Wednesday, May 14, 2014

“Dear Gary”…a continuing conversation

Gary asks:

Dagood: Is it possible that the correct answer to your question, "Would a modern jury be convinced of the evidence for the Resurrection" be... not "yes" or "no", but "depends"?

If the jury is composed of twelve "Dagood's" then the jury will definitely not find in favor of the Resurrection. However, if the jury is composed of twelve members who reflect the population at large of the United States, I think there would be a very good possibility that they would.

Why?

Studies show that 80% of Americans believe that miracles are possible.

Only if the jury is composed of persons like yourself who believe that miracles are impossible, would they definitely vote "no".

When I question, “What would a neutral jury determine?” I mean a neutral jury. A jury who has no stake in the claim; a jury who will not benefit if one side wins, nor be harmed if another side loses. We deal with neutral juries every day.

The jury doesn’t care whether the crime occurred on Monday or Tuesday or three years ago—they are neutral. They don’t care whether the defendant is alleged to use a knife, a gun or a pointing finger in a coat. If they decide the person is guilty, no juror will spend a single minute behind bars.

The neutral jury doesn’t care whether plaintiff breached the contract, or defendant did, or both or neither. The jury will not have to pay a single nickel if they award the Plaintiff a million dollars—nor will they receive a single nickel. The very reason they are neutral is their lack of benefit or harm regardless of outcome. Now if a juror is the wife of the Plaintiff, we immediately understand why such a person cannot be neutral.

Our neutral jury for theological claims doesn’t care whether there is a God or not. Doesn’t care whether it is Allah, G-d, Jesus, or Shiva. Doesn’t care whether there are inspired writings, let alone which writings qualify. They hear the arguments from all sides, with neutrality firmly in place, and make a determination what is more likely, based upon ALL the evidence. Let me reiterate this, as it will become important later—ALL the evidence.

I understand this is an ideal jury. I have heard the complaints such a jury doesn’t actually exist. So what? We deal with other such ideals without problem. For example, we hold people to a “reasonable person” standard—what a reasonable person would do in a situation. There is no actual reasonable person—we are not reviewing what some guy named “Bob Hendrickson” in Wichita does—this is an ideal. It is the jury thinking through common sense what is considered reasonable, given the various parameters of the situation.

Given all the information—what we know about Roman culture, and Hebrew Culture, and the First Century Mediterranean honor/shame society, and altered states of conscious, mixed with the language and writings of the time, combined with Christian documentation, archeology, geology, etc.—a jury neutral to the prospect of Jesus’ resurrection would determine it is more likely no resurrection occurred. This was a developed legend arising from disappointed followers of a perceived Messianic figure.

Your question about 80% of people believing in miracles only highlights how we can obtain neutrality. Why limit it to America? What makes America so special? How about we include the world?

23% of the world is Muslim. They believe in Miracles. They are not persuaded Jesus rose from the dead. 15% of the World is Hindu. Miracles = yes; Resurrection = no. 7% is Buddhist, 7% “other religions” and 16% non-religious. No miracles, no resurrection. Less than 1% is Jewish. Again yes to Miracles but no to Resurrection.

32% are Christians, the only possible hope for yes to both miracles and resurrection. From here.
On that number alone, the resurrection fails to preponderate, as 68% do not find it more likely. But even within Christianity, there is debate as to what constitutes a miracle. Pit a Pentecostal Catholic against a Cessationist; you will come up with a very different miracle list.

Gary, do you believe a miracle occurred when Grilled Cheese Jesus appeared? See, you may believe in miracles…but believing in miracles doesn’t mean you believe every miracle. The same way our jury may all believe in miracles, yet still be neutral as to the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection and determine it did not occur.

Look at it another way. (And I must credit Matthew Ferguson for this hypothetical.) Does your God have the ability to turn me into a giant pickle? I think we both agree if such a God exists, it could. And no matter how we define a miracle, this would qualify. Now, because (as you believe) your God raised Lazarus from the dead, does this make it more likely or less likely that God will turn me into a pickle? It doesn’t! Right? Even believing in God, even believing in a God who performs miracles, does not make a particular miracle more or less likely. Perhaps…just perhaps…one could argue if a God had performed a miracle before it makes it more likely He would do it again, but Jesus’ resurrection and my being turned into a pickle are unique events.

There are no previous claimed miracles making the Resurrection or my eventual pickledom more or less likely. So our neutral jury, even believing miracles occur may still be neutral toward whether a particular miracle happened.

I reviewed your current set of blog entries reiterating apologists’ attempts to provide evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. Alas, they present a much skewed, (sometime downright incorrect) recitation to a favorable audience in assurance the vast, vast majority of Christians will swallow whatever they feed to gratify their own desire to justify rationality within the Christian belief.

I strongly encourage anyone (and everyone) to go to a motion hearing day in a local court. A day set aside for the Judge to hear numerous Motions on various cases where the litigants hope to compel a decision on a parcel of the case. When the first lawyer talks, they recite the facts, and the law, and one cannot help think, “Wow!—what a great case. That other side is a complete idiot to think they could possibly win.” But then the other side stands up, and informs how the facts were not exactly as portrayed by the first attorney. And the law is not so crystal clear. And then you think, “Hmmm…not so cut-and-dried after all.”

You begin to realize how we humans (and those arguing vociferously for a position) shade the facts, and put our best position forward, and downplay or outright ignore any opposing situation. This is what your apologists are doing.

Let’s look at one example—I’ve used this previously.

”But three days later the tomb was empty.”
”Number one is the empty tomb of Jesus--everybody agreed in the ancient world that the tomb of Jesus was empty. The question is, how did it get empty?”
”A hallucination would explain only the post-resurrection appearances; it would not explain the empty tomb,…”
”The tomb was empty on Easter”
”The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered empty by a group of women on the Sunday following the crucifixion.”

Okay, okay, okay…I get it! Pretty solid fact the tomb was empty on Sunday, right? Almost every apologist you listed mentioned it, it is highlighted as a fact, how do those skeptics explain THAT!?

But what…..is that the actual fact?

Actually, the first written indication we have regarding the tomb being empty is the Gospel according to Mark. Written (by consistent methodology) after 70 CE, at least 40 years after the event. We do not know who wrote Mark, let alone where the person obtained their information. So instead of “The tomb was empty on Sunday” the actual evidence is “At least 40 years after the claimed event, an unknown person repeated what they heard from an unknown person who claimed the tomb was empty on Sunday.”

So skeptics do not have to answer the question, “How was the tomb empty on Sunday?” but rather, “How did the story of the empty tomb develop 40 years after the event?” As one can see, the actual evidence provides for an easy naturalistic explanation.

Reading through those blog entries I see error after unfounded claim after lack of evidence after unsubstantiated assertions. Sure it initially looks like strong arguments to those who want to believe it. Alas, once it is questioned, probed or researched, it is discovered to be a cardboard fa├žade held up with tape and string.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Review Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What happened in the Black Box?

Author Kris D. Komarnitsky kindly provided a review copy of Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What happened in the Black Box? for my opinion.

The tl;dr review: A good work, more studied than Strobel’s Case for Christ but not as scholarly-driven as Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Komarnitsky relies upon cognitive dissonance—resolving the conflict of Jesus’ follower’s belief Jesus was the Messiah and the reality of his death—to present the plausible natural resolution for the physical resurrection story’s origin. A good resource responding to many apologists who demand we read this book or that author. If one is looking for a book to utilize in replying, “O.K., I will read and review a book you offer, if you will read and review one I offer,” I would highly recommend this one when discussing the resurrection.

My fellow bloggers, VinnyJH57 and Matthew Ferguson have also reviewed the book, and I invite you to read their thoughts; I will limit repeating their statements.

Now a bit more in-depth. The subtitle highlights the focus here—what happened between Jesus’ death and the gospel stories to bring people to believe Jesus physically rose from the dead? Jesus died in 30-33 CE. The Gospels were written, starting in 70 CE or so. Within those 40 years—the proverbial “black box”—the only glimpses we have regarding Christian beliefs are a few words quoted by Paul, giving the barest highlights on Jesus’ resurrection appearances--the tradition cited in 1 Cor. 15. Understandably Komarnitsky focuses on this tradition.

For me, the greatest value is Komarnitsky’s study regarding 1 Cor. 15:4, “…and he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures…” But what Scripture? And why three days? (Komarnitsky points out other Jewish writings around the 1st Century generally utilized seven as a prophetic figure—not three.) I struggled with this “three days according to the scripture” concept before. The book makes a strong argument this “three-day” concept was NOT based upon an explicit three day reference to Tanakh scripture, but rather was interwoven with the Jewish concept the body starts to decay after three days, and since Jesus’ body could not reach the point of decay, he must have been raised on or before the third day. Komarnitsky points out Jewish passages in the 2nd and 5th Century confirming the Jewish belief regarding this three-day period.

Therefore…the argument is made…the tradition is relying upon Psalm 16:10, “For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the pit.” As the early Christians believed God saved Jesus from the dead, did not let Jesus’ body decay, and the common belief this must be done before the third day, the tradition relies upon Psalm 16:10 to say, “…and he was raised on the third day [before his body could decay, of course] according to Psalmist scripture…”

Now, one may raise an eyebrow at this argument. How do we necessarily know this was tradition based upon later documents? Doesn’t this seem a bit of stretch? To which I would reply—how long must you keep your tax records?

I would bet most of you would immediately respond, “7 years,” right? If I recall my tax law class correctly, there are actually two (2) statute of limitations regarding tax law. For innocuous, unintentional mistakes, the IRS can back three (3) years. For fraud, they can go back six years. There is no “seven year statute of limitations” on taxes! (They can only collect for 10 years.) Yet we think—many “know!”—there must be a seven year reason somewhere. Probably came from accountants adding a one-year buffer for safety.

If anyone 2000 years from now read our actual records, they may never know the commonly held “seven year” tradition. (I have heard it applied to civil cases and criminal cases as well, which also do not necessarily have a seven-year limitation. They vary by action and state.) Yet we hear it over and over. Equally and understandably, there are many traditions we simply do not know about in the First Century, yet may catch glimpses through literature of later periods.

But the nail in the coffin (in my opinion) is how Peter’s initial sermon in Acts 2:24-31 makes direct reference to this belief and explicit reference to Psalm 16:10:

”But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.

Within Peter’s speech, we can see incorporation of Psalm 16:10, and if common belief was decay started after the third day, how Jesus must have been raised by the third day to be effective. Komarnitsky addresses competing claims “according the scripture” would refer to Jonah or Hosea 6:2.

One critique I would have is how Komarnitsky places a Summary of the Hypothesis at Chapter 6…139 pages into the book. I would have placed it first—let the reader know immediately what the theory provides. Indeed, when recommending this book, I will always suggest the reader start with Chapter 6 (it is exactly 2 pages) to understand what is being proposed, and then go back to page one.

As an example, when writing briefs I often place a box, with a few lines telling the Judge(s) exactly what is in dispute and what I am arguing. It informs the Judge what she is looking for or what is important. I once had a judge tell me, “While I read your extensive brief, it turns out everything you argued was already in the boxed section.” In the same way—give us the hypothesis first, then flesh out the details!

Komarnitsky argues Jesus’ followers, firmly convinced he was the Messiah, found it impossible to believe their hopes were dashed by his death. They began to rationalize Jesus was raised to heaven and would shortly return to complete the Messianic mission. They utilized cognitive dissonance to explain away the apparent inconsistency. Peter then had a vision he interpreted as a visitation of Jesus, and others did as well. (Komarnitsky accurately points out the “group-think” of heightened spiritual cohesiveness we see today in Pentecostal gatherings.) Komarnitsky concludes, “As the years and decades passed, the above experiences, beliefs and traditions gave birth to legends like Jesus’ burial in a rock-hewn tomb, that tomb being discovered empty three days later, his corporeal post-mortem appearances to individuals and groups described in the Gospels, and his appearance to over five hundred people mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.” Pg. 140.

To demonstrate cognitive dissonance in action, Komarnitsky goes through numerous examples whereby groups believed the end of the world would occur on a specific date, and when the end failed to materialize, would rationalize away the reason, often finding a new date. We are all familiar with the recent Harold Camping claim the world would end May 21, 2011. When it failed to do so, Camping rationalized it away, obtaining a new date of October, 2011.

Directly on-point Komarnitsky details the Lubavitch Hassidic Jews who maintained the belief Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson was the long-awaited Messiah, even after Rebbe Schneerson suffered two strokes, was rendered comatose and then died. Many Lubatvichers believe he will be resurrected and return as the Messiah.

Komarnitsky updated this Second Edition to include a chapter responding to Dr. William Craig and Dr. Licona. In Dr. Licona’s work, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach,” he provides historical analysis both in approach to historical method and historical claims surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. Dr. Licona’s final chapter compares varying natural explanations for the Resurrection to his supernatural explanation.

Likewise, Komarnitsky follows Dr. Licona’s format, comparing his own hypothesis of cognitive dissonance to Dr. Licona’s hypothesis of supernatural intervention, comparing each element: Explanatory Power, Explanatory Scope, Disconfirmation, Ad hocness and Plausibility. Komarnitsky concludes his hypothesis is at least equal (if not better) than Licona’s on the first four factors, leaving the sole factor—plausibility—the determinate. He expresses experience-based doubt God intervenes in a physical way in the world, stating, “Based on this specific background, knowledge, bias and personal experience, Jesus’ resurrection seems far less plausible to me than fallible human beings in a highly charged religious environment falling into a swirl of rare rationalizations, individual hallucinations, scriptural interpretation, designations of authority, religious conversions and legendary growth.” (emphasis in original) Pg. 174

Unfortunately, I fear he has done a disservice to his hypothesis here, by including the words “to me.” Under this approach, I anticipate a Christian barking up the tree it is dependent on Kris Komarnitsky’s view of God, or his predispositions against miracles, or his own personal experience which is countered by the Christian’s experience of miracles. (Komarnitsky even anticipates such a claim by referencing Licona’s position miracles occur.)

Rather than let the debate boil down to “what is true for me, based upon my biases is not true for you, based on your biases” I would have appreciated a more extensive attempt to neutralize and remove the bias as much as possible. What would a neutral third party think is more plausible? Not Licona, or Komarnitsky, or me or the local apologist.
For example, as recent as the May/June 2014 Touchstone Magazine, Tom Gilson touches upon Komarnitsky’s theory, but responds with a cursory, “It lacks, if I may say so, the ring of plausibility.” Great. A Christian apologist says it isn’t plausible; an agnostic scholar says it is. How do we weigh the actual claim?

That complaint aside (albeit a fairly large one), I found the material helpful. I learned something (the use of Psalm 16:10), it parallels my own opinion as to what happened—cognitive dissonance—and it offers a reasonable natural explanation for the origin of Christian belief in the Resurrection hypothesis. Rather than spin their wheels addressing whether Jesus actually died (by using the Bible), or claims the Disciples stole the body (by using the Bible), I would hope Christian apologists

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

“Dear Gary”

I have been involved in a conversation with Gary both here (sporadically) and on Gary’s Blog He recently made reference to a few items to flesh out.

Unfortunately, to fully understand my response, I need to back up a few paces, and respond to a specific quote:

Gary, “To be honest, I may read the first book but I doubt I'm going to read all the others, but I appreciate you giving them to me. Why won't I read them? I'm afraid.

The issue is this: I WANT to believe. So the more I read authors who tell me why I shouldn't, the more of that innocent (foolish?) childish faith I grew up with will fade away. I'm afraid of becoming you, Dagood. I don't want to wake up one morning and look in the bathroom mirror, as you did, and realize that I no longer believe; not because I want to stop believing, as you did not want to stop believing, but because the ‘evidence’ has convinced me otherwise.” (emphasis in original)

Boy…been there; done that. Numerous times throughout my entire deconversion process I longed to just set down the books…and walk away. It was hard from a time standpoint (hours spent reading, thinking, listening, watching.) It was difficult from an effort standpoint (the mental drain of locating sources, determining arguments, reviewing evidence.) It was attacking my faith, my family, my relationships and everything I understood about the world. Who would bother to engage in such masochism?

But I couldn’t walk away. Because walking away would give in to the very fear you describe, Gary. If I wanted to know truth—be persuaded by what actually is—I should NEVER be afraid of reading. Of scrutiny. Of testing, probing, prying, pinching, prancing, pushing and punching. While truth may not always be able to prove itself, it certainly cannot shy away or avoid inspection. It should welcome it.

As Paul, said “Test everything; hold on to what is good.” 1 Thess. 5:21

If I walked away, vowing to never read another word on the subject again, I was acknowledging I no longer wanted to know what was true—I only wanted to believe what I wanted to believe. I would let desire dictate my course; not what actually is.

And this is contrary to every fiber in my being. I live my life in realism—dealing with what actually is. Almost every single case involves someone wishing they had done something differently. Not driven that night. Not taken that road. Read the contract. Inspected the property. Paid the penalty provision immediately. But they didn’t. And now they come to me, forcing us together to determine what the best course of action is, based upon the situation we are in. We can’t “create” evidence we don’t have. We can’t go back in time and change a course. We must determine a solution with what we have.

In the same way, as I studied, I recognized I must deal with reality. If God is the Christian God—so be it. If God was a malevolent bastard—equally so be it. Whether God was completely unknowable, partially unknowable, or some theist was spot-on with everything they said about God—so be it. If God was the God of the Protestant Bible, the Catholic Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Koran, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pantheistic, polytheistic, monotheistic, Republican, Libertarian, Communist, etc.—so be it.

And if God does not exist—while a reality I was not particularly fond of—then so be it. Whatever Christians say, if it is true, it shouldn’t be afraid of scrutiny. Likewise any other theistic or non-theistic belief.

Otherwise, how would we ever know we are wrong about something? Of the three (3) books I recommended, two are written by Christians. The other (Shermer is not a Christian), dealt with topics outside Christianity like Holocaust denial and UFO’s. Why should you be afraid to read books written by Christians?

See, once we eliminate reading non-Christian books out of fear of changing our beliefs--the next, very short step is to stop reading Christian books differing with our position out of fear of changing our beliefs. Then we begin to read only those books completely agreeing with us.

If we don’t learn differing positions, how will we know whether we are wrong? If all you ever do is read what you agree with, you will never change your mind.

So now I am asked:

Gary: “Where do you think you would be today in regards to Christianity if on that day that you came across the atheist blog on the internet, and saw the disturbing discrepancies regarding the death of Judas Iscariot, you had simply told yourself, ‘I don't want to know’, and chose to never again look at an atheist or other blog that questioned the validity of the Bible and the Resurrection?”

My response is the same as above. I am a realist. I DID stumble across Internet Infidels. I cannot erase the chance happening from my mind. As common vernacular would say, “What has been seen, cannot be unseen.” Or if you prefer old school, “You cannot unring a bell.”

I cannot even perform a mental exercise of supposing I happened upon IIDB, read a few posts and told myself, “I don’t want to know,” choosing to never look again. It is completely against everything in my personality. It is against my personal philosophy. It is against my nature of being me. Like asking, “What if someone tickled you and you decided to not do anything about it?” I just….couldn’t. I would react.

I believed in Christianity. This was about Christianity. I love discovery. I love learning. I had no fear of a problem; truth can withstand the scrutiny.

Finally, I must clarify for any possible lurkers... the “disturbing discrepancies” within the Judas Iscariot contradiction were NOT the contradictions themselves. It was the extremely poor methodology being employed in reviewing the various accounts. The Judas story was merely the symptom—the disease was the method of “any possible resolution resolves a contradiction.” Which, in itself, even this method turned out to be a symptom of the invasive underlying disease of poor and inconsistent methodology throughout various tenets of Christianity, including inerreancy, canonicity, inspiration, and historical methodology.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Are you glad atheism is true?

In my wanderings, I happened across this question:

Are you glad that atheism is the truth?

I am ambivalent. Truth just….is. Am I glad for the amount of gravity earth has? Well, it would be neat if it was less, because we could jump farther. (Basketball would be different.) But I am not particularly glad or sad or feel any real emotion toward gravity. We work with what is there.

Are there things about a god existing that would make me glad? I have no idea—it would certainly depend on the god, wouldn’t it? What if it was Calvin? “From utter nothingness comes swirling form! Life begins where once was void. But Calvin is no kind and loving god! He’s one of the old gods! He demands sacrifice!”

What if it was a benevolent god who gave us whatever we wanted? Or a god who demanded we perform or believe a certain way to please him enough to grant reward? What exactly is this “god” wherein I am to be glad, sad, or mad regarding its existence?

Of course this question can be easily turned around. Are you glad your particular form of theism is true? (And it is always their particular form—they certainly don’t want another form wherein their god doesn’t exist, right?) And if so, how is it you develop a methodology to determine truth to avoid the inherent bias of your desire? How do you know your theistic view of heaven isn’t something you desire and therefore believe, rather than actual truth?

But whenever I get on the topic of methodology, the conversation takes a sharp right turn.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Debate Thoughts

On September 9th, I listened to this debate [mp3 file download] between Matthew Ferguson and Nick Peters. The topic: “Based on the historical evidence, is it more reasonable to believe or doubt Jesus’ resurrection?”

First some general notes. These two gentlemen are not professional debaters. What a relief! Personally, I am tired of listening to the same Craig or Ehrman repetitions. I have heard Habermas and Carrier and Licona and Hitchens and Turek…enough. I enjoyed the slightly rougher presentations--the not-quite-perfectly-memorized speeches. They were still well-prepared and eloquent…just more man-on-the-street, if you get my meaning.

Also, it is too easy to “Monday morning quarterback” these types of debates. To critically analyze every nuance and statement after-the-fact, with “You should have said…” or “The correct response was…” After all, the participants are now doing it themselves! [After every significant trial, we look back wishing we said something different, or asked a different question. It still haunts Christopher Darden regarding asking O.J. to try on that glove!] Of course that won’t stop me from Monday morning quarterbacking. *grin*

I am writing this from my memory and notes taken during the debate. I have not re-listened to it on the mp3 yet. All quotes are therefore paraphrased, and if I incorrectly state something, please attribute my faulty memory.

The Mechanics.

This debate was established as a conference call, with a limited number of participants. I had a slightly harder time understanding Mr. Peters. Mr. Ferguson sounded as if he was in-studio, whereas Mr. Peters sounded like a person calling into a radio station. Additionally, Mr. Peters has a slight (southern?) accent—there were times I struggled a bit to recognize the word he was saying, and if I didn’t know the topic as well, or the persons he was referring to, I wouldn’t have known what he was saying.

The Format.

There were things I really, really liked about this format, and a few modifications I would make. (Again, this is just personal preference.) The format was as follows:

1) Ferguson Introduction (2 min.)
2) Peters Introduction (2 min)

3) Ferguson Opening Statement (15 min.)
4) Peters Opening Statement (15 min.)

5) Ferguson First Rebuttal (10 min.)
6) Peters First Rebuttal (10 min.)
7) Ferguson Second Rebuttal (10 min.)
8) Peters Second Rebuttal (10 min.)

9) Ferguson questions Peters (10 min)
10) Peters questions Ferguson (10 min.)

11) Ferguson Closing Statement (10 min.)
12) Peters Closing Statement (10 min.)

I liked the initial introduction and think it should be incorporated in more debates. The second rebuttal was unnecessary. They more than adequately covered the necessary material in the first rebuttal. I also felt a bit…rushed…in the opening statement (especially by Mr. Ferguson.) But I greatly enjoyed the questioning back and forth. I think they could have done an opening statement and filled the remainder with questioning and I would have been perfectly pleased in every way.

So the modifications for next time: 1) Extend the opening statement to 20 minutes. 2) Eliminate the second rebuttal. 3) Reduce the closing statement to 5 – 7 minutes. 4) Extend the questioning period.

The Debate.

Introductions.

Mr. Ferguson emphasized he would be approaching this historically—a critical method limited in its ability to make determinations. The best historical method can do is determine what is more probable. Mr. Peters indicated the resurrection can be established “beyond a reasonable doubt,” that the evidence should be approached with an open mind and the resurrection hypothesis was the “most plausible.”

Opening Statements.

Mr. Ferguson indicated the historical method consisted of three items:

1) Theoretical—history can never be 100% re-duplicated.
2) Limited evidence .
3) Probabilistic. We must weigh the theories as to which is more probable (not merely plausible) with the expected evidence.

He used the example of whether Julius Caesar shaved the day he was assassinated. As Roman officials shaved regularly, and this was not something generally recorded, it was more probable he did shave than he did not. With no evidence to the contrary, in using the historical method, we would conclude it more reasonable to believe he did.

Resurrections are extremely improbable, and our initial prior-probability should be they do not occur. The only evidence we have to modify our prior-probability is anonymous records written decades after the event by biased individuals. Mr. Ferguson extrapolated the ever-increasing physical nature of Jesus’ post-mortem body from 1 Cor. 15 to Mark to Matthew to Luke to John.

Mr. Ferguson provided four (4) alternative hypotheses to explain the Resurrection:

1) The doctrine was initially a spiritual resurrection.
2) Jesus was buried in either an unknown tomb or a mass grave.
3) The Body was stolen
4) Re-burial by Joseph to another tomb.

[DagoodS Note: Not sure I would go with Body stolen as much as moved. Notice in Johannine community, it was unremarkable that Jesus’ body was not there. Mary Magdalene asked the gardener where “they” have taken the body. She didn’t start screaming for the guards, or thinking Jesus was resurrected—she took it as matter-of-course the body was moved. Additionally Jesus’ family was likely to bury Jesus in a family tomb in Galilee either by transporting the body itself or after one year and using an ossuary.]

Mr. Peters follows in Mike Licona’s footsteps, so I anticipated he would approach the topic the same way. He did. There are certain facts conceded by a consensus of scholars—credentialed scholars with Ph.D’s who “don’t have an axe to grind”—regarding Jesus. [DagoodS note: This is the first time I have seen any qualification of Dr. Habermas’ list. I am genuinely curious whether they all have Ph.D’s.]

Mr. Peters proceeded through the regular minimal facts approach. Jesus was crucified, 1 Cor. 15 was a creed generated within 5 years of the event, James was not a believer, Paul was a skeptic, and the disciples had appearances of a physical Jesus. Mr. Peters cites Ludemann, Ehrman, Licona and Keener. Cites Craig Keener as saying it is miracles preventing people from believing resurrection. States mass hallucinations are not recorded in studies. Jews did not believe in a physical resurrection

The strongest argument (in my opinion) was the question “Why did Paul do a 180?”

First Rebuttal.

Mr. Ferguson questioned why a physiological impossible event (Resurrection of body to immortal body) would be considered “more probable” than what the apologist considered a psychologically impossible event (mass hallucination.) In other words, how can we pick one impossible event as “more probable” than another impossible event?

Additionally Mr. Ferguson stated Paul’s conversion requires more facts than just resurrection, then opining Paul was unsatisfied with his current belief, had a hallucination, and converted to the belief he was persecuting. He used an example of finding a room devoid of a person and then seeing the person skydiving three years later. I kinda think I understand the analogy, but it was not very clear.

As for Keener, Mr. Ferguson points out Dr. Keener may record a number of miracles, but never records an instance of a person coming back from the dead, and obtaining an immortal body. Anyone coming back from the dead is only postponing death—not eliminating it.

Mr. Ferguson noted Josephus indicated Essenes did believe in a spiritual resurrection, leaving behind their current physical bodies. That Jews were not limited to just “physical resurrection” belief. Mr. Ferguson cautioned (more than once) to not treat the First century communities as homogenous. There were multiple beliefs and doctrines. I found this response very damning and wished Mr. Peters would reply and explain how no Jews believed in the physical resurrection in light of this evidence. Alas, Mr. Peters did not.

Mr. Peters rebutted that resurrection was not resuscitation. (I was not clear why this was important—I thought both participants agreed on this point.) Mr. Peters states the attempts to explain Paul’s conversion as “psycho-history” or performing psychology on historical persons without adequate evidence.

Further, while Mr. Peters has cited numerous credentialed scholars, Mr. Ferguson hasn’t cited anyone. Mr. Peters contacted Tim McGrew who reviewed Mr. Ferguson’s approach on Bayes’ Theorem and called it “thoroughly confused.”

Second Rebuttal

Mr. Ferguson provides a list of scholars he utilized regarding Bayes’ Theorem, as well as other items.

[DagoodS Note: Initially I found this to be a losing approach. Why play your opponent’s game? However, Mr. Ferguson listed enough scholars; I guess it ended up a dead-lock.

[Look, I’ve been in a number of trials with experts on both sides. You know we can hire any body with: a) plenty of credentials and b) who will render an opinion in favor of our client. Amazingly the other side can find someone of equal caliber, who astoundingly will opine in favor of their client! We even have a term for it—“Battle of the Experts.” So I have my expert with their charts, graphs, CV, pictures and opinion; the other side has theirs. Unless one side has an outstandingly eloquent expert, jurors ignore both of them. And then do what their common sense and reasonableness wants to do anyway.

[There is a tendency in Christian apologetics to be enamored with “experts.” “Dr. So-And-So—a non-Christian—concludes this.” “Dr. This-And-That disagrees with you and she has been published in more journals.” “We have this list of names.” There is a tendency in the skeptical community to be more self-reliant (are we more egotistical?). We don’t care if Dr. BigName has 52 letters behind his name—we want to see the underlying data, evidence and arguments.

[This was a debate on evidence. I (being skeptical) want evidence. Not names…heck, I already know the names. You mention Bayes’ Theorem, a Christian apologist is sure to mention McGrew. Minimal facts—Habermas & Licona. Textual Critcism—Wallace. Guess what? The skeptical community has their Bayes’ Theorem expert—Carrier; their textual critic—Ehrman; their minimal fact expert—pick one. Names do not impress people going through deconversion. We have read them. We want to see how ordinary people—jurors—grapple with the facts themselves. This is where this debate had possibility of strength.

[I don’t want to compare names—I want to hear the evidences explored! To quote a crude but apt phrase from the movie Taken: “Now is not the time for dick measuring, Stuart!”]

Mr. Peters second rebuttal was his strongest statement in the debate. He stated Mr. Ferguson’s translation of Greek in 1 Cor. 15 would be flunked by Dr. Licona. (I found this statement petty. Unfortunately such statements have traction in many Christian circles, for the reasons stated above.) He mentioned Craig Keener demonstrating miracles in his book and recommended listeners get the book and do the study themselves.

He then hit upon the social-sciences commentary [DagoodS Note: see Dr. Bruce Malina*] stating crucifixion was shameful, being a Christian was shameful and there would be no reason, in this society, to become a Christian unless it was true. That the Jews would be cut off from Yahweh.

*Sigh. After that long diatribe, I’m now citing names. Just call me “Hypocrite.”

Questioning.

I have fewer notes here; I sat back and enjoyed the conversation. The key points (remember, I have already heard much of this stuff before, so I was looking for something new and interesting) were in this questioning time.

Mr. Ferguson: If God turned me into a cucumber, would it be a miracle?
Mr. Peters: Yes.
Mr. Ferguson: Did Dr. Keener record a resurrection in his book on miracles?
Mr. Peters: Not to an immortal body, but there was an instance where rigor mortis set in, the person’s fingers were black, and they tried zapping him one more time, and the person came back.

Mr. Ferguson: So does the miracle of bringing back a person after rigor mortis make it more probable that God will perform the miracle of turning me into a cucumber?
Mr. Peters: No.

Mr. Peters questioned what would cause Paul to convert to Christianity unless the resurrection was true. Mr. Ferguson replied Paul was one person, and perhaps Paul was crazy.

[DagoodS Note: Christian apologists…stay away from Paul’s conversion. It does not help you.

[People convert for a variety of reasons to a variety of bizarre beliefs. People go from Protestant to Catholic. Christian to Jew. Atheist to Buddhist. And in looking at the beliefs throughout history, there are some very off-beat beliefs that somehow manage to obtain followers. Heaven’s gate, anyone? If 50 years ago someone explained Scientology would be taken seriously, we would have laughed. Yet here we are. The “why” Paul converted is unknown. The “how” is problematic.

[First, Paul had the minimal facts. And they did not convince him. He knew Jesus was crucified and buried. Heck, he is closer to the evidence than we are—he could see the empty tomb! He could talk to the soldiers who were guarding it, who felt the earthquake, who were bribed to say they fell asleep. He could talk to people who saw the resurrected saints. He could talk to the priests from the trials; see where the temple veil was repaired. He knew the disciples were proclaiming they had seen Jesus. He knew they were willing to be persecuted for it. He knew every single minimal fact plus a great deal more.

[And Paul was not convinced by them. If Paul—who was far more intimately familiar with the evidence than we could ever hope to be—was not convinced…why should we be convinced today? The only way to convince Paul was for him to receive direct revelation (in Pauls’ words) or a vision (in Luke’s words.) But this was a vision—NOT an encounter with a physically resurrected Jesus.

[As those who argue with the “wouldn’t die for a lie” approach know—people are willing to die for belief all the time. The strength in the argument is to claim the persons encountered a physically resurrected Jesus. That does not include Paul—he saw Jesus in a vision. While Paul is much closer in time than many Christian martyrs, he is no different in encountering a physically resurrected Jesus than anyone today. Whether Paul saw Jesus in a vision 2 months after Jesus died, or Mary down the street saw Jesus in a vision 1,980 years after he died—BOTH have the same evidentiary value!

[Further, we often hear that naturalistic presupposition hinders our weighing the evidence. No problem with Paul—he was a theist, immersed in a culture readily believing God interacted through miracles.

[Paul’s conversion and willingness to suffer persecution has no more evidentiary value than a person converted today and equally willing. Worse, Paul had all the minimal facts (plus more) and was not convinced by the evidence. I do not see how Paul’s conversion helps the Christian apologist.]

Concluding remarks.

Each wrapped up their positions. No new information here.

I felt Mr. Fergusons strongest point was on the cucumber, effectively removing Keener’s miracles as having evidentiary value, with a secondary point regarding the Essenes. Mr. Peter’s strongest point was on Paul’s conversion, with a secondary question regarding why people would convert to Christianity.

I look forward to these gentlemen discussing again.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dating of Mark

I’ve discussed various positions regarding when Mark’s Gospel was written. The traditional dating method (absent any internal indication or external reference) would be to presume it was written after the last recorded incident. As Mark 13 refers to the sacking of Jerusalem, we date it after 70 CE—the year Jerusalem was besieged and fell.

In any other instance this is so obvious as to be unnecessary to point out. But we are talking a canonical book from the New Testament…and to many Christian apologists, 70 CE seems too removed from Jesus’ lifetime. Especially as it is the earliest book, making Matthew, Luke and John even later.

So they claim Mark 13 is a supernatural event, wherein Jesus was accurately predicting Jerusalem’s fall and we are simply predisposed against such a proposition by our philosophical naturalism. I happened across this outstanding blog, (sadly gone MIA) generating some thoughts. The blog author states, “[T]he historians Tacitus (Ann. 6.20), Suetonius (Gal. 4), and Cassius Dio (64.1) all agree that the emperor Tiberius used his knowledge of astrology to predict the future emperor Galba’s reign.”

[For a very brief background, Tiberius was Caesar during Jesus’ time period, Galba became emperor later in the Year of the Four Emperors (June 68 CE – December 69 CE)]

We have three (3) independent sources all agreeing Galba’s reign was prophesied.

Tacitus Annals 6.20 states, “I must not pass over a prognostication of Tiberius respecting Servius Galba, then consul. Having sent for him and sounded him on various topics, he at last addressed him in Greek to this effect: ‘You too, Galba, will some day have a taste of empire.’ He thus hinted at a brief span of power late in life, on the strength of his acquaintance with the art of astrologers…”

Suetonius in Life of Galba 4 indicates, “It is well known that when he was still a boy and called to pay his respects to Augustus with others of his age, the emperor pinched his cheek and said in Greek: ‘Thou too, child, wilt have a nibble at this power of mine. Tiberius too, when he heard that Galba was destined to be emperor, but in his old age, said: ‘Well, let him live then, since that does not concern me.’”

Cassius Dio in Roman History: 64.1 “Thus Galba was declared emperor, just as Tiberius had foretold when he said to him that he also should have a taste of the sovereignty.”

Of course, no one is claiming Tacitus, Suetonius or Cassius Dio wrote before Galba’s reign—the point I am making is such claimed prophetic predictions written long after the predicted events occurred were part and parcel of the genre. If a Christian says I am predisposed against Christian prophesying, are they equally predisposed against astrological prophesying? Or do they think Tiberius really did predict Galba’s reign?

The next time I am having a discussion about the dating of Mark, and whether it is my naturalistic predisposition not seeing Mark 13 as a “true” prophecy—I will ask the Christian what their horoscope said today.

They dare not scoff at astrology, because that would equally be naturalistic predisposition toward skepticism on predictions.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Answering a Question

DoOrDoNot asked, “I'm interested in what you would do with this in light of the "die for a lie" argument. Even if Christians weren't systematically persecuted, but had legitimate reason to fear prosecution, wouldn't that still lend some support to the argument?”

The problem regarding “Die for a Lie” is:

1) We don’t have enough information;
2) The information we do have tends toward bias; and
3) We fail to understand people’s motivations.

Remember, this argument is ONLY useful regarding those claiming to see a physically resurrected Jesus, or perhaps those involved in an initial fabrication and/or conspiracy. Everyone agrees people willingly face persecution, torture and martyrdom for something incorrect—a “lie.” Even Christians agree Muslims will blow themselves—dying for “a lie.” Imagine a few scenarios—all very plausible.

1) Peter (and Paul) have an altered state of consciousness, believe they see Jesus post-mortem and convince others Jesus is still alive. They spread Christianity, are persecuted, and eventually suffer martyrdom. “Die for a Lie” doesn’t work, because they didn’t think it a lie—just like Muslims dying for an incorrect claim, these individuals were dying for what they thought was true (even though it wasn’t.)

2) Peter and Paul initially teach and believe Jesus was resurrected spiritually in heaven, and it is only later-developed Christianity, after Mark’s Gospel, that the idea of a physically resurrected Jesus is claimed. Again, taught, persecuted and martyrdom. Again, “Die for a Lie” doesn’t work, because they were dying for what they thought was true—even if it wasn’t.

Let’s try something allowing “die for a lie” to have more force:

3) Peter (and/or other Disciples) completely make-up the concept of physically resurrected Jesus. They obtain wealth, honor and status as leaders in the church. There is sporadic persecution in certain localized areas against the Church. Unless one can demonstrate the conspirators themselves were in actual danger, “die for a lie” still doesn’t hold sway, because the persons involved didn’t think it would happen to them until too late.

We should pause at this point and note Paul certain was persecuted and actively pursued. But Paul is a later convert who (even under the best Christian scenario) saw a vision and was converted. He wasn’t part of any initial conspiracy.

And finally, the best possible chance for “die for a lie”:

4) Peter (and/or other Disciples) completely make-up the concept of physically resurrected Jesus. They obtain wealth, honor and status as leaders in the church. Active persecution directly against the conspirators putting them in imminent danger. Now they would certainly not “die for a lie,” right? ‘Cause we certainly would not. But are we projecting our 21st Century motivations on 1st Century individuals?

Dr. Moss raises the interesting example of Achilles. Remember, for these individuals, unless one was a great person of importance, there would be no record of your ever having been alive. No obituaries, no High School yearbooks, no scrapbooks, no pictures, no videos, no Facebook. Nothing. Once dead, you disappeared like your ancestors did, and your descendants would likely do. The only way to be known was to have your reputation remembered.

Dr. Moss pointed out Achilles had two (2) contradictory prophecies about his life. Either he would live a very, very long time but he would be an unknown person, eventually long forgotten. Or he would gloriously die at a young age, and his reputation would be remembered forever. Achilles chose fame as his means of living forever.

If given the same choice—what would Peter do? Or the other Disciples? If they believed they would be remembered for a long time….would they willingly die for a lie?

Instead of creating possible scenarios, look at the facts we have:

1. At some point in the First Century, individuals began claiming Jesus was resurrected either physically or spiritually post-mortem from crucifixion death.
2. This group—Christians—fought amongst themselves regarding whether to continue Jewish practices. Some did, some claimed they did not.
3. There is no Jewish or secular record of Jewish persecution against Christians.
4. The only record of organized Jewish persecution against Christians is from Christian sources, almost exclusively one (1) book—Acts of the Apostles. A book demonstrating an anti-Jewish bias.
5. The Jewish authorities had their hands full with a variety of competing Jewish claims—Christianity would be one amongst dozens. Not to mention governmental shifts, Roman oppression, and rebellion.
6. Within the first 10 years of its existence, Christianity shifted its focus from converting Jews to converting Gentiles.

[From this, I would argue there was no organized Jewish persecution, but the readers can draw their own conclusion.]

7. The Christian leaders (by their own accounts) gained wealth, honor and status within their community.
8. The first Roman persecution—Tacitus’ account of Nero—the Christians were scapegoats. No opportunity to recant, or avoid persecution. Plus this was Rome, not necessarily near the disciples.
9. The second recorded account regarding organized Roman government pursuit of Christians was Pliny the Younger where Christianity is reviewed as a puzzlement. This is too late for “die for a lie” to work.

So where does “die for lie” even come in? One would have to create a scenario similar to number 4 above that speculatively draws from Christian documents, and ignore the culture, Jewish situation, leaders’ status and complete absence in other historical documents of the times.