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How Do We Know the Moon ISN’T Made of Green Cheese?

In a fable going back centuries within various cultures, a simpleton sees the reflection of the full moon in water and imagines that it’s a wheel of green (that is, unaged) cheese. It’s a tale that we often pass on to our children and that we discard with time, like belief in the Easter Bunny.

But how do you know that the moon isn’t made of green cheese?

Physicist Sean M. Carroll addressed this question in a lecture. After a few moments exploring physical issues like the moon’s mass, volume, and density and the (dissimilar) density of cheese, he gave this frank broadside:

The answer is that it’s absurd to think the moon is made of green cheese.

He goes on to say that we understand how the planets were formed and how the solar system works. There simply is no reason to suppose that the moon is made of green cheese and plenty of reasons to suppose that it’s not.

This is not a proof, there is no metaphysical proof, like you can prove a statement in logic or math that the moon is not made of green cheese. But science nevertheless passes judgments on claims based on how well they fit in with the rest of our theoretical understanding.

Let’s apply this thinking to the domain of this blog. To take one supernatural example, how do we know that Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead? The answer is the same: it’s absurd to think that Jesus was raised from the dead.

  • We know how death works. We see it in plants and animals, and we know that when they’re gone, they’re just gone. Rats don’t have souls. Zebras don’t go to heaven. There’s no reason to suppose that it works any differently for our favorite animal, Homo sapiens, and plenty of reasons to suppose that it works the same.
  • We know about ancient manuscripts. Lots of cultures wrote their ancient myths, and many of these are older than the books of the Old Testament: Gilgamesh (Sumerian), Enûma Eliš (Babylonian), Ramayana (Hindu), Iliad (Greek), Beowulf (Anglo-Saxon), Popol Vuh (Mayan), and so on. Bible stories appear to have been lifted from earlier stories from neighboring cultures–the Garden of Eden, global Flood, and Jesus resurrection stories, for example. For whatever reason, people write miracle stories, and we have a large and well-populated bin labeled “Legend” in which to put stories like those in the Bible.
  • We know that stories and legends can grow with time. We may have heard of Charles Darwin’s deathbed conversion to Christianity (false). Or that a decent fraction of Americans thought that President Obama is a Muslim. Or that aliens crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico. Or that a new star appeared in the night sky with the birth of North Korea’s Kim Jong Il. In our own time, urban legends so neatly fit a standard pattern, that simple rules help identify them. The Principle of Analogy is helpful here: if it looks like yet another legend (for example), that’s a good assumption to start with.
  • We know that humans invent religions. There are 42,000 denominations of Christianity alone, for example, and uncountably many versions of the myriad religions invented through history. There is little reason to imagine that Christianity is the one exception that is actually true.

Natural explanations are sufficient to explain Christianity.

Might the moon actually be made of cheese? Science doesn’t make unconditional statements, but we can assume the contrary with about as much confidence as we have in any scientific statement.

Might Jesus have been raised from the dead? Sure, it’s possible, but that’s not where the facts point. Aside from satisfying a preconception, why imagine that this is the case?

When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself;
and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it
so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power,
‘tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.
— Benjamin Franklin

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 11/7/11.)

Photo credit: TV Tropes

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Machintelligence

    Ummm… how about “we went there and looked?”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Oh, please. You been there yourself?!

      (I dismantle Greg Koukl’s attempt at using the moon landing to lower the bar of evidence that his own extraordinary claims about Jesus have to cross here.)

  • Y. A. Warren

    I know that religions exist to establish rules for communal behavior. I hope we are getting past having to scare people to get them to abide by rules. I also hope we, in the United States of America, will soon get past our hero worship and “divine” rights of leaders.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      I know that religions exist to establish rules for communal behavior.

      Your “knowledge” may not be justified.

      • Y. A. Warren

        Perhaps I should have said, “Many believe that religions…”

  • Machintelligence

    To take one supernatural example, how do we know that Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead?

    We know how death works. We see it in plants and animals, and we know that when they’re gone, they’re just gone. Rats don’t have souls. Zebras don’t go to heaven.

    But we don’t know how death works for supernatural beings like gods. If Jesus did rise from the dead, it merely proves that gods are hard to kill.
    This is like shooting fish in a barrel,

    • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

      The same collection of data strongly indicates that supernatural beings do not exist.

    • Pattrsn

      So, we know Jesus can rise from the dead because he is a god and we know that he’s a god because he can rise from the dead?

      • Machintelligence

        That wasn’t my point. To clarify: the Christian narrative is that Jesus rose from the dead — and so can you! But they also claim that he was a God, so they have demonstrated (if you believe them) that Gods are hard to kill, not that humans can do it.

        • Pattrsn

          The trouble is evangelicals want us to take the NT as history, or eye witness evidence that the events described took place. One of their arguments is that the account of Jesus rising from the dead is a historical one. I realize it doesn’t make any sense but that’s theology for you, absurd attempts to obscure the idiocies of your inherited religion.

          That’s why when Bob points out that tales of resurrections from the dead are the stuff of myth and legend, and not history, people like Karl and Norm get very upset.

    • Kodie

      History tells us that the only way to kill a god is to stop believing in one.

      • arkenaten

        Yes Indeedy! Most common sense answer to god belief yet.

  • Mick

    I have heard about 30,000 different Christian denominations and now you mention 42,000.

    Is there a list somewhere?

    (I’m hard-pushed to name 20 different denominations)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Follow the link to “Christianity 2011: Martyrs and the Resurgence of Religion.” Go to p. 29, line item #41.

      • Lewis C.

        This is a rather funny “defeator” belief. Essentially most of theoretical physics should be dismissed too, since there are many major schools of thought out there, including leaders in the field having sharp disagreements. They must all be wrong.

        And economics can be dismissed as well: there are 42,000 different ways to fix the economy, therefore all are wrong.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Who said it was a defeator? Having Christians not being able to figure out the truth in their own religion is hilarious, of course, and it’s a clue that what is true outside Christianity (people make up religions) is true inside as well. But no, this observation doesn’t prove Christianity untrue.

          But hey, if you come across other candidate arguments, pass them along!

        • Lewis C.

          Sounds like you’re backing down from your fourth point, that “There are 42,000 denominations of Christianity alone… There is little reason to imagine that Christianity is the one exception that is actually true.”

          Even you are recognizing you’re holding religion up to an arbitrary standard. Disagreement in intellectual fields is a natural part of forming consensus and interrogating ideas and challenging existing knowledge–we applaud it. There’s no reason to treat religious disagreement any differently.

          No reason other than close-mindedness and simple-minded prejudice.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Sounds like you’re backing down from your fourth point

          Did I give that impression? My bad!

          If you’ll reread that point, you’ll see that my argument wasn’t “Fact: there are lots of Christian denominations; conclusion: Christianity doesn’t look like it’s true.”

          Even you are recognizing you’re holding religion up to an arbitrary standard. Disagreement in intellectual fields is a natural part of forming consensus and interrogating ideas and challenging existing knowledge–we applaud it

          You give me too much credit: no, I don’t recognize this.

          What you’re trying to say is that in physics (say) there might be several competing explanations for a phenomenon. They probably can’t all be right. Indeed, maybe they’re all wrong. But in that case there’s a yet-undiscovered explanation that is right.

          Let’s map that onto religion: there are thousands of competing religions that claim to explain ultimate reality. They can’t all be right, but if they’re all wrong, there still must be some supernatural explanation that is correct that we just haven’t come across.

          Problem 1 is that “there could be no supernatural anything” is a candidate explanation that’s very much in the running. Indeed, that’s the hypothesis that looks best to me.

          Another problem is that people can just invent religions. I assume we’re on the same page here. No evidence backing them up, nothing they can point to to justify their beliefs besides tradition. Contrast that with physics, where the explanation that lines up best with the evidence wins.

          No reason other than close-mindedness and simple-minded prejudice.

          Thank you doctor. Just pay on the way out, shall I?

        • Lewis C.

          I get the sense you don’t know much about how science and physics actually work.

          There’s no substantive difference between “people just inventing religions” (and you’re actually taking about denominations here, not religions, important distinction) and people “discovering” or “arriving at” scientific theories.” Same process in many cases. And the means of evaluation–particularly when we’re talking about things that we can’t fit in the petri dish or run controlled experiments on–is nearly identical: does this new theory/religion seem to align with our knowledge of the world based on our own experience and the recorded experiences of others? If not, let’s discard it.

          And your Problem 1 is not a problem. “Nothing supernatural” is completely in the running: it is right there alongside the 42,000 other varying explanations of an ultimate reality. You choose your variant explanation of ultimate reality: non-totalitarian, non-statist, somewhat humanist, not entirely relativistic, obsessively-evangelicalizng hard atheism. Dawkins chose his, Harris chose his, Stalin chose his, Nietzsche chose his, Hume chose his, all of which are different from you. And I chose mine, different from you too.

          We can’t all be right, but all these explanations are “in the running,” as you say, and someone will be right, just as someone will be right about theoretical physics. You have devoted most of your life to the hope that you’re right.

          There has yet to be a philosophical argument for how the mutual coexistence of multiple theories somehow nullifies all of them, but you seem to be suggesting such an argument exists. If so, let’s hear it, you will be breaking new ground.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I get the sense you don’t know much about how science and physics actually work.

          Now you’re making me feel bad for forcing you to show me the straight and narrow …

          There’s no substantive difference between “people just inventing religions” (and you’re actually taking about denominations here, not religions, important distinction) and people “discovering” or “arriving at” scientific theories.”

          No, I’m talking about religions, not denominations. That’s why I used the r-word.

          There’s a big difference. One is driven by evidence and the other isn’t. One is accepted pretty much worldwide and the other isn’t.

          Consider the Map of World Religions. What does that tell us about how religion and science differ?

          does this new theory/religion seem to align with our knowledge of the world based on our own experience and the recorded experiences of others? If not, let’s discard it.

          Whaaa … ? Is that how religion works? I’m pretty sure contradictory evidence that argues against the fundamental supernatural claims doesn’t count for much within religion. Otherwise, how could there be so many with the same evidence available to all?

          “Nothing supernatural” is completely in the running

          Indeed it is. Contrast that with the scientific analog: “There is absolutely no explanation for this phenomenon” isn’t a leading candidate.

          We can’t all be right, but all these explanations are “in the running,” as you say, and someone will be right

          I agree, but this isn’t the claim that you proposed initially (though perhaps I misunderstood that original point). You argued that religion was just another scholarly discipline. However, “there might be no explanation within this domain” is a candidate within religion; not within physics. Change “religion” to “worldview,” as you’ve done, and that does give us a parallel with physics.

          But perhaps we’re in agreement now. If so, great.

          There has yet to be a philosophical argument for how the mutual coexistence of multiple theories somehow nullifies all of them

          Never said that it did.

        • Lewis C.

          Contrast that with physics, where the explanation that lines up best with the evidence wins.

          I’d be curious to know where you get your ideas about religion, as your beliefs here are not empirically supported.

        • Pattrsn

          Can you show us how?

        • Kodie

          There’s no substantive difference between “people just inventing
          religions” (and you’re actually taking about denominations here, not
          religions, important distinction) and people “discovering” or “arriving
          at” scientific theories.”

          Now I know you are full of it.

  • smrnda

    On the green cheese thing, I think you could reason this down to an unlikely possibility without having to know too much.

    I believe at least some Greek or Roman was able to guess the approximate size of the earth. If you figure the moon is a heavenly body, you could probably guess that it isn’t likely bigger than earth, but that doesn’t really matter as you just need to set a minimum on size. If it was made out of green cheese, that would take a lot of cows, and an absolutely huge processing facility. It doesn’t make it impossible, just keeps making it harder and harder when you think of what would have to be there to get that big ball of cheese where it’s at.

    Now, a shortcut is ‘a god made a huge ball of green cheese’ but that’s pure conjecture, but yeah, with that explanation (if you consider it good enough) there’s nothing you can’t answer that way, but it ends up being a kind of useless answer.

    On Jesus being raised from the dead, I think the question is whether or not enough people could have said this happened if it really didn’t. I don’t think that’s too hard, given what other poorly corroborated and unlikely events have created True Believers. There’s also decent work on psychology and memory and belief that makes me think you can probably cook up some new ‘eyewitnesses’ if you just keep hyping the story enough.

  • Dryad

    Surely you could at least disprove the ‘green’ part? It’s been up there long enough that if it is made of cheese it can’t possibly be unaged, unless you believe it’s being eaten and replaced every month. But if that was the case, wouldn’t the patterns on it be different, the way Swiss cheese has different patterns of holes? Unless the sun is toasting the same pattern on every time, like those toasters that print Hello Kitty on your toast.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Who wants a toaster like that? I want one that prints the face of Jesus on my toast!

      • sane37

        [http://www.amazon.com/Burnt-Impressions-The-Jesus-Toaster/dp/B0042QRYO8]
        order with valid credit card, and you shall receive.

  • Norm Donnan

    Except for the fact that people who have been certified as dead,have come back from the dead.The last time Rhineard Bonnke,the African evangelist came over here he brought with him a man who was in the morgue 3 days until he was prayed over and came to life ,he had a death certificate to prove it..There are many people who have written books of their experience of dying and coming back again.You are just too bound up in your non belief to embrace the things science carnt explain,you need to become a freethinker people.

    • Makoto

      You mean this guy? http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/bonnke2.html – keep in mind, that’s a site maintained by believers, not atheists. And it took about 2 seconds to find on Google, all I had to do was type in reinhard bonnke dead raised

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Nice catch!

        The problem with many apologists is that once you poke holes in one argument or example, they’ve got a satchel full of other ones. No apology, no learning, just a blizzard of nutty examples. They hope to use volume to correct for the poor quality of their examples.

        But perhaps Norm is one of the smarter ones … ?

        • Norm Donnan

          Ha, l am indeed Bob,thats why lm here.I love nuts,and fruit cakes.Its a virtual smorgasboard

        • Pattrsn

          Not having much luck cracking one though, are you.

      • Norm Donnan

        Why do you think this proves or disproves anything at all.All it does is ask questions and pose arguments.You think that youve poked holes in it,and Bob goes,”ha there you go,not true”,not a nice catch at all,this one got away boys.Try again.

        • Makoto

          Never said it proved anything. I was pointing to a site, maintained by believers, that questions this particular person’s claims and point to several inconsistencies in the story, whose name you couldn’t even spell correctly.

          Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and so far all the evidence that I’ve found in the case of Reinhard’s claims are quite questionable. Perhaps some kind of one-off miracle occurred, and it just so happens that none of the evidence can support it, and this guy decided to co-opt it to make his name bigger and to distract from some of the lawsuits against him. Perhaps it was all a big scam, and the questionable evidence is just that – questionable.

          If he can use prayers to bring people back from the dead, that would be rather easy to show at any big-city morgue. Get the TV crews in there and make a production of it, he can prove his point, increase his fame, and probably get a huge influx of people into his church. Discovery Channel will probably make it into a prime-time special, then a miniseries including the now-viable claims that he’d done it before in Africa.

          I won’t be holding my breath, though.

        • Norm Donnan

          Ide say God doesnt feel He needs to impress you with a show….youve got the amazing Dynamo for that.God has given all the evidence you need in creation and if you still dont get it raising people from the dead wont do it either.

        • Makoto

          Apparently it’s not all the evidence needed, then. And your god has committed me to an eternity of torture because there wasn’t enough – knowing ahead of time that it wouldn’t be enough because of the logic and reasoning that said god gave me.

          Be sure to thank the god of your religion for that – premeditated eternal torture of Makoto just for existing as that god had planned.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          All the evidence I need to what? To conclude that the Flying Spaghetti Monster did indeed create everything?

          Meh–I’m not too concerned. Yes, I see that evidence, but hell for the FSM probably isn’t that bad.

  • KarlUdy

    Bob,
    you talk about all of these things that we know, but the things you list, we either don’t know or you come up with erroneous conclusions.

    We don’t know about death in the way that you say. We don’t know that rats don’t have souls or that zebras don’t go to heaven. In fact the whole idea of the existence of the soul is something that many scientists would classify as a mystery.

    In terms of what we know about ancient manuscripts we also know that the New Testament documents are not written in the style of mythology, but in terms of the style, genre, etc they are written in such a way as would be expected if they were giving factual accounts.

    We also know that the time period between the events of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection and the writing of the New Testament is not long enough for the stories to change to the extent necessary for the resurrection to be explained as a legendary accretion. We also have too much evidence of how oral tradition worked in the culture to turn to such an explanation.

    And the point that some religions are invented is no more an argument that all are, than the point that some stories are lies is an argument that all are.

    • Rain

      In terms of what we know about ancient manuscripts we also know that the New Testament documents are not written in the style of mythology, but in terms of the style, genre, etc they are written in such a way as would be expected if they were giving factual accounts.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Pseudo-Matthew:

      “The author of the pseudo-Jerome letter claims he compiled and translated the work, taking care to ‘render it word for word, exactly as it is in the Hebrew, since it is asserted that it was composed by the holy Evangelist Matthew, and written at the head of his Gospel,’ though he expressed doubt as to their authenticity.”

      The author of the pseudo-Jerome letter doubted their authenticity. Luckily he kept on writing anyway. Luckily, since they were written in such a way as would be expected if they were giving factual accounts. therefore they are factual accounts!

      Things are more complicated than what you pretend they are. And you know it. And yet you typed out your paragraph anyway. So what is a person supposed to say to that? Argue in circles all day? Argue with people that type things that they know better than to type, but keep on typing along anyway just so they can have something, anything, to type?

      • KarlUdy

        Rain,

        Bob wrote to the effect that we “know” that the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are myths that don’t need to be taken seriously. I offered a brief counterpoint. If you think some aspects need to be dealt with in more detail then go ahead.

        But if your complaint is that things are being made out to be simpler than they really are, then take that up with Bob.

        • Rain

          “Know” might be a bit strong semantically for some. But none of your naive counterpoints have anything to do with the price of beans in Canada.

        • KarlUdy

          If you think my counterpoints are naive, don’t just say so, show me.

        • arkenaten

          @KarlUdy
          To lend any credence to the bible and the supposed Resurrection story it would only be fair…and honest for you to demonstrate its veracity before casting any aspersions on the Moon landings/Bob’s claims and trying to use sophistry to ”prove” your case, which so for, comes across as infantile and churlish.

        • Nox

          If the gospels are intended to be factual accounts, how do you account for their factual inaccuracy?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          That’s quite an essay. I’ll take a look, thanks.

        • Nox

          Thanks Bob. Hope you find something interesting there.

        • KarlUdy

          Nox,
          So you’re a Jesus mythicist. What other conspiracy theories do you believe in?

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      World War Z is written in such a way as would be expected if it were giving a factual account. You may wish to dump that argument.

      No, scientists do not classify the “existence of the soul” as a mystery. That’s nonsense. There’s no mystery to be mulled over when there is no detectable evidence or effect. You might as well say that they classify the “factual existence of Harry Potter” as a mystery.

      If you don’t think that said time period is long enough for “legendary accretion”, then you aren’t familiar with how rumors and data loss work. Look further down this very page: In *this day and age with Internet access*, there’s at least one commenter who just assumed a modern, well-documented fabrication about a corpse rising from the dead was true without Googling it. And all it took for that story to emerge and spread was two men looking to make a buck by telling a magical story – ahem – in such a way as would be expected if it were a factual account.

      Try to imagine how much worse it gets when all that people (people who don’t even know what critical thinking skills are and who are desperate for succor) have to go on are Nth-hand accounts spread by storytellers who NEED to keep their interest.

      • KarlUdy

        CL Honeycutt,
        How does anyone today know that World War Z is not a factual account? Even the genre of “realistic fiction” has key marks which we can use to distinguish it from a factual account.

        Regarding the existence of the soul being a mystery … perhaps I assumed too much in thinking people would make the connection between the existence of the soul and consciousness, which definitely has a sizable body of scientists referring to it as a mystery. If you think this is too much of a stretch, then please tell me why “soul” is not a good word to describe the concept of self (of which consciousness implies an awareness) that exists apart from the body.

        Re: legendary accretions. Your assumption that pre-modern people are credulous idiots is unsustainable. That people may not understand the term “critical-thinking skills” doesn’t mean they don’t have any. Also, if you think the stories were spread by Nth-hand accounts you obviously don’t know the history of the spread of Christianity. What we have in the New Testament is written by either those who were eye-witnesses, or who had direct contact with eye-witnesses.

        • Kodie

          Post-modern people, to be fair, are also credulous idiots.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          please tell me why “soul” is not a good word to describe the concept of self (of which consciousness implies an awareness) that exists apart from the body.

          The concept of self is an emergent phenomenon.

          A single molecule of water isn’t wet. You need trillions of them to give you wetness. A single brain cell doesn’t think. You need billions of them to think. These are emergent properties: 1 + 1 = 3.

          Your assumption that pre-modern people are credulous idiots is unsustainable.

          The burden of proof is on you at every step to show that the steps in the argument leading to “Jesus is the son of the creator of the universe” are solid.

          What we have in the New Testament is written by either those who were eye-witnesses, or who had direct contact with eye-witnesses.

          A claim without evidence, I’m afraid. My video shows that the claim “Mark, the assistant to an eyewitness, wrote the book of Mark” is a poorly evidenced claim.

        • KarlUdy

          The concept of self is an emergent phenomenon.

          Is the brain a generator for the mind, or a receiver for the mind? And how would you argue for your conclusion?

          The burden of proof is on you at every step to show that the steps in the argument leading to “Jesus is the son of the creator of the universe” are solid.

          Actually, in this comment thread, all I need to do is show that your claim,

          it’s absurd to think that Jesus was raised from the dead.

          doesn’t stand. As a matter of fact, since you’re the one making a claim here, I think you’ll find that you have the burden of proof.

          A claim without evidence, I’m afraid. My video shows that the claim “Mark, the assistant to an eyewitness, wrote the book of Mark” is a poorly evidenced claim.

          And I think that your video will only be persuasive to people who are not familiar with ancient manuscripts.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I thought that my video was pretty compelling. Point out its flaws.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      We don’t know that rats don’t have souls or that zebras don’t go to heaven.

      Is there any reason to think that they do? Our starting point is that an incredible claim like this is false; that’s why we are justified in living life as if rats don’t have souls.

      In fact the whole idea of the existence of the soul is something that many scientists would classify as a mystery.

      I’m not clear. Are you saying that science is undecided on the soul question, given that there is strong evidence on both sides? Or are you saying that there are Christians, who happen to also be scientists, who believe in souls?

      we also know that the New Testament documents are not written in the style of mythology

      The line blurs, but I would say that the gospels are written as legends, not myths. Legends are grounded in time and place, while myths are not; legends talk more about people than the supernatural, while it’s the other way around for myths; and so on.

      “It’s not a myth” doesn’t mean “it is history.”

      We also know that the time period between the events of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection and the writing of the New Testament is not long enough for the stories to change to the extent necessary for the resurrection to be explained as a legendary accretion.

      40 years of oral history, in a pre-scientific culture immersed in stories of dying-and-rising gods, and that’s not enough for supernatural elements to attach themselves to the story of an ordinary man? I’d like to see the proof of that.

      What did you think about Rhineard Bonnke’s claim of a man brought back from the dead (see above)? That looks like a tall tale that happened even in our own time.

      And the point that some religions are invented is no more an argument that all are, than the point that some stories are lies is an argument that all are.

      Some stories about alchemy successes were false. In fact, all of them were.

      That believers accept that the majority of religions are false is an important clue: they agree that societies invent religions. Do we just dismiss that fact as unwanted, or do we follow up on that clue?

      • KarlUdy

        Is there any reason to think that they do? Our starting point is that an incredible claim like this is false;

        I disagree with your methodology. I believe our starting point should be “we don’t know”, not “it’s false”. And you can only classify it as an incredible claim by making some major assumptions.

        I’m not clear. Are you saying that science is undecided on the soul question, given that there is strong evidence on both sides? Or are you saying that there are Christians, who happen to also be scientists, who believe in souls?

        The former. I’m saying the “existence of the soul”/consciousness/”what is the mind” question is one big unanswered question as far as science is concerned. Yes, there are theories put forward, but you’re a long way from consensus, or being able to make blanket statements that we know all about it.

        The line blurs, but I would say that the gospels are written as legends, not myths. Legends are grounded in time and place, while myths are not; legends talk more about people than the supernatural, while it’s the other way around for myths; and so on.

        “It’s not a myth” doesn’t mean “it is history.”

        So you agree with my criticism that the gospels do not belong in the large and well-populated bin labelled “Mythology”?

        That you classify it as “legend” seems to be appealing to your third point, and an admission that your second point is invalid.

        40 years of oral history, in a pre-scientific culture immersed in stories of dying-and-rising gods, and that’s not enough for supernatural elements to attach themselves to the story of an ordinary man? I’d like to see the proof of that.

        Make that 20-60 years (depending on which NT writing you’re talking about) of oral history that has been passed on in a formal manner ensured to preserve the accuracy of the oral tradition, and also the presence of eye-witnesses to further confirm the accuracy of these accounts up until past the time that most of the New Testament was written. Remember that the resurrection was included in the earliest written NT documents, and that the latest were written by eye-witnesses.

        What did you think about Rhineard Bonnke’s claim of a man brought back from the dead (see above)?

        Knowing nothing more than what has been mentioned in the comments on this blog, I haven’t really had a chance to have an opinion. Norm does have a good point that NDE’s are a common enough experience that they require some sort of explanation.

        Some stories about alchemy successes were false. In fact, all of them were. That believers accept that the majority of religions are false is an important clue: they agree that societies invent religions. Do we just dismiss that fact as unwanted, or do we follow up on that clue?

        Is it possible that all banknotes are counterfeits?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I believe our starting point should be “we don’t know”, not “it’s false”.

          We don’t know, but we proceed as if it’s false. Surely you permit us to make tentative conclusions about things—like the next step will be on solid ground or the next breath will be safe.

          And you can only classify it as an incredible claim by making some major assumptions.

          Are we talking about the resurrection? Is that not an incredible claim?

          I’m saying the “existence of the soul”/consciousness/”what is the mind” question is one big unanswered question as far as science is concerned.

          Huh?? You’ve lumped some good questions (“What is consciousness?”) in with some unfounded ones (“Does the soul exist?”). Let’s not delude ourselves about what questions science actually think are important.

          So you agree with my criticism that the gospels do not belong in the large and well-populated bin labelled “Mythology”?

          Yes. I should’ve said “Legend.”

          Make that 20-60 years (depending on which NT writing you’re talking about) of oral history that has been passed on in a formal manner ensured to preserve the accuracy of the oral tradition, and also the presence of eye-witnesses to further confirm the accuracy of these accounts up until past the time that most of the New Testament was written.

          Not really the proof I was looking for.

          Prove to me that the stories were passed down in a “formal manner” (and define that) and that the gossip fence isn’t the best analogy for the passing on of the exciting story of Jesus.

          While you’re at it, prove that the original gospels were eyewitness testimony and that we can be certain that the basic story wasn’t modified in the centuries between autograph and our oldest copies.

          Norm does have a good point that NDE’s are a common enough experience that they require some sort of explanation.

          Yes, they do. I think that natural explanations to date do a decent job of assuaging our curiosity. Better ones will come with time, I’m guessing.

          Is it possible that all banknotes are counterfeits?

          Is it possible that all alchemical claims are false?

        • KarlUdy

          We don’t know, but we proceed as if it’s false. Surely you permit us to make tentative conclusions about things—like the next step will be on solid ground or the next breath will be safe.

          I see no reason to assume something is false just because we don’t know.

          Huh?? You’ve lumped some good questions (“What is consciousness?”) in with some unfounded ones (“Does the soul exist?”). Let’s not delude ourselves about what questions science actually think are important.

          “Soul” is a common word to describe the part of a person that is distinct from the body. Given that the question of whether the mind exists independent of the body is as yet unanswered, I think I am being perfectly fair in saying that the existence of the soul is an unanswered question. If you think the question of the existence of the soul is completely separate from the questions regarding consciousness and the mind/body relationship then please explain. (Note: I’m not asking for a theory of consciousness/mind that denies the existence of the soul, I’m asking for a way of framing the issue so that the existence of the soul is irrelevant to the consciousness/mind questions.)

          Yes. I should’ve said “Legend.”

          One down. Three to go :-)

          Prove to me that the stories were passed down in a “formal manner” (and define that) and that the gossip fence isn’t the best analogy for the passing on of the exciting story of Jesus.

          While you’re at it, prove that the original gospels were eyewitness testimony and that we can be certain that the basic story wasn’t modified in the centuries between autograph and our oldest copies.

          I think we’ve been over this before. Do you want to read what I wrote before? Or do you want me to repeat it here?

          I do have a question regarding your requests that I “prove” these things. You have mentioned in the comments on this post that

          We don’t know anything for sure. But we know some things as well as we know anything. And that’s what Sean Carroll is talking about.

          Previously when we discussed this, you held out that as long as there was an explanation, no matter how convoluted and unlikely, that the NT had been changed, then you were going with that theory. Which is it? Do we need to be certain? Or can’t we know anything for sure?

          Is it possible that all banknotes are counterfeits?

          Is it possible that all alchemical claims are false?

          It is certainly possible that all alchemical claims are false. But by the same token, you do know that it is impossible that all banknotes are counterfeits. However, it is impossible to prove that religion falls into one or the other category simply by observing examples of false religions. Your fourth point is therefore useless in coming to the conclusion that Christianity’s claims are absurd.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I see no reason to assume something is false just because we don’t know.

          We don’t know that fairies don’t exist, but we have strong reason to believe that they don’t. So we assume that they don’t.

          Or perhaps you do things differently.

          “Soul” is a common word to describe the part of a person that is distinct from the body.

          “Soul” (supernatural) and “mind” (not supernatural) are not the same thing to most people, I would think.

          One down. Three to go :-)

          I sense a little victory dance here, but that’s surprising if this is due to our agreeing that the gospel story is legendary.

          I think we’ve been over this before. Do you want to read what I wrote before? Or do you want me to repeat it here?

          Repeat it here if you like, but I see your point that we’ve already covered this ground. My point was simply that “the gospels record eyewitness testimony” is at best not universally held by scholars (and at worst a laughably naive and childish view for which there is negligible evidence). Also, that you can’t say that the story was passed along in a “formal manner” (as if everyone was sworn to secrecy until he could recite the gospel story flawlessly!?) and expect the claim to be taken seriously. Y’know, without some actual evidence.

          You have mentioned in the comments on this post that

          I’m using “prove” in a colloquial sense to emphasize the enormous Mt. Everest of evidence you need to provide to carry your remarkable claim. Yes, I agree that proof only happens in math and logic.

          It is certainly possible that all alchemical claims are false. But by the same token, you do know that it is impossible that all banknotes are counterfeits.

          No, I didn’t know that. I don’t know why this would be (but let’s not get into a tangent about economics).

          Perhaps we can agree that it’s possible that one religion is indeed true and move on (unless you had a larger point to make).

          it is impossible to prove that religion falls into one or the other category simply by observing examples of false religions. Your fourth point is therefore useless in coming to the conclusion that Christianity’s claims are absurd.

          Obviously, I don’t argue that the many denominations of Christianity prove that Christianity is false. However, the fact that we all agree that most religions are false (some Christians go as far as to say that at most one is correct) is a clue that all could indeed be false. 0 true religions is a quite acceptable number—there’s no reasons why all supernatural claim couldn’t be false.

        • KarlUdy

          “Soul” (supernatural) and “mind” (not supernatural) are not the same thing to most people, I would think.

          Those who would make a sharp distinction would usually be those who (as I presume you do) assert that the mind is entirely a product of the brain. As I pointed out previously, the idea that the mind could exist independent of the body could be described as the existence of a soul.

          I sense a little victory dance here, but that’s surprising if this is due to our agreeing that the gospel story is legendary.

          I didn’t agree to that. I thought we agreed it wasn’t mythology. “The gospel story is a legend” would be your third point, wouldn’t it?

          My point was simply that “the gospels record eyewitness testimony” is at best not universally held by scholars (and at worst a laughably naive and childish view for which there is negligible evidence).

          How important is it for it to be universally held by scholars? Would you accept the same line of reasoning from an ID proponent? Surely you would argue that we should follow the best scholarship on these issues, and I believe the best scholarship supports the claim that the gospels record eye-witness testimony. And the fact that there is respectable scholarship that does make such claims would make your assertion that such a claim is “at worst a laughably naive and childish view for which there is negligible evidence” false, because such claims would never be accepted for scholarly publication if that were the case.

          No, I didn’t know that. I don’t know why this would be (but let’s not get into a tangent about economics).

          We need not get into economics, but if there is a copy/imitation/forgery/counterfeit then it logically follows that there must be a genuine article.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          How important is it for it to be universally held by scholars?

          Could you possibly be suggesting that the majority of theologians think that the gospels record eyewitness accounts? I think you’re on thin ice there—there are lots of theologians who aren’t even Christian.

          Surely you would argue that we should follow the best scholarship on these issues

          Tricky to do. Who’s following the facts, and who’s just supporting his religious beliefs? There is no analog to this problem in other scholarly discipline.

          Ask 100 Muslim scholars if the resurrection happened as reported in the gospels (let’s assume that’s just one harmonious account), and I think you’ll get a unanimous no.

          Where does this put theologians as objective scholars, simply following the facts where they point?

          And the fact that there is respectable scholarship that does make such claims would make your assertion that such a claim is “at worst a laughably naive and childish view for which there is negligible evidence” false, because such claims would never be accepted for scholarly publication if that were the case.

          This view is a minority view. How have we concluded that it’s false?

        • KarlUdy

          Bob,
          Many theologians are not Christians. However, given the topic at hand, it may be better to focus on those who are experts in the New Testament (which would include some non-Christians, but I’m not sure if there would be many Muslims – probably not many that subscribe to traditional Muslim party lines on Christianity).

          This view is a minority view. How have we concluded that it’s false?

          If an idea gets published by credible academic institutions then it is a fair conclusion to make that it is not likely to be laughably naive. When that idea is published by multiple academic institutions repeatably then the question must be asked whether you are treating the topic fairly.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          given the topic at hand, it may be better to focus on those who are experts in the New Testament

          Thought experiment: we take 100 random Muslim scholars and we give them to Karl for New Testament training. Not indoctrination, of course (they’re still allowed to be Muslims), just a thorough exposure to all the Christian arguments arguing for the truth of the gospel story.

          After a couple of years, are they convinced? Do they want to dedicate their lives to Christ?

          If an idea gets published by credible academic institutions then it is a fair conclusion to make that it is not likely to be laughably naive. When that idea is published by multiple academic institutions repeatably then the question must be asked whether you are treating the topic fairly.

          You do remember that we’re talking about religion here, right? Let’s not imagine that it’s interchangeable with other scholarly disciplines. Belief isn’t a factor in the other disciplines; only religion.

        • KarlUdy

          Thought experiment: we take 100 random Muslim scholars and we give them to Karl for New Testament training. Not indoctrination, of course (they’re still allowed to be Muslims), just a thorough exposure to all the Christian arguments arguing for the truth of the gospel story.

          After a couple of years, are they convinced? Do they want to dedicate their lives to Christ?

          Hey, I’m no expert, and would be in no way qualified to teach them. But even if they just took an undergraduate course in NT studies, they would not be able to pass and maintain the typical Muslim party line on Christ and Christianity. Mind you, many fundamentalist Christians would probably be in the same boat.

          You do remember that we’re talking about religion here, right? Let’s not imagine that it’s interchangeable with other scholarly disciplines. Belief isn’t a factor in the other disciplines; only religion.

          The study of ancient documents and whether they represent eye-witness accounts or not is not inherently religious. That the relevant ancient documents are from a religious tradition does not make the work non-scholarly. That you want to do so is a sign of bias.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          even if they just took an undergraduate course in NT studies, they would not be able to pass and maintain the typical Muslim party line on Christ and Christianity.

          I’m simply making a distinction between knowledge of the facts (the concern that you had about Muslim theologians) and belief (the problem by which someone can ignore the facts simply to support his faith).

          The starting point here is believers. They understand supernatural stuff. They’re comfortable with it. No one would level a charge of anti-supernatural bias against these guys.

          What we have now is Muslims in belief who have every fact that you want them to have. My guess is that a negligible number will agree with you that the resurrection happened as stated in the gospels.

          What do we conclude from this? I conclude that New Testament scholars are subject to the same religious bias as you might accuse the Muslim scholars of having.

          The consensus of Christian scholars about what is Christianity is important for me to follow. The consensus of Christian scholars about what is historically true is not.

          The study of ancient documents and whether they represent eye-witness accounts or not is not inherently religious.

          I’m familiar with the eyewitness argument and don’t find it compelling. If you want to argue for it, that’s fine. I have written about this before–and you may well have already commented there–so I hope that any arguments are new.

        • KarlUdy

          What do we conclude from this? I conclude that New Testament scholars are subject to the same religious bias as you might accuse the Muslim scholars of having.

          Really? Even Bart Ehrman?

          I’m familiar with the eyewitness argument and don’t find it compelling. If you want to argue for it, that’s fine. I havewritten about this before–and you may well have already commented there–so I hope that any arguments are new.

          Yes. I remember you refused to read Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses . Until you do, I don’t think you can really claim to be familiar with the argument.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’m pretty sure that Bart Ehrman isn’t religious, so I don’t think he’d be eligible for a charge of religious bias.

          So Bauckham wrote the definitive, authoritative text on this subject? I didn’t realize that he’d been declared infallible.

          Your argument fails. You think Bauckham has new stuff? You think I’m afraid of engaging in serious arguments by a real scholar? Great–add that to the conversation. Show me that I have much to learn. We don’t need Bauckham when we have you.

        • KarlUdy

          I’m pretty sure that Bart Ehrman isn’t religious, so I don’t think he’d be eligible for a charge of religious bias.

          But he is a New Testament scholar. The objections he brings to the accuracy of the New Testament are informed ones. You and I know that many Muslim theologians have probably never even read the New Testament, let alone understand how it was written and passed down to us.

          So Bauckham wrote the definitive, authoritative text on this subject? I didn’t realize that he’d been declared infallible.

          He has probably has put forward the best case in recent times for eyewitnesses as the source of the gospels. I’m not saying it is infallible or authoriitative, but you simply can’t say you are familiar with an argument that you haven’t even read.

          Your argument fails.

          You refuse to read a scholarly publication on a topic we are discussing so my argument fails? I’m sorry, but I’m not following the logic there?

          You think Bauckham has new stuff?

          His peers seem to think so.

          You think I’m afraid of engaging in serious arguments by a real scholar?

          Give me a better reason why you refuse to read the book.

          Great–add that to the conversation. Show me that I have much to learn. We don’t need Bauckham when we have you.

          You flatter me. But seriously, you don’t need me when Bauckham has written a very good book on the topic.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          But he is a New Testament scholar. The objections he brings to the accuracy of the New Testament are informed ones.

          I can’t accuse Bart Ehrman of religious bias.

          You and I know that many Muslim theologians have probably never even read the New Testament, let alone understand how it was written and passed down to us.

          Yeah, hence my thought experiment, which concludes that “the majority of New Testament scholars say” is not the same kind of thing as “the majority of physicists say.”

          you simply can’t say you are familiar with an argument that you haven’t even read.

          Help us out. Summarize his arguments.

          You refuse to read a scholarly publication on a topic we are discussing so my argument fails?

          I’d be delighted to read his book, but it ain’t gonna make it to the top of my list soon. If I thought it would be provocative or push me off balance, that would push it way up the rankings, but you’ve done zilch to convince me that it’s anything more than yet more of the same old crap.

          Give me a better reason why you refuse to read the book.

          Time.

          you don’t need me when Bauckham has written a very good book on the topic.

          The only Bauckham that’ll get aired here anytime soon will be coming from your talented fingertips. Your continued celebration of the fabulousness of this guy’s argument combined with absolutely no evidence makes me pretty eager to read it and shred it. But that’s a lot of effort for one “in your face!” comment.

        • KarlUdy

          Help us out. Summarize his arguments.

          That given the socio-historical context of the formation of the early Christian church, evidence from contemporary works, the nature of oral tradition and eye-witness memory, and the structure and wording of the gospels, the conclusion that the gospels were written either by eye-witnesses, or those who recorded the testimony of eye-witnesses is the most likely explanation.

          Also pointing out that in the past century there has been a lot of development in many of these errors that render many of the conclusions by the (largely 19th century) form critics invalid.

          but you’ve done zilch to convince me that it’s anything more than yet more of the same old crap.

          How many academic books by New Testament scholars have you read?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Depends on what an “academic book” is. I’ve read a couple of dozen popular Christian books–Mere Christianity, I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist, What’s so great about Christianity, Tractatus Logico-Theologicus, The case for the resurrection of jesus, There is a god, and so on.

        • KarlUdy

          How many were written by people with post-graduate qualifications in New Testament studies? I know Mike Licona would qualify. Any others?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I assume not a single one would pass the Karl test.

        • KarlUdy

          Here’s a list of NT scholars http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:New_Testament_scholars

          These are people who have studied how we got the NT and are probably best placed to comment on ideas such as your legend hypothesis, the role of eye-witnesses, oral tradition, etc

          I don’t think you can claim to be familiar with these arguments without reading any of these authors.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I’m certain that I’ll never satisfy you that I’m up to your standards on my education. But who cares? If you’ve read the good arguments and I haven’t, that makes your job easy, right?

          When I make a foolish argument, you show me. “You haven’t read enough to satisfy me!” is true, but it’s not an interesting argument. You may want to keep your whining to yourself since it doesn’t advance your position.

          I make an argument, and you attack it (if you can). That’s the way it works around here.

        • KarlUdy

          If you’ve read the good arguments and I haven’t, that makes your job easy, right?

          If you’re reasonable.

          When I make a foolish argument, you show me. “You haven’t read enough to satisfy me!” is true, but it’s not an interesting argument. You may want to keep your whining to yourself since it doesn’t advance your position.

          And that’s what I did. I briefly pointed out errors in your four points you made supporting the argument on this post. Three of the points, I think, have shown to be flawed. The last one (third in your list), that we’re arguing about now, is wrong because

          1) you are applying the wrong model of oral tradition to the gospel stories. It is not like “gossip over the fence”, it is more like a singer learning a song.

          2) you wrongly assume that the original eye-witnesses suddenly disappeared from the scene once the story was out, or were unaccessible to anyone who heard the story second- or third-hand.

          3) You appear to believe in a massive conspiracy theory that Jesus’ resurrection was introduced during the second century and all of the copies of the NT documents across the whole Mediterranean were changed to reflect this in that time period. That this actually happened is improbable in the extreme

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          1) you are applying the wrong model of oral tradition to the gospel stories. It is not like “gossip over the fence”, it is more like a singer learning a song.

          Expand on this. I agree that there are different ways of learning a story and passing it along. At one extreme would be the gossip fence approach, where someone says, “Hey, did you hear about that Jesus guy?” and proceeds to tell his version of the gospel story. And at the other would be the bards who memorized the Iliad (say), a long story that they could tell with very little variation or error. My questions: (1) does this spectrum map your view? and (2) why do you think that the casual story told between two acquaintances didn’t happen or was insignificant in passing along the story?

          2) you wrongly assume that the original eye-witnesses suddenly disappeared from the scene once the story was out, or were unaccessible to anyone who heard the story second- or third-hand.

          Is this the Naysayer Hypothesis? I’ve already demolished that.

          3) You appear to believe in a massive conspiracy theory that Jesus’ resurrection was introduced during the second century

          No. Perhaps you confuse me with someone else.

        • KarlUdy

          My questions: (1) does this spectrum map your view? and (2) why do you think that the casual story told between two acquaintances didn’t happen or was insignificant in passing along the story?

          Your spectrum is ok as far as it goes. I would point out that two of the key factors is whether an oral tradition is formal or informal, and whether it is controlled or uncontrolled. Gossip, obviously is informal and uncontrolled. The gospel story is not like this. In Paul’s writings the words he use describe a process not simply of hearing and re-telling, but of teaching and learning. In 1 Corinthians 15:2 (leading into the famous resurrection witness passage) Paul uses the word katecho from which we get the word catechism, which should give us some idea of the measure of control over the content of the gospel message. (He uses several other words such as paradidomi, paralambono and krateo which all carry a similar connotation of formal, controlled tradition. This is further evidenced by the times when Paul directly quotes Jesus’ words at the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 11:26-32) which is verbally almost identical to Luke’s despite 1 Corinthians being written at least a decade (maybe two decades) before Luke.

          Is this the Naysayer Hypothesis? I’ve already demolished that.

          I’m not sure that it is exactly the Naysayer Hypothesis. I also don’t believe you demolished that particular argument. In any case, your argument against the Naysayer Hypothesis heavily depends on the oral tradition being passed on in an informal, uncontrolled manner.

          You also run into several inconsistencies in that post due to it being an obviously imagined scenario on your part.

          No. Perhaps you confuse me with someone else.

          If you believe the resurrection stories were not genuine, then when and how do you believe they first of all began, and then took over the original stories?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          two of the key factors is whether an oral tradition is formal or informal

          What is a “formal” oral tradition, how do you prevent a concurrent informal oral tradition, and how do you know how it played out 2000 years ago?

          Gossip, obviously is informal and uncontrolled. The gospel story is not like this.

          ¡¿Huh?!

          The “gospel story” is what we have written down today. The oral tradition is what person 37 said to person 38 (who then passed along to someone else, and so on) 2000 years ago. You’re telling me that you’re going to sift through the written story to find the palimpsest of oral tradition underneath??

          In Paul’s writings the words he use describe a process not simply of hearing and re-telling, but of teaching and learning.

          How does this show that there was no oral telling of the tale in an informal fashion?

          And who cares about Paul? His “gospel” could be stated in one breath.

          This is further evidenced by the times when Paul directly quotes Jesus’ words at the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 11:26-32) which is verbally almost identical to Luke’s despite 1 Corinthians being written at least a decade (maybe two decades) before Luke.

          Luke/Acts supports Paul. Paul had his enemies, but this author wasn’t one of them.

          So Luke shares a tradition with Paul. So what?

          I also don’t believe you demolished that particular argument.

          You’re welcome to point out its errors. I’m just saying that a cheerful and brainless “Oh, if the story weren’t true, someone would’ve been able to correct it, so the false elements would’ve been weeded out, so that story must be true! ” won’t fly with me.

          In any case, your argument against the Naysayer Hypothesis heavily depends on the oral tradition being passed on in an informal, uncontrolled manner.

          Would a naysayer be able to rein in a false story passed along by formal tradition better than one passed along by informal tradition? I need evidence of that. And also a definition of “formal tradition.”

          You also run into several inconsistencies in that post due to it being an obviously imagined scenario on your part.

          Do I imagine an impossible situation? Show me.

          If you believe the resurrection stories were not genuine, then when and how do you believe they first of all began, and then took over the original stories?

          I believe that the resurrection didn’t happen. My best guess for when this story took hold was during the primary period of oral tradition–that is, the years 30-70.

          (Is this the celebrated argument from Dr. Bauckham? I see why you weren’t eager to go with this first.)

        • KarlUdy

          What is a “formal” oral tradition, how do you prevent a concurrent informal oral tradition, and how do you know how it played out 2000 years ago?

          “Informal” oral tradition is where there is no identifiable teacher and no structure within which material is passed from one person to another. “Formal” oral tradition has a clearly identified teacher, a clearly identified student, and a clearly identified block of traditional material passed from one to the other. “Formal” oral tradition is also controlled if it is memorized (and/or written), identified as tradition and thus preserved intact.

          You can’t prevent an informal oral tradition but such a tradition quickly dies out or changes beyond recognition. Your immediate question would most probably be, “How do we know the informal tradition didn’t form the basis for the gospel stories?” Good question, but it should be quite clear that if there is both a formal controlled oral tradition that preserves the stories as they were originally told, and an informal uncontrolled tradition that allows the story to mutate, the informal uncontrolled tradition is not going to achieve dominance. How we know that there was such a tradition is from the evidence from the Bible such as the explicit description of such a passing on of tradition, a clearly identified set of authorities (the apostles, etc), and also from Rabbinic and Greek culture of the time.

          The “gospel story” is what we have written down today. The oral tradition is what person 37 said to person 38 (who then passed along to someone else, and so on) 2000 years ago. You’re telling me that you’re going to sift through the written story to find the palimpsest of oral tradition underneath??

          You are making an assumption here that the writers of the gospel story were far removed from the originators of that story. That assumption is unfounded. The actual case is more like what person 1 wrote down after telling the story hundreds of times, or at most what person 2 told person 3. However, even if it were the case, with a formal controlled oral tradition even if it had been passed on so many times we can be confident that the story has not been changed.

          That you talk about sifting through the written story to find the palimpsest of oral tradition underneath betrays that you have bought into the form critics whose understanding of oral tradition in relation to the gospels is now thoroughly discredited.

          So Luke shares a tradition with Paul. So what?

          1 Corinthians was written in the early 50s. Luke, probably a decade or more later. If your proposal of how the oral tradition behind the gospel stories worked, surely we should expect major changes in the reporting of the Last Supper dialogue. But we don’t.

          Would a naysayer be able to rein in a false story passed along by formal tradition better than one passed along by informal tradition?

          No. It is more that you imagine that there is no formal tradition to check an uncontrolled, informal tradition against.

          I believe that the resurrection didn’t happen. My best guess for when this story took hold was during the primary period of oral tradition–that is, the years 30-70.

          So, when we previously discussed this, and you insisted that 1 Corinthians 15 must have been corrupted in the 150 years between the writing of the letter and the earliest copy, you were just spewing a lot of hot air?

          (Is this the celebrated argument from Dr. Bauckham? I see why you weren’t eager to go with this first.)

          We’re starting to touch on some of his arguments. The book is 500 pages. We’ve discussed points he made in two of the 18 chapters. And look how long our posts are getting. I know you cited time as the reason you won’t read his book, but it might be a quicker option :-)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          “Formal” oral tradition has a clearly identified teacher, a clearly identified student, and a clearly identified block of traditional material passed from one to the other. “Formal” oral tradition is also controlled if it is memorized (and/or written), identified as tradition and thus preserved intact.

          You’re saying that the gospel story was passed along like the Iliad was, by trained scholars? I’ve seen no evidence of that. Gossip still sounds like the better analog.

          it should be quite clear that if there is both a formal controlled oral tradition that preserves the stories as they were originally told, and an informal uncontrolled tradition that allows the story to mutate, the informal uncontrolled tradition is not going to achieve dominance.

          Not, it’s not clear at all. First, why are you certain that there was a formal oral tradition? Can you point to other examples in history that this was similar to? Second, that Mark documented the informal oral tradition sounds quite plausible to me. Why imagine that the formal tradition will dominate, especially when it is constrained? The informal tradition would move far faster.

          You are making an assumption here that the writers of the gospel story were far removed from the originators of that story. That assumption is unfounded.

          But we know that the writers were far removed in space! You’re saying that an eyewitness went from Jerusalem to Alexandria to write one gospel, and another guy went to Damascus to write his, and so on?

          At best, you sketch out a possible scenario, though I’m not buying even that. Your challenge is to show that this is the only conceivable path, not that it was a plausible path.

          That you talk about sifting through the written story to find the palimpsest of oral tradition underneath betrays that you have bought into the form critics whose understanding of oral tradition in relation to the gospels is now thoroughly discredited.

          Wagging your finger at me doesn’t help uncover my errors, if any. Gimme evidence.

          If your proposal of how the oral tradition behind the gospel stories worked, surely we should expect major changes in the reporting of the Last Supper dialogue. But we don’t.

          Something being written down or codified into a chant (not the right word) will help fix it. That might’ve been true for the last supper dialogue. Doesn’t help us with the remaining 99.9% of the gospel story.

          It is more that you imagine that there is no formal tradition to check an uncontrolled, informal tradition against.

          Yes, I see no evidence for a formal tradition. You must show that this is the only conceivable explanation, not that it is simply plausible.

          I believe that the resurrection didn’t happen. My best guess for when this story took hold was during the primary period of oral tradition–that is, the years 30-70.

          So, when we previously discussed this, and you insisted that 1 Corinthians 15 must have been corrupted in the 150 years between the writing of the letter and the earliest copy, you were just spewing a lot of hot air?

          Is there a contradiction here? The resurrection didn’t happen, the idea became attached to early Christianity through oral tradition, and 1 Cor. got corrupted. I’m missing the problem.

        • KarlUdy

          You’re saying that the gospel story was passed along like the Iliad was, by trained scholars? I’ve seen no evidence of that. Gossip still sounds like the better analog.

          Not necessarily by trained scholars, but by students who were “catechized” by those who had already received the message. I know you’ve been itching for a direct quote from Bauckham, so here’s one for you (p264, Transmitting the Jesus Traditions in Jesus and the EyeWitnesses):

          We have unequivocal evidence, in Paul’s letters, that the early Christian church movement did practice the formal transmission of tradition. By “formal”, here I mean that there were specific practices employed to ensure that tradition was faithfully handed on from a qualified traditioner to others. The evidence is found in Paul’s use of the technical terms for handing on a tradition (paradidomi) and receiving a tradition (paralambano). These Greek words were used for formal transmission fo tradition in the Hellenistic schools and so would have been familiar in this sense to Paul’s Gentile readers. They also appeared in Jewish Greek usage (Josephus, Mark, Acts) corresponding to what we find in later rabbinic literature. Paul also speaks of faithfully retaining or observing a tradition (katecho, krateo) and uses, of course, the term “tradition” itself (paradosis)

          I’ll leave things there for now as otherwise each of our comments will get unmanageably long. When we’ve finished this point we can move on to the others.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          A quote from the famous Dr. B, celebrated in song and story. It’s a red-letter day!

          So Bauckham says that a single word choice suggests a formal transmission rather than a casual transmission. OK, that’s a data point. Not much of one—just because Paul says that the story has been passed along that way (or should be or he wants it to be) doesn’t mean that that’s actually how it happened. More importantly, why imagine that even Paul thought that the story couldn’t get passed along from person to person on the street? Did he identify this route and demand that it not happen? Did he impose a penalty?

        • KarlUdy

          So Bauckham says that a single word choice suggests a formal transmission rather than a casual transmission. OK, that’s a data point.

          Actually every time one of these words is used by Paul in this context is a data point. This amounts to quite a few data points.

          Not much of one—just because Paul says that the story has been passed along that way (or should be or he wants it to be) doesn’t mean that that’s actually how it happened.

          Actually when Paul is talking about his own practice or his own experience, then it carries more value, especially when (as he is doing several times) he is reminding those he is writing to of what he did with them. When Paul writes to the Corinthians “what I received I passed on as of first importance” (where “received” and “passed on” are the technical terms for formal passing on of tradition in Greek) then we can have the highest confidence that this is exactly what happened. And Paul similarly refers to his previous activity of thus instructing them in the gospel message in his letters to the Galatians, Colossians, and Thessalonians.

          More importantly, why imagine that even Paul thought that the story couldn’t get passed along from person to person on the street?

          The argument is not that it did not also get passed along in an informal manner, but that formal transmission of tradition did take place.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The argument is not that it did not also get passed along in an informal manner, but that formal transmission of tradition did take place.

          Sure, that’s possible. How that undermines the problem of oral history, I can’t see. You still have a story being passed from person to person, quite possibly getting contaminated with the retelling (a particular problem since we’ve now moved to Greek culture, with all its supernatural elements). The most charitable interpretation of your argument is, “The Jesus story might have been transmitted without error.” And I’ve granted that from the beginning. Doesn’t much help, since the burden is yours to show that it must’ve been transmitted without error.

        • KarlUdy

          Sure, that’s possible.

          Wow, some concession from you there. In a culture where formal transmission of oral tradition is known to have happened (actually in both relevant cultures – Greek and Jewish) where there are multiple documented cases of this formal transmission of oral tradition in our particular case you concede that it’s possible?!

          What would it take for you to believe that it was likely that formal transmission of oral tradition happened?

          Doesn’t much help, since the burden is yours to show that it must’ve been transmitted without error.

          Actually in this case, I don’t need to show that it must’ve happened. Your post was a claim that Christianity is absurd. You gave four reasons why you believed Christianity’s claims are absurd. Three have them have already been shown to have reasonable alternative’s (1: We don’t know everything about death; 2: The gospels are not mythology; and 4: Many false religions do not imply all religions are false.) If it can be shown that there is a reasonable alternative to the gospel story being legendary then every one of your four points fails to show that Christianity is absurd.

        • Kodie

          Still wishful thinking, Karl. Have you ever entertained other possibilities than the one you want to be true? For instance, what if there was a formal transmission of information, but what if that information was false? What if someone with a vested interest in planting a seed formalized the transmission of information such that everyone heard it the same way, but it was still a lie? I present to you – Sunday School. For another example, I ask you why the evangelicals want kids in public schools to be taught Intelligent Design to supplement the so-called “false” information they think kids are being taught about evolution? There is no guarantee these sessions were on the up-and-up and anyone teaching them could find their own ass with both hands about anything they were teaching. Evangelicals wish to formalize, legitimize without proof, Intelligent Design, as evolution, actual science, is formalized.

          I have a lot of doubts Jesus existed as a human being, but I know he didn’t levitate or resurrect or anything. You want it to be true, so you are grasping at any indication that it is merely possible that he existed, and that people saw him after he died, and talked about him, formally. Your arguments are, frankly, full of crap. You have major doubts that people behave the way they behave now, the way they’ve always behaved, but you have no doubt that a person lived, died, and resurrected to a magical realm we can’t find on a fucking map. At the very least, that’s the stupidest way god could reach mankind, if it were even true. We rely on “scholars” to mine the bible for instances they can latch onto for dear afterlife and expound in volumes and volumes of sweet guessing you lap up by the gallon. I think if there were a deity, he’d be smarter than that, but people are gullible, lots and lots and legions of people are gullible for this story. I guess he knew he didn’t have to try that hard, huh? 2000 years ago some bum elected to be executed on account of his prestigious lineage, and that has something to do with you today? It’s a symbolic story, a symbolic bedtime story, so you don’t have any nightmares about reality.

          I just don’t get a so-called deity looking into his bag of tricks and presenting humanity with an absurd system meant to resolve the human condition and it’s too obscure whether it actually happened anyway that we are up to arguing about it now. What other bullshit do you believe in?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Wow, some concession from you there … What would it take for you to believe that it was likely that formal transmission of oral tradition happened?

          Let’s imagine that it was certain. How does that show that informal transmission made a negligible impact on the overall transmission of the gospel story?

          Your post was a claim that Christianity is absurd.

          No, I argued that the resurrection claim is absurd.

          1: We don’t know everything about death

          True. So it’s reasonable to think that a resurrection happened?

          2: The gospels are not mythology

          The gospels are legend.

          4: Many false religions do not imply all religions are false.

          We know that humans invent religion. Is that data point irrelevant in our consideration of a new candidate religion?

        • KarlUdy

          No, I argued that the resurrection claim is absurd.

          My mistake, but my point remains the same.

          True. So it’s reasonable to think that a resurrection happened?

          Why not? You’ve given your four points. If none of them hold then surely Jesus’ resurrection is a reasonable position to hold. So far, you have conceded the first two points.

          You still assert that

          The gospels are legend.

          but you provide no evidence, and ignore the far greater evidence to the contrary.

          And you seem to think the multiplicity of denominations and religions implies that they all are man-made, when there are other explanations that fit the data equally as well.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You’ve given your four points. If none of them hold then surely Jesus’ resurrection is a reasonable position to hold.

          Agreed. Now show that none of them hold.

          So far, you have conceded the first two points.

          You must be thinking of someone else.

          You still assert that “The gospels are legend” but you provide no evidence, and ignore the far greater evidence to the contrary.

          What is this evidence to the contrary? The arguments that you’ve made so far? Or is there more?

          And you seem to think the multiplicity of denominations and religions implies that they all are man-made, when there are other explanations that fit the data equally as well.

          Imagine 1000 doors that may have something good behind them or may be empty. You’ve opened 999, and they’re all empty. What’s the likelihood that the next one will be any different? Yes, the fact that man makes up religions is a very relevant factor. Maybe all religions are made up. That possibility is very much in play.

          If there are “explanations” that you haven’t mentioned, fill us in.

        • KarlUdy

          Sorry, it is just the second point that you conceded.

          However, I do believe I have given enough evidence such that it is reasonable to hold a position other that each of the other points:

          It is reasonable to believe that there are aspects of death that we do not understand and that leave a real possibility of life after death.

          It is reasonable to believe that the gospel story was transmitted accurately.

          and

          It is reasonable to believe that one religion is true, even if all the others are false.

          And if that is the case, then it cannot be absurd to believe in the resurrection.

        • Kodie

          If you wish hard enough, then it’s reasonable!

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Sorry, it is just the second point that you conceded.

          On the second point, you helped me see that I meant “legend” and not “mythology.” I appreciate your help, but the point (now corrected) still stands.

          As for your 3 “it is reasonable” points, I agree that “it is possible” and “it is the case for many people,” but I disagree that they are reasonable. I could elaborate, but I’ve already done so in the post.

        • Kodie

          You can’t prevent an informal oral tradition but such a tradition quickly dies out or changes beyond recognition.

          Bingo! He walked on water? Rose from the dead? Those sound exactly like “beyond recognition”. Stories change and spread more quickly than you believe they do because you reek of credulity.

        • Kodie

          Why don’t you put it in your own words like Bob and Nox and everyone else? I don’t think I’ve ever heard you, convincingly or otherwise, say what you have to say without telling Bob to read some book you read instead. I don’t think you understand what you read well enough to explain it or even persuade anyone to read any of your scholarly examples.

        • KarlUdy

          Kodie,
          How many books have I told Bob to read? I can only remember one. If there are more, please remind me.

        • Kodie

          Yes, you were hung up on this one book before and we talked about how Bob should read it, but I don’t recall you ever going forth with the argument that’s so convincing. We did look at the Amazon reviews. Why can’t you put your thoughts together and essay it out for us in your own words? You are a wishful thinker, you think demons cause diseases and poetry is evidence of a deity, and you’ve never actually come up with anything better than “I just think so” and “I can’t eliminate the possibility that anything may be true.” I am just drawing a diagram for you and everyone else – if anything in any book, website, article, video, or whatever were (a) interesting and (b) illuminating, wouldn’t you be able to articulate what Bob and the rest of us are missing? He obviously reads and then puts together a blog, processing what he has read, in his own thoughts. Your task as a contributing poster is to explain where you think Bob went wrong, not pester him to read a book. I don’t think you understand what you read in that book, and I do think you are a gullible sort, prone to believe whatever you read because you’re obviously no scholar and it’s called confirmation bias. This moving argument is locked up in language you can’t paraphrase for the life of you. What makes you think anyone wants to trudge through something that you can’t even make sound interesting, if it contains the best argument you can think of?

        • KarlUdy

          Yes, you were hung up on this one book before

          Thought so. Although how you managed to get my encouraging Bob to read one book into

          I don’t think I’ve ever heard you, convincingly or otherwise, say what you have to say without telling Bob to read some book you read instead.

          should give everyone some idea of how much salt to take with your comments.

        • Kodie

          Maybe it should give everyone some idea what level your reading comprehension is. You know every time Bob visits this topic, you get to a dead end that you can go no further.

        • Pattrsn

          However, given the topic at hand, it may be better to focus on those who are experts in the New Testament

          Doesn’t sound very academic to me. I can imagine how far that argument would take you in any real discipline.

          I’m sorry but as you’re an expert in post-modernist architecture you’re opinion on modernism has no validity.

          In fact in religion it has even less validity since all religions are simply competing worldviews having more in common with hockey teams than academic disciplines.

          I’m sorry but as a Blackhawk’s fan your opinion on the Canadians has no validity.

        • KarlUdy

          Pattrson,
          I don’t understand what your point is? You seem to be saying that someone who is an expert in one field should be treated as an expert even in fields they’re not experts in?

        • Pattrsn

          In certain fields yes. One of those fields being religion, or any field that depends on the belief in magic. I don’t have to study homeopathy to know its crap, all I kneed to know is the basic principle, which is sympathetic magic. People spend their whole li lives studying homeopathy but the strange thing is their opinion on its validity is worth less than mine.

        • KarlUdy

          How sophomoric of you, Pattrsn

        • Pattrsn

          Well what do you think Katl, do you think we should defer to the homeopaths for homeopathy? Alister Crowley on the occult? Starhawk on witchcraft? Or in the field of magic is Christianity unique in that we can take its experts at their word?

        • Nox

          “the latest were written by eye-witnesses.”

          The latest were written well into the 2nd Century. None of the books of the new testament were written by witnesses. None could have been. None even claim to be.

          “oral history that has been passed on in a formal manner ensured to
          preserve the accuracy of the oral tradition, and also the presence of
          eye-witnesses to further confirm the accuracy of these accounts”

          You’re assuming a unified church where everyone would have listened if one of the apostles stood up and said Jesus did not rise from the dead.

          If there were witnesses who knew and openly stated that Jesus’ body was still in the ground (which there may well have been, it is certainly less likely than the resurrection) it wouldn’t have stopped Paul from preaching his death and resurrection based salvation scheme. And anyone whose account didn’t fit with what later became the orthodox narrative would simply not be included in the canon.

          Thus, in a world where Jesus did not rise from the dead, we would have exactly the gospel accounts we have in this world. Meaning the gospel accounts, in addition to being riddled with so many inconsistencies and logical errors that they couldn’t be true anyway, are worthless as evidence for the resurrection.

        • KarlUdy

          The latest were written well into the 2nd Century. None of the books of the new testament were written by witnesses. None could have been. None even claim to be.

          The latest written New Testament books were those written by John (generally assumed to be written 80-100AD). John 19:35 is a clear claim to eye-witness testimony. Now it is possible to argue that either John was lying or the book was a forgery (although I think the arguments are weak) but when you say none of the books of the New Testament claim to be written by eye-witnesses you are just plain wrong.

          You’re assuming a unified church where everyone would have listened if one of the apostles stood up and said Jesus did not rise from the dead.

          The evidence from the New Testament and early church writings clearly points in that direction.

          Meaning the gospel accounts, in addition to being riddled with so many inconsistencies and logical errors that they couldn’t be true anyway, are worthless as evidence for the resurrection.

          And you expect anyone to take your word for this when you don’t even know that John claims to be an eye-witness account?!

      • Pofarmer

        Richard Carrier has a couple pretty good you tubes onnthe gospels as myth.

    • Marcion

      This excerpt from Suetonius’ “The Twelve Caesars” is written in style, genre, etc as would be expected if they were giving factual accounts:

      “Accordingly, when word came that the veto of the tribunes had been set aside and they themselves had left the city, he at once sent on a few cohorts with all secrecy, and then, to disarm suspicion, concealed his purpose by appearing at a public show inspecting the plans of a gladiatorial school which he intended building, and joining as usual in a banquet with a large company. It was not until after sunset that he set out very privily with a small company, taking the mules from a bakeshop hard by and harnessing them to a carriage; and when his lights went out and he lost his way, he was astray for some time, but at last found a guide at dawn and got back to the road on foot by narrow by-paths. Then, overtaking his cohorts at the river Rubicon, which was the boundary of his province, he paused for a while, and realising what a step he was taking, he turned to those about him and said: “Even yet we may draw back; but once cross yon little bridge, and the whole issue is with the sword.”

      As he stood in doubt, this sign was given him. On a sudden there appeared hard by a being of wondrous stature and beauty, who sat and played upon a reed; and when not only the shepherds flocked to hear him, but many of the soldiers left their posts, and among them some of the trumpeters, the apparition snatched a trumpet from one of them, rushed to the river, and sounding the war-note with mighty blast, strode to the opposite bank. Then Caesar cried: “Take we the course which the signs of the gods and the false dealing of our foes point out. The die is cast,” said he.”

      Do you believe a spirit appeared and encouraged Caesar to cross the rubicon? If you don’t, why not? And how is Suetonius’s spirit different from the risen Jesus?

      • KarlUdy

        Do you believe a spirit appeared and encouraged Caesar to cross the rubicon? If you don’t, why not? And how is Suetonius’s spirit different from the risen Jesus?

        I don’t know. How does Seutonius’ account compare with other contemporaneous accounts? What is the textual evidence for Seutonius’ “12 Caesars”? All I can find online is that the earliest manuscript dates to about 950AD (although I will note that most historians believe his accounts to be substantially true). Of course, Seutonius is at something of a disadvantage in his account, being born over 100 years after Julius Caesar died, so can’t be considered an eye-witness, and what’s more, would not have been able to interview any eye-witnesses re Julius Caesar, although presumably would have been able to for the later Caesars.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Suetonius isn’t much better a source for Jesus, since likewise he was not a contemporary. Same for Pliny, Josephus, and other non-Christian sources.

        • KarlUdy

          Yes, the NT is by far a much better source. Especially when you consider that Seutonius and Pliny don’t actually say anything about Jesus.

        • arkenaten

          @KarlUdy
          No, they didn’t did they? And neither did any other contemporary writer of the time. And there were quite a few. You’d have thought that one of them would have made mention of a bloke that could walk on water?
          Appears not….not even a hint, or allusion. Not a whisper.
          It couldn’t be that it was all hokum, could it? You know, like the moon being made of cheese?
          Always a point to ponder.

        • KarlUdy

          arkenaten,
          Why would Seutonius and Pliny write about Jesus? Did they witness his miracles? It can hardly be a surprise that they don’t mention a religious leader from a backward province of the Roman Empire.

          Josephus, however, was writing a history of that province, and he does mention Jesus.

          And of course, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John give us a lot of information about Jesus.

        • arkenaten

          We are talking contemporary rather than second hand, yes?
          So we can leave Josephus out for the time being.
          I won’t deign to respond to your little dig at the supposed authors of the gospels…

          So, to contemporary writers: Are you suggesting Yashu’a was nothing special in this regard or are you saying miracles were so commonplace that one more such tale would hardly be worth making mention of?

          Personally, if there was someone walking on water, curing lepers, raising dead people,feeding multitudes of people with crumbs and smelly fish and attracting the sort of crowds he drew, not to mention his crucifixion and all the commotion that must have caused, I should think such occurrences would have been fairly well recorded by contemporary writers, and if not widely reported,would have at least warranted a mention…if only in passing.

          On the face of it, one might be tempted to conclude that Yashu’a was made up or miracles were so commonplace that what was one one more miracle-worker to Suetonius, right?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Well … it’s doubtful what Josephus himself actually said about Jesus. But that’s a tangent, admittedly.

        • arkenaten

          @KarlUdy:disqus
          No, they didn’t did they? And neither did any other contemporary writer of the time. And there were quite a few. You’d have thought that one of them would have made mention of a bloke that could walk on water?
          Appears not….not even a hint, or allusion. Not a whisper.
          It couldn’t be that it was all hokum, could it? You know, like the moon being made of cheese?
          Always a point to ponder.

  • Lewis C.

    What your argument amounts to is the following:

    We know Jesus didn’t rise from the dead because, well, most people don’t.

    Largely the same logic as:

    We know my friend Neil didn’t walk on the moon because, well, most people don’t.

    For either to be true it would seem highly unlikely and absurd. But probability and logic do not allow us to say with certainty that either statement is absolutely true. We can only say what is probable.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      We know Jesus didn’t rise from the dead because, well, most people don’t.

      Right—most people don’t. But, hey, let’s not be closed minded here. Is there any powerful evidence to say that Jesus is the exception? Anyone? Anyone?

      No? Okay, looks like “Jesus didn’t rise from the dead” is a safe hypothesis to rely on.

      We know my friend Neil didn’t walk on the moon because, well, most people don’t.

      Wow—that’s another big claim. Let’s sift through the evidence.

      First, we have the entire frikkin’ world watching this dude walk on the moon. Well, let’s not be too gullible here. It could be a hoax. Below, an excerpt from my “Extraordinary Claims and Extraordinary Evidence.”

      That video alone, as powerful as it was, might not have been enough to support the enormous claim of the moon landing, but of course we had far more than just that. We had public statements from NASA, the press, and the president; we had public launches of ever more enormous rockets from Cape Kennedy through the 1960s; we had thousands of workers within the aerospace industry who were in a position to blow the whistle on a hoax; we had satellites visible from the back yard of the ordinary citizens; and we even had the validation from the USSR—if we hadn’t landed on the moon, they would have delighted to point out the lie.

      And back to your comment:

      We can only say what is probable.

      Agreed. And given the evidence for the two claims you’ve mentioned, how do you evaluate them?

      • Lewis C.

        I think we’d be on the same page if you would agree with both of these statements.

        Though it seems absurd and highly unlikely that any one guy (or a dozen guys) out of the 115 Billion to ever live WALKED ON THE MOON, it may be worth evaluating the evidence rather than dismissing a priori the possibility as completely irrational foolishness.

        Though it seems absurd and highly unlikely that any one guy out of 115 Billion to ever live ROSE FROM THE DEAD, it may be worth evaluating the evidence rather than dismissing a priori the possibility as completely irrational foolishness.

        If we’re on the same page there, it’s just a matter of how you’re going to evaluate and weigh different “evidence” for and against each belief. But I can’t really fault you for coming away thinking the latter is highly unlikely; it absolutely is.

        • Kodie

          It’s not that one person did something that is hard to believe. In 1968, I would not have believed anyone ever walked on the moon, because it hadn’t happened yet. It would not be too absurd to think anyone ever would because technological advances were getting humans closer to a possible feat. It’s not the amount of people who have done something thought impossible that makes it hard to believe, but if you’re trying to say that if we believe they put a man on the moon, that they could just as easily fly into heaven after they die, I’m sure you’re committing a fallacy. A thousand years ago, I might have said that flying a horsecart up to the moon and walking around is as impossible as resurrection, but some things are possible, and some things are still impossible. I don’t know why you yearn for an afterlife so much that you are willing to be so irrational about it. You are right! Nobody looking at a dead thing knows what particle called a soul they had travels elsewhere, while its body decomposes. Why do you find it so hard to disbelieve that Jesus rose from the dead? Religious people ask me to have faith and just accept the ridiculous. Why don’t you take a turn and accept the rational obvious probability that no one rises from the dead, just to see how it feels. I want to know why you hate reality so much.

        • Kodie

          And while we’re talking about “unlikely” things, they’re not miracles. When people talk of freak accidents, chance meetings, near misses, overcoming low survival rates, and any other intersection of one thing and another possible event, those are called coincidences. Nobody arranged them especially for you. No puppeteer in the sky did, anyway. Miracles would be impossible in reality – if one thing can happen and another thing can happen, they can happen in the same timeframe within close proximity, and it’s unusual, but that’s not a miracle. Talking directly to someone thousands of miles away would be a miracle, but we can imagine doing exactly that, and telephones were invented, telegraphs, satellites, the internet, and skype. Humans do what may be done to overcome the impossible, and adapt our environment to ourselves. Those things are no longer “unlikely” since they are already part of reality. The chance of something having happened after the fact is 100%.

          Resurrection (to heaven) is unobserved, it’s unscientific, and until you can point to heaven as you can point to the moon, and as soon as you can point to a soul as you can a rocket, you are comparing two different things. Resurrection, as we may have it now is somewhat possible medically – to fail to lose someone forever whose heart stopped beating or who is not breathing, but they don’t have a soul that goes somewhere else. They just come back here, they wake up. Doctors can sometimes revive someone, they try very hard to keep from giving up on someone who may be able to revive. I don’t know how often such happens, or if it’s just a popular scenario on fictional medical dramas.

          The fact that you believe resurrection (by Jesus, to heaven) is possible now doesn’t make you any smarter than people who supposedly heard from their brother’s barber’s cousin’s roommate that Jesus rose from the dead just because of a story about his body being missing from the tomb. Religion works by threats. I am not threatened if I still thought the moon landing was faked and that space travel was impossible. I might get mocked, but that’s not eternity in hell. But you’ve staked everything on this story, for if he did not rise from the dead, he could not have absorbed your sins while dying on the cross, and here you are with sins unabsolved, and that’s supposed to be some kind of crisis. It solves itself if you think it through.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          it may be worth evaluating the evidence rather than dismissing a priori the possibility as completely irrational foolishness.

          You mean just like I did above? Yes, I just did that above.

          Though it seems absurd and highly unlikely that any one guy out of 115 Billion to ever live ROSE FROM THE DEAD, it may be worth evaluating the evidence rather than dismissing a priori the possibility as completely irrational foolishness.

          Been there, done that.

  • RobbyU

    We know how death works. We see it in plants and animals, and we know that when they’re gone, they’re just gone. Rats don’t have souls. Zebras don’t go to heaven.

    This is a criminally poor understanding of science. We don’t know any of these things. What laboratories do you think we discovered these things in? What scientific journal articles can you provide me with that tell us rats don’t have souls? Or that zebras aren’t in heaven? Have you ever read a scientific journal?

    Those who actually practice science understand its provisional and fallible nature, that it never speaks with certainty, that it can never provide a totalistic explanation, that it knows its limits. Controlled experiments on who or what is in heaven is outside science’s limits have never been undertaken, nor will they ever be.

    You seem to want to make science into a totalizing dogma or ideology, one that can answer all questions, be a source of all meaning, adjudicate all truth for their lives, make things black and white rather than gray, mysterious, provisional, unknowable. In other circles, this is called fundamentalism. I would suggest you adjust your beliefs to align more with scientists and less with fundamentalists.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Ouch. I guess it’s jail for me.

      We don’t know these things in the sense that we know them for sure. Who cares whether a journal has published an article about zebras in heaven? That’s no infallible source.

      We don’t know anything for sure. But we know some things as well as we know anything. And that’s what Sean Carroll is talking about.

      • RobbyU

        So earlier you said…

        We know how death works

        And by that you meant… “We don’t know these things…”

        Sounds confused.

    • smrnda

      I think you’re mixing a good point about science up with a bad one. It’s true that science is an ongoing, self-correcting enterprise where what we work with isn’t absolute truth, but a best-yet hypothesis that might be replaced or refined in the future.

      But in the case of things like ‘souls’ and such, you can’t conduct scientific investigations into things that aren’t well defined. I mean, I agree, anything outside of the physical universe is outside of the realm of science, but then I would just say that it’s outside of the realm of knowledge and the only thing left is pure conjecture. There are lots of things that we possibly can find out through science. I’m only interesting in exploring things where I have a possibility of gaining systematic knowledge, so I pretty much just dismiss all religious claims from the beginning.

      • RobbyU

        What you’re describing is a philosophical impossibility. You hold plenty of beliefs outside the realm of scientific investigations–your conjectures are right there alongside religious people’s, you just prefer your conjectures over anyone else’s. To each his own I guess.

        • smrnda

          What conjectures have I supplied that you are referring to? Could you give me an example?

        • RobbyU

          What makes a meaningful life? A meaningful death?
          Was MLK Jr. a better person than Hitler?
          Can men treat women as their property?
          Can we freely kill those not from our own tribe?

          If you answer any of these, you’ve violated your claim to only “explore things where I have a possibility of gaining systematic knowledge.” Turns out you get pretty serious about your non-systematic non-scientific conjectures, just like religion does.

        • smrnda

          I’ll have to clarify.

          In order to survive, I have to make decisions about what I will do in order to have a decent life. I will admit that my preference for survival rather than death is an arbitrary preference, but I think that’s the best you can get as a starting point. This requires that I assess different values and decide which values will lead to a better life.

          In this I do start out with an arbitrary preference (living is better than not) and I’m making judgment calls where I often don’t have a lot of information and when I have to extrapolate. To take one of your examples of MLK Jr vs. Hitler, a society full of people like MLK Jr. will be preferable to me than one full of people like Hitler.

          I will admit, I’m continuing to take as a given that I would rather be alive and living a life that doesn’t suck, but my preference for 1 rather than the other is based on the results each person got.

          The difference between this and religion is that I’m looking at things that actually happen in the real, observable world. Yeah, I’m making some value judgments and calling some things ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but I am at least calling things that are real good or bad. If you tell me that my preference for living in the EU as opposed to North Korea is arbitrary, yeah, go ahead, but at least the EU and North Korea are real places and we could make observations about what they are actually like.

          Religion makes claims about things that cannot be observed or tested. Look at prayer. An answered prayer is taken a proof of a loving god, but no amount of unanswered prayers prove otherwise.

          There’s a difference between value judgments and judgments about what is real and what is not real. All value judgments are subjective. Judgments on what is real and not real have to be objective or at least open to some sort of test.

          So it’s a different claim to say “Kim Il-Sung was a bad person” and to say “Kim Il-Sung was a god.”

        • Pattrsn

          Another difference is that we can use scientific research to help address those questions. Was MLK Jr, a better person that Hitler? All we have to do is come up with a definition for better and see how Hitler and MLK Jr compare.

          Just because religion choses to make these values arbitrary doesn’t mean they have to be.

          Also

          Can men treat women as their property?

          Even simpler, look, research the effect of this policy on women, address the arguments in favour etc etc.

          However when people have attempted to apply research or (like poor old Lewis) to religious claims, existence of god/s, the soul for example, they’ve gotten exactly nowhere. How long did it take before natural philosophers and theologians give up attempting to find the seat of the soul? What the hell is a soul anyway?

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