Friday, July 22, 2011

Argument from Silence on Dating of Acts

In dating ancient documents, we attempt to determine a terminus a quo (point after which the document was written) and a terminus ad quem (point before which the document was written.) Absent direct internal dating by the author (“In the third year of Tiberius’ reign” for example), we generally determine the terminus a quo by the last chronological date within the document, and the terminus ad quem by the date the document was referenced and quoted.

For a simplistic example, if the last event in a book was Pearl Harbor and the book was referenced by another author in 1950, we would date the book from 1941 – 1950. Obviously in ancient documents, the ranges tend to be larger.

Utilizing New Testament documents, Mark references the Jewish revolt in Mark 13, so we date the work—the terminus a quo--at the fall of Jerusalem. Being 70 CE. And, for purposes of this blog entry only, we can see Papias referencing a Gospel written by Mark in his writing of 110-140 CE. for our terminus ad quem. Therefore (if this was any other work) we would date Mark 70 – 140 CE and think nothing of it. A scholar who discussed Mark as having been written in 71 CE would be on equal footing as one who indicated 140 CE. (Imagine that!)

It should be noted, though, determining when the Gospels were referenced is not that simple. See Dr. Carrier’s excellent blog entry regarding just how convoluted this can become.

However, for many Christian apologists—they see this as a problem. They want the Gospels to be earlier. “The Earlier, the Better” is their battle cry. The problem being, the Gospels themselves do not indicate when they were written. So we have to analyze it; and simple analysis comes up with dates much too inconvenient.

Matthew copies Mark, but Matthew doesn’t provide us with any information regarding when IT was written. (For example, if Matthew dated its own work to 90 CE, we would then derive a 70 – 90 CE date for Mark. Since Matthew referenced Mark.) Luke also uses Mark. Luke also fails to provide us with any limiting information. So we are still left with this 70 CE – 140 CE (or more) dating for the Gospels.

Mmm….how to get around this? *snaps fingers*

Luke wrote a second book—Acts. (We know it is the second, because in it he refers to his previous book: the Gospel. Acts 1:1-3) If we can date the second Book, then the first book—Gospel of Luke—must come before it. First comes before second. And if we can date the Gospel of Luke, as Luke copies Mark, we can date Mark.

Date Acts to 65 CE, then Luke has a terminus ad quem of 65 CE and Mark would have a terminus ad quem of 65CE. (We can’t know how long it was before one followed the other, or one copied the other, so traditionally we use the same date. Extrapolating “10 years” or “5 years” is merely an apologetic tool, and should be abandoned in light of what historians actually do.)

But…unfortunately…Acts also doesn’t provide any internal dating either. We are left with the same problem as the Gospels. Leaving us the same general dating: 70 – 140 CE.

This is where the Argument from Silence comes in. The apologist attempts to show an event occurred where we know the dating, and if the person fails to list it, presumably the document was written before that date.

For another simplistic example. If we found a document referencing the greatest wars in history, and it failed to list World War II, we would presume—under an Argument of Silence—the document was written before 1941.

Understand an Argument from Silence is NOT a logical fallacy. As we like to say in the legal world, “It goes to weight, not relevance.” It may not be very credible, but it is not, in and of itself, a fallacy.

The apologist generally uses 2 (sometimes 3) events which they indicate MUST have been included in Acts if it was written after those events, and therefore Acts (and Luke and Mark) were written prior to those events:

1) Paul’s death;
2) Jewish revolt; and
3) (sometimes) the outcome of Paul’s trial.

Since these events occurred before 64 CE (so the apologist claims), Acts (and Luke and Mark) must have been written before 64 CE. Giving us a terminus ad quem for all three of 64 CE.

Let’s break down the elements of an Argument from Silence—we need a minimum of two items:

1) What it is the author is silent about; and
2) The purpose of the writing itself.

Take the claim, “Tiger Woods shot a hole-in-one in last week’s Golf Tournament.” (“1” in our list above.) Now I claim it could not possibly have happened, because it is not listed in the magazine I hold in my hand. The magazine is silent; by virtue of the Argument from Silence…didn’t happen.

But what magazine am I holding? If I am holding Cosmopolitan the Argument from Silence is not very strong. Because the nature and purpose of Cosmopolitan has nothing to do with golf scores, whether Tiger Woods did or did not shot a hole-in-one—indeed whether he even played golf that weekend—would not be included within the Magazine.

Obviously, if I am holding Golf Digest then the Argument of Silence has great weight—the nature and purpose of Golf Digest IS to report such things as Tiger Woods shooting a hole-in-one.

Again, we need two things: 1) what fact is claimed missing and 2) whether the document’s purpose would include such a fact.

Continuing with our Tiger Wood’s example, what if our fact was that Tiger Woods defined the new personage that teenage girls found attractive? In that Argument of Silence, whether Cosmopolitan reported it holds greater weight than Golf Digest.

What I often see, in the Argument of Silence from apologists regarding the dating of Acts, is one or both of these elements overlooked. The apologists just keeps repeating, “Acts would have reported Paul’s death if it had happened. Acts would have reported Paul’s death if it had happened. Therefore it was written prior to his death.” Yet the apologist fails to plug Paul’s death in the two essential elements.

The first thing we have to look at. When and how did Paul die? And immediately we have a problem.

The author of 1 Clement (60 -140 CE) knows Paul is dead. He does not say when. He does not say how. Acts of Paul indicates (as tradition) Paul was beheaded under Nero, but Tertullian claims it a forgery. Leaving the apologist in a bit of a quandary—do they rely upon a forgery, because it says what they want to hear? Or do they reject the other items contained in Acts of Paul, because it is a forgery?

We don’t know how Paul died. We don’t know when. How can we say the author of Acts would certainly include Paul’s death, if we don’t even know how and when he died? Would the author have included it if Paul died by shipwreck? By disease? By a knife fight in an alley? By being martyred? By other Christians?

The apologists want to assume Paul died a glorious death, without first doing the hard work of proving how Paul died.

As to the second element, scholars have noted numerous purposes under Acts whereby Paul’s death would not be listed. It is also important to note the author of Acts, at the time of the writing, knows Paul is dead. Acts. 20:25-38.

The outcome of Paul’s trial is equally problematic. Did he win? Did he lose? Did it even happen? Again, if Paul died from disease prior to the trial, this makes perfect sense why it wasn’t listed. Or if he lost. We simply don’t know, and to speculate what happened adds silence upon silence, removing all but a feather’s weight of credibility.

(Sometimes people claim Luke wrote so much about the trial leading up to the ending and he wouldn’t have mentioned it at all if Paul lost. Not true—if Paul lost, that is all the MORE reason to give the long-winded substantiation. In my practice, at times, I ask the question, “Have you been convicted of a felony?” I receive two answers:

1) “No.”
2) “Let me tell you what happened….”

No one says outright, “Yes, I was convicted”—first they want to give an explanation. Like Luke does for Paul.)

Paul’s death and Paul’s trial are extremely weak Arguments from Silence, as we don’t know the underlying facts, let alone why the author would choose or choose not to include it. But that’s not true for the Jewish Revolt. THAT event we DO know about. Why didn’t Acts include it?

Which brings us back to purpose. Why would Acts include it? Acts is about the conflict Early Christians had with the Jewish leaders, an explanation of the missionary work, and a demonstration regarding the continuity between first generation Christians (disciples) and the third-generation Christians (recipients) via the second-generation Christian Paul.

The Jewish Revolt has no bearing on the missionary work, or the doctrinal continuity, and therefore would have no need to be included. The typical reason listed would be to paint the Jews in a bad light under the first purpose listed.

However, we have to look at Acts itself. It discusses Jews vs Christians as compared to Romans vs. Christians, painting the Romans in a positive, receptive light, and the Jews as the belligerent, confrontational type. The entire book deals with Christians interacting with others.

The Jewish revolt had to do with internal Jewish problems (conservative v more modernistic) and Jews vs. Romans. The Revolt had NOTHING to do with Christianity.

I have always been curious, to the people who claim Acts would have mentioned the Jewish Wars if it was written in 90 CE.

Where?

Where would Acts include the Revolt, and how would it work its way into the passage? The book ends in approximately 62 CE—is the apologist claiming the author would have extended the book on to include the events of 70 CE? Why?—there were no Christians involved! The recipients would state, “That is nice and all, but what does it have to do with us?” Absolutely nothing.

Is the apologist stating the authors would have included it a prophetic statement? Luke already did in his first book, copying Mark 13.

Other than the apologist’s compelling need to date Acts early, there is no reason for the revolt to be included. It is outside the purview of the book.

The Argument of Silence is too weak to overturn the basic principles in dating ancient texts.

151 comments:

  1. What we need is the crawling words on the screen like they have at the end of movies to tell us what happened to the characters:

    "Paul married his high school sweetheart and moved to Schenectady where he sold insurance until he retired."

    "Peter killed his mother-in-law after she nagged him once too often for smelling of fish and spent the rest of his life in prison."

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  2. One of the points that gets overlooked in these discussions is that there may be a difference between when a text was written and when it was widely circulated and accepted. Regardless of when we date their composition, we don't have evidence that shows that the gospels were generally accepted as authoritative until well into the second century. No one writing in the first century seems to be aware of them or the stories they contain.

    Apologists want to claim that eyewitnesses were around at the time the gospels were written, which insured their accuracy. However, maybe the reason no one cites the gospels in the first century is that the eyewitnesses knew that they were a bunch of fairy tales. They only gained widespread acceptance after the first generation of Christians were gone from the scene.

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  3. Why do apologists have a compelling need to date Acts early?

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  4. Larry,

    I would guess it’s because they’ve got nothing else. Neither Paul nor any other first century Christian writer seems to know anything about the gospels or the stories they contain. The first unambiguous external references aren’t found until well into the second century. There is little in the internal references in the gospels to support composition before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The ending of Acts--and the fact that Luke preceded Acts and Mark preceded Luke--is the firmest peg they have to hang their hats on to get the composition of any of the gospels anywhere near the first generation of Christians.

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  5. But how does an early date help them so much? It doesn't seem to make Jesus as at least a natural historical person all that much more likely, and an earlier date doesn't make supernaturalism at all tenable. It just doesn't seem worth all the gyrations.

    My take is that apologists are so divorced from the basic tenets of intellectual honesty that they're willing to countenance a terrible methodology for even the smallest point. They just don't care about consistency and any kind of rigorous epistemic method. Why should they: they know the truth independently of any investigative methodology; if ordinary methods give the wrong answer, so much the worse for ordinary methods.

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  6. Larry,

    I fully agree and I think these gyrations retard their ability to think critically about evidence in other areas as well which is why so many conservative Christians believe that global warming is a hoax, government regulation caused the financial crisis, abstinence only sex education is effective, homosexuality is a choice, Barack Obama is a Muslim, and Sarah Palin is qualified to be President.

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  7. Larry,
    I don't know if you've read michael shermer's book, The Believing Brain, but he makes the point that we are wired to believe. As a species, we tend to look for evidence that backs our beliefs. Our worldview dictates how we make sense of the data we encounter. For example, there was a time when I believed all carbon dating techniques had to be wrong because they were indicating an old earth, which I "knew" to be wrong based on my literal interpretation of scripture. It wasn't til my worldview was shaken that I reevaluated the evidence for an old earth and evolution with greater openness. I wasn't being willfully dishonest, I just started with a faulty premise and looked for the evidence I assumed was there to support it.

    DagoodS,
    Thanks for this post. I found it helpful. But perhaps even more helpful was your tip about running on dirt paths versus concrete and asphalt. I ran yesterday and my knees are pain free today! Woo hoo! Such a difference from last week's experience. And, I jogged faster and longer than ever, despite using a hilly trail. No more concrete or asphalt for me.

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  8. Larry,

    Christian apologists live in an interesting mix of victimization/20-20 hindsight. What this means is they envision early Christianity as viewed from their perspective—not that of the First Century Culture.

    Alas, the apologists read Acts and maybe a Commentary and think they just became a historian—almost an expert on what “Jews” and “Christians” and Israel was like. (Most don’t even know there WAS no “Israel,” that “Jews” comes from “Judeans” which was only one of three countries, or the political machinations of the time.)

    They think every other religion immediately recognized Christianity to be the next great religion and would bring everything to bear to stamp this new sect out.

    Therefore, (in the apologist’s mind), the Romans and the Jews and the Polytheists and the Governors would do argue and demonstrate Christianity incorrect. If Christianity was promulgated in the 30’s – 50’s (it is thought) it would be during the time people were still alive who were involved in the events would point out inaccuracies and Christianity would be crushed.

    Ask ‘em who Acts was written to—most haven’t even thought about it, let alone have an answer. Ask ‘em if it as an in-group or out-group, they will desperately rush off to Google, attempting to act as if they know what you are talking about.

    They think Acts would be disseminated like USA Today, and equally investigated by Snopes.com.

    In their mind, if Acts was written in the 60’s, it makes it “more true” than the 90’s because all the investigative reporters would have proven it wrong in the 60’s.

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  9. Vinny,

    You raise a great point as to when the documents became known, as compared to written.

    DoOrDoNot,

    Glad one piece of advice actually helped.

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  10. If Christianity was promulgated in the 30’s – 50’s (it is thought) it would be during the time people were still alive who were involved in the events would point out inaccuracies and Christianity would be crushed.

    Sure, just like the Mormons were crushed in the 1830's by the fact that plenty of people in Palmyra, New York knew that Joseph Smith was a consummate bullshitter. Surely his religion wouldn't have been able to succeed less than 300 miles away in Kirtland, Ohio. If Smith's frauds were exposed in Ohio, surely no one would have followed him to Missouri. After the Mormons wore out their welcome in Far West, Missouri, it is inconceivable that they would be welcomed with open arms less than 200 miles away in Nauvoo, Illinois since there is no way they could get away with lying about what had happened in Far West, Kirtland, and Palmyra.

    Everyone knows that religious cults immediately abandon their beliefs if it can be logically demonstrated that they don't line up with the facts.

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  11. Thanks for this post DagoodS. Some of us are fairly new to this. I'm not a debater and don't care to be, but I do appreciate it when those who are take the time to explain the nuts and bolts of what is actually being argued.

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  12. Thanks for this thorough explanation...very educating.

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  13. I remember when I used to hear and read about the dating of the Gospels and the issue of the Jewish rebellion would come up. Often I would think, 'how do we know that would have put that in?'. I could never really qualify in my own mind, good reasons for asking that question, so I never took it any further. Thanks for helping with that.

    ** I've just remembered, wasn't the temple at Jerusalem destroyed at the time of the Jewish uprising? That seems like a reasonable thing to expect to be put in. So maybe the argument from silence has a point after all.

    ** thinks some more: Of course if the documents were being written afterwards, there is the counter argument that they don't want bad stuff in, after all its basically a propaganda document isn't it?

    Larry: I think early dating is important because it means the books have been written by eye witnesses, or at least from the testimony of eye witnesses. It gives greater credibility. As soon as the books are dated more than 100 years later, then you know they are being written from stories passed down and legitimacy takes a nosedive.

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  14. How sure are we that we even have all of Acts? It looks to me like we might have lost the last bit.

    And I'm not quite sure I'm convinced that the chapter 20 passage shows it was written after Paul's death. Of course, what Paul says is portrayed as prophetic, but we need not accept that. If any of the book is believable, he was always under threat of death. He would have seen it looming on the horizon, no actual prophetic powers needed.

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  15. There are dissenters (Earl Doherty springs immediately to mind) but IIRC that Jesus is an historical person is widely granted even with a later dating of the Gospels. Even if we were very confident that the Gospels were written by immediate contemporaries (and, AFAIK, even the most radical apologist still puts the gospels a generation away from the historical person) we still don't have a case for actual miracles or other paranormal events; we don't have nearly enough evidence to rule out exaggeration, misunderstanding, or outright fraud.

    My point is that the gyrations apologists have to use to get an early date is so far out of proportion to the benefit that we can conclude only that they are in general incapable or unwilling to employ scientific historical methods.

    And why should they? They know the truth without using any historical method at all. Any method that does not result in what they know to be true is by definition invalid.

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  16. Limey,

    The Gospels do indicate the siege/destruction of Jerusalem (including the temple.) They simply utilize it to bolster their audience’s perceived needs. Since the Jewish War had nothing to do with Christianity—the gospels used the destruction as a means to support Jesus’ prophetic ability and encourage the readers the parousia was upon them.

    Acts does not include the destruction of Jerusalem. Thus one could arguably state, if they demonstrated the author would include it, that Acts was written before 70 CE. Of course, they would also have to explain away the troubling introduction, where Luke indicates he has already written to Theophilus. Is there a missing Gospel?

    mikespeir,

    There have been numerous bible scholars arguing Luke intended to write another book for the reasons you state.

    As to the reasons we understand the author realizes Paul is dead because of Acts 20…that is a bit longer. I didn’t bother laying it all out in the blog entry.

    It was commonly accepted practice, in ancient historiagraphies, to not write a speech word-for-word (who could remember all that?), but rather to write the speech to stay true to the speaker’s intent. It was O.K. to make up a speech, as long as it was something we would expect the person to say.

    We have long noticed the similarities between Peter’s speeches in the beginning of Acts, and Paul’s in the end. And the dissimilarities between Paul’s speeches in Acts, and Paul’s writing. The Acts author was writing what the recipients would expect of Peter and Paul—not what Peter and Paul actually said word-for-word.

    There is no actual historical basis for Paul’s speech in Acts 20—the author is writing what readers would expect Paul to say. And in writing Paul’s heroic “last words” to the people of Miletus and Ephesus, the author lets slip the fact he knows Paul will never return by saying, “you will never see my face again.”

    Why would Paul think he would never see the Ephesians again? It was a popular city for him. The apologist has argued Acts is repeatedly pointing out Paul’s likelihood of winning the appeal. Sure, Paul had been in dodgy situations before, but he had always escaped.

    No, this is like the movie cliché ending of a hero. Beautiful words, exhortations, but we know they are going to die.

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  17. Larry,

    The reason for the discussion about the dating of Acts is because DoOrDoNot asked in the prior thread:

    “Also, is there always an assumption in biblical scholarship that any prophesy was written after the fact or are there other measures for dating the literature aside from the prophesy itself? I want to evaluate passages without any presumption regarding whether or not it was a genuine prophesy in order to be fair. What measures are taken (if any) in biblical scholarship in this regard?”

    So her question pertained to whether or not it was a genuine prophecy. And since Acts is the sequel to Luke and Luke has Jesus prophesying the fall of Jerusalem, the dating of Acts is highly relevant to the question of whether or not Jesus actually prophesied the event. If Luke was written before 70 AD, then barring an interpolation, the amount of detail indicates that Jesus did prophesy it.

    This is why I kept saying that DagoodS was employing circular reasoning when he focused on Luke 21 to support his position that Acts was written after the fall of Jerusalem. He was assuming as a premise the question in dispute.

    You are absolutely correct that an earlier date for the NT narratives generally does not benefit apologists much, and in most contexts we simply concede the post-70 date for the sake of argument. As you pointed out, most scholars accept the historicity of Jesus, and the resurrection arguments do not depend on an earlier date for the Gospels.

    However, if we are simply looking at the question of the dating of Acts without any presuppositions, doesn’t it seem strange to you that it ends the way it does if it was written several decades later? Luke ends with a bang with the resurrection of Jesus (even though it has a sequel), but Acts simply ends with Paul in house arrest in Rome pending appeal.

    DagoodS and Vinny try to make it seem like this is a natural ending, but it’s not, regardless of the genre of Acts.

    If it’s a novel we would expect to learn the outcome of Paul’s appeal to Nero, something that has been central to the second half of the narrative. Even if the case was dismissed or Paul was killed, a novel would give us that kind of information and not leave the reader hanging.

    It it’s history, we would expect it to include the Jewish revolt and the fall of Jerusalem, something that would be highly relevant to Paul, a Jew, and the non-Christian Jews with whom he interacted regularly. (It would also be supportive of DagoodS’s point that Acts portrays Jews as subversive and Christians as law-abiding.)

    If it’s a biography, then surely Paul’s death would be mentioned even if it did not happen during Nero’s persecution. Paul would have died before 90 AD. And Acts 20 says nothing about when or how he died, something that would interest a reader of a biography.

    [Apologists] know the truth without using any historical method at all. Any method that does not result in what they know to be true is by definition invalid.

    Actually, apologists have much more flexibility when it comes to this question than someone whose worldview doesn’t allow for the possibility of fulfilled prophecy. DagoodS has to date Acts after 70 AD, while both a pre-70 date and a post-70 date are consistent with my Christian worldview. That’s why he’s the one doing gyrations to try to prove that although Acts ended in 62 AD, it was written decades later. His explanations are highly speculative, and even Udo Schnelle, on whom he relies for his explanations, says: "The concluding scene in Acts . . . rais[es] numerous historical, legal, and theological questions.”

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  18. Anette,

    By that logic, Mark's gospel must have been written on that first Easter Morning just after the women ran away from the empty tomb. After all, the appearances of the risen Christ were very important events that would have been of great interest to Mark's readers. It simply isn't reasonable to believe that Mark would have left those events out unless they hadn't occurred yet.

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  19. I am currently on Vacation. (Exploring Mammoth Cave with the family.) I apologize if comments are not well moderated.

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  20. Vinny,

    My plan is not to start up this discussion again, but Larry’s two comments indicate that he didn’t know the point of it in the first place (and it hasn’t been explained to him by others), so I just wanted to respond to that.

    Your logic about the ending of Mark does not hold because many scholars think that Mark originally ended with a resurrection appearance and the ending was lost or he was prevented from finishing, etc. (And by 160 AD, in Justin Martyr’s works, Mark 16:9-20 was quoted.) In other words, the short ending of Mark is even more abrupt than Acts, to the point where part of the text appears to be missing.

    Acts doesn’t conclude abruptly, but it ends without resolving issues important to the narrative or including significant historical events that we know took place.

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  21. Anette,

    Many scholars think many things. Some scholars also think that Luke may have been prevented from finishing his work. He might have died before he started an intended third volume. That would perfectly explain why Acts ends where it does without resorting to pure conjecture.

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  22. Vinny,

    What is the "pure conjecture" I am resorting to? The idea that Acts was written around the time when it ends, and that is why important events are left out?

    You are engaging in conjecture about the author dying before starting an intended third volume. We have no evidence of that.

    And even if he did intend a third volume, the ending of Acts should resolve important questions central to Acts. For example, Luke is about Jesus and ends with His ascension after a triumphant resurrection from the dead. The sequel picks up after that.

    If Acts is about Paul, why doesn't it tell us what happened to Paul when he appears before Nero (or even if his case was dismissed or he died)? If the answer is that Paul died in Nero's persecution and the author wanted to end on a note of triumph, then his audience would have known that. It would be like ending a story about a team going to the Super Bowl right before they lost, when everybody knew they lost.

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  23. I'm wading in again with a question? Is Acts about Paul? I thought it was about all of the apostles, not exclusively Paul.

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  24. D'Ma,

    The first half of Acts narrates incidents involving different apostles. Starting around the 13th chapter the narrative follows Paul exclusively. Other apostles show up, but only when they are interacting with Paul. The events in Jerusalem are only discussed when Paul is there.

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  25. D'Ma,

    The first half is mostly about the apostles in Jerusalem, and the second half follows Paul.

    But if it's about all the apostles, then the fall of Jerusalem would be highly relevant, and if it's about Paul, then what happens to Paul is highly relevant. Either way, there is no good reason for just excluding important events that happened after 60-62 AD.

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  26. Anette,

    The pure conjecture is the notion that Acts was part of a judicial investigation.

    If Luke's death is pure conjecture, then Mark's inability to finish his gospel or the loss of his ending is also pure conjecture.

    Actually, Acts does not pick up after the ascension. It retells that story somewhat differently.

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  27. "... many scholars think that Mark originally ended with a resurrection appearance and the ending was lost or he was prevented from finishing, etc."

    Mark 16:8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

    Matthew 28:8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

    ANnette, why is matthew dependant on mark ?
    is he dependant on 16:8 because he did not know of any other version of the story ? matthew says that the women crashed in to jesus after they left the tomb. john says that the mary turned around and saw jesus WHILE SHE was standing NEAR the tomb.mark knew all of this and decided to bull shit his audience?

    mike

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  28. Vinny,

    The pure conjecture is the notion that Acts was part of a judicial investigation.

    The idea of Luke-Acts as part of a judicial investigation is something I characterized as an interesting hypothesis that fits the facts but that I'm by no means certain of.

    I don't think that makes it "pure conjecture" because Paul was charged with insurrection (Acts 24:5), he had appealed to Caesar (25:10), and he was in house arrest in Rome when Acts ends. The idea that Theophilus was a cognitionibus who collected information and prepared opinions for Nero would fit those facts and others that I will not restate here.

    If Luke's death is pure conjecture, then Mark's inability to finish his gospel or the loss of his ending is also pure conjecture.

    Those are hypotheses seeking to explain why Mark's short ending is so abrupt. But by the second century the long ending was quoted.

    The ending of Acts seems deliberate, but it omits major events that took place in the next decade. This indicates that Luke did not die before finishing it--the events simply had not yet happened.

    Actually, Acts does not pick up after the ascension. It retells that story somewhat differently.

    Nevertheless, Luke ends with closure. Acts does not.

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  29. Mike,

    I'm not really sure what your question is. Could you please restate it?

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  30. Those are hypotheses seeking to explain why Mark's short ending is so abrupt.

    Luke’s death is a hypothesis seeking to explain why Acts ends where it does. My point stands: If Luke's death is pure conjecture, then Mark's inability to finish his gospel or the loss of his ending is also pure conjecture. Both are unsupported by external evidence. You many find the hypotheses concerning Mark more persuasive than the one concerning Acts, but you cannot arbitrarily claim that one is pure conjecture while the others are valid hypotheses.

    However, even if your explanations for the abrupt ending of Mark are valid hypotheses (and I think they are), we have to acknowledge the very real possibility that Mark chose to end his gospel at 16:8 for reasons that may not be entirely clear to us. We have to acknowledge the possibility that Mark voluntarily omitted elements that seem to us like they should have been part of his story. If this is so, we cannot view the ending of Acts as requiring any other explanation than that Luke thought it the appropriate place to end the story. There is nothing unusual about ending the story without including all the elements that we think might have served the author's purposes.

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  31. Vinny,

    Sure, what you’re saying is also a hypothesis. However, you have no internal or external evidence to back it up. Mark 16:8 ends with the women running off afraid, which is an abrupt ending, and as early as 160 AD the longer ending was quoted by Justin Martyr. That is internal and external evidence of Mark probably not intending to omit the appearances. What internal or external evidence do you have that Luke died before finishing Acts or a sequel?

    It is possible that Mark intended to end his Gospel after Mark 16:8, but why? He would have known about the appearances since they are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, in a passage that scholars almost universally consider a tradition originating from Paul’s predecessors in the faith and dating to within a few years of the death of Jesus. Also, Mark 16:7 indicates that Mark knew about the appearances: "[Jesus] is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you."

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  32. Anette,

    Have you ever walked out of a movie thinking “Gee, the ending in the book was better”? When the director of a movie changes the ending of the book by adding a scene at the end to tie up loose ends, it doesn’t mean that the author of the book ever had any intention to end the story that way or that he approved of ending the story that way. By the same token, the fact that scribes wrote additional material for Mark’s gospel doesn’t show that he had any intention to do so. It just shows that the scribes thought their endings were better than Mark’s.

    We know that Mark knows about some appearances because the young man at the tomb tells the women that the apostles will see Jesus in Galilee. We cannot know how closely his understanding of the appearances parallels 1 Corinthians 15 however. Since neither Luke nor Matthew nor John mentions an appearance to James or an appearance to the five hundred, the best guess would be that Mark didn’t know about them either.

    I’m sure Dagoods can tell you the latest scholarly opinion on the ending of Mark, but I will share an idea that occurs to me. We know from Paul’s writings that there were already factions among Christians at the time Mark was writing. Paul claimed to have revelations from the Risen Christ and it is reasonable to think that others claimed revelations as well. Mark may have wanted to preempt the various revelation claims by putting the focus on what Jesus taught during his earthly ministry. Mark lets his reader know that Jesus was physically raised from the dead and that he appeared to his disciples, but he keeps the focus on what Jesus said and did prior to the crucifixion by ending the story at the empty tomb.

    On the other hand, maybe Mark didn’t want to get into the conflicting appearance stories. Every account seems to differ as to time, place, and recipients. Mark might not have wanted to stake out a position on the issue. So he lets his readers know that there were appearances and he leaves it at that.

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  33. Vinny,

    As far as I know, the current scholarly general consensus is that Mark intended to end his Gospel at 16:8. Of course the why is (as all things biblical) a matter of some debate.

    A favorite view is that he finished it with the idea of "And no one knew what happened....until now!"

    There is absolutely no reason to presume Mark (or any of the other gospel writers) knew the 1 Cor. 15 creed. None of the appearances in 1 Cor are listed in the Gospels (although Luke infers the Peterine appearance) and vice versa. Why would we presume one knew the other?

    Only apologists and Sunday School teachers would make such a claim.

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  34. Anette Acker,

    O.K. We get it. If YOU were writing Acts (from your 21st Century mindset), YOU would have included certain events. You aren't convinced by any argument to the contrary.

    To keep repeating it has become boring.

    Second, my argument regarding the dating of Acts is based upon dating Mark 13 by commonly accepted (as in "everywhere BUT by Christian apologists) means. Therefore, it is not circular. To keep repeating it means you are either:

    1) Completely ignorant; or
    2) Outright deceitful.

    I have continued to give you the benefit of the doubt it is the first; I am starting to be left with little choice but to presume it is the second.

    Your claims about Greek novels, histories and biographies demonstrates such a lack of understanding in the field, it is becoming difficult to read. Again, because YOU don't understand genre (and genre fluidity) as well as the intended audience, doesn't mean WE are incorrect.

    You are not persuaded by our arguments. Fine. to keep repeating the same tired statements which essentially boil down to YOU not wanting the books written that way does not persuade many of us.

    Deal with it.

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  35. A favorite view is that he finished it with the idea of "And no one knew what happened....until now!"

    Really? I have used that argument myself a few times to counter the notion that there was something embarrassing about having unreliable women witnesses find the tomb. I figured that Mark could have had the women find the tomb precisely so he could answer people who wondered why they had never heard the story before. Mark could say "Hey, those silly unreliable women ran away without telling anyone." I never knew that it had any support among scholars.

    On the other hand, I like my latest idea as well. If there are a lot of people running around claiming revelations from the risen Christ, how could Mark hope to get his own interpretation heard? Put it all in the mouth of Jesus before he was crucified and leave the appearances of the risen Christ out of the story. Are you familiar with any scholars who have suggested that hypothesis?

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  36. DagoodS,

    There is absolutely no reason to presume Mark (or any of the other gospel writers) knew the 1 Cor. 15 creed. None of the appearances in 1 Cor are listed in the Gospels (although Luke infers the Peterine appearance) and vice versa. Why would we presume one knew the other?

    Only apologists and Sunday School teachers would make such a claim.


    Robert Funk of the Jesus Seminar says in The Five Gospels that 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is "the earliest version of the oral gospel preserved for us" and that Paul received it from his predecessors.

    Atheistic Bible scholar Gerd Ludemann says in The Resurrection of Jesus that "the elements in the tradition [of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7] are to be dated to the first two years after the crucifixion of Jesus."

    Jewish Bible scholar Geza Vermes says that the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 are "a tradition he has inherited from his seniors in the faith concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus."

    Reginald Fuller concludes: "It is almost universally agreed today that Paul is here citing tradition."

    And you’re saying that there’s absolutely no reason to think that the Gospel authors knew about this tradition? I think the above scholars would disagree, and I’m pretty sure they are neither Sunday school teachers nor apologists.

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  37. DagoodS,

    Second, my argument regarding the dating of Acts is based upon dating Mark 13 by commonly accepted (as in "everywhere BUT by Christian apologists) means. Therefore, it is not circular. To keep repeating it means you are either:

    1) Completely ignorant; or
    2) Outright deceitful.


    In other words, critical scholars and historians, who study the Bible as a human creation (the definition of critical Bible scholarship), commonly date Acts based on Mark 13. But my understanding is that some of your readers are deconverting Christians who are still trying to decide whether or not the Bible’s claims about Jesus are true. DoOrDoNot specifically said: “I want to evaluate passages without any presumption regarding whether or not it was a genuine prophesy in order to be fair.”

    Are you saying that she is not entitled to evaluate the passages in that light and that for me to address her question is indicative of ignorance or deceit?

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  38. DagoodS,

    This conversation seems to upset you, so I'm just going to sign off here and let you enjoy your vacation with your family.

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  39. Vinny,

    I have a little problem accessing my library at the moment. *grin* Get back to ya after vacation.

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  40. Anette, Acker,

    Upset? Oh, my no. Just like pointing out to my readers the most common of apologists' tricks--to misquote my argument and then proclaim it invalid. Like I say, I'll let it slip a few times, but after a bit feel the need to point out it really is deceitful.

    Of course you will cut and run. It is inherent in your style. Once the going gets tough, you declare the other person angry or upset or unhappy and "act the part of the heroine" and retreat. I would be far more impressed if you stayed and faced the music--actually support your contentions. Give us something new, rather than oft-repeated quotes. Actually bite the bullet and admit you misquoted my argument.

    Easier to run than admit that, eh?

    I may not be certain of much, but I am pretty certain when DoOrDoNot asked her question, she did not want me to respond in a vacuum. I look at not only the passage itself, but the genre, the culture, other works of the time, the author's other writings, the intended audience, the language, etc.

    You want to look at JUST Mark 13 (and even then, just a few verses) in a strict and narrow confine, and ONLY review it within that confine. That is OK, if one wants to do lousy scholarship, but don't saddle ME with such an approach. Do not claim I am doing that.

    As I have pointed out numerous times. And you keep misstating.

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  41. Anette Acker,

    Thanks for supporting my statement there is no reason to believe the gospel writers knew the 1 Cor 15 Creed.

    I notice you quote a number of scholars as saying 1 Cor. 15 was early (Okay), but what you Don't do is give a single iota of evidence the gospel writers have any knowledge whatsoever of the Creed.

    You presume it. You therefore presume other scholars presume it. You therefore presume other scholars have demonstrated it. And then you presume it proven.

    What you don't do is support it.

    Re-Read your comment. You quote a number of scholars about the 1 Cor. 15 Creed being early and then make the leap that they would say the gospel writers knew it.

    I don't know it. I don't know if they would or would not. I am far more interested in a person proving it. Give us at least a little something (and NOT some presumption because it was early, the later writers MUST have known it. 'Cause you want it to be true.)

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  42. What is the main problem or concern with an early dating of Acts?

    What is the main problem or concern with a late dating of Acts?

    Bare with me, I'm learning here.

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  43. Arguing with Christian apologists such as Anette and those like her is like trying to negotiate with Republicans. There's a fundamental metaphysical disconnection. Anette's underlying agenda is — to bend over backwards to be charitable — to show that her a priori interpretation is consistent with the publicly available evidence. Because it is consistent with the public evidence, and because she is convinced on the basis of — again, bending over backwards to be charitable — her own private evidence, it is enough for her to show that her interpretation is not absolutely ruled out by the public evidence.

    But that's just not how skeptics work. The problem is that with sufficient ingenuity (and no limit on ad hoc hypotheses, any theory can be made consistent with the evidence. Because any theory can be made consistent with the evidence, mere consistency is not considered probative by skeptics. Instead, we're looking for the "best" explanation that is consistent with the evidence. But among all the competing, mutually exclusive theories that are consistent with the evidence, what constitutes the "best" one? This question is problematic not only for apologists for and polemicists against Christianity and religion, but also for scientists and philosophers.

    The ongoing conversation with Anette, Vinny, and Dagood has shown that determining what constitutes the "best" explanation is the underlying issue. Dagood has elsewhere asked, most perspicaciously, What is your method? In other words, do you have formal, consistent, publicly determinable criteria for what constitutes the best explanation?

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  44. I must admit that the skeptical method is not as formal and consistent as I would like. I place the blame squarely on the academic philosophical profession. I can think of no better endeavor for professional philosophers than to really delve into and formalize the scientific, skeptical method. And yet everyone still references only Popper, whose most substantial work lies almost a century in the past and contains substantial errors and weaknesses. The problem, of course, is that if the scientific method were ever nailed down, the academic philosophical community would make itself pretty much irrelevant, becoming essentially critics of the most boring and unreadable genre of literature. C'est la vie.

    But with all of its weaknesses, the skeptical, scientific method is at least somewhat formalized. We have Bayes theorem and Occam's razor to rigorously specify and sometimes quantify what we mean by "most probable" and "simplest", two crucial components of the skeptical, scientific methodology. We have the notion that only publicly accessible evidence is admissible directly as evidence. The outcome is clear: scientists and skeptics do come to agreement, even about wildly implausible theories such as quantum mechanics. The method works.

    The problem is that apologists are not concerned with finding the truth (any more than I'm concerned with finding the truth of whether things fall when you drop them); they know the truth outside of any publicly available method. They are concerned not with discovery but with persuasion. As such, what "works" is what's persuasive. Since they already know the truth, any method that leads others to believe the truth is valid. They are not engaged in a win-win game for everyone to discover the truth as collaborators; they are engaged in a win-lose game where belief in their conclusion is a win and disbelief is a lose.

    I can't really fault them for this approach. If you sincerely believed that anyone who disagreed with you was going to hell, you would rightly do anything in your power to get them to agree with you. On the other hand, you cannot approach any apologist as an intellectual collaborator; you have to understand that they consider competing ideas to be enemies, to be defeated at any cost. And, since they must necessarily take this approach, the only response has to be enmity towards the fundamental idea that disagreement itself has infinitely detrimental supernatural effects.

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  45. Anette,

    You and I have discussed the difference between “creed” and “tradition” before. In our previous discussion, I pointed out that the Nicene Creed was formulated in 325 A.D. while the traditions underlying that creed go back much further. I pointed out that most of the scholars you are quoting are only claiming that 1 Cor. 15 reflects an early tradition. They are not making a claim about the origin of that particular creedal formulation. I also pointed out to you that Geza Vermes did not say that “the words” went back to the tradition as is found on Wikepedia. The actual quote is “Paul passes along a tradition he has his inherited from his seniors in the faith concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.”

    Despite this discussion, you continue to use “creed” and “tradition” interchangeably in order to create the impression that there is some scholarly consensus that the particular formula used by Paul goes back to the earliest church. I think that it is this kind of obstinacy that Dagoods and I find so frustrating. There shouldn’t be any reason to revisit this topic.

    It seems clear to me that Mark knew a tradition concerning appearances. However, he doesn’t seem to know of any appearances in Jerusalem, or if he was familiar with the tradition, he didn’t accept it. That suggests that there was more than one tradition concerning appearances. In fact some scholars think 1 Cor. 15 is itself a combination of two traditions. Thus, we cannot presume that he knew the same tradition that Paul did or that he accepted it even if he did.

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  46. Dagoods,

    That's fine. I wasn't expecting you to research the subject for me. I just wondered whether you had run across the idea before.

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  47. DagoodS,

    Of course you will cut and run. It is inherent in your style. Once the going gets tough, you declare the other person angry or upset or unhappy and "act the part of the heroine" and retreat. I would be far more impressed if you stayed and faced the music--actually support your contentions. Give us something new, rather than oft-repeated quotes. Actually bite the bullet and admit you misquoted my argument.

    Oh, all right, DagoodS—if you really want to spend your vacation talking with me I suppose I can oblige you.

    As for me cutting and running when the going gets tough, is that what you think happened when I left after 172 comments (about half of which were mine) in the last thread?

    I have no idea how I misquoted your argument. Why don’t you try to spell it out for me carefully, without ad hominems? And while you’re at it, why don’t you tell us how you’re helping DoOrDoNot evaluate without presumptions the issue of whether or not Jesus actually prophesied the fall of Jerusalem? You did after all say in Journey’s Beginning: “I ache for people struggling with their beliefs—verging on deconversion. Yet I find, even with my empathy, so little to say.”

    As for you being upset, since your “arguments” generally consist of a string of ad hominem attacks against me personally and apologists in general, yes, I do get the impression that you’re upset. And what you say doesn’t offend me—what bothers me is that you simply repeat your previous assertions in an increasingly agitated way without addressing my responses.

    In fact, shortly after Larry called me a “lying fool” I started reading his blog and found that he did an excellent job in his treatment of subjectivism and utilitarianism. And if he can write something that makes me think (even if I see flaws in those moral theories) I really don’t care what he thinks of me. I try not to let my ego impede my ability to honestly evaluate different perspectives.

    I may not be certain of much, but I am pretty certain when DoOrDoNot asked her question, she did not want me to respond in a vacuum. I look at not only the passage itself, but the genre, the culture, other works of the time, the author's other writings, the intended audience, the language, etc.

    Where did you do this? And did you substantiate your assertions in a way that makes it possible for us to check your sources and use our own judgment to evaluate your conclusions, or did you simply instruct us and expect us to trust you?

    Re-Read your comment. You quote a number of scholars about the 1 Cor. 15 Creed being early and then make the leap that they would say the gospel writers knew it.

    No, I didn’t say that. I said that I think they would disagree with you that there is absolutely no reason to presume that the Gospels authors knew about the 1 Cor. 15 creed. Would you say that there is absolutely no reason to presume that I know about the Apostles Creed since I’ve never mentioned it anywhere on the Internet until now? I think that most people with an interest in Christianity know it—even this much later. And the 1 Cor. 15 creed was even more central.

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  48. annette,

    mark knew about the lights which paul saw?

    but what good are lights when the main man was near the tomb? if he knew that jesus was dressed up as a gardner, right outside of the tomb, and that mary questioned the disguised jesus, why did he bull shit his readers that the women said nothing to anyone?

    matthew says that the 2 marys ran in to jesus when they left the tomb, so why did not mark make use of these stories?



    mike

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  49. D'Ma,

    What is the main problem or concern with an early dating of Acts?

    What is the main problem or concern with a late dating of Acts?


    In this context, a pre-70 AD dating of Acts would be evidence (but not conclusive proof) that Jesus actually prophesied the fall of Jerusalem, as stated in Luke, since we know that it actually happened in 70. (Acts was the sequel to Luke.) If the Gospels were written after 70 AD, on the other hand, then the authors would have known about the event.

    Let me know if you would like me to elaborate on any of that.

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  50. Vinny,

    You and I have discussed the difference between “creed” and “tradition” before. In our previous discussion, I pointed out that the Nicene Creed was formulated in 325 A.D. while the traditions underlying that creed go back much further. I pointed out that most of the scholars you are quoting are only claiming that 1 Cor. 15 reflects an early tradition.

    Yes, I remember that discussion, and if you scroll up you'll notice that when I first quoted these scholars, I used the word "tradition," not "creed." DagoodS, on the other hand, used the word "creed." And since DagoodS used the word "creed" I used the same word in response to him.

    However, whether it was a creed or just a tradition makes no different to my argument that Mark would have known that Jesus appeared to people postmortem.

    I think that it is this kind of obstinacy that Dagoods and I find so frustrating.

    You should know by now that I not only change my perspective when I'm shown to be wrong about something, but I usually concede openly. And I will do so even when I'm not shown to be wrong, but I realize that I've overstated my case.

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  51. Anette,

    I didn't think that there was any dispute that Mark knew something about a tradition regarding appearances. I think Mark 16:7 makes that clear to his readers. For me the question is whether Mark knew any details about those appearances that he would necessarily need to share with his readers. If Mark thought that Jesus had said everything he needed to say during his earthly ministry, he could easily think that there was no need to go into details about the appearances.

    What I see above is that Dagoods wrote: "There is absolutely no reason to presume Mark (or any of the other gospel writers) knew the 1 Cor. 15 creed. Only apologists and Sunday School teachers would make such a claim." You responded with your usual list of quotes followed by: "And you’re saying that there’s absolutely no reason to think that the Gospel authors knew about this tradition? I think the above scholars would disagree, and I’m pretty sure they are neither Sunday school teachers nor apologists. "

    So what you tried to do was attribute the word "tradition" to Dagoods when he had clearly written "creed."

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  52. So what you tried to do was attribute the word "tradition" to Dagoods when he had clearly written "creed."

    No, he responded to my use of the word "tradition" by using the word "creed," thereby confirming in my mind that the words are used interchangeably and that you were splitting hairs when you tried to make a distinction in our prior discussion.

    So this is actually an example of you originally convincing me that I should use the word "tradition" and not "creed," and DagoodS later showing me that "creed" is perfectly acceptable.

    See? I'm not obstinate at all. I've already changed my mind twice on this very subject.

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  53. Anette,

    Actually, if you will scroll up, I think you will see that Dagoods was responding to a comment of mine in which I addressed specific elements in the creed without using either the word "creed" or the word "tradition." It appears that Dagoods used the word "creed" because it was consonant with the point I was making, not because he views it as interchangeable with "tradition."

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  54. DagoodS,
    Hope you are enjoying Mammoth Cave. I've never been there, but I lived for 5 years in Lexington, KY. That's been my favorite place to live. KY is such a beautiful place. Over on the eastern side of KY is another lovely spot, cumberland falls, one of two places in the world where you can see a moonbow.

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  55. DoOrDoNot,

    Funny you should say that. I am typing this from the Cumberland Falls DuPont Lodge. We swam in Eagle Falls today.

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  56. D'Ma,

    Your (good)questions bring into sharp focus the difference between apologists and scholars. There is no "problem or concern" regarding an early or late date to Acts. None.

    The question (as in ALL ancient documents) is what date range a document is written. Normally, this is of little concern, with scholars accepting a range and little more is stated.

    When it comes to the Bible...

    I couldn't care less whether Acts was written in 30 CE or 230 CE. What I DO care about is people being consistent in their method. If we are going to date Suetonius, or Papias, or Lucian by certain accepted methods (for certain good reasons), I contend we should use the same methods on other documents of the time--the New Testament.

    Curiously, it is only when treating those documents, the apologists insist we throw out those methods we use everywhere else and assume their ad hoc poor reasoning.

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  57. Anette Acker,

    I date Mark (like many, if not the vast majority) by use of:

    1) His apocalyptic language in Mark 13;
    2) His use of Tanakh and pointing out his specific use of Daniel's genre in Mark 13;
    3) How, like most apocalyptic language, once the "prophecy" looks its accuracy, we can determine dating. Mark is accurate up to Jerusalem's destruction, becomes inaccurate after. (The parousia doesn't come.)
    4) How other books of the time (Josephus) indicate similar prophecies, yet we see they are written long after the events prophesied.

    Look...in a nutshell, for the same exact reasons we date Daniel to 164 BCE, we would date Mark to post 70 CE.

    Since Luke's Gospel copied Mark, it was after Mark. Since Acts was written after Luke's Gospel, it was also after Mark.

    Therefore, Acts was written after 70 CE.

    This is the reason I would date it after 70 CE. NOT because (as you said) I assume a naturalistic reason for Luke 21.

    I have pointed out all this before. I truly don't care if you (of all people) trust me. I have pointed out scholars such as Dr. Wallace, and you have demonstrated you will pick-and-choose what you want to believe on what you want to believe. Not on the scholars involved.

    Thank you, again, for supporting my contention the gospel writers did not know the 1 Cor. 15 Creed. (Both "tradition" and "creed" are not quite accurate. Since resurrection apologists tend to use "creed"--I simply use the same language. It was written post 40 CE using Pauline chronology, no one else knows it, and it plows up more snakes than any apologist can handle.)

    Again, not a single iota of evidence, other than blind, unsupported speculation, the gospel writers knew any such creed.

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  58. DagoodS,

    Curiously, it is only when treating those documents, the apologists insist we throw out those methods we use everywhere else and assume their ad hoc poor reasoning.

    Apologists insist on no such thing, which is why I said in my comment to Larry that apologists typically accept for the sake of argument the dating of critical scholars.

    However, for the purposes of this discussion, in which the question is whether or not Jesus actually prophesied the event, the methodology has to be different. I'm not arguing that critical Bible scholars should change their methodology; I'm simply saying that it fails to answer DoOrDoNot's question, because their methodology assumes a priori that Jesus did not prophesy the fall of Jerusalem. And she specifically said that she doesn't want to presume anything about whether it was a genuine prophecy. How do you suggest we go about answering that question?

    I have pointed out all this before. I truly don't care if you (of all people) trust me. I have pointed out scholars such as Dr. Wallace, and you have demonstrated you will pick-and-choose what you want to believe on what you want to believe. Not on the scholars involved.

    I pick and choose based on the evidence and the logic, and this has nothing to do with what I want to believe. As I've mentioned several times, I accept the theory of evolution because there is so much evidence behind it. This is not a popular position among conservative Christians.

    It goes without saying that I don't trust you blindly, but I'm encouraging other people to think critically about what you say, because you have an oracle quality about you. That is, you make pronouncements with an air of great authority (and I'm sure you are well-read on the subject of critical Bible sholarship), but you don't actually back them up. For example:

    Thank you, again, for supporting my contention the gospel writers did not know the 1 Cor. 15 Creed. (Both "tradition" and "creed" are not quite accurate. Since resurrection apologists tend to use "creed"--I simply use the same language. It was written post 40 CE using Pauline chronology, no one else knows it, and it plows up more snakes than any apologist can handle.)

    I can imagine you puffing at your pipe and waving your hand dismissively at the mention of the word "apologist," but you didn't back up your assertions.

    As I've said numerous times before, I don't want people to trust me blindly either. In fact, I once said to you on my blog, "[O]ne thing I try to do is answer questions in such a way that skeptics can check for themselves whether the facts I state are true and whether my conclusion logically follows."

    Why should we accept what you said about nobody else knowing about the creed/tradition (which contradicts what Bible scholars say), why is neither creed nor tradition accurate, how did I confirm that the Gospel authors didn't know about it, and what kind of snakes does this subject plow up that apologists can't handle? (I didn't get my information from apologists, by the way.)

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  59. DagoodS,
    Now I'm feeling nostalgic over my life in Kentucky! My husband and I camped many years ago at Cumberland Falls. We went in the autumn and nearly froze that night. We did see a moonbow though. Sounds like a lovely trip.

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  60. I haven't commented much in the discussion over dating the books of Mark and Acts as I'm not well studied in this area. My comments keep getting referenced though so it's beginning to feel rude on my part not to be part of the conversation. I've been following along and will continue to do so.

    When I asked about dating Mark, I was hoping there was some way to do so without reference to the prophesy ensuring an easy way to evaluate whether it was truly prophetic. I'm beginning to understand how murky this topic can be and how difficult to find accurate dates. Sigh. The process of dating apocalyptic material does make sense. If prophesies go from being fulfilled in detail to not at all, that provides a clear sign that the writer reached a point where the future was unknown.

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  61. greetings

    can someone show few examples to EXPLAIN the quote below

    "Finally, another reason for doubting the existence of "a vibrant oral tradition" underlying Mark is how constrained the authors of Matthew and Luke were in utilizing the material. If these oral traditions were
    so "vibrant," why does it appear as if they were silenced by the spread of Mark? Oral transmission is distinguished from literary transmission particularly by the degree of freedom the oral performer has to choose and very the exact wording of a passage while still conveying the outline of the narrative faithfully. If this sort of
    performance underlaid Mark's literary rendition, then why do we see Luke and Matthew reproducing Markan wording and order even where they
    are clearly at pains to alter the narrative away from themes in Mark that the authors weren't interested in, that is, why didn't those authors also avail themselves of the vibrance rather than make the
    very typically literary alterations we can see them making at many points in their naraatives. What happened to these oral traditions between the composition of Mark and the composition of Matthew and Luke, and why are not the authors of those texts adapting from it on matters that Mark treats rather than from passages in Mark that they
    clearly find unacceptable as given in their written source?"

    MR T

    I just don't get it. if matthew had different versions of the ressurection accounts, why did he reverse what is in mark 16:8?

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  62. Thank you Annette Acker and DagoodS for answering my questions.

    I'm basically trying to find out what all the fuss is about with the dating and what that means for the text itself.

    I am understanding now, correct me if I'm wrong, that timing of the writing of Acts is important to Christian apologists whereas dating is only important to Bible scholars in the sense of consistency with method. Whatever method scholars use to date one text(biblical or no) is the same method used to date another. A scholar really doesn't care about the date itself only insofar as it is accurate and consistent. A scholar isn't necessarily a skeptic. Makes sense to me.

    As to this statement from Annette Acker:

    In this context, a pre-70 AD dating of Acts would be evidence (but not conclusive proof) that Jesus actually prophesied the fall of Jerusalem, as stated in Luke, since we know that it actually happened in 70.

    Is a pre-70 AD dating of acts evidence that Jesus prophesied the fall of Jerusalem? Or is it evidence that Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem? Let me explain:

    Clearly the Jewish people and the Romans were at odds. There was definite animosity and conflict was building. During Jesus time it was reaching a fever pitch. When he predicted the fall of Jerusalem no one seemed particularly shocked. Maybe they all saw it coming. What they seemed shocked about was the supernatural events that Jesus predicted surrounding the fall. Had the fall never happened we'd never have heard that Jesus predicted it. It only became newsworthy because it happened. Being able to read the climate around you a draw reasonable conclusions about future possible events doesn't make one prophetic.

    A modern day example would be that around six years ago the housing market was exploding. New construction was at an all time high. It didn't take a rocket scientist to predict the burst of the bubble. Had the bubble never burst we'd have all forgotten about the predictions. Those predictions only become "news" if they happen. Does that make the predictions prophecy? No. It means you can read the things going on around you and come to reasonable conclusions.

    Maybe my thoughts are way off base and out there. Feel free to conclude that I'm out of league. I am.

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  63. D'Ma,

    No, you are by no means out of your league and your points are excellent ones.

    I am understanding now, correct me if I'm wrong, that timing of the writing of Acts is important to Christian apologists whereas dating is only important to Bible scholars in the sense of consistency with method.

    What I was more getting at is that in this particular discussion, we had to at least be open to the possibility that Jesus prophesied it, since that was the question DoOrDoNot asked. Otherwise, it would be like asking a Yes/No question where only No was a permissible answer. If we are going to ask the question at all, we have to consider that the answer could be Yes. And since critical scholars focus on the Bible as a human creation, their answer to the question of prophecy has to be No.

    However, a liberal Bible scholar named John A. T.
    Robinsons wrote a book called Redating the New Testament in which he argues that the entire NT should be dated before 70 AD, and he bases it in part on the fact that, except in the prophecies of Jesus, there is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem, something that would have been extremely devastating and would have affected many Christians.

    As a liberal scholar, Robinson doesn't conclude that Jesus prophesied the event. In fact, he makes similar points to yours--that it was not surprising that He predicted it.

    I said that it was "evidence" for real prophecy and "not conclusive proof" because there are still possible natural explanations, and someone like Robinson, who doesn't believe in the supernatural, gave early dates to the NT narratives.

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  64. D'Ma,

    When it comes to dating ancient documents, the only things that gives scholars much certainty are unambiguous external references to the document and unambiguous internal references to events. If another document which can be dated with certainty refers to one of the gospels, we can be sure that the gospels were written before the other document. If the gospel refers to an event that can be dated with certainty, we can be certain that it was written after that event.

    Richard Carrier describes just how difficult this can be with respect to the Gospel of Matthew in a blog post titled Ignatian Vexation. Many scholars use the letters of Ignatius to establish an outer date of 107 A.D. for the composition of Matthew, but there are many problems: it is not clear whether Ignatius is referencing Matthew or not (Matthew might even be relying on Ignatius); dating Ignatius isn't easy; determining the original text of Ignatius' letters isn't easy. The list goes on and on. It's a fascinating article.

    As I understand the evidence, the first really indisputable external references to the gospels aren't found until the middle of the second century.

    As far as establishing the earliest date that the gospels might have been written, the latest identifiable event seems to be the fall of Jerusalem. Conservative Christians, however, argue that this isn't suitable for dating the gospels because it might have been a real prophecy (or prediction).

    The thing that I find most interesting is that none of the epistles written in the first century seem to have any awareness of the gospels. This suggests to me that regardless of when they were written, the gospels may not have been generally circulated or generally accepted as authoritative until well into the second century.

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  65. Vinny,

    I've read that post at Steve Carrier's blog. It certainly does show just how difficult dating ancient documents can be.

    When I was a die hard inerrantist(you know, if you can't believe all of the scriptures you probably can't believe any of the scriptures and even if some of it is true how would you know which part..)I believed all of the Bible in the exact order it's put together. Dating of the documents didn't seem that important and preachers and teachers certainly didn't bother to explain all that. They are content to allow the fold to believe that the Bible is put together in Chronological order.

    When I first began to seriously research things for myself the revelation that Romans is dated earlier than the gospels put a serious question mark in my mind about the rest of the Bible. Then I began researching the dating of each NT book. It is misleading and disingenuous, in my opinion, not to teach those things. It sheds a whole new light on a lot of things. Certainly part of the problem with teaching it would be the difficulty in accurately dating the texts and what that means for it.

    I certainly wasn't aware and it was a real eye opener for me.

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  66. Annette Acker,

    I'm open to the idea that Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem, I'm just not sold on it as a supernatural prophecy.

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  67. D'Ma,

    Jesus could have predicted it, but that wouldn't mean that Luke was written before it happened. Just like a stock broker advertises all his good calls after the fact. Luke could simply have included one of Jesus' good calls.

    On the other hand, even if Luke was written before the fall of Jerusalem, it might have been Luke who made the prediction in the 60's and put it in Jesus' mouth in the 30's.

    The permutations are endless.

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  68. Larry,

    But with all of its weaknesses, the skeptical, scientific method is at least somewhat formalized. We have Bayes theorem and Occam's razor to rigorously specify and sometimes quantify what we mean by "most probable" and "simplest", two crucial components of the skeptical, scientific methodology. We have the notion that only publicly accessible evidence is admissible directly as evidence. The outcome is clear: scientists and skeptics do come to agreement, even about wildly implausible theories such as quantum mechanics. The method works.

    Although I agree with you that the scientific method works, I would not equate scientific methodology with skepticism (by which I understand you to mean non-theism). In fact, William of Ockham (best known for Occam’s razor) was a Franciscan friar, and a number of those who contributed to the development of the scientific method were Muslims and Christians.

    (However, I do of course agree that the scientific method can only be used to study the natural realm. Anything beyond testable science, including questions about God, the supernatural, or the multiverse, is philosophy.)

    When I was discussing the dating of Acts, I did look at it in terms of not multiplying entities beyond necessity, and I concluded that the simplest explanation for why the fall of Jerusalem (and other events highly relevant to the narratives) were excluded from the NT narratives is that they had not yet happened. As I’ve discussed above, liberal scholar John A. T. Robinson reached the same conclusion.

    As for Bayes’ Theorem, are you familiar with John Earman? He is a philosopher of science and an atheist, and he authored Hume’s Abject Failure, in which he uses Bayes’ Theorem to refute David Hume’s argument against miracles. In other words, Bayes’ Theorem can be used to determine whether or not a miraculous event like the resurrection is probable, and according to Earman, “[T]estimonies to a number of New Testament miracles can each give bits of incremental confirmation to C[hristianity] that together add up to substantial confirmation. Or the evidence of miracles can combine with the evidence of prophecy and design to provide grounds for the credibility or even moral certainty of religious doctrines.”

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  69. Anette:

    I would not equate scientific methodology with skepticism (by which I understand you to mean non-theism).

    No, by skepticism, I most definitely do not mean non-theism. If I meant non-theism or atheism, I would have said non-theism or atheism. I mean skepticism: the idea that one believes ideas only if there is sufficient evidence to believe them.

    As for Bayes’ Theorem, are you familiar with John Earman? He is a philosopher of science and an atheist, and he authored Hume’s Abject Failure, in which he uses Bayes’ Theorem to refute David Hume’s argument against miracles.

    Dunno. Maybe I'll get to it someday. Right now my schoolwork is taking precedence, and I'm pretty much done with professional philosophy; I have as little respect for the profession as I do for theology and apologetics. Statistics are extremely difficult — even professional statisticians have to be extremely careful to not make mistakes — and I've never met a professional philosopher who could work his way through an calculus textbook.

    I do notice that the quotation you present is full of "can". "Can", "could" and "might" are usually not interesting. I'm not interested in what can be proved, I'm interested what people actually do prove.

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  70. Larry,

    No, by skepticism, I most definitely do not mean non-theism. If I meant non-theism or atheism, I would have said non-theism or atheism. I mean skepticism: the idea that one believes ideas only if there is sufficient evidence to believe them.

    The number 2 definition for “skeptic” on Dictionary.com is:

    “A person who doubts the truth of Christianity and other religions; an atheist or agnostic.”

    But I’m glad to know that you were not using that definition. In fact, the idea behind evidentiary apologetics is to defend Christian theism using evidence that is equally available to everyone.

    I do notice that the quotation you present is full of "can". "Can", "could" and "might" are usually not interesting. I'm not interested in what can be proved, I'm interested what people actually do prove.

    The reason why Earman says “can,” “could,” and “might,” is because he is simply discussing this subject in principle using Bayes’ Theorem, and his conclusion was that Hume is “forced to leave the high ground and descend into the trenches where, as he must have been aware, there were opponents who had considered the contrary miracles argument and were prepared to argue on the basis of contextual details for the superiority of the New Testament miracle stories over heathen miracle stories. These opponents may or may not have been right. But Hume had no good reason for avoiding an enagagement with them.”

    In other words, Earman’s goal was simply to refute the argument against miracles (and he did this to “set the record straight”), but as an atheist he has no incentive to do the time-consuming work of combing through all the salient facts of the NT and applying Bayes factors to the various pieces of evidence.

    However, theistic philosopher of physics, Timothy McGrew, and his wife, Lydia McGrew, who has a Ph.D. in epistemology with a specialization in Bayesian inference, did do just that in “The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.”

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  71. I do notice that the quotation you present is full of "can". "Can", "could" and "might" are usually not interesting. I'm not interested in what can be proved, I'm interested what people actually do prove.

    It's interesting that Larry said that as it was what I was thinking.

    I'm skeptical and looking for evidence. What I've seen so far represents could be, might be, possible hypothesis.

    Again, I go back to this statement by Annette Acker:


    In this context, a pre-70 AD dating of Acts would be evidence (but not
    conclusive proof) that Jesus actually prophesied the fall of Jerusalem,
    as stated in Luke, since we know that it actually happened in 70. (Acts
    was the sequel to Luke.)

    In this context, a pre-70 AD dating of Acts could be evidence that Jesus actually prophesied the fall of Jerusalem.

    It seems in the end all we are left with is a lot of coulda, shoulda, woulda and nothing actually provable.

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  72. I'm skeptical and looking for evidence. What I've seen so far represents could be, might be, possible hypothesis.

    Every time you flip a coin there is a possibility that it will come up heads; in fact, there is a quite substantial possibility that it will come up heads. However, the probability of getting 5 heads out of 5 flips is only 3 in 100.

    Christian apologists spend a lot of time trying to show that there interpretations of various issues are possible. However, in order for their overall argument to work, there are a large number of possibles that must all go their way. In other words, every coin must come up heads for the conservative Christian.

    It is possible that there were eyewitnesses around to make sure that the authors of the gospels got the story right, but it's also possible that the composition of the gospels was far removed from the original events and any of the witnesses.

    It is possible that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in his tomb, but it is also possible that the Romans threw his body in a common grave for criminals so that no one would have known where the body was.

    It is possible that the resurrection was first proclaimed in Jerusalem where the apostles claims could be easily disproved, but it's also possible that the first appearances were in Galilee where people were unfamiliar with the events surrounding Jesus crucifixion.

    It is possible that Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem, but it is also possible that Mark attributed the prophecy to him after the event.

    It is possible that the appearances were exactly as they are described in the gospels, but it's also possible that one person claimed to have seen Jesus alive and when others saw that this gave him status in the community, they claimed to have seen him, too.

    It is possible that Paul was a sincere and honest man, but it is also possible that he was a bullshit artist along the lines of Joseph Smith.

    I could go on and on.

    Awhile back Dagoods, HeIsSailing, and I were involved in a discussion with an apologist who insisted on taking a step-by-step approach in which he would try to get us to agree that a particular proposition was likely true before moving on to the next one. I was inclined to be fairly generous because even if I granted that the odds in favor of each one of his propositions being true was 2 out of 3, if his argument depended on 10 such proposition, the odds that all 10 were true would still be less than 1 in 60.

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  73. I were involved in a discussion with an apologist who insisted on taking a step-by-step approach in which he would try to get us to agree that a particular proposition was likely true before moving on to the next one.

    See the preface and lottery paradoxes. Our intuition regarding probability and statistics is, except for very specialized circumstances, extremely poor.

    Another mistake a lot of people make is the assignment of prior probabilities in Bayesian analysis. For example, people see "one in a million" (10^-6) as very unlikely, but every day, 6,000-7,000 people on average have a one in a million day. Shuffle a deck of cards; the probability of that specific ordering is 52! or ~8 x 10^-67.

    Miracles would have to be much rarer than that to qualify as miracles; a routine miracle is just an ordinary event, permitted by the definition of scientific epistemology by the laws of nature. The Fine Tuning problem is especially susceptible to the intuitive assignment of artificially high prior probabilities.

    I haven't looked at Earman's book, but I'll bet dollars to donuts he's assigning a relatively high prior probability (10^-6 or 10^-9) to miraculous events. In contrast, I'd consider a very generous upper bound for the prior probability of a miracle to be one over the total number of people who have existed in recorded history (I'm guessing 10^14) times the number of days an average person is alive (~10^5) times the number of events in a day (maybe 10^4) for a total of about 10^-23. That's an upper bound; given the extremely low priors in many very ordinary situations (e.g. shuffling a deck of cards), I would not be at all surprised that a careful investigation put the priors in the 10 to the negative hundreds or thousands.

    It seems implausible that we could substantiate such a low prior with only the evidence available from present personal testimony, much less ancient history.

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  74. Also, based on what I know about philosophers, I'm extremely confident that any philosopher who writes about probability in any specific case has not constructed his probability spaces with anything approaching mathematical rigor.

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  75. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  76. Also, Anette, you should be aware that we're at the level where individual credentials are irrelevant for establishing anything more substantive than "ordinaryness". Dagood, for example, invokes the majority of biblical scholars not to lend weight to his argument, but merely to assert that his methods are ordinary, not unusual.

    We are instead involved with a (to bend over backwards to be charitable) controversy between people with credentials. Since the issue is outside my field, I'd have to see a summary of the salient points of Earman's and the McGrews' arguments (especially their justification for individual probabilities, and most especially the justification for prior probabilities) to be motivated to investigate further. Otherwise, I'll just chalk it up to non-statisticians being naive about statistics.

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  77. D’Ma,

    Think of it this way: There is no such thing as conclusive proof of a scientific theory either. Scientific theories can be falsified but not proven. Only math gives us conclusive proof. And just like scientific theories cannot be proven, Christianity cannot be proven. Neither can other worldviews, like atheism, deism, or other religious views. There are few things we have absolute certainty about.

    When I said that an early date for the Gospels is evidence but not conclusive proof that Jesus prophesied it, I meant that obviously you wouldn’t decide based on that fact alone that Christianity is true. You would look at a number of different lines of evidence together. This is what John Earman means by “incremental confirmation” of Christianity that together “add up to substantial confirmation.”

    That is kind of what I did when I started discussing Christian theism with atheists. I went through all the relevant subjects—science, history, philosophy, and theology—to evaluate the evidence for or against Christianity. But I didn’t focus on books on apologetics—I focused on the skeptical response to Christianity, so I approached this like a scientist subjecting his or her hypothesis (with my “hypothesis” being the Bible) to falsification. And I decided that I was going to be scrupulously honest in every way, and not just defend my position at all costs.

    I found that Christianity is completely consistent with the evidence in every way. And the more complex the worldview and the more formidable the challenges, the less likely that the evidence and the worldview would match simply by chance.

    My conclusion is well articulated by G. K. Chesterton: "If snowflakes fell in the shape, say, of the heart of Midlothian, it might be an accident. But if snowflakes fell in the exact shape of the maze at Hampton Court, I think one might call it a miracle. It is exactly as of such a miracle that I have since come to feel of the philosophy of Christianity.”

    The more I learn, the more I see that Christianity is completely consistent with the evidence. The difficulty with discussions like this, however, is that I can’t repeat everything in one discussion. It takes a long time to fully explore these issues. So I can say that this has been my experience, and it has certainly strengthened my faith, but without reproducing all those discussions, I can’t prove that to you.

    Suffice it to say that I’ve had a lot of discussions with Vinny, and in the context of a discussion where he brought up a hypothetical Hindu whose holy book told him the Big Bang was false, I challenged him to find an example of me denying or ignoring evidence for the sake of my Christian beliefs, and he could not find anything. He promised me a blog post answering that question, but so far I have not seen one.

    And it is not accurate what he says about Christians looking for the “possibility” that their interpretation of the evidence is correct. I try to focus on the most probable and the simplest explanation for all the evidence.

    It is true that I’ve seen some Christians who bend over backwards to get all the minor discrepancies between the Gospels to fit, but in my opinion that is both silly and unnecessary. The minor variations in accounts of the same story militate against collusion, and they do not trouble most conservative Bible scholars.

    I have claimed that the Bible contains no theological or doctrinal inconsistencies, and that is a claim I have spent much time substantiating during the time I’ve had discussions like this with atheists and agnostics.

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  78. Larry,

    See the preface and lottery paradoxes. Our intuition regarding probability and statistics is, except for very specialized circumstances, extremely poor.

    Another mistake a lot of people make is the assignment of prior probabilities in Bayesian analysis. For example, people see "one in a million" (10^-6) as very unlikely, but every day, 6,000-7,000 people on average have a one in a million day. Shuffle a deck of cards; the probability of that specific ordering is 52! or ~8 x 10^-67.


    Saying that the probability that someone will win the lottery is extremely high, and that the probability that any one person with a ticket will win is extremely low, is not a contradiction. It is extremely reasonable to assume that someone will win, but unreasonable to assume that I will win.

    That’s why the fine-tuning of the universe can only be reasonably explained by a Creator or a hypothetical multiverse in which our universe was like the lottery ticket winner.

    I haven't looked at Earman's book, but I'll bet dollars to donuts he's assigning a relatively high prior probability (10^-6 or 10^-9) to miraculous events. In contrast, I'd consider a very generous upper bound for the prior probability of a miracle to be one over the total number of people who have existed in recorded history (I'm guessing 10^14) times the number of days an average person is alive (~10^5) times the number of events in a day (maybe 10^4) for a total of about 10^-23. That's an upper bound; given the extremely low priors in many very ordinary situations (e.g. shuffling a deck of cards), I would not be at all surprised that a careful investigation put the priors in the 10 to the negative hundreds or thousands.

    Earman does not assign a prior probability at all, and as an atheist he regards the prior probability of anything supernatural to be very low. Again, he is simply refuting Hume’s argument against miracles using Bayes’ Theorem, and to the best of my knowledge, nobody has identified flaws in Earman’s reasoning. A few critics have accused him of misunderstanding Hume’s argument, but Earman actually spends a fair amount of time on Hume’s definitions of a miracle and correctly notes that Hume “was able to create the illusion of a powerful argument by maintaining ambiguities in his claims against miracles . . .” The inherent ambiguities make it possible for the Hume apologists to accuse critics of not understanding the argument.

    As for the prior probability of the resurrection, it would not be a question of whether a person can violate the laws of nature and be raised from the dead, but whether God, who would have created those laws in the first place, exists and raised His Son from the dead in part to prove His deity. In other words, the prior probability depends on arguments for or against the existence of God.

    Because that is such a broad subject, the McGrews did not set a prior probability. Instead, they focused on the Bayes factors for the specific evidence and concluded:

    “But our estimated Bayes factors for these pieces of evidence were, respectively, 10^2, 10^39, and 10^3. Sheer multiplication through gives a Bayes factor of 10^44, a weight of evidence that would be sufficient to overcome a prior probability (or rather improbability) of 10^–40 for R and leave us with a posterior probability in excess of 0.9999.” (Italics added.)

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  79. Also, based on what I know about philosophers, I'm extremely confident that any philosopher who writes about probability in any specific case has not constructed his probability spaces with anything approaching mathematical rigor.

    John Earman and Tim McGrew are professors of philosophy of science who specialize in Bayes’ Theorem. I have no idea how you can make a statement like that.

    We are instead involved with a (to bend over backwards to be charitable) controversy between people with credentials. Since the issue is outside my field, I'd have to see a summary of the salient points of the argument (especially the justification of individual probabilities, and most especially the justification of prior probabilities) to be motivated to investigate further. Otherwise, I'll just chalk it up to non-statisticians being naive about statistics.

    What’s the controversy between people with credentials? I have not yet come across anyone who has done damage to Earman’s argument (but if you can find someone, I would be very interested to read what they have to say), and Richard Carrier criticized the McGrews in an interview with Luke Muehlhauser, but ended up apologizing and conceding that there was nothing wrong with their use of Bayes’ Theorem (but he disagreed with their historical facts, which is not surprising since my understanding is that Carrier is a Jesus mythicist).

    I can’t summarize the salient facts—it took me six months to discuss the resurrection evidence on my blog because the facts as so closely interconnected—but if you’re interested, you can read the McGrews’ article.

    My point was simply to say that Occam’s razor and Bayes’ Theorem can also be used to evaluate theistic claims.

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  80. He promised me a blog post answering that question, but so far I have not seen one.

    Wrong again Anette. Are you planning on repeating this canard every time you want to avoid responding to a point that I have made? What I said was "If you would care to post something about my closed-mindedness on your blog, I will be happy to address your questions there, but I’m not going to hijack Bill’s blog. That seems impolite to me."

    There is of course that last question on TQA that I posed and you never answered: "Now suppose that my hypothetical Hindu decides to examine the empirical evidence for the Big Bang. After completing his examination, he announces 'Guess what. In my best judgment, the empirical evidence does not support the Big Bang, just as I expected.' Wouldn't there be some reason to doubt that his judgment was really driven by the evidence rather than the mandates of his holy book?"

    Just to refresh your recollection, you had previously conceded that "If your hypothetical Hindu knew that there was no way he would ever accept the Big Bang because of his holy book, then he would by definition be closed-minded. People who believe what they want, regardless of the evidence, are closed-minded."

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  81. Vinny,

    You're right--you did say that I should do a blog post on it. I misremembered.

    However, I just asked a simple question, and I don't think it warrants an entire blog post. It would basically consist of: "Question: Can Vinny think of an example where I've denied or ignored evidence for the sake of my beliefs?"

    If it would have been impolite to answer the question on Bill's blog, why could you not answer it here or in response to me when I commented on a post on your blog? It's a very simple question.

    There is of course that last question on TQA that I posed and you never answered: "Now suppose that my hypothetical Hindu decides to examine the empirical evidence for the Big Bang. After completing his examination, he announces 'Guess what. In my best judgment, the empirical evidence does not support the Big Bang, just as I expected.' Wouldn't there be some reason to doubt that his judgment was really driven by the evidence rather than the mandates of his holy book?"

    Yes, just like Fred Hoyle's denial of the Big Bang was driven by his atheism, and YECs' denial of radiometric dating is driven by their interpretation of Genesis.

    Just to refresh your recollection, you had previously conceded that "If your hypothetical Hindu knew that there was no way he would ever accept the Big Bang because of his holy book, then he would by definition be closed-minded. People who believe what they want, regardless of the evidence, are closed-minded."

    That is correct.

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  82. Saying that the probability that someone will win the lottery is extremely high, and that the probability that any one person with a ticket will win is extremely low, is not a contradiction. ... That’s why the fine-tuning of the universe can only be reasonably explained by a Creator or a hypothetical multiverse in which our universe was like the lottery ticket winner.

    That's a complete non sequitur.

    Earman does not assign a prior probability at all, and as an atheist he regards the prior probability of anything supernatural to be very low.

    So he is assigning a prior probability.

    Bayes' theorem is all about priors; the theorem states precisely how an evidentiary probability affects a prior probability.

    ... to the best of my knowledge, nobody has identified flaws in Earman’s reasoning.

    <shrugs> You will forgive me, I hope, if I'm not especially persuaded by your opinion.

    As for the prior probability of the resurrection, it would not be a question of whether a person can violate the laws of nature and be raised from the dead, but whether God, who would have created those laws in the first place, exists and raised His Son from the dead in part to prove His deity. In other words, the prior probability depends on arguments for or against the existence of God.

    Circular. You can't assume God in your priors if you're going to use the argument as evidence for the existence of God. All improbable evidence is necessary given the premise you're trying to use the evidence to prove.

    But our estimated Bayes factors for these pieces of evidence were, respectively, 10^2, 10^39, and 10^3. Sheer multiplication through gives a Bayes factor of 10^44, a weight of evidence that would be sufficient to overcome a prior probability (or rather improbability) of 10^–40 for R and leave us with a posterior probability in excess of 0.9999.

    10^44 would be compelling. I'd have to see their reasoning.

    John Earman and Tim McGrew are professors of philosophy of science who specialize in Bayes’ Theorem. I have no idea how you can make a statement like that.

    Because people with graduate degrees in philosophy typically do not have graduate degrees in statistics or mathematics.

    Richard Carrier criticized the McGrews in an interview with Luke Muehlhauser, but ended up apologizing and conceding that there was nothing wrong with their use of Bayes’ Theorem.

    I know Dr. Carrier personally. He's a reasonably intelligent person, a careful scholar and an excellent historian, but he's not a statistician or mathematician.

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  83. I can’t summarize the salient facts—it took me six months to discuss the resurrection evidence on my blog because the facts as so closely interconnected—but if you’re interested, you can read the McGrews’ article.

    If you can't summarize an argument, you don't understand it.

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  84. But our estimated Bayes factors for these pieces of evidence were, respectively, 10^2, 10^39, and 10^3. Sheer multiplication through gives a Bayes factor of 10^44, a weight of evidence that would be sufficient to overcome a prior probability (or rather improbability) of 10^–40 for R and leave us with a posterior probability in excess of 0.9999.

    There's an elementary error in the quoted material. Bayes' theorem is
    P(A|B) = [P(B|A) * P(A)] / [P(B|A) * P(A) + P(B|~A) * P(~A)].

    This quoted analysis seems to assume that P(B|A) = 1.0 and P(B|~A) = 0.0. The authors would seem to assert that if the hypothesis were true, we would see exactly the evidence we actually see; if the hypothesis were false we would definitely not see the evidence we see.

    But in this case Bayes theorem is degenerate (in the mathematical sense); there would be no need to invoke it. Bayes theorem is useful only when you need to account for both Type I and Type II error, i.e. false positives P(B|~A) > 0 and false negatives P(B|A) < 1.0 . If you don't need to account for false positives and negatives, Bayes' theorem is pointless.

    It might be the case that the authors have a good justification for assigning degenerate probabilities to false negatives and positives. Or you might be quoting the degenerate lemma out of context. Or you might be misquoting them. Or you might be making it up out of whole cloth. As noted, no one here trusts your scholarship.

    The crux of any argument is not whether the proponent correctly employs the mechanics of deduction, but how they justify their assumptions. You have reproduced the least interesting part of the McGrews’ article, in such a way that — if we were to trust your scholarship — we actually lose confidence in their conclusion.

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  85. My mistake: It appears the authors are using the simple form of Bayes theorem:

    P(A|B) = [P(B|A) * P(A)] / P(B)

    and assuming P(B|A) = 1.0.

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  86. Ah... GIYF

    The Argument from Miracles:
    A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth
    .

    When your source is easily available on the web, it doesn't help your reputation at all that you don't give us a link.

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  87. A cursory examination of the article seems to show that the authors first assume the Gospels (and some other biblical accounts) are direct, contemporary eyewitness accounts, and the authors report their experiential knowledge; in short, the article assumes that the content of gospels constitutes legitimate testimony.

    This assumption is, of course, highly controversial on two points. First, we cannot date the gospels beyond a reasonable doubt early enough to assume they are actually contemporary. Some of the most plausible alternative hypotheses relating to literary or propagandistic motives are excluded a priori.

    Second, the authors use an... unusual... form of Bayes theorem: P(F|R) / P(F|~R). This formulation does not account for false negatives, and does not condition the false positive in the denominator according to the a priori improbability of the hypothesis.

    Third, the authors assume each piece of evidence is independent. However, this assumption is unjustified.

    The only "alternative hypothesis" the authors seem to consider are that the Gospel authors would have sincerely and honestly reported a number of experiences even if the resurrection had not occurred. This hypothesis is, of course, the least plausible alternative hypothesis.

    I was curious about the origin of the 10^39 number; that's extremely high. According to the authors:

    The simple fact is that if the resurrection did not occur, we would not expect to have anything remotely like the testimony of even a single witness as recorded in Acts and the gospels, his defiance in the face of death, and such a witness’s sudden and permanent transformation reported in Acts and confirmed by the evidence of the early church. In the individual case, it would seem that P(Di|R) is at least three orders of magnitude greater than P(Di|~R). But having assigned a single factor, we must ask what happens when we take into account the fact that there were thirteen such disciples. We can get a first approximation to the result by assuming independence. Recall, first, that where the pieces of evidence are all independent given R and given ~R, the assumption of independence entails that ... which yields a staggering combined factor P(D|R)/P(D|~R) = 10^39.

    But of course we do not have the testimony of thirteen disciples as to the experience of a resurrected Jesus. These experiences are not independent; we have only a single source of hearsay evidence. The authors are manufacturing evidence out of thin air.

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  88. Vinny,

    I’m not finding any scholarship regarding Mark avoiding post-Resurrection appearances due to any controversy. Of course, such scholars can exist—I just haven’t found them.

    This would be due to four (4) reasons, I think:

    1) Mark was written early—before any controversies or contradictions arose;
    2) The communities were separate enough (such as the Johnannine) that no controversies were known;
    3) The culture would not have considered these stories as contradictory; they were definitely not inerrantists.
    4) Mark takes a position on the single controversy; he isn’t silent on it.

    The most glaring controversy in the earliest works was the question of where the appearances take place—Jerusalem or Galilee. Matthew, John 21, 1 Cor. 15 (probably) and Gospel of Peter opt for Galilee. Luke/Acts and John 20 choose Jerusalem. Mark’s anticipation of a Galilean appearance places it in the Galilean crowd.

    I should note later works such as Gospel of Hebrews, Gospel of Mary and Acts of Pilate did interject the additional question of who Jesus appeared to. As Mark was written before these works, I doubt he was avoiding issues that had yet to be raised.

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  89. Anette Acker: And you’re saying that there’s absolutely no reason to think that the Gospel authors knew about this tradition? I think the above scholars would disagree, and I’m pretty sure they are neither Sunday school teachers nor apologists.

    Now that I am back, let me deal with this a bit more completely. The easiest way, of course, to determine whether a later author knows a previous author’s work, is if the later author cites the previous author. How I started off this comment—I gave your name and a quote. Indicating I knew both you AND the statement you made.

    The slightly less easy way is to see how close I come to quoting you. If I hadn’t listed your name, but someone did a search through this blog entry, they would see the italicized section is word-for-word for what you said previously, and determine I must be familiar with your work, as I so closely copied it. (Hence the reason we recognize the Synoptics copying each other.)

    Of course, the less similar the later work, the less likely I am copying. If we come to the point I am saying something completely different, we presume I have no knowledge regarding the previous work.

    I indicated the gospel writers did not know the 1 Cor. 15 creed. You quoted a few scholars who all basically said 1 Cor. 15 was written before the gospels (I agree) BUT you have subsequently failed to move beyond that point. Simply because it was earlier, doesn’t meant the Gospel writers knew it. You have written numerous blog entries earlier than today—doesn’t mean I am aware of all the things you said.

    The only way we can determine if the gospel writers actually knew the 1 Cor. 15 creed, is to see the similarities between the statements.

    Let’s look at the appearances listed:

    1) Peter (vs. 5). Not listed in any gospel, subtly inferred in Luke 24:34.
    2) The Twelve* Not listed in any gospel.
    3) 500. (vs. 6) Not listed in any gospel.
    4) James. (vs. 7) Not listed in any gospel
    5) All the apostles.** Not listed in any gospel
    6) Paul. (vs. 8) Not listed in any gospel.

    *I am aware apologists like to state “The Twelve” is a title, even though there were only eleven left. The problem with this is that Matthew seems to have no problem saying Jesus appeared to Eleven. (Matt. 28:16) Matthew does not feel compelled by the Creed to use “the Twelve” when only eleven present. Worse, Luke uses “the Eleven” (Luke 24:33) [indicating he is likewise not bound by “the Twelve”] when there are only 10 present according to the inerrantist!

    **The Greek here does not mean literally every single apostle. It means very many.

    Then we look at the appearances in the Gospels:

    1) The women (Matt. 28:9) Not in 1 Cor. 15
    2) The eleven (Matt. 28:16) Not in 1 Cor. 15
    3) Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13) Not in 1 Cor. 15.
    4) The Eleven (10) in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36) (John 20:19) Not in 1 Cor. 15.
    5) Mary Magdalena (John 20:14) Not in 1 Cor. 15.
    6) The Eleven (11) in Jerusalem (John 20:26) Not in 1 Cor. 15.
    7) The Fishermen (John 21) Not in 1 Cor. 15.

    We have no cross-over indicating the gospel writers knew the 1 Cor. 15 Creed. None.

    So the apologist pulls the trick of stating, “1 Cor. 15 was written early, mentioning appearances. Gospels were written later, mentioning appearances” and then go silent, hoping the pew-sitters and unmotivated will fill-in-the-blanks and assume the gospel writers must have known the tradition.

    Then some skeptic, (like me) asks for evidence the gospel-writers knew 1 Cor. 15. And the apologist (not knowing any different) pulls the same trick. Not realizing I’ve actually read and compared the appearances. I’ve done my homework. So when I ask for actual evidence, the apologist ignores my question, realizing she has none.

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  90. The reason this Creed plows up more snakes than an apologist can handle, is the simple question—why did the gospel writers (if they were either the actual authors of the creed (Matthew and John) or influenced by the creed writers (Mark and Luke)) not utilize the creed? Why is it, when listing the appearances, they completely abandoned the creed?

    We have the creed dated to about 40 CE. (Yes, yes, I know about scholars trying to get it to around 31-33 CE. They ignore Pauline chronology.) According to those wanting an early date to the gospels, they are written (at the latest) 64 CE. For those wanting to claim the gospels are “much too early” for myths and legends to develop—how do they respond to the fact the earlier claims (the Creed) are abandoned for different and more glorified statements. Isn’t that exactly what myths and legends are? Within, at most, 24 years?

    Worse, what happened to the women? Dr. Craig likes to argue the gospel writers would never have had the women see Jesus, because of their status in society. Apparently the first stories agreed with him—they DIDN’T have the women! Unless, of course, Paul removed the women from the Creed. Which raises the question what other editorializing Paul did to it.

    Why doesn’t anyone know about the 500 appearance? Until the Acts of Pilate—a book most Christians haven’t even read, let alone agree is historical.

    1 Cor. 15 as an early tradition demonstrates the writers felt free to modify, ignore or change whatever they desired about Jesus’ appearance. Like myths and legends.

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  91. I’ve never familiarized myself with Bayes’ Theorem. I have always questioned how one determines “prior probabilities” regarding a god—an entity we can neither observe, quantify or even define. My (albeit miniscule) understanding of statistical probability is that it is based upon observation, quantification of data, and within accepted statistical norms. For example, the chance I will gain 100 pounds today is outside statistical probability. If a god wanted me to gain (or lose) such weight—doesn’t it become statistically possible?

    Therefore, under a god, there is a statistical probability for just about anything. And any attempt to restrict or reduce it to a number would be fruitless.

    Am I incorrect? If so—how does one obtain statistical probability on a god? What is the statistical probability a god will cause me to gain 100 pounds today?

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  92. Larry tried to post this comment a few days ago, and blogger refused to accept it. I am trying to free it up:

    The problem, Anette, is that evidentiary argument in general must presume the non-existence of miracles. Evidentiary arguments essentially proceed by a process of elimination: candidate explanations are eliminated because they would require a violation of known general laws.

    Of course, because evidentiary knowledge is not absolutely certain, it is possible that our knowledge is incorrect: we might be mistaken as to what a general law is. If we were really evaluating evidence to test a general law, then it would indeed be circular to use that candidate law to reject candidate hypotheses.

    However, the problem, especially with history, is that the general laws we use to reject candidate hypotheses are usually so well-established that a single piece of evidence -- again, especially historical evidence -- lacks sufficient power to overcome the general law. We could, I suppose, suspend the general law in evaluating hypotheses about some historical document, but we would just find that the evidence of that document was enormously insufficient to overcome all the other evidence that led to the general law.

    In this case, we could, I suppose, suspend the law that prophecy is impossible; i.e. if a document mentions some event, then we must reject the hypothesis that it was written before that event; but to what purpose? We just cannot be confident enough about the dating without using the "no-prophecy" rule to overcome all the other evidence about the impossibility of prophecy. And in this case, the only evidence you appear to have for an early date is the argument from silence, which is thin evidence indeed.

    Part of the problem is that it's not at all clear that you're arguing an early date for Acts for the specific purpose of establishing the prophetic nature of Luke. If that specific purpose is unclear, if it appears that you're just to establish a date for its own sake (a common historical task), then it's hardly circular for an opponent to use the ordinary, well-established, presumption that texts are not prophetic.

    More generally, because of the nature of the evidentiary process, it is impossible to use it to prove "miracles". As mentioned before, the evidentiary method is exclusive: As Sherlock Holmes famously said, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." A miracle, on the common definition, is the "impossible" happening: a violation of an actually true natural law. But using the evidentiary method, if we found (with confidence) a "violation" of a natural law, we would by definition reject our prior belief in the natural law. If, for example, we drop an object and it does not fall to the ground, we would conclude that our prior belief that it is a natural law that things fall when you drop them was actually false. That's just the way the evidentiary method works.

    (We can, of course, use the evidentiary method to prove the merely improbable; scientists do that every day. But to consider "miracles" merely improbable would place God firmly within the natural world, which does not seem like an orthodox Christian interpretation.)

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  93. Larry [cont’d]:

    You could, of course, reject the evidentiary method on philosophical, metaphysical grounds precisely because it cannot by definition prove what you are arguing. I think that move would put you in an untenable philosophical position, but that's a discussion for another day. (And another person: I am, as you know, already convinced you have neither the skill, knowledge, honesty nor good will for such a discussion to be productive.) More importantly, though, if you reject the evidentiary method on metaphysical grounds, it is the height of hypocrisy and dishonesty to try to use it where it's convenient to your position, but suspend or ignore it when it contradicts when inconvenient. If you do believe the evidentiary method is not probative, then it's just not probative; it must therefore be a fallacy to rely on it, and we must see any cases where it results in the truth as purely accidental.

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  94. Annette Acker,

    You said:

    When I said that an early date for the Gospels is evidence but not conclusive proof that Jesus prophesied it, I meant that obviously you wouldn’t decide based on that fact alone that Christianity is true. You would look at a number of different lines of evidence together. This is what John Earman means by “incremental confirmation” of Christianity that together “add up to substantial confirmation.”

    I'll go back to the analogy of a court case here. And I'll have to learn to choose my words more carefully. I didn't mean that what you had presented wasn't evidence at all. What I meant was that what you have provided is circumstantial evidence(not conclusive proof as you pointed out). All you have is circumstantial evidence. If a case goes to court can a person be convicted on mere circumstantial evidence? Usually not because there is a whole lot of room for reasonable doubt. You have no hard evidence, no smoking gun. Now this is where you will probably say that's where faith comes in or something to that effect. But my point simply is this. You have to have a lot of circumstantial evidence to back up your circumstantial evidence. You don't have solid proof of one.single.point.

    An example: Guy robs a store at gunpoint and is caught of video tape but is unidentifiable. The suspect in the case has no alibi for the time of the robbery. While it doesn't prove that the suspect robbed the store, it is provable whether he has an alibi or not. Some portion of the case around the suspect is provable.

    So when you say, "When I said that an early date for the Gospels is evidence but not conclusive proof that Jesus prophesied it, I meant that obviously you wouldn’t decide based on that fact alone that Christianity is true", my point is simply that you haven't even established that piece of evidence as fact.

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  95. D’Ma,

    Again, you admirably strike at the heart of the issue. You are correct; evidence is an item relevant to the discussion. It could be a gun, a statement, a fingerprint, a writing.

    Whether the evidence (singularly or cumulatively) persuades or preponderates is an entirely different question.

    If you don’t mind, I will spring off your video example. The video is evidence. But does it prove our suspect did it? Not if the person is unclear. Add the evidence the suspect has no alibi. Add the evidence he is found with a gun. Add the evidence the clerk identifies the gun as the one used in the robbery. Add the evidence the suspect is found with some of the stolen items.

    At some point, we look at all the evidence, and may reach the point of saying, “He is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” Or, if this was not a court, but a historical question, it is more likely he is guilty than not.

    Imagine we add the evidence the suspect’s mother testifies the suspect was with her watching Jeopardy at the time of the crime.

    Now, we don’t throw out the case or proclaim his mother has provided evidence necessitating we find him innocent. We recognize the bias, the possibility the mother is mistaken, and the overwhelming counter-evidence.

    What I see apologists do is claim, “See the mother’s testimony about an alibi? See, I have evidence in support of my contention the suspect is innocent, and therefore my worldview is sustained by evidence.” While technically correct, it ignores all the counter-evidence against the proposition.

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  96. Larry,

    When your source is easily available on the web, it doesn't help your reputation at all that you don't give us a link.

    I have not been using links at all in the past couple of discussions here, because in the first discussion, Blogger kept putting posts with links into the spam folder, so DagoodS had to post them manually. That seemed like a lot of trouble, so I just stopped linking to other sites.

    That's a complete non sequitur.

    No, it’s not. It’s the reason why most non-theistic physicists postulate a multiverse to account for the fine-tuning. Giving the miniscule probability that it happened by chance, it is not reasonable to assume that it did. John Leslie uses the firing squad example, where fifty expert marksmen take aim at a man and all miss. It is theoretically possible that they all missed by chance but highly unlikely. It is far more reasonable to conclude that it was intentional.

    Astrophysicist Michael Turner says about the fine-tuning, "The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bulls eye one millimeter in diameter on the other side." Would you respond to that quote by saying, “Well, if you throw a dart it would land somewhere, so why not on a bulls eye one millimeter in diameter?”

    So he is assigning a prior probability.

    No, he’s not. The prior probability pertains to whether God exists, something he doesn’t examine, and he mentions a couple of times that he has personal reasons for not being a Christian—that Christianity doesn’t particularly appeal to him and that if he had need of gods he would go for the Greek and Roman gods.

    ... to the best of my knowledge, nobody has identified flaws in Earman’s reasoning.

    You will forgive me, I hope, if I'm not especially persuaded by your opinion.


    That was not intended as an attempt at persuasion, which is why I later said that if you knew of a critique of Earman’s argument I would be interested in reading it.

    Circular. You can't assume God in your priors if you're going to use the argument as evidence for the existence of God. All improbable evidence is necessary given the premise you're trying to use the evidence to prove.

    The argument is for the resurrection of Jesus, so although you don’t assume God in your priors, the prior probability pertains to the likelihood of God’s existence.

    Because people with graduate degrees in philosophy typically do not have graduate degrees in statistics or mathematics.

    But people who have Ph.D.s with a specialization in probability theory and who have written numerous peer-reviewed articles on the subject, should be given the benefit of the doubt that they understand the subject.

    If you can't summarize an argument, you don't understand it.

    OR the argument is so fact-intensive that it doesn’t lend itself to easy summary. The Bayes factors are the testimony of the women, the testimony of the disciples, and the testimony of Paul. However, that summary is meaningless without the detailed discussion of why their testimony is persuasive.

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  97. Or you might be quoting the degenerate lemma out of context. Or you might be misquoting them. Or you might be making it up out of whole cloth. As noted, no one here trusts your scholarship.

    Thanks for the compliment that I should be capable of making something like that quote up out of whole cloth, but as I’ve said before, nobody has to trust my scholarship because I make it simple for people to check what I say. And I try to stick to the arguments rather than resorting to ad hominems to prejudice the readers, like “no one here trusts your scholarship.”

    My mistake: It appears the authors are using the simple form of Bayes theorem:

    P(A|B) = [P(B|A) * P(A)] / P(B)

    and assuming P(B|A) = 1.0.


    No problem.

    The crux of any argument is not whether the proponent correctly employs the mechanics of deduction, but how they justify their assumptions. You have reproduced the least interesting part of the McGrews’ article, in such a way that — if we were to trust your scholarship — we actually lose confidence in their conclusion.

    Of course that was not my point. I was simply answering your question about how they treat the prior probability. You may want to go back and read the quote, especially the italicized part, more carefully.

    A cursory examination of the article seems to show that the authors first assume the Gospels (and some other biblical accounts) are direct, contemporary eyewitness accounts, and the authors report their experiential knowledge; in short, the article assumes that the content of gospels constitutes legitimate testimony.

    The authors do make an argument for earlier dating and general reliability of the Gospels, but they also say: “Indeed, much of our argument could be made without even the general claim of reliability, since as we shall point out many of the salient facts are agreed upon by scholars across the spectrum.” They are fair in their treatment of the facts, carefully defending their assertions and dealing with opposing view. But for the most part, they rely on facts that are agreed upon by most scholars.

    Third, the authors assume each piece of evidence is independent. However, this assumption is unjustified.

    They discuss the issue of independence in a fair amount of detail, and say:

    "If R gains a high degree of confirmation from all of the facts in question under the independence assumption, and if we can show that the independence assumption does not exaggerate the impact of the cumulative case in favor of R, it may be most useful simply to calculate the effect of the facts under the assumption of independence and then to show that taking into account dependence among the facts in question can only make the case yet stronger."

    The only "alternative hypothesis" the authors seem to consider are that the Gospel authors would have sincerely and honestly reported a number of experiences even if the resurrection had not occurred. This hypothesis is, of course, the least plausible alternative hypothesis.

    No, it is the most plausible alternative hypothesis and the position held by most modern scholars, and it’s not because they trust the disciples. It’s because Paul and the disciples would have absolutely no reason to lie. Nothing would be gained by it and much would be lost. The Christians were considered heretics and blasphemers by the Jews and the apostles risked their lives by living in Jerusalem after Jesus was crucified there. And what would Paul, a successful Pharisee commissioned to destroy the sect, possibly have gained from deception?

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  98. Anette,

    If you were to read a little Mormon history, you would no doubt find statements like "Joseph Smith and his followers would have no reason to lie. Nothing would be gained by it and much would be lost. Indeed, Joseph Smith lost his life. The Mormons were considered heretics by their gentile neighbors and they risked much by living among them. And what would Martin Harris, a successful business man who confirmed the existence of the Golden Plates, possibly have gained from deception?"

    If those are good arguments for the New Testament, they are good arguments for the Book of Mormon.

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  99. Again, he is simply refuting Hume’s argument against miracles using Bayes’ Theorem, and to the best of my knowledge, nobody has identified flaws in Earman’s reasoning.

    Really Anette? Didn't we discuss an article that argued that Earman didn't even get Hume's argument right?

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  100. "If R gains a high degree of confirmation from all of the facts in question under the independence assumption, and if we can show that the independence assumption does not exaggerate the impact of the cumulative case in favor of R, it may be most useful simply to calculate the effect of the facts under the assumption of independence and then to show that taking into account dependence among the facts in question can only make the case yet stronger."


    Anyone who says this does not understand probability theory at all.

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  101. No, it’s not. It’s the reason why most non-theistic physicists postulate a multiverse to account for the fine-tuning.

    You do not understand modern physics or cosmology (or probability theory). As best I understand it (and I understand it fairly well for a layman) physicists presently speculate there might be a "multiverse" to account for the fact that physical constants seem to be arbitrary, not because they have some particular value. They also speculate about a multiverse because only a multiverse seems to get physical universes out of a topological foundation. Without experimental evidence, however, the multiverse theory remains speculative.

    See The Anthropic Principle Does Not Support Supernaturalism

    But for the most part, they rely on facts that are agreed upon by most scholars.

    I'm not an historian, but based on Dagood's comments, I don't believe that is true. Indeed, the authors seem to go to some length to deprecate the work of dissenting scholars. If you eliminate — even justifiably — scholars who disagree with you, you cannot then rely on the "most scholars agree" argument to substantiate some conclusion.

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  102. (I also found the McGraw's article not only poorly argued but also poorly written. It offended me not only as a mathematician and philosopher but as an English tutor as well.)

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  103. However, I just asked a simple question, and I don't think it warrants an entire blog post. It would basically consist of: "Question: Can Vinny think of an example where I've denied or ignored evidence for the sake of my beliefs?"

    Anette,

    It is hardly a simple question as it would require me to go through all our prior discussions and any other relevant posts on your blog because I would not want to point to an example only to have you claim that you modified or qualified your position somewhere else.

    Moreover, I suspect that with any example I might cite, you could claim "I didn't ignore or deny that evidence. I simply attached less weight to it than you did." Or you might claim "I didn't ignore or deny that evidence. I wasn't aware of it." Or you might say as you did to Dagoods recently "Failing to produce specific evidence is NOT the same as ignoring or denying evidence."

    Moreover, you seem to be bringing up this question in discussions to which it is not relevant when you do not wish to address some point I have made. This leads me to believe that it is merely a smokescreen. So if you do think it is worth a blog post showing why it is a question worth discussing, I cannot imagine why it would be worth pursuing as a digression in an unrelated discussion.

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  104. Oops! That last sentence should have read:

    So if you do not think it is worth a blog post showing why it is a question worth discussing, I cannot imagine why it would be worth pursuing as a digression in an unrelated discussion.

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  105. Dagoods,

    If Paul claimed to have received a direct revelation from God, it is hard for me to imagine that his opponents would not have claimed to have received direct revelations as well. However, Paul never seems to claim that the revelation was coincident with the appearance. Maybe the earliest understanding of the appearances didn’t include the idea that Jesus used them as occasions to pass on important bits of wisdom. That might explain why Mark thought it sufficient to indicate that some appearances had taken place without giving any details.

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  106. Larry,

    "If R gains a high degree of confirmation from all of the facts in question under the independence assumption, and if we can show that the independence assumption does not exaggerate the impact of the cumulative case in favor of R, it may be most useful simply to calculate the effect of the facts under the assumption of independence and then to show that taking into account dependence among the facts in question can only make the case yet stronger."

    Anyone who says this does not understand probability theory at all.


    They preface this by saying: “The foregoing equation holds only under the simplifying assumption that each fact, modulo both R and ~R, is probabilistically independent of all of the other facts. This assumption simplifies the math, and in some cases it is warranted. But where it is not, a more general formula is available.”

    Considering the fact that Bayes’ Theorem is challenging for most of us non-mathematicians, simplifying the math seems like a good idea if they want as many people as possible to read and understand it.

    The McGrews have written peer-reviewed literature on probability theory for at least a decade. How many peer-reviewed articles have you written on the subject and how long have you been doing it?

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  107. Larry,

    You do not understand modern physics or cosmology (or probability theory). As best I understand it (and I understand it fairly well for a layman) physicists presently speculate there might be a "multiverse" to account for the fact that physical constants seem to be arbitrary, not because they have some particular value. They also speculate about a multiverse because only a multiverse seems to get physical universes out of a topological foundation. Without experimental evidence, however, the multiverse theory remains speculative.

    Physicists speculate about a multiverse to explain the observation that the laws and constants had to be within a very narrow range of their values in order for intelligent life to evolve, and they also hypothesize a multiverse in connection with M-theory and quantum mechanics.

    And most physicists agree about the fine-tuning, including Martin Rees, Stephen Hawking, Paul Davies, George Ellis, Fred Hoyle, Arno Penzias, and Robert Jastrow, among many others. (Biologist and uber-atheist Richard Dawkins accepts the fine-tuning as well, and hypothesizes a multiverse to explain it in The God Delusion.) Paul Davies has said, "There is now broad agreement among physicists and cosmologists that the universe is in several respects ‘fine-tuned' for life".

    Victor Stenger is one of very few dissenters, but he has been criticized by George Ellis and Luke Barnes for his unscientific approach to the fine-tuning. Luke Barnes’ article is called, “No Faith In MonkeyGod: A Fine-Tuned Critique of Victor Stenger.”

    Your article doesn’t dispute the fine-tuning. However, the authors make unwarranted assumptions about what a supernatural Creator would and wouldn’t do, which actually contradict what the Bible says about a rational, orderly God who reveals Himself through nature and would be the source of the rationality of the universe.

    But the fine-tuning argument does not purport to point beyond what Fred Hoyle said about a “superintellect” who “has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology.”

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  108. Larry,

    "But for the most part, they rely on facts that are agreed upon by most scholars."

    I'm not an historian, but based on Dagood's comments, I don't believe that is true.


    What exactly did DagoodS say that makes you question what the McGrews said about scholarly consensus, and how did he substantiate his statements in such a way that you were convinced?

    Didn't you once say to me: "Of course you should be skeptical of everything everyone says"? And I recall you not being happy with me for insinuating that you were advising skepticism toward Christians but not toward atheists who are debating them.

    Indeed, the authors seem to go to some length to deprecate the work of dissenting scholars. If you eliminate — even justifiably — scholars who disagree with you, you cannot then rely on the "most scholars agree" argument to substantiate some conclusion.

    Not true, because if scholars make concessions that go against their biases, then that says something about the strength of the evidence.

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  109. Dr. Licona, in his latest work regarding Jesus’ Resurrection, refers to Bayes Theorem (even footnoting the McGrew article), but indicates he does not believe it could demonstrate the probability of the Resurrection occurring.

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  110. DagoodS,

    I did a quick search and found the relevant page in the book I think you’re talking about. Is it The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach?

    Licona does footnote the McGrews but as far as I can tell, he doesn’t dispute anything they say. He simply explains how they handle the prior probability. In fact, he says in one of the footnotes: “It is noteworthy that many of Kincaid's criticisms do not apply to the McGrews' approach.”

    The prior probability is the probability of an event before we examine the specific evidence. So with respect to the resurrection, it pertains to whether or not God likely exists and would raise Jesus from the dead.

    Licona correctly notes that the prior probability is quite subjective because some people will simply set it at zero, which means that any amount of evidence cannot overcome it, and the posterior probability will remain zero.

    However, the McGrews simply focused on assigning Bayes factors to the evidence, and after doing that, they concluded that the weight of the evidence is such that it can overcome a prior probability of 10^-40 and still “leave us with a posterior probability in excess of 0.9999.” In other words, they claim that the evidence is strong enough to overcome a very low prior probability.

    However, it cannot overcome a prior probability of zero, which seems to be Licona’s concern. He quotes Peter McCullagh as saying, "The important thing to remember about Bayes theorem is that it is about how prior beliefs are changed by evidence. Your final probability depends on your prior probability. If your prior is zero no amount of evidence can move you from that position.”

    In fact, shortly after William Lane Craig’s debate with Bart Ehrman, Luke Muehlhauser of Common Sense Atheism linked to a YouTube video in which an atheist said that his prior probability for the resurrection was zero, which meant that Bayesian inference would be useless in terms of convincing him of the resurrection. Muehlhauser correctly noted that this was a response to Craig’s argument but not a refutation. (Craig was simply using Bayes' Theorem to refute Bart Ehrman's use of Hume's argument against miracles, so his sole purpose was to demonstrate, in the same way that John Earman did, that Hume's argument was mathematically fallacious.)

    Unlike Licona, I am not troubled by the fact that some people would set the prior probability at zero because the real question is whether it is reasonable to do so. Is it reasonable for this YouTube atheist to say that in his mind the probability of God’s existence is zero? It is certainly his right to do so, but Bayes’ Theorem here illustrates the obvious fact that some people cannot be convinced of the truth of a proposition no matter what. This is especially true when it comes to issues where personal factors play a major role.

    And a prior probability of 10^-40 is extremely low, which indicates that the evidence for the resurrection is quite compelling.

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  111. Dr. Licona says in his book, at pages 117 – 120:

    “McCullaugh writes that ‘virtually no historian has used it and even if any wished to do so, he would probably find it difficult as it requires information which is often hard to obtain” and often unavailable. Tucker asserts, ‘it is unclear if and how [Bayes’ Theorem] can be worked out in practice. In particular historical contexts, when there is sufficient evidence, it is possible to evaluate the prior probability of some particular hypotheses of deception or distortion. But the aggregation of all probabilities requires more evidence than is usually available about particular historical contexts of alleged miracles.’ William Lane Craig likewise argues that Bayes’ Theorem cannot be applied to miracle claims such as the resurrection of Jesus, since the background information required is “inscrutable, given that we are dealing with a free agent.’”

    Licona goes on, “Pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus, the background knowledge is difficult to agree on, since it involves determining the probability that God exists and that he would want to raise Jesus.” (emphasis in original)

    He concludes, “It is not possible to employ a statistical-inference argument pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus, since the event of God raising someone from the dead would be unique and thus our pool of data is insufficient for calculating probabilities.”

    Link


    If I am reading him correctly, he is not stating the prior probability is zero, or some extremely small number. It is unknown.

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  112. DagoodS,

    If I am reading him correctly, he is not stating the prior probability is zero, or some extremely small number. It is unknown.

    It is unknown, or rather, it cannot be pinned down in a precise way. However, that doesn't mean that nothing meaningful can be said about the strength of the evidence utilizing Bayes' Theorem. As I said before, the McGrews are simply claiming that the evidence can overcome a prior probability of 10^-40. They are not claiming to be able to assign a precise prior probability.

    It's also worth noting that Licona is not an expert on Bayesian inference. However, John Earman, the McGrews, and Richard Swinburne are. Swinburne, like Earman and Tim McGrew, is a philosopher of science (at Oxford) and he has written numerous books on philosophy of religion in which he employs Bayes' Theorem. In fact, he utilizes Bayes' Theorem in his examination of the existence of God in his book, The Existence of God.

    William Lane Craig likewise argues that Bayes’ Theorem cannot be applied to miracle claims such as the resurrection of Jesus, since the background information required is “inscrutable, given that we are dealing with a free agent.’”

    I'd be interested to know when Craig said this (and the context) because he utilized Bayes' Theorem in his debate with Bart Ehrman. Also, the McGrews helped him get up to speed on probability theory in preparation for the debate with Lawrence Krauss. I do not think that quote represents his current position.

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  113. While Dr. Licona may not be an expert in Bayesian inference, he is certainly well-qualified regarding the historical claims surrounding the resurrection.

    If he isn’t convinced Bayes theorem is applicable—why should we be? Or do you think we are better-equipped than Dr. Licona regarding the underlying claims?

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  114. DagoodS,

    It really comes down to how well Licona understands Bayesian inference. There is no reason to conclude that he disputes the McGrews' facts, and that's where his expertise comes into play. I would say that the McGrews' are more cautious in their use of the facts than Licona. I have read Licona's treatment of the hallucination theory in Evidence for God and the McGrews' analysis is far more tightly argued. Licona simply dismisses group hallucinations with the conclusion of a psychologist who agrees with him while the McGrews discuss a book called Anomalistic Psychology and the Marian visions. They analyze the resurrection appearances in light of what these psychologists (who accept the possibility of group hallucinations under certain circumstances) conclude.

    “McCullaugh writes that ‘virtually no historian has used it and even if any wished to do so, he would probably find it difficult as it requires information which is often hard to obtain” and often unavailable.

    When I went to a writers' conference this spring I had a conversation with a friend who has a Ph.D. in physics and who told me that he had done an analysis of the Jesus Family Tomb, using Bayes' Theorem. He had a fair amount of interaction with Bible scholars like Mark Goodacre, James Tabor, Gary Habermas, and others while he was working on it, and he mentioned that the idea of using Bayesian inference to analyze these issues is often alien to Bible scholars. I'm guessing this is because they rarely have much training in math and science.

    At the risk of ending up in spam again, I will try to link to it, because I think he does a good job clearly explaining the methodology and the fact that any such evaluation is an approximation. However, in spite of the lack of precision, it can still be quite useful conceptually.

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  115. Anette Acker,

    Ugh. I’ve now read Argument from Miracles; A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus [warning; PDF]—the article where the McGrews use of Bayesian inference.

    Simply put: Garbage In; Garbage out.

    They presume the historicity of events within the Gospels—something greatly contested, of course. And from that (with little surprise) derive their probability analysis.

    In the past I have dealt with these issues—including the women at the tomb, willing to die for a lie, the non-historical burial, etc. Nothing new to see here.

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  116. I love this line: “Indeed, much of our argument could be made without even the general claim of reliability, since as we shall point out many of the salient facts are agreed upon by scholars across the spectrum.” Do they figure that the scholars who agree upon these facts are relying upon something other than the general reliability of the writings? If the writings are not generally reliable, shouldn't we be reluctant to rely upon any facts that are derived from them?

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  117. Vinny,

    This is essentially what the McGrews are saying:

    Some scholars make a general claim of reliability, like Roman historian Sherwin-White, who bases this claim on his historical analysis of Acts and the trial of Jesus in the synoptics. As I mentioned before, he even affirmed the likely historicity of a detail like the Roman soldiers casting lots for Jesus' clothes, something that was prophesied in Psalm 22:18. (But Sherwin-White did not, of course, make a claim of inerrancy, nor did he address the supernatural aspects.)

    However, even among scholars who do not accept the generally reliability of the narratives, almost everyone thinks the disciples and Paul at least believed that Jesus appeared to them.

    And about 75% (according to the study by Gary Habermas) believe that the tomb was found empty. This includes atheist historian Michael Grant, who said: "[I]f we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty."

    Those scholars who deny the empty tomb typically have a bias against Christianity and have published works of anti-apologetics, like Gerd Ludemann. But as we've discussed before, even Bart Ehrman said in From Jesus to Constantine: "We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later. This is attested in all of our gospel sources, early and late, and so it appears to be a historical datum."

    This means that the McGrews' findings can be compelling to the undecided who are willing to rely on what the majority of critical Bible scholars and historians have to say about these salient facts. However, their findings will be less persuasive to those who prefer to tune in to the oracular wisdom of the skeptical Internet sub-culture.

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  118. Anette Acker,

    We’ve talked to those supposed biblical scholars. Surprisingly, they are not as well informed as we are—us poor humble internet skeptics. I’ve engaged Dr. Clay Jones (there is a link to his blog) who has all the correct credentials and academic qualifications to certainly be included on Dr. Habermas’ list.

    Dr. Jones knew nothing about Acts of Peter—the very document giving us the earliest description of Peter’s death. Despite Dr. Jones relying on Peter’s death in his proof of the Resurrection! Dr. Jones (like I noticed the McGrew’s) skipped the Second Apocalypse of James when comparing James’ death in Josephus to James’ death in Hegesippus. Not only do I notice such things, I know why they do.

    They manipulate the Greek of 1 Clement (like the McGrews). They embrace Bauckham (another biblical scholar) when it comes to inclusio and Mark, but abandon him when it comes to Mark priority, Matthean authorship and John’s authorship. They disagree with Dr. Wallace regarding priority, too.

    They rely on the 1 Cor. 15 Creed but ignore (just like you have) the fact no Gospel author indicates any familiarity with the creed. They claim “No one would have women find the tomb” and forget that the earliest tradition (1 Cor. 15) does exactly that.

    Frankly, it does not speak well for biblical scholarship as a whole if it can be so easily foiled by a coupla of internet hacks.

    Why, even we internet hacks know Dr. Habermas reduced his number of scholars who believe in the empty tomb to 2/3 rather than 75%. Yet Dr. Habermas notes ¾ of the scholars in his list believe in a resurrection—either spiritual or physical. Is it such a surprise, if 75% of the scholars listed believe in a resurrection, that 66% of them also believe in an empty tomb?

    And no one wants to talk about what qualifies to be a “scholar” on Dr. Habermas’ list—he has never released it. Everyone wants to say “Most scholars say such-and-such” yet no one even knows how one qualifies to be a “scholar.”

    Again, I probably don’t. Dr. Jones does. Yet I know more about the topic than he does.

    Hmmmm….

    If your scholars’ arguments cannot best internet hacks’ arguments….well….so much for biblical scholarship.

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  119. Anette,

    As we have also discussed before, I have read several books by Ehrman and I know that the statement from the lecture From Jesus to Constantine does not fairly reflect his position on the historicity of the empty tomb. In every place where he has discussed the issue in detail, he has made it clear that he does not believe that the evidence for the empty tomb is sufficient. For you to continue to cite this quote without verifying this for yourself is intellectually dishonest. For you to cite it to me is just silly. You know that I know it is nothing more than quote mining.

    Since you clearly haven’t bothered to apprise yourself of Ehrman’s position, your opinion about the biases of other scholars who reject the historicity of the empty tomb really doesn’t merit any response. You don’t actually know why these scholars hold the positions that they hold and you don’t really seem to care as long as you have some excuse for dismissing their opinions.

    You asked me for an example where you ignored the evidence for the sake of your beliefs. Here’s one: you have ignored the evidence concerning Bart Ehrman’s position on the historicity of the empty tomb.

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  120. DagoodS,

    Dr. Jones knew nothing about Acts of Peter—the very document giving us the earliest description of Peter’s death. Despite Dr. Jones relying on Peter’s death in his proof of the Resurrection! Dr. Jones (like I noticed the McGrew’s) skipped the Second Apocalypse of James when comparing James’ death in Josephus to James’ death in Hegesippus. Not only do I notice such things, I know why they do.

    First, this anecdote says nothing about biblical scholars in general.

    Second, there is no obvious reason why the McGrews should have to include the Second Apocalypse of James, or any other Gnostic text.

    Third, you said, “Not only do I notice such things, I know why they do.” Why don’t you fill us in on this sinister plot by Bible scholars to keep us in the dark about the Second Apocalypse of James? :)

    They manipulate the Greek of 1 Clement (like the McGrews). They embrace Bauckham (another biblical scholar) when it comes to inclusio and Mark, but abandon him when it comes to Mark priority, Matthean authorship and John’s authorship. They disagree with Dr. Wallace regarding priority, too.

    I never understood why you seem to consider it a cardinal sin to disagree with Dr. Wallace.

    They rely on the 1 Cor. 15 Creed but ignore (just like you have) the fact no Gospel author indicates any familiarity with the creed. They claim “No one would have women find the tomb” and forget that the earliest tradition (1 Cor. 15) does exactly that.

    I’m not sure what you mean by saying that 1 Cor. 15 has women find the tomb. I’m assuming you misspoke but can’t figure out what you mean. But to reply to your earlier contention that Paul contradicts the Gospels in 1 Cor. 15 by not mentioning the women, this is easily explained by the fact that women were not considered credible witnesses and did not have much status in first century Palestine. So there would be good reason to exclude them from a creed like the one in 1 Cor. 15.

    Paul did not say that Jesus first appeared to Peter. 1 Cor. 15:5 simply says, “And He appeared to Cephas . . .” But he ends with, “last of all” he appeared to Paul, so if we found a statement somewhere that Jesus had appeared to someone else after Paul, then that would be a contradiction.

    And since Acts says that Jesus appeared to people over a period of forty days, this is probably not intended to be an exhaustive list. It seems to list the appearances they deemed most important.

    Frankly, it does not speak well for biblical scholarship as a whole if it can be so easily foiled by a coupla of internet hacks.

    You think you’ve foiled biblical scholarship? How?

    Why, even we internet hacks know Dr. Habermas reduced his number of scholars who believe in the empty tomb to 2/3 rather than 75%. Yet Dr. Habermas notes ¾ of the scholars in his list believe in a resurrection—either spiritual or physical. Is it such a surprise, if 75% of the scholars listed believe in a resurrection, that 66% of them also believe in an empty tomb?

    Where did he reduce his number to 66%? The paper itself states 75% as does the book he co-authored with Michael Licona. And even if 75% of the scholars believe in a physical or spiritual resurrection, why would the ones who believe in a spiritual resurrection have to accept the historicity of the empty tomb? There is no reason for the tomb to be empty if the resurrection was not physical.

    In fact, Habermas says, “Of these scholars [who have written about the empty tomb since 1975], approximately 75 per cent favor one or more of these arguments for the empty tomb, while approximately 25 per cent think that one or more arguments oppose it.” In other words, he focused on their arguments for or against the empty tomb.

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  121. Vinny,

    You asked me for an example where you ignored the evidence for the sake of your beliefs. Here’s one: you have ignored the evidence concerning Bart Ehrman’s position on the historicity of the empty tomb.

    Our prior discussion was primarily about whether or not Ehrman had flip-flopped. I eventually concluded that he had not. The last thing I said (about the honorable burial) was:

    “As for Ehrman's position, if he has always fallen somewhere on the continuum between not rejecting the honorable burial and not unequivocally affirming it, then the quote I used in my original post accurately represents his position, because he uses the words "relatively reliable." Unlike Crossan and John Shelby Sprong, he doesn't reject it, but neither does he go so far as to agree with the majority position as represented by John A. T. Robinson, who said that the burial was one of the best attested of all historical facts about Jesus. (And Robinson was a liberal theologian.)”

    Where does Ehrman discuss the empty tomb in more detail than in From Jesus to Constantine, a scholarly work where he applies historical criteria? Speaking as an historian, he uses language like “relatively reliable” and “appears to be historical dictum,” which is a much weaker statement than the one made by Robinson regarding the honorable burial.

    In fact, I said in our later discussion about the empty tomb: “According to Habermas, 25% of this group rejected the historicity of the empty tomb. But, as we discussed before, even opposition scholar Ehrman said in From Jesus to Constantine: ‘We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later. This is attested in all of our gospel sources, early and late, and so it appears to be a historical datum.’"

    You did not even reply to that statement, so you have no basis for accusing me of intellectual dishonesty.

    Since you clearly haven’t bothered to apprise yourself of Ehrman’s position, your opinion about the biases of other scholars who reject the historicity of the empty tomb really doesn’t merit any response. You don’t actually know why these scholars hold the positions that they hold and you don’t really seem to care as long as you have some excuse for dismissing their opinions.

    I know something about most of the scholars who reject the empty tomb for the same reason DagoodS knows something about most of those who accept it—from Habermas’ study.

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  122. I'm going to leave this discussion at this point. I've already spent about six months on the resurrection evidence on my blog, and everything I've said in the comments here I've said there. I don't see that there is anything to be gained by rehashing it.

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  123. Where does Ehrman discuss the empty tomb in more detail than in From Jesus to Constantine, a scholarly work where he applies historical criteria? Speaking as an historian, he uses language like “relatively reliable” and “appears to be historical dictum,” which is a much weaker statement than the one made by Robinson regarding the honorable burial.

    Why do I need to address this again Anette? It is all in our earlier discussion. From Jesus to Constantine was a series of lectures that Ehrman did for The Teaching Company in which the subject of “The Historical Jesus” was covered in a single half-hour lecture. Within the context of that overview lecture, a detailed discussion of the historicity of the empty tomb story was not appropriate. As I pointed out before, Ehrman did a full twelve hour course titled The Historical Jesus in which he went into much more detail on the subject. I also gave you the relevant citations from Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium where he also discusses the issue more thoroughly.



    In fact, I said in our later discussion about the empty tomb: “According to Habermas, 25% of this group rejected the historicity of the empty tomb. But, as we discussed before, even opposition scholar Ehrman said in From Jesus to Constantine: ‘We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later. This is attested in all of our gospel sources, early and late, and so it appears to be a historical datum.’"

    You did not even reply to that statement, so you have no basis for accusing me of intellectual dishonesty.


    Since I had already explained to you that Ehrman only gave a brief overview of the historical Jesus in From Jesus to Constantine, I didn’t see any reason to go through it again.

    In any case, do you really want to play an idiotic game of finding statements that the other person didn’t respond to? If so, I am quite confident that I can find many statements of mine that you didn’t respond to. For example, in this very comment thread, I pointed out that Dagoods wasn’t responding to you when he used the word “creed,” so your excuse for using “creed” and “tradition” interchangeably was manifestly false. You didn’t respond to that did you? Personally, I would prefer not to engage in such nonsense because it strikes me as juvenile.

    Another game that I find rather juvenile is the one where someone claims victory just because the other person decides not to continue the discussion any more so I won’t do that here.

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  124. Anette Acker: Second, there is no obvious reason why the McGrews should have to include the Second Apocalypse of James, or any other Gnostic text.

    Ahh…so we have gone from the McGrews being ”more cautious in their facts” and ”fair in their treatment of the facts, carefully defending their assertions and dealing with opposing view.” to “So what if they fail to address counter-evidence and an earlier source.”?

    Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

    This is why their article fails to persuade. If one takes a prior probability and then only considers evidence in favor of that probability, it is little surprise the subsequent probability is higher than the prior probability. History does not work like that. There are nuances and difficulties and problems with assessing what happened. The McGrews fail to take that into account. Let’s follow this minor issue regarding the documentation of James, the brother of Jesus’ death:

    Our first account is Josephus, indicating James was stoned to death as a pawn in political wrangling. The account dates the death to 62 CE, at the hands of the Sadducees, with the Pharisees protesting. The problem: there is nothing to indicate it had anything to do with Christianity. It doesn’t even indicate James was a Christian, let alone died for being a Christian, let alone died for believing in the Resurrection. (And we won’t even address the problem this is very likely an interpolation, and isn’t even referring to James, the brother of Jesus.)

    This will never do for the Christian apologist. So they often turn to Hegesippus next. But in doing so, have skipped two (2) accounts.

    The next account is the Second Apocalypse of James. (120-180 CE) This indicates James was thrown down from the temple and then stoned. As you correctly pointed out, it is a Gnostic work.

    Again, this will never do for the Christian apologist. This is rejected, not for historical reasons, but for doctrinal. Cannot have James being a Gnostic—that is not orthodoxy!

    The third account is Clement of Alexandria (150 – 200 CE). Clement agrees with the Second Apocalypse that James was thrown down, but then has James killed with a fuller’s club.

    The fourth account is Hegesippus (165-175 CE) who intermingles Clement and Second Apocalypse by having James thrown down, stoned and finally hit with a fuller’s club. Hegesippus also disagrees with Josephus, indicating it was at the Pharisees’ insistence, and that the death occurred in 66 CE.

    We can see the legendary development:

    Josephus: Stoning.
    2nd Apocalypse: Thrown down and stoning.
    Clement: Thrown down and clubbing.
    Hegesippus: Thrown down, stoning and clubbing.

    Apologists conveniently “skip” Second Apocalypse is for two (2) reasons:

    1) As you pointed out—it is Gnostic. Never do to have James, Jesus’ brother, being the wrong type of Christian. It is overlooked for its doctrine, not its history.

    2) Because it highlights the legendary development. Hegesippus obtains his information about James being thrown down from 2nd Apocalypse.

    Does seem a bit silly to call it a “sinister plot”—but I have never, EVER seen an apologist utilize the Second Apocalypse when addressing James’ death. Despite it being the second earliest account (only Josephus is earlier) AND it is the first to indicate James was killed for his Christian belief. The problem for the apologist is that those Christian beliefs were Gnostic.

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  125. Anette Acker,

    I will provide some insight—feel free to disregard it.

    There is a reason Christian apologetics fail spectacularly with deconverts and ex-Christians. Christian apologetics is designed to give confirmation bias—it looks for evidence or inference in support of its contention and then regurgitates it. As a general rule, it fails to adequately address counter-evidence.

    As deconverts, we look back at our Christian education (whether in church, or school or general conversation) and recognize either at the least we have failed to be fully informed or at the most have been downright lied to. That there is information out there contrary to the Christian position we have held so dear. Information we were not provided.

    We discover the Second Apocalypse and wonder why we were always told about Josephus and Hegesippus—but no one every addressed the Second Apocalypse. In fact—we didn’t know it even existed! And when we do bring it up, we are told, “Why would I, the apologist, address the book? We have everything we need to confirm our conviction within Josephus and Hegesippus.” This causes a huge red flag to the deconvert.

    See…we are no longer looking for confirmation. We are looking for truth. The apologist can only offer rationalization for their own belief—they cannot offer a persuasive argument encompassing all the evidence.

    The apologist offers, “1 Cor. 15 was early, so the Gospel writers who wrote later must have known it.” Truth-seekers ask, “WHY would we say the gospel writers knew 1 Cor. 15 Creed? What evidence do we have for the proposition?”

    The apologist can only respond with two things: 1) Silence (as you have chosen to do on this issue.) or 2) Repetition (as you have demonstrated in the past.) What apologists do NOT do is provide a response. They do NOT address the issue.

    Apologists choose to ignore the Second Apocalypse. They ignore the gospel writer’s failure to utilize the Creed. They ignore the fact there is no genre for “pre-trial briefs.” They ignore the other uses of genea. They ignore context. They ignore culture. They ignore even the possibility their own argument fails to persuade.

    It is these “silences” more than any other causing us deconverts concern. It is the apologists’ failure to even recognize there is counter-evidence, let alone address it. Oh, the confirmation method is sufficient for Sunday School attendees, eager to have their beliefs supported by anything remotely possible—it utterly fails for deconverts.

    We have seen the other side. We no longer are satisfied with half-truths, lack of information and arguments left unaddressed. We crave the truth above all—even if it means the cost of our most precious beliefs.

    Is it a cardinal sin to disagree with Dr. Wallace? Not at all. The cardinal sin (that apologists don’t even recognize) is the failure to address his arguments regarding synoptic copying and Markan priority.

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  126. Anette Acker,

    I was not clear regarding the women and 1 Cor. 15 Creed. Let me clarify it.

    According to Christian apologists, women are among the first people to see a resurrected Jesus. The argument is that this MUST be true (under an embarrassment criterion), as within the culture, no one would ever make up this fact—they would always have men doing the viewing because men were considered more credible.

    So let’s look at the earliest account regarding the resurrection appearances—1 Cor. 15. Lo and behold, what do we find? No women. Either one of two things is happening (although I would be happy to hear if there is another option):

    1) The original tradition did not have women listed;
    2) The original tradition did have women listed and Paul did not include them in the Corinthian letter.

    Now, if it is the first—no women listed—then the tradition, according to this argument—is not concerned with historical accuracy. It does, in fact, do the very thing the apologist says makes it non-historical: Changes the facts to avoid embarrassment. This raises the question, if we can find one part of the tradition is non-historical, how much else could be.

    If the second—Paul skips the women—we have Paul modifying the tradition, leaving us with the question as to what else, throughout Paul’s writing, he felt free to modify in history.

    Either way, this becomes a difficulty for the apologist, as we have demonstration the early Christians were not concerned with historical accuracy. We cannot have both—the early Christians were concerned, so they included women, even though it is embarrassing and the early Christians were concerned, so they excluded women because it was embarrassing.

    As to Habermas’ percentages regarding the empty tomb—I got that from Dr. Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus, pg. 461. Dr. Licona had personal correspondence with Dr. Habermas who indicated upon “updating his database” (I don’t know whether he added names, or reviewed what he had, or what), the number was “slightly lower than 75 percent.” (Leaving us to ponder what “slightly” means.) Dr. Licona apparently interpreted it to mean “at least two out of three scholars (maybe more.).”

    Kinda gray, considering Dr. Habermas hasn’t released the data, so we can’t see for ourselves. What Dr. Habermas does, apparently, still hold to is that ¾ of these scholars believe in a resurrection—physical or spiritual. (No percentage given regarding the difference.)

    If 75% of this list believes in a Resurrection, is it any surprise 66% of the list also believes in an empty tomb? Like using a group of mostly vegetarians to prove how many people don’t eat meat.

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  127. The argument is that this MUST be true

    Given that we've spent a fair amount of time on Bayes' theorem and probabilistic beliefs in general, I think it's an overstatement to say anything at all MUST be true. To conclude that something is probably true and therefore MUST be true is to risk the lottery/preface paradox. The argument can be only that the conclusion is probably true, and the probability that it's true must be carried into later calculations which rely on the conclusion.

    Probabilities have a way of becoming amplified and dampened in counterintuitive ways, so any time we lose a probability, we risk coming to significantly incorrect conclusions.

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  128. DagoodS,

    First I want to make a correction to one of my prior comments. I said: “Those scholars who deny the empty tomb typically have a bias against Christianity and have published works of anti-apologetics, like Gerd Ludemann.”

    Habermas does not say this—he says that most of those who deny the empty tomb are skeptics. However, that doesn’t necessarily make them counter-apologists. John Dominic Crossan is a skeptic who denies the empty tomb, but I would not call him a counter-apologist. Jeffery Jay Lowder, on the other hand, is an atheist who contributed to The Empty Tomb, a work of counter-apologetics in which he accepts the historicity of the honorable burial and the empty tomb.

    Our first account is Josephus, indicating James was stoned to death as a pawn in political wrangling. The account dates the death to 62 CE, at the hands of the Sadducees, with the Pharisees protesting. The problem: there is nothing to indicate it had anything to do with Christianity. It doesn’t even indicate James was a Christian, let alone died for being a Christian, let alone died for believing in the Resurrection. (And we won’t even address the problem this is very likely an interpolation, and isn’t even referring to James, the brother of Jesus.)

    The last parenthetical statement is very typical of what I meant when I said “the oracular wisdom of the skeptical Internet subculture”—taking a small minority position among scholars (held, for example, by Jesus mythicist G. A. Wells) and saying it’s “very likely.”

    Anyway, getting to your substantive point, the McGrews stress that their focus is on the willingness of those who claimed to be eyewitnesses to die for their testimony, and they spend a fair amount of time developing this argument.

    However, they mention what they consider the three best-documented martyrdoms, one of which is of James, "often listed as Jesus' brother." And they cite only Josephus and Hegisippus. This is not an important enough point to discuss in the kind of detail you’re suggesting, and the fact that Hegessipus says essentially the same thing as the Second Apocalypse of James could just as easily mean that they relied on a shared tradition. Whether or not you agree with that, it’s just as reasonable to conclude it, and unless the McGrews are debating you, there is no reason for them to discuss every source that mentions the death of James.

    In short, this omission has nothing to do with the outcome of their calculations since they focus on the willingness of the witnesses to die (by preaching in Jerusalem where Jesus was killed) and they don’t assume even the substantial accuracy of Hegisippus.

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  129. According to Christian apologists, women are among the first people to see a resurrected Jesus. The argument is that this MUST be true (under an embarrassment criterion), as within the culture, no one would ever make up this fact—they would always have men doing the viewing because men were considered more credible.

    The Gospels, not apologists, say that women are the first people to see a resurrected Jesus, and to my knowledge nobody has said that this MUST be true under the embarrassment criterion. However, according to the study by Habermas of almost everything that had been written by scholars on the empty tomb since 1975, this was one of the most persuasive arguments to those who accepted its historicity.

    Now, if it is the first—no women listed—then the tradition, according to this argument—is not concerned with historical accuracy. It does, in fact, do the very thing the apologist says makes it non-historical: Changes the facts to avoid embarrassment. This raises the question, if we can find one part of the tradition is non-historical, how much else could be.

    Again, the 1 Cor. 15 creed does not contradict anything in the Gospels—it simply highlights those witnesses/appearances that were probably deemed most important. Even though the women were the star witnesses in the Gospels, and were loyal to Jesus when the male disciples went into hiding (you don’t think that would have been embarrassing?), they would not have been considered trustworthy witnesses in that culture, so it is very probable that the apostles would have excluded them from a list of important witnesses. The creed also omits the two on the road to Emmaus. Omissions and contradictions are not the same thing.

    Either way, this becomes a difficulty for the apologist, as we have demonstration the early Christians were not concerned with historical accuracy. We cannot have both—the early Christians were concerned, so they included women, even though it is embarrassing and the early Christians were concerned, so they excluded women because it was embarrassing.

    Actually, you got the argument of apologists wrong: They are not trying to demonstrate that the early Christians were concerned with historical accuracy (that is a completely different subject), they are arguing that the early Christians would not have any incentive to say that Jesus appeared to the women first, the disciples went into hiding because they were afraid, Jesus chided them for not believing the women, etc. if it were not true.

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  130. As to Habermas’ percentages regarding the empty tomb—I got that from Dr. Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus, pg. 461. Dr. Licona had personal correspondence with Dr. Habermas who indicated upon “updating his database” (I don’t know whether he added names, or reviewed what he had, or what), the number was “slightly lower than 75 percent.” (Leaving us to ponder what “slightly” means.) Dr. Licona apparently interpreted it to mean “at least two out of three scholars (maybe more.).”

    Well, “slightly lower than 75 percent” would be “at least two out of three scholars (maybe more)”. Regardless of what that means, that is still a sizable majority of those who have written on the subject.

    And let’s not forget that if someone believes in a spiritual resurrection, they do not need to accept the historicity of the empty tomb for theological reasons. And they would also have deemed significant parts of the Gospels unhistorical (where Jesus appears to people), so they would not be motivated by reverence for the text. That leaves the conclusion that they really are persuaded, based on the historical criteria, that the empty tomb is historical.

    As deconverts, we look back at our Christian education (whether in church, or school or general conversation) and recognize either at the least we have failed to be fully informed or at the most have been downright lied to. That there is information out there contrary to the Christian position we have held so dear. Information we were not provided.

    I don’t disagree with this at all! In fact, I’ve noticed that many deconverts started out as Young Earth Creationists and were taught not to question anything. And I’ve talked with Christians who are incapable of any kind of flexibility in their thinking and who just take in whatever they’re told by those with the right “credentials.”

    In case you haven’t noticed, I try to counteract this kind of mentality, which brings me to the question of whether you encourage dissent on your blog. How often do your readers ask hard questions of you, and not just “the apologist”? And when you answer, can they continue to question you or even disagree without feeling like they’ve breached protocol?

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  131. Anette Acker,

    Dr. Habermas, in one of his debates with Dr. Ehrman said something like, “We shouldn’t hold this to be true simply because a majority of scholars do—we need to look at the reasons a majority of scholars do.” And that is what I look at—the reasons.

    You are correct the McGrews need not cite every source regarding the death of James. I find it significant, however, they skip over the earliest source regarding any Christian reasoning for James’ death (the very thing they are discussing!) and rely upon a later source—Hegesippus. Because Hegesippus says what they want to hear.

    I think you would find most of my readership would likewise find it fascinating they would choose to ignore the Second Apocalypse for what I can only surmise is doctrinal, not historical, reasons. Curious, if they were focusing on the disciples or James preaching Jesus in Jerusalem, why they would ignore the Second Apocalypse as the earliest account of James doing exactly that.

    I would agree the gospels do not create a logical contradiction with the 1 Cor. 15 creed—although there is certainly a question whether they create an inconsistency with 1 Cor. 15. Even that is not my point.

    The Creed does exactly what the apologists claim support their argument—i.e. takes out the women for cultural reasons, not historical ones. If the early Christians were not concerned with historicity within the creed—why should we assume it is historical?

    As to why Mark would have “incentive” to utilize women at the tomb, I wrote a blog entry on the subject Here. (Don’t forget, the synoptics spring off Mark. 1 Cor. 15 has no knowledge of women. Mark is the key.)

    I never knew I had a protocol on my blog…I will have to look for it. Of course people can ask questions of me, hard or otherwise.

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  132. Where does Ehrman discuss the empty tomb in more detail than in From Jesus to Constantine, a scholarly work where he applies historical criteria?

    Anette,

    This question contains two untruths:

    (1) Although Ehrman is a scholar, From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity is not a scholarly work.

    From Jesus to Constantine is a series of recorded lectures that Ehrman did for The Teaching Company. It is not peer reviewed. Its intended audience is the general public rather than professional scholars. By any reasonable standard, it is a popular work rather than a scholarly work.

    (2) Ehrman does not apply historical criteria to the empty tomb story.

    In order to be accurate (and because I don’t like to invent things), I went back and listened to the relevant portions of From Jesus to Constantine again. I confess that I was wrong about Ehrman spending a half-hour (out of the twelve hour lecture series) on the historical Jesus. It was closer to an hour. However, he noted that this was a much condensed version of the twelve hour series he did for The Teaching Company titled The Historical Jesus which was in turn an abbreviated version of a full semester undergraduate course that he teaches at the University of North Carolina.

    In a half-hour lecture titled “The Historical Jesus,” Ehrman gives a very brief overview of historical methodology, Ehrman explains some of the problems with the sources for the historical Jesus and very generally describes a couple of the criteria that historians use to deal with such problems. However, he never uses any technical terms like “multiple attestation,” “dissimilarity,” or “embarrassment.” Nor does he attempt to use the criteria to determine the historicity of any particular story.

    It is the next half-hour lecture titled “Oral and Written Traditions about Jesus” from which the quotes you cite are drawn. Here Ehrman again alludes to the criteria he described in the previous lecture and then goes on to discuss the difficulty historians have dealing with supernatural events like the resurrection as opposed to natural events like the burial of Jesus. It is here that Ehrman discusses the possibility that Jesus’ body was buried in a common grave or left on the cross to rot. However, he does not attempt to apply historical criteria to the alternatives. When he gets to the story of the women finding the empty tomb, he doesn’t discuss any alternatives and he describes it as historical “datum” rather than historical “fact.”

    In contrast to Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium the purpose of From Jesus to Constantine was not to describe the latest findings in historical Jesus studies. Its purpose was to give a historical overview of the first 300 years of Christianity. In that context it only matters that early Christians believed the gospel stories. It wouldn’t have made sense for Ehrman to discuss the historicity of the empty tomb stories in depth or to express his doubts about commonly accepted stories. Of course I would have been happier if he hadn’t given apologists so many quote mining opportunities in this lecture. Nevertheless, quote mining is one thing and claiming that these quotes were made in the context of a scholarly work where Ehrman was applying historical criteria to the empty tomb story is quite another.

    I am curious as to why you decided to add these two untruths to your question, particularly since, as far as I can tell, you have not listened to From Jesus to Constantine or ever read anything else by Ehrman while you know that I have. I can only think that it was a desperate attempt to justify using a quote which you knew did not accurately reflect Ehrman’s position. Don’t you consider this to be intellectually dishonest?

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  133. Coincidentally, I just became aware of yet another Christian apologist who posted only one (1) week ago on the death of James, brother of Jesus. Although the author cautions, “many of the accounts of the fates of the disciples come too late to be of substantial value, and many of the accounts have clearly been legendarily embellished,” can you guess what two (2) works he sites for James’ death?

    Can you guess?

    Yet again we have our winners—Josephus and Hegesippus—to the exclusion of Second Apocalypse. My record of NEVER seeing the Second Apocalypse (despite being the earlier work) cited remains unblemished.

    On by the way, if one reads Jeffrey Lowder in the Empty Tomb he argues against an honorable burial, and concludes historians should be agnostic regarding an empty tomb. Not sure why Anette Acker claimed otherwise.

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  134. DagoodS,

    What I meant to say about Jeffery Jay Lowder was that he accepts the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea putting Jesus in his tomb, but that he later removed the body. I used the word "honorable burial" as shorthand for that, but I went back and checked it, and he doesn't call it that.

    However, if he thinks Joseph removed the body after the Sabbath, then it follows that he accepts the empty tomb, at least insofar as it pertains to Jesus. In fact, he specifically says, "The relocation hypothesis entails an empty (first) tomb; the dishonorable burial hypothesis does not."

    And he favors the relocation hypothesis. He says, "Like Craig, I think it is much more likely that Jesus was buried in a tomb than in a shallow earth grave."

    The only reason why I mentioned it was to correct my earlier statement about those who opposed the empty tomb generally being counter-apologists. According to Habermas, they are skeptics, but he says nothing about counter-apologists.

    Yet again we have our winners—Josephus and Hegesippus—to the exclusion of Second Apocalypse. My record of NEVER seeing the Second Apocalypse (despite being the earlier work) cited remains unblemished.

    Who cares? You don't come close to proving that there's legendary development over time. They all tell basically the same story, so why should Christians focus on a Gnostic writing? Personally, I prefer to stick with Josephus, but I see nothing wrong with other Christians mentioning Hegesippus.

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  135. Vinny,

    Most of Ehrman's books are written in a very conversational manner, whereas in the quote from From Jesus to Constantine, Ehrman talks about the empty tomb being multiply attested, so he appears to apply historical criteria, and he concludes that it is historical datum. He comes across more scholarly than he does in a lot of his other books aimed at a popular audience. And if it was a condensed version of what he teaches his students, then it is “scholarly,” whether or not it is peer-reviewed.

    Even if Ehrman is essentially agnostic on the empty tomb, he expressed a leaning toward accepting its historicity in From Jesus to Constantine. His words are very clear and no context can alter them. In Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium, he says: “Moreover, we cannot be completely certain, historically, that Jesus' tomb was actually empty.” This statement is consistent with “We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later. This is attested in all of our gospel sources, early and late, and so it appears to be a historical datum.”

    When he gets to the story of the women finding the empty tomb, he doesn’t discuss any alternatives and he describes it as historical “datum” rather than historical “fact.”

    Where did I say he considers it historical fact? All I did was quote what he said. If he didn’t mean that, then tell me where he has retracted that statement. He did not retract it in the debate with Craig—he simply denied having reversed himself. Until Ehrman shows up and sets me straight (or he retracts his words from From Jesus to Constantine) my position will remain that he is agnostic but he also meant what he said in the above quote.

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  136. But I couldn’t care less about what exactly Ehrman’s position is—what I do care about is that you called me intellectually dishonest, and went to a lot of time and trouble to try to prove it. It was an offhand comment that I addressed at you, knowing that you would challenge me if you disagreed. The reason why I mentioned that you said nothing when I stated my conclusion after the prior discussion is to point out that you didn’t tell me you disagreed, and therefore it is unfair of you to call me intellectually dishonest. And you did this in spite of the fact that I have numerous times thanked you for your participation in the resurrection discussions on my blog, so that my readers could get the other side. If I wanted to mislead, why would I want someone giving the opposing perspective? I don’t mind disagreement, but I mind having people look for opportunities to characterize me in a negative light.

    Maybe you think, from what you’ve seen here, that I’m used to insults from atheists, or that I consider it normal debate. But I’m actually not used to it—I regard most of the non-theists with whom I’ve had online interaction as friends, and I consider respectful debate normal. I’m tolerating it here because I realize that I’m done very soon. I have always tried to respond to every comment addressed to me, and it’s not because I need to “claim victory” but because I consider it important not to leave unanswered questions and arguments when I’m debating apologetics. However, it is not very practical here because a new can of worms keeps being opened, and if I don’t choose every word carefully I’m called intellectually dishonest. So I have not replied to everything recently and I do intend to end this discussion here.

    You may enjoy a more “robust” form of debate. (You’ve told me that I don’t think through my arguments, I play an idiotic, juvenile game of claiming victory when someone doesn’t respond (huh?), I’m intellectually dishonest, closed-minded, and stubborn, and I and other conservative Christians are retarded in our ability to think critically.) But I don’t enjoy that kind of debate. And if you’re not just letting off steam and that is your opinion of me, then I don’t understand why you waste your time talking with me.

    I do not think you’re a bad person at all, Vinny, and I’m sure we’d get along well in real life. But I do think you have a very partisan attitude, and it particularly shows when you have DagoodS and Larry in your corner. I am not into partisanship, and for that reason I don’t care much about politics. And even if I had really strong political views that you should really be concerned about, I’m not a U.S. citizen so I can’t vote. If I become a U.S. citizen, I lose my Norwegian citizenship (and my children lose their dual citizenship), which means it’s not going to happen. So if that’s why you spend so much time engaging Christians in online debate, you’re barking up the wrong tree here.

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  137. Most of Ehrman's books are written in a very conversational manner, whereas in the quote from From Jesus to Constantine, Ehrman talks about the empty tomb being multiply attested, so he appears to apply historical criteria, and he concludes that it is historical datum. He comes across more scholarly than he does in a lot of his other books aimed at a popular audience.

    How do you know this Anette? Have you read a lot of his other books? How does his discussion of historical criteria in From Jesus to Constantine come across as “more scholarly” than his discussion of historical criteria inJesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium?

    And if it was a condensed version of what he teaches his students, then it is “scholarly,” whether or not it is peer-reviewed.

    Do you understand the difference between a scholarly work and a popular work? The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture is a scholarly work because its intended audience is professional scholars. Misquoting Jesus is a condensed version of the same material which is a popular work because it is intended for a general audience.

    Even if Ehrman is essentially agnostic on the empty tomb, he expressed a leaning toward accepting its historicity in From Jesus to Constantine. His words are very clear and no context can alter them.

    You are just wrong and while I don’t wish to be intentionally insulting, I cannot think of any way to describe that statement other than as closed-minded and stubborn. You haven’t listened to the lectures so you have no basis to say whether the context alters them or not.

    In Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium, he says: “Moreover, we cannot be completely certain, historically, that Jesus' tomb was actually empty.” This statement is consistent with “We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later. This is attested in all of our gospel sources, early and late, and so it appears to be a historical datum.”

    “Datum” is defined as “something given or admitted especially as a basis for reasoning or inference.” Ehrman is saying that the tradition is something that a historian can use and analyze. He is not indicating his own leanings on the question. Of course you would have to consider the context to figure that out and you refuse to do so.

    Also note that he doesn’t say that it is “multiply” attested because “multiple attestation” is a technical term which requires the sources to be independent. Ehrman doesn’t think that the gospels are independent. If you were familiar with Ehrman’s work, you would realize that he is actually choosing his words carefully here.


    Where did I say he considers it historical fact?

    Where did I say that you said he considers it historical fact?


    All I did was quote what he said. If he didn’t mean that, then tell me where he has retracted that statement. He did not retract it in the debate with Craig—he simply denied having reversed himself. Until Ehrman shows up and sets me straight (or he retracts his words from From Jesus to Constantine) my position will remain that he is agnostic but he also meant what he said in the above quote.

    In other words, you are going to ignore the evidence of everything else he has said and written for the sake of your religious beliefs. You are going impose a completely irrational condition which assures that you never have to consider the possibility that you are wrong. How can you ever expect to learn the truth about anything if you will go to such lengths to defend what you already believe?

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  138. But I couldn’t care less about what exactly Ehrman’s position is—what I do care about is that you called me intellectually dishonest, and went to a lot of time and trouble to try to prove it. It was an offhand comment that I addressed at you, knowing that you would challenge me if you disagreed. The reason why I mentioned that you said nothing when I stated my conclusion after the prior discussion is to point out that you didn’t tell me you disagreed, and therefore it is unfair of you to call me intellectually dishonest.

    Here is what I said about the women finding the empty tomb when we first discussed From Jesus to Constantine: “I will concede, however, that you might get a skewed picture of Ehrman’s position on the historicity of the women finding the empty tomb if the only thing you had to go on was From Jesus to Constantine. Once again, it occurs within the context of drawing contrasts between points on which the gospel are consistent and those on which they are inconsistent and contrasts between natural events and supernatural events. Nevertheless, he does not hedge himself on that question as clearly as he does on Joseph of Arimathea and if you were not familiar with his other works, you might not notice that he was doing so.” In the subsequent discussion, it didn’t seem to me like it was anything I needed to go through again, because, as you say, it was an “offhand comment.” (BTW, I would appreciate it if you would provide links to comments from prior discussions when you bring them up, because it isn’t always easy for me to find them.)

    And you did this in spite of the fact that I have numerous times thanked you for your participation in the resurrection discussions on my blog, so that my readers could get the other side. If I wanted to mislead, why would I want someone giving the opposing perspective? I don’t mind disagreement, but I mind having people look for opportunities to characterize me in a negative light.

    I am not looking for opportunities to characterize you in a negative light, but when you happily quote Ehrman when you think it supports your position while professing not to care what exactly his position is, there is no way for me to characterize your argument in anything other than a negative light. “Intellectually dishonest” and “untruth’ were the mildest terms I could think of that fairly describe your arguments.

    I think you want to believe that your faith is the product of critical thinking. I don’t think that you intend to mislead, but I think the burden of maintaining your faith in light of the empirical evidence leaves you little choice.

    Maybe you think, from what you’ve seen here, that I’m used to insults from atheists, or that I consider it normal debate. But I’m actually not used to it—I regard most of the non-theists with whom I’ve had online interaction as friends, and I consider respectful debate normal.

    I try to be as respectful as possible, but when you repeat arguments that have been shown to be flawed and take the same quotes out of context again and again, you have to expect to get called on it.

    I’m tolerating it here because I realize that I’m done very soon. I have always tried to respond to every comment addressed to me, and it’s not because I need to “claim victory” but because I consider it important not to leave unanswered questions and arguments when I’m debating apologetics. However, it is not very practical here because a new can of worms keeps being opened, and if I don’t choose every word carefully I’m called intellectually dishonest. So I have not replied to everything recently and I do intend to end this discussion here.

    It’s not because you fail to choose your words carefully. It’s because you invent information about things you haven’t read or listened to, such as claiming that Ehrman’s lectures are more scholarly than lots of his books.

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  139. You may enjoy a more “robust” form of debate.

    You’ve told me that I don’t think through my arguments,

    If you did, I don’t think you would repeat flawed arguments as often as you do.

    I play an idiotic, juvenile game of claiming victory when someone doesn’t respond (huh?),

    Yes, you did.

    I’m intellectually dishonest, closed-minded, and stubborn, and I and other conservative Christians are retarded in our ability to think critically.

    Sometimes.

    But I don’t enjoy that kind of debate.

    And yet, you have accused me of deliberately misrepresenting your positions.

    And if you’re not just letting off steam and that is your opinion of me, then I don’t understand why you waste your time talking with me.

    I do not think you’re a bad person at all, Vinny, and I’m sure we’d get along well in real life.

    I don’t think you are a bad person either. However, when you are caught repeating a bad argument, you have a tendency to try to bluff your way out of it rather than admitting your mistake. For example, when I caught you using “tradition” and “creed” interchangeably again, you tried to claim that you were only doing it because Dagoods did so. When I caught you misleadingly quote mining Ehrman again, you tried to bluff your way out of it by comparing the scholarliness of a lecture you haven’t listened to with the scholarliness of books you haven’t read.

    But I do think you have a very partisan attitude, and it particularly shows when you have DagoodS and Larry in your corner.

    Frankly, I think it only seems that way to you because Larry and Dagoods bring out your tendency to make claims you cannot support.

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  140. Vinny,

    Frankly, I think it only seems that way to you because Larry and Dagoods bring out your tendency to make claims you cannot support.

    If you seriously mean this (and I'm sure you do), then this confirms my suspicion that we see things too differently to have any kind of constructive dialogue. So please consider this our last discussion.

    Again I want to thank you for your contribution to the resurrection discussion on my blog, and I wish you the very best!

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  141. Anette Acker: They all tell basically the same story, so why should Christians focus on a Gnostic writing? Personally, I prefer to stick with Josephus, but I see nothing wrong with other Christians mentioning Hegesippus.

    And this is why we do not find your arguments convincing. Not because of our tone; not because of our attitude toward Christian apologists—it is because you use a methodology we utter and completely reject in ever other facet of our lives, and (unsurprisingly) therefore reject here.

    You utilize (whether you realize it or not) a “confirmation method”—you make a conclusion and then look for evidence to support it.* We look at all the evidence and see what conclusion preponderates. We look at ALL the evidence.

    *While there is nothing wrong, per se in looking for evidence for a conclusion, one dangerously can enter the hammer/nail issue—to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The important question is how one treats evidence contrary to their conclusion.

    For example, you conclude James, the brother of Jesus was killed for his Christian beliefs, and then look for evidence to support it. You read Josephus (ignoring apparently even the possibility of interpolation) and consider it sufficient evidence for the proposition. Even though there is NOTHING about James being killed for a Christian belief. You assumed James the brother of Jesus was a Christian, you find evidence he was killed and that is sufficient for your conclusion.

    [You exhibited this same method when it came to the 1 Cor. 15 Creed. You assumed the gospel writers knew it. You found evidence it was earlier, and then stopped. Only when I repeatedly requested actual evidence they knew it, demonstrating there is none, have you pointedly avoided providing support ever since.]

    We look at ALL the evidence regarding James’ death. To claim they tell “basically the same story” shows you haven’t even remotely addressed the evidence. How did he die? They tell two different ways (stoning and clubbing) and involve four different chronologies (tossing, stoning, clubbing.) Among four works.

    They provide various means of his Christianity affecting the situation (none, Gnostic, orthodoxy), they provide two different groups responsible (Sadducees or Pharisees.) Two different dates. To claim these are “basically the same story” borders on ludicrous.

    You think I haven’t demonstrated legendary development? One wonders, in looking how the stories change over time, molding to conform to the writer’s theological beliefs, what one could possibly do TO show legendary development. If we employed your method—“basically the same story”—I presume we would likewise find no legendary development in the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Thomas (both), the Acts of Peter, the Acts of Paul, the Acts of Andrew, the Acts of John, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Gospel of Hebrews, the Unknown Gospel, etc. Because they, too, all tell “basically the same story.”

    Why should Christians focus on a Gnostic writing? The better question is why Christians ignore the Gnostic writing. Your question precisely highlights the problem. Who CARES if it is Gnostic? The question here is one of history. By the question itself, you demonstrate it is doctrinal--NOT HISTORICAL--reasons the Second Apocalypse is ignored.

    This is why the McGrew’s Bayesian inference is useless—they utilize the same poor methodology you do. They, too, have a conclusion and fail to address ALL the evidence—only looking at the evidence supporting their claim.

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  142. If you seriously mean this (and I'm sure you do), then this confirms my suspicion that we see things too differently to have any kind of constructive dialogue. So please consider this our last discussion.

    I do mean it.

    If it were just you and I in the discussion, I suspect that you wouldn't have tried so hard to bluff your way out of your misinterpretation of Ehrman. I think you would have dropped it after I pointed out our earlier conversation. If you had, I would have let you off the hook.

    However, because Larry and Dagoods have been slicing up your other arguments, I think you were unable to let it go and you just painted yourself into a corner.

    You have frequently threatened to abandon these discussions for plausible reasons. Your current excuse seems rather lame.

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  143. But I couldn’t care less about what exactly Ehrman’s position is—what I do care about is that you called me intellectually dishonest, and went to a lot of time and trouble to try to prove it.

    I want to think about what you wrote there Anette. If you couldn’t care less about what exactly Ehrman’s position is, why would you quote him at all? If you didn’t think his position mattered to the point you were making, why would you even bring it up? Aren’t you admitting that all you really care about is whether the quote sounded like it supported your position?

    This is exactly the kind of confirmation bias that Dagoods is talking about. You are looking for things that support your position, and when you find them, you ignore anything that points in another direction.

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  144. Anette,

    On the other hand, it is also true that I generally let the proprietor of the blog set the tone. In this case you have chosen to comment on the blog of a person who knows his stuff really well.

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  145. You utilize (whether you realize it or not) a “confirmation method”—you make a conclusion and then look for evidence to support it.* We look at all the evidence and see what conclusion preponderates. We look at ALL the evidence.

    It's interesting that a lot of people in economics, even people with advanced degrees, use this "confirmation method". Indeed the problem with capitalist economics is not that we don't know how to run a capitalist economy relatively efficiently, but that so many economists are ignoring the scientific understanding we already have, and using the "confirmation method" to sell economic ideas that are ludicrously false on all the evidence.

    It's sometimes difficult to tell people using the confirmation method to argue an "ideologically" driven conclusion from people using more robust methods to argue the truth. Both have come to a definite conclusion, and both will tell you (at least at first) that they have come to that conclusion from a judicious examination of all the evidence.

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  146. Larry,

    I think that the fields of economics and historical Jesus studies suffer from similar problems. In both, there are well-funded institutions that employ scholars for the specific purpose of doing research to support a pre-determined conservative conclusion. In historical Jesus studies, you’ve got evangelical schools where professors are required to ascribe to specific theological propositions concerning the Bible and risk being fired for heresy if they deviate. In economics, you’ve got conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute that employ “scholars” to produce papers that support a specific political ideology. Both groups try their best to make their work appear to be the product of critical methodology.

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  147. Speaking of James, I recently ran across the following statement in Ehrman's latest book. "According to the New Testament he was not a disciple of Jesus during his lifetime, but he was one of the first to see the resurrected Jesus after his death and because of that, presumably, he came to believe in him." Forged p.193. I think that I can still fairly argue that the earliest sources to address the issue indicate that James overcame his skepticism prior to the crucifixion, but sooner or later I expect that some apologist is going to throw Ehrman in my face to prove that James' conversion as a result of the appearance is unassailable "bedrock" historical fact.

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  148. Vinny,

    I find it fascinating how many times, in the various blogs you and I interact, that we are called upon to defend Ehrman. How we must accept everything Ehrman says, and if we do not, somehow our arguments or studies do not qualify.

    As if ALL skepticism speaks with the voice of Ehrman.

    Yet these self-same individuals have no problem disagreeing with Dr. Collins regarding evolution. Or, as in our recent case here, disagreeing with Dr. Wallace regarding the Synoptic problem. Why is it they can freely disagree with their own scholars, yet we are NEVER allowed to disagree with Dr. Ehrman without responses of outright shock and dismay we would ever dare do such a thing.

    Personally, I am agnostic that the James of Galatians was the physical brother of Jesus. Or that 1 Cor. 15 is referring to James the brother of Jesus. Curious how Luke never refers to James in Acts as the brother of Jesus. Or how Paul always utilizes “brother” in a spiritual sense…except this one occasion in Galatians.

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  149. Dagoods,

    In our discussion with Clay Jones, I offered several times to agree to everything Ehrman had written if he would as well, but I never got a response. He didn’t want us to agree to everything Ehrman had written, just the bits he had quote-mined. When it comes to anything else Ehrman has said or written, he is a hopelessly biased apostate who can’t be trusted.

    What really got to me in this thread wasn’t simply that our apologist felt free to disagree with Wallace. It was her puzzlement at the fact that you would even think that she might find a conservative scholar persuasive. She couldn’t see any similarity between her citation of Vermes, Ludemann, and Ehrman and your citation of Wallace. The difference of course is that you have actually read Wallace.

    I too find Luke’s failure to mention the fact that James was Jesus’ brother curious, particularly since he has unnamed brothers of Jesus in the upper room. After James the brother of John is killed off in Acts 12:2, I would think that the logical assumption starting out has to be that the James in Act 12:17 and subsequent chapters is the earlier mentioned son of Alpheus rather than a third James that Luke has never mentioned before.

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