On Greg Cavin’s Case Against the Resurrection

Jeff Lowder has been encouraging me to read a set of slides that Greg Cavin used in his recent debate with Mike Licona (the slides were put together by Cavin and Carlos A. Colombett). Jeff called them a “must read” when they were first posted, and a week and a half later I got around to reading them. Here are my thoughts.

First of all, it’s a really well-done set of slides, to the point where you can follow the argument every step of the way without watching the video of the talk (which I haven’t actually done yet). Next time I give a talk, I’ll seriously consider using Cavin and Colombett’s slides as a model–assuming I have enough time to put that much work into the presentation!

The content seems to me at least mostly right (maybe all right). But the framing feels a bit off. There are a lot of extraneous claims in there that seem likely to lead to a side-tracked discussion, which you can see happening in the comments on Jeff’s post.

The presentation is built around “16 myths” Christian apologists are supposedly guilty of, many of which in turn refer to mistakes skeptics are supposedly guilty of. That leads to the response (seen in Jeff’s comments) that maybe Cavin isn’t guilty of the alleged mistake, but some skeptics are. Which is all besides the main point the presentation is supposed to be about.

Another example: the fact that what Licona calls his “hypothesis,” that there was “a supernatural event of an indeterminate nature and cause,” doesn’t really explain anything seems like a good “gotcha.” But I’m not sure what the atoms/schmatoms discussion that follows it adds to that basic point.

Similarly, the argument that the resurrection would have violated the laws of thermodynamics is just going to get the reaction “but God’s omnipotent, so he can violate the laws of thermodynamics.” Now, I think Cavin has a response to that objection implicit in his comments earlier in the presentation, but without explicitly drawing that connection, the argument ends up sounding kind of weak. Maybe he drew the connection verbally in the actual talk, but again I’m not sure what the argument adds to earlier points.

Then there’s some philosophical claims at the end that I’m not entirely sure about. I don’t have a specific objection to them, but in general I worry about arguments for those sorts of very general claims going by a little too quick.

It’s wanting to avoid getting sidetracked on debates like these leads me to take the emphasis I take both in my current book project and in the new preface to my first book: challenge the apologist to show that they can give better evidence for the Bible than, say, the “evidence” for the Book of Mormon or  the hypothetical Hero Savior of Vietnam. If they can’t do that (and aren’t going to propose that maybe the Book of Mormon was the work of demons), then you don’t have to discuss the exact epistemology of why we shouldn’t believe those claims.

That said, if I met an apologetics fan who absolutely insisted on getting a response to their claims framed in terms of probability theory… I might point them towards Cavin’s slides. But even then there’s the risk of them latching on to the wrong part of the presentation, so maybe the slides wouldn’t work well even for that purpose. Maybe I could tell people to look at just the first six myths or something, I don’t know.

  • augustine

    “If they can’t do that (and aren’t going to propose that maybe the Book of Mormon was the work of demons), then you don’t have to discuss the exact epistemology of why we shouldn’t believe those claims.”

    Actually, isn’t the point about demons the crucial one? If a Christian was persuaded that the best explanation, based on the documentary evidence, of both the resurrection and the miracles around Joseph Smith is a supernatural one, then the dispute would become a theistic Christian-Mormon debate as to the nature of the two supernatural events: the Christian arguing that the Smith events were supernatural but not from God, the Mormon arguing that both the resurrection and the Smith events were from God. At that point theism is assumed by both sides–why would either side scrap their theism and adopt atheism?

    • Chris Hallquist

      I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Some Christians might accept the demon hypothesis for Joseph Smith, but I think a lot of Christians, even relatively conservative ones, would reject it.

      • augustine

        “I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. Some Christians might accept the demon hypothesis for Joseph Smith, but I think a lot of Christians, even relatively conservative ones, would reject it.”

        Just that if a Christian accepted that the New Testament documentary evidence was on par with the Smith documentary evidence (which, I agree, most don’t), the conclusion wouldn’t be “well, I guess both are false and thus the resurrection never happened” but instead “well, since the evidence supports both events being supernatural, and the resurrection is from God, then the demon hypothesis must apply to the Smith events.”

  • MNb

    http://mainzerbeobachter.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/manuscriptenjacht/

    The Dutch historian of Antiquity Jona Lendering explicitly states that the author of Marcus did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. I quote:

    “Dit betekent dat de auteur van het oudste van de vier evangeliën niet geloofde dat Jezus was opgestaan: dit moet een latere ontwikkeling zijn, die wordt gedocumenteerd in de andere evangeliën.”

    Translation: “This means that the author of the oldest of the four Gospels didn’t believe Jesus had resurrected; this has to be a later development, which is documented in the other Gospels.”
    The evidence, as the article makes clear, is that in the oldest known complete version of the Gospels,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syriac_Sinaiticus

    the Gospel of Marcus didn’t mention it.
    Bye WLC.


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