Quick summary of the points I made on my appearance on Unbelievable

After reading a bit of feedback on my appearance on Unbelievable, I thought it might be worth giving a quick summary of the points I made on the show. Unfortunately, it was not a formal debate with closing statements, so there wasn’t a good time for me to do this during the show.

When you put the question in Bayesian terms, it breaks down into two key sub-issues:

First, what is the prior probability of the resurrection?

On my view, “very low.” Three key points here:

  1. Calum admitted that even if we didn’t have evidence that Joseph Smith is a fraud, he’d still be very skeptical of the claims of Mormonism (assign a low prior probability to them).
  2. Swinburne’s arguments for assigning a high prior probability to Jesus’ resurrection are transparently unconvincing once you ask yourself how they’d sound to a Muslim or Jew.
  3. Calum said that, based on his knowledge of Jesus’ teachings, it makes sense to him that God would want to vindicated Jesus, where as he doesn’t see the same being true of Joseph Smith. But he admitted he doesn’t even know much about the teachings of Mormonism. A Mormon, who was raised to know a lot about Mormonism’s teachings and think those teachings were wonderful, would probably think it would make perfect sense for God to vindicate Joseph Smith. So this doesn’t justify assigning a higher prior to the resurrection, at least not without a lot more work on Calum’s part.

Second, how strongly does the evidence confirm the resurrection?

On my view, “not very.” Again, three key issues:

  1. It’s wrong to call the “facts” used by William Lane Craig or whoever “facts” that need to be explained. All that needs to be explained is the Bible. Calum more or less agreed with this.
  2. With the exception of the (authentic) letters of Paul, the Bible does not represent eyewitness reportage. I don’t know if Calum agrees with this or not, but he didn’t dispute it.
  3. The argument that the disciples must have been sincere because they died for their beliefs doesn’t work because the evidence that the disciples did die for their beliefs is even thinner than the evidence for claims about Jesus’ life. Again, Justin and Calum didn’t respond, except I think for Justin saying maybe he’d have to get Candida Moss (a scholar who’s written about this issue, see my post here) on the show to talk about it.

I can certainly understand people being frustrated that we didn’t talk more about this second issue on the show, though actually, I wasn’t sure we’d be able to talk this even to the limited extent that we did, because Calum admitted in an e-mail beforehand that he was better versed in the philosophical issues involved than the historical ones.

P.S. – One slightly frustrating aspect of a show like this is that when you stray slightly outside the very narrow intended focus of the show, it’s very tempting for the host to punt to past guests or guests he hopes to have on on the future. I understand the reasons for doing that, but still frustrating. I should note, however, that I wasn’t trying to press the historical issues: it was Calum who brought them up by claiming that the “evidence” for the resurrection is very hard to explain and so on.

  • Kevin

    Can you do a post on why Swinburne thinks the prior for the resurrection is high?

  • Calum Miller

    A brief response:

    “Calum admitted that even if we didn’t have evidence that Joseph Smith is a fraud, he’d still be very skeptical of the claims of Mormonism (assign a low prior probability to them).”

    I assume I would, simply because if Mormonism had a prior above 0.5, I would have thought more people would believe it. But obviously I don’t know enough about Mormonism to be able to say much more about it. And obviously there are different degrees of improbability: to say that something is improbable is not necessarily to say that overwhelming amounts of evidence are needed to render it posteriorly probable. I’m pretty sure every Christian versed in Bayesianism in the world would say that the intrinsic probability of the resurrection is below 0.5, but it might, of course, be not too much less than 0.5.

    “Swinburne’s arguments for assigning a high prior probability to Jesus’ resurrection are transparently unconvincing once you ask yourself how they’d sound to a Muslim or Jew.”

    Could you expand on this a little, please?

    “Calum said that, based on his knowledge of Jesus’ teachings, it makes sense to him that God would want to vindicated Jesus, where as he doesn’t see the same being true of Joseph Smith. But he admitted he doesn’t even know much about the teachings of Mormonism. A Mormon, who was raised to know a lot about Mormonism’s teachings and think those teachings were wonderful, would probably think it would make perfect sense for God to vindicate Joseph Smith. So this doesn’t justify assigning a higher prior to the resurrection, at least not without a lot more work on Calum’s part.””

    ‘Vindication of Jesus’ teachings’ was sort of short-hand for everything Swinburne includes in the prior criteria section of his book – but obviously the argument including incarnation and so on would have complicated it too much for a brief radio show. I’m happy to expand and give a fuller argument if needed.

    “It’s wrong to call the “facts” used by William Lane Craig or whoever “facts” that need to be explained. All that needs to be explained is the Bible. Calum more or less agreed with this.”

    Yep, although obviously there’s a lot more to “the Bible” than just “there exists a book which Christians take to be the Word of God”. And, of course, we should also be seeking to include everything else we know for certain in our conditional probabilities – not just the Bible!

    “With the exception of the (authentic) letters of Paul, the Bible does not represent eyewitness reportage. I don’t know if Calum agrees with this or not, but he didn’t dispute it.”

    I’m inclined to disagree, and think that there is pretty good evidence that the gospel accounts are largely eyewitness reports, even if the gospel authors themselves weren’t eyewitnesses (though they might well have been).

    “The argument that the disciples must have been sincere because they died for their beliefs doesn’t work because the evidence that the disciples did die for their beliefs is even thinner than the evidence for claims about Jesus’ life. Again, Justin and Calum didn’t respond, except I think for Justin saying maybe he’d have to get Candida Moss (a scholar who’s written about this issue, see my post here) on the show to talk about it.”

    I wouldn’t say it’s particularly thin, but I don’t think the disciples actually dying for their beliefs is the only relevant evidence – all the evidence for the disciples engaging in knowingly risky behaviour is, of course, relevant. And we have substantial evidence for that.

    “P.S. – One slightly frustrating aspect of a show like this is that when you stray slightly outside the very narrow intended focus of the show, it’s very tempting for the host to punt to past guests or guests he hopes to have on on the future. I understand the reasons for doing that, but still frustrating. I should note, however, that I wasn’t trying to press the historical issues: it was Calum who brought them up by claiming that the “evidence” for the resurrection is very hard to explain and so on.”

    I think it’s somewhat inevitable that this should come up to some extent. Obviously I wanted to focus on the philosophical issues, but if I’m asked a question like “why believe in Christianity but not Mormonism?” and if part of the answer is that I have been given a lot more evidence for Christianity than I have for Mormonism, I can’t help but mention it! :)

    • Hrafn

      “If the gospel authors themselves weren’t eyewitnesses”, then the gospels, by definition are hearsay, not “eyewitness reports”.

      Your statement makes me highly skeptical that you understand what “eyewitness” means.

      Incidentally, what evidence do you have to support your contention that the gospels authors “might well have been” eyewitnesses? Expert opinion seems to be that they were performing a synthesis of multiple pre-existing sources, rather than writing their own, first-hand, account.

      • Richard_Wein

        I agree that Calum’s use of the term “eye-witness reports” seems peculiar. The substantive issue is the reliability of the causal processes by which information was transmitted from the original events to the earliest gospel texts (and from there to the texts we have today). If (implausibly) a gospel author took down a careful verbatim dictation from an eye-witness, that might be almost as reliable as the eye-witness writing the account himself, and it might be reasonable to call that original text an “eye-witness report” (but not necessarily to give that name to the modern text). But if the gospel author wrote an account in his own words many years after hearing an account from an eye-witness, that would be far less reliable. This is probably the scenario that Calum had in mind, but to call this an “eye-witness report” is to gloss over the unreliability of that extra link in the chain of transmission, and so exaggerates the reliability of the text.

        • Calum Miller

          New Testament Studies is a peculiar field, and terms are often used without much regard for intuitive definitions there. I’m happy to limit “eyewitness account” to literally “something written by an eyewitness” if people here are particularly perturbed.

          • Hrafn

            I would suggest that if New Testament Studies attempts to define “eyewitness report” as anything other than an account written or dictated by an eyewitness, then it is indeed a “peculiar” field, in the thoroughly pejorative sense of that adjective. Such a redefinition would be thoroughly misleading as to the evidentiary value of the hearsay in question, as well as put it in direct conflict with a wide range of other academic disciplines, for example History and Law.

            Calum has still not given us any indication of what evidentiary status (in terms comprehensible to those who are not steeped in New Testament Studies redefinitions) he considers the gospels to have, and what evidence he has to back up his case.

          • Calum Miller

            That is because I am a busy man. I can recommend some books which cover it far more comprehensively than I would be able to, though.

          • Hrafn

            That would at least give us some idea as to where you’re coming from — as things stand you have given no clear idea whatsoever.

            If you’re too “busy” to express yourself in terms comprehensible to those who don’t already know what you’re talking about and too thoroughly immersed in your field not to realise that your definitions won’t make sense to anybody outside it, then good luck at trying to convince anybody of anything.

          • Calum Miller

            Your question was pretty vague, but I consider the gospels to be generally quite reliable on matters of substance, while I’m agnostic on the historicity of a few narratives (e.g. the Transfiguration) as wholes. I sympathise with the views of people like NT Wright, Richard Bauckham, and people of their line of thinking. Not an inerrantist by any stretch, but I don’t see much good reason to doubt the general historicity of many of the gospel narratives.

            Thanks.

          • Hrafn

            The only direct question I have asked was “what evidence do you have to support your contention that the gospels authors ‘might well have been’ eyewitnesses?” That’s hardly vague.

            What is completely vague is airy statements like “I sympathise with the views of people like NT Wright, Richard Bauckham, and people of their line of thinking.”

            This is not even “recommend[ing] some books which cover it” (itself a very low bar for specificity). If you’re too “busy” to do even that, then I’m too busy to continue bothering to try to work out what your position might actually be.

          • Calum Miller

            Yes, and your indirect question was very vague, viz. “Calum has still not given us any indication of what evidentiary status (in terms comprehensible to those who arenot steeped in New Testament Studies redefinitions) he considers the gospels to have”.

            Bauckham’s primary book on the topic is well-known; I’m sure you can guess which book I have in mind. For NT Wright, see his “Christian Origins” trilogy.

            I don’t know whether you’re too busy to continue commenting; that’s for you to decide. But I don’t particularly mind if you are.

          • Hrafn

            That was not a “question”, that was a statement. If you want it in more bald and less polite terms:

            Callum still hasn’t said, what the fracking heck he actually means, in terms that are not hopelessly muddled by obvious BS like non-eyewitness-eyewitness-reports.

            If you meant Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (yes, I had already worked that out for myself) and
            Christian Origins
            , then why did you beat around the bush? As to the former, it does not appear to have a great deal of mainstream support, possibly because a Bauckham-says-Eusebius-says-Papias-says-John-the-Elder-says-Mark-says-Peter-says argument is too tenuous and Chinese-whispersesque to be particularly compelling.

          • Calum Miller

            Glad you worked it out for yourself.

          • Hrafn

            And I am not the least “glad” that you seem to be completely incapable of stating what you actually mean. For somebody who claims to be so “busy”, you seem to spend a very large amount of time dancing around (i) what you are actually claiming & (ii) what books actually support it.

          • Calum Miller

            I claim a lot of things; I don’t know which claim you’re expecting me to explicate. And I’ve told you which books I have in mind. But you’re right: I’m busy. So I’ll leave this conversation here.

          • Hrafn

            More dancing and prevaricating.

            Given that (i) I quoted from your claims in my first post, (ii) you explicitly modified the definition of a key word “eyewitness”, such that your original phrasing “eyewitness reports, even if the gospel authors themselves weren’t eyewitnesses” no longer made any possible sense & (iii) have not made any mention of any of your original claims other than these, it should be obvious to anybody with more sense than a concussed hamster what claims I have been referring to (i.e. the “eyewitness” ones).

            That you have no interest whatsoever in offering a coherent articulation or defense of your claim is patently obvious — which leads to the conclusion that the claims are most probably incoherent and indefensible.

          • Hrafn

            I just checked … Christian Origins has four volumes, at least one of those volumes has two books, at least one of those books has 1700 pages.

            ARE YOU KIDDING ME!

            Expecting anybody to scratch around that amount of writing in order to work out what on Earth you are claiming is being vague to the point of complete idiocy!

          • Calum Miller

            I didn’t expect you to read it. I said I didn’t have the time to explain myself, but that I could point you to books which do have the time to explicate it if you really cared. Clearly you don’t care enough to read that trilogy, and that’s fine by me. If it’s also fine by you, then nothing to complain about.

          • Hrafn

            What possible reason would you have of “point[ing me] to books” if you “didn’t expect you to read” them?

            What possible reason would have for thinking that anybody would want to read a tens-of-thousands-of-pages four-volume-five-book-”trilogy” (in other words, ‘not so much a “book” as a whole bookshelf’), in the hopes that some small part of it somewhere might explicate a claim that Calum Miller is too inarticulate and too lazy to articulate clearly himself.

            A claim I might further point out that Calum Miller simultaneously claims he “don’t know which claim you’re expecting me to explicate”, but that he does know that this book explicates. A contradiction that seems to provide another data point supporting Chris Hallquist’s thesis on Christian apologists and (dis)honesty.

          • Steven Carr

            Don’t worry.

            There is no need to read the books. Calum uses them for citing, not for evidence. There is no evidence, so he is resorting to quoting book titles.

            It will be pass-the-parcel apologetics. Those books will reference other books, which will be just as empty of evidence as they are.

            The parcels are all empty, no matter which ones you open.

            Because absolutely nobody in history ever wrote that he saw an empty tomb.

            There is no evidence, just as there is no evidence that a second gunman shot JFK.

            No wonder even Christian converts scoffed at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

            Paul reminds them that Jesus ‘became a life-giving spirit’.

            If only he had waited a couple of decades, somebody would have made something up….

          • Scott

            Actually (and I am struggling not to engage in this ongoing discussion, though I find many of the comments by the atheists on here to be pretty silly and not well thought out), your reluctance to read NT Wright’s works doesn’t make much sense. Here’s why…

            Let’s say you have terminal cancer and are told that there is a definite cure (though you have personally not yet accepted this statement, the person telling you is very certain). You ask for more information and are told that you have to fly to Australia and visit a doctor who works with aborigines in the outback.

            On the face of it, this seems like a pretty extreme journey to get an answer. But as someone with terminal cancer, that trip may just be worth it if you are genuinely seeking a cure.

            The point is this…whether Jesus rose from the dead or not is the ultimate question. It has ultimate impact on all of us and our destinies. It would seem to me that those who are serious about investigating the truth, and who are genuinely concerned about answers to the ultimate questions, would have an equal interest in getting an answer as that cancer patient does in finding the doctor in Australia.

            Given this, reading a 1700 page set of books, while requiring great commitment, is well justified by the importance of the topic. Anyone choosing not to do this would seem to have invalidated their own claims that they are taking this topic seriously.

          • Steven Carr

            Well, you can start by producing some evidence that Judas, Thomas or Lazarus existed.

            Name one Christian in the first century who ever named himself as having even heard of these alleged people.

          • Steven Carr

            As the disciples were asleep when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemene and so getting some shut-eye, perhaps you should call them ‘shut-eye witness accounts’.

          • Brett Strong

            Hi Callum, its Brett Strong…how about debating Jesus or the reliability of the NT…we can do it on Skype phone or Google Hangout? Both works fine for me…let me know, just leave a reply at my YouTube channel MrBrettStrong on any video and I’ll get back to you…Brett Strong

        • Hrafn

          The impression that I am getting is that mainstream scholarship is not of the opinion that the gospels are based upon a single (let alone eye-witness) account, even rewritten “in his own words many years after”, so I’m having difficulty seeing how this could be claimable (even allowing an unreasonably broad interpretation of “eyewitness report”). I think Callum really needs to give some clarity as to what it is that he’s claiming, and its basis in mainstream scholarship.

          • Biblical Scholar

            Like 1:1-2 refers to the “eyewitnesses” who have given accounts before Luke writes. He shows that even though he is not an eyewitness to all that he writes, he is basing his writing on their accounts. With Mark, tradition strongly claims that his Gospel is Peter’s account, Peter being an eyewitness as is evident in the Gospel and supported by
            the position he has in Paul’s writings. In 1Corinithians 15, an accepted ‘authentic’ writing from Paul, he mentions 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection.

            Scholars who stand by the flimsy evidence for the first Gospel being created post 70AD may not agree that the Gospels have any ‘eyewitness’ support, but
            such a view is ignorant of, or too quick to dismiss, the earliest claims – and suffers from another problem…

            Just because the accounts are written based on ‘eyewitness’ information does NOT mean that they are 100% historical accounts. What is written seeks to show the THEOLOGICAL meaning of the eyewitness information, so we have to be careful about how we read it: It is not straight ‘history’ as is often oddly presumed! Many of the arguments people use against the historicity of he Gospels – hence against an early dating and against eyewitnesses – are actually problems with their perception of what the Gospels are seeking to convey.

          • Steven Carr

            The anonymous author of Luke did indeed base his work on the anonymous author of Mark, changing what he wanted to change and hiding from his readers his ‘source’.

            Luke was unable to find a single event in the life of Jesus that he could date (He dates an event in the life of John the Baptist though)

            Mark itself though never even claims to be historical. It has no markers of any history.

            1 Corinthians 15 was written to Christian converts who were scoffing at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

            Even though Paul is writing about the nature of a resurrected body, it is as though he has absolutely zero knowledge of any first-hand accounts who can tell him was a resurrected body was like.

            Everything he writes is written from theological principles, not from any knowledge anybody might have got from seeing a resurrected body.

            Indeed Paul calls these Christian converts ‘idiots’ for discussing what a resurrected corpse could be like and reminds them that Jesus ‘became a life-giving spirit’.

          • Biblical Scholar

            So you think Luke shoud provide dates and name his sources? This just goes to prove that, as I said, people are wrongly expecting the Gospels to be historical accounts.
            In setting the date for ‘John the Baptist’, it is clear that Luke aims to set the date for the mission of Jesus which historically, as in Mark, begins with John.

            Mark, as you say, never ‘claims to be historical’. Papias c115AD agrees with you on that! But the Gospel does set Jesus in history as the one who fulfils the claims of the prophets and also John the Baptist. John was a well known historical figure in Palestine at the time of Jesus’ ministry. If the words of historical John are seen as ‘fulfilled’ in Jesus, then Jesus is presented as a historical figure.

            You say Mark has ‘no markers of history’ but Pontius Pilate is a clear marker to 10 years 26-36AD. There are many other markers which are not always obvious unless you know what was going on at the time and how Mark tackles this from his theological/fulfilment perspective. One marker is the mention of a village called “Bethsaida” (Mark 8:22). This was renamed as the ‘city’ of “Julias” around 30-31AD and sets Jesus amid the politics of what was going on there.

            On Paul’s account of a resurrected body. You show again that a 1stC Jew is not interested in the scirence of it all. We must accept that – but he does argue FOR an actual ‘resurrection’ of Jesus.

          • Steven Carr

            ‘Pontious Pilate’ is a clear marker of history.

            Yes, and ‘The Hunt for Red October’ has clear markers of history.

            But I do like your claim that you don’t expect your ‘documentation’ to have sources or dates…

            Shows you how desperate Christians are to patch up the holes in their fantasies.

            ‘In setting the date for ‘John the Baptist’, it is clear that Luke aims to set the date for the mission of Jesus which historically, as in Mark, begins with John.’

            Nope, Luke could not find any dates for Jesus.

            But he could for John the Baptist.

            All you can do is confabulate some words, but can’t answer the point.

            ‘On Paul’s account of a resurrected body. You show again that a 1stC Jew is not interested in the scirence of it all. ‘

            Oh GOD!

            Your own f***ing Lord and Saviour was alleged to have explained what a resurrected body was(so much for this pathetic ‘not interested’ excuse), and yet Paul can’t even do that – or even remind his readers what the person they worshipped had allegedly said.

            Besides, Paul said Jesus ‘became a life-giving spirit’.

          • Biblical Scholar

            You were suggesting that Mark doesn’t seem to give Jesus a date in history. I was showing that he does.

            The Gospel was not written to give you or I a history lesson. That’s just a fact. To then dismiss all that it says as ‘fantasies’ is nothing less than a fantasy itself!

            So where is your evidence that Luke ‘could not find any dates for Jesus’?! Would that not be rather strange for somebody who starts his work by claiming that he is following in a line of others who had produce accounts from the outset?!

          • Steven Carr

            ‘In 1Corinithians 15, an accepted ‘authentic’ writing from Paul, he mentions 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection.’

            Name one.

            How on earth were 500+ Christians gathered together before Pentecost?

            Were they having a conference?

          • Biblical Scholar

            The fact that 2000 years later we don’t know the ‘who’ and ‘when’ of it does not mean that we can dismiss the point: Paul, around 55AD, regarded them as living eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. He believed that such eyewitnesses were able to support the historical claim which was core to Christianity.

          • Steven Carr

            So you have zero documentation, except a bizarre claim that 500 plus Christians gathered together for no good reason after the crucifixion. (For the love of God, why?)

            Paul also believed that a real man from Macedonia visited him in a vision.

            Please produce a shred of evidence that Paul did not have a vision that Jesus appeared to 500 people.

            And the fact remains that Paul said flat-out that Jesus became a spirit, and Christians were not converted by stories of rising corpses, as they must have been scoffing at the very idea of a corpse being raised (although they accepted that Jesus was still alive, and that their god could create Adam from dead matter)

          • GubbaBumpkin

            Paul, around 55AD, regarded them as living eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.

            Last week, I climbed to the moon on a ladder I constructed myself out of candy wrappers. Six billion people witnessed my feat. I presume you also accept this, what with the weight of six billion eyewitnesses.

          • Biblical Scholar

            You are suggesting that Paul, c55AD was making up his own claims and
            that these were accepted and shared among the Christian communities as
            conveying their true faith, even though they had never heard such things
            before!

            The first chapter of the letter shows that the
            Corinthians were in touch
            with a number of key teachers, so they would know enough about the
            faith to judge Paul’s words. Here and in Galatians, Paul goes to some
            length to show that his teaching is in line with Jesus’ teaching and is
            endoresed by the apostles. If that were not true, he would have been
            rejected [Acts 2:42]. I think you would find it difficult to present a
            reasonable case for Paul being such a fabricator and still ending up so
            highly accepted and regarded among the Christians at such an early date.
            But if you want to have a go?….

          • Hrafn

            All accounts, that do not admit to being outright fiction, claim to base their accounts on what has been “handed down” from eyewitnesses. This is hardly something new, doesn’t offer it any particular reliability, and does not change the fact that this is in fact all hearsay.

            Traditions quite frequently claim all sorts of things that have little or no historical basis.

            One has to wonder what basis Paul, who was not himself an eyewitness to the resurrection, has for claiming such a number of eyewitnesses to it. How does he know that they were there, and what were they all doing there? Another “tradition”?

            Please provide some cast iron evidence for your bald assertion that the gospels were written prior to 70AD, as the consensus of mainstream scholarship appears to date them to after this date. (Otherwise I will conclude that it is you who is “ignorant” and basing claims on “flimsy evidence”>)

          • Biblical Scholar

            OK, I’ll provide you with some cast iron evidence….
            …one day! :-)
            J.Robinson in the 70′s pointed out that the presumption that the Gospels are all post 70AD is based on flimsy evidence, which is the point I’m making – that there really is no need to reject the original statements and thought of eyewitness accounts ‘because’ they were written so late – seeing as nobody has proven that they are post 70AD. The burden of proof should actually be on those who reject the earlier statements.

          • Hrafn

            Well if somebody called J. Robinson said it 40-odd years ago, then it must be true, mustn’t it?

            A bald invocation of “J. Robinson says”, without any detail (which J. Robinson, in what work, in what context & on what basis?), is about as “flimsy” as evidence gets.

            We don’t know with any certainty whatsoever who wrote them, where they wrote them or when they were written, (nor do we have the original document, an original copy of the document, or a copy of a copy, a copy of a copy of a copy, …) so we have no rational basis for claiming that they were eyewitness accounts. The best that we can do is to attempt to discern when & where they were written from the language they (probably) used (“probably”, because by the earliest extant copies, there is already considerable textual variation) — which leads most scholars to date them after the Siege of Jerusalem in 70AD.

            Claims about “original statements”, “eyewitness accounts” & “earlier statements” is simply blowing smoke. The “burden of proof” is on anybody who pretends to have strong evidence for placing them at a particular time and place.

          • Biblical Scholar

            You quote Bart Erhman but are not aware of J.A.T.Robinson’s famous work on the dating of the New Testament? Seems you are reading one side of a debate!

          • Hrafn

            No, I do not quote Ehrman. I have read some of his books, but none recently, and I have none immediately to hand, so would not be in a position to quote him even if I wanted to. What I was in fact doing was summarising the scholarly consensus.

            John A.T. Johnson isn’t the only “J. Robinson” involved in New Testament Studies (there’s also a James Robinson as well). And in calling the evidence for post-70AD gospels “flimsy”, he appears to have neglected to mention that the evidence for dating them pre-70AD is at least as flimsy (and in the opinions of most of his colleagues, more flimsy). Very “one side[d]” of him. At least I was summarising the majority side.

          • Biblical Scholar

            Copy of copy of copy… is a tired old quote from Erhman. There are more tennis players called Murray but if I mentioned him you wouldn’t expect me to distinguish him from his brother unless you knew very little about tennis.

            Robinson pointed out many flaws with the majority view. The key point is that it all hinges on a particular reading of Mark 13. They cast to one side other internal evidence and earliest writings based on an interpretation that may just be reading the text against a later context rather like people do with the book of Revelation. You seem willing to side with scholars on this , obviously being more trusting of biblical scholars than your other posts suggest!

          • Hrafn

            “J.Robinson in the 70′s pointed out that…”

            “Robinson pointed out many flaws with the majority view.”

            May I “point out” that John Arthur Thomas Robinson was only the (Anglican) Bishop of Woolwich, not the bleeding Pope, so was not infallible.

            It would therefore be more accurate to state that “Robinson claimed many flaws in the majority view.”

            It goes without saying that the majority of scholars thinks that it was Robinson-pointed-out that was flawed. I would also point out that Robinson died before the widespread introduction of computers, and therefore that his views would not have been informed by computer-based Statistical Criticism and other developments of the last thirty years.

            I therefore don’t see any reason why I should accept having Robinson-pointed-out continually shoved down my throat as though it is Holy Writ.

            And I particularly don’t see why I should accept being lectured by a “tired old” Robinson fanboy.

            Are you claiming that we have the original of any of the gospels? An original copy? An original copy of a copy? Then “Copy of copy of copy…” is entirely accurate! That Ehrman may have said something very similar doesn’t make it in any way untrue or “tired”. Are you really claiming that the resultant opportunity for (and in many cases actual evidence of) scribal errors, redactions and/or interpolations actually makes the gospels more credible?

            Oh, and while I’m in the habit of “pointing out”, I would point out that James M. Robinson is “arguably the most prominent Q and Nag Hammadi library scholar of the 20th century.” Because of this, I found him long before I found Johnny-the–bishop — so yes you most certainly do have to distinguish them!

          • Biblical Scholar

            You should do all your homework before you begin an argument: Robinson was a very influential scholar. I only repeatedly mention him because you try to pick fault with something you clearly know little about. Even Wikipedia has content beyond an article’s title!

            Copy of copy is tired as in off repeated. Dan Wallace shows how daft it is to dismiss all that is not an original copy. We would have little knowledge of history if we treated texts like that!

          • Hrafn

            Robinson was so “very influential” that his views are rejected by the majority of scholars, both in his own time, and today. I think you are confusing “influential” with “fringe”.

            It was YOU Robinson-fanboy who brought up the whole topic of dating the gospels, 70AD & (purported) “flimsy evidence” — which was only tangentially related to what I had been talking about — so “I only repeatedly mention him because you try to pick fault with something you clearly know little about” is complete bollocks!

            When the contents of the copies show a remarkable variation (Mark 16, the Comma Johanneum, the Woman Taken in Adultery, etc, etc), then yes, the fact that they are copies of copies does start to matter. (I have no doubt that you have found someone who claims otherwise — you can find somebody to claim pretty near anything — even that Elvis is still alive.) I doubt if we have that problem with De Bello Gallico for example — so no, we would not “have little knowledge of history if we treated texts like that”.

          • Biblical Scholar

            Rather than picking schoolboy fights, go and do your homework. You might then end up with something useful to say.

          • Hrafn

            Projection, much?

          • GubbaBumpkin

            The key point is that it all hinges on a particular reading of Mark 13

            So that’s the state of the argument now? A line in the very work being questioned? That is an outright admission that there is no evidence outside the text for the assertion of an early origin.

    • eric

      we should also be seeking to include everything else we know for certain in our conditional probabilities – not just the Bible!

      Calum, if you really believe this, I do not see how you can arrive at a prior probability of “not too much less than 0.5.” If you agree that we should include ‘everything we know,’ then that includes investigations of miracle claims that have gone on for the past 2,000 years, yes? And the results of those investigatinos are umpteen falsified, none confirmed. Yes? So if we include that data, the prior probability should get very low indeed.

      Just think about this claim: this morning, I (eric) flapped my wings and flew around my bedroom. What prior do you assign to that? Is it “not too much less than 0.5″ or is it extremely low? Extremely low, rigth? And its extremely low because of thousands of years of observations that show people don’t and can’t do this. The exact same logic applies to the ressurrection.

      As I see it, the only way a Christian can arrive at a prior close to 0.5 is if they assign a very high weight to the bible compared to other evidence. To, in essence, reject your quote and not include all the other things we know.

    • MNb

      “All that needs to be explained is the Bible.”
      Don’t think so, if you pretend to be scientific. The common point of view is that no theory in science of history may be in conflict with natural science.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      And, of course, we should also be seeking to include everything else we
      know for certain in our conditional probabilities – not just the Bible!

      Uh… with regard to the resurrection, what else is there but the reports in the Bible? Nothing. NOTHING.

      I’m inclined to disagree, and think that there is pretty good evidence
      that the gospel accounts are largely eyewitness reports, even if the
      gospel authors themselves weren’t eyewitnesse

      What Hrafn said. You seem not to understand the distinction between “eyewitness report” and “hearsay.”

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      Let’s see if I can nail down this issue of the prior or Mormonism. Maybe I didn’t explain this point well enough on the show, so we had different ideas of what you were agreeing with. Google “Mormon witnesses” or “three Mormon witnesses” or something like that to give you the basics of what I’m talking about here. If all you had was a flattering rough outline of Joseph Smith’s life, and the testimony of the Mormon witnesses, without knowing any of the evidence that Joseph Smith was a fraud or about the problems genetics and archaeology creates for the historical claims of the Book of Mormon, what do you think you’d make of it? <0.5 leaves open a wide range of possible priors.

      Also, what do you think the main evidence is for the "risky behavior" of the disciples? Is it mainly Acts and the Epistles?

    • Ophis

      “Yep, although obviously there’s a lot more to “the Bible” than just
      “there exists a book which Christians take to be the Word of God”. And,
      of course, we should also be seeking to include everything else we know
      for certain in our conditional probabilities – not just the Bible!”

      I am interested in what you think “everything else we know for certain” includes, given the lack of evidence we have about the resurrection and about Jesus’ life in general. We have nothing at all written about him in his lifetime. Of the material written after his lifetime, there is nothing that we can confidently say was written by someone who had ever met Jesus. The best evidence we have about early Christianity is the letters of Paul; in other words, letters written by a man who had never met or even seen Jesus, and who based his claims about Jesus primarily on what he saw in visions.

      What certainties can we possibly find from such evidence?

      • Richard_Wein

        Trying to pour oil on troubled waters…

        I think Calum was making an uncontroversial epistemological point, but made it sound controversial through poor wording. He was basically agreeing with Chris, but there was a possible (if strained) interpretation of Chris’s words that he wanted to dissociate himself from. On the strained interpretation, Chris would have been claiming that the existence of the Bible was the only thing in need of explanation. So Calum added that the content (text) of the Bible needs to be explained, and there could be other things in need of explanation too.

        It was rather confusing for Calum to say we should “include everything else we know for certain in our conditional probabilities”. It’s not clear whether he’s still just talking about what needs to be explained, or is he also now talking about background knowledge. Either way, we obviously don’t need to include irrelevant facts, like Obama being President!

        Perhaps Calum thinks that the Josephus text (for example) is in need of explanation too. I guess it is, but we can say that without agreeing that it’s at all difficult to explain naturalistically. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and no ancient document can contain sufficiently extraordinary evidence to justify accepting a supernatural conclusion. So the details don’t really matter. For any ancient documents, human error (and possibly invention) are easily a better explanation than their supernatural claims being true. It might be interesting to construct a specific naturalistic account. But we don’t need to do so, any more than we need to do so for the many other supernatural claims in scriptures, and other historical documents.

  • Steven Carr

    ‘Calum said that, based on his knowledge of Jesus’ teachings, it makes sense to him that God would want to vindicated Jesus….’

    Of course, when apologists want to argue out of the other corner of their mouths, they claim that nobody in the first century expected a resurrection.

    They personally would have expected Jesus to be resurrected, and that is a prior probability which is reasonable to put high.

    But 1st century Jews would naturally have a prior probability of an expectation of a resurrection of Jesus as incredibly low (despite knowing Jesus personally, having seen Moses of all people rise from the dead, never to die again etc).

    So the same event has both a low and a high prior probability, depending upon which corner of the mouth the apologist wants to speak about.

    Christianity – it’s the double standards that get you every time.

    • stuart32

      Very good point. “No one was expecting a resurrection, therefore, no one would make it up.” “Resurrecting Jesus is exactly what you would expect God to do.”

    • Biblical Scholar

      No. G.Vermes would not have been able to try and defend his view of Jesus for so many years if Jews thought a risen Christ was a reasonable possibility. They expected a Christ to rule as a human being on earth. They were not looking for a resurrection and did not expect to witness anything of the sort until the Last Day when all righteous Jews would be raised together. You are reading modern presumptions back into the first century here. There is no double standard, just two views being shown… a first century Jewish view and the post resurrection view Calum has.

      • Steven Carr

        ‘They expected a Christ to rule as a human being on earth. They were not looking for a resurrection….’

        Huh?

        Calum Miller has been telling everybody that there is a high prior expectation of Jesus being resurrected.

        How can it be reasonable for their to be a high prior probability of Jesus being resurrected, based on the character of Jesus, if the people who knew Jesus best were not expecting a resurrection?

        (Answer. The same event has both a high and a low probability of happening depending upon what corner of the mouth the apologist wants to talk out of.)

        And how could people who had spent 3 years listening to Jesus preach have got his message so wrong?

        (Answer. The one and the same people both totally misunderstood Jesus’s message and remembered it perfectly to tell the Gospel writers, depending upon what corner of the mouth the apologist wants to talk out of.)
        Were all your eyewitnesses blind to what was happening?

        • Biblical Scholar

          Calum may wish to speak for himself on this but I think that he was saying that Christians today may find the resurrection more acceptable in retrospect and looking at Jesus as God in the flesh. But there was certainly no such expectation among first century Jews, not of an individual nor a Christ.

          On Jesus’ teaching that he would die and be raised – Yes: If he said this blatantly before his death, it would suggest – if read as a historical statement of his actual words – that Jesus had made a bold prediction. Judged alongside the listed miracles you would start to think “Hey, this guy COULD be raised as he says!”. I will leave Christians who accept the Gospel as pure history to argue that one for themselves! But in my studies, I have found the Gospel to stem from the appocalyptic genre, Mark’s ‘secrecy’ motif [Mark 8:27 and around there especially] is linked to his ‘Christ’, death and resurrection claims. Demons also make bold claims that humans only claim AFTER Jesus has died ['Son of God']. When read in line with Jewish appocalyptic literature, the text makes lots of sense which is lost in a plain ‘historical’ reading.

          • Steven Carr

            ‘Calum may wish to speak for himself on this but I think that he was saying that Christians today may find the resurrection more acceptable in retrospect and looking at Jesus as God in the flesh. But there was certainly no such expectation among first century Jews, not of an individual nor a Christ…..;

            I see.

            So , in retrospect, Christians can now tell atheists that the prior probability of Jesus being resurrected was high.

            But if you had met Jesus, been taught by him personally for 3 years, and studied the Old Testament under his direction, you would have expected a totally different type of Messiah.

          • Biblical Scholar

            The ‘prior probability’ is the probability
            presumed before any evidence is presented. This may be quite high for some people today – which is what Calum was saying re: ‘high’.

            But I do not expect he would believe it was high before the resurrection took place – the
            Jews were not coming to the table with the same background experience as people have today.

            And then my final point, which you extend to consider the type of Messiah you would learn Jesus was from his own pre-crucifixion teaching – My view is that Jesus did not teach explicitly about his Messiahship. This is Mark’s ‘Messianic secret’, ‘revealed’ in appocalyptic style in the post-resurrection Gospel after the event. So I do not think that the ‘prior probability’ was high among followers.

          • Steven Carr

            So Christian logic is that the prior probability of the resurrection changed after Jesus was resurrected….

            No wonder Christian logic is not taught in universities.

            ‘My view is that Jesus did not teach explicitly about his Messiahship.’

            But Miller told us it was precisely what Jesus taught that led to a high prior probability of his resurrection.

          • Biblical Scholar

            No: It didn’t change. What has changed due to the way the Gospel presents Jesus teaching is what we – after the resurrection and based on how we understand the gospel – may understand about Jesus’ followers before the resurrection: We didn’t know them and we want to try to understand what we think their expectations were before the event. Christians likely come to different conclusions on this depending on their understanding of the Gospel genre – as I mentioned. So I don’t see how your logic moved from there to a knocking of ‘Christian logic’. Here, hopefully as clear as I can make it, are the two views Christians might hold:-

            1) If you think Jesus was going round telling his followers that he is going to die and be raised – and at the same time doing some rather spectacular miracles – is it not logical that based on that understanding you would rate those followers ‘high’ in their expectations of what might happen.

            2) However, I would say (not all Christians, not even most of them!) that this simple reading of the Gospel does not get the genre right, and that they actually, like their fellow Jews, had a very ‘low’ expectation of what might happen

          • Steven Carr

            We still have Miller claiming the prior probability of Jesus being resurrected was high, and you claiming that before Jesus was resurrected, not one person could have predicted that it would happen – not even Jesus.

            ‘is it not logical that based on that understanding you would rate those followers ‘high’ in their expectations of what might happen.’

            So when somebody told them Jesus was raised, their first thought was that the person was telling nonsense?

            Their second thought was that they wouldn’t believe it until they had seen Jesus face, sorry, felt his wounds (had they forgotten what Jesus looked like?)

          • Biblical Scholar

            I didn’t say about Jesus himself, but yes, you are right in reading what I have written in the last few posts.

            Yes, again, the first thought would be that they were talking nonsense – this is what the Gospels show us quite clearly!

            On the wounds (Thomas – one Gospel) You really do go for a historical reading don’t you?!

          • Biblical Scholar

            I can’t speak for Miller, but you may be right? But I didn’t make any claim about Jesus himself.
            On them thinking it was nonsense – Yes – that is what the Gospels show quite clearly and is a bit of a problem for those who read it all as pure history.
            On your final point, I see that you prefer a historical reading of the Gospels yourself – probably the source of many of your disputes with the Gospels. But it is not the Gospel that is at fault, rather your understanding of the genre.

  • Steven Carr

    ‘The argument that the disciples must have been sincere because they died for their beliefs ….’

    Oh yes, the old ‘Frauds are never prosecuted for their fraudulent behaviour’ argument.

    All the disciples had to do was announce to the world that they had defrauded, hoaxed and lied their way through life, and they would be released as innocent people.

    What a strange world Christian logic is.

  • Steven Carr

    What also has to be explained is why it seems that new Christian converts in Corinth (and possibly also in Thessalonia) were scoffing at the very idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

    • Scott

      Steven, you’ve unwittingly offered evidence in support of the resurrection. Yes, ancient Jewish cultures rejected the notion of resurrection except the general resurrection that is supposed to happen at the end of time when all people will be raised to judgment. So of course these people were skeptical! This is why Paul lists the witnesses in 1 Corinthians 15. He’s saying “you know these people. Talk to them. They saw him raised to life after his death.” (in fact, the offhand nature of Paul’s comment here is proof that he was not crafting a theology in this case. He was simply answering critics and saying “talk to your friends. You trust them and they saw it”).

      So, yes, there was skepticism. And why was that? Because they were not predisposed to believe in a resurrection…which is why the resurrection was so unexpected. And this gets to the heart of your mistake. If the culture was not expecting a resurrection and was so skeptical of it happening, then obviously it would not have simply invented this idea. Other stories may have been invented, but not something that was completely contrary to the worldview and expectations of the Jews living at that time.

      So thanks, Steven, for helping shore up the case that the resurrection was not expected, was something people were skeptical of, and was thus something that people in that culture would not have thought to invent.

      The only possible explanation for the evidence surrounding the resurrection is, as you’ve shown in part, that the resurrection did happen!

      • Steven Carr

        ‘So, yes, there was skepticism. And why was that? Because they were not predisposed to believe in a resurrection……;

        In other words, Christian converts scoffed at the very idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

        Even after they converted to Christianity!

        Paul, of course, calls them idiots for even discussing how corpses can return, and reminds them that Jesus became a life-giving spirit, and that they will be resurrected like he was.

      • stuart32

        Scott, that is a commonly used argument but I don’t think it works. It’s true that 1st century Jews were expecting a general resurrection of the dead rather than the resurrection of an individual, but so what? The point is that the idea of resurrection was part of their culture. All they had to do was modify that idea.

        Another idea in their culture was that God could show recognition to a prophet by taking him up to heaven at the end of his life, as happened to Elijah. By combining these two ideas you could come up with the idea of Jesus’ resurrection.

        On the other hand, imagine how much stronger your argument would be if the belief in a resurrection had arisen in a culture where there was no precedent for the idea at all. In fact, the stronger the argument could have been in that scenario, the weaker the case for the resurrection actually is.

  • MNb

    First: what is the probability of an event falsifying about all laws of natural sciences?
    Second: is the provided evidence nearly enough to convince natural scientists that about all laws of natural sciences have been falsified once almost 2000 years ago?

    Has Calum ever thought about that? You see, I suspect that lots of believers never give the implications for philosophy of science any thought.

  • James

    Anytime I hear fundies use the “who would die for a lie?” argument, I reply “have you studied much about the Bab?” There are many parallels between the formation of Christianity and the Baha’i faith, especially it’s forerunner, Babism. You have the long-awaited messiah, a messiah who comes as a spiritual redeemer and not as the expected warrior – you have the persecution, the willing martyrs, the miracles that accompany the martyrdom, etc. The same goes for Sikhism, whose fifth guru and the writer of much of the Sikh’s allegedly perfect holy Scripture was tortured and martyred over his refusal to compromise with Islam over the Sikh scriptures. Heck, even Joseph Smith was a martyr… The “who would die for a lie?” argument is pure special pleading, one that Christians don’t accept anytime it comes from any religion apart from their own.

    • Scott

      I think the point, James, is that for the disciples to have had to “die for a lie” they would have had to die for something they deliberately invented as a lie. Here is where the stories part ways. It’s one thing to die for something that’s not true (suicide bombers in Islam do it all the time). But it’s quite different for someone to die for a lie KNOWING IT WAS A LIE AT THE TIME. It’s their knowledge that they were dying for something they knew to be a lie that is the distinguishing point.

      And the fact is that all the disciples save one died pretty horrible deaths (and that one, John, lived out his life in exile). If these men were dying for something they knew to be false, at least one of them would have undoubtedly recanted. This person would then have undoubtedly become the star witness among the Jewish leadership to prove to the world that Christianity was false (he would likely have been taken on an extended speaking tour of every city where Christianity was getting traction, in order to discredit “the way”). But this never happened. None of the disciples ever recanted their testimony, no matter how much they were imprisoned, beaten, tortured or killed.

      This is the distinguishing element which makes them credible. And it’s very different from any other group who may have similarly died for something they believed in. In the case of Christianity, they would have had to die for something they DIDN’T believe in.

  • nationofjoe

    I reviewed your debate on my site:

    http://allthedebates.blogspot.com/2013/07/hallquist-v-calum-probability-and.html

    I hope I don’t come off as too much of a dick about it.


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