that Jesus’ followers were not successful in spreading his teachings to other Jews. Again, where is your empirical research for this? And I mean a body of scholarly academic research that is peer reviewed and published, not just one “paper” off the internet.

    Apparently you believe that peer-reviewed academic publications by definition cannot be published online. This is not the case, I´m actually not aware of even a single academic journal that is still in print and that is NOT also published online. If you had spent a few seconds of research on the paper I linked to, you would have noticed this:
    “HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies is an influential and frequently cited accredited peer reviewed, Open Access journal, published since 1942, that promotes multidisciplinary, religious, and biblical aspects of studies in the international arena.”
    But that is apparently also not enough, you need not just one but several peer-reviewed papers. Lets see how consistent you are with this standard:

    I have pointed you in the direction of one scholarly work that contradicts your theories about the early church and the Jews. See Levine & Brettler, 2011.

    1. See what in “Levine & Brettler, 2011”, this is an edited volume with many contributions – which contribution are you referring to and how does it contradict me? Your vague comment here is completely useless, be specific.
    2. I like consistency, so how about you refer to “a body of scholarly academic research” instead of just one publication? Or would you like to revisit the standard you expected from me earlier?

    As for #396. please consider these statistics about world religions: Christian 33.35% (of which Roman Catholic 16.83%, Protestant 6.08%, Orthodox 4.03%, Anglican 1.26%), Muslim 22.43%, Hindu 13.78%, Buddhist 7.13%, Sikh 0.36%, Jewish 0.21%, Baha’i 0.11%, other religions 11.17%, non-religious 9.42%, atheists 2.04% (2009 est.)

    http://www.indexmundi.com/world/religions.html

    Please note the difference: 33% of the world’s population today are Christians. Less than 1% (0.21) are Jews. Do you really think that these statistics suggest to Christians that we should be concerned about our Jewish friends and neighbors who don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah?

    Wow, what an interesting thing to say for a Christian – “Do you really think that these statistics suggest to Christians that we should be concerned about our Jewish friends and neighbors who don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah?”. But anyway, my point was about early Christian history, and those statistics about extant religions are not in any way relevant for this.

  365. BillT,
    well, if you desperately want to keep up your passive-aggressive temper tantrum, I can´t stop you – it´s not a very dignified way to behave but dignity is evidently something you don´t care very much about.

  366. I see what you mean Bill T.

    Andy,

    How about we just grant you your claim that after 100 CE and war and chaos and scattering and genocide and so on there are Jews over here but Christians over there. The whole “Jewish-Christian” thing split apart and we can’t seem to find it after that. Therefore prior to 100 CE the Jewish presence in the early fledgling Church was insignificant and un-felt despite the heavy Jewish footprint blatantly stamped across the entire N.T. spanning right up till that fateful chaos.

    Consider it granted. Just like your bizarre Israel / Messiah thing……..

    Interesting use of JB’s quote and then your subtle “Wow, what an interesting thing for a Christian to say….”

  367. sctrollhrm,
    “How about we just grant you your claim…”
    – You have no idea what-so-ever what I did or did not claim either here or in any other thread – all you ever do is take one of your own confused thoughts, clumsily write it down, and then assert that the word salad you just wrote is “The Skeptic´s claim”. And even if you did have any idea what I did or did not claim, I don´t give a damn about what you “grant”.

  368. BillT,
    I love you too. You know what, how about we simply stop talking to each other? This is an offer I made to sctrollhrm countless times, but he was never willing to accept it – I hope you do.

  369. Andy,

    If you can present Melissa with the data she asked for or JB with the data she asked for or me with a coherent reason as to why my two “grants” are off topic then please do. You’ve already conceded one grant thus affirming a suspicion that you’ve truly no idea what Christianity claims.

    Until all of that is forthcoming you’re not giving us a reason to see how your claims MIGHT somehow matter.

    And again – Interesting use of JB’s quote and then your subtle “Wow, what an interesting thing for a Christian to say….”

  370. sctrollhrm
    I never “conceded” anything to you and never will, and I literally could not care less what matters to you.

  371. Is the skeptic actually arguing that there is NO such thing  prior to 100 CE as an unmistakable Jewish presence in the early fledgling Church, that such presence was teeny and tiny and insignificant and un-felt despite the heavy Jewish footprint blatantly stamped across the entire N.T., which itself reaches that peculiar and yet chaotic 100 to 135 CE?

    Is the skeptic actually arguing that Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah ought to be added to the proverbial list of things that actually count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth claims?

  372. Andy,

    No data for Melissa nor for JB nor to counter those two pesky grants.

    And your interesting use of JB’s quote and then your subtle “Wow, what an interesting thing for a Christian to say….”

    And your name calling.

    That’s not much.

    You’ve got 3 or 4 of us asking you for things. There may be a reason. Rate of conversion is meaningless in isolation – which is the only way you’ve presented it. Miracles in isolation aren’t going to do any *work* for us here either.

    Isolation isn’t real.

    Reality just doesn’t work like that.

    Great for the chalkboard.

    Not so great for reality.

  373. Andy,

    I really wish that you could understand the problem I’m having (shared by my fellow Christians here apparently) with your argument. You cited somewhere on this thread, one article that supposedly makes this same argument or at least supports your argument, but every time I have questioned you about it, you have directed me to scroll back through what are now over 400 comments to find the link to it, rather than simply repost the link or at least, give the name(s) of the author(s) so I could have some idea about the level of respect for his/her/their scholarly research. I don’t know at this point if your argument is his/her/their argument or merely your interpretation and representation of their argument. I, on the other hand, gave you a complete citation of a scholarly book from eminent Jewish scholars with a collection of articles on the “Jewishness” of Christianity (annotations of the entire NT) and a specific quote about the history of the differentiation that took place over seven centuries that led to a clear distinction between Christianity and Judaism.

    But the frustration I am feeling over this conversation is really about evidence, nothing more and nothing less. You and Ophis seem to be saying that we Christians have not examined evidence that should sway us into increased skepticism, while I/we are attempting to explain why we have sufficient, credible and compelling evidence from the NT itself, which we have examined in depth through our own research, study and analysis. Why is it that you don’t seem to believe that we have given our Christianity enough thought and critical analysis, while apparently (correct me if I’m wrong) you believe that your research raises serious and possibly irreconcilable challenges to the truth of our faith?

    And while you’re at it. Please repost the link to the article you are basing your argument on.

  374. sctrollhrm,
    an observation is not name calling.
    “You’ve got 3 or 4 of us…” – there is no such “us” that would include you, because I have exactly zero respect for your opinion (with “your” referring to just you – sctrollhrm) and exactly zero interest in knowing what your opinion even is. The two of us are not having a discussion, and we are not going to have one in the future. And if you want to know why, kindly check #291.

  375. Jenna,

    I really wish that you could understand the problem I’m having (shared by my fellow Christians here apparently) with your argument. You cited somewhere on this thread, one article that supposedly makes this same argument or at least supports your argument, but every time I have questioned you about it, you have directed me to scroll back through what are now over 400 comments to find the link to it, rather than simply repost the link or at least, give the name(s) of the author(s) so I could have some idea about the level of respect for his/her/their scholarly research.

    So you actually had absolutely no idea what paper I was referring to, but still felt competent to declare it to be not scholarly, not peer-reviewed and “just something off the internet”?
    It was this article here:
    http://www.hts.org.za/index.php/HTS/article/view/430

    I, on the other hand, gave you a complete citation of a scholarly book from eminent Jewish scholars with a collection of articles on the “Jewishness” of Christianity (annotations of the entire NT) and a specific quote about the history of the differentiation that took place over seven centuries that led to a clear distinction between Christianity and Judaism.

    So? What does that have to do with anything? If it contradicts anything I said – then quote something I claimed that is contradicted by this text and tell me how this book contradicts me.

    But the frustration I am feeling over this conversation is really about evidence, nothing more and nothing less. You and Ophis seem to be saying that we Christians have not examined evidence that should sway us into increased skepticism, while I/we are attempting to explain why we have sufficient, credible and compelling evidence from the NT itself, which we have examined in depth through our own research, study and analysis. Why is it that you don’t seem to believe that we have given our Christianity enough thought and critical analysis, while apparently (correct me if I’m wrong) you believe that your research raises serious and possibly irreconcilable challenges to the truth of our faith?

    If it frustrates you if non-Christians do not immediately and completely agree with your assessment of Christianity, then why do you talk to non-Christians in the first place? That seems to be rather weird.

  376. Andy,

    Calling Bill T names, calling me names, and your subtle use of JB’s quote with her are, while helpful in giving us all information in one area, just not productive in the area of concern.

    Namely, that of rate of conversion in isolation from all variables, that of Seeing-Miracles in isolation from all variables, that of the unmistakable Jewish footprint blatantly stamped across the entire N.T., and that of Israel’s basic rejection of Christ as the Messiah.

    Arguments, reason, and dealing with reality as we actually find it – rather than how it works on a chalkboard or in an armchair – just may gain you the progress you seek in your assertion.

  377. sctrollhrm,
    still not looking for your approval, still not interested in having a conversation with you about anything and still not interested in knowing what your worthless opinions are. And this is not going to change in the future.

  378. Andy,

    I don’t expect it to change. As with Bill T, you can stop anytime. But Bill T and I know you won’t. Despite your claim to want to.

    I’m merely keeping tabs on your failure to present needed, and requested, information with the subsequent failure to show us why any of it is supposed to matter regarding Christianity’s claims about reality or about itself.

    Failure to present requested data is one problem you’re having.

    Presenting the data you HAVE presented and explaining to us why it matters (it does not) is another problem you’re having.

    The Christian has no issues with the track which the Jewish population has traversed from 30 CE till now. With Israel’s choices.

    None.

    Now, the Christians are telling you something about Christianity, say, “X Does Not Change Y”.

    Think about that.

    Your hubris has in the past caused you to, in another thread, refer to the Fall as an explanation for X, despite Christians telling you that the Christian explanation for X is not the Fall.

    The same thing is happening here.

    Your hubris is telling the Christians there is a problem with the trajectory of the Jewish experience when the Christians are telling you that that very trajectory, that Israel’s choice set, is perfectly coherent with Christianity’s truth claims.

    You were wrong about the Fall, and, you’re wrong about this. Because Christianity is Christianity and not some other something.

    If you don’t want to talk about Christianity, you may want to try a non-Christian blog.

  379. sctrollhrm,

    Your hubris has in the past caused you to, in another thread, refer to the Fall as an explanation for X, despite Christians sctrollhrm telling you that the Christian sctrollhrm’s explanation for X is not the Fall.

    The same thing is happening here.

    Your hubris is telling the Christians there is a problem with the trajectory of the Jewish experience when the Christians sctrollhrm are is telling you that that very trajectory is perfectly coherent (LOL) with Christianity’s truth claims sctrollhrm´s incoherent BS.

    There, fixed it for you.

  380. Andy,

    As alluded to in my last comment, I didn’t think you really wanted to stop.

    If you think Israel’s rejection of Christ is a glaring offense to Christianity’s truth claims, you’re welcome to keep pushing that.

    If it turns out you are wrong, well so much for your various premises to date. On that point, that is.

    There are, unfortunately for your attempt thus far, several others.

  381. sctrollhrm,
    “If…”
    – Don´t care.

    “…you’re welcome…”
    – Still not looking for your approval, agreement, permission or anything else.

  382. So Andy, is your repeatedly calling scbrownlhrm, sctrollhrm a display of your passive aggressiveness? It isn’t a very dignified way to behave but then dignity is evidently something you don´t care very much about.

  383. Andy,

    As Bill T noted, you can stop if you really want to.

    But we both know you won’t.

    On topic though:

    You really should care that the dynamic-duo of 1) the unmistakable and heavy Jewish footprint blatantly stamped across the entire N.T. combined with 2) Israel’s overall trajectory is not an issue for Christianity’s claims about its own interior or about reality in general. You keep insisting those two items present a problem – but you’ve not argued the point. You’ve merely linked an essay, shouted 1000 a few times (News Flash: It could be Zero or 50K, and it still won’t matter), called us all names, hinted something unclear about JB, insisted that the rate of conversion isolated from other variables is supposed to matter, and then you never give requested data for those other variables nor do you stop Israel’s variables from going unaccounted for.

    It’s not much of a case, really.

  384. BillT,
    “So Andy, is your calling scbrownlhrm, sctrollhrm a display of your passive aggressiveness?”
    – It´s calling a spade a spade.

    “It isn’t a very dignified way to behave but then dignity is evidently something you don´t care very much about.”
    – Playing “I know what you are but what am I” after complaining about alleged “middle-school taunts”? Your complete lack of self-awareness is a sight to behold (Quick! Now you have to weep and complain bitterly because you have been “personally insulted”.)

  385. sctrollhrm,

    “….if you really want….”
    – Not looking for your permission.

    “You really should…”
    – Also not looking for your advice, and still not giving a damn about your worthless opinion.

  386. I’ve been traveling and in meetings. I missed some of this while it was going on.

    Andy, by your own words you don’t care what scbrownlhrm says. You’ve tried to get him to stop talking to you, as if that were up to you, and then you’ve played the “not asking permission” game, as if that were a control thing he and BillT were pulling on you, which it wasn’t.

    You’ve tried to get BillT to stop talking with you.

    You never chose the sensible route and backed out of it on your own power. I’m helping you do that now.

    I’m amazed at the restraint shown by BillT and scbrownlhrm here. SteveK and Jenna, too. Thank you.

  387. Bill T,

    #397 for a bit more:

    I recalled reading somewhere something dealing with the first century Jewish mindset. Naturally the Jewish footprint is blatantly stamped across the entire NT as such traverses many cities and decades, their presence being, though a minority, far more than insignificant inside the Church. With that in place, I read about the expectations which the first century Jewish mindset held regarding the Messiah. He was to liberate them from their physical enemies, to physically conquer local governments and overthrow them. And so on. It is peculiar that theirs – and no other’s – mindset personally held and valued that specific expectation regarding a Jewish Messiah. Christ’s call to love, to self-sacrifice towards one’s enemy, and their own martyrdom, and so on – find in the first century Israelite a person facing a unique conflict. We can only speculate of the impact that had on them after a life-time inside, especially as the conflicts near 100 to 135 peaked. No man on the battle field may have felt as disillusioned as the Jewish-Christian soldier in defeat, and we find in the N.T. all the marks of those old tendencies to appeal to Moses, to Law, rather than to Christ. So many Churches in so many cities seemed touched by it. Israel’s trajectory is peculiar and runs into some deep waters – waters which may be too deep for me. Nonetheless, the fledgling Church would naturally be nearly entirely Jewish as some rather spectacular events unfold and thankfully we have 100 years of NT manuscripts affirming their unmistakable footprint in that first century Church. But the Jewish-Christian born to those eyewitnesses who is, a lifetime later, witnessing his entire people succumb to another’s military might finds a sharp and pointed divergence from the Gentile’s mindset and expectations. Gentiles had no such “personal” frame of reference regarding Christ per se as what they were brought was, simply, “Christ Crucified”. We can only speculate. But we have the Jewish footprint, and, we have Paul’s many letters to those many churches, and we have history available to us. Melissa’s appeal for insights, numbers, ethnic interfaces, and other nuances to affirm what any appeal to rate of conversion may or may not mean to us in that whole real-world mix finds us a bit in the dark to, not all, but much of that. Israel’s peculiar choice set and trajectory finds deep water in Scripture which I’m a bit too unskilled to swim. Generally though I found the topic interesting and thought it may add to your initial thoughts on that first Church.

  388. Andy, RE :#424

    The article you cite, which I see now is published in a peer reviewed journal of theology, does not support your argument that those Jews who knew the most about Jesus rejected his teachings, which reflects negatively on the evidence for Christianity. To quote you: “Within this timeframe, before the eyewitnesses died, the jewish Christian movement was remarkably unsuccessful in convincing their jewish contemporaries that Jesus indeed was risen…”

    Some relevant quotes from the article:

    Abstract: “This study examines the early Christian mission(s) to the Jews, and attempts to determine, albeit speculatively, the number of Jews in the Christian movement in the first century.”

    Remember that I was concerned that you were speculating. The author of the article, Sims, admits up front that his empirical data is speculative.

    “Obviously the church began as a purely Jewish phenomenon. From its initial membership of 120 in Jerusalem, it grew to a figure of perhaps 400 in its first few years.”

    This is the group of Jews who were Jesus´contemporaries among whom you claim fit into the timeframe of “before the witnesses died.”

    Conclusions: “These Jews were required to judge the validity of the Christian message solely on the basis of what they heard from Christian preachers.”

    The author concludes that the failure of the Christian mission to the Jews was a failure of Christian preachers to deliver the Christian message, not a failure of direct evidence of Jesus possessed by Jews. The article doesn’t even really address your argument.

    My frustration is not that you don’t agree with me. My frustration is that you don’t engage with the intellectual content and evidence base (or lack thereof) of what you are claiming and arguing about in speaking against the evidence base for the Christian faith.

    I hope we are done with this, but you can have the last word. JB

  389. Andy,

    Why are you asking for reasons why the Jewish population was so small when there’s plenty of reasons offered in the very paper you cite.

    I will add that the numbers suggest that the Jewish conversion rate if Jews was initially very high then petered out, probably for various reasons among them being:

    1. Jews closest to the original group would have converted early. These had the best access to the evidence and so possibility of overcoming cultural objections.
    2. The persecution suffered (mentioned in the paper you cited). Once Jewish followers of Jesus were expelled from the synagogues there would have been decreasing chances to engage in mission to the Jews.

    So really citing figures late in the century after the destruction of Jerusalem seems to be rigging the deck in your favour and ignoring a lot of pertinent information.

    I know you’ve tried to dismiss some of the other arguments put forth but I really do think that the fact that the NT contains much that was written within or to Jewish communities. Evidence that the Jewish followers of the way were a significant part of the first and early second century.

  390. Jenna,

    The article you cite, which I see now is published in a peer reviewed journal of theology, does not support your argument that those Jews who knew the most about Jesus rejected his teachings [1], which reflects negatively on the evidence for Christianity.[2]

    1. That is not the argument I made, my point was rather that Christianity was overall a failure among the Jews while it spread like wildfire among the Gentiles, I never said or implied that “those Jews who knew the most about Jesus rejected his teachings”
    2. That is also not what I said, I repeatedly emphasized that I was contesting this comment:
    “We also know that Christianity grew rapidly in it’s early days during which time the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT were alive.
    So, if the story isn’t true, how could this happen. How do thousands of people all over the region become Christians believing the (rather unbelievable) facts in the NT. Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly. The validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT. That’s how we know it’s true.”
    – I did not argue against (the evidence for) Christianity (at least not explicitly), I rather argued against the viewpoint expressed in the quote above.

    Remember that I was concerned that you were speculating. The author of the article, Sims, admits up front that his empirical data is speculative.

    Good, then I hope you are consistent about this because the same attitude would allow an atheist like me to casually dismiss pretty much every claim you could make about Christianity in the 1st century as relying on speculation (example: can you show me the exact tomb where Jesus was allegedly buried and provide me with forensic evidence that Jesus indeed was buried there? No? Then I can apply your standard here and dismiss whatever you have to say about an alleged empty tomb as speculative).

    My frustration is not that you don’t agree with me. My frustration is that you don’t engage with the intellectual content and evidence base (or lack thereof) of what you are claiming….

    It would have been helpful if you would have pointed out exactly what I should have engaged but failed to do.

  391. Tom,

    I’m amazed at the restraint shown by BillT and scbrownlhrm here. SteveK and Jenna, too. Thank you.

    Ah, I see. So you want an echo chamber where you can let trolls like scbrownlhrm run amok to harass the occasional dissenter that shows up. You should have said so earlier and I would have never staid that long.

  392. I said last night that I was amazed at the restraint shown by some people on this thread. That’s definitely true, given the way you were provoked.

    Sometimes, though, in my own experience I’ve found it helpful to look back over a thread and see where I said something hasty that I wish I had spoken more gently. (I’ve made that kind of mistake often enough.) I’m going to suggest you review the thread yourselves, and if you want to, you can note here where you made any of those overly-hasty comments.

    In a moment I”m going to release Andy’s overnight comments from moderation, and Andy, with respect to the accusation you made against me in one of them, I’m willing to let the record here speak for itself. I do not run an echo chamber, but I do have limits on name-calling and profanity. It’s a choice I’ve made that reflects my values.

    Andy, you’re welcome to continue commenting here if you’ll commit to remaining civil about it. I suggest you think about not engaging in the conversations you’ve already said you don’t want to engage in. It just seems like that would make sense, wouldn’t it?

  393. Tom,

    In a moment I”m going to release a couple of Andy’s overnight comments from moderation, and Andy, with respect to the accusation you made against me in one of them, I’m willing to let the record here speak for itself.

    And it does speak for itself. Particularly in the wider context of the blog. Orphis had the patience of a saint with scbrownlhrm in this thread, and the same is true for myself in earlier threads – I´ve dealt with scbrownlhrm´s insufferable schtick for a very, very long time before losing patience (much longer than it took you to lose patience with several atheist commenters here). Your discussion policies evidently do not apply to people who identify as a Christian and if you seriously believe that you are fostering a respectful climate for discussion here – you are fooling yourself.

  394. Tom,

    There’s no secret about what I want here. It’s been linked above the combox for more than seven years.

    it would have been helpful if your discussion policies explicitly say that Christian commenters can violate them at will as often as they want to while Atheists have to actually stick by them.

  395. #422:

    But the frustration I am feeling over this conversation is really about evidence, nothing more and nothing less. You and Ophis seem to be saying that we Christians have not examined evidence that should sway us into increased skepticism, while I/we are attempting to explain why we have sufficient, credible and compelling evidence from the NT itself, which we have examined in depth through our own research, study and analysis.

    Well since I’ve been mentioned I’ll jump back in for a bit.

    I’m not going to start trying to closely analyse early 1st century population statistics because (1) I don’t think there’s really enough information to go on and (2) I just don’t care enough about the point. The whole question of the relative growth among Jews and gentiles was brought up as an objection to a speculation. I would much prefer to consistently apply Jenna Black’s objections to speculation in #404, and simply reject the speculative claim that early Christianity was dependent on people checking the evidence.

    Why is it that you don’t seem to believe that we have given our Christianity enough thought and critical analysis, while apparently (correct me if I’m wrong) you believe that your research raises serious and possibly irreconcilable challenges to the truth of our faith?

    Because the high standard which you (reasonably) apply to any claim that Andy makes is a standard which you do not apply to the claims of Christianity. If you reject anything speculative, and anything that cannot be firmly demonstrated, what do you have in support of Christianity other than a few ancient written claims?

  396. …what do you have in support of Christianity other than a few ancient written claims?

    And here we go again “…a few ancient written claims.” The Bible is as good (if not better) an ancient historical source as any in existence. It’s at least as good (if not better) than the sources we have for the Greek, Egyptian, or Roman history. And not only that it’s no a “few’ either. Twenty seven books from multiple authors each recording multiple witnesses and accounts and it’s textual record is unmatched in ancient history. The real question is: What do you have Ophis except your own personal and quite one sided opinion about this.

  397. Ophis,

    You ask “Because the high standard which you (reasonably) apply to any claim that Andy makes is a standard which you do not apply to the claims of Christianity. If you reject anything speculative, and anything that cannot be firmly demonstrated, what do you have in support of Christianity other than a few ancient written claims?”

    The challenge to you and to all atheists is to explain this reality: How one man, a Jewish carpenter from an obscure “backwater” village in Israel who wasn’t royalty, never held a high office in government and who possessed no wealth, an iterant rabbi, and a few hundred of his followers brought about the world religion that has had the most followers (billions) of any religion in human history that has endured for over 2,000 years. This, as you claim, based on only “a few ancient written claims.” The ball is in your court.

  398. Andy @444 and @446,

    If you think I’m fooling myself, please bear in mind that:

    a) I believe in very vigorous debate. If it gets uncomfortable here because of disagreements, that’s something I expect people to be able to stand up under.

    b) I believe in civil debate, as I’ve described it in the discussion policies.

    Now, maybe I’ve missed something, and maybe you can catch me up on some rotten behavior that’s been going on toward you. I did say, after all, that I’ve been away for a few days. Here’s how you can help me. First, let’s establish the standard of comparison: a list of things you’ve said here that caused me to think your actions weren’t entirely civil.

    “insufferable”
    “trolls”
    “not looking for your permission” [where that wasn’t what he was talking about]… “not giving a damn about your worthless opinion.
    “Quick! Now you have to weep and complain bitterly because you have been ‘personally insulted’.”
    “It isn’t a very dignified way to behave but then dignity is evidently something you don´t care very much about.”
    “Don’t care”

    Your tendentious and provocative re-writing of scbrownlhrm’s accurate wording, in #428
    Your stated desire (#426) not to interact, which you violated repeatedly
    “I have exactly zero respect for your opinion”
    “sctrollhrm”
    close to 40 times!
    “I never “conceded” anything to you and never will, and I literally could not care less what matters to you.”
    “I love you too. You know what, how about we simply stop talking to each other? This is an offer I made to sctrollhrm countless times, but he was never willing to accept it – I hope you do.”
    [You never did your part in that, did you?]
    “I don´t give a damn about what you ‘grant’.”
    “And now sctrollhrm finds his own comments to be ‘bizzare’ Interesting – recursive trolling presumably.”
    [If you had something to say about these being his own comments, there might have been something constructive instead of that.]
    “An extremely dishonest move Bill, I hope you are proud of yourself.”
    Your oft-mentioned #291 is really rude. scbrownlhrm was running an extended quote from William Lane Craig. (He should have sourced the quote, but it only took me five seconds to figure what he was doing—he used quotation marks, after all!) For that one portion of an extended quote, you accused him of not being able to read higher than a fourth-grade level. You went on to say, “I cannot take you seriously based on your shocking lack of intelligence, and I also find you personally unlikeable based on your incredible arrogance and dishonesty – and I told you many times already to stop talking to me.” Your personal assessment of him there was really rude, then you landed on an obviously inappropriate control move: “I told you many times already to stop talking to me.” The normal means for getting someone to stop talking to one is by walking away from them. You never did that. You instructed him not to talk to you, as if you had the right to tell him what he could or couldn’t say here.

    So those are some of the major excerpts of what I consider to be uncivil interaction on your part. (By the way, your last paragraph in #424 seems to be, well, rather weird.)

    You say that I’m not applying my standards to Christians the way I am with you. I’d like your help understanding just where I missed doing that. Maybe you can show me similarly rude things that others have done to you here.

    BillT addressed you in terms of “middle school stuff.” For my part, if I’m going to criticize someone that way, I think it’s better to be very specific about what I mean. I won’t use that kind of language unless I think it’s clearly justifiable. I’m not sure he explained it that well in #412, but I’m lso not sure it was necessary: that was only three comments after #409 where the meaning was crystal clear, and in my view, not inappropriate, based on #408.

    scbrownlhrm’s comments run long, and I haven’t read through them all, even after returning after my hiatus. So, maybe I missed some rudeness that parallels yours. If so, then I need your advice and correction, so I can meet my own goal of having a blog that’s < safe for humans, but not necessarily for ideas.

    So please let me know. I’ve got a busy afternoon ahead, but I’ll be looking for your response when I have time.

  399. Tom,

    To pick out two random examples:

    Your oft-mentioned #291 is really rude. scbrownlhrm was running an extended quote from William Lane Craig. (He should have sourced the quote, but it only took me five seconds to figure what he was doing—he used quotation marks, after all!) For that one portion of an extended quote, you accused him of not being able to read higher than a fourth-grade level.

    And this accusation was completely accurate. No atheist / skeptic ever espoused “The idea that the abundance and age of the manuscripts of the Gospels is evidence for their historical reliability…” in this thread – only a Christian did (BillT) and it was a skeptic who pointed out that this is a misconception. That is why scbrownlhrm’s addition to the Craig quote “….is a misconception fostered by popular Christian apologetics. [……. And apparently believed by layman-skeptics ……]”
    – was completely ridiculous and was based on his notorious inability (or unwillingness) to follow the conversation and understand what was said and by whom it was said.

    Your tendentious and provocative re-writing of scbrownlhrm’s accurate wording, in #428

    Actually, it is exactly the other way around, it was my re-writing that made the comment accurate. Because scbrownlhrm was the only one who said those things and no other Christian agreed with him either explicitly or implicitly. This is part of scbrownlhrm’s shtick – his personal idiosyncracies immediately morph into “The Christian´s view”.

    And I stand 100% by calling scbrownlhrm “insufferable” and a “troll”. Violating items #4, 8 and 11 of your discussion policies is pretty much all he ever does. He doesn´t quote people he disagrees with directly but rather rephrases what they say in his typical pretentious way, which never results in an accurate representation of what the interlocutor has actually said, but that doesn´t stop him from repeating his misrepresentations ad nauseam (i.e. violation of #11). And he is notorious for merely asserting all kinds of flaws in someone else´s reasoning, and merely asserting all kinds of ways in which an observation that is currently being discussed “absolutely supports “The Christian´s” model” – but he never explains why that is so, no matter how often you ask him. The most recent example would be his ad nauseam insistence that the rejection, on average, of Christianity by the Jews is actually evidence for Christianity – he asserts it over and over and over and over and over again (seriously, try counting how often he did it here) and mocks people who disagree with him. But does he ever explain why that should be so? Nope, no matter how often one asks him to explain this, he simply copy-pastes this:
    “We get that you believe Israel’s general rejection of Christ as the Messiah ought to be added to the proverbial list of things which actually count AGAINST the credibility of Christianity’s truth claims.”
    In other words, he practically constantly violates #4+8 of your discussion policies – and that´s also why I don´t consider it at all rude to call his opinions and contributions “worthless” for example, because I could code a spambot that would contribute just as much to the discussion as he does, and it would be extremely easy to do so.

    I can be civil and I have been initially civil with every commenter here, but I a) care about truth much more than I care about civility and b) do not believe in the principle of “not feeding the trolls” – it never works, the only thing that does work sometimes is exposing their trolling antics for what they are.

  400. Ray,

    I got tired of scbrownlhrm’s pretentiousness a while back. And since he never really responded to what I actually wrote, preferring to address arguments I never made, I gave up on responding to him.

    It seems to be his shtick with every non-Christian commenter who shows up. He´s doing it also to Ophis in this thread.

  401. And here we go again “…a few ancient written claims.”

    I’m repeating it because of the lack of evidence that has been added to it so far.

    The Bible is as good (if not better) an ancient historical source as any in existence. It’s at least as good (if not better) than the sources we have for the Greek, Egyptian, or Roman history.

    For classical history we have huge amounts of archaeological evidence, the written evidence of competent historians of the time containing details of how the writers got their information and what sources they used, and the writings of people whose opinions opposed each other. We do not have this for Christianity’s miracle claims. So by what standard is the latter better?

    And not only that it’s no a “few’ either. Twenty seven books from multiple authors each recording multiple witnesses and accounts and it’s textual record is unmatched in ancient history.

    Most of those 27 are epistles, which do not give this level of historical information you describe. The Gospels do not tell us where they got their information, and do not make any distinction between what the authors are supposed to have seen themselves (if anything) and what they gained from another source. That means there’s no way to tell that any of the information in the Gospels is reliable.

    In any case, there are numerous non-Christian implausible and supernatural claims from various time periods backed up by records of multiple witnesses. Consistency requires that we either believe all of them or none of them.

    The real question is: What do you have Ophis except your own personal and quite one sided opinion about this.

    What more do you think I need, if the claim has so little evidence behind it? If the doubter has the burden of proof, then how do you disprove every other claim and rumour of the supernatural the out-of-the-ordinary?

  402. That’s all I needed to know.

    So it doesn’t matter to you how little evidence there is for your belief, it’s up to me to disprove it? I don’t know how else to interpret this.

  403. So Andy, you disagree with scbrownlhrm’s approaches and conclusions.

    I’m fine with people saying so here. I don’t have the slightest problem with you continuing to do so, if that were what you wanted to do.

    Apparently you think that exposing it entails name-calling and profanity. I think that’s a huge hindrance to what you think you’re trying to accomplish, and also to what I’m trying to do, which is to have a thinking dialogue.

    As for the matter of the Jews, you started it with provocative statements about Christianity being “a spectacular failure among the Jews;” and you threw in other helpful bits like,

    Right! Jesus preaching and performing his miracles among the Jews, with maybe an occasional Gentile being present here and there, would totally lead us to expect that only a teeny-tiny community of Jews is convinced that Jesus is for real and that this community eventually all but dies out, so that the Jews to this day still overwhelmingly don´t believe in Jesus. While we would simultaneously expect that the belief that Jesus is for real spreads like wildfire among the Gentiles.
    This is of course totally not breathtakingly idiotic because you dropped some sciencey sounding words like “extrapolation” and “demographic”.

    You are quite certain of yourself…. and more than a little sarcastic. Was that supposed to help, really?

    (By the way, a late addition to this discussion: Did it ever occur to you that there might be other factors involved in belief besides mere access to the evidence? People are like that, you know.)

  404. Tom,

    Apparently you think that exposing it entails name-calling and profanity. I think that’s a huge hindrance to what you think you’re trying to accomplish, and also to what I’m trying to do, which is to have a thinking dialogue.

    Your discussion policies would be helpful in promoting “thinking dialogue”, if you applied them consistently to all commenters, Atheist and Christians. But you haven´t, and judging from what you write here, it doesn´t look as if you plan to do so in the future.

    You are quite certain of yourself…. and more than a little sarcastic. Was that supposed to help, really?

    This was yet another example of scbrownlhrm blatantly violating your commenting policies, specifically #4+8. He repeats ad nauseam that I am wrong because “math” and “demographics” and “prophecy”, but no matter how often one asks him just what “math”, “demographics” and “prophecy” he is talking about, he never answers – he just keeps repeating that I am wrong because “math”, “demographics” and “prophecy”. This is maximally unproductive, very provocative and a blatant violation of your discussion policies. And he does this all-the-time, but you never step in. I have grown tired of his trolling antics, I cannot take him seriously any more even if I wanted to – and if he cannot stop trolling me, then I will either ridicule him and ridicule him hard because that is the only strategy that has at least a modicum of efficacy against trolls in my experience, or I will leave if the only alternative is to be civil to him while he trolls me and every other non-Christian on the blog.

    (By the way, a late addition to this discussion: Did it ever occur to you that there might be other factors involved in belief besides mere access to the evidence?

    It did. And I repeatedly emphasized that I am not arguing against Christianity here per se, but rather against a very particular claim about why Christianity has been successful. It was this claim here that I contested:
    “We also know that Christianity grew rapidly in it’s early days during which time the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT were alive.
    So, if the story isn’t true, how could this happen. How do thousands of people all over the region become Christians believing the (rather unbelievable) facts in the NT. Travel was reasonably easy and safe and anyone could have gone to Jerusalem and fact checked the entire story. In fact, we can be sure (given this remarkable story) that they did. And after they did, they were still Christian and Christianity continued to grow rapidly. The validity of Christianity is built on the eyewitnesses to the facts described in the NT. That’s how we know it’s true.”

  405. Jenna Black #449:

    The challenge to you and to all atheists is to explain this reality: How one man, a Jewish carpenter from an obscure “backwater” village in Israel who wasn’t royalty, never held a high office in government and who possessed no wealth, an iterant rabbi, and a few hundred of his followers brought about the world religion that has had the most followers (billions) of any religion in human history that has endured for over 2,000 years. This, as you claim, based on only “a few ancient written claims.” The ball is in your court.

    How did one uneducated man from a backwater like Arabia create a religion that overthrew the Byzantine and Persian empires, and which has also had billions of followers? How did Joseph Smith create a religion that grew to 15 million followers in under 2 centuries?

  406. Ophis #459
    How does answering your questions help answer Jenna’s? Is there a connection?

  407. Orphis,

    There’s documents and also the birth of the church. N.T Wright looks at this question from a historical angle, asking what could have caused the early Christians to deviate from Judaism in the first place, attempting to find the best explanation. His approach is quite interesting and I think strong. One of the points of historical enquiry is to propose explanations for the particular cause of events so it’s not true that we just have the gospel documents to go on.

    Of course historical reconstructions are not a demonstration but we all believe many things without a demonstration. Even if we think this reconstruction is the best explanation of the historical facts we could quite reasonably conclude that the resurrection is so implausible that we must be missing something. Whether we decide to accept this reconstruction or not is therefore probably more dependent on our other beliefs and personal experiences. Now that is not being selective in our application of reason but rather drawing on every bit of relevant data we have access to.

  408. SteveK:

    My point is that other religions have also been surprisingly successful despite the apparently low status of their founders. If the success of Christianity after its lowly beginnings is a sign of its truth, why shouldn’t the same apply to other religions which have shown high growth despite their founders having disadvantages comparable to those of Jesus?

    Or in other words, the standard which Jenna is using to support Christianity also supports Islam and Mormonism.

  409. I might just add that I think it’s important to regularly probe the beliefs we already have to make sure that we have reason to continue in that belief. Also to pause before dismissing a view that we find challenging.

  410. Orphis,

    If the success of Christianity after its lowly beginnings is a sign of its truth, why shouldn’t the same apply to other religions which have shown high growth despite their founders having disadvantages comparable to those of Jesus?

    It’s a sign, not the only sign. Who says Jenna doesn’t count the spread of those religions in their favour but discount them for other reasons.

  411. Andy,

    Your discussion policies would be helpful in promoting “thinking dialogue”, if you applied them consistently to all commenters, Atheist and Christians. But you haven´t, and judging from what you write here, it doesn´t look as if you plan to do so in the future.

    If they name-called you and threw profanities at you, I’d issue them a warning, too. Actually, I did in #443, though in a softer manner than what I did with you, because they weren’t being as obviously and blatantly rude as you.

    Have you noticed that you’re still commenting here, by the way? Just where is this supposed inconsistency, anyway? You’re still commenting here even after that additional bit of sarcastic discourtesy you threw my way in #442, not to mention this most recent complaint quoted here. What’s your beef? How have I harmed you?

  412. Andy,

    I’ve just taken a closer look. Maybe I missed something, but your complaints about math ad nauseum would be more compelling if you had responded to him and then he repeated it excessively. That’s not what happened.

    It appears to me instead that he brought up the matter of AD 70’s effect on the math in #243, and you ignored it in #246 (though you did find time to call him “stupid”). He mentioned it again in #247, apparently still trying to bring it up for discussion since you ignored it the first time. You responded with a blatantly insulting ad hominem in #248. He tried to get you to respond to the actual topic again in #249, and in #250 you dismissed it all with sarcasm rather than reason.

    Is it wrong, Andy, for a commenter to bring up a topic more than once when the person who is ostensibly having a dialogue with him ignores it more than once? Could you explain for us how the person who repeatedly ignores the other (well, ignores a topic, but still finds time to deliver insults) is more civil than the person who tries more than once to bring up a topic for conversation?

  413. Having looked at the facts behind your complaint, Andy, I’m really wondering whether you care about having a thoughtful conversation here.

    It’s up to you, and the way you respond now will likely tell us your decision.

  414. Melissa,

    “Of course historical reconstructions are not a demonstration but we all believe many things without a demonstration. Even if we think this reconstruction is the best explanation of the historical facts we could quite reasonably conclude that the resurrection is so implausible that we must be missing something. Whether we decide to accept this reconstruction or not is therefore probably more dependent on our other beliefs and personal experiences. Now that is not being selective in our application of reason but rather drawing on every bit of relevant data we have access to…….. It’s a sign, not the only sign. Who says [they don’t] count the spread of those religions in their favor but discount them for other reasons….”

    Well said Melissa.

    Very Polychromatic.

    Like all human beings.

    Appeals like Bill T makes to historicity and eyewitness impacts upon events should not be mistaken as some sort of “full stop” on the part of the Christian’s explanation of events.

    No one thinks in such a monochromatic fashion. To assume the Christian really does instill a “full stop” at the end of such a thing such as Bill T’s description of eyewitness Etc. is to start with the most uncharitable stance from the very start.

    Eyewitness impacts can and do exist “with” and “in” other very important variables. We need only look outside into everyday life to appreciate this.

    “….Now that is not being selective in our application of reason but rather drawing on every bit of relevant data we have access to……”

  415. Tom,

    If they name-called you and threw profanities at you, I’d issue them a warning, too.

    So items #4, 8 and 11 of your discussion policies are optional and if a commenter systematically violates them in many discussion threads over a timespan of months or potentially even years, you have no problem with that and will not call the respective commenters out for it. The only thing that you will issue a warning for, is profanity. Did I get that right?

    …because they weren’t being as obviously and blatantly rude as you

    And that is where I completely disagree with you. Profanity is not a necessary requirement for rudeness and scbrownlhrm is an incredibly rude person. My responses to him *in the two most recent threads* were indeed rude, very much so and deliberately, however, what I did at its core was still nothing more than calling a spade a spade.

    Just where is this supposed inconsistency, anyway?

    In letting a Christian commenter systematically violate your discussion policies while Atheist commenters are expected to abide by them.

    You’re still commenting here even after that additional bit of sarcastic discourtesy you threw my way in #442, not to mention this most recent complaint quoted here.

    This is interesting. Because you didn´t show this “most recent complaint” to be unjustified. You didn´t even try to. You did not even refer to it in ANY way except for what you did right here – by calling it a “discourtesy”.

  416. There’s documents and also the birth of the church. N.T Wright looks at this question from a historical angle, asking what could have caused the early Christians to deviate from Judaism in the first place, attempting to find the best explanation. His approach is quite interesting and I think strong. One of the points of historical enquiry is to propose explanations for the particular cause of events so it’s not true that we just have the gospel documents to go on.

    The idea of deviating from Judaism implies a unity in Judaism which didn’t really exist at that time. There wasn’t a “standard Judaism”; there were various different groups within Judaism (such as the Pharisees and Sadducees) and these groups differed with each other considerably. With that sort of situation, I don’t think there’s anything implausible about Christianity starting out as just another Jewish sect, which only became viewed as non-Jewish because of its success among the gentiles.

    Of course historical reconstructions are not a demonstration but we all believe many things without a demonstration.

    That’s true, but probably the most important factor in believing something without a demonstration is whether it’s the kind of thing that I’ve seen demonstrated in the past.

    If somebody says they saw a cat cross the street, I’ll probably believe them without needing proof, because I’ve seen cats and I’ve seen them cross streets. If they tell me that they saw Bigfoot cross the street, I’ll need some more evidence. It’s not totally impossible that the story is true, and there’s even prior witness accounts of Bigfoot, but without some prior confirmation that the story can happen, I’m going to doubt that it did happen.

    The resurrection is like Bigfoot; even if we don’t assume it’s outright impossible, it’s still a type of event that has never been confirmed to happen at any other time. If we don’t set a higher standard of evidence for unprecedented events like these, then to be consistent we would have to accept every other claim that has some witnesses supporting it.

    Even if we think this reconstruction is the best explanation of the historical facts we could quite reasonably conclude that the resurrection is so implausible that we must be missing something. Whether we decide to accept this reconstruction or not is therefore probably more dependent on our other beliefs and personal experiences. Now that is not being selective in our application of reason but rather drawing on every bit of relevant data we have access to.

    Something similar could be said about reconstructing the beginnings of other religions, and I think that’s a problem. If we want to claim to be objective, then we should treat all religious claims, and all other claims of abnormal events, with the same standard of evidence.

  417. Andy,

    I’ve invited you to show me specifics where scbrownlhrm violated my policies. I’ve shown you just now (#466) how you have it backwards.

    I’ve also told you that I haven’t read through everything in detail. I’ve looked at one sample you suggested to me, and it turned out to be the opposite of what you said it was. Having seen that, I don’t see much point in going through everything else to discover whether you were right on some of it.

    As for patterns, do you deny that you have been allowed to continue here at length with a pattern of insults and rudeness?

    Regarding this:

    This is interesting. Because you didn´t show this “most recent complaint” to be unjustified. You didn´t even try to. You did not even refer to it in ANY way except for what you did right here – by calling it a “discourtesy”.

    I’m not taking on the responsibility of proving that a sarcastically delivered complaint against one’s host, including insults thrown at other guests, is “unjustified.”

    I think you’ve revealed your pattern, and whether you want to be part of a civil dialogue here. You’ve had enough warnings. Goodbye.

  418. #464:

    It’s a sign, not the only sign. Who says Jenna doesn’t count the spread of those religions in their favour but discount them for other reasons.

    Maybe she does; but if this has occurred in false religions, then why should we consider it a sign of truth at all?

  419. I think you’ve revealed your pattern, and whether you want to be part of a civil dialogue here. You’ve had enough warnings. Goodbye.

    I´ve never been banned before, but being banned from someone with your demonstrated degree of integrity is more a badge of honor than anything else.
    Enjoy your echo chamber.

  420. You know, I just noticed this:

    no matter how often one asks him just what “math”, “demographics” and “prophecy” he is talking about, he never answers – he just keeps repeating that I am wrong because “math”, “demographics” and “prophecy”.

    Does anyone know where he asked those questions, that is, where anyone asked him what math, demographics, and prophecy he was talking about? Because it seems like if it were really that often, it would be easier to find.

    Andy’s first response to “demographics,” for example, included no questions, and ended with,

    This is of course totally not breathtakingly idiotic because you dropped some sciencey sounding words like “extrapolation” and “demographic”.

    scbrownlhrm mentioned demographics one again in #257, to which Andy responded,

    You can yell “but demographics! and math!!” until you are blue in the face, it still won´t turn into an argument…

    This all adds up to something other than a good-faith approach to conversation.

    Andy, that was your final comment just now. As far as your assessment of me, I’ll let the page here speak for itself. This is not an echo chamber. I’m sorry you decided not to participate in a civil manner and in good faith any longer.

  421. Orphis,

    The idea of deviating from Judaism implies a unity in Judaism which didn’t really exist at that time. There wasn’t a “standard Judaism”; there were various different groups within Judaism (such as the Pharisees and Sadducees) and these groups differed with each other considerably. With that sort of situation, I don’t think there’s anything implausible about Christianity starting out as just another Jewish sect, which only became viewed as non-Jewish because of its success among the gentiles.

    Judaism does not need to be monolithic for the early Christian belief to be a deviation. Of course it’s not implausible to think that Christianity began as another Jewish sect, that’s exactly what I think is the case and so does Wright. The actual split was more a result of the persecution and expulsion of Jesus’ followers from the synagogues. ie Jewish leaders eventually ruled on the validity as a Jewish belief.

    If we don’t set a higher standard of evidence for unprecedented events like these, then to be consistent we would have to accept every other claim that has some witnesses supporting it.

    I’ve already gone over the fact that there is more to the evidence than just “some witnesses claiming it”. What effects does the claimed sighting of Big Foot have on subsequent events. Are there alternative explanations that account equally well for the data? The inconsistency you are claiming just isn’t there if you consider the total evidence available.

    Something similar could be said about reconstructing the beginnings of other religions, and I think that’s a problem. If we want to claim to be objective, then we should treat all religious claims, and all other claims of abnormal events, with the same standard of evidence.

    I agreed something similar could be said, but it is not all that could be said. I think you have interpreted Jenna to be arguing that if this criteria is met them the belief must be true, my guess is that her claim is more like Christianity is more likely to be true because it meets this criteria. I guess she will need to confirm. what she wrote could be interpreted the way you have.

    From my point of view, if we claim that Christianity is more likely to be true because of say these five reasons and Islam meets 3 of the criteria Mormonism 2 then it is not inconsistent to make the claim that Christianity is in fact true while Islam and Mormonism are not.

  422. Orphis,

    Maybe she does; but if this has occurred in false religions, then why should we consider it a sign of truth at all?

    You know how historians have criteria for evaluating historical documents and there more criteria that are satisfied, the more likely something us to be true. It works pretty much like that.

    Edited to add: also because there are other factors which come into the equation. There are reasons apart from the truth of their beliefs for why an armed and warlike group may increase their numbers quickly that wouldn’t apply to the early Christians. It just won’t do to say that we are being inconsistent by conducting a superficial enquiry.

  423. Of course it’s not implausible to think that Christianity began as another Jewish sect…

    I think from what we know about this from a biblical perspective we understand that Christ came as the Jewish messiah and hoped his message would resonate and transform all of Judaism. So that it would have been seen as another Jewish sect originally is reasonable. It, of course, quickly outgrew that and transformed the world instead.

    And no matter what existing sects of Juaism and ideological differences between them there were prior to Christ, his message is an absolutely radical departure from any of them.

  424. Judaism does not need to be monolithic for the early Christian belief to be a deviation.

    But a deviation from what, exactly? Every group in Judaism would have been a “deviation” in the eyes of some other group. I don’t think we actually disagree a huge amount about this, but I’m having trouble seeing what relation it has to the validity of the Christian claims.

    I’ve already gone over the fact that there is more to the evidence than just “some witnesses claiming it”.

    OK, what is the additional evidence? (Or just point me to the comment where you describe it.)

    What effects does the claimed sighting of Big Foot have on subsequent events.

    Very little, but most people who believe in Bigfoot aren’t making major life decisions based on it. But I don’t see how the importance or subsequent effect of a claim demonstrates its truth. It merely demonstrates the effects of belief in the claim.

    Are there alternative explanations that account equally well for the data? The inconsistency you are claiming just isn’t there if you consider the total evidence available.

    The problem here is that the data appears to me to be extremely limited. That means there are many plausible explanations for it and we will probably never know which is the correct one, or whether the correct explanation is one we haven’t thought of. In those circumstances it seems like a bad idea to choose the one explanation that involves a completely unique event, with a temporary suspension of well-attested laws of nature.

    I agreed something similar could be said, but it is not all that could be said. I think you have interpreted Jenna to be arguing that if this criteria is met them the belief must be true, my guess is that her claim is more like Christianity is more likely to be true because it meets this criteria. I guess she will need to confirm. what she wrote could be interpreted the way you have.

    From my point of view, if we claim that Christianity is more likely to be true because of say these five reasons and Islam meets 3 of the criteria Mormonism 2 then it is not inconsistent to make the claim that Christianity is in fact true while Islam and Mormonism are not.

    But if each of those 5 reasons applies equally well to other incompatible beliefs, then it suggests that each of them is not very useful for distinguishing a true belief. For example, if successful growth of a religion founded by a disadvantaged prophet is found in many religions, then it must have happened in some false religions. That suggests that a religion having that kind of history is independent of that religion being true, and it is therefore a bad standard by which to judge the truth of a religion.

    If you’re judging Christianity by what seem to be five bad standards, then I’m not going to base a conclusion about it on how many of those standards are all fulfilled.

    You know how historians have criteria for evaluating historical documents and there more criteria that are satisfied, the more likely something us to be true. It works pretty much like that.

    But if you’re using a criterion which is fulfilled by many false claims, and we don’t know if it’s fulfilled by any true claims, it doesn’t make much sense to say “the challenge is to explain why criterion X is fulfilled” (which is what Jenna Black did in #449). In those circumstances I think we’re justified in asking whether it’s a good criterion to use at all, which is basically what I was doing in my reply.

  425. Edited to add: also because there are other factors which come into the equation. There are reasons apart from the truth of their beliefs for why an armed and warlike group may increase their numbers quickly that wouldn’t apply to the early Christians. It just won’t do to say that we are being inconsistent by conducting a superficial enquiry.

    Being armed and warlike brings both advantages and disadvantages. Christianity might not have lasted very long if it had tried to take on the Roman Empire militarily at an early stage.

    Anyway, the question’s changing a little now; asking why Christianity expanded despite the circumstances of its founder is different to asking why Christianity expanded in the specific way that it did.

    To which my answer would be: Christianity had certain advantages that could have helped it expand in the Roman Empire. Its links to Judaism meant it could claim to be a continuation of an ancient religious tradition, allowing it to deflect some of the suspicion attached to brand-new religions. By retaining these Jewish traditions while abandoning the more restrictive Jewish regulations, it would have very quickly attracted converts from the “God-fearing” gentile admirers of Judaism. It actively sought converts from all parts of society, rather than just the elite, giving it the potential for growth among the lower classes; but without being totally repulsive to all of the educated, since it was philosophically compatible with ideas like Platonism and Stoicism, allowing it to attract a few people willing to write intellectual defences of Christianity. Setting up churches in multiple locations scattered around the Empire at a very early stage may have helped, and obviously Constantine and later Christian emperors had a pretty helpful influence.

  426. Orphis,

    But a deviation from what, exactly? Every group in Judaism would have been a “deviation” in the eyes of some other group. I don’t think we actually disagree a huge amount about this, but I’m having trouble seeing what relation it has to the validity of the Christian claims.

    Wrights study is looking at what exactly could be the reason for this particular deviation.

    OK, what is the additional evidence? (Or just point me to the comment where you describe it.)

    The birth of the church, the behaviour of the disciples etc.

    But I don’t see how the importance or subsequent effect of a claim demonstrates its truth. It merely demonstrates the effects of belief in the claim.

    Prior and post behaviour of the claimants is clearly relevant to assessing their claims. It at least establishes that they were sure of their claim. Then we need to look for alternative explanations for this belief. As I said Wright produces an historical reconstruction given the data we have. The alternatives proposed by skeptics just don’t deal well with all the data. What that means is that his is probably the best one he have, that does not mean that it is correct.

    That means there are many plausible explanations for it and we will probably never know which is the correct one, or whether the correct explanation is one we haven’t thought of. In those circumstances it seems like a bad idea to choose the one explanation that involves a completely unique event, with a temporary suspension of well-attested laws of nature.

    Which I would agree with if we were talking about just assessing an historical claim, but we are not, and given other worldview commitments, personal experience, Christian witness, existential answers etc there is enough evidence there for me to decide in the affirmative.

    In those circumstances I think we’re justified in asking whether it’s a good criterion to use at all, which is basically what I was doing in my reply.

    Sorry, I thought your complaint was that Jenna was being inconsistent when applying her criteria.

  427. Tom,

    Andy makes a good point about my violations as I tend to think quotes can or will do the “work” I mean for them to do, rather than unpacking them after quoting them. I do that often with quotes / re-quotes. It’s a valid frustration and I hope my own misbehavior won’t be a root cause for his frustration and thus ending in his not commenting here – if you would possibly reconsider I think we’d be better off for it as his (high) level of thinking/writing isn’t common and I think we benefit from challengers / thinkers of his adeptness and quality.

    What if we put the shoe on the other foot and look at Atheism gaining traction?

    That could be interesting.

    Is that “evidence” in favor of No-God?

    If we put the shoe on the other foot, it may help the Non-Christian understand how inaccurate he is being here. Not long ago on an Atheist’s webpage there were some comments about the rate of rise of Atheism. It actually did refer to *rate* in addition to mere percentage. Parts per million per change per time, as it were. Let’s call this change a sort of “Big-Shift” as mindsets morph over time.

    Now, we can stop right there and call that the Atheist’s entire argument. In other words, we could create a fallacy and challenge them by putting something like this out there, “Atheist’s say that clearly, because so many people underwent (or are undergoing) the Big-Shift, then that is evidence for the validity of Atheism. Full Stop.”

    That is, of course, nonsense because no reasonable Atheist would argue that single point in such isolation.

    Before going further with “Rate Of Change Of Atheism”, there are three relevant thoughts to incorporate into this to help us understand what direction to take:

    FIRST:

    There is this exchange from this thread:

    O: “But I don’t see how the importance or subsequent effect of a claim demonstrates its truth. It merely demonstrates the effects of belief in the claim.”

    M: “Prior and post behavior of the claimants is clearly relevant to assessing their claims. It at least establishes that they were sure of their claim. Then we need to look for alternative explanations for this belief.”

    SECOND:

    There is this prior quote about ancient texts of differing faiths discussing the fact that not all “ancient” equates to “equal weight of evidence” and so the claim by the Non-Christian that “Islam’s text is really, really old too so we just cannot use really, really old as evidence….” Or… “…the Christian is being uneven because he weights one Religion’s Ancient Texts differently than those texts of Christianity….” – or what have you, misses some key points:

    “Of the approximately 138,000 words in the New Testament only about 1,400 remain in doubt. The text of the New Testament is thus about 99% established. That means that when you pick up a (Greek) New Testament today, you can be confident that you are reading the text as it was originally written. Moreover, that 1% that remains uncertain has to do with trivial words on which nothing of importance hangs. This conclusion is important because it explodes the claims of Muslims, Mormons, and others that the text of the New Testament has been corrupted, so that we can no longer read the original text.” (Dr. Craig)

    Being too often guilty of violating discussion policy #4, my tendency is to think that those quotes “do the work” requested of them, but to clarify, we mean to say that the Christian does count such as evidence for Islam (or what have you) – but he does not stop there – just as he does not stop there for his own Faith’s texts. There is no inconsistent treatment of “this part” or “this slice” of the Set called “Data”. That Set is a Pie with many slices. Writings in and near times and events do help us – but they just don’t stand there in isolation as a kind of “Well it’s old therefore its true” stopping point.

    THIRD:

    Melissa said it well: “Of course historical reconstructions are not a demonstration but we all believe many things without a demonstration. Even if we think this reconstruction is the best explanation of the historical facts we could quite reasonably conclude that the resurrection is so implausible that we must be missing something. Whether we decide to accept this reconstruction or not is therefore probably more dependent on our other beliefs and personal experiences. Now that is not being selective in our application of reason but rather drawing on every bit of relevant data we have access to…..” And, “It’s a sign [the success of a world view in gaining traction], not the only sign. Who says [they don’t] count the spread of those religions in their favor but discount them for other reasons….?”

    Back to Rate/Atheism:

    Clearly something has been or is being discovered. That’s a valid point on the part of the Atheist. And we can be sure he does not “mean” to make that claim in a vacuum. The fallacies we’ve seen in this thread presented as “The Christian’s claim” are just as fallacious as is our own made-up Christian challenge to the Atheist. As a reminder, the Atheist describes the Big-Shift, and so the Christian counters (fallaciously) with: “Now, we can stop right there and call that appeal to the Big-Shift the Atheist’s entire argument. Atheist’s say that clearly, because so many people underwent (or are undergoing) the Big-Shift, then that is evidence for the validity of Atheism. Full Stop.”

    The question of any Big-Shift is not “is it evidence”. Cleary any *effect* just IS evidence for its *cause*. So it just never is, “The Big-Shift is not evidence”.

    That is just silly. Clearly it IS evidence. The question is not THAT, not IF it is evidence. It IS evidence. The question, though, is evidence for what? N.T. Write tackles this, as do others, where the Christian is concerned. Whether or not Atheism will do so for its own traction remains to be seen.

    History will tell.

    But what about Non-Converts? This same cause-effect is in play for any group NOT swept up in the Big-Shift. That too just IS evidence. But evidence for WHAT? Just the same, is Atheism credible because of a Big-Shift? Not in the least. Neither is Christianity. Rather, when we break down the array of *effects* intermingled with the array of *possible causes* we come up with the Big-Shift as evidence “in favor” if and only if it as a single slice fits into a wider Pie in which such a conclusion brings convergence to the data. And, the Big-Shift may count as evidence “not in favor” if it fails to bring such convergence amid multiple data sets. Where Atheism or Theism are concerned we *necessarily* find Historical slices BUT we also find all sorts of Non-Historical parts as such are of a metaphysical or philosophical sway and so “that whole philosophical mix” would have to be brought in if we want to explain a Big-Shift in that messy arena.

    Further, where Jewish-Christians are concerned, all sorts of Prior/Post data-points would have to be accounted for and that gets messy there at the end of the 1st century and just as messy in the unique mindset of the Jewish-Christian towards any Jewish Messiah and it all gets the messiest there in Israel’s overall rejection of Christ as the Messiah. From pre-Christ there in the O.T. and to His Crucifixion and onward and outward all such lines must be pulled in. That last sentence is not an argument – it’s not a tease – it’s only meant to allude to the idea that there may be a “Frame” which the Non-Christian may be missing.

    Atheism: Is the rate of shift in Atheism’s favor? What variables are in play? “Pure” demonstrative events? In part? In whole? Think about all the variables in that one world stage phenomenon.

    Atheism could be one big mistake. Atheism could be genuine discovery.

    As Melissa alluded to we reason through what goes into that decision by that group in their particular set of circumstances and unpack as many causes as we can even as we unpack as many effects as we can. It just is all cause/effect. The Christian has done the work of unpacking as much data as is available in accounting for the Big-Shifts found in the first century. Now, 2000 years later, will the Atheist do the same with any Big-Shifts of our own century? Or we will we find appeals on the Atheist’s end that such a Big-Shift of late is evidence for No-God – Full Stop?

    But wait – the Big Shift itself IS evidence. But evidence for WHAT?

    Putting the shoe on the other foot may help the Non-Christian appreciate the problem here. We as Theists could question and challenge the Atheist AS IF his appeal to the Big Shift was his “sole evidence for Atheism”. It would look like this: “Wow. The Atheist seems to be appealing to the Big Shift as meaningful. Huh? What the…? Really Mr. Atheist? That’s it?”

    Again, putting the shoe on the other foot may help the Non-Christian appreciate the problem here.

    Finally, two very basic observations…. “basic” is used there so as to not permit the Non-Christian to assume this is an “Entire Argument”. These are merely two simple observations, not conclusions:

    We cannot count the times we’ve seen Atheists (not in this thread) appeal to that particular slope or bell curve of “More Atheists” as evidence for No-God. It does go on. A lot. Should we hold that against Athe-ism? And, there are many, many lines of evidence in the mix that are off-setting there in cause/effect, that reveal that proclaimed Atheist’s don’t themselves actually believe their own paradigmatic commitments. (Yes, that claim would need unpacking) That is to say, where the Christian claims to believe in X, and somehow fails to embrace X, he counts it as his own failure to measure up to X, and thus X is still intact, and X is still up ahead. Whereas, where the Atheist claims to believe X, and fails to embrace it, he counts it as a failure of X to measure up, perhaps even permanently, and thus X is no longer intact, and X becomes a boomerang, completing its circular path. On all kinds of fronts. Plural.

    What could be the motivation behind the Big-Shift to embrace said boomerang? What causes/effects are in-play? What about the Non-Converts?

    I appreciate your patience here Tom and I think I’ll stop here on this particular topic and thread and simply read along and learn from our group of very adept commentators here.

  428. scbrownlhrm RE: #481

    I really like your analysis of the Big-Shift theory. I find several fallacies operating in Ophis’s argument based on the causes of the growth of Christianity, which he seems to be claiming are other than simply the truth of Christianity. First, bringing Islam and Mormonism into the discussion is an obvious Red Herring. The singularity of Jesus as the man who has had more impact on human history than any other is indisputable. If Ophis would like to propose another candidate, go right ahead.

    Second, as you are pointing out, how do atheists explain the lack of growth in followers of atheism vs. the rapid growth and endurance of Christianity? Atheism has been around longer than Christianity but has never enjoyed the success of Christianity. How do they argue that for thousands of years, humanity has been somehow duped by religion but now, here in the 21st century, they bring the truth to humankind but somehow, unfairly, they are at a disadvantage in getting their “truth” out to dislodge Christianity, but are making progress nonetheless.

    One of the features of atheism and atheists that I have always noted is this inherent arrogance toward and distrust of humans’ capacity for recognizing the truth when the truth doesn’t fit their worldview. Say the atheists to the world: Everybody is out of step but Johnny (us)!

  429. #480:

    The birth of the church, the behaviour of the disciples etc.

    This is a bit vague. Could you go into a bit more detail on this?

    Prior and post behaviour of the claimants is clearly relevant to assessing their claims. It at least establishes that they were sure of their claim. Then we need to look for alternative explanations for this belief. As I said Wright produces an historical reconstruction given the data we have. The alternatives proposed by skeptics just don’t deal well with all the data. What that means is that his is probably the best one he have, that does not mean that it is correct.

    That would require us to have sufficient reliable information about how the apostles behaved after the crucifixion, which I don’t think we have, apart from maybe in the case of St. Paul.

    Which I would agree with if we were talking about just assessing an historical claim, but we are not, and given other worldview commitments, personal experience, Christian witness, existential answers etc there is enough evidence there for me to decide in the affirmative.

    That’s making me wonder if you would agree that the historical evidence presented previously in this thread is not sufficient by itself to justify a belief in Christianity.

    Sorry, I thought your complaint was that Jenna was being inconsistent when applying her criteria.

    It depends; if she’s not willing to apply the criteria to other religions at all, then she’s being inconsistent. If she’s willing to apply it to other religions, then she’s not being inconsistent, although I’d still dispute that this criterion is useful.

  430. Tom, it’s your website and you can do whatever you want, of course, but banning people like Andy is kind of silly. I’ve seen you do it many times over the years, only to non-Christian posters of course. There always seems to be a point where you get annoyed, and lower the ban hammer. Andy was and maybe is an interesting contributor! Let people converse!

    I’m a casual reader, but it’s disappointing to see you do that.

  431. Orphis,

    This is a bit vague. Could you go into a bit more detail on this?

    The case Wright builds is very detailed. Too detailed to adequately address in a blog comments thread. The full case is in his Resurrection of the Son of God but I think there are probably overviews on his website. My main point was not to argue the truth of the case but rather to disagree with your assessment of what evidence is available and your contention that if we are to accept the witness of the gospel we must also accept all the other miracle claims if we are to be consistent.

    That’s making me wonder if you would agree that the historical evidence presented previously in this thread is not sufficient by itself to justify a belief in Christianity.

    A blog comment thread is not the place to provide a comprehensive case, any evidence presented will necessarily be truncated due to the medium. The evidence in the thread previously is just part of the overall historical case. That being said, I do think that if we are just talking about the historical case (even in it’s most complete form) there is wiggle room for the skeptic to rationally disagree and leave the question of what happened unexplained.

  432. scbrownlhrm #481:

    What if we put the shoe on the other foot and look at Atheism gaining traction?

    That could be interesting.

    Is that “evidence” in favor of No-God?

    No. Maybe if you can establish something about why some number of people believe a particular thing, then maybe you might be able to conclude something useful from that. But the number of people on its own, or the increase or decrease in that number, doesn’t show us anything. There have been plenty of times in the past when the majority has been wrong, or when a bad idea has been on the increase.

  433. Jenna Black #482:

    I find several fallacies operating in Ophis’s argument based on the causes of the growth of Christianity, which he seems to be claiming are other than simply the truth of Christianity.

    Yes, I am claiming that. Even if Christianity is true, its truth would be pretty much irrelevant to its growth beyond Judea after the first few decades, when it would be growing among people who would have no way to confirm its claims.

    First, bringing Islam and Mormonism into the discussion is an obvious Red Herring. The singularity of Jesus as the man who has had more impact on human history than any other is indisputable. If Ophis would like to propose another candidate, go right ahead.

    Having an impact is not a good indication that an idea is true. The other cases I pointed out are an illustration of that (I don’t understand why you think a parallel case that fulfills your implied criteria is a “red herring”).

    Second, as you are pointing out, how do atheists explain the lack of growth in followers of atheism vs. the rapid growth and endurance of Christianity? Atheism has been around longer than Christianity but has never enjoyed the success of Christianity. How do they argue that for thousands of years, humanity has been somehow duped by religion but now, here in the 21st century, they bring the truth to humankind but somehow, unfairly, they are at a disadvantage in getting their “truth” out to dislodge Christianity, but are making progress nonetheless.

    That whole paragraph is just a variant of the argumentum ad populum.

    One of the features of atheism and atheists that I have always noted is this inherent arrogance toward and distrust of humans’ capacity for recognizing the truth when the truth doesn’t fit their worldview. Say the atheists to the world: Everybody is out of step but Johnny (us)!

    I recognise the fact that humans can make mistakes, especially when an idea appeals to our biases. I recognise that beliefs which we now consider absurd were once very widely believed. That’s why I’m not willing to just go with whatever belief is currently popular. Your approach here seems to be “if lots of people think something then it must be right”.

  434. Ophis,
    I’m curious how many claims you trust to be true each day – claims that you could confirm, but don’t?

    Related to that question, what’s the difference between believing a claim you cannot possibly confirm (historical) and believing a claim that you could confirm, but choose not to?

  435. The case Wright builds is very detailed. Too detailed to adequately address in a blog comments thread. The full case is in his Resurrection of the Son of God but I think there are probably overviews on his website. My main point was not to argue the truth of the case but rather to disagree with your assessment of what evidence is available and your contention that if we are to accept the witness of the gospel we must also accept all the other miracle claims if we are to be consistent.

    If there’s some compelling evidence that applies to Christian claims while there isn’t similar evidence for other, incompatible claims, then there’s no inconsistency in accepting it. Without knowing what particular evidence you’re referring to, I can’t comment much further than that. So far, all the evidence I’ve seen for Christianity has its equivalents in other incompatible beliefs. That applies to all the evidence I’ve seen earlier in this thread.

    A blog comment thread is not the place to provide a comprehensive case, any evidence presented will necessarily be truncated due to the medium. The evidence in the thread previously is just part of the overall historical case. That being said, I do think that if we are just talking about the historical case (even in it’s most complete form) there is wiggle room for the skeptic to rationally disagree and leave the question of what happened unexplained.

    It’s true that the medium is limited, but given the subject of the blog post, I would have expected that the evidence presented would be whatever the commenters think should be most convincing to a skeptical person, even if that evidence is only presented in summary. There seems to have been collective agreement throughout most of that thread to use the historical evidence for this purpose, even though I have invited people a few times to add other supporting evidence if they wish.

    Given that you seem to agree that the historical evidence is not compelling (at least not without other support), what does it say about the rationality and skeptical basis of Christian belief when Christians choose to defend it by presenting non-compelling evidence?

  436. I’m curious how many claims you trust to be true each day – claims that you could confirm, but don’t?

    Related to that question, what’s the difference between believing a claim you cannot possibly confirm (historical) and believing a claim that you could confirm, but choose not to?

    I went into this a bit in #470. It depends whether the claim is mundane and plausible, i.e. does it conform to well-established precedent which demonstrates the possibility of the claimed event happening.

  437. Orphis,

    So far, all the evidence I’ve seen for Christianity has its equivalents in other incompatible beliefs. That applies to all the evidence I’ve seen earlier in this thread.

    Well, if you are interested you can look up Wright’s work.

    Given that you seem to agree that the historical evidence is not compelling (at least not without other support), what does it say about the rationality and skeptical basis of Christian belief when Christians choose to defend it by presenting non-compelling evidence?

    What kind of evidence could be offered that could possibly be compelling to every person. Some of the so-called reasons for rejecting the historical case, are frankly ridiculous. That being said there is always wriggle room, and I think someone can always say I have no good alternative but I’m still not going to accept your conclusion, in this case I think they could do it without being irrational, that does not mean that there isn’t good evidence for the resurrection.

    I think the Christians here would agree that the case for the resurrection is good and forms just one of the reasons why they accept Christianity. You ask why they chose to present the historical evidence? It’s because that’s the subject that was raised by the skeptics.

  438. You ask why they chose to present the historical evidence? It’s because that’s the subject that was raised by the skeptics.

    I certainly have presented the historical case on this thread as much as anyone and believe to to be a strong one but it wasn’t central for me in my conversion. I’m not even sure I was completely aware of it and I go to a Chruch where apologetics are central to its ministry.

  439. Happy Resurrection Sunday 🙂

    Since it’s Easter….. well…..

    A bit of a disappointing performance from our Critics as we arrive here at Easter Sunday.

    Since it is Easter, there’s a bit of the esoteric in the amalgamation which Necessity finds with Contingency there amid Being – and in Christianity alone do we find such peculiar and robust (metaphysical) seamlessness as we explore the semantics of incarnation and of physicality’s unavoidable ends in the language of resurrection. The Necessary finds particular and inimitable truth predicates as that which precedes contingency necessarily subsumes the whole of it all the while overtaking and superseding it. Any degree of actualization less than that finds Man in his (painful) privation – though thankfully Christ has fully actualized all such possibility.

    On Resurrection Sunday it is ironic that in 400+ comments we’ve seen from challengers nothing more than a collection of very reasonable sounding probes which have only subsequently ended in subtly fallacious frameworks when actually squeezed. And Frames matter.

    The nature of the Critic’s counter-claims can – if reasoned and honest – find the wiggle room which Melissa speaks of. It would be nice to see a well-reasoned counter-claim to N.T. Wright’s trilogy and other work(s), but to date the public arena has not seen anything which removes the earned title of “Rationally Concluding Christ” from the Christian’s treatment of the data of that peculiar first century. Wiggle-Room comes at a price, and the Christian has paid it while we’ve not seen the Critic willing to do likewise – though as Melissa on intellectual honesty rightly claims – such room can (rationally) be there for the Skeptic too. But we need not grant it if they do not actually deal with Christianity’s truth claims on its own faith and on reality. But at least such a work from the Critic would find reasoned disagreement amid Christianity’s actual truth claims and so find each with the wiggle room Melissa speaks of. The book “The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in Dialogue” finds the mutual respect and mutual wiggle room alluded to, but such necessitates that the Critic actually deal with the Christian’s actual claims, not the reasonable sounding probes ending in fallacious frames – which we’ve seen here.

    The wiggle room is, though available to both sides, not (readily) available to any of the Critics in this thread as they’ve yet to tackle the Christian’s actual truth claims and they’ve yet to present something that is (actually) untainted by the subtle aroma of the fallacious. Hence so far much has been a waste of time given that the fallacious presentations of what is under review hasn’t abated from the start of the thread. The fallacy that the number of people converting in a Big-Shift, and the increase in that number, are – on their own – the Christian’s stopping-point is unfortunate. Big-Shift conversions are evidence, but not in and of themselves, and Christians have never asserted otherwise where stopping-points are concerned. Then, that fallacy subsequently flows into and feeds the Critic’s fallacious and vacuous Doctrine of the Non-Convert. “Coherence” is claimed then by Critics simply because one fallacy (coherently) supports and feeds another – and, sure, that is coherent, but it is a coherent argument against a Non-Christian truth claim. The ever-so-faintly hinted emerges in the fallacy that texts of antiquity cannot be helpful on actual points of actual facts, that is to say, that, say, the ancient texts of the Big-Four – Pantheism/Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all historically sort of “equivalent” in such a regard, reveals the rudimentary level of analysis we are dealing with in many objections given here. That fallacious “stopping-point” then matches its fallacious extension that the Christian has not done his homework in justifying or working out critical reasons for positing varying reliability among many and various texts of antiquity. That fallacious aroma then matches the even more fallacious notion that there cannot be such reasons amid many and various texts of antiquity especially if we are speaking of the Big-Four and hence the Christian’s assigning of credit over here on B while taking away credit over there from A can only be the work of the irrational and cannot be scholastic, cannot be rational there among the “many and varied texts of antiquity”.

    The Critic’s reasonable sounding probes leaking out such faint but pesky subtleties of the fallacious are, on closer inspection, disillusioning and flimsy.

    N.T. Wright has a trilogy dealing with these topics. He and others have other academic work, but, that particular trilogy is “The New Testament and the People of God / Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol.1”, and then “Jesus and the Victory of God / Christian Origins and the Question of God Vol. 2”, and then “The Resurrection of the Son of God / Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3”.

    A “debate” or “dialogue” of sorts in which we find mutual respect, each dealing with what the other is actually claiming, is found in this book: “The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright in Dialogue”. For what it may (or may not be) worth, a review reads as follows: “First a clarification: I am a conservative Christian who chooses to believe that the Gospels are accurate accounts of the life of Jesus – at least of the tiny percentage of his life that the evangelists have chosen to report. That choice puts me firmly on the side of Tom Wright when it comes to the contents of this book. Most who read this book will have a bias one way or the other. If like Crossan readers choose to believe that the Gospels are highly skewed accounts of the life of a Jewish peasant, who happened to win the attention of a lot of disillusioned people at a period of great national pain, and then got himself crucified for his troubles, then they will prefer Crossan to Wright. But if like Wright they believe that there must have been much more to this Jew, and that his death had an intrinsic meaning rather than one imposed by the need to create a myth, and that the resurrection is not just an esoteric concept developed to suit his followers but an event that actually happened, then Wright will be their preference. If you have not made up your mind about Jesus, buy this book. The great thing about it is the clear mutual respect these two highly regarded scholars have for each other. There are no sarcastic put downs, no arguments ad hominem here, just carefully considered presentations of two very different points of view. Frankly I think Wright wins the debate easily, but that probably says more about me than about the quality of Crossan’s arguments. But for serious people who want to gain insights into the current state of discussions about the historical Jesus, this is a good starting point.”

    From an entirely different approach, and, since it is Easter Sunday after all, N.T. Wright on occasion takes the lens of perspective and “zooms out”, rather than “zooming in up close”, as it were. While much of his work zooms in up close on that peculiar first century, the following lens zooms out: The Resurrection and the Postmodern Dilemma.

  440. Melissa #491:

    Well, if you are interested you can look up Wright’s work.

    I’ve looked up a couple of his essays on the subject. From what I’ve seen so far, his arguments seem to have a few holes in them.

    What kind of evidence could be offered that could possibly be compelling to every person. Some of the so-called reasons for rejecting the historical case, are frankly ridiculous. That being said there is always wriggle room, and I think someone can always say I have no good alternative but I’m still not going to accept your conclusion, in this case I think they could do it without being irrational, that does not mean that there isn’t good evidence for the resurrection.

    I think the Christians here would agree that the case for the resurrection is good and forms just one of the reasons why they accept Christianity. You ask why they chose to present the historical evidence? It’s because that’s the subject that was raised by the skeptics.

    From what I’ve seen here and elsewhere, the historical case is extremely poor. Much of the support offered for it here consists of irrelevant circumstantial evidence, exaggeration and pure supposition. Problems get glossed over or simply ignored. Premises are justified by appeals to the authority of idiosyncratic scholarly positions, with little if any further defence of those positions. When a case like this is considered strong, that doesn’t say much for the evidential foundation of Christianity.

  441. BillT #492:

    I certainly have presented the historical case on this thread as much as anyone and believe to to be a strong one but it wasn’t central for me in my conversion. I’m not even sure I was completely aware of it and I go to a Chruch where apologetics are central to its ministry.

    This makes it look like your assessment of the historical case mostly happened when you were already sympathetic to its conclusions. Do you think you’d have viewed this case in the same way if you were looking it as an outsider?

  442. Chris @484, there isn’t always a point where I lower the ban hammer. That’s a serious overstatement, to the point of being false. Ask any number of atheist commenters who are welcome to participate here.

    Ask DJC, who’s been commenting here for over a year

    Ask Shane Fletcher (more than two years).

    Ask John Moore (2 1/2 years)

    Ask Ray Ingles (more than 3 years).

    Ask d (4 1/2 years).

    I blog here for a variety of reasons, one of which is to have a thinking conversation.

    I do it because there are few enough places on the web where religion is discussed and the conversation remains civil.

    I do it for personal enjoyment as well. I don’t get paid for this.

    Andy is certainly capable of conducting a thoughtful dialogue, but he moved into insult-and-profanity mode, toward other guests here and toward me as host. He remained in it even after being given ample opportunity to back out of that mode.

    The reason it always seems to be the non-Christian commenters who get banned is because the Christians rarely fall into that mode. When they do, I find that a simple word is enough for them to stop it. I don’t have to ban them.

    (I had to give that “simple word” to Holopupenko more than once, as he knows and would freely admit. In his case it usually worked for a time. He has voluntarily pulled back from commenting here for the time being.)

    This blog is what it is, and it’s for people who want to be here on the terms I run it on. I’m not trying please everyone with it, I’m just trying to run it the way I’m comfortable with. Those who are like it this way will keep reading it, others will find other places they prefer to go.

  443. 500!

    (Now that, Chris @484, you can call silly if you want!)

    (If my daughter finds out, the explanation is I said he could call it that. Private family joke there.)

  444. Ophis,

    I wasn’t completely unaware either. The historical case stands up to the same scrutiny other ancient historical narratives. I know more details now. I haven’t found anything that falls outside reasonable analysis.

  445. Orphis,

    From what I’ve seen here and elsewhere, the historical case is extremely poor.

    I gather that and I’m not especially surprised by that fact. I consider some of your objections offered here to be mistaken, especially your tendency to equate the Christian claims with other claims on the basis of superficial similarities while ignoring pertinent differences. (The big foot analogy etc). I doubt we are going to agree on these issues.

  446. From what I’ve seen here and elsewhere, the historical case is extremely poor.

    This coming from the guy who says it is because some imaginary historian who most likely didn’t exist (or if he did wasn’t important enough to preserve) didn’t write about Christianity. That compared to the nine or so Christian historians who actually did write about Christianity. Seems it’s Christians 9, Ophis 0 (Does the mercy rule kick in here?) . And arguments from silence are always so compelling anyway.

  447. #497:

    I wouldn’t say it never happens, but my experience of Christianity suggests it’s pretty rare. It seems much more common for people to convert for other reasons, and then look at the historical evidence afterwards, at which point they unsurprisingly find it convincing. If it was different for you then I’d be interested in knowing what overcame the problems that I’ve mentioned in my previous comments.

    #501:

    Unsurprisingly I disagree on whether it stands up to scrutiny, since I’ve scrutinised it here and I think there are problems with your premises that remain unanswered. The fact that you’re looking at arguments for Christianity from the inside, while I’m looking at them from the outside, is something that I doubt is unrelated.

    #502:

    Possibly we disagree on which differences are pertinent. The fact that one belief may have greater effects later on is something that I don’t consider relevant to considering its truth.

    When I make comparisons to other beliefs, I’m not saying the other belief is analogous in every important respect, but that they are analogous in one particular respect that I want to look at closer.

  448. This coming from the guy who says it is because some imaginary historian who most likely didn’t exist (or if he did wasn’t important enough to preserve) didn’t write about Christianity. That compared to the nine or so Christian historians who actually did write about Christianity. Seems it’s Christians 9, Ophis 0 (Does the mercy rule kick in here?) . And arguments from silence are always so compelling anyway.

    The closest thing I’ve said to that is where I’ve pointed out that all our sources for Christian claims near the beginning are pro-Christian. There’s a huge difference between pointing out the existence of a bias in our evidence, and an argument from silence.

    Your comment is also a bit much after you’ve spent considerable time making assertions about the behaviour of early converts based on absolutely nothing.

  449. Your comment is also a bit much after you’ve spent considerable time making assertions about the behaviour of early converts based on absolutely nothing.

    Sure, I based my assertions on nothing. The million people a year traveling within a day of Jerusalem, the open invitation by Paul for those who heard him to come and question the eyewitnesses and just plain common sense. That’s not nothing. If you want to understand what nothing is see your reply to this three part archeological, historical and reasoned argument. Then you’ll see absolutely nothing.

  450. #504:

    E.g. citing Bauckham on the reliability of the gospels, or William Ramsay on archaeology, or anonymous guys who had some unspecified disagreement with Bart Ehrman. There seems to be an approach of “if I can find one expert who holds the position I want, then I can use that position as a premise without further justification”.

    You would presumably be annoyed if I wrote something like “Jesus never existed, go and read Robert M Price” and started making arguments based on Jesus’ non-existence without spending much more time explaining why you should believe his position. The same standard should hold when asserting a position on e.g. authorship of the gospels.

    (N.B. Jesus mythicism is used as an example only. I am not a mythicist.)

  451. Sure, I based my assertions on nothing. The million people a year traveling within a day of Jerusalem, the open invitation by Paul for those who heard him to come and question the eyewitnesses and just plain common sense. That’s not nothing.

    Where does Paul say they’re in Jerusalem? Where does he invite anyone to come and question them? Where does he provide helpful information for finding them if somebody does want to question them? Where is the evidence that anybody at all did this? All you have is a “common sense” (i.e. supposition) premise which fails when applied to any analogous situation.

    It’s pure wishful thinking. You have not a shred of evidence that anybody did this other than “of course the Christians would do something that nobody else in a similar situation ever seems to do”.

  452. Tom –

    You are quite certain of yourself…. and more than a little sarcastic. Was that supposed to help, really?

    I do not recall you ever asking that question of G. Rodrigues or Holopupenko.

  453. “…of course the Christians would do something that nobody else in a similar situation ever seems to do”.

    “Nobody…ever!” Nobody has ever asked for evidence for fact based assertions. Really? Yikes! And BTW, do you have any evidence for this fact based assertion. Well you’re certainly good at knowing what no evidence looks like since you offer “no evidence” quite regularly.

    “The closest thing I’ve said to that is where I’ve pointed out that all our sources for Christian claims near the beginning are pro-Christian.’

    From your #95:

    Why did non-christian contemporary historians to Jesus fail to acknowledge anything concerning Jesus despite the Gospel claims that Jesus was very famous?

    Why do you keep dodging these basic questions?

    And you actually did say exactly what I said you did.

  454. “Nobody…ever!” And you have any evidence for this. Well you’re certainly good at knowing what no evidence looks like since you offer “no evidence” quite regularly.

    I’ve already provided examples of religions completely failing to be hindered in their expansion by the possibility of finding contradictory evidence. You have provided zero counter-examples and no reasons to assume that early Christianity was different.

    From your #95:

    Go back to #95 and read the name on it.

  455. My apologies.

    Your “…examples of religions completely failing to be hindered in their expansion by the possibility of finding contradictory evidence.” were, as was pointed out, about religions that weren’t Christianity and have significant differences to the Christian paradigm.

  456. Your “…examples of religions completely failing to be hindered in their expansion by the possibility of finding contradictory evidence.” were, as was pointed out, about religions that weren’t Christianity and have significant differences to the Christian paradigm.

    Of course no two religions are identical, but in the relevant respects they are similar (being growing religious beliefs dependent on the truth of particular checkable claims). If you want to know how the first Christians would react to the possibility of investigating the truth of their claims, then we can extrapolate from how other people have reacted in situations which are similar in the relevant respects. If you don’t think there are any relevant parallel situations, then we have nothing on which to base any assumption at all about how the early Christians would have acted.

    Sure, it’s possible the early Christians were unique and acted differently to other converts in other new religions. But why should we assume that’s the case?

  457. Ray @510, you haven’t seen all my emails, and if you don’t remember everything, either, even on this thread. Scroll up a bit. See #443. See the second-to-last paragraph of #496.

    As I said, sometimes a word is enough. Sometimes it isn’t.

    On the other hand, this really would be a good time, BillT, to look back and review how you’re coming across in comments like #503. Thanks.

  458. Tom – Well, no, if you’ve sent warnings in private emails, I wouldn’t see that. Your question for Andy was public, of course.

    And even above, I didn’t see that you chided Holopupenko for ‘being certain of [himself]’ or being ‘sarcastic’. You seemed to be specifically discussing “insult-and-profanity mode”. If Andy were to be as certain and as sarcastic as G. Rodrigues, would that be OK?

  459. Orphis,

    Possibly we disagree on which differences are pertinent. The fact that one belief may have greater effects later on is something that I don’t consider relevant to considering its truth

    The comment numbers are mixed up for me but I think this is directed at what I wrote, if so I think you are misremembering what I wrote. Clearly having information on the pre- and post beliefs and behaviours of the claimants is going to be pertinent to assessing the truth of a claim.

    My problem with your approach is that it is correct to zoom in and have a close look but we also can’t forget to zoom out and look at the big picture as well. So we may scrutinise one particular aspect of the case and say it’s possible that there is an alternative interpretation of the data in this respect but then we need to zoom back out and realise that our alternative interpretation doesn’t fit with these other facts or these other facts in crease the possibility of the Christian case being true.

    I would just like to caution you too on your implied assertion that outsiders are more objective. There is nothing very interesting in the fact that Christians in general find the historical case more convincing than non-Christians. It would be strange if they did not! Outsiders have their own biases that are just as likely to colour their judgements as our are. None of us are free of that,

  460. Ray, you ask, “If Andy were to be as certain and as sarcastic as G. Rodrigues, would that be OK?”

    What do you mean by OK? Do you mean, would I ban him for it? Absolutely not! And I didn’t ban him for that.

    Would I call him on it? Sure! And look the reason I don’t call everyone on it is because sometimes I think their certainty is warranted. I think they’re right! This is a debate, remember? He said something with sarcastic certainty, and I pointed it out because I thought he was certainly, sarcastically, wrong!

    Now, if you’re going to mount a case against me as if that were a fault, don’t do it for the wrong reasons, at least. Don’t act as if I were policing him with that response, for heaven’s sake. I was disputing him, not pulling a power play on him.

  461. Tom – It seemed to me that you were objecting to the sarcasm, not just the certitude, with your words, “Was that supposed to help, really?” If certitude plus sarcasm are unhelpful for Andy, I don’t see why they would become helpful for others.

    I didn’t claim you’d “ban” Andy for that. I’m just surprised you call him on it but not other habitual practitioners of that combo.

  462. Horse. Dead. Gaah, why do you continue beating on it!?

    Read my answer, and if you’re still “surprised,” get over it. I didn’t call him on it as a police guy but as someone who thought his position was wrong.

    I already said that, but (Whack! Whack! Grimace from the onlookers!) you have to keep beating on it.

    I don’t often tell the others I think their position is wrong because I don’t often think their position is wrong.

    Care to take another whack, or can you give it up?

  463. The comment numbers are mixed up for me but I think this is directed at what I wrote, if so I think you are misremembering what I wrote. Clearly having information on the pre- and post beliefs and behaviours of the claimants is going to be pertinent to assessing the truth of a claim.

    Sorry, I’m probably conflating your opinion with Jenna Black’s. The beliefs and behaviour of the apostles is relevant in a way that the behaviour of later converts isn’t, but their behaviour only shows the sincerity of their beliefs rather than their factual truth.

    In any case, how much do we really know about how the apostles acted after the crucifixion, and about precisely what they believed?

    My problem with your approach is that it is correct to zoom in and have a close look but we also can’t forget to zoom out and look at the big picture as well. So we may scrutinise one particular aspect of the case and say it’s possible that there is an alternative interpretation of the data in this respect but then we need to zoom back out and realise that our alternative interpretation doesn’t fit with these other facts or these other facts in crease the possibility of the Christian case being true.

    That’s fine, but I haven’t seen a lot of presentation of other facts which refute my comparisons. Instead I’ve seen people say that my comparisons are red herrings, without specifying what makes them red herrings or what relevant facts make them inapplicable. Saying that “Christianity is different” without specifying why is just special pleading, and that is how some of the objections previously raised have appeared to me.

    I would just like to caution you too on your implied assertion that outsiders are more objective. There is nothing very interesting in the fact that Christians in general find the historical case more convincing than non-Christians. It would be strange if they did not!

    It depends on the direction. It’s not surprising that someone who finds the evidence convincing is more likely to become a Christian. It’s pretty interesting that people who are already Christian for other reasons are more likely to find the historical evidence convincing.

    Outsiders have their own biases that are just as likely to colour their judgements as our are. None of us are free of that

    True, but I think we need to be especially careful when we’re assessing evidence that supports a belief that we like or that we hold for other reasons. At those times, there’s a risk of being less motivated to look for holes in the arguments.

  464. Saying that “Christianity is different” without specifying why is just special pleading,

    I think Ophis that was raised in the context of Biblical claims compared to the claims of other faiths. And why was explained in that Christianity rests on the facts of Christianity being true (Christ’s life, miracles, resurrection) not just the theology or prescriptions of the faith being true. If that wasn’t it then sorry to butt in.

  465. BillT #523:

    I don’t see how that is different from Mormonism or Islam, which I’ve used for comparisons earlier. If the historical claims about and by Joseph Smith are false, then Mormonism is untenable. If the claims about Mohammed are false, then Islam is untenable. In both cases, belief in certain historical facts is an essential part of belief in the religion.

  466. Ophis, RE: #524

    Haven’t you answered your own question and refuted your own claim here in #524. Yes, Christianity relies on the true of its historical claims. Mormonism is Christianity. If the claims about Joseph Smith fail or Joseph Smith’s claims fail, Christianity has not failed because whether or not Joseph Smith said or did anything in no way effects the historical authenticity and truth of Christianity. The same is true for Mohammed. You simply cannot attempt to discredit Christianity by making claims about whether or not an entirely different and unrelated set of historical facts that are at the foundation of a different religion are true or not. This is not a “special pleading.” It is simply how historical facts and religious traditions and beliefs based on those facts work. It is inconceivable that anyone would call him or herself a Christian for reasons other than the theology of Christianity, which does not exist separate and apart from Jesus Christ’s life, teachings, miracles, death by execution on the cross and resurrection.

  467. If the (historical) claims about Mohammed are false, then Islam is untenable.

    No Ophis. I don’t believe this is true. Whether Mohammed even existed isn’t even important. In Islam, only whether the words from God are accurately recorded is important. Anyone could have done this. Mohammed denied being God and claimed only to be his messenger. There aren’t historical facts in the Koran that need to be verified. There are only the edicts of God that need to be obeyed.

    Christianity couldn’t be more different. It depends wholly on the existence of Christ. Without him, his life, miracles and resurrection there is no faith. And this isn’t my opinion, it’s what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14-16.

  468. In Islam, only whether the words from God are accurately recorded is important. Anyone could have done this. Mohammed denied being God and claimed only to be his messenger. There aren’t historical facts in the Koran that need to be verified. There are only the edicts of God that need to be obeyed.

    And the Koran is interpreted by the actions and teachings of Mohammed as recorded in the Sunnah and Hadith. These are judged as authoritative by whether they go back to the historical figure of Mohammed. Without them, the Islamic legal tradition and basis for interpretation of the Koran falls apart.

    Belief in the authority of the Koran is based on it being a genuine revelation of God to his chosen messenger; if Mohammed did not really receive such revelations, then the Muslim basis for considering the Koran authoritative falls apart.

    The person in the article you linked to is incredibly unorthodox and obviously unrepresentative of Islam in general. Using him as an example of what Muslims believe is like using John Shelby Spong as an example of what Christians believe.

  469. These are judged as authoritative by whether they go back to the historical figure of Mohammed.

    Seems you agree with me. The historical figure of Mohamed isn’t essential to Islam’s claims. Christ is absolutely essential to Chistianity’s.

  470. Seems you agree with me. The historical figure of Mohamed isn’t essential to Islam’s claims. Christ is absolutely essential to Chistianity’s.

    I’m not sure how you get that from what you quoted. The historical figure of Mohammed is essential to the validity of the Sunnah and Hadith. The validity of the Sunnah and Hadith are among Islam’s claims, and they form an essential part of Muslim teachings.

  471. Ophis,

    The difference between Islam and Christianity is that the revelation in Islam was private, to a single person. Mormonism is similar. In Christianity the revelation comes in the form of a person and his deeds and resurrection. The difference is significant.

  472. If the claims about Joseph Smith fail or Joseph Smith’s claims fail, Christianity has not failed because whether or not Joseph Smith said or did anything in no way effects the historical authenticity and truth of Christianity. The same is true for Mohammed. You simply cannot attempt to discredit Christianity by making claims about whether or not an entirely different and unrelated set of historical facts that are at the foundation of a different religion are true or not.

    I can point out when one of your reasons for believing in Christianity applies equally well to other beliefs that you reject. Stating that I can’t is exactly what special pleading is.

  473. Ophis,

    The importance of the historical reality of Christ and Mohammed to their respective faiths isn’t really debatable. It’s virtually a night and day distinction.

    In Christianity the revelation comes in the form of a person and his deeds and resurrection.

    And this in public. In front of all Jerusalem and the surrounding area. When Paul stoo